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Two months on

The Economist has a report from the International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants of a plenary session discussing the Fukushima Daiichi accident: it's well worth reading.

The main highlights seem to be:

* The accident wasn't the result of a single disaster, but of two, and arguably three: earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent hydrogen explosions.

* The plant survived the earthquake (which exceeded its design requirements) quite well, and the reactors scrammed correctly. However, scrammed reactors continue to need power to run their cooling systems. The earthquake tore down the cables connecting the plant to the rest of the grid, forcing them onto backup power.

* The tsunami struck 15 minutes later, and was roughly five times higher than the plant had been designed for. A review of disaster preparedness in 2002 recommended raising "the average wave height they needed to be designed to cope with to about double the height of the biggest waves in the historical record" — 5.7 metres, for the FD plant. In the event, the tsunami that struck had 15 metre waves. It washed right over the plant and wrecked the seawater intakes, electrical switchgear, backup generators, and on-site diesel storage.

* The 2002 severe accident review that increased the tsunami wave height estimates recommended installing hardened hydrogen release vents, to prevent a build-up of hydrogen in event of a similar accident. These are standard on American and other reactors, but had not been retrofitted to the FD BWRs. Were such vents fitted, the explosions would not have occurred. (The explosions compounded the difficulty of bringing the plant under control.)

* Despite all this there appears to have been no public health impact due to radiation (stress and fear are another matter), and no plant workers were exposed to more than 250 millisieverts — the raised limit for emergency nuclear responders, equal to five years' regular working exposure, but insufficient to cause a serious health risk.

So: serious accident, yes — but it's no Chernobyl. (Go read the article. It's good.) The main take-away seems to be that, like a plane crash, it takes more than one thing going wrong to cause an accident — in this case, two major natural disasters, each of which exceeded the plant's design spec, occurring within the space of an hour, compounded by failure to implement a safety system that is standard elsewhere. Despite which, they managed to dodge the bullet (for the most part: it's still going to take billions of dollars and several years to clean up the plant).

195 Comments

1:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/04/applying-union-of-concerned-scientist.html answers a bit the FUD that is out there on radiation & safety. You're 100% right on the Fukushima Daiichi accident but then no industrial plant is 100% safe either, knowing that I'd much rather have nuke plants close by vs chemical or refining.

2:

Now if only sensible posts like this could be seen in our nations media. Educating people doesn't pay their wages I guess

3:

ou're 100% right on the Fukushima Daiichi accident but then no industrial plant is 100% safe either, knowing that I'd much rather have nuke plants close by vs chemical or refining.

What's the top if three or four disasters happen simultaneously? Someone piggy-backs off an earthquake with a terrorist attack -- and then a typhoon blows in?

That's the issue -- not the average in the long-term, but the variance in a system where the top damage is immense, with repercussions over very large periods of time that change the dynamics of the system. Not-kT noise, in physical terms.

If the worst happens -- what's the damage from the chemical plant? The nuclear plant?

4:

I fully understand that the tsunami much larger than expected, would wreck a lot of equipment and stop normal operations at the power plant.

But what I can't comprehend is, why this would result in melting and burning fuel rods. Both active and spent rods. In the end, all you need to do to contain the problem, is to keep the fucking fuel rods submerged in water. It was only after 1 to, I think up to 4 or 5 days for some of the reactors, that melt-downs started to happen.

How is it possible that the perhaps most resourceful and organized country in the world, can't manage to keep a few water pools filled with water? I mean, they had several days of time, and the entire country's resources at their disposal.

Is it really that hard fill water into a pool?

5:

If you planned for the anomalous worse case scenario you would never leave your house for fear of lightning striking.

Yes it is important to take precautions against the worse case scenario but at the end of the day even the worse possible outcome won't match up to the long term harm some things can do. We could burn oil over using nuclear power because we would rather live next to the former in case of UFO attack but at the end of the day that type of behavior is unsustainable.

6:

Well yes, if a rogue moon smashes the Earth into rubble, can the power-plant engineers guarantee that the orbiting rocks won't suffer from nuclear contamination?

The worst casualties from chemical plants and dams are matter of record, and they dwarf anything nuclear by at least an order of magnitude.

The only way you can get any comparable figure to Bhopal or Banqiao is to include speculative cancer risks, in a way that is not done for other incidents with comparable non-nuclear environmental impacts.

Air pollution from smoke and various chemicals is estimated to kill _3 million people a year_:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070813162438.htm

One coal mine that caught fire in 1962 is _still burning now_:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centralia,_Pennsylvania

7:

A small bit of nit-picking but I would assume that a tsunami of that magnitude couldn't occur without a major nearby earthquake, and of course, the hydrogen explosions wouldn't occur without something already going seriously wrong. So it isn't three independent random variables, but one highly improbable event, a 9.0 quake, which triggered 2 additional events which would have been very improbable by themselves but would not be improbable after the first one.

Personally I've been constantly having to explain that this is no Chernobyl and could not escalate to that level. I don't have to explain this to my boss and his assistant since they are also Physics PhDs who were living in Kiev at the time. :)

8:

This isn't nitpicking, IMO. Clearly there was one major disaster (the earthquake) which directly caused another (the tsunami); this combination caused the problems at the plant which resulted in the hydrogen explosion. The Economist article makes clear that the three problems had a common cause.

The Economist article also explicitly mentions the public health effect of many people (tens of thousands?) being removed from their homes, at a time when the country was already having to cope with the other aftermath of the tsunami.

It's common with major disasters that they happen when multiple things go wrong. This is hard to plan for.

9:
But what I can't comprehend is, why this would result in melting and burning fuel rods

Because water boils if you put enough heat into it. And if you don't allow the resulting steam to escape, it will build up pressure and eventually explode, much like the hydrogen gas did (though admittedly not as powerfully). And after enough water boils away to expose the fuel rods to the air, they heat up a lot more because the air is nowhere near as good at removing heat as the water was, and if the rods get hot enough, they melt.

I don't know if there's enough reliable data available to do the analysis, but I would not be at all surprised if there have been more deaths and severe illnesses as a result of irresponsible dumping of toxic chemicals than from all the industrial accidents in history.

10:

We could burn oil over using nuclear power because we would rather live next to the former in case of UFO attack but at the end of the day that type of behavior is unsustainable.

That's just being silly. There are realistic worst case scenarios -- multiple simultaneous low-probability but not impossibly improbable events -- and simply made up crap with no reasonable basis in reality.

We know that our statistical assumptions of independence are only first order approximations -- that our risk analyses in fact underestimate the probability of realistic worse case scenarios coming from putatively independent events happening simultaneously.

You think the analysts for the Fukushima plant didn't run standard risk analyses for earthquake and tsunamis? Or that their probability of each singular event was way off? No -- the problem is you can't possibly control for how failures escalate in complicated systems. You always underestimate -- it's naive to think otherwise.

Evolution, for example, adapts to worst-case scenarios, not likely events. They have a much greater impact on the continuing behavior of the system than normal behavior (which is why reproductive systems are riddled with failsafes to avoid relapse to asexual reproduction or collapse of multicellularity).

11:

What I wonder is, out of all the damage, was this the only major industrial facility to be compromised? Surely a few oil refineries and factories were also involved, they probably released a lot of potentially life threatening gunk, but none of it made the news.

12:

At least one major oil refinery in Chiba let go, and burned for about a week, that I know of. One dam let go, too; I thought it was a hydroelectric dam, but Wikipedia says it was for irrigation and flood control. (Search for "Japan tsunami"; that'll take you directly to the main page for the event.)

-- Steve

13:

brucecohenpdx @ 9; Also add that the water needs to circulate to keep the rods cool. Cut the outside power and the pumps stop, letting all that still water heat up.

For two months my mother's been saying how she'd volunteer to go and run the backup generators--one thing she trained for as a US Army Health Physics officer. Though her knowledge is 30 tears out of date.

Also, I've been passing on articles on to an friend who has a sushi restaurant in western Colorado, about how there is no reason to worry about radioactive fish, just in case some of his customers have questions. Most of his fish comes from Hawaii, and what items he does get from Japan are warehoused in different parts of the country.

14:

That's all well and good. I'm delighted that the bullet has been dodged et al, but this is to miss the real impact, re: the public's perception of nuclear power/safety. Does anyone here really believe that the general public in the UK will accept current plans to build more reactors regardless of the logic and cost/benefit analysis that underlies them?

15:

all depends what the fear-press does , long term

16:

I, for one, am extremely disappointed that with summer coming, the fear-press hasn't glommed onto the possibility of NUCULAR SHARKS!!!!!

17:

Don't worry the Syfy channel is probably working on a series of movies about it as we speak.

I'm guessing Radioactive Octo-Walrus, Nuclear Whales, and probably Tsunami Apocalypse starring Dean Cain.

18:

Except, of course, for the radioactives released into the sea, and no-one knows how to evaluate the effects of those. Japan is a maritime and riverine culture, and to poison the sea is poison to the heart of Japan

But that's all right, the next time the engineers tell you they've planned every contingency, you can believe them again.

Kraw, kraw, kraw, radioactive sushi, kraw, kraw kraw.

19:

OK, I'm dumb. I have never seen why if a reactor is scrammed with carbon rods, they do not absorb enough radioactivity so the water still needs cooling.

20:

My reading of the article is that they *did* implement the harden vent systems that the American plants use, but hydrogen built up inside the reactor buildings anyway, via some leak that remains a mystery, for the time being.

Which does put all the other PWR/BWR operators on notice that, in the event of a loss of coolant accident severe enough for the fuel rod casings to oxidize, there hydrogen build up management systems are probably inadequate, too.

And there are few events so deliciously mediaphilic as an explosion at a nuclear reactor...

21:

Because while the moderator rods stop the particle flow from rod to rod it does nothing to take away the latent heat. Or stop the reactions within any single rod. The cooling water is designed to take away the excess heat until the rods are cool enough to no longer boil water. And that can take a while.

New reactor designs are such that what you are thinking will happen in that a shutdown will stop enough particle flow to allow the rods to cool more rapidly plus the water will flow by convection if the pumps fail.

22:

Multiple-Poin failures leading to a disaster, finally, when everything fails.
There is another industry that has come to terms with this.
Railways.
Reading through accounts of some classic past accidents, and the safety measures taken to prevent repitition tells you why you are safer in a (British) train than in your own house, and marginally safer than in an aircraft.
Of course, the Air safety people learnt from the railways, who were then forced to lose the plot (guvmint lawyers and political ideology interfering in an engineering pronblem).
Now, we are more or less back on track (pun intended) ...

23:

There are two sources of heat in a fuel rod -- fission of U-235, Pu-239 and Pu-240 by neutrons makes up about 90% of the thermal output and radioactive decay of fission products such as I-131 and Cs-137 makes up the rest. The fission can be controlled and "switched off" by control rods absorbing most of the neutrons whizzing about in the core but the decay heat can't be switched off and is usually dealt with by active cooling for a few months (cold shutdown) until the hot fast stuff decays away and the reactors can be opened and defuelled.

Things went bang at Fukushima when the cooling was stopped and the fuel rods overheated. Water -> steam and zirconium alloy fuel rod casings at 800 deg C plus -> hydrogen and oxygen by disassociation -> bang -> bad news. Right now they're doing what's called "feed and bleed", pumping cold water into the reactors and bleeding out hot water to remove decay heat and prevent the rods from cooking off again and producing more hydrogen and more bangs.

24:

The reason for the need for continued cooling is called "decay heat". Fission of a heavy isotope produces energy and two smaller isotopes, called fission products. These smaller isotopes are as a rule unstable, and decay to other isotopes, which decay in turn, etc. until a stable isotope is reached. These decays produce heat, even when there is no fission occuring.

So after insertion of control rods, the fission reactions stop. But there are still unstable fission products around, and these will keep on decaying for a while. In the first second after control rod insertion, the heat produced by these decays is about 7% of the orginal thermal power of the reactor, after a day it's about 0.5%, and even after months it's still around 0.1% percent or so.

That sounds like a small amount, but 0.1% of the larger reactors in Fukushima is still several megawatts of heat per reactor. As a rule of thumb, a megawatt will compeltely boil off a cubic meter of water in one hour. So simply drowning the fuel in water is not enough, you need to supply fresh water all the time.

25:

There are several ways to avoid this failure mode, tough some of them are purely paper designs.
1: Small reactors can be designed to reach thermal equilibrium solely via passive cooling in shutdown mode - tough mostly this requires using coolants other than water, ie; molten lead, helium or sodium.
2: Use molten salt fuels and continiously seperate out fission products - The swiss worked on a fast breeder reactor that did this back in the 1970s, altough the design they came up with had a hilariously large plutonium inventory (5 tonnes per reactor!)

26:

"Despite which, they managed to dodge the bullet (for the most part: it's still going to take billions of dollars and several years to clean up the plant)."

Granted, the main penetrator (ie Chernobyl-style massive release of radioactives over a wide area) got dodged, but I'd say that the gigabux of decontamination/decommissioning costs represent some pretty significant pieces of shrapnel.

Personally I'd say that in the cold light of energy systems tradeoffs, Fukushima represents a tolerable hit at a societal/civilisational level. To be brutally pragmatic we can afford to sacrifice a few 30km exclusion zones over the course of a century if that is what is needed to get our engineering/safety practise up to the required levels of operational art; compared to the costs associated with losing a major ice sheet that'd be a good deal.

The problem is that I don't think the civil nuclear industry as it is currently composed can bear those risks. The logic of nuclear power (low probability, high impact downside risks that can only be addressed by consistently rigorous application of costly mitigations and the societal benefits of cheap, reliable energy being hard to monetise by the operator) drives inexorably towards it being done as a governmental operation in some fashion, but the tide of ideas has been running against nationalised industries for so long now that I don't see how we can get the appropriate institutional frameworks in place to do nuclear power the way it needs to be done.

Regards
Luke

27:

What? You missed the coverage of the massive Sendai oil refinery going up in a ball of flame?

It was visible from orbit ...

28:

Charlie:

The hydrogen explosions were not the cause of the accident, but part of it. As you said, caused by the idiotic decision not to have a dedicated containment vent, because a core meltdown was judged "extremely unlikely". The rest of the world added such venting mechanisms two decades ago.

This would have made the situation much more manageable (no structural damage, no problems with spent fuel ponds, no excessive radiation levels in the reactor buildings).

The release of most of the Iodine and Caesium, however, could not have been prevented like this (except for what would have been prevented through more effective contingency cooling measures).

That's why (at least) French, German and Swedish reactors are fitted with *filtered* venting systems that can scrub some 99.99% of Cs and over 99% of Iodine from the vented steam. (By venting steam through a nozzle and mixing it with water - at least until the water runs out.)

What was not unexpected but still worrying is the reaction by the government. The first two days or so were almost perfect - and then they ran out of rules and the rest was a mess. The initial evacuation was good, but it wasn't based radiation readings.

The hotspot around Iliate (or however that village was spelt) should have been evacuated as soon as readings shot up to double and triple digit micro sieverts per hour. This was (and still is) much higher than most readings inside the evacuation area. But it took a month or so until that was done.

In Minamisoma (a town of 70.000 people), on the other hand, the evacuation orders should have been replaced by a "stay alert" order and allow rescue/salvage operations - as radiation readings were low and the situation has been reasonably stable at least since April. The same goes for most of the southern and western area of the 20km evacuation area. (Radiation fallout is mostly concentrated in an area north-west of the plant.)

It seems like governments are perfectly incapable of reacting reasonably without previous legal guidance. Maybe there should be a way to delegate executive power in such situations to a small group of experts for short periods of time (i.e. 4-8 weeks) who could arrive at decisions much faster.

But there is nothing of that kind, at least in Japan. And, given the reaction to Hurrican Katrina not in the USA either.

Any examples for off-the-scale disasters being handled adequately anywhere?

29:

I agree that the end-result was not as bad as one could have feared, a handful of mildly-irradiated humans is not a huge catastropy.

But claiming this as 2, or even 3, separate accidents is disingenious. There was only one significant external negative input: the earthquake.

Yes, the earthquake caused a tsunami, but this is one of several expected possible effects of a earthquake. And releasing hydrogen which then exploded, was part of how the reactor (failed to!) handle the earthquake safely.

And the assumptions where faulty. Both the assumption about max earthquake-strength and max tsunami-wave-height where wrong. Yes it was a huge quake, but there are strong quakes regularily in Japan, on the average one above 8 every century or something like that.

Still, it appears the reactors caused a small fraction of the total earthquake-damage, so it may very well be in the "acceptible" range.

30:

i agree the site will clean up fine

and what about all the caesium-137 that has been spread far and wide covering one of major farming areas of Japan and shutting nearby fisheries for an extended period

um how does that figure in your - 'they done alright' calculations?

Also I thought Nuclear stations were designed to take account of 1 in 1000 year events, not well it hasn't happened in the last few years events?

31:

Any examples for off-the-scale disasters being handled adequately anywhere>

The San Francisco quake seemed to have things under control better than most these days. But then again it quickly turned into a quasi military operation fairly quickly. A documentary about it said 1 in 10 troops in the US Army was in the area within short order. Or maybe it was 1 in 10 rail cars with 3 in 10 troops. Anyway basically the US Army mobilized and took over.

Hurricanes Hugo, Fran, and Floyd in the Carolinas seem reasonably organized. I was in Fran with Hugo and Floyd passing by on either side. Considering Floyd seemed to put 1/3 of the state under water for a week or so it went very well indeed. Over in the US a LOT depends on how well your state government is organized for emergencies.

But none of these is anywhere the size of the current quake in Japan.

32:

drives inexorably towards it being done as a governmental operation in some fashion, but the tide of ideas has been running against nationalised industries for so long now that I don't see how we can get the appropriate institutional frameworks in place to do nuclear power the way it needs to be done.

Over here in the US the issue comes down to what do we wind up with. Something run like the nuclear navy or something more like the USPS or the DMV of many states. (Post Office / Department of Motor Vehicles). The later are good at pushing paper and getting the routine work done as long as you don't mind arcane work rules, slow response times, and a mindset of "what are you so in a rush about?". Oh, and budget, what's a budget?

My father was one of the people in charge of production at a gaseous diffusion plant. When it was operated by company A they ran a fairly tight operation. When company A no longer wanted to do the job and company B took over a lot of corners were cut and there was a constant under current of patch and patch instead of implementing long term correctness. He said many times he was glad to have retired early in the times of company B. Plant was owned by the US Government but the actual work was contracted out to large scale industrial firms.

33:

The Fukushima reactors were fitted with hydrogen venting systems and scrubbers. They required electrical power for the gas pumps and scrubbers to work, and the lack of power after the tsunami knocked out the backup generators meant they couldn't do their jobs. If emergency electrical power had been available for reactors 1 through 4[0] as it was for numbers 5 and 6 then they wouldn't have gone bang in the first place.

[0] Reactor 4's spent fuel pool went bang but the reactor itself was shut down and defuelled before the incident.

34:

Also I thought Nuclear stations were designed to take account of 1 in 1000 year events, not well it hasn't happened in the last few years events?

Indeed so.

This appears to have been the largest quake in Japanese history, located in pretty much the worst spot possible for the F Daiichi plant. It appears to have been the fifth strongest earthquake ever measured anywhere in the world, and to have been on a previously unknown fault.

Sometime, the once-in-a-thousand-years event will have to turn up. Japan is probably very lucky that it didn't occur that bit further south, and take out Tokyo.

35:

The Cs-137 and other longer-lived contaminants are going to be a problem but only over a remarkably small area. Relaxation of the evacuation orders will only occur once a more accurate spot-monitoring system is set up. Right now the testing being done around the site is outside the 20-km exclusion zone in part because areas inside the boundary are badly contaminated and it's hazardous for teams to go there to take measurements. The 20km zone itself is a legal entity, required by Japanese law while there is an ongoing contamination risk from the Fukushima plant.

The first steps to actively decontaminate the affected agricultural areas are in train based on work done at Tchernobyl, planting crops such as rapeseed and sunflowers which leach and sequester cesium from the soil. How effective this will be is yet to be discovered.

As for the Miyagi and Ikabari fisheries they are pretty much back to normal as far as contamination levels reported from landed catches are concerned. There's a map of fishery areas here:

This includes a report of the seawater contamination levels from around the plant. There are much higher concentrations of Cs-137 and I-131 in seabed sediments directly opposite water discharge points at the shoreline though.

36:

The refinery didn't seem to merit it's own article in my main news source, elpais.com I'm searching around and it appears to be mentioned only in a few photos, contrasting with the updates on the nuclear plant which were front page for a fortnight. Didn't come across it in any other source I check less assiduously. In Spanish media at least the aftermath of the earthquake seems to be reduced to the nuclear plant sprinkled with a few human interest stories about flooded schools, etc...

37:

FEMA (in the USA) is supposed to be able to respond to emergencies. Unfortunately, in 2006 it proved to be totally inadequate -- making its head a political appointee (and an example of cronyism with no experience in the disaster management field) wrecked its ability to do the job.

In the UK there's theoretically an emergency framework for handling things, whereby the Civil Contingencies Act is invoked and the government temporarily hands power to a civil service department (under a cabinet minister) to rule by decree. I don't think it's ever been tested, though.

The trouble with national-scale civil defense/disaster management frameworks is that actual disasters that need them (as opposed to, say, a purely local emergency plan for dealing with plane crashes or terrorist bombings) are extremely rare, and the draconian powers they need in order to operate properly are inimical to good governance in peacetime. So they're seen as dangerous irrelevancies at best by regular politicians, and for good reason.

38:

FEMA (in the USA) is supposed to be able to respond to emergencies. Unfortunately, in 2006 it proved to be totally inadequate -- making its head a political appointee (and an example of cronyism with no experience in the disaster management field) wrecked its ability to do the job.

What many don't know or don't want to admit is that by law FEMA can't do squat until the governor of a state asks them in. And in 2006 the LA Gov didn't want FEMA to bring supplies into NO as she wanted the people to leave town and be dealt with in areas not under water. The big delay was her fault.

As to other issues with FEMA, yes there was a non trivial amount of not being prepared for the situation.

I could go on but my point is the state of LA make a mess much worse than it had to be by not wanting to "do what was needed".

My personal opinion was that Bush should have said "I'm sending in the National Guard and FEMA tomorrow at sunrise. If you don't agree then Congress can impeach me we're going in." But he didn't.

39:

Here in the US the LNG terminal/refinery was on the TV news all day (12 hour difference and all that) as it was the only "live" shot that showed anything since the rest of the area was basically in a blackout. Impressive fire it was.

40:

Gunnar, the Tohuku quake was the biggest in a thousand years, as far as we can tell. Moreover, the fault where the quake epicentre was located isn't supposed to be able to produce super-quakes like that. The geologists are tearing up their theoretical models as a result.

And I should note that the decision to site the FD reactor complex on that coast was taken most of fifty years ago, before plate tectonics became widely accepted as the cause of earthquakes. While continental drift was first advocated in the nineteen-teens, it wasn't until the early 1960s that marine geology provided the evidence for crustal plates, and the theory itself in its modern form arrived in 1965-67. By that time the reactors were already being built: the significance of the discovery didn't really sink in until Fukushima Daiichi was operational, by which time it was far more convenient to ignore the bad news than to prematurely decommission five reactors.

41:

Yes, the magnitude of the quake and the size of the area affected by strong shaking were about as large as anything in recorded history. However, the earthquake at Fukushima was not that strong. Certainly not strong enough that the plant should have had a major problem with it. The problem at Fukushima and most of the appalling devastation were due to the tsunami.

42:

OK, I suppose it's possible that a terrorist organisation could see the post-earthquake chaos as an opportunity, in all sorts of ways. I recall hearing that a good many probably-fake identities in the USA went back to pre-earthquake San Francisco. But organising an impromptu attack on a nuclear reactor, in that chaos, strikes me as a little too far-fetched.

I expect to see the Hollywood movie next summer.

43:

Second try will be the charm:
Yes, the intensity of the shaking caused by the quake at its epicenter dozens of miles offshore and the size of the area affected by strong shaking were about as large as anything in recorded history. However, the intensity of shaking at Fukushima was not that strong. (AFAIK, nowhere on Japan itself was shaken nearly as hard as in the Kobe quake or the big Kanto quake (1923?).

44:

Actually a typhoon blowing in is not that low a probability. They are a pretty regular occurrence there. Although mercifully a bit less likely to be so strong that far north.

45:

Indeed - 'the earthquake wasn't that strong' by the standards of what it appears the reactors could cope with. They shook a bit, and shut down with no fuss.

The tsunami that it caused though was the problem. The uprated recommendation was to be able to withstand a wave twice as high as 'the biggest waves in the historical record' at the site - for F1, that doubled height would be 5.7 metres.

The actual wave was 15 metres. So over FIVE times higher than ever recorded there.

If the wave had been merely as bad as the worst in the last 1000 years, I don't think they'd have had anything like the same problems. It wouldn't surprise me if this turns out to have been a 'worst in a million years' wave for Fukushima.

46:

Any terrorist organisation that is that prepared to react to something that might not have happened for many decades, and that has the ability to get to a semi-randomly picked site when the locally-based emergency services can't?

That's not a terrorist organisation, that's the Tracy family making a bid for world domination.

47:

The UK example which comes to my mind is the East Coast Floods of 1953.

This was in the bomber era of the Cold War, and the wartime ARP had become Civil Defence, with a lot of people organised and trained for tasks appropriate to disaster relief. My father was one of them. It didn't seem as futile as it did later. But the official reaction to the floods didn't make use of the existing organisation.

In those days we still had a conscript army, so there was a lot more organised manpower available.

RAYNET was formed after the floods, but my father tells me that the RNLI became involved. And one of the first emergency services on the scene of the Kegworth air crash was the RNLI—a lifeboat crew was returning the London Boat Show.

A lot has changed, but you're still never far from the sea in England.

48:

I am making a note of that line...

49:

The earthquake at Fukushima measured Magnitude 7.1 but there was more potential damage to buildings than that implies because of the larger than normal horizontal shaking component this earthquake generated.

That's the same magnitude rating as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake at its epicentre, but the Fukushima reactors were stressed to withstand greater earth movements and they appear to have come though the shocks safely.

A typhoon wouldn't have that much effect on the reactors or even the spent fuel pools. The worry is that exposed and unhardened pumps, generators etc. currently on site providing cooling functions might be taken off line if a direct hit occurred. These functions are normally handled by well-protected equipment in safehold buildings but not after the damage the reactors took from the hydrogen explosions.

50:

I find it hard to understand how some of you claim that they sohuld have been prepared for a natural disaster of a magnitude that was never seen before in history. They had a 15 meter tsunami. this is the largest one they have ever had. would you believe that tomorrow they will have 45 meter one? well they didnt believe they would have 15 meter one the same way. its impossible to be 100% risk-free in any kind of industry. and out of all energy industries atomic is the safest industry that is able to produce enough energy for humans. i mean sun power is safer, but its capacity is barely giving us a jolt. and oil being burnt in 1 year done more damage than this while disaster including the leaked radiation in sea and air. so to say we shouldnt go atomic is silly at best. if anything this should be example how efficient the security is in atomic plant (to compare just look at the oil refinery that went in flames during same event).

51:

They haven't been recording tsunami heights there for all that long. Historical research since the plant was built shows that the area has quite large tsunami's once or twice a century.
On the other hand, Fukushima is a little bit down the shore from the towns that were all but wiped out by the tsunami. After all, there were lots of people living nearby to evacuate when the plant started to leak. In the hardest hit towns, you wouldn't have needed an evacuation a week later, right?
What I have read somewhere, but am not sure about, is that they were overconfident in their seawall and put the backup power system near the bottom of the complex.
It was the loss of the backup power system and the inability to get outside power hooked back up quickly (which is one piece that the responsibility is broader than TEPCO) that was at the root of all evil. That dependence on vulnerable backup power seems to me, as an amateur, like a very unwise design choice.
Maybe someone with more design experience could speak to that.

52:

I agree that they could not have foreseen a tsunami anything like that size when the built the plant. Evidence that much larger tsunamis, although still smaller than this one, had occurred in the past few hundred years did become available since then. If TEPCO fought against doing anything with this new knowledge, that is not the way I would want a nuclear plant operator to act.
Also, one thing they definitely should have known even when they designed the plant was that they did not know how large a tsunami they might have to deal with. So it is fine that they designed anti-tsunami protection to the best of their knowledge, but then relying on that protection as though it was assured to be safe was where I think they made their mistake.
Going a step further, in my experience with corporate Japan, I think there is a general tendency to mistake "well engineered" for "guaranteed reliable".
By the way, there is another nuclear complex up the coast a way, at Onakawa. That plant made it through the same tidal wave without too much problem. The Japanese press thinks it is because the site was another 5 meters or so higher.

53:

I'd also add that one major vulnerability at Fukushima was depending on a wall to stop the tsunami. Quite a lot of critical equipment was built where it would be flooded if the sea got into the plant. They had no defense in depth, and hopefully, future plants will be built with critical equipment sitting a bit off the ground.

The real problem, though, is we don't learn from our mistakes. I just read an article in Chemical and Engineering News (sorry, it's behind a paywall), where the head of the Chemical Safety Board spooled off a list of lethal plant accidents from the last 60 years, and then noted that exactly the same problems had killed people over the last 13 years.

These include small problems like using natural gas to clean pipes in chemical plants (bad idea if combined with 84% air and a spark, but apparently SOP in the industry--you can imagine the before and after pictures), siting plants too close to civilians, and so forth.

We're not doing an adequate job acknowledging or learning from our mistakes. Indeed, the CSB has had a bad rep for not finishing investigations, and this current boss is trying to fix it.

To me, that's the scariest thing about Fukushima. It wasn't sufficiently nasty (yes, Charlie, I'm looking at you).

All you have to say is, "Oh, it didn't kill very many people, therefore everything was fine," and we'll get another mess like this one. If you look at chemical companies, this is how they operate, and I seriously doubt the nuclear industry is any different.

54:

"Any examples for off-the-scale disasters being handled adequately anywhere?"
They weren't natural disasters, but the Soviets surviving the initial Nazi onslaught in 1941 and moving much of its industry safely beyond the Urals is at least pretty equivalent. Conversely, the Germans keeping war production going under massive Allied bombing and even as territories supplying raw materials were lost is pretty equivalent too. If Albert Speer had been like the FEMA Director during Katrina, the war would have ended years earlier.

55:

I mis-read you as saying "If Albert Speer had been the FEMA Director during Katrina".

A strange vision.

--
John Hughes
(Damn but those googke accounts things are ugly).

56:

"Any examples for off-the-scale disasters being handled adequately anywhere?"

Fukushima Daini, ten kilometres down the coast from the Daiichi plant, got hit by the same tsunami. There was a temporary loss of power to the reactor cooling systems necessitating them going onto emergency power until the main supply was reestablished. All four reactors are in cold shutdown, no releases of radioactive materials reported but since they did have the power failures they're listed as an INES class 3 emergency on the JIAF website and they have their own mandatory exclusion zone which happens to be totally subsumed withing the larger zone around the Daiichi plant. The area is regarded as safe enough that workers assigned to Daiichi use the Daini site for accomodation, canteen facilities, showers etc.

You can google to find pictures of the flooding at Daini -- quite impressive.

57:

I find it funny to discuss Fukushima as a finished accident/catastrophe - of course all I know is what the media and the various nuclear agencies report, but that sounds like TEPCO has a plan, but nothing more. And it does sound like "there needs to be active maintenance and monitoring for the next decade or so just to maintain the status quo of the plant" - and that does sound - to me, German angst and all - a tiny bit like "lets hope nothing goes wrong in the next decade or so".

58:

The Japanese should never have stopped heeding their Tsunami Stones...

Still, the fact that the plant -- a 40+ year old building based on a 50+ year old design which was questionably sound at the time it was created -- survived three near simultaneous disasters, each several times more sever than it was designed to handle, while everything for miles around it was wiped of the face of the earth dosen't seem to get mentioned very much; just the problems.

59:

Charlie:
"FEMA (in the USA) is supposed to be able to respond to emergencies."

Actually, not so much. Most of FEMA's real job is writing checks to the people who actually DO respond to disasters. They don't have the staff to do actual disaster response on a very large scale. That means states, counties, and cities do the real end-user prep work (which all receive giant piles of money for disaster preparedness from FEMA - and yes, New Orleans and Louisiana definitely cashed those checks).

The problems in Louisiana were local, not FEMA. The Federal bodies that do respond to things like hurricanes are people like the National Guard - who have to wait (by law) for the Governor of the state to request their help. Guess what didn't happen right away in 2006, because the Governor was an idiot and adamantly refused to sign one simple form?

"Unfortunately, in 2006 it proved to be totally inadequate -- making its head a political appointee (and an example of cronyism with no experience in the disaster management field) wrecked its ability to do the job."

Except, of course, that whole paragraph is not true (except for the lack of experience thing, which isn't too important for a figurehead who mostly does press conferences). The failures of FEMA in 2006 were mostly press-related.

In scale and effectiveness, the response to Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi was larger and faster than almost any disaster in US history. The only delays were because of distance and logistics - the equivalent of having to ship everything from Berlin to London by truck, AFTER the roads had been cleared and the bridges were inspected (yes, that had to be done first)... and help started arriving less than two days after the hurricane had passed over the disaster area. An area, by the way, slightly smaller than England.

60:

Strongly agree. The engineering culture developed in rail and aviation seems to have been much more effective at ensuring that best practise is propagated thoroughly.

Regards
Luke

61:

@ Luke, I have worked in both nuclear and aviation, and lots of the culture and practices are similar, except that nuclear is far more safety-oriented and aviation more performance-oriented.

The big difference is that people accept a few serious aviation accidents each year, presumably because of the clearer upper boundary of the harm of each individual accident, because people can choose not to fly and because there is no alternative for really long distances.

As a result, aviation has a much larger experience of real accidents to base their decisions on. They know which risks are the important ones. And anything that has not caused a crash by now does not warrant large amounts of money to safeguard against.

Nuclear has a more difficult position. The acceptable standard is something roughly one serious accident in the world every few generations, and everything beyond that is too much.

So nuclear safety has to guard against things that have not yet ever happened, and inevitably against some things that will never happen, except we don't know for sure they will never happen. That's far harder, and it is especially hard to balance safety versus cost if you cannot look at the historical record for a reliable indication of how safe you already are.

62:
Except, of course, for the radioactives released into the sea, and no-one knows how to evaluate the effects of those. Japan is a maritime and riverine culture, and to poison the sea is poison to the heart of Japan

What do you mean? We already know what happens when radioactive waste is released into the sea.

63:

One possible reason why nuclear power does not have an engineering culture that learns as well from mistakes may be that they have captive customers. If an airline or aircraft manufacturer responded to a crash with the attitude of "well, we're still safer than driving", they would lose customers fast.
That is one of my major objections to nuclear power. I think the technology (as it exists to date) inherently fits with a large, centralized bureaucracy. And whether they are communist or capitalist, large enough bureaucracies become unresponsive. It is not as though the local food coop can take on a nuclear power plant.
The only safe way I can see to run it would be some kind of order of humble engineering monks and nuns who did it out of sheer idealism of some sort. Franciscanukes.

64:

Something is very very wrong with the way we evaluate dangers.

Coal kills every day, and frequently kills catastropically. Hell, it presents a risk of causing deaths by the billions if climate change ends up disrupting food production badly enough.

The biggest historic disasters related to power generation- and this is not even a close race - are all from hydroelectric dams. The biggest potential disasters are hydro electric. There is simply no way in which any nuclear power station could kill as many people as a serious collapse of Aswan or three gorges would.

Terrorism? Natural gas facilities are approximately infinitely more vulnerable to that, because they are far less guarded (by nessesity. you cannot really guard a thousand kilometers of pipe..)

But fission attracts fear out of all proportion. I am absolutely certain that the fear caused by fukushima has caused several orders of magnitude more death and harm than the radiation released.

In fact, going by the amount of effort we expend avoiding radiation compared to the amount of effort we expend trying avoid people being killed in every other sector of society, we appear to belive that being slightly-to-moderately irradiated is a fate worse than death. Many times worse. In fact, we appear to be treating nuclear fission power plants like they were powered by enslaved souleating demons.

This makes my head hurt.

65:

To clarify: I am not saying that, for example, the EPR represents overly cautious engineering. What I am saying is that if we consider the EPR representative of the level of safety we expect from our engineered infrastructure, not a single coal or gas fired powerplant currently on the planet should be allowed to continue operating.

66:

People interested in this issue should read "Fukushima: 7-Week Update", at http://allthingsnuclear.org/post/5173479472/fukushima-7-week-update

67:

Nuclear hardly has 'captive customers'. There are more manufacturers of plants than of large airliners, and people can build coal or gas plants that fulfil a nearly identical function.

68:

But fission attracts fear out of all proportion.

One of the great enduring tragedies of the 20th century is that, because of the second world war, we got nuclear weapons before we got civil nuclear power.

(It didn't have to happen that way; without the wartime impetus to develop the bomb, reactors would have been seen as the logical first step -- the initial military application would have been reactors for naval propulsion rather than a highly speculative and horrendously expensive experimental weapons program.)

69:

Its also one of the great fortunes of the 20th century that the United States developed the bomb first. The US was and is far from perfect, but we didn't use our 4 years of sole possession of working A-bombs to try to (fully) conquer the world.

Despite the tragedy, it could be so much worse. No nuclear carpet bombing, yet.

70:

I mean that the power company's customers usually have no real option. And the people living in Fukushima have no option to live in some alternative universe where the alternative TEPCO did a better job and they weren't forced out of their homes.

71:

I agree that coal and hydroelectric power are more dangerous than nuclear. For years I was glad that Bin Laden didn't go dam busting along the Sacramento River with those planes (flooding Sacramento and the entire San Francisco Bay, for those who don't know the geography. The Bay averages 12' deep, and you can imagine what a large flood would do). That would have been much more devastating than 9/11.

Heck, even wind power is dangerous. I predict that, within 10 years, we will have our first major wind turbine-sparked forest fire in the western US, and lives will be lost as a result. When those big turbines fail, it's reportedly spectacular, and a lot of sparks fly.

That's why I like conservation. It's the safest way to increase our energy supply by ~20%.

I also like propagation of best practices, as Luke noted.

72:

If we desire an overall low carbon economy, we are going to need more electricity. A lot more. Heat pumps, electric transport, replacing fossile fuel based chemical and industrial processes with electrically based ones, and so on and so forth. All of this is not going to happen within the capacities of the present grid - more juice is going to be required, and not just a little. Overall energy consumption may well drop a lot (electric processes are generally more efficient) but if your plan for cleaning up electricity generation involves producing less electricity, you are directly sabotaging all efforts to clean up everything else.

Further, also keep in mind that certain kinds of conservation policies have the effect of displacing heavy industry, and this is not good for the planet at all, as industrial practices outside the first world are wastly less efficient, and thus more polluting per unit of output.

73:

It is interesting to compare Charlie's technocratic response with that of the bankers in THE 2008 financial meltdown. There seem to be a lot of parallels, including the type of risk analysis and cost benefit accounting. In both cases, very little account is taken of how the risks were measured, nor the potential effects of a major fail (as we saw with Chernobyl).

Consider the size of earthquake being prepared for. 1 in a 1000 years (@bellingham). Nobody has measured earthquakes for 1000 years, so this is an extrapolation from known seismic data (power law distribution) and guesstimates from historical evidence. We haven't the experience to know how stable these distributions are. Like bankers believing that their risk models suggested that 2008 was a 15 sigma event, when it clearly wasn't and history had been ignored.

The problem with reactors is that individuals are not able to adjust their risks easily. An event, however local, is a problem for the individual, and should not automatically be deemed an "acceptable" risk because the population (which population?) has a low risk of injury. Suppose the reactor in question had been the Torness plant and Edinburgh had been contaminated by C137. Would the personal impact of such an accident color the neutral risk analysis?

Suppose the wishes of the nuclear enthusiasts are met and we build a lot of reactors to replace fossil fuel energy. Suppose after 100 years we learn to build extremely safe plants, with infinitely low accident rates, much like commercial airliners. But what if that price is 5% of the land contaminated beyond use for our civilizations lifetime? Would that be a good path to take? Who makes those decisions and who is put at risk and who not?

74:

I have read of more than a few technological developments that were said to be based upon, and indeed relied upon, the Circumstances of the Second World War with, say ... electronics?

But how far is this true? Were always and ever these developments based upon us enthusiastically killing each other?

What do we have now that is dependent upon its development for Warfare?

I don't really resent my bit of the multi billion pound purchase price of our spiffy new aircraft carriers, and indeed have no particular objection to killing people who deserve to be killed, but what are we in the U.K. developing in the line of military Tech that will contribute to the Tech Advancement of the Human Race?

75:

Where to begin...
Well, for starters, you expect our civilization to last less than 300 years? Because I give fairly good odds that both you and I will personally see the chernobyl exclusion zone reclaimed, never mind industrial civilization.
Global warming, mercury emissions, and all the other crap from coal are all far more permanent, as they lack half-lives. And rejecting nukes really does mean you are choosing coal and gas, because that has been the result of every single successful anti-nuclear campaign so far. If you think this time will be diffrent, I am afraid that I am going to ask for a really very high standard of proof before I accept it, as the consequences of you being just as wrong as the greenpeace/renewable activists of the 1970's, the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000's are so very dire for the planet.

76:

I'm not making any judgment about what we should do. I happen to think that nuclear is a better option than fossil carbon, but I do have some humility that I am wrong.

The issue is how do we make decisions (or non-decisions) with technologies and social systems that have global impacts. Technocratic solutions do not really take into account minority wishes or the unborn generations.

77:

As far as I can tell, the decisions aren't made by technocrats; they're made by corporate executives and government officials (often managers in regulatory-captured agencies). It's precisely because the people making the decisions don't have the engineering education or experience to understand basic concepts of failure and risk analysis, and don't understand how to analyze cost-benefit tradeoffs that reasonable decisions often aren't made.

And because most issues of societal risk end up as two-sided arguments ("There's no risk" on one side and "We're all gonna die!" on the other), and the arguments are not based on science or engineering anyway, there's no real check on bad decisions other than to shut everything down and not make any decision at al. In other words, bad decision-making is an inevitable part of this sort of planning process until we can educate the people who run things in better ways of making decisions. This is, of course, a process that they resist vehemently.

78:

It's not well known that the hurricane was missing New Orleans. This became known and evacuation stopped. There was a celebration at the Hurricane Watch headquarters over the near miss. At the same time Fema was flying TV cameras at the shipping canal. In the same room at the celebration Fema was watching the canal going under and said not a word. That's why so many died. It's starting to look like it was not Fema or it's bosses doing. But some Right Wing nutballs at the highest level. New Orleans and black south Louisiana voted Democrat. The rest of the state was R/W GOP. Now the Democrats are gone or dead. But some Right Wing nutballs are still working hard to say it was a Democrat Mayor or Governor was at error. We are talking about ethnic cleansing and mass murder.

79:

Um Thomas, I'm not sure what you think I mean by conservation, but you couldn't be more wrong. By conservation, I'm talking about smart ways to increase the efficiency of existing processes to decrease the need to import energy. There's a massive untapped market out there for this stuff.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

1. Duct work for HVAC typically snakes through multiple right angles, not because it is efficient, but because the people cutting the pipes don't want to do trigonometry. The fewer bends in any pipe, the smoother the fluid flow, and the less power you need to pump it. Forcing HVAC installers to focus on smoothing out there airflow in their systems would mean they would need smaller HVAC units, thereby saving a large amount of electricity.
2. For that matter, passively heating and cooling buildings is a really nice way to not use energy of any form.
3. Cogeneration is also useful. You know, capture the waste heat from a power plant, use it to do something? That would have been handy at Fukushima, where the waste heat was the problem. Many plants don't bother with cogeneration, and need a river or ocean nearby to dump heat into.

I could go on, but there's a book out there called Natural Capitalism which is full of similar ideas, many of which are already in use. The book's been reprinted so many times, I don't even know what edition they're on now.

The problem here isn't engineering, it's politics and taxes. In the US at least, huge power plants generate huge tax bills, and therefore municipalities like to build them wherever they can. Efficiency doesn't generate tax revenue (and neither do decentralized power facilities like rooftop solar) and so it isn't as interesting to politicians, especially in our cash strapped times.

80:

This piece raises the issue that the amount of cobalt-60 in the mix at Fukushima #1 alone makes it an INES Level 7 event.

http://ex-skf.blogspot.com/2011/04/fukushima-i-nuke-plant-ishikawa-of-jnti.html

It quotes Michio Ishikawa of the Japan Nuclear Technology Institute (on Asahi TV, 29/4/11):

"I believe the fuel rods are completely melted. They may already have escaped the pressure vessel. Yes, they say 55% or 30%, but I believe they are all melted down. When the fuel rods melt, they melt from the middle part on down.

(Showing the diagram) "I think the temperature inside the melted core is 2,000 degrees to 2,000 and several hundred degrees Celsius. A crust has formed on the surface where the water hits. Decay heat is 2,000 to 3,000 kilowatts, and through the cracks on the crust the radioactive materials (mostly noble gas and iodine) are escaping into the air. ...

"The water [inside the pressure vessel] is highly contaminated with uranium, plutonium, cesium, cobalt, in the concentration we've never seen before.

"My old colleague contacted me and shared his calculation with me. At the decay heat of 2,000 kilowatt... There's a substance called cobalt 60. Highly radioactive, needs 1 to 1.5 meter thick shields. It kills people at 1,000 curies. He calculated that there are 10 million curies of cobalt-60 in the reactor core. If 10% of cobalt-60 in the core dissolve into water, it's 1 million curies."

[... 1 million curies equals 37,000 terabecquerels. ... Tell me I'm wrong! Cobalt-60 alone would make a Level 7 disaster...]

"They (TEPCO) want to circulate this highly contaminated water to cool the reactor core. Even if they are able to set up the circulation system, it will be a very difficult task to shield the radiation. It will be a very difficult work to build the system, but it has to be done.

Groundwater contamination/sewerage contamination are also already issues viz. at Koriyama, 60km due west inland from Fukushima #1, radioactive sewage sludge, slag derived from which is used to make cement, has already led to a halt in sludge recycling, since:

Slag made by reducing the volume of sewage sludge had 334,000 becquerels per kilogram. (http://jen.jiji.com/jc/eng?g=eco&k=2011050100237, Jiji Press, 1 May 2011, High-level radiation detected in sewage sludge)

Apparently, 3,500 tons of sludge has already been burned, and 500 tons sold to cement company.
(http://ex-skf.blogspot.com/2011/05/highly-radioactive-sewage-sludge-in.html)


81:

I agree with your general characterization of decision making, although not perhaps with your conclusion. I also think we can separate out "technocratic" decision making from a Platonic ideal of a "technocracy".

For example, banks are not run by technocrats, but many of their businesses are defined by technologists so that the result is an organization that looks as if it was a technocracy. Furthermore, the arguments in support of bank businesses are clothed in economic theories to provide a veneer, at least, of scientific analysis. (Many economists believe their discipline is a science).

82:

d brown:
"There was a celebration at the Hurricane Watch headquarters over the near miss. At the same time Fema was flying TV cameras at the shipping canal. In the same room at the celebration Fema was watching the canal going under and said not a word. That's why so many died."

Sorry, but that's a load of crap. As I pointed out upthread, FEMA doesn't actually do that job - any camera feeds you saw of the New Orleans canals and flooding were locally-controlled (all of the ones I saw, including the shot of the first levee breach, were police or fire station cameras). The evacuation didn't stop because the hurricane "missed" New Orleans - the city itself was hit by hurricane-force winds, and the plan was, officially, to evacuate - it was just badly done.

Part of the plan was to use school buses to evacuate poor people, but the local politicians (again) decided not to - which is why you saw those photos of hundreds of empty school buses sitting in eight feet of water after the floods. This would not have happened if Governor Blanco (a Democrat) had signed the waiver allowing people with non-commercial driver's licenses to operate school buses. Once again, she didn't do her job and refused to sign the waiver.

Your other comments about "Right Wing nutballs" and "ethnic cleansing and mass murder" are straight out of the loony bin. No, it's not any sort of retcon, no, it's not some crazy Republicans changing history, it's plain old established fact. In 2006, the Governor of Louisiana, the Mayor of New Orleans, and pretty much every important official in charge of the hurricane response (and the followup flooding response), or lack of same, was a Democrat. And they screwed it up. Massively.

Many of them lost their jobs in the next election... except the really stupid Mayor of New Orleans, who managed to hang onto his job for a while because his remaining constituents were, apparently, really stupid too.

83:

"fission attracts fear out of all proportion." Thanks to the old anti-bomb movement. I'm not sure anybody could go dam busting with just planes. even in WW-2 dam busting, it was a hard go to bust them. Dams have very high safety factors.

84:

'There was a celebration at the Hurricane Watch headquarters over the near miss."..." Fema was watching the canal going under and said not a word." All that came from the head of the Hurricane Watch. He was not a pol. but he was mad, real mad. I will say that probably no body set out to kill. Some Whitehouse weasels just believed it would be one more neat dirty trick. But if you do something and people die from it, it's murder. If what you did was crime to start with. Was that?

85:

American, and the rest of the world is having floods. I say Global Warming and get yelled at. Right now in America we may have another 1927 Mississippi flood. Under a 1929 law levees are being blown to let the water spread out. But it keeps raining. And yes Fema is there and so far is doing a good job. A Democrat one and so far nobody is mad. But for the framer whose fields are being covered. That means inches of sand in many places. This not China.

86:
Dams have very high safety factors.

This is true, but remember that the energy released by the impact and explosion of each of the planes that hit the World Trade Center towers was calculated to be just a bit less than a kiloton TNT equivalent, about the power of a fission trigger for a thermonuclear device. I think that much blast (and the subsequent heat from the fuel exploding because the planes were almost fully fueled) would do damage to most any dam. I doubt that level of explosion was considered when designing dams.

87:

The maker of the world biggest and smallest A-bombs (not H bombs) retired and set out to lessen the need for nuke power. He finally came up with a plan that saved winter cold. He set up snow making machines ands ran then in cold weather. the snow palled up and made ice. Then he used the ice to cool manufacturing plants. It worked but was to much trouble for the managers. They may sorry now. His last plain that I know of, was to make slush in the lakes New York drank from. He wanted to us it to cool new York. Nobody ever said it would not work. I read that AOL, Yahoo etc can't build more computer centers in California. Not enough safe electricity to cool the computers. If they moved far enough north they could made ice and save on cooling.

88:

So if the power goes out, a big thermo siphon could move the cooling water?

89:

Well you are not a liar just for believing what real liars told you. Even if its what you really really want to believe. Thats a lot of the country now.

90:

I don't think the fuel exploded. It was just was heavy and burning. the bast did not kick them down. The weakeD steel gave way. Not on a dam.

91:

The DAM BUSTERS used tricky bomb that hit and dropped to the right depth so the water acted like packing. Just a plane going in on the water side would go to small peace's when hit water at speed. And from the open side there would be no packing to hold the blast in the right way.

92:

If the engineers of Fukushima had read Mandelbrot on earthquake and flood statistics, chances are they'd have concluded that they needed a much higher wall. But who would have paid for it? Statistical intuition is still too much based on dice and cards, and too little on storms and waves.

"I'm beginning to think these are regular storms and we have a sh*tty boat."--Jon Stewart

93:

The point is that electricity is not currently the majority of our carbon emissions or energy use, and while substituting electricity for high carbon energy in heating, transport, and industry is likely to realize collosal efficiency gains over the economy as a whole, any reduction in electricity demand we realize via efficiency gains in the currently electrified bits of our economy are going to get completely swamped by added demand from transport (electric cars. Electric trains) industry (Arc furnaces in place of coal. Electrolysis for hydrogen inputs in place of natural gas. and so on and so forth) heating (a heat pump only needs small fraction of the energy input a home furnace does, but it consumes electricity, not gas, so it is a new load on the grid)
Where did I put that link.. ah, here: Try to reach the UK carbon goals without exporting pollution elsewhere (IE: Dont limit industry production, no massive imports of biofuels or electricity.) Now have a look at what your electricity demand curve looks like.

http://2050-calculator-tool.decc.gov.uk/

94:

"d.brown" seems to be injecting almost-random rubbish into this discussion (again) ....

95:

It kills people at 1,000 curies. He calculated that there are 10 million curies of cobalt-60 in the reactor core.

Someone is garbling, or otherwise talking gibberish.

One Curie of any radiation source is enough to kill quite a few humans, if distributed appropriately; it's a measure of radioactive decays/second, and a large one that has been superseded by the Becquerel because it's too damn big to be useful.

But note the if distributed appropriately. You can sit right next to a Curie of some alpha emitter and be fairly safe as long as there's an air gap of at least half a metre between you and it, because alpha particles are strongly absorbed by air. (If you're worried about air, a sheet of cardboard will substitute.)

The issue with Co-60 is that it's highly active because it has a short-ish half-life -- 5.27 years or thereabouts -- decaying by beta emission to a Nickel isotope that promptly emits two gamma rays before it stabilizes. So it's effectively a strong gamma emitter at short, highly penetrating wavelengths. But a couple of metres of concrete should still be enough to shield plant workers from its effects.

Finally, they're talking about 10 megaCuries of Co-60 being loose in the reactor core. That's bad, but by way of comparison, the Chernobyl disaster spewed 200 megaCuries of fallout all over the landscape. There is a reason the experts are saying this incident doesn't deserve to be slotted into the same category as Chernobyl.

96:

Noted.

d brown: Kindly reduce the volume of your posting here, and try to think clearly. Otherwise I'm going to have to tell you to take some time out.

97:

Well, I would prefer calling it, clearing historical facts and blame about a recent American disaster from another poster, in this case. Getting people to think out side of there usual patterns in others. Having and making fun in others. Sorry if it irritates. This is not a flame. It's amazing how much power can still be saved. But banks and boards want big deals not little deals. Banks heer hate giving loans for things that are not out front making the house look more expensive. And plants here like BP will not even fix what they know is about to blow.

98:

OK. ITS YOUR BALL AND ITS A GOOD ONE.

99:

Perhaps he is Dan Brown drafting his new book.

100:

1 million curies equals 37,000 terabecquerels. ... Tell me I'm wrong!

You're not wrong, but you've essentially just said, to put this in terms of an asteroid that's threatening to wipe out all life on earth, that the asteroid is far more deadly than previous thought because far from having a mass of 1 billion kilograms, it actually has a mass of 2 billion pounds!

Except it's not even that because rating the radiation produced by Fukushima in becquerels is more like stating the dangerousness of an asteroid in terms of the Kilowatts produced by the impacted, rather than in tnt equivalents or total energy released in joules. Obviously you're no more likely to survive the release of a million kilowatts of energy directly on your head than you are to survive exposure to 1 million curies of radiation, but it's Sooooo not a useful measure of the danger of the asteroid or fukushima.

Part of the problem in assessing Fukushima from a distance is that the Japanese Government and the for-profit-business that runs the reactors haven't released any useful information about how much radiation actually leaked yet – the japanese government ALMOST did with their sievert based readings, except that this has led a large number of physics & maths nerds like Randall Munroe (who should know better) to go around rating Chernobyl or TMI or Sellafield disasters in given units of sieverts, when sieverts are an entirely clinical measurement that differs hugely depending on a wide range of factors, of which the amount of grays you receive isn't that big a factor as where in your body you received the grays and what form the radiation took.

Sieverts are a unit of damage taken, not radiation produced, to give an example; Alpha sources are hideously nasty and will "produce" massively more sieverts of damage than beta or gamma sources even if the the amount of grays or becquerels produced by the radiation sources are all the same. This leads to odd situation where the microgram of polonium used in the famous Litvinenko assassination "produced" more sieverts than the entirety of the chernobyl disaster, even though the amount of Becquerels and Grays produced were obviously infinitely higher than in the litvinenko assassination.

Becquerels are obviously even more useless than sieverts because its a unit of activity, and doesn't reference what type of activity is occurring and the number of grays produced by a given number of Becquerel is dependent on the number of Becquerel produced over a given time frame, and the for-profit-company that is in charge of fukushima has rather mysteriously only been giving readings of the radiation being released by the reactors in becquerels, and not even mentioning how long the Becquerel readings were taken over nor the quantity of the substances being released into the environment that is producing the readings in Becquerel they're reporting.

in all honestly I have no idea how much damage or lack thereof fukushima has or will cause in the long run, and I don't think anyone except for the officials in and around fukushima who are pointedly giving misleading readings could tell me – but just as a note, if you're seeing readings given in sieverts, they're bullshit, if you see readings given in Becquerel they're also bullshit – until figure in Grays are released you do not know the potential effects of the disaster.

101:

"what are we in the U.K. developing in the line of military Tech that will contribute to the Tech Advancement of the Human Race?"

Well, people at the NATO Advanced Study Institutes and the SPS program http://www.nato.int/science/index.html are trying to systematically apply military science to civilian problems.

There's a whole bunch of schemes where "Black Mesa" types are allowed out for a day to chat to civilian scientists. It's my unfounded belief that the exchange benefits the military more than the civilians, and I also believe that the "best and brightest" generally work in the civilian public domain, but still, they are trying to make a difference and they deserve credit for the effort.

102:

The reports of the amount of contamination released by the Fukushima Daiichi reactors are only estimates as there were no meters or gauges in place to measure the contaminants as they left the site. The estimates were reverse-engineered from the levels and types of contamination measured after about a month of data collection on both land and sea and as such have large error bars. Those measurements have been made and collated by organisations such as MEXT, the Japanese police NBC unit, the JSDF and assorted university-based groups as well as TEPCO. Only one of these is, as far as I can tell, a for-profit organisation and hence not trustworthy to some people.

As for the units involved, Bq can be directly measured as a level of contamination in water, soil, foodstuffs etc. whereas Grays and rads have to be tortured from the data depending on a whole host of complicating factors. A high Bq count of I-131 in, say, drinking water is something that can be noted and used to make decisions on whether to suspend tap water supplies. A vanishingly small Bq count means the water is safe to drink (tabun).

Note that TEPCO reports Bq counts in terms of cubic centimetres and grammes whereas MEXT etc. use litres and kilogrammes -- it isn't for iniquitious reasons but practical ones. TEPCO measures high levels of concentrated radioactivity close to the reactors whereas MEXT and the others measure "fallout", significantly lower levels of contamination distributed over much wider areas.

103:

a heat pump only needs small fraction of the energy input a home furnace does, but it consumes electricity, not gas, so it is a new load on the grid

Maybe I'm badly mistaken but in the US gas heat via forced air has been way cheaper than heat pumps for most of the last 50 years. And while I've never done the math I would expect that if it was not so that the power companies would not be building gas operated power plants.

Are we talking about the same thing?

104:

conservation

I was with you until you made it into a conspiracy.

New construction is just a political issue with raising standards. And I use the word "just" with a bit of a smile on my face.

The biggest issue with all of this is retrofit costs.

My house is a perfect example. Built in 1961. No insulation in the walls or floors over the crawl space. 3.5" in the ceilings but likely averages about 2.5" now. Single pane glass windows. Poorly designed furnace and AC systems. I've been slowly upgrading it myself but after talking with several people who deal with home construction they estimate that it would cost $20K to $40K per house to have a contractor do it all at once properly and with permits.

I mean to properly re-insulate my attic correctly I need to close off the gable vents, add ridge and soffit vents, then add the insulation. And replacing all the windows in my house by a contractor will cost AT LEAST $10,000.

And also add to the problem that in the US in much of the country we get to deal with 100F and 20F nearly every year.

105:

Hi Charlie,

Sorry to sidetrack people into that whole dam-busting thing with planes thing. Whether it would work or not is hopefully beside the point. I'm personally not interested in doing the calculations to see if it would work, and I certainly have no intention of trying it. It's available if anyone wants to use it as a plot device.

It's also worth remembering that small dams kill people every year. If anyone goes over the spillway in a dam, they can get caught in the turbulence in the outlet pool and drowned. That's not in the same class of killer as a dam break, but it's worth remembering. They also have substantial environmental impacts, and without dredging, they don't last more than a century or two due to siltation.

106:

Cost does not linearily correlate with energy consumption. The question whether using a heat pump to do your domestic heating is cheaper than gas depends on the relative cost of electricity and gas, the capital cost of a heat pump installation, the interest you incur on that investment, and so on. If you want to know if it makes financial sense to install one for you, get some quotes and run the numbers.

107:
1. Duct work for HVAC typically snakes through multiple right angles, not because it is efficient, but because the people cutting the pipes don't want to do trigonometry. The fewer bends in any pipe, the smoother the fluid flow, and the less power you need to pump it. Forcing HVAC installers to focus on smoothing out there airflow in their systems would mean they would need smaller HVAC units, thereby saving a large amount of electricity.

Do you have any figures for these inefficiencies that could be ironed out of the system? My impression is that the statement means large amounts of electricity will be saved because large numbers of people would save small amounts of electricity. That's just a little different than saying that individual units would save large amounts of electricity.

108:

This post and some of the comments reek of a Dr. Strangelove-like bravado. Those of us who point out the seriousness of the Fukushima disaster are derided as either ignorant or weak or both. (I don't consider myself to be either.) This especially evidenced by comments like "planting crops such as rapeseed and sunflowers which leach and sequester cesium from the soil. How effective this will be is yet to be discovered."

So all we have to do is crawl into our mineshafts for thirty years and everything will be alright, eh?

1) This is not three separate disasters. This is one disaster. Practically all tsunamis are caused by earthquakes, and earthquakes in coastal zones frequently trigger tsunamis. And tsunami induced nuclear meltdowns are very likely to lead to hydrogen gas buildup. Arguing that this incident was improbable because its probability is the product of three low probabilities is silly in the extreme.

2) "Thousand year" disasters seem to be happening just about every other year these days. But it's always a case of "who could have known?":

1) 2004 Indonesian earthquake and tsunami (240,000)
2) 2010 Haitian earthquake (220,000)
3) 2008 Cyclone Nargis (150,000)
4) 2010 Russian heatwave (56,000)
5) 2003 European heatwave (40,000)
6) 2003 Indian heatwave (1500)
7) 2011 Brazilian floods and landslides (1000)
8) 2008 Afghanistan blizzard (930)
9) 2009 Australian brushfire (170)
10) 2010 Afghanistan avalanche (170)
11) 2010 Chinese winter storm (130)
12) 2010 Pakistani avalanche (100)

3) Unit 4 burned up catastrophically and hardened vents would not have saved it.

4) According to ZAMG the daily emissions rate of cesium-137 (30 year halflife) at Fukushima was 60% that of Chernobyl. Since it proceeded over a longer time period the total amount of radioactive emissions at Fukushima likely exceeded Chernobyl. True it is concentrated in a much smaller area but then the Fukushima prefecture has nearly 4 times the population density of Belarus (where most of the Chernobyl fallout landed) and is (was) one of the most important agricultural and fishing zones in Japan. And the fact that it's still too dangerous to even go closer than the 20 km evacuation zone to get accurate radiation readings should be a clue that the economic and ecological impact of these emissions will hardly be trivial.

5) There is no known safe level of radiation exposure. To claim that there will be absolutely no negative public health impact from this event when thousands of people were living in makeshift shelters just miles from open reactors during a time when they were spewing large amounts of radioactive isotopes into the nearby atmosphere (and the government was not distributing potassium iodode) is simply unbelievable.

6) Based on TEPCO's and the Japanese authority's handling of this incident and their continual underestimation of the event's severity you can be sure whatever we know now the truth is far worse.

I'm not against nuclear power. But efforts to excuse and trivialize this incident need to be absolutely condemned.

109:

My point was that there's a lot that could be done to make houses in the US more efficient from an energy point of view. But the pay back on much of this is many decades. Or never. Better duct routing would make a difference. Say 1% to 2% of your power bill. But how much to tear out existing walls and such then replace the old? Same as with my insulation. Just doing it makes no sense unless you also deal with attic venting and oh, yeah, make sure you do any needed wiring upgrades in the attic before you blow in another 10" of fluffy stuff on top of the wiring.

Basically it will take 20 to 60 years to make big differences in this stuff unless you expect the typical Joe homeowner to pony up $20K to $40K to save $300 to $500 a year in power usage. Even if power rates triple you're still looking at $900 to $1500 a year in savings which still makes the investment hard to swallow. And the capital costs will NOT increase the value of the house until energy rates do triple or more.

Long term it makes sense to re-work the building codes to ensure much of this and the codes have changed a lot in this direction. So as new housing replaces old things will get better but expecting a 5 year "fix" ... it just isn't going to happen.

110:

If you have 100 notable geographic features on earth and keep looking at the records of 5 distinct parameters - like highest temperature, lowest temperature, highest rainfalls, lowest rainfalls, highest wind speed. You would expect, on average, to see 1000 year records every other year. If you didn't, you wouldn't have such a thing as 1000 year records.

In fact, we don't watch all those records because many records are not very interesting (driest summer or coldest winter of the last 1000 years in the sahara desert - oh really?), and because we are not watching fixed parameters, but an ever shifting arsenal of parameters, depending on what has been the latest disaster. It were hurricanes after Katrina, it's tornadoes after the latest outbreak etc.

Just look at the parameter is your list: 9 distinct kinds of natural disasters (counting earthquakes and tsunamis as "distinct", since the tsunami affected a much larger area). And you didn't even include the volcanic eruption of Chaiten in 2008 (a 9000-year event), the eruption of Tambora in 1815 or the 1975 Cyclone that caused the worst dam failure in human history.

The "record" number of tornadoes observed lately in the USA is, btw, just an artifact of doppler radar stations being able to reliably pick up cat. 1 and cat. 0 twisters that nobody would have noticed back in the 1970ies or earlier.

Nature just is that violent.

111:

Cost does not linearily correlate with energy consumption.

Agreed. But the original poster seemed to indicate that electric heat was efficient and gas heat was not and could never be. But if the delivered BTU costs are reasonably close then the efficiencies should be similar.

Anyway I would like to know why he thinks gas can't be near as efficient as electric heat pumps. In the US it is rare that a modern electric heat pump is cheaper than a modern gas force air system.

112:

There is no known safe level of radiation exposure. To claim that there will be absolutely no negative public health impact from this event

Then why aren't the groups trumpeting this telling people to stop flying to Disney World as it elevates their risk of cancer due to increased radiation?

113:

Two issues here: The first, and most important one is very simple; No natural gas heating system can ever be lowcarbon. Electric heating systems, of any type, inherit their carbon intensity from the generation mix in that locale, so if you are on a wholly clean grid, even straight resistance heaters are less harmful to the enviorment than NG.

Secondly: What a heat pump does is that it expends 1 unit of electricity to move 3(for a pump exchanging heat with the air)-5(ground pumps) units of heat from the outside into your house, via bog-standard refridirator tech run in reverse. Thus, unless you count "ambient heat" as a resource, it gets a lot more heat per unit of energy spent. Natural gas burners simply convert their chemical energy to heat. The main problem with heatpumps is that high efficiency ones mostly do need you to have a garden to dig up so that you can use the ground as a heat source. Dense developments are economically better served by district heating from the local powerplant..
But in a low-carbon grid that would.
Eh. Involve siting your reactors as close to city centers as possible. Hmm. Ehh. Even I find this a bit.. questionable.

114:

But that was not what his point was.

a heat pump only needs small fraction of the energy input a home furnace does, but it consumes electricity, not gas, so it is a new load on the grid

Where does he come from stating a heat pump uses only a small fraction of the energy of a gas furnace?

CO2 and all that I get. Of course when 1/2 of the grid is coal fired then gas is a better option for the planet.

But even if all electricity is nuclear (which mine is most of the time, sort of, well depending on how you look at it) paying an extra few $100 a year to be good for the planet is a hard choice to make for many people.

115:

To heat your home from the ambient temperature of 0 degrees celcius to a livable 19 degrees you need. 5X watts worth of heat.
Either you burn 5X watts worth of natural gas which converts chemical energy to heat, and delivers the desired temperature increase. Or you use 1X watt worth of electricity to move 4.somethingX watts of heat from the ground below your garden to your house, which in combination with the waste heat from the pump delivers 5X watts worth of heat to your house and cools the ground below your garden slightly.

Economically, heatpumps are generally (much) cheaper than oil, coal or resistance heaters. They can be cheaper than natural gas heating, but this depends a heck of a lot on how much NG costs where you live, and how easily a pumpsystem can be fitted to your existing heating because the dominant cost is the capital. The electric bill from a heat pump doesnt come to much, typically. Get a quote from a contractor if you are interested.

Hmm. Possibly it isnt such a very bad idea to place those combined heat and power plants in city centers, after all. Put city hall/parliament on top of the containment and I guarantee they will be run properly ;)

116:

Where does he come from stating a heat pump uses only a small fraction of the energy of a gas furnace?

OK, OK.

I think you've been confused by the way that Thomas explains that for each BTU-equivalent of electricity, you get 3 to 5 BTU-equivalents of heat. Think of it the other way round - if you want 1 BTU-equivalent of heat, you can burn 1 BTU-equivalent of gas. Or you can use 0.2 - 0.33 BTU-equivalent of electricity.

That's the point - for home heating, what you want is a certain amount of heat. While the gas furnace is pretty efficient (I'd expect it to be able to reach 90%), the heat pump as described actually has an effective efficiency of 300-500%. So, to get the same heat, it uses only a small fraction of the energy of a gas furnace.

Sadly, heat pumps aren't magical. The more the temperature difference it has to work against, the more its efficiency drops. So I'd not recommend it for polar bases. Also, the electricity has to get there in the first place, and that also has inefficiencies.

When I was young, we seriously considered installing a heat pump with its input in the river that flowed through our house. At 1970 electricity prices, it almost made sense, but not quite.

117:
The biggest issue with all of this is retrofit costs.

My house is a perfect example. Built in 1961. No insulation in the walls or floors over the crawl space. 3.5" in the ceilings but likely averages about 2.5" now. Single pane glass windows. Poorly designed furnace and AC systems. I've been slowly upgrading it myself but after talking with several people who deal with home construction they estimate that it would cost $20K to $40K per house to have a contractor do it all at once properly and with permits.

Congratulations, you've just discovered a big driver of urban decay/renewal. This is also a big part of the cost of converting to solar or other types of green energy. I'm in the same boat you are, btw - my house was built sometime in the 1930's for distinguished faculty members of the local university. The trick is to do it all yourself. It's still going to be a hunk of change, of course. But you can spread it out over several years and in those odd moments when you don't have anything better to do.

118:

OK. We're talking the same thing but different at the same time.

In the east/southeast USA, where I know about costs, heat pumps have been a looser cost wise for about 19 years out of 20. Summers are in the 85F+ much of the time, 100F at times and in the winter 30F or lower for non trivial periods of time. So the heat differential issue is a big one. Plus natural gas is very cheap. Very. There was only one year, maybe two, in the last 20 here in NC where heat pumps even came close to NG for heating costs. And for years before that NG was always a winner when I lived in KY, Penn, and CT. And when the temps stay low the "emergency" resistance whole house heat mode is a real killer.

And ground based heat pumps sound neat but maintenance when they break is a killer. There's a school somewhere one county over that about 10 years ago got a grant to install a ground based system. 5 years after it was installed (one system per classroom????) about 1/3 of the units were not working and without funds to deal with the repair and no local expertise they were going to replace the units with traditional outside air systems. I'm sure they are better now but change sure can be painful till the kinks are worked out.

As to the centralized setups the more and more centralized you make them (costs almost always drive you to the bigger) the more and more a single failure can wreak an area. If my heat or hot water goes out now I can visit a neighbor. If the entire area is out, I'm stuck.

119:
I'm not against nuclear power. But efforts to excuse and trivialize this incident need to be absolutely condemned.

So pointing out that there have in fact been no deaths or illnesses attributable to this accident as a result of radiation leakage, or pointing out that as far as we know very little radiation was actually released into the environment is now "excusing and trivializing" this incident?

You've got some idiosyncratic definitions for those terms, friend.[1]

I'd also elaborate on the point that what you've posted looks like boilerplate lifted wholesale from some anti-nuke site, but I think most people here find that pretty obvious - the linear no-threshold model for radiation damage being retranslated as unsafe at any level was a flashing neon pointer plus air raid siren.

[1]It may have escaped your notice, but the people who are "trivializing" this incident have also and for the most part railed against the poor design and poor management of this particular plant. Don't let that cognitive dissonance cause your head to explode.

120:

The trick is to do it all yourself. It's still going to be a hunk of change, of course.

If course only about 1 in 10 are maybe qualified to do it right or at least do the job to the point they are not creating a fire hazard. Especially with electrical.

When I moved to my current house about 20 years ago I was working on my car brakes and got to a situation where I could really use an extra short 1/2" drive ratchet. So I visited the neighbors I had met and non of them owned a socket set. I was a bit confused. How could you own a house and not own a decent collection of tools such as a socket set, wrenches, etc... Now I know better.

121:

It's interesting to me how much publicity the FD plant got. We've had several coal mines experience serious trouble in the last couple years. Remember the Chilean miners that were trapped last year? Or the miners killed in the explosion in Mexico... and many others! In the last 40 years, there have been 16 coal mine accidents that resulted in at least 5 deaths. http://www.usmra.com/saxsewell/historical.htm The FD plant hasn't killed anyone to the best of my knowledge, and it's received lots of negative media. Eventually we'll run out of oil and coal. At that point, the demand for energy will surpass the irrational fear of nuclear power, but until then we're stuck.

122:
The trick is to do it all yourself. It's still going to be a hunk of change, of course.
If course only about 1 in 10 are maybe qualified to do it right or at least do the job to the point they are not creating a fire hazard. Especially with electrical.

Yes, that and you've actually got to, you know, own your home. And even if you own your condo, it's still not a house, not something that can be easily worked on.

When I moved to my current house about 20 years ago I was working on my car brakes and got to a situation where I could really use an extra short 1/2" drive ratchet. So I visited the neighbors I had met and non of them owned a socket set. I was a bit confused. How could you own a house and not own a decent collection of tools such as a socket set, wrenches, etc... Now I know better.

Well, the times do change. In 1966 there were plenty of guys who would by no means call themselves mechanics, but who did as a matter of course own tools to work on their own vehicles - they were perfectly comfortable with changing out a set of points and plugs and they didn't need to go to no damn' mechanic to do such a trivial bit of maintenance. Same for doing home improvement projects. Nowadays? Different story. The same goes for what was once considered the province of the ladies - needlework and the like. How many homes these days have a sewing machine?

I'd go on about how this represents a Decline of Civilized Standards, but I'll shut my yap now; I'm intruding on my parent's turf ;-)

123:

"I'd also elaborate on the point that what you've posted looks like boilerplate lifted wholesale from some anti-nuke site, but I think most people here find that pretty obvious - the linear no-threshold model for radiation damage being retranslated as unsafe at any level was a flashing neon pointer plus air raid siren."

Evidently opinions on the shape of the earth differ. The Linear-No-Threshold model (LNT) that the National Academies of Science uses for predicting health effects from radiation (dose-response) means that every exposure causes some risk and that risks are generally proportional to dose.

124:

Uh-huh. So then you advocate - as another poster observed - the cessation of all flying above, say, 5,000 feet right? All that increased exposure to radiation, doncha know. For that matter, your group is also going on about shutting down all coal-fired plants because of the increased radiation hazard, right?

Which, btw, nice ducking on answering the question about your boilerplate talking points.

I think most people here take your "not against nuclear" in the same spirit as a Democrat voting for Reagan in 1980, "because the party left him". I know I do. As a teacher hearing endless excuses from students at the end of the winter semester for their poor performances, I've got a rather sensitive and finely tuned BS detector for that sort of thing.

125:

I have no group. The "boilerplate talking points" as you put it are entirely my own creation. (I don't need to cut and paste anyone elses.) I'm a huge fan of sustainable energy (e.g. France) but nuclear cowboys like you make me laugh.

I'm an adjunct instructor of economics at a university (I'm finishing my doctoral dissertation), so I too consider my BS detector to be well tuned (the absence excuses I'm getting this year are ridiculous). On the other hand I don't think your BS detector works nearly as well as you think it does.

126:

There's a subtle error in what you're saying here: The Linear-No-Threshold model (LNT) that the National Academies of Science uses for predicting health effects from radiation (dose-response) means that every exposure causes some risk and that risks are generally proportional to dose.

The LNT assumes that risks are generally proportional to dose.

Maybe it isn't that subtle an error, but that's what the model predicts. Because we have evolved in a naturally radioactive environment, it's likely that there is a threshold, but when the radiological safety business started, we had a lot of examples of high doses to base a linear model on, and any discrepancy between model and reality would err towards safety.

There are quite a few fields of science/tech where a linear response assumption gives usable results. Springs are an example in classical physics, so long as you stay within certain limits.

Saying the LNT method of the model means anything in reality is a bit silly

127:

It worked well enough to detect that in fact you haven't warned people off of flying because of the increased radiation hazards. Kinda showed your talking point about "unsafe at any level" for the trivial irrelevancy that it was.

Iow, nope, my BS detector is working just fine, thank you very much ;-)

128:

I agree. "Assumes" is a better choice of words than "means." After all it is a model.

129:
The LNT assumes that risks are generally proportional to dose.

Maybe it isn't that subtle an error, but that's what the model predicts. Because we have evolved in a naturally radioactive environment, it's likely that there is a threshold, but when the radiological safety business started, we had a lot of examples of high doses to base a linear model on, and any discrepancy between model and reality would err towards safety.

Well, all you can say at the low end is that you can't distinguish between sub- or supralinear from linear models. For anything else, the relationship does seem to be linear - and it's easy to see this, since the distribution this sort of effect has is none other than our old friend, the Poisson distribution. Easy, simple, and realistic. The hard part at the low end is that your parameter, λ, is the result of multiplying a smallish number together with a largish one to get a point estimation . . . which is hard to interpret sometimes! Compare this, for example, to the underlying binomial distribution - for small "n" (number of ocurrences) the Poisson distribution consistently overestimates (over the same mean of course - &lambda=np).

130:

Heat pumps: did you know there are also designs for gas operated heat pumps? Basically, a natural gas motor that drives a heat pump, and that also uses the waste heat from the motor as additional heat.

These, as well as home cogeneration, aren't common because the capital cost is excessive and reliability isn't high enough.

Back to nuclear plants: the modern version of the BWRs in these accidents is designed to be passively cooled for two days even in the event of complete plant blackout. This is achieved by having steam channels that run to a heat exchanger located in a large water tank above the reactor. Heat is transfered to this water, which then boils away. There's enough water there to absorb all the decay heat for 48 hours, by which time someone has to be able to pump some more water into that tank (say, with a fire truck) -- much preferable to pumping the water into the reactor vessel itself.

131:

Comments on the LNT...

Because we have evolved in a naturally radioactive environment, it's likely that there is a threshold

Let's think about this.

First, it's clear that carcinogenesis from radiation is likely to be a process involving a single quantum of radiation (otherwise, the dose-response at high radiation rates will be nonlinear, rising quadratically or faster with dose, and this is not seen.) What this means is that at low doses, the number of cells affected is lower, but each one is still receiving the same level of insult. If this insult has a fixed probability of causing cancer, the LNT follows.

But maybe, you might say, there's some threshold effect that changes the probability. Ok, but this threshold effect could go in the opposite direction! Suppose, for example, that above a certain radiation level the body turns on enhanced DNA repair mechanisms, say by producing more DNA repair enzymes. If this is the case, then the probability of cancer at low doses would be underestimated by the LNT.

132:

First, it's clear that carcinogenesis from radiation is likely to be a process involving a single quantum of radiation

Well, maybe likely, but even this is guesswork. Somewhere here there is a copy of 'What is life?' by Schrödinger where he deduces the size of a gene from the mutagenicity of radiation, think I'll have to reread it some day to see if he did some data cooking.

I'm not even that sure what damage is done by the radiation itself, what damage by free radicals and what damage by the reaction of the body to both. See 'bystander effect' etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect_(radiobiology)

133:

Because there are are still enough short-half-life fission byproducts in the fuel rods to generate more than enough heat to melt the rods without any further chain reaction.

134:

The reason that the National Academies of Science uses the LNT model is simple. It fits the data.

"A comprehensive review of available biological and
biophysical data supports a "linear-no-threshold" (LNT) risk model—that the risk of cancer
proceeds in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and that the smallest dose
has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans."

http://www.nap.edu/nap-cgi/report.cgi?record_id=11340&type=pdfxsum

People who contradict the NAS findings are antiscientific in my view. The ignorance is theirs as is the weakness (mental that is).

135:

This is why nuclear power will not succeed in its current form. It has nothing to do with paranoia. It's because it's a massive money losing endeavor (unless large transfers are made from taxpayers to utility corporations), with a potential for losing $30 billion in market cap when there's an accident:

http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/snapshot/snapshot.asp?ticker=9501:JP

136:

Yes. Yet more evidence that free market fundamentalism is fundamentally wrong-headed: evaluating the performance of a capital asset with a 50 year life cycle on the basis of quarterly profit-and-loss reports.

137:

There have been comparative epidemiological studies of human populations in low and high-radiation environments which tend to disprove the LNT hypothesis for cancer at least. The effects of extended exposure to low dosages of radiation are down in the noise, statistically speaking and the LNT theory is accepted as the basis for human exposure to particulates and direct radiation to be As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA). In cases such as Fukushima where radioactive releases happen the tendency is to go overboard on the better safe than sorry principle which makes radiation appear even more dangerous to the general population than it probably is.

On the other hand non-nuclear power generators such as coal burners are permitted to emit highly toxic materials at will on the basis that scrubbing the stack gases thoroughly is not a cost-effective proposition. The US EPA announced recently it wanted to reduce the stack emissions of mercury from US coal-fired power stations from the current level of 50 tonnes a year to 5 tonnes a year. This won't happen for ten or fifteen years as it will take that amount of time to build new scrubbing facilities at existing plants and that assumes the government can fight off the attack dogs of the coal industry and actually implement the 5 tonne limit. Note that the deposition of mercury downwind from such plants is cumulative and permanent -- mercury's toxicity doesn't decay, ever. Of course they also emit immense amounts of radioactive materials too, enough to get any nuclear station shut down for incorrect operation but they couldn't operate at all if they were held to the radiological emission limits of nuclear plants.

138:

There have been comparative epidemiological studies of human populations in low and high-radiation environments which tend to disprove the LNT hypothesis for cancer at least.

Epidemiology is a blunt instrument. Useful for detecting strong effects, like cancer from smoking, but not very useful for spotting weak effects, like cancer from low doses of radiation. The effects are easily masked by confounding factors, and in any case the size of the sample needed to see anything grows rapidly as the effect becomes smaller.

139:

As you say the noise level with small effects even in large populations causes some uncertainty in determining. The LNT hypothesis is based on "we don't know how much very small amounts of radiation affect people so we'll set the safe limit to zero because we know larger amounts of radiation do affect people".

The question that poses for people exposed to naturally-occurring radioactive contamination, contamination from coal-burning power stations, cosmic rays from living at high altitudes, medical imaging etc. is usually skipped over by invoking the ALARA principle i.e. if it costs too much money to fix the problems then the levels actually encountered are set as the ALARA limit and everything's peachy. Nuclear power plants aren't permitted that leeway as they are new sources of radioactive pollution; if they aren't built then their emissions are automatically ALARA and the problem is solved. Instead we build coal-burners which we know will release large amounts of radiation into the environment as well as chemical toxins, CO2 etc. but they will do so under high ALARA limits because they have a long history of doing so.

140:

Or walking down the street on a regular basis next to granite clad buildings.

141:

Or preparing food on granite worktops in the kitchen, not something I'd ever recommend doing myself. I believe that nowadays less-radioactive granite is used but during the faddish boom for such materials a few years back the radioactivity levels of the stone being quarried for worktops was not a prime consideration.

142:
As you say the noise level with small effects even in large populations causes some uncertainty in determining. The LNT hypothesis is based on "we don't know how much very small amounts of radiation affect people so we'll set the safe limit to zero because we know larger amounts of radiation do affect people".

Another source of confusion is that some people think that LNT = no cellular repair from radiation damage.

That's simply not true. All the LNT model implies is that there is some (fixed) probability that radiation damage will not be repaired. So you have extremely radiation-resistant species of bacteria like Deinococcus radiodurans that can survive 1,000,000 rads (1,000 rads will kill your average human quite dead) . . . which are nevertheless still subject to the LNT model (theoretically, at least).

That's the problem with probability - saying that the average person will have a serious accident every 100,000 or 500,000 miles simply does not mean that a person can't have a serious accident within 500 feet and ten minutes from where their drivers license was first issued.

143:

"... but they will do so under high ALARA limits because they have a long history of doing so."

Which is, as the saying goes, utterly nuts. The electricity is going to get generated somehow, so the actual ALARA limit of not building a nuke is whatever gets built in its place.

Has anyone (by which I guess I mean a lobbying or campaigning group) ever tried to get ALARA limits regularised across different types of baseload generating units? It's the obvious regulatory endpoint if LDNT is your model of harm.

Regards
Luke

144:

The electricity is going to get generated somehow, so the actual ALARA limit of not building a nuke is whatever gets built in its place.

Correct. But a nuclear plant has radiation detectors; if something else is built there won't be those sensors, the radiation output won't be recorded or reported, and they won't have to look at it. Having kicked some kitty litter over the radiation, they can't smell it and can go on their way as if it never existed.

145:

Anecdotally, a nuclear physics engineer on another blog was talking about working on a research reactor construction and commissioning project in the US some time back. They had problems even before the reactor was fuelled with radiation alarms tripping. They eventually put an air sampling filter on the roof and after a few days they found it loaded with radium isotopes to the point where the filter paper had to be treated as nuclear waste i.e. it couldn't just be dumped or burned.

The contamination in question was coming from a coal-fired power station a few miles upwind, burning locally-mined coal which turned out to have a high level of radium. He didn't say how they fixed the alarms in the reactor building to cope with the mess coming out of the coal plant.

146:

The issue is not how radiation emitted from nuclear reactors compares to airplane travel or to radium emitted from burning coal. That is the hight of idiocy.

The issue is the absurd claim that there is absolutely no public health cost from radiation that has been emmitted from nuclear reactors. Until insipid claims like that stop, expect all intelligent people to be sceptical of "nuclear cowboys".

147:

Now you're just trolling. Why don't you just take your patter to someplace where people are actually behaving in the manner that has apparently got you foaming at the mouth?

The only thing people are saying here - and have been for quite some time - is that the health risks due to radiation leaks from nuclear power plants is lower than those for comparable conventional power generation.

148:

Sorry to burst your apparent obliviousness bubble but Charlie Cross says quite provacatively near the end of this post "Despite all this there appears to have been no public health impact due to radiation..."

That is what is being said here and your efforts to debunk the LNT model have been made in support of that claim. If you wish to change your position feel free to admit that you were wrong.

149:

Uh, Mark? I agree with the LNT model. That you don't get that, and that you don't understand what the model is saying tells me that mathematics and mathematical modeling isn't your thing.

You also appear to be maliciously misunderstanding basic English (people drown in bath tubs, but that doesn't mean that drowning in bath tubs is a public health risk), but that appears to be par for the course.

150:

"Uh, Mark? I agree with the LNT model."

But you wrote at comment 119:

"I'd also elaborate on the point that what you've posted looks like boilerplate lifted wholesale from some anti-nuke site, but I think most people here find that pretty obvious - the linear no-threshold model for radiation damage being retranslated as unsafe at any level was a flashing neon pointer plus air raid siren."

Although by definition the LNT model assumes that every exposure causes some risk and that risks are generally proportional to dose. As I read English that means unsafe at any level.

You wrote:
"That you don't get that, and that you don't understand what the model is saying tells me that mathematics and mathematical modeling isn't your thing."

Odd, since I have a BA and an MA in Mathematics. And that I have two years of econometrics as a doctoral candidate in Economics. But what do I know?

151:

Sigh. So then you think that taking a bath is "unsafe", right? You think drinking a glass of water is "unsafe" as well, that taking a walk around the block is "unsafe", that even the simple act of breathing is "unsafe" for that matter.

As I read English, most people don't think any of those activities happen to be unsafe - despite the nonzero probability of a serious mishap or even death that accompanies all of those activities.

And - I really shouldn't have to do this - but I teach mathematics and probability. And I got my degree doing work in algebraic geometry with some attention to topology, and am currently investigating the use of techniques drawn from homological algebra to infer structure in data that aren't visible by simply looking at the moments to infer heteroskedasticity, etc.

So when I say you don't look as if you understand the modeling, or that you don't look as if you understand that I am agreeing with the model, well, since you want to go with argument by authority here, you don't.

In any case, it's obvious that you didn't know that I agreed with the model, even though I said so quite plainly back at post 129. So on that count I'm skeptical as well.

152:

"Sigh. So then you think that taking a bath is "unsafe", right? You think drinking a glass of water is "unsafe" as well, that taking a walk around the block is "unsafe", that even the simple act of breathing is "unsafe" for that matter."

Exactly everything is unsafe. That's the whole point. Once we admit it, it makes it easier to measure costs versus benefits. There are no perfectly elastic cost curves.

"And - I really shouldn't have to do this - but I teach mathematics and probability. And I got my degree doing work in algebraic geometry with some attention to topology, and am currently investigating the use of techniques drawn from homological algebra to infer structure in data that aren't visible by simply looking at the moments to infer heteroskedasticity, etc."

Wonderful. I taught mathematics at the high school level for four years and at the university level for one. I consider myself a math person despite my current preoccupation with economics. And before I became a math person my focus was on physics. That ended up being my undergraduate minor.

"So when I say you don't look as if you understand the modeling, or that you don't look as if you understand that I am agreeing with the model, well, since you want to go with argument by authority here, you don't."

Well, you certainly have a strange way of agreeing with the model. The model says there is no safe level of radioactive exposure. And yet you spent your time talking to me trying to refute that assertion.

"In any case, it's obvious that you didn't know that I agreed with the model, even though I said so quite plainly back at post 129. So on that count I'm skeptical as well."

Yes, I noticed your your somewhat limpwristed defense of the validity of LNT at comment #129. I wasn't terribly impressed.

153:

"That's the whole point. Once we admit it, it makes it easier to measure costs versus benefits."

I think my point (can't speak for SoV) is that some costs seem to be more equal than others. If we take LDNT as our operating model then it follows that at the societal level we should be looking at all the sources of radioactivity in our environment and working to reduce them across the board - subject obviously to cost/benefit and sunk/opportunity cost considerations. This doesn't seem to be happening in the energy sector, where nuclear facilities operate under radiological release regimes which would shutter every coal burner on the planet.

"Well, you certainly have a strange way of agreeing with the model."

You can accept the model as good enough without thinking it is right - 'No model is correct, some models are useful.'

Personally my (uninformed) intuition is that there is probably some kind of threshold effect operating in the low dose region, but that detecting such a thing satisfactorily isn't going to be happening anytime soon. So unless researchers can come up with a convincing demonstration of a threshold we go with LDNT, which is a simple, pretty robust and conservative model (all good features when doing safety assessments). I suspect SoV's position is in that line of country as well.

Regards
Luke

154:

This would be true if the electricity generation and transmission was 100% efficient, but it is not.
Decades ago when I studied this, the typical efficiency of electrical transmission about about 1/3. Meaning 3 units of electricity are generated for each 1 unit that is actually consumed by the end user. Also the power generation itself is far from 100% efficient. I think I remember numbers like 30-40% for conversion of chemical energy (such as natural gas) into electrical energy. Those figures should be higher by now, but I don't think they are that much higher.
This is why heat pumps are only more energy efficient when run at small temperature differentials, where heat pumps are much more efficient than at large temperature differentials.

155:

The reason that the National Academies of Science uses the LNT model is simple. It fits the data.

You have to read that report for what it is: the consensus of a committee deliberately chosen to represent a wide range of views on the topic. It's chockfull of "weasel words", i.e., the authors seem to have carefully qualified many statements so that the whole committee could agree on the final report. The reasons for using the LNT model are explicitly given as computational simplicity and historical precedent. And they ended up damning the LNT hypothesis with faint praise. They state quite strongly that there is no evidence that low doses of radiation are more harmful than suggested by the LNT hypothesis, but the worst they can say about the hypothesis that very low doses might be harmless or even beneficial is that the effect is not measurable.

So the experts agree: radioactivity is bad at high doses, at the exposure limits the risks are relatively small, and there's no compelling evidence to justify all the hysteria about detectable radioactivity far below exposure limits (but please take a look at this list of topics we would like more funding for).

People who contradict the NAS findings are antiscientific in my view.

By far the most common antiscientific attitude about the inherent danger of radioactivity is the pretense that you can have an adequate control group unless either the danger is quite high or the danger is clearly attributable to the cause. As others have pointed out, the leap from "not provably safe at any level" to "unsafe at any level" raises a red flag.

156:

I've heard these figures independantly from other sources (both engineers), so I think you have remembered correctly.

Incidentally and o/t - this is why I am so far from convinced by battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars as anything other than a means of moving some pollution out of city centres.

157:
Decades ago when I studied this, the typical efficiency of electrical transmission about about 1/3. Meaning 3 units of electricity are generated for each 1 unit that is actually consumed by the end user.

Do you have a source for that 2/3 loss? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2007 transmission losses amounted to about 6.5% of electricity disposition in the United States.

158:

33% efficiency? Eek!

I'm seeing a figure somewhere in the 90% range for the UK grid (including both cable resistance and transformer loss). However, the UK does have a compact grid, so relatively short distances need be covered. There are 300+ stations, on an island only a few hundred miles long.

The US may well be different. I get the impression that the lines are much, much longer.

159:

No, Jessica is conflating the thermodynamic efficiency of (old) heatengines generating electricity with transmission losses.
A coal, gas, concentrated solar, geothermal or nuclear driven powerplant does not convert chemical, solar or binding curve energies directly to electricity - The combustion process, the mirrors or the reactor core output heat, which is then used as an input in some variation of a heat engine, typically a steam turbine, which converts the heat to kinetic energy, which is then converted to electricity in a generator. This is inherently lossy* so the quantity of heat any themal powerplant sheds into the air, the water - or in some cases, into a district heating system - is roughly twice as large as the quantity of electricity it outputs.
Once produced, very little electricity is lost at any point in the grid, and with the proper infrastructure it is possible to transport electricity for thousands of kilometers with neglible losses.
The combustion engine in a typical car does the exact same thing as the turbine in the powerplant, but it is even less efficient, for reasons which should be obvious, so there are some minor savings to be made from electrification, but honestly, the main selling point of the electric car really is that you can use nuclear or other clean heatsources to drive everything in a powerplant, and you cannot fit any of them into a car.

*No. You cannot save two thirds of our energy use by eliminating this "waste". Go read a thermodynamics text if you really want to know why.

160:

District heating combined heat and power uses everybodys radiators as the cold end of a heatengine, and thus achive ridiculusly high systemic efficiencies for their powerplants.. but very few places actually need so much low grade heat that this sort of thing can be used by all electricity plants, and there are limits to how far district heating can be pumped, so in order to realize this efficiency gain, you would need to place your reactors in city centers. At which point most people go.. "You know, Id rather build two less efficient ones outside city limits"

161:

Also, electric motors are much more efficient, especially as you don't necessarily need a mechanical drivetrain. Something that achieves its maximum torque at zero RPM has a lot of advantages for an automotive application. (There's a reason why railway locos are usually electric-drive even if they're diesels.) Generally, any way of generating electricity has the advantage that you can run it at its most efficient speed rather than throttling up and down to match the road wheels.

162:

So pointing out that there have in fact been no deaths or illnesses attributable to this accident as a result of radiation leakage, or pointing out that as far as we know very little radiation was actually released into the environment is now "excusing and trivializing" this incident?
Perhaps your info is out of date. Tepco has increased the level of the incident to 7. I have read in mainstream web news publications (BBC, Channel4) that they have admitted that the amount of radioactivity released is approx 10% of Chernobyl, and that it may eventually exceed Chernobyl. As to the claim that the reactors weren't damaged by the earthquake, I find that hard to believe since we have been told there was an 8-inch crack in the concrete floor, through which highly radioactive water escaped into the ground and eventually into the sea. The situation is not under control and material continues to escape. It is unclear whether there is ongoing criticality, it depends which nuclear 'expert' you read. Those who aren't on the industry payroll seem to have a different view than those who are.

163:

Those who pessimistically believe that the alternative to nuclear is coal should perhaps read this:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13337864

164:
So pointing out that there have in fact been no deaths or illnesses attributable to this accident as a result of radiation leakage, or pointing out that as far as we know very little radiation was actually released into the environment is now "excusing and trivializing" this incident?
Perhaps your info is out of date. Tepco has increased the level of the incident to 7. I have read in mainstream web news publications (BBC, Channel4) that they have admitted that the amount of radioactivity released is approx 10% of Chernobyl, and that it may eventually exceed Chernobyl.

Why don't you admit that all that breathless, bright-eyed fear hype that we got so much of was wrong? That in fact, radiation levels were far lower than was being insistently pushed by so many people?

It's been my experience, you see, that there's a certain sort of person who wants to come on real reasonable-like, but that's just a con: they'd sooner cut their arms off than admit they were wrong on this one.

Prove to me you aren't one of those people. Or prove that you are; it's all the same to me. Since a lot of us were right, dead right, about what was going on two months ago, and since there's been a distinct lack of enthusiasm by certain anti-nuke types (if not outright refusal, i.e., welshers) in admitting we were right, well, you'll pardon my skepticism until your bona fides are checked.

165:

"Since a lot of us were right, dead right,..."

You've been right about almost nothing so far that I've seen, especially, in my case, you're ill founded prejudgements concerning myself. That tends to make me, at least, totally doubt your opinions.

The radiation levels have consistently proved higher than what TEPCO or the Japanese nuclear authorities have implied. That too, tends to makes one skeptical.

166:

OK. I read it. Where are the numbers to back it up? The article was all slogans.

167:

'No model is correct, some models are useful.'

i.e. It is the worst model, except for all the others.

168:

""not provably safe at any level" to "unsafe at any level" raises a red flag."

The null hypothesis is that there is no negative effect. This is rejected at every level of radiation exposure suggesting that there is no safe level of exposure.

169:

#157 to #159 inc.

Guys, has it occurred to you that there are 2 of us quoting the same sort of efficiencies (and hence 2 independant sources)? In my case, the "overall transmission efficiency" figure I got in conversation, so don't have a reference for. The ~40% thermodynamic efficiency figure I got from Sir Stanley Hooker's autobiography "Not Much of an Engineer", and if you feel like arguing that figure, I'll be expecting you to produce a similar level of attainment as professional credentials first.

170:

Hmm...if you've tracked down the original article that I read, well done. It wasn't all slogans, it was a non-technical journalists's attempt to summarise a Tepco press release (or was it a press conference? Not too sure.)
The press has constantly been in difficulties with this story as they don't have the understanding to ask the right questions. Tepco, and other even more dubious people here in the UK, have taken great advantage of that. The admission that it was a level 7 seemed to me to be a refreshing attempt at frankness after weeks of disinformation and obfuscation.
For example, they repeatedly told the public that 'containment' still existed, after having admitted at the outset that they had found radioactive Caesium and Iodine outside the reactors. It is obvious that these materials could only have come from within a damaged nuclear fuel rod. Nothing was being contained, the shit was out and about and going wherever it wanted.

171:

you'll pardon my skepticism until your bona fides are checked.
I haven't seen the expression bona fides in many years; the last time was probably in a Biggles book written circa WW1.
I am seriously concerned about your sanity. I am not joking; your style of reasoning appears to me to be borderline psychotic. I strongly recommend that you consult a physician before a total breakdown becomes inevitable.

172:

It seems that German media was among the worst when it came to commercializing the Fukushima accident by means of fear-mongering and initiating hysteria. And because Japan is far away, nobody seemed to bother much about this. This interview on the abysmal reporting of Western media is excellent, a must read: http://www.ichwerdeeinberliner.com/56-the-meltdown-part-ii-an-idiot-abroad

173:

The null hypothesis is that there is no negative effect. This is rejected at every level of radiation exposure

Oh, really? At every level? That's not what is in that NAS report you yourself have brought up as an authoritative source for the linear-no threshold model. Even though their remit was to assess low doses of radiation, below 100 mSv, the data shown in the executive summary goes all the way up to 2000 mSv and the only two data points for low doses (at 20 and 100 mSv) have 95% confidence intervals extending to negative excess risk. Sure, they extrapolate all the way to zero from the linear relationship between excess risk and high radiation doses, but mainly because the data isn't good enough to justify any more sophisticated model. Just face it: the health risks resulting from a low dose of radiation are low ---so low that they are very difficult to determine experimentally, in the presence of the multitude of far greater risks that are considered acceptable. That's why it's considered a low dose, after all.


174:

I don't object to figures of ~40% thermodynamic efficiency. It's the transmission and distribution losses that were reported too high. They're an order of magnitude smaller than the heat engine losses, not roughly the same.

Unless your local grid's electricity mixture is heavily weighted to coal, electric cars are better emissions-wise than internal combustion vehicles, not just a way of relocating the tailpipe. Electric vehicles are better than ICEs at the average grid mix in the United States (~45% coal) and it's even more pronounced for regions with a lower proportion of coal. Where I live, for example, it's only 10% coal on the grid, the lion's share provided by hydro with smaller contributions from natural gas, nuclear and wind.

175:

Perhaps I should have qualified it by adding "for which there is a sufficiently large sample size."

Compared with higher doses, the risks of low doses of radiation are likely to be lower, and progressively larger epidemiological studies are required to quantify the risk to a useful degree of precision. For example, if the excess risk were proportional to
the radiation dose, and if a sample size of 500 persons were needed to quantify the effect of a 1,000 mSv dose, then a sample size of 50,000 would be needed for a 100 mSv dose, a 5 million for a 10 mSv dose etc. etc. In other words, to maintain statistical precision and power, the necessary sample size increases as the inverse square of the dose.

Consequently samples that fail to reject null hypothesis of no excess relative risk at low doses (as the two studies you point out that were mentioned in the NAS review) are likely failing to do so only because their sample sizes are too small.

Fortunately we do have at least one study that has a very large sample of people exposed to low levels of radiation. It draws on the survivors of the atomic bomb attacks in Japan and finds that a subsample of subjects exposed to dose level of 34 mSV had a statistically significant (alpha level of 5%) increased excess relative risk of cancer. (The first paper shows the subsample CI, the second is the source of the data):

http://www.pnas.org/content/100/24/13761.full.pdf

http://www.cerrie.org/committee_papers/INFO_12-J.pdf

In short the only limit to verifying LNT at low dose levels is the sample size.

176:

As much as I am inclined to agree with you, knowledge or use of Latin should in no way imply one's insanity. Otherwise I myself have been guilty of that daily.

(On the other hand, I often question my sanity, but that is a completely different matter.)

177:

It wasn't the Latin which bothers me, as the obvious irrationality of the idea that he could somehow check my bona fides, placed in the context of his other rather eccentric utterances. I have submitted no credentials for him to check.
I reiterate that I am not joking, and don't find mental illness at all funny. I am deadly serious. There are a lot of obviously mentally ill people on web fora, and sadly they are usually treated as figures of fun. It may be that the web is their only remaining human contact, and if we do not advise them to seek help, then who will?

178:

I tutor a lot of people with mental illnesses. And I myself suffer from Bipolar Illness. Thus, I respect your concern.

I have to confess, that the web is often a way for me to feel connected in a way that I don't feel connected naturally. But fortunately for me it isn't the only way.

Thank heavens for concerned healthy people like you Steve.

179:

Build the core and emergency systems for nuclear plants on large, concrete-and-rebar barges. The gigantic cooling towers do not need to be on the barge.

Build artificial lagoons if need be.

With minimal thought on anchoring/piering the barge, this dramatically reduces the complexity of any earthquake analysis, and negates the threat of swiftly rising water as well. Bollards can break the impact of a wall-of-water and convert it into swiftly rising water.

The exact countermeasures can be site-specific - but the core of the plant itself can be standardized. The analysis and review of -the-plant- is a significant expense. By isolating the core in this fashion, the analysis rotates away from analysing the effect of shaking on the innards, and instead turns to much simpler civil engineering questions. Like "How deep?" and "How many bollards?"

Things that can be more easily fixed after a 9.0 rolls through.

180:

#174 - I've no issues with the suggestion of 95..99% efficiency for an individual alternator or transformer. If you take the 95% figure, and allow that a meanngful transmission system will have the alternator, a step-up tranformer to grid voltage, and step-down to domestic in 2 stages, you now have 81.45% efficiency of transmission before allowing for line losses. Even with the 99% figure, the propagation of losses means your overall efficiency is down to 96% or so. Remember that I've given you every chance with reducing the number of transformers I've used.

Now, and this I really don't have figures for, you have to apply the efficiency of the transmission lines to the efficiency of the alternators and transformers. What I do know is that the reason for stringing 415kV transmission lines from those big "pylons" is that the lines get hot if you bury them, and need to be cooled.

181:

I myself suffer from Bipolar Illness. Thus, I respect your concern.I hadn't suspected this from the content of any of your posts, which seem entirely lucid. It seems to me that you have the condition under good control. One of my friends has the same problem, but has been stable for many years now, thank God. All the best.

182:

Build the core and emergency systems for nuclear plants on large, concrete-and-rebar barges. The gigantic cooling towers do not need to be on the barge.

You must not be from an area with hurricanes/typhoons.

183:

Reactors don't generally need cooling towers -- especially if they're located on the coast. You have an entire ocean as a heat sink; why warm 1 ton of water to boiling point when you can warm 10 tons by 10 degrees celsius?

... Which is why most reactors are built on the coast (or adjacent to very big rivers that don't try up during a hot season).

184:

Today's news is confirmation that there was a meltdown in reactor unit one. Seaweed some 65 km out from the coast has been found to be highly contaminated.

Croak!

185:

"A reactor at Japan's crippled nuclear plant has been more badly damaged than originally thought, operator Tepco has said. Water is leaking from the pressure vessel surrounding reactor 1 - probably because of damage caused by exposed fuel rods melting, a spokesman said.... Work to restore cooling systems had been most advanced at reactor 1, the smallest and oldest at the site. But a spokesman for the power giant said when a faulty gauge had been repaired, it showed water levels in the pressure vessel 5m (16ft) below the level needed to cover fuel rods."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13374153

Need I say more? Duh!

186:

What has happened after Scotland's part core meltdown in 64. I was reminded of that when looking up Radiation hormesis. Dr. teller said "a little Radiation is good for you." This was founded on studies done by the US Atomic Energy Commission and by others. Everything about the lives of everything from worms to chimps after radiation is known
All we hear is the anti-bomb legend over and over. The best on Radiation hormesis I found was in Wikipedi. It has real facts in it. I think, that's not always true in Wikipedi. And all the real data shows the "any amount will kill you" is just plan wrong. In fact as long as you do not go too far it was good for all the species checked. The human point kill point is known more or less, not the get better point. If there is one is unknown. Maybe, just maybe the East German's had some info that could, that's could, be useful. My point was we don't know. The standards for human health are different from all other things. They seem to be set by fear of what newscasters will say tomorrow or lawyers next year. In America it is illegal to sell any amount of anything that's know to cause cancer. So it is illegal to sell homemade cakes if they were made with tap water. Most tap water here has some Chlorine and dead germs that can be detected. Enough of both are known to cause cancer. Nobody goes to jail, but it is (or was) the law.

187:

I haven't clue what you are talking about.

On October 10, 1957 the graphite core of a British nuclear reactor at Windscale Cumbria, caught fire, releasing substantial amounts of radioactive material. The event, known as the Windscale fire, was considered the world's worst nuclear accident until the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Then both were dwarfed by the Russian Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Now all are dwarfed by Fukushima.

My brother and parents lived in Manchester at the time.

Radiation hormesis is a voodoo religion without any scientific support. At very low doses (34 mSv) the effects of radiation exposure are still statistically significantly negative.

188:

There was no reactor meltdown in Scotland in 1964. Period.

(There was some dodgy disposal of waste going on at the Dounreay research plant, but that's another matter. And IIRC it didn't hit the headlines until 1970 or thereabouts.)

No idea what you're rabbiting on about with respect to chlorine in water, but let's just say that chlorination is a really good way of keeping pathogen levels under control. If you really want to explore the joys of cholera, feel free to drink the stuff unchlorinated.

189:

I NEVER EVER SAID ANYTHING LIKE GET RIDE OF chlorine. I said enough of Chlorine and dead germs are known to cause cancer. A lot of it. And that it was a dumb law that said that said any that can be detected was not legal. But it is (was?) the law. Read before you get mad.

190:

THIS IS ALL IS THAT I SAID Only I used 50s and 60s AEC TESTS. I SAID THERE WAS DATA THE LNT NEEDED TO BE LOOKED INTO. FROM Wikipedi The Académie des Sciences — Académie nationale de Médecine (French Academy of Sciences — National Academy of Medicine) stated in their 2005 report concerning the effects of low-level radiation that many laboratory studies have observed radiation hormesis.[6][7] However, they cautioned that it is not yet known if radiation hormesis occurs outside the laboratory, or in humans.[8]
Consensus reports by the United States National Research Council and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) have upheld that insufficient human data on radiation hormesis exists to supplant the Linear no-threshold model (LNT). Therefore, the LNT continues to be the model generally used by regulatory agencies for human radiation exposure.

191:

OK, when I started looking up new, news about Radiation hormesis I found word of a meltdown in Scotland in 1964. I could not find out anything about it. I asked about it. What's so bad about that? I knew something nuke did happen but not where or when. Now I know, it did not happen in Scotland in 64 like I read.

192:

You're posting here too much.

Driving away informed discussion, too.

This is your yellow card: take some time to chill out, go for a walk somewhere green and grassy, whatever.

If you keep on deluging the blog fora like this I'm going to have to start unpublishing your postings.

193:

Maybe this?

From wikipedia

May 1967 — INES Level needed - Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, United Kingdom - Partial meltdown

Graphite debris partially blocked a fuel channel causing a fuel element to melt and catch fire at the Chapelcross nuclear power station. Contamination was confined to the reactor core. The core was repaired and restarted in 1969, operating until the plant's shutdown in 2004.[12][13]

194:

Oh, right.

The reactor was shut down for almost two years while they let it cool before they could dig a damaged fuel rod out and get it running again. After which it ran for another 35 years.

Calling the Chapelcross oopsie by the same term used for, say, Fukushima or Chernobyl, is a bit like using the same term ("a skin-penetrating wound", perhaps?) to describe the effect on a human being of a mosquito bite and a direct hit from an armour-piercing shell.

195:

On the other hand ...

If this report is true, TEPCO have been systematically lying to us since DAY ONE.

Disgust is too mild a word for how I view this, if it's true: we need a better nuclear industry, and we need it some years ago. Anyone got a time machine?

Specials

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 5, 2011 8:39 PM.

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