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Author Topic: The Fukushima complex  (Read 4008 times)

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Offline XenophileTopic starter

The Fukushima complex
« on: March 14, 2011, 08:46:23 AM »
You've all heard about the Tsunami that hit Japan's eastern coast last week, and you have no doubt heard about the Fukushima nuclear complex that was damaged in the quake. Things have now turned for the worse, and the experts are comparing this to the infamous Chernobyl.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-japan-quake-web-20110314,0,7456231.story

The fuel rods are exposed, and even the desperate attempt to use salt water for coolant has failed.
As a nuclear power supporter, this provokes all kinds of emotions. I was shocked and horrified when I heard and read the new,s becasue I can appreciate the awesome consequences a unrestricted and uncontrolled meltdown can cause. I am also angered by the Japanese officials' lack of honesty in this matter, and infuriated in the (now obvious) lack of care and consideration that was put into building a nuclear power plant in one of the world's most earthquake prone places in the world. Whatever methods the engineers employed to make it foolproof, as they said a few years prior, where not enough. That is insulting to the people that are opposed to nuclear power, but most of all the supporters.

The biggest reason why people support nuclear power is the promise that all safeties will be employed and used, and that there will be no short-cuts in the construction. Maybe it was naive to believe that a nuclear power plant would go unscathed in Japan, but the ultimate blame goes to the people responsible for the project, as they promised that they had taken all precautions. The faith in nuclear power is shattered when a modern nuclear power is now facing meltdown. But as an ardent supporter, I do think that perhaps this is a wake-up call for us all. Supporters or not.

But this is a discussion, not a rant.
What is your opinion about how the Fukushima complex incident/disaster has been dealt, and what will this spell for the idea that nuclear power is a viable alternative to fossil fuels in the future?

Offline RubySlippers

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2011, 09:46:20 AM »
It was a huge Earthquake and as far as I know ran practically under the reactor how the hell can you prepare for that?

Although a modern reactor using fuel pellets encased in ceramics would not be at risk to melt down so is viable the Germans proved this system cannot melt down in a test they turned off the cooling and it never reached critical points just stabilized after heating up somewhat.

We just need to use the better safer technology when its an issue like Japan that is Earthquake prone.

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2011, 10:07:15 AM »
Well the design in quesiton is decades old. A lot of changes have been considered since then, and put into play. The genie is out of the bottle and we can't wave a wand to banish the use of nuclear power. Point of fact something like 1/5th of our power in the US comes from nuclear power plants.

The fear and perception of things like this makes them literally uninsured by anyone but governments. The design criteria for the plants are so radicallly different than anything else. The timeline for environmental considerations extend far past anything else. Most normal buildings are approached on a 100 year event schedule, nuclear plants are more like 500 year events. 

Offline XenophileTopic starter

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2011, 10:18:58 AM »
Even if the design is decades old, it was at the time also built on a very earthquake prone region of the world. Assurances where made that it would be a foolproof design, very robust and completely safe. That was a promise given then, and it was expected to last. Japan is also respected when it comes to reactor construction, because they are building and planning to build more that are state-of-the-art, and they supply a good dosage of the materials in the international market.

The commercial interests are so high, that it is difficult to be "as safe" as they want to be. What if they believed the reactor to be unsafe? If they where ethical, they would have shut it down either permanently, or temporarily to upgrade its safeties. It wasn't, and this disaster is the consequence of that commercial interest. If there is an accident on a coal burning planet, then we can expect a fire and some smoke, possibly injuries and deaths to the workers. But with nuclear power plants? So much more is at stake. Completely new levels of ethical management must be enforced, and it's real pisser for me as a supporter to see even an inkling of recklessness when dealing with something as dangerous as nuclear power.

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2011, 10:26:21 AM »
Remember that management and oversight change over time. The initial managers are most likely retired by now, given the plant started up decades ago and new outlooks could be easily shaped by the consistent record of good performance. An air of complacency can start to creep in.

That might be part of what happened.

Who knows? We will find out in the end though, this is too big to hide. Japan is too invested in nuclear power to let this go under the rug.

Offline XenophileTopic starter

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2011, 10:29:38 AM »
Complacency would no doubt be a big part of this, but I cannot shake the feeling that as reactor performance is under scrutiny, they must have known it's failings. My guess is that commercial interests getting in conflict with excellent safety protocols is to blame is the biggest cause of the nonchalant attitude. And that is a damn shame.

Offline Oniya

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Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2011, 10:39:13 AM »
At the time, the design was believed to be earthquake proof.  However, it was later that the Germans did their experiment with the ceramic-encased fuel pellets.  It seems to me that this would have made the German design more earthquake proof, and therefore something to upgrade to as soon as humanly possible - if not faster.  It's like the building constructions that incorporate the rolling foundation and the interlocking bricks would be more earthquake-proof than either safety method alone.

Offline Zakharra

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2011, 11:03:52 AM »
  Unfortunately, the anti-nuclear people are going to use this incident, even if there is no meltdown, as fuel in their campaign to block any attempts to build more nuclear powerplants. They'll point at is and scream 'See! SEE!  Nuclear is unsafe!!" and flail their arms in a screaming fit. While ignoring the facts that these complexes are decades old and modern nuclear plants are extremely safe.


Offline XenophileTopic starter

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2011, 11:08:04 AM »
That is true, but that does not defeat the claim when those decade old plants are still in service. A complete overhaul needs to be done, but it is impractical because a complete overhaul would demand and shutdown of those plants... And some nations could not cope with that deficit of power. So, I guess a gradual upgrading is needed, but it must be immediate.

Offline Oniya

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Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2011, 11:10:42 AM »
They could always use the method that has proved successful with sports stadiums:  You build the new alternative in the parking lot of the old one, and switch over when the new one is ready for use.

Okay, I suppose the parking lot for a nuclear power plant is a lot smaller, proportionately, but something like that would be a possible way of upgrading without cutting off the power supply.

Offline XenophileTopic starter

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2011, 11:14:01 AM »
That's not entirely impossible. If a nuclear power grid is already in place, the other plants could share the burden and produce more power for the duration of the upgrade. But that would demand a quick schedule, and quick schedules for upgrade work made for safety is not the best of ideas of ideas, if you ask me.

One plant at the time sounds like a good plan.

Offline Zakharra

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2011, 11:22:17 AM »
 I wonder how hard it  is to get the building permits for a nuclear plant and when the last one was built in Japan. It it's hard to get a permit and you get constant court battles to stop it, that might be a reason the plants were not upgraded/rebuilt.

 I know in the US, it is extremely hard to get permits for a nuclear power plant, partially because of the constant court challenges, environmental studies (again and again and again....) that are throw up by opponents to stop construction.

 Hell, where I live, it's taken 60 years just to get a bypass built because of court challenges and environmental studies. There were alternatives thrown up, even a suggestion to build a tunnel under the town. Mind you, the town practically sits on the watertable, it's by a huge lake, so yeah...   But if things as simple as a bypass take this long, getting a nuke plant built, has got to take a monumental effort and a LOT of money.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2011, 01:22:31 PM by Zakharra »

Offline XenophileTopic starter

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2011, 11:28:24 AM »
Here in Sweden the national government has always been involved in nuclear power plants. Hell, even in hydroplants and wind power parks, the government has its say. There has been a few building bans on the nuclear plants a few times, and "promises" of dismantling before 2020 or something made in the late 1980's. I think only one of four or five have been taken down. Nuclear power stands for about 15-20 percent if I remember it right of the entire power grid, while about 50% is hydro. They're in good shape, but the Forsmark-plant has a bad reputation after a few minor incidents in the past years.

I'm not sure if there are any problems with upgrades, but building new plants is a hotly debated issue that's divided the left and the right.

Offline XenophileTopic starter

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2011, 01:14:36 PM »
Alright, gonna check the news on the Swedish television networks to see if there's any change.

.....


Explosion this morning, perhaps by hydrogen gas. Fuel rods are beginning to become overheated. It seems like they're having problem even after they began to pump ocean water into the reactor. Interviewing journalist from a Live-broadcast says that he's spoken with several Tokyo-residents, and there seems to be little or no trust towards the official news, as "too much interest has been invested".
It seems like the back-up systems worked and quake itself didn't cause this, but it was the Tsunami that knocked the diesel generators needed to regulate the reactor temperature.

Fingers crossed that we won't get a genuine meltdown la Chernobyl, or worse.

Online Vekseid

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #14 on: March 15, 2011, 12:17:17 AM »
  Unfortunately, the anti-nuclear people are going to use this incident, even if there is no meltdown, as fuel in their campaign to block any attempts to build more nuclear powerplants. They'll point at is and scream 'See! SEE!  Nuclear is unsafe!!" and flail their arms in a screaming fit. While ignoring the facts that these complexes are decades old and modern nuclear plants are extremely safe.

They already are. I can usually stomach the hysteria at Daily Kos but now it's getting sickening.

Thousands dead or missing from the earthquake and tsunami. Thousands die each year from pollution, coal mining deaths, and so on.

But heaven forbid that, out of the thousands of nuclear power plants in the world, a few go bust in a time of tragedy, and endanger the lives of a few. Rather than try to promote greater safety, and try to find solutions to our problems, the only acceptable solution is no solution at all.

Should we forbid buildings because some of them collapse on people?

No, we work to build better buildings.

This isn't to say that nuclear power plant operators have been completely innocent. But having a plan for our future requires a realistic analysis of our needs, evaluating the solutions available and working to solve the challenges that that solution represents.

There are only two major sources of baseline power in the world
1) Coal
2) Nuclear

Everything else - Solar, Wind, Hydro - is either too limited in capacity, or too temperamental to rely on as baseline power. Our choices are one or the other. We have, maybe, a century of coal left at projected burn rates, more than we've ever used so far, and what we've used so far -already- represents a massive ecological catastrophe.

Nuclear power catastrophes, on the other hand, don't do a lot of ecological damage, compared to mountaintop removal mining and mass pollution.

A consequence of our modern world is acknowledging that we face problems, and cowering from them is not a viable solution.

Offline Sure

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #15 on: March 15, 2011, 01:54:38 AM »
How much radiation is coming out of the plant, anyway? Last I heard it was .003 Sv/h at worst. You don't start getting general fatalities until you reach around 2 Sv (here, about four weeks of exposure). Less than 2 Sv is likely to cause illness such as vomiting, hair loss, and diarrhea, but very rarely fatal on its own. Less than .5 Sv (about a week of exposure) is considered not serious but might cause some symptoms. Less than .1 Sv (33 hours of exposure) doesn't significantly alter your body's chemistry. The regulatory maximum yearly dose for a worker in the plant is .05 Sv (17 hours of exposure), which is the amount the Japanese believe prevents anything bad from happening at all, even increased cancer risk.

As to the Chernobyl Disaster, thirty one people died within three months, almost all of them either responders to or workers at the plant. Two hundred and thirty seven died within ten years. At least two thousand plus Japanese are confirmed dead right now, to put that in perspective. Regardless, the amount of radiation being given off was also much, much worse. About a hundred thousand times worse at the core, and about six to seven thousand times worse at its outlying buildings. Further, the reactor has a containment structure, and uses water rather than graphite (water cannot catch on fire like graphite can), so again it won't be anywhere near as bad.

It is not a non-accident, but it is not worthy of the amount of attention it's getting in the middle of the deadliest earthquake since the Yushu Earthquake last year.

The trouble with Nuclear Power is that, on the one hand, the Republicans are not overly concerned by oil and coal and gas, and on the other, Democrats are more concerned with the Environmentalists and Environmentalism (portions of which are sustained on blind faith alone, including most of their anti-nuclear beliefs) than energy independence. Whatever else Bush may have done, he began making four new nuclear power plants, which is more impressive if you consider they are the first to be built in thirty years or so.

As a side-problem, there is more regulation about nuclear engineering than any other kind of engineering. This isn't necessarily a problem, but nuclear engineering is not the highest (nor among the highest) paid kind of engineering nor is their a wide range of applications. Plus, if you're a nuclear engineer, you basically work for the government or in an environment so regulated you might as well be. This is not an environment that attracts talent, and talented engineers are necessary to improve an industry. In contrast, oil/whatever you want to call them engineers are basically shoehorned into one industry, but are paid ridiculously well even by engineering standards. They also don't have anywhere near the restrictions on them that a nuclear engineer does.

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #16 on: March 15, 2011, 02:08:43 AM »
The last figure I had on the radiation was 400 mSv/hour that may have changed by this point depending on how the containment process is going.

Also, from what I have been able to glean, the plant survived the earthquake perfectly, it was the size of the tsunami that they were unprepared for. The wave damaged the backup generators (which were being used since the main generators had gone offline in the earthquake) leading to a cooling failure which in turn led to explosions and fires. Essentially they weren't sufficiently prepared for the wave height and didn't foresee the need to have backup backup power.

Online Vekseid

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #17 on: March 15, 2011, 02:22:56 AM »
They did have backup backup power. Just, that failed too.

Newer reactor designs don't require active cooling, so I hope to all heavens that this isn't going to stop next-generation designs from getting constructed : /

Offline Sure

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #18 on: March 15, 2011, 02:29:38 AM »
The last figure I had on the radiation was 400 mSv/hour that may have changed by this point depending on how the containment process is going.

Sorry, but mili or micro? m is the mili prefix (μ is micro) but all the reports I got were in μSv (or microsieverts). If it is in milisieverts now, it's gotten worse. :-\

Offline Oniya

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Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #19 on: March 15, 2011, 02:34:12 AM »
http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20110315/NEWS04/303159969

Quote
The radiation level around one of the reactors stood at 400,000 microsiverts per hour, four times higher than the safe level.

Looks like Darkling has a similar source to this one.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #20 on: March 15, 2011, 02:59:24 AM »
The last figure I had on the radiation was 400 mSv/hour that may have changed by this point depending on how the containment process is going.

Also, from what I have been able to glean, the plant survived the earthquake perfectly, it was the size of the tsunami that they were unprepared for. The wave damaged the backup generators (which were being used since the main generators had gone offline in the earthquake) leading to a cooling failure which in turn led to explosions and fires. Essentially they weren't sufficiently prepared for the wave height and didn't foresee the need to have backup backup power.

Yes, the reactor hearth and its enclosing walls seem to have stood up to the earthquake itself. And obviously you can't ever build so that every risk would be out of the picture. No nuclear plant - or oil refinery - would hold up against a direct hit by a large rock from space (as in Siberia in 1908, and a similar though smaller object came close to dropping down in the US/Canadian far west in 1972, but was repelled by gravity at a very low height - visible only as a fireball). The earthquake and the tsunami were exceptionally powerful even for Japan, especially the quake, and still the construction in the plant and in many other buildings could handle the quake itself. The wholesale destruction we see on tv now is the work of the flooding of course, not just the earthquake.

I used to be firmly against nuclear power (we have ten reactors here in Sweden, built in the seventies and eighties; two more that are located twenty miles from where I live, on the coast, were closed a few years ago). I still don't think it's a form of energy free of problems, not at all, but as for now I don't think it's something we can do without, not within the next fifty years. And saying "we" I mean the contemporary world in general.  I would agree on some of the points against it, the contamination risks of course but also the link to the spread of possible nuclear weapons, through both raw materials and technology. But we can't go on burning up oil or gas like we're doing now. Making electricity from burning oil - as is widely done in Europe, the US and many other places - is senseless; this bonfire of fossil fuels is a waste of non-renewable assets and also a political liability, because you get tied in with regimes like Russia, Libya and Saudi Arabia that are not very good partners in other ways: they gain leverage with you and with others.

Uranium is a non-renewable substance too of course but it seems more economical to use and it has much higher output of energy - aand unlike oil, which comes from once living organisms, it might one day be mined on places such as the moon. So it makes sense to me that nuclear power should be dveloped further, certainly in developed countries, and japan doesn't have many other alternatives. Solar energy, wind energy etc will not come near the amount of energy provided by nuclear plants in a very long time. And trying to decide which was the worst, the Gulf oil spill or a radiation leak from a nuclear plant, is a moot point I think - they are both disastrous and both leave very long-term devastation of nature and people.

A nuclear facility can't really explode on itself in the way an atomic bomb would, even if it often has more nuclear fuel. To achieve an explosion of a nuke, you need to have the active core compressed and locked in by a shell (by magnetic plasma forces, mostly) while the chain reaction is getting started, so that at least won't occur in a damaged reactor: there will be constant air access and the fuel isn't compressed in a lump like that. The worst you could get, and even that ius very unlikely, would be like a depleted uranium bomb, a "dirty bomb" - but that's very unlikely with the Fukushima plant. I don't think they got that in Chernobyl either: there was heavy radition leakage but not an actual sustained nuclear reaction explosion at the reactor. And Chernobyl had much less secure standards than Fukushima or most Western reactors, both in construction, in maintenance and in what was going on there prior to the disaster.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2011, 07:50:36 AM by gaggedLouise »

Online Vekseid

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #21 on: March 15, 2011, 03:31:34 AM »
Only light-water reactors require enriched fuel. Heavy water (CANDU) and graphite (Pebble Bed) moderators can use unenriched fuel and thus don't pose a proliferation risk.

Breeder reactors - thorium (U-233 producing) and plutonium producing designs are proliferation risks, but I'm beginning to think that the solution to the world's problems is not going to be one filled with endless paranoia. At some point were are going to have to be able to trust and likewise make assurances that we can be trusted.

Offline Zeitgeist

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #22 on: March 15, 2011, 08:16:35 AM »
It may be the case too, no matter how well you design the structures and the backup systems, if the natural disaster is catastrophic enough no design will be survivable. Obviously a 9.0 earthquake is about as bad as it gets. You could forbid building them on fault lines, but isn't Japan one big fault line, or damn near?

Yeah it would be a damn shame if this was used to pull back on nuclear plant design. As tragic as this was (and is!) its a once in a century event. And it's pretty clear that energy sources will be a cafeteria style plan, no one idea will meet all needs.

Online Vekseid

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #23 on: March 15, 2011, 08:28:58 AM »
The earthquake was nothing (one fatality - how is that for disaster preparedness?) - it was the tsunami that followed that wrecked stuff.

Offline Zakharra

Re: The Fukushima complex
« Reply #24 on: March 15, 2011, 10:46:01 AM »
They did have backup backup power. Just, that failed too.

Newer reactor designs don't require active cooling, so I hope to all heavens that this isn't going to stop next-generation designs from getting constructed : /

 Here here. This should be used to push construction of modern plants and the upgrading of older ones. Not as a chain to halt all nuclear power.