Fukushima media visit – USA Today slants positive news into source of worry

On November 12, 2011, USA Today published an article titled Media allowed in tsunami-hit nuke plant that contained some classic elements of slant by selectively highlighting certain facts while ignoring others. The situation was a good news story. Tepco, the electric power utility company that owns the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station has reached a stage in their recovery efforts where they could comfortably allow the news media to come into the station and have a first hand look around.

Here is how the USA Today report chose to lead his version of a story about the visit.

Media allowed into Japan’s tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant for the first time Saturday saw a striking scene of devastation: twisted and overturned trucks, crumbling reactor buildings and piles of rubble virtually untouched since the wave struck more than eight months ago.

As a questioning reader, I have to ask – was that scene at the power station any different from the scene outside the gates of the power station? After all, the waves of the tsunami affected a wide swath of coastal land. The early responders have been busy taking care of basic needs and stabilizing various aspects of the plant’s infrastructure; righting trucks and picking up rubble was probably low on the to-do list.

Here is another quote that includes a word that is frequently, and incorrectly, used with regard to the situation at the facility.

For weeks after the tsunami, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, about 140 miles northeast of Tokyo, spewed large amounts of radioactive materials onto the surrounding countryside, much of which remains off-limits.

According to Miriam-Webster’s dictionary, the primary definitions of “spew” include enormous volumes. The wording above includes an obvious desire to portray the amount of radioactive material released by the tsunami ravaged plants as very large. However, the actual quantity of radioactive material that was released as a result of significant amounts of fuel damage inside three nuclear reactor cores at the Fukushima Daiichi power station was tiny by most conventional measurements of weight or volume.

Here is a quote from the recently released timeline report by the Institute of Nuclear Plant Operators (INPO).

The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan estimated approximately 17 million curies (6.3 E17 Bq) of iodine-131 equivalent radioactive material was released into the air and 0.127 million curies (4.7 E15 Bq) into the sea between March 11 and April 5. The 1986 accident at Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was the only other nuclear accident to have a level 7 INES rating. According to the IAEA, the Chernobyl accident resulted in approximately 378.4 million curies (14 E18 Bq) of radioactive material being released into the environment.

Though the units of measure associated with radioactive material are unfamiliar and potentially scary, and the actual math is complicated by the unknown mix of isotopes involved, it is possible to do some rough bounding calculations to show how tiny an amount of material 17 million curies might be. At one end of the size spectrum, if most or all of the 17 million curies was I-131, the total quantity of material could be computed as follows:

17,000,000 curies I-131 x 0.000008 grams I-131/curie = 136 grams of I-131.

At the other end of the spectrum, if only 50% of the radioactive material released was I-131 and the other 50% was Cs-137, which has 1420 times more mass per curie because of its much slower rate of decay, the total quantity of material could calculated as follows:

68 grams of I-131 + 8,500,000 curies Cs-137 x 1 gram/88 curies Cs-137 = 97,000 grams or 97 kilograms

It takes some creative writing or ignorance of facts to call a release of 97 kilograms of material from a large industrial facility over several weeks “spewing”. Of course, that radioactive material was mixed in with a much larger amount of water in the form of steam, but if this story was being told about the natural gas industry and its fracking chemicals, the emissions from Fukushima Daiichi might have been described as 99.99999% water with just some minor contaminants mixed in.

The concluding paragraphs of the article are also worth noting as an opportunity for making a huge difference in the conversation about the prospects for nuclear energy expansion.

Japan’s government and the utility that runs the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., say radiation leaks are far less of a danger than in the early days of the crisis. They say work is on track toward achieving a “cold shutdown” — in which the temperatures of the reactors are cool and under control.

But the government has predicted that it will take another 30 years at least to safely remove the nuclear fuel and decomission the plant. It could also be decades before tens of thousands of residents forced to flee the 12-mile exclusion zone around the plant will be able to return. Some experts say even that estimate is optimistic.

There are also radiation safety experts who say that nearly all of the exclusion zone has radiation dose rates that are substantially lower than dose rates that exist in other areas around the world that have been continuously inhabited by people for many centuries with no evidence of ill effects.

People have lived healthily for millennia with natural radiation up to following mSv/yr:

Ramsar, Iran (260), Kerala, India (35), Guaripari, Brazil (35), Yangiang, China (5.4)

Since we have evidence that the risk that would be assumed by moving back into the exclusion zone would be far less than many other risks associated with living on earth, why not allow people to return to their homes and rebuild their lives without fear? If the reactor cores are cool and under control, the fact that the clean-up work continues for decades means nothing to the local residents, other than the fact that the sustained effort might enable quite a few of them to hold long-term employment at decent wages.

An accident at a nuclear reactor can definitely ruin a lot of days for the owners of the plant and it can make life rather difficult for the workers for a long time. However, it does not render large areas of land uninhabitable UNLESS governments make irrational, unscientific decisions to forcibly prevent people from living there.

Our lives would be so much richer if people learned that radioactive material released from even a hugely-promoted, scary amount of damage to three large reactors at one time produces doses after just a few months that are no more harmful than an occasional trip on an airplane, routine traffic crossings, being packed into temporary living quarters with inadequate resources, or occasionally breathing the smoke from a diesel powered bus. Why are we supposed to be so afraid of radiation that we make expensive and unhealthy decisions to avoid something that has always been a natural part of our earthly environment?

Just as a reminder of the importance of carefully evaluating the reality of various energy choices, here is a less frequently repeated story about another source of reliable power that competes with nuclear energy for market share. Do you think that the residents of this neighborhood might have preferred a temporary evacuation instead of the effect that they actually experienced from their local energy infrastructure?

About Rod Adams

66 Responses to “Fukushima media visit – USA Today slants positive news into source of worry”

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  1. Jason C says:

    I noticed that TEPCO was spraying a greenish mixture on the grounds of the plant in what I assume was intended to keep dust and debris in place to help prevent further spreading of any possible contaminates. I’d like to know more about this procedure but this may also explain the reason why certain items such as a tipped truck have not been cleaned up as any disturbance of debris that isn’t necessary to move can wait because they are being extra cautious not to loft any potential radionuclides into the air.

    Obviously, this type of a cleanup procedure is very different from putting out a fire. This is a meticulous effort where every effort is made to minimize particle distribution. That’s a tedious and costly effort, but hopefully this will get easier over time for them. Nonetheless, there are so many people that deserve to go back to their homes.

  2. Daniel says:

    When is cold shutdown due?

    • Pete51 says:

      Daniel- If the definition of cold shutdown is stable temperatures below 100 degrees C, then all three plants are already there. The temperatures at the bottom of the reactor vessels are:
      Unit 1: 39 C
      Unit 2: 69 C
      Unit 3: 69 C

      Information can be found here-
      http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/index-e.html

      Click on the pdf link that begins “Parameters related to the plants…”

    • Daniel says:

      The Japanese Gov said that in early 2012, the evacuation zones would be lifted if cold shutdown was achieved.

      I do not see why they are waiting. Plus I saw an article 2 days ago stating that the Japanese would issue new guidelines in early december for the evacuation zones. It was not clear if an easing of the restrictions was coming or an increase in safety measures and/or an increase in the evacuation zones looming.

      I felt it was an easy of the current rules.

  3. Wayne SW says:

    Use of the word “spew” in the context of nuclear accidents (it’s almost universal) is the result of focus group-testing, designed to elicit the maximum emotional response. The media uses this technique often and you can see it in other general categories of articles if you look for it. For example, if the writer of the article disagrees with a particular law some political party or special interest group is trying to pass, they will inevitably find an opponent who will denounce it with the words “they are shoving their beliefs down our throats”. In either case, the verbiage elicits a negative image and revulsive emotional response.

  4. SteveK9 says:

    More articles and presentations like ‘Radioactive Wolves’ will be necessary to educate the public on the actual risk due to radiation. With the current level of (mis)understanding, it is much safer for politicians in Japan and elsewhere to overreact to the dangers of radiation. Unfortunately this just reinforces the public (mis)perception. Perhaps like other feedback systems we can get into a virtuous cycle where better education leads to more rational policies, etc.

  5. Here’s another rough calculation:

    (17,000,000 Ci I-131) x (1.4E-11 lifetime risk of mortality by ingestion/pCi) x (10^12 pCi/Ci) = 238 million cancer deaths.

    Risk coefficient from here:

    http://www.ead.anl.gov/pub/doc/iodine.pdf

    “People have lived healthily for millennia with natural radiation up to following mSv/yr:

    Ramsar, Iran (260), Kerala, India (35), Guaripari, Brazil (35), Yangiang, China (5.4)”

    I’ve got a hundred bucks that says that people from these areas get cancer. Any takers?

    Of course only a small fraction of the I-131 is actually ingested, before it decays away.

    • Jason C says:

      Well Bob, how’s it feel to be the doomsayer for all of Japan? Nevermind, don’t answer, I’ll just watch the sparks fly.

      • I’m not a doomsayer, just realistic.

        We’ve seen more thyroid problems around Chernobyl (as expected) and we’ll see more around Fukushima.

        Expect it.

        http://chernobyl.cancer.gov/studies.html

        • Brian Mays says:

          Bob – We most certainly will. Japan has some of the highest incidences of occult tumors in the thyroid of any population in the world. Once the Japanese government starts screening for thyroid cancer, as I’m sure they will, they will be sure to pick up some of these naturally occurring, hidden tumors.

          I’ve already predicted that we shall see the number of “thyroid cancers” to increase in the next year or two. It will probably make headlines.

          Of course the latent period for thyroid cancer from exposure to radiation is at least five years, more often rather longer.

        • Kit P says:

          I do not expect any thyroid cancer increase around Fukushima. The reason being no children were is exposed to I-131 as confirmed by measurement. The communist thugs in the USSR did nothing to protect there children.

          At Fukushima, they waited to vent until after evacuation. If you read the INPO report you could conclude two operators were exposed to I-131 which gave them about 50 Rem of internal does, I would have taken the same risk because I know that adult are not in the same risk category and that thyroid cancer is easily treatable when you are monitored closely.

    • Wayne SW says:

      Sounds in some ways like the old correlation=causation argument again, although the media never seems to tire of using it. So in the spirit of waggish absurdity, I offer the following correlation-causation arguments:

      1. Every person who has ever died has had water in their body. Therefore, it is best to avoid injesting water.

      2. Every person who has ever died has, at some point in their lives, consumed food. Therefore, one should avoid consuming food.

      3. Anyone who has ever died has, at some point in their lives, excreted biological wastes. Therefore, excretion of biowastes by humans should be banned.

      Likewise, everyone who has died has been exposed to ionizing radiation. Therefore, all radiation exposure must be avoided. Those familiar with logic will note the obvious inappropriate generalization fallacy, but with media coverage of nuclear matters, it seems a pass is given to those who use it to disparage nuclear.

    • Kit P says:

      Following the methodology of the Washington State Administrative code (WAC) for cleaning up Hanford but applying it to the radioactive isotopes in milk; 100% of children will get cancer.

      The first lesson is to cry over spilled milk at Hanford because lots of tax dollars will be spent ‘saving’ the environment. The second is that limits for exposure are very conservative.

      I have read the INPO report which reinforces what I have always know about US nuke plants. Killing civilians with the design of nuke plants at Fukushima is not possible. It takes a lot of radiation to kill someone and the symptoms are unmistakable. Off site doses were never that high. No civilians were even hurt from radiation at Fukushima because evacuation was taken as a precaution. The highest exposure would be to the operators who stayed at the plants thorough the crisis.

      This a not so simple application of physics and chemistry. To kill people with spent fuel, you have to directly expose them before it can disperse. For US designed plants (e.g., TMI) you have to go inside containment building. At Fukushima, there are some places outside the containment building where you get a fatal exposure if you were not careful but as demonstrated by the actual exposure, workers at Fukushima were careful even under extreme conditions.

    • Brian Mays says:

      Here’s another rough calculation:

      World potato production in 2007: 325.30 million tonnes

      Specific activity due to K-40 in a potato: 3400 pCi/kg

      Lifetime risk of mortality from ingestion of K-40: 2.2 × 10-11/pCi

      325.30 million tonnes × 3400 pCi/kg × (2.2×10-11/pCi) = 24,000 deaths

      Unlike the I-131, I expect that a substantial fraction of the K-40 in those potatoes will be ingested. ;-)

      I’ve got a hundred bucks that says that people in Idaho get cancer. Any takers?

      I’ll follow this comment with a list of references, but it might take a while to get through moderation.

    • Cal Abel says:

      Bob,
      Welcome back. Shall we talk about the methodology of aggregating cancer deaths or should we just leave that one be?

      • DV82XL says:

        As usual Cal, expect no reply from Applebaum on any matter that does not fit his narrow ideology.

        • Brian Mays says:

          Eh … Bob’s just trying to screw with you. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

          He’s better ignored or ridiculed at this point.

  6. Daniel says:

    Mario Monti is to take power in Italy. He was the EU Commissioner for Competition and that included the energy market.

    He is therefore no stranger to the gas impact on the price of energy in Italy where the cost of energy is the highest in Europe.

    Monty is quoted as saying then: “The reduction of the electricity prices is one of the major objectives I intend to achieve”.

    Monti was there when Lester Turow, Nobel Prize and prestigious chief economist at the MIT in Boston has recently written in the magazine USA Today : “In the case of electricity, we already have a technical solution at hand. It is called nuclear power — a clean way to generate electricity that does not cause global warming”.

    Get it done super Mario.

    Can anyone tell us if he has a pro nuclear past ? I am looking but there is so much stuff out on him these days now that he is succeeding as PPM of Italy.

    • Daniel says:

      Let’s not forget that the results of the nuclear referendum in Italy right after Fukushima was also to spite then acting and sexual scandals ridden PM Silvio Berlusconi …

    • Rod Adams says:

      The tags I used were sup and /sup with normal HTML braces.

  7. Gareth Fairclough says:

    “I’ve got a hundred bucks that says that people from these areas get cancer. Any takers?”

    Please don’t be daft Mr Applebum. People worldwide get cancer irrespective of radiation levels.
    “Sh*t” really does “happen” as they say.

    • So, Rod was being illogical when he tried to correlate radiation levels with “living healthily”?

      • Rod Adams says:

        I don’t think so. The data show that people living in the areas I mentioned do not have higher rates of cancer than people who live in lower background areas.

        It is therefore quite logical to conclude that the fact that people live healthy lives in areas with background levels that are higher than the evacuation zones near Fukushima indicates that the risk is not worth worrying about.

        • First, Gareth was claiming that people get cancer “irrespective of radiation levels”…which is an absurdly false statement.

          Second, the studies you are referring to are ecological studies and can’t resolve the individual risk differences, that people are reasonably concerned about. Whether it’s worth “worrying” about depends on the individual…compared to another earthquake, I wouldn’t worry about it.

        • DV82XL says:

          Typical of those with weak arguments you are attempting to discredit Gareth by picking on a flaw in semantics.

          Let me rephrase: There are other causes of cancer other than damage from ionizing radiation, therefore the statement: “I’ve got a hundred bucks that says that people from these areas get cancer. Any takers?” fails to take that factor into account, and thus is at best tautological.

        • Daniel says:

          What about my hundred bucks challenge on Mario Monti and Italy’s nuclear program going back on track ?

          Real money, real jobs, real soon.

  8. Daniel says:

    … And the older you get because from the benefits of clean, affordable and reliable energy, the higher the odds of dying from the Big C …

  9. Gareth Fairclough says:

    Damn I really need an edit button right about now!
    Don’t you just hate typos?

  10. Another excellent post Rod – but the big picture for all pro-nuclear advocates is that we lose the overall war to influence public opinion to take a more realistic view of nuclear energy and to more accurately access the risks of nuclear radiation. Intellectually dishonest stories like the one in USA today get broadcast to every corner of the nation and feed the unwarranted fears of millions – Atomic Insights reaches a select audience (guess: a few thousand) and so in the balance the anti-nukes win. The sowers of Fear and Doubt end up the victors in this exchange and clever anti-nuclear allied legislators like Representative Edwin Markey quickly act to harness the fear to push NRC to raise to still more unbelievable levels of obstruction the barriers to building new nuclear plants through excessive nuclear regulation.
    End result: nuclear regulation is ratcheted up -> cost of new nuclear increases -> nuclear gets priced out of contention with other demonstrably less safe forms of energy generation and no new nuclear gets built -> the bad guys (intellectually dishonest manipulators of unwarranted fear) win.

    • Rod Adams says:

      Robert – perhaps you are right. What is the answer? How do we do a better job of sharing accurate information? Is there any way to make well written, accurate post go viral? Do nukes need to accumulate more resources for ads?

      • Joe B says:

        Well for a start admitting that there is actually a serious problem might help us believe that those advocating nuclear take part when problems arise instead of pretending everything is fine. Its way out of control and cold shutdown is wishful thinking.

        Next the triple meltdown should have never happened, obviously proper risk assessment was not made or obeyed, and now there is indeed a fly in your drink.

        Another BIG mistake are those silly comparisons to things like bananas, air travel, and today’s new one, POTATOES! seriously it might work on a six year old but anyone reading this blog obliviously has internet and will soon learn what garbage this is.

        When the going gets tough, the tough goes shopping fits you lot quite well.

  11. Pete51 says:

    I don’t know if this link has been given here, but the following NY Times article is interesting in exploring why people fear radiation, but yet don’t seem to mind other risk dangers in their lives.

    http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2011/03/18/18greenwire-humans-wired-for-terror-over-remote-radiation-61371.html

  12. Daniel says:

    Regarding Italy, the country aimed to have 25% of its electricity supplied by nuclear power by 2030, but this prospect was rejected at a referendum in June 2011.

    The referendum in June 2011 was a backlash on ousted PM Silvio Berlusconi as much as the recent events at Fukushima.

    I’ve got a hundred bucks -this is the entry point today on this blog – that Mario Conti gets this nuclear plan back on track. Hey, cheap & clean and reliable energy and a load of high paying jobs?

  13. Bill Hannahan says:

    Bob said; “238 million cancer deaths.”
    Bob, using your methodology, we produce enough chlorine in the U.S. to kill every person in the country every 20 minutes. In fact that is a much better calculation because we do not have to misapply high dose rate data to a low dose rate scenario, and the deaths occur promptly, not theoretical deaths after 20-30 years.
    The fact that you would publish such a calculation tells us much more about you than about the effects of background radiation exposure. People in the media may do it in ignorance, thinking they are justified in their anti nuclear position. You help spread fear that suppresses the quality of life for 7 billion people, with full knowledge.
    By the way Bob, do you think cancer will still be a major cause of death 30, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 years from now?

    • Joe B says:

      With a few more meltdowns across the planet over the next decades we will all be guaranteed cancer 100% at a young age, beyond 100 years control of all that waste will probably be lost and hell will be on earth.

      • Daniel says:

        You need not wait that long. We have history of things that happened in the 60′s. Why wait 100 years ?

        In 1962, atmospheric nuclear tests by both Russians and Americans released into the atmosphere radiation equivalent to two Chernobyls every week for a whole year. It was soon possible to find trace amounts of a strontium isotope in the bones of pretty well everyone in the world -and yet human lifespans across the globe have continued to increase.

  14. Alan Y. says:

    Can Rod Adams or anyone else comment on last month’s New Yorker article by Evan Osnos? He wrote of the “extremely dangerous popcorn scenerio” at Fukushima. If impossible, a link would be helful. Thanks a lot:

    Experts at the Departments of State and Defense were trying to anticipate what would happen next; the possibilities were extraordinarily dangerous, including one that became known as “the popcorn scenario.” If there was another explosion, the spike in radiation could prevent workers from being able to continue injecting water onto the fuel cores. Then “one will pop and then another one and then another one and then another,” a senior U.S. official told me. Fuel that had already melted into a heap at the bottom of the reactor could melt through the steel pressure vessel and react with the concrete below, releasing vapors carrying highly radioactive materials such as strontium and technetium. In that case, “the environmental impact from that many reactors is hundreds of kilometres,” Charles Casto, the top N.R.C. official on the ground in Japan, said. “That was the scenario we were working, and there were a lot of people who believed in that scenario.” He himself had been skeptical that it would come to that.

    • Wayne SW says:

      An explosion needs two things: stored energy and some mechanism for releasing it. Simply saying “there might be an explosion” isn’t really saying much. From what we know, there is a decaying source of energy (decay heat) in the damaged cores. There is no uncontrolled criticality. There does not seem to be any more hydrogen evolution. The decay heat inventory seems to be inadequate to cause any melting of the pressure vessels, much less breach of containment. Every day that passes means less decay heat. That means the risk of damage from thermal events is lessening as time passes.

      Thinking up far-fetched scenarios that might “cause an explosion” is the realm of fiction writers, and is unworthy of serious engineering studies. You might as well be postulating damage to the plant from a meteor strike, or a superflare from the sun. Impossible? Not entirely. Unlikely? less, extremely so, so much so that we probbly can’t really consider it seriously.

    • Kit P says:

      Alan you may want to read the recent INPO report. Crew were minutes away from injecting with SBLCS using a generator brought in on a truck when a hydrogen explosion occurred frustrating those efforts and injuring 5. From that point on preventing damage to the cores was secondary to protecting human life.

      The big picture is that 6 reactors were a complete loss after the tsunami. If you keep a core flooded with water to remove decay hear which is less than 200 gpm for those reactors no core damage will occur. The reactors can be decommissioned like any old reactor.

      Once core damage occurs it really does not matter if it is 20% or 100% with the core melting through the the bottom of the reactor vessel. A mess is a mess. Evacuation protects the people from being hurt.

      The lesson from Japan is that you have time to walk away from a nuke plant but do not stop running when a tsunami is coming. Even if you think you are safe.

      The point is that the ‘boogyman’ came and no one was hurt. The ‘boogyman’ turned out to be feeble.

      • Joffan says:

        “The lesson from Japan is that you have time to walk away from a nuke plant but do not stop running when a tsunami is coming. Even if you think you are safe.”

        Great line. I will be using it.

      • Daniel says:

        The other lesson to be learnt is this:

        5 miles up the sea cost (north to be exact) and still in Fukushima, 6 other reactors faced the same tsunami and the same earthquake. No damage and no news.

        Why? Those reactors were built 30 years ago.

        Lesson number 2: 30 year old reactors can withstand a tsunami that 40 year old reactors can’t.

  15. Alan Y. says:

    Thanks for the response. I looked up “popcorn scenerio” and found just one hit related to nuclear accidents — that of the New Yorker article. Why would so many people believe that the “popcorn scenerio” was likely?

    Any idea why Charles Casto from the NRC said this was possible and that “the environmental impact would be hundreds of kilometers”?

    • Wayne SW says:

      I don’t know. People say a lot of stupid things. Ever since this event unfolded you had people saying that thousands of square kilometers of Japan would be uninhabitable for millions of years. Look what’s happening now, people are returning to their homes in these “uninhabitable” zones. You had people saying this event would be “Chernobyl on steroids”. Remember that? What happened to the steroids? You had people claiming every day that there was uncontrolled criticality happening. Never happened. Yet nary a word of apology for being wrong from the bums who “spewed” the lies.

      Why do so many people believe these lies? Why do so many people believe such nonsense as “popcorn” scenarios? I don’t know, a lot of people get some kind of pleasure out of thinking about scary things. That’s why horror and disaster movies have some measure of popularity. Some people use scary stories to force compliance of others. Parents used to talk about how “the bogeyman will come and get you” to their children if they were misbehaving. And children would believe it because they didn’t understand and it was an authority figure telling them the story (you can read about this in any book on child psychology). The purveyors of FUD are following the same meme.

      • donb says:

        Wayne SW:
        If I had the time (I don’t!), I would gather these stories together on a website call “Nuclear Overreaction”. It would have the original “story”, then a rebuttal stating the facts about what really happened.

        As an added feature, it would be fun to discuss the motivation for the false and misleading articles.

        • Joe B says:

          That site already exists, except its called ENENEWS, why dont you go over there and try the waters. Its like the polar opposite of this site.

  16. John Englert says:

    It’s the economy stupid
    Convince people that it makes economic sense; that it will help create jobs here in America, and the fear of radiation will eventually fade away. I think nuclear advocacy needs to drive home the economic point with a commercial showing how every day an entire super tanker of oil is NOT sailing to the US because instead we are consuming just 100 kg of uranium.

    • Pete51 says:

      Except oil is generally not used to generate electricity in the US. Less than one percent of the nation’s power comes from burning petroleum. The most common fuels are coal and natural gas, both of which are domestic. Nuclear can be sold on economic grounds. The cost of fuel per kilowatt-hour is much less for nuclear than for fossil fuels. However, the construction costs are quite a bit higher for nuclear compared to coal or gas. Perhaps the best thing nuclear has going for it is it doesn’t produce CO2 or other emissions into the atmosphere, and can be relied upon 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unlike wind or solar.

      • John says:

        Of course oil isn’t used to generate electricity; it was displaced by nuclear fission.

      • Kit P says:

        The best thing about nuclear is that the power plants last for 60 years. In twenty more years, I think we will be learning they last for eighty years and so on. The capital cost divide by the number of years it runs.

        So called sustainable energy sources are not sustainable because the stuff breaks and it is too expensive to repair. To date, wind turbines are mechanical failure test platforms and PV systems are smoke emitting diodes.

        • John Englert says:

          PV systems are smoke emitting diodes

          …or smoke and mirrors emitting diodes.

        • Daniel says:

          Well maintained nuclear plants can last 100 years.

        • Joe B says:

          Lol, they will last until they don’t.

          Airplanes are retired before they crash. There is a reason for that.

        • Cal Abel says:

          Joe,
          I take it you have some time on the pond and have operated nuclear reactors and understand the ins and outs of how to operate and maintain a plant.

          The people on this blog have that experience and knowledge decades individually and centuries cumulatively.

          I suggest before you make an unqualified statement of conjecture that you go and get some time on the pond.

          I was afraid of nuke plants as a kid. So I became a nuclear engineer to understand what it was that I was afraid of. I found out after some study that there was nothing to fear.

          Reading this blog with an open mind can help you overcome that fear. Or you can sit and lob baseless comments. Your choice.

        • Wayne SW says:

          I have studied plant life extension issues in my 30+ years of work in the business, and I can say with reasonable confidence that a plant simply won’t up and go bad one day. There are any number of prognostic indicators that will provide meaningful and robust data before any acute, catastrophic failure. It goes without saying that nothing has an infinite lifetime, but with good initial design and sound engineering, combined with appropriate maintenance during the operational period, the lifetime of engineered systems can be very, very long. A fun magazine to read is called Invention and Technology. They have a recurring article entitled “They’re Still There”, that talks about systems and machinery still in operation, sometimes after over a century of service. Our current fleet of plants will likely challenge this record.

  17. Alan Y. says:

    Thanks again for the response.

  18. Alan Y. says:

    The New Yorker article has sevearl errors in it, but this is the part I was talking about and would appreciate comments about Jaczko as well:

    …just after dawn on Tuesday, plant workers heard a boom near the suppression chamber of Reactor No. 2–a giant doughnut-shaped pool that absorbs steam from the fuel core. After the boom, pressure in the chamber sank to zero. To Gregory Jaczko, at the N.R.C., it was a chilling sight. “You pop the balloon, you lose the pressure,” he said. “That was the moment at which we registered that this was definitely going to be something very, very significant.” He and his colleagues at the N.R.C. suspected that the fuel was not simply melting down; the concrete-and-steel container, a vital line of defense, was now giving way, releasing a surge of radioactive gas and water–something that had never happened in America. A few hours later, the Japanese government heightened its advisory to the public, but only slightly. N.R.C. officials watched the news on a flat-screen television in the fourth-floor operations center. Based on their view of the events unfolding, they were surprised that the order was not broader.

    By then, there was another problem: that morning, a fire had broken out around the spent-fuel pool on a floor above Reactor No. 4. It was a swimming-pool-like container where discarded radioactive uranium was held for storage. Each of the six reactors had a similar pool, an arrangement that had made it easy to load and unload fuel in normal conditions but now left the spent fuel acutely vulnerable to explosions and fires. To many experts, the pools posed an even greater potential threat than the reactors, because the pools were loaded with years’ worth of uranium and not encased on all sides in steel or concrete; they relied only on water to prevent them from overheating and spreading radiation. The timing was especially bad, because Reactor No. 4 had been down for maintenance at the time of the quake, so its nearly fresh fuel rods–more than thirteen thousand of them–were in the pool.

    Chairman Jaczko was invited to testify on Capitol Hill the next day, and told lawmakers that the N.R.C. believed the pool had run dry. It was a striking claim, because it intensified the prospect of a far larger catastrophe–by one estimate, a worker standing beside a single dry pool could receive a fatal dose in sixteen seconds. It also raised questions about virtually identical pools at nuclear plants across the United States. (In June, the N.R.C. reversed itself and said that the Fukushima pools never ran completely dry, though it stands by the belief that the pools posed a grave threat.)

    Experts at the Departments of State and Defense were trying to anticipate what would happen next; the possibilities were extraordinarily dangerous, including one that became known as “the popcorn scenario.” If there was another explosion, the spike in radiation could prevent workers from being able to continue injecting water onto the fuel cores. Then “one will pop and then another one and then another one and then another,” a senior U.S. official told me. Fuel that had already melted into a heap at the bottom of the reactor could melt through the steel pressure vessel and react with the concrete below, releasing vapors carrying highly radioactive materials such as strontium and technetium. In that case, “the environmental impact from that many reactors is hundreds of kilometres,” Charles Casto, the top N.R.C. official on the ground in Japan, said. “That was the scenario we were working, and there were a lot of people who believed in that scenario.” He himself had been skeptical that it would come to that.

    “Hundreds of kilometres” meant that the impact could reach the outskirts of Tokyo, the world’s largest metropolitan area, with a population of thirty-five million. The Japanese government publicly maintained that the risk was manageable, but U.S. authorities were far less sanguine. Kevin Maher, one of the senior State Department officials on the interagency task force responding to the crisis, told me that by March 15th representatives from the State Department, the Defense Department, and other agencies were actively debating how to evacuate all American citizens from Tokyo–as many as a hundred thousand people. It would be an extreme maneuver. Maher, who retired from the State Department in April, recalled the debate: “Would you have to advise people to try to evacuate, running the risk that they could get stuck in the middle of the road with nowhere to shelter? Or would you advise people to shelter in place, meaning cover your windows or try to go into a basement?” Though they gave no public indications that the discussion was under way–it could have started a panic–they talked about the use of trains and commercial aircraft. Tokyo already had a gasoline shortage, and an evacuation on that scale would also have harmed relations with the government. No matter how they looked at it, Maher said, the prospect was “a nightmare.”

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Alan Y – you have now convinced me that I need to read the New Yorker article and try to explain more fully just how dangerous it is to have decisions being made in a vacuum by people who have very little practical training but who also have a strong sense that they are somehow “the best and the brightest” and are the only ones “in the know.”

      The phenomenon is called “groupthink”; one of the most studied examples of how that can lead to incredibly poor decisions was the way the Kennedy Administration handled the Bay of Pigs invasion.

      I have been sharply critical of the way that Jaczko closed off the emergency response center and only invited certain people into the room – even to the point of keeping out his colleagues on the Commission, at least one of whom probably had more time at the actual controls of a nuclear reactor than Jaczko had in an office in Washington. Based on conversations with sources who have served long careers with the NRC, the criteria for being allowed into the room was a good working relationship with Jaczko. My guess is that was also the primary criteria for being selected to be the “top NRC official on the ground in Japan.”

      He apparently listened to people who were willing to speculate without basis on “the worst case scenario” and not open up their aperture to the thoughts of people like Ted Rockwell or Murray Miles or any of the thousands of experienced nuclear experts who have performed extensive post accident analysis on the few examples of nuclear reactor accidents that we have had.

      My guess is that no one in the State Department had much knowledge of materials, construction techniques, mechanical systems, electrical power, nuclear engineering, or any of the dozens of other technical disciplines associated with operating a nuclear power plant or responding to casualty situations. They turned to people like Jaczko and Casto as the only experts they had, without understanding how little those two really knew about how real systems in the real world perform.

      Here is a brief Casto bio that includes a few interesting tidbits – like the fact that he spent a year working for one of Jaczko’s former bosses, Senator Harry Reid.

      http://www.nrc.gov/public-involve/conference-symposia/ric/bio/castoc.pdf

    • Daniel says:

      We need a ‘No Bozos’ allowed at the NRC.

    • Kit P says:

      Alan is it reasonable to only enjoy the New Yorker for the cartoons? I have been doing that more than 50 years. Theses day I have to be in the doctors office for longer than expected with the absence of Car and Driver to actual read something in the New Yorker. To each their own.

      Jaczko is currently recovering from surgery to remove a deeply embedded international foot-in-mouth extraction. Part of his rehabilitation is a trip to see an actual to a spent fuel pool. A navy seal team with a truck load of C4 would not be able to get the water out of the spent fuel pool faster than I can put it back in with a fire truck. No, I am not too concerned about spent fuel being uncovering covering and catching fire but you can bet your bipee that I will not stand around and watch if I am wrong. Maybe I can tickets to the NRC.

  19. Alan Y. says:

    Rod,

    I thought that since you featured the USA Today article you should read The New Yorker, which is being praised. The journalist makes several errors including his opening line about 6,000 workers being at the site on 3/11. An impossibly large number. Clean up workers are not getting McDonalds wages as he says (about 2 to 3 times that). There are not close to 100,000 Americans living in the Tokyo area as he claims may have needed to be evacuated. He reports that a woman getting 14 mSv of radiation a year was in tears because she didn’t evacuate out of the volunteer zone but doesn’t mention this is not close to where someone is at risk of cancer.

    This is a major article that the anti-nuclear crowd will keep going back to, and I can see winning a Pulitzer Prize.