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Fukushima Open Discussion Thread

The Open Threads on BraveNewClimate.com 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 WordPress.com 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.

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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”

DV82XL,

I really appreciated your post. Very important to say it how it is – the future is very hard to see through.

As to your finale, I’ve seen a number of arguments from people who are neither pro or anti nuclear but who are convinced that we are living in a relatively wonderful era of economic and political stability, but this era won’t last.

The guts of the argument goes: Nuclear energy would provide ample base load energy but a massively enlarged nuclear industry in the future will have to operate in an environment when the world’s economic and political systems have largely broken down. It’s an industry that can conceivable be kept reasonably safe and separated from arms proliferation, but (this is the rub) the regulations to ensure such safety can only happen in a fairly stable economic and political environment.

The regulatory environment has to be top class and there needs to be enough fiscal liquidity to afford to upkeep safety standards.

In other words, if we look at the future and have great confidence that the world is not going to be precipitated into an era of relative chaos, then nuclear energy sounds very viable and sensible.

On the other hand, if our world view is that we have reached a critical point that will bring on an era of global financial chaos and a breakdown of many political regimes then the prospect of building another 10,000 nuclear facilities to counter climate change is a rather scary thought.

I have to admit that I am not confident about humanity being able to guarantee a stable future, so I worry about a future predicated on a huge growth in nuclear reactors all over the world. But I’m also aware that the romantic dream of powering our consumer society from renewables is just that.

Let’s face it, there ain’t an easy way out of our pickle.

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@Chris Harries – Proliferation of nuclear weapons, is not as tied to the development of nuclear energy as we have been led to believe. Nor is it a technical issue, that can be solved by design. In the end it is a diplomatic and military problem, and it is in those arenas that the problem must be dealt with.

No country has ever proceeded with a nuclear weapons program, just because it was able to. There has to be a really strong perceived need for this capability, that when present is enough to carry the task through as much international pressure as can be applied short of military. I submit that in a world facing shortages of energy and water, never mind anything else, the strategic need for nuclear arms for defense, will be greater.

Nuclear energy can deal with those two issues, and nothing else now available can. Thus I can only conclude that the broad deployment of nuclear energy will lessen proliferation of atomic weapons, not exacerbate it.

Right now, at the very roots of the general malades in the global economy, is uncertainty in the supply of energy (mostly oil) thus again, broad deployment of nuclear energy can assure that the economy remains healthy.

Humanity has never been able to guarantee a stable future, yet we struggle on, and yes that is exactly what I (and every other pro nuclear supporter) is saying: there is an easy way out.

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# DV82XL,

Oh well, that’s where we must part ways. I deal with too many people (all blokes) who think there is an easy technical fix. Latter day alchemists.

One doesn’t have to be a doomsday merchant to accept that the world’s economy is in a precarious state and we are in for a major ‘correction’. Many are forecasting much chaos to emerge from that, at worst a global economic meltdown. Even if half the predictions come true then we are in for very interesting times.

I don’t have a crystal ball, just observe the pulse, so let’s compare notes down the track a bit.

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I think DV82XL is completely right, not to mention the possibility (little by little more concrete) of the new generation fast breeding reactors that, among their many other assets, are also able to cripple completely the use of plutonium for military purposes…. and that should put an end to the waste-plutonium combinate

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@MattB I understand a Mwh of PV counts towards not one but five Renewable Energy Certificates. It gets added to pseudo-solar such as heat pump water heaters (that may never see a ray of sunlight) based on presumed savings w.r.t. resistive water heaters. When I got PV in 2005 I got a simple rebate cheque no other options were available. They say a camel is a horse designed by a committee well the same people must have designed the RET.

That’s why I fear the carbon tax will also be an inconsistent muddle. With the boom in new coal mines I’m convinced the tax should apply to export coal and LNG. Importing countries should write a nice letter to Australia arguing why they should get the money back.

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This whole idea that proliferation is some sort of accident waiting to happen, and that unchecked will lead to a domino effect is pure fantasy based on the overactive imaginations of Cold War strategists like Herman Kahn who were working in a historical vacuum. Outside of the pronuclear power community, the issue of weapons proliferation seems to be locked in theories first put forward by him in the 1960’s; theories which events since that time have proven wrong. Recall, it was assumed by those theories there would be more than a dozen new nuclear weapons States by the turn of the century and this is obviously just not so. Even if the question of supplying weapon-grade fissile material is removed, it still requires a sizable technological infrastructure and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars to make a weapon. The costs of a more ambitious program aimed at producing a militarily significant number of weapons can easily run into the billions of dollars, and the idea that such a project could be carried out by surreptitiously stripping power reactors of their fuel belongs in pulp novels, not in any rational discussion of the issue.

Nor can any nuclear weapons program operate clandestinely. The total effort needed to carry through from the mine to the bomb, a surreptitious program of atomic armament on a scale sufficient to make it a threat or to make it a temptation to evasion, is so vast, and the number of separate difficult undertakings so great, and the special character of many of these undertakings so hard to conceal, that the fact of this effort are impossible to hide.

And don’t mention Pakistan. Those aware of A. Q. Khan’s program included the non-proliferation specialists in the intelligence services of the West. These were people sworn to secrecy, and though they were concerned, they remained largely paralyzed so long as their own governments—and particularly the leaders of the United States—placed greater importance on propping up the various Pakistani regimes than on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

Yet those nations that don’t have an ‘understanding’ in this matter, have their reactor bombed, and in the case of North Korea, and Iran are cut off from trade, and declared international pariahs.

Clearly this is a political/military problem, regardless of the posturing of those claiming to have a proliferation-proof reactor design.

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Thanks again DV82XL,

Perhaps I should not have highlighted the proliferation issue in my earlier post, it’s a latent issue, but not the core of my concern. Efficient regulation is.

In fact, if I were to lay bets I believe this almighty (sometimes ugly) tug-of-war between the renewables and nuclear camps will be won by the nuclear power lobby – hands down.

(Not so much in Australia, because the coal lobby is so powerful here, but Australia’s rather huge uranium reserves will, in any case, all be sold off to feed the industry elsewhere.)

But I believe both sides of the tug-of-war are avoiding the main issue, the fragile state of the world economy. Long before even the foundations for all those 10,000 odd new nuclear facilities can be built oil depletion and the global financial bubble are likely to change the finance world as we know it.

For this discussion to be complete this elephant-in-the-room issue has to be brought into the equation seriously. I’m bringing in the views of economists here, and there are various ones, but a solid body of opinion is emerging that our energy future will be made vastly more difficult in the next two decades as a result of a looming global recession.

There is an instinct in the warring energy camps to come out fighting and bat for their chosen technology come what may. So anything that is said, no matter how constructive, is immediately swatted. Assuring you here that I am not being an adversary, just pointing to a need to include the main ingredient in the pudding. If you don’t the pudding won’t come out as you may be expecting.

That applies to both sides of the war.

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Reply to American re Insurance rate as indicator of NPS safety

American

Ok, I accept that I could be getting a bit confused so let me restate the issue as I understand it: Insurance companies (IC) do not want to insure NPS. Since IC base their business on assessing risk, it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that NPS are unsafe.

I understand that this is a simplification of the argument but I believe it to be the essence of it and is sufficient for a response. If I have missed something please let me know.

Essentially a NPS disaster that is bad enough to generate any claims in a community will generate claims on nearly all policies in the area. That places the risk in the catastrophic, Act of God, category which IC have traditionally not wanted to get involved in. However, unlike most other Acts of God, the damage done in an NPS accident is seldom due to actual physical destruction of property. It is done by contamination and this leads to why the above argument is can be seen as tautologically.

The level of contamination which is considered a loss is set by a combination of policy and what levels people are willing to accept. If someone can not sell a building or customers will not come to a shop or buy products because of FEAR the loss is still real. There need not be any rational basis for the fear, the science may even say that it is inappropriate, but fear is what drives the loss. For the most part stuff is not burned, broken, waterlogged or otherwise visually or functionally impaired – the was loss is generally documented – rather there is this iffy stuff that most people do not understand but scares the crap out of them called radiation. You can not see it or feel it or smell it, and, as far as the general public is concerned, there is no way to tell what it will do, only this shadowy feeling of what it MIGHT do. The magnitude of an insurance loss is increased by fear and uncertainty, making it a bad bet for the IC. To then say the fear is somehow justified by the IC saying that it thinks it a bad bet is circular.

IC have large pools of experience to base their underwriting on in almost every other area. They know how many people, of what age etc have auto wrecks. How often ships sink or are hijacked and where. Chemical contamination can sometimes be seen as analogous to radiological contamination but without the hysteria component. 

I would be interested in the results of people being given the choice of having something they are told was contaminated by radiation or the same thing they are told was contaminated by chemicals.

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@ Chris Harries, on 26 March 2011 at 9:30 AM:
It is fair enough to take a pessimistic view of the future; or at least to consider pessimistic scenarios when planning major industries, including (for example) nuclear power plants or land transport modes. ”

What if” scenarios for all reasonably conceivable outcomes should be examined.

You have based your opinion that nuclear power is not worth the risk on what I consider to be a pessimistic view of the future – ungoverned, ungovernable, warlike and unable to be trusted with nuclear weapons or the tools for making them.

I suggest another future: Still ungoverned and ungovernable and warlike, but with NPP’s providing more than half of the electricity and a similar proportion of process and amenity steam. Withour the process and amentity steam, the NPP’s are about 35% thermally efficient. If spent and bled steam enter the mix, overall efficiency can climb by as much as another 10%. If prawn farming, hothouses, etc, are included in the mix, who knows how much heat will be wasted?

My point in mentioning secondary thermal values is that this is possible with nuclear and coal fired plant only – assuming that oil and gas will, in a future world, be too expensive to waste for simply boiling water.

So, what about nuclear proliferation? Fast breeder technologies are the only currently available means for consuming weapons grade nuclear materials, apart from actual explosions. If the world turns upside down in the future but first decommissions and consumes most or all of the warheads, that will be an enormous improvement over your “no nuclear” option, and this outcome is entirely achievable.

Next scenario: We have, for some mad reason or other, not bothered with fast breeder NPP’s but have heaps of current technology plant. Apart from those which are specifically designed to produce weapons grade materials, there will still be no more weapons grade materials available than at present.

This scenario thus envisages using that 0.7%, or whatever, of the natural uranium which, through enrichment, can be converted to energy in currently available commercial reactors. The remaining 99% of the uranium ends up as a problem, for ever, in highly dangerous stockpiles of spent fuel, right?

Wrong! The depleted uranium which is separated during the manufacture of fuel rods is not a significant radiator. It sits quietly, even more quietly than it did as a native ore. It can simply be stockpiled, out of the way, pending use as a fuel in fast breeder reactors, or not at all. It does not pose a risk to the planet, regardless of the fact that its name is Uranium.

What about the spent fuel rods? Fair question. They remain radioactive for several centuries, at first dangerously so. Hence, they are stored and cooled under water. After a period of years, they no longer require significant cooling, so they can be stored in dry storage drums, locked away from the local environment. After a couple of hundred years (NOTE: NOT thousands or tens of thousands of years), they become essentially inert and inactive. However, they are excellent fuel for fast breeder reactors, so they should not be thrown away. They are valuable resources and are no more dangerous than many common chemicals, pesticides and so forth, which also require careful management and storage.

But surely the nuclear fuel cycle poses a nuclear weapons threat, you might say. No, it does not. The above is all there is to worry about.

Nuclear weapons grade materials which are the stuff of The Bomb are not derived from NPP’s, but from specially designed reactors, the output from which includes the weapons grade materials and, as a by-product, heat. This heat may be used to generate steam and drive a turbine, but it is not the primary purpose of an operation which makes weapons, it is a by-product.

So, to reduce the availability of nuclear weapons in a deteriorating world, two things should happen:
FIRST, ensure that plant capable of manufacturing weapons grade nuclear materials is removed from service as soon as possible and dismantled.
SECOND, destroy as many weapons as possible and remove their payloads from the planet for ever. The best and only feasible way of achieving this at present is to use the warheads as fuel in FBR’s, so even arch pessimists should get right behind this technology, right now.

Perhaps DV82XL or someone with better knowledge of nuclear plant designs and capabilities than I have can review what I have just written, but that now forms at least one strong strand of the core of my belief system when it comes to future energy options.

Essentially, where I am now at is:
1. Transition from fossil fuels to nuclear asap, for the sake of the climate.
2. Close down and dismantle all facilities, anywhere in the world, that are capable of producing weapons grade fissile materials.
3. Use renewables as and when possible, but accept that there is no realistic scenario based on renewables alone that provides for sufficient energy, especially electrical energy, for a stable future world.
4. Transition from conventional nuclear to FBR’s or other technologies that can/will consume warheads and spent fuel stockpiles as soon as these can be commercialised.
5. Destroy for ever all nuclear warheads by using their fissile material in FBR’s as fuel.
6. Cease mining of both thermal coal and uranium for the next 10,000 years or more, because it will take that long to complete steps 1 – 5 above.

So, Chris, I suggest that you take a little time to work through the above and a little less time worrying about the gender of your fellow contributors and whether gender is relevant to or a determinant of technological knowledge.

I am a bloke, a word which you have used as an accusation. I am also an engineer, so perhaps that is a second strike against me. However, I do not posit that there is an “easy technical fix”, because the path I suggest that should be followed has many obstacles. Let’s hope that gender does not become a major obstacle as we all try to achieve a better future.

There is much work to be done by those who do not wish to immerse themselves in technology. This includes by informing the debates; helping to achieve change; developing and guiding political will to demolish the true nuclear threats – warheads and means for manufacture of warheads; supporting critical analysis of all options; demanding that long range views should be considered before short term goals are set; and so on.

The energy future of our planet is not and cannot be determined by narrow technical issues alone, but all of the above and much more, but it must have a technologically firm foundation.

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Chris Harries – There is nothing wrong with the global economy, currently there is an issue with global finances, but you should not confound the two. Several currencies, notably the U.S. dollar and the Euro are under pressure because of mismanagement of credit, but the underlying production capability, transportation capacity, and potential markets still exist.

This is a far different situation than a full economic breakdown, of the sort that used to occur in the past, in regions where there was drought, leading to a collapse of agriculture, where the economy was truly destroyed.

However we are looking at such an event down the road when loss of cheap oil combines with AGW, but at the moment we can still head this off.

The argument, the real argument is not between nuclear and renew ables. The latter’s supporters don’t want to believe it, but they have been nothing more than a stalking-horse for fossil-fuels all along. It doesn’t take a genus do do the rudimentary calculations and come to a quick determination that renewable energy (other than hydro) will never meet demand. Fossil-fuel interests did this too, but they say that they could use people’s ignorance, and desire to see a ‘natural’ solution to guarantee their products would continue to be used, as ‘backup’ when in fact that was going to amount to some 80% of the time. It is these interests, mostly these days natural gas, that are fighting hard to keep nuclear for becoming a competitor.

The renewable fanatics, are only auxiliaries in this fight, and nuclear supporters shouldn’t waste their time arguing with them.

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Felty DV8… Et al re Proliferation

There are two main thrusts to the proliferation issue. The first is a national program which includes in it’s capabilities at least a portion of the fuel cycle. Either enrichment, breeding fissile material or extraction of plutonium. This can in large part be addressed by controlling, monitoring or interrupting the relevant part of the fuel cycle.

The second is related to security of fissile material ie it getting from those who legitimately have it to those who do not but want it. In my concerted opinion this is where the bulk of the danger lies. The two latest pools of material are, and will for a long time continue to be, un/under secured Soviet era material and the HEU present in the research reactors which have been scattered around the world by Atoms for Peace and like initiatives. A little place called Vinca in Yugoslavia was quite a pain in the ass in 1992-94 and for all I know still is. Although I believe safeguards were reinstated and the HEU has been / will soon be removed.

Proliferation through production must be he result of a rational long term plan by a stable government. They may be adversarial but they do play the game as a rational actor. Proliferation through acquisition is another matter entirely. There is no long term investment which requires rationality and stability. In fact, almost by definition, any entity which wants to acquire fissile material outside of conventional ways is NOT a rational actor and likely do not want it to have it for some geopolitical reason but rather to USE it.

Reactor designs that remove access to high enrichment materials will help prevent geopolitical proliferation however they will do little to decrease the risk of clandestine acquisition of un/under secured material which has the highest risk of USE. Fortunately it is rather difficult to make a good high yield nuke but any idiot can take two .85 C masses and slam them together energetically. If a 500 T fizzle goes off in some city very few people are going to be saying “Well it was only a little one…”.

I guess the short of what I am getting at is that the decreased proliferation risk in the new reactor designs is a nice talking point but it does little to decrease the chance of use of a weapon by a rogue actor. Fortunately, from an energy policy standpoint it does not matter a huge amount. The world needs the energy and there is a hell of a lot more to designing a strategically useful warhead than just having the material.

I do not want to see a decrease in money and effort spent in attempting to secure loose high enrichment material just because politicians feel these new designs somehow address the proliferation issue.

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Oops…. I put the header from notebook in my last comment. It is to the proliferation discussion in general not to anyone in particular. Sorry for any confusion

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# DV82XL – so there you are, in your definition: renewable advocates are ‘fanatics’ and nuclear advocates are merely ‘supporters’.

Does the debate have to be quite so polarised, one sided and combative? Insults, outright hostility and lack of tolerance seems to come equally from both sides from what I can see. I do realize that both sides experience a lot of frustration – believing that their technologies aren’t appreciated enough.

# John Bennetts: “I am a bloke, a word which you have used as an accusation”.

Well, John, if so then I would be accusing my own gender. But having been involved intensively in energy forums from some four decades I can’t help noticing that we blokes have a rather big stake in technical solutions and a rather big blind spot when it comes to other things that really matter.

100 percent of people who come to me with their golden solutions for the future – whether they be fuel cells or hot rocks or solar cells or nuclear fusion or IFR reactors are blokes. Not 98 percent even, 100 percent.

Maybe it’s just that we blokes are good at that sort of thing, but if I am to look at this experience rationally then I can’t ignore the gender distortion on technology altogether. It makes me think, is that all there is to it? Could it be that we are missing something? Maybe Einstein thought this one out when he said ‘you can’t fix a problem using the same type of thinking that created it in the first place’? Is that what we are doing, in fact?

These are all just questions. I have a very open mind on the energy mix that will eventuate in time, but most of the current debate I believe will prove to be rather irrelevant. If I listen to economists and political science folk as well as energy technicians then their prognoses don’t match up very well.

As we power on into this century, governance (or its absence) seems likely to become the dominant issue, overwhelming all others – including high-tech energy solutions.

MODERATOR
Sorry if I have missed some previous ad homs etc. The rule regarding incivility/rudeness etc still applies on the Open Threads.
Please advise me of any such occurrences I may have missed. See up comment for my reminder to all blog users on Open Thread

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MODERATOR
@Chris Harries
Submitted on 2011/03/26 at 1:16 PM
Agreed. Even on the Open Thread BNC expects comments to be free of ad homs/incivility/rudeness. Please ensure you comply. Any persistent violations of these commenting rules, even on Open Thread, will result in deletion or permanent moderation.

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@ Joshua – I covered the HUE issue in detail here on this site some time ago see:

https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/04/15/dv82xl/

both in the body of the lead article and in subsequent comments.

The short answer is that HEU from small reactors is not a threat. You have to understand that obtaining fissile material for a bomb is one of the more trivial parts of the process. There are many steps, that require that a constructor have very specialized skills and equipment before even a ‘crude’ HEU device could be built.

Not only that but a device is not a weapon. A weapon must be deployable, deliverable, and reliable, and you must have enough of them to project any sort of threat. This simplistic view that somehow these are a kind of a pipe-bomb that anyone could lash-up if they just had the fuel is is just plain naïve.

Understanding this issue is not difficult, but it does require that you look into the matter in a bit more detail than simply swallowing what is in the popular media. The funny thing is, it’s not that hard to find, it’s not buried, its right there.

@Chris Harries – Yes they are fanatics, because they cannot see that they are backing a dead horse. They cannot see it because the cannot or will not learn enough about the technical issues to see the deep flaws in their ideas.

I understand that most people are attracted to some intuitive (and wrong) notion of epistemic fairness: you are making one claim, the other guy is making another claim, the two of you are therefore on equal footing. But this is an issue of hard numbers, and hard science – like it or not there is a right judgment, and wrong judgments here, that are independent of ideology, and are non-negotiable.

I suspect that many will find this unpalatable, but unfortunately it is true.

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I just read this rubbish at Dandelion Salad – http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com
I wonder if my comment will get through moderation there:)

Ms. Perps, on March 25, 2011 at 11:22 PM said: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
Interview with Helen Caldicott

AS: At the first announcement of problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, a chorus of soothing denial arose from nuclear boosters, like Dr. Barry Brook in Australia I might add……

HC: Oh, don’t even talk about him. He’s a statistician. He doesn’t know any biology, genetics, or medicine. He has no right to talk the way he talks.
Helen – at least have the courtesy to get the qualifications of your adversaries correct
http://www.adelaide.edu.au/directory/barry.brook
He is, in fact, a conservation biologist/environmental scientist and like others with similar credentials he has seen that the only way to power the world and cease the use of fossil fuels is by using nuclear power. Or do you want a mass species extinction, and catastrophic climate change whic could lead to millions perishing.
You know that no fossil fuel power station world-wide has been replaced by non-hydro renewables. Alas, renewable energy can’t support baseload power and needs gas back-up. Anyone wanting to check the facts can do so at Prof Brook’s blog http://www.bravenewclimate.com

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re post by: Joshua, on 26 March 2011 at 11:57 AM said:

Reply to American re Insurance rate as indicator of NPS safety

American, Joshua and others here have summed it up fairly well. Initially you seemed to be aruging that insurer’s wouldn’t insure nuclear because it was too inherently risky from a technical standpoint.

Then I pointed out that part of what insurer’s consider in liability insurance is the risk of lawsuit, and that the inordinate fear and lack of understanding leads to huge risks of frivolous lawsuits should anything untoward occur at a nuclear stations. You seemed to incorporate that into your argument – which led to the tautological dilemma w/ circular reasoning.

Others pointed out that in fact, nuclear plants do get insurance, significant amounts of it in fact. That didn’t seem to be enough however, and the argument again shifted, this time with the idea that if they are unable to get full insurance, it still somehow shows that they are inherently too risky.

Others pointed out that part of the problem is that nuclear has been so safe historically, there is little experience for insurer’s to even be able to calculate risks should a major accident occur. Almost certainly true, and rather ironic on the face of it.

Then it’s pointed out that the US Gov also insures and indemnifies some other things, such as flood coverage – and the goalposts shift a little yet again, because, hey, why should we allow and cover something so risky as building in flood areas with tax dollars? While I admit to harboring those same feelings to some extent (residential, retirement, espec in areas that flood time and again in short periods), I also recognize that some of the most productive and necessary areas fall into those very categories – that’s where harbors, ports, and associated facilities pretty much have to go, along with all of the related infrastructure and interrelated businesses… and people want to live somewhat reasonably close to where they work too, and so on.

Well, the fact is that people also demand cheap reliable energy – and it is crucial to our well being and standard of living. That isn’t just in terms of our own homes which is what we tend to think of, but all of the industry and services that we don’t think about but which create the standard of living that we have managed to develop. Nuclear power is an integral part of that, having provided roughly 20% of our nation’s electricity for decades now. All with less death and injury than any other method of electrical production, and at a competitive rate too.

So, if the government provides indemnification over and above a certain level, and so far it hasn’t ever been needed and therefore hasn’t cost the tax payer a cent… sure, it does leave that door open, there is the possibility. It certainly seems to be a very low level of risk for the taxpayer, however, with a very clear and evident gain for everyone that has accrued now for 50 years. Plus, as time has gone on, the risk to the taxpayer has notably decreased, not increased – and with advanced designs, will become even less and less as time goes on.

So, to me, to use the argument of “they can’t get insurance” or anything along those lines as a reason for nuclear power somehow not being viable – well, that dog just don’t hunt for me. That dog ain’t even tryin’ to hunt, he’s off happily snoozing on the porch.

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Re insurance cover.

Insurance companies are stuck between a rock and a hard place when considering offering cover for what is termed a “long tail” event. This could be anything which has a degree of uncertainty stretching out for years, eg asbestos, tobacco, ionising radiation. They have a business to run and seek to finalise matters within a reasonable time frame, otherwise their annual financial reporting would become garbage.

It is, therefore, easy to gain travel insurance for a month or six, but impossible for a period of, say, 5 years. Docyors discover that this applies to private practitioners who, unless covered by an employer or government, have to pay policies for many years after they cease to practice.

Nuclear power stations, in common with many other businesses, thus have uninsurable risks, especially long tail risks. This is not a surprise and is quite common. The result, as someone up thread has pointed out, is that national governments end up offering cover for risks which, despite 50 years of nuclear power production, have never been the subject of claims.

What we are discussing is seen to be political necessity, at least as often as it is truly a matter of obtaining insurance cover so that a business can reasonably continue. That is also why the government might choose to guarantee loans – not so that they can take over a risk of default, but because that is a politically expedient way of ensuring that funding bodies and their shareholders are not scared off by scare mongering and FUD.

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DV82XL wrote:

“American – I’m not so sure that risk (as an insurance company defines such) has been well calculated for nuclear plants. Mostly this is due to the fact that there haven’t been enough events, and loss, in the event of one, has yet to be properly defined….”

You know, DV, when I first read this, and then the similar comments at the end of JOSHUA’s subsequent post, I thought you guys’ coming up with this was brilliant.

Not to take anything away from you and Josh however, I now think it was just very very smart of you two, but … still insufficient to explain why (U.S.) nuke plants can’t get fully privately insured.

That is, yeah, you and Josh are right; there *have* been damn few accidents and claims, haven’t there? And thus off-the-cuff the instinct is to say “well of course one can’t insure something long into to the future when there’s such a long void of a history behind.”

But … think about it: Insurance policies aren’t ordinarily—and certainly aren’t necessarily—written for the long future. Instead they tend to be written for short terms, don’t they? Why? Because if they were the companies would not be able to adjust their decisions to insure or their premiums to account for new risk analyses which take into account new events. Thus for instance you probably *can’t* get anything like 5-year car insurance, because your insurer wants to be able to re-evaluate you, and perhaps changes in the law, and other drivers, and indeed everything relevant more frequently than that, right?

Accordingly, insurance policies are written—and certainly can be written—for relatively short defined *terms* … and it is then only the risks arising *within those short terms of time* that the insurer has to worry about.

So, given then that nuke power has been around for something like 50 years now, I have to believe the fact that there have been so few accidents and claims in that time can only be *attractive* (if not wildly so) in terms of getting insurers to make offers to insure them for just another year or two or even five. Hell it’s a no-brainer even if that were really the stickler: “Very safe operations over fifty years; very few claims … of *course* we’ll insure you for the next measly year.” (Or maybe five even.)

Consequently, after giving this some thought, I can only conclude that something else must be at work making nuke plants privately uninsurable. (In the U.S. at least.)

JOSHUA then wrote:

“The magnitude of an insurance loss is increased by fear and uncertainty, making it a bad bet for the [insurance companies]”.

Yeah but so what, Josh? The same is true, say, for many pharmaceuticals: Lots of fear that they may cause some terrible damage. Lots based on the fact that many have. But hasn’t seemed to prevent the drug manufacturers from getting insurance … because that can be factored in to the premiums.

JOSHUA also wrote:

“… Act of God, category which [insurance companies] have traditionally not wanted to get involved in.”

Ah, brilliant! as the Brits might say. You are exactly right, Josh, property and other insurance policies routinely even exclude coverage for losses caused by Acts of God.

So … how come they won’t just do the same in policies covering nuke plants and still then cover them for non-Acts of God liability?

Once again, I think one has to conclude, the risks of non-Acts of God liability from nuke power are just simply … too much for anyone private to *voluntarily* issue insurance against. And one can argue until the cows come home that no, the risks are small, but the reality is that not enough other people agree with same so as to take that bet, despite even the lure of making zillions in premium money doing so, period.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think this necessarily means that gov’t should not indemnify or insure nuke plants (as indeed I think they should). But it does mean facing up to the fact that those who say that the risks of nuke power are just negligible (with “risk” being defined as including not just chance but the full consequences of harm too), simply do not have very many people agreeing with them.

Or at least “not enough to capitilize an insurance company to issue a full-coverage policy to a nuke plant” that is….

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DV82XY Re Proliferation

DV82XL

Thank you for the reference to the thread I will give it a read.

I think I might have been unclear in some of my statements. I am aware of the difference between a device and a weapon which is why I said that the evolution of a “crazy rogue state with the bomb” was not a huge concern, in my view. If they have the stability to create a fuel cycle AND do the engineering necessary to create a reliable device and then engineer it into a deliverable weapon then they are probably a mature rational actor who wants it for geopolitical leverage not to go drop it on the first country they get pissed at. Mind, I do not think more nations with the Bomb is good it is just not a reason to go all panicy over.

I am also well aware that you can not whip up a device in the bathroom. The point I was trying to make is that it is not necessary to be a weapons designer to make some type of boom if you have sufficient material. If a supercritical mass can be assembled, for long enough, it will go boom. It might not be a big boom, it might be only 500 tons of TNT or even 50 tons TNT where a good design would be 50+ Ktons TNT. That a detonation was small (a fizzle) is going to make very little difference to the effect it has on the world. (Of course less people will be dead but a device detonation of any kind will most likely push the world’s shock, terror, panic response into saturation.)

Vinca was in the middle of the Yugoslav wars and it’s security and the security of it’s HEU was far from assured not to mention the LEU etc from the other reactor. In fact it is hypothetically possible that the people in Yugoslavia at the time who both potentially had access to the material and the best skill sets for making up a crude device might not have been stoically uninterested in the outcome of the civil war. Nor is it entirely unimaginable that an individual or individuals at the center could recognize the potential for raising a bit of cash.

So on the HEU and other materials about in the world we will have to agree to disagree. I happily and respectfully accept your opinions on nuclear power, I quite enjoy reading your posts. It is however, about as likely (supposing I wanted to) that I could change your opinion on nuclear power as anyone here or elsewhere could change my opinions on counterterrorism. (BTW I am not someone who thinks an NPS is some great target just sitting there to be plucked. The security implications of increasing numbers of plants as well as siting them in third world countries is a topic I would love to see discussed here.)

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@American

But hasn’t seemed to prevent the drug manufacturers from getting insurance … because that can be factored in to the premiums.

American, do you KNOW that pharm manuf. get insurance? Most (all?) are so large I would suspect they self insure.

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American, who is going to sink the capital, time, etc. into building a facility with a 40+ year life span, if they cannot count on being able to get insurance even if they have zero negligence or fault? Only being able to get insured for the next year or so won’t cut it for industrial concerns like this – or at least I don’t see how it possibly could. Not to mention, I’m not certain, but seriously doubt you could get a license to construct, let alone operate, under those conditions.

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Insurance against what event?

Pharma companies possibly find it much easier to insure against the harm done to trial participants, or the general public, than, for example, the risk of negligent release of untested product. There are hundreds of possible risks, some of which are insurable, some of which may not be and some of which may be trivial or within the capacity of the pharma company to shoulder alone, as self-insurer.

Certainly, pharmaceutical companies suffer enormous business losses when things go wrong and that at least some end up on the balance sheet.

I am quite content with a similar system within the power industry:
Self insurance for smaller and manageable risks.
Private insurance for those risks which are too big to cover internally.
Government guarantees for political purposes and to set the public’s minds at rest, where insurance is not commercially available, even if there is zero claims history across the industry after 50 years.

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Re American re Insurance

American,

Wow… I can not believe how completely I failed to communicate my position to you so let me see if I can break it down a bit.

When I talk about fear what I mean is that while a putative nuclear accident did not do any visible damage to anything, people are none the less scared that all of their property has been infected with nuclear cooties. They are irrationally afraid. It does not matter to them that their stuff has always been exposed to background radiation now it has icky nasty NUCLEAR PLANT radiation and it is going to give them all CANCER. 

Even though none of that is true, enough people feel it is. These people will not live there or have stuff from there so they claim a total loss from the insurance company. The insurance company is now stuck paying out on perfectly good stuff because no one will use it because of nuclear cooties (irrational fear) not because of any real damage or danger caused by the plant. 

The insurance company, not being stupid, does not want to insure the nuclear plant because there is no way to insure against nuclear cooties. The decision is not because of any inherent hazard from the nuclear plant it is because of peoples irrational fear. It is therefore impossible to draw any conclusion as to the safety of the plant because the primary factor in the decision not to insure was people’s fear and lack of understanding.

I fully admit that this is a very simplified way of putting it and that there is more nuance in the real world but I am sure that you are smart enough to extract the underlying point and understand it in the context of what I have previously written.

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@ American – The U.S. NRC, on the page titled: Fact Sheet on Nuclear Insurance and Disaster Relief Funds at

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/funds-fs.html

states that indeed that under existing policy, owners of nuclear power plants pay a premium each year for $375 million in private insurance for offsite liability coverage for each reactor unit.

It goes on to say that American Nuclear Insurers, the pool writing nuclear insurance, is comprised of investor-owned stock insurance companies. About half the pool’s total liability capacity comes from foreign sources. The average annual premium for a single-unit reactor site is $400,000. The premium for a second or third reactor at the same site is discounted to reflect a sharing of limits.

I’m not an American, but that looks like private insurance to me.

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@Joshua, you say: “If a supercritical mass can be assembled, for long enough, it will go boom.”

This overly trivializes the problem, and is not really correct. Just rapid assembly of a supercritical mass is NOT enough to cause it to explode. Among other things a well timed beam of neutrons, from an external generator is needed, plus the kinetic energy of the two colliding subcritical masses needs to be kept in a very narrow zone, so as not to mechanically separate before fission can start.

The trouble with almost all of the BS circulating on this matter, is that it is based on nested dependent hypotheticals that don’t recognize all the places where something can go wrong, and most probably will. Like I said, this stuff makes for good made-for-TV movie plots, but it doesn’t hold up under any technical scrutiny.

As for security threats to NPPs, the fact is that it is no different in kind than the increased security that we now need on most modes of mass transportation, which are much softer targets.

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If insurance problems represent a major reason in raising nuclear costs, they are problems confined to states with democracies and liberalised energy markets. There are other states with no such problems. If the democracies remain hamstrung by the dictates of free market capitalism, they will lose out big time in the global economic rat race.

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DV82XL on Non State Actor Building a D

DV82XL

First let me make it clear that I am not saying that I believe that any old bad guy can put together a device (see end for exception) For an Adversary I am positing an educated cadre of 2-5 people containing at least one post grad physics student and one post grad engineering student with access to a good university library and a good machine shop. As part of the threat definition let us assume that they have a sufficient amount of either HEU or Pu.  They are trying to make a kiloton range device HOWEVER A NUCLEAR DETONATION OF 100 TONS TNT WILL BE CONSIDERED A SUCCESS. Simply spreading material about while no doubt would cause grave fear it is just not what this Threat Definition is about.

Why this last you may ask. From a terrorist’s point of view any detonation which is undeniably a nuclear detonation will be sufficient to induce near paralyzingly fear in the target country as well as throughout the world. The use/success criteria for a non- state actor ( NSA) is very different from a state actor. The differences should be obvious so I will not go into them unless you ask.

First, as to whether there is some secret knowledge about how to make a device. I direct to to this article

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

on the Nth Country Problem. This was a study performed by the USG in the  60s to see if there was sufficient knowledge in the public domain for a group of new physics PhDs, with no prior weapons knowledge, to design a nuclear device. The Gun Type device was decided to simply be to easy so they attempted to design a spherical implosion device. In short they were able to design an implosion device, judged by LLNL, to be capable of militarily significant yields. There is a note that says this was to design not build the device. 

The information out now has even more details than there was then so there is no barrier that I can see to a technically sophisticated Adversary coming up with a design that will detonate. Assembling the device would be hard but it is essentially an engineering and machining issue. I am not saying they could make a city killer they would not need a city killer. A fizzle would be enough. Do you honestly believe that a population that is freaking out about a leaking reactor on the other side of the planet will calm down because someone says the terrorist’s nuclear bomb only blew up a little bit?!?

As to your issues with assembly time for gun devices and neutron initiation the me point you to the open source information in The Nuclear Weapons FAQ Sections 4.1.6.3 and 4.1.6.4. 

http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Nwfaq/Nfaq4-1.html#Nfaq4.1.1

If the physics in there is wrong please say so.

As to the security of nuclear power stations. They are targets, now necessarily good ones but targets none the less they need security that can handle some midrange attempt by modestly capable intruders. I do not think Hezbollah special forces are going to be dropping in on a US or European power plant any time soon. Each country and location needs to come up with it’s own Threat Assessment, I am not saying that extra security is needed at NPS above it’s Threat Level. Research reactors need some basic security based upon where they are sited and what the Threat Environment is like.

I am not talking about a movie plot and your assertion that I am is something I will forgive once. If you wish to believe what I say is unfounded and that it is in fact one hundred percent impossible for a NSA to build a device that is your prerogative. However you should remember even if what you say is true and they have no chance of success, what is the chance that they know and believe it? What do you think the result of some idiot simply slamming a couple of critical masses together in some primitive gun design? Can you answer that question? I can not but I know what the answer will not be – NOTHING

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@ Joshua:
You wrote: “As part of the threat definition let us assume that they have a sufficient amount of either HEU or Pu.”

Right up front, there is this massive assumption.

From there onwards, you seem to assume that highly enriched uranium (HEU) and/or Plutonium are available in power stations.

Mate, you are looking in all the wrong places. I am pretty sure that this essential first assumption is so wrong as to blow your hypothesis out of the water in practical terms.

HEU is not a common reactor fuel. My impression is that it is used for explosives, in military reactors, eg subs, and for research purposes. It is not necessary to go to the trouble and expense of refining the uranium to weapons grade 80%+ purity of Pu 235, or even beyond the lower limit for HEU, of 20% Pu235 for power reactors.

So, given that HEU is uncommon as a reactor fuel and that PU is perhaps even more uncommon, chances are that your hypothetical terrorists will need to be very selective indeed as to which reactor they raid for supplies.

Is somebody out there prepared to offer a guess as to the percentage of civilian reactors which have HEU and/or Pu as fuel?

Simply assembling a team of physicists and metal machinists appears to me to be the easy bit.

Obtaining raw materials and devising a delivery system are potentially much more challenging, assuming, of course, that the terrorists have managed to NOT kill themselves somewhere along the way due to overexposure to radiation.

Not saying it can’t be done, of course – only that construction of nuclear weapons by civilians is likely to be an extremely challenging task, both in 2011 and for some time to come.

Lastly, I fail to see how construction of a new generation of civilian reactors will result in increased availability of fissionable materials for our hypothetical terrorists.

For these reasons, I don’t believe that the risk of terrorists producing a nuclear bomb will be increased by construction of more civilian reactors. Those who spread these notions are, in reality, using the principles of fear and uncertainty to oppose the only energy technology that provide the electricity supplies that are absolutely necessary for protection of our climate and to ensure the future of this world’s civilisations.

Let’s worry more about ensuring power supplies for the future and less about manufactured debates based on fear and uncertainty.

One reference from a huge range: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highly_Enriched_Uranium
or, just use Google and HEU.

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Would any of you like to put MY fears to rest? Please?
I’m not concerned over some fringe group building a Bomb. But who is watching the watchers?
A failed state, a dictator on the edge of removal, a theocratic state with an apocalyptic philosophy who welcomes disaster, apres moi, le deluge. Do we have operating reactors in Kansas? Fukushima shows it can be be a delicate proposition to bring an operating reactor to cold shutdown. What if it were the operator’s intention to cause a major release?
I don’t think the psychological screening we used on our strategic missile corps to secure stability is in use universally.
Unthinkable isn’t it?

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@Joshua – Like most non-technical people, you trivialize the practical issues of constructing a nuclear device. Yes I am more than aware that the knowledge is in the public domain, and I am more than passingly familiar with the Nth-Country Experiment, its deep flaws, and the politically charged atmosphere it was done in.

First the type, and sophistication of both the auxiliary components, and the facilities to construct a device preclude any possibility that this could be carried out by a small team, working clandestinely. Certain skills are also needed and the possibility that these people could be found, and would be willing to act, also puts practical limits on the lower size of the team. Consider the sheer number of people that are involved in any state-sponsored program, and ask yourself why.

The Nth Country Experiment was done to see if a plausible device could be designed from information in the public domain at the time. It did not address the issue of constructing such a device. Also, given that the details expert analysis of the results of the project have never been released, one is left to wonder just how rigorous it was, given that a positive finding was the only politically acceptable one at the time. The fact is that design, is less of a problem now than it was then, however the practical difficulties are somewhat higher, given sales restrictions, now in force on certain specialized equipment.

So you are willing to tolerate a comparison to a movie plot once – how big of you. Frankly nothing you have written here to date shows anything other than a very superficial understanding of the science and engineering behind a nuclear explosive. Pompous declarations of limited tolerance to ideas that you dislike, do nothing to increase your creditability.

“What is the chance that they know and believe it?” you ask. Very high would be the answer. Any subnational group that was thinking of embarking on such a project, would first recruit someone with some basic understanding of the problem. Even if it were some high school level science teacher, they would impress on the leaders, the magnitude of the problem, and the project would be dropped. In fact I suspect that this has happened more than once. I also have no doubt that the physics community (such as it might be) in any number of small nations have had the question put to them by their country’s leadership with the same result.

You write: “What do you think the result of some idiot simply slamming a couple of critical masses together in some primitive gun design? Can you answer that question? I can not but I know what the answer will not be – NOTHING” yes I can answer that question, and it would be very close to nothing. It is unlikely that the supercritical mass would actually assemble under these crude conditions.

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@John Bennetts 10:37

Read your reference
http://clubtroppo.com.au/2011/03/19/nuclear-madness-in-idaho/
Thanks for adding one more to my long list of paranoias.
I find a generic engineering response to disaster to be “Well, we won’t make THAT mistake again!” to which my response is, “No, you will find a new mistake to make.”
The original reactor designers weren’t stupid for missing some critical (and eventually catastrophic) aspects of design. But it is hubris to think that we’ve got it all covered. They thought they did.
That said, I agree that fission nuclear plants are a necessary but stopgap solution to energy demand.

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DrD:
Yes, Kansas has a few reactors. Use Google to find Wolf Creek, where excess storage of spent fuel rods has been cited as being an issue.

Comparisons with the recent Japanese experience may not be valid. For example, Kansas is pretty well protected from tsunamis.

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@John Bennetts 10:51

I’m not concerned about protecting Kansas reactors from tsunami. I’m concerned about protecting them from their operators who could presumably be expecting to be raptured at any moment.

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It’s mismanagement that drives fears in the public. It’s not the fear of nuclear energy itself, it’s the fear of the the people in charge of managing its use. No private corporation should police itself at all in any situation when such dangerous technology is used. It is my opinion that the official mismanagement of the Fukushima plant before during and after the crisis will be greatly scrutinized and provide the most useful lessons for the nuclear world.

A Quarter of US plants not reporting equipment defects
Washington Post (a conservative paper)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/a-quarter-of-us-nuclear-plants-not-reporting-equipment-defects-report-finds/2011/03/24/ABHYa2RB_story.html?hpid=z2

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Anyone know what this means?

“·Maintain average water temperature at 100°C in the Pressure Suppression Chamber. ”

That’s the description of all four Daiini reactors in the press release: http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11032607-e.html

But I thought the goal was to keep the temperature of the water well _below_ 100C (how many atmospheres’ pressure is the torus kept at? It’s a “pressure cooker” situation so doesn’t boil at 100C?

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As a producer, I can imagine a docudrama movie of the Fukushima disaster done by the likes of Oliver Stone or Ridley Scott. It begins with the deployment of the 40 year old technology, shows the debate and struggle to take these reactors offline verses retrofit them to extend life, then the present day, the quake hits, and the unfolding heroic drama deep inside the plant (which none of us in the public has been privy to) will be like nothing audiences have ever seen before. It will be one of the great disaster films of all time. I’m pointing this out because I’m positive it will be made into a Hollywood feature. You might as well begin to try and calculate the impact it will have on public opinion of the nuclear industry, because it will almost certainly be made.

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Been following this debate since Tsunami. Thank you all. Any comments on this from Reuters?
edition.cnn.com/2011/US/03/26/nuclear.energy/

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John

The reason I was assuming a sufficiency of fissile material is because the issue we were talking about was whether the HEU in research reactors was a proliferation issue the specific example was the Serbian Vinca research reactor during the Yugoslav wars. Also being discussed was the un/under secured fissile material throughout the world. Nor am I saying that new generation reactors will lead to increased availability of fissile material for non state actors. My concern is that if the nonproliferation discussion simply asserts that new reactors will be enough to prevent someone from getting ahold of material. In fact I believe that it will have near ZERO effect on non state proliferation because non state actors do not get their material via diversion from the fuel cycle.

Again, nowhere in any if my comments did I say or imply that building new reactors would increase the availability of material for non state actors. I am however saying that just because you build these new reactors is not a reason to move money attention and effort away from trafficking in un/under secured materials

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My comment in response to an article in the Hobart Mercury on why Tasmania doesn’t need nuclear power
You forget that Tasmania at times gets 50% of its power from dirty brown coal via Basslink. Out of sight out of mind. Perhaps we should get rid of the zinc and aluminium smelters to conserve energy. Bass Strait gas is really from Victoria and will run out sooner than we think. Remember by the time the next El Nino arrives and dams are low we’ll also be paying carbon taxes. Sites like Trial Harbour or Ironhouse Pt would be ideal for a medium sized nuclear power station.

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I find this blog very interesting.

@Shelby: while I do not agree with much of what you say, I do profoundly agree with your statement that:
“It’s mismanagement that drives fears in the public. It’s not the fear of nuclear energy itself, it’s the fear of the the people in charge of managing its use. No private corporation should police itself at all in any situation when such dangerous technology is used. It is my opinion that the official mismanagement of the Fukushima plant before during and after the crisis will be greatly scrutinized and provide the most useful lessons for the nuclear world.”

I recall similar sentiments being expressed post-TMI and post-Chernobyl. We can add to that a distrust of the gov’t regulatory agencies. (e.g. the regulatory corruption that contributed to the BP Gulf Oil Spill) Neither group can be trusted as the external pressures (financial and political) are too great. This is not to disparage the employees, it is just a reality of life in this complex world.

I believe this can be easily resolved simply through requiring open disclosure of the test, maintenance and operations records both by the corporations involved and the regulatory agencies. No need to wait for wikileaks or other leaks – just enforce open disclosure throughout the life of the plant. Those being ‘disclosed’ will scream and rant. Fine. Open it up or shut them down.
Just a thought …
Note: I raise this point in this context as accountability and transparency are key themes which are being pushed hard by Engineers Without Borders. No reason it can’t be applied here as well.

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Jess said:“I believe this can be easily resolved simply through requiring open disclosure of the test, maintenance and operations records both by the corporations involved and the regulatory agencies….I raise this point in this context as accountability and transparency are key themes which are being pushed hard by Engineers Without Borders. No reason it can’t be applied here as well.”

This is the key. Aviation fostered a culture of individual accountability on the technical side, and that elevated safety to the point where the public was reasonably confident in flying. Why this has not been applied to this domain is beyond me.

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Re DV8XL NSA D threat

DV82XL,

There have been people out in the world for years who work to prevent non state actors from getting nuclear material of any kind, not just highly enriched material. I know that this is not only to prevent the possibility of a non state actor creating a device but also to prevent misuse of other nuclear materials. There is a hell of a lot more concern for people trafficking in Pu and HEU. That should in no way be understood as implying there not tremendous concern for any nuclear material, just that the fissile stuff gets a lot more attention when it pops up.

 Your movie comment trivializes the work done by these people (who, incidently, are more likely to be exposed to nasty levels of radiation than most nuclear workers. That hazard is in addition to all of the unpleasant things they are subject to in the field) and I found it highly offensive I hoped I could communicate that by simply saying that I forgave it and implying that I would find further comments like that unacceptable. Obviously I was too subtle… Sorry. That you think that the people who worry about the potential for catastrophic missuse of fissile material are nontechnical, hysterical movie goers and/or anti nuclear chicken littles tends to make me think you might need to reassess your bias. 

With thirty seconds of searching the web I found these reports of people trafficking in unsecured nuclear material. While not all of it was enriched material it does show that there are people wanting to traffic in it pretty regularly and that material which is unsecured is subject to being sold. If there was not a market out there none of the below transactions would have even been attempted. If people did not want fissile material there would not be a market.

The below list is far from exhaustive and of course does not include events not released into the public domain nor does it include a list of successful sales since the people involved obviously do not self report.

http://www.nti.org/e_research/e3_special_nuctrafficking.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/nuclear-wikileaks/8297075/POSSIBLE-NUCLEAR-SMUGGLING-INCIDENTOFFER-OF-NUCLEAR-OR-OTHER-RADIOACTIVE-MATERIAL.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/nuclear-wikileaks/8297074/NUCLEAR-SMUGGLING-INCIDENTPORTAL-DETECTION-IN-KAMPALA-FEBRUARY-12-2008.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/nuclear-wikileaks/8297092/Namibias-Rossing-Uranium-A-USG-Evaluation.html

Can a nuclear device be created by a clandestine non state actor? I am not a weapons designer or builder so I can not definitively answer that question but I believe that there is a legitimate risk that someone will try. I also believe that their chance if at least partial success is not so small as to be dismissive of it.

There is a thriving market in nuclear materials and I believe that fissile material is, if not the most expensive then it is very close. Is there some reason other than trying to build a device that people want black market fissile material for? If there is I would be very interested in knowing what it is. I am highly skeptical of the idea that it is the new must have paper weight.

Let me try to sum up.

1. There is a market for fissile material. If someone can get unsecured or under secured material they have at the least a financial incentive for acquiring it.

2. Many research reactors still are filed by HEU. If the country they are in destabilizes or if it is not secured in a way that is reasonable based upon the threat environment it is a proliferation risk.

3. Nuclear devices are not trivial to design and are very difficult to actually build. Even if an adversary failed to build a device properly there is some unspecified, non trivial, chance that it will detonate in a fizzle. From the point of view of a terrorist a fizzle is still a successful use of the device. A successful detonation or even a fizzle would have extreme effects on financial markets, political and social stability on global, regional and national scales. It would also kill an awful lot of people.

4. None of these are reasons not to build NPS. Just having a (non high enriched) reactor arround does not increase access to HEU for terrorists (not sure why someone thought I said it would. I did say that the new designs did not greatly decrease the chance proliferation to non state actors because that NOT where they are most likely to get their material. See 7 below)
 
5. The United States Government, who does employ weapons designers and builders, thinks that the risk is great enough to spend a lot of money and put people in harms way to reduce the risk. If there is a professional weapons designer and builder who can say it is impossible I will be more than happy to revise my opinion.

7. Proliferation to non state actors is most likely through illegal acquisition of unsecured or under secured material. It is therefore necessary to not rely simply on the lower state actor proliferation risk of new reactors. Definitive action must also be taken to identify, secure and retrieve un/under secured material.

*** I use the term non state actors here in preference to terrorist because there are terrorist organizations which are sponsored by stated which have the added chance of obtaining their material through the fuel cycle based state proliferation channel, and would therefore also have greater design and build resources.

I do not believe that any state sponsor of terrorism would see it as a good move to provide aid in terms of material or expertise to one of their proxy groups. There is no chance that they would not get stomped on regardless of whether a proxy was used or not, it is just a bad strategic move. If anything the state sponsors would try to reign in their proxies just for that reason.

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@Joshua – I will try and deal with your points in order.

1. The degree to which there is a black market in HEU (which I would hardly typify as thriving) is moot. However to the degree that there is one, it would seem it is other states that are buying (read: Iran) it’s, not subnational groups. While I agree that this is a security issue it is hardly the existential threat that it is being advertised to be. This is not to trivialize the problem, just to put it in perspective.

BTW HEU in its just produced form, is not that radioactive, and can be handled with minimum precautions.

2. Most research reactors have, or are scheduled to be converted to 20% LEU, that was the outcome of the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit. Furthermore, once fuel has spent even a very short time in the reactor, it is rendered unstable for bomb-making, and is somewhat self-protecting due the high radiation it would be emitting.

3. The real chance that a lash-up device even detonates in a fizzle is vanishingly small. In fact the chemical charge used to attempt to trigger it, is more likely to do more damage, than any fission event. I not sure that those that believe otherwise, understand the just how narrow the parameters are in even a gun-type device.

4. We never disagreed on this point.

5. I’m not so sure that people are being put in harms way, however the proliferation issues that drive the agencies around the world, are more those that involve state actors. Despite the press, the real concern is nations attaining nuclear state status, than a terrorist with a wet firecracker.

6. N/A

7. You seem to suggest that there isn’t a tight security regime in place, and active at this moment. Russian HEU inventories are being down-blended and burnt in US reactors. Border security in nuclear ‘have’ countries, has been tightened for several years now.

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Rational

“nuclear plants do get insurance, significant amounts of it in fact”

This is a dangerous argument – a bit like ‘sufficient safety’.

However any 1GW reactor, produces up to 8765 GWhr a year, so can afford $100 million per year in secondary insurance premium.

This is only $11.51 per MWhr [ 1 cent per KWhr]

But having big numbers of affordable insurance does not mean that there is the physical means to fix the problem, and areas of real estate may be entombed or depopulated for decades.

You cannot insure against such loss in amenity, nor compensate losers.

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This is a dangerous argument – a bit like ‘sufficient safety’.

Mike, would you outline what you perceive the ‘sufficiently safe’ argument to be, and explain the dangers thereof?

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@Mike:
Can’t have it both ways, my firend.

If the discussion is about insurance, I take it that you are convinced that affordable and appropriate insurance is available.

If the discussion is about systems safety, then the runs are on the board and getting better all the while. Nuclear power is far safer than most (all?) of the alternatives and the gap is not closing. There are a couple of threads on this topic on this site which have covered comparative safety in depth. There’s no reason to justify re-opening these discussions now, unless new material is presented; real data, not unsubstantiated opinion.

So, what exactly was your point?

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Finrod

This is an argument put by others – not me.

I do not have the slightest idea what “sufficiently safe” is?

It is a vague vague concept?

Why do you ask?

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John Bennetts, on 27 March 2011 at 10:59 AM said:

I think you demonstrate my point quite well.

I say insurance is affordable.

You claim I say it is “affordable and appropriate”

This is false.

Why did you make this up?

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This is an argument put by others – not me.

I do not have the slightest idea what “sufficiently safe” is?

It is a vague vague concept?

Mike, you were the one who bought it up claiming it was ‘a dangerous argument’. Please outline why you think this.

To my mind, nuclear power is ‘sufficiently safe’ if the known and reasonably anticipated risks of using it are substantially less than the known consequences of not doing so. By such a definition, nuclear power is indeed ‘sufficiently safe’.

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John Bennetts, on 27 March 2011 at 10:59 AM said:

“There’s no reason to justify re-opening these discussions now, unless new material is presented;”

other than to note that your view re safety is your opinion, and equates with others who say “sufficient insurance” or “sufficient safety” and so on.

However now that the exclusion zone has been extended (on a voluntary basis) from 20 km to 30 km, the question of safety for these citizens now emerges.

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Finrod, on 27 March 2011 at 11:50 AM said:

“sufficiently safe if ……”

Adding in an “if” may make matters worse.

I only say insurance is “sufficiently affordable” and I am willing to substantiate this. Whether ‘affordabilty’ is the end of the matter, needs further consideration.

It is others who are trying to pile-in extra views.

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Adding in an “if” may make matters worse.

Now you’re playing with semantics and sophistry. You wanted clarification of the meaning of sufficiently safe, so an if/then statement is entirely appropriate.

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Mike, you have conflated two separate issues.

Nuclear safety is the subject, in some depth, of several other threads at this site.

Whether or not the powers that be in Japan have established a voluntary exclusion zone beyond 20km, and for what purposes, is another issue altogether. I have read elsewhere that the reason is difficulty supplying food and water in some areas. I don’t know whether that is true, but it quite possibly has nothing to do with nuclear safety per se.

I repeat my contention, which is that, rather than re-start a discussion about the safety of nuclear power generation in general, or of comparative safety in relation to other technologies for generating electrical power, it is better that this be appended to an existing thread.

See: https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/07/08/tcase11/

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I second the recommendation to look at that thread:

It merits reading through carefully from the top, and looking at the documents referenced in it — then sitting back and thinking for a while.

Then considering whether it’s changed anything you were thinking about posting. If not, ask yourself why.

Example, from the docs linked in that thread:

“The nuclear regulators of 1967 to 1973 were quite satisfied that plants completed and licensed at that time were adequately safe, and the great majority of knowledgeable scientists agreed with them. With the exception of improvements instigated by lessons learned in the Three Mile Island accident, which increased the cost by only a few percent, there were no new technical developments indicating that more expenditures for safety were needed. In fact, the more recent developments suggested the contrary (see Chapter 6). Perhaps the most significant result of safety research in the late 1970s was finding that the emergency core cooling system works better than expected and far better than indicated by the pessimistic estimates of nuclear power opponents. Another important result was finding that radioactive iodine and other elements in a water environment behave much more favorably than had been assumed.
Clearly, the regulatory ratcheting was driven not by new scientific or technological information, but by public concern and the political pressure it generated….”

Reads a bit differently now than it did then.

That also cites the Dresden plant as a notable example of an inexpensively built and economically successful plant.

Then this happened — eerily familiar: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1996-06-26/news/9606260054_1_nuclear-power-plant-nuclear-regulatory-commission-station-manager/2

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Finrod

“Now you’re playing with semantics and sophistry. You wanted clarification of the meaning of sufficiently safe, so an if/then statement is entirely appropriate.”

No. You had better look in the mirror for that.

Putting X if Y

where Y is more vague, IS in fact playing with semantics and sophistry.

If I was to ask: given your Y;

What is: “the known and reasonably anticipated risks of using it ”

then you would not have included Tsunami last month.

So you cover one vague statement X, with another – Y.

So please do not manufacture self-interested attack on me with labels of “sophistry” or “semantics”.

They stick on thee.

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Hank Roberts has found:

“The nuclear regulators of 1967 to 1973 were quite satisfied that plants completed and licensed at that time were adequately safe, and the great majority of knowledgeable scientists agreed with them. With the exception of improvements instigated by lessons learned in the Three Mile Island accident, which increased the cost by only a few percent, there were no new technical developments indicating that more expenditures for safety were needed. …”

This is useful. Even Chernobyl would have been deemed safe under normal conditions. I understand the disaster was caused when technicians did some testing. Soviet engineers could have considered the probability of a uncontrollable graphite fire but may have put such a probability at a similar level as Japanese technicians at Fukushima.

Is there a difference between yesterday’s ‘adequately safe’ and today’s ‘sufficiently safe’?.

And what about tomorrow’s “apparently safe”???

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Geez it’s hard to conduct a discussion on one issue in a thread devoted to many. Not complaining! But I’ve gotten a little lost. (No doubt much due to my own inarticulateness in what I wrote before I’ll readily admit.)

Okay, anyway, re this insurance issue; this a.m. I tried to post a response to some of the very smart responses I got to one of mine on same and I don’t see it, but then see others then talk further about insurance so I don’t know if mine got zipped by a moderator or the internet ate my pearls of wisdom. In any event I’ll try again.

The issue though has gotten so tangled that maybe I should just start at the beginning again. I hesitate to do so though because in the first place this “insurance argument against nuke power” (in the U.S. at least) isn’t really mine, with me bringing same up because I at least can’t help feeling it does have a significant amount of validity. Not enough to make me anti-nuke power, but, still, trying to be intellectually honest….

Plus I don’t want to be seen on any soapbox here.

But it is interesting to me, so, anyway, in case anyone else finds it so here again is the background to the argument as I understand it:

Per Wikipedia pages on nuke plant economics and insurance it seems to be said that to get plants built and run back in the ’50’s in the U.S. Congress had to indemnify owner/operators for the losses/liabilities they might suffer *above and beyond* what self-insurance they could get afford or what private third-party insurance they could get.

So the U.S. Congress did via an “Indemnity Act.”

Originally it was thought to be needed for only a decade or so until nuke power proved its safety and could thus afford/attract enough insurance on its own to ensure owners/builders/operators to go forward with their nuke plants. But, it is further said, this didn’t turn out to be so. The Act was then extended for awhile, and then extended again, and only recently in fact was extended again to 2017 I think it said.

Alright, so here then is the anti-nuke argument from this as I further gather:

Given that there’s no rock on which God has written how much risk from various ventures societies should allow, the way we essentially—and effectively— decide the issue for most if not all other things is ask that they be safe enough to either be self-insurable or insurable via private third-parties. If they can’t, then, the argument goes, that says something very very strong about the risk. Such “not safe enough” ventures don’t go forward, or they collapse from their uncovered liabilities when their lack of enough safety is proven.

I.e., that while *some* people might say that a venture is very very safe or “safe enough” or whatever, *enough* people don’t. Despite an enormous profit potential. If, that is, something is really truly “safe enough,” well then to self-insure would be affordable and the venture would be undertaken. Or third-party insurance would be offered because there are lots of premiums to be earned.

(And if something goes forward without enough insurance, it eventually goes belly-up because of liabilities it hasn’t been able to afford to insure against sufficiently.)

In the nuke power business then, it is observed, owner/operators will not go forward on their own with self-insurance or with the insurance they can get from third-parties. It isn’t enough insurance for them to go forward. They need that gov’t indemnification for the potential liability that *they themselves* perceive might exist out there.

(*Real* potential liability, which is imposed by law in the term of time insurance is issued for. So that, as I see it, this means that hysterical fears by however many people about a venture don’t matter. Insurance only pays out for *actual* liability, not for mere fears. And it only pays out for liabilities the law imposes during the period of time the insurance is good for, with that law being understood or at least taken into account in making insurance decisions beforehand. So, once again to emphasize, this is the owner/operators *themselves* saying apropos of self-insurance that they don’t want to risk what potential liability they see, and third-party insurers not wanting that risk either.)

What more then, the argument goes, is needed to be proven against nuke power? It’s own actual and potential owner/operators don’t feel it’s profitable enough to self-insure and say they also can’t get enough private insurance otherwise. Apparently no matter how much they pay for premiums with what they can afford. (And we’re talking companies like GE here who can afford a lot.)

Thus, unlike the vast majority of other ventures, the argument goes, nuke power says “oh Gov’t, come and subsidize us,” and why should we, it is said? Isn’t the fact that gov’t is needed just a testament to the inability of the owner/operators to prove the *real* safety of what they want to do? (As well perhaps as a testament to the inefficiency of nuke power in the broad sense: After all, it is argued, if it were *that* cheap, then the profits generated would be enough to self-insure or pay high third-party premiums.)

Again, I myself don’t accept this as the final word on nuke power and support the gov’t indemnification of same, but there’s some force to the argument I have to concede.

Now I know that there have been some smart arguments above saying no, there is no force to it for various reasons. But my understanding of those arguments has gotten so tangled that I don’t want to do them a disservice by trying to address them here. So if anyone wants to continue from the above hey, I’m all ears. As I say, it’s interesting to me.

If not though I understand. It was tiresome enough for me writing this! (Which is probably no model of clarity for sure even then.)

In any event, sure appreciate you guys and all your smarts and comments and civility, so thank you….

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John Bennetts said:

“Whether or not the powers that be in Japan have established a voluntary exclusion zone beyond 20km, and for what purposes, is another issue altogether. I have read elsewhere that the reason is difficulty supplying food and water in some areas. I don’t know whether that is true, but it quite possibly has nothing to do with nuclear safety per se.”

Please provide evidence that the reason is difficulty supplying food and water in the 20 to 30 km zone,

and that:

quite possibly the new exclusion out to 30km has nothing to do with nuclear safety per se.

These two aspects are personal unsubstantiated opinion.

The facts as reported are here:

http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201103250391.html

http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201103250204.html

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re post by: Shelby, on 26 March 2011 at 11:31 PM said:

It’s mismanagement that drives fears in the public. It’s not the fear of nuclear energy itself, it’s the fear of the the people in charge of managing its use.

Shelby, I’m sorry but it is abundantly clear that you don’t understand what people are or aren’t afraid of when it comes to all things nuclear. I cannot tell you how many people I have encountered who seriously believe that a single drop of radioactivity – ANY radioactivity – that touches a floor, for example, makes that floor and a large area around it (anywhere from the whole room to literally a mile or more) deadly for thousands of years. Unusable, uninhabitable, and impossible to ‘clean up.’

I have heard this from people who have lived much of their lives within 10 miles of a nuclear plant. That isn’t fear of bad management, that is a complete lack of understanding about the very nature of radioactivity and nuclear power.

No private corporation should police itself at all in any situation when such dangerous technology is used.

This is a huge & blatant strawman. The very article you link to talks about the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. No private corp. in the US that handles radiation polices itself. Nor is that the case in Japan, and I don’t believe it is in any nation.

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@ Mike:

The consequences of humanity forsaking civilian nuclear power would eventually be the fall of industrial civilisation. It is worth a great deal to avoid that. The minor consequences of an occasional accident (which will become even rarer as time goes by) is absolutely inconsequential by comparison.

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Finrod said:

“The consequences of humanity forsaking civilian nuclear power would eventually be the fall of industrial civilisation. ”

This is extremism. There is no point trying to bring pro-nuclear extremists to rational discussion.

I could make points about a preferable path for industrial civilisation, but not in the terms Finrod is operating in.

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This is extremism. There is no point trying to bring pro-nuclear extremists to rational discussion.

I want the whole of humanity to enjoy the benefits of industrial technology with plentiful food, transport, communications, opportunities for trade and travel and the continued improvement of life, along with sufficient reserve capability to manage the environment in a sustainable manner into the indefinate future. If this is extremism, so be it. You will not achieve those goals, either singly or collectively without a long term commitment to the fruits of nuclear power. Take a look at the estimates for how much fuel there is left in terawatt years for various fossil fuel reserves. How long could they all taken together run a 100 terawatt civilisation? That was the figure I chose as a baseline for comfortable continuation of an advanced society of 10 billion people in all my calculations, and I believe it is reasonable. How could any other energy system deliver that level of power? What would the infrastructure requirements be? How much wilderness would need to be sacrificed to do so? Could the resources needed be maintained? With nuclear it’s doable. Renewables could never equal that capability.

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Thanks for the references, Mike.

Did you read them before posting? The first one included exactly the quotation that I had mislaid.

“Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano noted that a growing number of people in the area had expressed a desire to evacuate and that the area was hit by severe disruption of basic services.

“It is becoming difficult for residents to continue living in the area,” he said.

I stated that the evacuation between 20 and 30km perimeters was voluntary and because of matters not directly related to radiation dose, but to services including food and water, perhaps sewage… I don’t know in detail. In other words, basic services.

To get back to where you took us at 11:54 this morning, you have now demonstrated the fallacy in your own position. The increase in evac radius is NOT due to increasing safety concerns, but IS due to “severe disruption of basic services”.

I was and still am pleased to note that the evacuation perimeter has been adjusted to be workable and practical and that locals have been given a choice. I’m even happier to note that this is not evidence of more nuclear gloom and doom, but is actually an indication of normal post-disaster voluntary response until basic services can be restored to pockets of the community.

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I suspect the Tverberg article is probably close to the mark but the public prefer to think otherwise. The table of PV, onshore and offshore wind costs does not appear to be adjusted to equal capacity, say 85%. What I think the public really wants is to believe that wind and solar will step up to the crease (or ‘plate’), that somehow problems and price rises with fossil fuels won’t be too tough and the nuclear monster will be sidelined. I think that belief will only hold up for a couple of years at best.

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Hi folks,

A discussion got started over on the newest plant status thread that was more appropriately carried out here. My post below is a reply to someone over there, shifted from that thread to here.

@bks, El, and of course anyone else interested – let me give an example of the dilution and decay vs. Japanese government ‘limits.’

Let’s take iodine-131 in water as the example. First you have to recognize that the government limits assume that that ALL of the water you ingest comes from a source that contains I-131 at the level detected – for an entire year.

As you all know, I-131 has a relatively short half life of about 8 days. So after 8 days, only half of the initial activity is still there – in other words, the dose you’d get from that same water after 8 days is only half the amount that was announced originally. After another 8 days, only a quarter of the activity remains. So you can see that the dose you could possibly get from water at the initial dose rate reported drops extremely rapidly. By roughly 60 to 80 days, essentially none is left.

The ONLY way that you could reach an unsafe level based on the Japanese government limits, then, is if the amount of I-131 is constantly being added to the water, new I-131, at sufficient levels to make up for that decay rate. That or the original levels have to be SO high, that in the few days you are drinking it, you get enough to give you the same total dose as a year at the limit itself would if you drank it every day for a year.

So, take the I-131 level that was detected in Tokyo, and reported as being twice the ‘safe’ limit for infants. It was detected at that level for only ONE day. The days after that it was back below the limit. To be unsafe, an infant would have to have had all of it’s water coming from that contaminated source, at that same level, for over 183 days before it might (not would) very slightly, theoretically, increase the child’s risk of thyroid cancer. That means the entire 183 days NEW I-131 would have to be added to the water, enough to make up for the rapid decay to keep the level at 2x’s the limit – and the entire 183 days the infant would have to get all of it’s water from that source, no bottled water or juices, no breast milk, etc.

But what really happened? The level was 2x the limit for a single day, iirc, a single measurement that day (e.g., it may not have even been that high for an entire day). After that, it was back below safe limits.

From a Wall Street Journal article written on the day that high level was found (and by the way, they made an understandable error even, as the limit for INFANTS, e.g., under 1 yr, was exceeded, not the limit for children – the I-131 level even that single day wasn’t high enough to be exceeded for children) states (I added the bold):

Radiation Risks in Tokyo’s Water Supply Are Slight, Safety Experts Say

At the highest levels of radiation detected in Tokyo’s water, a normal adult would have to drink about 52 gallons of contaminated water to reach the annual U.S. limit for radiation exposure, according to Peter Caracappa, a clinical professor of nuclear engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

Depending on the other factors that affect any individual’s risk of cancer, the current level of exposure measured in Tokyo’s water might raise the risk of thyroid cancer by four one-thousandth of a percent, Dr. Caracappa said. “If I needed to drink water, at the current levels, I would drink it,” he said. “It is human nature to have an abundance of caution when it comes to children.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703362904576219113172950714.html

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John Bennetts, on 27 March 2011 at 5:07 PM said:

“Thanks for the references, Mike.
Did you read them before posting? The first one included exactly the quotation that I had mislaid.”

Obviously yes.

If you just read half the story, (ie one report) you do get your shortened understanding.

But if you read BOTH , a different picture emerges.

I suggest people read both and then decide whether the spin in one – for the sake of delivery of services – is correct or not.

I think this Ashai Weekly clip [below] probably represents the real context to the changing the exclusion zone parameters:

http://tinyurl.com/4dm4clg

But if you stop at one report – you may have a different view.

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Shelby, Jess, DV82XL, and anyone else here carrying on about ‘open disclosure’ and so on, such as the following comment:

I believe this can be easily resolved simply through requiring open disclosure of the test, maintenance and operations records both by the corporations involved and the regulatory agencies. No need to wait for wikileaks or other leaks – just enforce open disclosure throughout the life of the plant. Those being ‘disclosed’ will scream and rant. Fine. Open it up or shut them down.
Just a thought …
Note: I raise this point in this context as accountability and transparency are key themes which are being pushed hard by Engineers Without Borders. No reason it can’t be applied here as well.

Have any of you so much as bothered to even find out what is already required in this regard, let alone seeing how much ‘screaming’ is or isn’t being done by Nuclear Power Plant operators?

For heaven’s sake, go to NRC.gov, and look around. At least in the USA, absoutely reams of information is, and has been, regularly reported for as long as I can remember. Daily status reports, activity reports, maintenance reports…. just one example, since at least the early 90’s and probably longer than that, every single plant puts together an annual environmental report covering every single aquatic and atmospheric release pathway, biota samples, well samples, and so on, that not only contains the actual data from every pathway, every isotope, but in depth calculations of the hypothetical maximum exposed member of the public and so on.

For heaven’s sake, the reporting requirements that every nuclear plant in the USA meets is absolutely massive. So it just really floors me, and, I’ve got to say, chafes too because the claims are so outrageous compared to reality, when people start carrying on like this.

Just to get you started:
http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/pdr.html

and from http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/ you can find things like:
*daily power reactor status reports
*event notification reports
*daily morning reports
*part 21 reports
*preliminary notification reports

Every plant’s performance in major emergency planning drills and exercises can be accessed: http://www.nrc.gov/NRR/OVERSIGHT/ASSESS/index.html.

and on and on and on. Every power station has on site NRC inspectors and gets offsite inspectors in regularly for all sorts of various inspections – in addition of course to all the self-inspections that they do themselves, to not only ensure that the plant is functioning problems, but to avoid any problems or fines from the NRC.

I mean for heaven’s sake – if a plant has a fire in a trash can in certain areas, even when it is totally isolated and can’t hurt anything, if it isn’t put out within 10 minutes, the plant reports it as a ‘notification of unusual event’ to the NRC, which is the lowest level (1 out of 4 levels) of emergency at a power station. ALL of that information is public. No one is screaming about it.

The reporting requirements, the maintenance requirements, the inspection requirements are all probably far more stringent, and far more public than virtually anything else out there.

Just how much do you want? Especially when it is apparent that reams already readily available isn’t generally being paid any attention to? Worse, when it is noticed, few bother to find out what it really means – all too often it is assumed that if the lowest ’emergency’ reporting level is ‘notification of unusual event’ then, gee, any of those must be really bad!! WRONG. Obviously you don’t want things to occur, but when limits are set so low and so tight, then all too often really minor things get blown vastly out of proportion.

Claims that ‘requiring open disclosure can fix everything’ ring really hollow, seem really absurd, when it is clear that the existing open disclosure isn’t even recognized. Please, folks, how about taking the time to learn a little about these things before trashing the industry?

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re post by: John Bennetts, on 27 March 2011 at 5:07 PM

Mike, John is exactly right – for many days now there have been reports on multiple different articles and sources about difficulties getting basic resources into the area – or even anywhere near – and of folks choosing to leave rather than stay home/shelter, because of problems getting basic resources, food, gas, etc.

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Finrod

Almost everyone would consider that:

“I want the whole of humanity to enjoy the benefits of industrial technology with plentiful food, transport, communications, opportunities for trade and travel and the continued improvement of life, along with sufficient reserve capability to manage the environment in a sustainable manner into the indefinate future.”

But why should you tag this as “extremism”. It is not.

Extremism is saying “if the world does not go nuclear, industrial civilisation will collapse” without any substantiation.

Industrial civilisation will collapse if:

– a large meteor strikes
– greenhouse gases increase exponentially
– nuclear weapons cause nuclear winter

but all these have rigorous science behind them.

Wise people do not say that industrial civilisation will collapse if the world does not use renewables, so why do nuclear proponents?? This shows a loss of perspective.

With further developments and public committment – renewables can produce a suitably liveable world where a similar standard of living can be shared by all and the interests of future generations not jeopardised by unwanted waste dumps.

This is what the public needs.

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Extremism is saying “if the world does not go nuclear, industrial civilisation will collapse” without any substantiation.

Industrial civilisation requires constant power. Fossil fuels cannot keep that provision up for more than a century or two, and have other nasty side effects anyway. Nuclear power can provide our power for hundreds of millions of years. Renewables cannot provide the constant power we need for current population levels at all. If you think this is not so, please explain how renewables can provide us with constant power, using actual numbers.

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sory Mike, but you have to add to

Industrial civilisation will collapse if:
– a large meteor strikes
– greenhouse gases increase exponentially
– nuclear weapons cause nuclear winter

– we run out of fuel

or, if you prefer, take off “industrial” before the three events you listed: those will put an end to any kind of civilization, because they would alter substantially many or all the conditions that permit the very life on this planet.

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Finrod, on 27 March 2011 at 7:35 PM said:

“Renewables cannot provide the constant power we need for current population levels at all. If you think this is not so, please explain how renewables can provide us with constant power, using actual numbers.”

This is the problem with extremists. They make up straw-figures for their own convenience. I do NOT support the deliberately false contention that:

“renewables cannot provide constant power for current population”

And no one has made this claim (although some extremist may have).

Renewables, [NB] with future R&D, can provide constant power for a population (whatever it is at the time). This is a more balanced view.

The fuel cell entry in Wikipedia will give some data indicative of our future. If Phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFC) emerge as a key option, generation costs per Watt will be around $4-4.5, and with roll-out this will fall.

Submarines, cars, boats and buses can all run on fuel cells, even now.

There are many other types of renewables that you have been pointed to in other threads. Have you been closing your eyes?

But we need the R&D.

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BerGonella, on 27 March 2011 at 7:55 PM said:

“…you have to add

– we run out of fuel”

I agree, but only renewables do not have this problem.

In any case its more a problem of associating two variables – population and industry growth, to fuel supply, costs and risks.

Taking a long-term view will produce a different conclusion than taking a short-term view.

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mike, sorry again but… R&D needs power, and it needs now and tomorrow. to grant this power one cannot loan it from a future output, one needs to have it at once.
and so, in order to achieve in n years whatever good fruit from R&D, the actual R&D sustainability (together with all the other needs of modern civilization) has to be granted by a constant energy production, the steadiness of which, until now and more important until we reach the first viable new result in energy production, is and will be granted *only* by fossil or nuclear fuel.
that’s all.

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BerGonella, on 27 March 2011 at 8:47 PM said:

[large amount of unsubstantiated personal opinion]

Thanks for your views. With R&D, including government support, and community education, we can phase in renewables and phase out fossil.

There is no need to increase nuclear, and as palnts are decommissioned, we have the option of phasing out nuclear as well.

The only issue is cost, and I have seen data on some renewables showing that the costs of renewables tend to fall. PV cells for example.

The various other forms of renewables, a wide range, which have been cited on this cite, appear likely to continue to achieve viability. But to make renewables viable, democracy may need to deliberately close down nuclear for the good of future generations.
MODERATOR
Open Thread has relaxed rules regarding opinion,comment etc as this is for discussion, supposition etc. Ad homs/rudeness/incivility however, even on Open Thread, may result in permanent moderation.

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But to make renewables viable, democracy may need to deliberately close down nuclear for the good of future generations.

sory, cannot see the logic behind it: that a democracy (?) could deliberately close down a reliable source of energy and at the same time push the research on other sources to the maximum possible results looks to me pretty difficult.
I mean, one has to eat, wash, move and be warm and dressed too, during the process….

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re post by: Mike, on 27 March 2011 at 8:37 PM said:

Mike, so long as R & D is needed for something to be viable, it is NOT viable. It is hypothetical, pure and simple – no matter how much anyone might wish it to be otherwise.

No one has a crystal ball to be able to KNOW that with R&D something will work – let alone that it will be sufficient to produce reliable energy at reasonable prices. Its imaginary, until and IF it is ever developed to the point of actually being commercially viable on a large scale.

Fusion is a prime example. It holds tremendous promise. It has also been on the cusp of our being able to actually use it for over 30 decades now, and yet we still haven’t managed ignition (at least not unless they did so very recently, and think we’d’ve heard it if they had). So, its not a viable replacement for anything yet. It cannot be counted on, AT ALL. Neither can any renewable/green/alternative energy source that still needs R&D. It’s that simple.

Nor does it matter how much money gets thrown at it. Alternatives have had billions of dollars of research put into them over decades now – and yet they aren’t significantly any closer to being prime time. You cannot force scientific breakthroughs. You can’t predict them. You can’t guarantee them.

We would all dearly love for some alternative to work, to be better, cheaper, cleaner than fossil fuels, or even nuclear. We’d all love for green alternative sustainable energy sources to appear and be viable, clean, cheap, abundant, good for the environment, and reliable. But they’re not there yet and have quite a way to go before they are. To count on them at this point is nothing more than wishful thinking.

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Rational Debate, on 27 March 2011 at 9:47 PM said:

I agree, if you need R&D to make something viable, then obviously it is not viable now.

But then, given the progress being made, this is not wishful thinking.

All development and discovery starts like this, and follows an incremental path.

Society has to make this choice based on all the pros and cons.

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Rational Debate, on 27 March 2011 at 3:29 PM said:

re post by: Shelby, on 26 March 2011 at 11:31 PM said:

“It’s mismanagement that drives fears in the public. It’s not the fear of nuclear energy itself, it’s the fear of the the people in charge of managing its use.”

Shelby, I’m sorry but it is abundantly clear that you don’t understand what people are or aren’t afraid of when it comes to all things nuclear. I cannot tell you how many people I have encountered who seriously believe that a single drop of radioactivity – ANY radioactivity – that touches a floor, for example, makes that floor and a large area around it (anywhere from the whole room to literally a mile or more) deadly for thousands of years. Unusable, uninhabitable, and impossible to ‘clean up.’

I have heard this from people who have lived much of their lives within 10 miles of a nuclear plant. That isn’t fear of bad management, that is a complete lack of understanding about the very nature of radioactivity and nuclear power.

No private corporation should police itself at all in any situation when such dangerous technology is used.”

This is a huge & blatant strawman. The very article you link to talks about the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. No private corp. in the US that handles radiation polices itself. Nor is that the case in Japan, and I don’t believe it is in any nation.

—–

RD,

I’m the social scientist, I feel confident that I have a good perspective of what the people think or feel, despite what the physical scientists claim. What all people most fear is the corruption and misconduct and conspiracies of those in power. Despite what you may think, the average person has very keen common sense, it is part of human nature, which includes a general distrust of the authority figures, because of human greed and lust for power, which is something you can’t measure with mathematical / statistical calculations. I maintain people are more afraid of the human mismanagement of nuclear power rather than the nuclear power itself.

As for your “blatant strawman” comment, it is the pro nuclear side that has called for less regulation. I’m merely stating in my opinion there can never be too much regulation, as long as nuclear power plants are the property and responsibility of a for profit corporation. By law, the prime directive of any US corporation is to provide profit for its shareholders. There is NO stipulation of anything else in their corporate charter. Every step from cradle to grave of nuclear power and waste must be regulated in real time as it is happening. Not just after the fact, when they see fit to make a report.

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RD

I would also ad in more direct terms. that TEPCO delayed emergency efforts because they would destroy their reactors, and is not making accurate real time disaster reports because of concern about the depreciation or destruction of capital assets. It now has a conflict of interest between accurately reporting the ongoing situation, and protecting its shareholders. By law (and by greed) it must side with its shareholders.

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To those who insist the future is “doomed” to one outcome or another (especially those who claim its nuclear power or certain doom, but also economic growth or doom, ) I offer this interesting new book. Turns out predicting the future is harder than you think, and the so called “experts” of one field or another are in fact less accurate at predicting the future than those who possess a little knowledge about a lot of things and adjust their opinions and predictions as more information is learned. Also known as “common sense” thinkers.

—–

This is the problem Dan Gardner tackles in “Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better.” Gardner, a Canadian journalist and author of “The Science of Fear,” takes as his starting point the work of Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Beginning in the 1980s, Tetlock examined 27,451 forecasts by 284 academics, pundits and other prognosticators. The study was complex, but the conclusion can be summarized simply: the experts bombed. Not only were they worse than statistical models, they could barely eke out a tie with the proverbial dart-throwing chimps.

The most generous conclusion Tetlock could draw was that some experts were less awful than others. Isaiah Berlin once quoted the Greek poet Archilochus to distinguish between two types of thinkers: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Berlin admired both ways of thinking, but Tetlock borrowed the metaphor to account for why some experts fared better. The least accurate forecasters, he found, were hedgehogs: “thinkers who ‘know one big thing,’ aggressively extend the explanatory reach of that one big thing into new domains” and “display bristly impatience with those who ‘do not get it,’ ” he wrote. Better experts “look like foxes: thinkers who know many small things,” “are skeptical of grand schemes” and are “diffident about their own forecasting prowess.”

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To sum up what I’m getting at;

On one hand you have those who believe in more GDP, more consumption, more productivity (aka more product for less wages), and more energy needs to power the whole machine including fossil and nuclear power.

Vs

those “tree huggers” in society that believe less consuming, less GDP, less pollution, less waste, resulting in lessor energy demands, produced by a larger percentage of renewable energy sources.

We don’t know at this time which side society will trend toward. What we do know is one or the other will (eventually) make more sense to the common man. The consumption peddlers have the upper hand because we live in a world built around their industrialized world view. But in the grand history of great civilizations, that’s a mere 200 year blip on the screen. It could change,

I believe slowing everything down, less is more, will eventually make more sense to the common man. Most of us just want to live small lives, with average comforts, in exchange for reasonable amounts of labor. We share very little in the grand profits of the industrialist / capitalists. There is many signs in our society that the average person grows weary and wary of the so called growth model. To them it just means being on an endless treadmill of working and consuming debt that never really pans out for them. At some point they will no longer believe the carrot and stick that has been used to scare and motivate them.

The motto of this revolution, “Workers of the world, Relax!”

At that point we will have a global reform that will reshape the world in a more social conscious way. But not before the industrialists and so called free market capitalists go down kicking and screaming. They have the most to lose if the world becomes a “less is more” society of lowering GDP in order to raise the general health, wealth, and happiness of the common man.

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I fail to see the conflict between renewables and nuclear, especially LFTR, IFR etc which will burn spent fuel.

Why is it that energy from landfill waste methane is considered green but energy from spent nuclear fule is not?

I believe most if not all on the blog agree we must quit coal ASAP. We already face increasingly severe climate challenges. We need to act now. Nuclear is here now. Renewables will take time. Even if all goes well with renewables it will take decades to replace coal. We can’t afford to wait. So build nukes now to replace coal while pursuing R&D development renewables (and fusion) for the future.

When renewables development gets great results we slow the build of nukes and increase use of renewables. But at least we’re off coal ASAP.

Population pressures are growing and will continue to grow as the current youth have their children. The simple means to ensure fewer children are education and poverty reduction. Poverty reduction requires energy. Lots of energy. Now. There are billions moving to cities and aspiring to better living conditions. They want that power now, and will get that power from coal if no other options are available now. Renewables will take time. So build nukes now to replace coal while pursuing R&D development renewables (and fusion) for the future.

Nuclear currently provides the only responsible energy option we have. We can’t afford to risk the environment by staying on coal.

We can’t afford to risk everything on renewables R&D and the long phase in to replace coal. Pursue it but please don’t bet our fate on its immediate success.

We can’t afford to ignore the plight of those who need power to achieve a reasonably secure life for their children (and to avoid them having many more children if life is not secure).

We need nukes now.

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Re DV82XY Proliferation 

DV82XY

Here is an assessment by some experts from the NRC and Los Alamos entitled “Can Terrorists Build a Nuclear Bomb”

Click to access 13.1.Terror_MarkTaylor1987Can-Terrorists.pdf

The assessment is that a crude bomb is possible but difficult with a fizzle on the order of 100 tons TNT a likely failure mode and a fizzle of a few times the conventional explosive as the low end. The potential for advanced compact designs ruled out but we are not talking about making smaller devices just minimally functional ones.

From this we seem to get back to my original threat definition. There is a good chance that a non state actor can build a device that when detonated will be recognizable as a nuclear device. If they “fail” in design or construction it will not destroy a city but only have tens to hundreds of tons of explosive force. For comparison the US Mk 84 2000 lb bomb has only 945 lbs of explosive filler.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_84_bomb

You are right, it is very very hard to make a city killer but even a failed device will cause massive destruction at the target. Even worse though will be the reaction that a nuclear bomb went off. People will not be comforted by the people saying they didn’t design it right, that it fizzled so it wasn’t really a bomb. “But it was only a little one” will not keep people from panicking in ways and with results that will make 9/11 look like a little tiff. After all from the perspectives of countries that have been living with terrorism for decades all 9/11 was is a one off Black Swan event. I hate to put it that way but from a counterterrorism perspective the similarities are greater than their differences. Or to put it in a more current perspective: think of how much people are freaking out about Fukushima. That is something that can not blow up but evokes the fear of the bomb in a lot of otherwise sensible people an actual bomb, regardless of it’s blast size would have a much more dramatic effect on people and governments.

The degree to which there is a black market in HEU (which I would hardly typify as thriving) is moot. However to the degree that there is one, it would seem it is other states that are buying (read: Iran) it’s, not subnational groups. While I agree that this is a security issue it is hardly the existential threat that it is being advertised to be. This is not to trivialize the problem, just to put it in perspective.
BTW HEU in its just produced form, is not that radioactive, and can be handled with minimum precautions. 

Why is the existence of a black market moot? It increases the motivation for stealing from just ideological to financial as well. There are not a lot of people out there who want to build devices and even fewer who have direct access to fissile materials. If we just had to worry about those people then the issue would be much smaller. There are however enough people who want to make money and do have access to create a black-market. Without this supposedly mooted market the security environment would be much simpler than it is.

What is your source that it is Iran? I am sure they are trying to buy but saying they are the primary buyer is unsupported. If you understand how Iran does it’s covert operations you would know that the difference between Hamas/Hezbollah and Republican Guard Special Operations is small to vanishing at the elite operator level.

It is an existential threat. It is one of the very few “it only takes one” events out there. See conclusion below.

See below for state vs non state 

Enforcement people also must deal with the non fissile trade as well as all the crap that is marketed as useful in making a device but is not. Like irradiated fuel, spent fuel and other wastes. A lot of idiots think a big Geiger reading is good. They might be idiots but they need to be caught and the material recovered anyway. There is the whole dirty bomb issue that must be dealt with. Not as dramatic but a he’ll of a lot more possible and easier to make.

Most research reactors have, or are scheduled to be converted to 20% LEU, that was the outcome of the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit. Furthermore, once fuel has spent even a very short time in the reactor, it is rendered unstable for uhbomb-making, and is somewhat self-protecting due the high radiation it would be emitting. 

It is good that research reactors are being refueled with LEU. Hopefully that will be completed soon AND the HEU removed from the site. I am wary of anything in the future tense since the research reactor which was at greatest risk, now-Serbia’s Vinca, did not have the last fissile material removed until last December. That is nearly twenty years from when it was first at risk, seven of which it was in the middle of one of the most brutal and vicious ethnic wars of the century.

http://www.gsnmagazine.com/article/22099/nnsa_removes_final_shipment_heu_serbia

The real chance that a lash-up device even detonates in a fizzle is vanishingly small. In fact the chemical charge used to attempt to trigger it, is more likely to do more damage, than any fission event. I not sure that those that believe otherwise, understand the just how narrow the parameters are in even a gun-type device. 

There is a big difference between a lash up device and the best efforts of people who have a decent clue of what they are doing. There is even a decent difference between sticking two shapes HEU in lash up gun and what could be thought up by a competent explosives person working only from first principals. It is absolutely amazing what can be done with shock waves.

Once someone has the material making it go boom is essentially an engineering problem. A nuclear physicist can define the parameters of that problem; assembly time, geometry of critical mass, whether a neutron initiator is needed, what modifications can help ie tamper, catcher etc. For a compression device the same thing with different specifics. The physics is out there. The rest is engineering and there are a lot of people who know a lot about explosives, shaped charges and shock waves. There are also other engineering solutions to the physics constraints other than basic gun and soccer ball. 

Click to access 1981ThermoBombBook.pdf

This book talks about compression for fusion weapons but the shock wave theory is analogous to design of a fission device.

I’m not so sure that people are being put in harms way, however the proliferation issues that drive the agencies around the world, are more those that involve state actors. Despite the press, the real concern is nations attaining nuclear state status, than a terrorist with a wet firecracker. 

Yes, the primary geopolitical proliferation issue is getting another nuclear state. A state acquiring material on the black market really only helps them in testing or bluffing. It is not a sound or sustainable strategy to simply buy enough for one bomb without having a viable fuel cycle in place (and thereby being mainly in the second of the two proliferation tracks I wrote about). The only real use a state has for black-market material is to be able to bluff that their fuel cycle is producing fissile material by setting off a detonation before they have really gotten production on line. That is why every state that has announced membership in the nuclear club has set off more that one device as soon as possible.

A non state actor acquiring a device is a threat that needs to have an event occurrence of one in the entire history of the world to be significant.

Simply by analogy to other advesarial enterprises where lots or money and/or radical ideology are present it is safe to assume that people involved in this die even if there is no public documentation of the fact.

You seem to suggest that there isn’t a tight security regime in place, and active at this moment. Russian HEU inventories are being down-blended and burnt in US reactors. Border security in nuclear ‘have’ countries, has been tightened for several years now. 

That was not my intention. My concern is that while new NPS are being built people will be being told simply how much they reduce the proliferation risk. While they do and I in no way dispute that, what people will hear is that this new technology “takes care of” the proliferation threat. That the need to identify and secure un/under secured material, of all kinds, will slip from the public consciousness and that in their zeal to get new, needed NPS on line the pronuclear lobby will denigrate and understate the threat ie “wet firecracker”.

Wow that got long :)

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@Joshua, – The report that you linked to, is first and foremost a political document. It was written to support justify a broad plan to create a nuclear fuel bank.

A nuclear fuel bank is a proposed approach to provide countries access to enriched nuclear fuel, without the need for them to possess enrichment technology. The basic concept is that countries who do have enrichment technology would donate enriched fuel to a “bank”, from which countries not possessing enrichment technology would obtain fuel for their power reactors.

The concept of providing an assured supply of nuclear fuel and thus avoiding the need for countries to build indigenous nuclear fuel production capability has long been proposed as a way to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons and, eventually, eliminate them altogether. Russia, the European Union and the United States. Others have supported various concepts of an international fuel bank. In fact this idea has run hot and cold since 1946 with the proposed Baruch Plan

However many non-nuclear-weapon states have been reluctant to embrace any of these proposals for varying reasons: it advances the commercial and strategic interests of nuclear weapon states to the detriment of non-weapon states; it creates a dependency on a limited number of nuclear fuel suppliers; and would restrict their right to develop nuclear energy on their own.

Now many in the look at that list of complaints, and find much that justified in it. As part of a campaign to increase the urgency of the idea that nuclear fuel must be restricted, the fear of a terrorist nuclear bomb meme was created.

To understand the whole drive to keep a lid on proliferation, one must understand the role of tactical nuclear weapons. The bottom line is that a nation with even a modest arsenal of short-range weapons, is simply impossible to invade, or even threaten with conventional forces, they are the great equalizer. However the original nuclear weapon states of the non- proliferation treaty, also maintain large conventional forces, that they use to project might to meet their geopolitical goals.

For them, every nuclear armed state devalues their conventional forces, and thus lessens their influence, and that is at the root of the non- proliferation regime. All nations know this, and are not ready to give up the possibly of developing a nuclear capability down the line.

Japan, as an example, has maintained the capability of making a weapon in three months or less, while still remaining within the letter of the NPT, and they are not alone. What the proposed Treaty on Fissile Material will do is stop nations from doing this, that is becoming weapon ready. This was the underlying reason to stop the use of HEU in research reactors. Irradiated and used fuel is worthless in a weapon – what was needed was to remove the excuse to maintain an inventory of fresh HEU.

Your belief that a subnational group could make a device is just plain wrong. It took Pakistan 27 years to make a working device starting from scratch, and a gift of HUE from China. The idea that a group like al-Qa’ida could construct device that would attain fission is just unsupportable, and has to be dismissed as propaganda.

Again, if you look closely at the black market in fissile material, you will find that although there have been several interdictions, the end customer has always been a state. Apparently two Pakistani nuclear scientists claim that they had a meeting with Bin Ladin several years ago, and he did not find what they said encouraging. Terrorists aren’t going to waste their time and funds on a project of the size necessary to make a credible nuclear device, when there are easer impromptu weapons (like aircraft) at hand.

To recap: The threat of a subnational actor making a nuclear device is non-existent and for good technical reasons. The illusion of a threat has been raised as propaganda to support the creation of a restrictive fissile materials treaty which itself is not popular with smaller non-nuclear states.

I would suggest that you look deeper into this, and with the above paragraph in mind.

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# Shelby, on 28 March questioned the veracity of negative or doomsday predictions for the future.

I don’t think he /she was claiming to be a climate change sceptic. When predictions for the future are based on hard science or hard economics, backed by ample data, then it is prudent to take note, and adopt sensible measures to avoid or mitigate what can happen.

This applies to climate change science, oil depletion scenarios and the globe’s fragile financial system, all three of which have been studied in depth by many hundreds of professional people who are experts in those fields. In each case it is prudent to take note and at least adopt the precautionary principle, and also know how they may interplay. Our civilisation is complex and dynamic.

That said, I suspect it is true that the majority of negative predictions through history have been based more on fear than fact, often propelled by those having a religious Armageddon headspace. But knowing that should not turn us all into universal sceptics. Bad things can happen.

Even when we may become convinced about a particular futuristic theory, such as human induced climate change, it is a good thing to hold a reserve of radical doubt in our heads to avoid becoming preachy dogmatists.

When we don’t have expertise in any one area (as is the case with the majority of people walking the streets) they best they can do is listen intensively to what is being said and try to make a judgement based on the most credible evidence available. This can be a very difficult thing, we only know too well the extent to which climate science has been tossed around by the media, and we are all aware that there are commercial vested interests out there who at times poke their oar into the fray too.

How many people a few years ago would have predicted that the rising price of food would precipitate the rapid political changes we are now witnessing in North Africa and the Middle East? Not many, but such a scenario had been predicted by experts in that field. I suspect that food politics will dominate in the next few decades, and will be the cause of much global insurrection.

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re post by: Mike, on 27 March 2011 at 10:47 PM said:

But then, given the progress being made, this is not wishful thinking.

All development and discovery starts like this, and follows an incremental path.

Society has to make this choice based on all the pros and cons.

Discovery is rarely steadily incremental – it goes in fits and starts and stops. It often hits brick walls that can’t be gotten around – ever. Or progress continues, but so slowly that it can’t ‘get there’ anywhere near fast enough.

If discovery proceeded as you’re suggesting, we wouldn’t even need alternative energy/sustainable energy sources, because R&D would have made fossil fuels and combustion engines and nuclear power into that already.

Society does have to look at the pro’s and con’s of issues – which is exactly what we are suggesting. If R&D is needed, that’s a huge whopping con. That knocks it out of consideration right off the bat, because of what I’ve already been saying – it can’t be counted on to ever get around the problems to the point of being viable, of being even anywhere near as good as what we’ve already got, or of ever being available on the scale needed without doing more harm than good.

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DV82XL re Possibility of non state actor build D

DV82XL

Yes the geopolitics of the nuclear fuel cycle is a very complicated issue and public and national opinion is managed like in any other policy decision. Your last statement

The illusion of a threat has been raised as propaganda to support the creation of a restrictive fissile materials treaty which itself is not popular with smaller non-nuclear states

Makes it clear that this is a political issue with you not a technical one.

Your statement of flat impossibility implies that you are either a nuclear weapons physicist who knows more than is is presented anywhere in the open literature that I have seen or are simply choosing to interpret possibilities through your own personal bias. If it were a true impossibility then no reputable nuclear physicist would say it was and would be trumpeting it in a great chorus from the rooftops, to do otherwise would be to participate in a great fraud. 

I am curious as about how you support the impossibility of a non state actor creating a primitive device that will not even fizzle. Is the published physics wrong? Is Newtonian mechanics off? Do explosives detonate in some non standard way just because they are in a device? Do shock waves propagate in some esoteric manner through and around fissile material? If you have any documentation about this or to support your claim I would very much like to see it. Please I will be happy to revise my opinion if you can show me some physics or engineering that supports your position. The assertion that “it is impossible” or that the idea created as “propaganda” are simply not persuasive.

As I have said, I am not a weapons designer or builder, nor do I possess or want to possess any great insights into how to build a device. That said, the public ally available physics and the engineering specifications the require are not outside the capabilities of a university with a good materials and mechanical engineering department or outside the capabilities of a covertly assembled lab.

I fear you have over internalized the fanatical terrorist in a cave meme and the grassroots a jihadi bomber meme. While those types do exist they, by definition, are not part of the transnational threat. I do not believe this blog is the right place to educate people on the difference but if I am wrong I will be happy to.**

I think we will just have to agree to disagree since we both find each other absolutely wrong on the basic point of discussion. As you suggest I will look into what the positions have become in the last several years nothing out there said it was impossible while I studied at Johns Hopkins and I have not seen anything since to change my mind. Again if you have some links to support your position, technical or academically well informed, I would be very grateful if you would share them with me. This has certainly been an enjoyable discussion, thank you.

** A quick note because I just can not help myself. It has become normal for people to think only of Al Qaeda and bin Laden when we talk about terrorism there are so many more groups out there. Aum Shinrikyo is widely thought to have a large number of highly educated members including several nuclear physicists. There are a huge number of Islamic terror groups from all walks. Khalid Shiek Muhammad (KSM) the purported mastermind of 9/11 was a member of Lashkar e Taiba a Pakistani group. Iran and Syria train Hezbollah and Hamas operatives to the same levels as their special forces some of them in fact are/were Iranian SF. 

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Damn!!
I forgot to turn off the block quote. DV8XL’s statement ends at “non nuclear states” on line 3 of the block text. The rest is mine.

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