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News flash: I was wrong

Unfortunately I was wrong about the likely death toll from the reactor outage at Fukushima Daiichi.

There's a very good chance that it's going to kill thousands of people — possibly more than the earthquake and tsunami combined.

But the cause of death won't be the one you're probably thinking of.

Western Japan and Eastern Japan do not share an electricity grid; because of an historical accident, in the 1890s when they were first getting electric lighting, Osaka, in the west, chose to run at 60Hz and Tokyo, in the east, picked 50Hz. Consequently there's no grid interconnect between the two halves of the Japanese electricity supply system.

Eastern Japan has had 15 nuclear reactors scrammed by an an earthquake. Some of them may be checked out and approved to start delivering base load again over the coming months, but they all need a thorough inspection at this point — and we know for sure that at least three of them will never work again (not after they've had seawater pumped through their primary coolant circuit).

We are now heading into summer. And Tokyo doesn't have enough electricity to maintain power everywhere even in spring.

Summer in Tokyo is savage: temperatures routinely top 35 celsius with 100% humidity. In a heat wave, it can top 40 degrees for days on end. Back when I visited in late August of 2008, the heat wave had broken and daytime temperatures were down under 37 degrees again — the week before it had been over 42, and joggers had been dropping dead in the street.

Greater Tokyo also has 30-million-odd people, of whom a large proportion — maybe 20% — are 75 years or older.

Elderly folks do not handle heat waves well; they get dehydrated easily and if they don't have air conditioning they die in droves. Normally it's not a problem in Tokyo because 80% of households have air conditioning, but with rolling blackouts and insufficient power it's another matter. They can try and evacuate old folks into school gyms with aircon and portable generators, but the logistics of moving several million geriatrics are daunting, to say the least. Not to mention feeding them, keeping them hydrated, providing their medication, and handling sanitation.

If TEPCO can't get some of those 15 reactors back on stream by June, and if Tokyo experiences a heat wave this summer (as happens every few of years), then going by previous incidents (like the heat emergency in Paris in 2003 that killed 3000 people) the deaths from heat stroke, among the other-75s may rival the direct fatalities from the earthquake and tsunami combined.



The biggest effect will be on the curtailing of new nuke building and the closing of old reactors without replacements.

As peak oil cuts down hard on available energy, we won't have the option of using nuke power to free up gas for transport etc. The delay, already too long, will be at least another decade behind.

Things will fall apart, and it won't be thousands that die...

At this point, we're going to need something pretty much miraculous - and the evidence is that if there is someone up there, he's pissed.


I wonder if there are any contingencies for this? Japan is a very thorough country when it comes to disaster management, It's likely someone has foreseen that this could potentially happen.


Small quibble: there is an interconnect, but it's not able to compensate for more than a fraction of the power loss. Feels a little odd to hear friends talk about the power cuts and stopped trains in Tokyo while we're blazing away with neon signs and stuff here in Osaka.

There was one tongue-in-cheek but interesting solution to the coming summer power loss proposed on Japanese slashdot: Holidays sees substantially less power use than weekdays. So, stagger the week across northern Honshu: Tokyo stays where it is; Kanagawa moves its weekdays ahead by two days; Chiba moves by three and so on. That way one area or another will always have a saturday and a sunday, and power use will be cut throughout the week.


Hopefully they won't have that heatwave.

Here is Australia our summers are often very similar, except for the humidity we can have days on end over 40 C, and weeks of plus 33 degree weather.

This year, apparently due to the La Nina, we've had a very cool summer (some parts have still had the heat though) but with lots more rain than normal. Here where I live, we had 2 or 3 days of 40+ in total.

I know it's wishful thinking, but I sincerly hope that the La Nina favors the Japanese as well. They don't need any more nastiness heaped on their plate.


There is presumably already an excess death rate in the area around the plant because of the extent that the nuclear emergency inhibited rescue efforts in the area.


How large is the world's stockpile of gas turbines? I'd imagine that if they're available they'd be a pretty much turn-key solution. Twenty or thirty turbines would replace each downed nuke reactor, and Japan doesn't have any shortage of LNG facilities.


It's Big Momma who's pissed. But I'd already about decided it was the loss of utilities and infrastructure that would do the most damage. I wondered aloud on the Bujold list how soon Japan would start building new power plants, how long it would take, and whether or not they'd cut corners in doing so because of the urgency.

Listie Micki in Japan says they have enough power for now. She says they are using careful enough management that the announcement of rolling blackouts in Tokyo may even be the sort of PR effort that convinced people the utility is on top of things and that they should conserve power. As for rebuilding - right away, but slowly and carefully.

There have already been very heavy losses among seniors due to the post-disaster lack of services. People on other blogs are speculating on whether or not this will be the sort of death blow Hurricane Katrina was to New Orleans, which is still not the city it used to be. Stay tuned.

Pat in the States.


Recently I've been reading a great book called Genome by Matt Ridley. In it, the author explains that stress is synonyms with the steroid Cortisol - something that actively disables the immune system. He says that we evolved this defect because in the past when people were starving (very stressful) it was employed as an energy conservation device - no need wasting vital energy on your immune system when you hardly have enough energy to keep your heart pumping. People are much more likely to die of common illnesses and get cancer or heart disease when they are stressed.

I can't think of anything more stressful than a nearby reactor being unsettled by an earthquake releasing cancerous radiation, and I reckon a lot of people are going to die merely from the thought of the events rather than necessarily the events themselves.


Yes there will be a spike in demand in summer. However thats 3 months away. Tepco and others are already firing up additional gas fired plants and have ordered more from G.E. I think its quite likely that they will ramp up to almost normalcy by summer, and then they will likely have to re-instate rolling blackouts as demand increases. However if those are staggered sufficiently I don't believe we're going to see mas die-offs of old people. Not just my opinion - I have heard the same from an analyst who specializes in the Japanese energy industry. He spoke at my work last week. Also don't underestimate the effect of self-imposed energy reduction ( or setsuden in Japanese ). This has reduced the demand load by about 15-20% over the last week. Of course its hard to say how much of that is from businesses that shutdown and will shortly start consuming energy again.

For what its worth - I live in Tokyo and am currently experiencing the intermittent blackouts. As I'm in central(ish) Tokyo they have been no more than an inconvenience so far.


While I've been quite dubious on the ridiculously overblown worst case scenarios associated with the situation in Japan, this does point out a problem of the present nuclear (or for that matter any centralised) power generation scheme. A system with a single point of failure is generally a bad thing. Now that may well argue for something similar to the Toshiba 4S reactor scheme, coupled with decentralised solar and other renewable power sources. Coupled with smart grid technologies.

I've been having a considerable number of conversations with a friend on the perverse effect "rent seeking" has on centralising what are (or should be) inherently decentralised systems. Down here in Southern California we had an energy crisis base almost purely on market manipulation:

While my discussions were predominately focused on telco issues (such as the multiple single points of failure situated in the World Trade Center on 9/11) the argument holds for energy sources as well. While various technologies favor centralisation based on economies of scale, the perverse incentive of markets to actively seek choke points/bottlenecks make for excessively vulnerable systems in the face of crisis.


The more centralized the system, the more catastrophic the failure, even if the probabilities of failure are low. Risk analysis always, always, always underestimates failure rates due to escalating failures.

Systems like nuclear power are prone to these patterns due to their necessary centralization. Murphy's law isn't just a joke -- it's a law of engineering.

You don't seem to get why you were wrong -- which is surprising, because you use the principle quite a bit in your writing.


Patricia: People on other blogs are speculating on whether or not this will be the sort of death blow Hurricane Katrina was to New Orleans, which is still not the city it used to be.

Completely different situation. In the US, we wanted to kill NO, an old style city that had never been "rationalized" -- it was an affront to middle-class values, to conservative economics, to protestant religion.

It wasn't economically necessary -- it was desirable. Enough important Americans don't want NO to ever be "the city it used to be".


I disagree-- not that I don't think you are correct, but because another, harder to quantify source of deaths exists:

Second and third order effects from the increased paranoia this will engender towards nuclear power:

Many fewer nuclear power plants build, more expensive when they are built, less research towards better nuclear power systems. Then, all of this feeding back into a continued increase in reliance on fossil fuels, which in turn exacerbates the pollution/global climate change situation, the political and armed conflicts surrounding these dwindling global resources, etc...


Ah, good old externalities. Alas, I think many within the exclusion zone may die as medical supplies, food and water can't get in, in sufficient quantities. Before any knock on effects to the grid or lack there of, come into plain sight.


Mobile generator sets unknown but large, with one proviso we're talking one megawatt or less per unit. There was an article (which I can't find!) in which was described a one megawatt generator which could, just, fit into a standard shipping container. most mobile/turnkey units would be sub the one hundred kilowatt mark

Anything larger would be made to order so there's a lead time - even if you could divert units already in production.

Don't forget we're talkng about losing up to fifteen reactors here, and assuming eight hundred megawatts per reactor - well you see the problem?


Philip Brasor, who writes for the Japan Times and blogs from Tokyo, has said that he believes 'there is some truth in the idea that TEPCO’s “threat” of rolling blackouts was formulated as a form of negative PR. The public has to be shown how inconvenient their lives are without those nuclear reactors. They did the same thing in 2003 when a safety scandal forced them to shut down some reactors during the peak air conditioning season in summer, and they said that if people didn’t cut back they would be forced to cut power themselves.'


It's one of the unfortunate consequences of centralized generation.

Small scale generation (mainly roof top photovoltaics) is really taking hold in many parts of the world. In Australia its a 13 year payback period, 5 with government subsidies, and the cost is falling each year.

With a bit more of a push into distributed storage solutions (probably reversible fuel cells) we wouldn't have any of these blackout issues and could leave fission to medicine and weapons where it's a good fit.


There are plenty of big mobile generator platforms available - they're called ships. Given the coastal location of the failed power plants, it may be possible to replace at least some of their capacity with surplus warships etc. Do the Russians still have any nuclear subs left?


An article/OpEd on an Australian news site has said that the Japanese quake also took out a hydro electric dam in Fukushima Prefecture, washing away some 1800 homes. Who knows how many people might have been killed.

To quote from the above article: "Hydro dams are visible, and if they break while you are in the path of the water you are likely to be dead. The calculated average annual deaths from hydro dam collapses worldwide is 133. There are also thousands killed each year in the coalmining industry. Australian scientist Gerald Laurence told a press conference on the Fukushima crisis that more radiation exposure is found next to a coal-fired power station than a normally operating nuclear one, because burning coal releases radioactive material embedded in the mineral."

I guess we, as a species, are quite poor at calculating risk.


Erm, err ...

At the interface of the two power systems

( How COULD a supposedly-developed country do something so unbelievably stupid, in engineering terms, is bayond me ... )

Oh, yes, two power systems, build LARGE AC/DC/AC converters. Easy with modern solid-atate tech. And get on with it. Right now.


That could work. 15 years ago I was in Florida for work, and even back then they worked a 9 day fortnight (every other Friday off) just to reduce road traffic on Fridays, and it was noticable.



"Small scale generation (mainly roof top photovoltaics) is really taking hold in many parts of the world. [Snip] With a bit more of a push into distributed storage solutions we wouldn't have any of these blackout issues."

I don't know about the rest of the world, but the PV systems most of us are installing here in the UK are on-grid systems, which automatically shut down if the grid power is off. They'd need major reengineering to keep going during blackouts.

For those wondering why, the inverters phase lock to the grid power. If they kept working while the power was off, when the power was restored they would have an arbitrary phase relative to the grid. Not a good idea.


The Yanks were involved. :-|


Well, this comment sounds a bit trollish in my ears. If there is a basis for U.S. implication in this decision by Japan in the 1890s, beyond the supply of equipment by GE (other companies supplied equipment as well) then I'd be interested in it. Otherwise this it implies culpability in a "Of course it's screwed up, the yanks were involved" sort of way.


Greg. Tingey's right: AC-DC-AC conversion should be pretty straightforward - it's been used in the France-UK cross-channel link for years, as well as a number of undersea links in Scandinavia and other places, because AC doesn't travel underwater very well as a result of the huge capacitance of the line.

Arthur Chance is also right that most UK domestic PV installations will stop operating in a power cut. However his reason is slightly wrong: the main problem is that if small generators continued to feed the local grid when a line broke they'd likely finish up electrocuting the engineers repairing the fault.


So which system is "better" - 50 Hz or 60 Hz? And if you had to do it all over again, would either frequencey be optimal, or would a higher (or lower!) frequency be better? I know that in those old space station designs something in the thousands or tens of thousands of Hertz was claimed to be better on the strength of induction effects (no soft steel cores necessary), but 20,000 Hz seems a bit high for running a country :-)


The only obvious advantage to either frequency is that 60hz lets you run CRTs at a higher native refresh rate.

OTOH the question of 110v vs 240v RMS is one of those "low enough to kill you, but high enough to make you think you're safe" arguments.


I don't know about you, but I wanted to kill New Orleans from the moment I read John McPhee's "The Control of Nature." There just should not be a large city in that location, not to mention the (consequent) sisyphean task of keeping the Mississippi river in its ordained course.


"There was an article (which I can't find!) in which was described a one megawatt generator which could, just, fit into a standard shipping container. most mobile/turnkey units would be sub the one hundred kilowatt mark"

Caterpillar has a 1800 kW rental unit (Cat XQ2000) that fits in a 40' container, and ~500 kW containerised units are the norm for rock concerts here in Sweden. Those are more or less turnkey (the ones we used you had to connect the correct tails depending on if you were feeding straight to Powerlocks or to a sub-distribution rack), just add a diesel tank and you're ready to go.

No idea if those are multi-frequency but the tech sheet suggests that frequency is variable over a range. And I have no idea how much the entertainment industry in Japan relies on generators to supply power for sound and lights.

(Cat also apparently has a 5.2MW gas turbine for rent, but that's highway relocatable and not containerised so probably out of the scope of "useful stuff that you can easily relocate on a container ship")


It's pretty simple really. I think we can take as given that the world is getting more unstable and will continue to do so at an ever increasing rate. Both politically unstable, due to resource constraints, and ecologically unstable, due to desertification, climate change, etc.

But it is somehow a good idea to build large scale, expensive & heavily subsidized, centralized and very brittle, potentially incredibly toxic energy systems that are non-renewable?

A 10 year old should be able to figure this one out folks. What is needed is an immediate switch to distributed renewable energy systems so that the remaining fossil fuels do not go to waste building nukes. Might that require a change in how we live and use energy, of course, but at this point that can only be a good thing.


Don't forget, there will also be deaths caused by countries moving away from nuclear energy to its defacto substitute coal, both from pollution and mining accidents. Just as with three mile island, a disaster that makes the news causes us to move away from a technology where risks are localized and controlled to one where the risks are distributed and hard to assess.


Do the Russians still have any nuclear subs left?

Not workable, unfortunately. Typical sub reactors put out 50Mw thermal; the big reactors aboard a recent USN CVN -- the biggest seagoing reactors in the world -- are around 500Mw. Also, they're designed to mostly turn prop shafts; electricity production is secondary.

This isn't to say that ships can't be used to provide base load power (in the 1930s the USN used one of its carriers to help out a Pacific North-West city that had a major generator outage, IIRC) but it'd take more than one or two subs to make up the shortfall in Japan right now.


Greg, you think that's bad? Look into Japanese railway gauges -- and weep.


Small scale generation (mainly roof top photovoltaics) is really taking hold in many parts of the world.<<

But, of course, that is most useful in places with a favorable roof-to-inhabitant ratio; which means its fairly useless in a city of any density (like most of Japan's population lives in).

Of course, last I recalled, Japan's rural areas had a disproportionate population of elderly, so at least for heatwave specific remedies, that's not so bad. If the photovoltaics were all in place already...


A few of those Russian nukes-on-a-barge might be handy though. Come to think of it, the Russians (rather, the Soviets) built a road-mobile nuclear power station.

If you think that's weird, wait 'til you find out what the use case was supposed to be...


Greg @21, Ed @26:

The DC bridge idea should work. But it also has a potential weakness. Both systems are not likely to have a lot of transmission capacity at their borders. Yet that is where they would have to be interfaced.


But, of course, that is most useful in places with a favorable roof-to-inhabitant ratio; which means its fairly useless in a city of any density (like most of Japan's population lives in).

More to the point; a couple of years ago we became a predominantly city-dwelling species; more than 50% of us are urban.

And you can bet that most of the urban H. Sapiens specimens live in high density environments rather than spread out in American (or Australian) style suburbs.


Based on the status info at the IAEA website, only 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors are now dead (filled with corrosive and fuel-poisoning borated seawater). Unit 4 was shutdown and had the fuel removed when the earthquake hit, and 5 and 6 are in cold shutdown with fresh water being pumped in and coolant systems operational. There's almost certainly some damage from the earthquake and tsunami to the 3 shutdown units, but they can probably be running again sometime in the next year or two, but maybe not in time for the peak load in the summer. Those three reactors can provide about 2.7 gigawatts, and the 3 dead ones mean that 2.0 gigawatts are no longer available.

I haven't seen any status on the other 9 reactors that were scrammed other than they are all in cold shutdown. So I assume that they can be brought back up in the relatively near future, perhaps in time for summer, perhaps not.

AIUI the interconnect between East and West can transfer about a gigawatt, which isn't a hell of a lot, considering, but represents about one reactor's worth. How long it would take to bring in additional conversion equipment is an interesting question; right now transportation to and around Japan is a tad problematic.


So how many CRTs are left in Japan to care about? I'll bet that they've gone farther than any other nation in replacing CRTs with LCD flatscreens.


Mind naming some options?

Here, I'll do it for you.

Hydroelectric - Almost entirely tapped (in the US at least). Highly dangerous failure mode. Cannot be decentralized in an economically reasonable fashion. And we'll just not bother with the environmental effects.

Wind - Inefficient, expensive, and on the scales required to replace other sources of power could cause even more climate problems than coal. (Hint: That energy doesn't come from the aether. Robbing the climate system of energy en masse is a bad idea.)

Solar - High maintenance, inefficient.

Geothermal - Possibly the best of the renewables, but while useful almost everywhere for heating, power generation by geothermal requires specific geology. (AFAIK, at least.)

Did I miss anything? Saying "there's got to be a better option" is all well and good, but until you can point at something specific, we're stuck with coal or nuclear. I'll take the nukes, thanks.

Back on topic, wasn't Fukushima Dai-ichi due to be decommissioned in the near future? If so, then there should either be excess elsewhere planned to take up that slack, or at least in the process of being built.

If the other reactors scrammed properly, I doubt there'd be too much delay in bringing them back online. The Japanese can do the same math we can.

Systems like nuclear power are prone to these patterns due to their necessary centralization.

Nuclear power systems aren't necessarily centralized, though that's been the approach to all currently installed systems. There have been designs for small, highly-reliable reactors which have fail-safes that operate on simple physical principles. Here's one study of the policy issues in developing and deploying such reactors. These designs are in the range of 50-100 Mw electrical, so they're about a tenth the power output of existing large reactors.


This is a false dichotomy. I can guarantee you that we (humans) will burn through all available fossil fuels as quickly as we can, regardless of how many nukes are built.

It is not a choice between nukes and fossil fuels, it's a choice between (fossil fuels AND renewables) OR (fossil fuels AND nukes). The question now is, as the fossil fuels dry up, what do you want to be left with?


As to bringing in a lot of new capacity via gas generators there is one small detail. They reason Japan has so many nukes is due to a lack of fossil fuel resources. I have to think that this much additional natural gas coming into the country via LNG ships would require more infrastructure than just siting a few hundred turbines and hooking up hoses to existing gas lines.

And LNG isn't exactly the safest thing to deal with. Similar to nukes. Great when every thing works. And it works 99.9999% of the time. But when something goes wrong one ship can take out a major harbor.

I'm not so sure I'd want to live nearby to a fast tracked emergency LNG port. Says he who has a nuke plant down the road. :)


"How large is the world's stockpile of gas turbines? I'd imagine that if they're available they'd be a pretty much turn-key solution. Twenty or thirty turbines would replace each downed nuke reactor, and Japan doesn't have any shortage of LNG facilities. "

I suspect that there are not warehouses full of these things. Especially ones that are of the same make and model.

Would you want to setup 50 of these things from 8 different companies and get them operating in a hurry?

But then again that might be what is needed.


nukes are heavily subsidized & most of the costs are not accounted for at all (i.e. are offloaded onto the social body). why not let that most revered free market decide if nukes are truly economical. i can tell you why, because if you count the cost of insurance alone nukes go out the window.

what about the cost both financial and in human terms of containing and managing the waste over thousands of years. what about the cost of decommissioning plants, something which is rarely properly accounted for. what do you think the total economic cost of fukushima will be, it's almost incalculable.

in comparison solar is far superior, both technically and economically. PV panels have come a long way in the past few years and are advancing rapidly. your off-hand dismissal of them, and avoidance of actually grappling with my main points is telling.

as for the false choice between coal and nukes, see my response to Will.


anura @12:

"Completely different situation. In the US, we wanted to kill NO, an old style city that had never been "rationalized" -- it was an affront to middle-class values, to conservative economics, to protestant religion."

"It wasn't economically necessary -- it was desirable. Enough important Americans don't want NO to ever be "the city it used to be"."

I hang with a fairly conservative crowd. And mostly protestant. This statement comes across as absurd.

N.O. was and will always be an economic disaster. Some of it cultural. Some of it historical. (Read about Huey Long.) Some of it geographical. The entire population of the US supports the existence of cities along the last few hundred miles of the Mississippi via dozens of government programs to keep the river flowing the way it is now. And to help out N.O. as it sinks relative to the river and even relative to the North American continent. The river wants to change course. It does this naturally every few hundred years. The LA and US government are working hard to stop the change. And we're all paying for it. And the bill is guaranteed to keep growing until we give up. And the last change would have happened over 100 years ago if we had not intervened.

My personal opinion is we will loose the river at some point. And it will make Katrina look trivial in terms of cost. Imagine N.O. and the other major LA cities with no river. Then the city will die.


You may recall early pictures from Japan after the earthquake of the fire at the giant LNG/petroleum refinery in Chiba, east Tokyo. They decided just to let it burn out rather than divert limited firefighting resources to something that would take a week to bring under control. Scratch a big chunk of Japan's total fuel importation and processing capability which would be needed to run a bunch of plug-and-play gas turbines to make up for the electricity shortfall.

As for the Daiichi plant's older reactor fleet, they were building two new modern reactors (PWRs, I think, about a gigawatt each) at Daini across the bay, to come into service in 2013 or 2014. They were meant to take over the capacity shed by the smaller Mk1 BWRs at Daiichi as they were being decommissioned. Expect those reactors to be examined closely on safety grounds before they produce watt one, and add another five years or so to the building timescale. A really big sea-wall is going to be the cheapest part of the circus.


There is another choice: fossil fuels AND renewables AND nukes, because fossil fuels are the major contribution to CO2 increase, and renewables just can't provide enough power over the short and medium-term without some real hairshirt restrictions on power use. You might also consider where all the fresh water the human race is going to need will come from, and how much energy it will take to get it, especially if we're damming the rivers for hydroelectric power.


Bryan, you missed a couple.

There's tidal power -- do-able in certain locations, specifically where there's a tidal estuary. Some estimates suggest the UK could get up to 10% of its base load from tide power (at a cost of some tens of billions to build the enormous -- and rugged, because immersed in seawater -- plant). Negatives: the Severn Barrage keeps getting shot down because of the immense environmental damage it would require.

There's OTEC. Very promising in tropical latitudes and could in principle provide most of the USA's electricity from the Gulf of Mexico. Substantial engineering problems to overcome (giant offshore platforms with siphons moving tons of refrigerant per second between heat exchanges in the deep sea and surface waters). In practice, nobody has pushed an OTEC plant much beyond 1Mw of output. The fouling problems could be a show-stopper. Undesirable effects on marine life, too.

Orbital solar power stations: (a) we haven't built anything more than about 100kW on orbit, (b) monstrously expensive, (c) anything over 1Gw probably qualifies as an orbital death ray (if the beam wanders away from your rectenna farm you can toast a city with it).

Orbital solettas to reflect sunlight down onto solar farms on the ground, for high power output: nobody's really done any development on this, which I think is a shame. (Stick thin mylar mirrors -- similar to big solar sails -- in orbit and use them to reflect more light onto existing solar farms. What's not to like?)


Hairshirt restrictions on power consumption are not going to happen.


  • China and India are developing. Those folks, like the Japanese before them, are going to develop a taste for (a) automobiles and (b) air conditioning.

  • Did I say air conditioning? Global climate change means, even if average temperatures only rise 1-4 celsius, that those parts of the world (notably in China, Australia, Africa, and southern North America) that currently undergo heat waves over 40 celsius from time to time will in future undergo heat waves from time to time that are 1-4 degrees warmer: 45 celsius instead of 41 celsius, for example.

  • This may not sound particularly serious if it's only 3-5 days a year, but above 42 celsius it's impossible to sustain human life without active refrigeration. Even standing naked in the shade in front of a fan, you'll succumb to heatstroke and die.

    Given a choice between sucking watts to run the a/c, and dying, people will suck watts. Given no choice ... what we we trying to save the planet for, again?


    Daichi (第一) and Daini (第二) just mean "first" and "second" in this context.


    Having just run a Google search, I can buy a 2kw solar system for $13k USD. (Most of that I can get paid back by the government, but if we're not counting subsidies, we're not counting subsidies.) That should do for this house, despite being a terribly inefficient piece of architecture and despite my high use of power.

    Warrantied for 25 years, that comes out to about $16.85/kW-h. According to wiki, lifetime cost of a nuclear plant is about $59.30/MW-h, so about $0.06/kW-h. Now, this is probably heavily subsided. (The article glosses over the details of subsidies, and I can't be arsed to go digging right now. If you have them, go ahead and post them and I'll redo my calculations.) Let's say it's subsidized to 1/100 its actual cost. $6.00/kW-h. (I'm pretty sure I did my math right, please correct me if not.)

    ...All of which is irrelevant.

    As mentioned upthread, you can't do rooftop solar in a city. Interestingly, in the coming years energy demand in cities isn't going to fall any. If for no other reason than urban areas are the optimal area for electric cars.

    You might be able to take some of the load off with solar in rural and suburban areas. That's great, and I'd love to see that happen. But it's not going to be a magic bullet solving everything. Rural areas selling back to the grid isn't going to come close to powering urban areas. (Even if you power the homes, how do you run the trains?)

    (And no, "move everyone out of the cities" is not a solution; urban areas are more efficient users of energy.)

    You need a baseline of always-on power to keep cities running. And when you get down to it, yes, there are only two heavy hitters for grid power -- coal and nuclear. Do I honestly think we'll shut down all coal plants and go purely nuclear? No. People are stupid and economic markets are more powerful than common sense. But I would prefer to shift the balance away from coal. (If only to stretch our reserves until something more useful comes along.)

    Regarding waste: it is a problem, yes. But the problem is the lack of reprocessing, and the dependence on uranium-fueled boiling water reactors rather than more modern designs. It's about being so afraid of the proliferation boogieman that we can't use more efficient designs -- much less let anyone else use them.

    Also, economic cost of Fukushima? Seriously? How in the world do you expect to separate that from the economic cost of the largest natural disaster Japan's ever seen. (Which is the reason for blackouts and lost production and most of the economic disaster this will be.) The loss of one nuclear plant (that was due to be mothballed anyway) is not that major an economic hit in comparison.


    The idea that there should be no restrictions on human "progress" is a very new one, which we are about to have to unlearn the hard way. There will be hair shirt restrictions on energy usage whether we desire them or not, it's simply not up to us whether there are. Fukushima & the other plants which will be knocked out for some time are a case in point.

    Once the reality has sunk in (difficult in the face of the irrational ideology of continuous growth and progress), the question then becomes, what is the best way to go down Hubbert's peak, and to avoid total ecological meltdown.


    Greg and Charlie,

    The Japanese also drive on wrong side of the road.


    Ah, well, now we get into philosophy. Because it all depends on how you define "progress".

    Put it another way, I can envisage an endless spiral of capitalist progress and economic growth that doesn't consume resources ... if the definition of value is locked up in soft goods like music, poetry, and software.

    The flip side, a new SUV for every driver every two years, is clearly not sustainable. But that's because it's a definition of progress that is linked to energy and resource consumption rather than intellectual property consumption.

    In an IP based progress economy, you'd get lots of consumer goods -- but inflation selectively focussing on hardware, so that intangibles stay cheap and are turned over frequently, but food, clothing, automobiles and so on are less disposable.

    Also: you seen to be conflating the crisis of the Hubbert peak with ecological meltdown. These are in principle orthogonal issues -- human environmental impact isn't solely contingent on us running a carbon-based energy economy. (We did a lot more damage, per capita, when we were riding around on horseback.)

    You need to decide where your priority lies: a liveable future for human beings, or a post-human planet. Me, I'm in favour of the former, with the caveat that we coevolved with a complex ecosystem and can't survive in its absence, so a liveable future for human beings depends on us being able to foster a livable human-friendly ecosystem.


    You mean the right left side of the road!

    (It's you Americans who drive on the wrong side. But I digress ...)


    I'm not sure where this "small portable power plants" idea came up. Is nobody here familiar with gas turbines?

    For a quick product primer for GE Power -

    The containerized LM2500 and LM6000 series were intended for ship propulsion but also come in shore power / electric output models, and are available up to 36 MW and 50 MW respectively. And there are larger units, which are too big for intermodal containers, up into the 100+ MW/unit range.

    Yes, you need a lot of units to make a GW, but "a lot" is only 20-30, and GE has many many many thousands of those turbines installed worldwide. I don't know what their weekly build rates are. GE (or alternates) need to produce enough units, and TEPCO needs to come up with enough natural gas to hold through the summer at least, but those aren't impossible.


    Anything big in Earth orbit requires active station-keeping and that means expending reaction mass, even if it's in a high enough orbit that residual atmospheric drag doesn't deorbit it first. A soletta is basically a space sail which will get blown about by the solar wind and light pressure. You can stick a VASIMR or two on it to keep it in place but reckon on a few flights a year to lift fuel to reposition and reorient it on a regular basis.

    BTW a soletta is as good as an orbital death laser ray if slightly less concentrated; imagine hitting Dubai with the output of a city-sized soletta during the hottest part of summer.



    We've been having a lot of "green" progress for decades but it's largely un-noticed. Here's one example.

    When I lived in Pittsburgh during the 80s there was an article in the paper talking about why steel jobs were never coming back. About 1/2 of them were lost to countries that built up or re-built their own industries after WWII. The world was not going to buy all its steel from the US forever.

    But the second was purely based on efficiencies. As I recall the article, from the 50s till the 80s steel consumption in the US per person had dropped by 1/2. Uni-body cars and the growth in the use of aluminum and such.

    So yes, the steel industry and their workforce got caught in a wringer. (Made much worse by their own actions but the hardship was coming no mater what they did.) But overall the world progressed.

    Heck, look at computers. Personal computers used to be big honking space heaters. Now if you average the power usage over all of them it's way down. No mater how you measure it. Per computer. Per person. Of course you have to deal with people who don't think of an iPhone/Android phone/iPad/whatever as a personal computer.


    Not quite clear, Charlie.

    What matters is the "wet bulb globe temperature" - a synthetic measurement of the effects of temperature and humidity on humans. The relative humidity and wind speed are important along with the temperature.

    Along with Japan and southeastern USA, northern India is one of the, er, hot spots for this particular risk ( Australia and the Sahel, not so much.

    (Fun fact from Vaclav Smil, "Energy in Nature and Society": the main thing that allowed humans to colonise very hot parts of the planet is the fact that we are the sweatiest mammal - up to 500 ml per square metre per hour. The next best is something like 300 ml/m^2/hr.)


    False, actually. Coming from India, we experience 45-50 degree centigrade temperatures for 2-3 months straight. People don't drop dead just because they miss air conditioning. Human evolution I think has that taken care of. I'm sure there will be plenty of heat strokes, but proper hydration / government action to make sure that people have water will be enough.

    Paris is a poor comparison because people in France aren't used to the same levels of heat.


    Also: you seen to be conflating the crisis of the Hubbert peak with ecological meltdown.

    Not at all, I perfectly understand the distinction. If we can solve our energy issues it will be only one piece of a much wider social change necessary to heal our dying ecosystems, so in that I think we are in agreement.

    (We did a lot more damage, per capita, when we were riding around on horseback.)

    Poppycock. To take one instance alone, mechanized agriculture has meant a radical increase in the rate of soil degradation, eutrophication and desertification. It's not really surprising, as when we were running around on horseback, the energy we had to do damage with was all agricultural. Work done by muscle power today is infinitesimal in comparison to that done by fossil fuels, and there are more of us to boot.

    I can envisage an endless spiral of capitalist progress and economic growth that doesn't consume resources .

    You are essentially talking about a perpetual motion machine. There is no free lunch. The digital economy is incredibly costly in terms of energy and resources, infrastructure, associated human health costs, etc., and requires a massively complex industrial 'life support' system to sustain itself for any length of time.


    That's why I love the McLaren F1 so much

    The driver sits in the middle and the two passengers sit left and right, a little behind.

    Every car, every truck in the world should be like this. No more sillyness about driving on the right side or the left side.

    Of course this means that all roads would have to be coverted to one way streets or divided highways, but that is a safety bonus.


    Without disagreeing with your point, two small nit-picks:

    In your earlier comment: the maintenance costs of solar (PV or thermal) aren't all that much greater than the fuel and waste disposal costs of coal plants. And the externalities ... nearly nil.

    Per-capita energy demand in cities will most definitely fall. Even without the effect of price, replacment buildings will have better insulation and more efficient HVAC than those they replace. As cities increase in size and density per capita car usage falls off due to congestion costs.



    There's also wave - the perennial hard one to crack because of the battering, but one day...

    And tidal pools can actually be a worthwhile form of pumped storage so you don't have to dam any mountains (its only a small distance, but there is a lot of water).

    Or you can use underground caverns for pumped storage (another good use for a nuke).

    Or solar towers.

    Personally I always wondered what would happen if you used skyscrapers as support for a lightweight dome over cities; with a dirty great heat exchanger for air exchange and the ability to make part of the dome reflective for sunshine rejection. Passive city anyone?

    There are loads of different alternative technologies that could be employed. The basic issue however is concentration and power density. Just about all of them are diffuse and difficult to tap with an EROEI high enough to match our societal expectations. We're just got used to the free lunch and don't have the setup to forage for our sustenance. The change required is both wide and deep - and few are mentally capable of making it.


    I did note that cities are more efficient per capita -- the number I was interested in was total urban energy use. That will most certainly increase as urban population increases. That's the relevant factor in whether rural suppliers can feed the urban grid.


    Re 42 degrees being lethal - pretty sure I've survived that and more,like someone else said, morbidity would increase among elderly and misadventure (Man dies of heatstroke after jogging at 2 p.m is a familiar headline) but we don't all keel over and die. Comfortable it is not, though.

    Re centralization: I recall reading about pocket nuclear generators that were meant to run automatically and serve medium sized institutions, whole residential areas, etc... don't expect those to ever catch on.

    One question about nuclear waste, aside from the reprocessing issues, the argument about them always seems to hinge on their duration, but do other kinds of industrial waste really last any less? A field polluted with non radioactive heavy metals is, as far as I can tell, only different from one contaminated with uranium in that you can point a geiger counter and locate the uranium. Lead or mercury or whatever just sit there, out of sight and out of mind, but they're not exactly going away on their own either. Stuff like PCBs and the like I expect also persists for varying but-non-zero amounts of time.


    Ultimately, wave power runs into the same limiting factor as wind: that energy comes from somewhere. To someone living in the UK, the question of how much power you can extract from the gulfstream before you its behaviour starts to change is not insignificant. (Of course, climate change will also have interesting effects on flow patterns both oceanic and atmospheric...)


    A better alternative for station-keeping might be running an electric current through a gradient-stabilized tether to act as a motor, adding momentum to the station. That doesn't require reaction mass, nor as much power as a VASIMR engine.

    Note that while it's difficult to ensure that a soletta can't be used as a death ray, a microwave beam can be restricted much more by careful design of the transmitting antenna. Microwaves require quite a bit larger apertures to focus to a given angle than visible light or infrared; make the antenna small enough and it can't create an intense enough beam to do damage. Inspection is easy to make sure that nobody's modified the antenna; any small telescope or long telephoto camera lens can get a good enough picture to tell. The tradeoff, of course, is how big the receiving rectenna has to be in order to guarantee a given amount of power transfer, and how intense you can make the beam and still prevent its use as a weapon.


    Sigh. There are two reasons why using a "significant" amount of wind power, enough to affect the climate, isn't going to happen.

    About two percent of insolation is converted into atmospheric movement. Our total primary energy supply (fossil fuels, nuclear, the lot) is about 0.01 percent of insolation. Even if we decide to replace all the nuclear (about 15% of TPES) with wind, that makes 1/1300 of insolation. Coincidentally, the sun's luminosity varies twice as much as this, over a timescale of years to decades, without discernible effect on weather or climate. So it's insignificant.

    Long before we reach ten percent of current energy supply, we will have exhausted the commercially viable sites for wind. We will be building solar plants instead (or have decided that we can live with nuclear, after all).

  • Did I say air conditioning?
  • This year heat wave in Russia greatly increased air conditioners sales. Many folks who did not believe they need one changed their opinion.


    I can't believe it...

    Photovoltaics are useless. You need base load and peak load and PVs deliver neither. They deliver arbitrary inputs todays grids can't deal with at all.

    Peak energy consumption in Europe is between 4.30 and 6pm. That's not the time when PVs are much help.

    There are useful systems based on solar-thermal, look up "Abengoa Solar". But PV as of today is no more than the wet dream of people with a habit of self-delusion.

    By the way, article on Thorium-nuclear in China in the Telegraph:


    The problem isn't just air temperature, it's the combination of temperature plus humidity. Sweating works best in low humidity conditions; when the humidity is high, sweat doesn't evaporate and so doesn't cool the body. If the ambient temperature is above the body temperature, the body will warm up to the ambient temperature. The old and children are especially vulnerable to this. 42°C is hot enough to kill, when the humidity is high.


    Sneddon The reactors had a simple design flaw (they built the cooling pools where they should have built the generators, and they built the generators where they should have built the cooling pools) because they were built before the ecofreaks were influential. The new reactors were designed recently and presumably don't have those flaws. We can but hope.


    I live in California, please can we leave geothermal alone, I like the San Andreas where it is...

    People can witter on about nukes being dangerous, but geothermal is scary.

    There's reference to earthquakes in Basle shutting down the Swiss geothermal, too.

    Iceland you can do it because you can use the hot springs, pumping water into a fracture zone is a bit like poking a dragon.

    Build nukes like now. Even here, in California, PV sort of works in that the supply peak matches the power peak (hot sunny days) but PV needs water to keep the panels clean, and typically the average desert doesn't have water.



    "Not long ago, Japan faced a major power crisis. In September 2002, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was forced to shut down 17 nuclear power plants for emergency safety inspections.

    "The winter of 2002-2003 was approaching, and the plants, which were expected to remain closed for months, would be unavailable through summer 2003, a time when demand from summertime air conditioning would normally require those plants to be operational to meet demand.

    "How Tokyo successfully found ways to conserve electricity and avoid blackouts for months even without 17 nuclear plants is related in the book Saving Electricity in a Hurry, published by the International Energy Agency (IEA)."

    Read the rest (or even the whole book.)


    @53 "Warrantied for 25 years, that comes out to about $16.85/kW-h. (I'm pretty sure I did my math right, please correct me if not.)"

    2kW * 5h/day * 365 * 25 = 91,250 kWh NB 5h/day, 365 days per year at 100% capacity is the conservative yearly generation capacity as deemed by Aus gov guidelines required to receive a subsidy.

    Which (for the $13K system) gives a lifetime generation cost of $0.14/kWh.

    Compared against the $0.06/kWh for the nuclear option is only slightly over twice as expensive. And since the nuclear option is assumed (Bryan's assumption, not mine) to be subsidised, the ration between the two is even less. And all without the potential for a catastrophic event.

    And the best bit, every year it gets 20% cheaper.


    @73 "You need base load and peak load and PVs deliver neither"

    That's a very naive and short sighted view. As I mentioned above there are good and ever improving options for distributed storage which make a temporal restriction on PVs generation largely irrelevant.

    I think everyone needs to clearly abstract the discrete parts to this problem and not conflate them. There is production, distribution, storage and consumption. They can all be achieved using a range of technologies and guided using a range of policies. Some options are more costly than others. We need to use a good and fair ruler to measure the cost of competing options and work out the best mix for differing localities. And costs include adequate catastrophe insurance .. for those options that need them.

    So while I'm hammering on about PVs, that's not to say I believe PV is the best option for all sites, but for many urban and suburban locations its a real winner. In Brisbane, Australia (28 degrees south) I believe that PVs have finally crossed the point at which they make economic sense.

    And yes, its won't be able to provide a lion's share of energy demand for a high density municipality. But it can still contribute to the mix. I expect such centres will run very lean (per capita) in order to survive intact.


    Chiming in to disagree on a few points:

    Here in the states in OK and TX we routinely have weeks of the temp exceeding 45C (113F). It does tend to slow things down but we don't tend to die while standing in front of fans :p My tennis team would be shocked if we canceled our games due to 113F, pretty much no choice in August (all in our 30-50's). However the elderly are very much at risk.

    Regarding death beam from space via powersats, a check of the literature (Ben Bova's books, Planetary Society calculations, Japan powersat designs, wikipedia articles, etc.) don't support the field strength being more than 1/4 the solar irradiation constant.

    If they designed it to be focused over a tighter area than square kilometers it could be an issue, though I have seen powersat designs that inherently 'decouple' if they drift off a guide signal from earth. However given the altitude most of the designs are spec'd at oribiting the beam spread is huge (and low irradiation levels). You would have to daisy chain the beam down via LEO sats to keep a tight focus (and subsequent power loss).

    Here the recommended frequency was determined to be 10ghz:

    Most of the nasa or boeing reports state cost similar to a nuclear plant (though without the waste to dispose of).

    On a final note this bloomberg article discusses the Mitsubishi plans to build a 1ghz powersat within several decades (where are the demonstrator projects to get this all kicked off? I don't want to wait 2-3 decades to see if this works!)


    That's a horrifying scenario, and one I hadn't considered either.


    polypus @ 74 I agree with Charlie about the philosophical definition of "progress" (What a suprise!) But, we need to follow this recipie: "We (The Merchants of Light) make up the noblest foundation that ever was upon the Earth. For the end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes and the secret nature of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible."

    As for hot conditions, Air-Con is part of the problem, not a solution. Becuase it's an energy-glutton. Try the old-fashioned version of a Punkah-wallah. A simple electric fan, and maybe a pan of cold water in front of it. Uses about a qurter or even less of the power.


    But "immediate" is the problem, whatever solution is chosen.

    There's a strong argument that the UK should have been building new nuclear plants at the end of the last century, to bridge the gap. The renewables aren't going to work out without massive changes on the energy-consumption side of the equation--not just efficiency.

    Instead we got a lot of gas turbine plants, with quick payback on capital costs, burning natural gas. They're efficient, but...


    The only dam breaking I could find is the Fujinuma irrigation dam in Sukagawa city, Fukushima, which destroyed only five houses and killed between four and eight people. The Australian story is probably wrong, or would have reported it.


    You're right that things like wind power or tidal power have the energetic effect of killing one ant out of a colony. However, energy isn't everything. Some types of wind turbines cause a good amount of air mixing, causing local changes in climate. It's certainly more of a concern than minor red herrings like "amount of water required to clean solar panels", but it can be fixed by lower turbulence wind turbines.


    I said it was one of the few advantages I could think of (off-hand:- there are others involving things like electric razers and hair clippers). I did not say that it was still a major factor, or that it would have been one in the 1890s.


    TBF, there is a majority of the World population who drive on the wrong side rather than the left side. Despite what the US and mainland European auto industries would like you to believe it's only about 60/40 wrong to left though.


    Can't let Charlie's comment on max temperature in Tokyo go unchallenged. This seems to be 39.5°C on 20 July 2004. it generally peaks in late July/early august at 34-36°C. Still plenty uncomfortable, but not in the league of 42°C. Tokyo is moderate subtropical, similar to New York in climate - snowy winter, humid and hot summers. It is the humidity which keeps the maximum temperature down in fact(and prevents overnight cooling). Those 45°C days in India & southern Australia are due to low humidity. Nevertheless, even 36°C in an un-airconditioned apartment is going to be challenging health-wise for the elderly. However, fan cooling works pretty well in these circumstances, and preparation is all important.


    there is a majority of the World population who drive on the wrong side rather than the left side

    Drinking tea and driving on the left are simply objectively superior (India, Japan, UK) to drinking coffee and driving on the right (North and South America, mainland Europe, Middle East). There's no room for argument here, chaps. I feel sorry for the tea-drinking righties in China and the coffee-drinking lefties in Indonesia, caught between two world-views.


    There is another counter example for the use of geothermal power here in Germany:

    After some wells had been drilled, parts of town have been lifted up a bit, causing structural damage to more than 100 buildings in those parts of town -- the images look pretty dramatic. It seems that an anhydrite layer was connected to a water supply - ground water - turning the anhydrite into gypsum, which is a bit larger.

    As far as I understand, this could have been prevented if people had listened to the geologists who were screaming "not here" when the drilling was started. Other drilling techniques might also have prevented the problem.

    But I suspect this only means we that should think hard about where to build geothermal power plants, not that it's impossible or unprofitable to do so.


    Thanks for the correction. I apparently divided the wrong way 'round. (Also, can you clarify the 5hr/day you used? If I can't get more than 10kW-h/day out of the system, I would need several to run my house in the winter (electric heat) or summer (a/c), much less contribute to the grid. That doesn't increase the cost/kW-h, but it does make the upfront investment a lot more daunting.)

    In any case, heavily subsidized household solar is great, and will reduce reliance on grid power. However, it doesn't solve the problem of urban power requirements, or utility/transportation needs, or industrial needs (show me a solar farm that can run a bauxite smelter round the clock).

    Since I've not exactly been clear earlier: I don't object to renewable energy sources, even wind and tidal power. (I sure as hell prefer them to coal.) But no one of them has enough potential to provide all of our energy needs. (All together, can they? Dunno.) I think we need a little bit of everything, and for the moment that includes nuclear.


    So why can't photovoltaic systems use the automated switches that are standard equipment with generators designed for home use? The switch senses loss of mains electricity and isolates the house from the grid.

    I'd think a bigger problem would be the lack of batteries in photovoltaic systems that are designed to feed power back into the grid. Without batteries, your photovoltaic system won't do you much good at night.


    Re the Oil refining capacity - I believe that something like 30% of Japans capacity is down right now. Some from the Chiba refinery that burnt down and others from refineries that were taken down right after the quake and haven't been brought back on line for whatever reason.

    Oh - and if they did let it burn - it would only have been for a few hours on the first day. I saw that thing burning from my office window. But later on TV I saw it surrounded by fire trucks.


    Some mains inverters have switches to isolate them from the mains supply if that fails for some reason. Other, slightly cheaper mains inverters don't have those switches, or they only work sometimes.

    Imagine the fun the power company workers have when they isolate a circuit to do a repair after some drunken idiot has driven into a power pole out in the boones and when they apply their spanner to the terminals they get somebody's renewable power at line voltage up their arm.

    This is not uncommon with diesel/petrol generators as well as wind/solar renewable power home installs, it's just that most folks only run a generator in extremis whereas the home renewable generation market is connected to the grid 100% of the time.


    For all I know, they let it burn for more than a day before attempting to extinguish the fire in the refinery itself. (Caveat: No sources, I may be wrong.)

    The government warned people in Tokyo to stay indoors because of the smoke that was drifting in from the fire. Lots of people wore face masks because of that. German TV, being what it is, of course reported that this was due to radiation from Fukushima. Which, indeed, saw a brief spike of 5 times background radiation at the time (caused by either the explosion of the suppression tank in #2 or the fire at the suppression pool of #3 that raged at the same time). Also see:

    (Those graphs overlap!)

    Radiation has risen again on Monday as the wind turned to blow air from Fukushima towards Tokyo, but is stable at 1,5x background. Which indicates that a) the situation is more or less under control and has always been extremely far away from the nuclear apocalypse but is b) still in need of a permanent solution as soon as possible.

    Overall, the danger of the reactors has been exaggerated and their radiation release turned out to be at least an order of magnitude less than that of the spent fuel pools. The release from the reactors would have been much less, if the containments had been equipped with filters - which are standard fare in France, but almost nowhere else.

    What we will definitely see is regulation on the maximum stacking density in spent fuel pools. They had been re-stacked to "increase capacity" - which is foolish and dangerous, because the capacity is determined by cooling capacity, not how many rods you can squeeze in.

    What I would like to see is regulation on the minimum distance between reactors and spent fuel pools. The common fuel pool of Fukushima Dai-ichi, which is a building all of its own and not part of any reactor building, "miraculously" had no trouble whatever.

    There should also be higher safety standards. Namely, pool containments that include reinforced ceilings, redundant emergency cooling systems (e.g. a large pool of water higher up) and preferably passive cooling in normal operation.


    Driving on the left (or rather, riding a horse) is the preferred mode in civilised regions where passing strangers shake hands. In more troubled parts, it's safer to meet them on your shield side.


    The government warned people in Tokyo to stay indoors because of the smoke that was drifting in from the fire. Lots of people wore face masks because of that. German TV, being what it is, of course reported that this was due to radiation from Fukushima.

    Not just German Tv :-( and this is before we consider the major cultural FAIL of ignoring how it's standard practice in Japan to wear a facemask if you're suffering from a rhinovirus.


    Or alternatively it's because riding coachmen normally sat on the right side of the coach but postillions normally sat on the left horse of the pair (making it easier to judge whether you were clear of the oncoming coach), or because Napoleon made everyone he invaded drive/ride on the wrong side.


    This is actually correct, to a certain extent. For example, the bombing of Nagasaki is credited to Truman's confused thought process following a day of coffee drinking and left-sided driving, as seen in this excerpt from White House papers dating from August of 1945:

    HT: Jeeves, what did I drink this morning with breakfast? (The White House butler was actually Alonzo Fields, but Truman was a dick)

    AF: Coffee, sir. 7 cups, and another 3 with lunch.

    HT: And what side of the road did we drive on?

    AF: The left, sir. (Sometimes Truman would instruct his chauffeur to left-sided driving, forcing vehicles to swerve and crash to get out of his way. Again, very dickish) The chauffeur was most pleased with the accidents caused. (The chauffeur was also a dick)

    HT: Thank you Jeeves.

    AF: Okay Stimson, (Henry Stimson, Sect. of War) save your arguments, three days is already 2 days and 23 hours too long to wait for surrender. Drop the Fat Man.


    Brian @53: "I can buy a 2kw solar system for $13k USD."

    I think you can do significantly better than that. An approx. 2kWp kit shouldn't set you back more than $8k US. I think that's good value even without William's amendments @78, considering the fact that a larger degree of independence in case of large scale emergencies is included in the price. Looking at my own situation if power goes down I'm good for about two days on my own. Communications: Laptop batteries, wireless mesh connection where at least one node hopefully has access to a failsafe internet connection. General purpose energy: Gas in my car, 20l tank, 200W AC generator. Water: Flush tank. If I prepared, maybe I could squeeze out a couple more days by filling the bathtub and getting some more gas, but then you would have to know what's coming and everybody else is probably stocking up right then as well, so maybe it won't work. That's all very short term, and doesn't even begin to deal with things like air-conditioning or even heating in winter (only natural gas, in my case).

    In this case 2kW PV will go a long way. I haven't got one because I live in a particularly low risk area. If I lived in a moderate risk area I don't think I would do much more. But I certainly would do a great deal more if there were any significant risk factor like flooding, seismic activity, storm or fire hazards or political instabilities.

    I'd definitely have at least a 2kWp PV system, probably with batteries for nights (and backup), several tanks of water and gasoline and a couple of weeks worth of prepackaged food and at least two month's worth of dry goods food items. I'd probably keep a P226 or G17 and an AUG with 5k rounds for each at home.


    I have just had solar installed on my house. It's about 4kw DC, and works out to a bit over 3kw AC. (BTW, equipment-wise, this came out to -- if I did the math correctly, still waiting for a detailed, tax-friendly invoice -- about US$18k. That includes the inverter, which was a significant chunk of that, and 22 panels.)

    This is a bit more than I need during my baseline usage (which works out to about 1.25kwh -- servers and other things), but during the summer, the AC will suck that out and more.

    But, and this is why it's still a god thing: it means I'll still be drawing less during peak hours.


    Perhaps now Toshiba will be able to sell some of its 4S micro-reactors:

    But I'm in favor of the Thorium-based designs myself, mentioned above in comment #73.


    Clear title of superiority to the Dutch, who ride bicycles and drink hot chocolate.


    You're right; I was just being snarky. Frankly, I think converting to 400 Hz wouldn't be a bad idea if it weren't for the immense cost of throwing away and replacing most of the electrical equipment in the world. A long time ago I maintained mobile communication rigs (a couple of 3/4 ton ambulances filled with radio and crypto gear) and the 60 Hz / 120 volt generators were hard to keep at voltage and frequency, while the 400 Hz / 24 volt stuff the Air Force guys were running ran very smoothly.


    Speaking about alternative reactor designs and just recently coming to the crowd, I'm having a little bit of a soft spot for the CANDU type for running on natural uran and AFAIK thorium; seems like thjs design has some other problems though.

    Concerning the 4S, having had the questionable pleasure of working with metallic sodium (damn Claisen condensation of ethyl acetate in Organic Chemistry 101, there is still a sore spot on one finger from an piece less than 1 mm in diameter, yeah, I was sloppy in lab back than), I'm somewhat reserved; lead or lead-bismuth have somewhat more appeal for me.

    Concerning other moderating coolants besides (H,D)2O, with carbon, there's some mention of hydrocarbons used on wikipedia; using surrogate blood, err, fluorinert holds some appeal with the IT crowd. I don't know about nitrogen or oxygen, but then, too many nitrogens in a row are bad news. Concerning (H,D), most of the things I can think of (germanes and like) have a) a quite low poiling point and b) are quite toxic (arsine, anyone?).

    BTW, to anyone saying (technological) progress is a quite new and uncommon concept, so is enviromentalism, and even more so. An ancient Roman would have no problems with most of our engineering, but lots of problems with our idea of enviroment.


    Eric @101: "3kw AC ... about US$18k" Ok, even if I was only talking about equipment (not installation) that's a bit more expensive than I expected. I found a kit including Panels: 10 x Suntech STP 190S-18/Ud Inverter: Sunny Boy 1700 Cabling: 40m IBC Flexi Sun 1x6 mm² Mounting set: 10 x IBC Megaline for EUR 4880 (just under $7000 US) and I would have thought it to scale better up to your size.

    If I had it installed, however, it would mainly be to cover a just-in-case-scenario rather than almost full autonomy in everyday situations. It would be enough to keep the lights going (and even to run AC in one room for most of the day ;-).


    brucecohenpdx @104: "while the 400 Hz / 24 volt stuff the Air Force guys were running ran very smoothly"

    Don't you think that is more due to the fact that this frequency/voltage combination is a lot closer to what directly comes out of the stator coil in <industrial-size equipment?


    "Sean"; Eric is my middle name.

    As I said, I have 22 panels (I think... 185 watts each?). And the inverter is a Sunny Boy 4000, or something like that. Looks like that's got a list price of about US$2k.

    Prices are all approximate, as I said -- I'm having some issues getting a proper invoice. (Which I need for tax purposes: the federal tax credit I can apply for applies to equipment costs, not labour. So I need that information. grumble.)

    There are a fair bit of options; I could have gone cheaper or more expensive. So... no, I think it's all about right.


    Tokyo is both on the waterfront and sitting next to a fault. Is geothermal power reasonable there? Is it in use? (I realize that a certain portion is built on top of landfill material, which may affect this)

    Is there any way to take advantage of the heat versus whatever cooling one can get out of the bay to generate reasonable amounts of power?


    Except that with wind/wave power systems, we're not talking about a "smooth" energy change distributed evenly over the entire atmosphere/ocean. We're talking about systems that extract their energy from relatively small localised regions, while creating substantial turbulence around themselves. The problem is that making those changes in the flow patterns of an area covering a few hundred square miles can have very nasty second-order effects.

    It may well be that the effects aren't significant (especially compared with the climate fckup already in progress), but to the best of my knowledge, no-one has actually investigated whether there's a problem. Why not? Because modelling the entire atmosphere on a scale that actually recognises the effects of individual windmills is an insanely huge computational task, beyond our capabilities. Modelling fluid dynamics is hard even when you're analysing the flow through a fairly small machine like a jet engine. Modelling the entire atmosphere on a suitable scale? You couldn't even get the input data, never mind the computer time.

    • some numbers: 1m^2 is about the smallest unit of area that would make the analysis worthwhile. The surface area of the Earth is roughly 1.1x10^21 square meters, and you can probably get away with ignoring pretty much everything above the troposphere, so you only have a depth of around 11,000 meters, giving you a mere 1.2x10^25 nodes in your model. It's too big to handle. Climate change is actually easier to model, because you don't need to worry about things like turbulence, and so you can afford to use a much cruder scale.

    I'm not saying that it definitely would cause problems, I'm saying that we don't know and might want to check. Your argument that there can't be a problem because we're only extracting a small amount of the energy is like saying that there can't be a water shortage in Las Vegas, because the USA gets hundreds of cubic miles of rainfall every year, and Vegas only uses a tiny amount of that.


    Sean @108: "... is my middle name"

    I apologize for the name imxup.

    Sean @108: "So... no, I think it's all about right."

    So do I, and I'm sure you've taken into consideration the facts and figures that apply to your situation and come to the correct conclusion concerning the size of your PV system given the circumstances.

    My argument was that a lot of people never stop consider the possibility and implications of being completely cut off from electricity for more that a couple of hours, because it's very unlikely. In the last 30 years it has only happened twice for my house, and each time was annoying although power was restored within less than an hour both times. For all of you: Please do not even attempt to bother me with uptime calculations.

    But there are places without even intermittent grid power. Think hunting cabins, sail boats[1], small islands, covert observation or narrow-beam relay posts (no idea if satlink allowed them to survive), and I could think of a lot more. In all of these cases airlifting fuel is unfeasible, defies the purpose or is simply too expensive). Running generators is therefore not only noisy business but also requires too much legwork to contemplate.

    Believe me, if you've never been to one of these places, having just 100Wh at free disposal is a blessing. But then you don't expect much when you go there. When electricity fails for an extended period in your home you're in much more dire straits. That's what makes it all the more incredible for me that so few people bother to buy even a single PV panel + deep cycle battery.

    [1] Sail boats are a bit of an exception because carrying substantial amounts of fuel is quite common, but no skipper will fire up the engines just to let his crew play Q3.


    myself @111: "having just 100Wh at free disposal"

    should be: 100Wh/d


    Another hopefully obscure and unlikely alternative to conventional coal/oil is the notion that there are giga-gigatons of methane trapped miles below the floor of conventional drilling techniques. I think this was a hobby of Thomas Gold (the boys in Steady State are a wild and crazy bunch.)

    You think denialism about global warming is bad now? If this speculation holds up and the methane fields open up sometime in the 2080's when every country (read: the rich elite)is fighting over the last few liters of oil, watch and be amazed as a whole new generation of scientists are corrupted and step up to the plate to explain to all of us that CO2 is a good thing for all of us, good for agriculture and stuff. Plus, it's a health inducer because it makes you take deep breaths.


    Not to mention the fact that now is peak hayfever season in Japan, and this year the pollen counts are higher than average. Very many of the people wearing masks are just trying to keep their allergies under control.


    No drilling required. Methane clathrate is sitting there right on the ocean floor.

    Note that while it's difficult to ensure that a soletta can't be used as a death ray, a microwave beam can be restricted much more by careful design of the transmitting antenna. Microwaves require quite a bit larger apertures to focus to a given angle than visible light or infrared; make the antenna small enough and it can't create an intense enough beam to do damage.

    I'd really like to see something like an orbiting solar power array. No, not as a prototype for large-scale energy from space.

    But with VASIMR being mentioned again, one possibility of supplying enough juice for a fast Mars transit is a dedicated SPS. The beam would have a higher frequency, of course, probably something in the infrared. But the nice thing about this is that you can choose a wavelength that is blocked by the Earth's atmosphere. Can't use the thing as an orbital death ray if it can't touch the ground.


    I'm guessing you're in Europe? Power outages in the US are not rare occurrences. It's a widely spread system and a lot of the transmission infrastructure here is aging. (Ever seen/heard a transformer explode?) Even a severe thunderstorm during the summer can knock out power for several hours. (All of this is anecdotal, by the way, I dunno about the entire country.)

    It's usually not a big deal, unless it occurs during a heat wave or blizzard. (And in those cases, the ones at risk are the ones who can't afford the investment to buy a PV panel anyway. (Retirees don't have $10k sitting around.))

    Also, regarding your earlier post: Yes, $13k was the best price I saw for a single unit that would do what I wanted. (Admittedly, I didn't shop around past what Google coughed up.) I could probably get lower prices per kW with smaller units, but an array of smaller units is going to be much more of a headache to install and maintain.


    Driving on the left (or rather, riding a horse) is the preferred mode in civilised regions where passing strangers shake hands. In more troubled parts, it's safer to meet them on your shield side.

    Ah ha. Also, if you are wearing a sword, it's physically impossible to mount a horse from the horse's right-hand side (the scabbard gets in the way); and since you want to be standing on the side of the road while mounting rather than in the middle of the road, with your horse facing in the direction of travel, the logical thing to do is to ride on the left.

    Jousting, on the other hand, you ride on the right - your lance (held in the right hand) angles across your body to point at the enemy approaching on your left-hand side.

    Clear title of superiority to the Dutch, who ride bicycles and drink hot chocolate.

    Or the Russians, who drive all over the place and drink everything.


    Distance, and maintaining beam density, is going to be the huge problem. And how big will your receiver have to be? How does the mass of that compare to the mass of other sources?

    120: 104 - Not an issue. I don't know about 400Hz (except in certain specialised applications); all I ws saying was that there is no advantage to 60Hz over 50Hz except for the few applications where 60Hz gives you a faster reciprocating head or hative refesh rate. 114 - Domo arigato Claire-san (which has pretty much exhausted my Japanese).

    Does this beam side-lobe at all? I don't know of a radio-frequency transmitter that doesn't side-lobe a bit.


    honestly, I would reconsider this whole discussion if the reports [1] of measurements of 100 mSv/hour more than 30 km away from Fukushima power plant are true. This level of radiation is 500000 times above the natural level (2.2 mSv/YEAR). An exposure of 10 hours leads to radiation poisoning with a mortality rate of 5% within 30 days an exposure of 20 hours is most likely deadly.

    Even if nobody exposes themselves to this radiation - the whole countryside will be unusuable for the next hundred of years. The economical impact will be huge - especially in a country with such a large population density.




    About left/right side: However, most sources give just the opposite reason. Left-side traveling is for warrior societies. This is either to keep your sword-arm towards the potential opponent. An alternative explanation is that it keeps the weapons of passing warriors from clashing accidentally, which would spark a fight. But in all probability it was not about the nobles at all, which were rare and had an in-build right of way. The real reason might be found in the different types of carts used for transport, as described here:


    I fail to see how the failure of the coffee crop and subsequent hard marketing campaign to get an entire country to drink coffee to save the major corporate sponsor of the British Empire in Asia was based on logic. Avoidance of bankruptcy seems a better explanation to me.

    But then again I'm in the US and don't drink either. Well not hot anyway. I grew up with a daily gallon or two of sweet tea made and kept in the fridge. And by sweet tea I mean the kink were you add the sugar to the boiling water. :)


    That's an obvious mistake. They confused micro with milli. It's not the first time this has happened and won't be the last time, unless somebody finally demands mandatory sanity checks for newspaper articles. (At one time the sleep-deprived spokesman for the government misspoke and made the same mistake.) The Japanese government has acted reasonably sane so far. But the only sane reaction to 100 millisievert at that place would be panic.

    However, even a 100 microsievert hotspot is something to worry about. It's several hundred times above background and probably the result of the explosion at reactor #3 or the fire at #4.

    Nobody quite knows whether current radiation readings are the result of spent fuel rods in the pools or coming out of the reactor. But I fully suspect the former.


    The Japanese drive of the correct side of the road - the left.

    I feel overqualified to make this statement because I spent 5 years working as a salaryman in Tokyo (a real one not a conversational English teacher) in the early nineties. I've also read quite a few of Charles's books.

    Mind you, I met a lot of Chinese people with post graduate degrees in Nuclear Engineering who worked in IT there. They said they were doing IT because they'd never get a job in the Japanese nuclear industry because of security (being from a communist country).

    Also Nagasaki and Hiroshima are both living populous cities.

    Japan will adapt and survive. I have every faith in them.

    Distance, and maintaining beam density, is going to be the huge problem. And how big will your receiver have to be? How does the mass of that compare to the mass of other sources?

    Well, yeah, they are big problems. But they're of the old-fashioned "can-do" type :-) Don't forget that solar is competitive with nuclear in terms of W/kg all the way out to Mars, and don't forget that people are very cavalier about designing missions to other stars using advanced space systems like beamed power, electromagnetic propulsion, etc. It strikes me that it's a bit absurd to swallow camels and strain at the gnat that is Mars, as it were . . . which if nothing else would be a good proof-of-concept of stuff like solar sails, VASIMR etc. As to your more specific question:

    Does this beam side-lobe at all? I don't know of a radio-frequency transmitter that doesn't side-lobe a bit.

    Well, for the first cut within-two-orders-of-magnitude, the big issue of how tight the beam can be made (and therefore, how small the collecting array can be made at the ship end) are simple diffraction limits, which says that the sine of the beam spread is roughly the wavelength being used divided by the diameter of the antenna. That's why I said something about having to go with much higher frequencies. With the recommended 10 GHz for power beaming that was mentioned above, that's a wavelength of about 0.03 meters. Since the formula (out to the first minimum surrounding the central Airy disk) is Sin[Θ]≈1.22*λ / D, the diameter of the antenna (say it has a radius of one kilometer), those numbers give us a beam spread of roughly 2e-5 radians, call it about a thousandth of a degree or 4 arcsecs. Which sounds good, until you project this out to Mars, where you need about 2 kilometers to subtend that amount. An antenna that size mounted on a spacecraft sounds . . . ambitious.

    So you'd probably (Hah! BOTEC!) have to go to with a beam that transmits in the far infrared to keep the antenna down to a manageable size. I don't know anything about antenna design and only know the basic physics and optics, but iirc, at those frequencies sidelobes aren't that big of an issue. Please correct me if I'm wrong; I was far too certain about something I should have looked up first not too long ago and I turned out to be badly wrong.

    Oh, I wanted to say this earlier but got sidetracked: What Charlie said at the beginning of this subthread is an excellent idea (and also serves as a great proof-of-concept demo for other spacey stuff, like jetting off in search of those green girls I've heard so much about.) However, if you were going to use something like tethers for station-keeping, doesn't that imply you're not that far out? You still have to have some sort of atmosphere for a tether to work, after all. But if you're not that far out, then the soletta can't be used all through the night; it will be routinely be eclipsed by the Earth every orbit. I don't know what the exact numbers are though.


    Actually, about 50 or 60 Hz is optimal... for killing people. Generally, it's a trade-off between saving on the amount of material used or saving on power losses. Higher frequency let's you make smaller motors and transformers, but you lose some power efficiency. That's why you get 400 Hz on airplanes, saving some weight, and closer to 15 Hz or even DC for electrified railways (electrical systems are no more standardized than track gauges, there). In a clean-slate redesign of electrical power distribution today, DC would probably be the way to go. The main reason why AC won out originally, was the ease of stepping up the voltage for transmission and down again for distribution, made possible by transformers. These days that's doable for DC too, using high-voltage solid-state electronics (very different from the electronics in computers and alarm clocks, but not so different from the electronics controlling many high-voltage AC systems today), and AC systems now have all sorts of problems that just weren't an issue in the early days (e.g., consumer electronics generating significant levels of third harmonics on the neutral wire in 3-phase systems). Unfortunately, a standard for plug-in electricity is the sort of thing that needs to be widely accepted before it becomes cheap, cheap before it becomes widely used, and widely used before it becomes widely accepted. Much as I like sailing, I'm not jumping at the opportunity to pay "marine prices" for the privilege of running all my electrical appliances off 12 V DC. Staying with (or even rebuilding with) 50 or 60 Hz AC is by far the path of least resistance.


    Also Nagasaki and Hiroshima are both living populous cities.

    Indeed so. The Atom Bomb Dome is one of the tourist stops in Hiroshima, being almost at the epicentre of the explosion. It's also one of the few (possibly only) stops on the relevant tram route where the stop announcement is made in English.


    I said I knew a bit about it; 10GHz is the outer end of X (aka I) band for radar systems. A ~2m X-band dish, with gimbal mount, weighs about 3 tons, and generates a 1 degree primary beam, with at least 3 known side lobes, losing 10dB in the first, 20 in the second and 30 in the 3rd. Knocking 3 orders og magnitude off the promary beam width can be done I'm sure, but probably means we're looking at something like at least Jodrell Bank and quite possibly Arecebo sized dishes.


    The Atom Bomb Dome in Hiroshima -- been there done that, taken pictures of the seifuku high school girls on their school trips...

    It's within walking distance of the railway station, beside the river and less than a kilometre from the hypocentre, the point directly below where the bomb went off. The park is surrounded by regular businesses and shops, nothing special otherwise. I might have gotten a bit sunburnt but that's the nearest thing to radiation poisoning I experienced during my visit there.


    ... or, as suggested and repeated, work in the IR range and not the radar. A couple of orders of magnitude change in wavelength has remarkable effects on the required dish size: Arecibo/100 is about the same size as the Hubble Space telescope reflector.


    Because France somehow doesn't exist in your world.


    'hypocentre' Ah, thanks, 'epicentre' is, of course, above and not below.

    (Anyway, the point where the plane surface intercepts a normal to the actual centre. I kind of assumed that 'epicentre' would work whether the actual centre was above or below the plane.)

    Hiroshima was, for us, just hot in the temperature sense. And humid. If there's anywhere in Japan we went that necessitated an A/C, it was Hiroshima in Summer.


    The choice of 50-60Hz for mains power was mostly due to the ability to build large generators that could be driven by engines and turbines at a reasonable shaft speed. An AC generator running at 3000 rpm produces 50Hz electricity and this wasn't difficult for the engineering abilities of the time. In addition soft-iron transformer cores work well at those sorts of frequencies whereas it requires ferrite materials for cores to work efficiently at higher frequencies.

    Frequency conversion between one mains frequency and another was carried out in the past before electronic conversion became practical but it required a motor-generator set; a 50Hz motor driving a 60Hz generator through a gearbox, for example. The efficiency isn't that great but it does work. This was also used for DC-AC conversion, from batteries for example.


    How does that Chinese proverb go? May you live in interesting times... (and something light-hearted, I promise)


    I was thinking of what could be the worst case nature-induced nuclear disaster in seemingly utterly safe Finland and, barring a meteor strike, came to the conclusion it would be a blizzard bringing down powerlines from Olkiluoto. The reactors would be fine, but they wouldn't be delivering energy in the dead of winter, leaving a big chunk of Finland without electricity. Currently Olkiluoto 1 & 2 deliver about 15% of Finland's energy. With Olkiluoto 3 online that will jump to almost 30%. Scary thing is TVO has permission to build a 4th reactor at Olkiluoto. Imagine Finland losing 40% of it's energy output in the middle of a severe snowstorm...


    Thorne, for purposes of news relating to the British royal family you may want to bear in mind that I am a Republican. (Not the American variety of Republican, of course ...)


    An image from the DMSP satellite constellation (these satellites look for rocket engine flares and nuclear explosions but have the side effect of mapping city lights) showing loss of electrical power:


    This reminds me of a promise made by the Rhinoceros Party of Canada in one of our elections. According to Wikipedia:

    'Adopting the British system of driving on the left; this was to be gradually phased in over five years with large trucks and tractors first, then buses, eventually including small cars and bicycles last.'

    Actually, about 50 or 60 Hz is optimal... for killing people. Generally, it's a trade-off between saving on the amount of material used or saving on power losses. Higher frequency let's you make smaller motors and transformers, but you lose some power efficiency. That's why you get 400 Hz on airplanes, saving some weight, and closer to 15 Hz or even DC for electrified railways (electrical systems are no more standardized than track gauges, there). In a clean-slate redesign of electrical power distribution today, DC would probably be the way to go

    You anticipate me; high-voltage DC for long-distance transfer has been a hobby horse a certain sort has been riding for a loooong time :-) And since in any event we need to be more efficient to conserve what we have, and since this bit of infrastructure seems to be a bit on the dodgy side and needing mending the world 'round anyway, and since spending on infrastructure upgrades would be a good way to put people back to work and have something to show for it besides a big hole in the ground . . . A boy can dream. As an aside, it's probably too much to hope for, but it would be nice if in retrospect one of the big things to come out of the 21st would be rationalized global standards for this sort of thing.

    Staying with (or even rebuilding with) 50 or 60 Hz AC is by far the path of least resistance.

    Ouch! You dirty rat!

    I said I knew a bit about it; 10GHz is the outer end of X (aka I) band for radar systems. A ~2m X-band dish, with gimbal mount, weighs about 3 tons, and generates a 1 degree primary beam, with at least 3 known side lobes, losing 10dB in the first, 20 in the second and 30 in the 3rd. Knocking 3 orders og magnitude off the promary beam width can be done I'm sure, but probably means we're looking at something like at least Jodrell Bank and quite possibly Arecebo sized dishes.

    Yeah, the numbers work out like that. For very small angles the sine of theta approximates theta very well, so your sanity check equation is just &#952=k &#955 / D, that is, beam divergence is inversely proportional to the diameter of the antenna and directly proportional to the frequency. So if a two-meter dish at 10 GHz gives a beam spread of one degree, then an antenna a thousand times bigger (i.e.,a 2,000 meter dish with a radius of one kilometer) will reduce the beam spread by a factor of 1,000. Which is that one-thousandth of a degree I mentioned above or 1e-5 radians.

    Yeah, that's pretty big. But bear in mind that people have been glibly talking about much larger antennas to power interstellar flights for years. You gotta start somewhere. Also, the bigger the transmitting antenna is here, the smaller the power conversion equipment is there. Which is the whole point of the exercise. That forty-day trip time or whatever to Mars with the VASMIR's blasting all the way, just like in classic SF? Sounds pretty good . . . until you realize that to get that sort of performance, you're going to need a whacking big number of megawatt-hours and with not too many kilograms per kilowatt to boot. In fact, to get that forty-day trip time, you need to be kicking out about one kilowatt for every kilogram of your power supply.

    If that's on-board nuclear, dream on. But an antenna now . . . hmmm. There just might be something to this crazy idea.

    The choice of 50-60Hz for mains power was mostly due to the ability to build large generators that could be driven by engines and turbines at a reasonable shaft speed. An AC generator running at 3000 rpm produces 50Hz electricity and this wasn't difficult for the engineering abilities of the time. In addition soft-iron transformer cores work well at those sorts of frequencies whereas it requires ferrite materials for cores to work efficiently at higher frequencies.

    That makes good engineering sense. IIRC our paper space station, Space Station Enduring Freedom, was supposed to have the mains power at 20 kHz. Yeah, that's right, not 60-cycle, or 400-cycle, but 20,000-cycle. It's all air cores, you see. To save weight :-(



    looks like we're fracked any'wayne.


    On a vaguely interesting note, solar panels put out low voltage (12-30V) DC. The largest expense, IIRC, in installing rooftop photovoltaic panels in Australia is the inverter, to feed the power into the grid.

    It's an interesting question: given a bunch of solar panels that put out 12V (or 24V, or whatever) DC, is it cheaper to convert everything to run directly off N VDC, or to put in an inverter (and keep using the existing wall warts that turn 240 VAC into 12 VDC)? On a large scale, it's definitely the former, but that assumes that everybody does it, and I simply don't see that happening any time soon. I also don't see mains voltage being dropped below 200 volts (yes, I know the US uses 110 VAC; I'm trying to forget about this prime example of gross stupidity), even if it is changed to DC (in a fantasy world), because the line losses are likely to become too great.

    But the impedance of the installed base means that we're pretty much stuck with 110/220V AC, 50/60 Hz.


    While I let myself acclimatize and don't use the A/C much because I live in a giant Victorian home that is designed to pretty much handle the heat (moves air up and out), I do use it when the days are in the 90s and the nights don't go below the 70s (f).

    We do not have central air, we have 'zoned' window units of various sizes for the various spaces in the house.

    BUT I have had friends (and they weren't elderly) that have medical conditions like strokes where their body quit regulating their temperatures correctly. So they had to be in air conditioning when it was warm, because they wouldn't sweat or anything else natural, and start acting heat stressed quickly.

    Global warming and energy issues are going to be a huge cull of elderly and ill people who can't handle heat. I fear that is going to be previewed in that region of Japan, in spades, when the weather gets hot there. Unless Japan pulls an energy rabbit out of its hat.


    For large-scale solar arrays manufactured and installed in Ontario, Canada, the lifetime amortized cost-per-kilowatt-hour of electricity from photovoltaic panels is now slightly LESS than that of a coal-fired or gas-fired power plant. If using panels manufactured in China and installed further south, the price would be even more attractive.

    The peak output from PV panels is at a different time of day from peak electrical consumption, which is a detractor.

    The main issue with immediately switching to PV for Japan is that there currently isn't enough worldwide manufacturing capacity to make the necessary panels. There are many machine shops that could start making gas turbine blades tomorrow, but far fewer factories with vacuum ovens, sputtering chambers, and laminating presses that could be converted to PV manufacture.

    That makes good engineering sense. IIRC our paper space station, Space Station Enduring Freedom, was supposed to have the mains power at 20 kHz.

    I thought it was "Space Station 2: Electric Boogaloo".

    Isn't there a common high school physics demo involving high frequency electricity being transmitted by the student (or teacher) body to light up a bulb? IIRC it is supposed to be harmless at a high enough frequency, and 20 kHz rings a bell. (Don't try that at home though, I could be dangerously wrong.)

    However, if you were going to use something like tethers for station-keeping, doesn't that imply you're not that far out? You still have to have some sort of atmosphere for a tether to work, after all.

    No, you don't want atmosphere for a tether, it drags too much. A stabilizing tether uses the gravity gradient; since that's proportional to the cube of the distance from the Earth's center of mass it works better close in, but is still somewhat effective if you use a long enough tether at GEO. An electromotive tether just needs a magnetic field to push against; again air is a disadvantage.

    My antenna design days are quite a long way back (I was a ham radio operator in my teens), but as I recall, the trick for making very tight beam transmissions over long distances is to use multiple antennas as a sort of reverse interferometer. You end up having the same footprint as the giant dish, but a lot less structure to build, and it's easier to steer (or you can steer it electronically by controlling the phases of the signals sent to the different components of the antenna). Also, the multiple antenna technique allows you more control of sidelobes; dishes basically have one sidelobe pattern, but using controlled interference you can adjust the sidelobes and the shape of the main lobe to some extent. I don't recall the details, but they shouldn't be hard to find on the net.


    With respect to wind power, tidal power, wave power, solar power, geothermal power, biomass, and other alternative energy sources: they all are potentially excellent sources of energy. We should definitely take advantage of them. However, there are limits to how much of our energy demand can be met by each one.

    A good resource is a book by David MacKay (available for free download), which examines how to make the UK's energy supply sustainable. He examines the practical limits of each. For example, wave power and tidal power could each meet a maximum of 9% of the UK's energy needs; biomass grown in the UK could meet about 2.5%. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't install tidal power, geothermal or biomass power plants where feasible - it just means that you shouldn't count on it meeting all your needs.


    In Soviet Russia you don't drink vodka, vodka drinks you!


    I didn't know the word "hypocentre" either. In point of fact, I think "Hiroshima" by John Hershey actually uses "epicentre" rather than "hypocentre" to describe the point of the airburst.



    "Isn't there a common high school physics demo involving high frequency electricity being transmitted by the student (or teacher) body to light up a bulb? IIRC it is supposed to be harmless at a high enough frequency, and 20 kHz rings a bell. (Don't try that at home though, I could be dangerously wrong.)"

    AC travels along the surface of a conductor. Which for a person would be their skin. The depth of penetration is inversely related to the frequency. So high frequency doesn't interfere with your heart and other organs' nerve systems.

    Way bac in college we calculated the depth of penetration for 99% of the current at 60Hz. My ancient memory is an inch or maybe 1/2 that. Which is one reason why transmission line use multiple cables per phase and pipes are used in substation switch yards.


    The American spelling, "Hypocenter" is used in signs around the Peace Park in Hiroshima.

    Little piece of trivia about what is and isn't important in life:


    Point of order - According to my Collins, "republican" (3 - Noun seems most approriate) means "supporting or advocating a republic". "Republican" (note upper case "R") specifically means "a member of the US "Republican Party".


    Isn't there a common high school physics demo involving high frequency electricity being transmitted by the student (or teacher) body to light up a bulb? IIRC it is supposed to be harmless at a high enough frequency, and 20 kHz rings a bell. (Don't try that at home though, I could be dangerously wrong.)

    I can't (Scottish syllabus) place doing that one, or David L's (#152) depth of skin penetration at $frequency AC calcs. What we did do (probably safe to discuss given the rarety of the kit in a domestic environment) was attach a student to a Van de Graaf generator (machine, not rock band), touch the contactors of a 240V50Hz 40W flourescent tube to their free hand, and watch the tube glow.


    Let's ignore the question of whether or not the "D@mned Colonials" ;-) can spell! My main point was over whether the word "hypocentre" was or was not commonly known and used to denote the surface point vertically below the centre of an airburst. I do work in the sort of field where this type of term might be expected to be used, and had never heard it before (I've never been to Japan either).


    My main point was over whether the word "hypocentre" was or was not commonly known and used to denote the surface point vertically below the centre of an airburst.

    I thought that the commonly-used term was "Ground Zero", actually. Looking it up, "hypocentre" is also used.

    (The epicentre of an earthquake isn't the point where it happens; it's the point on the surface of the earth directly above where the earthquake happens.)


    There's a couple of technical hitches with running stuff directly off 12V from solar panels. First up, the voltage output from such a panel is variable; it's part of the function of the inverter/controller to cope with this variability depending on sunlight, angle of light on the panel etc.

    Secondly wiring for 12V around a house or building would need thick copper or aluminium cables to reduce resistance losses in the long runs between the inverter/controller unit and the sockets where the power is made available. It's not impossible but it would require a lot of reworking of expisting homes to put in such a system, as much work as say installing Cat6 Ethernet is, and the utility gain is low compared to just plugging the power brick, which you still need if you take your mobile appliance out of the house, into a convenient mains socket.


    "I didn't know the word "hypocentre" either. In point of fact, I think "Hiroshima" by John Hershey actually uses "epicentre" rather than "hypocentre" to describe the point of the airburst."

    The OED gives two meanings for hypocentre. The first is the focus of an earthquake, i.e. where it happens, not the spot on the surface above it, and the second is as a synonym for ground zero, specifically referencing Hiroshima in one of the quotations.


    You motivated me to look it up in Collins. They only give it as a synonym for "ground zero" in a nuclear airblast.


    Lowering Deaths per Terawatt Hour for Civilization

    This site had previously analyzed the deaths per terawatt hour by energy source.

    Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

    Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)

    Coal – China 278

    Coal – USA 15

    Oil 36 (36% of world energy)

    Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)

    Biofuel/Biomass 12

    Peat 12

    Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)

    Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)

    Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)

    Hydro - world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)

    Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy) This does include the 70 dead from Chernobyl

    Air pollution from fossil fuel (coal plants and oil used in cars and trucks) and developing countries burning wood or coal inside their homes are one of the biggest causes of all kinds of death and illness.


    Please don't be offended, but you're whistling in the dark. Counting only the lives lost due to direct contamination at the reactor core in Chernobyl is like only counting the deaths of those that fall into a furnace for fossil fuels or the ones crushed by a dike and not the victims downstream for hydro.

    There may be some safe solutions out there, but as a matter of fact incompetent staff are still running unsafe systems all over the world as of this day. On top of that we are producing extremely hazardous nuclear waste with half lives in the tens of thousands of years without any clue as to how to dispose of it safely. As I understand it it is certainly possible to address these problems with safer and less wasteful reactor designs, but currently there is absolutely no incentive to deploy them. Do you really think any corporation would give up a single cent in their quarterly statement to safeguard public health and safety?

    We need nuclear energy, but we're really letting the fox guard the hen house if we rely on the common sense and decency of privately owned companies for our protection.


    Well, on the one hand, I have to agree. There were probably more casulties in Chernobyl than the 70 mentioned here. Most likely much less than the 100.000 that Greenpeace is trying to pull out of the hat by deliberately ignoring the huge increase in mortality in the whole of the Soviet Union after 1991.

    But even if we assume this ridiculous number to be an accurate long term prediction (even though Fukushima is living proof that even botched late-1960ies safety standards are better than those of RBMKs) the number of casualties is on the same scale as for oil - which is well known as a dangerous occupation.

    However, the numbers for coal or oil don't include externalities either. Neither through air pollution nor other kinds of pollution. As, for example, Deep Water Horizon:

    One might also consider that there are people dying from properties that are unique to oil - like people trapped in burning cars, or fires of storage tanks not considered as being part of the oil industry as such.

    Next, we should probably also consider deaths in uranium mining. Of which I have no information, but they are bound to vary wildly between Niger and Canada.

    It is an unfortunate fact, that deaths of people not associated with radioactivity are for the most part downplayed or are assumed to be somebodies fault. Whereas all (of the comparably few) deaths of people associated with nuclear energy are solely to blame on human hubris (or whatever).

    That is also true for hazardous waste, btw. Germany has more than 2 million tons of hazardous waste stored away underground in a single mine. Waste that will be as poisonous as today even in a million years.

    Half life is not a bug, it's a feature! It just so happens that people freak out when time scales go beyond a few decades, but become complacent when something is going to be around for eternity.

    Oh and btw the only troublesome part of nuclear waste after around 300 years are transuranic Isotopes (mainly Plutonium) that can be destroyed in fast spectrum reactors, spallation neutron sources, blankets of fusion reactors and wherever else you have enough neutrons. (The long lived fission products that remain are less radiotoxic than the original uranium ore.)

    What is lacking, however, are reasonable safety rules to make nuclear power even safer. Like storing spent fuel away from reactors, mandatory filter systems for containment venting (standard in France and Germany), passive cooling etc. pp.


    The supposed uranium mining problem isn't one, simply because of scale and for historical reasons.

    Typically 50,000 tonnes of uranium metal are produced each year, according to Wikipedia. There's not a large market for uranium given that a small amount of uranium can deliver a lot of power and that's while most generators, most notably the USA, are burning it very inefficiently by not reprocessing spent fuel rods. Typical ore concentrations currently being mined are in the region of 1-2% metal so at most about 5 million tonnes of ore are mined each year. In comparison about seven thousand million tonnes of coal are mined annually, over fourteen hundred times as much material.

    Right now the most profitable uranium ore bodies around the world are being harvested because it's not yet economically worthwhile to go after the less profitable ones. This is because no-one was producing uranium in large quantities before the 1940s and 1950s. It's a bit like the early days of the oil rush compared to nowadays where a good return can be had by investing hundreds of millions of dollars to carry out exploration for oil under the seabed 5000 metres and more from the surface. Because uranium is cheap and plentiful most uranium is extracted via open-cast mining which is machine-intensive and not that dangerous environmentally speaking to the few workers involved as they are not working in close quarters underground with bad ventilation surrounded by low-level radiotoxic rock formations.

    Coal, on the other hand is often dug out from deep underground workings although a lot of lower-quality coal and material like lignite (combustible dirt, basically) can be surface-mined. All of the easy-to-get good-quality coal was got a long time ago in the West and it is rapidly running out in places like China.

    What this means is that the number of miners per TW/hr of electricity generated is miniscule in the case of uranium compared to the numbers required to dig coal for the production of a similar amount of energy. It is also a lot lot safer both in terms of industrial accidents as well as the general health of the workers involved because virtually no uranium is recovered from underground workings.


    On the topic of different sources of energy production, I wonder if anyone can help me find a link which I think I got from here a while back.

    It's an online book which makes estimations of our current energy consumption breakdown, and the potential output of different types of renewable resource, IIRC with a goal of determining if it's even possible to match out current energy requirements with renewable resources.

    Anyone know what I'm talking about?


    you may be thinking of the book by Cambridge physicist David MacKay, called Sustainable Energy, Without the Hot Air'.


    That's it! Thanks for the rapid response.


    The Royal Society of Chemistry has some interesting research on extracting uranium from seawater. Building and operating an extraction plant might be safer than mining uranium ore.


    tp1024@164: "However, the numbers for coal or oil don't include externalities either. Neither through air pollution nor other kinds of pollution. As, for example, Deep Water Horizon:"

    And that's a shame. I didn't mean to imply that other (non-nuclear) technologies were safe, BTW, they are ultimately all run by the same couple of dozen corporations worldwide, after all. I did intend to state that nuclear technology as it is in operation today isn't as safe as many would like to believe.

    I think all past experience strongly suggests that rigorous regulation and surveillance are required to make them do the right thing, and I'm aware that isn't going to happen.


    Japanese researchers carried out some experiments on extracting uranium from seawater[0] a few years back. I think the number they came up with for the cost of the operation was about 250 dollars US per kilogramme of uranium metal for an industrial version of the process they were using. In contrast the current price for mined uranium metal is about 40-50 dollars US per kilo. There was a spike in price a couple of years ago to over 100 dollars US per kilo but it fell back again.

    There is at least one uranium "mine" in Australia that uses a leaching system rather than digging rocks out of the ground and crushing them to refine the ore; it injects chemicals that dissolve the uranium and pumps them back to the surface. How efficient it is and what effects it has on the subsurface conditions with respect to pollution etc. I don't know. I suspect it requires very specific geology to work at all and does not negate the open-cast pit mining operations other uranium extraction companies run.

    [0] There was a classic "gold from seawater" scam run over a hundred years ago involving some gullible Americans, a fast-talking conman and his confederate who was an accomplished diver. I presume if the Japanese could use a similar process to extract gold from seawater at only 250 bucks a kilo then they would not be broadcasting that information to all and sundry.


    I think the earthquake, the tsunami, and then being short of food and suchlike may be many times more stressful, or very many times more stressful than any worries about radiation.

    Although many media are doing their best.


    No, we were wrong, period, and the DFHs are right in broad outline, though not on specifics. I was skeptical of the reporting from Fukushima from the beginning, but even I have been surprised by how much was withheld, and how bad the situation has gotten. The Japanese people, rightly, will not trust their government and TEPCO again. And without the heroic, self-sacrificing efforts of the "Fukushima 50," how much worse it would have been! These people are going to lose years of their lives because they are working to bring these reactors to a safe shutdown.

    I like Ian Welsh's comment, "Nuclear power might be relatively safe, but not built by us, not by this society."


    We have power limits here in Tohoku (North-east Honshu) too. Not looking forward to this summer at all - up until a few years ago my prefecture (Yamagata) had the Japanese temperature record - 40 degrees C. Hope we get a cooler than normal year!


    I've worked on gas turbines and like a lot of big teck things I don't think there are many turnkey ones. There are lots of of jet planes with jet turbines that are not allowed to be used by the FAA. Some are used only as are used as spares for old B-52s. Generators are stocked and not that hard to make. Adding a big gear box to a plane jet gives you a gas turbine power plant. Just about any hydrocarbon can be pre combusted to a very rich mix and with steam added run past a catalyst . This will burn up to 30% or 40% water as h2 in place of gasl. This was being worked on in America but was dropped when nature gas was banned for main power plants. Can this be done WITH THE MAKING OF GEAR BOXS? But it could make a lot of power closer to the need.


    I doubt it. A couple of MW isn't going to do the trick. BTW: I have it on good authority that many a large Japanese corporation stopped paying their overseas bills. My Toyota shares are in free fall (I'm still holding on to them as I'm not a short term investor). Who's going to foot the bill?


    We are underestimating Japan's social & work ethics here. I was talking with a global corporation and they said the next working day after the earthquake EVERY member of staff turned up to work in the Tokyo office. If they are going to have power issues I would predict that if the government communicates correctly the people will not turn on air con if they are young and fit as a start. Let's face it if they wanted to (and all westerners as well) they could save much power each day by walking more, using radio instead of large TV's, turning off more lights etc etc.


    Since nobody seems to have mentioned it here yet, I'll note that the IAEA confirmed that 2 workers got radiation doses between 2-6 Sieverts to their legs on Friday while walking through contaminated water at the Daiichi site - those would be in the probably-fatal range if they were whole-body doses - and that water measured at about 1 Sievert/hour worth of radiation is now filling a drainage tunnel on the site, outside of the reactor buildings, and close to spilling offsite.

    IMHO, while it's still no Chernobyl this is likely going to end up with the public being exposed to more than a few micro-Sieverts. I'm not saying that invalidates the comparisons about deaths per MW of coal, et al., just that it's not quite as rosy a case for nuclear safety as it might have looked a week ago.

    Also, I did some reading into some summaries of the Japanese recorded history of earthquakes and tsunami sizes for that region, and it leaves me with a pretty clear sense that there was gross negligence in not planning for the site to withstand a tsunami of this size or placing it elsewhere. The whole Sendai region has sand deposits miles inland from the tsunami recorded in 984 AD for instance; in the last few hundred years some regions have recorded tsunamis of 2 or 3 times this one's height.


    The IAEA daily updates are a masterpiece of tight-lipped annoyance, as far as I can tell: they're not outright accusing TEPCO of gross incompetence, but reading between the lines there is a pervasive tone of disapproval.

    TEPCO's CEO is apparently (a) fond of cost-cutting, and (b) went AWOL for six whole days during the crisis. People from the PM on down have been publicly querying where the hell he was. And there are now rumours that the Japanese government is considering nationalizing TEPCO, shares in which have plunged 70% over the past couple of weeks.

    It's not showing on the IAEA site right now, but an earlier report on the March 24th radiation exposure incident indicated that the three workers with beta radiation burns to their feet had proceeded despite their dosimeters warning them the area was hot, because they didn't believe the instruments or thought they were broken. D'oh.

    I suspect a large section of the final IAEA report on the events at Fukushima Daiichi will be devoted to the (in)adequacies of Japanese nuclear staff training ...


    It's not just the staff training. It's the whole tail-section of defence-in-depth.

    Almost the only thing about this that really worked was the brute efficiency of massive amounts of reinforced concrete around the reactor core - which is mostly tamper proof by even the most zealous cost cutters. Yes, at least one containment is leaking but most of the really bad stuff of the reactor is kept inside (the highly radioactive water is an additional testament to the fact that even a lot of the volatiles were contained).

    But that's just about it.

    The very last line of defence is minimizing the effect of an accident when all is lost. In a firework factory that would mean not putting your fuel tanks right next to your explosive firework storage area, especially not if you know that they would stand in the way of a potential explosion in your storage (that would be directed to the outside in order to prevent all of the stuff from exploding at once).

    Given that the spent-fuel pools had no reinforced roof and were on the inside of a reactor building that was known to be liable to see hydrogen explosions during venting for over 2 decades - that principle has obviously not been followed. Much less so, since the content of the pools has been re-stacked to the point of requiring neutron absorbers between the fuel rods to prevent criticality - but meant in any case that it required much more cooling. Hence the massive amounts of cooling water required now and the damage (and release of radioactivity) that occurred to the stored fuel rods - especially in #4, where some of the spent fuel came fresh from the reactor.

    It was only in 1992 that TEPCO finally installed any valve at all to vent the containment. (It had not been deemed necessary, as meltdowns were judged to be too rare to matter.) And given reports that I heard that staff had problems with stuck valves in venting the containments at #2 and #3, I doubt they had been maintained properly. From the scattered reports I gather that venting went normal at #1 and only a low concentration of hydrogen exploded and blew off the roof.

    But #3 might simply have been "vented" when a pipe burst and released massive amounts of hydrogen and water vapour from the primary containment into the secondary - where it found ideal conditions to create a massive explosion. The weakest point at #2 turned out to be the suppression pool (torus) which also saw an explosion and an immediate spike in radiation release (from caesium/iodine dissolved in the pools' water).

    Despite the inadequacies of the Mark I containment, the failure of off-site and on-site power for weeks and a whole litany of other things - there was absolutely no reason for this disaster to become anywhere near as bad as it now is (even though we're still talking about roughly two orders of magnitude less than Chernobyl).

    There is nothing in this story that could not be compared to blocking all emergency exits of a building and nobody caring about it, because there is such a low chance of them ever being needed.

    This is not a story of nuclear power being insecure per se. No more than the 1666 fire of London proved that cities were an uncontrollable collection of flammable material that were too dangerous to inhabit.

    But it is a story of unenforced common-sense security standards. (The fire of London being a gut-wrenching parallel, all the way to uncaring officials even in the face of disaster.)


    You know, this sounds very much like a complete and ultimate clusterfuck all over. I'm sure you didn't mean it this way.


    The East Germans kept good records of the heath and radiation at their Russian type nuke power plants. Those were awaited all over the world to find out what radiation did or did not do to the workers. The Green Party came to power and stopped the opening of the records. They needed to be studied first they said. That was years ago, still no East German facts that I know off. Do they show less damage than the Greens want the world to know? The Russian type are safer than the boiling water types.


    There is some credibility in wondering if the Green party would like to publish documents that contradict their FUD election campaigns.

    However, you'd do good to retract that last statement of yours. RBMKs are orders of magnitude more dangerous.

    While workers in Fukushima are withdrawn where radiation surpassed 100mSv/h or so, there were workers who were required to work in 10-100Sv/h environments on top of the Chernobyl reactor. (For a few minutes, but's all it takes to get a fatal dose, given that the rest of the environment wasn't that much better.) There were people digging a tunnel below the reactor to cool the molten corium. Despite pretty good shielding compared to the open reactor pit at roof level, they received hundreds of millisievert per hour, working with no protection whatsoever.

    The 600.000 liquidators (working on the sarcophagus after the reactor pit was under control) received an average radiation dose of 175 milliSievert - a level that only 19 workers were exposed to at Fukushima Daiichi, as of Sunday, March 27th - and are (rightfully) treated as a matter of concern.


    The two men sent to hospital for radiation burns to their feet from wading in contaminated water were released from the hospital on Monday, so either the dose they received had a minimal effect on them or they've been sent home to die. We'll find out eventually, I imagine.

    I've done a bit of data mining on the reported radiation dosages where there's actually fixed instrumentation points to get a timeline from -- the rough numbers suggest that the radiation exposure in the general area of the plant i.e. away from the reactor buildings had fallen in half since 17 March. Interestingly the radiation monitor at the Daini plant a few kms across the bay (where all four reactors are in safe shutdown mode) tracks this result too, dropping from 16uSv/hr on the 17th to just over 6uSv/hr today.


    Re: the tsunami threat. As I mentioned to Charlie, back in the 1960s when these reactors were being planned and the site chosen, plate tectonics was a new theory and not well understood. The actual plate boundaries and such were unmapped and subduction and its function as an earthquake generator was not known although the link between undersea earthquakes and tsunamis was well established. There was almost certainly a lot of pork-barrel politics in putting the reactors where they ended up too though.

    Believe it or not, there are worse places than the Tohoku coastline to build nuclear reactors in Japan -- that only has two plates colliding offshore. The other location has three plates crashing into each other. It's called Tokyo. The Izu peninsula with all its hot spring spa towns is being pushed north up into the island of Honshu while the Pacific plate that generated the recent undersea Big One that inundated Sendai is pushing north-west. If you draw some lines indicating force vectors they intersect at Mount Fuji which has not erupted for a couple of centuries now...


    The dose they got was on the order of 2000-3000 mSv via beta radiation to the feet and lower legs.

    Now, the Sievert is an interesting unit. Per wikipedia, the Gray measures absorbed radiation which is absorbed into any material. The Sievert specifically measures absorbed radiation which is absorbed by a person. 1 Gray is 1 Joule of absorbed energy per kilogram; 1 Sievert is 1 Gray multiplied by a weighting factor -- 1 for beta radiation (electrons) -- and then multiplied by a quality factor (indicating how biologically damaging it is) -- typically 0.01 for bone surfaces or skin, much higher for many other tissues.

    A 1 Gray dose would typically be fatal around 20-50% of the time; a 2-3 Gray dose would be very serious indeed. However, with an 0.01 multiplier it's less damaging. You could expect nausea and loss of appetite at the higher end of the spectrum, and certainly superficial radiation burns on the skin (like bad sunburn), but it's unlikely to be fatal.

    However, they'll never work in the nuclear industry again.


    A Party Hack did in Chernobyl. The Chief of the Plant had a list of tests for safty. He was called away (I think). Said hack ran the tests, found the point to stop that the tests were looking for. Then instead of stopping like everybody that knew anything said too, he got a bad case of I have more rank than you and kept going. They are safer if a fool is not running them. So safe they did not see a reason to put a roof over them. Hind site is always better but they DO go bad slow and are safer than then America's. Maybe the other kinds are more efficient?I've read ours make weapons grade waste. Many years ago I read this. I think in the Union of Concerned Scientists. Or the Journal of Atomic Scientists??


    It's not Racist to point out that the Japanese government. is not very caring of its own people. Let alone other peoples. There is a lot of crime in Japan. But it's the OK from the top kind. Big time gangs were almost wiped out by theirs and our military governments. Then the CIA gave money to businesses to to wreck Unions and Reds back in Ikes time. Now the companies have gangs working for them to keep people from costing them face by telling the truth. Mc Arthur needed someone to run Japan for a time. The war crimes Japanese government of China was doing nothing and were put in place for a time. The crimes they commented in China to Chinese and to our POWS was forgotten when China went Red. They had been at war with Reds in China and that made them good to us for the new Cold War. The people now running Japan are the ones hand picked by the war criminals to take over, keep on their kind of Japan, the kind America likes too. It is a Right Wing dream now. The top rules and rest keep low, just like our Right Wing wants it here in the States.


    It's true that plate tectonics was not well understood, but history is pretty well understood in Japan. Sure, in the '60s they didn't have an NOAA database on the Internet where enny ful lik me can look up the history of major tsnunamis in Japan, but the information was published in books.

    (There have been at least two tsunamis in the past few hundred years in Japan which peaked to 80+ meters height at certain locations, by contemporary reports. NOAA discounts one of them to maybe around 55m in height, the other to maybe no more than 20m, but notes that the latter moved a 7500 ton boulder to 15m above sea level. I gave a few more details in a comment at Boing Boing, or you can follow the footnotes at Wikipedia to the NOAA site.)


    It's not showing on the IAEA site right now, but an earlier report on the March 24th radiation exposure incident indicated that the three workers with beta radiation burns to their feet had proceeded despite their dosimeters warning them the area was hot, because they didn't believe the instruments or thought they were broken. D'oh.

    What we got on NHK News was that the workers ignored the alarms as they had been told by the workers coming off shift that the radiation level was low. Bad safety culture - but that may be tied into the Japanese Ganbaru! (endure it) attitude.


    AIUI the core explosion at Chernobyl was the result of both design and equipment failures of the moderator rod control mechanisms, and the inadequate containment. They'd started scramming the reactor, but the motors driving the rods into the core were very slow; a complete insertion took 30 seconds or so, and a few seconds into the motion the rods jammed. At the time, the core reaction was increasing, the jamming allowed that to continue until the core was running at about 10X the maximum designed operating thermal power. The overheating triggered an explosion that blew most of the core into the atmosphere (no containment vessel; clearly a design flaw). So, no, I don't agree that the reactor design was any safer than a boiling water reactor with a double containment; rather less so, I'd say.


    Reunification of Germany was in 1990. The Greeens only came to power as a junior coalition member in 1998. What kept anybody from releasing those nuclear safety records for the previous eight years? Do you have a reference for this?


    The motors driving the rods into the Chernobyl type cores were very slow, on purpose I think. The test was on the big jump that happened when the reactor output was lowered too fast. That type was very dangerous to scam. It had to be cooled down slow. (as I remember) They were looking for the known boost in radiation. Instead of stopping the party hack kept going with the plan even as the people who knew what was happening were trying to stop him. Having said this the more foolproofing the better. A containment vessel would have been a good idea. But if it had not been run into the known danger zone it would still be working.


    Reunification of Germany. Germany, all is in order, paperwork. A lot was going on at the same time. Yes I had more than one source on the Greens holding back East German radiation data. But in the Bush years I trashed a lot of what could, if you were nice, be called files. As I remember it Germany was letting the right people see what few files they had opened. Then came the Greens.


    Well, could you please choose if in Germany everything was in order, especially the paperwork, or if there were too many things going on at the same time? SCNR.

    Problem is, there were only a few reactors in Eastern Germany, one was a research reactor in Rossendorf, supervised by one Klaus Fuchs, afficionados of nuclear history are invited to chuckle. Besides that, there were two 'real' reactors on the power grid, Rheinsberg and Greifswald. A third near Stendal was never completed.

    I'm not aware of any other reactors, but well, maybe somebody knows.

    Also note the two 'real' reactors were not of the notorious RBMK, but rather of the VVER design, a pressurized water design with similar specifications as Western PWRs, including encasement and like:

    Concerning the safety, well, on wiki there is a story about Greifswald that squares quite well with the common stereotype of Germans, though well, one could argue they were East Germans (ok, I'll admit I'm a Wessi, and there are some stereotypes about Ossis like a) they are laid back, b) they want communism back, c) they are fascists, d) they hunt Wessis for fun, e)...):

    December 7, 1975 - An electrician wanted to show his apprentice how to bridge electrical circuits. He decided to do a short-circuit on the primary winding one of the Unit 1 pumps by developing an arc following the edge of a wiring loom. The fire in the main trough destroyed the current supply and the control lines of 5 main coolant pumps (a single unit has 6 pumps). The fire was brought under control fast by the fire-brigade and the pumps could be temporarily repaired since the proper actions were taken immediately.

    There is a text with some history here (in German), but I haven't read it. Seems like the guy is a nuclear critic, but you coudl unspin the results:

    There are many things to be said about and often against the Greens, notably they don't enforce the things in their statutes I like and tend to enforce the things I don't like, but well, that's also the fault of the other parties. I also think they are part of the abyssmal culture of discussions in areas like gene technology and like. But then, we have a member of our ruling part retroconning history, Strauß listening to the concerns of citizens, yeah, but only to ignore it (sorry, article is in German again, please note "Die Welt" is not exactly a left-alternative paper...)...

    Or here (again in German):

    That being said, please stay fair.


    The article by Michael Hänel is mainly about the administration in Eastern Germany, but mentions two interesting points:

    a) according to the article, the Eastern German SAAS (like: governmental bureau for nuclear security and radiation protection) was subsumed into the Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz. Which means general archival procedure applies, namely files become available for research after 30 years or so.

    b) the Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz adopted some of the personal of the SAAS. Which leaves us with another possibility, namely some people keeping their old skeletons in the closet.

    That being said, there is an article about Greifswald in the Spiegel (again, sorry, German), which mentions some nice things about security, lack of...

    So, maybe 'surveillance of workers' didn't mean radiation protection, but political purity.


    How hard would it be to park one of our nuclear powered aircraft carriers at the pier in Tokyo bay and power the city?


    This is just what I remember, for what that's worth. The East German data was coming out. The greens were upset about it. When they got the power then it was stopped by the Greens for more study. And that has been a lot of years of study. I still like Greens a lot more than Neo-Cons even if its more of a religion than science based. But the numbers are in and you just can't do what the Greens want all over without killing off a lot of people. My bogeyman is co2 absorbed into the sea. Its a known fact that when the sea gets too acidic live will die, mostly. Then live on land will mostly. It has before. It's said that at the rate its now going in that will be about 2050. Nuke power will be needed, I think. Co2 can be absorbed out of the air with base solutions to what ever level you want to pay for. We can have a World Wide Power Grid using the sunlight to power the dark like R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER wanted or a mix of nuke and other things. The co2 is more important than one or two power plants. And we need to start doing big things to get what's in the air now out.


    Pretty difficult. Tokyo is a vast city (much bigger than any US city). The USS Enterprise, for example, is about 200 MW. Each of the Fukushima reactors is about 1 GW, and thus the equivalent of 5 aircraft carriers. Japan has just lost a bunch of those.


    Not quite -- the old BWRs that have been written off at Fukushima Daiichi are around 480-500Mw each, so they're only down 2Gw permanently. But there are about 5Gw of reactors off-line due to the earthquake and it will take weeks to months to get them checked over, certified, and then up and running again. Not helped by mag 6.5 aftershocks.

    5Gw is about equal to the engine power of the entire US Navy nuclear fleet, surface and submarines, SSNs and SSBNs both. Except they're not designed to turn all that power into electricity.


    Ah, I was looking at the page for Fukushima Dai-ni, where the reactors are bigger.

    Even if those ships could generate the required electricity - and assuming Japan permits nuclear powered vessels to dock, something they might not - getting the cabling in place to take that power and feed it into their grid would be interesting to say the least.


    I see that yes, US nuclear powered warships have visited Japan on a number of occasions, and that the USS Washington is even based at Yokosuka Naval Base.


    Not quite right either. Reactor #1 is a bit of an exception. It was the first reactor, a BWR-3 with 460 MW.

    But Reactors #2 through #5 are BWR-4 reactors with 784 MW each. All of those are housed in Mark I containments.

    Reactor #6 is a 1100 MW BWR-5 reactor in a Mark II containment, itself the first among three BWR-5 reactors. (#7 and #8 are/were under construction.)

    Since the prime minister said that they are probably going to shut the whole site down (which doesn't strike me as particularly unreasonable), they will be permanently down by at least 2800MW from the first four reactors, another 1900MW from the other two and a projected 2200 MW from reactors under construction.


    Assuming Wikipedia is in the right ballpark, the following reactors shut down:

    Fuskushima Daiichi: 6 reactors 4696 MW (the smallest is 460, yes, but the biggest is over 1GW) Fukushima Daini: 4 reactors 4400 MW Onagawa: 3 reactors 2174 MW Tōkai: 1 reactor 1100 MW

    That's 13 reactors, with well above 12 GW total generating capacity. It looks like Daiichi will be permanently out, which means they're looking at the best part of 5GW of existing capacity permanently removed.


    Reactor 1 at Daiichi was due to be decommissioned soon at end-of-life. I think another one of the early construction BWR-5 MK1s was up for a life-extension licencing inspection real soon now (no. 4 I think which had been defuelled). 5 and 6 were off-line, still loaded with spent fuel awaiting extraction before being refuelled so when the tsunami hit the site was only feeding about 2.7GW into the grid and they were preparing to take another 500MW out in the next few weeks.

    The big hit to the grid is the Daini plant being off-line as that was a solid 4.4GW of generating capacity from modern BWR-5s. They all shut down safely after the earthquake but reactors 1, 2 and 4 at that site have been ticketed by the IAEA as having class-3 incidents during the shutdown process. Because of that there's a 10km evacuation zone around that site too but it's mostly subsumed by the extended zone around Daiichi across the bay. It will take longer to get them up and running again even after inspection because of the ticketing. The Onagawa and the Tokai Daini reactors don't have any tickets against them but it could still be the autumn before they restart given the expected paranoia about safety and possible damage to the reactor structures from the earthquake.


    Quick correction -- the Daiichi plant was supplying 2GW, not 2.7GW at the time of the earthquake -- 460MW + 780MW + 780MW.


    The US has a naval base in Japan because at the end of WWII, we agreed to protect them if they agreed to never go to war again.


    Well, given the damage to plumbing that has occurred during some earthquakes, paranoia can't be such a bad thing. And in fact, I wished there'd be a healthy paranoia about the functioning of the emergency equipment - especially venting valves etc.. Just as there is some understandable paranoia with the functioning of an ejection seat in a war plane.

    Better that than another reactor in trouble.

    Chernobyl may have been a hundred times worse than Fukushima, but Fukushima was still a hundred times worse than anything that ought to happen to nuclear power plant - no matter what the cause. (That includes hell freezing over.)

    Just as there is some understandable paranoia with the functioning of an ejection seat in a war plane.

    Interesting that you'd mention that. The ejection seats on supersonic US warplanes of the F-15 generation (I haven't looked into the F-22 and F-35 designs) were said to kill or seriously injure (as in spinal injuries) one in three of the pilots who ejected. I sure as hell hope that emergency equipment in a nuclear reactor was more trustworthy than that.

    210: YES IT'S WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE. Anybody could put anything they wanted on Wikipedia. A lot of things fell down the memory hole and was replaced with just the opposite. It was traced to the Bush Whitehouse and the CIA. Can it be done now? I read something about Wikipedia fixing it, so the new data could not be traced. So why not!


    and one more. The Brit's came up with what seems to be a good way of hiding hazardous nuclear waste safely forever. Deep sea slit is many hundreds of feet deep and many hundreds of years old. It is never disturbed. The British made some heavy torpedoes and dropped the into the slit. They said the force of the fall buried them hundreds of feet in a zone that just is not ever bothered. Make them out of stanless steel and/or glass and what could be safer? But as of now it would burn international treaties to dump in the sea.


    Indeed - Okinawa is a case in point. However, I had been under the mistaken impression that the US didn't have its nuclear ships actually calling into Japan. Since I then found that one of their nuke ships is actually based in Japan, this was obviously false, and I was making my mistake clear.


    The basic issue with any rocket-powered ejector seat is with just how hard it has to kick the "operator" up the base of the spine in order to get him clear of an aeroplane that is likely to explode in the very near future. I suspect that, if you offer a group of fast jet pilots the options of 1/3 spinal injuries and 1/1 being in a fuel air bomb when it goes off, most of them will risk the spinal injuries.

    Also, seriously, your 1/3 will include real deaths like the one in "Top Gun" where the Tomcat nav ejects successfully, but is killed when his head strikes the canopy post-ejection.


    There is a US carrier attached to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force on a permanent basis. Until a couple of years ago the USS Kittyhawk was the carrier in question because it was the last remaining non-nuclear "super"carrier left in service but it required several rather expensive life-extension refits to keep it available since it was built in the 60s.

    When the Battle Cat went to the great razor-blade factory in the sky the replacement was the USS George Washington, nuclear-powered. Most analysts understand, although the US neither confirms or denies this as a matter of policy, that there are no nuclear weapons on board the carrier or any of the US navy ships that accompany the Washington as part of its CVBG. It's actually unlikely that tacnukes are deployed on US Navy ships any more -- the SSBNs are strategic, not tactical.


    An RAF pilot of my acquaintance banged out twice from Lightnings during his career. He was noticeably shorter when he retired than when he entered the RAF but after he left front-line service he did two seasons in the Red Arrows before retirement so any spinal damage he suffered from the two ejections was limited.


    Actually, this may depend on how you define "spinal injury". I was including the sort of "compressed vertibrae" that your acquaintance clearly suffered from as a spinal injury, although it clearly isn't spinal column injury or even obviously herniated inter-vertebral discs. You'd note that I also included the sort of "d@mned bad luck" that gets you hit by a bit of your own aircraft as an "ejection related injury".


    Except that an aeronautical engineer whom I have find reliable in other areas told me that Russian ejection seats had a much lower injury and death percentage because the Russian seats were better designed. In fact, they could recover from the pilot ejecting upside-down as long as there was enough clearance (a couple of hundred meters, I think) to give the rocket motor time to fire and stop the fall. This tells me something about the relative value of American and Russian pilots to their command structure, something that is in contradiction to the common belief in America. And it shows that good intentions and good design can make a difference.


    There are newer designs of ejectors seats in use by the US and other Western forces which can "fly" to recover from an inverted ejection at low level by vectoring the rockets but the classic "straight out" M-B rocket seat was the first non-explosive ejector seat that worked well enough to be deployed into service. The first test shot with a live pilot on board was actually done in front of the Press cameras from a field in Oxford. It was a static test firing called the "zero-zero" test, zero altitude and zero speed. It was a few days before Yuri Gagarin flew into space, coincidentally.

    The test pilot in that shot had already been fired out of a couple of other aircraft using the explosive seats and later described the rocket-seat launch as being a lot less traumatic to the system.



    The main turbines on US CVNs drive the propellors, not generators. You'd do better with many cruise ships, which often have diesel-electric propulsion.


    Rocket powered ejection seats rarely maim people; the old gun-powered ones did.

    Rocket seats hit canopies rarely, and have a low but predictable over-G limit injury rate, and a low but predictable total failure rate, and a low but predictable fired-too-low-upside-down rate.

    They're not magic, even the maneuvering zero-zero-inverted ones. Too badly descending and upside down, and you're dead anyways.


    Unless something has changed recently all US carriers at sea use most of the reactor power to generate steam. Much of the heavy work is done by steam power. The next generation to go to sea will use electricity for things like catapults and such. But either this is just at sea or will be at sea soon.

    Anyway, the steam boats are not really designed to put out much power at 50/60 Hz unless you rig the steam to a big generator. And I seriously doubt the newer units will do much in terms of 50/60 Hz without some serious conversion systems. Mechanical or electronic.

    As a long term issue I'd like to see us discuss using naval designs for commercial use due to the huge size reductions that would achieve. But fuel cycle proliferation fears will never let that happen. But gosh, we refuel reactors now what every 9 to 15 months while the naval units go 5 to 10 years on a fuel load. And the physical size of the "spent" fuel is so much smaller.


    Naval ship reactors sit in a large heat-sink called "the sea". This is very convenient for a lot of reasons but may not be suitable for civilian power generation on land -- it was, after all, a loss of coolant that caused the Fukushima reactors to go bang.

    The small reactor size and long refuelling cycles of Naval reactors are due to the use of highly enriched uranium fuel -- I've seen suggestions of values as high as 90% enrichment. This makes them an ideal target for terrorists looking for weapons-grade nuclear material, one of the civilised world's great bugaboos. They also don't make a lot of power per reactor-generator set, maybe 200-300MW each for aircraft carriers which carry two reactors, a little less for a modern attack SSN of, say, the Astute class. That small unit power output would mean deploying lots of them on land as grid generators, all requiring military-grade guard forces and operators. In contrast one of the new civilian nuclear power designs the Chinese are actively working produces 1600MW per reactor whereas the BWR-5s, the most modern reactors in the Japanese fleet put out 1100MW.


    US nuclear ships calling in Japan.

    This isn't quite to the point, but it's a neat picture:

    Look at 35.12358 N, 139.73477 E in the Google Earth image of 2004-09-15.


    Counter-prediction: more deaths in Japan due to future anti-nuclear riots. Hmmm, maybe that should be "all riots", perhaps people will revolt against power companies.

    (I only found out about Japan/Libya after I'd been blissfully ignoring the world (and the internet) in the south of France for 3 weeks. Turn on CNN/BBC and... OMG WTF!?!?)


    Several companies are already commercializing (or trying to) nuclear reactors in the 25-50 MW range. The most interesting is Hyperion, but NuScale Power and divisions of Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox are also trying to create commercially-viable designs.

    We'll see what happens.


    How many of the companies promoting these small-reactor designs actually have a working prototype, never mind a real product that can be licenced and actually sold to Joe Public?

    There are a lot of paper exercises, a lot of blue-sky bullshit ideas being thrown around but actual working units that have passed thorough safety reviews and would actually get operating licences out in the wild seem to be very thin on the ground.


    "The small reactor size and long refuelling cycles of Naval reactors are due to the use of highly enriched uranium fuel -- I've seen suggestions of values as high as 90% enrichment. This makes them an ideal target for terrorists looking for weapons-grade nuclear material, one of the civilised world's great bugaboos."

    Yes and no. If the fuel bits are much smaller and they stay inside for 5 to 10 years then the amounts we are dealing with go down by a factor or 10 to 50. Which makes almost everything we have issues with today and spent fuel become a much much much smaller issue. What if reactors were designed with a 20 year cycle and you had to take the reactor out of the plant at the end of that time. Would it really be any more hassle than today?

    "They also don't make a lot of power per reactor-generator set, maybe 200-300MW each for aircraft carriers which carry two reactors,"

    The number's I've found indicate current models are 500MW. (But I can't find details which indicate that is each for for the pair. Maybe each as they are switching to a rail gun concept for launching the planes.) Which might or might not scale up if the ship dimensions were not a constraint. But then again maybe 10 500MW ship sized reactors would be a better situation for power generation than these massive things we are currently building. And their size seems directly related to all the issues that come up with our choices in fuel cycles and fuel enrichment levels. I keep looking at the single 900MW reactor plant we have near by and you could sure park a dozen or so carriers in the space reserved for up to 3 additional reactors. We have the cooling water. The original plan was for up to 4 of about 1000 MW in size.


    David L: You missed the highly enriched bit; the stuff naval reactors run on is close to or at the right level of enrichment for a Uranium-gun type atom bomb. (Regular enriched uranium reactor fuel is around 3% U235; this highly enriched stuff is around 90%.)

    Also, one of the selling points of small reactors is that you can drop one into a concrete well at each local power distribution substation and leave it unattended until it's time to truck it back to the factory for recycling. You can't do that where there's an incentive for Black Hats to dig it up and steal it for Blofeld-style hijinks. (Well, you might -- my preferred option is to install such small reactors under the car parks of police stations, so they're effectively under armed guard the whole time -- but it's probably unwise to do that with pocket reactors where there's a strategic security issue, rather than just a risk of idiots tampering with a hot core full of stuff that will kill them.)



    I think one of the reasons it would be hard to develop, test and commercially deploy small scale nuclear reactors would be the sheer number required to make them (commercially) viable. Even if companies did have the fully developed concepts in some filing cabinet somewhere I think they would be hard pressed indeed to justify the cost of large scale trials and certifications if they were unlikely to be able to sell to a mass market.

    The mass market part seems unlikely to happen any time soon. If you had hundreds, possibly thousands of these things floating around in a free market, even if they were designed to be only refueled in special facilities, I don't think it would be hard enough to extract the fuel. Harder to achieve weapons grade enrichment, but by no means impossible. Possibly too dangerous, as if that ever stopped anyone, more likely simply too expensive.

    Here's why if I were a regulator I could never condone large scale deployment of small reactors as long as they contained even 4% ^235 U:

    I'm not a physicist, but having lived with one for almost a decade I got to know one or two of them. Some of them thought building a nuke would be a fun if not very challenging project for a couple of undergraduate engineers and physicists[1]. None of them was particularly interested in nuclear weapons construction. That and the fact that there are always some hobbyists that take what is fun for another person extremely seriously[2] leads me to believe that if you rummaged through the basements of the pertaining faculties anywhere in the world you'd find some of these things sitting around, minus the fissile material, obviously, and most without live shaped charges hopefully.

    It would certainly be most detrimental to the academic career of anybody involved in such an undertaking if they were ever found out here (I live in Vienna), so completely disassembling them and getting rid of any incriminating material after having proven to yourself you can do it would be a very sensible course of action. On top of that scavenging for parts and materials is a hallowed tradition here, underfunded as all Austrian academia has been for longer than anyone cares to remember. That should dispose of most of what the insensible ones left unattended to. So that's not the worrying part.

    The part of the idea that is problematic for me is that the current concept of how to achieve sufficiently high concentrations of weapons grade U or Pu is still the breeder-centrifuge way, because AFAIK it's IMPOSSIBLE to do it any other way. Many things that were impossible to build to an industrial scale 20 years ago are quite the norm today. Materials with negative refractive index: check. Liquid nitrogen cooled superconductors: check. Exposure masks for <50nm structures: check.

    Who knows what else is floating around that your local heavy hitter won't even talk to you about without assuming you're wrong. It can even get worse in the private sector, where you can find yourself talking to management instead of people that have at least the potential to understand what you are saying all of a sudden. Most of the time it means it can't be done, but sometimes it's just never been tried. In my experience students will go a great deal further when it comes to what they think can be done to prove themselves right than any researcher in the private sector.

    [1] I was only mildly surprised when it recently turned out that the construction itself can be mastered without any formal training to that end at all, e.g. by a truck driver if one only puts one's mind to it. We don't live in the sixties anymore.

    [2] Just take a good hard look at model airplane or railway builders. They'll approach levels of obsession unimaginable to somebody not suffering from the same disease.


    The part of the idea that is problematic for me is that the current concept of how to achieve sufficiently high concentrations of weapons grade U or Pu is still the breeder-centrifuge way, because AFAIK it's IMPOSSIBLE to do it any other way.


    You need some sort of neutron-rich environment to produce Pu, and breeder reactors turn out to be energetically a lot cheaper than, say, running an electrically-powered neutron source ... but the only reason for using gas ultracentrifuge lines for U235 enrichment is that it's cheap and well-understood tech. Back in the early 1940s the U235 for the Little Boy device was concentrated using calutrons (mass spectroscopy -- the Manhattan Project sucked down a double-digit percentage of the USAs electricity production while they were running on calutrons) but other gas-diffusion techniques have been tried, and there's been occasional word of laser excitation being used for enrichment in the press over the past couple of decades. (I could speculate, too, about gel-diffusion electrophoresis ... although I suspect high performance liquid chromatography would be rather, ahem, dangerous given the reduced critical mass of fissionable actinides in aqueous solution.)

    Despite all of which, going from 4% enriched to 90% HEU means a 1-2 orders-of-magnitude process; it's at least as hard as going from natural 0.2% U235 to 4% EU. And you'll need at least 5Kg (probably more like 10-15Kg) of U235 to make a single bang. So you're going to need at least 100Kg of stolen reactor fuel to work with. And if you've nicked the stuff from a containerized, sealed small reactor (a) that reactor is clearly going to have been tampered with (it don't work no more!) and (b) the fuel assembly is going to be scarily hot when you pull it -- read, rapidly lethal (as in, whoever pulls the rods had better be a long way away using a crane and wearing lead underpants or they are going to be dead within a day).

    I believe stealing a running nuclear reactor is never going to be a trivial procedure. Especially if (plug for Charlie's preferred security precaution) it's planted under a police station car park.


    a) "going from 4% enriched to 90% HEU means a 1-2 orders-of-magnitude process" b) "So you're going to need at least 100Kg of stolen reactor fuel to work with." c) "that reactor is clearly going to have been tampered with (it don't work no more!)" d) "the fuel assembly is going to be scarily hot when you pull it -- read, rapidly lethal (as in, whoever pulls the rods had better be a long way away using a crane and wearing lead underpants or they are going to be dead within a day)."

    Yes, yes, yes and aye.

    a) obviously. b) All of that is really cheap, even today as long as you don't do it in the EU or the USA. I'm not even totally sure about that last half-sentence. Buying a reactor from a few of the less fortunate communities should be an easy deal. If you give them the money they need to (re)pave their roads, what they need to cover their electricity costs and some cash to spare they'll sell. And I'd really like to be proven wrong.

    c) Clearly that's one of the easiest things to do. It would be easier to determine which batch of which fuel from each plant the stuff came from than who caused this mess, even if it were only a sizzler instead of a full blown nuke including EMP. But what if we did find out? Do you think this could be undone by sufficient punishment, even involving not-involved-in-the-planning-of-the-act persons? What would be the difference between US and THEM, then?

    d) Easily managed. A very low-tech community like any one of the Vienna universities (except economy) could easily handle this proposition for a small nuclear reactor.


    What if it had been a Serbian police station, twenty years back?

    A mate of mine, Kenny, a Fusilier was over there at the time trying to keep the eight sides from killing each other and, as an afterthought keeping them from trying to kill him and his comrades in arms (although as he put it they were welcome to do what they liked to the bloody Yanks...)

    Wearing the Beret Bleu his squad was trying to defang a local bunch of Serbian ethnic cleansers who operated out of a small town in one of the hot-spots. They visited the local nick where they got a "no spikka da Englese" response from the police officers on duty. Kenny thought something didn't smell right, literally. He was an artilleryman, after all. Using Rule 5.56 of the UN inspections code i.e. stuffing the muzzle of an SA-80 into the face of the top cop, he persuaded them to open up the cellblock. The first cell was stacked full to the ceiling with crates of Soviet anti-tank mines, the "toss a T-80 in the air and flip it over" dustbin-lid kind of firework. The rest of the cells were similarly occupied with assorted heavy ordnance. The building was cleared of the offensive weapons and the cop shop handed back to the locals in the sure and certain knowledge it would be full of go-bang stuff again real quick.

    Now imagine the Metropolitan Police with access to nukes...


    I agree, obviously, on principle, but the student stuff I've seen weren't exactly variable yield NWs. No way anyone would use this kind of stuff near his/her home, let alone in the town they live in.


    (nice story from Ex-Yugoslavia)

    Err, that'd be one of the stories that'd get me into a "if somebody wants to die for his country, faith or economic interests I'm eager to help him" tantrum...


    [ DELETED BY MODERATOR -- due to potential for igniting flame war ]


    [ DELETED BY MODERATOR -- due to potential for igniting flame war ]


    Sorry for slipping into flame-war territory, I'll abstain from going this way in the future. Oh, and I'll use more sarcasm tags.


    "David L: You missed the highly enriched bit; the stuff naval reactors run on is close to or at the right level of enrichment for a Uranium-gun type atom bomb. (Regular enriched uranium reactor fuel is around 3% U235; this highly enriched stuff is around 90%.)"

    Not really. That's what allows them to be so small and have the multi-year refueling cycles. And also reduces the size of the fuel rods, holding tanks, process equipment, etc...

    It's an issue but is it really worse than the situation we have now. Our choices against highly enriched fuel seem to create way too many issues. Everything has to be huge. Refueling has to take place every year. Spent fuel takes up huge areas of controlled operations. And we have decided to not re-process it so we have to just keep stacking it up.

    But yes, going with HE U for fuel would likely mean badly behaved countries would be out of the market. And yes that does create lots of issues.

    And I would never think of Serbia as well behaved in any way over the last 100 or so years.


    "but the only reason for using gas ultracentrifuge lines for U235 enrichment is that it's cheap and well-understood tech. Back in the early 1940s the U235 for the Little Boy device was concentrated using calutrons (mass spectroscopy -- the Manhattan Project sucked down a double-digit percentage of the USAs electricity production while they were running on calutrons) but other gas-diffusion techniques have been tried,"

    As soon as they got the gas-diffusion units running they stopped the calutrons as way too hard to operate and way too inefficient. But stories I read are unclear as to how much actually came out of the calutrons.

    And the US to this day doesn't really use centrifuges. The Paducah GD plan still does most of the initial separation/concentration work in the US with centrifuges being mostly in test or pilot stages. I assume it's due to having a working system in place and the capital costs paid for vs building new and more efficient. I wonder what the pay back period would be to convert over. I suspect that would mostly be based on the cost of electricity. The Paducah plan uses over 3MW at peak operation.


    It's an issue but is it really worse than the situation we have now. Our choices against highly enriched fuel seem to create way too many issues.

    I don't know, but what about worst case scenarios? A normal reactor with enriched fuel can't really go boom, but with HEU, I can imagine several components working together like a gun type nuclear bomb. Scaremongering or real danger?

    And I would never think of Serbia as well behaved in any way over the last 100 or so years.

    Err, at the risk of starting another flame war (how far am I from being banned?), we should keep from sorting certain countries as well or not well behaved in this context, especially since in this case most of the other players in the Balcans aren't that much better.

    In general, looking at the last hundred and fifty years, all European nations were not that well behaved, to put it mildly. It's only in the last 60 or so years they started to get along. Problem is, the late state of Yugoslavia was one of the examples for this...


    Everyone in Europe behaved badly within living memory. Pointing the finger at Herr Hitler in no way gets the British Empire off the hook: as this weeks news demonstrates old atrocities are easier for the perpetrators to forget than the victims.

    On the other hand? Western Europe's been doing pretty well for the past two-thirds of a century. Especially compared to the historic norm.


    Well, I wasn't specifically thinking about Mr. Schicklgruber, though he is the, err, special case in this special needs class called European States 1850 to 1950; BTW even Belgium has some nice skeletons in the closet. especially given its size:

    But even if Western Europe has been doing pretty well for the past 60 or so years, barring things like Algiers and Indochina for the French or recently the Unspeakable One in Italy[1], problem is so did Yugoslavia before, well, the so called 'ethnic wars' started.

    Concerning ethnicity and like, there are multiple schools, one that argues that ethnicity is somewhat fixed and of fundamental importance,

    the other one arguing that ethnic identity, like every other social group, is constructed, sometimes by the members of said groups, sometimes by elites, sometimes by rulers with an interest etc. Some primordialist would call this politically correct humbug, fact is the primordialists I met were if anything better examples of ethnic constructivism and of course more able at it[2], which worked together with some nice compartalizing in the brain lobes.

    Relevance here?

    First of, some people argue the malady in Yugoslavia was not a reemergence of some old enimities in a shallow grave some journalist and political pundits (doublecough) explained it was, but the result of an active process where people with diffuse and multiple ideas of group identity got radicalized; problem is these radicals were the moderate option...

    Second of, who says it won't happen again? I'm not talking about the notorious 'fault lines' in the 'clash of civilizations' our pundits (where is my codeine?) are talking about[3], just some point where it might be interesting for people to redefine their identity. Reviving the Grand duchy of Berg to secede from Germany, e.g.

    to pick some random althist musing.

    Thinking about other groupings might get people to ideas, so I stop here.

    [1] But maybe the guy is just in for historical reconstructivism; read this, this and then this. Now run for a mental eraser.

    [2] Lieing to yourself, a blessing and a curse.

    [3] Just have to look at


    According to this BBC report:

    The trade minister, Banri Kaida, told Reuters that the targets could cut demand by an estimated 15m kilowatts for the areas serviced by two utilities Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) and Tohoku Electric Power.

    Or in units more familiar - 15 GW, a little more than that loss. That requires a fair bit of economy:

    Major power users have been asked to cut consumption by 25%, said the trade minister according to the Reuters news agency.

    Small industrial users are being asked to use 20% less power and households 15-20% less.


    Oopsie, sorry for that. I thought it was more of an example of passing historical interest.


    You abstained from passing judgment on these demands. I for one think they are asking a little too much. If I were to cut my power consumption I think I could shave off a little here and there, but 20%? Unrealistic.


    Part of the problem, of course, is that it's much easier for someone who doesn't care to make the adjustment. If you care, you've probably done sensible things to reduce energy consumption (low-energy lighting, decent insulation, turning things off when you're not using them). Someone who hasn't made any previous effort may well be able to reduce energy consumption by 20% without too much trouble; for someone who has already put some basic thought into not wasting energy, it's much harder.


    I suspect it's probably a case of "do it, or we'll do it for you". There's only so much power actually available, and if the load is more than the supply, there'll be brownouts, or the rolling power cuts will continue. On the other hand, if demand can be scaled back voluntarily, that might not happen.


    I do believe in fear. You don't need reasons for trouble if you have fear, and it's always there. I know of two testing's of people with brain scanners to see blood flow while seeing pics of scary things. Bloody wounds ect. In both tests there was a group of people who showed a increases of blood going to the parts of the brain known to have connections with fear. Here they ID ed themselves as Social Conservatives. I bet they really don't like new things anywhere. Most did not have the blood flow. If some are hardwired to be a afraid from birth, they must be open to those who would save them. Firm leaders, black robes, the God King ect. Then the power group has leaders who must stay in front of their group by acting out. And have the numbers to act. And know who to act on. Jews, Liberals, Trutsis, Poles, people from the other side of the mountain. People who want to ruin you body fluids. There is a lot to be saved from.


    This "bloody Yank" loves the way we keep getting sucked into a place that can't learn from it's own history. That's what made us what we are now. We were full of James Bond types doing things to people who learned from WW-1 and did not want to be fooled again. Well the wars were not the same. But the huge work of getting us in there was. And if we had stayed home the first time, maybe there would not have been a second time.


    So conservatives are more afraid of life than liberals?


    Conservatives are more afraid of change. But that's implicit in the very name.

    The problem for them is that modern life is full of change.


    Hmmm. In general terms the USA is more conservative than liberal. (Repeated studies show this with a bigger clump in the middle than at either end.)

    The USA is mostly made up of folks who left their previous country for a big unknown. And after they got here still left their known for the unknown. Especially prior to the last 50 years. But most of our gene pool is from those who left for the biggest unknown of their life.

    How does this correlate?


    Let me take a stab: the bulk of emigration to the USA came from nations experiencing some kind of convulsive change, because happy comfortable folks don't usually emigrate. So you had a bunch of people fleeing change. Again, the bulk of pre-mid-19th century emigration came from pre-industrial nations, farmers/peasants looking for land to cultivate: occupations which are inherently conservative (because if you fuck up your agricultural process in such a society you starve to death the next spring).

    After which we have the forced industrialization of the north-east in the mid to late 19th century, the rise of the robber barons, and consequent labour unrest in the metropolitan areas with the big industrial works. The response to which is things like the Palmer raids and the ongoing 20th century war on workers rights, which has pretty much brainwashed Americans into thinking that "socialism" means men with guns stealing their property rather than, say, a system that delivers free healthcare and education on tap.

    (NB: I hold that authoritarian/liberal value structures are mostly meme systems that tend to be transmitted down family lines because they're imprinted early in infancy -- but they're not automatically hereditary.)


    This is way over-determined. People fleeing from change? It is too simple to say that Americans were "pathfinders" and the exceptional from the Old World, but it is ridiculous to characterize them as more conservative than the people who stayed behind. They did not flee "Teh Socialist Empires" of Bismark and Gladrali. America used to be a liberal country with a proud blue collar meme. Most of the people who lived that dream have died and generational succession and the course of economic development have produced a different cultural mix than 40 or 50 years ago. If we were looking for big simple explanations, which I am not sure we have to, the fact that people and money have flowed into the conservative South may be the biggest factor. This increased the South's influence without overwhelming its conservative character, particularly when you factor in the reason for the move to the South was partly to escape the union friendly politics of the Upper Midwest and Northeast as well as finding an internal location for cheaper more pliable labor.


    One question about nuclear waste, aside from the reprocessing issues, the argument about them always seems to hinge on their duration, but do other kinds of industrial waste really last any less? The point about duration of HL nuclear waste relates to the necessity for it to be contained/managed or it will create a kind of doomsday havoc. Other forms of toxic waste aren't better, the point is that pro-nuclear advocates maintain the pretence that it will be contained for very long periods of time, which is essential to their case in view of the colossal quantities of it that they want to create. "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity..."


    To someone living in the UK, the question of how much power you can extract from the gulfstream before you its behaviour starts to change is not insignificant. I don't see this at all. Waves are going to hit the beach, and the energy is going to get extracted. Wave and tidal extraction are too local to cause this type of concern. If someone extracted energy from the Stream in Mid-Atlantic you would have a point.


    If you live in California, you should be concerned about people building nukes right on top of the San Andreas. eg the well-named Diablo power station.


    I like Ian Welsh's comment, "Nuclear power might be relatively safe, but not built by us, not by this society." How true, an excellent post as well. I would like to suggest 'species' should be substituted for 'society'. When I was at tech college an eternity ago, a lecturer told us: "Before you are in engineering, you are shocked when a bridge falls down. Once you are in engineering, and see the kind of people who work there, the thing that surprises you is that anything works at all."


    This is not a story of nuclear power being insecure per se. No more than the 1666 fire of London proved that cities were an uncontrollable collection of flammable material that were too dangerous to inhabit. But it is a story of unenforced common-sense security standards.

    The point: 1) This sort of fubar goes on all the time, and is detected only when disaster happens. 2) It always has gone on. 3) It always will, so long as homo sapiens is in charge.

    So if you want nuclear power, get used to disasters and recriminations. All the high-level waste that has been created will eventually get dispersed into the environment, because human beings are in charge of preventing it.


    You're late to the discussion (I was planning on closing in a week ago to avoid the spammers but I've been busy).

    TL;DR version: coal and oil kill 1.5-2.5 million people a year and are fucking over the climate. We need to get off it.

    Renewables: hydro has unpleasant failure modes (drowned cities) and flooding valleys generates CH4 emissions like crazy from inundated biomass. Biofuel is a cruel scam that contributes to mass starvation. Wind and solar don't provide power 24x7 so don't do much for base load demand without horrendously expensive large-scale storage systems. Tidal is good in theory, but has to be built to survive, well, the oceans. Which requires robust engineering, to say the least.

    Nuclear ... we're running unsafe 40 year old second-generation reactors because the folks who run them are power companies who find it unpleasantly expensive to contemplate replacing them with newer kit, and we're sitting on a few tennis courts of high level "waste" which is 90% usable fuel if reprocessed, because the cost of reprocessing it exceeds the cost of fabricating fresh, new fuel. It's a clear market failure: the "free market" (or what passes for it in central electricity generating circles) isn't a suitable means of operating an efficient, safe nuclear infrastructure. On the other hand, even taking the worst case estimates of deaths from civil nuclear power, it's a whole lot less lethal than coal or gas, and it doesn't fuck up the carbon cycle. QED.

    Finally, the main form of "high level waste" that persists for more than around 200 years (a perfectly containable period) is Plutonium. Which works just fine as fuel in reactors tuned to run on MOX -- the only reason it's classified as "high level waste" is political unwillingness to reclassify it as "valuable fuel".


    Agree with your point about coal and oil completely.

    RE hydro: I don't know of many places where cities are built in the shadow of dams. Maybe USA, they're a bit crazy.

    Agree totally re biomass,a deplorable scam with horrendous consequences.

    Re wind/solar being erratic,the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen has often been suggested as a way of dealing with this, and its capability of near lossless transmission compensates for the inefficiency of regenerating electricity. Generating electricity(eg nuclear) at the seaside for inland cities runs into huge transmission losses. The hydrogen can also be used as vehicle fuel, with enormous benefit (asthma and lung cancer, etc)

    Tidal is safe from the weather, as it is sub-surface, and is in danger only from tsunami.

    The real big issue of high-level waste isn't spent fuel, but used reactor, rusting away and highly radioactive with a wide range of radionuclides. This is also the elephant in the room on the cost issue. Governments have long shielded the nuclear companies from these types of cost, in spite of which they have often gone bust and been bailed out with public funds anyway.

    As to worst-case estimates of casualties, it's a matter of who does the estimating. After what has happened in Fukushima, and the public reaction to it from pro-nuke types, the British scientific establishment has forfeited all credibility. A succession of Dames, Fellows, and Chief Scientists have popped up, talked appalling nonsense, and presumably collected their brown envelopes.

    The fundamental fact that cannot be escaped is that a whole series of major Western governments, acting on the advice of their respective nuclear safety authorities, have ordered the evacuation of Tokyo. What if the Japanese government had followed suit? They didn't because they cannot, not because it wasn't necessary. Is the loss of such a city an acceptable outcome for a power plant failure? It could yet happen.

    Please bear in mind the IAEA is responsible for promoting nuclear power, as well as regulating it.

    After what has happened to Tepcos share price, I hope the whole discussion will become moot, in any case. Nuclear power is corporate suicide, even if it is not, as I suspect, species suicide.


    Oh, good Grief ' Good Ole Charlie Brown ..' was want to say !

    Just recently I was walking down the coast of the North East of England and came upon a reminder of Times past as I and my Favorite Females Hound did encounter an Old mine Working that closed during the late 1960s but was suspected of polluting the ground water by virtue of an operation and was with mighty Pipe and Drilling's work underway open to inspection of pollutants from Victorian mine workings which, way back then and now in the aftermath, was bound to the old tried and true method of dealing with waste products of the Victorian Industry of Empire.. to wit, to DIG BIG hole, stick poisons in said HOLE and then forget about the same for 150 years ..lots of it about hereabouts, for what usually happened was that LAND Owners discovers valuable STUFF buried beneath ..THEIR !! .. Lands and proceeded toward speculation and Social Status in London and the South of England ... watch " Upstairs Downstairs " and similar such British TV series of once upon a time in the 1970s and read between the lines.We are still reaping the consequences.

    Anyway you could, if you care to, extrapolate from the Rich energy Investors in Power to hiding the by products of the Power Industry's ... and ..towards " God Help The Folks Who Have None " In, say, Former Soviet ~Union and present Japan.


    A snippet from nuclear news website: Pete Stockton, a former security expert with the Department of Energy, warns that if fuel rods were exposed and melted down near a populated area, the resulting radiation would force a massive evacuation. The Indian Point plant 35 miles north of Manhattan, for example, could “take out New York City,” Stockton said. They are discussing spent fuel rods sitting in pools like the one that exploded at Fukushima.


    SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, lovely SPAM!

    [[MODERATOR - Now gone, thanks.]]



    I guess we look at the word differently.

    A friend in from my days in Connetticut's grandfather came over from Russia in 1911 at about the age of 11 by himself (shipped over by parents to get him away?) and made his way shining shoes on the streets of NYC. His son became an Maryland.

    My great great grandfather moved from MD to far western KY in 1824 by himself as best we can tell. Then took a trip over to south western Missouri to marry his wife. This meant 60 to 100 miles plus crossing one or two rivers each way that were big and wide by most any standard you care to use. EACH WAY. Family name is Ross and as best we can tell he or his father was a peasant from Scotland likely shipped over as an indentured servant. And in 1824 you got from Maryland to far western Kentucky by walking. And the roads of the time were, shall we say, a bit rough.

    Much of the upper mid west was settled by Scandinavians who walked from the coast to past the Great Lakes so they could farm rocks in the winter.

    And they folks who settled west of the Rockies walked 1500 to 2000 miles at an average of 20 miles a day to get to something they thought would be better. Forget the movies, you saved your horse for when needed and oxen pulled most wagons. And you didn't waste their energy pulling people who could walk. If you did you got to emulate the Donner party but without the infamy. You had to AVERAGE 20 miles a day every day to make it. And to get to the "promised land" you had a choice of deserts or mountains. Both each way but you got to pick which you wanted to experience more. :)

    These people don't strike me as people afraid of change. People afraid of change would rather sit in their misery than move to something that while most likely better isn't guaranteed to be better. I deal with these people all the time. Liberal and conservative.


    Arrrrg. Change the wrong MD.

    Son became an MD.

    my great great grandfather moved from Maryland.



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