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An informed public is key to acceptance of nuclear energy

Guest post by DV82XLHe is a Canadian chemist and materials scientist (and regular, valued commenter on BNC). For his previous article on the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, see here.

Governments are coming to recognize nuclear power as an attractive option because of its near absence of carbon dioxide emissions and the widespread availability of uranium which serves as fuel. Furthermore, the major uranium producers – Canada and Australia – are noted for their long-term stability and good governance. Outside of a technical debate over benefits, trade-offs, and risks, at issue is the perception that public opinion rules out any serious new investment in the technology. The difficulty, of course, is that concerns over the safety and security of nuclear power often make it unpopular among the public. Hence, whether governments propose to introduce nuclear power for the first time, to simply replace existing ageing plant or to expand generating capacity, public acceptability questions must be faced.

The frames used to argue against nuclear energy remain familiar, paralleling the interpretations first introduced in the mid-1970s. Groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists push a public accountability interpretation, demanding that nuclear plants be tightly regulated, saying: “We continue to find and expose safety problems at individual plants, in industry standards, and in the failure of regulators to take effective action“. Other groups like Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace emphasize in their opposition not only the potential runaway dangers, but also the absence of cost-effectiveness. They advocate instead soft-path alternatives like increased energy efficiency and the development of solar, wind, and hydro energy production. They use the tagline that nuclear power is “not safe, not cost effective, and not needed.”

As is common in policy debates, advocates on both sides claim that the public backs their preferred policy options. Framing will be the central device by which both advocates and opponents of nuclear energy attempt to manage broad public opinion. However, if and when the decision is made to build a new nuclear power plant in a specific area, mobilized minorities of local citizens can prove decisive. Who shows up to protest, vote, or speak out at the local level will have a stronger impact on the future of nuclear energy than the current struggle to shape national opinion. We will return to this below.

One could suppose that people living in countries with nuclear power plants are more supportive of this form of energy because they are more familiar with it, better informed about it and more aware of its benefits. The hypothesis that better and increased communication leads to an increase in support is backed up by a poll (the Eurobarometer survey carried out for the European Commission’s directorate-general for energy and transport), in which Europeans were questioned about the degree to which they felt themselves to be informed about nuclear safety, and then looked at the impact of this on their views. What was found is that those who feel informed about nuclear safety tend to perceive the risks as lower than those who feel uninformed.

A similar link can be demonstrated between lower perceptions of risk and those having personal experience of nuclear power, even when the personal experience amounts to no more than living less than 50 km from a nuclear plant or knowing someone who works in the industry. Again, people in countries without nuclear power plants feel less informed and more likely to say that the risks outweigh the advantages. More evidence of the effect of knowledge and information on public acceptability of nuclear power comes from polls in which an opinion is sought before and after explaining some key fact. For instance, when it was explained that nuclear power could help to protect the world’s climate from global warming, the number of people supporting an expansion of nuclear power increased by an additional 10%, and more than a third of those who originally said that no more nuclear plants should be built subsequently changed their minds. Another, similar poll showed that knowledge about improvements in energy security also increased the proportion of people who were willing to accept nuclear power.

The importance of considering public opinion on policies relating to science and technology has been well highlighted in recent years, for example by the public backlash against GM crops demonstrated the need to engage with and respond to society’s views about this technology, it is no different with nuclear. When searching for the reasons motivating public attitudes to nuclear power, the first thing to be acknowledged is that, on a day-to-day basis, most people are much more concerned about issues such as unemployment, crime and healthcare than they are about energy issues, let alone nuclear energy. Even when people are asked “When you think about energy issues, what is the first thing that comes into your mind?”, the most frequent response is “price”. This suggests that most people have not given much in-depth attention to the question of energy policy, so that, more often than not, they will respond from a position that is not very well informed. However the public does demonstrate a very high level of awareness of the connection between fossil fuel sources of energy and environmental problems such as climate change, demonstrating that they can be made aware if the information is presented to them.

The inescapable conclusion is that more and better public information campaigns are needed in those countries where supporters want to advance the cause of nuclear power. This is the heart of the challenge for advocates for nuclear energy. It is not enough just to say we never met a reactor we didn’t like. We need to get the public up to speed, because when they know the truth it does look like they can make an informed decision and back nuclear. Antinuclear forces have held the public in high contempt for decades so much so that they lie almost reflexively now, and that makes them very vulnerable. The time to take this out into the streets is now, and it may not be as hard as it looks. The numbers of active committed supporters doesn’t need to be that high for this type of movement to make an impact. A new spirit of pragmatism has made the public more receptive than for decades to the irrefutable social, economic and environmental arguments in favour of nuclear energy. Without the support of a majority of citizens no lasting and meaningful political change can be achieved, and political change is what is needed if nuclear energy is to meet its potential, and climate change, if not avoided, survived.

I have come to the conclusion, based on observing the field for years, that pronuclear forces can be very effective getting the message out by taking some very simple steps. Although the examples apply specifically to the Canadian playing field, I can’t see how they wouldn’t apply in the U.S., the U.K., or Australia.

First and foremost we have to be a presence in the debate. Too often antinuclear forces have been able to operate without resistance of any kind, and this lack of opposition is itself a kind of force multiplier for them in the media. We have to organize the grassroots in a number of communities to hit the bricks every time there is a public event. They don’t have to be disruptive, hell they don’t even have to engage with the other side; just being there holding signs would be enough to generate media interest and guarantee a shot on TV and a sound bite.

It wouldn’t take many. There was a protest at Darlington, Ontario (out of my sphere of influence, I’m in Quebec) that drew fourteen protesters against the planned refurbishment. A couple of them chained themselves across the gate for an hour until the cops came and cut them down and arrested them. This, of course made the national news, and provided these morons a platform to preach about wind energy, and criticize the provincial energy minister for not being green enough. If there had been twenty pronuclear people there (not connected to the industry) just standing with placards, that would have been the story – they would have gotten the media attention, and they would have been the ones to read a prepared statement on the national news that night.

Other Western media outlets are no different than Canada’s, so this would hold true for them too. This can be done, because the old days when an antinuclear event could count on a mass of people showing up is gone. They didn’t need a lot of committed people then — most of them in the old days were just there for the hell of it anyway — and we don’t need them now. All we need is to have more warm bodies at these events than they do. I can’t overemphasize the importance of this. I was there in the Sixties and Seventies when the Ban-the-Bomb organizations segued into antinuclear power groups, and there wasn’t that dammed many of them then that were really serious about the issues, most of them were there because it was the thing to do. They came to meet people, raise a little hell, and put it to the man. You could tell who the committed were: they had bullhorns.

Second, every single story, in every single media outlet on ‘Green Energy’ has to be answered by having a number of people contact these outlets in writing, or by phone outlining the stupidity of these projects, and comparing them with nuclear energy. Yes, at the beginning we will be blown off, but we have to keep pushing; this is one of the cases where the squeaky wheel will get oiled. To our advantage there is the fact that many in the media, while far from being in full support, are less likely to be dogmatically against nuclear as they were in the past.

Antinuclear forces have been media darlings because they cultivated that status while the nuclear industry circled the wagons and seemed to believe that if they kept their mouths shut this would all blow over or that nobody would notice. Well the threat now IS that nobody will notice nuclear, while we dive headlong into windmills and solar panels that cannot produce a fraction of our energy needs. Many simply have no concept of scale, and in their minds a 50 MW wind farm equals a 1500 MW reactor.

At the same time there seems to be a growing awareness that nuclear energy is not as evil as it has been made out to be — people are beginning to question the standard shibboleths that they have been served up for the last twenty-five years, and I am beginning to see a real desire to understand the issue where in the past it was reflexively negative. Public confidence in the safety of existing nuclear power plants has also reached a record high. This represents a real opportunity for us and we should try and take advantage of it.

Unfortunately, what is needed is more than anything else is flesh-and-blood organization on the ground, so I believe that the major effort at this time should be to recruit people. As I said, it doesn’t need to be many in any given geographical area. Twenty or thirty people can make a huge impact at a meeting, or at a demonstration. Locally I know we can pull together a crew that size if need be, and we will if there is any resistance to the refurbishment at Gentilly 2. I truly believe that if the pronuclear movement could do that anywhere it needed to, we would have a very powerful tool to get our message out.

Where this recruiting has to be done is through high schools, colleges and universities. It is of primary importance that we get young people to engage in this subject, they carry a disproportionate amount of weight in this matter because they are the ones that will have to live with the decisions made now. As well, as a group they are truly feared by politicians because they are known to be fickle with their party support and when motivated can vote in significant numbers. Somehow we have to get leaders in this demographic to get the ball rolling. How we are going to recruit these people is the real problem at hand.

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

169 replies on “An informed public is key to acceptance of nuclear energy”

BilB – You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Not only are you getting your historical information from antinuclear propagandists, you are looking at things through a narrow American perspective, and you haven’t even a minimal grounding in the sciences.

First – the second nuclear reactor to go critical was in Canada, and before the war, and before the Chicago Reactor, Canadian researchers had built a non-critical pile in Ottawa.

Canada was kicked out of the Manhattan Project along with the British very early on, and embarked on a peaceful nuclear program that has continued ever since. Canada has never built a nuclear weapon even though we have been able to since the late 1940’s Out reactor designs use unenriched uranium, they burn the plutonium they breed to practically unrecoverable levels. Our program is not and never has been the handmaiden of any weapons program.

Second – You have no grasp of simple economics, Prove there are other economies of performance that over ride economies of scale. An idiot like you can say anything they want in a place like this, it means nothing unless you can show proof.

Third – It matters little what sort of name-plate rating any solar driven energy plant has – actual output as a function of time is the only thing that counts. Thus if a 500MWe plant is only producing 20% of its capacity 50% of the time, it doesn’t mean a 1000MWe plant will produce 40% (of 500MWe) 100% of the time. It’s not a matter capacity with renewables, its a matter of dispatchability, and you cannot get that by increasing the size.

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The calculation goes 400w/sq/m (Sydney) 256 solar days at 7.5 full solar per day yielding 19200 kwhr per year. Remember this is the next generation of PV, not the system that you are familiar with.

My calculations were for Canberra, not Sydney. My data for solar radiation was the average figure for the year. If you do not specify what sort of system you’re using, I have no choice but to use current figures, which is more reasonable than the figures for your imaginary tech.

The heating and cooling is additional to the electricity output but the total system consumes about 2 kw at full peak.

I tried to interpret your rambling as best I could. If you want anyone to take your diatribes seriously, you’d better start presenting the numbers behind your assumptions in a coherent enough manner that people can figure out what the hell you’re talking about.

The costing conclusion is within range (high end).

Extreme low end, I would suggest. I was very generous in my assumptions.

You omit to recognise that the system is residential and small business and is grid connected.

What ou actually said was this:

just pretend that you are able to harvest energy from your house which will provide you with 19200 kilowatt hours per year plus other energy sufficient 10 kilowatts of air conditioning along with hot water and space heating.

Nothing there about drawing power from the grid.

However industry studies suggest that EV battery packs having lost 20% of their charge capacity will be replaced with new and the old battery packs will find a market in the domestic sector. So an exEV pack may have a 30kwhr capacity which would power every element on a stove left at full for 5 hours. Considering the probability of a grid outage the battery would have an easy life.

So you’ve switched the goalposts in your favour by now calling for a grid connecting to protect your precious battery from the continuous charge/discharge cycling it would otherwise ggo through on a daily basis. Typical dishonesty from an anti-nuke ‘renewables supporter.

The system earns 3800 per year which repays the cost of the system over the 8 year period in Finrod’s calculation. There after household and vehicle running cost is free and any surplus electricity (19200kwhr generated less x amount consumed) yields an income at the retail rate less 10% brokerage and cable contribution.

You are either a liar, or completely incapable of understanding simple calculations and their conclusions and significance even when they are presented in in the open for you to follow. The cost of the PV cells alone addded up to $247,000.00. The figure of $30,875.00 is the amount needed to cover only one year of repayment, which is a crude underestimate, because I haven’t bothered calculating the interest on the loan payments. Trying to recover this cost by selling power to the grid at current prices, even if you sold all of it, would likely not even cover the interest on the repayments. You’d be more heavily indebted than ever by the time your panels died about 20 years down the track.

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Finrod
I am not going to argue endlessly with you. The leading edge of solar PV has a cost of 50 cents per watt for the conversion medium. Your 30,000 in the system being considered would include the total system cost including the air conditioner all at the high cost end. These systems are being developed now and are anticipated to have a strong uptake in the market. I was trying to give you a preview.

dv8
I don’t have to give you references about this. There are more than enough clues there for agood researcher would figure it out in no time flat.

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The leading edge of solar PV has a cost of 50 cents per watt for the conversion medium. Your 30,000 in the system being considered would include the total system cost including the air conditioner all at the high cost end. These systems are being developed now and are anticipated to have a strong uptake in the market. I was trying to give you a preview.

Once again, the cost of the panels alone works out to a quarter of a million dollars. Your ‘leading edge’ technology does not exist. Prove me wrong and link to someplace that sells, or at least describes, what you are referring to.

dv8
I don’t have to give you references about this. There are more than enough clues there for agood researcher would figure it out in no time flat.

Not good enough. Provide references, or be exposed to us and to all your credulous followers as a fraud.

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I can’t be specific, Finrod, as I’m involved in the design work. I’ll post the specifics back here when the product becomes public. But every component of this system is public domain and you will be familiar with every part. And there are university based programmes working on similar concepts.

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I can’t be specific, Finrod, as I’m involved in the design work. I’ll post the specifics back here when the product becomes public. But every component of this system is public domain and you will be familiar with every part. And there are university based programmes working on similar concepts.

If you can’t provide details, the proposal has no place in the public debate. At any rate, no amount of clever design or technological breakthroughs will allow you to capture more energy than is actually there, and you have provided no evidence that the storage problem is solved.

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BilB – Not only are you a fraud, I am calling you out as a lier. You are not sufficiently technically sound in your remarks to have anyone belive that you are involved with any project of this sort.

dv8
“I don’t have to give you references about this. There are more than enough clues there for agood researcher would figure it out in no time flat.’

I am a researcher, I’m being paid right now by a client in the real estate field to do research. I’m quite good at it actually, and I HAVE looked at all the work done on TMI ‘downwinders,’ and none of it is worth the paper it is printed on. I know this because I also understand statistics and the science that these studies are based on.

Now if you can’t show me one, so that we can do an open analyses right here, then I have to assume you have never actually read one, or you know I’ll tear it to shreds.

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Finrod,
There is no storage problem. The grid provides the ballast. We will just have to agree to disagree and let the situation play itself out. However, I observe that your excessive degree of blinkered thinking would make you horrendously dangerous as a designer, particularly in anything to do with the nuclear industry.

dv8
I’m not a statistition so I am not to fight you on the pathology of nuclear accidents. However I will start to collect information that is thoroughly evaluated and incontestible. Though I have to say that I am really not that interested in the subject, it just keeps cropping up.

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There is no storage problem. The grid provides the ballast. We will just have to agree to disagree and let the situation play itself out. However, I observe that your excessive degree of blinkered thinking would make you horrendously dangerous as a designer, particularly in anything to do with the nuclear industry.

Interpreting the above gibberish, I take it you mean that there’s no issue to be had with storing electrical power, because people can draw on the grid when there’s no sunshine. That being the case, your system is nothing more than a cover for the continued burning of fossil fuels, given how much you despise nuclear power.

I doubt that my talents as a designer shall ever be properly assessed. It’s not my field. I’m not really trained for such a thing, and wouldn’t be so arrogant as to claim I was.

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BilB, – you only open your mouth to change feet at this point. You have no credibility here at all, as you are obviously BSing in an attempt to hide your ignorance of the subject and your lies about your involvement in the solar industry.

Fin and I have been around too long, and have the education and the experience to see right through you. You are just digging yourself in deeper every time you post. You are fooling no one but yourself with this transparent fraud.

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dv8
I’m not a statistition so I am not to fight you on the pathology of nuclear accidents. However I will start to collect information that is thoroughly evaluated and incontestible.

So by your own admission you are not competent to assess the claims made in vaarious studies of these events. Thanks for confirming that.

Though I have to say that I am really not that interested in the subject, it just keeps cropping up.

Anti-nuclear activists such as yourself bring this matter up all the time, and run snivelling to the shelter of excuses and misdirection when they are caught out in their lies.

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BilB, on 16 May 2010 at 8.52 — Unfortunately the grid has no stoarge capacity to speak of; what happens is the modulation of other generators in the face of the negative load supplied by various rooftop PVs.

So far this is such a small fraction of total load that no additional provisions are needed. That is also true for ranchers with their private wind turbines connected to the grid. However, the control problem for power from windfarms, up to 7% of total load for some regional utilities in the PNW, is already causing problems for the backup supplier, BPA’s hydro. The growing number and scale of wind turbines farms around here (almost no solar; this is the PNW after all) is going to create so-called integration problems which require additional expenditures and training by the grid operators (primarily BPA). Nonetheless, BPA states thay have enough hydro to backup wind power up to 20% of the regional gird total. After that, something else will have to be used (assuming the total ever becomes so high, that is).

Now all this equally well applies to substantial installations of rooftop PV. At some point the utilites will simply be forced, for grid stability, to cut off supply from solar PV installations in, say, Arizona.

Exactly how all this will work out surely is regionally dependent and rather uncertain at this time. However, Kirchhoff’s laws are not repealable nor are the laws of thermodynamics.

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Exactly DavidB

In future this modulation will be performed (in Australia) by CSP with its thermal storage capacity and the existing pumped hydro. Further overcapacity comes from the burning of natural gas to fire the CSP boilers when extreme adverse situations develop.

Your talking about the US and the Oregon area is it? Yes I read about the energy surges that were causing problems with the hydro. You must have hydro built on fast flowing rivers where the flow cannot be restrained. There was something to do with maintaining flows for fish migration.

All of these systems are in there infancy. As an appliance designer I tried in vain to promote the value of intelligent appliances that had the ability to regulate rate of demand for an entire residence. It is finally becoming a reality but from Europe. Australia, NZ, and the US missed the boat on that opportunity.

Momentarily cutting off PV supply for grid stability is what they should do, this then promotes domestic PV s to install some measure of storage. As I said upthread recycled EV battery banks are being projected as a good medium for this. That study wos done by a Dutch researcher, and I have heard the thinking reflected else where.

What I am anticipating with the system that I am involved with is that the industry players will at some point refuse to accept the power generated on their account. This will then give rise to a sub industry of brokers who will have to place the energy available to them in a way that does not destabilise the grid. That is going to be interesting. All of these consideration come into the design of the control system for the PV installation. And that control system is fairly involved.
It is for all of these reason that a single output system at 10 kilowatts was selected. This gives sufficient output to manage energy useage in a flexible manner year round. What the naysayers should be identrifying is that the snow line is a problem for our system.

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BilB, on 16 May 2010 at 9.46 — PNW is Pacific NorthWest; Washington, Oregon, northern Idaho and western Montana with interties north, east, and south (maybe also southeast). BPA is Bonneville Power Authority; owns and operates most of the big hydro dams; these have minimum flow requirements and some are just run-of-the-river dams, no storage capacity to speak of. The regional grid also has 4–5 coal burners and several CCGTs as well as minor amounts of wind and soon tidal and geothermal as well. Grid stability is provided by several different operating authories with BPA being the biggest player.

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This person is now obviously exposed himself as delusional – he is resorting to meaningless technobabble, and demonstrates a total lack of any grasp of the fundamentals or indeed, the truth.

There is already a large and active electric power arbitrage market in North America and Europe and has been for decades. Pretending you are involved in some project to create such a system is yet another indication of why you never be taken seriously here.

Your attempts at outright bullshit, are a insult to the intelligence of every other poster here, and you are going to get called out for it every single time.

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Forgot to mention that there is one moderately small NPP operating on the Hanford Reservation. Almost nobody knows it is there.

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Exactly DavidB

He wasn’t agreeing with you.

As an appliance designer I tried in vain to promote the value of intelligent appliances that had the ability to regulate rate of demand for an entire residence. It is finally becoming a reality but from Europe. Australia, NZ, and the US missed the boat on that opportunity.

So the people you approached saw right through you as well. Most of the industrialised world has rejected ludicrous ‘demand management’ proposals, but the Green faction in Europe was sufficiently potent to force this nonsense through. Frankly your tired old ideas about renewable grids, solar-thermal backup, demand management and all the rest of it would put Rube Goldberg to shame. The whole thing is nothing but a shell game to conceal the crippling weaknesses of ‘renewables’ and provide camoflage for the ongoing consumption of fossil fuels.

Get this through your skull: No one who really understood what you are talking about would give you a moment’s credence, although you may confuse the uninformed for a while. I consider it fairly likely that you yourself do not really understand what you are talking about. If you do, then you are nothing but a con man out to defraud all industrial civilisation in a matter so critical to survival that such fraud should be rightly considered a high crime against humanity, and your appropriate punishment should involve the gallows. Do not think for one moment that this couldn’t happen. You might be suprised one day by the suden shift in public opinion when the consequences of successful renewables advocacy are widely understood.

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“…the antis know damn well that their arguments on reactor safety etc. don’t stand up to any scrutiny. So the vast majority of protesting is focussed on U mining, not electricity generation.”
Why do you continually misrepresent your case? The anti’s focus on U-mining mainly because that is their only direct experience with the nuclear industry in Australia. If there were any large power reactors there, they would probably be also targeted for protest. It is adequately confirmed by US govt findings that nuclear power is definitely NOT safe, yet your group still tries to mislead the public. Then DV82XL accuses anti-nukes of lying, while B. Brook commences a ‘hypocrisy’ feature while ignoring pro-nuke howlers. Some brief US govt FoI extracts are below, from (a).
“Safety concerns also arise because nuclear powerplants have encountered hardware malfunctions in virtually every system….”
“Meanwhile, the discovery of new problems and the slow resolution of old ones continues to erode confidence in the safety of LWRs.”
“The generation of nuclear power can never be risk-free. It will inevitably present certain risks to public health & safety no matter how “safe” plants are made.”
“In any machinery as complex as a reactor facility, it is inevitable that structural failures, instrument malfunctions, operators’ errors & other mishaps will occur, despite the most careful design & rigid schedules of maintenance.”
“We do not claim that our proposed recommendations are sufficient to assure the safety of nuclear power.” ……we must not assume that an accident of this (TMI) or greater seriousness cannot happen again, even if the changes we recommend are made. We have not found a magic formula that would guarantee that there will be no serious future nuclear accidents.” Kemeny Commission 1979
“In 1962, the Chairman of the Advisory Committee at the AEC admitted in Congressional testimony, that reactor fission products can be from a million to a billion times more toxic than any chemical, & that we can’t afford human weakness or equipment flaws.” (b)
Even Dr Edward Teller, Admiral Rickover & a more recent French physicist have publically acknowledged the dangers of nuclear power, while most contributors here still live in denial.
The recent results from European records readily shows nuclear power is absurdly unsafe (c).
Since the Kemeny Commission could not suggest any magic formula for guaranteeing any future nuclear accidents, I CAN suggest a very simple formula to achieve that goal – ban it permanently. Replace it with technology that does not have 10bn + curies of lethal internal radioactive inventory. Anyone who continues to argue for nuclear power using deviously worded claims to trick the public into thinking all that radioactivity can be completely contained, cannot possibly be trusted with public health, as the hazards are very obvious to anyone that looks closely at 40 – 50 yrs of data. Australian governments are still having trouble protecting public health even with well recognised hazards like lead poisoning (d). The government cannot be expected to cope any better with nuclear power hazards.
(a) https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/06/18/21c-nuclear-renaissance/#comment-82301
(b) https://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-75631
(c) http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/apr2010/2010-04-26-01.html
(d) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/child-poisoned-every-9-days-in-mine-town-mount-isa/story-fn59niix-1225900248172

Tee Kay – “The arguments against U mining are mostly fallacious of course.” Really?

Even though you are ignoring the significant g/h gases released by mining, look at this:
Further internal evidence from the NRC themselves (f) shows they are aware of the likely loss of life just from uncovered tailings piles from the mining of uranium alone, & you guys still want to force nuclear power upon Australians. Some US citizens are satisfied they have had enough of the corrupt nuclear industry (g), while some Canadians at Weberville have too (h). These are countries that have had nuclear power for decades & are more familiar with its defects.
(e) https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/06/18/21c-nuclear-renaissance/#comment-86216
(f) http://www.countercurrents.org/baker010310.htm
(g) http://nuclearfreealberta.ca/theissues.html

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Corrections to last three textual references:
They are all out by one letter, where
f in the text should be e;
g in the text should be f;
h in the text should be g.

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Test of the public notification system now in progress.

What kind of “emergency coolant” did the US Air Force deliver to the Fukushima plant? They’re reporting a 1.5x overpressure in the containment vessel and that they may release some steam. Is there some kind of super-coolant to insert into a normally water-cooled system? or a bolt-on condenser system to cool and capture steam vented from a containment shell?

Just guessing; figured this was the most likely place to find someone who’d actually know.

Bits I’ve seen:

CNN: “Crews had difficulty generating enough electricity to pump water into the facility ….

Janie Eudy told CNN that her husband …. As he and others were planning to evacuate, at their managers’ orders, tsunami waves struck and washed buildings from the nearby town past the plant.”

(Hm. Imagine the same thing in 50 years with sea level risen everywhere ….)

Here are diagrams of the various reactor types in use: http://www.ansn-jp.org/jneslibrary/npp2.pdf

Back in 1991-1992, the company faked safety tests on this plant; one hopes the problem was corrected. This may be an opportunity to point to a successful correction before an actual problem:
March 25, 2004 Lesson Learned from TEPCO Nuclear Power Scandal …
http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/news/presen/pdf-1/040325-s-e.pdf

Reality bats last.

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PS, the ansn-jp.org document goes on in describing the current BWR plants:

“As control rods are inserted into the core, the reactivity decreases and the power decreases, which results in decrease of steam void leading to increase of moderator density, and the rate of uranium fission becomes large and the reactivity increases, which balances and stabilizes the reactor power. In this way, BWRs have a self-regulating characteristic of the reactor power….”

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Dr Buzz0 puts it in perspective:

“The nuclear plant itself and the support infrastructure sustained some pretty severe damage, at least to the non-nuclear portions. Reports are that power lines are down so the plant has no grid power. Transformers and switching equipment are likely heavily damaged, turbines may have been damaged, major plumbing is severed.

The containment structure, reactor vessel and so on all are sound. Workers are at the plant and emergency power systems are functioning.

The only problems they may be having with the reactor (which is shutdown) would be with the cooling systems. The primary cooling systems are probably damaged, though there are auxiliary ones.

The worst case serious here is that they might lose auxiliary cooling and the inside of the reactor will overheat. If it gets hot enough this could cause serious damage. No, it won’t put anyone in danger. the vessel and structure will hold even if there’s no cooling at all, but it will damage the reactor and possibly the fuel rods. If it gets bad enough it could mean the reactor is a write-off.

What they seem to be talking about now is using a contingency method of cooling the reactor to assure that it does not overheat and cause internal damage. This would involve basically using an open-circuit cooling method where they let some of the coolant escape and then feed in more water into the system. Basically boiling it off lets the heat off in the process. It’s a simple and effective.

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9LT6T580&show_article=1

Now the problem with this is how it is going to be reported. Most of us know that reactor coolant isn’t really “radioactive.” However, the coolant does have minute but detectable amounts of tritium and a few fission byproducts which occasionally make it through the cladding. It’s perfectly safe stuff to be around. However, thanks to modern radiation measurement, the levels of radioisotopes in it can be measured.

So it’s very very slightly radioactive, but the fact that it’s “radioactive” at all is going to scare people none the less.”

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Time magazine:
http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2011/03/11/radioactive-steam-released-from-stricken-japanese-nuke-plant/

“The three that were operating are the ones that have been causing the worry. For one thing, there is insufficient coolant to keep the reactors at a safe temperature…..”

Three of the six reactors were shut down at the time of the earthquake for routine maintenance.

Does this site not have enough emergency coolant to supply three (or all six) reactors at the same time? Could they have planned for a worst case less than the current situation?

In this earthquake and tsunami, the backup diesel generators were flooded or disabled when the ocean rose.

Breitbart (thank you for the link) also says:

“Another official … said that plant workers were cooling the reactor with a secondary cooling system, which is not as effective as the regular cooling method…. officials have confirmed that the emergency cooling system—the last-ditch cooling measure to prevent the reactor from the meltdown—is intact and could kick in if needed.
“That’s as a last resort, and we have not reached that stage yet,” ….”

… Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said U.S. Air Force planes were carrying “some really important coolant” to the site. She said “one of their plants came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn’t have enough coolant.”

At the Fukushima Daiichi site, “They are busy trying to get coolant to the core area,” Sheehan said. “The big thing is trying to get power to the cooling systems.”

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Still wondering what had to be flown in — perhaps chemicals to adjust the chemistry of water to be added to the cooling system? I gather they can’t use ordinary water (except for last-ditch emergency flooding). Just guessing here.

This talks about the requirements to adjust the cooling water chemistry–it’s about managing corrosion in older plants as they age:
http://www.ipd.anl.gov/anlpubs/2002/02/42201.pdf

Or, another pure guess, perhaps they are adding some kind of wetting agent to reduce film boiling* on the hot surfaces, particularly if they don’t have the circulation pumps running.
—————
* don’t look that up. Really, I was just speculating.

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http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf06.html

“The fuel cladding is monitored by measuring the amount of radioactivity in the cooling water. The high pressure cooling system is monitored by the leak rate of water, and the containment structure by periodically measuring the leak rate of air at about five times atmospheric pressure. …”

“Flooding

Nuclear plants are usually built close to water bodies, for the sake of cooling. The site licence takes account of worst case flooding scenarios as well as other possible natural disasters and, more recently, the possible effects of climate change. As a result, all the buildings with safety-related equipment are situated on high enough platforms so that they stand above submerged areas in case of flooding events. As an example, French Safety Rules criteria for river sites define the safe level as above a flood level likely to be reached with one chance in one thousand years, plus 15%, and similar regarding tides for coastal sites.

Occasionally in the past some buildings have been sited too low, so that they are vulnerable to flood or tidal and storm surge, so engineered countermeasures have been built. EDF’s Blayais nuclear plant in western France uses seawater for cooling and the plant itself is protected from storm surge by dykes. However, in 1999 a 2.5 m storm surge in the estuary overtopped the dykes – which were already identified as a weak point and scheduled for a later upgrade – and flooded one pumping station. For security reasons it was decided to shut down the three reactors then under power (the fourth was already stopped in the course of normal maintenance). This incident was rated 2 on the INES scale. In December 2004 the Kalpakkam PFBR site in India was flooded by a tsunami surge, though construction of the plant was just beginning.

For low-lying sites, civil engineering and other measures are taken to make nuclear plants resistant to flooding. Lessons from Blayais have fed into regulatory criteria….”

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More here. Note the reports from two adjacent sites with almost identical names:
Fukushima Daiichi, and Fukushima Daini

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Massive_earthquake_hits_Japan_1103111.html

“Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) reported that emergency diesel generators started as expected at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, but then stopped after one hour, leaving units 1, 2 and 3 with no power for important cooling functions. …

Almost nine hours later, … three of four mobile power supplies had arrived at Fukushima Daiichi and cables were being set up to supply emergency power. Other power modules were in transit by air.

However, pressure inside the containment of Unit 1 at Fukushima Daichi had been steadily increasing over the time that emergency core cooling systems have not been active. Tepco reported at 2am that pressure had increased beyond reference levels but was within engineered limits.

The company then announced a decision to reduce the pressure within containment “for those units that cannot confirm certain level of water injection” by the safety systems. “We will endeavor to restore the units and continue monitoring the environment of the site periphery.”

At neighbouring Fukushima Daini, sufficient cooling water was maintained by injection using the reactor core isolation cooling systems of units 1 to 4. At unit 1 an increase in reactor containment pressure was noted around 6pm, and “assumed to be caused by leakage of reactor coolant in the reactor containment” this led Tepco to notify government of another emergency status. As of 11pm Tepco said it had not detected additional radiation, making a coolant leak seem less likely….”

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http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf18.html

Japanese nuclear power plants are designed to withstand specified earthquake intensities evident in ground motion. These used to be specified as S1 and S2, but now simply Ss, in Gal units….

…The design basis earthquake ground motion or peak ground acceleration (PGA) S1 was defined as the largest earthquake which can reasonably be expected to occur at the site of a nuclear power plant, based on the known seismicity of the area and local active faults …

… Larger earthquake ground motions (PGAs) in the region, considering the tectonic structures and other factors, must also be taken into account, although their probability is very low. The largest conceivable such ground motion was the upper limit design basis extreme earthquake ground motion (PGA) S2, generally assuming a magnitude 6.5 earhtquake [sic] directly under the reactor….

… After recalculating the seismic design criteria required for a nuclear power plant to survive near the epicentre of a large earthquake the NSC concluded that under current guidelines such a plant could survive a quake of magnitude 7.75. The Kobe earthquake was 7.2.

Japan’s Rokkasho reprocessing plant and associated facilities are built on stable rock and are designed to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 8.25.

Following a magnitude 7.3 earthquake in 2000 in an area where no geological fault was known, Japan’s NSC ordered a full review of the country’s 1978 seismic guidelines (which had been adopted by the NSC in 1981 and partially revised in 2001). This reported in 2006 and resulted in NSC and the Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) calling for reactor owners with NISA to undertake plant-specific reviews of seismic safety, to be completed in 2008. The main result of this review was that the S1 – S2 system was formally replaced by NSC in September 2006 with a single Design Basis Earthquake Ground Motion (DBGM Ss). The main reactor facilities “shall maintain their safety functions under the seismic force caused by DBGM Ss.” They and ancillary facilities should also withstand the “seismic force loading of those caused by Elastically Dynamic Design Earthquake Ground Motion Sd (EDGM Sd)” calculated from stress analysis and being at least half the Ss figure.

In March 2008 Tepco upgraded its estimates of likely PGA for Fukushima to 600 Gal ….”

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Lots more in that link on earthquake design above. A bit more for calibration:

“magnitide 7.2 Kobe earthquake … Horizontal ground acceleration was measures at 817 Gal – more intense than expected – and vertical acceleration was 332 Gal.”

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Currently natural gas storage tanks are ablaze at the Cosmo oil refinery in Ichihara city, Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo due to the earthquake. It is typical that antinuke hysteria would try a churn an event that is under control at a nuclear power plant into a story, while ignoring a major failure with another form of energy.

http://www.pennenergy.com/index/petroleum/display/0223973745/articles/oil-gas-journal/general-interest-2/20100/march-2011/after-8_9_quake__explosion.html

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I’m tossing what I find in here in hopes people with more knowledge and better cites will correct errors they see — or just point to better “coverage of the coverage” in the spirit with which this thread was started — public information that’s accurate and careful.

New:
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-sci-japan-quake-nuclear-20110312,0,2627198.story

“The reactor is 40 years old and the original ventilation system had to be retrofitted to allow radioactive gasses to be vented so that pressure would not build up and cause an explosion that would spread radioactivity over a much wider area.

Authorities said that pressure had already built up inside the containment building to about 50% above normal and that they would begin venting radioactive gas into the atmosphere, although they said there was no danger from the release.

“Rising containment pressure is not a good sign that they have things under control,” Lyman said. “We need to get better information from the Japanese about what is going on, but the few things that are coming out are very worrisome.”

It will take about two days for the fuel rods to be brought back to a safe temperature — what is known as a cold shutdown. After that, only minimal cooling will be required.

The six reactors at the site use some of the oldest nuclear technology, dating back to the 1960s.

The reactor uses a single cooling loop and does not have a containment dome, but rather uses a smaller containment vessel around the reactor core….”
——-

NPR is interviewing Charles Ferguson, Federation of American Scientists: “In Japan there are ten utility monopolies … they tend to disfavor small decentralized sources …”

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New York Times:
Japan Expands Evacuation Around Nuclear Plant
By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: March 11, 2011
Japanese officials early Saturday expanded the area around a crippled nuclear power plant subject to emergency evacuation, as radiation levels inside the facility were reported to have surged and operators struggled to keep the plant’s cooling system operating on battery power.

Kyodo News, via Associated Press

A Japanese nuclear safety panel said radiation levels were 1,000 times above normal in a reactor control room after a huge quake damaged the plant’s cooling system, and that some radiation — it was not clear how much — had seeped outside the plant. The elevated radiation reading was taken inside the control room of the No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima plant.

… the government had expanded the evacuation area around the plant to a six-mile radius …. Public broadcaster NHK of Japan, quoting nuclear safety officials, said there was “no immediate health hazard” to nearby residents from a possible minute leakage, and people were urged to evacuate the area calmly.

The nuclear plant, known formally as the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, was operating in an emergency, battery-powered cooling mode seventeen hours after the earthquake knocked out its two main sources of the electrical power needed for safe shutdown…..”

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http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11031203-e.html
Press Release (Mar 12,2011)
Plant Status of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (as of 0AM March 12th )

Unit 2 (shut down due to earthquake)
– Reactor was shut down and although nuclear steam had been cooled by the Reactor Core Isolation Cooling system, the current operating status is unclear. However, reactor coolant level can be monitored by a temporary power supply and the level is stable….
Currently, there is a possibility of a release of radioactive materials due to decrease in reactor water level. Therefore, the national government
has instructed evacuation for those local residents within 3km radius ….
We measured radioactive materials inside and outside of the periphery of the nuclear power station (outdoor area) by monitoring car and confirmed that there was no difference from ordinary level.

No radiation impact to the external environment has been confirmed. We will continue to monitor in detail the possibility of radioactive materialbeing discharged from exhaust stack or discharge canal.

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Oh, wait, I read that press release too fast. It’s both Unit 1 _and_ Unit 2. Full paragraphs follow:
—————-

Press Release (Mar 12,2011)
Plant Status of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (as of 0AM March 12th )

All 6 units of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have been shut down.

Unit 1 (shut down due to earthquake)
– Reactor was shut down and nuclear steam is cooled by the isolation condenser.
– Currently, there is a possibility of a release of radioactive materials due to decrease in reactor water level. Therefore, the national government has instructed evacuation for those local residents within 3km radius of the periphery and indoor standby for those local residents between 3km and 10km radius of the periphery.

Unit 2 (shut down due to earthquake)
– Reactor was shut down and although nuclear steam had been cooled by the Reactor Core Isolation Cooling system, the current operating status is unclear. However, reactor coolant level can be monitored by a temporary power supply and the level is stable.
– Currently, there is a possibility of a release of radioactive materials due to decrease in reactor water level. Therefore, the national government has instructed evacuation for those local residents within 3km radius of the periphery and indoor standby for those local residents between 3km and 10km radius of the periphery.

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Hmmm, another inconsistency, also from that NYT story:

“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Washington, said earlier that American military planes had already delivered “coolant,” but American military officials indicated that while they were prepared to help Japan grapple with any problems related to its nuclear facilities, but had not been asked to do so.

“To our knowledge, we have not actually carried anything in support in the nuclear facilities,” said Lt. Col. John S. Haynes, a spokesman for the Air Force. “We’re standing by …”
__________

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Two additional reactors with reportable problems — these are at the Daini site now, per TEPCO press releases;
http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11031213-e.html
http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11031212-e.html

NYT coverage:

“The crisis at one reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station came as Tokyo Electric Power, the operator, said it had also lost its ability to control pressure in some of the reactors at a second plant, known as Daini, about 10 miles away.

The company said pressure is stable inside the reactors but rising in the containment vessels, a spokesman said, although he did not know if there would be a need to release pressure at the plant at this point, which would involve a release of radiation.”

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NYT: now counting five reactors with troubles.

“by Saturday morning Japan had declared states of emergency for five reactors at the two power plants, a substantial escalation that added to worries about the safety of nuclear facilities in the quake-prone Japanese islands.

Both the Daiichi and Daini plants are run by Tokyo Electric. They are located 10 miles apart in Fukushima Prefecture about 150 miles north of Tokyo, close to the offshore epicenter of the quake.

The problems at the facilities were described as serious but still far short of a catastrophic emergency ….”

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And, yep, there’s the new press release. These are the top three items in the TEPCO news page now:

1. New!(Mar 12,2011)Occurrence of a Specific Incident Stipulated in Article 15, Clause 1 of the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness (Unit 4)
2. New!(Mar 12,2011)Occurrence of a Specific Incident Stipulated in Article 15, Clause 1 of the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness (Unit 2)
3. New!(Mar 12,2011)Occurrence of a Specific Incident Stipulated in Article 15, Clause 1 of the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness (Unit 1)

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So, to this amateur observer, it looks like they don’t know the water level inside, so they won’t know the state of the core — lost their water level sensors perhaps?

Once they do let some pressure out, they can test the water/steam for contents indicating whether there are cracks in the fuel rod cover. Which would not be good.

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[…] 3. At one plant, the 40-year old Fukushima Daiichi (opened 1966), the backup diesel generators supply power to the core cooling system failed. This allowed pressure to build up in at least one of the reactors cores to about 50% higher than normal (unit 1), and may require some venting of very mildly radioactive steam (contains trace levels of tritium). Some discussion here. […]

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Great, thanks for taking it on. Good night and good luck. I’ll look for the current thread tomorrow morning instead of adding more here. (Pointer here welcome, but I should be able to find it when I’m awake)

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http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110313003798.htm

Changing data baffles Fukushima residents

Shigeto Tanaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima–Local residents were confused Saturday afternoon by changing information about an explosion and radiation leak at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

The slow responses of the central government and the power company to the accident also ignited residents’ anger. The government initially instructed residents living in a 10-kilometer radius of the nuclear plant to evacuate but expanded the evacuation area to a 20-kilometer radius at 6:30 p.m.

While this reporter was covering the damage by Friday’s series of tsunami at a settlement along the coast in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, about 25 kilometers north of the nuclear plant, a message was sent around 4 p.m. by disaster response radio broadcast from the Minami-Soma municipal government. The message said: “We have been informed that the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has exploded. Don’t go outside.”

Listening to the message, about 10 fire company volunteers, who were on alert at the settlement, became panicked and hurriedly left by car, shouting to each other, “Get out of here now!”

This reporter was unable to make a quick decision whether to evacuate.

With no knowledge of the actual circumstances of the “explosion,” my terror intensified.

I decided to move to the Michi no Eki Minami-Soma roadside shopping center, located along a national highway nearby. A dozen local residents trying to get water rations were gathered at a lounge there.

A man who appeared to be a staff member of the center burst into the lounge and told everyone not to go out. However, people looked confused, as they were not sure what to do in the situation.

Kaoru Sato, 70, who had evacuated to the shopping center in a car with fire company volunteers after listening to the radio message, said, “I was surprised [to hear the news] and hurriedly fled from my place. What has happened to this town? It used to be so peaceful, without any tsunami and nuclear accidents.”

At 4:30 p.m., the disaster response radio sent another message, which said, “The report about the explosion at the plant was wrong.”

As the message retracted the previous report, Sato left the center with a relieved look.

Shortly after that, however, a television in the lounge showed footage of an explosion at the plant that blew off a part of the containment building.

Surprised and confused, the residents at the center just stared intently at the television.
(Mar. 14, 2011)

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A reminder that one of the most promising ways to produce hydrogen as a fuel is to use advanced nuclear reactors, ones capable of getting hot enough in normal operation. (The downside is, the hotter the plant runs, the longer it takes to cool off.)

https://inlportal.inl.gov/portal/server.pt/community/nuclear_science_and_technology/337/nuclear_hydrogen/1563
High-Temperature Electrolysis (HTE)

High-temperature electrolytic water-splitting supported by nuclear process heat and electricity has the potential to produce H 2 with a system efficiency of the hydrocarbon and the thermo-chemical processes. This can be done without the corrosive conditions of thermo-chemical processes and without the fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with hydrocarbon processes. Specifically, a high-temperature advanced nuclear reactor coupled with a high-efficiency, high-temperature electrolyzer could achieve a thermal-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency of 45 to 55%….”

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OK, catching up on the conversation. I’ve read through most of the comments here and there’s a disconcerting division between the pro-nuclear/anti-renewable and pro-renewable/anti-nuclear camps. Both sides ought to step back and look at the big picture.

The goal is to de-cabonize. Renewables are going to be part of the solution, yet it is abundantly clear that wind and solar *ain’t gonna cut it* by themselves, not by a long shot. If the worst effects of climate disruption are to be avoided, nuclear will have to be the major supplier of short- and medium-term energy needs for our growing planet.

Instead of writing off the other side, we should all be embracing a variety of clean energy sources. Disdain for wind, solar, and nuclear are all misplaced. If renewables can provide 20% or even 10% of our electricity, good!

Pursuit of all these solutions is in order, not latching onto a single solution to the exclusion of all others. Even carbon capture and sequestration may deserve a place at the table, if the technologies involved can be proven.

The problem isn’t “how do we fight the greens” but rather “how do we educate them” on the advantages of gen4 reactor designs. An informed Greenpeace would be a key ally in gaining acceptance of nuclear energy. Attacking solar and wind as worse than useless is not helpful. The argument should be: we support renewables, but with the human population soon to approach 10 billion, renewables can’t possibly supply enough energy to be the only solution.

In the long term, nuclear fusion is the future. In the meantime, fission and, at least to some extent, renewables must be developed to replace fossil fuels.

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@seamus – Convincing the Deep Greens isn’t going to happen – ever. They have hitched their wagon to a certain star, and they have committed too firmly by accepting funds from sources bent on keeping nuclear energy at bay. They cannot change now even if they wanted to. Anyway reason and logic have not been part of their philosophic makeup at the best of times.

Who we have to educate is the masses. As I wrote in the lead article to this thread, average people can be made to understand, and make informed choices when they are given the facts. More importantly, they can sort out the truth from the hyperbole; the surveys have proved that.

What our opponents will do is use the old trick of claiming to speak for the majority, and in this they must be constantly challenged. This is because there are a lot of people out there that will support nuclear energy, even in the face of what has just happened, but are constantly being told that their opinions are in the minority. The onus is on us to keep the heat on the antinukes to prove that they are speaking for more than just themselves.

We also have stop taking a defensive position on the Japanese incident, and take the offence. This incident proves the safety of nuclear power plants. Under the worse conditions possible, and demonstrates that even with most of the control systems broken, and no auxiliary power to speak of, and with the whole damned country reeling from a huge disaster, they were able to bring things under control in the two or three plants out of fifty-five that actually failed. This is a triumph, and it needs to be treated as such. But absolutely no apologetics – there in nothing to apologize about.

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[…] 3. At one plant, the 40-year old Fukushima Daiichi (unit #1 opened in 1971), the backup diesel generators supply power to the core cooling system failed (apparently due to damage from the tsunami). This allowed pressure to build up in at least one of the reactors cores to about 50% higher than normal (unit 1), and requires venting of very mildly radioactive steam (contains trace levels of tritium). Some discussion here. […]

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In the beginning you say “Governments are coming to recognize nuclear power as an attractive option because of its near absence of carbon dioxide emissions and the widespread availability of uranium which serves as fuel”.
What do they say now?!

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