Advanced nuclear reactor development is so vibrant, interesting and important that it has attracted a filmmaking team. The filmmakers, led by David … [Read More...] about The New Fire project nears completion. Please prove there’s an eager market
A couple of days ago, one of the largest movable structures ever built was rolled into place to surround Chernobyl Unit 4, the infamous power plant in Ukraine. That plant was destroyed more than 30 years ago when it suffered a steam explosion and fire after the operators violated a number of operating procedures with many engineered safety systems turned off.
Even though the accident happened in 1986 and the areas outside of the plant have radiation levels that are safe for general accessibility, bureaucrats in the European Union decided that the concrete sarcophagus hastily erected near the time of the accident needed to be encased in a shiny new structure. In order to reduce doses for construction workers to the internationally accepted “As Low As Reasonably Achievable” (with no dollar value assigned to “reasonable”) the new structure was built several hundred meters away from the damaged reactor.
The design included massive wheels and a rail system that would allow it to be slid into place when complete.
It was quite an engineering feat. It should be a source of pride for the workers that successfully completed their assigned tasks. Taxpayers, however, were asked to pay a large bill for something that wasn’t actually needed. In era when sports complexes are publicly funded and cost roughly the same kind of money, I suppose it wasn’t such a wild way to employ hard-working, skilled people in a productive fashion.
The endeavor, however, has resulted in headlines that indicate a need for a reasonable explanation for the real hazard and the actual need for the structure.
Here is one example of the reason this piece should be useful: New high-tech shelter reminds us that Chernobyl is still deadly, thirty years after the meltdown. Sadly, that headline appears on a site called ZME Science, a publication that claims to be “a trusted and provocative source of science news and features, covering research and developments from all scientific fields.”
Here is a letter about the new confinement that was shared on one of my mailing lists. I’m republishing it here with the author’s permission.
Dear friends of clean nuclear energy,
A giant sarcophagus has been built and is now inaugurated at Chernobyl. This technical engineering feet is described here :
It is described as shielding Ukraine from the deadly dangers of radiation.
Of course most readers of the Guardian and most world leaders that agreed to finance this huge box to “keep the devil in the box” don’t know the numbers and have no precise idea of what is a dangerous level of radiation.
In fact most of them have been wrongly led, by such articles which contribute to increasing radiophobia, into believing that any (even microscopic) level of radiation is dangerous and deadly.
This of course only results from fear and ignorance. In French we say “la peur est mauvaise conseillère” (fear is a bad counsellor).
Here are my comments on this new Chernobyl sarcophagus:
This sarcophagus is certainly an admirable engineering accomplishment : it is the largest movable object ever built by humanity, but it is useless health wise.
The world is spending €1.5bn (one and a half billion euros) to protect itself from harmless levels of radiation.
This sarcophagus is intended to keep the (said to be so) devil (radiation) prisoner in a big box (well bigger than that : the biggest box ever built!).
Some journalists, and non-scientists (which includes a large number of politicians) certainly might think and will believe that it is justified to build the biggest-ever prison box at any cost, even any number of billions of euros, to keep the biggest-ever devil as a prisoner encapsulated inside it. But it is not so : in this case the devil is no devil and it is not dangerous. The money is simply and sadly wasted.
In the days that followed April 26th 1986, when the reactor with no containment was in flames during two weeks, and indeed rejecting the largest-ever amount of radiation directly into the atmosphere, levels of radiation on site at Chernobyl and directly downwind, such as the city of Prypiat, were then extremely high of course, dangerous and even deadly for some of the firemen and workers courageously working on site at the moment of the accident.
This was mainly due to radioactive iodine 131, which has completely disappeared since the summer of 1986 (its half life is 8 days).
This is not the case any more. The danger has vanished. The evil radiation has disintegrated (as radioactivity always does, by definition) with time passing.
The radiation on the Chernobyl site now, outside the molten reactor building, even without the new sarcophagus, is hardly more than a few microsieverts per hour and has no detrimental health effects. It is millions of times less than the deadly radiation levels that occurred at the moment of the accident.
Such levels of radiation are lower than natural radiation in other locations of our planet where (and rightly so, as there is no danger) nobody is building a sarcophagus to contain an imaginary devil.
For example I have myself measured 50 microsieverts per hour on the beach of Guarapari in Brazil. Not only this popular beach is not considered as a potential health danger, but in fact it is famous for its BENEFICIAL health effects. Brazilians and South Americans come from far away to benefit from the thorium rich sands of this beach.
The new sarcophagus at Chernobyl is therefore useless health wise, a vast waste of international money and nothing but the financial and physical incarnation of the huge worldwide radiophobia that resulted from the Chernobyl accident and antinuclear propaganda amplified by the press.
This money would be better spent producing medical isotopes or developing small modular reactors to power energy-starving developing countries!
President of Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy (EFN) International
Support EFN by becoming a member or making a donation here :
Thank you for your support
Advanced nuclear reactor development is so vibrant, interesting and important that it has attracted a filmmaking team.
The filmmakers, led by David Schumacher and Derek Wiesenhahn, are telling a story about some of the projects that aim to produce new ways to use fission to power society. The projects have been created by dedicated, interesting young people teamed with deeply experienced, equally fascinating, somewhat “less young” people. The mixed teams are seeking to make fission-heated machines that help people lead better lives and make the world a cleaner place with a reasonably stable climate.
The documentary team is supported by a group of funders including Ross Koningstein, Rachel Pritzker, Ray Rothrock, Yodon Thonden, Steve Kirsch and the Berk Foundation, that have invested significant resources in the early stages of the project.
Their film project The New Fire is nearing completion. Its creators are aiming to have it ready for debut at a major film festival during the first half of 2017.
One of the current funders has encouraged the development team to ask the crowd that should be interested in the film to prove their interest by helping fund the final stages of development. The funder offered a challenge grant, a match of up to $20,000 for at least $20,000 raised in a crowdfunding campaign at Kickstarter.
Atomic Insights readers frequently mention the need for spreading the good news about nuclear energy. You have repeatedly told me that we need to find better ways to excite the public about the potential that our chosen technology field has for improving the human condition.
Here is another chance to help in a concrete way.
As you may or may not know, Kickstarter has a “go – no go”, limited duration, crowdfunding model. If the campaign meets its fundraising goal, the project will receive whatever funds are pledged, even if they vastly exceed the original target.
If the fundraising period ends with pledges that are short of the target, pledges are not collected and the project receives no funding. The New Fire campaign begins today, November 28 and will end on December 22.
Why “The New Fire”?
Some Atomic Insights readers with long memories might recall that you’ve heard the phrase “Fission is the new fire” here in the distant past. I gave a talk with that title at Google Headquarters in April, 2007, nearly ten years ago. David Schumacher told me how he had thought of the same phrase in the shower one day and decided it would be the appropriate title for his documentary project.
I told him that “Great minds think alike.” He reminded me that wasn’t the full aphorism, it’s actually “Great minds think alike, and fools seldom differ.”
No matter where the phrase originated, Schumacher and I share a passion for sharing stories about new nuclear system development.
Society could really use a new fire, an improved way to produce the controllable, scalable power that we use to provide food, shelter, climate control, mobility, medical treatment and entertainment. Our old fire, hydrocarbon/carbohydrate combustion, still works fine and will last a long time, but it inevitably produces waste products on a scale massive enough to alter atmospheric and oceanic chemistry. Even the benign, natural, nearly inert byproducts of hydrocarbon combustion can be a problem when produced in quantities that overcome the natural processes that convert them to use and prevent continuous annual increases.
Fortunately, scientists like Fermi, Curie, Szilard, Hahn, Meitner Bohr and Rutherford discovered atomic fission, a heat source that could not only supplement and perhaps replace most uses of fire, but could do it with a comparatively tiny amount of input raw material producing a comparatively tiny volume of waste.
The recognized need for a new fire has inspired an energetic and idealistic population of highly intelligent young engineers to dedicate themselves to creating new machines that can use fission heat to directly and dramatically reduce the use of the old fire and the production of its inevitable by-products. They are motivated by finding a solution for climate change, creating a new world of empowered people, creating new opportunities for high powered living and perhaps by earning substantial returns on their intellectual and sweat equity.
The move towards advanced nuclear power system development has gained traction during the past decade even as the established fission users, large central station power plants, have been struggling with stagnant markets caused by economic recession, overproduction of natural gas and an enormous overreaction — stoked by purposeful antinuclear propaganda — to the substantial facility damage of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station after it was hit with a massive tsunami wave.
As documented by a study done by Third Way, advanced nuclear quietly became “a thing” interesting enough to attract the attention of serious investors. As of mid 2015, the study found that there were perhaps 50 companies in North America funded by $1.3 billion in venture capital busily working to create powerful systems.
Schumacher, an award-winning television producer and documentary filmmaker, decided that advanced nuclear power system development was worthy of its own documentary.
Basically, I’d like to start a new public conversation about nuclear, this time looking at it through the climate lens. In addition to existing clean energy sources, I believe we need to develop new energy technologies, and I’m particularly intrigued by the promise of advanced nuclear and the people working to develop and commercialize it.
The following quote from the project’s Kickstarter page is worth sharing as often as possible.
Why is this film important?
Since An Inconvenient Truth, many documentaries have shown us the causes and effects of climate change. But focusing only on overwhelming environmental issues can feel paralyzing. THE NEW FIRE looks at the problems but its focus is on solutions, especially advanced ‘Generation IV’ nuclear reactors and the role they play in fighting climate change.
THE NEW FIRE is a story of hope and optimism, of hard work and heroism. It’s an affirmation of what youth and audacity can achieve in the face of impossible odds. Above all, it’s a story that needs to be told now, before it’s too late.
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