back to article Good news: A meltdown would kill fewer than we thought

Even if the worst happens, the death and destruction from a nuclear power station meltdown won’t be as bad as previously modeled, according to America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In a draft report given to the New York Times, the NRC has decided that a meltdown would release far less caesium 137 than previously …

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  1. tardigrade

    Richard Chirgwin..

    ..how is that an anagram of Lewis Page?!?

    Just saying.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed.

    But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I too can pluck 'expert' figures from the air...

      I say maximum of two deaths - one will be the dude who plugs the power back in and the other will be the misinformed former news of the world arts correspondent causing a panic through bad journalism and a smattering of sensationalism.

    2. xperroni
      Alert

      The evil that one man does

      Of course.

      Because the whole nuclear industry is a conspiracy of evil men intent on destroying the planet – nothing else! – all led by Lewis Page.

      And surely we all know nuclear technology is inherently Evil(TM), therefore any and all reports purporting to demonstrate it's any less than a total, utter, irreparable disaster waiting to happen were no doubt forged by said conspirators.

      Good thing we have the Eco-Fighters(C) to save us from the harms of nuclear energy, and lead us to our true, windmill-powered future!

  3. corestore

    Yes, great, but...

    So much for the reactor and the containment... what about the bloody fuel pool? That's where most of the nasties are. The one Really Bad Thing that *didn't* happen at Fukushima was a fire in the unit 4 fuel pool. Nearly, it got hot, it wasn't good, but no fire.

    A burning fuel pool would release much more than a meltdown and breached containment.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      Spent fuel pools - disaster waiting to happen

      The biggest common problem by far of all current commercial nuclear plants is the treatment of their "spent" fuel pools.

      0. It takes a long time for fuel to reach safe levels of radiation output. Until then, the fuel must be actively kept cool. Also, spent fuel pools are normally kept in secondary containment which can be of greatly varying quality, as Fukushima perfectly demonstrated.

      1. In the meantime, accidents or disasters can cause fuel rod pools to drain, or fuel rods to fall on each other and initiate re-criticality.

      2. In addition, often, particularly in older designs, spent fuel pools are used for scheduled maintenance to temporarily store active fuel unloaded from the live reactors. This means it becomes absolutely critical to keep the fuel cooled, covered (due to moderation) and contained.

      3. The amount of fuel in spent fuel pools is ever increasing because it is highly expensive to re-process and even more expensive (or impossible these days) to just dump fuel under a mountain. In the US, for example, the largest nuclear fuel waste repository which is Yucca mountain has been closed to further waste storage from the commercial industry.

      I can actually believe this NRC study in isolation in light of modern standards of primary vessel containment, cooling and even power loss. However, I do not believe ANY nuclear agency in the world has done a thorough analysis of the real risk of spent fuel pools.

      In addition, I hold responsible the NRC and other nuclear agencies worldwide for their complete lack of encouraging technological innovation in both overall safety standards and new generator technologies. For the former issue, the agencies are too close to whom they regulate (a bit like the financial industry where its even worse) since the incumbent companies have financial incentives to change as slowly as possible. For the latter issue, they have been too slow to reduce the regulatory burden for *small* innovative reactor design construction, especially the new Gen IV designs.

    2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
      Devil

      Why not just build a better reactor?

      Oh wait, they have.

      How old was the Fukushima reactor? Its design is probably older than most if not all of the posters here. Since that time, reactor design has improved, reducing the risks of a meltdown.

      Also note that Fukushima wasn't just the result of a poor design. TEPCO (I believe thats the company that built and ran the reactor, modified the landscape by taking down natural barriers to the sea so that the reactor would be built on hard ground. While at the time of construction, this was the practice, however to reduce costs they took out a natural barrier so that they could easily offload supplies from ships. (Per WSJ report.)

      They also didn't plan for the size of the Tsunami and while its deficiencies were pointed out, they were not yet fixed.

      Looking at the nuclear reactors of the same generation in the US, they would not face the same level of risk that the reactors in Japan faced. And note that in the US only a percentage of the reactors are of the same generation as the one in Japan.

      The sad thing is that we need Nuclear power until we can actually get fusion reactors working.

      Of course we could kill off a large percentage of the world's population to reduce our bio mass and food requirements so that we can use those crop lands for bio fuel....

      Soylent Green is made from people!

  4. VeganVegan
    FAIL

    So their current guess

    is 1 or 2 percent Cs-137 release, when their previous guess is 60%. That's 30-60 fold difference! What caused them to change their tune?

    Anyone besides me think that their guesses are wild?

    1. IvyKing
      Mushroom

      Chemistry

      If there is any water around, the Cesium will react to form CsOH plus hydrogen gas. Melt-downs from slow uncovering of the fuel (e.g. TMI and Fukushima) still leave copious amounts of water in the reactor vessel to react with the cesium. The earlier estimates for 60% did not take water into account.

      The experience with TMI was that six orders of magnitude less radioactive iodine was released compared to what had been expected.

      1. Mike VandeVelde
        WTF?

        re: Chemistry

        Sounds very convincing, is that based on some wondrous new discoveries in chemistry I haven't heard of? They didn't know this before?? Did not take water into account??? Is this supposed to be more or less comforting than when they mixed metric and imperial and a space shuttle blew up???? Lessons learned, now it's actually really safe for real this time, honest!!

        So what are the "unkown unknowns" now?????

        1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
          Boffin

          Mixing metric blew up the space shuttle?

          Hmmm.

          That's a funny one.

          I wish you would get your facts straight.

          In the two shuttle disasters neither had to do with a mixup of measurements.

          One was a deficiency in the O ring. The other was due to an ice formation knocking lose some of the protecting tiles during liftoff and then during reentry... boom. (no tiles, no heat protection...)

          So if you're going to go 'WTF' please get your rant in order.

          1. Jerome 0

            Metric confusion

            Whilst neither shuttle was lost due to a mix up between metric and imperial measurements, another infamous NASA disaster was caused by exactly that. The Mars Climate Orbiter was destroyed thanks to the ground crew entering data in Imperial measurements (Pound-force) instead of metric (Newtons).

            1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
              Holmes

              @Jerome

              No shit.

              But that wasn't what the poster said now is it?

              I don't mind a mini rant, but at least when you rant, you should get your facts straight....

              You know like when the Germans bombed Perl Harbor? :-)

              (That's an Animal House reference to those too young to get it....)

              1. elderlybloke

                Jerome

                Ian,

                I remember Perl Harbor( Around here it's spelling is Harbour).

                Those Huns are almost a bad as the Japs bombing Coventry .

                .

              2. Mike VandeVelde
                Facepalm

                I sit corrected, thank you

                "you should get your facts straight...."

                Which was kind of the point of my posting!!

                Shoulda woulda coulda fired a quick question at The Google before posting about my vague recollection of NASA history, but the steam pressure between my ears was red lining!

                Revising safety margins in light of new information is all well and good, and in this case safe is actually even safer than we thought, but we are talking about highly radioactive substances that will melt your face of if you look at them funny, when we are assured that it is absolutely safe then it's very uncomfortable to find out that there was actually something left to learn about it, even if in this case the missing information was in our favour.

                *8-)

    2. /\/\j17
      Pirate

      What caused them to change their tune?

      I'm sure it's nothing to do with them being a vested interest in the nuclear power industry and there being a significant accident/string of accidents in Japan that have dented public confidence in the whole creating-radioactive-shit-for-future-generations-to-worry-about industry...

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
        Boffin

        @What caused them to change their tune?

        It takes time to digest the data. I mean you wouldn't want us to make snap decisions based on FUD now would you?

        Seriously in terms of the aftermath, the data and analysis seems to suggest that Japanese (TEPCO) response to the problems exacerbated the situation.

    3. Nuke
      Thumb Down

      @ VeganVegan

      I have been much involved in calculating and assessing nuclear accident scenarios. Also with railway safety, which uses similar methods.

      The reason this sort of re-evaluation can arise is that when a plant is designed, and some design data is needed but cannot easily be obtained, particularly material behaviour in extreme conditions, a very pessimistic assumption is made. You might call it a "wild guess" but it is a a >pessimistic< one, for example for the purposes of deciding how much reserve fire-fighting water should be available on site.

      But, in the nuclear industry at least, these calculations are often re-checked (re-visited we call it), typically on a 5 yearly basis, to see if any new data has become available that could change the conclusions. What can then happen is that someone has meanwhile done some tests (for example how much Cs would "plate out" on nearby surfaces rather than escape from the pipework and building) which give a much more realistic figure than the original very pessimistic estimate.

      What we are really concerned about is to check that the design basis remains pessimistic. In the time I worked in the industry I have never known it otherwise. It is not the object to downgrade the plant by removing safety features. I notice that this particular thing came to light because outsiders asked about it, not because it was the intent of the plant management to take advantage of it.

      Some of you guys seem to make the ridiculous assumtion that these nuclear plants are in the hands of cavaliers and clowns. I find that somewhat insulting. The guys I have worked with in the UK nuclear industry are about the most capable and conscientious engineers, scientists and mathemeticians I have ever met. I found the level and detail of thought and precautions that goes into the work astonishing when I first joined, even coming from the railway industry - which is itself an industry with an extremely high safety ethic.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Computer Modelling

    "In fact, if the report’s computer modeling [...] is correct"

    I though that wasn't "real science" according to most people here.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Modelling

      While not "real science" in this case, as the results can't be proven false, there's nothing inherantly wrong with computer modelling. Computer modelling is a great way to test new theories. You generate a model that complies with the theory you wish to test and then compare the results to reliable real world data that someone collected. If the results match up, then you've found some support for your theory.

      In this case, the computer model is only being used to make a prediction. Now, as long as the underlying processes are well established and accepted, then the computer model just performs the heavy lifting of running all the calculations required for a given scenario, thus showing the expected result given the current state of the science involved. Problems begin to crop up when the systems being modelled are not well understood or not generally agreed upon.

    2. Peter2 Silver badge
      WTF?

      Computer models depend on the model, and the information unputted

      Most people here are sysadmins, or used to be before moving up in the world. (Though there is an increasing pollution of users on el reg)

      That means that most people are well aware of the term GIGO, when it comes to data modelling. If the model and the information put into it is good then most people here would accept it. Conversely, if the information or the computer model is not good then most of the IT people won't consider it valid, unlike the users who tend to accept *anything* coming from a computer as gospel.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Trollface

        GIGO is ...

        .... a bunch of sysadmins belittling climate science, despite having no formal training in any of the natural sciences beyond A-level, and then spouting hopelessly ill-informed rubbish about "expert science" (http://forums.theregister.co.uk/post/1122325).

        Sysadmins are failed programmers. I do not expect them to understand the first thing about computer modelling, let alone modelling complex physical processes.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          GIGO

          GIGO means Garbage in, Garbage out. It's a reference to the fact that if you put garbage data into a computer program, funnily enough you get garbage data out.

          Not that we expect a sixth rate troll to understand that, but hey. The term has been used for about as long as computers have, long before climate change could be modelled on a computer.

    3. TakeTheSkyRoad
      Facepalm

      Re : Computer Modelling

      : I though that wasn't "real science" according to most people here.

      Well the real science would of course to unplug a few reactors (of different designs of course) and measure the resulting radiation output. Probably best try in different weather conditions too so every factor is considered.

      You may find that some people (myself included) may object to the "real science" option so modelling is all we have. Yes there have been a comple of disasters but since the likes of 3 mile weren't under labarory conditions I don't think they count

      <sarcasm off>

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Sarcasm On

        And when it comes to climate science, you'ld rather plug and unplug the sun?

  6. Dagg
    FAIL

    1 in 4000

    That ratio still ends up with a sh*t load of people and how much can you trust the new figure?

    1. rakdver

      1 in 4000

      Compared with the "natural" occurrence of cancer (which is something like 1 in 5), 1 in 4000 seems negligible. My problem with these numbers is that in principle, they cannot be measured (there are hundreds of other things that affect cancer occurrence to much greater degree), so pretending that we know anything about the matter seems a bit pointless.

    2. David Dawson
      FAIL

      Not really

      Imagine a reactor in a moderately built up area, with maybe 100,000 living within 10 miles of it.

      1 in 4000 in this scenario equals 25 people.

      Add an order of magnitude so that 1 million live in the zone, and its 250. this is a city size really, not sure how many reactors are next to cities? (seriously, I don't know. Sounds a bit irresponsible to me)

      This would be tragic for those who got it, but it doesn't equal a shit load of people.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Unhappy

        quite a few

        Several reactors right in the middle of Plymouth on old nuclear subs. The only city in the UK to still have an active nuclear disaster action plan.

        1. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: Plymouth

          The old nuclear sub's reactors are all cold having been shut down in the weeks after they were decommissioned so there is no chance they'll do a Fukushima/Chernobyl etc. The main reason they're still there is that technically the hulls are classified as low level nuclear waste and no one's really figured a way of disposing of them, it's a very pessimistic assessment incidentally.

          The nuclear disaster plan is in place because of the *operational* nuclear submarines there, although as it now allows for the fact the reactor is inside a steel tube designed to dive deep under the sea I believe it's less pessimistic than it used to be.

          Obviously once they all move to Faslane Plymouth's only problem is all the radiation leaking across from Cornwall...

    3. Thoguht Silver badge

      Fatalities?

      A damn sight less than the fossil fuel industry kills each and every year.

      According to WHO estimates (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/index.html), air pollution kills around 2 million people a year, and around 300,000 of those deaths can be attributed to pollution caused by electricity generation. Yes folks, Caesium is nasty stuff, but then, so is carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon particulates, aromatic hydrocarbons, mercury, etc. etc.

      Nuclear power? Despite Fukushima, it's still a no brainer.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      1 in 4000 of people within 10 miles

      That's 1 of every 4000 people within 10 miles of the reactor that had a meltdown. And nuclear reactors aren't exactly the sort of thing that usually gets plopped right in the middle of a subburb.

      The US's Eastern seaboard, where most of out nuclear reactors are sited, has a population density of >250 people per square mile. New Jersey, which does have a nuclear reactor, claims a population density of about 1200 people per square mile. If evenly distributed, that would put about 377,000 people within 10 miles of the reactor (314.15926.. sq. miles.) Even with that many people, you'd only expect an additional 95 cases of cancer. And places with high population densities also tend to have better means of communication with the residents, enabling them to get out of harm's way faster.

      1. Your Retarded
        Thumb Up

        FTFY

        Nuclear power is a no-brainer, only reinforced by the recent story of Fukushima.

    5. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
      Boffin

      You think 1 in 4000 is bad?

      On December 2nd 1984, the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India suffered a leak from a containment tank, and a large amount of methyl isocyanate was released into the atmosphere. This resulted in 2,259 immediate deaths, and a further 1,528 deaths shortly afterwards. 558,125 people were injured, 3,900 of whom suffered permanent disabling injuries.

      The population of Bhopal is currently given as a little shy of 3 million people, in 1984 it would probably have been around half of this. Most of those people would not be living within ten miles, so I think it is fair to say that the risk of death to those living within ten miles would be far greater than 1 in 4000 (by at least two orders of magnitude). Note also that the background rate of death by isocyanate poisoning is zero, as oppsoed to the background rate of cancer, which is about 1 in 2 (death from cancer is approximately 1 in 4).

      What this 1 in 4000 rate actually means then, is that a person's risk of developing cancer over their lifetime is increased by approximately 0.05% if a nuclear power plant within ten miles melts down and they aren't evacuated in time.

      Now, it is important to note that the Bhopal plant was a chemical plant, not a nuclear one, but my point is to illustrate that the worst-case scenario for a nuclear plant is orders of magnitude less bad than the worst case scenario from a simple old chemical plant, albeit one handling large amounts of very poisonous reagents.

      I'm not suggesting that a meltdown is not a bad thing, but at the same time, it's not a 'scorched earth' disaster either. If you read the Wikipedia article about the Bhopal tragedy, you'll see that this very much was.

      1. Captain Thyratron

        Chemical plants, dams, and all the other things deadlier than nuclear plants.

        And don't forget the Banqiao Reservoir Dam. When that one cut loose, it killed the better part of two hundred thousand people.

  7. zen1
    Coat

    as quoted from "The world according to Garp"

    "But honey, the odds of another airplane crashing into this house are beyond astronomical... now..."

  8. scarshapedstar
    Big Brother

    Move along, citizens.

    You have nothing to fear.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Coat

      Oh good-

      That means we have nothing to hide. So stop watching us.

  9. jake Silver badge

    Eh? You mean the Japan Earthquake didn't ...

    ... actually kill anyone from radiation release? And probably won't?

    Aw, man ... I'm wringing my hands over nothing?

    One of these days I'll have to get enough of an education to make up my own mind about scientific matters instead of listening to RedTops ...

  10. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Well, that's all right then

    Time to start building a nuke next to every school and hospital in the land.

  11. Jack Prichard

    The NZ perspective

    As a New Zealander I am actually offended by the coverage nuclear safety gets.

    At the start of this year 34 people died in a coal mine explosion here. Yeah, there were problems with the mine and the Australians say it wouldn't have been safe enough there. But NZ is still a first world country with safety standards and all that.

    How many people died at Fukushima? One. And he died because something fell on the crane he was in, absolutely nothing to do with nuclear power.

    Does anybody call for the end of coal mining, not to mention processing or pollution, because of safety? No.

    On safety grounds I say NZ should shut the coal mines and start building reactors.

    1. Mayhem

      Little known fact

      New Zealand actually had a reactor up until 1981. A very little one at one of the universities, used for research and training purposes. It also has several large areas of land purchased convenient to the significant cities on (relatively) geologically stable sites, in preparation for when public perceptions change enough to actually allow some form of power generation.

      An example is a section reserved adjacent to the Kaipara, because there is a distinct lack of power generation on the northern side of Auckland and this limits the capacity to deliver electricity to the northern parts of the city and Northland. A small nuclear plant located there would provide significant benefits, while still being nicely isolated from anything considered particularly important.

      1. elderlybloke
        Holmes

        Little known fact

        Mayhem,

        That "Reactor " was a Van DeGraff Generator at the DSIR.,

        A rather different thing, that I passed every day for about 6 years when I lived there.

        It was not a risk to anything or anybody.

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
      Boffin

      Also worth noting

      That coal fired power stations release radioactive material into the atmosphere during normal use, and the ash produced is also mildly radioactive, whereas nuclear powered ones don't unless something has gone wrong. This is because coal contains trace amounts of uranium and thorium, which are concentrated by the combustion of the main constituents of coal (mostly carbon, hydrocarbons, and sulphur compounds), which produces gaseous oxides. The phosphorus and metal oxides left in the ash are solids.

  12. Mips
    Childcatcher

    In other words..

    .. the risk of getting a cancer caused by your next door nuclear meltdown is less the risk from other causes. Why aren't we shouting about this.

  13. a_mu

    coal power plant

    How do these numbers compare to a coal fired power station, or a wind mill / PV cells breaking down ?

    1. Ru
      Facepalm

      Because people don't understand or care about real risk

      Stop smoking, stop tanning, cut down on your barbequeues and friend food and processed meat. There; your lifetime chance of cancer has probably decreased by a measurable amount. Might do you good to move out of urban areas, too. Oh, and learn about restricted calorie diets and other hair-shirt means of longevity. But who is going to bother with all that, if they aren't already some sort of vegan?

      Or alternatively, to increase your life expectancy, don't drive.

      Anyway, you're missing the point. People get cancer; if you're not on course for a case of fatal heart disease this is what you get to look forward to. Nuclear power's health impact is pretty negligible at this point.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Happy

        @ Ru

        >>cut down on your barbequeues and friend food

        Sounds like there's an easy way for you to improve the life-expectancy of both yourself and your mates here....

        The only problem is that the extra year of life you gain from going without bacon is another year longer, when you can't have bacon... [sobs pathetically at the thought]

        In the same way, I quite like electricity too. It's really useful. Even if there's a miniscule chance it might lose me a year or two. Then it's just a question of which kills you faster, nuclear or fossil fuel.

    2. Yet Another Commentard

      Re: coal power plant

      Depends on the "comparison". Deaths over the lifetime of the plant, lost in the roundings of a coal plant. Radioactive release, also lost in the roundings of a coal plant. There is also an xkcd about radioactive doses I think.

      Windmills are not all that radiaoactive, but don't actually generate electricity all that well either, so they are difficult to compare.

      This is a nice graph about deaths per TWh - http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/visualizations/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-sources

      I have not verified the source data in any way - it could be junk.

      1. ArmanX
        Thumb Up

        The solar bits of that calculation are questionable...

        The data comes from here: http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html

        But even discounting rooftop solar, it's an interesting comparison. Even for wide-reaching disasters like Chernobyl, the amount of power produced vs. the number of deaths *still* comes out in favor of nuclear energy.

    3. Zippy the Pinhead

      @ MIPS

      In other words, the risk of getting a cancer caused by your next door nuclear meltdown is less the risk from other causes, combined!

      There.. fixed it! lol

  14. Tchou
    Pint

    On other news

    USA needs more nuclear power plants to ensure its energetic independence.

    Suddenly a reactor meltdown is not that bad.

  15. LJRich
    Paris Hilton

    Fukushima

    "The most likely cause of a meltdown is a complete loss of power to a facility"

    It's a nuclear power plant, how does it lose power???! Can't it power its own cooling?

    Paris is more of a gravity specialist (going down on a body with a large mass), but maybe she'll know?

  16. blueprint
    FAIL

    Not proven until it actually happens in reality

    Not reassuring at all, hypothetical models are simply that - hypothetical.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      I'm sorry...

      did you miss the mass hysteria over Fukushima earlier this year?

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Earthquakes,

      Tsunamis, that sort of thing...

    3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
      Boffin

      In the event of a massive Earthquake,

      any sensible operator of a nuclear plant will immediately shut down the reactors to prevent damage and escape of radioactive material.

      At this point, older designs of reactor, such as those at Fukushima, which require active cooling systems, need an alternative power source.

      Normally, this is not a problem, as Fukushima was both conencted to the grid, and had backup diesel generators to keep the cooling running for as long as needed. Unfortunately, there was a pesky little 13 metre tsunami that came along and wiped these out.

      Now, it could be argued that the plant was not sited in the most sensible place possible, being, as it was, facing one of the worlds largest and most active subduction faults, and that they should maybe have expected the odd tsunami. The one that happened, however, was a bit of a biggie.

      Given the huge number of deaths, and the trillions of $currency worth of damage to the infrastructure of Japan directly caused by the tsunami, I think zero deaths from the radioactive leakage/fallout and a little extra evacuation around a damaged power station were actually a bloody good result.

      1. Nigel 11
        Meh

        A fair result, not a good one

        It showed that even in a case worse than the worst-case scenario, the deaths and damage from the reactor meltdowns were small in comparison to the same caused by a natural disaster of unprecedented size.

        It also showed up two massive failings. One, that the reactor relied on active cooling. (All current reactor designs are passive-cooled). Two, that the emergency power generators were vulnerable to flooding. (The reactors could have survived, if there had been emergency generators on a site at greater altitude or several miles inland, connected by armoured, floodproofed, underground cables).

    4. Zippy the Pinhead

      @LJRich

      "It's a nuclear power plant, how does it lose power???! Can't it power its own cooling?"

      Well since power to cooling must be on before the Nuc Plant is up.. the easy answer to that is NO.

  17. Anteaus
    Mushroom

    Meltdown not the worst-case accident...

    Water-based cooling system fails.

    Uranium metal starts burning in steam

    Hydrogen is released, as uranium robs steam of oxygen.

    Hydrogen mixes with air to form explosive mixture.

    Pressure builds up inside containment vessel.

    Red-hot metal ignites mixture.

    BOOM.

    Lid blown clean off reactor.

    Graphite blocks hurled hundreds of feet into air.

    -Basically what happened at Chernobyl.

    If the reactor is a fast breeder with significant amounts of plutonium, then the above scenario could in principle create a small nuclear explosion by explosively compressing the plutonium. In that case the entire reactor would be shredded into radioactive dust, creating many tons of fallout.

    -Explosion, because that outcome is what the safety experts SAID was impossible. Until Chernobyl.

  18. Brett Weaver

    Lewis IS the Green Lantern!

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/asia/5379003/Deadly-radiation-pockets-found-at-Fukushima

    We know that REALLY BAD nuclear accidents will hardly ever happen. But same morons who place reactors on the sea shore and earthquake faults are the same folk calculating the risks...

    My problem is this: If the worst happens, I feel sorry for the folk that die within a short time of the event. But I feel obligated to ensure that nothing my generation does should lead to folk dying for thousands of years... High Level Waste - Even a relatively small number of tonnes will do this.

    1. Ru
      Facepalm

      Those who fail to learn from history

      are probably doomed to go trolling internet forums like this one. Can you provide any references for these 'experts' saying a reactor explosion was 'impossible'?

      I seem to recall that quite a few of the big and exciting nuclear incidents not the result of natural causes were down to reactor staff Doing Something Stupid. Chernobyl, Sellafield, SL-1, whatever.

      There are so many differences between Chernobyl and even old school reactors like Fukushima, its hard to know where to start (you might consider learning about containment buildings). Problem is, we don't get nice new reactor designs thanks to a combination of renewable fanaticism and panicky nimbies who don't understand the issues crippling any research and any hope of building decent new nuke plants.

      I hope you're all prepared to live in a future where electricity is a middle class luxury. I'm sure the proles will take that in their stride, right?

      1. Anteaus
        Trollface

        @Ru

        IMHO it is you who is trolling.

        Nuclear accidents to-date may mostly be the result of human error but that does not alter the fact that when mistakes have been made, the safety systems have not performed to expectations. It is also reasonable to assume that a degree of luck has been involved, and that the worst that can happen has not yet happened.

        I would agree that nuclear could be a safe option if alternative designs were looked-at. Existing designs are basically the by-product of a few frantic years of war effort put into the A-bomb project, more than half a century ago. Power generation was never the intended purpose of such reactors,it was a side benefit to plutonium production, their real purpose. While the engineering might have advanced since then, the underlying physics has not.

        As for electricity being a middle-class luxury, the question is not whether we can do without electricity, but whether the risks involved in the nuclear route are greater or less than those posed by the alleged climate-change effects of conventional fuels. I for one am in no doubt whatsoever as to the answer to that one.

      2. Zippy the Pinhead

        @ Ru

        "I hope you're all prepared to live in a future where electricity is a middle class luxury."

        Na.. it'll be so expensive only the upper crust rich could afford to pay for it.. The poor of course will get it for free. lol

    2. mmiied
      Stop

      well

      that would be why they do not build reactors like that any more (and only the russians where silly enought to build them in the first place)

      and even so the casuilities where less than on some of there other propanger advantures

    3. mmiied

      long turm efects

      you get the same prblem for every sory of industrail process

      you are worries about the efect of hi level waste? what about murcry poisning or any heavy mettle poisninging they will leave the ground in a worse state than radactive waste for a lot longer

      1. jake Silver badge

        @mmiied

        I think you just b0rked my parser ...

    4. HW de Haan
      FAIL

      Getting your facts right might help

      Well, except for the fact that chernobyl wasn't a watercooled reactor....

      1. Anteaus
        Trollface

        @HW de Haan

        Ehhh... ?!? What coolant do you reckon it used, then?

        All info I can find suggests that Chernobyl #4 was a BWR, with light water acting as the coolant and graphite blocks as the moderator, the primary circuit steam driving the turbine directly.

        At this point I have to wonder, seriously, whether you are just trolling. Either you are taking the Michael or you know zilch about the subject. Which?

    5. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
      Boffin

      Pripyat

      The town where the Chernobyl reactor was sited...

      ...is now a nature reserve and tourist destination.

      The reason that people didn't move back there after they were evacuated is that they were re-housed, mostly in more modern and better housing.

      Yes, Chernobyl was a bad nuclear accident. Anything involving a reactor exploding and catching fire and ending up with no containment has to be classed as such, but in reality, the vast majority of those killed or badly injured were those in the control room at the time, and the cleanup crews. Bearing in mind that the cleanup crews were dosed with several orders of magnitude over the lifetime safe dose of radiation, it is quite impressive to note that of those that suffered leukaemia, the 5-year survival was 43%.

    6. Captain Thyratron

      Wrong.

      The cooling system didn't simply fail. The plant operators were performing an experiment to determine how long the steam turbines would continue to spin under their own inertia in the event of an emergency. They throttled down the power too far, and the reactor suffered from xenon poisoning. As a result of their efforts to deal with this, the reactor was in very unstable condition--but, damn the alarms, they were ordered to go ahead with the experiment anyway. Once they started the experiment, flow of water through the reactor decreased, steam voids formed, and, owing to the reactor's design* and its unstable condition, a very strong power surge occurred that resulted directly in the parts of the story you got right.

      *Light-water-cooled, graphite-moderated reactors are discouraged in the west for a reason: Namely, "positive void coefficients". Edward Teller warned long ago of this positive feedback loop between power output and steam void formation, but the Soviets were pressed for cash and it was relatively inexpensive to build large reactors this way that doubled as breeder reactors and could be refueled online. Graphite costs less than heavy water. The engineers knew the risks, but it never helps when the guy in charge orders his subordinates to ignore the manual. The Soviet Union did not have exactly a sparkling industrial safety record.

  19. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Blasphemy

    Anything that the dispels or diminishes the mystical fearsomeness of the Nukular Monster will always be blasphemous to the disciples of the Church of Nukular Scaremageddon...

  20. Annihilator
    Coat

    Clue in the name

    "The report was obtained under a freedom-of-information request by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which remains unconvinced by the draft report"

    One would presume that they'd have to change their name if they weren't unconvinced?

  21. Cowardly Animosity

    Caesium

    Can't help myself.

  22. itzman
    Thumb Up

    And the alternative is?

    what?

    More coal and gas power stations, with that deadly poison (sic!) CO2 being emitted, in a world fast running out of gas?

    The above plus fuel efficiency bolt on renewables, which will render huge tracts of land uninhabitable? (A Fukushima sized wind farm would occupy a totally-crammed-with-turbines, uninhabitable area larger than the temporary precautionary exclusion zone)

    Let people freeze to death and starve because we cant sustain current populations levels without an energy budget amounting to several KW per person?

    At least the problems of nuclear power are, in principle, ameliorated (if not completely solved), with better design and better management.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Headmaster

    But what about...

    ...the rest?

    "the likelihood of citizens developing cancers in the aftermath is also lower: from the previous estimate"

    So are holidaymakers, businesses travellers, non-native residents, non-natualised residents and all others exemt or more likely to get cancer?

    Citizens != People.

    1. Nigel 11
      Go

      The alternative is solar power

      The world has plenty of barren desert. Covering a very small fraction of this with solar panels would generate all the electricity currently generated in nuclear plants. It's still a small fraction to replace all other electricity generation.

      Yes, there are problems yet to solve. All that I've seen boil down to economics, not physics. Energy supply between sunset and sunrise is the hardest. Possible solutions include pumped gravity storage - best integrated with a tidal barrage; molten salt thermal storage, flow-battery storage (do we have enough Vanadium?), flywheel storage, electrolytic hydrogen storage, underground salt-cavern compressed-air storage.

      If we can get 20% efficiency from a thin-film solar panel manufacturable by a continuous process, that doesn't require impossible amounts of rare elements, the economics will start to look attractive, even compared to burning coal. Another ten years and we may be there.

      Depending on who does the calculating, solar economics may be ahead of nuclear already. (It certainly is for daylight hours, but an all-solar solution requires energy storage to be costed in. That's hard to do because the present electrical infrastructure does not include any massive energy-storage facilities. )

      1. Yet Another Commentard

        Re: The alternative is solar power

        Which sounds great - until - how, exactly were you planning to get all the electricity from the desert to (say) the UK? That is one hell of a long cable to power all of our electric cars, industry, light bulbs, data centres, street lights, ipads, laptops, TVs etc.

        If I were a terrorist I could take out the whole planet's electricity supply with one handy 747 (see - the spurious terrorism argument works both ways).

        Or we could spend the same cash we've just hosed on the Olympics on, say, fusion, and be done with the problems. After all, the universe is unlikey to run out of hydrogen in the near future.

      2. Captain Thyratron

        On the contrary,

        the alternative is a source of power that you can afford to pay for, and that source is not solar power.

        Here's a little thought experiment for you: Suppose that you've got a biiiiig farm of solar panels, 100% efficient, located in some bizarre place where it's noon all the time and there are no clouds or dust. This farm's so big, it's a square kilometer of nothing but impossibly perfect solar panels! Well, sunlight gives you about a kilowatt per square meter, so this solar farm of yours should get a gigawatt out of a square kilometer.

        A nuclear plant can pull this off--and plenty do--and doesn't even need perfect components, perfect weather, or a mythical location to do it. And it's a lot cheaper than the prohibitively expensive disappointment you'd get if you actually made a square-kilometer solar farm. I mean, seriously, look at the prices on solar panels. The power per area per cost is atrocious!

        I'm all for finding out how to make solar panels so cheap you can buy them at the building supply store and tack them onto your roof for only like $20 apiece, but even then, they can't very well replace other power sources unless you have a lot of area, even assuming better than the best of conditions. Until they can safely be regarded as a common roofing material, they will be in no position to supply more than a small fraction of the juice on the grid because it just costs too much to buy the damn things for how much power they produce. It'd be nice if I I could get a decent solar panel for a good price before my hair starts turning gray, but I won't count on it. Hell, magnetically-confined nuclear fusion might beat it to the punch by then. I'm rootin' for the ITER!

  24. bill 36
    Alert

    elsewhere in El Reg today

    I read that the worlds data centres require almost 200 billion kw/h to run.

    How can that be done with windmills and cow shit exactly?

    If we invested all of the money thats being invested in "alternatives" right now then i'm sure that we could come up with a foolproof way of generating nuclear power thats 100% safe.

    The French must having a laugh at our expense and just sitting back rubbing their hands together, waiting for the day that the rest of Europe runs out of leccy.

    I did a back of a fag packet calculation recently that suggests that if everyone where i live changed to e-bikes and leccy cars tomorrow, the country would need to build two nuclear power stations just to charge them up overnight.

    1. Jolyon

      Gap

      "How can that be done with windmills and cow shit exactly?"

      It can't. But then those who favour that approach also want us to use far less power so it is not a wholly inconsistent approach even if it isn't likely to be as much fun or anywhere near as comfortable as things will be when we have lots of cheap nuclear power.

  25. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Mushroom

    The Bottom Line

    <-- Bhopal

    For any power option it's all about "acceptable risk".

    All power options carry risk but we downplay the risk of conventional power while fearing nuclear energy. Of course a nuke plant going >KABOOM< is what scares us all, 'millions dead in an instant', yet we can effectively ignore the millions killed over longer periods by other options.

    The real question is; would we be safer with the alternative to nuclear power? I don't believe so, so we may as well have nuclear power.

    1. Captain Thyratron

      For the record,

      no nuclear-powered device has ever killed "millions in an instant", or millions at all. Not even the two that were used as weapons.

  26. PyLETS
    Linux

    @bill 36

    "I read that the worlds data centres require almost 200 billion kw/h to run. How can that be done with windmills and cow shit exactly?"

    The article puts data centres and server closets using around 2% of US electricity plus or minus 0.2% in 2010. Let's assume the rest of the world catches up to US current figures in relation to data centre requirements. This Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy claims that 19% of world electricity comes from renewables currently of which 16% is hydroelectric. Hydro is a very good match for data centres due to extreme supply reliability needs. For this reason, most data centres have local diesel generators and emergency fuel supply contracts in place to cover shorter or more extended periods of mains supply failure.

    Dried cowshit continues to be used in many developing countries for heating and cooking fuel, and there is growing interest in small scale agricultural power generation use from this source in developed countries - this is not a good match for datacentre requirements and doesn't need to be because other energy markets are better matched. Wind electricity is currently growing from a low base (around 2% of electricity) at around 30% per annum - doubling about every 3 years. The rapidly declining cost of wind electricity and exponential growth in production of it is likely to result in interest in using existing hydro dam storage capacity to take up variations in wind electricity supply. This research indicates Scottish hydro dam capacity is capable of balancing UK wind electricity to up to 40% of UK grid requirements: http://www.esru.strath.ac.uk/EandE/Web_sites/03-04/wind/content/conclusions.html .

    In practice data centres generate sufficient revenue that they will be able to pay a premium price for the electricity they need at the levels of extreme reliability they require. The cost of provisioning and maintaining backup generators on site means they are paying top whack already. There is discussion of relocating some data centres to Iceland, due to underexploited hydro electric generating potential there: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/07/22/new_transatlantic_cable_due_2012/

    1. bill 36

      @PyLETS

      As always, the question is avoided and to paraphrase your answer, you suggest that running the data centres from hydro is a cost effective and reliable way to do it. I agree with you.

      You also suggest that moving many of them to areas with geothermal power would also help. Correct.

      But you don't answer the fundamental question. Shifting resources around is not going to solve the worlds energy problems and i should point out, not that i need to, that locating data centres next to volcanoes is a recipe for disaster. Investors know that!

      1. PyLETS
        Linux

        @bill 36

        "But you don't answer the fundamental question. Shifting resources around is not going to solve the worlds energy problems ..."

        But that is exactly how energy problems have been solved for millennia . By shifting resources around. It's how these problems will continue to be addressed. In reality energy demands and resources are too complex and multifaceted for there to be one single solution. Fossil fuels are overused already, with oil in far too much demand in relation to limited supply considering the rate of industrialisation of many highly populated parts of the world and clean coal technology currently a research pipe dream.

        We know it ain't fossil fuels, we know it ain't nuclear either, and we know it ain't renewables entirely in the short term as it will take 20 years to develop these to meet half UK _electricity_ requirements even with a lot of conservation, let alone UK _energy_ requirements. So it's going to have to be some combination of the three with a declining share of fossil fuels and an increasing share of renewables and conservation, at least until the currently being or likely to be built soon generation of nuclear wears out, which is unlikely to be useful for more than 20-30% of UK electricity demand.

        Nuclear isn't much use to solve the peaking problem and is made more expensive and can be developed in fewer places by the fact people don't like a nuclear plant as their next door neighbour and siting of nuclear plants causes large reductions in property values. No amount of 'nuclear is safe' propaganda and lobbying will convince us otherwise ; house buyers are not fools - call us that if you choose, but if your case relies on an elite priesthood telling the rest of us what we want and imposing it on us, as happened in nuclear France, then your case really hasn't moved beyond the 'too cheap to meter' propaganda of the 1950ies.

        1. umacf24

          Peak power

          Solid core reactors can't do peak power because the core has to be quite tightly managed.

          Liquid core designs running at high temperatures to drive gas turbines are much better at load following.

        2. Chris Miller

          @PyLETS

          But power generation facilities - whether windmills, solar, nuclear or good old gas/coal - have to go somewhere. No-one typically chooses a house next to these sites, though (given a choice) I'd rather live near a nuke plant than a coal one.

          There are, however, plenty of places that actually welcome nuclear build. It's never going to be popular in Notting Hill or the Surrey stockbroker belt (and no-one's seriously suggesting building a plant there) but Hartlepool, Heysham and Sellafield/Windscale give a higher priority to some more decent jobs than nuclear scare stories.

          1. PyLETS
            Linux

            @Chris Miller

            "There are, however, plenty of places that actually welcome nuclear build."

            In the UK there are a few such places and you mention these, due to the premium these localities place upon nuclear jobs. As to whether this number is 'plenty', I would agree with this if generating 20-30% of UK electric demand at half a dozen or so nuclear sites over the next UK nuclear station project lifecycle is the proportion of eggs we want and need in this particular basket.

            I've seen evidence of one or two nimby protests against onshore wind, but these seem very minor compared to what results from proposals for a nuclear site where none has existed before in the UK, and most neighbours of windfarms seem comparatively OK about these, though those living in Shropshire near to where proposed new overhead grid lines are projected to carry renewable wind electricity generated on the Welsh hills into the industrial Midlands are not very happy about this.

            I'd rather not have to mortgage future generations of humans on the decomissioning cost resulting from putting all of our eggs into the nuclear basket as has been foisted upon the French. I'm not convinced either that renewable electricity can be developed fast enough that we don't need one last generation of nuclear generators on sites in the UK already familiar with these.

            As to whether the cost of renewable electricity can be driven down in the next 20-30 years and siting problems resolved so that we won't need another generation of nukes after that remains to be seen - that will be a debate for the 2030ies and will also depend upon how nuclear costs including provision for long-term waste management and adequate nuclear accident insurance shape up over that period, a cost currently beyond the capacity of private sector insurers to be able to underwrite it.

        3. bill 36

          @PyLETS

          Look, do yourself a favour and watch this. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13040853

          I am not a nuclear propagandist, nor a scientist, nor a politician. I try to follow the facts and the science and try not to swallow alarmist hype.

          If a Nobel prize winning scientist tells me that nuclear can be 100% safe, with minimal waste issues, thats good enough for me.

          I respectfully suggest that it should be good enough for everyone.

          But we all know that overcoming fear is the biggest single factor that prevents many things from happening.

    2. Yet Another Commentard

      Hydro power

      Is deadly dangerous. See Banqiao Dam. Enviro peeps cannot complain "it was a one off series of problems..." because that's exactly what happened at Fukushima. Same cloth.

      Also, more poeple died in Japan as a result of failing dams than have and will die as a result of Fukushima.

      No power is 100% "safe".

      The problem is when we meet things our neolithic-programmed brains cannot really figure we have to rely on what "feels" safe. Water feels safe. A lump of coal feels safe. Nuclear sounds 1950s B movie scary. Result - unthinking fear.

  27. Matthew 3

    Type of nuckear power station?

    I read an article this week - I think on the BBC (but can't find the damn thing now) - which stated that most nuclear power stations use a fuel technology scaled up from the Americans' original need for compact nuclear-power for naval vessels.

    It suggested that if we'd persisted with our own versions of the technology not only is the fuel impossible to convert to a weapon it's also the case that during a power or system failure the whole thing just cools down by itself. The variations in heat cause a current which gradually cools the whole thing down: no meltdown ever, regardless of the original problem. The problem is that the system everyone seems to have settled on isn't so great when scaled up for larger power generation.

    (I wish I'd kept a link to the original article now)

    1. bill 36

      @Matthew 3

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13040853

      you are welcome!

    2. umacf24

      UK reactors

      Don't think so. Magnox ran on natural uranium, but the later gas-cooled designs use a stainless-steel fuel can, which eats neutrons, so they require enriched fuel.

      IIRC Magnox and AGR both require powered cooling after shutdown. The merit over water cooled/moderated reactors is that the coolant won't boil dry.

  28. xperroni
    Thumb Down

    "[The USC] remains unconvinced by the draft report."

    Of course they do. The data must be tortured until they confess.

  29. ravenviz
    WTF?

    One person in every 4,348?

    That figure is useless, the accuracy does nothing more than just saying one in 4000 compared to the previous one in 150 (cited as 1 in 167). Even saying 25 times less likely is good enough.

  30. Tom 13

    Hmm...

    While recognizing the paucity of data points, given that two of the three meltdown failures of which I am aware were NOT the result of a power loss, the new model seems, shall we say, a bit CRUish.

    1. Nigel 11

      Three?

      What are you counting?

      The two (or three?) at Fukushima were all caused by power loss. Three Mile Island is one that wasn't. Chernobyl wasn't a melt-down, it was an explosion and fire (and is irrelevant because only the Soviets were crazy enough to build that sort of reactor).

      Anyway, the more important thing is containment. Three Mile Island was at least 99% successful. Chernobyl was 0% by design. Fukushima failed quite badly because active cooling was required, and failed. Any new reactor will have passive cooling.

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