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Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

Posted February 13, 2010 7:37 AM

Power industry personnel are often confronted with spurious "facts" about nuclear power. Misinformation abounds in widely held notions that nuclear plants can blow up, nuclear waste is a problem, Chernobyl is a symbol of the dangers, and expansion of nuclear power will lead to a catastrophe. A Mechanical Engineering article written by a veteran of the Manhattan Project provides all the ammunition needed to counter these myths.

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#1

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/13/2010 3:50 PM

Excellent article. I hope many people take a few minutes to read it.

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#5
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Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/14/2010 3:29 PM

I did!

Agreed!

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#2

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/14/2010 4:33 AM

I would think that the public would be more accepting of nuke plants if a proven standardized design were used in all cases. This would decrease the cost of design and reduce the probability of a lot of errors. Obviously each site would be unique and would require design of cooling water systems and geological sitework for each plant location. Also, interfaces with existing utilities and with the power grid would have to be done for each site. BUT if the reactor, the containment, the steam turbines, and cooling tower design could be mostly standardized that might give more confidence and might speed up the licensing process and make the cost of power produced less. It would be like ordering a proven "Nuke skid", locating it on your site, and providing the required connections. Just like we do now with compressor skids, emergency generator skids, etc. Don't design a plant based on the seismic zone, use a standardized design for the worst case every time - you only have to design it once. Some aspects such as HVAC would have to be unique based on climate but the nuke part should mostly be standardized. You order the 100 MW plant, or the 500 MW plant, or whatever, out of a catalog!!! What do you think?

I've heard that there is only about 40 years of uranium left to be mined economically - anyone have any knowledge on that? And I hear that breeder reactors would not extend that out forever. Any truth to this stuff?

It always peeves me when I hear the media say nukes are non-polluting and do not contribute to greenhouse gases. Not so. Mining uranium and the materials for construction of the plant, processing the fuels, etc all contribute to pollution and greenhouse gases and of course there is a lot of thermal pollution from nukes. Rarely is there a free lunch. I'm not saying they are bad, just that they are not harmless.

If the nuke waste is so safe, why the big hubbub over Yucca mountain and finding an acceptable waste disposal site?

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#8
In reply to #2

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/15/2010 9:01 AM

"why the big hubbub over Yucca mountain"?

ignorance and irrational hysteria

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#16
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Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

03/11/2010 11:26 PM

Actually, nuke designs ARE standardized. For a given type (brand) of reactor (at least in the West), a given design is made, run through regulatory approvals, and used over and over again.

I don't know if that means that nukes of a given type/brand are all carbon copies of each other in the sense that all pipes are laid out exactly the same way (I think they are .. my bro'-in-law (who works at a nuke-plant designer/builder) told me of a design flaw that would prevent control-room operators from evacuating if a particular steam line were to break), but the valves, instruments, systems, etc., are all placed in very similar ways.

The above applies to the 'nuclear side'. The 'balance of plant' (where stuff that's not exposed to radiation is located) might vary, though.

Cheers! DZ

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#3

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/14/2010 9:37 AM

Apologists for extractive energy sources tout "clean" and relatively safe production, while the extractive procesess themselves are the disaster. Of course, these processes typically take place in relatively remote areas that no one will see on the way to the mall. And the impacts happen to people who aren't considered to be important - except as units of consumption. Health care is a growth industry.

www.wise-uranium.orgMining & MillingImpacts

www.sric.org/uranium

Avatar notwithstanding, if people really wanted to protect wild places, the wasteful ways and "stuff" that would have to be foregone would raise cries of righteous indignation from all sides. Besides wildness should have well maintained access and concessions - right?

Wildness is, for the most part, a fantasy movie. But water isn't. When we've depleted and polluted all our aquifers, what will we do - extract more minerals and manufacture more water collectors and purifiers. It's another growth industry - go for it.

Yes, I'm using electricity. Mea Culpa.

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#4

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/14/2010 11:34 AM

What a superb article, one that should be used to inform the general public.

The following statements caught My eye as I read and say it all.

But safety is not an independent variable. Safety is created by the interaction among a variety of factors such as materials, design, selection and training of personnel, attitude of management, safety culture, and regulators.

SO TRUE!

The nuclear community has been reluctant to discuss that question. Its members have been told that discussing potential casualties just scares people.

A problem I tried to meet head on many years ago while working for Westinghouse because it seemed that NO query was ever answered or answered in a way the public could understand. So, this contributed to the myths and conspiracy theories. I believe that the general public, presented with answers in layman terms would have been more receptive.

So much more, each and every paragraph brought out so much truth.

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#6
In reply to #4

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/14/2010 8:06 PM

there has been a long discussion on yahoos alternate power group about nukes.

Only one person stood fast and thought they were good.

They arent.

Build it and they will glow. By the time you expend all the energy, manpower,schooling,money,studies, materials, vehicles, fuel etc to build a nuke plant, staff it, run it and put up power lines and poles(and cut down trees) to transmit to the grid, and the continual line clearing/tree trimming to keep the wires clear,then include the money and carbon footprint to keep up with spent fuel rods,etc, you come out WAY AHEAD building and putting up solar panel sets in individual locations to decrease the required grid load, Instead of putting up new large wires to supply a nuke plants output.

How much money is being spent right now, monitoring and securing and moving all the nuke plants and materials throughout the world that exist now?

That money is pure waste.

If we abandoned all this nuke crap, and spent the money, dollar for dollar on solar, our electric problems would go away.

How much money is being spent right now to secure solar panels and decomissioned solar panels throughout the world? Get the point?

Nuke is only good for the industry and taxation money and control over power it creates forever.

Not to mention the taxes all that nuke activity generates. Just the money spent designing and building those crashproof/ containers nuke material is rail shipped in around the country would probably put up enough solar panels to power at least one state.

All the money spent on 3mile islands cleanup,studys, medical exams,etc, would have put a panel or 2 on every rooftop in america. Just the paperwork it generated probably required several thousand trees to be processed into paper. Not to get into cherynobles costs, and what that money could have done for the planet.

Independant solar eliminates everyone from the cash stream between you and the sun. Your rates to collect solar power will never increase.

Do you want to grow old and die knowing you helped guarantee your childrens future would include feeding their hard earned cash to ever hungrier corporate fat cats, warmongers,power company exec's and more government control and taxes?.

Or would you like to pass away knowing you put solar panels on your kids houses, and they would never have to even think of paying a power bill?

Not to mention, this next generation will probably have an electric car in every garage. Do you want your kids and grandkids to continue to pay corperate fat cats,warmongers and harem humpers(NOT RACIAL,no harem, no oil, i didnt mean you!) every time they go out for a drive, like our generation has? Or to plug into a free home solar power outlet?

The way the economy is going free power for their homes and cars will be a godsend.

Dont you wish it were that way now?

Nuke plants contribute to global warming, anyway. Ever feel the water running out of a cooling tower back into the river?. Pumping billions of btu's of wasted heat into the environment sure cant cause global cooling.

"God gave us fuel, greed gives us gas", and nuke power"

obammas only interest in nuke power is how much cash changes hands how many times (taxed every step) to produce the first killawatt of power.

Solar power panels have now hit the $1.00 per watt price.(dont argue, yes, you can buy solar panels for $1.00 a watt now, spend your time looking and you will find them on the net from reputable mfgs.)

For $10,000 i can have 10 kilowatts of power in a few days. How much power could you get from a nuke plant a few days from breaking ground?

Any power from any new approved nuke plant is 8-10 years from hitting the grid. How much solar power could be created with the nuke plant money, just in the 10 years we are waiting for the nuke plant to go on line. !0 years worth of dumping cash and pollution into a project before any power comes out just doesnt hold up to a good math student.

And, please, do not get into the fact that the sun doesnt always shine, or i will go into a long discussion of biomass waste gassification and decomposition methane sequestering,coupled with teg, thermoelectric power generators running 24/7 maintenance free for 40 yrs . tegs are down to $10 a watt, now, btw.

Heck, the russians had the best nuke power for a while with their little lead lined generator boxes containing a chunk of "hot" radioactive material covered with teg cells for remote power. Portable, safe, continuous power. Of course, they are being rounded up now, because of the "dirty bombs" that can be made from them.

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#7
In reply to #6

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/15/2010 1:45 AM

$10/watt for TEG--are you kidding, or are you stinking kidding? Jeez, I hope I'm not the only person left on the planet who actually runs a few numbers on stuff like this. Even diesel gensets are only around $0.75/watt, last time I looked.

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#9
In reply to #6

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/15/2010 9:22 AM

It amazes me to no end how much emotional rhetoric gets thrown about by those who are against nuclear power. How about leaving that out and keeping to facts (not "truths")?

I do agree that solar energy should be a large component of any sane national power policy, but:

You conveniently leave out some of the downsides of solar.

One - maintenance costs are high, particularly cleaning, and damage due to inclement weather.

Two - current direct electric generating solar technology is a case of severely diminishing returns. The power generating capability is constantly degrading, to the point of near zero capacity in 5 years. This requires a full re-installation to return to capacity. ROI is not near breakeven.

What we really need is a comprehensive national plan to include ALL means of power generation, and a LOT less emotional rhetoric!

Hooker

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#10
In reply to #6

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/15/2010 9:25 AM

agenius for hire-

A genius you may be, but you discredit your own arguments when you fill your tirade with meaningless bumpersticker slogans ("Build it and they will glow"), populist rhetoric ("corperate(sic) fat cats,warmongers and harem humpers"), and downright misinformation ("solar panels on your kids houses, and they would never have to even think of paying a power bill"). Being off the grid does not mean one has no power bill. The cost of generating one's own power with photovoltaics (PV) is currently much higher than buying electricity from the local power company in all but a few extreme cases. Quit reading the extremist blogs and come to the real world. If "power company exec's (sic)" could make a profit for the stockholders generating power with PV don't you think they would be doing it? We may be close to being able to produce affordable electricity with PV, but we aren't there yet.

Bill Morrow

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#11
In reply to #6

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/15/2010 11:04 AM

Your intro alone is telling:

"...long discussion on yahoos alternate power group about nukes.
Only one person stood fast and thought they were good.
They arent."

When you come here, as opposed to Yahoo, you find individuals who think clearly and discuss factual, rather than emotional, considerations. The addition of the cliche' slogans-portion of your rant actually managed to reduce the intellectual level of this discussion.

Your reference to the "consensus opinions" of a collection of Yahoos reminds me of the "consensus" over Anthro-Global-Warming, with few of the younger climatologists standing firm against that silly politically-charged notion, even after the evidence showing the average temperature has trended downward over the last decade due to reduced solar activity. In fact, you appear to have missed all of the key points in the referenced article, if you managed to even read it first. Please go back and do so.

Alternate-power-groupies may be truly concerned about finding clean and economical sources of electricity, but engineers still have to build them first. In fact, it is the engineers who are working hard to make solar collectors efficient enough at a low enough cost per kW to make sense and compete in a free market. that's how engineers make their money. You will know when this occurs by the fact that all of the large oil, natural gas, nuclear, and coal power companies begin investing in them or even subsidizing them freely, rather than the government taxing everything in sight to provide hand-outs. You'll also see modular roof sections with PV as a standard feature rather than small internet sources of kits that run your Christmas lights and garden gnomes, and the life-cycle cost will be lower than the alternatives.

For instance, I recommend geothermal HVAC on every commercial project where it makes sense, I can prove the life-cycle investment is worth it with real data, and yet initial budget concerns over the high construction costs of well-fields result in fewer than half taking the clearly better option. That's right...the real world budget considerations matter, even after the economical point has been reached.

While there "ain't no free lunch," it is still true (based on factual accounting evidence) that once a new nuclear power plant following current designs has paid for it's enormous up front investment, it'll be about the cheapest lunch out there. What's better, after 40 years your grandkids will still be able to plug their electric go-carts into it. Try that with a PV panel after about 10 years, when the output is nil and the replacement cost is higher than the lifetime output of the original.

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#12

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/15/2010 11:36 AM

Aside from the 'safety' or even the ridiculous added costs for illogical environmental concerns, many appear to also believe that all nuclear power plants produce bomb-making enriched materials as a natural by-product.

As I understand some comments posted elsewhere, a plant or "program" must be specifically designed for parallel processing of materials in a way that allows further enrichment of materials for that purpose.

And yes, I realize that this would put the lie to the concept that nations like Iran can have a "peaceful electricity only" program and still produce enriched materials from it...unless, of course, the plant is of a design that specifically is meant to do so, or the plant requires fuel of an enrichment level that can be extended to weapons grade.

Does anyone here have the knowledge of how one could tell from casual observation if a nuclear program is meant to produce the kinds of materials required for a bomb, and which nuclear power plant designs are incapable of that activity?

For instance, without a gas-graphite reactor core design, can they even get to plutonium? Do the same systems needed for a light-water reactor or thorium reactor also allow processing and enrichment to 100% U or bomb-capable purity? Or did I miss something key about the process that would allow this capability to be hidden within the plant layout or processing of the fuel where this could be disguised?

We know that Brazil's military regime secretly exported eight tons of uranium to Iraq in 1981, that Saddam attempted to buy yellow-cake from Nigeria, and that the US military discovered literally "Tons" of uranium after the recent overthrow of that regime. (yes, I know the media repeat the mantra of "no WMD's were found" but what can we expect in the absence of a large missile with 'target=NYC' from those idealogues).
What are the chances that Iran had not managed at least the same success, and is that even relevant to electrical plant designs, or is it purely a processing and enrichment issue?

What I mean to ask is, can at least the "atomic warhead" objection be laid to rest on the political side by simply restricting the production of the fuel rods to nations with existing weapons programs?

Would this then allow the engineers to complete designs and eventual construction of nuclear plants world-wide, so long as they are of a non-weapons-producing design or with fuel obtained in a standardized format produced by a member of the existing nuclear community?

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/15/2010 12:09 PM

I must be blind...the reports I read indicated that no stock's of wepons grade unrainum or non-weapons grade stock were uncovered, am I reading the wrong report?

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#17
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Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

03/11/2010 11:53 PM

That was the reports the Main Stream Media (MSM) made to the uneducated public in order to totally vilify President Bush and the entire war effort. The real facts are that we found a multitude of things that were not reported by the MSM. We also know for a fact that several large truck convoys left Iraq and went both north and direct to Syria. We also know for a fact that we found an entire squadron of new Russian Migs with French avionics buried in the Iraq desert. We have found tons of artillery shells that have had nerve agents loaded and removed from them. These are just some examples of what was not reported to the general public by the MSM.

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#14

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

02/15/2010 4:35 PM

I have no problems with the safety of properly managed and operated modern reactors. But there's a problem .. bottom line mentality. The quest for profits and returns to stock holders will pressure the operators to make dangerous 'value judgments' that ultimately sacrifice safety. Say what you want. It's not technology but it's greed that's wrong with nuclear power.

--- CHAS

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#15

Re: Debunking Nuclear Power Myths

03/11/2010 3:10 PM

I worked in nuclear power for 11 years. Accidents like Chernobyl and TMI were caused by operator mistakes. In both cases, the operators had to work very hard to cause the damage that occurred.

As for TMI, if the operators would have stepped away from the controls and let the automatic systems shut the plant down, it would be running today. TMI was a result of misunderstandings and not having provisions in place to address unusual events. I heard once that there was over 150 people in the TMI control room during the accident. One of the guys I used to work with said he was in that control room and can not believe you can fit over 50 people in there. Today there is a separate emergency response facility to house the crazyness and the control room might have only a dozen people in it during a TMI type accident. Could you image being at TMI, I can't. Even with the accident, there was no significant release of radiation.

Chernobyl is a unique type of reactor which can be safely run but then again people circumvented many of the safety systems to perform a test which had very little value. This was an example of inadequate review of the test program.

Man has learned from the mistakes, Even with these accidents, nuclear has proven to be safe and reliable. I am all for it, keep the generators rolling.

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