Nuke Tsunami Makes Clean Coal Look Better

Guest Post by Ira Glickstein

The recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which shut down several reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex in northeastern Japan, followed by a failure of the backup cooling systems that resulted in hydrogen gas explosions and fires, has me re-evaluating my support for nuclear power. Non-nuclear technology, such as clean coal, is looking even better than when I wrote about it here on WUWT (see this and this).

Don’t get me wrong, I still favor nuclear power as part of what Sen. John McCain called an “all of the above” energy policy. We need all the energy we can get to power a vibrant, growing world economy. Our energy future should include nuclear along with clean coal, gas, oil, and renewables, as well as improved energy efficiency and usage. I welcomed the recent resurgence in interest in building more nuclear power plants in the US, a policy supported by both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Obama re-iterated that support today.

Advantages and disadvantages of nuclear and clean coal power

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF NUCLEAR AND CLEAN COAL POWER

The graphic lists the major pros and cons for nuclear and clean coal electrical power technology.

Nuclear is Clean & “Green”, with no production of “greenhouse” gases (GHGs). The waste products, while radioactive, are relatively small in quantity and can be stored safely when proper procedures are followed. US and other well designed nuclear plants, with substantial containment vessels, have been relatively safe. There has been no loss of life (though Fukushima may change that fact). Finally, nuclear fuel is reasonable in cost, and represents only a small portion of the cost of generation of electricity.

On the negative side, the media over-hypes nuclear accidents, emphasizing the worst that could happen. Radioactive waste disposal is a difficult issue mainly due to political opposition and over-played fears of the unknown.

Clean Coal technology is ready for prime time in the US, where the fuel is plentiful. Coal may be gasified or liquefied at the mine site, for more convenient transport and use. As I pointed out on WUWT, CO2 Is Plant Food which should be used to improve agricultural yields in elevated CO2 greenhouses, rather than what seems to me to be a foolish idea of sequestering CO2 in abandoned oilwells.

On the negative side, coal trains have been dubbed “death trains” by Global Warming Alarmists, such as James Hansen, the head of NASA GISS. The supposed possibility of human-caused, catastrophic “runaway warming” (CAGW) has been way, way over-hyped and is more political than science-based. On the other hand, coal and other fossil fuel technology is responsible for some air pollution and disposal of the waste products can be troublesome.

SUPPORT FOR NUCLEAR POWER

In Fukushima, there has been a partial meltdown of some of the cores, release of some radioactive gases into the atmosphere, and there remains a real risk of further radioactive material spewing over the surrounding countryside. The news is bad for the nuclear industry worldwide. As happened with Three Mile Island in the US in 1979, the media are over-hyping the dangers. Even if the crisis doesn’t worsen, it may be a long time before the nuclear industry regains its footing.

While bicycling in France a few years ago, I was impressed by the nuclear powerplants that seemed to be everywhere. See here for an account of how we were almost arrested for trespassing at one plant. Decades ago, the French made a major commitment to nuclear from which they now get some 80% of their electrical power.

In contrast, the US gets only about 20%. Less than a year ago, I kayaked fairly close to the nuclear plant at Crystal River, Florida, that happily co-exists with dolphins and paddlers. When the US cautioned Americans living within 50 miles of the Fukushima nuclear plant to evacuate or stay indoors, I was relieved that I live a full 52 miles from Crystal River, but concerned abut the fact that plant is 34 years old.

The 1979 movie The China Syndrome dramatized a hypothetical, catastrophic core meltdown, where the molten material burns through the bottom of the containment vessel and melts partway through the crust of the earth. Of course, the molten material could not actually penetrate all the way to China, but the coincidence of this movie coming out only a short time before Three Mile Island essentially shut down the US nuclear industry for three decades.

In 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Russia had the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, sending radioactive materials over parts of Russia and other areas in Europe. That plant had no containment vessel so there is no basis of comparison to either Three Mile Island or Fukushima.

The Japanese earthquake, and -especially- the resultant tsunami flooding, has most likely resulted in the deaths of 10,000 or more people who were living in low-lying fishing villages along the coastline. Yet, no one is calling for an end to fishing villages.

Though the Three Mile Island accident resulted in no deaths at all, and the Fukushima accident will most likely have only a limited number of casualties, there is a hue and cry to close existing nuclear plants and reverse the recent resurgence in interest in expansion of “green” nuclear power. I think that reaction, while all too human and understandable from an emotional standpoint, is unwise.

SYSTEM ENGINEERING FAILURE

Although my bachelors is in Electrical Engineering, I do not claim to be any kind of expert on electrical power plants. However, based on my long career conceptualizing and designing highly reliable, robust and redundant military avionic systems, and my advanced degrees in System Science, I do know something about complex systems. In my opinion, both Three Mile Island and Fukushima were system engineering failures. Yes, there were hardware failures in both cases, but the major fault was in how the system was designed and how the operators misunderstood what was actually occuring and how best to reverse or limit the damage.

According to Wikipedia:

The [Three Mile Island] accident began … with failures in the non-nuclear secondary system, followed by a stuck-open pilot-operated relief valve (PORV) in the primary system, which allowed large amounts of nuclear reactor coolant to escape. The mechanical failures were compounded by the initial failure of plant operators to recognize the situation as a loss-of-coolant accident due to inadequate training and human factors, such as human-computer interaction design oversights relating to ambiguous control room indicators in the power plant’s user interface. 

In Fukushima, the backup systems proved to be inadequate. It appears that the earthquake or, more likely, the flooding due to the tsunami, disabled the backup generators which were supposed to power the pumps and keep the cooling water flowing over the cores. There was also a battery backup that failed. It is not clear if the automatic shut-down system worked properly. With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, it is clear that the backup generators should have been sited above above the maximum flooding level or otherwise protected from water damage. The connection between Fukushima and the national electrical grid was severed by the tsunami. A new power line is currently being run to that plant and, when connected, it may power the pumps if they are still operational.

The system and design engineers most likely thought that power for the pumps would be available from other nuclear generators in the complex, or, in a reasonably short time period, from the national electrical grid. They seem to have ignored the possibility that a single incident would shut down all the generators as well as the backups and access to the grid. Of course, at 8.9 or 9.1, this was over 100 times more powerful an earthquake than the 7.0 for which the system was apparenty designed. However, backup systems must be designed to withstand whatever might cause the primary systems to fail. This they failed to do.

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Bush’s Demonstration Clean Coal power plant has been in operation in Polk County Florida for a few years. Read more at this link — http://www.tampaelectric.com/news/powerstation/polk/
Not only is it less polluting, it is far more efficient … Lower’s electricity costs in the bargain. For the Saudi Arabia of coal what’s our problem. Oh yeah, Obama.
The USA has more coal energy than the world has proven oil reserves, about 30% of the known world’s coal. That includes the low sulfur coal that Clinton made into a wild horse reserve so the USA could buy their low sulfur coal from Indonesia’s Riady … Big donor to the Democrats.
The truth is what it is.

James Sexton

Yes, coal and nuclear is needed and gas for peak periods. The knee-jerk reactions to nuclear accidents, while understandable, isn’t warranted. Does anyone really believe that nuclear power will go through eternity without a very serious disaster or two? You live (most of us) and you learn. To everything, there is a cost. When things like Fukushima occur, we figure out what went wrong and why. (I don’t believe we’re getting very good information from there, yet.) And then you takes steps to correct it. I fully expect this to be the path the Japanese will take. If we’re wise, we’ll learn through others’ mistakes without having to repeat them here.

Fukushima is presently at level five in the severity scale, and even the Japanese are describing it as “very grave”. This eventuality was unclear at the outset, as TEPCO did not divulge information about the vulnerability of the spent rods storage and the risk exposure. Had they done so, remedial action may have prevented the deterioration of the crisis.
Regardless of whether the situation deteriorates further before it stabilises, nuclear power plants will be a lot safer from now on. I would be very surprised if the world permitted any new nuclear plant that requiring the continued operation of active cooling systems for safety after being shut down. Especially in unstable environments!
The lessons will be learned.

etudiant

Dr Glickstein,
The systems engineering failure you note extends to the overall design.
The biggest risk here is the likely exposure of decades worth of spent fuel kept on site, co-located with the reactors.
This mass of fuel is now overheating and boiling off the volatile radio nucleotides such as cesium 137. The DOE did a study well over 20 years ago that identified this risk, suggesting a plausible outcome would be to make enough emitted pollution to make hundreds of square miles uninhabitable.
The only good thing to date is that the wind has been blowing offshore, sparing the nearby countryside. That may not last.
The same storage pools exist here in the US for similar design reactors, such as the Vermont Yankee plant for instance. In light of the recent event, this should be changed quickly.

cwj

The inadequacy of the back-up systems in Fukushima was that the back ups were all subject to the same risk. Rather than all standby generators at the plant, there could have been an off-site generator available to be brought in, or elevated storage for cooling water. These would have each had their own risks, but different risks, giving the operators more options to deal with emergencies.

Wondering Aloud

Seriously? Re-evaluating? Antiquated nuclear plants in the way of an unprecedented catastrophy and here we are a week later worried about tiny radiation leaks? Yes the public paranoia caused them to try to vent the plants in a stupid manner, but the fact that 3/4 of the nuclear plants, the newer ones, are still running doesn’t tell you anything? which of the other power sources you site would do as well? would a “clean coal” plant have survived? Would the operators still be alive?
Like three mile island this incident is actually evidence of nuclear safety. The very slow nature of a nuclear accident allows the media to scream for weeks taking advantage of irrational fears. In a fossil fuel plant, the plants destruction kills everyone around instantly, a much less enduring story.
We have what? 25,000 dead? and millions homeless and all we are doing is talking about tiny radiation doses and doing our best to scare people
Wikipedia is once again a less than reliable source.

Lonnie E. Schubert

Doesn’t matter in the long run. Nuclear fission will eventually be our only option. I agree that we need to use everything possible until it is too expensive, like wind power–it is already too expensive for most applications. Besides, nuclear is still safer than anything else available for primary power production. (Fusion is a possibility, but we need breakthroughs that may not happen.)

David S

In my opinion we don’t have a lack of options with regard to electric energy sources. What we have is a lack of resolve to do anything. My suggestion is to shut down all electricity generating plants for 1 week next January. After shivering in the dark for a week people will be demanding new power plants of any and all types.
Well I wouldn’t really do that but I think it would take something like that to get the ball rolling.

Jeremy

Actually, this Nuclear problem in Japan as a result of the earthquake makes me feel a lot better about Nuclear.
1) It was the strongest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history, this plant was not designed to take such a powerful quake.
2) All plants in Japan went successfully into shutdown when Quake hit. All Nuclear fission STOPPED, in spite of the huge amount of energy released, the mechanisms functioned as designed.
3) Only 1 nuke plant despite many others being in the crosshairs of the Tsunami had a problem.
4) This plant was using a 1960s designed Gen-2 reactor. This is OLD technology, and it still survived both the earthquake and the tsunami without release of any core material.
IMHO, they made a design mistake when they put the external-power circuits below ground level near the ocean. It was flooded as a result of the Tsunami topping their seawall, which was one of the initial major problems with getting external AC power back up for the cooling systems. Japan also has to deal with Typhoons, so I can see why they might not want it on a huge tower, but this seems like a glaring mistake in design to me. This is a backup system, and as such should be designed to *always* be available in the worst of circumstances. Change the design of this one reactor to have two available external power circuits, one above ground and tsunami level, and this whole “disaster” at this plant never happens, it all cools down safely.
So yes, when you consider the enormous improvements in reaction control and cooling with Gen 3 and Gen 4 reactor designs, this event has convinced me that Nuclear power is probably safer in practice than most other forms of energy. We should build MORE nuke plants, not less.

Wondering Aloud

Sorry Ira, I am not disagreeing with your points, but rather with giving in to the publics misunderstandings.

John Marshall

The backup generators at Fukushima were of the correct power but overwhelmed by the tsunami which got into the engines meaning a complete re-equip. The power generation brought into the site were not the required power of 6kw which is what is needed. This is in process of being corrected so some improvement should come over the W/E.

Ryan Glinski

You gotta read this:
High Efficiency Nuclear Power Plants Using Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor Technology
http://embeddedlab.csuohio.edu/PowerGroup/Papers/Liquid%20Fluoride%20Thorium%20Reactor%20Technology.pdf
In theory they can get 50% conversion of thermal energy to electricity. 50%! And the fuel is ordinary old Thorium, of which there is enough to power reactors for thousands of years, and it’s a waste product of all kinds of mining opperations. Compared to traditional nuclear a tiny amount of waste is produced and it’s only dangerous for 300 years, not 10,000. It is physically impossible for the plant to melt down, “negative temperature coefficient of reactivity,” basically means that if the power goes out the system naturally cools off.
Seriously, LFTR’s are Mr. Fusion.

MikeW

Let me get this right Ira, the fifth strongest earthquake in over a century strikes almost underneath a nuclear power plant and is then hit almost immediately with one of the largest tsunamis ever and the worst that happens is the release of some short lived radionuclides? And that, mostly N16 spikes in steam?
The earthquake was five times stronger than the plant was designed for. The tsunami far higher than designed for. And one of the the reactors was two weeks shy of its 40 year design lifetime.
Truthfully, you could hardly have picked a worse location on the entire planet at any moment in time for over a century to put a set of aged, operating nuclear reactors. More people will die from adverse reactions to iodide pills.
You have heard, haven’t you, that this earthquake, so close as it was to the plant, released so much energy that the spin of the planet was measurably affected?
If this event does anything other than reinforce your prior support for nuclear power then, sir, I think you are just weakly ceding the win to global “media personalities” who so showed their breathless concern in front of their cameras by endlessly spouting the most garbled stream of dangerous misinformation the world has ever seen.
Please give this issue some more thought, Ira. You might also want to check some of the excellent coverage over at The Register:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/18/fukushima_friday/

ew-3

“With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, it is clear that the backup generators should have been sited above above the maximum flooding level or otherwise protected from water damage. ”
Exactly right. The backup systems and even the used fuel storage needs to be hardened against outage. This is something that can and should be done right now.
Further we should replace reactors that are nearing EOL with gen III and gen III+ reactors. We need leadership to make this happen. Sadly we have virtually no pro nuclear power leadership in government.

Matt Schilling

I say we need “nuclear diesel”: Build dozens of nuke plants to displace more and more coal from making electricity; use the displaced coal to make more and more pristine clean diesel – and jet fuel – which displaces imported oil.
More nuclear power, roughly the same amount of coal, and a drop in oil consumption nets out to, in essence, nuclear-powered cars cruising down our highways. and nuclear-powered jets darting across our skies.
It is similar to the proposed benefits behind calls for hydrogen-powered cars, since the only way to make prodigious amounts of hydrogen would be to greatly increase our stock of nuclear power plants. Yet, it is patently obvious that “nuclear diesel” would be much easier and safer to implement than hydrogen on the highway.
We’re talking proven, off the shelf technology and an incremental expansion of an existing diesel delivery infrastructure vs. building a hydrogen-based system from scratch.

Eric Gisin

I recommend the daily coverage of Fukushima by Lewis Page.
I wonder what the typical AGW alarmist is saying about the “meltdown”?
http://search.theregister.co.uk/?author=Lewis%20Page

Ed Barbar

I read recently that China now produces 50% of the C02 the US does. The Chinese and other emerging countries will no slow down their economies for C02 unless the cost of the replacement is roughly expansion neutral (that is, does not slow down expansion). I can’t imagine the Chinese expending dollars to sequester C02, and I doubt they would use the C02 as fertilizer approach on a large scale. So that leaves cheaper nuclear as a solution.
I think we should be thinking thirty years ahead to inexpensive and safe nuclear reactor designs. Forget about what is happening today and the backlash to forty year old nuclear designs. Obama screwed up. Instead of spending money on solar panels for schools with his stimulous money, he should have spent it on Nuclear.

The tsunami is most dangerous

Chad Woodburn

The chart at the start of the article fails to include the significant danger that coal involves for those who mine it. According to the CDC “During 1900–2006, a total of 11,606 underground coal mine workers died in 513 U.S. underground coal mining disasters” . And in 2010, 48 US coal miners died in such disasters.
I’m all in favor of exploiting coal as much as possible. But we must realize that ALL option involve significant risks. And the option that has the MOST risk is not having abundant energy.

George Lawson

I’m afraid I disagree with your views on the future for nuclear power. The nuclear plants in Japan in spite of being old, have so far withstood one of the biggest earthquakes on record plus a major tsumani. Yes there has been a number of scares, but so far it appears, out of the thousands of people who have been checked, that no one has received any level of radioactivity over the accepted safety level, and the news today is that they appear to be getting the problem under control. Let us repeat that there were no deaths resulting from the Three Mile Island fire, and twenty years after the Chernobyl plant explosion, there are only 56 deaths recorded as a result of that explosion, Although more are likely to die in future years. This to my mind underlines the safety factor in nuclear power and is probably bad news for the greens, the anti nuclear lobby and the environmentalists. Fukushima is therefore going to prove that nuclear power is safe and that more modern plants than the Japenese models will prove to be 100 percent safe. I find it difficult to understand why you consider the anti nuclear press to be one of the reasons why you are becoming less enthusiastic about nuclear energy.

Fred from Canuckistan

The idea of using the warmed water and CO2 from burning coal to generate electricity as the inputs to industrial scale green houses growing massive amounts of food is so much more appealing than using massive amounts of energy to grow food so that this can be turned into inferior quality fuel for automobiles.
Real sustainability.

Mike McMillan

The plant survived a quake an order of magnitude greater than its design, and an unprecedentedly gigantic tsunami that obliterated a huge portion of the nation. Unfortunately the engineers didn’t foresee the backup generators running under salt water. Hard to put too much blame on the designers.
Industrial explosions that blew the buildings to bits may not have hurt the containments. That, and whether the reactor vessels contained any melted cores (as they were designed to do) remains to be seen, but I’m betting they did.
We’re going to have more injuries from potassium iodide poisoning than radiation.

Jeremy

I really don’t get.
Why the focus on the risks of Nuclear technology. Cheap reliable electrical power brings enormous benefits (coal, nuclear or gas fired – it would seem to be a no-brainer). Just consider for a moment how many people are protected and saved each and every day because we enjoy reliable electrical power ?
Driving a car can be lethal in certain situations causing a catastrophic accident – should we debate abolishing this technology too?
To put things in perspective, how many have died directly from the Fukishima nuclear power plant issues compared to those who have died from the earthquake/tsunami?
Why are we not discussing the insanity of hundreds of thousands living along vulnerable shorelines of the US West coast and other areas of the globe where earthquakes and Tsunamis are not a matter of IF but simply WHEN?
If we are actually worried about the risk of loss of life then why focus on the relatively insignificant risks of an industrial accident at a power plant?
If you google Wikipedia about the Lisbon earthquake/tsunami of 1755, it is interesting to read how that the disaster provided intellectual fodder for philosophers – for over a century.
FWIW: Discussing the merits of equipment based on its ability to safely withstand an event with a probability of around 1 in 1000 years is pretty much teh definition of insanity. If you did this then you probably would never get in a car, bus, train, boat or plane…

Graeme

“Jeremy says:
March 18, 2011 at 7:38 am
Actually, this Nuclear problem in Japan as a result of the earthquake makes me feel a lot better about Nuclear.”
I agree with jeremy – in fact it is quite amazing how well the 1960s reactors at Fukushima have stood up.
This “nuclear disaster” will most likely underwhelm the fearmongering hype – and never be reported as underwhelming…
Tsunami dead = thousands, fukushima dead = 0.

harrywr2

Ed Barbar says:
March 18, 2011 at 8:17 am
I read recently that China now produces 50% of the C02 the US does.
That’s an old figure, the Chinese passed the US last year as ‘Top plant food producer’.

Bryan

I would like people to stop and think about the consequences of half a dozen nutcases, with no regard for their own or other peoples lives, gaining control of a nuclear power plant.
A number of these plants are run by private companies where the profit motive rules.
Where does security and safety feature in this set up?
You might say that the site could be highly regulated.
Will the company do the minimum to pass these regulations or spend at a higher level than the minimum requires.
Going by past example will only reassure the most complacent and wishful thinkers .

harrywr2

Three Mile Island essentially shut down the US nuclear industry for three decades.
That was a ‘contributing’ factor.
Without very high load factors nuclear isn’t cost effective. The ‘projected’ growth in US electricity consumption never appeared. It wasn’t until maybe 12 years ago that the existing US nuclear fleet had load factors above 80%. Our coal fired base load fleet is running at something like 2/3rds capacity.

Mac

The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear incident was due to a CATASTROPIC NATURAL DISASTER. I doubt that any major utility based on Japan’s shoreline is Tsunami proof.
What we are clearly dealing with is the FEAR OF RADIATION, not the actual radiation exposure itself. That is a human failing not a system engineering failure.
Nuclear has to be part of the energy mix, simply has to. We have to accept that risk, and attempt to minimise it.

Tom T

A 30 ft tsunami should make it clear that there is no such a thing as a maximum flooding level. There is no design that can survive every conceivable eventuality. I doubt anyone could build a power plant that could survive an asteroid striking the earth for example. At some point you have to say the cost of trying to be 100% safe is too high and the risk is too low. Maybe power plants can be made to withstand a 10 earthquake and 50 ft tsunami, but no matter what something bigger, unforeseen could come along.

sdollarfan

Regarding comments in the article about the nuclear waste problem, GE has a
new generation of reactor called PRISM (a molten salt type of reactor) which can be fueled by the plutonium waste we are now producing at older generation plants, and it produces very little waste of its own. As an MSR reactor, it also addresses many of the nuclear reactor safety problems that everyone is so hyper about (like LFTR).
As I understand it, GE is currently in the process of trying to get the PRISM licenced with the NRC. The sooner it does this, the better. The LFTR and PRISM reactors are the types we should be focusing on building in the future.
http://nuclearstreet.com/nuclear_power_industry_news/b/nuclear_power_news/archive/2010/01/20/under-the-hood-with-duncan-williams-ge-hitachi-prism-reactor-01201.aspx

Henry chance

Coal is safe and reliable/predictable.
1 month ago 2 plants shutdown in texas because of frozen water pipes caused by get this sub zero temps linked to global warming.

Sceptical Me

Quote ‘In Fukushima, there has been a partial meltdown of some of the cores, release of some radioactive gases into the atmosphere, and there remains a real risk of further radioactive material spewing over the surrounding countryside’
Am I missing something? The only meltdown, partial or otherwise, that I am aware of was in the reporting from an hysterical MSM media, which I quickly learned was not the best source for considered rational information.
As others above have commented, the planned safety controls worked effectively considering the exceptional circumstances.

Very in time article.
All it leaves us with – is a question mark feeling…
Even knowing that nuclear is cleaner … it is so much deadlier than anything ever invented by a human.
I was born ir Russia – and Chernobyl was a nightmare that was so close to home… lots of family friends became victims of their own bravery… But they saved others…
All the money must be spent not on WARS not on INVASIONS to other countries but NEW and ALTERNATIVE energy. Invest in piece not war!

Fred from Canuckistan

“A 30 ft tsunami should make it clear that there is no such a thing as a maximum flooding level.”
There is if you build inland. They put these plants near the ocean because of the water availability. In hindsight it might have been better to build them inland, behind large berms and pipe in the water.

Snotrocket

Ira: In your ‘balance’ of nuclear v coal (sorry, ‘clean’ coal. Ha!) you list accidents in nuclear being over-hyped but serious. You do not list a similar entry for coal, yet many thousands of people have lost their lives in coal mine accidents, or died from long term health problems (black lung; emphysema; etc) after working in mines.
If the Fukushima plant had been a series of deep coal mines supplying conventional power stations, I wonder just how many deaths would have been caused as a result of miners being trapped underground at the time of the earthquake/tsunami.
No, you have not persuaded me that nuclear is safer than coal.

Tenuc

Fred from Canuckistan says:
March 18, 2011 at 8:29 am
“The idea of using the warmed water and CO2 from burning coal to generate electricity as the inputs to industrial scale green houses growing massive amounts of food is so much more appealing than using massive amounts of energy to grow food so that this can be turned into inferior quality fuel for automobiles. Real sustainability.”
Hear here!!! Perhaps there is such a thing as a free lunch.
I can’t understand why we let so much low grade heat escape to space when, with a bit of joined-up thinking and good planning, it can be put to so many productive uses – food production included. Perhaps as energy costs continue to escalate this will start to happen.

higley7

The Japanese nuclear reactors are not a problem as power plants. They survived the earthquake and tsunami just fine; they performed as designed. What failed was the main power and the backup generators which were disabled or outright removed by the tsunami. Then, of course, cooling became a major issue.
The fix here is painfully low tech. The backup generators need to be better sheltered and secured from water incursions.
That’s mostly it, We’re done.
To suddenly pretend that all of the other nuclear power plants in the world are a risk is silly. We simply need to ask the right questions regarding the backup system power source. Obviously, not enough thought was put into the security of the generators.

sHx

Well, I am not really taken in by this ‘clean’ coal thingy. All I know is that coal is much safer than nukes and that, although we have plants and organisms that thrive on CO2, mother nature hasn’t come up with anything that would chew on radioactive waste that will remain stored some place on the face of the planet for a thousand generations. Coal is also a much cheaper source of energy than nukes.

Stacey

You shouldn’t have back up systems where major disasters can be caused by their failure.
Failsafe systems should be required.

John T

For a different perspective.
Interesting reading, but at least scroll down to the table showing mining deaths & injuries in the US over the years. For 2006-2007, 69 deaths and 11,800 injuries.
And last month a gas line explosion in Allentown, PA killed 5 people.
Life is dangerous. And so far, nuclear seems to be less dangerous than most forms of energy.

Richard Lawson

After a flight from London to Washington DC last year I had the joy of waiting 3 hours in the passport queue (American immigration staff really do know how to make visitors feel unwelcome!). I struck up a conversation with a venture capitalist from the UK who was visiting a thorium reactor research company, in VA I think, with a clear intention to invest.
He was pretty amazed to find someone that had actually heard of thorium reactors, let alone the history and potential benefits of such a design. I advised him his investment would be 100% a safe bet!!!
I was wondering if the current situation in Japan would improve or harm the chances of such a reactor being built. The optimist in me says someone will see the light and do it – then I watch the BBC/Guardian and their ignorant reporters portraying Tokyo as a nuclear wasteland and realise just how much the lies of media now infiltrates our lives.
Still hopeful though.

higley7

“CO2 Is Plant Food which should be used to improve agricultural yields in elevated CO2 greenhouses,”
How about not pretending that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and letting all the world benefit from fertilization of the atmosphere?
Doing anything other than simply emitting CO2 to the atmosphere is a patent waste of energy, time, and money. Sequestering is stupid and meaningless and so is specifically capturing CO2 for greenhouses – the amount needed here would be tiny compared to the available emitted CO2.
With current EPA standards, coal is already clean. To pretend that we can do even better (and we are always aiming for this) to meet ridiculously stringent, unwarranted standards is to defeat ourselves for no reason.
The EPA needs a raison d’etre. So, they are constantly making their regulations more stringent, but there is a point of diminishing returns. In some cases, their standards are effectively the same as background for some chemicals, which means that any release is too much. This means that the EPA is using standards, not to control air quality, but to kill certain industrial activities, mainly because they have the power – even though reasonable people know that they should not be over-reaching their role this far.
Some pollutants need to be minimized, but regulating human activities such that their results mimic a complete absence of humans is simply unrealistic. It is impossible for us to exist and not to have some impact.

DirkH

Doing away with nuclear for the failure of Fukushima? I have an easier solution. Build new nukes on 10m high concrete sockets. Even in Germany, so that no German Green can point to the Tsunami risk (which is nonexistent here anyway but that never bothers these types).

Taphonomic

A few points. Fukishima was designed for an 8.2 earthquake. However, it withstood the 8.9 (or 9.0) earthquake that occured and executed emergency shutdown.
It was not designed for the size of tsunami that occurred.
The sequence of events, as currently known:
The reactors properly shutdown after the earthquake. Cooling systems began removing residual heat. The earthquake also cutoff offsite power to the plant that would normally power the cooling systems. Onsite emergency diesel generators started powering emergency cooling.
Later, the tsunami struck and took out the diesel generators. Batteries took over to provide power for cooling, but they ran out and additional backup generators could not be obtained quickly enough to prevent overheating of the core. Portable generators have been obtained to power pumps to inject seawater into the reactor and primary containment. They are trying to restore offsite power to run the cooling systems.
As for the China Syndrome, the scary scenario postulated in the movie was that the melted core melts down to the water table and explodes as the the water flashes to steam.

DirkH

Paul says:
March 18, 2011 at 9:25 am
“Very in time article.
All it leaves us with – is a question mark feeling…
Even knowing that nuclear is cleaner … it is so much deadlier than anything ever invented by a human.
I was born ir Russia – and Chernobyl was a nightmare that was so close to home… ”
The Chernobyl reactor had no containment and blew off the 1000 ton roof the moment it exploded. Fukushima is a local problem. No big amount of radioisotopes entered high levels of the atmosphere.
Current radiation levels in the Japanese prefectures: (Japanese PDF)
http://eq.wide.ad.jp/files/110318graphs_1600.pdf
found via
http://chipango.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/on-whether-the-government-is-lying-to-us/
(h/t Pierre Gosselin,
http://notrickszone.com/2011/03/17/fukushima-update-from-reliable-non-hysterical-sources/
)

Many postings and links
on nukes now arise from
cloaked, dubious
shill sources.
http://geniusnow.com/2011/03/15/the-strange-case-of-josef-oehmen/

Rhoda R

sHx, you should read sdollarfan’s entry above. The only reason we have such dangerous spent rods was because we were using our nuclear plants to produce plutonium (sp?) for cold war purposes. They are other forms of nuclear plants that produce waste that is much less deadly – in the long run.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. ALL forms of energy have their dangers, their drawbacks and their hidden costs. There is no pixie dust anywhere – it’s all deadly at some level of risk. Is potential cancer from radiation more of a risk and price in human suffering than emphysema from coal? Would you feel better to know that you lost your arm or leg from a free-wheeling blade from a wind turbine? or that your seizures are increasing from the sound frequency these monsters generate? How about the cancers caused by the raw and processed materials in solar panels? Lung diseases (and parasite infections) are common among Africans from having to cook over burning wood.
You aren’t going to get out of this life alive so you might as well be comfortable during the trip.

harrywr2

Bryan says:
March 18, 2011 at 8:45 am
I would like people to stop and think about the consequences of half a dozen nutcases, with no regard for their own or other peoples lives, gaining control of a nuclear power plant.
A friend of mine got a job as a security guard at a nuclear plant. He’s a combat decorated ex-marine. It took him 6 months to clear the screening process. Your hypothetical 1/2 dozen nutcases will all die from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Robert L

The 9.0 Japanese earthquake in pure accelerations (<2g on land) wasn't as bad due to distance from epicenter as the recent 6.3 christchurch NZ earthquake located right under the city that had lateral accelerations of up to 2.2G. So earthquakes can be worse than this one in their local effects, however the Japanese seem to have built very well for that.
The real killer is of course tsunamis – and it is hard to see what can be done to protect against that in the future – except for creating huge seawalls/dykes or banning habitation in low lying areas.
It is very heartening to see that the death toll from the reactor problems (ignoring those that died in the earthquake and tsunami) is likely to be countable on one hand. Pretty good engineering, even if there will be some leassons learned (back up pump survivability and redundancy)

ShrNfr

While the game is not over, the score at the moment appears to be Hysteria 14, Nuclear: 0 as 14 patients die when their staff abandons them at a hospital. The story is available at The Age, which is a newspaper in Australia.