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Nuclear Power Equation

Posted April 07, 2011 7:00 AM

The crisis continues at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, which was damaged by the March 11 earthquake and is still releasing radioactivity. If a nuclear power plant in the country best-prepared for earthquakes can fail this way, how safe are other, sometimes older, nuclear power plants around the world? Given the risk of disaster, are the benefits of nuclear energy worth pursuing? Given the ecological and economic costs of the alternatives, is nuclear power our best bet? What can be done, both technically and politically, to make nuclear plants safer?

The preceding article is a "sneak peek" from Scientific Instruments, a newsletter from GlobalSpec. To stay up-to-date and informed on industry trends, products, and technologies, subscribe to Scientific Instruments today.

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#1

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/07/2011 9:27 AM

Nothing can be done politically to make nuclear plants safer. Please adjust your smoking habits.

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#5
In reply to #1

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 2:08 AM

Well speaking technically What about these?

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#2

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/07/2011 4:20 PM

We need to build MORE nuclear energy reactors, not less... Build more with all new technologies and safety measures, and slowly replace all the old/existing systems with new state of the art ones. I'm tired of hearing all this fear mongering about nuclear energy because of the accident in Japan. Less environmental damage is done, fewer people are hurt, disabled, or dead because of nuclear than coal.

I honestly believe that is the same scale earthquake were to hit my area of the world I would be far more concerned with all of the ageing dams and bridges failing than a nuclear reactor. (Oregon, USA)

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#15
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Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 6:11 PM

Hmm bridges a concern after a earthquake, sure if you are on that bridge immediately after, and dams well not unless you built a home in a historical river flood plain. So for most people a nuclear disaster is far more of a concern. Beside they won't build any in Oregon. Only the DOE has one in Washington and the rest are in California on the west coast. People think California is full of enviro activist have never seen Oregon. The process for building anew nuclear power plant is so intensive, and Oregon has so many anti-progress retro-hippies (the ones that left San Francisco 30 years ago when they believed it was becoming to right wing and moved to the communes) they would definitely get a ton of public comments and probably protests during the NEPA processes. I am for nuclear power as long as you require some liability on those who truly benefit from it. The executives of the companies must personally be in the front lines along side the lower engineers and live locally amongst the general public that would be impacted should a incident occur, and the people the power is primarily to support must have the power plant in their close proximity. I bet cost cutting would not be as palatable then when the disaster would be next door. It is easy to be for something, as long as it is not in your own back yard.

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#20
In reply to #15

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/11/2011 11:29 AM

My Office would be under water if the Bonneville dam burst. I think my house would be ok, but I know my shop/office would be under.

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#21
In reply to #20

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/11/2011 6:21 PM

So it sounds like what you are saying is your office should have been more properly located, if you feel there is a reasonable probability of the Dam bursting.

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#23
In reply to #21

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/11/2011 6:54 PM

HAHA...

Well I'm across the street from Boeing, and at the same level as the PDX airport, which were all built in a flood zone. The entire industrial park is on the bank of the Columbia river (which happens to be the most radioactive river in the world) in what used to be wetlands, and immediately downstream to the dam... when any of the dams goes there is a chance it could take all the ones downstream with it, and a good portion of Portland would temporarily be under slightly radioactive water.

On a side note, I believe much of the radioactivity comes from the Hanford reactor, which seems to leak into the river (after all it was built in 1943 for the Manhattan project in a hurry)... But many in the industry would deny that claim I'm sure.

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#24
In reply to #23

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/11/2011 7:04 PM

Hmm, sounds like what you are saying is there are many facilities built and/or utilized imappropriately, if there is a reasonable risk of dam failure.

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#28
In reply to #24

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/11/2011 8:18 PM

I guess what I don't understand is how does one identify "Reasonable"? I mean the reactors in Japan were built to withstand a "Reasonable" earthquake, and all of the foreseeable effects from it.

Would a magnitude 9 earthquake be considered a "reasonable risk" for something that was built as fast as we could build them in the 40's?

I wonder what the dam/s were built to withstand in the case of earthquake.

How do you define "reasonable"?

Is a terrorist attack "reasonable risk"?

We have all seen what happens when a major dam fails, if Johnstown was any indication. Many cities across the globe are built underneath massive reservoirs, which were built many decades ago.

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#29
In reply to #28

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/11/2011 11:08 PM

A bit like insurance companies do - actuarial studies

Probably why the nuclear industries 'premiums are unaffordable' and certain types of floods are not in polices.

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#32
In reply to #29

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/15/2011 12:52 PM

That would be a statistically based quantifiable measurement, which engineers would like, or even just the probability of a failure multiplied by the cost incurred by that failure. However, it is unlikely that would be the basis for it under law, which is what you would be brought to trial or sued under. Most of your peers in the jury do not understand statistics very well unless they have degres in math, accounting, science, natural "sciences" or engineering. You might in that case consider if a normal person, after a disaster has occurred, would consider the risk sufficient to have warrantted a greater degree of care or safety than was taken. Since the the law suits and criminal charges are likely to be brought after a disaster, the 12 peers in the jury might have a different perception of whether the risk was reasonably acceptable or unacceptable at that point. Of course if the disaster was big enough, then it becomes a issue of political pressure, the agencies involved woudl understand the statistics, science and mathematics involved, but they have to bend to some degree to certain political pressures from people even less competent than the average jury pool, politicians, or risk their own careers and possible criminal liabilities.

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#34
In reply to #32

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/15/2011 3:02 PM

My argument is simply that it's all relative, and can vary greatly from individual to individual. There is no line in the sand.

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#36
In reply to #32

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/16/2011 2:47 AM

I really don't know how to deal with your defensive diversions off topic, when it turns out you have again focused on the 'wrong end of the stick'.

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#25
In reply to #23

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/11/2011 7:12 PM

Just out of interest - is the presence of the dam necessary for the reactor cooling?

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#26
In reply to #25

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/11/2011 7:23 PM

Wow, if it was, they made a huge mistake in locating it.

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#27
In reply to #25

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/11/2011 8:11 PM

No, the dam is hydroelectric, and supplies most of the city of Portland (and many others) with electricity. I'm actually not sure how far apart they are... There are dozens of dams up this river, I'm sure one of them is for the reactor.

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#3

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/07/2011 11:39 PM

There's a price performance trade off in everything. We can make anything safer if we add enough legislation, safety systems, double checks etc. but is it worth it?

I'll give a lame example to illustrate the point. Say you want to clean the leaves from your gutters - just climb up a ladder and do it - WRONG, that's unsafe.

Instead you should use a full scaffold, with safety rails, installed by a licenced rigger, checked by an independent auditor, get some training (with yearly refresher courses), the scaffold will (of course) need yearly testing and recertification, plus a you should rope off an area of (say) 5m in all directions. The material you remove may contain hazardous substances ..... well I could go on but you get the point.

Instead we make a judgement that the extra safety isn't worth the extra cost.

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#4

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/07/2011 11:44 PM

Yes, we should continue to pursue nuclear energy! The Japan reactors survived the earthquake just fine; it was the tsunami that did the damage by destroying the electricity supply.

I read today that coal-burning generating plants release lots of uranium (they said 30 tons!) into the atmosphere, and nobody thinks much about it. But people get hyper about far less uranium released by a nuclear reactor.

The media sensationalizes, uses inflammatory language, takes the worst case, etc. Basically we cannot rely on the standard news media. A lot of this is based on the fallacy that there is no safe level of radiation. However, there is evidence that some small amount of radiation is good for a person's health. Also, have they not heard that there is background radiation that we get all day every day?

Please check the website: www.hiroshimasymdrome.com/fukushima-accident-updates.html. I think this is a more reasoned approach to the news.

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#14
In reply to #4

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 2:48 PM

Speaking of misleading language, lets not go supporting Ann Coulter please. As you can read here, even Faux (Fox) News can't support her. Your sentance about a small amount of radiation will be quoted without the word "small" in it and the next thing you know tomorrows headlines will read; "Engineers Prove Radiation is Good for Us."

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#17
In reply to #14

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 9:03 PM

Yep. The media sensationalizes the news. Sometimes I think they choose their words to panic us!

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#19
In reply to #4

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 9:44 PM

"it was the tsunami that did the damage by destroying the electricity supply."

Some of the early reports indicated that many of the generators were still functional but the tsunami caused the half full fuel tanks to float away.

Lets see:
* power station located on the beach,
* on the side of the island facing one of the world's most active fault lines,
* located LOWER than the city around it
* ALL residents are taught to go upstairs after earthquake
* fuel tanks partially full of air and the rest a liquid lighter than water.

Perhaps they should have had some high school students review their safety plans before finalizing them. Keeping the fuel safe should have been possible. A really big extension cord to a safe helicopter pad a few miles inland should have been possible.

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#6

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 4:58 AM

I am amused by the question in itself. Politics (and blooming ignorance) is THE prime impediment to atomic power, or any other.. We exist with generation1 (or should we say rev.0.9)???? power plants for over 60 years. The french got to Gen.2, and live happily with it. The japanese survived a blow 10 to 80 times harder anybody envisioned, with the old design. Whatever else, good for them, and I applaud them for it. (No, their handling of it is bloody far from perfect).

BASIC QUESTION: HOW WOULD YOU SURVIVE SUCH A BRUTAL ATTACK ON YOU???

Bets are, you would not. Does that means, you need to go back to the stone ages??? Obviously not. Except for those, who want exactly that.Why? Because they are retro.!! In any population you will find people harking back to stone age attitudes. Best chemicals, NO. Best electronics, NO. Best nucleonics, NO. While I accept them, THEY should be without those, as THEY refuse them. Today, we are 3 Generations away from the old atomics in passive protection, and 4 generations away for best practices from the old and present rev.09 reactors. Would I live close to a Gen.4 reactor? You bet, I would, especially, if their energy is free!!

In a race, today, would you drive a FordModelT rev.0.9 against ANY modern race car? Nor would I! It would not have a chance!!

Think about it!!!

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P.s: If you are into green energy - I support you. Just not to the extent to provide tax credits to support your hobby. You do that on your own.

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#22
In reply to #6

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/11/2011 6:49 PM

envisioned probably isn't appropriate, since they have not only "envisioned" such earthquakes in the past, people have observed and recorded them. So the proper term might be "the level of safety or safety factor designed for". However, it is a good example of how the plant could be designed extremely well, and the whole thing go to crap because of some relatively minor design consideration (at the time of the design) and turn into a major disaster because of delays due to business considerations vacillating on how to properly and cost effectively handle the situation. a Poor ancillary design consideration fails, compounded by bad business decision made to shield profits against possible losses is all a recipe for a major disaster, surprisingly we have seen at least two such events in the last 2 years that were completely anthropogenic disasters (facilitated by natural processes).

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#7

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 8:03 AM

Yes the reactors held up quite well during the quake etc. It is still the question of the waste that has to be answered. That seems to be where the most problems are in Japan at the moment. So, yes we should build more modern plants but with a "real" plan to handle the waste. Storage on site may be OK but it would need to be able to handle storage for a very long period of time.

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#18
In reply to #7

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 9:24 PM

The newer reactor designs considerably reduce the used fuel problem. CANDU is one about which I need to learn more. Another is a reactor using fast (instead of thermal) neutrons. I think the latter, maybe the former too, can use as fuel the used fuel from the present day thermal neutron reactors--thus the "waste" problem could be gradually converted to energy.

The waste from these newer reactors has a considerably shorter half-life, meaning that they will be dangerous for only a few hundred years instead of many thousands.

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#8

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 9:59 AM

I'm still struck by how an island nation planned the plant(s) for an earthquake, or a tsunami, but not both. Granted, it was a very impressive tsunami.

Has there ever been a tsunami without an earthquake?

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#9

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 11:25 AM

There was a presentation around mar.11.2011 on channel 350 (of the congress in Washington) from the Brookings Institute. The japanese Ambassador spoke movingly for a few minutes. Sorry, I did not find, and provide a website here.

A Brookins fellow said (and I paraphrase slightly): my green friends will be well advised to control what leaves their mouth. When India and China decides, not to build any atomic power plants, you can kiss goodbye to your global warming ideas. Translation: atomic power limits global warming (if you believe it, that is). After all, they represent some 60+% of the earth's population.

A generation 3 plant inherently controls emission, and waste issues. Gen.3 helium cooled uranium fueled one contains it in self contained balls.

A generation 4 thorium fueled plant is fundamentally incapable to produce the nasty actinides giving so much headaches for the present garbage disposal at the reactors. Never mind, that the french are perfectly capable of handling it right now. But I agree, less nasty garbage is preferable.

Before you conclude, that I am ignorant of plain chemical accidents and their price, for starter look at Seveso italy and Bhopal india. Just these two places cost nearly 10 thousand lives. Chinese coal mining cost something like that every year. You easily can come up with something "better" along that line. There is NO FREE ANYTHING, JUST TRADEOFFS.

Leveles

p.s.: solar and wind has its place. BUT, base load for industry and home it is not its function. You push it, you lose the argument as a nut, deservedly. Watch the present congressional budget argument for an example. Wait for an outcome, and weep.

A question to our people:

WHY ARE WE FUMBLING AROUND WITH THE ANCIENT DESIGNS STILL???

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 12:03 PM

I thought the French were just "storing" the spent fuels until they get breader reactors perfected?

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#11

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 1:07 PM

Lawrence Livermore Labs has the answer for us! It is called FUSION, and it is only 20 years away (still), and $ 20 B more.

Seriously, this might be the solution; 20 years is not so far in the scheme of humanity.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 1:15 PM

Yeah, but the roll-out is going to take another 20 years. That means fusion might be ready for mass use by the time we die.

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 1:25 PM

Then for the next 40 years we need to open up the Baaken oil fields (Montana, I think) to eliminate the need for Persian Gulf oil. We could even sell it to Saudi Arabia because it would be so cheap!

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#16
In reply to #13

Re: Nuclear Power Equation

04/08/2011 6:51 PM

The 'Bakken' formation is already 'open'. It has been producing for several years, but I doubt the Saudis have been tempted by the prices.

Aside from that minor point, your 'solution' to our energy needs, over the 40 year wait (hopefully) for fusion, has a large disconnect. Oil is not currently a viable substitute for coal or nuclear power. Oil for the most part does not compete in a meaningful way with coal or nuclear, and so is not a ready replacement. If free fusion power were here tomorrow, we would still be importing oil.

Coal and nuclear power make electricity. Oil makes diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, plastics, fertilizers and numerous other chemicals. Very little base load electricity is produced by oil.

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#30

Re: Is nuclear power safe enough?

04/15/2011 2:05 AM

I think this particular technology is one that we should not be playing around with.

As a society we are too immature scientifically, socially, and spiritually to be able to take full responsibility for any use of this technology peaceful or otherwise.

Our government spent billions of dollars to rush this technology into a military application. We still don't know for sure what effects those detonations and all the subsequent testing had on our planet and our solar system. We need to advance our understanding of physics, biology, and spirituality considerably before we will be able to take a balanced look at nuclear fission.

Until we become more knowledgeable and wiser creatures, I think we should drop nuclear fission as an energy source.

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#31
In reply to #30

Re: Is nuclear power safe enough?

04/15/2011 11:47 AM

I disagree. Society as a whole may be too immature, but the technical community is OK. We are not doing bombs, but extracting the energy that is in Th, U, Pu, etc. The effects on the atmosphere are totally different.

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#33
In reply to #30

Re: Is nuclear power safe enough?

04/15/2011 12:58 PM

to some degeree this is true, but the scientific and medical communiies have been refining their intial estimates. As we are findiing out over time, the affects of even the nuclear detonation at test sites in the pacific are far less than we had originally estimated. So we have been continually over estimating for the sake of safety by apparently large margins the risk posed by radioactive residues and the timeframes over which that risk would occur.

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#35
In reply to #33

Re: Is nuclear power safe enough?

04/15/2011 3:40 PM

Science, medicine and engineering can never escape the constraints of budget and profits. Nor do the techies provide the only interface to the public and decision makers. Therefore, we see estimates erring in both directions.

I disagree that nuclear power is beyond our ken. It's no more beyond our ability to control, manage and withstand than liberating the energy in coal, petrol and natural gas. The big difference is, no one's ever really managed to produce a concentrated release of those substances' energy to come close to the drama of a nuclear bomb.

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