Wired UK seems surprised that Japan’s Abe is considering new nuclear
An article posted on Wired.co.uk titled Japan’s new government to ‘consider’ more nuclear power indicates that the author is almost surprised to hear that the recently elected Japanese government is considering the construction of new nuclear power plants.
While it may be understandable for the Japanese people to turn against nuclear power, there are several reasons that their government may not be so hasty to give up on it. Much like in the UK, Japan would struggle to adapt to other energy technologies like renewables fast enough to make up for the lost capacity from closing nuclear plants.
The subsequent report into the Fukushima disaster also found that it could have been prevented, with commission chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa stating that it was a “profoundly man-made disaster”. The general mood among the nuclear power industry, and the new government, is that the Fukushima disaster was not the fault of nuclear technology as much of a regulatory failure. It’s an argument that has done little to assuage the fears of the reportedly more than 80 percent of Japanese people who now consider themselves anti-nuclear power.
The only reason I am even close to finding it “understandable” that the Japanese people have turned away from nuclear energy is that I have some idea of how frequently they have been the target of ad supported media stories focused on spreading fear and uncertainty. I also have some inkling of the tendency towards self-sacrifice among older members of Japanese society; they do not seem to mind giving up comfort after they have been carefully convinced their conservation will make their children safer.
Based on my first-hand experience with living in a world that is completely supplied by nuclear energy, I cannot understand why anyone who comprehends its enormous benefits could be convinced to give them up.
I guess I answered my own question there; perhaps the real reason that the Japanese people have, so far, been willing to sacrifice the benefits that nuclear energy can provide is that they have not been directly exposed to enough of those benefits to gain a full understanding of how much better nuclear energy is than its competitors.
Because of the way that electricity prices are regulated, the enormous increase in the fuel costs associated with burning imported diesel fuel and liquified natural gas have been imposed rather slowly. Because most modern power plants do a pretty good job of filtering and chemically treating their visible emissions, average people have not noticed just how much more pollution those imported fuels are producing compared to the virtually emission-free reactors that used to provide 35% of their electricity.
Since Japanese firms are slow to resort to layoffs when they are under financial duress, the people have been isolated from the dramatic reduction in prosperity that has resulted from increasing fuel costs, unreliable power supplies, and forced factory shutdowns. Because Japanese people tend to trust their authority figures, few of them have asked hard questions about why the cows living outdoors and eating the grass in the evacuated area seem so healthy when they have been told that human beings cannot even spend the night in their former village homes.
I do not accept the conventional story line that the real problem was a failure of regulations or malfeasance by Tepco. I think both the Japanese regulators and the operating companies did a reasonably effective job of protecting public health and safety.
Tepco lost some valuable assets and will spend a lot of money cleaning up the site, but even after melting three nuclear reactor cores, the company only released a few tens of kilograms of radioactive isotopes to the environment. No one was injured by those releases. That needs to be repeated; no one was injured by radiation released from the Fukushima reactors. The defense in depth worked as designed. Honestly compare that result to any of several recent natural gas fires and explosions and you will understand why I am so adamant about sharing that information.
Of course there are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks in and outside of the nuclear industry that can come up with a whole list of things they would have done better than Tepco and its effectively trained work force. The fact remains that the event should be considered a ‘W’ for acceptably safe nuclear energy. It might have been a slightly ugly ‘W’ but that should not matter all that much in the overall competition between hydrocarbons and actinides as the future source of power for human society.
I hope you notice that I did not mention unreliables (sometimes called “renewables”) as part of that competition; they are a distraction and can never supply the quality and quantity of power required to provide prosperity to a reasonably large population of people. It is not a matter of how fast they can be deployed; they are incapable of doing the necessary job.
I left the following comment on the Wired article. It’s not yet visible there; I suspect that the included link will cause moderation problems, but I could not resist providing some support for my statement about the stubborn and healthy women of Chernobyl.
The area that the previous Japanese government forced to be evacuated is the home of some very healthy cows and a growing abundance of wildlife. It has a lot in common with the not really “dead zone” of forced human relocation near the Chernobyl reactor.
In that area, some stubborn babushkas refused to allow the government to force them to abandon their homes; they stayed and continued living off of the land. More than 25 years later, they remain healthy and reasonably happy, though they probably would have preferred if more of their neighbors had made the same decision to ignore government orders.
In my technically informed opinion, there is no reason to maintain the exclusion area outside of the gates of the Fukushima nuclear station. Radiation dose rates there are already lower than those found in many places where humans have been living healthy lives for many centuries. Those dose rates will continue to fall as the land is occupied and as natural processes wash the mildly radioactive earth.
Most of the often touted costs associated with the damaged plants is avoidable through the use of sound science that enables rational risk response. The people need to demand to be allowed to return to their homes and start rebuilding their lives.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
As i have often said before, avoidance of nuclear power is a pointless exercise. Japan, unlike Germany, does not have the luxury of being able to import electricity from neighbouring countries, nor does it have indigenous coal reserves. They won’t move away from nuclear, they can’t anyhow.
My point is “why would they want to?”
As far as I can tell, nuclear fission energy is superior to all other available power sources on a number of different measures of effectiveness. Sure, society survived for a long time without it and probably can survive into the future without it. However, why would we want to avoid the use of a superior product? So what if it disrupts the existing political and economic power structure; the people at the top of the heap have not been doing such a good job recently anyway.
Indeed — why was Japan such a warmongering country before the discovery of nuclear energy? In order to capture fossil fuel resources, such as coal in Manchuria and oil in Indonesia.
Proponents of German nuclear phaseout claim that emmisions have continued to drop and they have not had to import energy. I know the latter is not true, but how can they claim to have reduced emmisions when the recommisioning of the oldest and most inefficient coal was necessary to stabilise the grid shortly after March 2011?
As we speak, I’m having an interesting discussion on Twitter with @EnergiewendeGER on just that topic.
He/she does not like the way that I interpret the clearly written article in the Economist titled
Europe’s dirty secret
The unwelcome renaissance
Europe’s energy policy delivers the worst of all possible worlds
Interesting, so in addition to reopening dirty coal plants they are completing ‘clean’ coal plants. Very comforting!
Please remember that clean coal has a by products clean arsenic and clean mercury (grin)
From some of the recent Der Spiegel articles (a German news provider) about the German ‘Energywende’ I have picked up the following reasons why German emissions may indeed not have risen much:
– reportedly, hundreds of thousands of households where cut-off from energy supplies due to not paying their bills. (Presumably, energy tax hikes to support the Energywende are part of the reason, although the general economic downturns probably gets most of the credit for this. Households cut-off from electricity help contribute to a reduction of national emissions.
– reportedly, energy intensive factories in Germany are closing their operations due to relocating to neighbor countries with better quality electricity and lower prices.
– apparently, much of the electricity Germany needs to import to substitute for its voluntarily closed nuclear power plants comes from France – itself a nuclear powered country.
– Possibly, (personal guess) the carbon accounting used in Germany has allocated sizeable carbon emissions to its own (now closed) nuclear power plants, similarly to what is done in Green anti-nuclear propaganda produced by the WWF and Greenpeace. For example, nuclear power plants are said by anti-nuclear propaganda outlets to emit (albeit indirectly) as much CO2 as a natural gas plant. If this assumption is used, than the shut-down of nuclear power plants will not lead to much higher emissions (on paper) if natural gas fired power plants are substituted for the NPPs.
– finally, as Angela Merkel has herself explained: the nuclear phaseout in Germany will not lead to higher CO2 emissions (*in Europe*), because the extra co2 emissions in Germany will remove carbon allowances from the European ETS. Obviously, this is not the same as saying that *German* CO2 emissions will not rise, but I’ve seen several anti-nuclear reporters (deliberately?) muddle this issue by suggesting that indeed Germany’s emissions will not rise as a result of the European ETS system which caps co2 emissions, which is nonsense of course but probably not seen as such by most casual readers.
What I write above here is a lot of speculation and guessing. I for one will be studying official figures about the impact of the nuclear phaseout on Germany’s carbon intensity and -emissions as they come out, looking for signs that the figures have been tampered with.
Hi Joris – from my notes:
For the last two years CO2 from electric generation went up. The reductions have been due to mainly to warmer winter weather and productions drops.
In the latest available numbers ( http://www.iea.org/stats/surveys/mes.pdf ) P. 16 Nuclear production is down about 1/10 from last year. Combustible fuels up about 4.5 percent and hydro up around 20 percent. On the graphs below you can see that works out to the same amount of electricity without the increases in renewable production. That should be a big red flag to everyone.
German electricity imports and exports – how do they work? The renewable induced (they seem to leave much if not all of their base-load running when renewables spike) overcapacity is magically whisked away (no one in Europe seems to want it) and then imports come in when they are needed and no waste is reported; Yes, I have a problem with that.
Just the way its all been reported has left a sour taste in my mouth. Nuclear hasnt been close to shut off and they are still producing more per capita CO2 than the British or French. I dont trust their numbers and the Germans practically run the EU.
Also interestingly both Germany and Japan have generated more electricity THIS YEAR with Nuclear Power than all their non hydro renewables COMBINED.
Agree 100% with statements re: returning people to their homes. Unnecessary evacuations screw up lives.
I doubt the existing political and economic structure has the best interests of humanity at heart. This could be the reason that Wall St doesn’t like nuclear power and chooses to gamble away our debts. Raising the living standards of humanity requires a restructuring of economic policy and science driven policies on energy and industry. This requires a strong commitment to nuclear research and development. I read with interest that Kenya intends to pursue nuclear power to meet its growing energy needs.
@josh Great concise comment. 6 of the 10 largest companies in the world are oil and gas companies. It used to be 7, but Samsung got in there somewhere, dropping a large China oil Co to #11. So it goes.
I really wonder why a small impoverished country doesn’t simply become the world center for Fission research. It could research everything apparently valuable, and as a side benefit, be furnished with cheap electricity as a requirement for doing research within its borders. Kenya would be great.
Many anti nuclearists seem to think that a developing country is incapable of responsibly mining and handling uranium as well as producing clean and cheap nuclesr power. Seems a little insulting to me. I’m sure many countries would be willing to open their doors to being a nuclear r&d centre
I think the big mistake of the Japanese government (a mistake that is probably shared with the rest of the world) is that they hadn’t a serious response plan ready for that kind of accident. Instead they panicked, and destroyed the lives of hundred of thousands (and literally killed hundreds) with a nonsense forced evacuation.
Politicians and the media always tell how the “lesson” from Fukushima is that we should have better security measures, but I disagree. While is of course important to make power plants (every type) as secure as possibile, we all know that every human-made thing (and not human-made things as well) sooner or later can fail. What I have learned, is that a nuclear power plant accident should be seen as any other industrial accident, carefully consider the *real* health risks and let the people know that some tiny bits of radiation won’t do any harm.
I don’t see people running away scared from a polluted city, or from much more dangerous industrial disasters (like the Ilva industry, here in Italy where I live), why run from something much less harmful like Fukushima?
There is an old saying in management, to be taken on a ‘joke’ type of tone, that when in doubt follow procedure.
Well one of the the IEAE guidelines states regarding a civilian nuclear plant accident is :
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s standard sets the zone with a radius of 3 to 5 kilometers from a plant.
Not miles, not 80 miles, not 50 miles. 5 KM. That’s 3 miles.
If I can find this information, so can the Japanese authorities.
Alessandro, the Japanese authorities well knew the IAEA recommendations, but their antinuclear Prime Minister (Naoto Kan) chose to ignore it and set an arbitrary 20 km evacuation. Japanese law gave him essentially dictatorial powers during the quake/tsunami catastrophe, so his opinion was taken as law. He also chose to ignore the SPEEDI projections for contamination spread. To Kan, any detectable radiation exposure is dangerous, and what he did in not following the IAEA standards, tacitly proves it.
Actually if he cared about exposure, he would have used the SPEEDY model predictions; the 20 km region was insufficient as the actual deposition of radionuclides exceeded 20 km. Because of this, apart from killing people by pointlessly evacuating them, Kan’s decision to not listen to the models caused higher exposure to a large group inside the deposition plume yet outside the 20 km zone.
Yes, but our appointed nuclear expert at the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission saw Kan’s 20 km evacuation and raised it to 50 MILES (80 KM).
That was an absurdity and I said so in the loudest voice I could muster at the time.
Unfortunately, Matt Wald, the journalist mentioned in the post who clued me into the Chairman’s statement at the time he was making it, did not see fit to believe my interpretation.
It is in a crisis that people reveal their true nature. Jaczko proved to be anti-nuclear and anti-facts. From Macfarlane’s comments on Fukushima and safety, she also proved to be anti-nuclear and anti-facts. But we already knew that from your earlier interview where Macfarlane worried about mining CO2 emissions from nuclear power. That’s absurd, anyone who has an Internet connection and can spell Google can look up that these lifecycle emissions are very low. Apparently Macfarlane didn’t even bother to even Google about a subject she must know she’s clueless.
I disagree that we should have evacuation response plans for nuclear plants being blacked out by flooding. Because this can be virtually eliminated by proper design.
What’s interesting at Fukushima is that all the emergency equipment worked after the grid power was lost due to the earthquake. The plants shut down fine with their control rods. All diesel generators started and the steam driven systems were put in opertion as well. This shows that well maintained equipment will work when called upon. Diesel generators don’t work when flooded, but it’s easy to put at least some of the diesel generators in a high place in the buildings.
There is no way that we can sell plants as being safe if they need evacuation plans. “just to be sure” won’t be shoveled into anyone’s mouth. If it needs an evaction plan, it isn’t safe. This is how anyone would reason, and frankly, rightfully so. If we can design plants such that no evacuation plan is needed – and clearly this is feasible and not very expensive – then everyone benefits. Fukushima was perfectly preventable with minor design change.
Hypothetically, an accident at a chemical plant could trigger toxic releases prompting large areas to be evacutated. However chemicals are an important part of our life, and i doubt people or an entire country would do a runner on chemical plants.
Great article, Rod. I’ve been searching for the right words for a while, but it seems you found them. I’m posting the link to your article in today’s Fukushima Updates, which gets considerable Japanese activity. The antinuclear pundits get considerable copy in Japan: it’s time that some “balance” gets an opportunity to be heard over there.
Super-great idea, Leslie. I often wonder just how much foreign reasoned info and perspective of their situations seeps into the awareness of the Japanese citizenry, since likely most there mass media are hard-core anti-nukes. I even wonder how many of them know that the Fukushima mortality score is zero just like the public damage tally, I was very pleased Rod hit back at Wired and hopefully the Japanese media will jet the same jog to their senses. The NRC bloggers mentioned that many anti-nukers were actually disappointed that Fukushima royally struck out at the killing game, — yea, horrible thought but no big surprise for FUD fanatics, really. Fukushima fizzled out decades of death-cloud mega-million death scenario nightmares. Nightmares three chances over nixed beyond any fluke. Japan has to be presented with the ultimate once unthinkable conclusion from Fukuskima; “After a rare super maximum natural catastrophe with zero kills and wholesale damage, just how much more safer can you get without being nuclear??” This ought be hammered into the Japanese conscious like nobody’s business as they start to consider the everyday poisoning of their systems and environment by routine fossil fuel use. They can use the anti-FUD info air-support by nuclear advocates here.
Any rational thinking entity would be quite surprised that Germany and Japan had turned against new nuclear plants. All the new nuclear plants hit by the tsunami were fine. Only the 3 oldest reactors were in trouble.
One of the lessons from Fukushima is clearly, build more modern nuclear plants. We know now by real proof that they are all very safe in a severe earthquake and flood situation.
So talking about scrapping modern nuclear plants is having it backwards.
Indeed, there were two big regulatory failures:
1. The regulators allowed all critical power supply equipment to be situated in a flooding prone basement in a flooding prone location. That’s stupid and obvious (not just in retrospect – flooding is a well known common mode failure hazard that must be dealt with in design of nuclear plants). The designers are guilty as well, as is the owner Tepco.
2. A hundred thousand people were evacuated for no significant risk, killing as much as 1000 people (just imagine evacuating several hospitals, thousands of elderly homes, etc.). This is a huge regulatory failure. The evacuation was not justified and was also flawed (they drew a circle rather than looking at the dispersion models which they had).
The second failure is what created the disaster; it was fabricated by overconservative misinformed regulations.
The first failure however is partly technological. Putting safety critical electrical equipment in the basement of a tsunami sensitive plant – one that needs electricity for all critical safety functions ranging from instrumentation to cooling to hydrogen control – is just bad design.
Let me put it this way: if the designers had put some of the diesel generators, electrical panels etc. at the top floor, we wouldn’t be talking about Fukushima. No one here would even know how to spell it.
That is exactly the kind of Monday morning quarterbacking I am talking about.
Do you have any clue what it would have cost to relocate the diesel generators after the plant was built?
By the time Tepco knew that their tsunami protection barrier MIGHT be too low, the units that were at risk were 30 or more years old and only had 10 or less years left on their operating licenses. Why would any rational decision maker leap at the prospect of investing to ward off a hypothetical event in that situation.
Sure, some might have made the decision to shut down the plants, forego their revenue and spend many millions in running safety related electrical cabling and then retesting all of the work. Without having more detailed financial information, I cannot say I would have made a different call.
Yes, I do have a clue, I am involved in industrial safety analysis and cost-benefit analysis is standard part of this. There is no need to relocate diesel generators, just adding a few on the top floor. There’s plenty space on the service floor.
It is not-done in safety analysis to accept a common mode failure such as flooding. Common mode failure (fire, flood etc.) is very dangerous because it can take out multiple levels of defence in depth.
Tepco and pretty much anyone knowledgeable knew that tsunami’s taller than the design basis occured every 50 to 100 years. There was one about a 100 years ago that was very similar to the 2011 tsunami. This one killed over 20,000 Japanese. Hard to miss that in the safety analysis (!). They had been warned by the IAEA repeatedly about this. They did next to nothing about it, they even left electrical equipment right out in the open. This is definately within design basis, in fact most will agree that it’s an anticipated operation occurrence (AOO).
I just won’t agree with you that this should rightly be beyond design bases. The facts speak otherwise. I don’t see how the plants should have been shut down. It is not expensive to add a few diesel generators and stick a generator to the RCIC. Or just use direct driven diesels for emergency pump motion with no electrical safety analysis needed, if that’s what you’re worried about. Hell, even a dirt cheap water tank and a dirt cheap pipe would be great to have to fill up the spent fuel pool and cool the containment.
I don’t see any monday morning quarterbacking. What I see at Fukushima is far more nuanced. It’s like, the good, the bad and the ugly. No one was killed and exposure was very limited. Plus the plants were very resistant to the earthquake. That’s the Good. There were design flaws in the plant which should not have been allowed. That’s the Bad. The human disaster itself, the tsunami killing thousands and an unneeded evacuation killing a thousand more, and extremely poor press and media coverage of anything nuclear, and absurd policies to phase out nuclear, that’s the Ugly.
Yes, I still can’t understand this. Building a flood defense wall at all is acknowledging a possible risk. Not having diesel generators that can survive a flood seems to be the dictionary definition of a common mode failure.
I can understand what Rod is saying not changing with just 10 years left. But why it wasn’t done in the first place I still don’t get.
@Rod Another good post that needs wider distribution. I have posted links to my friends. During the disaster I read of engineers and operating staff removing batteries from cars just to try and get electric valves to open or close. One of the things that is readily available around the world and highly mobile are containerised 1 Mw class diesel generators. They can be flown in from around the world and hooked up in an hour. Japan would herself had any number of these available. I know this because whilst working for a manufacturer on secondment I helped organised for about 10 to be transported to Dubai from all over the middle east and transported on an Antonov 124 into Bosnia for the US (UN) peace keeping force at very short notice.
Now if all nuclear plants were built with external control panel that allowed the fast connection of emergence power it allows an other layer of protection in the event of the unexpected, a layer that is very flexible and easy to operate and maintain. these panels can be placed at strategic locations around the plant at both ground level and elevated levels.
I haven’t seen the specification of the standby power plant but my guess would be that they were larger slow speed or perhaps medium speed diesels more akin to ship engines. These things are slow to start, and require intensive maintenance. I understand some power was supplied but they ran out of fuel, or was it contaminated?
It wasn’t just that the diesel generators were flooded. The switchgear, electrical panels, cabling connections, and other parts of the electrical infrastructure were damaged beyond immediate (say 1 month) repair. Also at unit 1 it appears that the DC power batteries were also flooded.
Hauling in a new diesel generator won’t cut it. Though one thing that can be done on exisiting plants is just a little diesel generator to run the pumps directly.
@ Cyril R I probably didn’t quite make myself clear. I agree with your comment above but what I was alluding to is that the plant be wired in such a way that you have a variety of locations where you have a control panel and switch gear enough to accept a 1 MW stand by set. In the scheme of things these sets are inexpensive compare to the larger units that would have been in the main generator room, but for just a 40 foot container size unit they produce 1 MW of power.
So even if the main standby system is taken out you can easily manoeuvre a containerised standby unit into place and connect it quickly, hours and minutes as compared to days, and get power to essential services. Just a bit of hindsight, but often when these big projects are designed, the designers are too far into the regulatory rarefied atmosphere to see some of the simple and inexpensive ideas that could have been of immense value to those trying to bring the plant under control.
So, here is what Japan’s new PM – Shinzo Abe – has to do:
Create or relocate 2 ministries right outside the 5 KM radius of Fukshima nuclear plants. They do not have to be big, but the message must be clear. I AM NOT AFRAID AND I AM PRIME MINISTER OF THIS COUNTRY.
Talk is cheap.
I heard for a long time all the various reasons/excuses why the only major federal agency whose H.Q. was located FAR from Washington was the CDC…
Whatever it would have cost to relocate the diesel generators, it was far, far less than the costs TEPCO has paid and is continuing to pay as a result of the accident. Not to mention the public perception damage to the nuclear industry worldwide, which has had very real financial impacts.
As a result of Fukushima, the cost-benefit balance of preparation for hypothetical risks has shifted for many nuclear plants. Preparations that the bean counters once deemed as unneeded now look like extremely good investments.
In the Wired.uk article:
Much like in the UK, Japan would struggle to adapt to other energy technologies like renewables fast enough to make up for the lost capacity from closing nuclear plants.
Just a few years ago the mantra was the nuclear power plants could not be built quickly enough to make an impact on CO2 emissions, so we must go with ‘renewables’. Now we find that ‘renewables’ can’t be built fast enough either.
In response to Cyril R. about his analysis of Japanese regulatory failures you said:
“That is exactly the kind of Monday morning quarterbacking I am talking about. Do you have any clue what it would have cost to relocate the diesel generators after the plant was built? By the time Tepco knew that their tsunami protection barrier MIGHT be too low, the units that were at risk were 30 or more years old …”
The failure happened when the plant was built by NOT following the
“Precautionary Principle”. Tsunamis and earthquakes were nothing new for Japan. These crazy regulators follow the PP concerning radiation exposure and get it WRONG and don’t follow the PP concerning simple, common-sense building codes and get it WRONG.
Calling them on this is not quarterbacking of any sort.
Excuse me? What do you think that wall was near the Fukushima power plant? It had a tsunami barrier high enough to protect from the predicted tsunami known at the time that the plant was built. If you want to point out faults with building codes, please do not limit your aim to nuclear energy regulators. There were 20,000 fatalities from that tsunami, many in places that were supposedly protected from the effects of those natural events. Only two of those drownings happened at Fukushima Dai-ichi.
No it hadn’t, that’s the whole point. The 1896 earthquake and tsunamis were actually bigger than the 2011 ones. Wave height up to 38 meters.
This one was certainly more than 10 meters – possibly over 20 meters – in runup height on the shores where the Fukushima plant now lies. It killed 22,000 people, so it’s hard to miss in the safety analysis.
The wall of Fukushima was perhaps 6-7 meters. Way under recent historic events.
When you want to post a link, Ron instead of the way you did, do this.
Your post will then not disappear into moderation.
Frankly your bad attitude toward assigning blame to tepco and its regulators is bordering on the ludicrous. The timing of these large once every hundred year tsunamis was well known long before this plant was built. Why do you think the plant just down the beach built an 18 meter wall compared to Tepco’s 7.
Design spec for these reactors is one core melt accident in 100K years not once every 2 months if the 500 reactors world wide conformed to Tepco’s standards. How long as a fleet supply officer would you last before you were given a captain/s mast and shot for treason if you thought a critical submarine part failure every hundred years or so was good enough causing the navy to lose one of its 300 subs every 4 months.
If Fuku had happened in China, the directly responsible in government and Tepco would have been taken out and shot and their body parts harvested.
Well, in a semi-perverse way, had Tepco’s wall been up to historic specs and stopped the wave, everyone’s anxieties and nightmares of what might happen with a catastrophic nuclear failure/meltdown would’ve continued to hang over nuclear power unanswered like a dark cloud, Well, now we know, and it took a rare massive hammer to do it resulting a nil mortality score — three chances over — that other industries would beg a tenth of, so if these plants re-built 20 foot seawalls, I’d like to know what other excuses would fly for NOT going full nuclear. Maybe Fukushima was the best silver lining ever gifted nuclear power.
Your emotionally charged phrasing is not adding to the power of your argument. What power station are you referring to when you mention the one just down the beach? When was it built? Who owned it?
There are many decisions and many trade offs made with every construction project. Some are truly bad, other times a reasonable decision gets portrayed badly in order to deflect blame or demonize a company or a technology.
If EVERYONE knew Dai-ichi had so many OBVIOUS faults, why didn’t we hear about it before the tsunami?
The International Atomic Energy Agency knew and repeatedly warned Tepco about the flooding risk.
Tepco didn’t care. Tepco wanted to play Russian Roulette with roughly 1 out of 2 odds. This was, based on a simple recent historical track record, about the chance of a tsunami greatly exceeding the 6 meter seawall during the 40-60 year lifetime of the reactor.
That’s no snowball chance. That should have been considered in the design basis. It should have been an AOO.
The designers made a rookie and grave mistake.
The constructors and subcontractors didn’t correct the mistake.
The regulators didn’t find or care about the grave rookie mistake.
The oversight bodies didn’t find or care about the grave rookie mistake.
The owner, Tepco, did not care enough to bother.
Quadruple failure. Then failure to listen to the well respected IAEA advice from all 4 parties.
I’m as flabbergasted as anyone.
Can you provide a reference indicating when the IAEA warning was issued and in what format that warning came?
Can you also help me to find the historical information that you keep point to that indicates the projected size of the possible tsunami at the Fukushima Dai-ichi site? I have a skeptical view of using Wiki-pedia as the source; I am not skilled enough in its intricacies to be able to figure out if it is still saying today what it said in February of 2011, before the event occurred.
One sub every 4 months Ron for a one in a hundred year event. I know you are stubborn but SHeesh.
Look up Onagawa
I know a good deal about Onagawa. The design of that facility was influenced by a particularly careful engineer who made sure that the defenses could withstand the effects of a wave that had possibly happened in the 800s.
My point is not that knowing what we know today it is prudent to build facilities with flood defenses or passive cooling. My point is that the design of Dai-ichi was not as bad as some make it out to be and that the suggestions to improve it were made decades after the 1970s vintage facility was built.
Have you ever driven a vintage automobile? Do you think is is always a good investment to bring old stuff up to current standards?
Again, the cost of Fukushima has been enormous, but a substantial portion of that cost was incorrectly and irrationally imposed by the excessive fear of radiation. If standards of safety even remotely similar to those that are proven to be “acceptable” for fossil fuel events had been applied here, the primary cost would have been Tepco’s permanent loss of three large, somewhat long in the tooth nuclear generators. The rest of the reactors on site might already be back up and operating to provide clean power and revenues that could be used in the clean up effort. The other 50 or so reactors could be operating and providing Japan with clean, affordable power that does not have to arrive on a ship and does not slowly impoverish everyone except the people involved in the trade.
BTW – you have no idea what you are talking about when you try to reference the Navy. For one thing, we have less than 100 commissioned submarines.
As this is my go-to site for Arnie Gunderson debunking. I was interested to read what Cyril R said at 9.49 that if they had a flood-proof generator no one would have ever heard of Fukushima.
Gunderson has said that isn’t true because even if there was electrical power, it would have been no use because the pumps were damaged by the flood, not just the generators.
Anyone know if there’s any truth in that? (would be a first for AG if so)
Yes, the seawater pumps were likely damaged. But that doesn’t mean there’s no use for electricity to run pumps of the emergency cooling systems. If you have power you can fill the secondary side of steam driven systems such as ICs and RCICs, with seawater even in a pinch. These systems were specifically designed to guard against loss of heat sink event (same as losing the seawater condenser pumps). If you have AC power, the batteries can be recharged also, so you can keep running the ICs and RCICs control systems without overflooding or underfeeding the reactor vessel (either would trip the steam driven systems). If you have power you can operate the valves, the instruments, the hydrogen catalysts. You can do a lot.
Thank you, that’s really useful. What do ICs and RCICs stand for?
IC is isolation condenser. A rack of stainless steel tubes where steam from the reactor can be routed through. On the other side of the tubes there’s water for cooling. The water can be boiled off in an emergency (its not radioactive) and seawater can be used in a pinch. This is the simplest system.
RCIC is reactor core isolation cooling. A similar system but with a little steam turbine driven pump to provide the pushing for coolant on the other side.
These systems require some power for controlling valves and also require instruments so that you know how much pressure and temperature there is.
Also the hydrogen vents we shut and needed electric power to hold them open. They should have sprung open the instant power was lost. So electric power was need for a host of small things as well as for the pumps. I agree with those who suggest that this disaster has a silver lining and proves that in the face of a disaster with multiple levels of failure that the containment systems worked and protected people. We just have to get over the nonsensical fear or attitude to low dose radiation.
Generally agree, but would caution you a bit. A large area got more than 500 mSv/year – half a Sievert – of Cs134 & Cs137 contamination. Some areas got over 700 mSv/year. That’s just from a temporary gush of weather inland – most of the radiation got blown out to sea. Had the winds been worse it could easily have been over a Sievert per year over a large area. Total emissions were more than 15%, possibly over 25% of Chernobyl.
I don’t think that counts as “containment worked”. The hydrogen explosions were caused by failed containment and/or failed venting. Operators allowed the containment to exceed pressure and temperature of the design by a large percentage at the same time. This hydrogen came from the core so it took radionuclides along that were subsequently dispersed by the explosion. This is pretty serious failure of containment.
Update I have corrected this comment. As Cyril R pointed out, my initial conversion factor was off by a factor of ten. 500 mSv/yr is 50 Rem/yr. If absorbed evenly over the course of a year from living in a contaminated area, that dose rate is still not likely to cause any noticeable health effects, but it is likely to cause a measurable increase in the probability of long term negative health effects. I have changed the numbers so that they are currently accurate, but not really a good response to the comment from Cyril that stimulated my response. End Update
0mSv/yr (5 rem/yr) sounds really scary to people schooled in today’s fear of radiation, but when I started my nuclear career, that was the accepted dose limit for occupational workers. Despite the fact that we worked for a VERY conservative organization that cared a great deal about our health because they were responsible for paying all of the bills, we were taught that there was a substantial safety factor built into that limit and we should have nothing to worry about. If we needed to take actions that would safe life or property, we could still feel safe if exposed to 250 0mSv/yr (25 rem/yr). That, by the way, is still the regulated exclusion area dose for an accident under 10 CFR 100.11.
Of course, we were also taught that we could take simple actions to keep our doses FAR below even those safe levels and that we should do so if those measures were “reasonable”.
As time moved on, there were few objective metrics with which to compare organizations and for some reason inspectors began using collective doses as one of those metrics. That never changed the fact that 500 mSv/yr was safe, but it did change the view of radiation doses, even in an organization that should have known better than to spend large sums of money and time to reduce was was already safe.
Considering all of the isotopes that are produced in a nuclear reactor core, I believe that knowing that only Cs and I escaped in three serious triple meltdowns indicates that multiple layers of containment work sufficiently well to protect the public from health risks from nuclear energy.
Rod, you’re off a zero. 25 rem is 0.25 Sv.
1 Sv = 100 rem.
2500 mSv = 250 rem.
250 mSv, or 25 rem, is the max for rad workers doing life saving operations. This is conservative. Especially for chronic radiation, raising it will save lives in those instances.
I think the Japan evacuation limit of 20 mSv is nonsense. I don’t suggest evacuating an area even over 500 mSv/year, but from my reading of chronic exposure this is definately a level that can be no longer beneficial, especially for children (results for adults are fairly ambiguous). I definately won’t agree that having a sizeable area of over 500 mSv/year is a sign that the containment worked, rather the opposite.
I wouldn’t mind living in 3 or 30 mSv/year field. But 500 mSv/year I’d have to think about.
The non-volatiles are never much of a concern, they only escaped at Chernobyl because of the runaway reactor followed by immediate and permanent loss of all cooling systems, poor response from liquidators (covering with low conductivity solids makes it worse), and graphite-steam reaction providing propellant for the nonvolatiles.
In modern reactors these never make it out of the containment.
The gasses are not much concern except their daughters can deposit in places. Still you have radiocesium and radioiodine. Cs-137 comes from Xe-137. The former is volatile and the latter a gas, both will like to escape the containment if cooling fails for prolonged periods. This happened at Fukushima. There wasa large release of volatiles. And it happened because of poor design basis against flood that would have been easily prevented.
@Cyril – You are correct. I was off by a factor of 10. I might take the liberty of correcting my comment or at least appending an apology to the end of it.
Can you provide a reference that shows the areas that were contaminated with Cs-134 and Cs-137 to a level sufficient to cause the 500 mSv/yr dose estimate? I apparently missed something; based on my recollections, those levels were only reached if you included the contribution from short lived I-131. Since that isotope decades with an 8 day half life, human doses would never have actually accumulated to that level.
My understanding, for what its worth, is that TEPCO didn’t act on a recommendation in 2007 to build a sea wall that could withstand a 10 meter tsunami, leaving Fukushima Daiichi with a wall that was designed to keep out a 5.7 meter wave. In the event, the actual tsunami was 13-15 meters high, and would likely have swamped the wall even had it been built to the recommended height.
But I believe all this is beside the point. Rod’s theme is that despite all the things that went wrong, nobody was injured or killed and the decades-old engineering in the reactors’ defences worked as designed. Whatever the impact (if any) of human error, the fact that there were zero casualties in an event touted as such a calamity speaks volumes about the inherent safety of nuclear power.
My personal feeling is that because anger cannot be realistically directed at the real perpertrator (the tsunami), TEPCO is simply being used as a scapegoat.
By the way Rod what is your source for up-to-date radiation measurements in Fukushima?
You’ve correctly interpreted my theme.
Other than “mother nature” in the form of the tsunami, it would also be legitimate to direct anger at the Japanese government that imposed a great deal more angst and anguish than necessary by its inability to properly respond to the catastrophe caused by the earthquake and tsunami. I believe that the leaders of that now deposed government were quite happy to deflect anger and distract the population. Portraying Tepco as inept and the nuclear village as evil was a great way to cause the population to stop paying attention to the real issues.
I am sure that their effort was assisted by the trading companies and the fossil fuel folks that have made enormous profits in the wake of the decision to shut down all of the operating nuclear plants in the country. After all, Tepco was one of the country’s largest nuclear operators and if the regulators could not be trusted to have made reasonably good decisions at Fukushima Dai-ichi, it was “reasonable” to question the safety of every other reactor in the country.
Cyril R. and seth, I know that both of you tend to favor the use of nuclear energy. Can’t you see how accepting the story line about Tepco and the nuclear regulator calls into question the entire enterprise and plays into the hands of the people who have successfully made everyone forget that an LNG facility burned for 10 solid days just outside of Tokyo, dumping who knows how much toxic material that was carried on exactly the same atmospheric air currents as the little radioactive burps from Fukushima? That facility was not the only fossil fuel related facility to have experienced major issues as a result of the earthquake; there were fatalities and casualties that were unreported because the ad supported media story line was focused on the antinuclear distraction.
Rod, as you know I’m as pronuclear as they come. But I won’t be an apologist for Tepco and the Japanese regulators that make such serious basic mistakes in the design of a nuclear powerplant.
I won’t defend insufficient design. Not when the facts that it was insufficient were available long time and Tepco and the regulator failed to act. Not when it’s so easy to design against this type of event. Fukushima was a real blow to the nuclear industry worldwide, even if it killed no one and the media and anti-nuclear groups are just a classic case of much ado about nothing, the fact remains that this has been used effectively against nuclear power and various countries have exited their nuclear programs.
Yes, even if you say the health risk was zero, evacuation unneccesary, media coverage biased and political reaction ill-informed. This is a power plant that isn’t producing electricity anymore (and I guess never will). If there was a way for that to be avoided with minor design tweaks, and little expense. I think it’s worth pointing out and criticising.
If there was a way for that to be avoided with minor design tweaks, and little expense
That is my point as well, but notice the emphasis. I do not have the information required to automatically assume that the required changes would have been all that minor and cheap.
I also know that our own regulatory system is no “gold standard”. Any nuke worth his salt can point to dozens of “minor design tweaks” that could make the plants possibly safer, or more reliable, or easier to operate, but the cost of doing something is often vastly underestimated. That is especially true if there is any need to obtain a license amendment.
I agree completely with your emphasis. But if you don’t know it would be cheap, you don’t know if it would be expensive either. It does no harm to ask the question and try to understand why does it?
I’m sure nukes have all sorts of tweaks to make plants safer, involving acronyms I will never understand. The thing about the diesel generator is that it seems so simple.
ps. Ha, I’ve seen you’ve been told off at carboncounter, I have too in the past and I hardly ever comment anywhere. He’s v. particular about comments. Personally, think interesting stuff comes when things move a little off original topic. (sorry, that was off-topic!)
Actually it is you Ron that is causing the publicity problem because you leave folks with the impression that such obviously brainless tomfoolery is common with nuclear engineers and designers. Scares the hell out of them.
Sorry about the submarine error It seemed high as I copied it down. Turns out it was a error in my source. So bottom line you are claiming by analogy that it is okay to install a critical part in a sub that will fail at random once every 100 years and would cause the US fleet to loose 1 sub every year. I would think the 1896 tsunami referenced above would have been sufficient for the original Tepco designers to have acted more responsibly at least to the point that they at least installed a few diesels in a waterproofed high ground facility – dirt cheap..
Seth – how do you know it would be “dirt cheap”? It’s not just a diesel generator, but fuel supplies, electrical connections, seismic foundations, testing, operating stations, license amendments, and probably a lot more that I haven’t considered. I’ll concede that you may be right, but where is the detailed analysis that proves malfeasance from one of the largest nuclear plant operators in the world?
I’m sure you can do that analysis Ron. Relatively easy to get costing on similar projects (remote mines come to mind) once you’ve established the power requirement. Perhaps Will Davis can lend a hand.
Remote mines are not an analog for a power supply project at a nuclear plant.
My point remains – though we would be really dumb to fail to improve designs based on what we know NOW I still think it is a bad idea to think that we should apply today’s knowledge to judge the quality of design decisions made 3-4 decades ago. That is a recipe for continued cost escalation.
It’s simple Rod. The chances of a tsunami larger than the flood wall at Daiichi hitting the plant over its lifetime was on the order of 1 out of 2. It is well known that electrical equipment can’t stand tsunamis. It is well know that BWRs are most sensitive in terms of core damage, to station blackout. Unsufficient tsunami protection causes station blackout. Which leads to extensive core damage costing billions just in decommissioning, even with no cleanup of surrounding land attempted, no cost of compensating the surrounding population, or evecuating them and setting up temporary housing for them etc.
So the expected cost of the insufficient design basis protection against tsunamis was 1/2 of billions. Say 1 billion. This estimate is at least one order of magnitude on the conservative side, considering the above mentioned factors.
Even if we take the low balled 1 billion. That’s a pretty high cost expectation. Spending a tiny fraction of a billion would have been a good investment.
As an update to my comment above, standby high speed diesels are dirt cheep as compared to what they are able to provide on a short term emergency basis. High power density. I Think today you can get 2Mw from a 40′ container. Of course their use is dependent upon the site having built in connection points. I would have this as a prerequisite for certification so that even if everything went wrong you can hook power in. Also the benefit of some high speed diesel standby on site is they can go from shutdown to accepting full load within about 30 seconds provided the oil and water are kept hot. I bet the engines at Fukushima would not have accepted load after 300 seconds such is the time it takes to get large engines up to speed and temperature.
First: sorry for my bad english.
Nothing to say about the need to accept mass evacuation sets in no time, with all the economic and social consequences that this entails?
To say that there have been no deaths due to direct radiation, even if true, is too simplistic and dishonest.
P.S.: I am pro-nuclear, but you can not hide certain implications that have an important impact.
This may be of interest: Japanese interest in importing coal from Zimbabwe.
You have to be fairly desperate to risk doing business in Zimbabwe.
From 10CFR50 Appendix A “General Design Criteria”
“Criterion 2—Design bases for protection against natural phenomena. Structures, systems, and components important to safety shall be designed to withstand the effects of natural phenomena such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tsunami, and seiches without loss of capability to perform their safety functions. The design bases for these structures, systems, and components shall reflect: (1) Appropriate consideration of the most severe of the natural phenomena that have been historically reported for the site and surrounding area, with sufficient margin for the limited accuracy, quantity, and period of time in which the historical data have been accumulated, (2) appropriate combinations of the effects of normal and accident conditions with the effects of the natural phenomena and (3) the importance of the safety functions to be performed.”
If the original design basis is exceeded even once in the plant lifetime, that is pretty much de-facto evidence that the hazard was underestimated. You can call that armchair quarterbacking, but the intent of GDC 2 is to ensure that natural phenomena do not lead to loss of safety function.
Rod’s point seems to be, the plant saw a tsunami 7 meters (20 feet) above the design basis, and even so, the radiological consequences were low to negligible. This is evidence of robust overall design.
Other posters are focusing on the inadequate design basis as evidence of regulatory / licensee failure.
Seems to me, it is possible for both points to be valid.
Yes, both points are valid, and so I think many of us don’t disagree fundamentally with what Rod says. There are just different aspects to the issue.
However I would detract somewhat from the argument that the radiological consequences were low to negligible. A sizeable area (stretching perhaps 10 miles) receives over 166 mSv/year and some hot spots are up to 700 mSv/year or something. See map below in another post. The reason why the area is relatively limited has more to do with favorable winds, and lack of precipitation, that blew most of the radioactive particles over the Pacific, where it realistically can’t do harm to anyone due to dilution. But that’s a lucky circumstance, not an artifact of the robustness of the plant. Just a small change in the wind, back inland, combined with some precipitation, created a sizeable area of >166 mSv/year, up to 800 mSv/year in temporary hot spots.
We need to be careful with big claims about negligible health consequences. While I would not worry overmuch about 500 mSv/year of external cesium gamma dose, if I had young children it would make me think about their safety.
Rod asked me for a reference to the high radiation levels at Fukushima. A number of radiation maps are available from US and Japanese measurements:
There’s a considerable plume shaped area >19 microsieverts/hour, which is 166 mSv/year to about 800 mSv/year. The area is maybe 15 km long and 2 to 5 km wide.
I think thats probably dropped quite a bit since that was published. I agree so far with your harsh assessment of TEPCO. They should have fixed it.
There are two narratives available now for better or worse. Incompetence / or systemic hazard. A cost restricted acceptable risk argument simply doesn’t exist on this scale in the real media world that I have seen so far. Even if in reality it and its worse case are the status quo for fossil fuels.
None of this is done and the arguments and technology is evolving as we speak. Releases and accidents have to be eliminated, the technology is too important to allow hype and distraction to derail it. Whole industries are forming around this last incident and perceptions of it ( http://blog.safecast.org/ ).
su, while there is a concentration of power gtireaenon in one or two industries I can’t see these problems being avoided. One of the benefits of moving to renewables will be the diversification of power supply methods, and reduction of the concentration of power into the hands of industries focused on a single gtireaenon type. Japan is doing a good job of moving towards renewables so there’s hope there.Japan has a very different industry policy to Australia, it’s worked very well for them, so I can’t see them rushing to change it. But until they start to at least attack the bad side of it, they’re going to continue to have multiple industries that are fraught with corruption. I can’t see nuclear power going away any time soon, in Japan. The reality is that the government needs to find a way to better regulate the industry. I’m not optimistic that this will happen.
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