Fukushima – Jim Green’s distractions and James Hansen’s warning

Yesterday, Jim Green, anti-nuclear spokesman for ‘Friends of the Earth’ in Australia, published an opinion article on Climate Spectator entitled “Fukushima apologies and apologists“. This piece included an attack on Geoff Russell and me, in which he demanded that we make an apology. Today they published our response, which I reproduce below.

———————-

It’s been interesting to see the media response to the third anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Has the focus been on mourning and commemorating the 18,000 deaths or on kicking the anti-nuclear can over the triple meltdown at Fukushima which killed nobody?

Jim Green’s recent Climate Spectator article neglected any mention of the 18,000 deaths caused by the quake and tsunami and chose instead to fiercely debate whether the meltdowns had killed anybody. Of the 18,000 actual deaths, many were due to engineers or penny pinching local officials designing or building protective sea walls for a much smaller tsunami than the one which actually arrived. They were wrong and thousands died. Green is predictably silent about these engineering failures which killed thousands and only has eyes for the nuclear failures which didn’t.

This is classic Green. Always trying distract people from thinking about the big issue. The big issue is climate change and whether nuclear power should be part of the global response. The way to come to a rational decision is to weigh up the pros and cons.

Pick a number from Green’s estimates of the number of cancers that might be caused over the next 30 years by Fukushima radiation and write it down as a con along with whatever figure you’d like to put down for the Chernobyl toll of premature deaths. On the other side you should note the 1.8 million premature deaths already prevented by nuclear power by reducing the toxic pollution from coal fired power plants. You should also write down about 64 gigatonnes of CO2 saved by current nuclear plants.

At that point, it’s pretty much a slam dunk, you could stop writing. Any negative impacts of nuclear power have been swamped by the positive impacts.

But it’s useful to build another list of pros and cons which represent the impacts of the anti-nuclear movement over the past few decades.

On the pro side of the ledger will be the accidents we didn’t have because we built coal power stations instead of nuclear. Until very recently, the anti-nuclear movement has protested any nuclear construction vigorously and been totally silent about coal, so this is a fair comparison.

So what if we had continued the nuclear rollout of the 1970s and now had 10 times as many reactors producing all of our electricity? We’d have had a few more accidents, how many? Let’s say 10. So write down however many premature deaths you think is reasonable on the pro side and now on the other side write down the saving of 18 million premature fossil fuel related deaths together with the saving of 640 gigatonnes of CO2. Note that this anti-nuclear consequence of some 640 gigatonnes of CO2 has single handedly delivered us into the gaping jaws of a horribly elevated risk of dangerous climate change. What do you write down for that?

But let’s go back to that 1.8 million premature death saving estimate. The authors were NASA climate scientists Pushker Kharecha and living legend James Hansen. It was a very conservative estimate. In places like China and India, nuclear has been displacing not just coal, but wood fires in people’s living areas. Wood cooking stoves annually kill about half a million children under 5 years of age with an added illness toll much larger. Hansen has recently written an opinion piece with the striking title of ‘World’s Greatest Crime against Humanity and Nature’.

What’s he talking about?

Hansen wants the US to assist China with its nuclear rollout because he thinks it’s blindingly obvious that without nuclear, there is simply no way to avoid dangerous climate change. As part of the argument Hansen charges those who believe in a non-nuclear 100 percent renewable response to climate change with the major responsibility for the rise of both gas fracking and the exploitation of tar sands and other unconventional oil technologies. This is supported by falling natural gas production during the US nuclear roll and the subsequent resurgence after the anti-nuclear movement got spurred on by the Three Mile Island meltdown and Chernobyl.

But we suspect Hansen may be wrong about one thing … which is that given the astonishing Chinese progress in nuclear technology in recent years, we’d be thinking that it might be the US who need Chinese production engineering assistance, but that’s another issue.

———————-

Geoff Russell is an author with qualifications in mathematics and philosophy. Barry Brook is an environmental scientist and director of climate science at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.

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36 Comments

  1. Issues that are not stated here are that each melt down and each NPP releasing spills, raises the back ground and food radiation in the environment. The safe limits have been raised since Fukushima and radiation has been higher then the safe limit in North America since Fukushima blow up. How many Fukushima melt downs until the back ground radiation will be to high for life on this planet, Fukushima would have been 10 fold worse if most radiation hadn’t fell into the sea. An other is how unsafe these plants are from a single person attacking a plant that would cause much more radiation release then Fukushima. An other is all plants are in danger of a Carington event that could take down over half the NPP plants in operation at the moment it happens. The Carington event alone makes the building of NPP ridicules, this planets last Carington event was in the mid 1800’s so the next one can happen now as you read this, this is totally unacceptable risk management scenario.

  2. Well said! And it needs saying to help people look at the new nuclear generation.
    But I wouldn’t worry too much. It’s clear that China will be leading the world eventually in the use of safe nuclear.
    As Tom says, they’ll pick what they think is the best product from their trials and install however many they need to fill the gaps that solar will have left during the intervening years. …/Chris

  3. “designing or building protective sea walls for a much smaller tsunami than the one which actually arrived. They were wrong and thousands died.”

    Is that really something that is “wrong”? I’m not sure. Obviously you don’t just build the sea wall 100 meters high because you can’t prove that the probability of a tsunami that high is zero.

    Some degree of probabilistic risk assessment has to be used to decide how high to make the wall to provide a reasonable assurance of safety – in other words, a sufficiently small but non-zero probability of failure which is small enough to be judged as acceptable – at a viable cost. Was this assessment “wrong” in terms of tsunami protection around Japan, including but not limited to at Fukushima-Daiichi?

  4. Despite the lack of builds, there is nothing out of date about American nuclear designs. After the Three Mile Island scandal, the nuclear regulators (NRC) became ferociously vigilant. To meet the stringent new requirements, the American nuclear industry has been getting a lot of experience testing a large number of designs in cyberspace, modelling a large number of what-if scenarios. The first mass-production designs appearing in the West are likely to be American.

  5. The first mass-production designs used in the West may be American, but with the NRC wielding an effective veto on anything but light-water reactors there are many things that cannot be driven by nuclear energy in a cost-effective manner.

    Russia, China and India are all working on technologies that the US has abandoned.  Reactors cooled by liquid metals and molten salts are chief among these.  The elimination of pressurized coolants greatly increases safety, and the higher temperatures allows the direct use of nuclear heat to drive processes that would otherwise require electricity.  When those finally come back to the USA, they may be labelled in ideographs or Cyrillic.

  6. The greens are certainly all ready with their unschooled notions of liquid sodium, salt, and lead dangers, not realizing they are relatively unpressurized. Their hysteria is completely based on data taken out of context.

  7. Some may wish to peruse a Tyndall review study commissioned by FoE UK for internal edification last year. It has no executive summary, or makes firm conclusions: A Review of Research Relevant to New Build Nuclear Power Plants in the UK, including new estimates of the CO2 implications of gas generating capacity as an alternative.

    The review is somewhat lengthy and portions are a bit technical; their section on CO2 emissions from proposed gas generation, for example, is rather sobering, and the authors admit to having insufficient data to evaluate the efficiency effects of increased load-following were gas combined with intermittents, the most likely actual scenario. So take your time.

  8. The actual technology used at Fukushima may have nothing to do with the nuclear accident. There was another nuclear plant impacted by the tsunami at Onagawa of similar technology and age to Fukushima. Onagawa was significantly closer to the epicentre of the earthquake than Fukushima. The IAEA reviewed the Onagawa plant as part of it’s review of the Fukushima incident. Their assessment of the Onagawa plant was that it “shut down safely” and was “remarkably undamaged”.

    So what was the difference that saved one plant and wrecked the other? Onagawa was run by Tohoku Electric Power Company. Fukushima was run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. It may well have been a difference in culture between the two companies.

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2014/03/14/commentary/culture-of-safety-can-make-or-break-nuclear-power-plants/#.UyPl0j9mPh4

  9. It’s undeniable that some anti nuclear propagandists are fully paid by the coal / natural gas lobby.
    We must keep on fighting for the truth.
    Still waiting for a big island like Hawaii or Puerto Rico running zero fossil fuel electricity. Then we would know the actual cost and show that nuclear is cheap in comparison.

  10. Safety is compromised by the financial straight of the owners that is also influenced by the cost users feel exceptable. The economy of a country will effect safety. There is to many things effecting the safety of a NPP when many are built each having a risk and a total cumulative higher risk growing as more plants are built.

  11. Jim Green is amusing, declaring the “nuclear renaissance” over before it’s even really begun. China is building new reactors at pace, the US is building new AP-1000’s, several countries are looking into acquiring nuclear technology, and several more are eager to export it to them. How long can he and others like him keep up the cognitive dissonance?

    The AGW denialsts are happy to “debate” climate change forever, all the while very studiously pretending that the obvious solution — nuclear energy — doesn’t even exist. They are happy to sit by and let Greenpeace do the fearmongering. However, just like it’s unfair to suggest that pro-nuclear environmentalists are paid lobbyists of the nuclear industry, it’s unfair to suggest that anti-nuclear activists are in the pay of the fossil fuel industry. Of course it is evident that anti-nuclear sentiment (unintentionally) aids the fossil fuel industry.

    But let the fringe be the fringe. Instead go for the juicy middle. I think the vast majority of people in the center are open to the idea of nuclear energy.

    Nuclear is renewable. It can be if we reprocess and continually recycle nuclear materials.

    Nuclear weapons proliferation? It would be much safer to “burn up” nuclear material than stockpile it. Again, reprocessing is key. Here again, the anti-nuclear activists are really, really badly misinformed, to ironic effect.

    Nuclear can be safe. Fukushima was a bad design– loss of power caused the cooling systems to become nonfunctional, leading to meltdowns. If a loss of electrical power is a threat to the entire system, that’s called a bad design. Period. We know there are much safer designs. There was also serious human mishandling of the situation. Poor training, lack of safety culture, etc.

    Then, on the pro-nuclear side, the molten salt thorium fringe appears and they attempt to muddy the waters again. It’s an endless fight. But the juicy middle is out there.

  12. One of my interests is getting a latch on the mindset of the anti-nuclear culture. I can completely understand the inculteration that two bombs in Japan, fifty years of head to head with the Russians and Chinese paranoia as us baby boomers absorbed OUR version of all the scary things we processed growing up. Godzilla, comic books, and the usual component of the population that always thinks the sky is falling is the type of thing that is to be overcome.

    Young kids weren’t raised under the same kind of constant threat of nuclear annihilation. The old anti-nukes, I’m rather sure are affected by a sort of PTSD and that, I think is what needs to be unravelled.

    I grew up with all this stuff and even though my dad was a physicist and nuclear advocate, (he wanted to drill a hole from New York to Chicago using nuclear drilling technique), I fell into the left of center hippie, soft tech, accessible , do it yourself, feel good tech.

    I really think the wind and solar emphasis is an esthetic attachment, because it sure has no basis in reality. And I can say that for a long time I thought there was no way out of the climate issue and like a lot of people who were feeling desperate and depressed, and would try anything.

    But then I got that nuclear was not only viable, but a pretty darn good thing we should pursue with all deliberate speed.

    So let’s unravel the “so called” Green’s insanity and get German politics, the Sierra Club, Environmental
    Defense, Greenpeace, and so forth to understand the error of their ways regarding generation III & IV nuclear.

    When was the last time pro-nuclear Stewart Brand, Sir James Lovelock, founder of Greenpeace, and so forth talk to the movements they founded?

  13. Pingback: Another Week of Global Warming News, March 16, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  14. @richard123456columbia

    Carrington event, eh? Looks …Ah, that would certainly cause all sorts of problems in our highly electrified society. But you completely misapprehend the safety systems integrated into modern nuclear reactor designs. PRISM, when it’s built, will feature passive cooling upon complete loss of flow. There will be no meltdown, no leak. As for your other FUD regarding background radiation, just like the dozen other commenters here, I will not even dignify it with a response.

  15. But using sodium you need to circulate it to cool the fuel, with out pumps how will this happen, using sodium with water pipes is not a good idea either. So should we still build the present types and shut down those in service now before the next Caringten event, no one knows when the next one will happen but having one about 150 years ago suggests it is frequent.
    Please answer this question, some types of Plutonium and Uranium has a half life of over 10,000 years or more, at the present average of radiation accidents and spills around the world, approximately what century will the back ground radiation be higher then the Japan present acceptable maximum levels.
    Presently 311 is spewing enough radioactive water equivalent to a 40 inch diameter pipe. They claim 300 tons a day but this must not allow for the probability of under ground water streaming through the fuel, why I believe this is that TEPCO say they do not know were the fuel is so are not allowing for that happening when they estimate the 300 tons( equivalent to 300tons a day).
    BNC MODERATOR
    Please be aware that, when you make a statement as a as a belief or a fact, you must back it up with scientific references, links, etc indicating from which source you got the information. Please supply these refs or your comment above or it may be deleted. Check the Comments Policy for more information.

  16. Richard-
    I think one of the telling fake news trumpetings is the dire warnings about how the “deadly” radioactivity will reach the West Coast in such and such a time. The only reason anyone can make that prediction at all is because our radiology sensors are exceedingly sensitive. It doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to realize how highly dispersed and harmless it would be.

    You have obviously not overcome believing in the false doctrine that says any and all radiation is harmful neglecting the obvious which is that radiation is everywhere and always has been. The reality is that the impact from nuclear events are always local and generally affect only those who’ve been intensely exposed in the first few days of those accidents and that’s been proven by all legitimate research.

  17. By using your logic that because we have back ground radiation more radiation is not harmful is like saying sun light in moderation is safe so more will not harm people. Plutonium is rare on the surface of earth so it is a new type of radiation for animals and is a heavy metal like most radioactive particles, why are we preventing the use of lead in products like gas but harmful heavy metals of radioactive particles are acceptable according to you. I have trouble believing this. Please give me a study document showing the maximum radiation that is safe in the ENVIRONMENT, we see many for short exposure which the body can expel but continual radiation will build up in the body overwhelming the immune system..

  18. I ask everyone commenting to check the Comments Policy for this blog. Opinion presented as fact is not valid and needs to be backed up with peer review references/links to support statements. Further violation of this policy may result in a comment being deleted.

  19. richard123456columbia, all of the various radioactive elements/isotopes decay in the same (primarily three) ways, there are no “new” types of radiation. http://science.howstuffworks.com/nuclear2.htm

    Focusing on “radiation is bad” misses the bigger picture: if we fail to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions– in a big way, and very soon– the planet’s climate will be altered in ways which will exact a very large cost on civilization.

    Overblown fear of radiation doesn’t make a sensible argument against nuclear energy. There is no realistic way to significantly reduce CO2 emissions without it.

    Fear vs. Radiation: The Mismatch

  20. BNC MODERATOR
    Your comment has been deleted for violations of the Comments Policy:
    No denial of climate change will be discussed.
    Unsupported personal opinion (you have been asked to provide refs before)
    Attribution of ulterior motives to other commenters and in particular to NP supporters.
    You are now on moderation.

  21. @richard123456columbia
    “But using sodium you need to circulate it to cool the fuel, with out pumps how will this happen, using sodium with water pipes is not a good idea either.”

    Ah, I see you simply wish to share preconceived attitudes towards technologies which you do not understand. For your information, liquid sodium coolant, which is a metal, conducts heat away from the core to the passive cooling systems even without active circulation. (Imagine placing an iron poker in a fire. Go to pick it up a few minutes later and the handle will be hot even though it is furthest from the heat) Add to that the subcritical neutron density due to thermally expanded metal fuel, and, like I said, it cannot melt down.

    The sodium and the water do not care what is on the oter side of the heat exchanger circuit. It seems to be staggeringly incomprehensible to many nuclear opponents that engineers are actually aware that sodium reacts with water and air and have therefore built systems to safely contain it.

    “Please answer this question”

    No, because you didn’t ask a question, you ranted about stuff you don’t understand.

  22. There is also considerable interest in developing supercritical CO2 gas turbine systems for use with sodium-cooled fast reactors, with improved efficiency and simplified design over traditional steam systems.

    “The system would be capable of reaching efficiencies as high as 45-50% operating at a temperature of 550 – 700°C. Furthermore, the high density of supercritical CO2 and sizeable molecular weight results in a power conversion system with a small footprint,
    reducing capital costs.”

    http://prod.sandia.gov/techlib/access-control.cgi/2012/120184.pdf

    “Compared with a conventional SFR system that has a secondary sodium circuit and a steam cycle system, the size of the SFR that adopts an S-CO2 system is reduced by approximately 20%.”

    http://www.kns.org/jknsfile/v41/JK0411025.pdf


    See also: https://share.sandia.gov/news/resources/news_releases/brayton-cycle-turbines/

  23. Isn’t sodium in a container with thick walls to hold the weight and heat in place. There are small openings and piping to pump sodium to heat exchanger that has water pipes to take heat away if pumps are working, drawings that I have seen do not show any other way of transferring heat, if you have info showing how it gets transferred away from the container please post as this would be a big resolve of safety if costs are not to high. Sodium is a good conductor of heat but in this use does not have away of getting rid of heat with out pumps, I hope your wright, again please post if you have more info.

    The note you posted about handling water and sodium safety, pipes wear and fatigue from the heat and high pressures on them and do break down nothing man makes lasts.

  24. Sodium-cooled reactors typically operate around 500-600°C, far below sodium’s 883°C boiling point.  Because of this the reactor can operate at atmospheric pressure (or a slight overpressure under an inert cover gas) and needs only thin sheet metal to contain it.  Liquid sodium is less dense than water (ρ=0.927).

    Pool-style reactors can have coolant pumps but can also allow natural cirulation between the core and the outer wall of the pool.  Cooling by natural circulation of air can supply all required cooling for the pool itself.  The EBR-II (and presumably all derived designs, like S-PRISM) shut down automatically by thermal expansion if they go into overtemperature, whereupon natural circulation and air cooling suffices to remove the afterheat.  This was proven in tests on EBR-II and worked perfectly as designed.

  25. You could keep sodium in the core to avoid corrosion and use molten salt or lead as secondary coolant to reduce fire risk. I wonder by whom and when it will be done.
    Nuclear power will keep on improving and getting safer. Extreme cases like Carrington event and strength 9 earthquakes and tsunamis of that order are something like end of the world and cannot be provided for.

  26. The sodium cooling system is not safe when control and monitoring systems are compromised, sodium is not like water that you see through so you have to rely on electronic equipment to monitor levels and flow. The operators will have no readings or partial erroneous readings. It will be difficult to know the present state of operation through the event and after. These condition would be different at each plant that is effected. These plants rely on monitoring many points and automatically controlling equipment as readings change, the readings will mislead the operators and controls. Why this can occur is that surges in voltage will jump over breakers, fuses and switches, switches and breakers may weld closed not to be opened or turned off manually. This will leave these plants in a mess and time will be short to solve the problems, maybe some plants will go into maximum out put automatic or start wrong shut down procedures. I worked with monitoring and control systems of different types and I have not seen equipment that can hold up to such surges and computerized equipment is very sensitive. I hope someone can show that this is not possible but I can not see how. Look into Caringten event to see what was reported to have happened, makes what has happened to power grids in past 50 years from surges a miniscule event.
    After writing above I read the test results of EBR ll and I seen finer information on the design, noted one is the thimbles configuration for better heat transfer, if this works with larger plants I could support nuclear power with safe guards from earth quakes. I hope you can send more details about the following. Would like your input to these questions as paper is probably shortened from a more specific paper. Thanks
    [1] The testing paper stated 20% of the fleet should be sodium design, I am not clear what that statement means for sure(all plants should be equal or better) or is it because the fuel used is from spent fuel from other plants. [2] Is 20% because of costs [3] Regarding test info about turning off main pumps, was the monitoring/control input and out put operating at the time of the test, correct me if I am wrong but it looks to me that they tested sections not total power lose to plant, this would allow cooling from primary and secondary heat exchange and forced air fans running(I maybe wrong but again it is a condensed paper so assumptions are made) [4] The test scenario stated main circulating pumps turned off, was there other smaller circulating pumps still running, was the air fans running at time of test, stated was there is three systems of cooling. [5] Is the design performance the same when scaled up.
    Hoping you can answer these, if this is as safe as the tests seem to indicate WOW NPP can be safe from Caringtan, crossing my figures. Again thanks for spending time on this.
    BNC MODERATOR
    Please supply links to the tests/papers to which you refer. It is a requirement of the BNC blog besides being useful information for other commenters. Future comments, without these links,
    might not be passed for posting.

  27. “sodium is not like water that you see through”

    This is a bit of a nuisance, but sonar would allow you to ‘see’ what is where. The sound generators & sensors can be put both on the top of the sodium pool to give the sort of view you get with light in water or on the bottom or sides of the reactor vessel to give views from a different angle.

  28. Richard is just going through a list of anti-nuclear talking points.  For instance, there are no windows into water-cooled reactor vessels; you can’t see anything inside them until they’re cooled down and the vessel heads taken off.  The opacity of sodium means nothing, except that it’s an item on some list of things that he doesn’t understand well enough to critique but can freely repeat at the speed of disinformation.

  29. I regret and too bad that anti-nuclear claims can’t be legally challenged to fess up for their unverified malacious assertions and FUD and misinformation and exaggerated perils which they irresponsibly spew to agitate a jittery uneducated public like crying fire in a theater.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  30. Further to Engineer Poet’s astute observation, I charge this commenter also with a variant of Queen Bee denialism (thanks Mr Heard), common to AGW doubters, wherein their contributions to the discussion amount to no more than demands (upon other commenters who have better things to discuss) for proof that their objections are invalid and/or erroneous. Upon wasting time delivering this proof, the objections are invariably altered or mysteriously forgotten, to be replaced with new ones from the set list.

  31. To BNC moderator
    americaengineer stated “This was proven in tests on EBR-II and worked perfectly as designed”.
    You did not ask him about a link, so I assumed I did not need to either.
    But here is the link.
    http://www.thesciencecouncil.com/dr-john-sackett/171-operating-and-test-experience-for-the-experimental-breeder-reactor-ii-ebr-ii.html

    I had trouble coping link if it does not work ask americaengineer or do what I did and search (test EBR II nuclear).
    BNC MODERATOR
    Thank you, Richard, for your link.
    I made a general comment last week, reminding everyone to post links/refs to substantiate their claims.
    I reiterate that now.

  32. One point I don’t see mentioned here is that today, its my understanding (based on reading the book “Energy in Australia”, I believe is where I read it) 87% of electricity today is generated by burning fossil fuels and 1% is from renewables (not including geothermal and hydro [how many more rivers can we dam up?]) and global electricity demand grows by 3% annually. These numbers instil in me no confidence whatsoever that we can divest ourselves of fossil fuels with only renewables for global electricity generation. I believe this is reason enough to be pro-nuclear (there are several other valid points outlined throughout this article and comments as well, in my opinion).

  33. I did not give a link to Carrington event
    Below are links
    Note I could not find a older site that showed a large transformer the size of a small house melted to a blob at the top. You can see a similar smaller transformer on a much smaller event on one of these sites.
    We had a close call in 2012 of being hit but flare side was not pointing towards earth, this event may happen at any time. How lucky we are so far.

    http://science1.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2008/06may_carringtonflare/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859

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