1. The US nuclear Power industry has had a “Lessons Learned” program of assuring that incidents that happen at other plants cannot or will not happen at their plant and to provide proof to the commission. Though not called “lessons learned” it is was in place even before the TMI-II incident, for significant events. After TMI-II it was established as a “Lessons Learned” program, and was greatly enhanced to include even minor and “near-misses” and events. It has also been upgraded and improved over the years and now includes those events in other countries and even “concerns” or questionable practices. The average US plant has the equivalent of one person working full time just to track and assure that each and every one of these “events” are addressed. Both the NRC and INPO inspect this program and ensure its completeness, adequacy, and thoroughness.

  2. Hysteria is growing. To me the “wildcard” is that *even if* there is radiation, it’s not the end of the world, and certainly not the end of “millions of people’s lives” as the anti-nuclear propaganda wants us to believe. How on earth did we move from having mushroom clouds just a valley away from Las Vegas to worrying about radiation in the midst of massive non-nuclear destruction?

  3. I’ve said very little about Fukushima in the last week, and I’ve still had to eat my words. From the very beginning I realized it was a “fog of war” situation — the people at the plant don’t have a complete picture of what’s going on, the media knows less, and armchair quarterbacks of the “no-nuke” and “pro-nuke” varieties are still going largely on conjecture.
    There’s no doubt that this accident is going to have an impact on the industry and how we practice nuclear safety; many ideas already being developed, such as passive cooling (which uses the heat of the reactor to “pump” water) should be developed vigorously, but we won’t be able say much about the real impact of the accident for months or years.
    I’d say that I am quite concerned about the situation at reactor #4. At least three factors make it difficult to work near the pool, including high temperatures (steam from a boiling pool of water that size is a serious hazard), high levels of gamma radiation (which would be there even without fuel damage), and a partially collapsed building. Any one of those is hazardous and putting them together is a real challenge.
    At this point nobody is sure, but there are concerns that water might have escaped the pool via a leak, so that evaporation might not be the only path of water loss. And if the fuel in the pool melts, I’m not all that sure what will happen. I’m sure that the most pessimistic analysis is overblown, but elemental iodine and cesium both have low boiling points, well below the melting point of UO2. Sure, the U is not going to burn as it did at Windscale, but driven by high temperatures, all sorts of oxidization processes could happen on the fuel surface. High temperatures can volatize and aerosolize materials of many sorts… Look at the effectiveness of cigarettes as a drug delivery mechanism and the use of heat dispersal in chemical weapons. Hot Zirconium reacts with water to make hydrogen, which could create another local hazard for workers.
    Media accounts now have a lot of concern about recriticality, which I think is unlikely. It certainly won’t lead to a nuclear explosion and probably not even a large increase in heat generation, but the workers at the site definitely don’t need to add neutron flux to the many things they’re concerned about.
    The whole thing reminds me of the Lester Del Ray story “Nerves”, but frankly, it’s going to be a long time before we know what happened and all of us armchair quarterbacks are going to find ourselves eating our words. One big takeaway is that this is closer to a “typical” LWR LOCA than TMI was — TMI was a fluke that could be traced to a particular hardware flaw, whereas the accident initiator here was “station blackout”, which is believed to be the “typical” accident initiator. Yes, it was aggravated by a fantastic physical trauma that struck the plant, but physical traumas like that are a part of living on Earth.

    1. With the roof blown off the building the odds of hydrogen building up to explosive levels are pretty low.

    2. Paul – If you think any anti-nukes are going to eat their words, you’ve not been paying attention.

  4. Kirk Sorensen’s interview with ABC News gets to the nub of safety issues with LWRs. Google: “Nuclear community snubbed reactor safety message: expert”
    Alvin Weinberg invented and held the patents on LWRs and predicted such events, if civil uses followed the LWR path. He wanted LFTRs for electrical power generation, with its safety several orders of magnitude greater than LWRs.
    Because of these sad, tragic events, it’s now or never for an early introduction of the first-of-a-kind civil LFTR and once that step is taken, it will be like lighting the blue-touchpaper for LFTR manufacture. Miss this chance and it’s decades of open-cycle uranium use in an even more atrophied nuclear industry.

    1. @Colin Megson – light water reactors that Weinberg criticized have safely withstood the worst that nature could throw at them without harming the public. How can anything be “orders of magnitude safer.”
      Sure, the LFTRs that Kirk wants to build may have some nice features, but why pose them as competitors to nuclear plants when 70% of the power market and most of the rest of the energy market in the US is powered by burning stuff and making some rather unsavory people very wealthy?

    2. Most of the anti-nuclear opposition members – who are all but celebrating total victory right now – don’t really care about what is going on inside a nuclear plant. They want a pre-industrial state of the earth back, when humans didn’t had not advanced as much, had only the wind, the sun, farm animals, horses etc. They fear any advanced technology, anything hard to understand. So one thing their leaders always work on is making nuclear appear more complicated than it really is. Greenpeace for example lists every little maintenance problem at a nuke plant and presents it in full length to their audience (words like “pressure valve, recirculation pump”) which reassures their members that nuclear is “science gone to far” and needs to be stopped. Right now we have a spectacle in that, when regular news reports who would never ever go into detail about a coal plant, suddenly mention things like fuel rods, zirconium cladding, containment breach, millisieverts etc.

  5. Hey guys, just a bit of media coverage update. It can be discouraging and frustrating seeing all the chicken littles in the news media trying to boost their ratings with end-of-the-word stories, so I thought I’d post some links to coverage which either is a bit more based on facts, or which I strongly believe will be.
    1st up, Ars Technica (a science/tech news site which is a sister company to Wired Magazine), had a pretty reasonable presentation of the basic facts – although I think they left some important things out, overall, much more facts based than a lot of coverage:
    2nd: NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday host Ira Flatow will be covering the Fukishima situation today at 2pm EDT (either listen on-air from our local public radio station, or if you are not in a service area, you might be able to stream online from a public radio station – the local station in Cincinnati, OH is wvxu.org, and they offer live streaming; there are probably NPR affiliates all over the country who also offer streaming, so lookup the public radio station in the nearest major city, and check with them).
    Science Friday usually does a very good job of getting guests which aren’t sensationalist, generally provides pretty reasonable coverage of science topics, so I expect it will be a good show.

    1. Ok, I”m a bit disappointed with Science Friday now – they had 3 guests, all of which were basically an amen chorus of anti-nuclear advocates. I will say this – for the most part, the show and guests avoided worst-case-scenario disasterism and fearmongering (mostly).
      But, it hardly seems like reasonable science coverage to only include anti-nuclear ‘experts’ in your show.

      1. Anti-nuclear organizations have their own nuclear “experts” who pop up within hours of any nuclear event to dramatize the dangers. Incredibly one of them wrote this op-ed 1 week ago, when the plant was still running on battery power and nobody knew it was going to become so severe: http://www.opednews.com//populum/page.php/1/Japan-s-Quake-Could-Have-I-by-Harvey-Wasserman-110311-414.html?p=1&f=Japan-s-Quake-Could-Have-I-by-Harvey-Wasserman-110311-414.html
        We must not allow them to turn this into another Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, that means the next 30 years will see no new nukes, and more dependency on oil and natural gas resources. The last 30 years since TMI plus the next 30 years after “Fukushima”, that makes 60 years of no new nukes!!!! It must not be true that ONE accident at one of over 400 operating reactors worldwide is enough to deny us a high energy future. Pro-energy supporters must go on the offensive now, there is nothing to apoliogize for, nothing has to be 100% safe.

        1. 30 more years of dependency on fossil fuels; not a bad situation if you’re a defense contractor. Should be lots of conflicts to look forward to.

        2. TMI was contributing factor for 30 years without any new nuclear power plant construction in the US.
          Load factors and declining coal prices were big factors as well.
          Load factors for nuclear power plants were running at 60% in the early 1980’s. If wasn’t until 1998 that they hit 90%.
          We overbuilt our base load capacity in the 1970’s and 1980’s and haven’t built much base load since.

          1. @harrywr2 – we only “overbuilt” the base load if you accept burning a billion tons of coal as okay. Why were the nuclear projects stopped and the coal projects allowed to keep running? They are not exactly clean, not exactly safe and not even exactly cheap to operate.

            1. @Rod,
              Between 1970 and 1984 we built 379 coal fired plants with a total capacity of 177 GW. An average of 467 MW per plant.
              Between 1985 and 1989 we bulit 102 coal fired plants with a total capacity of 23 GW. An average of 230MW per plant.
              Between 1990 and 2009 we built 125 coal fired plants with a total capacity of 20 GW. An average of 160MW per plant.
              IMHO Giving Jane Fonda and her pals credit for the fact that utilities stopped building 1,000 MW nuclear plants is giving them too much credit.
              For the most part electric Utilities haven’t been building 1,000 MW anything for 25 years.

              1. @harrywr2:
                I do not give Jane Fonda credit, though I do know that her former husband is one of the largest western landowners in the US and that just one of his ranches contains about 10,000 natural gas wells.
                The credit for slowing nuclear development does not go to sandal wearing protesters – it goes to the people with the means, motive and opportunity to influence the media and the government so that they could raise the barrier for nuclear energy to enter into “their” market – one that is worth several trillion dollars per year selling fossil fuels.

              2. @harrywr2 – BTW, I have been writing about going small with nuclear for nearly 20 years.

          2. Part of the problem was the fact that back then plants were refueled annually and it took almost two months to refuel. Now they go 18 -24 months and are often completed and back on line in less than 4 weeks! They got paid for the expensive replacement coal/gas/oil (you paid for it) and didn’t need the plant on line. Public utility commissions and INPO plant evaluations now force the opposite attitude.

    1. If the pool is boiled dry, then what is that puffy white stuff coming out of the building?

      1. Yeah, I assumed it was steam myself, but some of the scaremongers in the media might say it was cladding on fire… Was curious to get the opinions of some people who might actually know a thing or two 🙂

    2. As they say, facts are pesky things. I guess someone will say the puffy white stuff is zirconium oxide flaking off the fuel rods……

  6. I have a question – I know that Rod and Ted Rockwell, and others, have argued that even in the worst case, no significant amount of nuclear material can escape the reactor. Many people over the past couple days have been focusing on the spent nuclear fuel pools.
    They have asserted that if the rods become completely un-covered, they could melt down and spew significant quantities of radioactive isotopes into the air around the ruptured containment buildings. Is this even a remote possibility? They have argued that if the rods melted down, they might become critical again. Is this even possible – I don’t think criticality is possible without a moderator, such as water? Additionally, doesn’t the moderator have to be physically *between* quantities of the fuel to achieve criticality? If all the fuel is in a single mass, and you put water on top of it later to try to cool it off again, since the water is external to the mass, wouldn’t that not be sufficient to re-start criticality – e.g. to achieve criticality, you need to re-form it into seperate rods and put water between the rods, and configure the rods at just the right distance apart?
    Also, if fuel is “spent”, doesn’t that by definition mean that not enough U235 remains to maintain a critical reaction? Or, is there enough U235 to maintain a reaction, theoretically, if all the right conditions were met (such as I asked about above) but at much lower power levels, so it’s removed from the reactors because the power co doesn’t want to run at, say, 30% output?

    1. At Chernobyl, they also feared a nuclear explosion from the molten fuel, but it didn’t happen. There is an infamous picture of it, google Chernobyl “elephant foot” or “fuel lava” – that’s how the russians called it. After it had cooled off, they actually shot with a rifle at that “elephant foot” to get a piece of it for analysis.

    2. @Jeff – You are right on. The configuration used in operating reactors, with moderator well distributed between fuel pins, is about as reactive as you can get. Squeeze out moderator; no fission. Expend the fissile isotopes by operating the reactor for a while, you get “spent” fuel that can no longer sustain a chain reaction.
      Fuel pool fires are the last refuge of the people who want to constipate the industry because it is frightfully expensive to do full scale testing. Sometimes, however, nature establishes the test conditions for you. We will soon be able to see who is right – those who claim that fuel pools are vulnerable and those who claim they are safe enough so that no one in the public will be harmed even if they are subjected to the worst that nature can devise.
      I am betting on the latter group.

    3. I retired 5 years ago and EVERY rad-worker carried an electronic dose meter that provided a digital display of accumulated dose, an alarm on exceeding a warning level that was set to allow safe passage out of the designated area without exceeding the planned dose, an alarm if the dose rate was higher than the “expected” dose rate for the assigned work area, and a rapid change alarm indicating that the dose rate was increasing. Those were in use for several years before I retired. That technology is at least ten years old, and the equipment today probably is wireless providing the health physics technicians with real time data as well (If not there is a good idea for some designer). With that in mind, and the fact that the US supposedly has “people on site assisting in the recovery effort,”
      It would be criminal for the US NRC to send in a US NRC employee into that area without the device I initially described. I know of no rad-worker that would go into an known radiation situation, let alone an unknown environment, and not have that type of device. The US NRC would shut down any plant that did not have at least one of these devices for each group of people working in a known radiation environment, and I am sure they would not send an employee into an un-known radiation environment without one. That reading would tell us and the world exactly what the dose is. WHAT IS IT???

      1. I suspect they are a bit busy staying on top of things. I imagine, as time allows, data will be forthcoming on a variety of questions.

  7. Perhaps I’m not the most popular commenter on here because of excessively frank comments made elsewhere, but here’s my take on what the lessons learned here are. Like it or not, the accident – and the media coverage of the accident – prove Teller was correct when he talked about inherent safety, and the consequences of not pursuing inherent safety as an industry.
    From “Let A Thousand Reactors Bloom”, Wired Magazine, September 2004, republished on the World Nuclear Association’s site (http://www.world-nuclear.org/reference/wired0904.html):
    “The leading light was Edward Teller (…) and his message to the group was prophetic. For people to accept nuclear power, he argued, reactors must be ‘inherently safe.’ He even proposed a practical test: If you couldn’t pull out every control rod without causing a meltdown, the design was inadequate.
    But Teller’s advice was ignored in the rush to beat the Russians to meter-free electricity. Instead of pursuing inherent safety, the nascent civilian nuclear industry followed Rickover into fuel rods, water cooling, and ever more layers of protection against the hazards of radioactive steam emissions and runaway chain reaction. To try to amortize the cost of all that backup, plants ballooned, tripling in average size in less than a decade and contributing to a crippling financial crunch in the mid-’70s. Finally, partial meltdowns at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 pulled the plug on reactor construction in most of the world.”
    From “Disturbing the Universe”, by Freeman Dyson (http://books.google.com/books?id=RHzoMeU2bxsC&lpg=PA97&ots=ro_MlgAi7H&pg=PA97#v=onepage&q&f=false):
    (…Teller…) saw clearly that the problem of safety would be decisive for the long-range future of civilian reactors. If reactors were unsafe, nobody in the long run would want to use them.
    My take: it’s time for the nuclear industry to take Teller’s prophetic advice seriously and start developing reactors where you don’t need active and passive safety systems, reactors that are walk-away safe, even if the emergency diesels don’t work, even if there is a Richter 9 earthquake. No, I am not calling for any LWRs to be shut down or construction on future LWRs to be stopped; I am saying the nuclear industry can scarcely afford an INES 6 to INES 7 accident every 25 years lasting for at least 1 week and possibly up to several weeks, along with the associated media circus. With accidents like this, it will be hard to get anything built.
    The problem is not the consequences of the accident; the consequences, just like the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon, are a drop in the bucket in the grand scale of things. In energy, accidents happen. The problem is the appearance, and the reality, of the loss of control over the progression of the accident, as illustrated by the length of the accident, and the loss of certainty over the outcome. Remember that Katrina, and the long, drawn out loss of control there arguably led to the public turning on the Bush Administration and the Republican rout in 2006. Remember the Deepwater Horizon and the loss of control there – drawn out over several months – led the public to start to get ancy with Obama and arguably led to the Congressional disaster for the Democrats in 2010.
    The public does not like the loss of control, the loss of certainty. There is nothing that unsettles the public more than the loss of control and certainty. People have enough uncertainty and lack of control in their lives without having to worry about stuff like this. Even if they don’t have to worry at all, and I agree they do not, the media will make them worry.
    And it is quite possible the industry will not like what the public – or their representatives – do with their fears.

    1. @Dave – you are always welcome here. My take is that Teller was wrong – even if you did manage to produce a perfect, walk-away safe reactor with perfect fuel recycling, you would still face a strong and well organized resistance to their deployment and operation.
      Some who agree with that statement believe – for whatever reason – that the people who would oppose such a wonderfully powerful and enabling machine as a perfect reactor that does not produce any waste are just anti-humans who want to retreat to a prehistory technological age. I think those people are as wrong as Teller.
      The people with the real means, motive and opportunity to resist all nuclear energy systems, no matter how close they come to perfection, are the people who love our current, established economic system because they sit at or near the top of that pyramid. Their wealth and power depends on maintaining something close to the current status quo; an economy that is heavily dependent on a limited quantity of hydrocarbons for it main source of energy. Whether they own oil fields, produce oil and gas drilling rigs, run tankers, operate coal trains, finance energy projects, build pipelines, engage in war to protect access, or any of dozens of other occupations, their livelihoods and power would be reduced if there was a clean, safe, abundant, affordable nuclear fission alternative to burning hydrocarbons.
      I cannot “wish” that opposition away. I cannot design a nuclear system that will assuage their fear of an enormous upheaval – disruption – in the current economic pecking order.
      All I can do is to tell the truth as I see it and hope that the 90% or so of the world’s population whose fortunes are weakened by a dependence on hydrocarbons will begin to recognize that they have been given – by nature or by our creator, whichever you prefer – a path that leads in a far more productive direction.
      The vast majority of the world’s human population (born and unborn) will love a world whose use of nuclear energy steadily grows and displaces a growing portion of our hydrocarbon consumption; it is the establishment that fears that possibility so much that it will fight every step of the way.

    2. @Dave: I completely agree. I find it unfortunate and disappointing that Rod Adams is so quick to dismiss the Teller standard.
      I was ignorant of Teller’s statement until you brought it to my attention. However, in talking to a number of people about this accident over the past week, I have repeatedly said that what I want from a system standpoint is that you assume that all workers are incapacitated and all power is lost. I want the plant to shut down safely on its own. Everybody that I have ever talked to has agreed with that principle. (Incidentally, I don’t understand the distinction between “passive” safety systems and what you call “walk-away” safe)
      Your point about loss of control is extremely well made. Nuclear proponents need to manage expectations. That means being honest about the limitations of decades-old plant designs and decades-old safety analyses. It also means that the appearance of control is nearly as important as actual control. E.g. in this case, if the build up of hydrogen was an accepted possibility of a partial system failure, then the design should allow it to be vented or something without blowing the f–ing buildings apart. People don’t want to see large explosions at a nuclear power plant even if experts are telling them that it didn’t result it a large radiation release. It just looks like a massive loss of control.
      I agree, not every LWR needs to be shut down. But maybe some do. It is time to fess up to that fact.

      1. @square1 – before you go off and celebrate the Teller standard, please do not forget who suggested that standard. I know that people hate it when I bring personalities into the discussion, but are you really excited about following the lead of a guy who spent more than a decade campaigning within the AEC to be given the resources to develop “The Super”, aka the hydrogen bomb?
        With regard to his safety advice, did you know that Teller once tried to convince Rickover that it would be safer for the public if we refueled nuclear powered submarines at sea instead of in a controlled industrial environment like a shipyard? There is no way that his suggestion would have been safer for anyone, but he would have had no way of knowing anything about either a shipyard or a sea going environment. He was just a theoretical, laboratory scientist.
        Maybe I will get Ted Rockwell to write a guest post with the story about Teller’s push for at sea refueling. He was there and did the math to show Teller that he was making a foolish suggestion.

        1. Rod: “Maybe I will get Ted Rockwell to write a guest post with the story about Teller’s push for at sea refueling. He was there and did the math to show Teller that he was making a foolish suggestion.”
          I’ve read Rockwell’s recounting of that episode. That’s a great story.
          Long story short: Teller was simply wrong.

      2. @square1:
        Incidentally, I don’t understand the distinction between passive” safety systems and what you call “walk-away” safe.”
        Active safety is what the Fukushima reactors had: in the event of the loss of cooling, what happens is that pumps driven by diesel generators inject water into the core.
        Passive safety is what many of the reactors we are building today have: in the event of the loss of cooling, the primary system automatically depressurizes, and simpler systems that operate through natural law – like tanks of water located above the RPV – inject water into the core by the force of gravity.
        Inherent safety (walk-away safety) is what advanced Generation IV reactors like the LFTR and HTGR have: you don’t need any safety-related systems to respond to the loss of cooling, as there are no potential offsite consequences (release of radionuclides), even if the reactor may be unable to operate without repairs and/or replacement of fuel.

        1. @Dave – IMHO, the humans that operate nuclear energy facilities are a part of the system that gives me the confidence to make the assertions that I do. Never underestimate the value of having trained, innovative, people with good brains and opposable thumbs when the stuff hits the fan and it is time to come up with solutions to the unexpected.
          I am not saying that systems shouldn’t take advantage of all that we know, but I am a big fan of KISS that also includes provisions for operators to assist in the recovery. Automation requires far to much anticipation by designers, and in the nuclear world, far too few designers have ever operated the systems that they design.

  8. At first, I thought the slow rebirth – or de-hibernation – of the US nuclear industry that’s been building over the last few years was toast after the event in Japan. Now I wonder if the *opposite* won’t be true…If, over the next few months we find out that all the hysteria thats been piled on top of us adds up to nothing more than some multi-million dollar equipment damage, but no significant health effects to the public… Is it possible instead of being a ‘disaster’ this will prove to become nuclear power’s finest hour? Is it possible if the results are far more benign than people have been forecasting, that nuclear power gains support rather than loses it?
    The media has put everyone on alert for a mushroom cloud, for a chernobyl 20 mile ‘exclusion zone’ where all life is dead and the deer have 6 legs apiece, and of course they’ve all got graphics cued up for the dreaded China syndrome. At some point, reality on the ground in Japan has to start matching the hype or the media starts to look obviously ignorant. In no uncertain terms….people have to start getting sick in large numbers to validate the media’s extreme fear mongering. When that doesn’t happen, doesn’t the story have to become “Japanese Nukes Performed Remarkably Well in 100 Year Disaster”
    I think it’s possible this episode will – in the end- have served to educate alot of folks out there currently on the fence simply because they’ve never understood the risks, they’ve never grasped what happens in the worst case. Here’s the perfect test case. We’ve seen how bad it can get, and the bottom line is, it’s not that bad.
    Keep up the good work Rod.

    1. I can’t speak for everyone, obviously. Only for myself. And, personally, I feel more confident in the safety of nuclear power than I did before the accident. I certainly have a more concrete understanding of what some of the risks are…and what they aren’t.
      Will the public, generally, have a similar reaction? I am skeptical. In large part because there appears to have been a lot of misinformation that has been disseminated and gone unrebutted. But also because proponents have partially squandered an opportunity to re-establish credibility.
      Even if the “doomsday” scenarios were wildly wrong, the facts may eventually show that both TEPCO and Rod Adams have also been wrong — even if their incorrect statements were on a much, much smaller scale. And, fair or unfair, future support for nuclear power requires that proponents maintain a level of credibility that, to date, the public has not observed.

      1. @square1 – what if Rod Adams and TEPCO turn out to have been correct and there is no harm to the public? We both have acknowledged the serious challenges of damage control and we both have been quite open about the fact that there is significant damage TO THE PLANTS.
        However, it is not just us. Do I need to post that link to the 2002 Science article again?

  9. Anyone notice how disturbingly morbid some anti-nuclear activists are? They are always looking for death around every nuclear facility. Some of them almost seemed joyful that prospect that harm could come to the public due to the problems at the Japanese nuclear facilities. Then, if the body count doesn’t support their position, they derive some model to predict death, usually some astronomically high number in the tens of millions.

    1. When I was younger they scared the hell out of me about 3 Mile Island, but no more thanks to sites like this one.

    2. It really is disturbing they are so focused on death and death rates. I suspect that several professional anti-nuclear groups would have privately been over the moon had people actually died in Japan due to Fukushima.
      Can you imagine the money that would have poured into their coffers if someone had died? It would have been a case of profiting due to someone else’s tragedy but they probably would have taken the money for their own purposes.
      However, since no one has died, all the professional anti’s have to fall back onto is the coulda, woulda, might’ve type of situations.
      Greenpeace has been thwarted again by design engineers and trained operators.

    3. Hi there,
      I don’t think the “coulda, woulda” arguments are totally baseless, considering that on the other hand people are served arguments like “see, noone died this time so nuclear energy is perfectly safe” or deaths per TWh compared, which are fallacious arguments in my humble opinion. It is akin to saying “I’ve been playing lottery for the last 40 years and never won much, which proves that I won’t ever win much”. Except in this case it would be “lose” (possibly) much.
      I think it is perfectly reasonnable for people to try to assess the scope of a worst-case disaster and its probability. This is what you do when boarding a plane for instance: you evaluate the worst possible outcome (plane crashes) and estimate the risk (fairly low) so deem it worth the benefit (speedy travel). This is basic risk assessment.
      Same thing here. From the experience of the past decades, people have probably a fairly accurate estimation of the probability of a major issue: fairly low in an advanced country, probably on par with the safety of the national airline. They understand the benefit easily: everybody loves cheap electricity and if you can on top of that get the feeling that you’re saving the planet from greenhouse gases, then bingo. Obviously the variable that is lacking in the equation is the worst-case scenario (a.k.a., the jackpot), and people need that piece of information to make a choice or even form an opinion.
      In fact you have your own estimate of it, which not very surprisingly seems to lean on the side of optimism. But you wouldn’t pick up an airline ticket on the word of the pilot only, you would try to get different estimates from different people, some informed, some less so.
      I guess what everybody wants to know is the upper bound of the disaster, i.e., the very limit of the damages that could reasonnabily have occurred. With airplanes it’s pretty simple, the worst-case scenario is a crash and the upper-bound damage is you’re dead. With radiations it’s not simple, you can die, you can get sick, your offsrping can get affected, land can be rendred inhabitable, you might have to abandon your house, etc. And how many people, how many sqare miles?
      So if I may, according to what you know, in a situation for instance were all workers would have had to abandon the plant to its fate due to excessive radiations, with on top of that a fairly reasonnable string of bad luck, how dire the consequences?

      1. @Chris:
        You cannot be seriously suggesting that the nuclear industry ignores “coulda, woulda” arguments or considers them “totally baseless.” The nuclear industry virtually INVENTED probabilistic risk assessment. It has expended more ink and energy on analyzing in great detail even the most improbable scenarios.
        I mean, come on! What responsible participant in this debate has said either (a) that “coulda, woulda” arguments are totally baseless, or (b) that nuclear energy is “perfectly safe” and further that the evidence for that is “no one died this time”?
        Those are absurd extremes that virtually no reasonable person would try to defend, so I cry “Straw Man!”
        I defy you NOT to find the very worst-case scenarios you invoke analyzed ad nauseam throughout the industry. I know from experience that a project I once worked on (the proposed nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain) was exhaustive in its handling of disaster scenarios. The so-called “FEPs” report (analyzing the probability of occurrence for well over 300 features, events, and processes) is over 2,000 pages in length. It runs the gamut from plausible risks (hydrogen embrittlement, rockfall due to seismic activity) to remote ones (meteorite impact). And then there are the massive studies of potential seismic and volcanic disasters: the Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis (PSHA) and the Probabilistic Volcanic Hazard Analysis (PVHA). Such are only three of many examples of careful and detailed risk analysis done for the YMP alone.
        And all that’s just for a single bleeding repository out in the middle of the desert intended to store fuel that’s been ORA for five years at least!
        All this absurd talk pretending that no one ever thought to “assess the scope of a worst-case disaster and its probability.” My God, it’s been done over and over and over again! The failed fuel pool scenario and the many credible studies devoted to it have been a reliable source for anti-nuclear protesters since 9/11 at least. All the stuff you ask about has been studied and analyzed extensively, by the nuclear establishment and by professional scientists and academics. Bernard Cohen, for example, has written and lectured voluminously on the very subject you’re harping on: this so-called “piece of information” about a worst-case scenario that will allow John Q Public to make a rational choice about nuclear power. And guess what? Cohen does it in an extremely accessible way, perfectly graspable by lay persons.
        So, please, let’s all stop PRETENDING right here and now that the pro-nuke side has not done its homework. Anyone who has been around this issue for any length of time knows one thing: If the debate could be won by mere quality and volume of evidence and argument, the pro-nuclear side would have won long, long ago. So much good science (some would say our best science) has been done in this arena, and yet what do we get from the other side? Laughingstocks like Caldicott, Goffman, Lovins, and the like.
        Here’s the simple truth: “Our side” has provided ample material with which the average citizen can make reasoned judgments. And that material seldom, if ever, has included the words “perfectly safe.” If anything, most nuclear experts are overly inclined to harp on the inescapable uncertainty of the universe itself, so they are not the best “salespeople” when their audience has an appetite for comforting (but unrealistic) bromides like “perfectly safe.”
        So, for pity’s sake, do some Googling. You will find any number of analyses describing, to your perfect satisfaction, “how dire the consequences.”

        1. @YMP Refugee – Bravo. I am more convinced than ever that the true source of the strength behind the antinuclear movement is the fact that nuclear energy is an amazingly disruptive technology. The whole supply chain of extracting and selling fuel that provides useful and reliable heat (in an engineering sense) is one of the world’s largest, oldest, most important, and most domineering endeavors. It is the root cause of many geopolitical conflicts during the past century, perhaps even longer.
          The main ingredient of that industry is one for or another of hydrocarbon – ranging from wood, through coal, to natural gas, and to crude oil. The main (not only) reason that those materials are valuable is that they can be burned to release heat in an oxidation reaction. The reaction is not terribly clean, it produces a lot of nasty by-products, but that heat is so useful that humans have put up with a lot of discomfort in order to have it. (If you are a history buff, think in terms of the choking atmosphere famous in London and Manchester during the start of the industrial revolution, in Pittsburg, PA during the heyday of American industrialism, and in China today.)
          Then along came a few scientists who figured out that they can break apart atomic nuclei and release millions of times more energy per unit mass. Following closely on the heels of this scientific discovery was a terrible world conflict – fought partly over hydrocarbon resources, by the way – so the establishment put this new energy source to use in the way that establishments love to use new things to maintain their power.
          As soon as the power was displayed, the establishment decided to try to stuff it back into a closet, only to be pulled out in service of the establishment’s goals. (From 1946-1954, it was illegal for anyone in the US but the government to own nuclear materials or even to talk about nuclear science and engineering outside of government labs.) Fortunately for the world, we eventually elected a leader in Ike who was not really a part of the establishment; he actually liked regular people and thought they should have access to an abundant new source of energy. Atoms for Peace was a terrific program for “the rest of us” but it put the established order of things at risk.
          You see, energy fuels are most valuable if there is a bit more demand than there is supply. That keeps the prices high enough to be enormously profitable for all but the marginal suppliers – the last ones into the market in order to provide sufficient supply. If the supply/demand curve shifts the other way, where there is more supply than demand, people who want to sell their product have to drop their prices – often dramatically – in order to attract buyers.
          Nuclear energy is essentially unlimited – at least in human society terms. It is not a “100 year supply” like the US natural gas inventory. (Which is actually an 85 year supply ONLY if it is all extracted and ONLY if we do not increase our rate of consumption of the inventory.) Instead, it is a several millennia supply that is so vast that fuel suppliers try to convince their customers to only use about 0.5% of the potential energy and then store it away under a remote mountain. If customers actually improved fuel utilization by recycling or breeding fertile isotopes into fissile isotopes, the need for new supplies would be drastically reduced.
          Since fission produces its heat from such a tiny amount of material, think about all of that capital equipment that could become useless in an atomic powered world where hydrocarbon consumption falls every year.

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