Stewart Brand on NPR Describing How Wrong He Was About Nuclear Energy

Scott Simon interviewed Stewart Brand, an icon of the US environmental movement on Weekend Edition for Saturday, February 20, 2010. He asked some probing questions and Brand gave some clear responses that are worth listening to and understanding. Brand is an excellent communicator and has a savvy media presence that is worth emulating. He does not delve into excessive detail, he is willing to laugh, and he even admits previous mistakes.

His description of the difference between what actually happened when the core of the Three Mile Island Unit 2 melted and the fantasy called “The China Syndrome” is a classic. I wonder where he learned that way of expressing it?

About Rod Adams

20 Responses to “Stewart Brand on NPR Describing How Wrong He Was About Nuclear Energy”

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  1. Kit P says:

    There is a difference between an environmental activist and a environmental professional. It is a matter of training and responsibility. NPR interviewing Stewart Brand is another case of one journalist interviewing another journalist .

    Most readers here are aware of the weakness in Stewart Brand statements. The core did not melt at TMI. The upper part of the core was damaged by thermal and hydraulic shock resulting in fission products being released to the reactor coolant. A very bad thing for stock holders but the public, workers, and the environment.

    Furthermore, ‘severe accidents’ are considered in the design of new reactors. For those who are interested read Chapter 19 of the FSAR of new plants at the NRC web site.

    Second, it is not credible that terrorist could hurt anyone with radiation form a nuke plant. Unfortunately proving that the impossible is not possible is possible. If you disagree please do not tell me why on the Internet, call Homeland Security.

    Third, the US does have a solution for spent fuel that includes retrieval for 100 years. As a environmental professional, I wonder how much time I would spend in federal prison if I decided to ignore environmental regulation to win an election.

    • Finrod says:

      Kit P, did you listen actively to the interview and take on board the content, or did you just skim it hunting for points to attack? It seems like the latter.

      Your assertion that the core at TMI did not partially melt down is at odds with everything I have read on the subject.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Kit P

      You can find the NRC Backgrounder here:

      http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/3mile-isle.html

      From that document:

      “The sequence of certain events

        • katana0182 (Dave) says:

          Kit, I think you’re getting a bit confused here. Of course you had the fuel cladding spall off the fuel and turn into granular debris due to the oxidation produced by the autocatalytic zircalloy-steam reaction prior to actual melt, but then the cladding debris melted, the fuel began to fall apart, the cladding melt relocated to the bottom of the RPV, and then the fuel melted, and the fuel melt itself relocated to the bottom of the RPV. Thus, the core did melt down. But it didn’t get through the bottom head – because the first wave of melt – which promptly cooled upon contact with the comparatively cold RPV outer shell – formed a sort of ablative shield at the bottom of the RPV allowing more heat to be absorbed and dissipated by the bottom of the RPV and providing a sacrificial layer of shielding.

          So yes, the core did melt. But the vessel stayed intact. And, in the end, the containment held.

    • katana0182 (Dave) says:

      Let me just drop this here.

      The yellow stuff is peanut butter, and the red stuff is jam – since TMI2 didn’t melt. BTW, what kind of nuclear engineer working on a large new NPP doesn’t know what happened at TMI2?

  2. Finrod says:

    Kit P has stated that his current job is in the field of nuclear power plant design. Is this some kind of attempt to undermine the credibility of the profession?

    • Kit P says:

      Is that sarcasm Finrod? Did you bother to read Chapter 19 of the FSAR of new plants at the NRC web site?

      My turn for sarcasm, are you more interested in learning or telling me I am wrong? Get this your thickness, we learn the root cause of mistakes to prevent it from occurring again. While there is might be a new way of damaging the core we have not thought of; new plants are designed with ‘severe accidents’ in mind. My job is not cleaning up after screw ups but preventing them from happening. However, I did take the time to read Rod’s references.

      • Finrod says:

        Is that sarcasm Finrod?

        No, it’s a genuine concern. You claim to be designing the nuclear island of a large new nuclear plant, but you deny the NRC’c characterisation of the worst civilian NPP accident in US history. When challenged about this, you go off into some self-justificatory rant about how some other aspect of the accident was really what it was all about, so the fact that you denied a meltdown occured doesn’t matter.

  3. trkdirect (Rasmus) says:

    Anyway, back to Stewart Brand…

    If anyone is interested in a longer interview, Brand was recently on KQED’s “Forum” with Michael Krasny:
    http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R201002081000

    There was also a TED talk last summer at the US State Dept.:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/stewart_brand_proclaims_4_environmental_heresies.html

  4. Kit P says:

    Well Finrod, if it makes you feel any better I have lots of help building new nukes.

    Since you replied so quick, I can assume you did not bother to read the links I provided or Chapter 19.

    Let me put ‘NRC’c characterisation of the worst civilian NPP accident in US history’ into perspective. I had a tire blow out on the freeway with the family in the car that was scarier. I understand the frailty of the human body going 60 mph and the robustness of containment buildings. Keeping I-131 our of our children bodies is not that hard of engineering task.

  5. Finrod says:

    @Kit P:

    Let me put ‘NRC’c characterisation of the worst civilian NPP accident in US history’ into perspective. I had a tire blow out on the freeway with the family in the car that was scarier. I understand the frailty of the human body going 60 mph and the robustness of containment buildings. Keeping I-131 our of our children bodies is not that hard of engineering task.

    The specific characteristic in dispute is the characteristic of there having been a core meltdown. You asserted there was no such event, then when shown documentation otherwise, tried to cover your tracks with some fluff about “Well, the meltdown wasn’t the most important aspect of the accident”, without acknowledging that your initial attack on Rod was utterly spurious. If this is the standard of honesty you apply to plant design, then indeed you damn well better have lots of help.

  6. katana0182 (Dave) says:

    Kit…I think we can end this charade. You’re a canny foe, but over time, you have given away enough unique signatures about yourself that it’s obvious whom you are. (Somehow, I think Kit has an agenda…he isn’t just your typical coal troll.)

    1. He doesn’t comment on the AGW debates we have here which seem to be irresistible for the rest of us to get into a knock down, drag-out, pile-driver, grab folding chairs and bash each other’s heads in style argument.
    2. He defends the NRC’s bureaucracy and gets into ridiculous comparisons between the regulation coal gets (little) and the regulation nuclear gets (absolutely crushing). Why? Because he knows that the primary reason that nuclear is hobbled is because of the NRC, and that if you reduce the NRC’s bureaucracy to a reasonable level, nuclear will just wipe the floor clean of the competition, coming, going, upwards, downwards, forwards, from behind, doggy-style. This wouldn’t be good, in his opinion.
    3. Those small nukes….NOOOOOOOOO! Can’t have that! WON’T WORK! WON’T WORK! NOT ECONOMICAL! ME NO LIKEY! He really doesn’t have any cogent reason for not liking small nukes, except that they would compete very economically with his renewables, generating heat and power reliably. The battlefield must be shaped!
    4. This is a no true Scotsman fallacy, but no true coalman would really support biomass as it currently stands, even for smaller applications, coal is just easier, really…and any true coalman forced to use biomass would immediately turn it into the evil sort of clear-cutting debacle that biomass would surely turn into if large-scale biomass use became prevalent in the US. (I ain’t talking about algal fuels, those might have some potential. Emphasis on some. If you want reliable production, you need to combine with a heat and light source plus an atmospheric scrubber. So you build your HTGR next to the algae tank, hook process heat into the atmospheric CO2 extractor, hook water electrolysis into the generator (for hydrogen for ammonia), hook process heat into the Haber unit for anhydrous ammonia, hook your lights for nighttime photosynthesis into the generator, hook waste heat output to the tanks to keep them warm.
    5. He accused me of fear-mongering about asbestos…which you should at least be careful with…fear-mongering about pesticides, dioxin, etc…which you should at least be careful with…and now he’s going on about Iodine 131…inconsistency here? Remember when TMI1 had some crud get into the atmosphere of the containment, and I said that it was nothing, and he called me insane?
    6. He talked about an inadvertent criticality where he worked. If there was an inadvertent criticality where you worked, Kit, trust me, it would rank up there with the top US nuclear incidents.
    7. His new declarative support for the Bush Administration, which he hasn’t previously declared until Obama started backing nukes. He’s afraid that the US is going to do a UK and ramhurl the plants through the NRC with a 1 year deadline for approval or denial. Bush’s cozyness with the fossils was acceptable to him, but that Obama could be willing to demonstrate decisive executive action on nuclear (as opposed to the Bush molasses “we say all the right things about nuclear and keep it preserved in a ghettoized, formaldehyde state to take out of the jar when we’ve pumped Saudi Arabia dry”) is unacceptable and is throwing the antis into conniption fits.
    8. His vigorous response to my bombast of solar thermal with molten salt a few articles back.
    9. Finally, his lack of understanding of TMI 2 shows that he doesn’t know anything about nuclear power even if he’s a nuclear engineer.

    I think that we know who we’re dealing with. A Lovinsite, if not O.G. Lovins himself (O.G. not being “Original Gangsta” as in rap, but “Our Guru” as in Amory.) He’s here on a vexation operation against the planet destroying nuclear power types. He knows that nuclear power works, he knows that it’s not dangerous; his problem is that it works too well!

    He is here standing in the way of the solution to the many problems humanity faces. But he ain’t going to stand in the way any more. You see, devotee of O.G., nuclear’s back, it ain’t going nowhere, and we’re going to give the people what they want.

    Nearly free energy in nearly unlimited quantities.

    We’re going to end global warming, end the wars for resources, end the problems of lack of water, end the shortages of food, end material scarcity, provide the means to explore the cosmos, and enable people to live healthy and happy lives – as they choose to live – until many millennia beyond the day after tomorrow.

    You’re fighting a losing battle. The laws of energy density aren’t on your side. Might as well yield, offer terms, and lay down arms, as it’s a useless war you’re waging, a war you’ll never win.

    With enough energy, all things become possible. We have that source of energy – it’s called nuclear.

    • Brian Mays says:

      Kit P most certainly works for the nuclear industry. The number of acronyms that he uses clearly gives him away. ;-)

  7. Kit P says:

    I do not recall attacking Rod in this tread. I did offer an alternative opinion to Steward Brand.

    Rod offered some link and I showed him the respect of reading them. It is interesting to see what happens to a core after restarting a RCP after cooling has been lost. I suggested further reading to Rod.

    I think the best way to produce energy with fission is to not damage the core. Every new design exceeds the requirements for core damage frequency. We also are required to consider ‘severe accidents’. If a large amount of the core melts and pools on the bottom head (which did not happen at TMI) and then blows through the vessel bottom, how is the containment integrity maintained?

    The answer is very complicated but interesting for those willing to do some reading.

    • katana0182 (Dave) says:

      Kit – there is no simple answer to that. You want things to be as strong as possible.

      The answer to the first question, Kit, is that an FCI occurs; there was an FCI at TMI2; the primary survived. The answer to your second question is we do what we can to avoid that question with the tools that we have. For instance, I know that there are NUREG class documents – I don’t remember which – that suggest that if there is a serious challenge to RPV integrity and you can’t inject into the primary, or injection into the primary is inadvisable, you flood the containment so as to cool the RPV from outside, and try to manage pressure as best you can. Chances are that you will be able to successfully defeat the breach of the primary in a CDA with the kind of heat sink that water in those quantities will provide.

      We can get into discussions all day about HPME events and DCH modes, FCI incidents, CCI attacks if RPV blowdown happens into the vessel cavity, extremely rapid steam evolutions, weld failures, ASME BPVC (ASME Code) Section VIII (or is it Section IX?), non-condensable gasses, source terms, Pasquill conditions, TEDE/integrated/thyroid dose, activated carbon and HEPA filters, rupture disks, containment sprays, 3.5 ft to 7 ft of pre-tensioned concrete, hydrogen recombiners, wetwell bypasses, vacuum breakers, sump anomalies, spargers, basalt fiber reinforced concrete, and yes, the alpha-mode, CRAP II, certain diseases from the Orient, Jane Fonda’s exercise tapes (or her Soviet-vintage anti-aircraft gun), etc, but at the end of the day, put it this way: you make things as resilient as possible so as to defend against everything. Even on that sub-zero day in hell where everything has gone completely sideways and upside down, the system is built to delay bad stuff long enough so that it has decayed to the point that it can be released without any prompt injuries or fatalities. So that evacuation can occur – and even if evacuation doesn’t occur and a thermal inversion does occur, no one is injured or killed.

      The most profound thing that Rickover ever said was that, in essence, the design basis was his son; whether he would be willing, knowing all that he knew, to have him run a reactor. That’s the same design basis that is used today – your family. You build the reactor as resilient as possible meaning that you could, in good conscience, be willing to have your wife live with your children downwind from the reactor at the edge of the restricted zone, and know that even if the worst occurs, a thermal inversion combined with an evacuation failure, the system will do its job, to protect human health, safety, and the environment – and your family.

      The rest of the risk, and there is very little, you just suck it up, accept freedom is not free, and pursue your happiness. Compared to every other form of power generation, including wind and solar, nuclear is the least dangerous. You suck up the risk and you live your life.

      (O, BTW, did you know that nuclear industry workers aren’t rated any differently than clerical workers – e.g. the best possible occupational hazard score – in terms of life insurance?)

      • Kit P says:

        My company is again not doing very well on meeting out safety goals for OHSA reportables. Some one slipped on the ice and broke his arm. One of the difficulties with people who work around hazards is getting them to understand all hazards.

        Since all power plants have gravity, they are all equally dangerous. Now I work in a nice office. So after a day of considering the design of cooling the core spreading area, I have to go home and worry about snow load on a roof and the porch step that gets no sun.

        So for those who have trouble sleeping at night, I recommend reading a chapter of a FSAR. A non chemical cure to insomnia.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Kit P who wrote:

          “He concluded it did not matter the whole scenario was not credible. I said that is right but what does the NEWREG (sic) say to do? Then go do it and do it with quality. “

          This helps to explain why we so often differ. In the part of the Navy where I grew up, we fully accepted the mantra given by Rickover to “develop a questioning attitude”. That meant if we saw something out of place or potentially dangerous, we took action to fix it, even if our position was the lowly engine room lower level watch. If we saw procedures that were wrong, we worked to change them so that we could follow them – we did not avoid the procedure but we most certainly did not follow a procedure that we knew was wrong – even once.

          I was encouraged by my leaders to help back them up – as an Ensign, I served on the two man control teams and often ended up paired with the XO because we were both insomniacs and answered the Alert 1 more quickly than most others in the wee hours. I clearly remember some strong disagreements – which he encouraged, saying he was not perfect, I was not perfect, but between the two of us we had to get it right.

          You, on the other hand, grew up in the surface nuclear navy, the part that could never fully accept some of the radical ideas that Rickover instilled. In your part of the Navy, rank actually mattered and JOs were often told to sit down and shut up; the DH, the XO or the CO knew best. There is a good reason why SWO’s no longer operate nuclear power plants – except on ships run by aviators who also understand that physical laws imposed by nature are more important than rank or stupid rules imposed by people.

          I now spend a lot of time writing rather than “doing” partly because my reaction to dumb requirements is to say they are dumb, refuse to meekly follow them, and work hard to show others how dumb they are so they can be changed. You disrespect that effort, but you seem to keep coming back. Oh well.

          Nuclear technology has SO much to offer the world, but if we allow idiots who don’t like competing against its natural advantages to impose stupid requirements and try to contort ourselves into pretzels to try to meet those requirements anyway, we price ourselves out of the market. That is especially true since our competition resists stupid rules. That is admirable.

          The problem I have is that they even resist intelligent rules if they add a dime of cost. The attitude of the coal, oil, gas, biofuels, geothermal, wind and solar industry is that government let them do something yesterday by not having a specific provision preventing it, so it should keep letting them do it, even if experience has shown that the activity was dangerous or polluting.

          • Kit P says:

            Well Rod, if you spent time reading the links you posted instead of lecturing me, I would be more impressed with your ‘questioning attitude’. You have missed an opportunity to learn choosing to pontificate on what you do know about nuclear power comparing it to what you do not about other sources of electricity.

  8. Finrod says:

    @Kit p:
    I do not recall attacking Rod in this tread. I did offer an alternative opinion to Steward Brand.

    So you did, but Rod mentioned in the article that he enjoyed Brand’s description of the core meltdown, so I took it to be a not-so-veiled indirect attack on Rod (which you have a fondness for doing).

    @Katana (Dave):
    I think that we know who we’re dealing with. A Lovinsite, if not O.G. Lovins himself (O.G. not being “Original Gangsta” as in rap, but “Our Guru” as in Amory.)

    Interesting take. I’d toyed with the idea that he’s a sockpuppet of Roger Sowell.