[FoRK] Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Wed Mar 23 17:47:01 PDT 2011

On 3/23/11 5:14 PM, Damien Morton wrote:
> On Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 6:09 PM, Stephen Williams<sdw at lig.net>  wrote:
>> On 3/23/11 2:40 PM, Damien Morton wrote:
>> ...
>> Yes, 60 year old Russian technology, government, and practices were
>> horrible.  And Fukushima's mostly-40 year old technology isn't up to modern
>> standards either.  What is your point exactly?  Perhaps you'd be just as
>> likely to take Soyuz 1, which the astronauts themselves helped find 203
>> structural problems with, than the Space Shuttle?  I doubt it.
>> http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/03/23/134597833/cosmonaut-crashed-into-earth-crying-in-rage?print=1
>> Cautionary tales?  Yes.  Demonstration of how things are likely to fail in
>> future designs?  Hardly.
> Its a clear example of the kind of shit that _can_ go wrong, and the effects
> on the people that have to deal with it. 800,000 people doing the cleanup,
> all radiation damaged and with shortened and/or impaired lives. A slightly
> larger number than the 4000 deaths you attributed to Chernobyl.

The stats are on Wikipedia, and I'm sure they have been argued over strenuously.  Apparently, there is evidence that we're losing 
significant life due to the use of coal, oil, etc., an apparent definite cause of health effects which offsets this possibility of 
health effects.

>>   ...
>> ...
>> And it is still not indicative a likely failure mode of a modern design.
> The locals might not have any choice about "letting it happen". Its one of
> the failure modes of most reactors, including modern ones. Yes, unlikely,
> but a chain of failures or disasters can cause a meltdown.

Definitely not good.  It's the main reason I suggested that future designs consider barge or barge-loadable designs so you can tow a 
problem reactor away before it causes a problem.  Although I wouldn't recommend it, one potentially reasonable and probably very 
safe failure mode would be to just drop out of control reactors into ultra-deep water, more or less the same thing as burying it.  
(Seems like a very bad idea, but if you do the math and compare to similar isotopes already in seawater, not sure it wouldn't be 
reasonable.  The ocean has a lot of water volume, and the Earth has a lot of rock volume.)

> This meltdown failure mode isnt a feature of all reactor designs, there are
> designs with passive safety features that can never melt down. It appears
> that the passive designs rely on less power density in the core, and I guess
> are more expensive to make, because they arent being built.

I can't tell if they aren't being built because A) almost no new reactors are being built, B) new designs take decades to be trusted 
and approved, or C) they aren't as efficient.

> Stephen, you haven't mentioned the storage of waste products from reactors
> as yet. We are talking about millions to billions of tonnes of mostly liquid
> waste that will have to be isolated from the environment for 10,000 to
> 1,000,000 years. Lots of solutions to this problem, none very testable.

If we can make many tons of radioactive ore over many decades and produce tons of uranium, plutonium, etc., then: A) It shouldn't be 
too hard to concentrate the radioactive heavy metals in all of that liquid, B) we should more or less put the radioactive material 
back where we found it, although deeper.  If that isn't possible and we're building up more waste than we do with other energy 
sources, then it might be a limiting factor.  However, when I've read about this before, it seems mostly to be a problem of A) not 
building processing plants to do the right thing and B) people irrationally afraid of miles deep, hundred miles away storage.  Both 
solvable problems it seems.

I would be against storage of low-concentration radioactive waste.  Concentrate it, try to recycle when possible, bury the rest.  
Use waste heat from the reactor for distillation, then centrifuge, etc.

Certainly, waste is the biggest problem.  Both production and waste handling are big jobs.  However, companies find it profitable to 
mine, burn, and clean the exhaust of coal, with heavy labor and health costs, and consumers benefit from cheap electricity, when 
nuclear fuel has 5 million times the energy potential of coal.  (Previously FoRKed.)

I wonder how much of the bulk of that waste is the raw material after refining, which was radioactive when it came out of the ground.


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