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Question ...

I have zip French.

So can anyone tell me — stuck here in the deafening echo chamber of misinformation that is the anglosphere — how the French news media are covering the events unfolding at Fukushima Daiichi?

(For those who wonder why this is important, read this and then do some thinking about second order consequences before you ask. Hint: the media over here are focussing on anti-nuclear hysteria in Germany. I think they're looking in the obvious — and wrong — direction.)

((Second hint: I think one of the enduring tragedies of the 22nd century will be that during the 20th and 21st centuries we persistently treat nuclear reactors as if they're nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons as if they're nuclear reactors.)

318 Comments

1:

I like your second hint, I have never heard it stated that way.

I am disappointed in fear this is building about nuclear power. Most nuclear power plants won't be anywhere near a fault line, and even then it was the tsunamis that caused the major nuclear issues in Japan (flooding the pump power generators), not the quake itself.

I wish the human mind wasn't so easily susceptible to fear and panic.

2:

How exactly do we treat nuclear weapons like reactors?

3:

I suspect more then half of them to be fashion reporters on the Harajuku beat.

4:

A quick check of le monde, seems to indicate that the disaster in japan is covered in much the same way as in the
british/american media:

http://www.lemonde.fr/japon/infographie/2011/03/14/le-scenario-de-la-catastrophe-de-fukushima_1493124_1492975.html

http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2011/03/14/un-accident-nucleaire-d-une-ampleur-historique_1492753_3244.html

The German media is a different story. I've seen headline along the lines of "The blind faith in technology". Then there's this one titled "Radian Silence":

http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wissen/japan-atomkatastrophe-strahlende-stille-1.1071968

Caption reads:
Three reactors out of control: Even the responsible technicians at the Fukushima-1 no longer seem to know what is going on inside the reactor. Whether the sea-water is actually cooling the fuel-elements is unclear. The only this the experts can now do is to continue their measurements - and pray.

5:

Actually quite reasonably if you ask me. They were making the same hash of things at first that all outlets did, noone on staff with the right background, problems getting facts straight, etc, but have improved as time goes on. Pretty much par for the course in that sense.

I haven't actually seen a lot of reference to nuclear power in France except brief notes that they're in a part of the world that's seismically stable and won't experience tsunamis. We've had the same reporting about reactors here in Canada.

On the political side, I don't see any hints of something like Merkel's announcement from Sarkozy, but to be fair I only follow the political news casually (I'm in Canada, as noted). If anything, it seems to be the opposite: "For France there is no possibility of leaving nuclear power." There are also some comments about how it will affect the sale of French reactors, seems mixed. Either no country who cares about its people will ever buy them, or they'll be seen as better options than generation-2 reactors from Korea and China (who apparently beat out the French in some recent tenders).

6:

"How exactly do we treat nuclear weapons like reactors?"

With similar levels of gut-wrenched well-founded paranoia. The difference is as always, is intent.
I miss that solar/microwave satellite idea.

7:

From here in Québec the french reaction seems reasonable enough. Case in point: Le Monde currently titles: "Un accident nucléaire d'une ampleur historique" (i.e.: "A nuclear accident of historical proportions"), however in the article's first paragraph the president of the Autorité de sureté nucléaire française (i.e.: "French Nuclear Security Authority") is quoted as a trustworthy expert on the subject.

8:

The news first focussed on the incidents themselves. Then there was the usual "move along move along" from the minister in charge of industry (himself a former reviled minister of National Identity). The mainstream news just quoted the minister, then some dissenting voices rose, reminding how during the Chernobyl crisis officials would explain that the radioactive cloud stopped at the German border. There are quite a few articles questioning the optimistic views of the government and/or Areva (ex-framatome, our semi-public nuclear plant builder). Nicolas Sarkozy was quoted saying that with the EPR (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Pressurized_Reactor ) none of this would have happened. But that's Sarkozy for you, no one really listens to what he says.

The green party has been asking for a referendum on nuclear power, and it's getting some traction but the consensus on nuclear power is strong and bipartisan.

9:

The media are... ok, I guess. Good coverage; not too much difference with the international coverage.

The government... not so much. The various ministers seem pretty clueless, and even contradict the Japanese at times.

10:

With insouciance and elan, one hopes. Vive la France!

11:

Le Monde (my rough translation) writes: Nicolas Sarkozy said that "naturally, getting out of nuclear energy is out of the question. France has the most secure [nuclear plants]."

In Le Figaro, there is an online poll: "Should we have a referendum on nuclear energy?"
So far: 14866 votes
Oui: 27.31%
Non: 72.69%

12:

How exactly do we treat nuclear weapons like reactors?

One of them is a useful source of power as long as it's properly secured, the other is a weapon of mass destruction.

Look at the way governments deal with nuclear weapons and the way the public respond to nuclear power stations, and you'd think nuclear weapons are a useful source of power (as long as they're properly secured) and that nuclear reactors are weapons of mass destruction.

13:

Yup, I confirm what others have said (although I don't watch the medias as much as I used to).

It seems to me the talk was more like "terrible accident in japan" than "OMG, Nuclear Power is Evil Unleashed!!!" and I've certainly seen no hysteria.

Funny thing is, just before coming here, I was reading a blog article that was quite... How to put it... "We told you nuclear energy was dangerous, we told you this would happen, we should stop right here and now". This was actually the first time I've read something like this, although I wasn't surprised (It seemed logical that people would use the explosion to advance their political views).
I've read some comments (the first 32), and most seemed pretty rationnal.
(For those interested: http://www.marianne2.fr/Japon-la-propagande-pro-nucleaire-ne-passe-plus_a203873.html)

So, at least for now and for me, everything seems quite level-headed. Ouf!

14:

Yeah... Pity its efficiency would be so small. And that it could never be built; or rather, no-one could ever be let build it for fear of the consequences.
(A space-based platform delivering several megawatts of energy into a space definable in square metres is a good description of an orbital cannon.)

15:

Wev'e been trolled by the best.

"One of them is a useful source of power as long as it's properly secured, the other is a weapon of mass destruction"

Depending on availability and motive both statments can apply to either. There is no such thing as a %100 secure nuclear facility.

16:

A nuclear weapon is not a safe source of power as it can only release explosively. A nuclear reactor is usually not ABLE to release explosively (as in, the materials involved prevent a supercritical reaction as the fuel is insufficiently pure - that was a substantial part of the Manhattan project, getting enough of the fissile material in enough purity for a supercriticality), and is not a weapon of mass destruction because... well... it's a very large building. Who would make a weapon of mass destruction on their own soil that can't be moved?

Yes, there's no such thing as a 100% secure nuclear facility. But they're designed to withstand airstrikes, and stealing fissile material from an operating reactor strikes me as one of the most spectacularly, terminally stupid actions possible.

17:

There is no such thing as a %100 secure nuclear facility.

Correct. Meanwhile, 1.5 million people die per year from atmospheric pollution -- a side-effect of burning fossil fuels -- which is kind of hard to deny, even if you think global climate change is some kind of lefty conspiracy.

Bluntly, there's no such thing as a 100% safe, clean, energy source. Even renewables have major environmental impacts. The question is, what gives us the optimum balance of safety and efficiency and minimal environmental damage?

18:

Heh, I didn't realize the British media picked up on German nuclear hysteria.

You're doing a good job ignoring it - while there is a bunch of stuff the Germans are (IMHO) legitimately annoyed at w.r.t. their nuclear power policy, a lot of it is just people expressing anger at the currently ruling parties (and an election is due very soon). I expect there will be no major consequences either way.

19:

It's far to late for this kind of nuance, but can we please have some greyscale bits in this discussion ?

I am for nuclear power, but firmly against our current implementation of it, those are two very different things.

With our current atomic power technology, it is "Cheap, Safe, Reliable, pick any one". You cannot have more than one, because huge tanks of fissile material, apart from being expensive, puts you right in the middle of both the "oopsie" and non-proliferation cross-hairs.

And sitting between a rock, a hard place and an even harder place, while at the same time trying to be profitable, has a tendency to tempt people to take shortcuts. And next thing you know you have a Davis-Besse style near-miss.

And no, I don't see any of the current paths to fusion energy as particularly viable either, ITER seems destined to prove again, that every year of research we put into tokamaks will move the event of fusion energy two years further into the future.

If we want atomic power, without upgrading the humans who will have to deal with it, we need to come up with a plant that is A) non-proliferation-resistant, B) moderate size (<400MW), C) intrinsically safe, TRIGA style.

There are designs that claim to be that, some of them credibly, but after this weekend, they will be 25 years delayed, while public opinion calms down again.

The majority of our nuclear plants will be retired by then, and who knows, maybe after 10-15 years of VE electricity in an "intelligent grid," which turns off the water heater while you're in the shower because the price rose fivefold, humans will again dare expore "electricity to cheap to meter" ?

For now the atomic age is officially over.

Poul-Henning

20:

Lol, too true, Nukes are a great source of POWER for any government that has them

21:

" what gives us the optimum balance of safety and efficiency and minimal environmental damage?"

I'm strictly playing devil's advocate here (not a Greenie) but...
Uranium-235 has a half-life of 700 million years
Plutonium-239, with a half-life of 24,100 years.
Human errors take less 3.5 seconds.

I'd rather blanket the Sahara with solar panels then look at another Chernobyl.

22:

There were actually a pretty interesting proposals from Edward Teller to use underground hydrogen bombs as "enhanced geothermal energy" for heating Chicago.

Contemporary documents about Operation Ploughshare are amazing reading.

My guess is the ambiguity Charlie played with ?

Poul-Henning

23:

however in the article's first paragraph the president of the Autorité de sureté nucléaire française (i.e.: "French Nuclear Security Authority") is quoted as a trustworthy expert on the subject.

I can't think of anyone better? Look at results. Results. See any exploding French reactors? See any French coal-fired power stations?

Checking in on Le Monde, they seem to have travelled through not paying any attention, to reporting it reasonably well, to running after "Sortir du nucleaire"'s call for a referendum because it's Danny and he was important in 1968. Or was it 1868?

Sortir du Nucleaire must be the world's most ridiculous pressure group. Free Tibet might eventually get some degree of autonomy. France isn't going to dash-for-gas and sign up for Russian foreign policy. Ever. It's literally true that what they want won't ever happen, physically, economically, politically, and institutionally.

24:

I'm in the US so read my comments in that light.

I've had CNN and MSNBC on as background noise for the last few days as this has been going on. (Fox has be given to way too much hyperbole for me and I'm very conservative in my politics.) Plus a lot of NPR.

So...

What I seem to be hearing is not much about the French except that seem to be more rational about the entire topic, warts and all.

Germans are reconsidering keeping their current reactors going but no one says what will replace the power. Well a few do see below. While I'm typing this NPR has a German official on TV talking about reviewing their cooling systems.

In the US there's a lot of talk about putting the new plants supposed to be online in a few years on hold for a while from most politicians.

The MSNBC show "Morning Joe" had an anti-nuke power lady on this morning who was urging shutting down all reactors world wide ASAP as renewables and efficiencies could make up the gap in short order. She was treated politely but with skepticism. She made several statements about all the cancer deaths being caused by the Three Mile Island incident but gave no numbers and would not wander down the path of health costs of coal now or if we shut down the nuke plants. Her mantra was renewables and efficiency would cure all the issues.

Here in the US we keep going in circles about nuclear vs wind vs solar vs hamsters in treadwheels vs. whatever. In the mean time to meet power needs we keep expanding our coal usage.

People who like wind typically don't want it near them. Ditto solar, nuclear, coal, whatever. But given all the choices I'd take wind over most any other choice to be near me. But siting any of these in low population areas means we need transmission lines. And transmission lines are beginning to be harder to site than the power sources. With transmission lines you get to deal with federal, state, county, city, and zoning bodies plus property owners, green way advocates, high voltage causes cancer, and everyone else. Which over here in the US can turn into 1000s of approvals and hearings and lawsuit for each route considered.

Wind sitings now take 4 to 10 years. Solar just as long plus they are harder to site as you need lots of open space which just doesn't exist in many parts of the county. Insulating houses and replacing windows would do a lot over hear but cost is an issue for many building owners.

All of the above gets tossed into the discussion.

25:

Here's a question or two for this group.

Is there a reason, other than the fuel issues, that we don't go to a reactor design like those used on US Naval Carriers? There's not a lot of details floating around but it seems that from what I can read the naval reactors generate about 1,000 MW per ship which is about the capacity of a typical nuke power plant. And the carrier seems to cost less, especially if you don't outfit the air wing.

So why not just build carriers and park them off shore and hook them to the grid. Just kidding but you see my point.

But instead use these designs for civilian power generation. The physical size would certainly be much smaller.

Now I know that US Naval reactors use fuel that's way above the commercial fuel in terms of the concentration of the radioactive elements. Under 10% for civilian and 40% to 80% for military. But wouldn't the decrease in size make it easier to guard? And the spend fuel would be smaller physically.

Then we get to reprocessing which gets rid of even more used fuel.

But of course all of this means we can't share the technology with anyone but a few close friends.

26:

Here in Australia (another part of the anglosphere) we're getting the same sort of "eeeek, it's the N-word" idiocy from our press, along with dragging in experts from the Australian nuclear industry (which consists of approximately two mines and one small reactor in Sydney) to do the Monday's Expert thing live on national television etc. There's a lot of long-faced jaw waggling from the Greens, who are busy pointing and saying "see, this is why Australia shouldn't be looking at nuclear power" and similar.

Which, frankly, is bullshit. Australia is one of the most sesmically stable countries in the world. We're stable enough that other countries want to use our country as a nuclear waste DUMP, fergawdsakes. The fear of earthquake is not the reason Australia should be steering clear of nuclear power as a general rule. The reason why Australia should be steering clear of nuclear power as a general rule is because a nuclear power plant requires a large amount of fresh water as a cooling system, and despite what the northern Queenslanders are saying through their snorkels, Australia is the driest continent in the world. We don't even have enough water for our present population (which is why we're on constant water restrictions), much less the extra demand required to keep nuclear reactors running safely. Given there are already signs of climate change here in Australia, and they're fairly firmly pointing in the direction of the country getting drier, rather than wetter, nuclear power isn't really a sane option.

27:

My favorite energy generator is really simple: it's called conservation. It's called good systems design. It's called building things using room temperature chemistry. I'm looking forward to the day when we can engineer Geobacter (or something similar) to grow iron I-beams in a mold using ground-up rusty cars as the substrate. Might take longer, but I'll bet it will be a lot cheaper.

Okay, end of rant 1.

Rant #2: The problem with solar panels in the Sahara desert is simple: where are we getting the water to keep the systems clean and efficient, and can we efficiently maintain a big-enough solar factory to replace the panels as they get scratched up by blowing sand?

Out in the western US, the biggest problem with solar appears to be that the current designs will suck the local aquifers dry trying in

Yes, I know that iPhones have some neat technology for removing dust electrostatically. Hopefully we can get this technology implemented quickly on some of these big solar arrays really, really quickly.


28:

Le Figaro eagerly reports the party line: we can't do without nuclear energy, and besides, the French Know-How is so much better, and we are so much safer than they are.

That said, I live in Ireland, and here they got peat power stations. That shit blows up, I really don't want to be around, for the smell if anything.

29:

This is not current and it was not published in the news media, but Long Now had a great seminar on nuclear energy back in 02007

http://longnow.org/seminars/02007/sep/14/power-to-save-the-world/

That and your (Charlie) “Nothing like this will be built again” piece changed my mind on this topic. Hopefully we'll get through the next week or two and be able to talk about how nuclear reactors survived a nearby 9.0 earthquake.

30:

I can't represent the everyFrenchman, I was actually following the news on an international thread. Here is a quick roundup of French online sources.

Libé (left) has five titles on the reactor, then two on the rescue efforts, then the rest of the news.
- Japan: a second Tchernobyl is «very unlikely»
- Sarkozy: «quitting nuclear is out of the question»
- The situation in Japan renews worries on French nuclear energy
- Nuclear plant: «direct injection of seawater is a last-ditch maneuver»
- Graphics gallery: Nuclear, some pointers
- Video zapping: rescue efforts
- Photo gallery: relief hard at work
There's a lot more over there, which I think I'll start following.

Le Monde (centre-left, very mainstream) is titling «Japan: race against the clock to prevent disaster», subtitling ~reactors are melting, on top of a picture of that little kid in a Tsunami-ravaged town. The carousel has thirteen items, all but four nuclear (Japan or Europe) related, the rest Japan related.

Le Figaro (right, mainstream) is blending seven titles on nuclear with four on the rest of Japan.

Le Parisien (right) has eight articles on the reactor and the european debate (the poll is 50% we should have a referendum), two more on Japan.

Google news clusters 2400 articles on the reactor.

Some less representative sources that I do check:

Rue89 (urban left, new media and a little bit of print) has four very critical titles, mixed with other topics blog-style:
- Nuclear accidents in Japan: «it's every man for himself»
- Nuclear accidents in Japan: «beyond the worst nightmare»
- Nuclear: Japan played with fire. And France?
- In Japan, thousands dead and fears of nuclear tragedy.

Agoravox (centre, new media) titles «why I'm not (too) worried for Japan nuclear reactors», and has three other articles on nuclear, two more on Japan.

31:

On this incident, I found the following article (although not French) to be a useful hysteria counter, although I'm not an expert and may have been hoodwinked.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/14/fukushiima_analysis/

32:

My own take on things goes something like this:

1.) We will eventually run out of oil. This is simple fact, and it will happen soon. To deny this fact is simple lunacy.

2.) Monocultures (like oil) are bad.

3.) Yes to solar. Yes to wind. Yes to geothermal. Yes to some kind of safe nuclear design like pebble-bed. Yes to _________. Invest actual money in building/researching these designs, and if one method of power generation fails for some reason, we're still good.

4.) Stop doing idiotic things like building nuke plants near earthquake faults, fighting against solar and denying global warming. People who break this rule should have the word "stupid" tattooed across their foreheads in the 72-point font of their choice.

5.) Conservation, improved infrastructure and public transportation will solve most of our power problems.

Oh look, the world works now.

33:

[1] Nuclear technology is potentially much more diverse than most of us have any idea about or familiarity with. Many other kinds of possible reactor designs exist than those 40-year old BWRs (boiling water reactors) in Japan, which are Generation-II designs caught in the wake of a 9.0 scale earthquake, and with a long record of safety systems being inadequately serviced.

[2] Almost all nuclear reactors today run on the uranium-plutonium (U-235 to Pu-239) fuel cycle, and the most common reactor type is the light-water reactor, or LWR. But the man chiefly responsible for the LWR, Alvin Weinberg, estimated that at the nuclear age's start there were a thousand possible directions we could have taken in terms of reactor designs and fuel cycles.

Weinberg himself favored the thorium molten salt reactor for civilian power-generation purposes, despite his design role with the LWR; he was fired by the Nixon administration after a quarter century of running Pine Ridge National Lab because he refused to get behind the fast breeder program the Nixon administration wanted (primarily, for bomb-building purposes).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_M._Weinberg

[3] Reactor design took the direction most people are familiar with today primarily for two reasons.

Firstly, the U.S. defense establishment wanted plutonium for bomb-building in greater quantities than the Atomic Energy Commission could supply at the 1950s’ start.

Secondly, Admiral Hyman Rickover became the de facto administrator of nuclear generator R&D -- literally, the AEC administrator of the first U.S. civilian reactor, Shippingport, which was funded as a naval research reactor because Rickover wished to develop the larger reactors required for aircraft carriers. Rickover's priority was simply to deliver reliable reactors for U.S. Navy submarines and then carriers as quickly as possible. The second U.S. nuclear sub, the USS SEAWOLF, in fact ran initially on a molten salt reactor, but there were heating problems, and water and molten salts are extremely bad news if they mix. So Rickover simplified things by settling on uranium-plutonium boiling-water reactors.

[5] That said, the U.S. Navy currently operates more than 80 nuclear-powered ships and has accumulated over 5,400 "reactor years" of accident-free experience. It's done this with seamen who in many cases have no technical training before they join the Navy. That's possible because the Navy is fairly scrupulous in maintaining the standards Rickover set; till he was retired, Rickover personally interviewed everybody -- down to the lowest seaman -- who would be involved with shipboard reactors.

[6] The Gen-III nuclear reactor designs that I've seen cannot go critical or melt down in many cases -- it's physically impossible. Moving to the thorium cycle -- which is proliferation-resistant -- and Gen-IV designs generally will solve many problems, especially including that of nuclear waste. Not only would Gen-IV designs like the IFR (Integral Fast Reactor) and the LFTR (Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor) achieve high burnup and close the fuel cycle, but various fusion-fission and fast-neutron reactor designs could burn down the long-lived actinides and eliminate radioactive waste altogether.

[7] Let me repeat that. “Closing the fuel cycle” means solving the problem of nuclear waste. In other words, industrial nuclear transmutation looks about two to three decades away, and this is both good and bad news. Good news because it could make nuclear energy sustainable into the quite long-term future and solve the problem of nuclear waste. Bad news because we stand potentially at the dawn of the golden age of nuclear arms proliferation.

http://www.whatisnuclear.com/articles/recycling.html
http://chenected.aiche.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/071051.pdf
http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull353/35304893437.pdf
http://jrse.aip.org/resource/1/jrsebh/v2/i6/p062801_s1
http://2010.atomexpo.ru/mediafiles/u/files/Presentation/VasudevaRao.pdf

34:

What I find most disappointing with the coverage, at least here stateside, is that it's being played as a warning as to the danger of nuclear power, rather than as evidence of its safety. What we have here is an example of a reasonably safe failure mode (so far there has been no recorded widespread major release of radiation or waste) under just about the worst case scenario possible in terms of the infrastructure hit north Japan has taken. Every reputable specialist I've heard from doesn't forsee a break in the containment vessel even in the case of a full-on core melt.

There's a tautology at the core of the hysteria coming out if this, which is that we're using the fact that we're scared as proof that it must be quite scary indeed. We don't see this kind of minute-by-minute coverage of a chemical plant accident threatening the surroundings to a similar extent because of our knee-jerk overblown reaction to anything with the word "nuclear" in it. That makes this into a much bigger story than it probably ought to be, and hey, if it's that big a story it must be a pretty big deal, right?!?

35:

@21 -- I'm really sick of seeing the word "Chernobyl" anywhere near this conversation. Chernobyl was a suicidally idiotic Soviet design: No containment vessel, positive void coefficient, and lack of failsafes just to begin a long list. That's a world of difference from any currently operating nuclear power plant; even in the words possible failure Fukushima's never going to be Chernobyl.

36:

People who like wind typically don't want it near them.

Actually one of the cool things about Glasgow is that the hills and mountains that surround the city are studded with wind mills, which look really stunning on a clear day (and I'm not just saying that because it reminds me of a slightly snowy version of the planet Eden in Macross Plus). More wind power would be awesome.

37:

@ Hunter E, #34

Hunter wrote:'We don't see this kind of minute-by-minute coverage of a chemical plant accident threatening the surroundings to a similar extent....'

I appreciate your intent. But we should recognize that downplaying the unique potentials associated with a catastrophic failure of a nuclear reactor as compared to that of a chemical plant isn't going to win ordinary peoples' trust.

Specifically, for instance, if one compares Chernobyl and Bhopal, it's true that many more people died because of the latter than the former. Nevertheless, the global dispersal of the consequences of Chernobyl is a problem unique to nuclear.

"...because of our knee-jerk overblown reaction to anything with the word "nuclear" in it."

There's the problem to address: educating people.

Ignorance of nuclear technology is absolute: most people's image of nuclear power is totally confined to the one kind of nuclear power they're familiar with -- Gen-II pressurized uranium-plutonium reactors, which are indeed historically linked directly with the threat of nuclear weapons.

That's all that the word "nuclear" means to most people.

The nuclear energy industry as currently constituted makes 4/5th of its profits from supplying and (outside the U.S.) reprocessing fuel for uranium-plutonium plants, and from maintaining such plants: it doesn't want matters to change. The anti-nuke environmentalist industry aren't going to educate people either. So it's an uphill task.

Maybe, though, current events in Japan provide an opportunity to talk about the better nuclear possibilities. Because the world is either going to generate electricity via nuclear or via burning coal and natural gas.
(Actually, of course, it's going to do all these things; it's the mix we want to address, ideally removing coal from the equation.)


38:

Le Monde has a new (?) article on the evolution of public political speech.

http://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2011/03/14/japon-comment-le-discours-du-gouvernement-francais-a-evolue_1493013_823448.html

The minister of industry seems to be going from "everything is under control" to "the ecology debate is and always has been legitimate".

39:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/business/energy-environment/15power.html

'Emerging Economies Move Ahead With Nuclear Plans"'

'NEW DELHI — Despite Japan’s crisis, India and China and some other energy-ravenous countries say they plan to keep using their nuclear power plants and building new ones...

for now, while acknowledging the need for safety, they say their unmet energy needs give them little choice but to continue investing in nuclear power.

'“Ours is a very power-hungry country,“ Srikumar Banerjee, the chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, said during a press conference Monday in Mumbai. Nearly 40 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people do not have regular access to electricity, Mr. Banerjee said. “It is essential for us to have further electricity generation.“'

'And in China, which has the world’s most ambitious nuclear expansion plans, a vice minister of environment, Zhang Lijun, said on Saturday that Japan’s difficulties would not deter his nation’s nuclear rollout....'

'...analysts in India said the Japan crisis was unlikely to stir up significantly more public protest against nuclear plants here, given the pressing demand for more electricity.

'“If 1 percent of the population was against nuclear power, you might now get 2 percent,“ said G. Balachandran, a consulting fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, a policy research organization in New Delhi. “I am really not concerned about the opposition that may develop around this.”'

40:

Every reputable specialist I've heard from doesn't forsee a break in the containment vessel even in the case of a full-on core melt.

How about we wait to see what actually happens before evaluating it, hmm?

41:

I am sitting here hoping that the people declaring confidently that these incidents are proving the safety of nuclear power are right, but...

These incidents are not over yet, and now there seems to be news about a containment vessel being breached,, so I am feeling quite sick and worried about the whole thing...

I don't know too much about nuclear power generation, or the safety measures of it, but some of these declarations seem to have a strong ideological bent to them, particularly when people are obviously speculating from a position of very little information about the actual situation.

I would of thought prudence, if not taste, would suggest approaching this subject with a bit less certainty, but maybe thats just me-.

42:

Your point is not made enough; as failure modes go, the Japanese reactors are looking pretty good. When a flood control structure meets a flood larger than its design flood, there's a really big mess. Ditto with bridges, buildings, planes. Really any civil or mech eng. project.

Since there are designs that address (not nec. solve) the waste, safety, and proliferation issues, the real question is what government do you trust to construct, operate, and regulate these beasts according to code? The U.S. federal govt? The PRC? Crony capitalism isn't just for the FIRE industries, defense contractors, and agribusiness anymore. As David Brin keeps pointing out, the technical professional class is under siege. Without public employee unions or whistleblower protections, who's going to throw themselves under the wheels of a crooked deal?

43:

Actually, the one kind of nuclear power most people are familiar with is solar. The big reactor in the sky that makes the grass grow and so on.

44:

Some thoughts. And for background my father spent from 1956 till about 1990 working at a gaseous diffusion plant where he was one of the managers running the cascade lines when he retired. He was very pro nuclear power in the US and very much against the way the US designed and built their plants.

As to why we keep designing and building tea kettle reactors. Because that's what we know how to do. So getting a license for a new plant, while incredibly tedious is much easier than for a new concept. Improve the current model and everyone is happy. Ask folks to step out and do something totally new (from a power plant design point of view) and you're asking for trouble.

And a big problem we have in the US and also in much of the world is that since it is so hard to get new plants built and since the power is needed so badly it's easier to get a license renewed than a new one issued. So we keep using old designs with 20 to 30 to 40 year old parts instead of learning from those and the mistakes in them and build new. Sort of like those B-52 parts that fly in very close formation. At some point we'll have to admit they will not stay in formation forever. If we build some reasonably designed new plants we could decommission some of these old ones that do have issues.

And while efficiency is a great plan and should be done many of the people pushing it have no concept that calling people who don't agree with them "stupid idiots" is not a way to get from a minority to a majority position. Ditto renewables. Plus the big advocates of these things need to also take courses in practical finances when they sign up for their "Dale Carngie" course.

45:

Fred Davis @36:

>> People who like wind typically don't want it near them.

>> Actually one of the cool things about Glasgow is that the hills and mountains that surround the city are studded with wind mills, which look really stunning on a clear day ... More wind power would be awesome.

And over here in the US we have the 5 to 10 year running battle to site an off shore wind project off the Mass. coast due to it ruining the view. Finally got Federal Env approval so maybe it will be build in another 5 or 10 years. Of course the only reason anyone will buy the power is many states now legislate renewable "must buy" percentages now. It will only cost 3 to 4 times the going rate for coal power. And a large part of that differential is due to it being off shore. But on shore. Forget it.

As to where I live in North Carolina, there have been 3 wind projects proposed. One each in the mountains, the coast, and inland. All three were basically derailed due to the impacts on people's views.

And Duke power recently decided to expand a massive coal plant due to the hassles of expanding an existing nuclear plant. This thing will generate tons of pollution per day but will actually get built. And no, wind power will not be a replacement option. This plant is HUGE and will allow them to shut down a slew of smaller, older, very dirty coal plants. But replacing them with a nuke? No way. Not environmental enough.

46:

Meg Thornton @26:

"The reason why Australia should be steering clear of nuclear power as a general rule is because a nuclear power plant requires a large amount of fresh water as a cooling system,"

Coal plants require similar amounts of water. Maybe a little less. You have to cool the steam back down to water and keep the turbines from melting.

47:

Seriously? There's 10,000 dead and the economy of Japan is in free fall and this makes you sick with worry. To get to Chernobyl levels they'd have to pack up and leave them completely for days.

The seconday containment vessel is still intact as is the primary one. This is a huge mess, but there is no need to get caught up in the hysteria about nuclear power thatthisis creating,

If we want to live in the 21st century we have to have Nuclear power.

48:

No, I think you're spot on. I was just about to link to the same article (which is the most sensible article on Fukushima I've read so far)

49:

Too right I am... at least with the earthquake and tsunami, barring aftershocks (for which there is some good research about), the deaths and damage have happened already...Very upsetting, but I reserve sick for worry for death and destruction that might yet happen.

I am not questioning the rational for nuclear power, I am questioning what grounds people such as you have for your certainty that this is no big deal.

As an empiricist, who admittedly knows not much about nuclear power, I am finding it hard to trust people spouting off about this when the obviously don't have much information about a completely new situation,. i.e. this is not TMI, or Chernobyl....For one thing, what is the population density of the surrounding area compared to the Ukraine etc.. etc...etc.... What quantity of fissile material in how many reactors could burn in a worst case scenario etc....

If you can't see why this is causing people anxiety, then I stick to my accusation, you seem to have left evidence based reality behind and are jetting off to ideologyland.

But then again, maybe I am just ignorant of all the good research and planning for this particular failure scenario that has gone on.

50:

The French media are running the story, but with more rationality (and no hysteria) than what I have seen in the US media. However, the usual anti-nuclear suspects are playing up the FUD. The people in general recognize the benefits but are cautious about the risk and want to be reassured that everything is going to be okay (egbok).

An example of the general attitude is this American blogger who lived in France for a long time: http://www.ruerude.com/2011/03/nuclear-energy-in-france-and-japan.html

In La Liberation it is just about the only story: www.liberation.fr

France produces enough electrical energy to be very self-sufficient and comfortable, and even sells some. Compare this to the areas in Europe that are hostage to Putin's Gazprom antics.

My source on the reportage in the French media is my French wife.

I just listened to the NHK TV English language feed (9 PM, GMT+8) and heard that the highest dose measured thusfar is 5uSv (microSieverts). That is roughly 52BED (Banana Equivalent Dose*). 4.3 dozen bananas is a fair number of bananas, but it's a very low dose - trivial even.

I spent a year as a grad student and nuc physicist working in some fairly hot fields (sometimes upwards of 100mrem) and I know how to measure and calculate dose.

As Charlie said, the problem is that people in US and UK seem to confuse and conflate nuclear power with nuclear bombs. And they insist that nothing can be done with the waste - which is just plain false: http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG970.html

*Banana Equivalent Dose: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose (Thanks to twitter.com/GreatDismal for the reference to BED.)

51:

IMHO this is very much like airplane travel.
Yes, nuclear accidents are very bad things, but if stuff is properly cared for, a real bad one happens very, very rarely.

For the intellectuals who are wondering who came up with the plan to build the nuclear power plants there ... it's simple.
Japan needs to generate electricity and they are rather resource poor. Nuclear energy doesn't take much fuel and as such is a prime choice.

Never mind that nuclear is besides hydroelectric really our only clean energy producent that is both feasible and satisfactory in production.
The germans and austrians will always find a way to badmouth nuclear energy.. a part of it is the fact that we (am from Slovakia) can also thanks to it produce in excess of our need and don't need to import from them, the opposite even.

52:

#41 makes a very good point about operator competence.

What's really alarming about this crisis is how badly it has been handled.

Daiichi Unit #2 exploded after the fuel rods became completely uncovered because the situation has been so badly managed that no one noticed that a diesel-powered water pump was running out of fuel. Japanese regulators believe Unit #2 may have suffered a containment breech due to this event. Let me repeat that: Unit #2 may have suffered a containment failure because no one was watching the fuel gauge on an emergency pump, despite widespread knowledge that pump failure could result in a containment breech.

I am pro-nuclear, but an organization and/or government that can't keep an engine fueled when that engine is one line of the few remaining lines of defense against catastrophe has no business operating a nuclear plant. Neither TEPCO or NISA have covered themselves with glory over the past few days.

Numerous operators (such as the USN, RN, EDF, and OPG (Canada)) have demonstrated that it's possible to operate large fission reactors safely, but absent far better reactor intrinsic safety able to safely withstand abject operator incompetence in crisis management, expansion of nuclear power is downright foolish.

If TEPCO has provided an example of how some operators will behave in a crisis, then we need safer reactors. Much safer reactors.

53:
Le Parisien (right) has eight articles on the reactor and the european debate (the poll is 50% we should have a referendum), two more on Japan.

Interesting that the poll respondents seem more critical than in the Figaro poll mentioned previously. Is there some obvious reason for the difference? (e.g. left/right, urban/rural ...)

54:

Charlie, d'y'think citing a source about the evils of renewable energy from 1992 is really balanced and reasonable? It's a much faster-moving field than nuclear apologism...

55:

IIRC
The Fukushima plant was due to be shut down, but they decided to keep it open for a little longer ...
Because all the anti-nuclear protestors were making building a new, safer one so difficult.
Erm.

Just the same, building nuclear power plants in a known eartquake zoe, and in an area that is also known to vulnerable to tsunamis is, er, terminally stupid?

56:

@48, Nick P. who wrote: "I am not questioning the rational for nuclear power, I am questioning what grounds people such as you have for your certainty that this is no big deal."

Yours is the right attitude. We're in somewhat uncharted territory: nobody honestly knows just what's happening in that radioactive soup created by the partial meltdown inside the containment vessel of Fukushima reactor #3, which is where the MOX is (with its lower melting point).

While an actual explosion of radioactive debris after a critical event wouldn't itself be as sizable as Chernobyl, if the winds happen to be blowing towards downtown Tokyo 150 miles away that would be pretty damn awful. We need to dial down the automatic pro-nuclear cant, cross our fingers and -- whether of a religious disposition or not -- pray.

@ 49, VAE, who wrote: "IMHO this is very much like airplane travel. Yes, nuclear accidents are very bad things, but if stuff is properly cared for, a real bad one happens very, very rarely."

I appreciate the sentiment. But this isn't an attitude that will sell to the general public, who believe that not even one nuclear accident is acceptable. And frankly, at least about that much, on this score they're correct.

@50, Curmudgeon, who wrote: "What's really alarming about this crisis is how badly it has been handled...If TEPCO has provided an example of how some operators will behave in a crisis, then we need safer reactors. Much safer reactors."

True that. You're probably aware that TEPCO has a long history of safety violations, but for those who don't know ---

http://cnic.jp/english/newsletter/nit92/nit92articles/nit92coverupdata.html

57:

David L: Is there a reason, other than the fuel issues, that we don't go to a reactor design like those used on US Naval Carriers? There's not a lot of details floating around but it seems that from what I can read the naval reactors generate about 1,000 MW per ship which is about the capacity of a typical nuke power plant. And the carrier seems to cost less, especially if you don't outfit the air wing.

Several reasons.

Firstly, naval reactors have to be small (so they can fit on ships). To make them small, they run on highly enriched uranium -- at, or close to, weapons-grade.

Secondly, typical naval reactors put out around 50Mw, not the 0.5-1Gw of a civilian reactor. (Not sure about the big USN CVNs, which may well use much larger reactors, but the regular naval reactor designs are a twentieth the size of a modern EPWR.)

Thirdly, if you expand a naval reactor and use lightly enriched (non-bomb-grade) fuel, what you have is not dissimilar to a regular civilian PWR anyway.

Fourthly, naval reactors have a very different relationship with their heat sink from a land-based reactor. (Hint: they're sitting in the sea.) Their coolant circulation requirements are therefore different.

Fifthly, naval reactors don't have concrete containment vessels or a lot of the other safety features of civilian power reactors. In fact, they may not be that safe. What they do have going for them is a large workforce of well-trained, highly disciplined engineers -- more than a civilian installation would have -- who are disinclined to tinker with the thing that's keeping them alive under 200 metres of ocean. Put them on land, and you lose that asset.

58:

News media in France have severals subjects :
- Comments on situation in japan (how many reactor in danger, what is expected ...). [Main reports from Le monde, le figaro, rue89 or several regional newspaper]
- A comparaison with nuclear situation in France (same type of technology, same age) [ex: http://www.ouest-france.fr/actu/actuDet_-Fukushima-si-loin-si-pres-de-la-centrale-de-Flamanville_39382-1727306_actu.Htm ]
- A political agenda. We are approching a local election (cantonales), so our opposition (ecologists) are trying to push nuclear debate on the table. So, on the political side, we have sarkozy (and UMP) saying "We stay with the nuclear. Buy EPR, it's more secure than Fukushima", we have ecologists saying "We don't want nuclear power. We want a referendum in order to shut down our nuclear plant now !!!" and socialist playing "Don't see. Don't hear". The goals of ecologists is to get sufficient political power to force socialists to agree to a nuclear shut down in 25 years (Next year, we have national election, with a good chance that socialist will gain power).

So, facts, comparaison and a political agenda.

59:

Greg, Japan has no oil and sod-all coal reserves. The country is crinkle-cut and incredibly densely populated in the flat bits, which makes finding land for solar farms rather difficult. Hydro is in use, IIRC, but there are limits to how far you can go. Offshore wind is also subject to the earthquake/tsunami problem.

What else do you expect them to do for power?

(The issue here seems to be (a) they designed the reactors to survive a once-per-century quake, not a once-per-millennium quake, (b) ditto for tsunamis, and (c) crap on-site engineering management.)

60:

"Unit #2 may have suffered a containment failure because no one was watching the fuel gauge on an emergency pump, despite widespread knowledge that pump failure could result in a containment breech."

That seems a little harsh.

Personally I'm more inclined to think that someone was watching the fuel guauge, that they were well aware that it was running low, that they were making strenuous efforts to arrange replenishment, but that in the immediate aftermath of a whacking great earthquake and monster Tsunami which had thoroughly trashed big chunks of infrastructure the logistics of sourcing and delivering fuel proved to be just a little more challenging than just phoning up the local oil depot...

61:

The issue here seems to be (a) they designed the reactors to survive a once-per-century quake, not a once-per-millennium quake, (b) ditto for tsunamis, and (c) crap on-site engineering management.

And it still didn't explode and shower radioactive debris all across the Far East. That suggests to that although the operators may be a bit on the incompetent side, the engineers did a bloody good job. It does give me more confidence in the nuclear power industry, especially given the (lack of) alternative.

62:

The main difference between nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors seems to be that there is at least some measure of (military/social) control over when the former is set off and kills people.

How anyone can look at the events in Fukushima and still believe that nuclear reactors are an acceptable technology is quite beyond me. Yes, other forms of energy have their price, and yes, sometimes this price even comes in the form of human lives. But there is no other form of energy production with this much damage potential in a worst-case-scenario. The only reason the technology is in common use is that its proponents have chanted "It can't happen" about such a scenario, and then "It can't happen unless you're run by communists". The next one will be "It can only happen in Japan" which will also be a lie: http://www.boingboing.net/2011/03/14/so-californias-san-o.html

And to our kind host: I suppose you didn't mean it that way, but linking to an (at first glance) rather biased article about the environmental impacts of renewable energy in the context of this discussion seems a tad cynical.

63:

Meh. There is a problematic thing happening in Japan. Nuke-wise...no doubt. As bad as it might possibly get, it's not _that_ bad.

On the other hand, people are still checking out in wave-mangled cars. In the thousands.

64:

It did not shower radioactive debris all over the Far East because IT CANT. The absolute worst risk right now is that the reactors melt down, and the reactors are designed to basically act as a cup and hold that molten reactor on the floor.

This whole CHERNOBYL AGAIN AAAAH!!!!!111!!!!111!! from the media and the antinuclear movement (who is frankly looking to me like a pack of ghouls; WHAT THE FUCK is "solidarity with Japan population" to have a demonstration against Nuclear power right now? It is going to give them houses, food, work and repair the reactors? Thats using their disaster to your advantage), is awful.

Or radiation. "OH MY GOD IT EMITED RADIATION WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE"... god forbids your average reporter researchs the issue to find what exactly are they talking about. Thinks like exactly how much, what radioactive sustances with what halflife, what are the health risks associated under what area... no, better to say that as they all lie (translated == I dont understand fuck all about this but paranoia sells), it is clear this is Chernobyl II no matter what "they" say.

Right now people that dont have the slightest idea about what the hell is happening and can happen at Japan are feeling smug about saying how this is the "hubris of man" and "proof of the innate dangerous nature of nuclear" and all that shit that is easy to do when you are not the person at the center of a earthquake & tsunami ravaged nuclear plant working your ass off to keep the ACTUAL dangers to the ACTUAL people in danger from happening.

There are many lessons to learn from this. And many rational objections to nuclear power, and in a rational world, we would walk away from this with a plan to keep using it but with even more safeguards till we find out how to have the kind of power we need (HUGE AMOUNTS AND GROWING, by the way) with even less risk.

And what we are going to learn is that blind panic and ignorance and smugness will mean we will keep on fossil fuel for even longer cause it will not matter what generation of nuclear power plants you are talking about or what design measures or what locations you pick that are safer, as long as it is "nuclear" it will be like a leper. So no nuclears, but give me even more electricity, thanks.

65:

T-shirt: COAL - what you call a catastrophic failure we call normal operations!

66:

How anyone can look at the events in Fukushima and still believe that nuclear reactors are an acceptable technology is quite beyond me.

You know coal and gasoline kill 1.5 million people a year through respiratory disease alone, right?

I look at this disaster and draw the opposite conclusion. About a dozen nuclear reactors have just been subjected to a once-in-a-millennium quake that exceeded their design safety margins by a factor of 200. (Okay, for new build: increase the earthquake requirement. That's a no-brainer.) All of them scrammed, none of them were structurally damaged, and most of them went into cold shutdown without any fuss. (Of course, that's not a news story, so it's being ignored.) The problems emerged at a plant running forty year old kit on the edge of retirement -- literally within weeks of hitting their design life target -- and which predates TMI (viz: built to 1960s safety standards). Fuel for the backup generators to run the cooling pumps was contaminated with seawater due to a 10 metre tsunami; okay, that's a lesson learned for other plants which can be applied rapidly (you don't need to mess with the reactor to modify the backup generator fuel storage). Even so, three of the Fukuyama Daiichi reactors are now in cold shutdown. Cores trashed by sea water, but they were due to be decommissioned within a couple of years anyway.

The main problem seems to be that while they were focussing on cooling the reactors, a spent fuel rod storage pond was allowed to dry up, and the spent fuel rods caught fire. That's bad, but it's not a reactor accident; it's shoddy site management. Even so, the scale of the radiation release is unclear. The scare stories about a US navy carrier crew being irradiated? They flew a chopper through the steam cloud from one of the reactors, and the crew picked up a dose equivalent to what they'd get from the potassium in 40-45 bananas.

This is not pants-wetting stuff. The news media should be ashamed of themselves. In the meantime Japan has been hit by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that has wiped whole towns off the map and probably killed as many people as the A-bombing of Nagasaki. Yet the N word is getting all the headlines over here and causing normally sane people to go into falling-sky panic mode. Frankly, I expect more people to die of lung disease or cancer from inhaled carcinogens released when that LNG plant burned down than from fallout from Fukushima Daiichi. But because the legislator caste from whom our leaders are drawn (and the journalist caste who inform us) don't study medical physics, we're probably going to be stuck inhaling PM10 smog and dying in droves of emphysema for another couple of decades.

67:

Re: Why not use nuclear-powered aircraft carriers as power sources --

The main reason this is not quite so easy is that the output of naval reactors is not in the form of electrical, but motive power. The main steam turbines on a nuke boat drive the propellor shafts, not electrical generators.

That means that you can churn a lot of water very quickly with one of these boats, but the electrical power available is probably only a small part of the total rated power.

68:

thanks Mark for that explanation and links. I knew of the thorium solution as proposed by the US, but little more.

69:

#56 (2) - Some of the details are non public domain, but it is known that a CVN carries several reactors, rather than just one.

70:

It wouldn't take much to modify the plant design though. Remove the prop shafts and some of the stages of reduction gearing (if you can't follow this, you're way under-qualified to discuss the engineering), and use the space vacated by the bunkerage and magazines for the air wing to locate the generator sets in. Job's a good 'un.

71:

#64 - This is why I rarely read newspapers, rather than skimming them to find out the actual facts, and watch Tv news broadcasts even less often!

72:

It did not shower radioactive debris all over the Far East because IT CANT. The absolute worst risk right now is that the reactors melt down, and the reactors are designed to basically act as a cup and hold that molten reactor on the floor.

Precisely. The other thing that I haven't seen reported much is that most of the released radioactivity has been gas (steam and air) that has been activated by neutrons. Nitrogen-16 mostly, which decays to stable oxygen in seconds. I certainly wouldn't want to breathe the stuff straight from the venting pipe, but by the time it's drifted across the road it's perfectly safe.

73:

Apart from all what Charlie said... lets say we deem the risks too high.

Ok, show me now the energy source that will give us what energy we need, when we need it, without CO2 emissions, that we can implement now.

You dont have it? Then we will have to live with the "high risk" as long as we need. High Risk that right now is "may fail at 9.0 earthquakes".

While the "high risk" of coal and fuel is "no matter what, we are screwed by global warning"

Unless of course we go for plan B. Lower population, ban development (hello peasant from India and China, no, you cant have our standard of live and prosperity), severe cuts in the developed world.

So, between "may have severe local impacts in catastrophic events", "will sure as hell change the climate and impact millions of people including those that got no benefit from it", and "roll the clock back to 1800", what are we going to choose?

I bet on #2. Cause we are stupid primates.

74:

Let's accept at face value (I am not an Expert) all the positive claims for nuclear made here: basically we could have relatively safe (safer than coal) nuclear power that does not produce Yucca Mountains of waste to store and the big draw-back is arms proliferation amounts of by-products. Since China and India are going to go ahead with nuclear, wouldn't the West's contribution to the potential terror/rogue state's goody pile of atom bomb material be relatively negligible? My question would be how much fuel is there if the world starts using nuclear to replace significant fractions of the fossil fuel input and/or to actually increase power output to meet Third World demand? What is the rough number of years of nuclear fuel available to us at that rate of consumption?

75:

The 1.5 million figure you keep repeating seems to be an estimate of the number of people in developing countries that die each year due to the effects of indoor cooking with solid fuels (wood, charcoal). Surely you're not suggesting these people could be saved by building more nuclear reactors? If you're talking about a different figure, could you provide a source, please?

The exact cause of the nuclear catrastophe is pretty irrelevant IMO. People will do stupid things, tectonic plates will shift in unpredictable ways, aircraft will fall from the sky in the worst possible location. The fact remains that "it can't happen" is a lie, and has been proven to be so once again.

We'll have to wait for events to unfold and facts to leak out beyond official channels to see whether your assessment of actual minimal effect on humans is correct. I sincerely hope so. (Oh, and I'd add a long string of expletives directed at Latro and his "smug ghouls" rant, but don't want to pollute your blog).

76:

I am sure Latro's bark is worse than his bite.

OK. That was cheap, plus I think you are allowed to bite in the Pankration.

77:

How much fuel is there?

Current uranium reserves are only good for 90 years at current usage which delivers on the order of 10% of our energy. So if we suddenly switched to 100% nuclear (by magically building another few thousand reactors overnight) we'd run out inside a decade.

But ...

1. Uranium prospecting basically stopped in the 1960s because supply exceeded demand for the foreseeable future. We know there's a lot more ore out there, and you can even extract it from seawater.

2. That's 90 years without reprocessing spent fuel. Current reactors only "burn" about 10% of their fuel before it requires reprocessing. So reprocessing potentially adds up to a factor of ten.

3. That's reprocessing, not running on plutonium. We can transmute uranium 238 (not normally useful as reactor fuel) into Pu-239 using breeder reactors. Which increases our fuel reserve by a factor of 500 (as 99.8% of natural uranium is U-238, and our current reactors run on U-235).

4. But there's a lot more thorium out there than uranium, and we can build thorium reactors too.

Bottom line is, if we went 100% fission-nuclear, we'd be good for 100% of our current power demand for at least a millennium. Should be long enough to get fusion to work ...

78:

An interesting point, which leads us nicely back to the French again, as they have (had?) plans for underwater reactors.

Given the size of the quake (now being talked of as maybe a 9.0, from 8.9!) I think the reactors did pretty well, though obviously not nearly well enough!
What will be learnt from this event should serve to make future nuclear installations safer still ...

But would I want to live next door ... [shakes head] nope. I'm as much of a NIMBY as the next guy!

79:

The problem with what happened in Fukushima is not that there was an accident in a nuclear reactor or that there is some kind of impact on the population.

The problem - quite unlike what is being claimed, especially in German media - is not information policy or the actions of the Japanese government. All information seemed to be released as soon as it could be confirmed. All necessary actions, especially the evacuation around the power plant, happened long before anyone could possibly come to harm. An admirable job that will never be noticed and get drowned in a choir of accusations.

The problem is, that this was never what nuclear plants were supposed to be. They weren't supposed to be safer than a chemical plant, an oil refinery or an oil platform(*). They weren't supposed to do *less* harm in the case of an accident or any accident at all. They were supposed to do no harm to the public (and preferably to the staff), no matter what happened.

(*) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jerry-cope/nasa-data-toxic-rain_b_830481.html

The concept of the containment has been, right from the start, that there would be *no* impact on anything outside of the nuclear plant no matter what. And "no matter what" did in fact include an unmitigated core meltdown in an abandoned power plant - at least so long as the containment has not been damaged from the outside, it must not get damaged from the inside.

Tonight, this concept has been shown to have failed. - Not just for Mark I BWR containments, even though their conceptual flaws have a lot to answer for, but for containments in general. And I think we're severely underestimating the implications.

First, there is the almost trivial matter that it is currently unclear whether radiation has been released from a spent fuel storage pool - those pools have no containment, which seems to be a bad idea now.

But much worse, there has now been confirmed to be a leak through the containment via the underground suppression pool of reactor #2 into the *open air* because of a hydrogen explosion in the tank.

My best guess based on the publicized assessments of Mark I containments, is that this was caused by an intrusion of corium into the suppression tank - a known weakness of the Mark I containment. However, I have never read of anybody warning that this would trigger a hydrogen explosion, much less one severe enough to blow out through the surface. (I'm not a nuclear expert, so I might be wrong on both counts).

Those hydrogen explosions are being triggered in this accident on a far too regular basis. And I don't think you can permanently fix this problem without at least giving up on the idea of cooling this stuff with water - or perhaps even the idea of using water anywhere near a hot reactor during an accident in the first place. (Alternatives? Molten lead and cadmium would probably work, but they are poisonous.)

Even if, and I really hope that I got at least this bit right, we are not going to see this accident getting bigger by yet another order of magnitude, there is now a huge question mark behind all concepts of containment in water moderated reactors. Because the explosions we have seen were still *relatively* benign only because they were at low pressure, which is not an assured condition in the inside of a sealed containment. (And I don't know just how much stress those can take, especially when we're talking about more than one explosion.)

What we see is merely a disaster, not a catastrophe and it's unlikely to become one (even if it gets worse by another order of magnitude). But I'm no longer sure that current containments (including Mark III containments) can rule one out indefinitely, but they should.

If any containment concept is to provide safety *beyond* that of (e.g.) hydroelectric power plants, refineries or chemical factories (current ones can do *that* just fine), there must be *no* viable mechanism of destructive explosions in any mode of existence, including anything in combination with melt-downs, earthquakes and utter human stupidity (or human absence).

In this they must be at least as over-engineered as the containments were with regard to earthquakes and tsunamis.

Most moderated reactors won't do that. (What exactly are the failure modes and their mitigation of an advanced gas reactor?) Unmoderated reactors are prone to Bethe-Tait-Excursions and recriticality during a meltdown, non of which sounds all that much like merely a remote possibility any more, if I'm honest. I'm not sure if we can build containments big enough, strong enough and over-engineered enough to house them, given those constraints.

80:

The first US CVN has 8 reactors (design nicked from the then-current subs). Later ones get similar power output from 2 reactors. I'm sure Wikipedia has reasonable estimates of outputs.

81:

Nobody's saying "it can't happen" -- it's been obvious that it can happen since the 1950s. Trouble is, that's the wrong way to look at it. You need to ask "is it safer than the other stuff we're doing" instead.

I found this grimly amusing: it's an estimate of deaths per TwH for all currently used power sources. You know what comes out on top as the most lethal power source? Rooftop solar. (Because people fall off roofs and die.) Hydro is a bit poor, too, because you need dams for hydroelectric power, people tend to live downstream of dams, and if a dam fails you've got an instant artificial tsunami ...

As for your point about indoor cooking with solid fuels causing the majority of respiratory disease, I am suggesting that the majority of those people would be safer if they were using electric stoves powered by nuclear generated electricity.

82:

And just as a rejoinder to the "what are the alternatives"-queries: in Germany we've needed to turn off solar- and wind-farms regularly for the last few years. Why? Because you can't power down nuclear reactors fast enough to avoid producing more energy than the grid can take at peak times. Yes, that's right, we have _too much_ energy. The problem is one of controlling the spikes and storing produced energy which can be release during the times when renewable sources produce less (e.g. night time). Which is merely an engineering and cost issue. There are alternatives. None of them are perfect, and they may take a while to fully implement, but they're definitely safer and more sustainable, and do not equate to playing Russian roulette.

83:

Which is merely an engineering and cost issue.

You really don't understand engineering, do you?

Here's a hint: you're asking for batteries that can store hundreds of gigawatt hours of power and turn on a dime from charging to discharging. Stop and think about that for a moment.

84:

Good to know. Even with a large increase in demand, that's a century or two to work out other arrangements (or put our affairs in order as our AI's leave for more salubrious real estate.) Sadly, I know plenty of otherwise sensible people who are saying: This shows even one nuclear failure can be too horrible to contemplate. Now I have to get in my car and go to work...

Well, I am sure India and China will eventually let us have a few in return for most of our grain. Unless Brazil says that interferes with the Monroe Doctrine.

85:

As for "nobody's saying it can't happen", that's not true, that is the main line of argumentation of any pro-nuclear politican or lobbyist. Remove that line and we're on a totally different playing field.

Estimate of deaths: how do you measure the deaths caused by Tchernobyl? Keeping in mind that, in Central Europe one is still exposed to higher radiation when eating certain kinds of food _today_, would someone dying of stomach cancer in five years count towards that statistic? I don't think so.

And as for your suggestion, have you ever seen the state of conventional reactors in the countries we are talking about? How do you propose run safe nuclear reactors at that kind of technology and social levels? The thought of nuclear reactors in China already gives me the willies, and you're suggesting it would be a good idea to build them in Bangladesh or Sudan? Far be it from me to disparage the people living there, and the state of affairs is certainly deplorable, but your suggestion is tantamount to asking for Tchernobyl to happen every year IMO.

86:

Here's a hint right back: you pump water up the hill when you have too much power, you let it flow back down the hill through a generator when you don't have enough.

"Batteries" in various forms exist, the problem being that they are wasteful and lossy. Which is where the "cost issue" comes in. Which is why all it comes back down to is "how can we profit without being caught (and therefore held liable for) directly harming others".

87:

That is nonsense.

The main reason why windmills are getting powered down in Germany, is that most of them are in Eastern Germany that has no industry to speak of and hence not nearly as much demand for power as the windmills are producing at their peak production rates. And unfortunately powerline capacity to transfer power to the western and southern parts of the country doesn't exist, because all plans to extend capacity are being stalled by organised(*) not-in-my-backyardism all over the country.

(*) Usually by the local chapters of the Green Party. Just google for "hochspannungsleitung protest grüne" if you think that's just a conspiracy theory.

88:

> Interesting that the poll respondents seem more critical than in the Figaro poll mentioned previously. Is there some obvious reason for the difference? (e.g. left/right, urban/rural ...)

The Parisian is more working class. They are to the right on some emotional issues like immigration, but not overtly political on most other issues. I imagine their poll reflects that both options are considered acceptable in public discourse.

The Figaro covers the economy a lot more, and I think concern for that topic explains the 70% thanks, we're fine result.

89:

Right now I'm looking at a call to go to a protest in Barcelona in "support of Japan" by asking to stop the renewal of Spain nuclear plants.

That is ghoulish. Thats using Japan disasters to your particular political battles.

I'm not sure I want to renew our plants. I'm not sure we manage our plants with the same levels of competence as Japan (but I know there is no risk of a 9.0 quake + tsunami).

I find the idea that the "support for Japan" that real Japanese suffering the main disaster + the serious real consecuences that can come from the nuclear situation developing right now has 0 to do with using it for THIS.


90:

"How anyone can look at the events in Fukushima and still believe that nuclear reactors are an acceptable technology is quite beyond me. Yes, other forms of energy have their price, and yes, sometimes this price even comes in the form of human lives. But there is no other form of energy production with this much damage potential in a worst-case-scenario"

I'm afraid you are misinformed.

If we ignore the deaths from pollution caused by combustion of fossil fuels for power, and concentrate on 'alternative' energy sources - this pretty much means nuclear and renewable energy - the most dangerous form of energy production, more than nuclear by a couple of orders of magnitude, is hydroelectric.

In a single event, the Banqiao Reservoir Dam failure caused more deaths than have *ever* been directly or indirectly attributed to nuclear power failure, and probably *ever will* be. And that's a single event. And then 11 years later Chernobyl happened, and despite the fact that Chernobyl was a garden tea party in comparison, which one has everyone heard of?

91:

You know what comes out on top as the most lethal power source? Rooftop solar. (Because people fall off roofs and die.)

I remember the old MS-DOS game called Balance of the Planet. It was basically an game trying to save the Earth by setting taxes for different things. I remember my planet saving strategy included increasing the taxes for solar collectors, to keep people from dying.

It was a fun game, it had a lot of information on the environment. I'm not sure how accurate it was, but it was still a good educational game.

It has been almost 20 years since I last played the game. I might need to dust off the 386 and try to see if the disks still work...

92:

@72,privatelron who wrote: "Let's accept at face value basically we could have relatively safe (safer than coal) nuclear power that does not produce Yucca Mountains of waste to store and the big draw-back is arms proliferation amounts of by-products."

I'm sorry if I've been confusing. I was talking about two closely related but arguably distinct trends here. Let's try this again ---

[1] Thorium reactor designs in particular can produce slightly more thorium than goes into them -- which goes some way towards addressing your "what's the total global supply of nuclear fuel" question.

Specifically, the thorium fuel cycle requires a small seed of fissile uranium-233 to start a chain reaction that then breeds slightly more U-233 than it uses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle
http://www-pub.iaea.org/mtcd/publications/pdf/te_1450_web.pdf

A critical point is that U-233 is worthless as weapons material: whenever it’s generated, uranium-232 also occurs and rapidly decays into other elements that include thallium-208, which emits hard-gamma-rays that destroy nuclear weapons’ electronics and triggering explosives. So you'll run into thorium reactor fans claiming that it's impossible to get fissile weapons material out of the throium cycle. Not true. It's extremely hard, but a U.S. research program called Operation Teapot managed to detonate a U-233-based nuclear device in 1955.

http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Teapot.html

More significantly, where today's reactors only consume about 0.7 percent of their uranium, thorium reactors would have a much higher burn-up rate, IIRC extracting something like 95 percent of the energy contained in the thorium they were fed. Furthermore, they could produce nearly 1 GW of electricity annually from one ton of thorium, which is abundant as the earth's crust apparently contains somewhere around 120 trillion tons. Finally, such reactors also produce a much lower amount of radioactive byproducts.

[2] Beyond that, though, thorium reactors are just one possibility out of a range of novel nuclear power/reactor technologies. Many of these other design concepts would advance fuel reprocessing towards "closing the fuel cycle." The problem here is that such developments are Janus-faced -- or dual use. Uranium-plutonium fast burner reactors and fast breeder reactors are much alike, for instance. Thus, a potential "golden age of proliferation." That is a separate issue from thorium reactors, however.

Finally, you ask whether what the West does matters, given that China and India and others are going ahead. Well, the U.S. and Europe don't matter, not least because for the last two years the evidence is that any "nuclear renaissance" is likely dead here -- as least as far as big reactors -- and current events in Japan will just confirm that. The nuclear future will be in Asia.

The West does still produce nuclear design talent: the four reactors that the South Korean-led nuclear consortium will build in the Emirates derive from the Westinghouse AP1000. There's also a movement towards SMRs (small modular reactors) that might get some traction: thorium designs feature here; since the first thorium reactor design in the 1950s was intended for the U.S. Air Force they can be very compact.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aircraft_Nuclear_Propulsion

93:

Broadly, I'd agree with that. It can seem obvious in hindsight, but did they have enough on-site fuel storage? And, given the size of the event, way over design spec, how did that storage come out.

But, if there was an unexpected shortage, fuel delivery should have been a high priority. Naval landing craft, helicopters, was there no way of getting a few tons of diesel delivered? Or was that happening and something went wrong?

We're not seeing the whole story, that's for sure.

94:

At #81, Charlie, who wrote: "Here's a hint: you're asking for batteries that can store hundreds of gigawatt hours of power and turn on a dime from charging to discharging. Stop and think about that for a moment."

Interestingly, there's an emerging design concept for batteries large and powerful enough to possibly run a city ooff them at night. An MIT materials chemistry guy, Donald Sadoway, has come up with a design where the electrodes are molten metals, and the electrolyte that conducts current between them is molten salt. More via the links --

http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/22116/
http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/next-generation/liquid-metal-batteries-storage-breakthrough

Yeah, exactly. This could be the main, best hope to make solar effective -- and it depends on giant molten salt stacks like the thorium reactor (although different materials). In the first case, your molten salt device will need to be hooked up to square kilometers of solar collectors; in the second you have no solar collectors to build and network, just a soup of molten salts that includes some thorium and a seed of U-233.

What's interesting is which will be more cost effective?

95:

A big worry for me is that every aspect of nuclear power, from fuel extraction and refining to power generation to disposal (or recycling), has been a national security issue. In Europe that has meant more space for police and internal intelligence services, while in the US that has meant rent-a-cops like Wackenhut empowered to shoot to kill. Robert Jungk (d. 1994), German futurist and peace activist argued more or less along those lines in his 1980 book The Atom State (unfortunately, I don't read German very well, so I'm going on secondhand information on this).

But since 9/11, the expansion of the security state doesn't really need a specific reason like that anymore, or even a good one, so that pretty much removes my main philosophical objection.

I'm willing to live near a nuclear facility if the energy minister or executives of the company operating it are willing to live nearby also, along with their families, for at least a year.

Anyway, thanks guys for putting the disaster in perspective. These leaks are bad news, but they're not the Second Coming of the Overfiend (though the tsunami does look like Sadako came back and brought her friends--shouldn't have uploaded the Ringu to YouTube...).

96:

One answer, though maybe impractical: it depends on major changes at household level, for one thing.

Electric storage radiators are established tech. Current use depends on using lower-cost off-peak electricity, managed by a time switch. If that switching could be done remotely, or in response to an over-voltage, the excess power could be absorbed by the system, and released as heat.

That switching, bringing storage heaters on-line, is the hard part. And the energy gets some use. An automated switch could be unstable. A commanded switch could have other problems, though it might allow a network to bring capacity on-line in anticipation of a surge in demand.

If slow-start generator capacity is more efficient, this might even reduce total cost, but the gains might be more in replacing fast-starting gas turbine stations, burning fossil fuel, with nuclear. And a nuclear plant is steam-based: you have some ability to use steam faster than it can be generated. Steam engines, of some kinds, can build up a reserve.

But all this sort of thing does depend on good predictions. Steam locomotive crews did this sort of thing, but hills don't move. Not even that earthquake would move Shap Summit enough to make a difference (and, if it did, boiler pressure would be the least of your problems.)

97:

Insufficient powerlines are another problem that hamper the expansion of renewable energies, and the not-in-my-backyardism is unfortunate indeed (though not the only reason why the power grid infrastructure is not yet in a better state, there are rather significant economic interests by power companies who want to keep on selling conventionally produced power). But windmills in southern and north-west German are being shut down simply because the grid is too full and they are the easiest to turn off (that the owners of those windmills are compensated to the full amount of the power they would have produced, thus driving overall power prices up artificially, is rather ironic too).

98:

One thing I think is not realized is the degree to which there are already man-made radioactives present in the environment.

I worked with gamma ray spectrometers for several years, 256/512 channel sodium iodide crystal based systems. Turns out there is enough Caesium kicking around from airborne nuclear tests to provide a visible bump in the spectrum everywhere. It's strong and ubiquitous enough to use for calibration of the units. This is not so bad; it's small dosage relative to geological sources (potassium, uranium, thorium), has a relatively short half life (~30 years), and is not particularly bio-accumulative.

Compare that with the mercury spewing perpetually from coal plants, getting distilled up in the polar regions and accumulating up there. Neither is good but the tradeoffs aren't made clear.

(Fun Fact: mercury doesn't accumulate in fat like PCBs, but rather in muscle, binding to cysteine residues.)

99:
For now the atomic age is officially over.
Pour toi, mon ami, pas pour moi.
100:

"I'm willing to live near a nuclear facility if the energy minister or executives of the company operating it are willing to live nearby also, along with their families, for at least a year."

Does living in the same county count? (NC USA)

Progress Energy is headquartered in Raleigh NC which is in Wake county. Ditto the Sharon Harris nuclear plant. About 15 miles from the center of Raleigh.

101:

Like any Scot with even a passing interest in civil engineering, I know a bit about hydro power (both conventional and pump-storage). Other than along the Austrian and Swiss borders, how are you for mountains with corries (you may know them better as cyms of cirques) on them between 1000 and 2000 feet above a lake to use as your lower reservoir?

102:

Btw,

does anybody have any remotely current information about what happened to the chemical plant that exploded on Friday?

I heard that the Japanese government was warning citizens of Tokyo of poisonous rain drifting in from the fire and caught half an acknowledgement that this hasn't changed.

103:

Last time I read an analysis of using pumped storage hydro for large scale energy storage to smooth the output from a largely renewable based grid, there weren't enough hills available.

I suppose you could use a few nuclear weapons to make some.

104:

The power production and storage becomes distributed in the 'smart grid' scenario.

For example in Ireland we'll remain car-dependent for decades at best, but if we move to electric cars we've 50-100 khW of power sitting in car batteries plugged in outside homes or work.
We've 9 GwH of energy storage in domestic storage heaters, in a country with 5 GW peak energy usage, so we dump 'spare' wind energy etc there in a smart-grid scenario.

One of the interesting questions is how much "base load" is a feature of current energy production techniques, and how much that would change under smart grid. I.e. how much have you built your production to use "cheap rate night power"? my house has "cheap night rate" electrical heating because it's convenient for the current range of power plants to run 24x7. But its easy to confuse "we currently use this base load" with "we need this base load": that power I use can be delivered over a several-day window rather than 1-6am as presently happens.

105:

There are press reports that a dam in Fukushima prefecture was destroyed in the earthquake. There is no more detail about what kind of dam, where it was and how big it was or the possible death toll downwater from the dam itself -- the effects of the dam failure are a a drop in the ocean (so to speak) compared to the tsunami. Then again a hydroelectric dam (if that's what it was) is natural and green and ecological so any deaths from its failure don't count, really.

The Three Gorges dam complex in China is nearing completion, putting about 20GW of electrical power into the country's grid. If those dams ever let loose then millions will die that day, not in forty years from radiation-induced and theoretically treatable cancers.

106:

As it turns out, I already am. I asked a cow-orker where the nearest nuke plant was. I thought it was Borssele, about 200 km as the heron flies, but apparently there's one in Petten (sp?) about 30 km away.

It's just a really good time to find out, before getting all yellow, and black, and--er--rectangular, yes.

I see them everywhere, do you hear me?

:p

107:
in Germany we've needed to turn off solar- and wind-farms regularly for the last few years. Why? Because you can't power down nuclear reactors fast enough to avoid producing more energy than the grid can take at peak time
In fact you can run nukes in load following mode - France does it. Your problem is that if you're going to use solar and wind you have to install significant overcapacity to cope with windless dark days, so if most of your capacity is solar and wind you'll always have to turn off some of it.
108:

You know what comes out on top as the most lethal power source? Rooftop solar.

No offense charlie, but it's hard to tell if you're being serious here – if we're including deaths from "silicon dust" as your previous link had as a potential environmental risk from solar power (which really begs someone to work out the "deaths per FLOP/s" of modern computers for comparison), and now are including people falling off roofs to install them, then you have to include deaths from the tendency the majority of nuclear power using countries have to outsourcing their nuclear waste management to italian organised crime syndicates on the other side of the balance sheet. And I suspect that once you compare it in terms not just of "deaths" but of NICE's "Quality Adjusted Years" metric which takes into account the years lost by people as a result of various power generation schemes, then Nuclear power isn't going to come out on top.

The irony is that the only country that really has the sort of government that takes infrastructure and safety problems seriously enough to possibly be trusted to use nuclear power in a vaguely sensible way, is Japan. But unfortunately the reason japan is the only country in the world that could be trusted with nuclear power because it is constantly bombarded with every possible natural disaster that could possibly affect a country... which obviously makes japan a less than ideal location for nuclear power plants.

109:

At this point, I'm almost more curious how this is being dealt with by the Japanese themselves. Having zero Japanese of my own, what little I know is the translated comments of Japanese civilians as relayed by BBC World Service --- many of whom don't trust official reassurances at all. And they don't seem shy about telling foreigners all about it. From what little I know of Japanese culture, I'm guessing that means they're really upset. Which could have repercussions in the aftermath, when they need to rebuild --- and those could conceivably spill out of Japan.

(BTW, TEPCO, the operator of the now-crippled Fukushima plant, was caught falsifying dozens of safety reports on nuclear plant repairs a few years ago, and several executives resigned in the scandal. So, I'm not sure it's all that unreasonable for people, particularly those with a nontechnical background, to take their current press statements with... skepticism.)

110:

@31: That Register article seemed pretty reasonable over all, but lost my full confidence the moment it linked to this National Geographic article - http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/04/0426_060426_chernobyl.html - with the words, "nor even much impact on the area around Chernobyl", when the second paragraph of the linked article reads:

The effects of the Chernobyl catastrophe are still being felt today—whole towns lie abandoned, and cancer rates in people living close to the affected areas are abnormally high.

Sorry, abormally high cancer rates don't qualify as 'not much impact'. Sure, the Japanese reactors are not Chernobyl, there's been nothing like the same release of radioactive materials with any kind of long half-life, and so on, but when I find the authors of the Register article playing that fast and loose with their citations, it doesn't foster trust that they're not playing fast and loose with other elements of the story. It doesn't even qualify as good propaganda; I mean, what, did they think nobody would bother to follow the link?


111:

"Batteries" in various forms exist, the problem being that they are wasteful and lossy. Which is where the "cost issue" comes in.

Been swimming, then looking for data. It's hard to be sure, and the first source I actually found (for once wikipedia had nothing) says Germany in 2004 drew 579,979,000,000 kilowatt-hours of juice, for 82.4 million people. That's 0.8 kW/hour per person over an entire year, or 2.08 exaJoules per year for the whole country. Which is really lowballing total energy consumption (the UK runs on 1.25 EJ of electricity, but total energy consumption is 9.85 EJ/year), but let it stand for now.

Let's suppose Germany wants to go to 100% solar for electricity, because it's easier to do a back-of-the-envelope calculation that way. Let's also approximate demand variation to a flat line. To get through an 8 hour night (zero insolation -- the worst kind of "no energy coming in right now" situation for renewables) you therefore need to store and release around 1.9 TJ per night, or about 65Gw of base load power. Let me emphasize that: 65,000,000 Kw of power. Note that this doesn't include transmission and storage losses -- you can probably add another 30% to cover that.

To put this in perspective: a single typical car battery can release on the order of 1 kW of electricity for an hour. So we're looking for a stack of sixty five million car batteries, at, oh, €25 each -- call it €1.8Bn, but that's an ongoing expense because you'll have to replace them every year as the charge cycling kills them -- or twenty-five pumped storage plants like Dinorwig. (Hint: even if geography permits you to build them, Dinorwig cost £425 million in 1974 -- that's between £3Bn and £7Bn in 2010, depending on how you estimate inflation. So a fleet of them will cost on the order of €80-160Bn ...) And that's before you factor in the fact that it's only around 70% efficient at storing energy and you still to generate the 65GW/h of power it takes to charge the blessed things (plus, oh, another 20Gw to cover the pumping losses). It would really be cheaper just to build sixty nuclear reactors and forget the elaborate overnight storage stuff.

Worse, this only covers current electricity consumption through the night. If we factor in fuel oil, natural gas, and other energy used for heating homes, and decide we want to go zero carbon where possible, that's going to multiply our (green!) electricity consumption by 300-400%.

I really don't know why I'm bothering arguing with you; I've got a novel to write, and I don't need the headache of trying to explain why you can't just wave a magic wand and come up with a chemical (or hydraulic, or thermal) battery that can store the equivalent output to a few dozen large nuclear reactors, purely for demand smoothing. It'd be a lot cheaper to look at what's wrong with the nuclear fuel cycle and fix it so that it's safe.

112:

No offense charlie, but it's hard to tell if you're being serious here

I'm deadly serious. The only sane way to evaluate long-term energy policy is on a yardstick such as deaths per TWh. Yes, we can quibble about how far we're willing to spread the net to encompass indirect casualties; but if we're going to consider deaths due to famine caused by climate change in 30 years' time on the balance sheet for coal, then we also need to consider deaths due to roofers falling off houses for household solar. (Note: household solar is not in the same risk bracket as industrial-scale solar farms -- it's a lot riskier.)

As for the safety culture in Japan ... I'm not convinced. In some situations they have a very fine quality-first culture, but politeness, formality, and respect based on age don't play well with hard rules of chemical engineering or nuclear physics, and the tendency to obey instructions by an authority without questioning them has led to nuclear accidents before. Nor is a marked reluctance to use the word "no" (in situations where a westerner would be screaming "hell, no! Let me out of here, you lunatics!") helpful.

113:

Doubt it would be batteries used to store such excess energy. Seriously doubt it. Far more likely would be a regime where, if you have power coming from any source that's in excess of what the grid can take, instead of turning the power source off, it's diverted to an on-site facility for making fuel - some might suggest hydrogen, but given storage and transport issues, I think a methane fuel economy is far more likely. And while you're waiting for the fleet to convert to run on natural gas, lots of alternative energy power plants have backup generators that run on natural gas that pick up the slack when the wind dies down or what have you, so you could just top off your fuel supply for those.

114:

Hmm Charlie, could it be you misread that deaths-per-TWh article?

You wrote: "You know what comes out on top as the most lethal power source? Rooftop solar."

While the article you link to says:

"Rooftop solar is several times more dangerous than nuclear power and wind power. It is still much safer than coal and oil, because those have a lot of air pollution deaths."

Since solar around a factor 100 safer then coal/oil, depending on location, I thought it was worth mentioning.

115:

I've flip-flopped on how I've felt about nuclear power.

I wasn't around for the first pass of "our friend the atom" promotion in the early atomic age but I was a child of the 80's and felt that atomic power was a great idea. As my good little Christian Reaganite upbringing got burned away from actually seeing how the world operates, I grew skeptical of nukes. I kind of flopped back to the pro stance not out of "yay, happy nukes!" advocacy but by seeing it as the least bad solution. Coal kills 13k people a year, nukes have only killed a handful in the history of the industry. But the whole financial cluster-screw has left me feeling the Failure of Capitalism. (Needs the capital letters.) The fall of Communism proved it wasn't a viable system and Capitalism has proved itself an unworthy alternative. The lesser of two evils is still evil. Ask the Ukranians whether they should side with Hitler or Stalin, boned either way.

The facts of the matter seem to be:
1. Nukes are always going to be more expensive than fossil fuels
2. Alternative and renewable energy has gotten better and a smart grid is supposed to be smart enough to allow variable output renewables to serve as a base load -- that's the sort of thing older grids need coal and nukes for.
3. For-profit utilities are always going to operate as criminal enterprises and endanger the public. This would seem like greenie-weenie paranoia except for all the evidence that this is exactly the case.

The argument in favor of the current system in America, the status quo, has always been "It may not be perfect but it's the best idea we've been able to put into practice. You have a job, there's food on the table, you have no right to complain. Remember, your station in life is a result of how hard you work. Performance is rewarded in capitalism." And it did kind of work that way for most of the middle-class. Certainly the people who were getting the shaft were on the margins of society, immigrants and minorities.

Now the whole ponzi scheme seems to be falling apart. It seems like everyone in the whole system is only out for short-term gains, looking to collect their chips, cash out and leave before the fecal matter hits the impeller.

The thing that's so worrying about what we're seeing in Japan is the prevailing myth has been "Look, the Japanese know what they're doing. They're the ones who were going to eat our lunch in the 80's." And what about their lost decade of economic doldrums? "Their kids still out-test ours. They're awesome. And just look at how they run their nuclear industry. This is a class act to follow." And now the truth's come out. Oh crap, they're as incompetent as Enron. The same kind of arrogance, face-saving cover-ups, and self-deception and lies that saw them blunder into WWII. In a sort of misery loves company way it's comforting to know they're as screwed up and crazy as we are. In less comforting way it makes me doubt whether any human society can ever get it right.

116:

Actually, if you posit a simultaneous move to plug-in electric cars for transport, then you eventually get 20-40 million large batteries for free (well, subsidized by car owners). Most of which get plugged in overnight while the owners are abed, and which have to store a couple of orders of magnitude more juice than a regular car battery.

If you squint at it from the right angle it begins to look like one component of a solution to the base load problem from a solar/wind fed grid. But 20-40 million cars are going to cost over €100Bn anyway ...

117:

I really don't know why I'm bothering arguing with you;

Good, cause I'm done too. Your last sentence basically confirms what I've been saying:

"It'd be a lot cheaper"
Cost issue, as I said.
"to look at what's wrong with the nuclear fuel cycle and fix it so that it's safe."
Ah, so it can be safe? So "it can't happen" then?

Nevermind, sorry to take up your time. Hope you're right about the outcome of this current crisis, but not optimistic at all.

118:

I'm disappointed that here, of all places, people are repeating this theme of blaming the Greens for the failure of nuclear power.

My understanding is that while we have made nuclear power "safe enough," the cost of doing so (both in money and in complexity) makes nuclear power plants unattractive to utilities. I believe it's just the good old-fashioned short-term profit motive.

There's also the issue that small nuclear power plants are even less cost-effective than large ones, so that makes it hard to use nuclear in sparsely populated areas without a magic HVDC power grid.

As for all of the magic alternative designs that are supposed to let us power civilization with a teaspoon of Uranium, nobody has successfully built any of these. The Pebble-Bed reactor was supposed to fix everything, then Thorium reactors were, etc. These systems are expensive and complex, and progress is slow. For those who advocate powering civilization with Thorium reactors, let's start with the fact that they don't exist despite decades of research in India and elsewhere.

So I don't think this is a choice that we could have made but didn't. We made the choice that was available for us to make.

My main beef with nuclear is that it's inelegant. The systems are complex and centralized. We still have to do mining, and we either have the nuclear waste issue or the proliferation issue, either of which could create quite a mess eventually. Anyway, centralized systems are inherently unsustainable.

Given a list of expensive and impractical alternatives, my choice would be as decentralized and local a system as possible. Which means solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and possibly micro-nuclear if such a thing is possible.

119:

I believe it's just the good old-fashioned short-term profit motive.

Yes. Safe and secure base load energy supplies are a strategic issue -- like clean water and air. These are not commodities we should be marketizing. (Using corporations to supply bits of the picture, sure: but expecting the free market to run a common good is like expecting the fox to manage the hen-house.)

120:

Over here in the states, we have been fed the usual mindless paranoia from the usual suspects (our alphabet networks) who immediately went out and interviewed some some of most anti-nuclear activists in the United States today. (Google: Beyond Nuclear and Plowshares Fund) Now having spent 8 years in the United States Navy and served as a reactor operator aboard 2 nuclear submarines (78MW reactors) as well as aboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier (CVN-65)with 8 × Westinghouse A2W nuclear reactors aboard, as well as currently working at a university's nuclear research reactor, all I have heard is an endless stream of misinformation. If anyone has any questions, I'll do my best to answer them here on this forum with Charlie Stross's permission, naturally.

(Surprisingly, no run on supplies of Prussian Blue, although I did hear they had a run on iodine tablets in Finland.)

121:

And the rest Charlie; over, say 200 miles, a "national grid" running maybe 450kv lines is about 1/3 efficient from original generation station to load. So if "Thermal Station", "PS Hydro" and $consumers are at the corners of a triangle with grid lines of 200 miles as each side, then PS Hydro will supply $consumers with 1/9 of what it got from Thermal Station presuming that PS Hydro's combined pumping and generating efficiency matches Thermal Station.

Now, I know that Straight Generating Hydro can manage about 70% efficiency at converting PE head into EE, but the reversing turbines and dynomotors in PE Hydro can't match that (original source being conversations with Scottish Hydroelectric staff).

122:

The main problems with pretty much all of the renewable energy sources are that they are usually ridiculously weak, produce stupidly expensive power and get turned on and off by forces beyond our control. You therefore need an awful lot of infrastructure to produce not very much power, and you need backup generators for when the sun ain't shining and the wind ain't blowing.

Up to now fossil fuels have worked pretty well for us, but they'll run out. When they start getting more expensive, it would be extremely nice to have a suite of technologies which produce relatively cheap electricity (the transmission problems here have largely been solved) without a huge ongoing maintenance bill. We also have an additional problem in that during the Cold War, huge amounts of plutonium were produced for use in bombs; this plutonium wants getting rid of somehow to reduce the possibility of nitwits getting their hands on it and trying to make bombs.

So, I'd say we're pretty much stuck with building incredibly well engineered nuclear power plants, preferably away from sea coasts, away from major tectonic faults and away from war zones, with extremely extensive emergency cooling systems built in as standard.

As a bare minimum we need Thorium reactors for general power, some rapid breeder units to turn U-238 into plutonium (to increase the lifespan of the reserves of uranium we do have) and some MOX units to get rid of plutonium, plus at least two high-flux fast neutron reactors for turning long half-life "sludge" waste into shorter-lived waste to make storing it easier. Basically we're stuck with nuclear generation for the foreseeable future because nothing else comes anywhere near as cheap as this for power.

123:

Why does this not surprise me? I am an AGW sceptic (but can we leave this alone please?) and my experience of Greens generally is that they just say "We don't like $activity. An incident has just occurred involving $activity. How can we scaremonger Joe Public into thinking that $activity is bad?" and let the actual science and engineering of what has happened etc go hang.

124:

I'd say we're pretty much stuck with building incredibly well engineered nuclear power plants, preferably away from sea coasts

Can't. Reactors (like coal or gas power plants) need a honking great heat sink. Unless you've got a very large river, you're stuck with the sea.

away from major tectonic faults

Can't, unless you can convince the populations who live near them to move en masse to somewhere closer to the nuclear generating plant.

and away from war zones

Can't, unless you can predict where wars will break out with >90% confidence forty to sixty years in advance (the design life of a reactor).

... Although we could maybe get the UN to declare that attacking a duly-designated civilian nuclear reactor is a war crime, like unto attacking a hospital or using nuclear weapons against civilians. And after a century or so of hanging the odd over-enthusiastic general we might get that one to stick.

125:

I cranked the numbers, feel free to check. If you assume something like 20 watts/m2 for solar (out of the ~200 hitting the surface--that's a northern, cloudy country, remember), and that Germany has 357,021 km2 of area. They need 579979000000 kw-hr (your numbers).

By my calculations, they can produce 7e12 watts of solar, and need 218 watts to function. The real point here is that paving Germany with solar isn't going to provide all their energy, without society-changing efforts to enable massive energy conservation.

Just as you can't simply put an electric engine in brick-shaped panel truck and expect it to run as fast or far as a diesel, you can't run a solar civilization without substantially changing energy use patterns, building design, the whole nine yards.

That said, I agree with your point: the problem with solar, even if we pave the planet with photocells, is energy storage and transmission.

126:

>My main beef with nuclear is that it's inelegant.

Define inelegant...(I'm curious, because how many things in the world today do you know that last 40-50 years? The laptop/desktop you're commenting from certainly won't, and I consider that inelegant...)

However, ff that's your only concern, then we should build as many as we can asap. I personally am marveling at how well things are doing despite an 8.9 magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami. Quite frankly, it could have been far worse. (For the uninitiated, I was sorry to see them have to resort to seawater to cool the reactors (It is the method of last resort, just as it is aboard all US nuclear-powered ships and subs if a like accident would , and this should hardly come as a surprise.) However, I can understand the diesel generator failures (fuel oil and seawater don't mix very well).

>We still have to do mining.

Well, if you can't grow it, it has to be mined. Just as most of the metals in your laptop/desktop.

I also generally state the following: Stop hoping things get worse (in Japan in this case) before they get better. The internet and the news media has turned all of us into voyeurs of the worst kind.

127:

Here's some other numbers I can't quite get a good grasp on right now. Some nuclear plants are used for the production of radioactive isotopes (namely for nuclear medicine). Nuclear medicine apparently helps 20 million Americans every year (google factoid - accuracy rating unclear), and no figures on how global medicine helps people globally.

Now there are other methods of producing these same isotopes, namely particle accelerators (still a small amount of residual radiation) and cyclotrons. The question becomes what level of investment must be made in these 2 alternatives to account for what is currently being produced (in terms of isotopes used in the nuclear medicine field) at nuclear power plant and nuclear research reactors.

This is my "come at them from the blindside" argument to the "greenies" when it comes to nuclear power.

128:

This is based on my take-away from a discussion on Slashdot yesterday. (I don't follow mass media.)

As I understood it, three of the reactors were ALREADY shut down for maintenance. I don't speak/read Japanese, so I'm depending on someone else's reportage, but that's what I understood.

So. The three that were working were, indeed, obsolete. One of them was due to be retired in a couple of weeks. They all shut down properly. The problem was that the fuel rods were still quite hot (and will be for over a month). So they had to be kept cool. And the coolant systems failed (in all three? in two?) This lead to the fuel overheating, and probably a partial meltdown. Maybe a complete meltdown. If so the fuel will end up at the bottom of the containment vessel. But somebody told me that the Mark I containment vessel has a known weakness in this kind of situation, and it's plausible that there will be a breakthrough at the bottom of the containment vessel. To me it seems as if this shouldn't be a problem, as molten metal generally forms bead when it encounters water, but apparently there is danger of it getting into the water table. I don't understand this worry, but in my ignorance I must accept it as plausible.

OTOH, the problem has been getting enough water in to keep things cool. If the hot stuff is at the bottom, that wouldn't seem to be a problem. (Except that you're going to need to keep pouring water in, because until the stuff cools down, it's going to keep boiling of water.

Still, given this scenario, we aren't talking about rods anymore, we're talking about basically a pancake. The rods are thick, the pancake is thin. So it should lose heat more readily.

So I can't decide whether there's any reasonable amount of danger or not. I can't see how it could be a huge danger, but I know I'm quite ignorant.

129:

People build reactors there's money available for. There's money available for SMRs now, and if you want decentralised base load, they're it.

130:

Can't. Reactors (like coal or gas power plants) need a honking great heat sink. Unless you've got a very large river, you're stuck with the sea.

If we're being precise here, it is possible to use a air-cooled (non-evaporative or non-immersed) heat sink in exchange for reduced efficiency and larger construction cost and facility size.

That being said, there's a good reason why facilities are built on major rivers whenever possible. U.S. thermoelectric plants consume (evaporate) 1.8L of water per kWh delivered (less generation and transmission costs).

131:

Attacking a reactor already is a war crime, since (IIRC) the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions. There's a clause about targets "containing dangerous energies" and the San Remo manual on the law of war at sea specifies nuclear reactors and hydroelectric dams as examples. There's actually a UN-standardised sign you can paint on the reactor hall and hope it's big enough to be seen from the cockpit, and I think also a registry - although that would be running the risk of giving the other guy ideas.

132:

May I quote this reply elsewhere (with a link)? It encapsulates exactly what I've wanted to say to the Chicken Little type posts I've seen recently.

133:

Although we could maybe get the UN to declare that attacking a duly-designated civilian nuclear reactor is a war crime, like unto attacking a hospital or using nuclear weapons against civilians. And after a century or so of hanging the odd over-enthusiastic general we might get that one to stick.

Already the case: Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, Article 56.

Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population. Other military objectives located at or in the vicinity of these works or installations shall not be made the object of attack if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces from the works or installations and consequent severe losses among the civilian population.

2. The special protection against attack provided by paragraph 1 shall cease... (b) for a nuclear electrical generating station only if it provides electric power in regular, significant and direct support of military operations and if such attack is the only feasible way to terminate such support; (c) for other military objectives located at or in the vicinity of these works or installations only if they are used in regular, significant and direct support of military operations and if such attack is the only feasible way to terminate such support.

134:

Finally a better article:
http://www.slate.com/id/2288212/

This is the important paragraph:
That doesn't mean we can ignore what has happened in Japan. Precisely because nuclear accidents are so rare, we have to study them intensely. Each one tells us what to fix in the next generation of power plants. The most obvious mistake in Japan was parking the diesel generators in an area low enough to be flooded by a quake-driven tsunami. The batteries that backed up the generators weren't adequate, either. They lasted only eight hours, and power outage fallback plans at U.S. reactors are even shorter. Moreover, this is the second time an advanced nuclear facility has had to vent radioactive vapor (Three Mile Island was the first). Maybe it's time to require filtration systems that scrub the vapor before it's released.

Little known factoid: 14,000 man-years of operating nuclear reactors to date.

135:

In the context of pumping water uphill in dams at night and using electric car batteries, another example of large scale load shifting is using industrial refrigerators, cooling them an extra few degrees off-peak and letting them warm back up during the peak hours.

Slashdot: Storing wind power in cold stores

136:

Apparently at least one of the containment vessels is now thought to have some kind of breach in it. Whether at the top or bottom, and whether the materials within have melted down into one mass or still consist of a mix of rods and other stuff, remains unknown. It might be just a mite early to say that this has ended relatively well, and that there won't be any release of radioactive isotopes with longer half-lives than Nitrogen-16 or even the sodium, chlorine, etc. isotopes produced in irradiated seawater.

Of course, with regard to the larger issue, any major impact from these specific plants is an argument against the old light water reactors, not necessarily against alternatives such as pebble bed or molten salt thorum/U-233.

137:

> Define inelegant...(I'm curious, because how many things in the world today do you know that last 40-50 years? The laptop/desktop you're commenting from certainly won't, and I consider that inelegant...)

Somebody has to mine the uranium ore, transport it to a processing facility, process it, transport the uranium to the nuclear power plants, then take the waste and either store it or reprocess it. When you're talking about implementing a nuclear power system, you're talking about much more than just the reactor itself. So this system as a whole has a large number of failure points, most notably in the human organization involved. A lot of scope for corruption, mismanagement, etc, plus it's fragile in case of disaster or war. The system is inflexible, so it forces potentially sub-optimal decisions in society as a whole. Because the power is non-local, it encourages people to use more and more, and the organization has an incentive to hide the consequences.

All the same could be said of our fossil fuel-based energy system. My point is just that, knowing all we know about the flaws of this system, we should really be trying to do better next time around. Maybe we can't. Maybe we're doomed. I don't know.

This plays into Charlie's point about the generation ships. Maybe we should worry about building a society on Earth that can last a few thousand years before we think of launching one in a tin can.

As for my laptop, it can continue working indefinitely. There are computers from the 60s and 70s that still work just fine.

> However, ff that's your only concern, then we should build as many as we can asap. I personally am marveling at how well things are doing despite an 8.9 magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami.

I don't get this idea. We don't get to choose the natural disasters that count and ones that don't count when evaluating the success of our designs. "Pretty well, considering" is not a useful metric. Either the plant functions as intended, or it doesn't, and if it doesn't, we have to figure out what we did wrong so we can do better next time.

If the Germans shut down their power plants because of this, then I agree that is insanity.

138:

Tangental rant: it took a fairly extreme natural disaster in an area that already has a lot of earthquakes to cause this reactor to become unstable. This wasn't the result of human error; more or less everything goes to shit in a situation like this. It seems as though because of their seriousness malfunctions at nuclear power plants end up being overrepresented in media, so the availability bias makes them seem more likely, but I don't get the impression that they are particularly common at all (probably because of all the careful, intelligent, thorough people put in charge of making sure accidents there don't happen).

On the subject of the political treatment of nuclear weapons versus nuclear power plants: at least when nuclear weapons blow up, they generally do so on purpose. I imagine that occasional accidental detonations might be spun as being on purpose and a 'success' so long as they are in situations where it's ambiguous (testing in the middle of nowhere, if you blow one up too soon but not so soon that you get casualties you can probably pretend it was a successful test, though the media probably won't care enough to report it even if they hear about it).

139:

It seems to me that a huge aspect of the nuclear technology problem is path dependency: civilian reactor design was derived from military reactor design, and so inherited a host of engineering requirements and tradeoffs of which safety and robustness were not the top concern (gotta beat the commies/capitalists, ya know).

Add to it the fact that the investment in building a nuclear power station is so great that it requires a huge scale and long operational time to recoup the costs. So the technology becomes locked in at a relatively immature stage of development, and much less able to benefit from the rapid design/build/test cycle that characterizes other fields.

I have read in a number of places (including upthread) that there are fundamentally different reactor technologies that won't melt down by design (pebble bed, thorium, &c), but have been unable to get traction due to unwillingness or inability of government institutions to invest due to the politics involved. There are also a lot of issues with the fuel cycle of light water reactors which alternate designs purport to avoid.

Perhaps what we are really seeing are the teething problems of a young technology, one whose development is going to be measured in generations rather than decades...

140:

Mark Pontin writes:
A critical point is that U-233 is worthless as weapons material: whenever it’s generated, uranium-232 also occurs and rapidly decays into other elements that include thallium-208, which emits hard-gamma-rays that destroy nuclear weapons’ electronics and triggering explosives.

This is mistaken in a key manner, which is not well known generally but is well known amongst those who closely study proliferation...

U-233 production does not inherently produce U-232. U-232 comes from neutronic reactions with U-233 and Pa-233. If you operate the fluoride reactor with immediate active Protactinium chemical sequestration, you end up with very little if any U-232 or U-234 in the output stream and very pure U-233.

The fluoride reactor gang's less technically ept element insist that that's not possible, despite the US weapons lab people who came up with the concept in the first place having documented it.

The more technically ept insist that plants properly built to operate only at the edge on closed recycling would be impractical to divert weapons grade material from, which is true, but the difference between a barely closed cycle plant and one big enough to divert from is hard to tell unless you inspect it carefully during production. Intrusive IAEA inspections of construction and operations could probably ensure that plants fell in the proliferation-resistant category. Probably.

141:

This is strictly for M.E.

My basic engineering studies tells me not to discuss much of anything with you further after this statement...

>As for my laptop, it can continue working indefinitely.

So you received one of those special magic laptops that never wears out and is immune to bathtub curves, tin plague, electron-migration, and just everyday wear and tear?

This is for Charles:

Generational ships vs. nuclear radiation...
Just to toss out some numbers:
Average shuttle mission 7 REM whole body dose
Skylab mission 17 REM whole body dose.

So likely candidates for generational ships would already need to be more radiation resistant to avoid suffering long term effects of radiation exposure. Hence, candidates closer to the equator would be more suitable, provided their lineage could be traced back say, x generations. Trying to find the study on chromosome and other genetic material thickness that I read a while back.

142:

My biggest problem with the nuclear industry as it is constituted is that uranium is a very poisonous chemical, and so is the nuclear waste and proliferation byproducts of reactors. Forget the radioactivity, too much U-238 in the environment is toxic and mining megatons of ore to make many tons of yellowcake to make fewer tons of fuel that has to be reprocessed again and again to get even half the useful energy out of it... are we intentionally shortening global lifespans by induced cancer?
I think our generous host's concept of deaths per terawatt is a very useful in this consideration.

143:

HAS ANYONE actually built a working and at least semi-economic pebble-bed power reactor?

144:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor
Read the section on AVR built in Germany...
After reading the synopsis, I'd say this was a failure.

145:

Greg: China has a research reactor. The first two 250Mw production HTR-PM reactors are due to go live in 2013.

146:

And four of this design:
http://westinghousenuclear.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=258
This design is also the planned design for the next four reactors to be built in the United States.
First two in the state of Georgia, followed by two more in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, back to general fearmongering, read the Huffington Post headlines and some of the comments being posted. (American education system = an epic failure far worse than the nuclear problem in Japan)

147:

I personally imagine with the success were having with vat-grown tissues and in some cases organs. At some point in the near future we'll all be staring at a huge vat filled with thousands of interconnected Sach's Organs (from electric eels).

______________________________

"What's Three Miles Island, Granpa?"
"It's where Disney stores left-over copies of 'Herbie the Love Bug.' remakes "

148:

And four of this design:
http://westinghousenuclear.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=258
This design is also the planned design for the next four reactors to be built in the United States.
First two in the state of Georgia, followed by two more in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, back to general fearmongering, read the Huffington Post headlines and some of the comments being posted. (American education system = an epic failure far worse than the nuclear problem in Japan)

149:

Christ, I'm too bust to give this topic what it deserves.

Commentators at 118 and 139 have the real barrier to nuclear power. All else is epiphenomenon, except in a few relatively small countries. E.g., cost.

Using U.S. data and a 15% discount rate (which is EDF's, by the way) nuclear costs $65 per MWh, versus $48 for coal and $50 for gas.

Cost per MWh isn't the only barrier, though: the big lead times, large sunk costs, and heavy decommissioning liabilities make nuclear projects a bear to finance. That's why the big barrier in the U.S. right now is the Obama Administration's decision to offer loan guarantees at commercial rather than subsidized rates. (Whatever that means, since commercial guarantees of that size aren't available, but let that slide.) Plants become uncompetitive right quick.

There is a question of how the French actually pulled off their program without making electricity more costly than elsewhere. Hidden subsidies or scale economies? I've got a boatload of data, but haven't yet analyzed it ... although the working hypotheses from the numbers indicates the former more than the latter.

E.g., we're kind of stuck, waiting for a technological miracle or the kind of political will that results in outright subsidies, not merely reduced barriers. Unless companies like Hyperion come through. Their projected cost is roughly $53 per megawatt. Add to that the financing benefits of scalability, and it could be revolutionary. But I'm not waiting.

If somebody here has insights into how capital costs can be reduced --- and that includes decommissioning --- then a lot of value would be added. Otherwise, there's a bit of a Alice in Wonderland quality to the discussion on this thread that's not directly related to the question of French public opinion.

150:
That being said, there's a good reason why facilities are built on major rivers whenever possible. U.S. thermoelectric plants consume (evaporate) 1.8L of water per kWh delivered (less generation and transmission costs).

This is actually a good argument for having a mix of alternative energies. Now, the argument that Earth receives X amount of sunlight which is Y more than we could ever need, all you have to do is dedicate those four desert states to solar energy is just silly.

But the argument that sites with a large amount of insolation - say in those four aforementioned desert states - would be better served by solar energy as opposed to nuclear is not.

151:

Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, 1977

Art 56. Protection of works and installations containing dangerous forces

1. Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population. Other military objectives located at or in the vicinity of these works or installations shall not be made the object of attack if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces from the works or installations and consequent severe losses among the civilian population.

I think that's pretty clear. No doubt somebody will argue about nuclear reactors which don't generate electricity.

152:

FWIW, I've been following the Russian press and have found very little in the way of What Does It Mean For The Future Of Nuclear Energy discussions. Reportage of the actual event runs from straight through various degrees of sensationalism plus, as might be expected, frequent mention of Chernobyl.

153:

Regarding the medical nucleotides, the reactors used to produce them are relatively small. I believe normal reactors used to produce electricity cannot be used to produce the isotopes. Anyway at this moment 2 reactors produce around 80% of all important isotopes, and the one in the Netherlands is basically a small research reactor (45 MW.

154:
Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, 1977

Art 56. Protection of works and installations containing dangerous forces

1. Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population. Other military objectives located at or in the vicinity of these works or installations shall not be made the object of attack if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces from the works or installations and consequent severe losses among the civilian population.

I think that's pretty clear. No doubt somebody will argue about nuclear reactors which don't generate electricity.


Lol tell that to the Israelis, they seem to have missed the memo!
155:

Human error was and continues to be a major contributing factor at Fukushima.

Fukushima is a standing demonstration that humanity can design reactors which can withstand extreme natural disasters.

Fukushima is also a standing demonstration that humanity cannot design reactors that can cope with operating companies who have their heads stuffed so far up their arses that they can't keep emergency pumps fueled, wait until after three hydrogen explosions before thinking about finding some way to vent escaping hydrogen safely, and somehow manage to allow a pool of used nuclear fuel to catch fire twice. These are all examples of human error related only marginally to the earthquake and tsunami.

Nuclear power is safe if and only if there are adequate safeguards to ensure that operating companies don't suffer from acute rectocranial inversion. As a society, we're not yet at the point of being able to guarantee that.

156:

Hey Charlie, in spirit of your conviction that sci-fi writers can indeed speculate realistically about future societies I wrote a little piece based on your bold visions of a radiant future for everybody.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1muFiedGx-Nh0hGsnzMT3FFFK_6BoI_haPPG7ouvCaxc/edit?hl=en&authkey=CInW58MC

157:

Dave Bell wrote:

Not even that earthquake would move Shap Summit enough to make a difference (and, if it did, boiler pressure would be the least of your problems.)

Thank you, that has just made my day.

The one thing that is obvious so far, is that despite the earthquake, the consequent tsunami, and subsequent pointy-haired management/logistics/human error because they were up to their collective asses in alligators (pick any/all of these), the end of the world has not arrived. Casualties due to the plant so far are 1/10,000th (estimated) of casualties due to the initial disaster, enough stuff worked as intended to keep things safe.

It's an old design, not as safe as current technology. You do not advance by throwing everything away and hiding under the bed when things go wrong, then starting afresh when things have calmed down: take what you've got, learn from experience, and build something better.

ObSheesh: Furrfu.

158:

There have been several comments up-thread about failure to fuel generators, why outside entities haven't helicoptered in fuel, etc.

It's probably fair to say that those entities are currently making decisions like: If we put those helicopters on search and rescue, or water and blanket and tent delivery, we can save (many) more lives than are at risk from these reactors.

It is now snowing in Sendai, with a -1C wind-chill.

159:

I've been reading a lot of period accounts of the fighting of the latter half of WW2, and the importance of logistics in it.
Which makes me wonder what sort of logistical tail the Japanese have available? Do they have 10,000 medium sized trucks? Or hundreds of Bailey bridges in storage? or the number of bulldozers and ramps and tarmac necessary to make roads passable as rapidly as possible?

I would guess that the sheer quantities of supplies and transport required right now would be equivalent to that required in northern France in 1944, but can they get it all working?

160:

>that they can't keep emergency pumps fueled
(rest of rant deleted for brevity)

Oh, please!
Emergency pumps fueled? I believe you must be referring to the emergency diesel generators that failed that powered the emergency cooling pumps. Now please point everyone to where you found information that states irrefutably that these diesel generators weren't kept fueled.

http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20110315-709685.html
Friday's tsunami washed away back-up diesel generators needed to keep water pumping into the reactors to keep them cool. Seawater is being pumped into the reactors using fire hoses.

Even I question this (bit it is a possibility)

Another article: Seawater damaged the emergency generators. This is the most likely scenario.

http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11031102-e.html (finally a time line is being constructed and tends to confirm diesel malfunction)

Spreading FUD because you are on a rant about human failure doesn't help anyone. However, any good rant should be backed up by fact, rather than fiction, because otherwise your credibility quotient drops to zero. Much like the reporting of the media that can't get their technological terminology correct that is leading to a hysterical reaction to the nuclear plant issues while ignoring the ongoing human tragedy of the Japanese people.

161:

On storage of energy to allow solar to work: I'm thinking that maybe we could take a slightly different approach. Make the grid "unreliable" (in the sense that energy will be available at particular times, but not necessarily at other times.) So you get heaps of power when the sun is shining, none when it's blacker than Kimball Kinnison's speedster (99.9999% absorption of light, IIRC; it's been a while since I've pulled out the "Doc" Smith for a read and a giggle.)

Make this known to the general public. They can then fork out for whatever storage devices they see fit - batteries, flywheels, large tanks of water on the roof, pixie dust - and take on the responsibility that way.

Put that way, it's rather unpalatable. But consider: if you throw wind power into the mix, you'll have some power at night - just not as much. And if you're using solar thermal (ie: using the sun to heat, for example, salt), you'll have residual power for at least the first couple of hours of the night, when it's going to be most needed. Wikipedia says that typical flywheels can store around 100 kWh ... that's about 10 kW (assuming a ten hour outage period) ... on a 240 V system (like Australia's) that gives around 42 amps of current. I don't see why that couldn't happen (of course, I don't know how large such a flywheel would be - probably impracticably large, and that's before considering the containment issues.)

We have this obsession with "baseload" power: that there shall be a certain, basic level of power available at all times. In Australia, we have so much of it, we have aluminium smelters running at night to soak up the excess. What if we get rid of that basic assumption?

Just idle speculation with some small basis in reality; more than happy to be shot down in flames...

162:

Thanks for elucidating, George, though note that I mentioned Operation Teapot and stressed that thorium may resist proliferation, but does not prevent it. I'm familiar with Kang and von Hippel's "U-232 and the Proliferation Resistance of U-233 in Spent Fuel."
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/66997977/U-232-and-the-Proliferation-Resistance-of-U-233-in-SpentFuel

But I didn't want anybody's eyes glazing over if I described the full decay chain -- or, honestly, got it wrong.

Still, it's an interesting set of questions if I understand it aright. The real problem might be how can we trust thorium reactor designers and engineers to make proliferation security a top design tradeoff priority? Because there's in principle a "sweet spot," so to speak, where removing PA-233 (a pronactium isotope) from the reactor blanket facilitates thorium reactor criticality.

So the proliferation resistance of a thorium reactor might depend very much upon the details of how the design is implemented. And reactor designers and engineers could well be tempted to remove (sequester) pronactium.

One of the inherent advantages of the thorium reactor is that it makes possible continual chemical processing of a stream of liquid fuel in both the core and the blanket (which means none of the difficult maintenance, refueling and related inefficiencies of current reactors). Yet that also means it's theoretically possible to build a molten-salt U-233 breeder reactor, because that blanket salt reprocessing arrangement could hypothetically be used to bypass U-232 contamination (the inherent proliferation-resistance feature) by separating out PA-233, which is a U-233 precursor, before it decays into U-233.

And U-233 can (unlike plutonium) be used in simple “gun-type” fission bombs -- e.g. Little Boy, the Hiroshima bomb.

That's what you're primarily talking about, right? And here's my takeaway.

[1] Any source of thermal neutrons can be subverted to produce pure U233 from thorium. This includes proton accelerators, and other reactor types including heavy-water reactors. If we're talking about nation-state actors breeding U-233, they can already do it far more easily and effectively with now-extant technologies -- a CANDU reactor -- than with, say, a LFTR running on the thorium fuel cycle.

[2] Kang and von Hippel may well underestimate the practical difficulty of extracting protactinium from liquid fluoride salts. Charles Barton's claim is that his father -- a physicist at Oak Ridge under Weinberger -- spent years researching this issue and found that a complete protactinium cycle every 27 days might not be possible for a single fluid reactor.

[3] If we're talking about hypothetical non-nation-state actors who somehow get access to a LFTR, isn't that a lot of high-gamma radiation they'd have to deal with so as to separate out the PA-233/U-233? How, then, do they protect themselves? Human survival after such high radiation exposures is on the order of one to two days. Granted, their useful bomb fabrication working time before incapacitation might need only be on the order of only an hour or two. Still, there are easier ways even for non-nation-state actors to get hold of U-233.

For instance, the world's first commercial plant for laser isotope separation (LIS) will likely begin fuel enrichment operations in 2012 or 2013.

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0528/Will-secret-technology-help-rogue-nations-get-nuclear-weapons

https://www.llnl.gov/str/Hargrove.html

While technically tricky, LIS only requires a medium-sized warehouse and could draw about as much electricity as a dozen suburban houses -- nothing that would stand out on the grids or in the commercial districts of cities of LA, Des Moines or Islamabad. IMO, laser enrichment looks a far greater, likelier source of proliferation than any hypothetical ways a thorium reactor could be misused.

163:

Stuart -- I think there are a couple of problems with your idea.

First -- if you're right, you haven't reduced power demand. You've just shifted the timing around. You can do a lot of that, and utilities do, with just differential pricing. I'm thinking of thermal-mass heating in the UK and your alumini(u)m smelters. They're not using the energy just to soak it up; they're taking advantage of low prices and high availability to do smelting they'd do regardless. That smelting operation is balancing your load.

Second -- you've now put additional burdens on the poor, potentially including freezing to death while the electric heat is off. And food poisoning.

Imagine you're living in a small apartment in a city. The rent is low, but it's all you can afford. The landlord isn't making enough from the property to be able to upgrade the infrastructure. You can't place a tank on the roof -- it's not your roof, and it's not reinforced to take the load. Lots of car batteries in the apartment? No space, and a fire risk you don't need besides. Flywheels are currently big and expensive. (The smallest I could find was a 1200 kVA flywheel system for US $200,00; 15 seconds at full load, or approx 5kWh total.) So the mayonnaise and ground beef warm up in the refrigerator while the power is off during the day. Or the rent goes up beyond your ability to meet it.

Third, you do get economies of scale with this stuff, both making and using it. A lot of tiny systems isn't likely to be more or more fault-tolerant than a smaller number of big ones.

Finally, frequent power drops can be very hard on electical and electronic equipment. Weird undervoltages, spikes as secondary supply kicks in -- stuff burns out quickly. Expect to replace a lot of refrigerators.

164:

You pro-nuke guys seem to have a lot more faith in big pink chimps than I do; idiot proof it and they build a better idiot.

I also wonder sometimes whether today's economics would be different had some of the corporate welfare handed the energy conglomerates for nuclear been directed into alternatives WAY back in the '60's when the public first demanded it.

Boys and their toys, sheesh.

165:

Quoted verbatim from "Meltdown looms as errors mount at Fukushima nuclear plant":

Running out of fuel: Water levels in No. 2 reactor fell after the diesel pump ran out of fuel and workers did not notice quickly enough.


Checking the gauges: Air pressure inside No. 2 reactor rose suddenly when the air flow gauge was accidentally turned off. That blocked the flow of water into the reactor, leading to the water level dropping and the exposure of the fuel rods.

166:

[ DELETED BY MODERATOR -- for violation of moderation policy: "don't be rude" ]

167:

seaquake
If such waves meet a ship with sufficient intensity, they give the impression that the ship has struck a submerged object. This phenomenon is called a seaquake.

168:

@Charlie, the large CVNs have multiple reactors. The current generation use 2 reactors each putting out 100MW, which is about an order of magnitude smaller than a commercial reactor.

In the book The Curve of Binding Energy, the author claims that our current path dependence on uranium cycle reactor designs was due to the perceived shortage of plutonium during the early Cold War. Thorium reactors don't produce plutonium (except in trace amounts), and CANDU reactors don't use enriched uranium at all (nor produce economically extractable quantities of plutonium). That's why there were no thorium based reactors after a few research projects. McPhee also makes a fascinating claim about why nuclear power plant construction collapsed about the time of three mile island, and it was when the federal government stopped purchasing privately produced plutonium for $1,000,000/kg. But I think it is far more fashionable to blame the collapse of the industry on a more politically suitable target - hippie treehuggers.

169:

Charlie Stross asked: "The question is, what gives us the optimum balance of safety and efficiency and minimal environmental damage?"

Charlie Stross answered: "The only sane way to evaluate long-term energy policy is on a yardstick such as deaths per TWh."

Done.

170:

The was another power plant explosion today killing one worker. In eastern North Carolina.

171:

" the large CVNs have multiple reactors. The current generation use 2 reactors each putting out 100MW, which is about an order of magnitude smaller than a commercial reactor."

Per
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Naval_reactor
and other sources I find carier reactors are about 500 MWt. But I can't find out if this is per ship or per reactor. Either way it is a lot of power in a small space.

As to the steam issues new US carrier equipment will mostly run on electricity for all new carriers. Even launching planes via rail gun catapults. So they are already in the heat to electricity business.

172:

You mentioned (#81) replacing indoor solid fuel cookers with electric stoves powered by nuclear power stations.

However, I'm sure* most of the risk is removed by separating the pollution source from millions of homes. Once you've done that, I'm not sure it matters too much whether the power is generated by nuclear, fossil fuel, renewables or billions of hamsters in wheels.

* Weasel words, yes, but allow me to introduce the London Smogs as Exhibit A.

173:

Mark Pontin writes:
So the proliferation resistance of a thorium reactor might depend very much upon the details of how the design is implemented. And reactor designers and engineers could well be tempted to remove (sequester) pronactium.

The risk is that it's a civilian reactor technology that extremely efficiently converts to a high-grade weapons material breeder technology, with minor reconfigurations in the plant layout.

It's hard to convert an existing thorium fluoride reactor, but if one is building one and the IAEA doesn't get to watch the whole process (*cough* Iran *cough* North Korea *cough* Syria) then one can build in a breeder cycle section and the reactor does Just Fine at feeding you high grade fissile U-233. It is probably the fastest easiest path to large quantities of fissile material - more compact and not energy input intensive like centrifuges, and doesn't require either large input stream / regular fuel turnovers and fuel reprocessing (conventional uranium water reactors used to breed Pu + huge chemical plants to separate Pu out of the fuel). The one step to pull Pu out, you already have the tech to do, it's aleady part of the reactor, and is clean and easy.
[...]And U-233 can (unlike plutonium) be used in simple “gun-type” fission bombs -- e.g. Little Boy, the Hiroshima bomb.

U-233 probably can't be used in gun-type bombs, its spontaneous fission rate is too high. If pure enough that it's not emitting lots of gammas and heat (little U-234 and 232) then it's almost as good as Plutonium in implosion weapons, though.

[1] Any source of thermal neutrons can be subverted to produce pure U233 from thorium. This includes proton accelerators, and other reactor types including heavy-water reactors. If we're talking about nation-state actors breeding U-233, they can already do it far more easily and effectively with now-extant technologies -- a CANDU reactor -- than with, say, a LFTR running on the thorium fuel cycle.

The whole point of a Thorium to U-233 cycle is that IF YOU PROCESS FAST ENOUGH - without much subsequent irradiation - you chemically separate the Pa-233 out before you get the breeding that gets you U-234 contamination. The liquid thorium fluoride reactor is designed to be able to do that intrinsically.

IF you pull the Pa-233 out immediately, before it breeds, you get nearly pure U-233 out.

If the Pa-233 sits around in the reactor very long at all then it will pick up neutrons and you get the chains that lead to U-234.

Chemical separation processing done in a continuous loop lets you pull the Pa-233 out very quickly. The liquid fluoride thorium reactors let you run a continuous separation loop. One could also technically run this with a liquid water solution thorium salt system, but it can't run at nearly the temperatures and neutron fluxes that liquid fluoride reactors can, and I don't know that anyone figured out as easy a chemical processing step to pull the Pa-233 out of water solution as you can with Pa-fluoride salts.

Proton accelerators require power input, and by the time you're done working the numbers aren't much better than running centrifuges.

CANDU is not set up to immediately rinse the Pa-233 stream out, so unless you run your CANDU solid fuel rods into and out of the reactor within hours and then reprocess them to pull Pa-233 out (which will require a huge chemical reprocessing plant) then you irradiate the Pa-233 and get U-234 in your output stream, which ruins the weapons potential.

[2] Kang and von Hippel may well underestimate the practical difficulty of extracting protactinium from liquid fluoride salts. Charles Barton's claim is that his father -- a physicist at Oak Ridge under Weinberger -- spent years researching this issue and found that a complete protactinium cycle every 27 days might not be possible for a single fluid reactor.

There are operating modes that involve other fissile materials in another blanket, which I won't go into as they stray into the secret sauce a proliferator would go straight to if they were designing a secret plant.

Pulling Pa out of the stream using a temperature based chemical process ought to work just fine, but I haven't run it in a lab, only read about it. So I could be wrong. Others have tested parts of it.

[3] If we're talking about hypothetical non-nation-state actors who somehow get access to a LFTR, isn't that a lot of high-gamma radiation they'd have to deal with so as to separate out the PA-233/U-233? How, then, do they protect themselves? Human survival after such high radiation exposures is on the order of one to two days. Granted, their useful bomb fabrication working time before incapacitation might need only be on the order of only an hour or two. Still, there are easier ways even for non-nation-state actors to get hold of U-233.

No, a commercial designed LFTR is probably pretty safe, as if built and operated as designed it's output stream of Pa is pretty U-234 contaminated. Al Qaeda hijacking a reactor are going to get radiation poisoning and death, not a bomb.

The problem is if the guy who built it added a bit of extra stuff down in the guts of it that the IAEA didn't notice. Once you have LFTRs, everyone who has one necessarily knows enough about operating them and the modifications necessary to make them into efficient pure U-233 factories. If one is built in the open but modified, with a secret U-233 cycle off the side, it can be done under everyone's noses. If one is intentionally built in secret using all the technology that comes with the commercial reactors, its the shortest easiest fissile material output process anyone's found.

The problem is all the countries. Iran's making CANDU uranium reactors, light water uranium reactors, uranium enrichment plants. Those give paths to Plutonium bombs (with a big secret radioactive processing plant for the reactor spent fuel) or Uranium-235 bombs (with a medium sized secret "topping cycle" centrifuge plant). One of these little LFTRs modified to be a U-233 factory is a bomb factory all by itself, without any additional infrastructure.

Look, I'm one of the slightly grey white hats on nuclear proliferation. I got into nuclear bomb engineering because it was the hardest technical problem I could find, and scared my pants off by the early 1990s when I realized how little was actually still secret about weapons. Somewhat in ignorance, I reinvented LFTR from initial principles as a dedicated bomb material production technology in 1994ish before I found out that it had been pursued as a power generation cycle openly in earlier research. It was my number two "If I were a Bad Guy" weapons material path, the thing not talked about except in person and in private as one doesn't want some random Libyan finding out about it. Finding out that it had already been openly researched before my time scared me, though fortunately nobody declassified the add-ons that make it just supremely great as a dedicated bomb material factory. The resurgence of LFTR as a breeder cycle power reactor technology scares the crap out of me, as the add-ons aren't that hard for a bad guy to figure out.

It's bad enough as a well documented cycle that you can't buy off the shelf; as a cycle that a rogue nation could order from Siemens for a power reactor??? You'd better hope that the bad guys don't take that practical design and operations knowledge and build one under a mountain, that you don't detect.

I am sufficiently widely aware of carbon footprint and global warming to not oppose nuclear energy. As much as I like solar and hydro and wind, there's not enough hydro, wind is fickle, and solar's only half the day at best. Either storage technology has to economically improve or we need something like nuclear for nighttime baseload (or we accept only a half to 2/3 reduction in electric grid carbon emissions). Even though I do proliferation issues stuff, nuclear is not a bugaboo.

LFTR nuclear? It's the one that makes me stay up at night. It punches all my proliferation buttons. I know why some people like it. I'd prefer pebble bed or BWR with fuel reprocessing, even with all the transport and reprocessing chemical and radiation uglyness that goes with those.

I want proliferators to have to invent the whole reactor system detailed design and operations and chemical processing hands-on part the hard way on their own, to productize a LFTR cycle. Getting 99% of the way there with a commercial LFTR power reactor design is just making it too easy for them. Please. No.

174:

#137 Somebody has to mine the uranium ore, transport it to a processing facility, process it, transport the uranium to the nuclear power plants, then take the waste and either store it or reprocess it. When you're talking about implementing a nuclear power system, you're talking about much more than just the reactor itself. So this system as a whole has a large number of failure points, most notably in the human organization involved. A lot of scope for corruption, mismanagement, etc, plus it's fragile in case of disaster or war. The system is inflexible, so it forces potentially sub-optimal decisions in society as a whole. Because the power is non-local, it encourages people to use more and more, and the organization has an incentive to hide the consequences.

ME, just where do you think the materials that make up your computer came from? It really wasn't "made by the computer fairies", but by people who went and mined stuff (for values of "mine" that involve digging a hole of arbitrary length/depth, width and "roofedness"), then transported same to refining plants, then to manufacturies, and then to assembly lines.

175:

#154 particularly, but also relates to others quoting the Geneva Conventions:-

1) These only apply in full or part to signatory nations. Israel has signed the original GC 1 .. 4 and Protocol III, but not Protocols I or II. Accordingly, they are not presently bound by the relevant Protocol I.

2) The relevant Protocol I Article 56 can be argued to not apply to a nuclear reactor who's primary or sole function is the manufacture of weapons grade Uranium and/or Plutonium.

176:

Alternatives are Good. Don't get me wrong here.

Trouble is, there are situations where solar, wind, and tidal don't work. (Solar doesn't work at night and is next to useless in the far north/south for half the year; tidal doesn't work if you don't have a coastline: and wind doesn't work if the wind don't blow.)

Working -- as I do -- on the basis that coal and oil (and, to a lesser extent, natural gas) are damaging our environment, we need alternatives badly. And nuclear is one of them. So the question arises, how do we go about implementing nuclear safely?

Fukushima seems to have demonstrated three things. Firstly, that even 1960s designs are extremely robust, able to exceed their design specifications for natural disasters by a factor of 100. Secondly, in the wake of a factor one thousand insult, things break, and 1960s designs are not fail-safe: so we need fail-safe designs (which exist). And thirdly, do not underestimate the ability of the public (and the media) to fixate and panic over the "nuclear" word in the middle of a horrendous crisis (death toll from earthquake and tsunami combined will be on the order of that from the A-bombing of Nagasaki).

177:

The response from the french has been to tell EDF to stress test all their reactors, the french Prime minister said yesterday that all plants are to be tested for possible damage from earthquakes and flooding.

The EU commission have said a similar thing, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/en/pressroom/content/20110315IPR15584/html/Stress-tests-for-Europe%27s-nuclear-power-plants-after-nuclear-scare-in-Japan

The actual contents of these "stress tests" wont be released until easter.

EDF perform safety tests on every reactor every 10 years, before they are allowed to run for another 10.

178:

@ George, # 173 -

Thanks for taking the trouble to do the long answers and educate me on those details. I appreciate it.

179:

Charlie,

Thank you for Reply #66. It saved me foaming at the mouth too much.

180:

(death toll from earthquake and tsunami combined will be on the order of that from the A-bombing of Nagasaki)

Where do you get that from? Wikipedia gives me a total death count of 80,000 for Nagasaki, whereas the latest figures from Japan seem to be 3700 confirmed dead and ~8000 missing. Even if all those missing are indeed dead (and likely the figure will at least be 90% of the missing), that's still quite a bit of a difference (thank Dog).

181:

Okay, the very latest figures (from NHK, unsurprisingly it depends who you ask) are 4100 dead and ~12,000 missing, but still...

182:

What I don't get is how so many of us, myself included, could think that a containment could easily contain a core emitting some 30MW of power for weeks, even if everything went wrong and there could be *no* human intervention at all.

Despite the fact that a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that even a large containment can shed no more than 1-2MW without active cooling.

This is a closed system.

But defence-in-depth needs an open system to work. Otherwise, all the lines of defence that you could possibly fall back to, will have already been saturated by the heat that brought your latest line of defence fail.

You're standing a long distance with your back to the wall, see the enemy approach, and fool yourself into thinking that you can always draw back by just going half the distance to the wall - and you'll always have some room spare.

It couldn't work. But neither did the engineers realize that they were caught up in Xeno's paradox, nor was the crowd of "critics" even remotely capable of focussing the effort of their critique towards identifying the fundamental flaws of the safety concept.

Instead they relied on a cacophony of fear-mongering and politicking that robbed credibility from *all* of their arguments.

I'm feeling sick. I didn't have a good night of sleep since Friday. And I'm seriously scared that the build-up of energy in one of the *intact* containments could lead to a major explosion through some process or another(*) - instead of merely a crack in the containment.

(*) Pressure build-up, hydrogen explosions, maybe something we never thought of. The energy released by the reactor into the containment is *enormous* relative to a mere concrete structure. Roughly the equivalent of a ton of TNT every 20 minutes ... even a very inefficient process could do a lot of damage there.

183:

In reference to the original blog post of our host, The Guardian live blog at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/mar/16/japan-nuclear-crisis-live says basically that the French goverment has said clearly they dont believe the Japanese, that the thing is out of control, and get out of Tokio.

I dont know if it is true or not - certainly the situation seems to be getting very worse for what we can read - but I'm sure it is not going to be a high point in French-Japanese relationships for years to come.

184:

Unfortunately today's news is not good, with the head of the French nuclear safety agency saying that the containment on Fukushima Daiichi reactor 2 is no longer sealed.

I think we're going to have to wait some time to get a clear picture of what's going on, but TEPCO's handling of the event is not filling me with confidence right now.

185:

Please note that TNT is not that energetic in chemical terms -- the reason we use it as a yardstick for destruction is that the energy it contains can be released very rapidly.

TNT releases 4.7 mJ/Kg when it decomposes. An optimized gasoline/O2 mix is around 10.2 mJ/Kg; butter contains around 30 mJ/Kg. The difference is that butter isn't explosive -- you can't get that energy out in a couple of microseconds. Whereas a TNT detonation shockwave at just under 7000 m/s, so a spherical 1Kg lump of TNT is likely to release its bond energy in under a microsecond.

So you can replace your ton of TNT every 20 minutes with 100 litres of diesel oil burning every 20 minutes. It's still nothing pleasant to contemplate, but it's a wee bit less panic-inducing if you think of it in those terms.

186:

Charlie,

the point wasn't to make it sound like a lot of energy or to induce panic. The point was to make it comparable. The energy in a few tons of TNT is enough to destroy just about any reinforced concrete structure you could think of.

That's how the containment in reactor 3 was breached... unless this was a misinformation.

187:

Oh, I agree, we should be steering clear of coal too. Indeed, my pet scheme for power generation within the Australian economy depends on a few factors which are apparently unique to Australia. The first is that we get a lot of sunshine (even in wet years like this past 12 months have been on the East Coast). The second is that most of our population lives in suburban detached housing. So, what we really ought to be doing, on a national level, is encouraging each household to convert roof space to power generation using solar panels (certainly there's enough encouragement for solar hot water here; it's just an extension of the same principle). Rig things up so we're using the existing power grid as a huge battery, and feed the solar power generated into the grid during the day. The next trick is working to make all of our appliances and household effects more energy efficient than they are already (it's possible - we're already doing this slowly) and thus make it potentially possible for each household to generate enough power to cover their own power bills with only the amount of solar panels required for a suburban rooftop - thus reducing household power bills. This provides an incentive for people to be more frugal with their energy expenditure, and enables the various state governments to get greater mileage out of the existing generation plants and infrastructure, while work carries on to optimise new ways of generating energy. As existing fossil fuel plants run out, we replace them with something renewable (go with whatever's providing the greatest efficiencies at the time) but keep up the incentives for people to keep generating their own household energy and feeding it into the grid as a way of "buying" power rather than just consuming straight from the grid.

Maybe it won't work. But I figure every little would help.

188:

Just to clear this up in advance: in case things go type ohmygopleasedontletithappen pear-shaped and radioactive material in non-negligible quantities starts heading towards Tokyo. What will have caused the inevitable road-deaths in the rush to get out of town? The nuclear plant? The scare-mongering greens? The Japanese inability to properly evacuate?

Just asking because it seems to me some people here have a problem with causality.

189:

A nice wee synopsis Charlie.

We live 100km Northwest of Fukushima Daiichi, and it's only because of the sterling work of bloggers like yourself that we're not getting panicky.

190:

#182 thro 188 inc. It is important to understand the difference between an atomic bomb and an atomic reactor.

As Charlie correctly says, "high explosive" is so called because of the speed with which the energy is liberated. Similarly, ignoring the associated gamma radiation burst (there are also alpha and beta bursts, but you can stop those by being 2m from the edge of the bomb), the killer factor with an A-bomb is the over-pressure from the over-critical mass converting to energy, rather than the fact of the energy being derived from atomic nucleii splitting.

An atomic reactor, by design, gets hot, and is cooled, which allows us to generate hot gas to drive a turbine generator set. When the cooling system fails, we lose the cooling capacity, but we still can not achieve over-criticality.

If the containment fails, it is most likely to fail as a result of (parts of it) being heated above its melting point. At this time there may be a release of irradiated gas and/or liquid containing actinides, but there will still not be an actual explosion.

NB. It's 30 years or so since I last studied this stuff, so there may well be errors of fact in the foregoing. If there are, corrections are welcome, but I would regard personal attacks unkindly.

191:

Well,

I'd still take some Potassium Iodide and Calcium supplements if you're only 100km away.

Might be a bit hard to source at the moment.... if you can't get them food high in Iodine and Calcium would help. Basically, if you keep your body saturated with nice non-radioactive iodine and calcium... it won't absorb any non-nice radioactive idodine and strontium you ingest. I'd keep taking them as long as there is radiation leaking and some weeks therafter. It can't hurt, and might help.

However, don't try and drink any Iodine you get from the chemists for puting on cuts etc. as this is not meant to be taken internally.

Best of luck to you and everyone else in Japan. Lets hope it doesn't get any worse.

Yours,

TGP

192:

You're getting this wrong.

The energy in a few tons of TNT will destroy just about any concrete structure because it comes out very suddenly, in a detonation that produces a shockwave. The shockwave tends to shatter solid structures -- like hitting them with a very big hammer.

In contrast, the same amount of energy in a puddle of burning kerosene may not destroy a reinforced concrete structure. It will weaken it by heating the rebar until it expands or warps, and by cracking the cement. But it causes damage by heat, not by blast.

It is not clear from the reports in what way the containment around the #4 reactor has been damaged. If it's because of a detonation of a hydrogen/air mixture, that could cause blast damage. If it's because of a steady fire, that could cause heat damage. The failure modes in either case are very different, and right now we don't know what's happening (because TEPCO's public relations people are making a complete hash of keeping the public informed and there is an echo chamber of alarmist media reports feeding on each other and exaggerating anything they get their hands on).

I'm going by the IAEA reports, which (as IAEA is an international nuclear regulatory agency) are delayed but much more likely to be accurate.

193:

However, don't try and drink any Iodine you get from the chemists for puting on cuts etc. as this is not meant to be taken internally.

Let me emphasize this: elemental iodine is a poison, and 2-3 grams taken orally can be fatal to a healthy adult.

It's an essential dietary trace element but a healthy human being needs only 150 micrograms per day, and the FDA's tolerable upper limit is 1.1mg/day.

A 10% solution of povidone iodine in water (e.g. Betadine™) is concentrated enough that if you drink 200ml of the stuff (a mugfull) you'll put yourself in hospital or kill yourself. (If you don't throw up, of course.)

It's been a good 20 years since I last practiced as a pharmacist, but I think I'm on solid ground when I say do not self-administer iodine formulations orally without medical advice.

194:

Meg: Rig things up so we're using the existing power grid as a huge battery, and feed the solar power generated into the grid during the day.

How do you propose that the grid should store this power?

The grid is just a network of (very big) wires. It's not a storage device. To store enough juice to run a nation for a night takes a very special kind of battery -- one nobody's actually built yet, unfortunately.

195:

I suspect he's thinking of a smart grid where lots and lots of homes and other locations have storage batteries (auto or otherwise) and can feed back in as needed - but of course, that's not 'the existing grid', it's a half a trillion dollar project or more to get to that kind of smart grid.

196:

Let me give you a handle on what I mean by a "very special kind of battery", using Dramatic Units.

The quintessential Dramatic Unit is the Kiloton -- a measure of the destructive force of an atom bomb. It took just 14 of them to flatten Hiroshima, right?

One Kiloton is officially defined as the energy released by a thousand tons of TNT going "bang", or 4184 GigaJoules -- 4 TeraJoules.

The UK consumed roughly 46 GigaWatts of electricity continuously in the past 24 hours. One gigawatt is one gigajoule per second. So it takes the equivalent of one kiloton of nuclear firepower every hundred seconds to keep the lights burning in the UK. Or roughly two Hiroshima-sized A-bombs per hour.

Australia has roughly a quarter the population of the UK but uses three times the energy per capita (air conditioning in summer not being a luxury). So the battery you're asking for, to run Australia for eight hours overnight (during hours of darkness), has to store the equivalent of sixteen Hiroshima-sized nuclear explosions, or a single 200Kt Hydrogen bomb's worth of power.

Worldwide, our global energy consumption is about 2TW -- or half a kiloton per second.

(What makes A-bombs and H-bombs so destructive isn't the amount of energy they pump out, but the fact that they splurge it all in a matter of microseconds. Drop the time scale by six to twelve orders of magnitude and it's a whole different perspective.)

197:

"Okay, the very latest figures (from NHK, unsurprisingly it depends who you ask) are 4100 dead and ~12,000 missing, but still..."

The number of missing is based on people reporting someone missing. If an entire neighborhood, village, town, etc... Is missing then no one is reporting. There are photos if towns of 10,000+ people wiped flat but no reports of groups of 1000s people on hills above these towns.

Less than 30 minutes warning isn't much.

The final numbers may match or exceed the H and N numbers from WWII. Or even much worse.

198:

To get back to the original post :

What strikes me as separating the French / US media coverage (and by US coverage, I only mean CNN,NYT and W Post) is the strong presence in the media of the French authorities which are currently vocally pessimistic about the ongoing situation in Japan.
The minister in charge of energy stated some hours ago that the "worst case scenario was possible even likely" and the Gov spokeman stated that the "worst case scenario would be worse than Chernobyl".

199:

4 more comments :*

- the French political bipartisan consensus on the nuclear seems to hold so far, even if some maverick cenrter-right policians (former PM Villepin and F. Bayrou) are criticizing the current French energy mix.

- the French nuclear power sector has so far been very safe ; the worst accident was a 4 on the INES scale in 1980 (for the record, more than 1 death is a 5 and 10 a 6);

- EDF, the state-owned utility, was till recently exploiting under a monopoly and was proposing low prices to consumers and these prices was understood as a "reward" of nuclear power (this is no longer true as competition has been introduced);

- there is currently one reactor being built in France ; as far as I know not one politician so far (except for the Green) has advocated that project to be stopped.


200:

Batteries

No one, that I've noticed, who advocates these enormous storage systems seems to address the making and disposal of all these batteries. These things are NOT made from re-cycled newspaper after all.

I keep wondering what we will be doing with wreaked cars when EVs and hybrids are more than a trivial percentage of the used market. EMS crews are fairly well trained in dealing with a liquid fueled vehicle. How do they safely cut through a batterypack to extract someone? 10 years out where do we stack all the spent batteries?

And then let's deal with every house having the equivalent of several of these in the backyard.

As to the concept of use cars to store energy for the grid, who is responsible for what? If your car doesn't "go" when you get in it due to a failure in the charging circuit does your local power company pay the $1000 repair bill? And what about consequential losses? Things could get interesting. Sort of like the early days of the automobile and insurance.

201:

@ 197
NO
"The final numbers may match or exceed the H and N numbers from WWII. Or even much worse. "
WRONG.
Might easily be worse than the Gret Kanto Earthquake though.

H: 90-140k people
N: at least 74k people
Source: Wikipedia.......

202:

It's an essential dietary trace element but a healthy human being needs only 150 micrograms per day, and the FDA's tolerable upper limit is 1.1mg/day.

A 10% solution of povidone iodine in water (e.g. Betadine™) is concentrated enough that if you drink 200ml of the stuff (a mugfull) you'll put yourself in hospital or kill yourself. (If you don't throw up, of course.)

While I certainly bow to your pharmaceutical knowledge, an have no doubts whatsoever that advice is absoluely accurate.....

It does make me wonder how humans can tolerate iodine being placed on cuts if it can be so toxic even in tiny doses.

I would have thought quite a lot could be absorbed into the bloodstream through a cut (particularly a medium-large one). 1-2mg certainly seems doable seeing as you are probably putting few grams onto the wound.

TGP

203:

I don't think you're supposed to put a mugful of Betadine on a cut, and even if you did only a tiny proportion of it would even be on the cut, let alone absorbed into the bloodstream.

204:

According to Wikipedia, the current molten salt designs for solar thermal can do this:

"As an example of their size, tanks that provide enough thermal storage to power a 100-megawatt turbine for four hours would be about 9 m (30 ft) tall and 24 m (80 ft) in diameter."

100e6 W for 4 hours = 1.4 TJ = 0.25 kilotons.

The tanks are 4000 cubic meters, which is 4e6 liters. Diesel is 38 MJ/l, so that comes to 152TJ or 38 kilotons. Jesus, that's a lot more. But molten salt doesn't get consumed in the process, so maybe it's not hopeless.

Does anyone here have any theories for how the French have been able to be so successful with their nuclear reactors?

205:

Other nuclear news:

Germany: Germany Shuts Nuke Plants Worth Almost 5% Of Nation's Power
http://www.automatedtrader.net/real-time-dow-jones/52818/3rd--germany-shuts-nuke-plants-worth-almost-5-of-nation039s-power

Interestingly enough, the French nuclear industry is probably leaping for joy at the prospect of selling electricity to the Germans. I only say this because the French actually have spare capacity.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_France
France is also the world's largest net exporter of electric power, exporting 18% of its total production.
However, France's nuclear reactors are mainly used in load-following mode and some reactors close on weekends because there is no market for the electricity.

With the recent run on iodine, I've seen little mention of the effects of ingesting Cs-137. If our CDC releases it's stockpiles of Prussian Blue to Japan, I may become a bit more concerned.

206:

Sorry,

That 2nd paragraph is also a quote from Charlie, the HTML formatting wasn't quite right.

And of course you shouln't put a mugfull on a cut.... but I'd expect at least a few grams to go on there.... and if 1/1000th of "a few grams" gets into your bloodstream that seems to be way in excess of the "recommended safe level" Charlie informed us of.

Seeing as plenty of people do put Iodine on cuts, with no mass-toxiocity events, it seems that I'm not getting something quite right here.

I was just curious as to what exactly I am getting wrong.

TGP

207:

#192 - Here we see why Charlie is a professional author, and I am not!

208:

Let's suppose you put 5ml of povidone iodine solution on a cut.

The solution contains 10% w/v povidone iodine in water. So you've put half a gram on the cut.

9% to 12% of the PI is actual elemental iodine by weight, so you've put 500mg on the wound.

But on a superficial abrasion or cut, you're not going to be absorbing very much of anything that goes on top -- remember your circulatory system is under positive pressure? Fluid tends to leak out of wounds, rather than soaking into them.

My money is on less than 1% of the applied load being absorbed, which is around 5mg, or about five times the recommended daily dosage but around one 500th of the amount it'd take to actually kill you.

209:

> The energy in a few tons of TNT will destroy just about any concrete structure because it comes out very suddenly, in a detonation that produces a shockwave.

I know that a slow release of energy won't harm the concrete structure. But there are several mechanisms in which pent up energy might be released suddenly. And I can't rule out that one might come into play with enough confidence to be comfortable - much less to endorse continued use of this kind of containment. (Yes, this standard of confidence is rather high - as in "we can't possibly find a way". Hydrogen and steam explosions are two ...)

The best way to rule it out, would be not to have that much energy in there in the first place and have a kind of containment that can easily shed the energy released by a reactor core after shut-down. Preferably through a solid-state mechanism, although natural convection (e.g. of molten lead) might do the trick, if applied carefully. It would need a heat sink on the outside - pure concrete won't do.

Containments are supposed to release *no* radioactive material, not small amounts of it (that we're currently talking about), even if they don't do harm to the public.

Yes, this is a much higher standard than we have for, say, the Sendai chemical plant producing 90.000 tons of benzene and over a quarter million tons of xylenes per year - but that's what they should be.

> http://www.platts.com/RSSFeedDetailedNews/RSSFeed/Petrochemicals/8652513

210:

Have you never dabbed an antiseptic (liquid or "paste" such as Savlon or TCP) on a cut. Did you use as much as 1g? I think not, but let's assume you do. If that 1g is of a 10% solution, there is 0.1g of iodine in the buffer. It is patently obvious, from the discolouration of the pad you poured the solution onto and the skin around the would, that not all of the active ingredient has entered your bloodstream. Even if it had, it is now mixed into 10 pints, say 6l, of blood, so about 1/60_000th of your bllod is now iodine. Unless you have a bleeding ulcer in your stomach or bowel, you still have none of that iodine in your gut, where you don't want it!

211:

Ah,

So what I got wrong is mainly here

[i]
9% to 12% of the PI is actual elemental iodine by weight
[/i]

and here

[i] 5mg, or about five times the recommended daily dosage but around one 500th of the amount it'd take to actually kill you.
[/i]

Between the two.. it reduces the amount I thought could be the problem by a factor of 5000 and now putting Iodine on a cut seems much more reasonable.

Just don't patch up 5000 cuts with Iodine !

TGP

212:

We have this obsession with "baseload" power: that there shall be a certain, basic level of power available at all times. In Australia, we have so much of it, we have aluminium smelters running at night to soak up the excess. What if we get rid of that basic assumption?

Er, what? Those aluminium smelters are running 24 hours a day. There's no smelter technology available that can be shut down during the day. (Yes, you can survive a few hours power outage, but you'll cause damage, fuck up efficiency and make the guys on the floor hate you.)

AFAIK the reason you need a baseload is that you don't want to turn the generators off unless you absolutely have to, and something's got to soak up the power when they're running.

213:

Aluminium plants as a result have huge batteries.

During California's (artificial) power shortages, at least one aluminium plant found that it was more profitable to stop making aluminium -- instead, they'd collect electricity at night, when it was cheaper, and then release it into the grid during peak rates. The result: profit.

214:

In official reactor security guidelines, the recommended doses to achieve iodine saturation is 130 mg potassium iodine ONCE, which amounts to 100 mg of Iodine. The lethal dose of Iodine is about 3 g, thus (all values for grown-ups). This leaves a safety factor of 30. The recommended doses are smaller for children (3-12 year 65 mg potassium iodine, 1 month-3 years 32 mg,

215:

System did cut the posting short; it does not like the below symbol.

In official reactor security guidelines, the recommended doses to achieve iodine saturation is 130 mg potassium iodine ONCE, which amounts to 100 mg of Iodine. The lethal dose of Iodine is about 3 g, thus (all values for grown-ups). This leaves a safety factor of 30. The recommended doses are smaller for children (3-12 year 65 mg KI, 1 month-3 years 32 mg, below 1 month 16 mg). Of course the lethal doses go down, too, for small bodies! Only in special cases should you take TWO days of doses, but never more. And the effect of the blockade goes down very fast; it lasts only 2 days. The best thing to do probably is to have some of this stuff at home and take it only if things really go southwards. Currently its still just small fry, especially if you are 100 km away from Fukushima. To measure mg-amounts with household equipment, start with a larger amount and dilute it with lots of water, eventually in multiple steps. Just the way the homoeopathists do. Don't worry, this will not potentiate the efficiency.

216:

I feel your questions are best answered in the forms of other questions, viz:

What does happen to wrecked cars these days? Have you seen many littering the streets?
How many cars have their battery packs situated on the roof?
I wonder what happens to lead acid batteries these days, perhaps they are used to build houses, or children collect them in order to playfully smash them on the pavement?

Regarding electric cars and the grid, I can see that you would set your cars charger so that it would be available between, say, 10pm and 7am, with the requirement that it would always have at least 50% capacity.

217:

Addon: Elemental Iodine, the stuff you have in iodine tincture, is poisonous. Potassium iodine, the stuff you have in anti-radiation pills, is much saver. If you think you have to play around with this stuff, by all means use potassium iodine.

218:
Does anyone here have any theories for how the French have been able to be so successful with their nuclear reactors?
Nothing special - build 'em all to a standard design, ruthlessly crush any opposition, simple stuff like that.
219:

Aluminium plants as a result have huge batteries.

No, no they don't - at least I have never heard of any that have. There's no way of storing those gigawatt-hours; except in, say, a hydroelectric dam.

The story back then was that Alcoa or whoever it was had simply closed down those aluminium smelters and was selling the power on the "free" market instead.

220:

guthrie @ 216:

"What does happen to wrecked cars these days? Have you seen many littering the streets?"

The seats, battery, gas tank, and maybe drive train removed then they are shredded or melted down. Today's batteries are like a brief case or two. EV and hybrid batters are like 2 or 3 foot lockers. Nether is easy to deal with. But multiplying the volume by 10 is an issue.


"How many cars have their battery packs situated on the roof?"
Not many but many cars in wreaks are not upright when people need to be removed.

"I wonder what happens to lead acid batteries these days, perhaps they are used to build houses, or children collect them in order to playfully smash them on the pavement?"

They are recycled in a messy process. Again, these new electric based cars will multiple those volumes by 10.

"Regarding electric cars and the grid, I can see that you would set your cars charger so that it would be available between, say, 10pm and 7am, with the requirement that it would always have at least 50% capacity."

Are you paid for this use? How much does it take off the life of the battery? If someone breaks who pays for the repair? Or do we all does this "for the common good"?

I'm not saying EV or Hybrid cars are a bad idea or that using them as night time storage is bad idea but there are a lot of pesky details to be worked out. At an engineering, policy, and financial level. And no one is really paying attention to this at this time.

It's just like the laws in the US that require power utilities to buy back power from customers who generate more than they need on their own. Great idea. But when more than a trivial number of folks start doing this the power rates will go up for everyone. As it is now the infrastructure costs are buried in the rate for power. Once you start having it flow both ways this way of costing and paying for the "wires" will not work. Either rates will go up or some or everyone will have to pay separately for their access to the grid vs. their usage of the grid.

221:

Well, I see you've come back with some concerns.
However, I do wonder why rescuers would choose to cut through the base of the car, where what passes for a chassis (not to mention drive train) is these days, in order to get to people. Have you much experience of dealing with car accidents?

What exactly is messy about recycling lead acid batteries? Is it messier than making them in the first place?
If its simply a matter of volume, that really is not an issue, just a matter of scaling things up, something that can easily be dealt with by some competent engineers.

On the using car batteries as storage, yes, it'll be a bit complex, but we seem to be doing ok with current generation feed ins and suchlike without crashing the economy or causing hundreds of house fires or lawsuits. So I really can't see what your problem is.
Of course you'd get paid for energy taken from your batteries. If you had researched technology before you started posting, you'd know that many batteries do have lifespands to do with the internal chemistry. Therefore repeated cycling would cause lifespan issues, but it all depends on the usage you are talking about. Moreover, modern lithium batteries don't have much in the way of memory effect issues.

Are you perhaps allergic to the concept of the common good, or merely fed up of it being used as an excuse?

222:

Could be the article I'd read was misinformed. It's hard to find it now :). I did find this:

The aluminum producers found selling the power to California to be more profitable than producing aluminum, sometimes even when the aluminum producers still had to pay wages to idled production workers.

But that doesn't say that they captured the electricity at night and re-sold it at day, which is what I rather distinctly remember reading. I defer to your knowledge.

223:

" Aluminium plants as a result have huge batteries.

"No, no they don't - at least I have never heard of any that have. There's no way of storing those gigawatt-hours; except in, say, a hydroelectric dam.

"The story back then was that Alcoa or whoever it was had simply closed down those aluminium smelters and was selling the power on the "free" market instead.

Yes. It's almost always easier (and thus cheaper) to slow a continuous flow line down than turn it off and store the power in batteries.

On of the gaseous diffusion plants in the US in the 70s retrofitted their lines so they could easily drop their load by a few 100 MW in 2 to 4 hours so during the summers they could "sell" back their normal draw when the utilities asked them for help. Took about a year or so to re-work things and get the controls in place but it made a noticeable dent in their costs for refining the UF6. Prior to this retrofit the original designs really weren't designed to cut the load except over 2 or 3 days. And yes to make sure that didn't happen by accident except in very rare cases they built the plant as a junction point between 3 region grid setups. Which was another way they "made money". They used their switching yards to move power between the various grids during peak demand times.

224:

As far as I know, the alumium producers shut down some plants and sell on the market electricity "pre-bought" according to long term contracts to profit from very high day-to-day market price.
No storage involved.

225:

guthrie @221:

"However, I do wonder why rescuers would choose to cut through the base of the car, where what passes for a chassis (not to mention drive train) is these days, in order to get to people. Have you much experience of dealing with car accidents?"

No me. But a friend recently became a fire fighter and a LOT of their time is spent dealing with things like cutting up cars in ways that you don't cause it to explode or create a worse hazmat situation than already exists. And any time you're using a 24" saw next to powerful energy sources you have to be careful.

"What exactly is messy about recycling lead acid batteries? Is it messier than making them in the first place?"

Yes. Building something is almost always "easier" than tearing it apart.

"If its simply a matter of volume, that really is not an issue, just a matter of scaling things up, something that can easily be dealt with by some competent engineers."

To me this is just a excuse. "some competent engineers" is a mantra for folks to don't want to spend time to find out the real issues and see if things can scale easily. Many low volume ideas take years to scale, if ever.

"On the using car batteries as storage, yes, it'll be a bit complex, but we seem to be doing ok with current generation feed ins and suchlike without crashing the economy or causing hundreds of house fires or lawsuits."

Currently we're operating in an information vacuum. Insurance companies rate risks based on intuition in such cases until we get some decent experience data. And at this point in time we have very little experience data. Especially in the area of house fires with these cars or even fires when these cars are charging or their charge being fed back into the grid.

"So I really can't see what your problem is.
Of course you'd get paid for energy taken from your batteries. If you had researched technology before you started posting, you'd know that many batteries do have lifespands to do with the internal chemistry. Therefore repeated cycling would cause lifespan issues, but it all depends on the usage you are talking about."

Yes I do know this. My point is that currently people keep talking about power as if it's the only variable in the equation. If makes a big difference to the economics of all of this if a typical storage arrangement makes a 6 year battery (based on your driving habbits) into a 5 year battery or a 3 year battery or a 5.9 year battery.

"Moreover, modern lithium batteries don't have much in the way of memory effect issues."

They still wear out. And this is a usage that isn't designed into the design of the batteries today so how expensive will it be to make them work for this. And maybe not much but then again maybe a lot. Again, if something breaks who pays for the repair? A detail to be worked out but still a detail to be worked out. One of many.

"Are you perhaps allergic to the concept of the common good, or merely fed up of it being used as an excuse?"

The common good is a great idea. But when it comes to individuals and their wallets the common good tends to come in second place. And dictating the common good without public buy in is a fast track to losing the next election.

My basic problem with these ideas isn't that they may or may not be worth considering. It's that they never seem to be put forward with pluses and minuses. Just pluses.

226:

Greg. @ 197
"NO
""The final numbers may match or exceed the H and N numbers from WWII. Or even much worse. "

"WRONG.
"Might easily be worse than the Gret Kanto Earthquake though.
H: 90-140k people
N: at least 74k people

When a city of 17,000 people is leveled under 20' of water with less than 30 minutes warning it all depends on how many of these cities there are. And if there are more than one or two losses could easily get to over 100,000.

The videos we see on TV show a lot of water smashing buildings with lots of cars in the parking lots. People in these buildings are likely gone. The question is how many such buildings like this were there.

But I have no idea of the population density of the area and how close to the ocean these populations were.

227:

Nice review of death by energy source:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html

228:

Well, I completely disagree with your opinion regarding the cutting up of crashed vehicles, since the rescuers already spend time working out how to avoid issues with broken batteries and leaking fuel, so they need to continue training for new types of vehicles.
Your next weird argument seems to ignore the simple facts of battery recycling, which doesnt appear to me to be any more complex than manufacturing them in the first place:
http://www.batterycouncil.org/LeadAcidBatteries/BatteryRecycling/tabid/71/Default.aspx

Your crack about competent engineers is pretty silly as well, given how well current lead acid battery recycling seems to be working. Not to mention the general increase in recycling of all materials across the entire country.

The potential hazard issues of using cars like grid storage methods might be something, but you havn't actually put forwards any evidence to support your opinion on the matter.

The only thing I agree about is that it is indeed nicer to get ideas worked out with pros and cons.

229:

Rescue services worry about leaking fuel in vehicle accidents but they have equipment to deal with it, they train to avoid setting it alight and they have fire extinguishers and foam to hand.

With battery electric vehicles they have to worry about wiring carrying 400 volts, perhaps shorted to the bodywork in the accident while they apply the Jaws of Life to a chassis member to cut someone free. Theoretically the battery pack makers have included accelerometer-tripped breakers that will disable the pack in a serious shunt but it's by no means certain that they will work properly or at all -- and there will be no visible indication or smell of petrol to warn the rescuers that the tin box they are cutting into is about to kill them.

230:

"TEPCO's handling of the event is not filling me with confidence right now."

Hubris meet Murphy's Law.

The events seem to be unfolding a larger problem than the calmer experts were suggesting. When this is all over, no doubt new lessons will have been learned at new cost. At that point both Japan, and teh wider community, will need to re-evaluate the benefits and risks. While those risks seem rather abstract for most of us, they are all too real for those currently near the damaged reactors and potentially those near the reactors in the future.

I certainly hope that this event stimulates more research on fail-safe reactors and their eventual adoption if economically viable.

231:

Not sure I can see where Greg is coming from poster @197 says "may exceed H & N or much worse", Greg say no, but could be worse than Great Kanto and links to an article that says GK was 100k to 140k, which is certainly in the H & N league.

232:

"Here's a hint: you're asking for batteries that can store hundreds of gigawatt hours of power and turn on a dime from charging to discharging."

I live in Norway, and I have a strong impression that our power supply is to a very large extent such a giant battery.
Over 90% of Norway's power is from hydroelectric sources, our energy consumption is in the thousands of gigawatt-hours per year, and the precipitation providing that is unevenly distributed over the year, meaning that the storage mechanisms for that much power are already in place. What I know about the dams indicates that they can at least be turned off with the flick of a switch, and that they have pumps for recharging. With this in mind, ensuring that the two can be combined to not only turn off on a dime, but also recharge on a dime really does seem to be an engineering issue.

233:

I hope you'll forgive me for saying this, but Norway's geography isn't easily transported to other parts of the world.

(Similar pumped hydro stores exist elsewhere -- Dinorweg in Wales is one such site, as I noted in an earlier comment -- but to make it work you need a very special type of terrain, which Norway just happens to have lots of.)

234:

Aluminium smelters are such regular uses of electricity that, in NZ at least, they operate under 'take or pay' rules. They guarantee to the electricity producers that they'll always be using power and for that they get a very low price per megaWatt.

NZ has a grand total of one smelter that uses 10% of our entire electricity production and justified the building of our big hydro plants.

Smelters don't store energy, however they can theoretically use a neat accounting trick to sell power back to the grid when grid supply is limited. Because they've pre-bought a chunk of production, if they're not using then they can sell chunks of non-use back to producers when producers are nearing their limits of power. No batteries needed, just good accountants.

Anyway, this disaster is going to kill people but mostly through increasing coal mining and making it harder to deal with climate change. People here seem particularly resistant to renewables, but frankly, NZ got to 90% renewables well before anyone was concerned about climate change - it was just cheaper to go hard out on hydro and geothermal. Now, we're looking at hydro, geothermal, wind, and solar water heating, with solar electric coming on strong and wave and tidal power heading over the horizon.

Yes, any particular renewable source won't run full time. So what? We already take a portfolio approach to variability. Hydro varies by rainfall, so monthly; solar by day; wind by hour. All can be used to fill in for each other, within limits. Deliberate pumped-storage hydro is already used to cover peaks; leaving water in hydro lakes can cover reduced generation from other sources for hours, weeks, or even months, depending on how big your lakes are. And for the worst-case scenario, you keep some gas peaking plants kicking about, expecting to run them a few days per year.

Loads vary too, all this talk of needing baseload power is misleading. You want a range of energy sources that can follow a varying load. Indeed, the UK coal & nuke plants take so long to turn on or off that the UK pushed night-storage heaters to increase the night-time load and level out the demand to fit with inflexible generators. We already manage variable supply and variable load, it's no big deal.

Add to that a European-wide HVDC grid (with efficiencies as high as 97% per 1000 kms) and you've got a renewable energy system that can happily deliver as much power as you want. Norway's hydro can be easily transported to wherever the demand is. Hell, Iceland's planning on exporting their geothermal power. And if it's still, cold, and cloudy in the UK, it's probably sunny in Morocco and blowing a gale in Portugal.

235:

Right, the ingredients are prominence (height above surrounding topology), proximity to a power source, and water.

Out of curiosity, noodling around I find Cross Fell in Cumbria, with 650 meters of prominence... And soft enough rock that one could drill an underground pipe system and dig out a cistern at the top and then rebury it without too much visible surface disruption (and to avoid freezing the cistern). Anyone looked at that for a pumped hydrostorage unit in the UK? It seems like a good candidate.

236:

Re: Total deaths exceeding Nagasaki.
If you count all of the old people who will die from the cold, desease from lack of sanitation, etc., yeah it looks plausible.

237:

Jez writes:
Loads vary too, all this talk of needing baseload power is misleading. You want a range of energy sources that can follow a varying load

Baseload is important, because it's the minimum average required power you need to be producing, and therefore the power you have to have either from timeshift / storage mechanisms, or constant-on (if potentially variable output) sources.

There are plenty of naive folks who suggest that wind+solar is "good enough" and ignore that real results with that are that you can't make baseload and drop the grid in overnight wind lull situations.

The more sources you have with more controlled variable output, the better, yes. But you have to look at what that costs you.

Gas turbine plants? Not so much cost, they're pretty clean and efficient and can spool up and down at the drop of a hat.

Wind? Out of your control, totally, and randomly.

Hydro? If you've got it, highly variable and without any cycle issues on less than months timeframe.

Pumped hydro? If you have geographical prominence nearby, great. If not? Not so great.

Solar? Out of your control, in both the cloud cover and daily insolation factors, though at least the sun's path is predictable.

Nuclear and coal? Depends on the plant.

238:

I'd completely agree that wind + solar can't do the job alone. Still, just to take the UK as an example, there's hydro in Norway, hydro & geothermal in Iceland, and the whole of the rest of Europe's generation just a short cable away. It's a question of diversity and a modern long-distance grid gets you access to a hell of a lot of different sources which will be available at different times.

You've also got the option of demand management. If you're running a cold store, you don't need power 24/7, you just need enough during the day to keep your stored goods under a given temperature. Similarly for charging electric cars. You really don't want everyone to get home at 6, plug in the car to charge, along with the TV, oven and the rest of the house. You want to have chargers that are smart enough to spread that load out to when power is available.

So the answer isn't solar + wind. The answer is a whole host of different renewables, plus a smart and efficient grid, plus smart demand management.

Even then, getting 100% generation from renewables will be expensive. However, we're far from that situation. The UK manages 10% generation from renewables, Germany 14%, and the US 11%. Getting to 100% will be pricey, but getting to 50% or 75% looks eminently feasible for most nations.

239:

If there is a fail-safe large scale (i.e. not nuclear battery type) nuclear fission reactor in operation today I would really like to see where this miraculous thing is located and even more interestingly check out it's incident reports. I think a system that requires permanent surveillance and maintenance to not fail catastrophically is ill advised. No matter how redundant you build your security systems, and high redundancies are mutually exclusive with viable operating costs and cutting corners is not unheard of in commercial operations (let's not talk Gulf of Mexico here, OK?) whatever the potential consequences I consider it plainly insane to operate such systems in proximity to any kind of population center. Insane, but currently without alternatives. All the more reason to pump a huge amount of money, not just a measly couple of billion Euros or $, into researching fail-safe options, be they fission or fusion devices.

On an even more disquieting notion, several posts quoted the Geneva Convention:
Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes[1] and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives

And precisely these broad terms make it unworkable. By this definition attacking a nuclear weapons installation, be it a production or launch facility can easily be construed as a war crime. We all know that e.g. Europeans aren't very effective at projecting threat themselves, but I think we can rest assured that when (not if) a sufficiently powerful nation like the French or even the wussie Germans, the latter even now maintaining they don't have nuclear weapons (right!) feel sufficiently threatened, which could well mean just one nuclear warhead in a nation like Iran accidentally wobbling in their direction they'll turn the pertinent locations into a bunch of parking lots.

Fortunately this hypothesis of mine hasn't been put to the test so far, but with the rate of nuclear and chemical weapons proliferation we see today it's only a question of time. And when the dam begins to show cracks with the first exception the entire article rapidly degenerates from nearly to totally worthless.

[1] I must admit that I don't consider dykes especially dangerous forces, but then this was written in 1977.

240:

Jez writes:
Even then, getting 100% generation from renewables will be expensive. However, we're far from that situation. The UK manages 10% generation from renewables, Germany 14%, and the US 11%. Getting to 100% will be pricey, but getting to 50% or 75% looks eminently feasible for most nations.

The US gets 6% of its renewables from hydropower; utilization of the total hydro flow is only about 30% but a lot of that is on rivers that aren't conveniently dammable. What's easy to dam is largely already dammed.

US great plains wind and offshore wind are the most likely growth markets as far as I can see. We're just getting into offshore, and the great plains are far enough from energy consumers that grid capacity implications are in the way there (part of the reason T. Boone Pickens' texas wind plans stalled was lack of transmission line capacity to use the power effectively). Those are overcomeable but take time.

For Solar... California, Nevada, and Arizona deserts are close enough to LA that transmission line issues are more manageable, but have still stalled some projects. I'm not sure about eastern seaboard transmission grids and solar power in Florida or elsewhere in the south.

241:

...to make it work you need a very special type of terrain, which Norway just happens to have lots of.

That's why Slartibartfast got an award for those fjords.

242:

Iceland is out of the question as a power supplier for Europe: there's something like a thousand miles of Atlantic Ocean in the way. You can use it for substitutable power-dependent goods (ship in bauxite, ship out aluminium), but short of using geothermal power to drive Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of methane and then ship it as LNG, it's not practical to hook Iceland up to the international grid.

Nor is the rest of Europe's power a "short cable away", unless you consider distances of up to a thousand miles to be "short" in grid terms.

Part of the problem is that this stuff is soluble, but as you say, it's pricey. So. Who's going to pay, and why? Answers on the back of a postcard, please.

244:

"Answers on the back of a postcard, please."

Here you go: HVDC lines loose relatively little power over a few thousand miles.

CU, Herald

245:

Another idle thought. How many golf courses/football/soccer/cricket/rugby/athletic/... fields are there in Australia (or England, or wherever)? If you dug them up and installed underground flywheels (reinstating the fields afterwards, naturally), what sort of energy could they store? Yeah, it's not going to be cheap, I get that; I'm thinking more of the physical practicality of it. Build them out of carbon fibre, so you get massive rotational speed (energy stored is proportional to the square of the rotational speed, but only linear to the weight of the wheel); if you're going to be building thousands of the things, you'll get some savings from the large buildup...

By putting them underground, the issues from destruction of the flywheel whilst it's in operation are significantly lower (especially if they're not under tall buildings, hence why I'm thinking sporting grounds, where you already have lots of open space, making it easy to retrofit them.)

Disclaimer: Just some thoughts. I'm a computer geek, not an engineer; always happy to be shown where I'm wrong in my thinking. I'm thinking flywheels because they're inherently less subject to the degradation that chemical batteries go through, and not reliant on a supply of water like pumped hydro (a huge concern in Australia, not so much in most other countries.)

246:

Charlie @243: "Dykes are a matter of life and death. Seriously."

I wasn't referring to the same kind of dykes you did. Should have put a smiley next to it.

247:

Germans, the latter even now maintaining they don't have nuclear weapons (right

The Germans have nuclear weapons?

248:

From the french nuclear regulatory agency:
"We are now in a situation that is different from yesterday's. It is very clear that we are at a level six, which is an intermediate level between what happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. We are clearly in a catastrophe" -- ASN President Andre-Claude Lacoste 3/15

Send that to your technocrat friends who are passing around various links that say "things are under control". This is an ongoing problem, there is a huge amount of uncertainty, and we do not yet know if the situation is improving or degrading.

There is a strange technocrat love for nuclear power, and the loads of people being completely idiotic and chicken-little about nuclear power makes the technocrat love for it even stronger. The fairest source I've seen on this catastrophe is from the Union of Concerned Scientists at http://allthingsnuclear.org/ and http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_risk/safety/japan-nuclear-crisis-briefings.html .

Some further info:

Re: "Deaths are a good way to measure danger"

Deaths matter, but person-years lost is a better measure. Economic impacts are often even a bigger deal depending on size (give me a million dollars and i can save 100-500 lives). Nuclear power plant catastrophes can result in cities being unlivable for generations. If there is a containment breach it is likely that the 100k people currently evacuated will never be able to return to their homes. For size imagine the entire city of Bath becoming a fenced-off toxic area.


Re: "it was human error"

There's always some human errors, but if they had left the plant on its own, clearly the outcome would have been worse; almost certainly there would be full meltdown and high probability of containment breach. Human intervention was absolutely required because automated failsafes failed.


Re: "How does france have a successful nuclear industry"

Massive government subsidies.

Nuclear power plants are virtually all government subsidized works, as they require a huge fixed cost, large operational cost, and have huge insurance costs (usually insured by govt/taxpayers). Unlike fossil fuels the fuel is the cheap part, so you don't save as much by running at lower capacities.


Re: "Nuclear power as alternative energy"

Nuclear power is mainstream, generating 15% of the world's electricity.


Re: "thorium/neutrons/pebble bed/submarine reactors/magic pixie dust/unicorns are the solution! It'll solve all of these safety concerns"

There are millions of ways to generate electricity, but only a small handful are economically viable. It's great to research all of these technologies but if you don't know how much they cost, you may as well talk about generating a city's worth of power from sticking piezos on everyone's feet. Cost is critical! Again, see the UCS url. Most of these technologies and other safety measures increase cost.


Re: "electric cars will be dangerous to rescue workers"

Well, we already have millions of priuses out there, so let's look at actual data. How many rescue workers have been hurt by high voltage from these cars? It's simply has not been a problem. Electricity is dangerous and so is gas; rescue workers know how to deal with these dangers.


Re: "we need better storage tech to make solar viable!"

Not now. If you make power during the day, you're already making it during the highest usage time when the electricity is most valuable. If solar grows by an order of magnitude in the future then it may become more of an issue.

Smart grids (smart is a bit of a misnomer, it's really a very primitive form of smart) plus lots of electric cars would provide an ideal way of evening out load and making use of electricity that is wasted today.

249:

The Germans have nuclear weapons?

No, I don't think they currently have operational nuclear weapons.

But do you honestly think they don't have everything they need to assemble a couple of hundred at a few hours notice if they ever wanted to? Wouldn't that sound a little naive?

250:

Iceland's largest electricity producer is having a serious look at putting in a cable to the UK.

Thing is, all the options are pricey. Building Dinorwig was pricey, UKP 400 million or so. Building plenty of nukes is pricey. Making those nukes safe is pricey. Insuring those nukes is pricey. Decommissioning those nukes is pricey. Building transmission grids is also pricey.

I've written enough reports on generation options to conclude that comparing prices in a fair and honest manner is a task to try the patience of saints. I'm not convinced that anyone can say, hand on heart, that nukes are the cheapest option, or renewables. There's simply too many undecidable factors.

However, price isn't the only factor, and arguably it's not the main factor. Cheapest for Europe would be to just to keep buying gas from the Russians, but Europe's not so keen on being bent over a barrel by the Russians. Similarly, building a large number of nuke stations of the same design puts you over a barrel to whichever company makes those nukes. Continuing with burning coal will kill miners and indirectly kill people through screwing up the climate. Its a case of what we want to pay for and what vulnerabilities we're willing to accept, at a society level.

Personally, I'd be happier with nukes if:
a) We were certain that, for every reactor, you could press the off button and walk away, knowing that the damn thing would be off.
b) We had a nuclear industry that we could trust about safety.
c) We had a nuclear industry that we could trust about costs.

Sadly, achieving option (a) looks easier than options (b) or (c).

251:

The US is reported to have 10-20 nuclear bombs at an airbase in Germany.

As for the Germans being able to rapidly assemble a bomb - no. That would require them to have stocks of weapon-grade uranium or plutonium kicking around. Why bother, when they're under the US nuclear umbrella?

252:

Erald wrote:
Germans, the latter even now maintaining they don't have nuclear weapons (right

Total responded:
The Germans have nuclear weapons?

Germany is #2 on the potential proliferators list from a technology base point of view; large, active nuclear research and industry program, fissile materials production capability, large industrial nuclear power base, etc.

Japan is #1 on that list, for reference.

That list is based purely on technical capability.

Japan has had a persistent extremist right wing fringe that advocated wider militarization and potentially nuclear weapons; the bulk of the country has a strong negative reaction to that in large part due to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Both Japan and Germany have military explosives research of the types needed to be able to build implosion weapons if they so chose; roughly, anyone doing advanced shaped charges / EFP charges has enough capability to do implosion nukes. Either could build a uranium gun-type weapon in a matter of days to weeks in an emergency.

Iran's robust but smaller program, somewhat limited by lack of free and open interchange of technology with the rest of the world due to lack of transparency and cooperation with the IAEA, is fairly high up the list. Sweden and Switzerland are also there. South Africa went all the way to bombs but disassembled back a long ways.

253:

Jez @ 250:
Yeah, well, because they've had their own H-bomb capability since the mid 1970s?
Did you ever in actual life meet a German? No matter how perfect and insurmountable your technology is they will never accept that they can't do better. It's a serious (national?) character flaw. And why on earth would you think that control freaks like the Germans wouldn't have enough know-how and fissile materials just accidentially lying around to build (if they wanted to) a larger nuclear arsenal than all of their European allies combined at any time?

254:

Uh ... because the place wasn't sovereign until 1990, has one of the most open governments on the planet, has a press and several political parties that would love to discover this material, still doesn't really have an independent military establishment, has a civilian nuclear program (also chock full of people who would benefit from exposing secret reserves of weapons-grade material), enjoys a very free press, and ... well ... other than that I got nothing.

255:

Having the industrial capability to build one is very far from building one. It's not just a case of having random fissile material around, bomb-grade stuff requires very particular enrichment and purification, with the large and obvious facilities that could do this subject to thorough reporting and inspection. If you seriously believe that the German nuclear industry has secretly produced enough bomb-grade material to make bombs, then you're getting into tin-foil hat territory (and thoroughly off Charlie's original topic).

256:

"c) We had a nuclear industry that we could trust about costs."

Back in the 80s I read a series of articles about on going sabotage at a nuclear plant under construction. Nothing design to make the plant fail. But rather a make work project for the construction force.

When building a nuke plant everything has to be inspected, tested, and certified. With lots of paperwork and tags and such. Charlie mentioned this issue on the plant he toured a while back.

Anyway what would typically happen is something like this. Say there's be a piping section with a pressure gauge on it. After certification it might have the glass bezel broken a week or month later. Oops. Which generated a huge amount of time related to tear down, replacement, checking for other damage, certifying the gauge and all related systems, etc... At the time I thought while this might be true to a limited degree (I was more innocent back then) I figured the report was exaggerating to better sell the story. The story indicated this was almost routine.

Then within a year I was sitting on a plane next to a guy who's job was to deal with this issue and figure out ways to convince folks to stop this and take pride in their work. I then realized he was the naive one.

It was these incidents which could easily cause huge overruns in the labor costs and time costs of building these plants. This is one of the major turning points of my opinions about unions. Even though not all members of the work crews were doing this it was still being tolerated by the members and their leaders. And it did take 1 to 2 year jobs and turn them into 3 to 5 year jobs.

Of course this might be more a US issue due to our labor issues and history. Other parts of the world may be different but I'll defer to others on the national character of their unions. :)

257:

Flywheels

The best way to find out about the hazards of these is to talk to folks who were grad students in the 50s through the 70s when these were used to ensure lab projects that had to run for days didn't loose power. (Now everyone just uses a UPS from Best Buy.) After a few, ah, interesting accidents in labs around the country some expertise was developed in how to do it "right".

Basically they had to put them into bunkers of steel and concrete. Fairly thick ones. After a few places had large chunks of steel/lead/iron fly though walls (interior and exterior) the engineers were called in and pointed out the kinetic energy levels for flywheels designed for systems putting out just 10 amps or so and rules got established.

Anyway, a flywheel big enough to be covered by an athletic field might be very stable but like a nuke plant have a very very very severe failure mode. Like taking out a few blocks and many of the people in the area. Also burying them gets you into issue of water table depths and the need to continuously pump large amounts of water 23/7.

258:

I can't comment on that, but here's a simple question for you all - what discount rate should you use when planning for decommissioning costs?

Whenever you're building a nuke plant, at some point in the future it will be worn out and only good for throwing away. This will cost a fair chunk of cash, 30-50 years in the future. We don't know how social values will have changed by then, so we don't know how much cleaning up we will have to do, nor do we know what technology those future people will have for cleaning up the site, so we don't know how much the clean-up will cost. But let's ignore that and say it costs $1 billion.

So, we have a bill of $1 billion coming 40 years in the future. What's the value now? That depends on the discount rate, and choosing a discount rate is a pretty arbitrary choice. You can make arguments for anything from zero to 10% per year, putting the current cost of future decommissioning at anything between $10 million and $1 billion.

It's arguments over those kinds of assumptions that are part of the reason why assessing the cost of nuclear power (or any other capital-intensive plant) is tricky.

(Here's the UK's Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on the nuclear option for the UK, worth a read.)

259:

Some thoughts on many of the posts here. Especially by people who've never bumped into the areas of power generation and distribution and/or building construction and/or a lot of other fields in a hands on way.

If you're for something new then it only takes a little engineering to make it work. Human nature and our propensity to break the unbreakable doesn't count.

If you're against something then the engineering, safety, and political issues are insurmountable.

But I'm just a wet blanket so ignore me.

Very pro nuke in theory. Pro renewable in theory. Just don't wave a magic wand over the details of any of it that don't fit your ideal plan.

260:

I can't comment on that, but here's a simple question for you all - what discount rate should you use when planning for decommissioning costs?

Whenever you're building a nuke plant, at some point in the future it will be worn out and only good for throwing away. This will cost a fair chunk of cash, 30-50 years in the future. We don't know how social values will have changed by then, so we don't know how much cleaning up we will have to do, nor do we know what technology those future people will have for cleaning up the site, so we don't know how much the clean-up will cost. But let's ignore that and say it costs $1 billion.

So, we have a bill of $1 billion coming 40 years in the future. What's the value now? That depends on the discount rate, and choosing a discount rate is a pretty arbitrary choice. You can make arguments for anything from zero to 10% per year, putting the current cost of future decommissioning at anything between $10 million and $1 billion.

It's arguments over those kinds of assumptions that are part of the reason why assessing the cost of nuclear power (or any other capital-intensive plant) is tricky.

(Here's the UK's Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on the nuclear option for the UK, worth a read.)

261:
take what you've got, learn from experience, and build something better.

No, no, much too rational an attitude. It'll never catch on.

262:

As much as I love NZ, it's only 75% renewable:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_New_Zealand#Generation

263:

Nuclear-armed states
US
Russia
Britain
France
Israel
China
India
Pakistan
The last is the scary one.....

States that have the capability, but don't want to:
Germany, Italy, Sweden, S. Africa, Japan, Australia ...

States that are trying, and of whom people should be scared:
N. Korea
Iran

Now, stop talking complete horsehit about Germany - OK?

264:

Let me also add, there's more to a nuclear weapon, much less a credible deterrent, than a device which goes bang and makes a mushroom cloud. For one thing, it needs to be weaponized -- made soldier-proof (i.e. storable and deployable by, in the worst case, trained monkeys because the trained human professionals have all been killed), integrated with a delivery system (artillery shell, rocket payload, free-fall bomb) with detonation control, the delivery system integrated with a launch system (the jets to carry the bombs, the artillery brigade to carry the nuclear shells, the silos or submarines to carry the rockets) and then a command and control system.

Germany and Japan have the capability to do all that, if they wanted to -- but it would cost billions, require thousands of bodies to be working on the project, and take a minimum of a few months to basic capability (a handful of air-dropped bombs strapped to F-16s) and a few years to advanced capability (the equivalent of a first generation Polaris SSBN and missiles).

On the other hand, the basics aren't magic -- they were advanced physics in the 1940s, but today just about every developed nation with a population over 10 million (and some that are smaller) could do it. Consider Italy, for example. Their space agency has the Vega launcher -- a three stage solid fuelled light satellite launcher, which is to say, not too far from what you'd want to stick in a silo and rebadge as an ICBM. And they have/had a nuclear power infrastructure (phased out/planned for reintroduction/who knows what in the wake of Fukushima). Italy as a nuclear weapons power with ICBMs? Not implausible.

265:

erald@253

>Did you ever in actual life meet a German? No matter >how perfect and insurmountable your technology is they >will never accept that they can't do better. It's a >serious (national?) character flaw. And why on earth >would you think that control freaks like the Germans

So did _you_ actually ever meet a German in real life ?
I don't think so.

266:

Both the aluminium smelters in Western Scotland have associated (conventional, not pump storage) hydro schemes, commissioned by the companies that built the smelters, not by a power utility.

267:

I don't know about Jez, but I've met several Germans in real life, and, since I was meeting them in real life, neither of us was going around picking fights with the other about "who can develop the better technology faster"! ;-)

268:

Pumped storage facilities have their little difficulties also, the Taum Sauk reservoir scoured out Johnson's Shut ins State park here in Missouri 6 years ago.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taum_Sauk_pumped_storage_plant
I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep if another nuclear power plant was built around here.

269:

Err, are you sure that you are not the living proof parallel universes exist and are able to interact physically with us? At the very least, you seem to have met different Germans than me, and I am a German[1]; hint, engineers abroad are NOT a representativ sample of the German population.

Most Germans I know go kicking and screaming up the tree when you mention anything nuclear, and the media coverage of the reactor crisis got me to 500 mD[2].

And Germany's scientific aptitude leaves, well, something to be desired, which was reason for some hassle recently when tests showed what anybody who's no brain-dead pseudo-leftist pseudo-intellectual or wanking conservative had been suspecting for some time...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programme_for_International_Student_Assessment

That being said, there are some indications that when Germany started its nuclear program in the 1950s, the energy industry was less than enthusiastic, and it was politics, namely F. J. Strauß, that insisted on using them:

http://www.zeit.de/2010/40/Atomenergie-Stromkonzerne?page=all

(sorry, in German, and please note the 'Zeit' might be more critical about nuclear technology than some other papers, but of course less than e.g. the taz.)

Well, besides calling Otto Hahn "an old idiot that can't hold his tears and is unable to sleep at night when he thinks about Hiroshima", Strauß had some plans for nuclear armament of the Bundeswehr, which was one of the starting points of our beloved (cough) Greens...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6ttingen_Eighteen

If there was any further semiofficial research into this is up to debate, there are some rumours, but the main thing we learned in the last few days (or years), it's:

1.) of coure, the media always checks its facts and knows what it is talking about.
2.) the anti-nuclear protesters and the Greens (cough) are to be trusted and foster a rational discussion of facts without any scaremongering.
(3.) the Greens (cough) are to be trusted and won't turn in their ideals for personal or ideological gains; so much for "but they would have told us, wouldn't they?". And of course the average German knows his history (cough)[3].)

And I think I better stop here, because I'm at work and crossing 900 mD is bad habit.

[1] Well, at least in part; nurturing those old monkey group identity instincts with the guys that invented the cryptographic bomb is quite salient, pleasuring and of course totally irrational.

[2] D, short for Distelmeyer, Jochen, singer of the band Blumfeld. One D is the self-absorbed, depressed feeling epitomized by a standard Blumfeld song (which one is up to debate, I haven't decided that yet.).

[3] "No, Rudi Dutschke was not the founder of the RAF."

270:

*sheepish*

Yeah. I sorta realised that about 20 comments further in, but at the time I was too busy explaining How I'd Run The World to reload the page. My bad, combined with an actual level of engineering knowledge which is in the extremely low numbers, if not the negatives.

Clearly this needs a bit more work and thinking.

271:

The only German I know well enough to tell spends a great deal of her time on demonstrations with the intent that there should be less, not more nuclear weapons. She's presumably well-known to the guardians of various Scottish fences. She's not very technical. (But she does believe she can "improve" any meal being cooked, if you count that as German technical arrogance).

re:Cross Fell, pumped storage: Apart from the extreme cost and probable inadequacy of capacity, any plan of that kind would run into the nimbys from Hell. Although one un-named British government bod described the stunning Wasdale valley as looking like a spoil heap, most people are over-protective of the Lake District. It's practically impossible to build an outside toilet in the area, let alone a chain of Dinorwigs - even though unlike the Welsh we don't have to worry about flocks of wild Perygl... Even if you do promise to put all the turf back afterwards.

272:

Most of which issues would be easily dealt with by huilding on rock, as in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruachan_Dam

273:

Greg @263 et al:

To identify the nuclear weapons nations you have to go further than look at disclosed or open secret countries.

When I mentioned Germany as one of the nations that I believe to have nuclear weapons capability not only in theory I picked them for a number of reasons:

1. They are quite disingenuous about hiding it. A large part of the hardware the Iranians use to build their devices is made in Germany. Mind you, this is not the German people selling the stuff, but greedy multinational corporations that sell products made there. The setup suggests experience, however.
2. They have a large enough nuclear industry to produce sufficient quantities of weapons grade plutonium as a by-product over a few decades, no necessity for obvious coordinated effort or dedicated installations.
3. They are not to gain from disclosure of their NW capabilities. Quite the opposite is true: Popular sentiment, Anti Proliferation Treaty, foreign relations considerations all suggest to keep this buried as deeply as possible (i.e. at the civil service or military middle management level).
4. It's very unlikely any person of quality positively knows about this. Which makes it a very good up-their-sleeve joker for the people that really run the country.

There you have it: All necessary components sitting on shelves and at nuclear disposal sites, several working and tested designs (disclosed by friendly nations, bought e.g. from former USSR persons with clearance or stolen), engineering and manufacturing capabilities to knock the things together in a few hours to

That would make a lot more countries to consider, and I think some of the reasoning above applies for any of them.
Germany, Italy, Sweden, S. Africa, Japan, Australia ...
Yes, to start with and including "..." . And then some.

I intended to write my doctoral thesis on the separation of knowledge about facts and theoretical decision making to avoid culpability and strategies to mitigate the effects of these setups. My outline got flatly dismissed as absurdly theoretical on the grounds that such constructs do not exist in reality, so maybe I am solidly in tinfoil-hat territory here, too.

274:

It's very unlikely any person of quality positively knows about this. Which makes it a very good up-their-sleeve joker for the people that really run the country.

I think you're firmly into tinfoil hat territory if you believe that. All it would take is one whistle-blower over a 30 year period and the secret is out. That's one whistle-blower in a country that traditionally had a deep enough ideological split (think Cold War) and internal opposition to support an insurgency in the late 60s and early 70s, which also has conscription (and enough dissidents to need a mechanism to allow conscientious objectors in large numbers to do something non-military ...), and which exists in the shadow of a hideous object lesson about the evils of militarism.

Have you ever even visited Germany?

275:
I think you're firmly into tinfoil hat territory if you believe that. All it would take is one whistle-blower over a 30 year period and the secret is out.

[ironic paranoia rant]Not really; the German anti-nuclear movement has done such a thorough job on the level of discussion that any whistleblower could easily be silenced by calling him a hippie eco whacko...[/ironic paranoia rant]

That being said, it MIGHT be possible some German politicians thought about gaining German nuclear weapons after the 50s or even implemented some of those ideas(FJS was big pals with South African politicians, mind you, and he endorsed the reprocessing plant in Wackersdorf, though there no real proofs and, well, this guy is kind of a hate figure or saviour for many), but then, there have been no further indications of large-scale efforts into this directions. I won't deny the remote possibilitiy, especially given that some of our politicians from the days of the cold war have clearly succumbed to the braineater nowadays, questioning the sanity of their former efforts...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/1508966/Germany-needs-a-nuclear-arsenal-of-its-own.html

But any real short term capabilities, well, clearly tin-foil hat territory, see the reactions to Scholl's idea and the protests against the WAA for what would happen in real life...

276:

Didn't West Germany have command authority over US nuclear weapons under NATO doctrine? Tactical weapons rather than second-strike ICBMs, true.

# We've got the missiles, peace to determine,
# And one of the fingers on the button will be German...

277:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1aH2-MhEko

A Nuclear Reactor Explained by Poop and Farts: Nuclear Reactor Boy's Tummy-Ache


This tries to explain the situation at the Fukushima Nuclear Reactors in Japan following the 11/3/11 Earthquake/Tsunami in the Tohoku Region and hopefully combat sensationalist/fear-mongerin

278:

I generally find that a belief in the ability of large organisations to keep large complex inversely correlates with how long (if at all) an individual has spent working in a large organisation...

279:

Sigh - large complex SECRETS I meant. Must proof read posts better

280:

I remember at least two occasions where the German media coverage of Fukushima quoted French sources (French Nuclear Power Administration or the like) to underline that the German view on Fukushima - that what happens there is catastrophic - isn't blind panic-mongering. One of these occasions was the following:

19.45 Wettlauf mit der Zeit: Sollte es in den nächsten 48 Stunden nicht gelingen, das Wasserniveau im Abklingbecken von Reaktor 4 zu heben, so warnt das französische Institut für Atomsicherheit IRSN, dann drohe ein “sehr bedeutender” Austritt von Radioaktivität. Die Brennstäbe würden sich dann selbst entzünden, jeder weitere Einsatz an der Anlage sei dann unmöglich. (kg)

(To paraphrase: national French institute for nuclear security warns of dire consequences if the reactor 4 pool isn't filled up with water in the next 48 hours).

Also, the German media is self-reflective about the special German view on technology ... cf. http://blog.zeit.de/newsblog/2011/03/17/tag-7-nach-dem-beben/ 15:28 entry - a comparison of Google frequencies.

281:

That's right, problem is, the belief in the ability of select politicians (or managers, or...) to hold opinions contrary to reality and/or reason and act batshit whacko according to these correlates directly with how long an individual has spent working in a large organisation or had the questionable pleasure of watching one in action. Which, speaking as a German, doubles if said politician (or manager, or...) is Bavarian. SCNR.

283:

I expect somewhere in the German military bureaucracy there's a bulging filing cabinet full of "what-if" studies with titles such as "What if we urgently need a nuclear bomb within 24 months? A modest proposal" drafted by under-achieving junior officers and enthusiasts.

There may also be more formal plan, thoroughly secret, left over from the 1950s and 1960s. Certainly Canada had such a project during the 1960s.

And it's possible that in the past some senior politicians pushed for the reprocessing plant and reactor infrastructure because they thought they might need something in the future, and wanted a foundation to build on.

But an actual no-shit German nuclear weapons program in being? Not terribly likely, and that's my reading of what erald was talking about.

284:

Not sure, and I think it may depend on what you mean by "command authority". I can see the German military wanting veto power to prevent inappropriate use of US battlefield nukes on their territory during a Soviet invasion, but that's a very different set-up from them being active launch authority.

285:

Erm, well, the US had an interesting event where ACM cruise missiles were sent to another post with the nuclear weapons on. The weapons were to have been taken off before flight, and nobody noticed they were missing for 36 hours. Something similar happened with accidentally shipping ICBMs to Taiwan.

If trained humans can't do it, I don't know if trained monkeys can.

286:
Also, the German media is self-reflective about the special German view on technology ... cf.

You are right here, but then, the 'Zeit' is a special case, in the British situation, I'd compare it to the Guardian.

Using my usual working with TV in the background approach, most of the news is tuned in to likening the efforts of the 50 or so technicians to a kamikaze action, nevermind interupting work because the radiation levels are too high doesn't imply the disposible body approach, seems they just can't forgo those sexy racism.

That's not to say watching TV the last few days hasn't been informative; you don't hear a former Japan correspondent saying he can't say what the Japanese are thinking because he has no Japanese friends in Japan that often... *g*

287:

@Trottelreiner: In regard to "all Germans are engineers" and the following debate (above), as a German (and a Green ...), I do think that's true in a way.

There is this "clean perfectionism technocratic engineer" stereotype - and there is, maybe because that stereotype exists and is rooted somehow in reality, a relatively violently counter-movement. Not only now or in the 1970s, but going back to, at least, the 1880s.

Maybe the strong polarisation between "our perfect technology will solve all problems" (in market-oriented or socialist flavours, pick what you like most) and "technology is destroying our mythical romantic nature" (in conservative flavours until the 1900s, when leftist/anarchist reform movements started to pick up that idea) is one of the reasons why the green party is and was rather successful, and why topics like nuclear technology immediatly can be discussed in stereotypical patterns, with a tendency to form camps with no middle ground.

288:

Oh, and just to enforce the stereotype, and to break it: the (conservative) federal environmental ministry is producing public "Lageberichte" twice a day about Fukushima. You can find the latest here:

http://www.bmu.de/atomenergie_sicherheit/doc/47088.php

As one can see, even without understanding the language, I guess, it is both: a very clean, precise, technical information about the current situation at each plant and reactor since last Friday - and at the same time, because it is very exhaustive, something like a scientific base for the media-reproduction of public fears.

289:

The "kamikaze" technicians thing is, well, the press getting the wrong end of the stick. For one thing the meme is more like the "49 Ronin" but I digress.

Ayone working at a nuclear plant or generally with radioactives under a licencing and regulation scheme is limited to a certain amount of exposure to ionising radiation over given periods -- hourly, daily and cumulative yearly totals. These are very conservative limits and rigorously applied in places like Japan, Britan, the US etc. although additional dosages from other sources such as high-altitude aircraft flights, exotic onsens, X-rays, living in granite buildings etc. are usually not included as being too difficult to monitor for individuals. It is also possible that wearing a dosimeter badge in daily life outside the plant might reveal just how tight the workplace limits are.

Basically the people staying on site at Fukushima are burning up their annual or even lifetime exposure limits in one big lump. After this they will never work in a nuclear facility ever again having used up all their future exposure "credits". It is possible some of them will suffer ill-effects from this exposure but they will be monitored and treated with the best medical science available now and in the future.

290:

Charlie,

when talking about energy storage, the idea of big batteries is really not too helpful.
The logical thing is "storage first, conversion to electricity later".

Which means molten salt (thermal) storage for solar-thermal. Maybe pressurized air storage for wind turbines. You could also use geothermal energy to pump water up a mountain.

This kind of stuff is expensive, but a country like Germany could do it (or simply buy up excess electricity from France).

For poorer countries like India on the other hand, we're back to Coal vs. Nuclear. And that could imply, that a pessimistic public opinion towards nuclear energy might be endangering the survival of mankind.

Another - important - point:
Tepco is a private joint-stock company. The argument for privatisation basically goes like this: "It's more efficient."
Has anyone ever thought about what efficiency means in the case of a nuclear reactor? It's a no-no. You want as much redundancy as you can possibly get in this case. Surplus stuff having a stress-free job without being absolutely needed? Decicedly yes. Buying expensive parts when cheap would do? Decidedly yes.

The whole mercurial mindset is out of place in a nuclear plant. What you want are scientific-military types with a mixture of paranoia and order fetishism and a disregard for economics.
That is probably a decent description of a technical U.S. Navy officer by the way (as this was a topic here).

291:

Okay. These questions regarding Japan and Germany have been much debated in the arms control community.

While that community might consider Charlie's arguments naive, in Japan's case -- where there's some substantial desire for an independent nuclear deterrent -- there's also plenty of real-world evidence the Japanese have NOT set up for "assembly-kit" nuclear arms readiness. See forex. Jeffrey Lewis's 'How Long For Japan To Build A Deterrent?' from 2006, where he examines 'the technical reasons that Japan is several years away from a deliverable nuclear warhead and the strange persistence of the “six month” idea."'

http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1339/japans-nuclear-status

Regarding Germany, if one were arguing 'the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' there might conceivably be more worry. But in the real world, unlike Japan, absolutely no political/strategic interest in a German nuclear deterrent via "assembly-kit" appears to exist. To the contrary. Good for them -- nuclear deterrence is seriously overrated and unstable.

HOWEVER, Trottelreiner and George Herbert are far from 'tinfoil hat-style thinking' on these matters. See Tom Schelling's sobering analysis of the full-scale of the problems in "A WORLD WITHOUT NUCLEAR WEAPONS?"

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3671/is_200910/ai_n42042398/


292:

In fact, if our host permits, talking about these questions -- and Tom Schelling's conclusions -- is worth doing. Because if Schelling is wrong, I would honestly like someone to tell me why.

Who is Tom Schelling? He won a 2005 Nobel for 'contributions in game theory' and bears much historical responsibility for arms control being seen an an inherent adjunct of deterrence strategy and, during the 1950s, even for the simple notion of a hot line between the White House and the Kremlin (yes, someone had to think it up). But Schelling also consulted on Kubrick's DR STRANGELOVE, which was fitting because he was a primary architect of U.S. deterrence theory during the Cold War.

And here's what he has to say about
"A WORLD WITHOUT NUCLEAR WEAPONS?"
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3671/is_200910/ai_n42042398/

"The answer ... about nuclear weapons must be a schedule showing how many weapons (of what yield) a government could mobilize on what time schedule...

"A crucial question is whether a government could hide weapons-grade fissile material from any possible inspection verification ...I believe that a "responsible" government would make sure that fissile material would be available in an international crisis or war itself. A responsible government must at least assume that other responsible governments will do so. "

"...if, at ... the imminent possibility of major war, every responsible government must consider that other responsible governments will mobilize their nuclear weapons base as soon as war erupts, or as soon as war appears likely, there will be at least covert frantic efforts, or perhaps purposely conspicuous efforts, to acquire deliverable nuclear weapons as rapidly as possible. And what then?

"I see a few possibilities. One is that the first to acquire weapons will use them ... to disrupt its enemy's or enemies' nuclear mobilization bases, while itself continuing its frantic nuclear rearmament, along with a surrender demand backed up by its growing stockpile. Another possibility is to demand, under threat of nuclear attack, abandonment of any nuclear mobilization, with unopposed "inspectors" ... searching out the mobilization base of people, laboratories, fissile material stashes, or anything else threatening. A third possibility would be a "decapitation" nuclear attack along with the surrender demand. And I can think of worse. All of these, of course, would be in the interest of self-defense....

'In summary, a "world without nuclear weapons" would be a world in which the United States, Russia, Israel, China, and half a dozen or a dozen other countries would have hair-trigger mobilization plans to rebuild nuclear weapons and mobilize or commandeer delivery systems, and ... targets to preempt other nations' nuclear facilities, all in a high-alert status, with practice drills and secure emergency communications. Every crisis would be a nuclear crisis, any war could become a nuclear war. The urge to preempt would dominate ; whoever gets the first few weapons will coerce or preempt. It would be a nervous world.'

-

The whole essay is worth reading.

293:

For the people discussing energy storage wrt renewables, some thoughts (from someone working on a possible solution to this exact problem).

Here in the UK, renewable energy certificates are the mechanism the government uses to pay companies which produce renewable energy (since it wouldn't be economic otherwise). These are a flat rate - you get £x/MWH, irrespective of the time of day you produced said MWH. As this is the main source of income for renewable generating plant, they don't really care about demand; from what they see of the grid, it'll take everything they produce at a nice flat rate. What might their reaction be, I wonder, if instead of a flat rate, the government paid out some (large) percentage of the wholesale price at the time each unit was produced - giving them more than a little bit of impetus to come up with more dispatchable renewable energy....

As a statistic to throw out there, RenewableUK (the industry group) reckon that the UK grid can have up to 20% renewable energy before it becomes too variable to balance. Practically speaking, it would obviously get harder and harder to balance 8, 9, 10GW of renewable capacity, so it's not like a hard cutoff, but we might actually hit that point sometime soon.

Finally, regarding large-scale energy storage; Dinorwig &c. are very nice, it's true, but they're bloody expensive and, as OGH pointed out, rather terrain-limited. Instead, can I direct your collective attention to compressed air energy storage? In use at a coal-fired plant at Huntorf, Germany for a few decades now, it lets the power station keep on generating at the same rate 24/7, but it saves up some juice when the going's cheap then then dumps it back on the grid once the price is a bit higher.
http://www.uni-saarland.de/fak7/fze/AKE_Archiv/AKE2003H/AKE2003H_Vortraege/AKE2003H03c_Crotogino_ea_HuntorfCAES_CompressedAirEnergyStorage.pdf

I do hope I'm not late to this party.

(love your books by the way Charlie!)

294:
@Trottelreiner: In regard to "all Germans are engineers" and the following debate (above), as a German (and a Green ...)...

Err, I know *g*.

Seems like a bunch of us from drsfm are around here. Let's just hope Sepp doesn't show up in this discussion about stereotypes about Germans.

Problem is, those Technocratic and Romantic threads go back some time, and they are not necessarily excluding each other, Von Braun's autobiography is a nice example, totally 'I'm just a technician', and then he rants about 'nature doesn't know extinction, only change'. Maybe it's because engineering doesn't necessarily foster critical inquiry into nature, but then, science doesn't either.

And then saying we can solve our problems by renewable energies and so on often has an "our shiny technologies" thread in itself; but then, the relation between German alternative and left politics and German nationalism is a complex one.

295:

Compressing air is with pumps is energy-inefficient due to adiabatic heating and then releasing the air through a turbogenerator loses more energy through cooling during expansion so an air-storage system is rather lossy in energy terms. Air storage cylinders occasionally blow up too; we had a big cylinder feeding our robotics lab with factory-standard 100psi air from a compressor and it required an expensive inspection and certification from a company that also did other pressure vessels such as steam boilers before it could be relicenced to operate for another year. There are problems with corrosion from moisture in the air requiring dessicators etc. in the intakes.

I have a vision of "offshore" windmills arrayed over the surface of a hydroelectric dam, pumping water directly from downstream of the dam back into the reservoir which might be efficient enough in energy terms to be worthwhile. Alternatively windfarms could replicate high-rise versions of the Dinorwic pumped-storage scheme locally, with a doughnut storage tank at the top of the wind turbine tower and a water-powered turbine-generator set at the bottom. When no-one wants to buy the wind power it is used to pump water to the upper reservoir and on demand it can be released back down through the turbine at the bottom.

296:

Say we have a wind turbine rated for 10 MW, 200 m tall. Suppose the turbine's tower is surrounded by a water tower that acts as a storage battery that the turbine pumps water into. Every second, the turbine is putting out 10 MJ. How much water is that?

1e7 J = m * 10 * 100 (average height = half of maximum).

m = 1e4 kg = 1e4 L of water per second. Suppose we want to store approximately 3 hours' worth of energy: that comes to 1e8 L = 1e5 m^3. That could be provided by a 12m radius cylindrical tower going all the way up to the turbine.

So the numbers seem to work out pretty well, there. If we replace the water tower with a reservoir at the base of the wind farm that gets filled as the wind farm operates, it doesn't seem blatantly ridiculous.

297:

The adiabatic compression issue isn't necessarily inefficient - if you store the air 'hot' and keep it at that temperature then you don't lose anything. That's difficult, though, so it's much easier to store the heat in a thermal store - molten salt, anyone? To make it more efficient you can always inject and combust a little natural gas when you expand it, too; you don't need much and it's a big improvement.

You're right about the cost of large, safe pressure vessels - which is why, in any modern CAES system and in that 1972 system I linked to, you don't use pressure vessels; you use underground caverns (solution-mined salt domes have been used; limestone mines and aquifers are another option).

You probably have a point about corrosion - I'd have to look into it.

298:

Do you have anything about the comparisons between the workers and the 47 ronin (sorry to nitpick *g*) in the Japanese media? Might be interesting.

BTW, the relations between weapon technology, economic demands on equiping a soldier and ethics in feudal societies are any marxist's wet dream, be it European medieval times (Lancelot and his ilk), India in 500 AD (the Gita) or Japan during Edo, especially if you don't care about the particulars.

That being said, the work shifts etc. speak of a very high, but calculated risk. Heroic, yes (damn my glorified monkey gut instincts), suicidal, not necessarily. But well, don't let facts stand in the way of your narrative.

Another thing is the media emphazising the Japanese control of emotions. Leaving aside the REAL cultural differences(cultural differences in depression are a nontrivial matter), personally I'm not too surprised of 'calm' reactions in immediate danger, leaving the emotions for later; the mechanisms are up to debate.
Anybody else thinking about Arthur Dent trying to get a concept of earth's destruction?

299:

Even being able to store a single MW/hr for each turbine in an array would be a good start. At the moment the wind farmers don't follow demand, they make money by feeding the grid with electricity whenever they generate it and the gird operators have to accept it and pay exorbitant rates for the often-unwanted power. Load-following would be much more useful to the grid operators, able to draw down the stored electricity in the towers when most convenient. It does add cost to the wind farm operators though and they don't have to add this sort of capability to make money.

300:

@296: Unless I've got my figures wrong, you're talking about 100,000 *tonnes* of water with a pressure at the bottom of 20 atmospheres. A 10MW wind turbine would weigh very roughly 5,000 tonnes(*) without this add on, so you've got some serious re-engineering to do.

Also, pumping 10,000 litres/second is somewhat more than the Space Shuttle's main engine propellant pump's output at 1,340 l/s.

(*) ~100 t steel + ~400 t concrete/MW are the figures I've got for wind turbines.

301:

A Japanese company(*) is selling 8 MWh NaS-Batteries. They weigh 80tons each and are delivered on two trucks trailers.

(*) As it turns out, this company that I had never heard of when I first heard about this battery is ... TEPCO.

302:

Ah, sodium-sulphur... I remember that electrochemical combination was the great White (Hot) Hope for electric vehicles back in the 70s and 80s, with better WH/kg storage capacity than lead-acid or Ni-Cd. The idea of driving around with a trunkful of elemental sulphur at 300 degrees Celsius was considered a mere bagatelle.

303:

It was just a thought experiment regarding the how much water it would take to store that amount of energy. Like I said, you would probably use a natural or artificial reservoir rather than a tank. As for the rate of pumping, I think the SSME pump is only impressive as far as rocket engines go. Typing "biggest water pump" into google yields a hit: a pump is under construction in New Orleans that will have a capacity of 500,000 liters per second.

304:

Below is a link and abstract for a paper by some significant figures, which was heavily contested (submitted 2000, published 2003) that predicts the burning of zirconium cladding and then release of cesium & strontium, then fire spreading to older fuel and, finally, that “the long-term land-contamination consequences of such an event could be significantly worse than those from Chernobyl.”

Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States
(submitted 2000; accepted for publication 2003)
by Robert Alvarez, Jan Beyea, Klaus Janberg, Jungmin Kang, Ed Lyman, Allison Macfarlane, Gordon Thompson, Frank N. von Hippel

“Because of the unavailability of off-site storage for spent power-reactor fuel, the NRC has allowed high-density storage of spent fuel in pools …virtually all U.S. spent-fuel pools have been re-racked to hold spent-fuel assemblies at densities that approach those in reactor cores. In order to prevent the spent fuel from going critical, the fuel assemblies are partitioned off from each other in metal boxes whose walls contain neutron-absorbing boron. It has been known for more than two decades that, in case of a loss of water in the pool, convective air cooling would be relatively ineffective in such a “dense-packed” pool. Spent fuel recently discharged from a reactor could heat up relatively rapidly to temperatures at which the zircaloy fuel cladding could catch fire and the fuel’s volatile fission products including 30-year half-life 137Cs, would be released. The fire could well spread to older spent fuel. The long-term land-contamination consequences of such an event could be significantly worse than those from Chernobyl.

“No such event has occurred thus far. However, the consequences would affect such a large area that alternatives to dense-pack storage must be examined —”

More here –

http://www.irss-usa.org/pages/documents/11_1Alvarez.pdf

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/reducing-hazar...

http://www.irss-usa.org/pages/documents/SGS_213-223_response.pdf

So far, most of the MSM and the standard ‘experts’ are still repeating by rote that it couldn’t be as bad as Chernobyl. They don’t know what they’re talking about and their song will change by next week.

Yes, at Chernobyl a reactor core explosion blew a radioactive plume directly into the atmosphere, up as high as the jet stream. However, at Fukushima there’s simply many times more radioactive material in those storage pools than there is in a reactor, so the total amount released could be more. The big question mark is distribution -— factors at Chernobyl allowed redioactive contaminant, including cesium and strontium, to be very widely distributed. The mechanisms that did that at Chernobyl are not present in Japan, but there may be others, and this is occurring in one of the most crowded countries on the planet where the fate of millions of lives could depend on how the wind happens to be blowing.

305:

Have you a reference for the 20% figure for renewables in the UK? I thought RenewableUK were pushing for 15% by 2020 and "further growth" after that. I've not seen a figure from them about the maximum percentage of renewables that they think the UK should push for (although possibly I haven't looked hard enough, please direct me to one if they have stated one). The lack of any firm numbers here is because that percentage depends on the kind of generation and the connection the UK has to other sources. Denmark's pushing for 50% on- and off-shore wind by 2025, easier for them right now as they have stronger grid links to other European generation sources than the UK has.

But yes, I quite agree that renewables growth is strongly affected by the market design. Paying generators a flat rate for power just rewards them for producing power full stop, when what a nation needs is the right amount of power at the right time of day. NZ has a spot market with prices set for every half-hour period, rewarding generators who are producing power when it's needed. Of course, that kind of market has its other specific problems, but hey, that's life.

306:

Some good news for a change, if it's true. From the MIT site following this story, this report --

http://mitnse.com/2011/03/18/news-update-318/
[b]
News Brief, 3/18/11, 10 AM EDT[/b]

Spraying of spent fuel pools at Units 3 and 4 is still underway. Visual inspection of Unit 4’s pool showed water in the pool, and so efforts have been temporarily focused upon Unit 3. While efforts at using helicopters to dump water onto the pools had been largely unsuccessful , army firetrucks used in putting out aircraft fires have been employed with some success. The elite Tokyo Hyper Rescue component of the Tokyo fire department has arrived on scene and is conducting missions of roughly two hours in length, during which they spray the pools for 7-8 minutes, wait for steam to dissipate, and spray again.

A cable has been laid from a TEPCO power line 1.5 km from the facility, which will be used to supply power to emergency cooling systems of the reactors at Units 1 and 2.

Backup diesel generators have been connected to cool the spent fuel pools at Units 5 and 6. As of 4 PM JST, temperatures in those pools have reached 65.5 and and 62 degrees Celsius.

Visual inspections have been conducted of both the central spent fuel pool, which contains 60% of the facility’s fuel, and the dry cask storage area. Water levels at the central pool have been described as “secured”, and the dry casks show “no signs of an abnormal situation”. More detailed checks of these areas are planned for the future.

307:

I only wished they had also pointed out the problem that those pools pose, in relation to the fact that hydrogen explosions damaging the secondary containment are a known weakness of Mark I BWR containments.

It is pretty hard to put the utter dumbness of that fact in words or the carelessness of allowing such power plants to continue operating.

Seriously, I'm all in favour of nuclear power. But nothing of that particular kind of insanity can be allowed to continue - and I don't know how one could stop it (it would require a phase-change in culture from dishonest-destructive to honest-constructive critique).

As it turns out, the reactors of Fukushima Daiichi (being inside of the containments) are the least of our worries. I would never have thought that.

This is the kind of stuff that keeps me awake these nights.

308:

Erald:

You seem to be conflating the technical ability for Germany to have a covert weapons program with them actually having one.

The evidence is poor. Germany is very IAEA inspection open. Even carefully distributed, an "on the shelf" weapons program has distinctive signatures different from a conventional civil nuclear program with industrial R&D. Materials of high enrichment (large quantities of 80% enriched HEU, weapons-grade plutonium) are inventoried carefully by the IAEA. Stocks of material are tracked and traced and inventoried under international supervision. Assembly of those materials, in weapons-sized lumps, into weapons-type components would be noticed in at most a few years. Dissapearance of enough material to assemble a weapons (MUF, Materials Unaccounted For) would be publicized, much less enough for a weapons program with large quantities of weapons.

Urenco and ETC have centrifuge facilities in Germany, but those are multinationals and highly IAEA inspected.

Geman research reactor HEU is bought from abroad and seems to be returned to the origin country when expended, with little if any lightly irradiated fuel in country that could be weapon diverted.

They could have a whole covert program off on the side, but it would require substantial diversions and parallel aparatus.


The motivation is poor. Germany has nuclear-armed US, UK, and France backing them up against instability to the east. Probably dozens of US nuclear weapons are still sitting at German bases with availability to the Luftwaffe in case of general nuclear war.


Anything is possible. But I suspect that they haven't done anything actively, the same as Japan's situation.

309:

Given the primitive technological state in which the USA was when it started to build its first atomic bomb from scratch within as little as 3 years in the 1940ies, I doubt it would take as long as a year for Germany to build one (or a few more) today, if there was an actual need to do so.

310:

The primitive news reporting and communications infrastructure plus war time rules made it much easier to hide what 20,000 people were up to at the time.

No TV or video. Messages via a operator setup phone calls or telegraph. It was a different universe.

311:

I believe the plans for compressed air storage proposed a vastly larger scale than anything that could be built with tanks or other artificially made containment vessels. IIRC they talked about storing compressed gas in decommissioned mining sites. Thermal losses would be minimized by storing thermal energy derived from compression separately in heated rock near the compression/expansion facilities.

P.S: I'm sorry for sparking almost a sub-thread sized OT discussion on German (pars pro toto for non-disclosed nations) NW. I didn't mean to say I believed there was anything gauche going on there, just that I thought it was possible and in fact likely that such capabilities existed (if not formally violating non-proliferation) even in a country that for the last couple of decades outwardly appeared as pathologically flinching in military matters as Germany.

312:

myself @311: Ok, gauche, but not illegal.

313:

I see a lot of discussion about energy storage using schemes like compressed air and pumped storage schemes like this:

I have a vision of "offshore" windmills arrayed over the surface of a hydroelectric dam, pumping water directly from downstream of the dam back into the reservoir which might be efficient enough in energy terms to be worthwhile. Alternatively windfarms could replicate high-rise versions of the Dinorwic pumped-storage scheme locally, with a doughnut storage tank at the top of the wind turbine tower and a water-powered turbine-generator set at the bottom. When no-one wants to buy the wind power it is used to pump water to the upper reservoir and on demand it can be released back down through the turbine at the bottom.

But wait a minute; just what sort of a danger do these schemes pose to the general public, and how does this compare to perils and pitfalls of nuclear energy?

Take this with a grain of salt (it's nicked from io9), but here's one list of the worst power plant accidents in history:

1975: Shimantan/Banqiao Dam Failure Type of power: Hydroelectric Human lives lost: 171,000 Cost: $8,700,000,000 What happened: Shimantan Dam in China's Henan province fails and releases 15.738 billion tons of water, causing widespread flooding that destroys 18 villages and 1500 homes and induces disease epidemics and famine


1979: Morvi Dam Failure
Type of power: Hydroelectric
Human lives lost: 1500 (estimated)
Cost: $1,024,000,000
What happened: Torrential rain and unprecidented flooding caused the Machchu-2 dam, situated on the Machhu river, to burst. This sent a wall of water through the town of Morvi in the Indian State of Gujarat.


1998: Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Jess Oil Pipeline Explosion
Type of power: Oil
Human lives lost: 1,078
Cost: $54,000,000
What happened:Petroleum pipeline ruptures and explodes, destroying two villages and hundreds of villagers scavenging gasoline.


1944: East Ohio Gas Company
Type of power: Liquified natural gas (LNG)
Human lives lost: 130
Cost: $890,000,000
What happened: Explosion at LNG facility destroys one square mile of Cleveland, OH.


1907: Monongah Coal Mine
Type of power: Coal
Human lives lost: 362
Cost: $162,000,000
What happened: Underground explosion traps workers and destroys railroad bridges leading into the mine.


Compare these to:


1986: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Type of power: Nuclear
Human lives lost: 4,056 (Source for this number: United Nations Scientific Subcommittee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation)
Cost: $6,700,000,000

Oh noes! How can we ever live with the dangers of using or storing energy in the form of water raised to a higher gravitational potential!!!!

Notice also that while Chernobyl is far from the worst accident in terms of life lost, it is by far the worst when measured in (1996) dollars. Partly that's because of cleanup costs, of course. But don't forget that injuries don't have to be the result of one party's actions - in fact, they don't even have to be real - for that party to be liable for them. And in the case of nuclear, a crack whore giving birth to a baby with spinal bifida the day after a nuclear utility reports the accidental release of a few hundred curies of radiation could probably successfully sue them for damages(I can't believe the ignorance of my fellow countrymen, what with their stampede to purchase "radiation kits".)

314:

Also, we mass produce nuclear weapons when we should be mass producing nuclear reactors. Nuclear weapon design has probably developed far more than nuclear reactor design.

315:

I've dug out the source paper I got that from originally () and it sourced it from a UK Energy Research Centre report on the costs and impacts of intermittent power generating capacity on the UK power grid:
www.uwig.org/0604_Intermittency_report_final.pdf

It assumes a level of penetration of 20% and looks at the impacts. I've only read the executive summary but it appears to be saying that 20% would be fine - possibly the research hasn't been done into greater penetration?

RE grid interconnection - that will certainly help with intermittency, but as an publically-eurosceptic island we have issues!

erald @ 311 - you are right about thermal storage being an essential requirement of CAES; it's been put in place at all the active installations and is planned for the future ones. Natural gas burning definitely helps, too (although out-of-keeping with the 'image' of renewable plant).

316:

"Auto scanner" @316 is spam.

317:

Seconded! May be worth closing thread to new comments?

318:

Comments closing once I nuke the spammer. KTHXBYE.

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