Sowing calm in the face of a focused campaign of FUD from professional anti-nuclear activists
My prayers and best wishes continue to go out to the people who are struggling to survive, to account for loved ones, to find shelter, and to begin dealing with the aftermath of the 5th most powerful earthquake recorded in human history.
My anger continues at the efforts to take advantage of the tragedy by professional anti-nuclear activists with long standing agendas to inhibit the development of the only form of reliable power that has the potential to break modern society’s damaging addiction to hydrocarbons. It is incredible to me that there are people in the world who believe that the most important thing on the agenda of Japanese government officials at the present time is a continuous stream of updates regarding the events that are unfolding at a few nuclear power plants that are having some difficulty providing post shutdown cooling.
As I explained in yesterday’s post titled Nuclear plant issues in Japan are the least of their worries, the details should not be important to anyone outside of the plant boundaries. The systems are strong and resilient and the operators have a whole series of options that will ensure that the public does not get exposed to a dose of radiation that will cause negative health effects.
There might, however, be a nuclear plant or two that is damaged enough so that they will never again produce reliable, emission free power. So far, it looks like the only plant that has fallen into that category is Daiichi Unit 1, which has already served to reduce fossil fuel consumption for about 40 years. It is a relatively small plant that is the same age as some of the plants that anti-nuclear activists are working to shut down in the US even without having suffered from an earthquake and tsunami.
Just in case you missed the link, here is an article that forms the basis for my confidence that the worst possible damage at the plant will still not hurt the public. The article was published in the 20 September 2002 issue of Science Magazine and was titled Nuclear Power Plants and Their Fuel as Terrorist Targets. Please do not let the title put you off; the article was coauthored by 11 of the most experienced and respected nuclear experts in the United States in an attempt to explain how the defense in depth strategy in place since the 1950s has proven to work based on actual experiments and analysis.
Despite the efforts of calm, rational and knowledgable people like Margaret Harding, who has been quoted several times by the Washington Post and the New York Times because of her proven boiling water reactor expertise, and Dr. Barry Brook, the host of Brave New Climate, the advertiser supported media is still hopelessly confused and displaying a poor selection of priorities. Here is a screenshot that provides some back-up for that assertion. Take a look at the caption of the video clip to see how the headline writer is treating the consequences of the earthquake and tsunami.
According to the writer and editor who approved the summary, “An explosion at a nuclear power plant on Japan’s devastated coast … made leaking radiation, or even outright meltdown, the central threat menacing a nation.” Apparently aftershocks, fires, broken dams, washed out highways, lack of clean drinking water, damaged sewer systems, destroyed airports, and at least a thousand known fatalities are not as much of a threat to the nation of Japan as the possibility that a few people might be exposed to a radiation dose that is roughly equivalent to the ones administered every day as part of routine medical procedures.
In the most active comment thread on any of the more than 1700 posts on Atomic Insights, I have received a number of atta-boys, but also a fair number of accusations that my efforts to calm fears and share technical information make me an “industry shill”, an apologist, or a industry servant. I am none of those things; I am just a guy who suffers from bouts of insomnia, who invested a significant portion of the past 30 years learning and practicing various aspects of nuclear technology, and who has an overwhelming desire to provide a good return on the investment that the US taxpayers made in my nuclear education.
Apparently, there are a few people who think my comments were worth reading or recommending to others. Thank you all for visiting. The accompanying graph from Google Analytics shows what happened to the visit log at Atomic Insights yesterday.
Though I have never operated a reactor of the same model as Daiichi Unit 1, I understand how H2O interacts with steel and zirconium alloys and I have a pretty fair level of knowledge about the chemistry, physics, material science, thermodynamics, and engineering associated with all light water reactor plants. I feel it is my duty to try to help confused people better understand the stories and rumors they are hearing so that they can put the nuclear plant issues into some kind of broader perspective.
Unfortunately, some professional anti-nuclear activists who actually know very little about nuclear reactor plant operations are attempting to do just the opposite; they want to confuse people and make them believe that the nuclear issues should be at the top of their priority list of worries that keep them up late at night.
If you visit the UCS web site, you can find a featured video that highlights one of their star performers. In the first part of the video, you will see Rachel Madow make several glaring technical errors – which is okay, because she is just a journalist trying to understand a complex story – followed by Dr. Edwin Lyman’s complete endorsement of everything she said. I can name a dozen or more people who read Atomic Insights that can claim more nuclear power plant operations expertise that someone whose main claim to fame is that they once earned a PhD in physics and subsequently used that degree as a weapon with which to fight against nuclear technology developments. I am also quite
certain that many of you would do a better explanatory job on camera.
There are also plenty of Atomic Insights readers who have a greater claim to atomic expertise than a lawyer who was a politically appointed NRC commissioner when that body totally confused and scared the public following the Three Mile Island accident. Scientific American published an article yesterday titled Nuclear Experts Explain Worst-Case Scenario at Fukushima Power Plant, but apparently the only two experts who were working on Saturday were a guy who “who did research on nuclear reactor accident simulation at Sandia National Laboratory” and Peter Bradford, the former NRC commissioner who serves on the board of the anti-nuclear UCS.
There is plenty of work that will need to be done in the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters in recorded human history. I look forward to continuing the effort to reassure confused spectators that building nuclear power plants, even in an occasionally unstable island nation, is absolutely the right thing to do, especially when compared to the alternatives.
A view from an Australian living in Kawasaki, Japan – Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors
Suzy Hobbs with her always enlightening, human centered point of view – Now is the time to speak out in support of nuclear energy.
Christian Science Monitor (March 13, 2011), Japan’s nuclear crisis and Chernobyl: key differences – Note: this is a very reasonable explanation of the situation.
Am I the only one who thinks the media are hoping for a Chernobyl level catastrophe?
No. Repeatedly salivating over the fictional worst cases kinda makes it it obvious to me they would die for another 9/11 size news story. Ok not that big, you have to be able to play the commercials.
I too am upset the way that CNN and MSNBC have run with the nuclear story above all other stories. A tragedy has become sensationalized by making the nuclear story the centerpiece.
Judging by what little accurate information I’ve been able to gather so far, it appears the tsunami has had greatest impact on human lives. The infrastructure is in ruins and people are already having trouble getting food. Much needed supplies cannot easily move about the country. The media could be a source of helpful information at times like these but they’ve chosen to go with the “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra.
I think the media are doing what they are paid to do, sensationalize so that viewers/readers/listeners stay tuned during the commercial breaks. The news is a medium used to sell advertising.
I was particularly appalled last evening when a CNN journalist compared what was happening to popping corn in a microwave, “you want one kernel to pop at a time, what could happen here is the whole bag…” or something similar. How I interpreted this, was that he was suggesting the reactor could experience an uncontrolled, explosive reaction. That is the biggest load of BS I have heard in a while. As I explained to my partner, once the control rods were automatically inserted during the automatic shutdown, the possibility of an uncontrolled chain reaction went away.
This country has a lot of people experienced in the design, construction, and safe operation of General Electric Boiling Water Reactors, you’d think they could find one of those people to interview. I haven’t even seen anyone from General Electric’s reactor division interviewed (although I haven’t watched every news report on every channel). I think if this were a Boeing 747 crash, we’d expect to be told something about an expert or two from Boeing heading to the crash site.
At this stage it seems to me that the greatest environmental damage is being done by the oil refinery fire. The loss of life by drowning, trauma and other earthquake related injuries will exceed anybody’s wildest speculations about the casualties from Chernobyl. I think that TEPCO and the Japanese government are right to worry about the reactors, but the government should not be distracted from its other more pressing tasks.
It’s taken 2 days and we finally hear about a town in north of Sendai where 9000+ people are missing!! Virtually the whole home-pages of both abcnews and cnn are covered with nuke stories.
We also saw a refinery on fire. Did that get very much coverage? No. We don’t even know if they put it out yet.
What is striking is the ability of usual suspects to dominate the field as experts: Michio Kaku, Paul Gunter, and Kevin Kamps all with anti-fission agenda’s appeared as “experts” without any qualification. And this is on cable outlets such as FOX News, not typically thought of as lefty anti-nuke. Joe Cirincione and the Carnegie folks who specialize in nuclear weapons proliferation dominated the early “expert” overnight opinion on Fox & ABC. Cirincione is not any kind of engineer; any technical info he’d impart would likely be derivative of either the WaPo or NYT. The hosts themselves seemed blithely unaware of just who their producers wrangled on short notice for face time. At the vary end of “FOX and Friends” yesterday Ray Golden PRO at TVA managed to telephone into the show and insert some actual factual information for literally the last minute of the program then Neil Cavuto took over with the entire “A block” segment featuring Kevin Kamps (“Radioactive Waste Watchdog at Beyond Nuclear”) as the designated lone uncountered “expert”. I’d say the folks at NEI and Rod you need to get yourselves into the Rolodex of TV show producers; can’t be too hard.
I agree. Some of these guys are real lightweights compared to what the pro-nuclear side can offer. I’ve seen Kevin Kamps and he comes across horribly, thank goodness 🙂
You probably didn’t see Bill Nye the science guy on CNN. No knowledge whatsoever. Believed that Ce 137 is added to control the fission process. Incredibly he did understand that Boron 10 is added to absorb neutrons but was completely lost as to why they would inject boron with the sea water. Compared to even the UCS people he was a total loser. He needs to stick to simple electrical experiments which captivate 10 year olds. CNN should be ashamed of themselves.
Nye must have done the rounds because I did catch his all purpose “expert” act on either FOX or MSNBC, I forget which. Rod will appreciate this: one of his comments was along the lines that “the problem with nuclear energy is that it is too dense”. The twit had the most annoying children’s show on PBS in the mid-90’s targeted at those with ultra-low attention spans: jerky hand-held camera work, annoying sound effects, jump-cuts every 5 seconds. Must have made him a fortune because he lives out in LA next to Ed Begley Jr.
Shame, shame, shame on the modern press for trivializing the death and destruction of normthing Japan, and creating this imaginary nuclear threat.
Disgusting and deceptive press coverage … the headlines are clearly designed to deceive people. As you said, the nuclear problems in Japan are a tiny thing, compared to the scale of the disaster.
Gas and Oil plants have been utterly destroyed, most likely hundreds of people burned by gas explosions in the tsunami (remember that one video of the tsunami where you see burning rubble being carried by the water?)
Whatever wind turbines and solar panels were in the area of the quake, no doubt are a 100% loss. Even small earthquakes can utterly destroy large swathes of wind turbines.
Only nuclear gets Japan off it’s imported hydrocarbon diet. And now only nuclear survived this horrible earthquake.
TENS of THOUSANDS of people likely dead. Hundreds of thousands more at risk of disease and poverty.
Yet the only thing media outlets have time to do with their coverage, apparently, instead of rallying world support for those poor people, is write breathless, panicky reports about the damage at the nuclear plants..
Here are the better headlines:
Despite problems, Japanese are pleased that nuclear power plants still fare better than gas, solar, or wind in disaster. Nuclear plants more likely repairable, unlike wind, solar, and hydrocarbons which were a total loss. Loss of electrical power in northern japan could kill 10,000 more…much larger danger to public health than minor radiation release. Nuclear now looking better than ever in Japan, essential to rebuild plans. Japanese authorities pleases with survival of nuclear plants in even a worst-case scenario, renew commitment.
Thanks again Rod.
Sorry to double post, but had to rant just a bit longer 🙂
Here are my predictions:
1. I’m sure the Japanese authorities, who are dealing with reality, will have no problem at all seeing the great benefit of the fact that THE NUCLEAR PLANTS WERE THE ONLY ONES THAT SURVIVED. They will build more.
2. The minor radiation leaks will be seen by the Japanese public as a whole as insignificant in the face of such horrors.
3. The need for electricity, to pump the water and heat the hospitals, will be seen as the great savior it is.
4. The tremendous energy resources needed to rebuild the northern areas…likely 10% or more of the Japanese energy import diet for the next 10 years, will make nuclear power, especially the new generation of small, fast-build nuclear plants, an even more attractive option, and will make the huge up-front energy requirements of solar and wind power look even less attractive.
5. Japanese engineers will become the best on the planet in the design of “hardened” nuclear power plants, which will make the already-safe nuclear world even safer.
6. Wind and solar will get lip service but will go nowhere fast in that country
7. The anti-nuclear tirade by the press won’t have much effect in the western world either. Breathless predictions that “this will badly hurt the nuclear cause around the world” will come back to bite the anti-nuclear people.
I’m sure the Japanese authorities, who are dealing with reality, will have no problem at all seeing the great benefit of the fact that THE NUCLEAR PLANTS WERE THE ONLY ONES THAT SURVIVED.
Define “survived,” please.
Shouldn’t the decay heat almost be gone now?
I’ve seen comments and posts both in the past couple days, and farther back, discussing the thermal characteristics of a reactor after shutdown.
The heat problem is from decay heat. The information I’ve seen, IIRC, indicated that decay heat should be almost gone after two or three days – that is the sort of ’emergency’ period, after that, there’s some residual heat, but it’s relatively low?
So, has it been long enough that we can now say the Japanese reactors are through the woods, and there’s not enough heat left to pose any realistic risk?
“Shouldn’t the decay heat almost be gone now?”
Not necessarily. While the decay heat has decreased over the past couple of days, it doesn’t go away altogether.
Remember that when spent fuel assemblies are removed from a typical reactor, they spend years in the spent fuel pool requiring active cooling. Here you have fresh assemblies that are packed in a close configuration in the core.
Well, that’s why I said “almost” – I mean, I realize there is residual heat, but if it’s like 1 or 2 percent of the original heat level, doesn’t that make it so that, for example, maybe it’s no longer hot enough to cause hydrogen disocciation, should be easier to cool, just generally past the time of greatest risk?
Jeff – It can still be hot enough to boil water, and if enough water is boiled off, without being replaced, then parts of the rods end up uncovered by the water.
In that case, the temperature of the rods will rapidly increase. This is just basic heat transfer. Compared to water, air acts as an insulator, so almost all of your cooling is gone, regardless of whether any circulation pumps are working or not.
Here is a plot from the the Energy From Thorium discussion forum on the question:
The decay heat will have been reduced markedly over the time since the beginning of the event, however, they still need to remove heat from the reactor vessel. To do that they need to establish some recirculation by injecting into the vessel and circulating out of the Safety Relief Valves. This may be very difficult on Unit 1 due to the explosion which most likely disabled all the equipment within the Reactor Building and would seriously complicate opening the SRVs using supplemental nitrogen or the containment air system.
The SRVs will probably still work mechanically, however, they are set at approximately 1080 psig which I am sure is higher than their sea water injection capability. Very serious condition if you’re concerned about the core.
Well, there’s reports of another hydrogen explosion, at a different reactor at the same site (Fuk. Daiichi). So, I guess that answers that pretty definitively. *sigh*
Hey, forget Chernobyl, it’s all about an “out of control” nuclear explosion, no less…
Apparently, there are a few people who think my comments were worth reading or recommending to others. Thank you all for visiting.
Just so you know, I check in here to see just how delusional youl’ll be as Japan’s nuclear crisis escalates. Don’t equate readership with support. I doubt I’m the only one who is viewing this site as a sort of freak show on wheels.
@Guest – if you think my information is inaccurate and should be corrected, how about signing in with your real name and engaging in a reasoned dialog? Share your understanding and the basis that you use. If you are an expert, why hide behind a false identity?
You are drinking that glowin’ Kool-Aid no matter what. We both know it. You’re a museum piece; why would I want to change you?
Guilty. I started savoring the taste of “glowing Kool-Aid” at age 8 when my dad explained how the new plants that his company was building did not need smokestacks.
Now, either contribute something useful to the discussion or leave. Your choice.
Now, either contribute something useful to the discussion or leave. Your choice.
Translation: “This is a cult. Drink the glowing Kool Aid with us.”
My answer: No thanks. I’ll watch from the sidelines as the list of melting reactors and radiation-exposed people grows. Do me a favor, would you? Don’t try to edit anything here after the fact. You and your blog are making history, alright, but not the kind you’d hoped for.
I suppose you missed the refineries on fire, the burning towns (from natural gas pipelines breaking) hell, the roving fires on TOP of the tsunami waves.
WTF. There is *still* no deaths from the reaction event. There are going to be no deaths from the event. The worst we can look for is contamination here.
Just another drive-by troll, afraid that the black helicopters will be coming over the rooftops to get him.
Regardless of how you feel about nuclear power you need to recognize that what is happening in Japan even without the issues at Fukushima is incredibly serious. The nuclear plants, in the end, will most likely have minor environmental or health impacts when compared to the totality of this disaster. We can only face the facts of what is going on and support and assist the operators as best as possible. My philosophy of life is there but for the grace of God go I and it doesn’t include being a troll.
Perhaps you could promise to come over after the crisis failed to escalate and offer your sincere apologies?
The big questions facing us now are how much does it really cost to get power this way or that? For example, hydro power is accused of losing all the fish stocks that in turn brought nutrients into the inland mountain areas in Northwest and else where, so what’s the true cost? With coal, oil and gas, there are dire environmental and health consequences from spills, burning, etc., including possible global warming effects, so again what’s the true cost? Nuclear energy costs and consequences include long term waste storage and environmental destruction when meltdowns happen. From all vantage points, Wind and Solar and Tidal are likely cheaper in the long run with minimal environmental impact–with Solar at this point seeming to be the lowest. I believe this is how we should be approaching the energy future we are all now facing. How much does it reallyt cost!
I would not be too optimistic regarding the survivability of any on or off-shore wave, tidal, or wind-farm or array of solar collectors in the wake of such an earthquake & tsunami either. In the aftermath of a mere 6.6 magnitude quake a couple years ago Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, the nation’s largest power complex went offline for over 20 months; this time I can only imagine in will again require years of inspections and re-certification to get the undamaged reactors at these two power plants in the NE of Honshu island back on-line and in the meantime Japan will have to deal will a ~10GW hole in its base-load generating capacity which likely means many months of rolling blackouts unless they are willing to liberalize their regulatory bureaucracy, and even before this crisis Japan’s electricity rates were extraordinarily high.
A possible solution for “ring of fire” quake prone areas such as Japan, New Zealand, Chile, Alaska and California in the future would be floating underwater modular nuclear generators which would be able to easily ride out any quake and tsunami. An undersea anchored vertical vessel of similar size to an USN SSBN should be able to accommodate easily GW size, or several 100 MW size reactors and coolant wouldn’t be a problem.
I would like to ask Rod and anyone in the know a question regarding the cooling power failure that has been the route cause of the trouble. I know that it would have most probably been against the regulations but, would it have been possible to have brought the reactors critical again to gain enough power to get the coolant pumps running after the diesel generators had failed. Alex
@Alex878 – that is a reasonable question. There are technical challenges in restarting commercial nuclear reactors, especially within the first 24 hours after shutdown. Even if that were not the case, it would probably not have been a good idea in this situation since the effects of aftershocks remains unknown.
I think that the operators have done a terrific job, based on what I have read. They removed a lot of heat before losing power and they continue to creatively work to keep all of the key barriers to major fission product release intact.
My hat is off to them and to all of the other people who operate and maintain nuclear energy facilities so that all of the rest of us can continue to use our computers, lights, washing machines, stoves, traffic lights, stereos, televisions and all of the other electrical devices that many take for granted.
Based on US design it would not have been possible to do this. Without the grid you cannot close the main breaker since the Turbine Generator would automatically trip on sensed loss of load. Regardless, startup would have been impossible once the SCRAM occurred. Just not enough time and you do not startup with out off-site power available.
Problem they appear to have had is loss of service water combined with loss of emergency power.
Good bye nuclear renaissance!I was beginning to come around on the nuclear issue but this snapped me back to reality. Hubris is going to do us all in…
Why is it so? Nuclear power clearly demonstrated that it is the only kind of energy source which can take even scale 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami without any public health hazards – unlike any other source. I think once the media hyped hysteria cools off, there will be an opposite effect – reinforced realization that nuclear energy is the best realistic option we have.
Good Work Rod. I knew I could come here and get the straight story-the news is making everyone think Chernobyl has already happened again. Thanks for getting out on a limb and getting information to people. I, for one, am more concerned about what all the destroyed oil and gas facilities are spewing all over the place. They certainly have not shown any good preparations for a disaster of this type. This could be a learning moment for people once the final tally of damage is in and these comparisons are made.
A “SmokingGun” candicate: Joe Lieberman the hypocrite says on the Japan nuclear meltdown: “Put the brakes” on new nuke plants. On the 2010 gulf oil spill: “Accidents Happen”.
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