Emissions Nuclear Open Thread

Fukushima Open Discussion Thread

The Open Threads on are a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing really ‘off topic’ here — within reason. Please use this particularly comment thread to post anything on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident that is NOT directly related to the content/intent of the other threads (including status updates, engineering details, specific perspectives, etc.).

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the general topic of nuclear energy, climate change mitigation, energy security, and the Fukushima crisis.

Do NOT post the above style of comments on any other threads. In those posts, you must STAY ON TOPIC, and make some attempt to justify/substantiate any argument you make or piece of information you present.  If you go off topic on the focused posts’ comments threads, then they will be deleted and you will be asked to repost them HERE. (Ideally, I would simply move them to this Open Thread, but unfortunately does not allow this).  If you break the other commenting rules, the comment arrives quickly in the trash.

So… I guess this is also an appropriate time to revisit BNC’s simple commenting rules:

Comments Policy — I welcome comments, posts, suggestions and informed debate, from a wide range of perspectives. However, personal attacks, insulting/vulgar posts, or repetitious/false tirades will not be tolerated and can result in moderation or banning. Trolls will be warned then banned.

Civility – Clear-minded criticism is welcomed, but play the ball and not the person. Rudeness will not be tolerated. This includes speculation about motives or what ‘sort of person’ someone is. Civility, gentle humour and staying on topic are superior debating tools.

Relevance – Please maintain focus on the topic at hand. Do not attempt to solve big problems in a single comment, or to offer as fact what are simply opinions about complex matters.

Formatting — For guidelines on how to format comments and search the website and comments, read this.

Pretty simple, hey? Obviously for an Open Thread, the relevance criteria does not apply in the same way as it does in other threads, but the others most certainly do.

Some people have recently expressed surprise, disappointment, anguish, horror, accusations of ‘bias’ or ‘censorship’, whatever, at the fact that their comments on other threads on BNC are under moderation, and others are deleted. I make no apologies for that. This is my blog, and whilst I welcome a wide range of views, and you are quite within your rights to disagree with me, I DO NOT accept comments that break the commenting rules. Not only is this discourteous to me and the rest of the community here, it also undermines your own credibility. I have particular short patience these days for comments which are ad hominems, that is, are direct criticism of, or speculation on the motives of, the person making the comment rather than on the content of their statements.

Okay. Open fire.

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.

635 replies on “Fukushima Open Discussion Thread”

I’ll start by reposting a iten that belongs here from another thread:

@bchtd1parrot & the rest of the antinuclear squad posting here (and on other sites): I have just finished rereading Barbara Tuchman’s collection of essays, The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 and in it she goes into some detail about two movements that were very active at that time; the Socialists, and the Anarchists. I am struck with the similarities between those old ideologies in comparison to the Greens and the Degrowth Movement (Club of Rome) of today. Both had some valid logical underpinnings; the Socialists were correct that the working class was being exploited and where being kept down by laws written to advantage the wealthy, and the Anarchists had a point that governments run by aristocrats was never going to change without violence. But both movements, (as they were at the time) driven by demagogy, rigid ideology and an obsessed leadership, failed to see what was and wasn’t possible and in the end made little difference.

This is echoed in the calls suggesting that we must all do with less, and those pushing wind and solar in the face of mounting evidence that these do not work as well as it was hoped, and will never be more than spit in a bucket. It is this refusal to see that as much as it would be nice if these things were possible, they are never going to happen. People will not reduce consumption down to levels that will make any difference, emerging economies are not going to stop growing, nor will political parties that would try and force this by legislation get voted in. It is just not going to happen, and demanding it only marks those that do as fools.

Furthermore, nuclear power, like capital, is here to stay. It does not matter what you do, or what your moral arguments are, in the end, what ever problems we have with those two things, they still are the only way to raise the standard of living, and deep down the majority knows this.

The Anarchists never learned the lesson that you can’t dictate to the masses what they want or don’t want, and as a result they vanished. But the Socialists did after WWII, and have had a real influence on policy and world history. Ideologies aside they have been ether directly, or indirectly responsible for governments passing laws and instituting programs that have benefited the lower classes and raised their lot. The question now is do the eco-radicals of today tone down the nonsense and become part of the conversation, or do they wish to see themselves marginalized, left with only the obsessed demanding the impossible.


For all German speakers, here is an interview that Barry Brook just gave to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
„Deutschland muss Atomkraftwerke bauen“
Der australische Klimaforscher Barry Brook kämpft unverdrossen für die Kernkraft.


Is this the Open Threads board? Apologies if not.

Something technical has been troubling me about the way the cooling operation is reported. The implication in almost all reports is that the spent fuel needs to be cooled in order to decrease its radioactivity.

Now, remembering my Year 11 physics, radioactivity is a process that is not affected by heat nor pressure. That has to be true, otherwise we would be cooling nuclear waste currently, instead of burying it in mountains.

So I guess the reduction comes about from the mass of water added to the pools absorbing radiation.

Still, probably doesn’t pay to start enumerating the factual or reporting errors on this incident…


Thanks for the open thread, Barry. I’m surprised it’s not full already – I guess attention is waning…

I just saw the Four Corners special on Fukushima.
There were a few points I thought were either glossed over or misrepresented, but overall, not too bad.

The points I noted (in no particular order):
1) The hydrogen explosions were described as blowing the top off the containment building – a person being interviewed was pointing things out on a illustration of the reactor, and described the lightweight roof as part of the containment building, rather than the reinforced concrete containment;
2) One of the interviewees stated that the fuel rods start to melt and expose uranium *before* you get hydrogen generated (I understand H2 generation starts ~700-800ºC, compared to ~1200ºC for melting of the zirconium);
3) They played the tape of the testimony to congressional committee stating the pools were empty – I would have thought they could have included the info from yesterday that they had plenty of water and weren’t as hot as feared;
4) The environmentalist interviewed basically invoked Windscale, TMI, & Chernobyl (if not by name) as “proof” nuclear energy is unsafe despite what nuclear engineers say, and said “you can measure what’s on the outside, but you can’t measure the radiation that’s inside the children” – classic fearmongering, I thought , invoking the “think of the children” meme, even my wife commented on it;
5) The last interview snippet of the main story basically spoke about the workers at the plant committing suicide by staying there to fight the problem, which I thought was rather misleading, to say the least;
6) Kerry O’Brien, interviewing a nuclear expert at the end, seemed quite surprised when told that this incident showed that nuclear energy was quite robust.

Hang on, just found a link to the transcript:

Worth a watch, or a read. I haven’t delved into the comments page yet, it will be interesting to see what is in there…


Thanks for that review of 4Corners Bern. I just watched it too — for me, a bit of a Curate’s Egg. Tony Irwin was very good, but they had more anti-nuclear guys on there than engineers. And they left some strange impressions, e.g. implying that acute radiation sickness (ARS) is an issue: Viz: the threshold for ARS is about 1000 millisievert but the greatest dose reported so far at Fukushima is 106 mSv; workers now engaged in recovery operations have their doses limited to 250 mSv under health physics supervision. I was also disappointed that no indication was given of the lack of risk to the public. It left me with the impression that the public would be very uncertain about what their main message was.


I must say, I do appreciate the take no prisoners moderation stance that has been adopted here recently. It must be hard work, but it will infuse the discussion with the set of values embodied in the commenting rules, and help to maintain the high standard of commentary that has been BraveNewClimate’s hallmark.



I guess my closing posts on earthquake magnitudes got moderated into oblivion where we were discussing it earlier.

Anyway, the question of the 1933 Sendai earthquake being reported in the literature of 1972 as an 8.9 and now at the USGS as an 8.4. I believe the discrepancy is that the current Moment Magnitude Scale did not come into use until 1979 where as the places the 1933 quake were listed as an 8.9 were published in 1972 and 1958 respectivly.

This information is primairly for whalelawyer and Rational Debate from the One plus One and Why I Stay threads


The real risk with nuclear power is nuclear society with all its control over information, pretend scientific solutions, and misrepresentation of data.

On another thread a “Ms Perpes” contested earlier claims that Japan had restricted information concerning radiation readings.

Ms Perpes submitted a dataset dated 20 March as evidence supposedly that Japan had not hidden data.

An examination of this data showed it was a very new development and did not answer the accusation that the Japanese authorities restricted the earlier data from march 11 through to 20 March.

However there may be a time delay in identifying the earlier data, so we can only be tentative here. Ms Perpes needs to clarify where the earlier data is, or why the data was not released – as suggested by other posters.

I do not think we can leave vague suggestions that the Japanese authorities released or did not release data on radiation covering last week, hanging.

So, unless evidence arises to the contrary – it seems very clear that the data on radiation, precise locations, and wind conditions has been deliberately restricted to manage public opinion.

Data from western sites are not useful if a breeze blows east. But consistently this is what is being reported by our unquestioning media.

Other supposed data is being published but from sites 200 km distance, not 20 km distance. This is very strange.

Remember too, part of the problem was TECO’s own falsification of equipment inspections. In nuke society – truth and information are the first casualties.

How can we have faith in safety in these conditions???


Some people are saying nuclear power is now over. I remind them that a purely solar and wind solution will result in an unreliable electric grid which is too disruptive to our societies. We really have no choice other than to make nuclear power safe. I’m sorry the Japanese under estimated the earthquake potential. With hindsight, they should have designed for a magnitude 9 earthquake instead of 7. Furthermore they should have designed all the emergency and recovery steps needed if a 9 level did occur taking out all the infrastructure. Its apparent that the emergency plans were lacking. Can we learn from this mistake and move forward? I can tell you for sure the solution is not one of doing away with nuclear power. That’s just not going to happen.


Jek R:

Adding water does not actually decrease the amount of radiation emitted from the fuel assemblies.

It does two things:

1) It literally cools the fuel. The residual nuclear reactions in spent fuel mean that it can stay warm for a long time, and it is practically important to keep it down to a manageable temperature. I’m not a nuclear expert[1], so I don’t know if it’s possible for spent fuel to heat up to melting point when in a dry cooling pond, but I’d strongly suggest not.

2) It absorbs radiation. A deep pool is a very effective way of shielding people above from radiation, even gamma radiation (which can penetrate astonishing amounts of material).

As far as I can tell (and I admit that my knowledge here is sketchy, so if someone can correct me, please do), the main problem with the ponds at Fukushima is that the dry ponds allow a lot of radiation (gamma?) to escape, making it hard to approach the area to work on solving other problems.

Note that radioactive material is not being spat out of the pool, so in theory as soon as the water is replaced, the pool should be safe again immediately. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the area is safe (because radioactive material from elsewhere could have contaminated it).

[1] Background – Science teacher.


Something as basic as flipping on the light switch is the end result of a series of political decisions that begin at the voting booth and make their way through the vast dark spaces of politics, bureaucracy, and commerce.

Where nuclear is the only rational option, nuclear will be built, where the fossil fuel industry can use their right to employ money-amplified free speech to persuade the population that continued use of their products is their wisest course of action, nuclear will not be deployed.

Nuclear energy is not dead, because it is the only game in town for several nations, but if the pronuclear side is not prepared to fight, it might slow down elsewhere.


Ok, I’ll bite.

On the 17th March thread I wrote a sharp response to Barry’s admission of error arguing that it was quite inadequate and he was continuing to make essentially the same mistake.

In my view it was entirely relevant and in accordance with the guidelines. Evidently the moderator(s) disagreed.

Not expecting this, I did not keep a copy.

It was deleted, I was put on moderation and subsequent posts were not published.

Now that there is a separate open thread, please “transfer” that post here for discussion.

If not, please explain why not?

It is not possible to “transfer” from one thread to another so “off-topic” posts are sent to Trash and have to be re-posted by the commentor on the newly established “Open Thread”. Please read Barry’s newest post “Fukushima Open Thread” for more details.


It was a personal snipe at me, rather than on the ideas/concepts, ‘Arthur’. If you didn’t see that, then you’ve been at the ‘attack dog’ game too long. I emailed the comment to the email address you provided in WordPress – if this is not a real email, then losing it is your own fault.


As a followup of sorts to the initial comment on this thread by DV82XL, it seems to me that one of the biggest take-aways will be about the vulnerability of nuclear power stations to malevolent human agency. As of this writing, the very serious problems at Fukushima have been handled with essentially no quantifiable added risk to the general public. This is despite design flaws and despite the rather poor performance of TEPCO and the government in the early stages of the crisis.

Not that it was ever hidden — but the informed lay discussions of the accident have given me a much clearer view of the vulnerabilities of nuclear facilities, with respect to both reactors and spent fuel storage.

This is presumably equally true for the current generation of dedicated, ruthless nihilists and Believers (of various stripes).

We have been fortunate — if that’s the word — that they have targeted skyscrapers, elementary schools, theaters, financial districts, and the like. I think this issue will need to be revisited in the wake of this month’s events.


Gene Preston, on 21 March 2011 at 10:42 PM said:

We really have no choice other than to make nuclear power safe.

This is a furphy. Baseload renewables can be developed – and should be. I happened to see a popular science magazine at the newsagent tonight with an article of new advances in algae derived bio-fuels.

Remember nuclear technology was only developed through billions of research expenditure – renewables funding has been relatively scanty.

New storage systems are emerging – liquid metal batteries.

I particularly like the so-called ‘Blue-water” salt/fresh water membrane technology.

Hydro and pumped hydro, hydrogen fuel cells, geothermal, tidal and wave power, biodiesel, can all contribute to baseload renewables.

There have also been new concepts such as salt water capacitor.

We have learnt a lot through the last 30-40 years of nuclear disasters, and the BP oil rig disaster combined with the exposed TECO falsification of compliance suggest that the commerical competitive nuclear industry is a unravelling disaster.

There is no point saying:

Its apparent that the emergency plans were lacking. Can we learn from this mistake and move forward?

when antinuclear activists predicted the precise scenario that played out in Fukushima. [see Caldicott, H. “Nuclear Power is not the Answer…” (MUP:2006)]

I can tell you for sure the solution is firstly placing a moratorium on nuclear power, blocking its development in Australia, and vigourously researching and developing baseload renewables.


I’m going to call suspicion of bogosity on that “zirconium fuel rod” video being circulated. From the website where the video is linked:

“ABC 7 News in Berkeley, CA employs journalists with questioning ‘show me’ attitudes. Upon hearing stories about the risk of fuel rods in spent fuel pools catching fire and distributing radioactive materials into the atmosphere, they called up their local university to ask them to conduct an experiment. Despite applying a blow torch directly to a zirconium tube for long enough to make the tube glow, it did not catch on fire.”

That wasn’t a fuel rod.
That wasn’t a sealed tube (air circulation inside could carry heat away rapidly).
That was heated to the point it glowed, way lower than ignition temperature for zirconium; “bright red heat” is 850-950 C (

Put a used, cracked, corroded fuel rod in an oven and heat it to its ignition temperature and show us the video, eh?

Google this for the numbers on fuel rod temperatures:

Operational Safety of Spent Nuclear Fuel
Joseph C. Braun
Lecture 6.1b 2 December , 2010
Argonne National Laboratory


Thought for the day…

According to information posted in the Sunday thread, Germany has apparently shuttered 7 nuclear plants and will buy Appalachian coal from the USA to replace the lost power. We in the USA need all the exports we can get and appreciate the money and jobs.

However, I present you with a (rather Hobbesian) choice. You are recently unemployed and need a job. You must choose one of the following jobs:

1. Join the Fukashima 50 to help stabilize the reactor. You will not be asked to be dosed beyond the current max radiation standards.

2. We have an opening in an Appalachian coal mine. Someone needs to dig up that coal.

Before making a decision, you may want to read this:

This is all about difficult choices, relative risks and the lack of zero risk alternatives.

No offence intended to our German friends. I’m just using current events to illustrate choices. If the USA does not start making more nuclear plants we will make the same choice by default. Actually we’ve been making that choice for 30 years now.

My choices are grossly unfair to the pro-nuclear crowd. Work at a normally operating coal mine or the front line of a nuclear plant in the middle of a “disaster”. And yet still I don’t think the choice is clear? That was the point of my point :-)


Given the possibility of powerful aftershocks, I am wondering whether the Fukushima power station can withstand another serious earthquake and possible flooding.


@amac78 -I cannot see how you could come to that conclusion. Clearly it requires a massively energetic event to cause the sort of problems that we are seeing here, and a response hampered by the backdrop of a national scale disaster. It is very unlikely that such an event could be precipitated by human action, and indeed, even if it could, the effort would not be worth it, based on the real level of damage the failure itself has caused.

Compared to the impact of attacking a densely populated area, and causing many deaths, attacking a hard target like nuclear power station, does not meet a terrorist’s general strategic objective.


Is there an easier way to follow the discussions here than going to a thread web page and hitting refresh every few minutes?

Sorry for the dumb question but this is the first online discussion I have regularly followed or participated in since USENET back i the 80s.

Thank you


That video? Well, duh.

From: “Andrew Higgins”
Subject: Re: Metal Autoignition Temperatures
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 03:35:18 GMT

… The temperature and pressure at which a metal (or any combustible material) will ignite are complex functions of the material’s shape and size…. in bulk form, they are extremely difficult to ignite. You can take a torch to an aluminum or zirconium rod and they will not ignite, because heat is lost to the bulk metal faster than it can be supplied by the torch….”

So, that video? “Bo-o-o-gus!” — Car Talk


@Chris Warren – we have repeatedly heard the suggestion that the Japanese have released little if any detailed radiation readings of the surrounding area. You may be interested in this detailed map of 46 readings surrounding the exclusion zone, apparently issued as a news release on March 17:

Click to access 0317_1600_readings-at-monitoring-post-out-of-20km-zone-of-fukushima-dai-ichi.pdf

That was posted to BNC here and linked from a daily report. I have not searched for daily reports, etc.

“Remember too, part of the problem was TECO’s own falsification of equipment inspections. In nuke society – truth and information are the first casualties.”

Any specific citations for problems related to THIS INCIDENT as a result of breaches of inspection protocols?

The main “safety issue” is the fact that a 10 meter tsunami overwhelmed a 5.7 meter Tsunami wall. I doubt that TEPCO falsified the height of the wall in their safety reports.

This issue of prior violations has been endlessly circulated through the media as part of the media FUD campaign. But the fact is that there are no indications that safety violations are part of the problem- nor likely could there be at this confused point in time. At this point it’s a Red Herring.


Hank, it’s fair enough to be difficult to convince on the zirconium rod and I also thought about how realistic the test was (and what a better test might look like).

So an actual used fuel rod in air would have some differences:
1. It would heat up much more slowly
2. It would be heated from the inside out.
3. It would only have one surface exposed to air (which could be good or bad)

The rod in the video appeared pale-orange to pale-yellow, which indicates a very high temperature to me – from your link, somewhere over 1200C. So I think it was hot enough, but was it hot for long enough to make a fair test? Not sure.

Your point about cooling down is less worrying. Zirconium cooling down by radiative/convective heat loss is a strong indication that the fuel rods will not reach high temperature anyway, becuase they will air-cool to below troublesome temperatures. Consider also that the inside surface of the tube would have been far less effective at losing heat in any case.

I’m not sure that the direction of heating makes a sinificant difference. If anything I’d think it would mnean that higher internal temperatures can be tolerated.


@ Joshua, on 21 March 2011 at 11:22 PM:
Right below the “Post Comment” button is a tick box labelled “Notify me of follow-up comments”.

Tick the box when you post a message and a confirmation email will arrive in your IN-box. Follow the instructions from there on.


@Chris Warren – RE: Molten Metal Batteries. Do the calculations and find out the size of a one mega ampere-hour unit. Then look at the potential size of the impact of a breach in containment of one of these thing and tell me they are safer than a nuclear reactor.


@NR99 – I understand those 7 German plants are of the same basic design as the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, and have been taken off-line pending further safety evaluations. I suspect the Germans might make some modifications to ensure safe operation in a power outage, although they’re probably not subject to tsunami, so may be good to go as-is, after full review.

Although, personally, I think some more robust containment over the spent fuel pools might be in order…

Regarding the resistance to attack – Wikipedia has a little info on that jet/sled test:
“In 1988, Sandia National Laboratories conducted a test of slamming a jet fighter into a large concrete block at 481 miles per hour (775 km/h). The airplane left only a 2.5-inch-deep (64 mm) gouge in the concrete. Although the block was not constructed like a containment building missile shield, it was not anchored, etc., the results were considered indicative. A subsequent study by EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute, concluded that commercial airliners did not pose a danger.”

The rest of it is about plant security – unless your hypothetical attackers have access to some longer-ranged heavy weaponry. Even then, they may be able to breach the outer containment building, but will they be able to crack open the reactor? Short of bombardment with bunker-busting bombs or missiles, it’s hard to see how they could do much damage before being stopped. And if you’re being attacked with that kind of military hardware, all bets are off – just ask the Libyans!


NR-99: I’d say that I’d go for the Fukushima 50 any day of the week!

This is curiously because I am kind of the inverse of the normal member of the population.

Having had a good scientific education and having grown up in a medical family, I was raised with a good understanding of how cancer risks etc. work, so I have always viewed radiation as a fairly understandable. Yes, those workers are in peril, but it’s a peril they know and understand. (I’d even suggest that, if they’re anything like me, they’re probably not accepting that they are anything other than invulnerable . . Male bravado can get you killed!)

On the other hand, working in a coal mind is a disturbing thought. I have terrible claustrophobia. :)

So if that’s my choice, hand me my dosimeter and geiger counter!



You said:-

where the fossil fuel industry can use their right to employ money-amplified free speech to persuade the population that continued use of their products is their wisest course of action, nuclear will not be deployed.

Is it your contention that we must put a stop to free speech in order to get nuclear power. Because if it comes to a binary choise between free speech and nuclear power then I’m afraid I’ll have to ditch my support for nuclear power. Free speech is simply too important an issue to sell out on.


DV82XL, on 21 March 2011 at 11:52 PM said

Do the calculations and find out the size of a one mega ampere-hour unit.

This is a furphy. Earlier this year the “New Scientist” magazine reported on a new liquid metal battery.

It was 10 Mwh out of a battery the size of a shipping container.


@TerjeP – I was not implying that free speech should be limited, only observing that access to exercise can be purchased such that it can reach more ears. Free speech has never meant equal speech, nor should it.


This is a furphy. Earlier this year the “New Scientist” magazine reported on a new liquid metal battery.

It was 10 Mwh out of a battery the size of a shipping container.

So to store 16 hours of output from a 1 GW power plant, we would need 1600 such units.


> zirconium “rod in the video appeared pale-orange
> to pale-yellow, which indicates a very high
> temperature to me – from your link, somewhere
> over 1200C. So I think it was hot enough …

If they were heating a cracked and corroded actual fuel rod, probably so. Not a hollow tube of zirconium metal, though. I think it’s a bogus video and the claims going around with it make it less credible. It wasn’t a student project, it was a setup by the television station.

Why? The melting point of Zirconium is 1852±2 º C.

Boiling Point: 4377 C
Melting Point: 1852 C
… Solid metal will not ignite. High surface area material such as 10 micron powder may autoignite at room temperature. Fine chips, turnings, or grinding dust produced from this metal are flammable. Ignition point for powder varies from 200 oC to above 500 oC depending on particle size….”


NR99, on 21 March 2011 at 11:39 PM said:

You may be interested in this detailed map of 46 readings surrounding the exclusion zone, apparently issued as a news release on March 17:

This is exactly the data I was looking for. So what is the link to the actual source, for past and intervening issues. In Japanese will be oK.

“Remember too, part of the problem was TECO’s own falsification of equipment inspections. In nuke society – truth and information are the first casualties.”

Any specific citations for problems related to THIS INCIDENT as a result of breaches of inspection protocols?

I don’t think so. This is not the point.

The main “safety issue” is the fact that a 10 meter tsunami overwhelmed a 5.7 meter Tsunami wall. I doubt that TEPCO falsified the height of the wall in their safety reports.


This issue of prior violations has been [opinion deleted] circulated through the media as part of the media … campaign.

err, that is the role of a free media.

But the fact is that there are no indications that safety violations are part of the problem- nor likely could there be at this confused point in time. At this point it’s a Red Herring.

But noone has raised this “Red Herring”. The point about falsified records goes to the nuclear industry in general.

As far as I am aware only NR99 has associated this with a cause of Fukushima.

Very odd.


@Bern – to be clear I used the 7 German nuclear plants as an anecdotal example of one aspect of the coal vs nuclear issue. I was not trying to make any point about taking those plants offline and that’s why I mentioned the USA coal vs nuclear choices we have been making for 30 years since TMI.

The link I cited listed listed 228 sure and certain deaths from USA cola mining “disasters” since TMI (1980). Those disasters were all related to cave-ins, explosions and fires (evening news stuff). Surely there were many more rather mundane single fatality accidents typical in coal mining or any other dangerous heavy industry but that would require more research and I could not come up with a total number.

It might be safer to use oil instead of coal, but there there’s the Deepwater Horizon spill, with 11 crew members missing and presumed dead.

And the 2005 Texas City refinery explsion that killed 15 and injured 170…

Just as an aside, this snippet from the Wikipedia Texas City article:

“The head of BP (Lord John Browne) retired early, amid the various problems plaguing BP in 2005 and 2006 (including the problems at Texas City, the shutdown of the Alaska pipeline, allegations of propane market manipulation, and start-up delays of the Thunderhorse project in the Gulf of Mexico).”

It’s a good thing his successor tightened up the shop, especially with regards to the Gulf of Mexico Project…

Choices, choices…. relative risks…. zero risk is so hard to achieve….

Much discussion on Sunday here about “worst case scenarios” at Fukushima. Well, we saw a “worst case” in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Google “refinery disaster” to get a sense of worst case from that aspect of energy. I already provided “coal mining disasters”. Dwelling too much on “worst cases” is arguably a slippery slope that would lead us back to the stone age, as was discussed previously this morning here.


Finrod, on 22 March 2011 at 12:11 AM said:

So to store 16 hours of output from a 1 GW power plant, we would need 1600 such units.

You are not thinking straight – noone has suggested that a battery would substitute for a 1 GW power plant.

A 10MWh battery would only apply to buildings that need 10 hours of power or 20 hours of power at a MW per hour. A factory could run 3 or 4 of these units, and absorb, non-baseload renewable energy.

A centralised 1 GW plant has more losses through transmission lines to distant and decentralised customers.


For all German speakers, here is an interview that Barry Brook just gave to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
„Deutschland muss Atomkraftwerke bauen“
Der australische Klimaforscher Barry Brook kämpft unverdrossen für die Kernkraft.

I used Google Translate and got the gist of it. After 10 years of the Greens being in a German coalition government, the debate on nuclear on Germany is clearly ridiculous, and the general opinion is that they should and could get rid of all nuclear plants. Right now, they are doing this at the expense of huge reliance on coal and gas, and huge expense to build wind farms (how much space do they have left for them?!)

It was interesting how all the questions to Barry were so very anti-nuclear, but I thought he fended them off very effectively. :-) Maybe open-minded Germans reading that might have a reconsider.


Hey Jek, I wanted to address the point you made:

“The implication in almost all reports is that the spent fuel needs to be cooled in order to decrease its radioactivity.”

Everything Johno said above is right, but I wanted to add my two cents: nuclear plants generate energy by exploiting the heat-generating property of element undergoing radioactive decay. Just like a releasing chemical energy from a substance by lighting it on fire, this thermal energy release can be easier to start than it is to stop, especially once it begins to get out of control.

Cooling the fuel doesn’t change the actual amount of radioactive stuff, but if the fuel overheats, things like explosions and vaporization will happen which will spread the radioactive material over a wider area. The name of the game is keeping the radioactive material in the plant, and out of the atmosphere, the ground water, etc.

In this and most nuclear accident situations, the direct radiation from the fuel in the reactor is really only dangerous to the people close by — in this case the heroic workers trying to cool the reactor. Most of the toxic effects we worry about are caused by the ingestion of radioactive material which then irradiates us at close range, from the inside out.

Preventing the overheating is intended to prevent the loss of containment, which is intended to prevent the ingestion of radioactive stuff, either directly by inhalation or ingestion or indirectly by eating something, usually an animal or an animal product, which has ingested or inhaled the radioactive material.

Hope this helps, nonscientist here, others should feel free to correct any misstatements.


One more comment now that we have an “Open Thread” (good idea, mods)

We have all seen or read NRC commissioner Jaczko comments about reactor 4’s SFP running dry and Japan’s subsequent rather forceful denial of his allegations.

Now to be very clear, I am not addressing the issue of who was right or wrong. We will not know that for quite awhile. My issue transcends that. Who was right or wrong is irrelevant to my comment.

There has been much discussion about the quality of information, confusing information, and withholding of information (mainly directed at TEPCO and the Japanese government.

In light of the above, am I the only one appalled at the FUD that developed out of Jaczko’s sensational pronouncement and his absolute refusal to provide any details whatsoever as to how the NRC came to that conclusion? Of all the FUD that has come out of this, I think this one is way up there.

To put it another way, was it appropriate or advisable for the NRC to openly disagree with Japan over a crucial safety issue without the willingness to back up the assertion with at least some details?

I also note that a huge amount of the FUD that developed out of TMI was likely/apparently/possibly a miscalculation by NRC engineers of the size of the hydrogen bubble. I do not have a handy cite for that (and the history is quite murky on this point) but I saw it briefly discussed in a TMI documentary aired on TV Saturday night and several days ago a commenter here who claimed to be in the control room of TMI also discussed the disagreement between “his” calculation and the NRC’s. It was the fear of the hydrogen bubble destroying the containment vessel and primary containment that emptied out Middletown and the surrounding areas, not so much the pressure releases.

Histories of TMI that I have found suggest the bubble was successfully forced out of the reactor vessel. The documentary I watched and the commenter here suggest it never existed. FUD FUD FUD.


Your website is a very welcome resource for accurate and sane information. I am an operator at a plant in the US, and your website has become one of the primary sources of information for me and all of my friends in the nuclear industry. THANK YOU very much for all of your hard work in providing this resource, so that I may continue my battle against the hyperbolic and uneducated media in the US, and our willfully ignorant populace.


To Arthur: sorry, but I’m not posting your latest comment either (the one held in moderation). You just don’t seem to understand the commenting rules (or at least you have your own special interpretation of them) which is fine — it just means that this is clearly NOT the right sort of forum for you. So, I suggest you try a little harder on your phraseology, or go elsewhere. If you do want a copy of either post, feel free to email me with a real address, in private, and I’ll pass them back to you.


Hi, folks!
I am talking from Portugal, where there is no nuc plant and there is a war between green climatic people who considers being climatic as being eolian, and a few people like me, who care about costs.
By the way, I am a Professor of Power Systems at the Technical University of Lisbon.
By now i just want to express my joy with what seems to be a happy end for Fukushima. I know the mess and the tremendous finantial loss they are incurring, but overall and after such a terrific earthquake and tsunami, I think this a a proof that engineering can really provide what humankind needs. Learning by mistakes, of course…
I also want to add a pyilosophical point of view, by now: If humankind will ever wish to live in outer space, only nuclear can stand it. There are no fossil fuels or renewables out there. And the point is that we will need it one day: Earth will have an end, not to mention the asteroids that fall here from time to time.
I know that may happen ina a very distant future, but the point is: only the way id to the outer space, the galaxy, soon or later. And that means nuclear power.


The current nuclear accident has probably caused many to re-evaluate the relative importance of costs and safety as they apply to nuclear power. However, they are closely inter-related. Safety is too often narrowed to a consideration of public health. It would seem (so far) that no member of the public is likely to die in consequence of the current nuclear accident. Following Chernobyl even, it would seem that only a few thousand locals developed largely preventable and almost all successfully treatable thyroid cancers
(discounting the psychlogical damage associated with ignorance based fear). Notwithstanding, the Fukushima incident, resulting in the total loss of an admittedly elderly plant with associated clean up costs represents a safety failure with enormous economic and public relations consequences.

I would suggest that enhanced safety can and has been achieved in newer designs, sometimes as a consequence of extra and expensive engineered safety and, less frequently as yet, by use of inherently safer designs which don’t necessarily cost as much in extra engineered safety. It would seem reasonable to conclude that, in consequence, accidents will become even less frequent in the future than they have been in the past and, when they do occur, they won’t cost so much to fix. So far so good. But one can never say never. Thus, from a PR perspective, there may be some merit in considering the consequences to the public of worst case scenarios for reactors of different designs.

For example, suppose a Fukushima reactor failed to scram and it lost power for cooling with intact containment? What would have been the public consequences of a full core melt? Is it likely they would have been significantly more severe than currently with scrammed core, hydrogen explosions and inadequate salt water sploshing? Even with a core breach, would fissile fragment and isotope scattering have been any worse? Isn’t it the scattering/ dispersion that exacebates the public problem more than anything? I can see that better core catchers might help in newer LWR designs, but would passive cooling really help other than in the short term?

What about IFRs and LFTRs? I can accept that unpressurised systems may make accidents less likely. However, are the consequences of an albeit much less likely catastrophic accident going to be as severe, less severe or more severe? I can visualise the dispersal potential of a good mix of air, water, heat and sodium as being quite powerful. Ditto for molten fuel, air, water, heat and graphite.

On reflection, if Chernobyl represents a worst case, it really wasn’t that bad (with the benefit of hinsight and more knowledge about AGW and peak oil). Perhaps DV82XL is correct that nuclear advocates have an excellent opportunity, afforded by this accident, to try to get public understanding about radiation risks more aligned to reality.


NR99, on 22 March 2011 at 12:21 AM said:

why I mentioned the USA coal vs nuclear choices we have been making for 30 years since TMI.

IMHO The impact of TMI is overstated.

1)The inflation adjusted cost of coal in the US steadily dropped from about 1970 to 2000.
2) The utilization rate of our existing nuclear fleet in the US didn’t get past 90% until 1998.
3) The vast majority of the 20 GW worth of coal plants built in the US between 1990 and 2009 are in the 100MW to 200MW size range.

In Washington State we had the WPPS fiasco, cancelling 5 planned nuclear plants in various state of construction. We haven’t built anything since TMI. It’s more then 20 years later and we still export 20% of our power production.

TMI just happened to coincide with a realization in the electric utility industry that the projected base-load electricity demand wasn’t going to materialize. Nuclear power isn’t cheap if the plants are running at 40-50% utilization rate.


@Douglas Wise – I know we have covered this before, but a distinction needs to be made between engineered safety, which is relatively inexpensive, and politically motivated ‘safety measures’ that are both expensive to implement, and largely ineffective.

I disagree that there needs to be an exploration of what could have occurred at Fukushima, simply because it is too open-ended a question to provide any useful answers, and would undoubtedly be leveraged by the antinuclear side as proof that a major disaster was narrowly averted.

Again, failure analysis is tied in with risk. I’m just not worried that Pickering or Bruce stations in Canada are at risk from events like the ones that befell Fukushima because geography shows that the possibly is vanishingly small. Thus any ‘what would happen if’ analysis is pointless.


ABC Four Corners program featured the Fukushima incident here tonight in WA.
Overall, I thought it was a fairly balanced program hosted by Kerry O’Brien.

There were a few sensationalist claims such as plutonium explosions and widespread deaths through inhalation of radioactive materials but overall it concentrated on the event and its management.

Ziggy Switkowski gave a short contribution and what I took away was that in his view this WOULD set back nuclear power and would necessitate a re-think on safety systems. He said it would be a turning point for the industry.

I hope this show was or will be aired more broadly and would be interested how other people reacted to it.



Could you elaborate, what is the basis of the following statement you made in the first comment:

“(…)wind and solar in the face of mounting evidence that these do not work as well as it was hoped, and will never be more than spit in a bucket”

I am especially interested, how can you be so sure about “never”.


Here is something to think about.

The final death toll of the tsunami and earth quake is at least 10000. Ten thousand.

Imagine if the reactors at Fukushima shut down as intended, with everything working fine. All reactors in cold shutdown, no damage to them whatsoever.

At least ten thousand would still have died.

Tsunamis are inherently dangerous. Thinking cold but rationally – in number of deaths – what did the Fukushima crisis add to the death toll? How many will die due to radiation? So far zero, and only the workers, not the public, are at risk of serious health effects.


Jose de Sa writes,

: If humankind will ever wish to live in outer space, only nuclear can stand it. There are no fossil fuels or renewables out there. And the point is that we will need it one day: Earth will have an end, not to mention the asteroids that fall here from time to time.

Yes, those asteroids definitely have had it.

I think space does have renewables: it has dispatchable sunlight. Perhaps 1000 years hence the sun will be shrouded in a cloud of habitats, 300 million km from it in all directions — a spherical shell of habitat-dust, whose motes may be village-sized.

As I recall, mass let down into a white dwarf, such as Sirius B, yields about as much energy as uranium. Any mass. So that’s another non-renewable that lasts a very long time.

(How fire can be domesticated)
Recall H.C. Brown’s microwave transmission


“Now, remembering my Year 11 physics, radioactivity is a process that is not affected by heat nor pressure. That has to be true, otherwise we would be cooling nuclear waste currently, instead of burying it in mountains.”

That’s right; its radioactivity doesn’t change except by radioactive decay over time.

The fuel is basically an intense source of gamma radiation. The deep pool of water acts as a radiation shield. With the water in the pool, you can stand around the top of the pool quite safely, but if all the water is gone there is going to be a dangerously strong radiation field without that shielding.

This is entirely independent of the overheating of the fuel, or any damage, melting or burning of the fuel that may or may not occur.


Ok, let’s try a rephrasing of my response to Barry’s admission of error on 17 march:

In sum, this accident is now significantly more severe than Three Mile Island in 1979. It resulted from a unique combination of failures to plant systems caused by the tsunami, and the broad destruction of infrastructure for water and electricity supply which would normally be reestablished within a day or two following a reactor accident.

Any accident can always be said to result from a unique combination of plant failures.

This accident clearly resulted from building a reactor that was not designed to cope with the conditions it was in fact subjected to. Attempts have been made to blame the Tsunami. But it should have been designed to cope with that big a quake and Tsunami.

It is glaringly obvious that this inadequate design resulted from a gross regulatory failure in approving construction of a reactor with a design basis well bellow what was needed for a location subject on earthquakes and tsunamis on the “ring of fire”.

The result was both foreseeable and forseen, with warnings from IAEA, resignation of a seismologist from the seismoogy review panel, another Japanese reactor forced offline for a year after earthquake failure and overiding of a court order to shut down a reactor not designed for sufficiently large quakes. The licence was recently extended for 10 years after what was supposed to be a thorough review in the light of recent earthquake and tsunami experience and several cases of falsifications of safety records by the operator.

That license renewal testifies to a completely inadequate regulatory system in Japan.

An obsessive focus on the technical details of the plant failures simply distracts attention from this very obvious central reality of regulatory failure. The threads should have been about how to deal with the regulatory failure in Japan, not pointless attempts to figure out how recovery operations are going minute by minute.

A thread devoted to the technical operational details simply shuts down discussion on what’s actually important for future energy policy. It adds nothing useful to public understanding, let alone actual recovery operations, but simply helps participants to avoid thinking about what they will need to revise in their own positions.

In particular the argument that levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for nuclear could be reduced below that for coal if “excessive” regulatory costs and delays could be eliminated must now be taken off the table.

Regulatory costs and delays are going to increase, not decrease. So coal and gas will remain cheaper unless massive R&D can change that.

Propaganda for renewables and against nuclear would not have been successful in obstructing nuclear by exacerbating fears and hopes of alternatives if there was an equally interested and well funded lobby promoting it. There isn’t simply because nuclear LCOE isn’t actually competitive yet so there isn’t millions or billions at stake yet.

My initial estimates of the extent of the problem, on March 12, did not anticipate the cascading problems that arose from the extended loss of externally sourced AC power to the site, and my prediction that ‘there is no credible risk of a serious accident‘ has been proven quite wrong as a result.

Barry should not have expected to be able to anticipate the future course of an accident without the information available to those who had ordered the evacuation of 200,000 people at a particularly inconvenient time during which all resources were overstretched as a result of tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands displaced.
[ad hom deleted]

Simple common sense and basic respect for the people in charge of ordering the evacuation would have been enough. No special ability to anticipate cascading problems was needed.

It remains to be seen whether my forecast on the possibility of containment breaches and the very low level of danger to the public as a result of this tragic chain of circumstances will be proven correct. For the sake of the people there, I sure hope it does stand the test of time.

At no time has Barry had anything but an a priori belief to set against the detailed knowledge of the situation that resulted in the authorities ordering evacuation.

If for example a correct estimate would be 99% likelihood of no serious damage from containment breaches and 1% likelihood of serious damage to 200,000 people as result of not successfully dealing with the cascading failures, then Barry would believe that when the 99% likelihood eventuates it somehow “confirms” his assumption that there was “no credible risk” of serious damage from containment breaches.

The “forecast” of “no credible risk” HAS ALREADY BEEN REFUTED by the evacuation. No subsequent absence of damage from containment breaches can change what has ALREADY happened.

Barry’s ongoing belief to the contrary indicates that he simply doesn’t “get” the concepts that MUST be understood when evaluating catastrophic risks to hundreds of thousands of people.

It is important to really “get” this to understand why the strategy of pushing for a nuclear rollout in Australia now was never viable and has NOT just been postponed for 5 years or so by irrational responses to a random accident.

Then you can also understand that the strategy of pushing for massive R&D now remains viable and is now the only viable path for keeping a nuclear option open. Dismissing that viable as “magic wands” and a “broken record” won’t wash and reflects an approach that has completely discredited itself and been proved completely unviable in its response to these events.


Arthur, you are still skating on thin ice, however in the interests of discussion I’ve let the latest version through this time. But do try to maintain an air of civility and focus on arguing against the point, not against those who are making it. It may be a different method to the scrummage you’re used to, but that’s the law of the land here.


Arthur, what do you wish to research and develop? Why do you think your goals are possible? What time frame are you operating under? How will you get people to listen to you and implement your recommended course of action? I go to bed with those questions open.


A lot of people on BNC are making the argument that you can’t metaphorically prepare for ‘godzilla’, risks are part of life etc, you can’t plan for everything etc etc.

I disagree. We already have technology that insulates us from even these minor risks. Just look at the design of the AP1000 or the EPR, imagine considering how little damage Fukushima Dai-ichi and Daini took (considering the impact they took) how a modern plant would fair? I’d bet good money that an AP1000 in its place would be capable of generation the dat after the quake.


amid reports of new steam clouds and pullback from #3 SFP

we get a report on radiation exposure to 6 plant workers….

“A Tokyo electric official told CNN that six workers trying to restore electricity to that reactor have been exposed to more than 100 millisieverts of radiation. For reference, an individual in a developed country naturally is exposed to 3 millisieverts of radiation a year — though Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare has reset the exposure level upward to 250 millisieverts for those trying to combat the crisis at the Fukushima plant. That is 2.5 times the previous limit, according to the ministry.”

I find it troubling that we merely get the report “over 100 millisieverts….. that could mean anything from 101 to infinity…. basically it’s useless information.


Also from the same report….

“Nevertheless, the USS George Washington pulled out of its port in Yokosuka, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) south of Tokyo, “as a precaution,” according to a posting on the ship’s Facebook page. The ship will remain off the coast of Japan, the posting said. The U.S. Navy previously repositioned the USS Ronald Reagan after radiation detectors found minute traces of contamination on sailors and equipment.

Nature has helped to minimize airborne exposure since the quake, as winds from the northwest have blown many emissions from the plant out to sea. But the wind direction is expected to change through Wednesday, potentially pushing more of the material to the southwest and over land.”


GENEVA — The World Health Organization says Japan needs to act quickly and ban food sales from areas around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant if the food there is found to contain excessive levels of radiation.

A spokesman for the Geneva-based agency says radiation in food can accumulate in the body and poses a greater risk to health than radioactive particles in the air, which disperse within days.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told The Associated Press on Monday “they’re going to have to take some decisions quickly in Japan to shut down and stop food being used completely from zones which they feel might be affected.”



Thanks for your response. I know that we have previously discussed the differences between engineered safety and politically motivated “safety measures” and their cost implications. In no way do I disagree with you on this. I was attempting to ask about a separate issue – probably in a fairly opaque way.

I really do think it is worth exploring worst case scenarios because I strongly suspect that they may not be nearly as bad as the antis make out. (I was opaque above because I am not sure that I was am right about this so was throwing in a few caveats). Anyway, it did seem that public risk is proportional the size of the point source and its potential for dispersion.

Finally, I wasn’t primarily asking what further could have gone wrong at Fukushima – to which you replied “too open ended to answer” I was asking for worst case (outcome). In theory, I would have thought that there should only be one answer per reactor type


@zx81- One only has to look at the discrepancies between ‘nameplate’ value on any of the currently installed systems, and the actual output to see that the size of the installed base needed to provide a significant amount of our projected energy needs, without resorting to major inputs from fossil-fuels would be so vast and unwieldy as to make it impractical. This is to say nothing about the environmental impact of plants that size.

Nor is there ever going to be storage that is cheap and effective such that it could be deployed in large enough scale to remove the inherent shot and long term variability of wind and solar.

Belief that there is some magic new discovery waiting in the wings is a false hope. The historical path of any technology shows almost all of the major gains happen at the beginning, while only incremental gains are realized later in development. Like it or not, both wind and solar are past the initial stages, thus it is unlikely that some new development will place them ahead of other option, like nuclear.

While I will not say that it is impossible, it is highly unlikely that wind and/or solar will make a huge leap in the near future, thus we cannot depend on them in planning for our long-term energy needs.

It is this lack of assurance that they can meet the demands that we will place on them, that will sour the market, which will then turn to proven technology that justifies the term ‘never’


Peter Cordingley, a spokesman for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said: ‘Quite clearly, it’s a serious situation.

‘It’s a lot more serious than anybody thought in the early days when we thought that this kind of problem can be limited to 20 to 30 kilometres.

Read more:

It’s safe to suppose that some contaminated produce got out of the contamination zone.’


About the “green movement” or “eco-radicals”: IMHO the sad thing is, that their actions actually lead to the building of more fossil fuel passed plants. They are against nuclear and often also against hydro because of damage to the river ecosystem in general.

And sadly we can see that their movement does have an effect like in Germany. It might not be long lasting but if coal plants are built now they won’t be replaced soon by nuclear. Would not be economic for the power company.


@harrywr2- with over 55% of our electricity generated by fossil fuels, verses slightly under 10% generated by nuclear, I find it hard to believe some of the fossil fuel capacity could not be replaced by nuclear. The cost curves just intersected due at least in part to all the anti-nuclear efforts.

I am not an AGW advocate but that is the only way the carbon footprint in this country (USA) is going to be reduced without great pain. And electric cars don’t make much sense if the fossil fuel footprint is just moved downstream to the utility, as it would be in 60% (+) of the cases now.

It is no longer just dollars and cents as it was 20 years ago..

Similarly, anything we do to tinker with our carbon footprint is meaningless on a global level, with China growing 10% a year into the indefinite future. It is the developing countries where nuclear arguably has the most value. Might also help China with their smog problem.



I want to add my thanks for the fine work you are doing with this blog. Its just about the only place I can find mostly reasonable and serious discussions of the events happening at the nuclear plants in Japan. I do have one question for any reader. What does FUD stand for?


do it means we can take a glass spoon of dark matter from the sirius B into our earth.i’m sorry but i think that was impossible since just such a lighting merely could dissolve the nuclear residu.last but not least.this web is cool..heh


The lower exposure level for which there is confirmed experience of radiation-induced sickness is 100 mSv, be it in a year or a hour. However, 1000 mSv really is the level for which there is acute effects.
ICRP assumes a linear relationship between exposure and cancer risk with a coefficient of 5%/Sv, wich yeilds a 0,5% cancer risck for a 100 mSv dose. Considering these numbers, raising the level to 250 mSv means to have increased the cancer risk to 1,25% with no accute implications.
On the other hand and according to Chernobyl balance by the UN, the real danger is in the ingested Iodine and Cesium because of the thyroid cancer it can trigger in children. But Iodine has a half-life of 8 days and can be fought through iode ingestion…



The caveat is, China is a leader in solar development. As time goes on, that gap will only grow due to our “investment” in other energy sources.

Nuclear is a crutch, a required energy source of today. But I firmly believe it is a 20th century energy source that is not viable as a growth energy source.

Nuclear power was already dying a slow death before 3 mile island because the cost to power ratio did not make it as economical as was hoped. This was further compounded by the cost of newer safer reactors to replace the dangerous and inefficient GE Mk1 reactors. Both the financing and insurance and operating and waste disposal costs all add up to make nuclear power an economical loser. Then came 3 mile island which merely put the final nail in the coffin of new plant production. The main reason no plant has been built on US soil since 1979 has little to do with 3 mile island, it is because they are simply economically inefficient.

Now, going forward, two things can happen.

1) We must dismantle all gen 1 reactors.

2) We must modernize all gen 2 reactors and waste management.

3) We must invest in solar, hydro, wind, clean coal energy. Electric companies and the government should begin a leasing program where they lease small solar panels to home owners along with a supply/demand meter to the local power grid (or wind mills if the location prefers). This times millions of homes will make a large impact on residential power usage. Dedicate the coal and nuclear power to the high demands of industry. Which brings up another point, our industrial demand for power is leveling off because we are no longer an industrial based economy as we were pre 1980s.

We can meet our energy demands with a mix of renewable green energy, coal, and nuclear power. I’m sorry, but I see no chance of any new nuclear plants being built until the TOTAL economic cost to liability ratio greatly improves. Perhaps 20 years from now gen 4 or gen 5 reactors may be more cost effective and we may have a better way to deal with the waste.


Nuclear advocates here seem to be focussing on the outcome being not that bad – eg far less bad than the tsunami.

Bear in mind that we don’t yet know the outcome, but if we assume that things won’t get any worse this is true, but irrelevant.

Nuclear engineers have assured the public that plants are safe and designed to withstand earthquakes and other rare events.

This plant has been seen, very publicly, to literally explode when challlenged with these events.

Just consider that again. When you ask nuclear engineers to build a safe plant it will go out of control and blow up.

Very obviously desperate measures – exposing workers to high levels of radiation (100mS+) and using seawater in reactors – have been used to mitigate this. It is not at all irrational for the public to react to this with a deep mistrust of the nuclear industry and a desire to avoid further reactors being built. Indeed, any other reaction would be very surprising.

If you want to convince anyone otherwise, you need to admit that the design was inadequate, and conduct a ruthlessly open and honest investigation into why, which addresses not just the technical issues but the wider safety culture. The approach of NASA post Challenger might be a reasonable model.

If you respond to this with a “didn’t the design do well in the circumstances” attitude you will only convince critics and more importantly the wider public that you are close – minded and not to be trusted to learn from your mistakes. And even more imnportantly you will fail to learn the lessons.

I’m writing as someone who has designed reasonably high risk facilities and is deeply concerned about the threat of AGW, not as any sort of “enviro-nazi”*

Barry has it right, a “period of reflection and introspection ” is essential

* quote from Bryan Alexander on March 21st thread and a great example of how to convince people not to listen to you.


Chris Warren, this blog grew so fast I did not see your comments until I was searching Arthur’s comments. I think Barry is objecting to the personal attacks is the problem Barry has with your postings Arthur.

What about the items you have listed Chris? Those are just ideas Chris, without even a demo plant. A lot of them have no demo plant because the ideas do not work. We have to design the power supply based on what technology that works and what does not work. Just throwing more money at a technology does not make it work.

You mentioned hydro and pumped hydro.
There are more dams being torn down today in the US than put in service so that natural water ways will be restored. Look up the story of Hetch Hetchy.

Hydrogen fuel cells. This was president Bush’s big push but after a lot of research, there are two big problems, how do you store the hydrogen in a car, and how do you make the hydrogen in the first place?

Geothermal. Its risky, causes environmental damage, uses a lot of water, and lacks transmission infrastructure for large projects in remote areas.

Tidal and wave power. Barry was even a proponent of this but I pointed out the problem with barnicles. Have you ever owned a boat that sits in salt water. It only lasts a short time before it has to be cleaned. The maintenance cost of Tidal and wave power will be huge.

Biodiesel. Making fuel from plants is still in an R&D phase. The first use of this fuel will not be for electric power plants but for Jets. I’m still waiting…

There have also been new concepts such as salt water capacitor. No such animal exists. Anyway capacitors only store short term energy, like fly wheels.

We effectively have had a moritorium on nuclear power in the US and now it seems it will continue. If we shut down the existing nuclear plants in the US, the lights will also go out soon.

Australia has the luxury of large coal reserves. Its unwise to eliminate nuclear altogether until you have a coal replacement that actually works. Do you really want to burn all that coal?



I basically agree with the argument at for devoting about $100 billion per year to R&D.

I’ve seen claims (not checked) that this is about 50 times current R&D expenditure on clean energy.

In that context differences of opinion as to what share should go to improving 3rd or fourth generation fission, fusion, renewables, geoengineering, carbon capture and storage, adaptation, fundamental research into “unknown unknowns” etc become of secondary importance.

Nuclear fission advocates should sort out the priorities within that area. You get to establish research and development institutions with associated education institutions and actual plant facilities for experiment and education that will be necessary anyway for enabling a skilled workforce.

I think those goals are possible because there is genuine concern about climate change and the other approaches to it are demonstrably going nowhere. The amounts involved are much smaller that the proposals for carbon taxes that won’t actually solve the problem, have no hope in the third world and are in deep shit in countries like Australia and the USA..

You already know that you aren’t going to get anything more than a research and education institute in Australia for the next 5 years or so.

I am particularly encouraged by this article from conservative economist Henry Ergas in The Australian p12 Friday March 18:

Japan’s nuclear crisis removes easy path to a low-carbon world

It provides a reasonably clear explanation of the need for technology innovation and that simply imposing a carbon price will not result in capitalist investment to deliver it. This is consistent with proposals for PUBLICLY FUNDED PUBLIC DOMAIN global R&D with no attempt to “capture” the benefits as “value added” royalties.

“What time frame are you operating under?” As long as it takes.

There is no chance of developing countries using more expensive technology during the next 50 to 100 years in which they will rapidly industrialize and become the overwhelmingly dominant source of emissions. Since R&D has long lead times including educating the researchers the earlier we start the less decades of overshoot we will have to deal with by the time we come up with something they can actually afford to use.

Demands that we succeed by various deadlines are obviously not going to be met. Alarm about that has been counter-productive. It results in the erection of windmills, rooftop panels and appeals to the power of prayer but has not and will not displace any fossil fuel plants.

“How will you get people to listen to you and implement your recommended course of action?”

My approach tends to be to rub the noses of advocates of other approaches in the unviability of their approaches as demonstrated by particularly salient events.

I’m sure you can come up with a better way ;-)


Nuclear power plants have become expensive after 3 Miles island because of the opposition to their building, and the long delays required by new safety requirements when the plants were already being built. Some plants were never allowed to work after being ready!
That was the reason for having stopped building them, and not any problem with construction costs. For builders, the risk of investing without having assured the plants would work, was too high.
However, wherever the plants were built with no public opposition, as in France, they provide power at a cost which no other means can compete with.


France doesn’t have the vast coal resources that we have. If they did, they would not have built so many reactors. This is not France, we are a much larger nation with many times the population and yes regulations. The reality is nuclear power is a money loser in the United States.


Here in Portugal we already have 25% of electric energy from wind. They have being building new pump hydros just to store the energy when the wind is strong, when wind plants work at 90% their rating and produce more than the comsumption! On the other hand, because of the random wind ramps, some gas-fired plants have allways to be on. The cost of all this is enormous!
And yet pump hydros don’t work, because they forgot that when the wind blows stronger, it also rains! Therefore the dams face a competition between the water coming from the rain and the water coming from pumping, and the final result is simply to open the floodgates, dissipating the pumped energy! And yet the wind producers were fed-in no matter what happens to their production.
Is there anything more stupid?
Netherlands antecipated this, and because of that they have decided to limit wind power to 10% – and to order 4 nuclear power plants!…



That doesn’t mean nuclear can’t be a viable US energy source in the future, after the cost to energy ratio is closed. That will require a few more generations of technological evolution.


Solar power is the energy of the future. Period.

Whomever conquers the technology, will be the new global leaders.


The reason for France to have not coal-fired plants has nothing to do with indigenous resources. We in Portugal had our main power basis in coal-fired plants before Germany commanded us to buy their wind plants, and the coal was, and still is, imported from Australia.
France has no uranium either. It imports it from Congo in Africa.


@Arthur – I will address your points in order. Your words in italic.

Any accident can always be said to result from a unique combination of plant failures.

This accident clearly resulted from building a reactor that was not designed to cope with the conditions it was in fact subjected to. Attempts have been made to blame the Tsunami. But it should have been designed to cope with that big a quake and Tsunami.

First, the design failure was not in the reactor, which survived both the earthquake and the tsunami, but in auxiliary support systems. While the point that these should have been hardened against this sort of event, is valid, this cannot be extrapolated to the reactor.

The threads should have been about how to deal with the regulatory failure in Japan, not pointless attempts to figure out how recovery operations are going minute by minute.

These pages do not belong to you, and what the owner chooses to allow, or disallow or what topics will or will not be discussed is his prerogative. You are not being forced to post here, and are free to find succor somewhere else with policies more to your taste

In particular the argument that levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for nuclear could be reduced below that for coal if “excessive” regulatory costs and delays could be eliminated must now be taken off the table..

Yet nuclear power stations are built and operated by private concerns at a profit and others are planned. If you try to use the subsidy argument, I can refer you to an earlier posting on this site where I detailed the financial history of the Bruce and Pickering stations in Canada, showing that these were paid for by the utility and its customers, and what government involvement that there was, only increased the cost of these projects. When someone can prove to me that nuclear energy is not cost effective in the Provence of Ontario, I’ll consider the LCOE argument, until then it is demonstrably wrong.

Simple common sense and basic respect for the people in charge of ordering the evacuation would have been enough. No special ability to anticipate cascading problems was needed.

The reasons for the evacuations are not clear, and given that the whole country was writhing in the aftermath of an unprecedented natural disaster, may well have been wholly precautionary, and thus unnecessary. Attempting to read too much into a decision made at a distance, by people dealing with many ongoing emergencies, is unsupportable.

At no time has Barry had anything but an a priori belief to set against the detailed knowledge of the situation that resulted in the authorities ordering evacuation.

These pages are, when all is said and done, the work of a private individual, and given the magnitude of the task required to get useful information out of a county that is dealing with a host of problems, with both language and cultural issues to contend with, is daunting, to say the least for an amateur with thin resources to call on. Yet he still did a far better job at reportage than the professional media. Your criticisms therefore should be aimed at them, as they are charged with keeping us informed of the truth.

Then you can also understand that the strategy of pushing for massive R&D now remains viable and is now the only viable path for keeping a nuclear option open. Dismissing that viable as “magic wands” and a “broken record” won’t wash and reflects an approach that has completely discredited itself and been proved completely unviable in its response to these events.

Which of course is the real reason for this diatribe. Too bad for you that this event was not the disaster you and others anticipated, your disappointment is palpable, albeit utterly amoral. This is not the end of nuclear power, and the more you try to spin it, the lower your credibility is going to sink. I am going to take a good deal of pleasure dismembering the argument that I know are coming from the antinuclear zealots in the coming months, because they will bury themselves with their own hyperbole.


Jose de Sa, on 22 March 2011 at 3:39 AM said:

Hi, Shelby, how will you turn ont the lights by night with solar power?

Hi Jose

Obviously, as I said, the technology must be developed and whomever does will lead the world. Once way is both on site storage and off site grid storage of power. If the home batteries run low at night, power is drawn from the normal power grid until the on site solar panels are re energized. This is a crude current technology solution. We can only imagine what new solutions could be used with next generation solar technology. The main point is, whomever invests in the pursuit of solar technology today will be the winners of tomorrow.


Ok Shelby, but then don’t forget to add the storage cost to the solar power cost, and also may be to consider some gas-fired power to balance the solar power falls when it clouds, and regarding energy storage don’t forget that its efficency is at best 75%.
If even so you can get a good price…


“Four days after the first alert at Three Mile Island, U.S. President Jimmy Carter was in the control room of the reactor. ” Photo here:

“THE Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, was yesterday forced to cancel his first extensive visit to the areas hardest hit by the tsunami and nuclear crises as poor weather rolled into the area.”



@Chris Warren…

Here is a google search that will return the Mext radiation charts that you were after…

Readings at Monitoring Post out of 20 Km Zone of Fukushima site:

That should get you started on a net search… the site also may have time series charts by prefecture,etc.


There is constant talk about insufficient design of Fukushima power plant against earthquake and tsunami. I don’t think it was the case. The nuclear power plant, at least the reactor itself, was not seriously damaged by earthquake nor tsunami, hence the design was a lot stronger than expected.
The weak link was in accessories, namely the electric back up system. Allowing diesel engines to be flooded and fuel tanks to be washed away requires serious examination into the stupidity of that design. In addition it is not wise to rely on electric power only for emergency reactor and spent fuel storage cooling. Turbo pumps driven by steam generated in reactor itself would be better choice to deliver emergency cooling.
In another words, in case of electric power failure the reactor could continue generating steam from decay heat by allowing water to boil in lower pressure instead of cooling it down completely. Steam generated by decay heat is more than sufficient to operate steam driven turbo pumps to deliver reactor feed water, to circulate cooling water for condenser at reduced volume and to circulate cooling water in spent fuel pool.


@Douglas Wise – Really there are only two worse-case events with any nuclear reactor: uncontrolled criticality leading to physical damage to the core; (meltdown in the popular usage) and loss of containment.

The former is hopefully prevented by a series of SCRAM systems that would shutdown the nuclear reaction very quickly, and these vary between designs. The latter is universally dealt with by one or several nested containment barriers.

I should think that any discussion in detail of failure modes, that is the possible sequences of events for each design, would be beyond the technical competency of all but a very few that contribute to these pages.



For the younger readers… posting a pix of Jimmie Carter touring the control room has to include the fact that Jimmie Carter was a nuclear submariner (a bonafide nuclear engineer) in his younger days. So, as it was played in the media at the time, he more or less went up to TMI to get things straightened out himself. Carter was also known as a micromanager so it’s easy to put the pieces together to get a feel for the event.

I add this because it is unusual to actually have a President that understands a problem like that.

I mentioned previously today that I saw a documentary on TMI the other night. The way they spun it, at the point in time that Carter arrived at TMI two very divided groups in the control room – one the NRC staff, the other the onsite TMI engineers – were locked in stalemate in a bitter debate over the size of the hydrogen bubble in teh reactor vessel, with speculation that the whole thing would blow up at any minute and kill everybody within who knows how close, but certainly the control room next to the reactor building.

And then a whirring of chopper blades and in walks “Jimmie”, who supposedly listened to the arguments and broke the stalemate, coming down on the side of the onsite engineers.

I am not suggesting that account is true but as best I can articulate without a transcript that was the story spun by the documentary, which was called something like “TMI – 3 Minutes To Meltdown”.



I’m not picking on your many valid points. As a person agnostic to nuclear power, hell I grew up 10 miles from the Shippingport reactor (one of the first in the world). I find the TEPCO situation to be a useful study of what can go wrong with nuclear reactors, especially Gen 1 reactors with large stockpiles of fuel rod pools. I’m also turned off by the propaganda and general lack of information updates by their officials. I hope neither could ever happen here. As we hope for the best outcome at the least human cost, we must take a hard look at how badly wrong this situation is and what measures had to be done to contain and bring it back under control. For me it is horrific, I can’t come up with a better word.[deleted deliberate distortion of facts]I really think those who are pro nuclear, especially those who work in the industry, are making a serious mistake to downplay the horror and gravity of the situation. You all must find a better way to move forward that begins with acknowledging the fear this has caused citizens who are actually the nuclear power industry’s customers. My greatest fear is the misinformation on all sides. If I sense the industry trying to mislead or “con” the public, my natural reaction will be to shift from agnostic to against nuclear power. That is what is at stake.


@Brian — Not sure that NASA’s post-Challenger example is all that great. Many of the same behaviors — e.g., engineers keeping quiet about known issues w/ the insulation — persisted and contributed to Columbia’s demise.



“with over 55% of our electricity generated by fossil fuels, verses slightly under 10% generated by nuclear”

In the US nuclear is 10% of our generating capacity but it generates 20% of our power.

In the US we have 1,000GW of generating capacity with an average consumption of 469GWh.

If the peak load is 1,000GW and the average is 469GW then the base-load is somewhere south of 400GW.

200GW of US coal fired generating capacity was built between 1970 and 1989. Compared to 20GW between 1990 and 2009.

For a nuclear plant to be profitable/economic it needs to sell 90% of the power it produces on day one of operation.

At the moment, nuclear plants only come in one size, huge. If I build a nuclear plant in Texas which has a fairly high growth rate it’ll be at least 10 years before consumption increases to the point where my plant will be economical.

Large areas of the US aren’t experiencing any growth at all in consumption.

So the only way to build an economic nuclear plant is to either make smaller plants, wait for something else to reach retirement age or impose costs on fossil fuel plants or possibly a ‘clean energy standard’ greater then 20%.

The problem with a 20% standard is the cheapest way to get to 20% is windmills. But the intermittent nature of windmills makes is more expensive to get beyond 20%. This is the problem in Britain now. They’ve built all these windmills and now the nuclear developers don’t want to invest because they have to share a portion of the ‘base-load’ market with windmills.


Nuclear accident ‘beyond belief’

(UKPA) – 31 minutes ago

Japan’s nuclear experts have admitted that the Fukushima reactor disaster was worse than anything they ever imagined was possible.

“We have experienced a very huge disaster that has caused very large damage at a nuclear power generation plant on a scale that we had not expected,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy head of the country’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

And another official with the agency admitted: “There is nothing else we can do but keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

Engineers are struggling to restore electricity to the plant, but getting the power flowing will not be the end of their battle.

With its mangled machinery and partly melted reactor cores, bringing the complex under control is a monstrous job.

Restoring the power to all six units at the tsunami-damaged complex is key, because it will, in theory, power up the maze of motors, valves and switches that help deliver cooling water to the overheated reactor cores and spent fuel pools that are leaking radiation.

Ideally, officials believe it should only take a day to get the complex under control once the cooling system is up and running. In reality, the effort to end the crisis is likely to take weeks.

Conditions at the plant have remained volatile since the earthquake and tsunami wrecked it. Early on Monday, a plume of smoke rose from two reactor units prompting workers to evacuate.

In another setback, the plant’s operator said it had just discovered that some of the cooling system’s key pumps at the complex’s troubled Unit 2 no longer worked – meaning replacements have to be brought in.

Tokyo Electric Power Company said it had placed emergency orders for new pumps, but how long it would take for them to arrive was unclear.



I never said they weren’t heavy into nuclear, and that report has nothing to do with their massive investment in solar panel technology.


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