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On The “(‘Non’)-Nuclear Explosion” in Japan

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Since I don’t know anything about nuclear engineering, I assumed when I heard the Fukishima power plant “had exploded” that another Chernobyl was unfolding. But quickly I saw news sources stressing that the explosion was “non-nuclear” and does not imply an impending radiation leak.

That was an hour ago; now this report claims radiation “is leaking” so my initial intuition is to think either the earlier story had downplayed the threat or that the situation had rapidly changed. However a closer read suggests the two stories (communicating very different things by headline) have more or less the same information: the Calgary Herald stresses radiation in the headline, but then explains Japanese officials say levels are low and unaffected by the explosion:

The plant was damaged by Friday’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake, which sent a 10-metre (33-foot) tsunami ripping through towns and cities across the northeast coast. Japanese media estimate that at least 1,300 people were killed.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there had been no major change in the level of radiation after the explosion because it did not occur inside the reactor container.

“The nuclear reaction facility is surrounded by a steel storage machine, which is then surrounded by a concrete building. This concrete building collapsed. We learnt that the storage machine inside did not explode,” he told a news conference.

I have no idea how serious the situation is in Fukishima. What I’m saying is, let’s read carefully, monitor closely, and keep in mind how we are psychologically and culturally primed to assume the worst with respect to nuclear disasters, as we interpret what we are told.

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  • Anonymous

    We are culturally so primed because the officials in such cases invariably lie. They downplay or omit facts that they know, for “our own good.” The Japanese government is notorious for underplaying bad environmental news. So, let’s remember that if the worst happens, we won’t know it until reality forces officials to admit it.

  • I recommend keeping an eye on this blog post. The writer knows about nuke plants.

    I have no idea how serious the situation is in Fukishima. What I’m saying is, let’s read carefully, monitor closely, and keep in mind how we are psychologically and culturally primed to assume the worst with respect to nuclear disasters, as we interpret what we are told you can’t expect the media to NOT gleefully pounce on the opportunity to use the words Nuclear and Disaster in the same paragraph.

    But really, unless you’re in Japan or downwind of it (or know someone who is) it amounts pretty much gawking at the car wreck on the other side of the highway, don’t it?

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      I note that there was also a huge oil refinery fire near Sendai, massive flames and smoke. No reports of deaths or injuries that I saw, but I have friends in Sendai, and heard that phones are out (no electricity) and communication is limited by the charge that people have on their cellphone batteries.

      • Anderson

        Clearly, oil is an unsafe power source whose use must be discontinued!

    • Bart

      Hawaii is downwind and will be California’s canary. Can radiation destroy birth records?

      • Jonathan

        No it is not. Coriolis force means the winds around Japan tend to blow to the North. Remember that whole “Kamikaze” thing? The “Divine Wind” that blew the Chinese fleet away from the island?

  • Mudge

    I, for one, am neither psychologically nor culturally primed to assume the worst. It is a light water reactor, different than Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and much less prone to catastrophe. The actual harm from Three Mile Island was minimal, Chernobyl had huge components of shoddy safety levels. The Japanese are safety conscious and competant.

    Given that many Japanese had relatives in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, I’d assume their view of what constitutes “the worst” differs from ours.

    • Jonathan

      Are you sure it’s a light water reactor? My understanding is that most of the planned light water reactors were either stalled or canceled. The number of operating heavy water reactors is one of the reasons Japan is thought of as being six months away from a nuke if they ever feel the need to build a stockpile. The plant is said to be 40 y/o, which is about the time light water reactors started being built. What’s your source for info on the coolant type?

      • Jonathan

        Yeah, according to Wikipedia, it’s a light water reactor.

    • “The Japanese are safety conscious and competant.”

      I remember when I first moved here back in 2004 there was a report about one nuclear company cooking their maintenance records, and several workers at a plant being parboiled alive.

      This is a country that has had several dioxin spills from factories here.

      The Japanese may be safety conscious, but their corporations are just as heartless as any other.

  • jon

    Even if no radiation was released, and this is the end of the reactor disaster, it is a very serious problem. The fuel of the reactor is likely damaged beyond any ability to reuse it, so it must be removed and stored. There may be damage to the reactor pressure vessel or other aspects of the reactor that would require substantial inspection and lengthy certification and repair. So the plant is likely down for six months to a year, even if everything else is fine.

    But everything isn’t fine. The videos taken show that there was an explosion of some sort (likely steam) that has blown away portion of the containment building surrounding the reactor. Containment buildings are enormously strong reinforced concrete structures, whose job is to prevent the release of radiation and any of the elements within the reactor. This indicates that there was enormous amounts of coolant water (likely highly radioactive) and steam vented from the reactor into the containment.

    There had been discussion of venting the containment building earlier. Either that wasn’t done or it was ineffective. Earlier, venting the containment has been discussed as a way of relieving pressure within the containment building. Much more elevated radiation reading have been recorded, and cesium and iodine have been detected – two very radioactive fission byproducts. The evacuation boundary has been moved back several times, now I believe to twenty kilometers.

    There is also an issue of whether or not, and to what degree, the flow of cooling water has been reestablished to the damaged reactor. And other reports that other of the reactors in the complex have started to experience cooling problems. Another source mentions that one of the reactors in the complex is fueled with a relatively new mixture of plutonium and uranium, which potentially increases the severity and difficulties of any radiation leakage from that reactor.

    This is yet another moment for the reevaluation of the wisdom of nuclear power. Not only is it the most expensive way to make electricity, but its inherent dangers make it difficult to contend with in the event of calamity. By contrast, we are not hearing anything about collapses of solar power panels or windmills: they may also have failed, but the impacts are trivial and relatively easily repaired.

    • Jonathan

      This is yet another moment for the reevaluation of the wisdom of nuclear power. Not only is it the most expensive way to make electricity, but its inherent dangers make it difficult to contend with in the event of calamity.

      What’s funny is that the way we generate nuclear power is just about the least safe way of going about it. We could build plants that are much safer and more efficient, but they would look nothing like our current ones. I’m thinking of a sub-critical, pebble-bed reactor with an argon gas working fluid. Such a reactor would be literally incapable of being in the crisis currently going on in Japan. But it’s so radically different from what we use now the technology to build it technically doesn’t exist.

      • DocAmazing

        Would it have the same problems with waste disposal that current designs have?

        • Jonathan

          A pebble-bed reactor uses micro-cores that are each encased in their own carbide shields. Multiple micro-cores are placed within a larger vessel and form a single reactor core. Sub-critical reactors use an external neutron source to initiate and sustain the chain reaction, usually a particle accelerator of some sort. Most of the radioactivity of the spent fuel is restrained to 7 years of pulling the material. With sub-critical, pebble-bed reactors, you just pull some of the spent micro-cores and add some new ones. The old ones keep producing heat, and thus power, while being exposed to the neutrons fissiles the radioactive waste down into less radioactive isotopes. If you keep them old micro-cores in there long enough, eventually they all just turn to iron (the most stable element) or lead. When the micro-cores are finally exhausted, they tend to be of much lower radioactivity than normal spent nuclear fuel and they have contributed much more of their mass to energy, so you use less fuel to begin with. That being said, there isn’t much practical knowledge on pebble-bed fuel cycles. There have been some experiments but they were all critical reactors.

          • hv

            Although less radioactive, the actual sheer volume of waste is higher, since the pebbles are a black box of fuel plus a lot more inert stuff.

            They are very hard to divert to produce weapons-grade materials, so that is a huge plus.

            • Has anyone actually made the pebbles in any amount? Last i looked not.

              • Jonathan

                That being said, there isn’t much practical knowledge on pebble-bed fuel cycles. There have been some experiments but they were all critical reactors.

                I always feel embarrassed when I have to quote myself.

              • hv

                Sufficient pebbles have been made to calculate their volume. I stand by my claims.

              • Jay C

                Supposedly the Chinese have actually built a pebble-bed reactor as a testbed/prototype; but last I head (? a year ago ?) it was a year or so from activation.

              • Jonathan

                Sufficient pebbles have been made to calculate their volume. I stand by my claims.

                First generation pebbles for use in critical reactors have been tested. Sub-critical reactors are actually much smaller because they don’t have to have a critical mass of plutonium. That also means the pebbles themselves need less inert, neutron moderating material in them. It also allows the pebbles themselves to be smaller. There are also variant pebble geometries that haven’t been studied. All the reactors that I know of have used spherical geometry pebbles. Advanced polygon design would allow for better flow of coolant, lower amounts of inert material, and allow the pebbles to act as shields, reflectors, and moderators for each other. Like I said before, there has been painfully little research done on the subject.

              • hv

                Ah, but that is a different objection than Eli Rabett raised.

      • the way we generate nuclear power is just about the least safe way of going about it

        The way you generate nuclear power was never designed with safety in mind, but with plutonium production in mind. Actual power generation was never more than a useful spin-off.

        • Now I see that Jonathan said exactly the same thing in a different sub-thread several hours ago.

    • timb

      Yeah, but they also don’t come close to generating the same amount of power. Since transmitting electricity is relatively efficient, I say make some nice reactors in Kansas and the Dakotas, where the only danger is a tornado, and we can STILL put wind farms everywhere and solar power panels on anything that will hold one. It doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario.

      Then again, my education is in history, poli sci, and law stuff, so I am not an engineer or a physicist, so I can continue my education by reading the commenters who are!

      • Jonathan

        Up to 50% of power is lost during transmission. Power transmission is not efficient. If, starting in 1975, every new home was required to add 1Kw of solar panels and all cars were limited to diesel, the US would be a net-exporter of oil by now.

        • timb

          Not going to dispute technical knowledge, but if transmission is so inefficient, why is the grid a national grid? If you lose 50%, why is the ‘grid” considered national, since by the time power reaches California from Colorado (let’s say), half of it is gone.

          How does Hawaii generate power? Does anyone know?

          • ploeg

            The grid is national because, if you have a huge draw in one part of the system (for example, heat wave in Georgia and everybody has their AC cranked up), you want to be able to bring in energy from other parts of the country to fill that demand. A national grid allows you to do that, and if you feed the grid from multiple localities, it usually doesn’t cost you much more than if you don’t have the grid. But as noted, there’s a price to be paid if you have to draw energy from long distances.

          • Jonathan

            …if transmission is so inefficient, why is the grid a national grid? If you lose 50%, why is the ‘grid” considered national, since by the time power reaches California from Colorado (let’s say), half of it is gone.

            We don’t really have a national grid. We have a bunch of local grids that have some connections to each other. If we had a national grid, when the NE went out a few years back (2003?) it would have taken out the entire country. The grid is roughly divided into three broad sections. There’s the Eastern Interconnect, the Western Interconnect, and the Texas Interconnect (because they’re speshul). Each of those is sub-divided in as stupid a way as possible. No, seriously, look at this map. Just plain stupid.

            Hawaii imports oil on tanker ships for it’s power. It also uses some geothermal. If they really wanted to, they could go the Iceland route and go 100% geothermal.

            • DocAmazing

              They’re starting to set up some solar and wind generation, but slowly.

              Maui had a scheme going to run their diesel generators on biodiesel–palm oil imported from South America. Nothing like missing the point entirely…

              • Jonathan

                They sit on top of active volcanoes. I have no idea why the state of Hawaii doesn’t produce all its electricity from geothermal like Iceland. Hell, considering the short average driving distances, they shouldn’t be using anything other than electric cars on the island. Hawaii could seriously move to pre-industrial levels of carbon pollution in just a few decades if it wanted to.

            • timb

              Jonathon, thanks for walking me through this and being polite

              • Jonathan

                No problem. The whole energy question boils down to three facts. One, we need to reduce the amount of energy consumed. Primarily by increasing efficiency. LED lighting, better insulation on homes, and smart appliances are what will make the problem manageable. Two, energy production needs to be decentralized. Transmission incurs huge losses and shouldn’t be our first resort. As much power needs to be produced where it is being used as possible. Three, solar is our only option. Nothing else matches it for cleanliness, ease of installation, cost, or availability. There is no other way to generate the levels of power the average home uses on-site except solar. Solar might not be the best way to sustainably power our civilization, it’s just the only way.

          • Almost all of Hawaii’s electricity is generated by oil-fueled power plants. The number of households that live “off the grid” with photovoltaics, passive solar, and gas generators is probably higher than any other state.

      • NonyNony

        I say make some nice reactors in Kansas and the Dakotas, where the only danger is a tornado …

        Ah yes. Plopping a group of nuclear reactor right at the heart of our food supply (and upwind from most of it) sounds like a great idea.

        The biggest danger that nuke plants in the Midwest would face is not tornadoes – it’s a lack of will to properly regulate them to make sure they’re actually maintaining proper safety standards and not contaminating the land around them. And even if we had that political will now, there’s no guarantee it would exist in another political cycle. So IMO it’s too damn risky to even consider building power plants anywhere near our food supply chain in this country – we do enough damage to our food without the addition of nuclear waste and potential for meltdown due to CEOs trying to cut costs and increase their bonuses.

        • hv

          (Also, the groundwater aquifer.)

        • This. I’m all in favor of nuclear, IF IF IF it’s properly regulated.

          • Jonathan

            So, you’re not in favor of nuclear power.

            • hv

              He is in favor of nuclear power in Europe.

              • Jonathan

                Win.

  • Jonathan

    I’m not a nukee but I’ve got a pretty good general idea of the design and operation of that generation of nuclear power plant.

    Most modern reactors don’t use proper steam engines to generate electricity anymore. Instead, they use multiple-expansion, Carnot thermal-exchange engines with water (steam) as the working fluid. This is something of a lateral move from steam engines but it increases the efficiency of the power generation from ~20% to ~40%.

    Carnot engines work by conducting heat from a heat source (in this case nuclear fission) to a heat sink (water and the atmosphere) through a working fluid (the afore mentioned steam) and diverting some of the entropy gain along the way in order to accomplish work (electricity generation). The efficiency of a Carnot engine is directly tied to the difference in temperature between the heat source and the heat sink. The maximum efficiency of any Carnot cycle is equal to the temperature (in kelvin) of the heat source (Th), minus the temperature of the heat sink (Ths), divided by the temperature of the heat source ((Th-Ths)/Th). This means the hotter they run the reactor, the more efficiently the plant can produce electricity. Thus most modern plants are designed to run hotter than older plants.

    Higher temperatures also mean higher pressures. And if the generator is damaged, it will blow quite spectacularly. I do believe this is what that explosion was. The reactor vessel itself is probably fine as they are quite robustly built (fuckers are lined with several meters of concrete, steel, and lead). The Chernobyl explosion happened when the core itself exploded. That’s literally a million times worse than what happened here. The difference is like that between your water heater blowing and your whole house going up in flames. Neither are good, but one is definitely worse.

    Both stories are mostly right on the radiation thing. I’m pretty sure Japan uses heavy water reactors; that’s kind of a good thing in this situation. Since the water passes into the core itself to generate the steam used to make power, it does become irradiated. The water will absorb stray neutrons from the reactor and form, primarily, two radioactive isotopes, nitrogen-16 and tritium. While tritium has a half-life of seven years, hydrogen is a really small target so little of it is made. (Also, heavy water plants regularly release waste tritium into the environment anyway. That’s one of the reasons nuclear power is never clean.) Oxygen is a much bigger target, so it’s more likely to be made. When irradiated, it forms nitrogen-16. Nitrogen-16 has a half-life of less than five seconds and decays to a stable oxygen isotope. So yes, radiation was almost certainly released. But no, it’s not really a concern. At least any more of a concern than usual.

    Right now the big danger is what’s going on in the core. Nuclear reactors take time to shutdown properly. Without the heat pump drawing heat away to generate power, the core can start to overheat. The core is usually kept ~750-1200 degrees Fahrenheit. Without the water it can go several thousand degrees and weld itself into the reactive position. Considering that uranium is a flammable metal, if you get it hot enough it will strip the oxygen from the water remaining in the vessel and start to burn. That’s all kinds of bad. That’s Chernobyl territory there. Luckily there are safety protocols in place and they tend to do a good job of preventing this sort of thing. Also, heavy water is harder to split than light water, so it can withstand higher temperatures. Also heavy water acts a a neutron moderator, lowering the neutron temperature in the reactor and making total meltdowns unlikely. There’s a very good chance everything will be just fine. There’s also a small chance that large sections of Japan are about to become uninhabitable for the next few centuries and large amounts of Japan’s waters will be contaminated to the extent that they’ll be unable to harvest them.

    On a side note: no one designs nuclear power plants to generate power. The initial power plants were designed to generate the amounts of tritium and Pu-239 needed for weapon manufacture; power generation was just a harvested waste product and a cover for the massive arms program. (That’s why the Department of Energy is really concerned with manufacturing nuclear arms but not really interested in American energy generation._ Because that technology was researched first and was the most proven, all subsequent plants used that system as a model. Thus all nuclear plants in existence are far more polluting and unsafe than they really need to be strictly to generate power.

    • DocAmazing

      Add to above: The linked article by Ropeik is somewhat misleading, as it talks about the danger of ionizing radiation as released from a damaged nuclear power plant, but not about the release of isotopes that will be inhaled or ingested and can enter the water table and the food chain. Plutonium most especially is a powerful and persistent carcinogen, and if a quantity of that was released from the Sendai nuclear station and gets in the wind, Japan, Hawaii and California may see cancer cases that require special disposal of the bodies. (This is the problem with depleted uranium projectiles, as well, but the DoD tries to keep that soft-pedaled.)

      • Jonathan

        Plutonium and uranium aren’t really that radioactive in sub-critical amounts. They are, however very chemically toxic. Plutonium is thousands of times more toxic than lead. Thankfully, unless the core actually catches fire, it’s unlikely any plutonium or uranium will be released.

  • timb

    So, can I assume I am the only one here who would like to see new nuclear plants built in this country? For carbon reasons and to limit the importation of oil….

    Anyone else?

    • DocAmazing

      Until a nuclear power plant that does not generate extremely toxic, almost unimaginably persistent waste is developed, I’d say building nuclear power plants is a very bad idea. There are too many good alternatives, and deciding that people one hundred centuries hence should be at risk of cancer from plutonium so that the Las Vegas Strip can be seen from orbit does not strike me as the best of planning.

      • timb

        Have you been to Vegas? No real loss.*

        *just kidding. Yucca Mountain works for me, but the problem with waste seems to be a problem with coal and oil too. From almost every expert I have heard, bringing solar or wind power to any sort of actual scale to provide the US with power, is just not possible at this time (which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t research it)

        • Jonathan

          Require all new or renovated houses to produce 50% of their energy consumption renewably on-site. Require all cars to be diesel-electric hybrids. Remove all fossil fuel subsidies. In 25 years this country will be energy independent. It’s not a matter of technology or industrial capacity. It’s only a matter of political will. If we had done this shit the first time in the ’70’s, we wouldn’t be in this mess now!

          • DocAmazing

            But Jimmy Carter had to go and wear a cardigan, so Ronald Reagan and SUVs. See, it’s all your fault.

            • Jonathan

              If only John Hinkley had chosen a higher caliber weapon, the country would be much better off right now.

              • chris

                First, I don’t think that’s much of a joke, coming after the Giffords assassination attempt etc.

                Second, actually, the country would probably be worse off; in the short term his veep wouldn’t have been much of an improvement, and in the long term having been assassinated would canonize him like Kennedy. Good grief, Reagan is idealized and idolized enough as it is. I don’t even want to think about what he would be like as a martyr.

              • Jonathan

                It wasn’t a joke.

                I don’t really care if he was a martyr or not. By pretty much any measure the world in general, and the US in particular, was significantly worse off after the Reagan administration. Economically, militarily, politically, the world is worse for having had Reagan in place.

                Bad people dying is generally a good thing. And Reagan was a very bad person.

      • “Until a nuclear power plant that does not generate extremely toxic, almost unimaginably persistent waste is developed, I’d say building nuclear power plants is a very bad idea.”

        As opposed to other power-generation technologies? Carbon dioxide is both durable and destabilizing, to say nothing of being non-localizable.

        • Jonathan

          Solar might not be the best way to sustainably power our civilization, it’s just the only way.

          • Cite?

            • Jonathan

              That was something I said in a different thread in the comments to this post.

          • chris

            …except for the ways that amount to indirect solar, like biofuels, hydroelectric, and wind. (All three draw on phenomena that are powered by the Sun, but they’re not “solar” as it is conventionally understood.)

            Oh, and the other power sources that are technically nonrenewable but good for a few billion years whether we use them or not, like tidal and geothermal.

            • Jonathan

              Hydroelectric ruins river ecosystems. There aren’t enough suitable sites to power the country. Hydroelectric requires large amounts of power transmission and the subsequent loss of efficiency.

              Wind power requires frequent servicing. It only harvests a fraction of the solar energy in the system. It also has all the transmission problems of hydroelectric power. At best it can supplement solar power.

              We can’t grow enough crops to supply biofuel. Full stop. We just can’t. We’ll starve the world if we try. We’re starving the world now with just the levels of ethanol we’re producing. Plants are less than 2% efficient at converting solar energy to chemical energy. We’d be better off using solar panels to power water electrolysis. It might be used as supplemental energy; it can’t do the heavy lifting.

              Geothermal faces the same transmission problems as the others. It also requires building your power infrastructure on the most geologically active parts of the world. Recent events should show why that might be problematic. Some places, like Hawaii or Iceland, might find it reasonable, but it won’t work worldwide.

              Tidal has the same transmission problems of the others. There are too few sites available to power the world. It tends to have high ecological costs. It is also one of the more expensive ways to generate electricity. Again, it has the potential to be a supplemental source of power. It can’t shoulder the bulk of the world’s needs.

              Solar is the only power source that offer the potential of decentralization. If you cover every South-facing roof with solar panels, the US alone would be able to generate all of its non-transportation power domestically. Solar can also provide supplemental industrial power through mass arrays in the world’s deserts. Here’s a map. Each of those black dots is sufficient to power current global energy usage. If you use all of the sites, you could raise the other 80% of the non-First World population out of poverty. You can also install solar in areas, building by building, as you develop regions. You then don’t have to build all of the infrastructure before you begin raising people into modernity.

              Solar works. Nothing else does. Barring the invention of cold fusion, solar is the only option.

        • DocAmazing

          If the only other power-generating technologies that you can think of involve burning coal, natural gas, or petroleum, you’re really limiting your options.

          • What would you suggest?

            • Jonathan

              The whole energy question boils down to three facts. One, we need to reduce the amount of energy consumed. Primarily by increasing efficiency. LED lighting, better insulation on homes, and smart appliances are what will make the problem manageable. Two, energy production needs to be decentralized. Transmission incurs huge losses and shouldn’t be our first resort. As much power needs to be produced where it is being used as possible. Three, solar is our only option. Nothing else matches it for cleanliness, ease of installation, cost, or availability. There is no other way to generate the levels of power the average home uses on-site except solar. Solar might not be the best way to sustainably power our civilization, it’s just the only way.

              You really should read the other threads on the page.

    • mpowell

      Have you been following politics recently? Are you aware of what kinds of steps the Republican party takes when they get their hands on regulatory agencies? Poorly regulated banks nearly blowing up the entire financial system might look like a walk in the park compared to a poorly regulated nuclear plant melting down near a major population center.

      Nice countries like France and Japan with a barely functioning political system can afford to have nuclear power. But one of our political parties is opposed to the very principle of governance. What would be the qualitative difference between running on a platform of eliminating volcano monitoring and ending regulation of nuclear power plants? Until that changes, I don’t see how you could justify building a conventional nuclear power plant in the US.

      Pebble bed reactors sound interesting, but I don’t know enough to actually hold an opinion there.

      • Jonathan

        Pebble bed reactors sound interesting, but I don’t know enough to actually hold an opinion there.

        Frankly, no one does. The technology has been stalled in its infancy for decades. The DoE only cares about bombs, not energy.

      • chris

        Poorly regulated banks nearly blowing up the entire financial system might look like a walk in the park compared to a poorly regulated nuclear plant melting down near a major population center.

        Thankfully, sticking with the oil-heavy status quo poses no environmental risks whatsoever, either of the long-term frog-boiling or the sudden catastrophic sort.

        Poor regulation is a problem for lots of industries, but believing that it *must* be worse for nuclear is just a slightly more sophisticated version of “Radiation! Scary!”.

        • Jonathan

          The choice isn’t one between fossil fuels vs nuclear fission. It’s between fossil fuels vs nuclear vs renewables. Considering that fossil fuels are slowly destroy the Earth’s ecology and nuclear power is the most expensive way to generate power, creates long-lived hazardous waste, for which there is yet a solution, and holds potentially devastating consequences during an accident, renewables are the obvious, and only, way to go.

  • Anonymous

    Since I don’t know anything about nuclear engineering…

    You should of not bothered to fucking post.

    • timb

      You could always go away, since a lack of knowledge isn’t keeping you from commenting

    • SEK

      You should of not bothered to fucking post.

      Nor should those like you, who missed the point:

      What I’m saying is, let’s read carefully, monitor closely, and keep in mind how we are psychologically and culturally primed to assume the worst with respect to nuclear disasters, as we interpret what we are told.

    • Malaclypse

      You should of not bothered to fucking post.

      Not have bothered. Better-educated trolls, please.

      • hv

        (it’s a sad day when no one nitpicks split infinitives)

        • Split infinitives are awesome and should be encouraged. I say this as an English teacher.

          • Jay C

            Encouraged. To absolutely be sure….

  • maineiac

    (CNN) — An explosion at an earthquake-damaged nuclear plant was not caused by damage to the nuclear reactor but by a pumping system that failed as crews tried to bring the reactor’s temperature down, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Saturday.

    The next step for workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant will be to flood the reactor containment structure with sea water to bring the reactor’s temperature down to safe levels, he said. The effort is expected to take two days.

    from The Oil Drum btw

    • Jonathan

      Fuck, the reactor is worse than I thought it would be. They’re probably not going to be able to salvage it. When a machine reaches the point where “Pour salt water on it!” sounds like a good plan, you shouldn’t expect to use that machine for a while.

      • I’m pretty sure I’ve read that the reactor will be permanently scrapped.

        • Jonathan

          You can’t technically “scrap” a failed reactor. They’ll probably just cover it in tons upon tons of concrete and leave it there for a few centuries.

  • owlbear1

    Anybody who was within a half-mile of that explosion isn’t worrying about that Nuclear power plant anymore.

  • UberMitch

    There is no way this ends that doesn’t involve Mothra.

    • DocAmazing

      If so, we need to scrounge up two twelve-inch-high Japanese women with good singing voices, or we’re hosed.

  • Snarki, child of Loki
    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Sorry, there were TWO earthquakes in Japan recently, the press release I quoted was from the smaller one earthquake, on the other coast.

      But my comment about the type of writing in the press releases still applies.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        Okay, unconfused myself. Ignore previous comment.

  • Red

    we are psychologically and culturally primed to assume the worst with respect to nuclear disasters

    No, we’re not! (via Reddit frontpage)

  • hv

    On the psychology of nuclear power, Blow-ups Happen by Heinlein.

    (written before nuclear power!)

    • Jonathan

      Is that the one where they lift the main breeder reactor into Earth orbit for safety?

      Heinlein really understood nuclear power. Unfortunately he didn’t understand how militaristic nuclear power would be. His system, a breeder reactor generating high-quality fuel for much safer power generators is actually a much safer system than what we have. Ours is built to make nukes, and lots of them.

    • BigHank53

      H. Beam Piper’s Day of the Moron.

      Contains bonus anti-union snark, too, if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing.

  • Snarki, I think the oil refinery fire is in Chiba prefecture, outside of Tokyo. My wife, who is in western Japan (I’m in the US and heading back at the end of the month) said that they are encouraging people not to call in to the area, I lived in Sendai for 5 years and still have a number of friends in the area so am trying to follow this as closely as I can from here.

    The questions concerning the nuclear industry in japan are varied. My comment here (I can’t figure out how to copy and paste all the links) discusses questions of the workforce, but there are a number of other points about public acceptance/knowledge of Japanese nuclear policy that may bust wide open after this.

  • Chris Dowd

    Why do I get the constant feeling, watching American media coverage of this event, that they have been downplaying the nuclear angle since the first second when it is actually what most concerns people?

    And by the way- it is precisely major events like this- that American media exposes itself for the hollowed out sorry empty shell it is. How embarrassing. I keep going to Al Jazeera and BBC because I frankly get the feeling that US major media is in the tank.

    • But is it the right thing to be concerned about, I wonder? In terms of casualties alone, say, or overall economic effect, the devastation of Sendai takes precedence.

      • Jonathan

        Two of the three active reactors at the plant are in meltdown. The four reactors at a nearby plant are failing. Short of out-right China syndrome or the cores actually catching fire, both of which are active possibilities at this point, this is the worst nuclear disaster short of Chernobyl in human history. And it’s still degenerating. This is literally the worst-case scenario being acted out. If you had made a movie about this, critics would dismiss you for hyperbole and overstating the dangers. It is every bit as bad as it could be.

        • It’s a prominent detail, yes, but so are the ten thousand dead outside, the cities destroyed, etc. Breathlessness rarely becomes a subject of journalistic inquiry.

          • DocAmazing

            It’s not either/or, and as was pointed out earlier today by Steve M at No More Mr. Nice Blog, there seems to be an active attempt on the part of the corporate media to convert the “nuclear power plant fails due to absence of adequate backup systems and placement in an earthquake-prone area” to “shit happens, and natural disasters shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of Progress (and corporate investment)”. Certainly the devastation of Sendai is a big story, and deserving of attention; no less so is the unfolding catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi.

  • About this time yesterday, when the Japanese departmental / industry spokesman was explaining that there was no “radiation leak” because the release of radiation was deliberate and controlled, it was evident that we were not going to get any useful information through official channels.

    Prior to the explosion there was talk of hydrogen build-up within the containment vessel, which is what is known in the business as a “Bad thing”; the operators were trying to vent it, radiation and all, but hindered in this process by the failure of power to the venting pumps. So in the absence of further information I am assuming that the explosion was the hydrogen reaching a stochiometric ratio.

    One news item (through Boing Boing) reckoned that the reactor was due to be decommissioned last month, but the operators pulled strings to continue operation past the use-by date.

    • Jonathan

      When the earthquake hit, three of the reactors at the planet were already shutdown.

      • DocAmazing

        Thank heaven for little favors.

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