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21 Comments

  1. When I Google “Fukushima Daiichi”, and hit images, the second image that comes up is a burning natural gas storage facility. It certainly isn’t a nuclear power plant.

    1. Google won’t respond to alerts to change that. Hate it when they “correct” long after the FUD seed has been sown.

      James Greenidge
      Queens NY

  2. I have just finished watching a documentary on Fukushima on Australia SBS channel, the contents of which were largely predictable. Admittedly, it was one of the more level headed discussions of the accident that I have seen, however some of the opinions and remarks offered about nuclear power caught my attention. My refutations follow each of these comments that were made on the program.

    ‘If Japan can’t handle a nuclear disaster, who can? If they can’t handle nuclear power safely, then who can?’

    I could tell you that this kind of argument is intellectually lazy and juvenile, but that wouldn’t be enough. A comment like this completely ignores the circumstances in which the accident took place. It also ignores the fact that this accident was preventable and would have been prevented had TEPCO not taken the cheap way out and had actually diversified their back-up cooling capability and placed diesel generators on higher ground. On top of this Rod correctly points out that even with the drama that took place, the plants were never “out of control” at least not from the perspective of a professional whose career has been dedicated to providing clean and safe energy.

    ‘Nuclear PR (ie. solution to climate change, good for the economy etc.) is great PR, but I think it is poor economics and not a solution at all. There is no merit to it’

    Coming from someone who appeared to be a greens-leaning scientist without a clue to the environmental and economic impacts of the so-called ‘alternative energy’ sources. Nuclear brings enormous benefits to the enonomy, far beyond what is typically discussed in monetarist terms. The benefits to the physical economy (or the productivity of a society) are immeasurable, thanks to the amazing flux density of fission processes. A paid for nuclear reactor will create revenue toward further nuclear research and development, and can also free up funds for much needed infrastructure projects. Anyone who still doubts the economic benefits of nuclear should look at the staggering figures regarding Japanese fossil imports that Rod has provided.

    ‘Another accident is inevitable. Nuclear engineers cannot prepare a plant against every conceivable event’

    Another generalised argument against nuclear power, which (A) may or may not be true and (B) is applicable to every technology and to every activity to which human beings aspire to. Nothing is absolutely safe, but a well-greased, well maintained, adequately protected fleet of nuclear generators comes pretty darn close. It is certainly not beyond human wit to design nuclear plants capable of withstanding ALL natural disasters. Indeed, nuclear plants in the US have withstood direct hits from hurricanes (and accompanying storm surges), tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. The safety records of the chemical, fossil fuel, automotive, medical, hydroelectric and other industries are less than impressive, at least on the face of it, but we all enjoy the benefits that these industries have offered to humanity. So why the Nuclear witch hunt?

    ‘There must a better way than nuclear, something cleaner and more cost-effective’

    Not the case. When one analyses the environmental and economic aspects of the alternatives and takes a longer term view, nuclear wins comfortably. It is the least environmentally intrusive and least resource intensive of all energy sources. Due to this it is the most cost-effective form of energy available, assuming the absence of political obstructionism (an heroic assumption given the success of an ill-informed and bigoted anti-nuclear movement).

    ‘Japan seems to be surviving without the missing nuclear output’

    True, if one considers energy austerity and a near industrial collapse to be ‘survival.’
    Restarting at least a part of the idled nuclear fleet would go a long way toward reviving the Japanese economy and providing the energy that will be needed to repair the damage exacted by the consequences of an unbelievable twin-disaster (no, not ‘triple disaster’).

    To add to Rod’s comments on radiation release due to the accident, I think it is disgraceful of the anti-nuclear crowd to be jumping up and down (as if to celebrate the occurence of Fukushima and to hope for the worst possible outcome) and to brag that they were right all along. This exposes them for the petty people that they are, and does not contribute in any way to a healthy discussion on nuclear power. The health affects that we are observing among the evacuees are due to what I believe is the law of unintended consequences. That is to say that the health effects of the evacuation may far outway the effects of higher than normal radiation levels. Any move to forcibly evacuate a large population from such a large area should be done as a precaution, and not to frighten the daylights out of people affected, or to pander to anti-nuclear sentiments.

  3. Now that many evacuated cities have been re opened and are de facto ‘ghost towns’, maybe the NRC could lift the 50 miles evacuation order.

    That would take courage.

  4. Good show. Interesting points regrettably caged in one nuclear blog. Margaret’s “it’s not mega-tons” cesium half gallon example highlights that the perspective thing is VERY important. The banter over Silverts means beans to Joe Six-Pack who can eat that the health impact equivalence of 50 millirads and mSilivets is passing through a cloud of someone’s cigarette smoke or getting blasted by the exhaust of a passing bus. It might sound condescending but I think all engineers should drop all tech lingo and measurements when public speaking, Gwyneth mentioned educating reporters on radiation, but I think such is a futile endeavor. I recall very much during the Shoreham debacle that the reporters willfully tapped every Hiroshima apologist “nuclear consultant” to hone their deep anti-nuclear biases by (a “mortal” crusade since you’re trying to color and banish a scourge on mankind that uniquely killed so any innocents at Hiroshima). I remember WNBC reporters tapping Don “Mr. Wizard” Herbert during TMI for any condemning pearls of wisdom against nuclear power and he just didn’t play the FUD game and they quickly shied him like he was senile old man. After that nuke-doubter “science guys” like Bill Nye and Doc Kaku became all the rage. Grimly, when I graze nuclear professional and energy corporation sites, public nuclear education — the key to fight ignorance and FUD — still feels like a stepchild afterthought.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  5. I know we care mostly about the US (I certainly hope my son can get a job with his nuclear engineering degree), but everything needs a leader and the leader for nuclear is going to be China. If you want to get away from doom and gloom then read stories like this:

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/ENF-First_fuel_produced_for_Chinese_EPR-1103134.html

    From the article:

    First concrete for unit 1 was poured in October 2009, with the dome of the reactor building being lowered into place on top of the containment building in October 2011. In January 2013, Areva announced that installation of the heavy components – the reactor pressure vessel, the four steam generators and the pressurizer – had been completed within the reactor building.

    The have fabricated the initial fuel assemblies. This reactor is expected to go online in 2014. At that it will beat the Olkiluoto reactor easily …. first concrete in 2005! I know that was the first EPR, but still …

    What is likely to give us, and others around the world a swift kick in the ass, is when we see what China is accomplishing with nuclear power.

    1. EPRs, Candus .. They are all built outside the western world on time and on budget. (China, India etc.)

      But we have the gold standard, the NRC. We have the means.

  6. One of the national newspapers here has a two page memorial for Fukushima. One of the headlines: “Japan remembers 19 thousand dead due to nuclear disaster”.

    One could not possibly be more dishonest than this. There are zero radiation casualties. The only casualties were due to a forceful evacuation which made no sense at all.

    1. This is more than merely misleading or any “mistake”. It’s as willfully malicious as crying fire in a theater seeding indelible FUD. Hope you follow this up with more info to pounce on.

      James Greenidge
      Queens NY

  7. One has to keep in mind that the public has no science background or so and that it uses myths instead. For the man of the street, the word “Atomic” means “Hiroshima”, long story short, almost everyone doesn’t understand that civil nuclear industry is as different from the war one than chemical industry from biological warfare.

    I read this article, which i found interesting :

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2013/01/11/like-weve-been-saying-radiation-is-not-a-big-deal/2/

    Which reads :

    “This is incredibly important to Japan where national guideline changes have been horribly over-reactive in response to Fukushima, especially for food, using LNT in a way it should not be used.

    Regulatory Limits On Radioactivity In Foods (in Bq/kg)*

    Country Water Milk Foodstuffs Babyfoods

    Japan 10 200 100 50

    U.S. 1,200 1,200 1,200 1,200

    E.U. 1,000 1,000 1,250 400

    *Japan’s new limits for radiation in food

    Accepted global limits on radioactivity levels in foods is 1000 Bq/kg (1,200 Bq/kg in the U.S.). Dominated by cesium-137 and Sr-90, these levels were set by organizations like the IAEA and UNSCEAR after decades of study. Because of public radiation fears broadcast in the press after the Fukushima accident, Japan cut the limit in half hoping it would have a calming influence. But the level of fear remained high, so Tokyo lowered the limits to one-tenth of the international standards.

    This was supposed to induce calm? Telling the public that radiation is even more deadly than they thought? That their food is toxic? Were they nuts?

    This has had the unintended consequence of making people even more afraid of what they are eating, moving safe foods into the scary category and limiting food exports, causing even further economic and social damage.

    Suddenly, all sorts of normally safe foods are now banned. Wild mushrooms from Aomori Prefecture are now banned because they have cesium levels of about 120 Bq/kg. This cesium has nothing to do with Fukushima, it’s the same type as is in everyone’s food around the world, and it wouldn’t have rated a second look before the accident (Japan’s Contamination Limits Way Too Low).”

    1. Love the way you composed this, BLL! The big grim sad question I have is does the average Japanese on the street have a clue of this??? I’d love to get a take on this from a Japanese pro nuclear blog!

      James Greenidge
      Queens NY

  8. Your show contradicts many of the findings of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission Report.

    http://warp.da.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/3856371/naiic.go.jp/en/

    You can read the following section which describes the whole Japanese cultural problem with not questioning authority and how it was carried into nuclear power operations, regulations and government. Here is one of many conclusions in the report:

    The direct causes of the accident were all foreseeable prior to March 11, 2011. But the
    Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was incapable of withstanding the earthquake and
    tsunami that hit on that day. The operator (TEPCO), the regulatory bodies (NISA and NSC)
    and the government body promoting the nuclear power industry (METI), all failed to correctly
    develop the most basic safety requirements—such as assessing the probability of
    damage, preparing for containing collateral damage from such a disaster, and developing
    evacuation plans for the public in the case of a serious radiation release.

    TEPCO and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) were aware of the need for
    structural reinforcement in order to conform to new guidelines, but rather than demanding
    their implementation, NISA stated that action should be taken autonomously by the operator.
    The Commission has discovered that no part of the required reinforcements had been
    implemented on Units 1 through 3 by the time of the accident. This was the result of tacit
    consent by NISA for a significant delay by the operators in completing the reinforcement.
    In addition, although NISA and the operators were aware of the risk of core damage from
    tsunami, no regulations were created, nor did TEPCO take any protective steps against such an occurrence.

    Since 2006, the regulators and TEPCO were aware of the risk that a total outage of electricity at the Fukushima Daiichi plant might occur if a tsunami were to reach the level of
    the site. They were also aware of the risk of reactor core damage from the loss of seawater
    pumps in the case of a tsunami larger than assumed in the Japan Society of Civil Engineers
    estimation. NISA knew that TEPCO had not prepared any measures to lessen or eliminate
    the risk, but failed to provide specific instructions to remedy the situation.

    We found evidence that the regulatory agencies would explicitly ask about the operators’
    intentions whenever a new regulation was to be implemented. For example, NSC informed
    the operators that they did not need to consider a possible station blackout (SBO) because
    the probability was small and other measures were in place. It then asked the operators
    to write a report that would give the appropriate rationale for why this consideration was
    unnecessary. It then asked the operators to write a report that would give the appropriate
    rationale for why this consideration was unnecessary.

    The regulators also had a negative attitude toward the importation of new advances
    in knowledge and technology from overseas. If NISA had passed on to TEPCO measures
    that were included in the B.5.b subsection of the U.S. security order that followed the 9/11
    terrorist action, and if TEPCO had put the measures in place, the accident may have been
    preventable.

    There were many opportunities for taking preventive measures prior to March 11. The
    accident occurred because TEPCO did not take these measures, and NISA and the Nuclear
    Safety Commission (NSC) went along. They either intentionally postponed putting safety
    measures in place, or made decisions based on their organization’s self interest, and not in
    the interest of public safety.

    1. jaagu wrote:

      Your show contradicts many of the findings of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission Report.

      I’m “shocked, shocked, I say” to note that a group of people that includes several technical experts with decades worth of nuclear energy experience has reached a different conclusion than a politically commissioned report. End Irony.

  9. Do your experts disagree with the report section I posted?
    Do your “experts” think that the following conclusion is wrong?

    “There were many opportunities for taking preventive measures prior to March 11. The accident occurred because TEPCO did not take these measures, and NISA and the Nuclear
    Safety Commission (NSC) went along. They either intentionally postponed putting safety
    measures in place, or made decisions based on their organization’s self interest, and not in
    the interest of public safety.”

    If they disagree, then your “experts” are also saying that IAEA, NRC, INPO and others must all be wrong when they say that a strong independent regulator, a strong regulatory processes and regulations, and a strong safety culture were important lessons learned.

    http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/focus/actionplan/reports/actionplanns130911.pdf
    http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1118/ML111861807.pdf

    1. @jaagu

      I cannot speak for other experts. In my opinion, the conclusion is wrong. The accident occurred because there was an enormous earthquake (which actually included three separate subduction zones) that caused a massive, unprecedented, tsunami that overwhelmed the plant’s emergency power system. Just imagine the death toll that would have resulted if there had been any other kind of infrastructure built at that location other than a carefully designed nuclear power station.

      I also believe that “strong independent” regulators are not the people that make nuclear energy a safe, reliable power source. Strong safety cultures, good engineering and well-trained, flexible workers are far more important. So are the professional regulators who actually know the technology backwards and forwards based on years worth of professional technical experience that is often disrespected by “independent” politically appointed regulators like Greg Jaczko, whose decisions during the event only made matters worse for the people affected by the tragic natural disaster.

  10. I find your beliefs unfounded and unsupported by nuclear experts around the world. Have you even read the literature? Have you read the reports prepared by TEPCO where they admit they were unprepared, they were too dependent on the reactor designers for safety, they did not know they were allowed to question, suggest and improve reactor safety themselves? They were told these earthquakes/tsunamis could occur and they did nothing because their weak regulator did not push them to doing proper analysis.

    A strong regulator can question the reactor designers and operators with penetrating questions to search out the potential weaknesses in the design and operation. This is preferable to fixing reactor designs and operations after an accidents like TMI-2, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

    I find your attitude about nuclear safety disturbing. I think you are stuck in some political attitudes about regulators that are nonsense. Have you ever really worked with the NRC or any other regulator?

    Where are all your:

    “Strong safety cultures, good engineering and well-trained, flexible workers are far more important.”

    They surely are not at some utilities when they screw-up at Crystal River, San Onofre, Davis Besse, Fort Calhoun, etc. Without the NRC regulations and inspections, I would say that utilites would take safety risks and cut corners all day long just like Wall Street.

    1. @jaagu

      Yes. I’ve read the literature. I also live the dream; I am a nuclear energy professional and have managed a department with a strong safety culture that operated a well engineered plant with well-trained, flexible workers who were able to respond to the unexpected.

      The strong, “independent” regulators at the NRC did not prevent Crystal River or Davis Besse. The strong safety culture, good engineering and well trained workers produce 20% of our electricity from a fleet of reactors that has shrunk in numbers but has increased its output by the equivalent of 27 new power plants since 1990.

      1. Steam generator replacement at Crystal River did not involve public safety because the plant was shutdown. Neither the utility or the NRC knew enough about containment design and how to properly cut a hole in the containment. The utility tried to manage the project by itself to save a few million dollars. At other PWRs the steam generator replacement projects are done by experienced contractors who manage the whole replacement project.

        The Davis Besse employees and one former contractor lied to the NRC about the corrosion in the reactor vessel head and continued to operate the reactor. The Davis Besse employees did put the safety of the public in jeopardy. The plant was shutdown in 2002. The resulting corrective operational and system reviews and engineering changes took two years. Repairs and upgrades cost $600 million, and the Davis-Besse reactor was restarted in March 2004.

        The lack of a safety culture and well-trained flexible workers did not save these two reactors from destruction for one and costly repairs, upgrades and criminal charges.

        The NRC was not a stronger regulator in either case, but they did complete rigorous self evaluations and lessons learned assessments leading to changes in their regulatory oversight.

        I do not fault the NRC in either of these cases. There is little the NRC can do about incompetence at Crystal River and liars at Davis Besse. I think you will agree that errors due to utility incompetence or utility deception can not be easily regulated.

        1. I think you will agree that errors due to utility incompetence or utility deception can not be easily regulated.

          On that we agree. That is my point, in fact. If utilities are staffed by competent people with high integrity, the regulators cannot do much to improve the situation. If they are staffed by incompetent or deceptive people, the regulators cannot do much to improve the situation.

          There is some level at which there is a healthy tension between the officials and the players in any game. I believe that the NRC – ever since it was split from the rest of the AEC – has been focused on calling every foul, no matter how minute, and on spending an inordinate period of time under the hood of the replay cameras no matter how much money is being wasted by having the highly paid teams twiddle their thumbs and having the tens of thousands of spectators not getting what they are paying for.

          Competent regulators can provide a useful second check and restraint on exuberance that is valuable to society by enabling progress. Over zealous regulators, especially those who are more political than technical, can strangle progress. There is no doubt in my mind which end of the spectrum our NRC leans toward; the evidence is pretty clear.

  11. Has anybody produced a graphic showing how the winds at the plant were directed in the week following 3/11/11? There is a nice one on the internet showing plume directions for the days following the Chernobyl disaster, but I haven’t found anything like that for Fukushima. There was a lot of angst at the time about what would happen if the wind blew toward Tokyo.

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