Fukushima and nuclear power, 9 months on

As many BNC readers already know, I was invited to write an opinion essay for ABC Environment and The Drum: Unleashed on the Fukushima situation as we approach the end of 2011. On the latter site, the essay was entitled “Fukushima, nuclear and the rational approach to energy” and drew >300 comments (many rather heated) before the post was closed after 24 hours. Anyway, here’s a chance for you to continue to conversation, and perhaps to provide a correction to some of the more… unenlightened… comments that appeared over on the ABC stream.


It’s been quite a year for nuclear power. The dramatic events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in north-east Japan March and April 2011, following the Great Tōhoku Earthquake and tsunami, made headlines around the world. It constituted the most significant nuclear emergency in 25 years.

Nine months on, engineers continue to work to secure the plant and transition to a state termed ‘cold shutdown’, whereby the radioactively decaying reactor fuel is consistently cooled to below 100°C. The mangled reactor buildings now have new protective shells to keep out the weather, and an elaborate water purification system on site is working steady to decontaminate the large amount of contaminated cooling water that accumulated in holding tanks during the months following the accident.

The evacuation zone of 20 km around the plant remains in place, with more than 100,000 people displaced. There are medium-term plans to scrape away the topsoil in those ‘hotspots’ where radioactive cesium-137 was deposited (somewhat randomly) by the winds, following steam venting and the hydrogen explosions that occurred in the first week of the crisis. Once this is done, it is probable that residents will be allowed to return to the tsunami- and earthquake-ravaged area, to rebuild their lives.

I say ‘probable’ because a particular personal lesson for me from the events at Fukushima was that one can never be definite about anything involving major industrial, engineering and socio-political events! Indeed, I wrote the following on March 12, just a few hours before the first hydrogen explosion:

I don’t know the full situation… [but the reactors] have just performed robustly in the face of the worst earthquake ever to strike the Japanese islands. The risk of meltdown is extremely small, and the death toll from any such accident, even if it occurred, will be zero. There will be no breach of containment and no release of radioactivity beyond, at the very most, some venting of mildly radioactive steam to relieve pressure. Those spreading FUD at the moment will be the ones left with egg on their faces.

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.

This heavenly manna, of course, delighted anti-nuclear campaigners like Dr. Jim Green, who made all they could of this. Although the fantastical yet never-realised doom-and-gloom predictions that followed from the anti-nuclear crowd was often eye-poppingly bizarre, they could always say in their defense ‘Ahh, but it could have happened…’, whereas my early speculation was quickly proven false.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Fukushima crisis has not diminished my conviction that nuclear energy will need to fulfill a major role in moving the world away from fossil fuels in the coming decades. Renewable energy will also have an important role, but won’t be enough. We’ve just got to try and be rational, honest and pragmatic about the scale of the greenhouse problem, and of the maturity, scalability, reliability and relative cost of the non-fossil-fuel options available to us. Yes, nuclear power has problems – which can be mitigated but not eliminated with new technology – but then so do large-scale renewables, massive requirements for energy storage, carbon-capture, geoengineering. Trade-offs must be faced up to, not fobbed off, and uncertainties need to be acknowledged, including having a plan B (or N). The new draft Energy White Paper for Australia, released this week, says as much.

So I haven’t really changed my views on energy options for avoiding dangerous climate change – I’ve just become more circumspect in making predictions. But what might be surprising to some is that a number of prominent environmentalists who were anti-nuclear prior to Fukushima have been provoked to look hard at the issue and, on the basis of evidence and logic, have indeed altered their stance.

Among them is formerly anti-nuclear George Monbiot, who, writing in The Guardian this month, said:

Anti-nuclear campaigners have generated as much mumbo jumbo as creationists, anti-vaccine scaremongers, homeopaths and climate change deniers. In all cases, the scientific process has been thrown into reverse: people have begun with their conclusions, then frantically sought evidence to support them.

Quite so. As the conversation around nuclear power in Australia and worldwide builds, fear will give way to a desire for information. In a fact-based discussion on safety, economics, reliability and comparative performance in doing the job of displacing fossil fuels, nuclear proponents need not be concerned.

About these ads


  1. Yeah, well done indeed Barry. We’ll just have to put up with likes of jim Green. He’s just one of the many uninformed anti-nuclear zealots who will never be persuaded by fact or reason. For anyone interested, my second Ockhams Razor talk will go to air on Sunday January 15th at 8.45 am, Radio National. My first talk on Sept 4th apparently elicited more comments [mostly negative but many positive ones as well] than any previous talk in OR history. With Martin Ferguson admitting that nuclear will probably [Iwould say certainly]need to be in our future energy mix, I think we all need to start getting stuck into ALL politicians [except the Greens] and bludgeon them with letter after letter. A few more anti-renewables,pro nuclear letters to the editor of the Australian from others besides me and Tom Beigler might be helpful as well. I’ve had six printed in the past two months.

  2. What do you say to the 100,000 people who have been forced from their homes indefinitely? Just ignore for the moment that it is a nuclear power plant, if any other industrial plant say a chemical plant had exploded and as a result 100,000 people were made homeless, the community quite rightly would want that plant shutdown forever. It doesn’t matter if the root cause is nature or man made (Chernobyl), if the process is that dangerous or that unsafe it should be shutdown permanently. Yes, we absolutely have to address climate change and change our baseload energy source, but lets face it, you can’t expect the public at large to have any confidence in nuclear power.

  3. Charlie – what about the thousands made homeless by the earthquake and tsunami – not to mention the thousands killed. Thousands or even millions more people will be made homeless or die from the effects on our planet from AGW? Many already have been. It is all about risk. The risk of not ceasing the burning of fossil fuels, which includes the use of gas to prop up non-baseload renewable power, assures that catastrophic changes to the climate and the landscape will occur and will cause devastating loss of life and property and massive worldwide dislocation. The risk of a nuclear accident is historically small and nuclear power has produced the lowest loss of life per terrawatt hour than any other power source. (Reference to this may be found on BNC.) The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation demonstrated than very few people died at Chernobyl and far fewer than some expected were permanently harmed.by the nuclear accident.

  4. Charlie,

    (Forgive me if the following post may contain funny formatting or funny line breaks, I copied it from a text file of another post I’m writing.)

    Personally, I am not convinced that a decision to order a mandatory emergency evacuation of a wide area surrounding a damaged nuclear power reactor such as those at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station – especially in a region severely affected by a devastating natural disaster – should be based exclusively on the reasoning that the possibility of any member of the public receiving any slightly elevated ionising radiation dose above normal background must be kept absolutely as low as possible.

    ALARA is not as simple as it sounds at first, because the working definition of Reasonably is complicated.

    Even if it was an empirically established fact of the natural sciences that any arbitrarily small radiological dose causes harm – which it is not – then the risk associated with some possibly slightly elevated ionising radiation dose to the public needs to be weighed up against the medical risks associated with the psychological distress caused by mandatory evacuation from people’s homes and normal communities, the reduced access to usable shelter and amenities when a certain portion of the
    earthquake-devastated Tohoku region of Japan is evacuated, and the risks to psychological health created by the fear, uncertainty and doubt which can so easily be allowed to proliferate in the community following the order to evacuate the region around the Fukushima-Daiichi plant, through the hysterical and fearmongering media reporting of the situation and the scientifically illiterate rhetoric of the devout anti-nuclearists.

    The risks to life associated with forcing the transport of seriously ill, injured or frail people away from hospitals, for example, also need to be factored in.

    If transporting a critically ill patient away from the hospital creates a, say, 5% chance of their death, it seems extremely hard to justify that, even if the patient might be exposed to a radiological dose even as high as hundreds of millisieverts from radioactivity released from the nuclear power station. For the slight elevation in cancer
    risk that would be associated with a very large radiological dose to outweigh such a significant acute risk of death, the radiological dose that the patient would otherwise be subjected to if they were not to be evacuated would need to be extremely high.

    We have learned from the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl that disinformation about the effects of small doses of ionising radiation, lack of good education, media hysteria, and the resulting fear, uncertainty and doubt can have psychological public health impacts that outweigh the public health effects of actual radiological dose for the persons living around Chernobyl, and certainly far outweigh the negligible public health effects of the far smaller doses to the people living around Three Mile Island and Fukushima.

    The mandatory evacuation of so many people has adverse effects on public health and welfare, as elucidated above, it is expensive, and it diverts valuable government and emergency management resources away from other regions where they are desperately needed, in the context of a situation such as the Tohoku earthquake.

    Is it worth it to order such an evacuation, based on a realistic assessment of the radiological risk to public health, considering the finite resources available for the management of such a severe natural disaster, the adverse health impacts of ordering such an evacuation, and the costs associated with an evacuation, given that ordering an evacuation will eliminate the risk that the persons living in the affected area may be subjected to a certain, rather limited, radiological dose above background?

    Let’s suppose that persons living close to the Fukushima-Daiichi plant continued their normal lives (as normal as their lives may be following such a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami) living in this region, without evacuation. How much radiological dose would they receive?

    According to ICRP recommendations, the maximum individual dose limit for a radiological worker is a total of 100 mSv over 5 years. This dose limit is established conservatively, based on the linear-non-threshold assumption, at a level where no adverse health risks are epidemiologically observed nor are they expected to be epidemiologically detectable, even over a long period of time.

    To rephrase that in simple terms, adverse health risks basically do not exist at such a dose rate. (In science, if you cannot observe it then it doesn’t exist, and if you insist that it does exist despite being unable to detect it, then you’re talking about pseudoscience.)

    There are many areas of high natural background radiation in the world, where the annual radiological dose received by every person is several times higher than the ICRP recommended dose limit for radiological workers.

    The world’s highest natural ionising radiation background dose rate is found in some areas around Ramsar, Iran, where natural dose rates (due to geological radioactivity) of up to 260 mSv/y are experienced. This dose rate is 13 times the maximum acceptable annual dose, according to ICRP guidelines, for radiological workers. Amongst the people living in these communities, however, no adverse health effects are epidemiologically detectable either.

    If the doses that the persons living near Fukushima might receive if they are not evacuated are of a comparable magnitude, then clearly there are no real benefits to evacuation, and the negative impacts of ordering an evacuation should rule it out.

    I’m not saying that deciding against any kind of evacuation is what should have happened at Fukushima – but I think we need to think about these factors as part of the decision, in a skeptical, sensible and rigorous fashion, and that ordering an evacuation should not be taken lightly as a knee-jerk response unless there is actually a very
    real risk of real radiological harm.

    If the radiological doses that people might get if they were not forced to evacuate would be comparable to the non-harmful doses people naturally get in Ramsar, or the dose people get from cosmic rays in Denver, or the doses that professional aircraft pilots and crews get (the highest occupational radiation dose of any occupation), then there is absolutely no way that forcing those people to stay away from their homes is justified.

  5. Charlie, I don’t think anyone is arguing that fukushima should not be shutdown. People here take issue with the fact that germany, and others, want to do away with nuclear energy completely, despite the immense promise of IFRs and LFTRs, and other advanced designs. Do we halt all air travel when a plane crashes? Did we stop building dams when 20k+ lost their lives in china in the 70s? Of course not we learn from our mistakes and move on.

    It is no doubt tragic that all of those people have been displaced, and same for those displaced by the destruction of the earth quake and tsunami alone. But Fukushima is no reason to abandon nuclear technology, especially since we know that intermittent energy sources cannot meet demand.

  6. Those 100,000 people were forced from their homes by officials, not by radiation. The radiation is still less than NATURAL BACKGROUND RADIATION except for some temporary hot spots. If it is less than 10 rems [100 millisieverts] per year, it won’t hurt you. http://www.ornl.gov/ORNLReview/rev26-34/text/coalmain.html
    is down again, so go to my web site and read “OUR NUCLEAR FUTURE: THE PATH OF SELECTIVE IGNORANCE” by Alex Gabbard

    Coal fired power plants give you 100 to 400 times as much radiation as nuclear. Chernobyl put out as much radiation as a coal fired power plant does in 7 years and 5 months. Please read the book: “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007. Here are some natural background readings:
    Guarapari, Brazil: 3700 millirem/year
    Tamil Nadu, India: 5300 millirem/year
    Ramsar, Iran: 8900 to 13200 millirem/year
    Denver, Colorado 1000 millirem/year

    A not entirely natural reading:
    Chernobyl: 490 millirem/year

    Why didn’t you tell us about this while there was still time to comment on The Drum?

  7. Edward – I let BNCers know about The Drum article on the Open Thread yesterday and some did jump in and comment. I guess Barry was too busy with his day job to put up the post on BNC. I know he has to update BNC in his own time – usually late at night.

  8. I defend Barry’s forthright response at the time. Everybody was hungry for authoritative information at that time, before many of the facts were in, and Barry provided.

    In hindsight, one fact that any interviewee (perhaps less respectable than Barry) did know with confidence at that time, was that the anti-nuke brigade were hopelessly wrong. Their wild predictions could have been attacked with cheerful confidence that events would prove him right…

    ” What you mean by disaster? How many people do you say were killed by radioactivity? — 10,000? You would have to be pretty silly to believe that radioactivity killed 10,000 people, when you know darn well that a massive flood has poured across a crowded landscape. That’s called drowning, not radiation. — Okay then, you put a number on it and we’ll write it on the wall. Let’s see what the facts produce, but I bet you haven’t got a single busload of victims. This isn’t disaster, it’s hysteria.”

    In that response, the interviewee would have been able to highlight one fact that we knew at that time was true: the media were pumping hysteria.

  9. I remember being outraged by media doomsday reports at the time … SBS in particular. I haven’t seen any apologies from anybody. Likewise Guy Rundle and Bernard Keane on Crikey frothed at the mouth with Rundle letting fly with a factually false and misleading account of Chernobyl for which he has never had the b*lls to apologise.

    Looking with hindsight at Barry’s prediction. There is one sentence that he (and certainly me) got completely wrong.

    “There will be no breach of containment and no release of radioactivity beyond, at the very most, some venting of mildly radioactive steam to relieve pressure.”

    But the radiation death toll is still zero. With no evacuation what could it have been? Could it have been higher over the next decade than the road toll (both deaths and injuries) for the region? I’d like a professional to run the numbers but my guess is … impossible. Could it have been higher than the deaths and illness due to alcohol, tobacco and red meat, processed meat and salted fish? Again, I’d like an independent expert to make a detailed calculation. Why haven’t they? My guesstimate is again that such a high death toll would be impossible. Based on the Chernobyl experience, there is no reason with proper management to prevent children getting leukemia, that any increase in cancers would be detectable … which isn’t saying it would be zero, just not detectable.

    So while there has been radiation release, how is it best characterised? Catastrophic? How can this be accurate when it won’t kill or cause more cancers than booze? Small? This seems more appropriate.

    The current toll is restricted to the many animals who starved when left behind by panic striken owners. Footage of cattle who had starved in barns was shown some time back. This kind of death is a horrible, slow, fearsome event. Once the animal is down, there can be days of intermittent thrashing around as they try and rise. When Australian farmers leave cattle/sheep to starve (a few high profile cases have occurred recently in SA), the animals can dig quite large ditches in their efforts to get back up. In a barn with a hard floor they will injure themselves seriously before eventually succumbing. As Luke said above, any thoughts of evacuation should have been tempered by a full consideration of all the impacts. It wasn’t. I’m waiting for a mea-culpa from those who ordered the evacuation.

  10. Charlie -
    if it’s not clear from the other replies:
    energy choices are like so much else in life, i.e. the choice of the lesser evil.
    The is where the greenies, with aid of many in the media, have managed to totally hoodwink the public, into believing that there are golden, no pain options.

  11. Edward Greisch:
    This seems to be the current link to that ORNL doc on radiation from coal (they added /info/ to the path): http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text/colmain.html

    Interesting reading. I note the paper that it refers to is from 1978! Is there any more recent research on this?

    Also, that article notes a release of ~2.6 million millicuries in 1982 from burning coal – how does that compare with the release from Fukushima? I get the units confused too easily…

    (Ironically, the energy content of the fissile materials in the fly ash is claimed to be higher than that achieved from burning the coal in the first place!)

  12. Bern, thank you.
    “Ironically, the energy content of the fissile materials in the fly ash is claimed to be higher than that achieved from burning the coal in the first place!”
    And they still want to use coal ash and cinders as building material! For example as cinder block for the foundations of houses.

  13. Bern wrote:

    Also, that article notes a release of ~2.6 million millicuries in 1982 from burning coal – how does that compare with the release from Fukushima? I get the units confused too easily…

    IEER estimate (March 25, 2011)

    2,400,000 curies I-131
    500,000 curies Cs-134 and Cs-137

    According to Alvarez, the Japanese government estimates 40 million curies were released into the air in first week of accident, and 20 million curies released into the ocean. There should be more recent estimates than these (and in comparable units), but I can’t seem to find any on the web. Some have suggested the government numbers for April were underestimated (i.e., Nuclear Safety Commission in Japan). 154 TBq of I-131 and Cs-137 equates to about 4,200 curies (or 4.2 million millicuries) per day.

    Edward Greisch wrote:

    And they still want to use coal ash and cinders as building material! For example as cinder block for the foundations of houses.

    The EPA would like to change this.

  14. Hi Barry,
    I put this comment on The Drum the other day and went on to other things:

    “Barry, your lot could be taken more seriously if you didn’t have to keep claiming to be the “rational” ones. The implication is offensive of course.
    And Barry, why don’t you come out and sign yourself as Professor of Nuclear Power, instead of maintaining this “climate change” front. It’s clear what you and your sponsors’ real agenda is.”

    Yesterday I found this response from bristolchick:
    “It is offensive of you to infer that Prof Brook has sponsorship from the nuclear industry. He has answered that mischievious claim may times on air and in print thus:

    Barry Brook, on 15 March 2011 at 5:04 PM said:
    I have never received a single cent (i.e. $0.00) — personally or to my university — from the nuclear power or uranium industries. Indeed, I pay to run this website out of my own pocketbook. I am doing this because I think it matters. I care deeply about environmental sustainability, mitigating climate change, and providing abundant low-carbon energy to current and future society, whilst minimising our global environmental footprint.
    Please stop questioning my integrity, and calling me a shill. Not only is this false, it is also grossly unacceptable behaviour.

    Don’t assume that your personal morals apply to others. In fact all of those commenting negatively here would do well to properly research the issue and they can do so at Prof Brook’s blog. You just might change your mind about nuclear power as I, (a long term opponent) and other more eminent folk like Jim Hansen, and Bill Gates to name but two.”

    Fair enough. I apologise for my assumption, and I withdraw three words “and your sponsors”. The rest of my comment stands.

    It is tiresome to have the implication repeated by many/most nuclear advocates that if I don’t agree then I’m a fruit loop. You’ve got more of a case if you just focus on energy, though I still don’t agree. However if you broaden the debate to how we need to live on the planet then nuclear power is old paradigm, part of the problem, and we need to move on from big-tech attempts to solve problems that are not, at their heart, technical.

    Perhaps I’m still making an assumption about your work and motives, but my experience with you has been that you only seemed to want to work with others on global warming (to avoid the euphemism) if they agree with you on nuclear power. And you have argued vigorously against my arguments that it is unnecessary. So it seems to me your passion is, first of all, nuclear power, and only second, global warming.

    It’s a shame have to keep shoving nuclear power in our faces. You know it’s a divisive issue among those trying to warn against global warming. Tony Kevin has wished that people would put the power debate second and just unite to get the word out on global warming.

  15. Well I can see we are going to have a political and social discussion.

    The real questions lie in the technology.

    If we don’t know what failed we don’t know how to improve the failure scenario.

    Here is my main question about what is really going on in the one containment dome that “melted thru the PV”:

    ” Is the CV flooded now as well.??

    I have read that they are putting “a pipe blocker in the ground to keep the radioactive water from going into the sea. …which is huge pipes going straight down like trees.

    Also I would think trying to plug all the leaks out of both the CV AND the PV is almost impssible.

    Any engineering heads want to speculate as to what is : REALLY GOING ON>

    Of course the media has no clue!


  16. Barry, we ought to be thinking about controlling earthquakes. Fracking, it is being reported, causes earthquakes. Why can’t we use fracking to convert potential 7.0 to 10.0 earthquakes into a bunch of 2.0 and 3.0 quakes? I know the database is not there yet. But, we’ve been fracking for 70 years. There must be some data on the control of quakes with fracking. This might totally eliminate tsunamis. I’d bet the Japanese would be very interested in this technology.

    I’ve suggested this to some university professors. Their immediate reply was that “you might cause a 10.0″. In response, we’ve been fracking for a long time — why aren’t we concerned about causing a 10.0 today? Is this a Homeland Security issue they haven’t considered yet?

    I love your blog. It keeps giving me new ideas and new ways of looking at chemistry and physics.

  17. Sure, the amount of radioactive daughters in fly ash (an old plaything of mine) ismodestly high , but that is no threat if they are not mobile.

    Particles of fly ash are little beads (or cauliflowers) of tiny mineral crystals bound together with glass. (see e.g.). The amount of glass is roughly proportional to the concentration of lime and potash in the burning article, and is typically unstable. When fly ash is dumped in the environment, minority elements in the glass leach out and travel with the groundwater as solutes or colloids. It can be used safely enough as a soil amendment . When the fluid meets clay, minority elements exchange with the more common cations to be trapped on the clay surfaces.

    Having already been to 1150 C or more, its volatiles have flown so fly ash is a ready raw material for ceramics. The glass already present in the fly ash binds the rest of the ceramic together at relatively low temperatures of 800° or so. However the same glasses cause a low-fired brick to effloresce in later life, mainly potassium sulphate but often pretty things like vanadium salts, and potentially radium.

    Hard fired brick has more stable glasses, absent the sulphate, so the suggestion that some of the more contaminated soil around Fukushima should be used in the making of bricks is a good one. But it does seem an awful waste of good soil.

    Fly ash is particularly welcome in the making of cement, because its glass accelerates the early process of sintering the clinker, and it is low-iron. Its use in making concrete is quite separate, as it is added at the mixing stage. As the concrete ages, its highly alkaline environment changes the ash minerals into interlocking hydrated crystals and at the same time, tends to immobilise acid soluble minority elements.

    By the way, the link offered by EL is not about banning the use of fly ash in ceramics, it is about safe handling of the raw material.

  18. Goliffw,
    I think in the 70′s, scientists working on the San Andreas fault in California toyed with an idea called the mohole Project which involved drilling 500 holes along the fault down to the Mohorovicic Discontinuity and doing some “fracking:” between trios of holes to encourage lots of little faults [movements] between the Pacific and American Plates. That would have kept the tension build up between the plates under some control and prevent the “BIG ONES” Sadly, as far as I know, nothing came of it and so places along the fault will have to prepare for some more big ones. Unfortunately, the longer it takes between the quakes, the worse they’ll be. in 1906, the movement was 21 feet in San Francisco. Phew!! No wonder everything fell, was ruptured and burned down. I don’t think off shore fracking is very practical. I think higher protective walls along the coast as will happen in japan is likely. And don’t forget, Japan is probably the most seismically active country on the planet [10,000 quakes per year and mostly small]. Once the dust has settled at Fukushima, they will resume further nuclear build. What else can they do if they want a clean, adequate emissions-free power supply?

  19. @ Geoff Davies
    You say:

    Perhaps I’m still making an assumption about your work and motives, but my experience with you has been that you only seemed to want to work with others on global warming (to avoid the euphemism) if they agree with you on nuclear power.

    Obviously you didn’t read the entire quote from Barry which clearly lays out his motivation:

    I am doing this because I think it matters. I care deeply about environmental sustainability, mitigating climate change, and providing abundant low-carbon energy to current and future society, whilst minimising our global environmental footprint.

    You only have to check his CV and publication list (on the About page) to realise that he constantly works with climate scientists and conservation biologists and that his primary motivation is to avoid environmental collapse and species destruction.
    I think another apology is called for.

  20. @ Edward Greisch, on 18 December 2011 at 1:53 AM and related:

    “…And they still want to use coal ash and cinders as building material! For example as cinder block for the foundations of houses.”

    We need to be careful not to overstate our position, whether pro or anti a particular issue.

    In like manner to objecting to scaremongering about inflated negative effects arising from radiation from NPP accidents or operation of NPP’s, comments which are purely emotive and clearly lack substantiation should, in a perfect world, be avoided.

    My experience from a lifetime of working with portland cement concrete, by far the greatest percentage of which contains blends of fly ash, has been that there is absoultely no recognition or concern in the workplace about any radiation effects. Thus, it is beholden on the person making the comment to demonstrate that the comment relates to what is actually happening, not that which is imagined might conceivably happen somewhere, sometime.

    Below are links to typical material safety data sheets for fly ash (as used in concrete) and for cenospheres (the floating hollow form of fly ash which is marketed widely for speciallised purposes).

    Neither list radiation as being a risk. Neither is classified as a Dangerous Good according to the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail.

    Both are recognised to be hazardous, but those risks which are present are respiratory and are very easily controlled. Once these products are bound into hardened concrete or other final products, they pose no significant risk to users and thus expressions of concern are unjustified.

    Fly Ash.


    Declaration: This author has managed aspects of storage, harvesting, processing, sale and transport of these products during the course of professional work as a civil engineer in either the cement and concrete industry or the coal fired power industry in NSW from 1976 to the present and is very keen to review any factually based observations which challenge the statements made here.
    I realise this is a response to a previous comment but you are all veering off-topic.

  21. Geoff Davies,

    It is tiresome to have the implication repeated by many/most nuclear advocates that if I don’t agree then I’m a fruit loop.

    It’s tiresome that almost every time someone posts something favourable about nuclear energy, they are labelled as some sort of industry hack. If you accuse someone of being an industry hack, with no merit whatsoever, is it really surprising that some may think you’re a bit of a fruit loop?

    It’s a shame have to keep shoving nuclear power in our faces. You know it’s a divisive issue among those trying to warn against global warming.

    Well if people stopped rehashing the same factually incorrect arguments against nuclear power over and over again, there’d be no need for it. You don’t see Professor Brook out there campaigning against the development of renewable energy. And why is it okay for people to be out there shoving renewable energy in everyone’s faces, but not nuclear?

    And if it’s divisive, it’s only divisive because one “side” of the argument is opposed to looking at all energy alternatives to fossil fuels.

    Tony Kevin has wished that people would put the power debate second and just unite to get the word out on global warming.

    So we should focus on the problem, not the solutions? Where is the logic in that? They are both of the utmost importance, but in the end it’s the implementable solution that makes the difference.

    we need to move on from big-tech attempts to solve problems that are not, at their heart, technical.

    Yes, they are. The climate problem is primarily a problem of using technologies which emit large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and drive climate change. That is a massive technical issue that needs to be addressed.

  22. Geoff Davies, on 18 December 2011 at 9:11 AM said:

    However if you broaden the debate to how we need to live on the planet then nuclear power is old paradigm, part of the problem, and we need to move on from big-tech attempts to solve problems that are not, at their heart, technical.

    Couldn’t disagree more. Technical is what this site is all about, thank goodness. Technical = objective.
    Huggy-bunny phrases will not feed and satisfy the legitimate material wants of 10 billion people.
    big-tech = low resource overheads = low environmental degradation per kwh.
    For the sake of the planet, technical (including big-tech) has to win over pious platitudes.

  23. Geoff Davies, you are welcome to continue to promote your preferred solutions of ‘small is beautiful’ and ‘power down’, and to try and convince society as a whole of the need for radical behaviour change. Good luck with that — you’ve got a hell of a steep hill to climb, dragging the weight of the history of progress with you — but I won’t try to dissuade you or put particular road blocks in your way. If you can convince millions in Australia and billions worldwide of this necessity, in time, then fine.

    But don’t try to halt nuclear power and other techno-fixes on spurious grounds that at best fail utterly to put the scale of the relative risks of nuclear energy vs climate change into meaningful perspective. If you try to do this, then you are, in my opinion, worse than any climate change denier. Why? They (typically) just hope that business-as-usual will continue for as long as possible (i.e. do nothing), whereas anti-nuclear ‘environmentalists’ actually try desperately to BLOCK what is perhaps the most effective and realistic solution to decarbonisation and elimination of fossil fuels. Bad, bad, bad. There is a reason folks like Lovelock, Hansen, Brand, Lynas, Monbiot, Shellenberger, Nordhaus, Blees, Brook and many other environmentalists are taking the ‘must include nuclear in the mix’ line. To claim that you are right and they are all wrong is, in my opinion, a far more arrogant approach than me implying that people like you are not being logical or pragmatic.

    There is no time for social and population fixes. Too hard and slow for the former, and just too slow for the latter (and the only effective mechanism to stop population growth is low childhood mortality and high levels of education in women). So, we are left with the pressing urgency of effective techno-fixes. I’ve argued that in peer-review literature, and it seems to be getting traction, e.g. http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/11/08/strange-bedfellows-technofixes-conservation/ and see here on population: http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/09/19/population-no-cc-fix-p1/

  24. GeorgeS, on 18 December 2011 at 11:50 AM said:

    Any engineering heads want to speculate as to what is really going on

    Cesium has a melting point of 28 °C.

    The last update on the level of radioactivity of the water in the basements of the reactor buildings is here.

    Here is a report of the measure of radioactivity of water being treated from October.

    As the level of radioactivity of the water in the basements of the reactor buildings is lower then the level of radioactivity of the water being treated In October it would appear in my simple mind that Tepco is slowly managing to flush and filter the Cesium out of the reactors.

    In a normal reactor without damaged fuel rods the cesium is contained within the sealed fuel rods. As the fuel rods are damaged at Fukushima the cesium ends up mixing with the cooling water. Until such time as it is all filtered out and bound to zeolite taking precautions that none leaks into the ocean appears to be a prudent.

  25. Hi Barry

    You were not the only one not to have foreseen the magnitude of the disaster, but you were not on the spot. I still cannot understand why a technologically advanced country like Japan did ot get experts up there immediately after the threat to the reactors became apparent.

    Much can be put down to the delays by Tepko and the national and international experts in taking effective action prior to the first hydrogen gas explosion. Surely cooling water like we and the US use to fight bushfires could have been dropped onto the overheated reactors, after breaching the roof if necessary. Of course hindsight is great, but nevertheless, I feel for the people of Japan so badly affected by both the tsunami and radioactivity.

    Fortunately now, after the cold shutdown and reduced risk of futher dispersal, things should return to normal in the surrounding areas, if not on site. Also fortunately, the caesium -137, and iodine amongst other nuclides are soluble and reactive and should be washed away by rain within a year or two. Hot spots should of course be dealt with so that the population can begin to rebuild.

    Two encouraging Australian news items have been the announcement by Martin Ferguson that nuclear should remain on the Australian agenda, and the commencement of uranium sales to India after parliamentary approval. I think it will take time to undo the present public perception of the hazards of nuclear power. Germany of course is much more important in that regard than Australia. It will also be interesting to watch Canada.

    Terry Krieg: I have written two letters to the “Australian”, one explaining the Canadian attitude to a carbon tax. They already generate a significant amount of nuclear electricity (and produce useful radio-isotopes). Global warming could benefit them by reducing the severity of their winters and increasing their agricultural production. They are in quite a different position to Australia. I also had a letter published supporting Australian uranium sales to India.

    I have begun to understand the Indian position on Climate Change better lately due to discussions with an Indian scientist at RiAus. They argue that their per capita CO2 emissions are still much lower than developed nations such as Australia and the US which have the highest per capita emissions. They accept that their total emissions are very high (16%, I think) and nuclear power is one way they can control them. The main worry of course is that no-one accepts the urgency of action of the 2C temperature rise is to be avoided.

    Dr John Patterson, Adelaide

  26. If India’s population hits 1.4 bn as predicted and their per capita emissions rise to 20t then we will nearly double global CO2. That’s assuming we still have enough fossil carbon to burn by that time. When t.s.h.t.f. I think China and India may be deemed to have middle class equivalent populations of 300m or so for the purpose of national CO2 allowances.

  27. “What do you say to the 100,000 people who have been forced from their homes indefinitely?”

    I would say, according to the LNT model what we are talking about in most of the evacuated zone is raising your lifetime risk of dying from cancer from something like 30% to 31%.

    “Just ignore for the moment that it is a nuclear power plant[...]”

    Take your own advice.

    “if any other industrial plant say a chemical plant had exploded and as a result 100,000 people were made homeless[...]”

    Cars, coal plants, gas and oil heating doesn’t have to explode to kill people. They’re in constant failure mode. Lets evacuate Tokyo.

  28. One thing that was known at the time was that the evacuations at Chernobyl were excessive in scope and excessively prolonged. So we could have asked, “will the fuss make the Japanese authorities overreact?”

    Another: Issuing iodide pills to children were effective where they were used in Poland etc, and caused the bulk of casualties where they were not used, closer to Chernobyl. Iodising did not require evacuation of the children. Evacuating only the children would have still made sense anyway, because their adults were busy with the very real disasters arising from the quake and tsunami.

    That was something else that we knew at the time too. Hundreds of disasters certainly had happened, and we were yet to find out what they were. Thousands of tragedies had played out, perhaps never to reach their families’ histories. It was quite clear that Western focus on one particular worn-out fantasy was in bad taste.

  29. A thought on the nuclear debate in Australia, based off comments on the article in discussion and numerous other websites…:

    Technological focus

    To provide pertinent information for the public to consider on whether we should or should not employ nuclear power, requires a strict adherence to relevant technology.

    I find both sides of the debate tend to argue over redundant technology. What is the point?

    Australia has options, the safest in the history of civilian nuclear power. Yet most comments are based on 1960/70’s technology. How can we possibly expect Australian’s to make informed choices whilst asking them to consider taking a ride in a 1920’s Bi-Plane to remedy their fear of flying?

    Why then, do we bother countering arguments of no pertinence? We should only be engaged in discussion relevant to the types of reactors we are likely to roll out in >2025?. E.g. IFR, PRISM, AP1000, etc.

    We don’t evaluate the merits of 1800’s wind turbines, or try to sell 1970’s photovoltaics… So let’s not evaluate 1960’s nuke reactors for 2025. I spent years defending solar technology, and still do, I focus on what can be, not what was. For a debate that aims to remedy the future, it seems odd we spend time talking about tech that is obsolete.

    Based on the above, perhaps communication should focus on all the improvements of modern reactors?

  30. @Paul – It’s a good point you make. However, I think that the debate about the safety of 1970s technology is still an important one to have.

    Unfortunately, there is a strong sentiment in the community that existing nuclear plants should be unconditionally shut-down. There is no rational, risk-based justification for doing so.

    In fact, given that coal is the most likely replacement for existing nuclear capability in the short to medium term, such arguments are grossly irresponsible, and need to be publically identified as such.

  31. Barry,

    Well after that hostility I won’t waste too many words here, I’m rather taken aback to be accused of being the worst of the worst. Perhaps you have some other/imaginary fruit loops in mind.


    We can make the quickest, biggest, cheapest difference by making a major effort of efficiency. We would see almost immediate results. Why wouldn’t we start by doing that? No matter what else you think might also help.

    My point is that approach is consistent with what we also need to do to ameliorate the many other baleful effects we are having on the planet, which will also bring us down if we don’t attend to them. Big tech, on the other hand, keeps us tied in to many the things we need to change, including “growth”, as well as having serious side-effects of their own.

    I think the people you cite, including yourself, are just not knowledgable about what is already being done on small scales, things that can be quickly spread around if we only try. So you’re dumping on stuff you clearly know little about.

  32. Geoff,

    We can all do without the aggro.

    Barry welcomed you to the thread and proceeded to make several other comments re your contribution.

    This blog grew out of a climate blog and climate is very much still at its core.

    It evolved to where it is now through seeking diverse views on matters population, climate, energy and more. Nobody here agrees entirely with anybody else, but we try to use facts and debate as tools with which to seek solutions, especially climate solutions.

    This means energy, and lots of it.

    It does not and never did mean that small gains or renewables or storage options or anything else will not be considered, but it does mean that posting rules apply.

    One such rule, which I sometimes transgress despite my efforts not to, relates to the need for civilised discourse.

    I hope that you will contribute to and to learn from this site. We all need to harness the efforts of those with goodwill.

    So, welcome. Perhaps on Open Thread you would be so kind as to expand on some of those areas where you consider real progress can be achieved in the short term, say, by 2150.

  33. One obvious difference, Geoff, is that I’m not against you advocating your solutions (as I said, good luck with that), but you are against me advocating mine, and chide me for arguing for a balanced and complete approach to solving sustainability problems.You said as much in your opening comment. This is a bias. Why so?

    Second, why do you think efficiency on a large scale will overcome Jevon’s paradox and the Khazoom-Brookes’ postulate? Where has it ever done so? So one can be against efficiency, anymore than one can be against motherhood. But if it is an ineffective or diminishing solution at scale, then to me, it is not a priority.

    Third, how do you propose to convince enough people of your approach, in time? You say quickly spread, but where’s the evidence? We are talking about some bottom-up zeitgeist for you, rather than a top-down roll out of coal-killers for me. I wonder why you are so confident about the former and so trenchantly against the latter. Given the seriousness you ascribe to the problem of climate change, you strike me as a real risk taker.

  34. @Geoff

    Well after that hostility I won’t waste too many words here…

    I believe you began any hostility with your remarks about Barry’s motivation and character in your comment on The Drum article where you were pulled into line by “bristolchick.” You followed up here with a half-hearted apology and another snide remark about Barry’s research. Seems you are a bit thin skinned when you are being mildly criticised.
    Please everyone – call a halt here with personal remarks and get back on topic.Take off topic discussions like population/energy efficiencies etc to the Open Thread.

  35. After a nine month cooldown period for the reactors and for my mind, I feel two ways about Fukushima – and these two things bother me much.

    First of all this is a highly technical issue. Fundamental questions arising after Fukushima such as, should we build more nuclear, is it ethical, these are just not constructive. In the modern world we have many dangerous things, we need to deal with the risk rather than avoid it. If buildings collapse in an earthquake, we do not demand that all buildings be closed. Thousands of buildings collapsed from the recent Japan earthquakes. If a high speed rail train crashes due to the earthquake, we do not demand the closure of all high speed rail. Avoiding risks means living in a cave (and even then the cave might crash in on top of you!).

    So we got that out of the way.

    But when we take the perspective of dealing with the risk, it becomes clear that important design flaws and design shortcomings have been made apparent in these older boiling water reactors. What happened at Fukushima was not a residual risk issue, it is mostly related to fundamental design flaws. This raises the question of what the status is in other reactors, including non-water moderated reactors operating today.

    Diesel generators and electrical infrastructure (transformers, switch panels etc.) placed either in the open at too low an elevation, or in buildings that were not water tight bunkers. We can be honest about this. This is bad design. Make existing diesel generator buildings waterproof or place them at very high elevation where flooding or tsunamis are possible. Put the transformers etc in the reactor buiilding itself.

    DC power supply from batteries is nice, even if you lose the diesel generators despite water proofing, they can be used to control valves and such for the steam driven cooling pump systems. But at Fukushima, they forgot to attach little electrical generators to the batteries, and there is uncertainty to what happened with the batteries at Daiichi unit 1 (they didn’t work). Investigate, make the changes to exisiting and future plants (if necessary).

    The venting system at Fukushima Daiichi is really bizarre. Rather than venting to the outside it vented to the upper building in order to contain all the radiation. This is silly because when venting is needed it means you have a core damage event already, so you have hydrogen, and send it to a confined, non-armed space in the building (the top floor which only has a simple thin roof). In stead they should use armored vents to an armored chimney like the US plants do, and use high efficiency filters to remove the radionuclides. It is possible to remove 99.9999% of the fission products this way. Much more preferable than sending them over the countryside using a hydrogen explosion!! Also the venting path should not rely on pumps and active valves to open. It should be fully passive and open when the pressure gets too high without politicians making the choices.

    The spent fuel pool issue is similarly silly. There should be armored standpipes wherefrom it is easy to connect emergency water injection. Also the idea of storing spent fuel in a pool so high up in the building is silly. Build them below ground level like the central spent fuel pool storage system at Daiichi.

    The last big technical learning point is the hydrogen control. They should use modern passive hydrogen catalysts, these work without power to keep the hydrogen below large explosion limits.

    The second thing that bothers me is the evacuation. The amount of radiation in the evacuated area is between 20 mSv/year and 500 mSv/year in the worst spots. This corresponds to an increased cancer risk of 0.2 to 5%, based on the linear model which gives the worst results. Even using that model, the risk is far lower than that of air pollution from fossil fuels such as traffic pollution:


    So why are we not evacuating all major roads? And cities for that matter? Tokyo should be abandoned.

    For pete’s sake, let the people go back to their homes. It is far safer anywhere in Fukushima than in Tokyo.

  36. @ Harry2wr

    Thx for the input. Interesting that the basement water in reactor 1 is less radoiactive than basement 2. I thought reactor 1 was the reactor that the fuel burned thru the RPV but I could be wrong about that. I guess we still do not know how deeply the CV was flooded in order to cool the bottom of the RPV.

    The interesting thing to note is that the AP1000 has provided for means to cool the outer surface of the RPV in case of a “beyond design basis accident”.

    From the AP1000 Plant Description document http://www.ne.doe.gov/pdfFiles/AP1000_Plant_Description.pdf

    “In-vessel retention of molten core debris – In-vessel retention (IVR) of molten core debris via
    water cooling of the external surface of the reactor vessel is an inherent severe accident
    management feature of the AP1000 passive plant. During postulated severe accidents, the
    accident management strategy to flood the reactor cavity with in-containment refueling water
    storage tank (IRWST) water and submerge the reactor vessel is credited with preventing vessel
    failure in the AP1000 probabilistic risk assessment (PRA). The water cools the external surface
    of the vessel and prevents molten debris in the lower head from failing the vessel wall and
    relocating into the containment. Retaining the debris in the reactor vessel protects the
    containment integrity by preventing ex-vessel severe accident phenomena, such as ex-vessel
    steam explosion and core-concrete interaction, which have large uncertainties with respect to
    containment integrity.”

  37. It’s all about lessons learned. There is a beginning of this discussion on Rod’s blog, Atomic Insights, going on now.

    I actually like to use Fukushima as ‘worst case’ not because it’s ‘worse’ than Chernobyl (it’s nice) but it now points to a possible real problem of station black conditions.

    We have to learn from this disaster. We need to harden every quake and/or tsunami prone reactor and develop methods for *better* axillary power solutions. We have to have higher sea walls. This is *easy* and not hard to do. We move on by addressing how to make nuclear safer in light of Fukushima.

    Barry, excellent, and humbly honest blog entry today. I thank you for this.


  38. Cyril R, on 20 December 2011 at 2:04 AM said:
    Diesel generators and electrical infrastructure (transformers, switch panels etc.) placed either in the open at too low an elevation, or in buildings that were not water tight bunkers. We can be honest about this. This is bad design. Make existing diesel generator buildings waterproof or place them at very high elevation where flooding or tsunamis are possible. Put the transformers etc in the reactor buiilding itself.

    In the AP1000 Plant description document http://www.ne.doe.gov/pdfFiles/AP1000_Plant_Description.pdf

    It appears they have taken care of protecting critical electrical in the “auxiliary building”

    quote section 7.5
    “Auxiliary building – The primary function of the auxiliary building is to provide protection and
    separation for the safety-related seismic Category I mechanical and electrical equipment
    located outside the containment building. The auxiliary building provides protection for the
    safety-related equipment against the consequences of either a postulated internal or external

    However it is not clear whether the Diesel generator building (10 in fig 8) and Diesel fuel storage (18 in figure 8) have been similarly hardened:

    From p22 quote:
    Diesel generator building – The diesel generator building houses two identical slide along diesel
    generators separated by a three-hour fire wall. These generators provide backup power for
    plant operation in the event of disruption of normal power sources. No safety-related equipment
    is located in the diesel generator building.

  39. Westinghouse designed their passive safety program with a station blackout scenario in mind. It was not designed in the wake of Fukushima in mind. There is an important distinction. The criteria was “the grid goes down, we are stranded from one to several days, the auxiliary diesel generators do NOT start.”

    I think it’s important to understand this. It was not looked at from the perspective of a 40 foot wave wiping out their diesel fuel tanks or major equipment being wrecked by an earthquake.

    I’m sure Westinghouse is looking at these lessons but no so much from a “hardening” revision to their plans but from the POV of siting.


  40. The AP1000 can cool without any AC electricity source indefinately. It has been designed for this.

    Even if the 3 day containment cooling water supply at the top of the reactor building is not replenished after 3 days, the passive air cooling (outside air touching the containment) will make sure the containment temperature and pressure are below containment failure levels. It is hard to imagine the top resevoir cannot be replenished because there are simple hardened standpipe connections at ground level where firetrucks, mobile generators, etc. can connect to replenish the water (Fukushima Daiichi sure could have used such as simple pipe). However even without makeup water for the top containment vessel cooling spray system, the containment will have less cooling and will experience higher pressures and temperatures inside, but air cooling suffices to prevent containment failure. The water inside the reactor will continue to boil and condense on the containment, falling back into the water resevoir and feeding back into the reactor by gravity, it is a fully closed system with indefinite cooling capability. So the diesel generators are not safety class; they’re not needed to cool the decay heat away so they’re not a safety class system. However it is still a good idea to make sure the diesels are waterproof, for a reactor near a large waterbody. Having power means having lights, instruments all working, airconditioning/heating, power for water cleanup units, etc.


    The lessons from Fukushima are likely to be much more relevant for exisiting reactors. Like David says, many of the improvements are very simple. It all boils down to a short list of design improvements/retrofits, this would be my preliminary list:

    - Higher sea walls
    - waterproof diesel/battery buildings and electrical infrastructure
    - passive autocatalytic hydrogen recombiners for reactor and pools
    - increased freshwater supply onsite
    - increased diesel fuel supply onsite (possibly underground tanks)
    - simple hardened standpipes for emergency water injection in the high up pools
    - transferring spent fuel from high up pools to ground level pools and dry storage
    - a generator attached to the steam turbine driven cooling pumps (alternate electricity supply)
    - high efficiency filters for venting to the outside if that is still necessary despite the other measures taken.

  41. Here is my main question about what is really going on in the one containment dome that “melted thru the PV”:

    ” Is the CV flooded now as well.??

    I have read that they are putting “a pipe blocker in the ground to keep the radioactive water from going into the sea. …which is huge pipes going straight down like trees.

    Also I would think trying to plug all the leaks out of both the CV AND the PV is almost impssible.

    Any engineering heads want to speculate as to what is : REALLY GOING ON>

    It appears they didn’t flood the containment vessel of number 1, because the fuel melted through the reactor vessel, and that is not possible if there is water on the outside of the reactor vessel (ie if the containment vessel is actively flooded).

    World Nuclear has one of the most accurate, clearest, and most detailed techical explanations of what happened:


    The fuel in Daiichi unit 1 almost completely melted and burnt its way through the reactor vessel. It then fell onto the combined 10 meter thick concrete containment vessel bottom plus basemat. It damaged 0.7 meters (70 centimeters) of concrete, spreading the corium and allowing it to be cooled from the top. That was done with water injection into the vessel; obviously if there are huge holes in the vessel bottom then that reactor vessel injection cooling will also flood the containment vessel, where it cools the core, initially by boiling off and venting through a filtered stack in the upper building, you can see the vapor puffs out of the vertical vent grating in the upper building from fotos. When the closed loop cooling (heat exchangers and pumps) were installed they switched from boil off cooling to closed loop recirculation cooling.

  42. Would anybody care to comment on this article:


    Not sure why it’s in the market section of the WSJ, but anything that has the words “peer reviewed” and a reference to a five figure death toll – of American babies no less – within weeks of the initial release is bound to come up again and again. I can think of a few ABC news regulars rubbing their hands together.

    International Journal of Health Services…. Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman…. Credible?

  43. @NinetySix, that non-story is thoroughly debunked elsewhere:


    People often ask me to come up with “peer reviewed” references. After reading Mangano and Sherman, and other nonsense coming from people such as Mark Jacobson on wind power, I’ve lost my faith in the “peer reviewed” system. It produces too much junk, its just junk that you have to pay for. I’ll take the Internet and common sense. They’re free.

  44. Cyril R. wrote:

    The venting system at Fukushima Daiichi is really bizarre. Rather than venting to the outside it vented to the upper building in order to contain all the radiation. This is silly because when venting is needed it means you have a core damage event already, so you have hydrogen, and send it to a confined, non-armed space in the building (the top floor which only has a simple thin roof). In stead they should use armored vents to an armored chimney like the US plants do, and use high efficiency filters to remove the radionuclides.

    The did have hardened vents at Fukushima (here), and venting stacks located outside the reactor buildings (as you suggest they should). There is no indication they deliberately vented radioactive gases from primary containment or the torus into the secondary containment building. I know there is an Areva ppt out there that shows this venting pathway, but it is incorrect. The implication is that there was a failure along the venting pathway (here), or perhaps the servicing flange at the top of the primary containment structure failed some how (due to very high pressures in the primary containment structure). These are the two credible options that have suggested so far, with no hard conclusions to date. But we do know that operators did not deliberately vent radioactive gases from primary containment into a non-armed and vital working space of the reactor building. Your informed assessment that this would be “really bizarre” appears to be very good, and is not what was done in this instance. Let’s try and not go back and forth on this one (regarding deliberate venting to secondary containment). What else happened is anybody’s guess (until we get robots in there to have a close look). I’m out of town, and away from the computer anyway, the issues are fully described in the sources above.

  45. EL, thanks for pointing that out. The World Nuclear website article I linked to suggests that it was the need for pumping power (fans) in the venting system, which were of course not available. That then caused backflow. This seems like a difficult explanation, since the venting out of the stack is the only low pressure way out for the gas. So that would mean there are additional motor operated valves or such which are normally closed. Of course in that case there is going to be failure of some part of the venting system from overpressure. The flange connection failing is also plausible, as it is one of the weaker parts of the containment pressure boundary, it could occur similtaneously with a venting system failure (increase pressure) and the area where the hydrogen explosion took place is right about that flange. The operators allowed far too high a pressure to build up. I hope that there will be an additional lesson here, in using automatic passive containment venting. I suggest to use an inverted U-shaped tube filled with water. Pressure rise causes the tube water level to be pushed down, until it reaches the bottom of the U shaped tube, and then the water lock breaks, venting to a stack the other side of the U shaped tube.

  46. @NinteySix

    International Journal of Health Services…. Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman…. Credible?

    Med Page today asked the chair of the American College of Radiation’s safety committee that same question. (In the US the medical community breaks down it’s specialists into ‘colleges’)

    On the contrary, any link between the deaths and the radiation released by the reactors is “very, very unlikely” simply because the levels are low, according to Richard Morin, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla…..,,Morin, who is chair of the American College of Radiology’s safety committee, said an earlier public report by the authors on the same issue — preceding the journal article — “has not been taken seriously by the scientific community.”

  47. If it is not taken seriously by the scientific community – as it should (see the Uvdiv blog article) then why is this Mangano and Sherman article peer-reviewed? What idiot reviewed this article?

    Activism is often prevailing over science – in the scientific world. It happened with Mark Jacobson nonsense piece on global wind power, it happened with Greenpeace involvement in the IPCC, it happens in journals of health science.

    If Greenpeace publishes another nonsense “report” on Fukushima you can be sure it’s full of lies and half truths. It’s a given. But the peer reviewed world must keep itself in check, lest they lose credibility.

  48. A quick Google search got me to this page:

    “The Journal contains articles on health and social policy, political economy and sociology, history and philosophy, ethics and law in the areas of health and health care.”

    So the journal seems to be more about the social acpect than the physical/chemical aspect of medicine. Interestingly, they highlight M&S’s discredited study about Sr-90 in baby teeth.

  49. @ Jek R, thanks for your response to the issue I raise.

    Yes, I’ve noticed some knee-jerk reactions/sentiments as a result of Fukushima. Germany in my opinion being one of the most disappointing, however if I were a betting man I’d say their new position will revert back to nuclear in the long term presuming renewable energy and storage do not make quantum leaps in development, a similar policy reversal is looking most likely here in Australia

    I also agree that these debates on the older technology certainly need to be had, but I question the platform and audience in which this debate takes place. The general laymen public aren’t interested in reading hundreds of comments/blogs/papers about what happened in the past, they need to be informed of the risks/costs/ecological factors of adopting nuclear energy now

    I believe the vast majority of properly informed Australians will allow nuclear energy. They just need the relevant information. Barry Brook does well conveying this message, although popular media platforms like ABC are needed.

    In Australia, it is only a matter of time until we have a national debate on nuclear technology. In my view (and this is coming from a solar energy researcher!) nuclear power is looking like a promising option to replace fossil-fuels, with of course the intermediate offset using renewables.

    Also, a lot of my colleagues, etc. Seem to believe that nuclear energy will ‘kill’ renewables, I don’t believe this to be the case, aside from a few varieties such as solar thermal.

    In short, I think those of us advocating nuclear energy keep in mind that when we comment on or submit articles to public media for Australia’s nuclear energy future, we focus on modern reactors only, due to their relevance.

    As a side note: I was impressed by Ben Heard’s article in The Conversation the other day, well done Ben!

  50. Paul — My assesment is that NPPs are always prefereable to wind turbines using current and forseeable pricing for both. Solar PV is another matter entirely for which I’m still working on a clear, crisp assessment.

    A discussion of these matters seems to be going off topic on this thread (suitable for the Open Thread) except insofar as there are various Japanese attempts to determine the costs of avoiding NPPs in Japan. These determine that alternatives are more expensive, even actual geothermal.
    Thanks David – I agree. Please continue on the Open Thread.

  51. It’s still not entirely clear what caused the hydrogen to move to the upper building. The British HSE says it was misdirected venting and lack of high efficiency filtered vent path, as I said earlier.


    EL says this isn’t the case, that they did have high efficiency filters, but this is not in any BWR design document. The hardened outside vent is a late retrofit to USA plants, but no mention is made of this in the Japanese plant. The World Nuclear reference suggests “backflow” of hydrogen due to lack of fan power, into the upper building area, which could have occured with the spent fuel bay interbuilding connections, but that makes no sense for the venting line. If there is no connection to the upper building area – and outside venting lines are indeed installed, then there is no backflow path here.

    Anyone has more info on the Fukushima Daiichi units venting system?

    On a different note, TEPCO released their decommissioning plans on their website:


    Apparently the torus housing chamber is flooded, which implies either torus leaks or wetwell vent pipe leaks.

  52. Cyril R. wrote:

    It’s still not entirely clear what caused the hydrogen to move to the upper building … Anyone has more info on the Fukushima Daiichi units venting system?

    Page 39 and 83 (and other pages) of July 27, 2011, TEPCO Interim Report has description of venting operation:


    Two vents (with filtration, p. 59) to exhaust stack from suppression pool and upper drywell. MO Valve to exhaust stack lost power, and opened 25% by hand. Report concludes: “It was extremely difficult to achieve the venting line without supply of the electricity and instrumentation air. High radiation dose in R/B [Torus Room] also impeded the work.”

  53. New Matilda have just posted this:


    My Visit To Fukushima

    By Felicity Hill

    “Felicity Hill joined an international delegation to the radioactive Fukushima region and was shocked by the conditions faced by Japan’s nuclear refugees almost one year on from the disaster”

    I immediately became concerned with the opening para, because as we all know, the term “radioactive Fukushima region” is a bit paradoxical, given that the entire planet we inhabit has natural background radiation, and there is no quantification as to what level of radiation is being referred to.

    Other lines such as :”We visited Fukushima City, which is 60km from the nuclear power plant but received a large dose of fallout” are written without qualification of what this dose was and what exactly the radioactive material was or is… ?

    and “The snow outside our hotel in Fukushima City had a radiation reading higher than the Rum Jungle uranium site…”

    & “The persimmons on the trees in the evacuated zones we drove through were bright red and rotting with radiation.”

    again totally unqualified by any quantitative info. Just exactly what does “rotting with radiation” mean ?? Clearly this is just sensationalist journalism.

    The last line of the article reads “In that twilight zone of misinformation, lies and doubt, manufactured alongside the plutonium stockpiles, a toxic, dangerous and unnecessary industry has been built that is dependent upon massive subsidies and uranium. It’s time to tear it down once and for all. My visit to Fukushima has certainly doubled and redoubled my resolve to do so.”

    I’m all for investigtive journalism, but somehow, this article smacks of sensationalism all the way through. I’d be interested to read any further comments from BNCers about this bizarre article.

  54. Thanks Bryen. I’ve just left a couple of comments over on
    New Matilda. That’s the most ignorant and appalling piece I’ve
    seen for a long, long time.
    It’s probably worth emailing scott Ludlam also.

  55. Thanks EL. I now wonder if both scenarios happened, the containment flange leak with that >2x design overpressure, that caused the hydrogen explosion (and almost all of the radionuclide release) and later the manual venting operation which was effective (which would not release large quantities of iodine and cesium when filtered but would release noble gasses). The half life of Cs-137′s precursor, Xe-137, is only 5 minutes so would not present a release path for Cs-137 through a filtered vent stack a few hours after reactor shutdown. That means virtually all the Cs-137 must have come from the containment overpressure flange leakage, subsequently dispersed by the hydrogen explosion.

  56. John Morgan -> good to see you again, and your NM comment, as succinct as ever…

    Geoff Russell -> yes I agree. I was not going to bother reading it at first, but I’m glad I did. NM continue to spiral to new journalistic lows, and yes it is alarming Felicity is advising the Scott Ludlam.

    Also unsurprising are the NM readers coming to Felicity’s defence for such rubbish…

  57. Dear Moderator,

    Please show me where I was warned? I have posted on this site a grand total of three times. Did I post in the wrong thread? If so let me know and I’ll take care in the future. I have searched my inbox and spam filter and no warning about “Violation of citation rule.” Comment deleted without warning.

    Is this the rule that I violated?

    Citing literature and other sources — appropriate and interesting citations and links within comments are welcomed, but please DO NOT cite material that you have not yourself read, digested and understood. As a general rule, please introduce any and every link or reference with a short description of the material, your judgement on its quality, and the specific reason you are including it (i.e. how it is relevant to the discussion).
    BNC has 5 comments from you.
    Yes – it is the “Citing literature and other sources” rule that has been violated. This latest comment was the third violation.
    First was on the “Open Thread 16″ 2011/06/29 at 6:35PM when you were warned against the practice.
    Second, which was let through, was on the “Fukushima and nuclear power, 9 months on” thread 2012/01/23 at 12:03PM.
    Please re-submit your link applying the citation rule. Your input is appreciated.

  58. @KobeKid — it’s all right, it doesn’t hurt. Most of us have had a comment deleted for some good reason before. Before moderation, the site got horribly clogged up, and weeding by the moderator became very welcome. It helps to keep a temporary copy, in case you really want to repair it and submit it again. Quite soon, this comment is about to be deleted along with yours, watch it happen and laugh. As I said, it really doesn’t hurt!
    I think this one is a “keeper” :)

  59. Pingback: Black Swan theory and the anti-nuclear sentiment « BraveNewClimate

  60. There was a good article by Dr Theodore Rockwell back in December that seems apropos to this topic. It discusses lessons learned from Fukushima with respect to (in)appropriateness of radiation standards.

    Barry, yes you were over-defensive. But the “other side” has continually blown things SO far out of proportion that your mistake was trivial by comparison. Unfortunately, any mistake made by the minority in a scientific/policy dispute will likely become overblown. :(

    I’ll quote briefly — highlights are mine.

    The use of inappropriate radiation standards is not an abstract issue. People around Fukushima are being told they cannot return home for an indeterminate period — perhaps years. And efforts to decontaminate their home sites to these standards may include stripping off all the rich top-soil and calling it RadWaste. People who were evacuated have been reduced to economic poverty, clinical depression, and even suicide.

    There is good scientific evidence that, except for some hot spots, the radiation levels at these home-sites are not life-threatening. The current restrictions are based on a misguided desire to be “prudent.” No matter how well intended, this “prudence” is cruelly destructive. Many radiation protectionists, such as Myron Pollycove, MD, former special assistant to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dr. Jerry Cuttler, former President of the Canadian Nuclear Society, and Abel Gonzales of Brazil, vice-chair of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, are beginning to feel unhappy about the harm their rules have caused and are joining in the cry for quick action as the Japanese head into winter.

    Link is here: http://www.spectator.org/archives/2011/12/06/let-the-people-of-fukushima-go

Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s