This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
Thanks, Malcolm. I didn't know the details.
I was surprised on looking at the Daily Mail online that the headlines regarding an explosion at the nuclear plant have disappeared.
It seems that there was an explosion but it did not damage containment and the reactor is still very much intact. I am getting my information from http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Battle_to_stabilise_earthquake_reactors_1203111.html which may be prejudiced but is more likely to deal l with the facts.
I stand by my statement that I expect the incident to conclude with only comparatively minor damage. If that is the case then it will reinforce the case for safety of nuclear power.
I think it might be worse than minor damage. Japan's Nuclear Safety Agency is rating the incident at 4 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. Three Mile Island was rated at 5 and Chernobyl 7 on this scale, which goes from 1 to 7.
My understanding is that the surrounding concrete reactor building, which functions as a secondary containment, had its walls and roof blown out in a hydrogen-air explosion. The steel primary containment or drywell is still intact and the reactor vessel inside that is intact. The current intention is to fill the drywell with sea water and it is expected to completely cool down over the next ten days.
A diagram of a BWR showing the containment arrangements is given on this webpage: http://www.nucleartourist.com/type/bwr.htm
I've always seen Japan's enthusiasm for nuclear power, despite the risk of massive earthquakes, as being compelling evidence that large scale renewable energy (other than hydroelectric power) isn't viable. If any country had an incentive to make progress in getting renewable energy to work satisfactorily it would be Japan. They're also the sort of technically clever people who could actually make some headway with it, if anybody can. So if the Japanese are using nuclear power on a big scale it means that there isn't a realistic alternative to nuclear power for an advanced country that doesn't have natural fuel resources. (The Greenies try to explain away the Japanese enthusiasm for nuclear power as being some sort of gung-ho attitude towards technology and I've seen them explain away the French enthusiasm for nuclear power as all being down to Marie Curie).
Thinking about the nuclear plant explosion incident again, it may not actually have been an 'explosion'. It would qualify as an explosion in everyday language, but in engineering an explosion means 'fast burning'. The media reports are that it was a hydrogen explosion but I don't think you would need anything to burn to cause the damage to the walls and roof (which use a deliberate flimsy construction) of the reactor building that was shown on TV.
These BWR reactor buildings are only made of concrete up to the top of the drywell. Above that, in the upper part of the building called the refuelling bay, they use sheet metal siding for the walls and roof attached to a steel frame. From figues I can get from a report on the internet, the sheet metal siding is designed only to take about 0.4 psi pressure, and it also has a number of blowout panels in the siding which fail at the slightly lower pressure of 0.35 psi.
So when the plant operators decided to reduce the pressure inside the primary containment by venting some steam, you would only need a fairly modest pressure of more than 0.4 psi in the refuelling bay area to blow all the flimsy sheet metal away, which might be provided by the pressure of the released steam.
So far these reactors are still intact and there has been no major leak of radiation. The media are still desperately telling us what might happen in the worst possible scenario if everything they can envision goes wrong.
From what I have now seen there is evidence that nuclear power is extremely safe. Let's face it, these reactors faced up to the worst natural situation ever and, despite malfunctions, they are near enough in a safe condition with no major effects away from the site.
Just to prove your point, the Dailymail, also, is of the opinion that this disaster proves how safe nuclear plants really are. I mean, how much harder could these plants be hit? A meteor maybe?
Radiation is a scary thing. The level of faith involved when dealing with it is high. I keep telling people that I would live in this town if provided enough money to do so AND if it was pretty clear that resources would be available. I would find a house high enough in the hills to not be in the line of the next Tsunami, but I wouldn't be overly worried about the direct effects of the radiation. Of course looking at the plume maps, it appears that the place to avoid would be out in the ocean...
You never want to treat radiation casually. Then again, you should never treat any body of water casually either.
As humorous as discussions of plastic tarps and duct tape were in recent years as a means of defense against biologic and radiologic attack, the power of 3mils of plastic should not be laughed at too heavily. 3 mils of plastic can be the difference between freezing to death and relative comfort. One of the greater dangers of these types of events is particulate emissions floating in your direction. While it is always possible that they will sneak past the defenses, any sort of shelter can defend you to a large extent.
Saw this in quotables --
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear."
- Mark Twain
I would not say that summarizes the editorial line of the Mail itself, but rather the personal opinion of the science editor, Michael Hanlon.
I have been disgusted in recent days at the extreme sensationalizing and alarmism of the Mail's coverage of the events at the ********* Daichi power plant.
I have seen other pro-nuclear people trying to use the line that these events are either an endorsement of nuclear power or that they are testament to its safety. I sympathize a little with this view. Almost everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong, and yet no one has yet been killed by radiation.
I think instead those seeking to promote nuclear power to the public should just stick to pointing out the distortions and inaccuracies in the press coverage. Because this event has in fact been bad for the image of nuclear power. It is not possible to argue, I do not think, that with several large explosions, destroyed reactor outer buildings and measurable leaks of radiation that things have been kept under control.
On the theme of the sensationalist journalism which tends to accompany the covering of the nuclear accident in Japan, I noticed some Canadian blogger who lives in Japan has tried to do something about it by starting up a 'Wall of Shame' to name and shame bad journalists. This blog post called "Why Bad Journalism Has Driven Me To Desperate Ends" gives details:
When I worked in the UK nuclear industry in the 1980s and 1990s, one thing that slightly surprised me was that the nuclear industry seemed to have no interest in cultivating any friends in the news media. All sorts of rubbish got written in newspapers without any nuclear industry spokesperson turning up to rebut it. They used to have a reasonably good relationship with the press in the 1950s and 1960s, and it wasn't particularly adversely affected by a nuclear accident at Windscale in 1957, but after the Green movement kicked into existence about 1970 the industry began to regard the press as a 'lost cause', likely to be hostile towards them. The nuclear industry's strategy for dealing with the Green movement was just to hope that they would go out of fashion (a bit like the 'Campaign for Real Ale' (CAMRA) pressure group which was really big in the 1970s but then faded into obscurity).
But after watching the coverage of the Japan nuclear accident I think I can see why the nuclear industry more or less ignored the press. It's much simpler for the news media to adopt the Green apocalyptic view of nuclear power as it sells more newspapers and boosts TV ratings than by taking a more moderate 'don't panic' line. I think the nuclear industry was quite right to believe they would be wasting their time in trying to win over the press.
Japan is now at the stage where, barring any further major incidents, the reactors are now under control. Obviously they now face the onerous task of placing the reactors into a safe state and will later have to decommission them.
Despite all of the scaremongering it appears likely that the deaths attributable to the reactor failures will be minimal especially compared to the tsunami deaths. Some other people will have suffered the effects of a heavy dosage of radiation but the majority appear to be unaffected. Crops and water in a defined area will also be affected.
I do not wish to minimise the effects on individuals but, in overall terms, the reactor failures were a non-event with only local consequences. The safety of nuclear power has been proved by this event.
Thanks David for the links given on this topic,(and belated thanks for the link given re the horse electrocution).
I nearly dropped my cork leg when I read George's latest piece on the Grauniad CiF~ "Why *********** made me stop worrying and come to love Nuclear Power."
And a very interesting link to xkcd.com
I don't believe it!
PS> Why all those stars for the name of the Power Station? Anywaysup,you know where I mean!
This is an event of monumental proportions, and clearly expresses the extreme danger of nuclear power. Petroleum tank farms and refineries might be subject to explosion, and have a local effect, but when a nuke power plant goes through a melt-down, the world-wide consequences are large indeed.
Thorium pellet-bed nuke power-plants are the best way to go for producing electricity, but still far more expensive than coal.
But for transportation uses, only petroleum-based fuels work at all well, and coal-fired power plants are by far the least costly for production of electricity.
CO2 is required for the building blocks of green plant life . . . as in the food we eat. More would be better.
You mention the "extreme danger" of nuclear power, and you suggest that the ideal replacement would be coal. Have you any idea the rate at which people are killed in coal mining accidents, and how many have in fact been killed in the past by coal mining? I will give you a hint that the figure dwarfs that of those killed by civilian nuclear power generation, in a manner similar to how a mountain dwarfs a moal hill.
Also, the grave world wide consequences of the ********* accident have only been psychological, and the grave physical effects only local.
Thank you Andrew. I agree with all you have said here.
I would add that the 100 years generally quoted to make the plant safe is approximately equivalent to the period normally quoted for decommissioning of a nuclear power plant. This period allows time for the radioactivity to decay considerably before final dismantling. Therefore there is noting unusual in the time to make the plant fully safe.
In reply to Edward, I must admit to being taken aback by Monbiot declaring himself as a supporter of nuclear power after Fµkµshima. However it wasn't 100% unexpected, I remember back in 2005 or 2006 James Lovelock announced that there were several prominent British environmentalists who secretly supported the idea of using nuclear power to keep CO2 emissions down, but they could not go as far as declaring it in public. Monbiot was rumoured to be one of these secret supporters, and that did made some sort of sense, as Monbiot is one of the few British environmentalists who makes some sort of attempt to study things for himself rather than just parroting the views of others. Then in 2008 Monbiot declared that he was no longer opposed to nuclear power, and favoured it over coal. He now appears to have come completely out of the closet, so to speak. But I'm not sure what this does to Monbiot's career as the Guardian's top environmental journalist, I would have thought his days are numbered as it's almost part of the job description of being an environmental journalist to be anti-nuclear.
This issue of the Greenies being predominantly anti-nuclear reminds me of an issue regarding AGW sceptics that has puzzled me for years. Quite a lot of AGW sceptics are very keen on the terminolgy 'CAGW' where the C stands for catastrophic, it's in quite common use by commenters on AGW sceptic blogs and sometimes AGW sceptic bloggers use the terminology as well. I think I can see the idea behind it, it is probably intended to cover people like Bjorn Lomborg who is obviously not an AGW sceptic but could be more accurately described as a CAGW sceptic as he didn't (until about a year or so ago) want to spend any money on it, preferring to spend the money on other more worthwhile causes. The problem with the terminology is that most Greenies (apart from a few like Monbiot) are also in effect CAGW sceptics, as they clearly regard nuclear power as being a bigger threat to mankind than rising CO2 levels, otherwise they would be agreeable to its use in 'fighting climate change'. In Greenie world the current global fleet of nuclear power plants is a catastrophe in itself, and they think the population of the world is at risk from a 'meltdown' or just about any sort of radioactive release from any of these plants.