Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where is Japan going? No nukes?

After the 2011 Fukushima tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown, the air was full of cries that Japan should phase out nuclear power. And Japan did shut down all their nuclear power plants temporarily, in order to assess their safety and revise the safety engineering. Now they have re-started some nuclear power plants.

With this background, a new study by two Stanford researchers (civil engineering prof. Mark Jacobson and recent Stanford Ph. D. John Hoeve) finds fewer than 200 deaths from the Fukushima radioactivity, including future deaths attributed to low-level radioactivity.

The number of deaths from the tsunami is estimated at 20,000, which indicates that less than 1% of the deaths are caused by radioactivity.

Realistically, what are Japan's alternatives to nuclear power? 
Even more dependence on fossil fuels? Catastrophic climate change, and dependence on oil imported from the Middle East.
Solar? It can be part of the solution, but to go 100% solar, you'd have to cover a lot of Japan with solar panels.
Wind? Great when it's blowing, but what happens if the wind isn't blowing?

Japan is not going to abandon nuclear power.


bluegrue said...

There is more than human cost. It is my understanding, that the number of projected deaths is so low because people were evacuated. What would the numbers look like without evacuation? How do you calculate the economic damage from no longer being able to use the evacuation zones and how long will it be, before you can use them again? Sorry, I don't have answers to any of the above.

dbostrom said...

Nope, not going to abandon generating plants. We simply cannot.

There was hell of a lot of good luck involved at Fukushima but skating on that is an excellent illustration of the problem we have with these marvelous, tempting and wretchedly complicated machines.

Somehow we need to take the humans out of the nuclear power generation process. The present Rube Goldberg contraptions are just fine in theory and could even be built and operated properly, by failure-free robots running perfect software. Let 'em near humans and human fallibility and watch out.

Besides looking at NRC incident reports, look at the el cheapo plumbing at Fukushima (hey, let's save pipe by situating spent fuel above the reactors!), look at myopic Fukushima siting arrangements. We're just too shoddy to build and run these things.

See tsunami strike photos at Fukushima. Head slap; "Oh, yeah, I didn't think of that. Oops."

dbostrom said...

Just to be clear, this is an odds problem, one that doesn't look good because our human wetware is riddled with errors, omissions, exceptions.

There are approximately 1,400 coal generating plants in the US and 104 reactors. Short of unimaginable improvements in human factors, dumping coal plants and replacing them with reactors will expose bad odds at a rate we won't like but may nonetheless be forced to accept.

Just dig into NRC incident reports on the ~100 plants we're running today, then think about multiplying the havoc by 14 times. How lucky can we be?

Chernobyl is a bit of a strawman because it was such an awful design but it wasn't actually the design that was the problem there, it was us monkeys trying to operate. Think about (for instance) the -barely- caught vessel problem at Davis-Besse. How many times can we monkeys be lucky in that way?

So, yeah, nuclear power, but let's figure out how to take us out of the equation, please.

J Bowers said...

Not all solutions have to be based on land, they're just part of the total potential mix. Japan has a combined coastline length of 29,751 km. All that open sea wind (twice as strong as that of on land, IIRC), and water with its associated tidal and wave energy, just going to waste.

Anonymous said...

I used to be completely against nuclear energy, and I still have fundamental reservations based on the tendency for humans to imagine that Bad Things can't happen, but there's no getting away from the fact that if humans are to transition (to what?) with the minimum of distress, then nuclear is an unavoidable fact.

Perhaps it's the energy equivalent of methadone.

Bernard J. Hyphen-Anonymous XVII, Esq.

Anonymous said...

What I can't understand is why fault prone BWR reactors with Mark1 and Mark2 containments are still being used and even get lifetime extensions without any problem by the NRC's of this world.

History has learned us that this type of reactor has a core meltdown chance of one in every 633 reactor years. This boils down, using the current BWR reactor fleet, to a chance of one core meltdown in every 7 years.

You think this would make some pause and think, but no, these reactors are still being operated and extended. Is the risk of an potentially economy wrecking event worth the few percentage of primary energy production?

Now compare this to the claims made by industry, government and regulatory agencies. There is at least two orders of magnitude difference between reality and theoretical risk assessment. All three bodies have completely and utterly overestimated the safety of these systems. Simply put: industry and regulators are unable to perform a risk assessment that is correct to an order of magnitude. Their results are plain rubbish, but are the basis on which decisions are made.

This overestimate isn't strange as nuclear reactors are not bulk produced so there are no large failure datasets available for the many unique components which makes risk assessment highly theoretical. Combine this with a large dose of optimism about procedures and human behavior (e.g. Davis-Besse), economic decisions (it's cheaper to put the spent fuel basin on top of the reactor) and risks about natural disasters (flooding of the site in Fukushima) and there you go: NRC's probabalistic risk assessment for BWR core damage: a maximum of 1 in 10.000.

What does this mean for the new designs like the Westinghouse AP100 with a stated chance of 1 in 10 million years using the same, obviously flawed, probabilistic risk assessment techniques. Do they have a clue?
What happens if we build thousands of these to replace coal and reality learns that the real chance is more like 1 in 10.000? Do we want a 3-mile island every decade?

I think Doug is right. Any BWR reactor restart and life extension should be halted as long as incompetent humans employed by commercial utilities make decisions based upon short-term economics instead of long term safety and regulatory agencies are closely in bed with the industry.


Lionel A said...


'This significant reactor head wastage on the interior of the reactor vessel head left only 3⁄8 inches (9.5 mm) of stainless steel cladding holding back the high-pressure (~2500 psi, 17 MPa) reactor coolant.'


Is that sentence supposed to make people think that with such pressure working against only 9.5 mm of material that the vessel was about to blow?

A little perspective here. First that PV was of high carbon steel and I have had personal experience of hydraulic systems working at 3000 psi using tubes with walls a fraction of that thickness. Indeed If the tube walls had had to be 9.5 mm then the aircraft would not have got of the ground.

Even more extreme was an aircraft hydraulic system working at 4000 psi with the pipeline material being tungum, an aluminium-nickel-silicon-brass (brass being copper and zinc) alloy.

To be sure the leak that caused the problem was a regrettable case of lack of oversight.

The problem as I see it is always one of doing things as cheaply, or as quickly as possible, with politics often playing the wild card as with the Challenger shuttle disaster.

Anonymous said...

Getting rid of nuclear energy is a bad idea. In the calculus of risk and benefit, the risk is very small. That said, people are too quick to dismiss renewables. There are plenty of ways around the intermittancy problem.

dbostrom said...

In the calculus of risk and benefit, the risk is very small.

Or, put another way, so far the actual human health toll has been small. Fortune has smiled on us, as we saw at Fukushima where we earned no credit for being confidently self-dependent.

Cynicus: Any BWR reactor restart and life extension should be halted...

That won't happen, but we ought not to build more complexity in that style. If we do, let's understand that our luck is limited, that we're not perfectible, that odds will catch up to us. If we're going down the path of more nuclear dice rolling, let's acknowledge -in advance- that a number of truly fantastic messes are going to be left in our wake, that we'll be trading one kind of health hazard for another, that we really need to concentrate on making our own luck.

And let's have some plans for replacement sites for reactor facilities that suddenly turn into multi-decade "no-go" zones, each time in a novel way that's completely obvious -after it happens-. Let's confront protecting aquifers, etc. in a way that does not count on accidents not happening because we know that's a silly fantasy.

Steve Bloom said...

Perfect analogy, Bernard, methadone (aka not-heroin) being more addictive than heroin.

How is a PV head not like a tube or pipe, Lionel?

Re Japan, I expect that a national HVDC grid with solar, wind, and (extensively available there) geothermal would do the job nicely. Ultimately, I expect they'll decide to go that way. At the same time, I don't expect them to easily abandon the sunk costs represented by all those reactors, so we'll be seeing many of them still operating for a considerable time.

dbostrom said...

Steve: I expect that a national HVDC grid with solar, wind, and (extensively available there) geothermal would do the job nicely.

That would help with the current problem that a large part of the country is 50hz, the other 60hz thanks to the lingering damage from the idiot invisible hand of the market. Amazingly enough they have conversion gear allowing a relatively small amount of juice to flow from one side to another but DC would neatly route around the problem; local distribution could be left as-is.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Lumpus Spookytooth, phd.

just curious, is anyone besides me surprised that they can't find the CRU hacker? I was under the impression that the wikileaks guys are some of the best but even they were caught. I do not know much about hacking however.

Additionally, does anybody think that a wikileaks member was responsible?

Holly Stick said...

One huge benefit of clean energy is that it enables some degree of self-sufficiency, so that if the power grid goes down due to bad weather or human agency, individual homes may still have power.

A decentralized system has advantages but it probably won't pay Big Energy as much money.

Anonymous said...

"Steve: I expect that a national HVDC grid with solar, wind, and (extensively available there) geothermal would do the job nicely."

And if you're wrong?

No problem sunshine!

We'll adapt to that too!

notjonathon said...

Holy s**t!

Hundreds of square kilometers of land (at a minimum) rendered unlivable for centuries; thyroid abnormalities in thousands of Tohoku children; detectable levels of cesium spread around the world (and they are not even testing for strontium or plutonium); inedible fish, rice, root vegetables, leaf vegetables, tea.
Oh, yes, we need nuclear.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I wouldn't put 2 cents' worth of confidence in that Stanford study of the number of deaths attributable to Fukushima; and no, I haven't read it. I don't believe we will ever know the number of deaths with any certainty. There's still considerable debate over the number of deaths that will ultimately be attributable to Chernobyl.

Second, the number of predicted deaths is an incomplete metric by which to measure safety, as others have noted. As just one example, the number of predicted deaths from indirect, non-radiological effects (e.g., anxiety) is expected to exceed deaths due to radiological exposures, IIRC. What about birth defects and their economic and non-economic impacts? The economic losses from land use and ecological services are hard to quantify, as is the value of permanent displacement of thousands of residents from their homes.

Third, once a meltdown gets started, the difference between an accident that results in hundreds vs. one that results in many thousands of deaths is largely outside human control. It's mostly a matter of luck. The Fukushima accident hasn't ended yet, either. I don't know whether a phreatic explosion, if melted fuel reaches groundwater, has been entirely ruled out. There's still an enormous risk from the stored fuel pools.

Fourth, the waste problem hasn't been solved. Andra, the French nuclear waste authority, is still trying to figure out how to warn future civilizations of the presence of their nuclear waste disposal sites:
"We have no idea what language to write it in."

Taylor B

David B. Benson said...

Much of the ignorance regarding matters nuclear so prominantly on display here could be alleviated by reading the numerous threads on these matters at Brave New Climate. Also, there are a number of practing engineers, some of them, nuclear, who blog there can and do help clarify the actual situation.

dbostrom said...

Brave New Climate, aka "Church of Nuclear Resurrection."

More nuclear generation in our future, like it or not. Let's try to make it better socialized and (like our favorite crazy uncle) let's not pretend it's a natural model citizen.

Lionel A said...

dbostrom asked:

'How is a PV head not like a tube or pipe, Lionel?'

That appears a little patronizing especially coming from somebody who's posts I tend to take serious note of and agree with.

The PV head is made of a material that has a UTS considerably higher than that of alloy pipework, even that used in aviation.

The PV head is considerably thicker than the walls of that pipework, even when reduced to 9.5 mm. The pipework I was familiar with had walls of 20 swg (0.036 in, 0.92 mm) or 18 swg (0.048 in, 1.22mm). So with that comparison in mind, given the differences in internal pressures, I don't quite get why you should be so disparaging in tone.

To be sure such damage would tend to concentrate stresses in the affected area but then the material of the PV is so much thicker and stronger. Granted I do not know the internal contour of the vessel at that point but I would imagine that it would be suitably specified for a PV.

EliRabett said...

Lionel, of course, like with rates, you have to be careful with pressure. Failures in a pressure vessel can come because of the total force on the head gets translated to the fastners, and once one of them goes, blooey.

Lionel A said...

BTW Doug, I am all for deployment renewable energy solutions but consider nuclear an essential part of the mix, for the time being at least.

I have taken the trouble to study William Nuttall's 'Nuclear Renaissance' and indeed purchased mine own copy having had trouble here in the UK with the local library groaning about the cost of intra-library loans. Sadly public libraries over here in the UK are retiring valuable text books to make way for DVDs and CDs. Sad.

One of the better reviews here:

will provide an brief insight into the contents of Nuttall.

Lionel A said...


' force on the head gets translated to the fastners, and once one of them goes, blooey.'

Having witnessed the result of the connectors at one end of a long oxygen pressure cylinder blow out I am inclined to agree. ;-)

Anonymous said...

"Perfect analogy, Bernard, methadone (aka not-heroin) being more addictive than heroin."

That's the thing...

Beranrd J.

Anonymous said...

If one wants a slightly less "varnished" assessment than that provided by Brave New Climate (Barry Brook), (Fairewinds Energy Education (Arnie Gundersen) has done a lot of analysis and reporting on the Fukushima disaster and nuclear power plant safety in general.

Unlike Brook (who re-posted -- and veritably gushed over-- Joseph Oehmen's "Why I'm not worried about Fukushima" piece just after the disaster occurred), Gundersen is actually a nuclear engineer who spent several decades involved in the operation of nuclear power plants.


Anonymous said...


most of your "facts" are just hype - case in point, the thyroid anomalies you report on. This breaking medical news came from the Vancouver Peace Center, which apparently did not know that modern ultrasounds have a far better detection rate of thyroid nodules - hence the 'anamolies' found in the Fukushima children. The breaking news is good for increasing the anxiety level of the kids and their parents however. Good ol' Vancouver Peace Center!

notjonathon said...

No, not Brave New Climate. That's the blog that consistently downplayed the dangers from the Fukushima disaster and that continues to shill for the nuclear industry.
As noted above, the Fukushima crisis is not over. They intend to try to remove the fuel rods from #4 spent pool over the next three years, but some of them are so hot that no one can approach them. They have not yet figured out how they are going to accomplish the removal. Yesterday's dress rehearsal doesn't lend confidence.
In the meanwhile, one large earthquake in the region may send the whole apparatus tumbling.
In addition, no one even knows where the corium lies in the other three reactors. It's likely that the fuel in these reactors has not only melted through their containment vessels but has actually passed out of the building entirely into the earth, where it can continue to leak into the groundwater and eventually flow out into the sea.

Also, there is a critical shortage of manpower willing to face radiation poisoning. Virtually all the people with experience have already exceeded their annual and even lifetime dosages. And this is without counting the fact that Japan's nuclear industry has long had to sweep the gutters of unemployed alcoholics and mentally ill homeless men to man the reactors (Google Tokaimura).

This is not a "lucky we dodged a bullet" event; it is an ongoing threat, and no amount of poo-pooing will change the facts on the ground.

Away from Fukushima, rivers flowing east and south into the Pacific or Tokyo Bay show hot spots of radiation where radioactive particles have settled after being washed from trees and hillsides. The same phenomenon is true of the rivers flowing west into the Japan Sea. Fish in rivers and ponds across eastern Japan show elevated levels of radiation. The government even wants to ship the radioactive debris all over the country, perhaps so that the people who want to flee the Tohoku region will have nowhere to go.

Nuclear power is no magic savior. It's a dance with the devil.

I am not anti-science, not anti-technology. But please, let's not continue to use this technology in such self-destructive ways as nuclear power.

Anonymous said...


I can believe that Japan could go down the "No Nukes" path. It is a very socially cohesive society, where people seldom speak out on issues for fear of being seen as being outside the pack. This means there is usually tacit approval for the status quo. However, with the current media aided campaign against nuclear power making so much noise the risk is that anti-nukes may become seen as having parity with the status quo - something that cannot stand long in this homogeneous society. So yes, Japan could go down a non-nuclear path, and I guess I'd have to pick up sticks and leave the sinking ship then - because fossil fuel costs will sink this country.

Anonymous said...


radioisotopes have settled and been detected in the sediments of lakes and at sea - but nothing elevated in the waters. Our fish are safe to eat.

Your comment about the debris being scattered across the country is pure conspiracy theory. The people of Tohoku, and I am one of them, need the debris moved as it is contaminated with sewage, oil and other chemicals beyond our ability to process. It is a health hazard, as is the tripe you post here. The people of Tohoku need help - not fear mongering. If you are that concerned about us then go to Ishinomaki or somewhere else on the Pacific Coast and help with the debris removal.

badger badger badger said...

I can see a role for nukes, but BNC showed their cards with their Iraqi information minister act for the first couple days after March 11. Dissertations could be written on the denialism on display there and elsewhere. (I suspect they've already been written wrt the hysterical end.)

notjonathon said...

I do read the "sane" sites as well as the scary ones. When the Chernobyl Necklace becomes the Fukushima Neckace, then perhaps you will also understand. The fact that abnormalities are showing up as early as they are does not make me optimistic.

As a person with a hypothyroid abnormality of my own, I'm sensitive to any potential thyroid problems.

I'm a big fan of Eli and of John, too, but half a century of following nuclear power has not convinced me that it is a viable alternative fuel. It cannot survive without massive government support and indemnification against such events as Fukushima. In addition, the storage of spent fuel remains an intractable problem, one that only grows from year to year.

Regulatory commissions around the world are captive to the industry, and meaningful regulation and oversight are nowhere to be found.

notjonathon said...

As a resident of western Japan, I am one of those who really doesn't want the debris sent here. One of our local representatives (a former student of mine) is working on a plan that will allow the debris to be processed in Tohoku.

While I am a big fan of conspiracy theories, I did not mean to imply that spreading the pain is the only reason for the government's behavior. But it will have that effect.

And the fish are not necessarily safe to eat. Levels exceeding the government limits have been found in lake fish as well as ocean fish.

As to whether you should stay in Tohoku or not, that is a personal decision.

Anonymous said...


your representative panders to the masses - they should go far. Sod the people of Tohoku, they don't vote there. As for the debris, the majority of the radioisotope fallout over land was either in exclusion zones or south of Fukushima prefecture.

Contaminated fish were found in rivers and lakes fed from the exclusion zone - I doubt we will be served those up. As for the ocean fish, some had levels marginally over the government limit. It's moot anyway as fish are tested for radioactivity.

As for thyroid abnormalities - you should check out the paper "Thyroid Incidentalomas Prevalence by Palpation and Ultrasonography" Nodules were found in a random population in 21% by palpatation, 67% by ultrasound, leaving only 33% with no apparent nodules.

The people screaming about abnormalities in Fukushima children are fearmongering self-publicists and idiots who would not know Google Scholar if it bit them on the arse. Their dream is mass deaths of kids, just so they can turn around and cry "I told you so". In reality there will be deaths - from stress and the bad lifestyle choices those who have been told the have a death sentence choose. Still the guilty will cry "I told you so!"

As for fleeing Tohoku - I did not do so when many around me did. If I will leave if the people of Japan decide that burning more stuff for power is a better idea for the future than low-carbon options.

dbostrom said...

Lionel A: dbostrom asked:

How is a PV head not like a tube or pipe, Lionel?'

That appears a little patronizing especially coming from somebody who's posts I tend to take serious note of and agree with.

I'm nothing if not patronizing but the remarks you're replying to were not mine!

Lionel A said...


Oops! Sorry. My remarks should have been addressed to

Steve Bloom

Just happened that Steve's post was between two of yours. Sorry again.

notjonathon said...

yea mon--

I won't double down--I'll just hope for all of us that your assessment is right.

Holly Stick said...

David Roberts explains why energy experts keep underestimating the growth of clean energy:

"...What do cell phones, energy efficiency, and renewable energy have in common? One, they are dynamic areas of technology development and market competition, which makes straight-line projections pretty useless. And two, they are distributed, with millions of loosely networked people and organizations working on them in parallel. Distributed, human-scale technologies come in small increments. They replicate quickly, so there’s more variation and competitive selection, and thus more evolution.

Nuclear power, in contrast, comes in gigantic increments only (at least for now). There’s a limited number of people doing the R&D, a limited number of entities capable of building or financing the power plants. It’s a little easier to know the potential..."

Anonymous said...

The aspect of discussions of nuclear power which is disturbing is the tendency, as I view the matter, of commentators on the subject to lose sight of the goal of lowering the levels of carbon being introduced into the atmosphere.
A case in point would be the reporting by Climate Progress on German nuclear power, by Arne Jungjohann on 27 April 2012. Jungjohann reported with warranted satisfaction on the deployment of solar power claiming that “while eight nuclear power plants were shut down, solar power output increased by 60 percent. In 2011 alone, 7.5 gigawatts of solar were installed. By the end of last year, renewable energies provided more than 20 percent of overall electricity.”
Jungjohann also disputed claims by the Washington post that the closure of nuclear power plants would necessitate importing electric power from neighboring country’s coal fired power plants. Jungjohann retorts that it is “true, depending on time of day and year, that Germany imports electricity. However, even after shutting its eight oldest nuclear power plants, Germany is still a net exporter of electricity.”
Further in what might seem a telling retort we are told that “Germany reduced its carbon emissions in 2011 by 2.1 percent despite the nuclear phase out.”
While progress is always heartening these assertions miss the point. Given the fact that Germany still generates power from fossil fuels, and from coal in particular, some fraction of the power that might otherwise have been produced by the closed nuclear plants was instead produced by burning coal with the inevitable increase in atmospheric carbon. It matters not one damn bit whether it was burnt in Czech Republic, or Germany, or Slovakia, or any other nation for that matter. A global problem is a global problem. Neither should we lose sight of the truth that the burnt coal comes with its adjunct of pollution that is not the result of an accident but is normal and to a large degree unavoidable. In the United States it has been the case for decades that every year some 50 tons of mercury are put up into the atmosphere from burning coal. I make the assertion of the say so of the EPA.
Did the former Warsaw Pact nations close their Soviet era nuclear plants in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima tsunami? These sorts of questions do matter.
At the end of the day we must set priorities. The persistence of the increased levels of Carbon in the atmosphere is the fact about which our setting of priorities ought to revolve. That persistence will have effects which will be with us on time scales which are comparable to those for radioactive waste, with the difference that the effects will not be local but will instead be universal.

David Archer and his co-authors in their paper on atmospheric lifetimes of carbon dioxide, make the following statement:
“Nowhere in these model results or in the published literature is there any reason to conclude that the effects of CO2 release will be substantially confined to just a few centuries. In contrast, generally accepted modern understanding of the global carbon cycle indicates that climate effects of CO2 releases to the atmosphere will persist for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years into the future.”
(cited as: Atmospheric lifetime of fossil-fuel carbon dioxide. D. Archer, M. Eby, V. Brovkin, A. Ridgwell, L. Cao, U. Mikolajewicz, K. Caldeira, K. Matsumoto, G. Munhoven, A. Montenegro, and K. Tokos, Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences 37:117-134, doi 10.1146/, 2009.)
If that is not sobering I do not know what is.


Anonymous said...

It's clear we need to reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere. However, I don't think it follows that building more nuclear power plants should be the first reaction to address this problem. Sure, our developing industrial and post-industrial societies have an almost insatiable appetite for cheap energy of any kind, but we've created this problem and we have choices about how to solve it. Before we consider building more nuclear plants, the first thing we should do is dramatically reduce our energy consumption.

It's certainly technically feasible to achieve large energy efficiencies across the board, and we could do it faster and less expensively with less risk than we can build nuclear power and its associated infrastructure, while increasing productivity. For example, large areas of California don't even have water meters, and by this 2005 estimate, water-related energy use consumes 19 percent of the state’s electricity, 30 percent of its natural gas, and 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year:

I think there's a huge amount of intellectual testosterone invested in nuclear energy that would be better applied elsewhere. The cheapest, cleanest, safest source of energy is the energy we waste. If we had to be more energy efficient, we would be, and we'd be far better off for it. We aren't because we've got vast amounts of cheap oil and coal, a little bit of expensive nuclear, and more-or-less expensive renewables available. We need to make it dramatically more expensive to burn carbon before we rush to build new nuclear power plants. This would be a far more rational, market-based approach to the problem.

What Fukushima revealed had been obvious to some for many years: the Japanese nuclear power industry and its regulatory system are rife with corruption and incompetence, coupled with a demonstrated inability to properly assess and mitigate risks and an institutional aversion to transparency and disclosure. Hardly a week goes by without more evidence of this coming to light (this in no way diminishes the heroic efforts of TEPCO employees to bring the reactors under control). These problems are hardly unique to Japan, which was ranked 14th in the world (not that bad) in the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, whereas the U.S. is ranked 24th (perceptibly worse after the Citizens United decision). After Fukushima, how could anyone possibly believe that TEPCO and the Japanese government are capable of safely operating these reactors or managing them in an emergency? Is the nuclear industry in other countries that much better managed?

As a thought experiment, let's just imagine that by some miracle, we had access to a source of energy that was, as advertised, "clean, safe, and too cheap to meter." Would this solve our problems? My answer is that no, it wouldn't, because we'd use it to overpopulate and pollute the planet to the point of ecological collapse--which is what most of our energy consumption is currently doing. With clean, safe, and free energy, it would just be cheaper and easier to finish the job. While it's true that a free, limitless, zero-carbon energy source with manageable risks would reduce the global threat of anthropogenic climate change, it would likely exacerbate many of the other problems that we're so prolific at creating for ourselves. I'm not arguing against finding such a source of energy, and I'm very happy if our most brilliant scientists and engineers are working to solve this critical problem, yet it's only a small part of a sustainable future.

Taylor B

Holly Stick said...

"A year-long Queen’s University study has concluded that nuclear power is simply not worth the risk when compared to solar energy..."

"...“At the end of all of this you end up with $5.3 trillion in additional electricity (from solar). That for us was somewhat surprising that it was so high,” he said..."

Anonymous said...

Holly Stick,

the problem with comparisons between nuclear and solar, and the other renewables is that they are so different. Nuclear is capable of generating a steady baseload power with low carbon output. Solar and wind in comparison are irregular, and require significant storage capability to be added to a grid if they rise above a certain percentage of electricity generated.

Anonymous said...


"I won't double down--I'll just hope for all of us that your assessment is right."

I hope so too, as I am aware that new data can always arrive on the scene to overturn applecarts.

I should also say sorry for the intemperate attitude in my replies - but the double-standard treatment that Tohoku gets in Japan at the moment can get my blood boiling. However, people need to be more critical of the 'science' coming out on some of the blogs, the thyroid anomalies being a case in point: the data was publicly released, no endocrinologists raised even a whisker over it, and the people raising a hue-and-cry lacked any apparent qualifications on the subject. They should be ignored.

Anonymous said...


Barry Brook actually acqknowlwedged that he had gotten a lot of things wrong at the start of the crisis, for no fault of his own as I can see.

I quote: "Well, no one was killed by radioactivity from the event, but it was still an incredibly disruptive accident and I clearly got all the other predictions wrong. Ignorant as I was at that time of the seriousness of the damage the tsunami had inflicted on the backup generators, I suffered from unconscionable hubris (an all too common ailment), and it was me who ended up with the omelette mask. On reflection, it is clear that in my haste to defend what I assess to be a relatively safe low-carbon energy source (relative, that is, to all other effective, large-scale electricity-generation options), I failed to imagine the unimaginable."

So Barry seems to be a good scientist and a pretty honest human being. Hardly Iraqi FM material.


Anonymous said...

"Well, no one was killed by radioactivity from the event, but it was still an incredibly disruptive accident" (Barry Brook)

Interesting choice of words.


Anonymous said...

Taylor B commented:

"I think there's a huge amount of intellectual testosterone invested in nuclear energy that would be better applied elsewhere. The cheapest, cleanest, safest source of energy is the energy we waste. If we had to be more energy efficient, we would be, and we'd be far better off for it."

Do I need to say that I disagree both to the substance and object to the tone of the first sentence?

Notwithstanding your second point is one with which I agree with insofar as it applies to the United States in particular and to the world generally. I do not view our options as being that either we make efforts to increase efficiency or deploy any one type of power generation technology. My general view is that we ought to pursue all options available to us. We should both increase the efficiency with which we use energy, and simultaneously deploy low carbon technologies very aggressively. That this would have manifold advantages seems more than likely.

With respect to nuclear power plants that are presently in existence the question is a very different one. At any time when an existent plant is shut and that capacity has not been offset with clean power or increases in efficiency we all know what will happen. Nuclear power shouldn’t be replaced until that capacity has been offset. It should not be replaced until our entire global burn of fossil fuels has ended.

I acknowledge that concerns that plants be well engineered and safely operated, which I share because of the numerous reactors that are within 100 miles of my home state.

I second the comment by one of the anonymous mice:
“Getting rid of nuclear energy is a bad idea. In the calculus of risk and benefit, the risk is very small.”

The rub with renewables is whether the intermittency problem can be overcome in a manner that is both practicable and which does not drive the costs above those for new nuclear.


Holly Stick said...

How reliable is nuclear when the temperature is too high and there is not enough water for cooling?

Anonymous said...

As Peter Sinclair's piece points out - it's not just nuclear plants that face this problem. All the fossil plants could potentially face it too.

It's also a pretty sweeping headline - "Too darn hot for nuclear power", but no case is made for this being world-wide.

A similar case could be made that wind and perhaps even solar could suffer in a world too stormy for those technologies - even hydro if extreme precipitation events get more frequent, as seems to be happening in Japan right now.

What should we do? Crawl into a cave and hide? Or should we pursue all viable non-carbon technologies whilst we can and hope to keep warming below 3 degrees?

Lionel A said...


You beat me to the punch there.

There are nuclear power technologies which do not rely upon cooling water and also some technologies are scalable with outputs as low as in the range of 300 MW. Passive cooling is another variation with promise to avoid the problems of Fukushima. Greg Palast in his book 'Vultures' Picnic' has some strong words WRT back-up generators.

Holly Stick could benefit from reading Nuttall mentioned above although that 2005 book could do with an update particularly WRT Pebble bed High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactors and Triso fuel.

Holly Stick said...

As I mentioned before, wind and solar and others can be decentralized sources of power; so if a weather disaster in one place wipes out the main power grid for half the country, individual homes can still have some power. Small is beautiful kind of thing.

I would think producing better storage batteries would be the most useful technology to work on.

Lionel A said...

Holly Stick I am not disavowing the need for continued deployment and development of renewables, never have. It is just that for true energy security we need a mix which includes nuclear, at least for the time being. Nuclear can provide the baseload that renewables may have trouble with especially as climates change. Some nuclear technologies can be load following too. There are a number of variations on the themes as we leave generations I, II and III behind and look ahead to Generation IV.

On renewables and especially wind power I note that shipping concerns are looking at wind driven vessels again, just as long as they don't bank on The Trade Winds behaving as they have in past centuries - but even back then 'The Trades' could be very variable year on year as ship's logs bear witness.

J Bowers said...

* Scottish villagers stun developers by demanding extra turbine
* Scottish village is on the path towards energy independence

The anti-wind lobby here in the UK really don't like that story ;)

EliRabett said...

Donald Trump's wig flips off.

Holly Stick said...

A report that unsafe levels of radiation at Fukushima were covered up:

Anonymous said...

"On reflection, it is clear that in my haste to defend what I assess to be a relatively safe low-carbon energy source (relative, that is, to all other effective, large-scale electricity-generation options), I failed to imagine the unimaginable." -- Barry Brook

The Japanese commission who studied the disaster and just issued a report would seem to have a (slightly) different take on the latter claim:

The Fukushima
Nuclear Accident Independent
Investigation Commission (National Diet of Japan)

"THE EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude
that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural
disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen
and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.

How could such an accident occur in Japan, a nation that takes such great pride in its global
reputation for excellence in engineering and technology? This Commission believes the
Japanese people – and the global community – deserve a full, honest and transparent answer
to this question.
Our report catalogues a multitude of errors and willful negligence that left the Fukushima
plant unprepared for the events of March 11. And it examines serious deficiencies in the
response to the accident by TEPCO, regulators and the government."

or, as Richard Feynman put it after the Challenger Disaster

"Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."


badger badger badger said...

One trope about the unimaginability I've seen is the notion of a "1000-year event", presumably referring to the earthquake. This ignores the prevalence of tsunamis on that very coast:

Anonymous said...

So much to reply to, so little time to do so...

Blogger Holly Stick said...

"A report that unsafe levels of radiation at Fukushima were covered up:"

No, a contractor requested their employees cover their dosimeters with lead. That's not "unsafe levels of radiation" that's "potentially unsafe exposure to radiation".

Anonymous said...

"The Japanese commission who studied the disaster and just issued a report would seem to have a (slightly) different take on the latter claim"

The commission? THE COMMISSION? There are at least 3 commissions investigating the accident. A parliamentary one - goal to minimize the culpability of the political classes. Secondly, a government one - goal to minimize the culpability of the current government. Lastly an independent one - goal to maximize the "Indepentant-ness of the participants".

badger badger badger said...

"One trope about the unimaginability I've seen is the notion of a "1000-year event", presumably referring to the earthquake. This ignores the prevalence of tsunamis on that very coast"

And the perceived wisdom ignores the fact that the 2011 earthquake was unimaginable: 5 segments of a fault rupturing sequentially, 2 with massive slips. Maximum intensity in the region was supposed to be 7 to 8. We got a 9. Reference:

Anonymous said...

Confidence inspiring clarifications, to be sure, yea-mon.

Taylor B

Anonymous said...

"Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country."

It's only my guess, but I'd think that it might be easier to implement many of these technologies in Japan than in the U.S. (grid efficiency, for example).

Taylor B

Anonymous said...

Japan Leans Toward Zero Nuclear Stance, Caution Remains

"'A sustained focus on energy technology improvement should be very positive for certain sectors or producers but also very positive for users, who need increased incentives to use energy more efficiently,' said Robert Feldman, chief economist at Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities in Tokyo."

Taylor B