One Plus One – Fukushima’s legacy

There have been some slow but positive developments in Fukushima Daiichi today (Saturday 19th March), despite the ongoing seriousness of the situation. Engineers are now on the brink of getting external AC power restored to parts of the site, and water dousing operations on the spent fuel ponds continue, as does cooling by sea water at reactors 1 to 3. I will provide a full update on the situation at the end of today.

Meanwhile, follow the comments in this thread for the real-time updates by commenters.

Below is a 10 minute interview with me that was shown on ABC TV (Australia’s national television broadcaster) during the weekend, on the conversation magazine-style program “One Plus One“. I’m interviewed by Mike Sexton.

Please watch this if you really want to understand where I’m coming from on all of this (including my background and motivations), and for my speculation on what the legacy of Fukushima might be, if rational and logical heads are not kept.

For readers in Australia, you can also watch this on ABC iView.

For other videos on the BraveNewClimate YouTube channel, see here. For my 16 x 5-min audio podcasts (and ongoing), which cover nuclear power and climate change, see here. This one is a good starter: Integral Fast Reactor nuclear power – what is it and why should you care?


  1. I’m wondering whether any maintenance was deferred on the Unit 1 plant, which was scheduled to be closed forever this month — and whether inspections of other plants will turn up any “near miss” problems like the ones that have been reported.

    I’d guess this event leads to some added emphasis on maintenance.


  2. What a terrific interview Barry.
    Sane, rational and compelling.
    I do hope this becomes a “viral” YouTube video. How about we all link it to our Twitter, Facebook etc. accounts and get the ball rolling.


  3. If we are serious about warming and reduction in carbon use it will be necessary to find a way to incorporate nuclear into our acceptable methods of producing energy. There are serious risks with all means of energy production, but unfortunately the nuclear debate is emotional, not rational.
    I liked your interview, it was to the point and balanced.


  4. Interesting interview, but surprised a little at the almost total nuclear theme to this blog. Maybe it should have been called ‘nuclearnewclimate’

    On the subject of coal, if we may digress from the big N for a moment.

    I am thinking that one way that Australia can lead a carbon pollution revolution is to create a ‘block’ of coal exporting nation or ‘CPEC’ to give OPEC a run for its money.

    Now why a block? Simple… I assume coal can be made more ‘friendly’ by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted through the use of scrubbers and carbon capture devices. Therefore CPEC announces that coal sold to countries NOT implementing such reduction methods will have to pay a surcharge on their coal purchases. Lets get a really original name and call it a ‘carbon tax’.

    The amount of surcharge can be decided, but give countries a timeframe of till 2015 to get it implemented.

    Sure there will be some other sources of coal, but that will not be enough to meet demand and also will run out quickly.

    This way, Australia can take a lead role in reducing the impact of the carbon it exports.

    Perhaps the same can be done for natural gas.GPEC

    Australia does have a responsibility for the effect of its exports, though I too would like to see coal mining (and coal seam gas) stopped for reasons other than CO2 (food, farming land degredation etc)


  5. Of course it will not happen in the short term and the downside is you can’t make weapons as their is no waste product called plutonium.
    But, on the up side:

    Uranium fuel rods:

    250 tons raw uranium

    $50-60 million

    COOLANT: Water


    FOOTPRINT: 200,000-300,000 square feet,
    surrounded by a low -density population zone

    Thorium fluoride solution:

    1 ton raw thorium


    COOLANT Self-regulating


    FOOTPRINT 2,000- 3 ,000 square feet, with
    no need for a buffer zone


  6. I have just learned that restoring electrical power in various parts of japan, including the Fukushima area has been hampered by the fact that the country has mixed 50Hz/60Hz service depending on location.

    The discrepancy has to do with the founding of electric power in the country. Tokyo Electric Light Co. used German generators, which operated at the 50Hz European standard, while in the west part of Japan, Osaka Electric Lamp Co. used generators from General Electric, an American company, operating at the 60Hz standard that is used in North America.

    Unlike the most of the world’s national grids, the Japanese power grid was never unified around a single standard.


  7. Very nice interview, Barry, thanks – but please – let’s not call Hydro-power “renewable”. “relatively clean”, perhaps, but still lots of environmental concerns – and just imagine an 8 or 9 point quake near the Three Gorges dam!


  8. KeenOn350, I generally agree, but the vast majority of my detractors DO lump it into a collective renewables basket when chiding me and saying that China already has much more renewable capacity than nuclear, or that some countries run entirely on renewables. They want it both ways, and care nothing about being consistent or logical.


  9. Great info thanks Prof Brooks; I’m in Aust and kept up with the nuclear situation in Japan through your posts here; the MSM in Aust were very ill informed; may not have been entirely their fault but I didn’t bother with them but checked your updates every day
    So thanks from a fan in Aust


  10. Dave, you’re drawing a comparison between old generation-II LWRs and LFTR, and I think that’s kind of a little bit misleading, if the question we want to ask is which Generation IV technology is best.

    We should be drawing up a comparison between LFTR, liquid-chloride fast MSR, IFR, HTGR/PBMR, PbBi-cooled-fast-reactor, etc, in order to assess which Generation IV technology would be the best.

    We know that they’re all better than existing LWRs – They all have significant advantages in their safety and efficiency of use of the natural actinide fuels compared to LWRs.

    The sensible thing is to compare them to each other.


  11. Barry, excellent interview. I am a Mechanical Fitter and understand but haven’t had any experience at Nuclear power generation but am 100% in favour of Nuclear Power generation in Australia. It seems to me that Fossil Fuel power generation is the accepted form of generation regardless of the massive global devastation that it causes to not only Australia’s environment, but globally, as pollution knows NO boundaries.Pollution doesn’t recognise local / state / national land or sea borders. I have worked at many natural Gas / Diesel and Coal fired Power Generation units around Western Australia and not one of them can claim to be environmentally friendly.Coal fired power generation is undoubtedly the worst and is not being controlled for fear of the voters jobs in the areas where coal is being dug out from the coal mines ie ;- Collie area where the jobs will beat the environment at any cost. I have seen and worked for many power generation companies who claim to be environmentally friendly yet they knowingly dump toxic chemicals into waterways and land areas then cover them up with soil. I was sacked by one power station company for making an issue to senior management and complaining about the deliberate dumping of chemicals into landfill and waterways in its precinct. Another incident occurred at Bamboo Creek Gold Mine some years ago when the Maintenance & Operation Foremen both deliberately dumped cyanide into a close by stream. I actually saw them doing this. Within 30 minutes there were 100’s of dead fish floating along the stream and lying on the banks.The Maintenance Foreman’s way of putting crystallised cyanide into the cyanide ponds was by lifting the shipping bag up with a forklift ,hanging it over the pond, then cutting the bottom of the bag with a knife. This happened once in a stiff breeze and unknowingly to us we were being covered in dust and all felt very sick from this poison. The Maintenance Foreman just had a handkerchief tied around his face and was standing at the side of the forklift jiggling the lever to shake all the cyanide out of the bag. He had no respect for any safety or hazardous material regulations let alone the safety of the employees.
    I believe that Nuclear Power Generation is what this country needs as we have an abundant supply of uranium and is the most efficient non pollutive source of energy that is currently available. I also the only MAJOR threat to this type of fuel is the UNSTABLE POLITICAL WORLD in which we live. Major natural events are also a threat BUT we have the technology to circumvent MOST ( NOT ALL ) of these events. The major problem we here in Australia face is the uninformed fear that most people have . It is a ‘NOT IN MY BACKYARD’ kind of attitude that will prevent us from taking on this cleaner type of industry. As we all know Chernobyl was a dreadful accident which could have been avoided as it was a natural disaster that caused it. Fukushima however was more than engineered to withstand the earthquake that rocked it yet it was a second event that has compounded this problem. The envioronmental impact at the moment is being overstated I believe for one reason it has the word “NUCLEAR” attached to it and people are fearing the worst yet there are many brave people fighting to avoid it worsening. I for one would be there to help in any way I could if I knew who to contact. The only major problem I foresee at this point in time is that of spent nuclear fuel (ie; rods ). I believe we can find a way to store or preferably find a secondary use for these spent rods. Believing in something such as this is half the battle into fixing our planet and stop this global warming which is a reality. I cannot believe that our government and other major polluters such as the USA are not doing anything about it.. This talk about a Carbon Tax is not going to FIX global warming, it will still be there ,its just that the cost of living will rise.
    Lets get our priorities right and EDUCATE our people (which will be very hard considering the current problems in Japan) because the human race is running out of options very quickly.
    Anyway…thankyou to Barry Brooks on a exceptional rational interview.


  12. Pingback: Nuclear Fallout Hits French Parliament « French News Online Blog

  13. Dear Mr. Brooks,
    I’ve been following your blog since the recent events in Japan and Fukushima.

    Beeing an absolute lay on nuclear issues, i have the strong feeling that this blog is the best source of information with regards to Fukushima. Not the hysterical mainstream news but full scale backgrounds and a fair opinion. Thank you and the people updating this blog for all the information and opinions.

    As the situation is stil very unclear but it seems to improve slowly i’ve started thinking and informing myself on the fission proces. Is it save? should be build new reactors? In the Netherlands a new reactor is planned. Lifing with 16.6 milj. people in a country not bigger then 400kmx200km makes you very aware of the consequences with regards to the “if it goes wrong scenario”. But on the otherhand we do not have nearby tectonic breachlines. I am still not sure if the Fukushima icident points out the danger or the safety of nuclear power.

    Taking it away from all emotions one should conclude that nuclear power is extremely save. Hence the 9.0 earthquake and the 10 meter Tsunami which effected only the oldest reactors. The newer types had nearly no problems to get to cold shutdown. But people in the Netherlands (including myself) are so conditioned by the press and all kinds of environment groups that the major population gets in their shelters if the word radiation is just mentioned. How to bend this feeling to a rational perspective?

    Informing myself on the internet i find two important points with regards to safety of new nuclear plants.

    1) All kind of promising information on a thorium reactor. As it seems it is not ready today’s use and the industry is still very much on the uranium track. But all major problems we could have with today’s fission proces seem to be addressed with the thorium proces.

    2) The new to build nuclear reactor in the Netherlands should be “inherent safe” design which means that all kinds of dangerous situations would rather be prefented then anticipated on in the design. Would suchs design be realy near to 100% safe. (100% safe is utopia in design)

    As internet is the source for both good and bad information and notorious for misinformation I wonder what your and others opinion is on the Thorium fission proces and the “inherent safe” design for the future. I have the feeling that i can expect clear (slightly positive) information on these issues on this blog.

    Once again thank you for your fair and balanced information.


  14. Barry,

    I guess you could call me one of the miserable climate change ‘deniers’ so we probably would not agree on much. But I must salute you for looking at the evidence and recognizing the only way forward if one does believe that CO2 is bad. It is unfortunate that your type of thinking is such a minority in climate change activist circles. I know I would be much more willing to support anti-CO2 policies if I believed that there was a sensible plan to provide replacements. Solar and wind are not going to do it.


  15. BarryThey want it both ways, and care nothing about being consistent or logical.
    I find this attitude hard to understand, as far as I am aware advocates of renewable energy have always considered hydro along with solar, wind, geothermal and tidal energy as renewable. This seems both consistent and logical in what way Barry do you consider hydro different from the other renewable energy sources?


  16. Neil, hydro works in providing large amounts of reliable baseload and peaking electricity, that’s how it’s different from all other renewable energy sources. However, it’s geographically restricted in its deployment, and one must balance the construction of large dams against the impact of flooded river valleys, and accept the risk that comes with damn failures. Technosolar advocates seem to ignore the latter downsides (whilst amplifying nuclear’s much lower risks and smaller environmental footprint) when they (often surreptitiously) throw hydro (and biomass come to that) into their sweeping statements about what renewables can/have done. That is what is illogical and inconsistent.


  17. Hydro and pumped hydro are obviously renewable, so I do not see what the issue is.

    There was obvious environmental impact when they built the Snowy Mountains Scheme and some towns were flooded. But this damage was less and better based on democracy than the damage potential from nuclear.

    It is irrational to balance the risk of dam failures without citing examples.

    What dams have failed since Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima?

    Did any dams fail in Japan or New Zealand?


  18. Barry,

    As you may be aware, in 2009, Spain set a world record for wind generated electricity as a % of total demand at about 54% (roughtly 11gw). Granted this was in an exceptionally windy month (we had a lot of roof damage in my area). While the mean is much much lower than that, I think there is evidence that in certain geographical areas a HEAVY investment in wind can produce important quantities of engery. It is true that world wide the energy produced by wind farms in miniscule, but that is more of a function of a lack of commitment to investment than any definiciency in the technology.

    My own view is the the solution (to climate change) will be a combination of many technologies, including nuclear, including (especially) Thorium, but also heavy investment/subsidization of wind, tidal, and smart grid plus a good dose of old fashioned conservation. Energy-wise, we are a greedy world and if we are to avoid severe(r) climate effects, that MUST change.

    Thanks for the blog and info, the ABC interview is great, I have shared with many friends.


  19. @Chris Warren

    The problem with hydro is less risk of failure than the effects on the enfironment, such as loss of fish species, loss of silting/soil replenishment in downstream agricultural regions (such as degradation of Nile river delta), and increased salinization of water behind dams. There are huge externalized costs that are not included when planning these projects.


  20. Barry,
    While it may be difficult to calculate the probability of a specific dam failure, the risks to life and property are measurable. I think the problem with nuclear power is not the low but not insignificant risk of failure, its the uncertainty of the consequences of catastrophic failure. Its clear that a lot more could have been done to greatly reduce this risk but was not done not just in Fukushima, but in many nuclear plants. It appears that catastrophic failure has been narrowly avoided in this case, and I am sure that in time all nuclear plants will be engineered to reduce the worst consequences of a major accident, but I am sure governments will continue to be required to provide insurance and probably future funding of new nuclear power. Renewable energy will probably also require some form of government funding at least until the last coal fired power station is shut down or engineering improvements reduce the cost of wind and solar.


  21. Chris Warren, the Banqiao dam failed in China, 1975, killing 26000 people. That it didn’t happen in Japan or New Zealand is immaterial, it happened in the operational lifetime of the dam for reasons not dissimilar to the Fukushima calamity, ie. a beyond design basis natural event (flooding). That it happened before TMI is likewise immaterial to its illustration of the risks we accept with hydroelectricity.

    I beg to differ regarding your assessment of the environmental impact of nuclear power relative to hydro. I recall the loss of vast areas of wilderness upon the flooding of Lake Peddar in Tasmania. It is a matter of contention as to whether this devastation was “democratic”. The same goes for the Three Gorges Dam in China, and many other hydro developments.

    I likewise recall the legitimate outrage at the proposal to build the Gordon below Franklin dam. These are not trivial impacts, and greatly outscale the environmental impact of nuclear power.

    Hydroelectricity is a large scale industrial intervention in the environment, with rare but extreme risks, which nuclear power has not historically approached. Its serves a particular role in our electricity system for which other technologies cannot substitute, and so I grudgingly accept its presence. But it is both riskier and more environmentally destructive than nuclear power, which could substitute for coal.

    Don’t get me started on coal.


  22. Barry,
    I am glad that I have watched that interview, though I am not exactly a friend of the way that nuclear power takes, but it was good to see somebody talking and see that there is a real person behind a reasoning which is not exactly mine. thank you for that…

    i think what is actually missing in the whole discussion (not just here……everywhere) is our way of living. if people hear we have to change our way of life (and thinking!) they immediatly think that we would go back to the stone-age, which is absolute nonsense. we don’t, how can we? but at this moment – talking about nuclear power or fossils – we are debating about should we destroy the planet in this way or the other? we don’t use the word ‘destroy’ though and that makes it rather difficult. we hide that fact away behind words. it is just as much about changing our way of life and our way of thinking as it is about finding a form of energy which will keep the planet intact. we are a part of that planet for sure. the only problem is we behave not like that at all. in a way we keep asking many wrong questions all the time. that could be why we get a lot of wrong answers. i read a lot of the stuff which Daniel Quinn wrote about our way of thinking and why it is so hard for us to change or why it is made hard for us to. it is really inspiring. he just wants people to help to ask the right questions.

    while debating about energy forms all the time, we forget that it is actually our way of life which is the biggest problem and we cannot imagine to step away from it. i say it again: it is not about living in caves again and all that. there has to be a middle way. this is the task. to find the middle way…


  23. Great job Barry. In a time of intense interest in ongoing developments, BNC and associated sources have been a shining light against the appalling coverage in the Australian media, particularly the Murdoch, Fairfax and ABC press.


  24. John – the natural event that triggered the collapse at at Banqiao was a typhoon (aka hurricane, cyclone), its collapse caused several downstream dams to collapse.

    The indirect deaths due to famine & disease was estimated as 145,000.

    Thanks to Barry for the superb coverage of Fukushima and to all the people who contribute.



  25. While the situation in Japan is serious, as always I believe it makes sense to look at the numbers.

    1. So far zero radiation related deaths.

    2. All primary containments – drywell and reactor pressure vessel boundary – have held firm.

    3. Criticality control is never an issue with light water reactors: control is automatic, its all about negative power and void feedbacks. A type of physics that inherently limits the damage that light water reactors can do to their environment, because the driving force (afterheat rather than criticality control) is many thousands of times lower. Right now the afterheat is 0.2 percent of full power in the reactors, 0.1 percent in the spent fuel pool.

    So no, I don’t agree with the common idea that ‘nuclear accidents are unlikely but when it happens millions die’. There are fundamental physics reasons that limit the damage. Greenpeace is trying to cover up the physics and quickly makes the comparison with Chernobyl which is simply not valid. The 10000% runaway reactor power and tons of burning graphite plus inadequate containment are simply not there in the Japanese situation.


  26. I’m not sure this is a helpful interview.

    The blind insistence that the risk to public is still less than living in the mountains or taking a flight or drinking beer (as just a sample of the misleading statements [unsubstantiated personal opinion deleted. Please re-post with authoratative references] Already they are finding food products in Japan that have radiation levels that exceed safety limits.


  27. Thank you for your interesting and well documented bulletins, I read them all

    Has anyone any information on the run-off from all this water (and rain) Where does it go? what does it contain? will it contaminate the local fishing industry? will it make the floors fo the reactors so radioactive noone will be able to walk on them?

    There is someone commenting on the eureferendum blog that seems to think this is going to be the big story and I have no idea how much is his imagination gone wild and how much is to be taken very seriously. The questions seem to be good ones.


  28. iain,
    yes. that is quite right. i think those comparisons are not very helpful. taking a flight, drinking a beer or living on a moutain are pretty individual risks. if there is something going wrong with a NPP all of a sudden a lot of people are involved without being asked, if they want it or not. this is and always will be a huge problem.


  29. I just read this comment on the Blog heading About. I thought others may miss it there so I am copying it to this thread where it has current relevance.

    Tony Santamaria, on 19 March 2011 at 5:34 PM said:

    Dear Barry,
    Commonsense is not common. I was most impressed by your sincerity and I fear you are confronting prejudice arising from fear which is fueled by lack of knowledge. Your interview and site go a long way to help. The fact that you attract negative responses is proof that you are being successful in educating and challenging ignorance. I hope you get the exposure you have earned and that the world benefits from your efforts.
    All those who make a positive contributions to civilisation, face these challenges. Wear the attacks as a badge of courage and a medal of honour.


  30. I can’t remember what you deleted Barry. What you have left is what I wanted to communicate.

    I do think your attitude towards communicating safety risk is turning off people who would otherwise be sympathetic to your general argument.


  31. Sophia: Something Barry said in a previous interview is worth repeating.

    He comments that he can find no examples of countries, provinces or localities that have EVER decreased their consumption of energy (I would add, at least not willingly – war or disaster may change peoples’ use by destroying infrastructure).

    It’s all very well saying that we need to alter our lifestyles. What is difficult about that is asking the serious question – Which conveniences are we prepared to live without?

    The problem with THAT is that we all disagree on what is and is not needed. For example, I could live quite easily without ipods, plastic footballs and fancy shoes – but not everyone agrees with me.

    For this reason I suggest it is better to attempt to lower the impact of existing behaviours rather than relying on altering behaviour (in ways which we are not at all sure are possible).


  32. Johno,
    i am aware of all those points you mentioned. but what does it mean? just because there are problems and it is difficult to find out how to do it out we should not try to?

    it is a weak argument to just say, noone has ever increased their consumption, that means it will not be possible in the future. that sounds pretty desperate and hopeless…in many ways.

    that doesn’t mean that i don’t hear what you say. just if it stays like that we will destroy our basis of being here sooner or later. how sad or not sad this is, is something everyone has to answer for themselves.

    it is not just about energy. it is also about food (which is energy in a way). through overpopulation we transform more and more bio-mass into human bio-mass. every single day that extincts 200 other species. we are a self-indulgent species. this is what we have to talk about. we just tend to shift the discussion onto other battlefields all the time and let fight pro-nukes against anti-nukes. or veggies and meat-eaters. and so on.

    i am not sure. it probably would be okay. the self-indulgence and everything. but i don’t see people being happy with it. i think we feel that most things are going wrong in a way. and that makes an individual being feeling helpless. the whole world is a pretty overwhelming place, when we try to fix it in our minds…


  33. Eveline, on 19 March 2011 at 8:54 PM said:

    You need to check your facts. This was not a dam failure.

    Turbines failed.

    Certainly the world experiences industrial accidents, in all industries, but there was nothing about the dam that led to these deaths.

    The real problem of dams, unlike nuclear, is not the rate of failure, but the lack of future sites for expansion. But it does provide much safer and renewable power than nuclear. There are no cooling ponds with hydro and no waste that must be stored for eons.


  34. to Cyril i want to say:

    “So far zero radiation related deaths.”

    Well, this is part of the people have problem with death caused by radiation. many of people involved don’t just die, but they die slowly by developing diseases like cancer. i think if you would ask a couple of people what if they are more afraid of dying by an accident like an explosion or cancer, i am pretty sure they would say cancer.

    why people are afraid of nuclear power is because of the effects we cannot see. we cannot see it, feel it or smell it. we have no sense for it. for us it is like a ghost.


  35. John Morgan, on 19 March 2011 at 8:52 PM said:

    the Banqiao dam failed in China, 1975,

    This had nothing to do with hydropower.

    My question was:

    What dams have failed since Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima?
    Did any dams fail in Japan or New Zealand?

    If you want to go further back, then you have to compare the old dam engineering with old [graphite] nuclear technology.

    Clearly, modern dams constructed in the same era as Three Mile Island and after – [Banqio was 1950’s technology in Third World China] – have a much superior safety and waste record than nuclear technology from the same period.

    Comparing dams from the 1950’s and 1960’s in a then Third World country is not dealing with dams in the West, contemporary to Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

    A Chinese dam from the 1960’s, like graphite nuclear reactors, are not relevant to any questions being considered today.

    Although it is an interesting historical anecdote for some.


  36. I think hydro is more renewable than dry rock geothermal insofar as the average physical fluxes are long term stable. With HDR new wells have to be drilled as the nearby granite cools, Dams stay put. I note a copout clause in the RET legislation that excludes renewables built before 1997. That conveniently shuts out almost all hydro from subsidies. In any case since hydro has quick ramp times, predictable output and draws on its own energy storage it doesn’t need subsidies.

    It will be weird if we get a carbon tax with few loopholes while nuclear remains illegal in Australia. I think many businesses and households can cut say the first 20% from their energy consumption. That includes the metals industries with recycling and so on. The question is then what? Carbon cuts of 20%-80% may simply be unattainable without either nuclear or an economic contraction.


  37. Sophia, there have been many studies, you can google them, from a variety of sources looking at increased cancer rates from Three Mile Island and also weapons manufacturing reactors that released lots of ionising radiation. They have exclusively found no increased cancer incidence up to very high levels of radiation (tens, sometimes even hundreds times average global background radiation)

    What the studies show is either no effect of a positive effect up to quite high doses of radiation. Especially whole body dose, such as by external gamma sources, appear benign up to hundreds of times background.

    The hypothetical death toll calculations are based on a stupid model which goes as follows, as DV82XL has explained:

    First we determine that the deadly or just carcinogenic dose of radiation is x sieverts. Then we look at the total dose exposure. Then we divide total dose by the x sieverts to determine how many deaths or cancers.

    The big problem with this is if you spread the dose out over a number of people

    Ionising radiation is energy. There is nothing magical about it. Too much energy is harmful, especially if concentrated on a small part of the body. Small amounts have no effect or a benign effect. We see this everywhere – disease resistance, chemical poisons, ultraviolet radiation. Too little pathogens, not enough sunlight can make you sick. Too much also. Some amount is good for you.

    I used to not believe the radiation hormesis model, but there are many studies which are difficult to explain without this effect, here is an example of Taiwanese residents that were severely irradiated by penetrating gamma rays for years. Yet the cancer incidence was reduced from the moment they went to live in those irradiating buildings:

    Click to access low-dose-Cobalt-taiw-06.pdf

    Furthermore radiation is everwhere:

    If you ask me the problem is that people fear what they don’t understand. We have a serious education problem on our hand. Surprisingly few people know what alpha beta gamma radiation is or have read scientific studies on the effect of low dose radiation. Greenpeace is taking advantage of this by scaring people so much they don’t even want to learn about radiation. Its such a sad situation, ten years ago I was just like those people. Now I know what an idiot I was, and yet I know only the basics of radiation and nuclear power. The more I learn the more I like nuclear, the more I learn about coal the more coal scares me.


  38. Hy Barry!
    I’m reading your blog and all the helpful comments for a while now. It was always very interesting. As a Japanese Studies student I am also very happy to finally see someone who pronounces Fukushima correctly. ^-^
    I never had huge problems with nuclear power per se (probably because I visited one with my school once as a kid and was kinda fascinated) but I’m always sad to see that, at least here in Switzerland, newer plants are prevented and the old ones are kept running. It’s so stupid, especially since Switzerland is also quite prone to earthquakes…
    You mentioned that Australia should use more nuclear power instead of fossil, which I agree with, but wouldn’t it also be perfect for Australia to go more into solar power? After all you have deserts and a lot of space where you could build huge solar “plants”? What’s your thought about that?


  39. @Johno

    Regarding the fact that there has never been a decline in energy consumption, over the long term that is true, but over the short term there is a direct correlation between cost and consumption. Historically and in the aggregate, the real cost of energy has declined over time. But where there have been price shocks (for example in 2008), consumption declines dramatically.

    Cheap electricity is not an incentive to conservation, but a progressive pricing structure is. If you increase the cost of electricity people will consume less.


  40. what is considered a ‘near miss’ in the nuclear power industry? I can’t seem to fathom that such a ‘potentially dangerous’ industry would have anything close to going wrong considered a ‘near miss’. Common sense would dictate that in an industry like this, there would be a huge margin left for error either made by the designer or the regulations, or even both. So if the regulations in place are tough and strict, a near miss to violating a regulation would be in fact a nowhere near in terms of violating safety.

    Someone out there must have the answer for that. I mean in comparison my friend who’s a pilot says that a plane that comes too close to another in the same vertical column of air must be declared a near miss, regardless of separation in altitude. So if one was 200 ft off the ground and the other was 35000ft of the ground, it still has to be a near miss. On paper to an outside observer would say ‘my god, that was a near mid air collision!’


  41. sophia raises some interesting questions.

    With regard to changing our way of living to use less electricity it is not too hard for some of us to imagine what that might entail.

    My village in south Wales did not get electricity until I was eleven so I remember pumping water and gasoline by hand. I remember filling oil lamps, trimming their wicks and polishing them with “Brasso”. I remember climbing the stairs on my way to bed carrying a candle. I remember home cured bacon hanging from the rafters because refrigeration was not available. Nor did we have flushing toilets but we had the Gozunder (it goes under the bed).

    By today’s standards we were in a state of poverty but we did not realize it as everyone we knew was in the same situation.

    Were we unhappy? Not at all!

    However, I now understand the blessings that depend on electricity so I would be reluctant to return to the conditions of my early childhood or to expect others to do so.


  42. JohnG:
    I take your point, although I wonder how such an effect pans out long term.

    Of course, this is not scientific, but I can tell you that I don’t put the washing machine on for an extra cycle because electricity is cheap. I’m pretty frugal with what I use NOW.

    Therefore the only way that I can really see price affecting my behaviour is if I am literally too broke to afford the bill, at which point my problems are bigger than not being able to watch TV . . .

    I’m not saying that price increases can’t work, but they ARE a pretty blunt instrument. When I did economics (admittedly only a year at high school level, so I’m no expert), they used to talk about electricity as being the archtypical “price inelastic” good/service. Whereas the price of, say, a bottle of wine had a very large impact on whether or not someone would buy it, people would spend whatever was necessary to purchase electrical power.

    Now, I’m a science teacher, not an economist. So there’s a very high probability that I have missed something crucial here. What is it?



  43. @ Chris Warren

    There are documented examples of extinctions which have been attributed to the construction of dams, including dams for hydroelectricity generation. The Baiji (Yangtze River Dolphin) is one example of a species which almost certainly went extinct due to the combined effects from the Gezhouba Dam and Three Gorges Dam projects, and other anthropogenic activities. (Google scholar “Baiji extinction”). This is one example among many.

    I am unaware of – and am almost certain that there have never been – any extinctions that have occured due to the nuclear energy cycle.

    If you’re not looking at biodiversity as the primary indicator of environmental impacts, I don’t know what you’re looking at.


  44. On energy use vs living standards.

    In a global context, I don’t think it’s a question of “Which conveniences are we prepared to live without?”, a luxury decision most of us can make in the developed world. Rather, it’s a question of “What will people in the developing world be forced to go without, without access to sufficient energy?”

    It would be tragic if the Fukushima event stalls the growth of nuclear energy, as it will have very real impacts on energy scarcity for those in developing nations. Or worse – and perhaps more likely – it will just mean more fossil fuels will be burned to supply the demand.


  45. One Plus One interview.

    After listening to Professor Brook’s interview I would like to comment on the disparity between some of his impressions of the events and other versions of the facts as far as I have been able to discern them.

    I rely on the following two references:

    WNA: “World Nuclear Association” and the article entitled “ Nuclear Power Plants and Earthquakes”

    From their WEBsite “The World Nuclear Association is the international organization that promotes nuclear energy and supports the many companies that comprise the global nuclear industry.
    WNA arose on the foundations of the Uranium Institute, established in London in 1975 as a forum on the market for nuclear fuel.”

    Hopefully not too hostile a source..

    HER: “Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion”.

    A Japanese quango. This organisation has no apparent connection with nuclear power – I use it solely as a source of information on past seismic activity in the Japan region. It is a very clear and concise account with a minimum of technical language.

    From their WEBsite their reason for existence is described::
    “The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Disaster on January 17, 1995 killed 6,434 people and destroyed over 100,000 buildings, and brought to light a number of problems in our national earthquake disaster prevention measures.
    The failure to sufficiently communicate and apply earthquake research results to the general public and disaster prevention organizations highlighted the need for a direct system of accountability in government policy regarding earthquakes, and the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, a special governmental organization attached to the Prime Minister’s office (now belongs to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology), was established in accordance with this law”
    There is also a Japanese version.

    Hopefully not too contentious either.
    I don’t have a transcript of the interview but have taken notes from it. Following are some of Professor Brook’s observations and an assessment of them based on information from the two sources listed above.

    Professor Brook makes a number of related observations which include the following:

    1. No infrastructure can be expected to survive Japan’s largest earthquake + a 10m tsunami.
    2 Design decisions taken in the 1960s didn’t anticipate the scale of the earthquake and tsunami.
    2. Fukushima is the oldest reactor in Japan.
    3. Based on a design of up to 6.5 m tsunami. Designed for 7 times smaller earthquake

    So the general gist of these observations is that the designs and specifications were made in the distant past and that modern reactors would have withstood these conditions. In fact, most did so. The event was without modern precedent, a freak of nature and this should not be taken as an indication that nuclear power is unsafe. Further the reactors stood up remarkably well to an event way beyond their design specs.
    Firstly the assessment of seismic events by reference to Richter scale magnitude is not appropriate for assessing the destructive capability of the event. There are many other factors besides the total energy, obvious ones being the distance from the epicentre, terrain, geological structure, and local influences such as soil structure. Two other scales are of more relevance. Firstly a ten-level seismic intensity scale used in Japan & Taiwan by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) . This is used to map the surface intensity at particular places. Secondly the “peak ground acceleration” (PGA) scale – a continous measurement expressed in units of acceleration (eg cm/sec^2, known as ‘Galileos’) or sometimes as a multiple of a standard g-force (approx 9.8m/sec^2). The standards for power plant earthquake resistance are expressed in the PGA scale.

    Referring now to HER ( we see that the recent quake is an “interplate earthquakes caused by the subducting Pacific Plate”. From ibid.
    “Also, the crustal movement (upheaval and subsidence) at sea floor accompanying this type of large earthquake causes the seawater to either rise or fall, and tsunami tend to occur as a result. Therefore, coastal areas facing plate boundaries, particularly areas near their hypocenter, often experience strong ground motion caused by interplate earthquakes and tsunami that arrive immediately after the earthquake” . They then go on to say that large tsunamis can be generated from smallish quakes.
    So there is no direct correlation between Richter value and tsunami size.
    Now 4.1 specialises to earthquakes in the Tohoku region (which is where the current quake occurred).

    “The area off the Pacific coast of the Tohoku region is one of the most seismically active regions around Japan. The characteristics of how earthquakes occur here differ depending on the location. For example, great earthquakes of M 8 sometimes occur in the sea off the coast of Aomori and Miyagi Prefectures. These include the 1896 Meiji Sanriku Earthquake (M 8 1/2) and the 1968 Earthquake off the Coast of Tokachi (M 7.9). The type of seismic activity that occurs in the open sea off Fukushima is of a different nature, however. While there have been several earthquakes with M 7 or so , such as the 1938 Earthquake off the East Coast of Fukushima Prefecture (Fukushima-ken Toho-Oki Earthquake) (M7.5), no earthquakes with M 8 or so are known to have occurred. Also, earthquakes of roughly the same magnitude have occurred every about 40 years since 1855 near the same sea location, the most recent one was the 1978 Earthquake off the Coast of Miyagi Prefecture (M 7.4).
    So-called “tsunami earthquakes” (“slow earthquakes” or “low-frequency earthquakes”) also occur in this region”.

    Now we look at 3 specific quakes in nearly the same location as the current one. The Meiji Sanriku quake of 1896, the Sanriku quake of 1933, and the 1968 quake off the coast of Tokachi.

    On the first two: “Both earthquakes were followed by large tsunami about 30 to 40 minutes after they were felt. These earthquakes were catastrophic, destroying countless houses and ships. The reported number of fatalities for the Meiji earthquake 26,360, and that for the Showa earthquake was 3,064, primarily on the Pacific Ocean coast “.
    “The maximum height for both tsunami was observed at Ryori in Sanriku, Iwate Prefecture. The tsunami height of the Meiji earthquake was 38.2 m, the highest tsunami recorded near Japan since 1868 (Meiji period) (Fig.4-8). The Showa tsunami, also large, was observed at a height of 23.0 m (Fig.4-9). The ground motion of the Meiji earthquake was not substantial, and is estimated at seismic intensity of 4 in JMA scale at most (Fig.4-10). Its tsunami was extremely high, however, leading observers to believe this was a tsunami earthquake with a slower fault slip than that which occurs during normal earthquakes”.
    “The tsunami accompanying the Showa earthquake was the first to occur after a modern system for observing and studying tsunami was put in place. Accordingly, many different studies have been conducted on this tsunami”

    On the 1968 quake:”Strong ground motion was felt over a wide area, primarily in the northern Tohoku region and southern Hokkaido. This earthquake also generated a tsunami that was 6 m at its highest point. The tsunami arrived at low tide, however, so only slight damage resulted :

    Then there was a smaller quake in 1978 off Miyagi. “The new type of damage caused by this earthquake left a lasting impression on the Japanese people. Extensive damage was caused to the infrastructure indispensable for daily life, including gas, water, and electric utilities. This caused great turmoil in the lives of local citizens. In that sense, this was the first earthquake experienced by a modern city in Japan”.

    If you look at the maps provided on the WEBsite, all these quakes occurred in almost the same place as the recent one.

    To cap it off the look up what HER says about the 2011 quake:
    “This earthquake caused a tsunami on the Pacific coast from the Hokkaido, Tohoku and Kanto regions, with tsunami heights over 7.3m in Soma, of 4.2m in Oarai, and over 4.1m in Kamaishi”

    The actual height at a particular location is difficult to determine without specific information, as it can be effected by local conditions, but it would be odd if Fukushima experienced a higher reading than other locations closer to the epicentre

    So as far as the tsunami is concerned the impression we get is not in accord with Professor Brook’s claims at all. The following is more like the truth.
    “Earthquakes and tsunamis in the Tohoku region are frequent and well-known. Two tsunamis of heights 38.2 metres (in 1896) and 23 metres (in 1933) far exceeded the tsunami recorded in 2011. A 6m tsunami also occurred in 1968 and another destructive quake in 1978. Smaller quakes originating much closer to Fukushima have occured at roughly 40 year intervals.
    Tsunamis are extremely well-known in Japan and billions of dollars has been spent on tsunami abatement walls on large sections of the NE coast of Honshu and of Hokkaido. To claim that a tsunami of this magnitude was unexpected or exceptional is completely false, and was false at the time the reactors were installed. ”

    Now we consider the ground effects of the quake. The claim is that the reactor specs were exceeded by a factor of 7. But what was the effective quake level at the reactor.
    From HER
    we have a chart showing the distribution of JMA intensities. Not easy to read but it looks like a 5+ at Fukushima. This corresponds ( to a PGA of up to 3.15m/sec^2 or 0.32g (even allowing for difficulty with the chart, less than 0.5g in any case).
    ie say 400Gal to be generous.
    The Japanese risk assessment process is far from static, and there have been ongoing revisions of the system,. A detailed account can be found in WNA. . The basic message is that standards are revised as estimates for the worst-case PGA levels at a particular site are reassessed.
    This upgrading has to be performed to keep a reactor licensed, no matter how old. The following may give us a clue as to what was happening.
    “Hamaoka units 1 & 2 had been shut down since 2001 and 2004 respectively, pending seismic upgrading – they were originally designed to withstand only 450 Gal. In December 2008 the company decided to write them off and build a new reactor to replace them. Modifying the two 1970s units to new seismic standards would have cost about US$ 3.3 billion and been uneconomic, so Chubu opted for a US$ 1.7 billion write-down instead.”

    In other word, old units no longer met the revised specs and where withdrawn from service as the cost of upgrade was prohibitive.
    But we also have:
    “In March 2008 Tepco upgraded its estimates of likely PGA for Fukushima to 600 Gal, and other operators have adopted the same figure”.

    In the 1970s there was a uniform earthquake spec, so probably the Fukushima spec was also 450 Gal.

    1) The 400 Gal quake was probably near the design limit of 450Gal, but certainly not 7 times as claimed by Brook.
    2) Tepco were facing an upgrade to 600Gal. We are told that the units were being withdrawn from service, so it was probably uneconomic to do the upgrade. Perhaps they operated them for too long after the 2008 ruling. Perhaps not.
    The last shreds of Brook’s claims:

    Reactor ages in Japan:
    The ages of the 4 problematic Fukushima –Daiichi reactors vary from 1971 to 1978.
    Well there’s Mihama-1 (1970), still operating!
    And we also have
    Genkai-1 (1975) Ikata-1 (1977),Mihama-2(1972), Mihama-3(1976), Ohi-1 &2 (1979),
    Shimane-1(1974), Takahama-1(1974), -2(1975), Tokai-2(1978)
    That’s 15 reactors in roughly the same age range as the ailing reactors.
    As to the absolute requirement to maintain AC power, that is not mentioned by WNA, but given the detail and complexity of the Japanese regulatory system, it is almost impossible to believe it could just have been overlooked.
    Finally, spare a thought for the people of Christchurch, NZ. If NZ weren’t a nuclear free zone, they may have been tempted to locate a reactor nearby. The February quake had a PGA of 2.2g (ie over 2000Gal) one of the highest ever recorded anywhere. And this on a previously unknown fault!

    There’s a lot more in the interview to argue with, but that can wait for another day.


  46. we live in a world where nuclear power is optional and earthquakes are not. Why is it we would choose to say nuclear power is safe, on this earth, where there will always be earthquakes?


  47. Chris

    Wow! A quarter million people dead is not relevent to the discussion?!? If dead are not relevent then just what are you saying is bad about nuclear? If that dam had not been built would those people still be alive?

    If a 1960s dam is not relevent to the debate then why is a 1960s reactor design? I would really like to understand where you are comming from.


  48. Thanks for the sane discussion. As a former Aerospace Engineer and now middle school math teacher, I appreciate the logical thinking and clear discussions you present Barry.

    Keep up the GREAT work!


  49. > no examples of countries, provinces or localities that
    > have EVER decreased their consumption of energy

    That’s easy to provide. Here ya go:

    Conservation Response. In fact, the changes in energy use that resulted from Californians’ concerns and reactions to the crisis were striking. …

    Click to access 13_237.pdf

    > whalelawyer …
    > disparity … versions of the facts

    Good info. Barry changes his mind given information he lacked; that post points to a source of historical experience on Japanese quake and tsunami history that I don’t think has been mentioned here by anyone.

    Things not only _could_ get a lot worse than we imagined, they _have_ been a lot worse than we’ve been talking about.

    Now we know better.


  50. > PGA, Peak Ground Acceleration

    Worth considering — the chart from Kyoshin is a reminder that this isn’t just one bump, acceleration looks like about twice the force of gravity back and forth/up and down. It’s not just that you don’t stay on your feet, you don’t stay on the _floor_ while that kind of shaking happens, and it lasts a while.

    Seattle, or Victoria, or Vancouver, or Portland, let alone the little towns like Seaside or Port Townsend, when the subduction quake happens in the Pacific Northwest, won’t be pretty. I hope preparation speeds up.


  51. AT asked “what is considered a ‘near miss’
    I’d recommend reading the linked article; your question is answered there. It’s not a defined industry term, it’s a description of a class of problems that should have been routinely caught and fixed, were missed, and would have had bad consequences if something else had also gone wrong.

    Remember early on at Fukushima when they got the emergency pumps running, but then for a while couldn’t get water pumped into one of the overheating cores, because one of two pressure release valves had failed to operate automatically?

    But it wasn’t a near miss — the area was so radioactive they could not send a man in to open the valve by hand, by the time they needed to cool that reactor quickly.

    The first example in the ‘near miss’ article is a comparable situation — a valve that wasn’t working for 18 months undetected. But the operator could have sent a man in to open it manually if they needed it in an emergency, the article said.

    Maybe so. The followup article here may be one of a series of such studies of the industry. Skepticism is good, especially when optimism=short-term profit.


  52. @whalelawyer

    A lot of words in which to make a few small points.

    1. The Hanshin-Awaji occured over land and caused no tsunami. My point here was that the nuclear power plants stood up to a beyond design basis earthquake, but not the subsequent tsunami.

    2. I said no infrastructure along the coast can withstand such forces. I said Fukushima Daiichi units were ‘among the oldest reactors in Jpan’ which is a correct statement. In both cases you left out a few key words.

    3. I am dubious about 38 m high tsunamis, and wonder what scientific evidence there is for them?

    Further, by saying things like “The last shreds of Brook’s claims”you indicate to me that you clearly missed the whole point I was making about society making choices to accept significant risks in some areas and yet demand zero risk in others. Ho hum.

    In sum, you seem to enjoy counting the number of angels that fit on the head of a pin, and yet avoid looking at the tapestry they’re stuck into…


  53. Interesting–pointed to in the above article:
    “… the Agency has made significant but uneven progress in reform …: “little to no” progress on disclosure of internal audits to member states or whistleblower protections; “some” progress on an independent ethics function ….”

    “… Taniguchi has been a weak manager and advocate, particularly with respect to confronting Japan’s own safety practices, and he is a particular disappointment to the United States for his unloved-step-child treatment of the Office of Nuclear Security….”


  54. @Whalelawyer,

    You write like a lawyer and not a scientist. That’s not meant to be disparaging since it’s seems to be your field.

    You can’t think you’re establishing a scientific basis for your argument and think you can just transfer “a group of assertions or facts” into different areas of scientific inquiry and think it proves a scientifically stated hypothesis.

    I think the problem with your arguments is that as a lawyer you seem to want to cast doubt in people’s minds rather than actually show scientific and engineering design flaws and scientific reasoning.


  55. > society making choices to accept significant risks
    > in some areas and yet demand zero risk in others

    But this is defending the old history, which would be better abandoned, wouldn’t it? You two likely agree on biodiversity and conservation.

    We are _barely_ at the beginning of knowing how to use science and statistics to understand the world.

    Look how the estimates of pre-whaling population changed once molecular genetics tools were applied.

    Look how epidemiology is — just barely now — beginning to be used to address issues related to the old technology that used to get a free pass (coal, diesel, wood smoke).

    The same epidemiology is — just barely now — beginning to be used to address issues with the new technologies.

    Data collection from the past is a difficult exercise.

    I’d bet there will be serious academic research don on those previous tsunamis.

    Observations make clear that the nominal sea surge mesured by buoys is not the same as the water height reached onshore after it’s shaped by the sea bottom, slope, and shape of the shoreline.

    Shorter — Barry and whalelawyer are yoked together and both trying to pull toward a sane future.

    Pulling 180 degrees off isn’t going to get you there.

    Find a vector you can agree on. Cooperate.

    The people doing technology fast, wrong, cheap, and dirty, are very much better at not fighting among themselves, and they don’t attack easy targets among their friends, they help them clean up their game and improve it.

    “People know intuitively where leverage points are. Time after time I’ve … figured out a leverage point. Then I’ve gone to the company and discovered that everyone is pushing it in the wrong direction!”
    — Jay Forrester, quoted by Donnella Meadows

    Yes, we’ll eventually understand the actual costs of power production. Those include epidemiology.

    All the health effects of operation are tiny compared to driving an automobile. So?

    Lauriston S. Taylor Lecture: Radiation Epidemiology —the Golden Age and Future Challenges
    Boice, John D. Jr.*
    “… Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and causes of disease in humans. Studies of human populations exposed to ionizing radiation have been conducted for nearly 100 y during the “Golden Age of Radiation Epidemiology.” Radiation epidemiology is now so sophisticated that human studies are the basis for radiation protection standards …. there is more to be learned, and future knowledge may be advanced from new and continued occupational studies of the early radiation workers, atomic veterans, medically exposed patients, and populations living in areas of high natural background radiation….”

    Having said that I’m going to back off here because I do feel like Cassandra urging y’all to think of the sum of your efforts as the outcome, and adjust it.


  56. One correction: Fukushima I nuclear plant didn’t withstand the quake that is 7 times more powerful than it’s projected for.

    “According to the plant operator Tokyo Electric, the maximum earthquake intensity measured at the nuclear power plant was 507 gals at the No. 3 reactor building, smaller than 600 gals the nuclear plant is required to withstand. The data is a provisional figure.”


  57. This presentation was, in part, a rebuttal of the view that this latest nuclear disaster reinforces the claims of people like myself that nuclear power is not part of the solution to addressing climate change.
    Barry raises the concern that by opposing nuclear we give comfort to the coal lobby.
    His objection to coal is well founded. Quite apart from producing the single most dangerous man made greenhouse gas – a gas that will wreak havoc over a time scale to rival that of nuclear waste, it is also responsible for a broad spectrum of health problems.
    Barry is to be commended for recognizing the dangers inherent in the use of coal and campaigning against its use.
    What I find difficult to reconcile is that those very same arguments against coal can be used with equal effect against nuclear.
    Like coal at every stage in its production cycle nuclear presents a significant health hazard.
    The one advantage that nuclear has over coal is that during its actual use it does not emit life threatening toxins into the atmosphere but that is of course provided that there is no breakdown.
    He can also point to the fact that in theory we can build very safe nuclear energy plants.
    The shortcoming in that argument is that the design of nuclear reactors falls well short of industry best standard, on the contrary they are built to the standard the companies can get away with.
    We only have to look at other disasters in the energy sector – in every instance one can point to cost cutting practices that energy companies find simply too tempting.
    This is again highlighted here – the power backup which could have allowed the pumps to continue was simple not up to the task. The costs associated with a comprehensive back-up system were simply too great for the company.
    So why persist with the nuclear argument? We know the health problems associated with nuclear power, we know that the temptation to cut costs, to skim on essential maintenance will simply be too great for companies to resist yet Barry continues to beat the nuclear drum.
    This is even more perplexing given that he is an environmental scientist.
    He will be aware that 20% of the world’s population consume 80% of its resources. (Suzuki in an interview it might be that Suzuki has discovered Pareto but the point that the developed world consumes an unsustainable amount of natural resources is well known.)
    One of the reasons we are able to consume so much is because for the last 200 years we have had access to abundant cheap energy enabling us to rape and pillage the planet in unprecedented fashion.
    I suspect that Barry knows that we are addicted to this high consumer lifestyle.
    I can only guess that this is his motivation to argue for nuclear for it avoids having to confront the reality that we and future generations cannot continue to rely on an abundance of cheap and abundant energy to fuel our destructive lifestyles.
    But to advocate that to safeguard our future we need to abandon our how energy lifestyle and be prepared to go back to a time when the amount of energy available to a household was limited to what could be generated locally. Of course this means that we need to give up many of our toys.
    I suppose it asks the question: will the world be able to live without facebook?


  58. Joshua, on 20 March 2011 at 12:41 AM said:

    You are pulling my leg?

    Please explain how “a quarter million dead” is relevant!

    Then you may like to review the nuclear deaths from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Surely, using your methodology, these deaths are relevant too?

    Are you saying that 1960’s technology is, or is not, relevant?

    I prefer to say that the deaths from busted dams using 1950’s technology – built in the 1960’s in Third World countries, and the deaths from America’s nuclear bombing of Japan are not relevant to risk assessment of hydroelectricity other baseload renewables and the threats from nuclear power.


  59. Whalelawyer,

    Since you have experience in formal risk analysis and say you have applied that methodology to nuclear power stations I would be interested in the risk analysis, both absolute risk and risk reletive to what else is practically available.

    I read the site you referenced as well as a paper discussing how the big quakes and tsunami in this area occur. Both put the chance either event at the one in two thousand year bracket. What other industrial plants are expected to plan for events that rare?


  60. Chris,
    Wow… The issue as I understand it is that you said hydro was nice and safe and nuclear plants were not. To support it you pointed out TMI, Chernobyl anf Fukushima and asked what damn had done as bad. When it was pointed out that indeed a dam had burst killing 26000 imediatly and another 14×000 fom disease etc while destroying many tens of square miles you said it was not relevent. It was after all an old dam built in China.

    That is just foolish and bringing Hiroshima and Nagasaki into a discussion about nuclear plant safty is either the grossest hyperbole or shows a profound lack of understanding between a reactor and a bomb.

    You obviously simply are againts nuclear power. That is fine I can understand and respect that position. What I can not respect but can understand is your unwillingness to accept that your alternitave, hydro in this case, does not have its own problems and has indeed killed quite a few people.

    In any discussion of safty the most important thing is immediate risk of death, then critical injury then immediate destruction of property/environment then long term issues. Put simply dams have killed more people than nuclear plants by several orders of magnatude. You can not exclude something just because it was built with old technology, there are a lotbof dams out there built with old tech just like there are a lot of reactors out there built with old tech. That is an apples to apples comparason. New dams to new reactors is oranges to oranges.

    Dead people are always relevent.


  61. Two on risk analysis — recall that the move to risk-based (from rule-based) regulatory compliance has been the trend for two decades.

    “… The nuclear industry’s transition to risk-informed regulation and operation in the United States
    $ 41.95

    Andrew C. Kadaka, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Author and Toshihiro Matsuob, E-mail The Corresponding Author

    aNuclear Science and Engineering Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

    bNuclear Power Engineering, Quality and Safety Management Department, Tokyo Electric Power Company, 1-3 Uchisaiwai-cho 1 Chome Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8560, Japan
    Received 11 January 2006;
    revised 21 February 2006;
    accepted 21 February 2006.
    Available online 18 April 2006.


    This paper summarizes a study of the transition of the United States nuclear industry from a prescriptive regulatory structure to a more risk informed approach to operations and regulations. The transition occurred over a 20 yr period in which gradual changes were made in the fundamental regulations and to the approach to nuclear safety and operations. While the number of actual regulatory changes were few, they are continuing. The utilities that embraced risk informed operations made dramatic changes in the way they approached operations and outage management. Those utilities that used risk in operations showed dramatic improvement in safety based on Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) performance indicators. It was also shown that the use of risk did not negatively affect safety performance of the plants compared to standard prescriptive approaches. This was despite having greater flexibility in compliance to regulatory standards and the use of the newly instituted risk-informed reactor oversight process.

    Key factors affecting the successful transition to a more risk-informed approach to regulations and operations are: strong top management support and leadership both at the regulator and the utility; education and training in risk principles and probabilistic risk Assessment tools for engineers, operators and maintenance staff; a slow and steady introduction of risk initiatives in areas that can show value to both the regulator and the industry; a transparent regulatory foundation built around a safety goal policy and the development of a strong safety culture at the utility to allow for more independence in safety compliance and risk management.

    The experience of the United States shows positive results in both safety and economics. …”

    and — perhaps contradicting some of the above:
    Systems Journal, IEEE
    Issue Date: June 2009, Volume: 3 Issue:2
    On page(s): 239 – 253; ISSN: 1932-8184
    INSPEC Accession Number: 10666069
    Digital Object Identifier: 10.1109/JSYST.2009.2017390
    Date of Publication: 14 April 2009
    Date of Current Version: 26 May 2009
    Sponsored by: IEEE Systems Council

    Until recently, nuclear has been largely considered as an established power source with no need for new developments in its generation and the management of its power plants. However, this idea is rapidly changing due to reasons discussed in this study. Many U.S. nuclear power plants are receiving life extensions decades beyond their originally planned lives, which requires the consideration of new risks and uncertainties. This research first investigates those potential risks and sheds light on how nuclear utilities perceive and plan for these risks. After that, it examines the need for systems thinking for extended operation of nuclear reactors in the U.S. Finally, it concludes that U.S. nuclear power plants are good examples of systems in need of change from a traditional managerial view to a systems approach.

    Plenty more where that came from, there’s a huge literature on this whole area. And no doubt a bit of that will be revised starting about now.


  62. konst
    I wrote you a reply but it seems to have vanished, though Jushua seems to have seen it.
    Joshua – I can’t see how you can get that interpration from those articles- the significance of the HER site is that there have been a number of tsunamis of similar or greater height in the last century or so. And the destructiveness of a quake at a particular location is measured by the Gal values, which were not unusually high at the reactor sites in question.

    Now to Professor Brook’s reply.

    1. The Hanshin-Awaji occured over land and caused no tsunami. My point here was that the nuclear power plants stood up to a beyond design basis earthquake, but not the subsequent tsunami.


    The only reference to the Hanshin-Awaji event in my submission is in the quote from the WEBsite of the “Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion” The only purpose of this quote was to provide some brief background on the organisation to persuade the reader (at least initially) of the credibility of the source. As Professor Brook indicates, this event has little direct relevance. My point is that the earthquake was not “beyond design base” – we agree on the tsunami.
    I indicated that the actual figures to support this claim were based on an interpretation of a chart, and so not highly reliable, but another poster has supplied another reference which also appears to support my claim.
    This one claims a measurement of 507 gals, but a design tolerance of 600gals. But perhaps the 507 is also an estimate. Other references provided by bloggers are to charts, which have the same problems of averaging data in sample areas.
    Whatever, in any case there is considerable doubt as to whether, or by how much, the design limit was exceeded.

    2. I said no infrastructure along the coast can withstand such forces. I said Fukushima Daiichi units were ‘among the oldest reactors in Japan’ which is a correct statement. In both cases you left out a few key words.

    The actual quote is (25 seconds into interview)
    “I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect any infrastructure along a coastline like that to survive an event like that”.
    What – are you saying that no building has been left standing on the entire NE coast? Demonstrably false – at the very least there are those on headlands etc above the tsunami level. Many others had water wash through their lower levels and still survived, but I guess they were just being unreasonable. If it wasn’t reasonable to expect such survival, and as I argued, the risk was known or should have been known from previous records, then it must have been unreasonable to place these installations in harm’s way on the coastline (eg a headland would have been more reasonable). You are arguing that the designers did not act reasonably. I agree.

    At 48 seconds: “These are amongst the oldest stations in Japan”. OK, a correct but misleading statement, which gives an impression that the age is special, unusual. A mitigating factor. The facts are that of the 55 currently operating stations 20 (36%) date from the 1970s, and 15 others (27%) date from the 1980s. So in fact this group of stations is not outstandingly old among the set of all stations. Professor Brook’s remarks indicate that stations of this age are under a cloud , that their age makes us less sure of their reliability. Why else would he make the remark? Clearly then one should conclude that there are significant doubts on the safety of at least 35% of reactors in operation in Japan . Fair enough, I’ll settle for that.

    3. I am dubious about 38 m high tsunamis, and wonder what scientific evidence there is for them?
    Reply:Another blogger has provided a different link to .
    This one claims 30m in 1896, but that will suffice to settle the point – much bigger tsunamis are on the historical record (and 1896 is recent enough, especially given other big ones since) .

    Further, by saying things like “The last shreds of Brook’s claims”you indicate to me that you clearly missed the whole point I was making about society making choices to accept significant risks in some areas and yet demand zero risk in others. Ho hum.

    I isolated 4 specific points and made out a case against them. These are issues of fact, not opinion.
    The expression “last shreds ..” was meant to refer just to the 4 claims which I mentioned. Just a debating expression,
    No great significance there. I didn’t miss the point – I have only analysed 1 minute of the interview, still 8’38” to go.

    In sum, you seem to enjoy counting the number of angels that fit on the head of a pin, and yet avoid looking at the tapestry they’re stuck into…

    I will get to the tapestry later, if it hasn’t already decayed into a heap of dust.

    Concluding remarks:
    It should be remembered that the interview constitutes a political rather than scientific statement. The whole point is to convince viewers of the validity of the interviewee’s position. The vast majority of viewers do not assess the position by carrying out an independent analysis of every word and nuance. They form a subconscious opinion of the interviewee’s credibility, assessed from his manner, his ‘reasonableness’, his standing. Non-critical viewers will assume that a Professor will not present questionable facts to support his case. In politics opponents frequently hold vastly different positions. In mathematics this is never possible – someone has to be wrong. Opinions are formed from the aggregation of large numbers of tiny facts. If those facts are not quite right, then higher level arguments based on them can be misleading. This is now referred to as ‘spin’. All political discussions involve spin. Professor Brook’s interview is no exception.


  63. Whalelawyer.

    If you take a look at the documents in my 718 and 726 posts there is a document discussing the Medji earthquake. If the HER site did not have the one in two kyear quote that one does. The document shows sensor readings throughout the area. The one, which I believe but am not sure, refers to Fukushima reports 1300 Gal.

    If you look in the paper discussing tsunami earthquakes there is a quake referenced that was an 8.9 but only caused a 70cm tsunami. This paper was written in the early 70s so it gives the state of knowledge at the time.

    I enjoy reading your comments and look forward to reading your views.

    Thank you for the references. I will look them up. I had not thought to look in IEEExplore


  64. Joshua says
    I read the site you referenced as well as a paper discussing how the big quakes and tsunami in this area occur. Both put the chance either event at the one in two thousand year bracket. What other industrial plants are expected to plan for events that rare?”

    the answer is, any industrial plants which contain potentially lethal things.


  65. Halleluiah Barry :-) Just saw your piece on ABC on Japanese nuclear situation. Thank you!!! Finally someone who has finally put the situation into some sort of perspective using reasoned logical arguments after the media’s over the top coverage (of what is an undeniably serious situation). How many oil refineries, gas terminals, windmills or solar panels do you think have survived an earthquake and then a tsunami? None!

    As an analogy if you examined the history of rail travel it is filled in the early days with a litany of catastrophic accidents killing thousands of people. Each year new safety initiatives were put in place and we now travel on Maglev trains at 500km. If we had listened to the luddites we would all be riding horses still. Wait a minute people died on horses too I believe .
    All human activity involves some element of risk even climbing ladders to install or clean solar panels. Keep up the good work.


  66. Karen,

    I do not believe, in fact i know. That Oil and gal pipelined do not plan for one in 2000 yr events. Nor do airplanes nor so many things to numerous to name.

    I understand the desire to be safe but as I have said here before there are only so many resources to go arround. At some point if you require something to protect against massive outlier events you will not have the money to protect against something much more likely to kill people somewhere else. The question how safe is safe enough must always be answered.

    To use hypothetical based upon Japan’s disaster. If you had to make a safety decision would you have spent money to make these nuclear plants arbitrsirly safe or to build sea walls arround some of the communities that got washed out to sea?

    I will agree wholeheartedly with the need to make sure that NPS owners/operators must be forced to comply with the safty standards they have and not cut corners just to make more money though


  67. The way I understand the news about quake intensity measurement is that they have several measuring instruments in the plant, and that the one in reactor 3 showed maximal reading of all of them.

    “maximum earthquake intensity measured at the nuclear power plant was 507 gals at the No. 3 reactor building”

    Therefore, I don’t have too much doubt about this figure.


  68. To Joshua:

    “According to this the PGA at a measurement station in Fukushima (assuming that 00FUKUSH is Fukushima) was over 1300 Gal”

    Why on Earth would you assume that, since all measurment stations were named with regard to prefectures, not with nuclear plants? Clearly on the document you linked on the map on the 7th page you can see that some measurement stations that have FUKUSHIMA prefix are inland, not on the shore.


  69. Joshua,
    Also Peter
    Tracking down precise data was a bit of a challenge. If you firstly locate the reactors on GoogleEarth, then look at the following, you can get some idea of the seismic readings.

    Things to notice are that the readings do not form a consistent cline. This is presumably because of variation in local conditions. There is no seismic station listed very close to the Daiichi reactors, but there may well be a private one there. The closest on the coast is at Sohma (FKS0001 = 0.632g = 620Gal). Readings on the tops of the hills are often higher FKS004 & FKS0019 = 850 ), to the west of the hills they are lower (~400).
    FKS0010 is well to the SW. Fukushima is quite a large prefecture, 133km of coastline , 160km wide.
    Unfortunately this is not conclusive, but there is no indication that the higher values (>1000Gal) occurred near F – Daiichi.
    Could you tell me how to find the 718 and 726 posts please.
    From the literature tsunami size is not a simple function of quake size. In simplified terms, if the movement is longitudinal, no tsunami, if there is a vertical displacement, there will be., but the direction will depend on which side of the fault slips downwards. Also tsunami height depends on things like tide level – the disaster planner has to factor all that in.
    There are examples in this same area of big tsunamis with small quakes and the reverse.
    Finally there seems to be some variation in the Gal data – in the Japanese data they appear to be measuring the 3D magnitude (ie the vector magnitude, taking into account all directions of movement) other data seems to have only the major component.


  70. Actually I was assuming city that the measurement was for the city and possibly only a few tens of kilometers from the plant. Since I was not sure I qualified the statement. Since it is the only actual confirmed measurement we have I thought it would give some idea of how to read the shake maps. If you know the actual physical location of the sensor you might be able to learn something from it. Simply knowing if it was closer to the epicenter than the plant would tell you something. If you know please share that information I would greatly appriciate it.


  71. I understand that immediate local geography can have an effect on how much a given site shakes. If the epicenter was experiencing near 3000gal and the plant is reporting 5xx Gal how much of that is simple attenuation and how much might be good site selection?


  72. Joshua,
    If you look at the map on the ‘strongmotioncentre’ WEBsite you can see the govt. sensors with colour coded readings. Cursor-over & you get the info on that sensor. Clearly there is no simple relationship
    between distance from epi – there is local variation of a huge order. The highest reading looks quite strange, west of the hills and surrounded by much lower readings – classical outlier and suspect reading. A reasonable asumption is that along the coast there will be similar soil conditions and so those readings could be extrapolated to other locations. But some readings much further south are higher than some near Sendai. There is also a possible ‘resonance’ effect mentioned in the Christchurch quake which could produce anomalous high readings at agiven location.. And earthquake waves could be focussed by natural ‘lenses’ in rock formations to produce high readings far from the site. So my guess is good site selection is very important, but still won’t stop Godzilla. This really gets into very specialised areas of engineering and geophysics.
    With reference to my original point, to query the intensity at F-Daiich, if as Peter says there are readings from a sensor at the site, that is the ultimate source.

    Finally (really, as I’m off to Christchurch tomorrow )
    the structures are cracking – not the concrete ones, the political ones, see
    Ziggy hedging his bets!


  73. Whalelawyer…

    Damn I am just not getting my thoughts out….
    Something odd is happening with your posts. The one at 20 March 1050pm just showed up in my timeline, also if I remember correctly one of your posts disapeared, earlier I think you commented on it (might have been someone else, I do not rememver clearly)


  74. Joshua,
    I have taken a look at your reference 0718 – an interesting paper indeed. As I mentioned in my suppressed post to konst, I am neither a whale nor a lawyer, but a mathematician, so the integrals and stuff don’t scare me. This technical paper, published by a standard technical publisher in a Geophysical Journal, is mostly of interest to specialists, but we can glean a lot of general info from it. Kanamori’s paper is mostly interested in the observed fact that relatively moderate (Richter scale) earthquakes can generate monster tsunamis. The 1896 Meiji quake produced 30+m tsunamis, The 1946 Aleutain (way distant from the area of Tohoku) produced a magnificent tsunami which swept the whole Pacific – this is the 2000 year event referred to. This is nicely summarised in the ‘Conclusion’.
    The maths is about trying to set up a model which might explain the phenomenon. Of interest to us now is, for example, Fig 1, which show the epicentres of the 1896 & 1933 quakes right near each other, and right near the 2011 quake epicentre.
    There are a few comments here which give the lie to the idea that the 2011 event was in any sense unexpected.
    Quotes:: Section 3 on the 1933 earthquake.

    “Richter gave this event a magnitude of 8.9, the largest value ever reported. It was followed by a tsunami which caused a devastating damage on the Sanriku coast. Unlike the 1896 event , the seismological data suggest that this event represents a really great earthquake.”
    So it looks like 2011 was a rerun of 1933.
    As for data on tsunamis (3.3) “The data on tsunami observed along the Sanriku coast are fairly complete.”
    [deleted personal opinion presented as fact]
    So let’s close off the false trail of nuclear power and get back to killing off the coal industry and cleaning out the cave.


  75. Karen

    Bophal was a pesticide plant in which the feedstoce was phosgene and something even nastier. Nigeria is a major protracted social conflict revolving arround oil revenew and ethnicity. (As are many others)

    If you would like to discuss the various social issues which may or may not be caused/helped by nuclear power on other power generation please join me over on the Open Thread.


  76. Thanks very much for providing uptodate information on the nuclear incident in Japan in a manner accessible to those not part of the nuclear fraternity. Great interview by the way. We need more voices like yours to educate the public on the the comparative safety of nuclear power, and it value in addressing climate change.


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