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24 March 2011 @ 08:42 am
Notes on Nuclear Power [Citation Needed]  
... This is just a quick note. No substance, no references, no citations.

A lot of people are up in arms about how the situation in Japan underscores the "dangers of nuclear power".

To this point, the radiation leaked into the environment is minimal. Things are Very Bad Indeed if you're within a certain radius of the plant, but my suspicion is that the increased health risks and hazards caused by this amount of radiation will still be substantially less than those caused by fossil fuel plants.

Let me emphasize this:

The environmental and human impact of a complex of nuclear reactors failing catastrophically after a major disaster is less than that of fossil fuel plants in the regular course of their operation.[Citation Needed]

I will endeavor to find numbers to confirm or deny this next week, after I return home.

Yes, I just used the Lorax as an icon in a possibly-pro-nuclear post.
Pathia Red-Tawnerpathia on March 24th, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
I'm fairly certain coal power plants in particular spew out quite a bit of 'radiation'. Not sure of any sources on it though, I've seen it mentioned frequently in the last few days.
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!fengi on March 24th, 2011 04:39 pm (UTC)
As far as I've determined, that's a disputed claim which involves comparing large amounts of raw coal ash to the radiation produced by properly stored nuclear waste.

The reason nuclear energy has a good safety record and radiation pollution is currently less of a threat is the industry has better controls in relation to the risk it presents (making it less economically viable so the industry is constantly undermining it).

The pollution from other sources doesn't prove radiation is a neglible harm, it means those other sources are in dire need of equall strict regulation and control as nuclear power.

This comparison arguement is like saying more people get die in cars than planes so plane crashes aren't actually dangerous. Or saying a series of near misses at stop signs there's no reason to slow down.

The failures in Japan were a lucky near miss, not proof radiation doesn't matter. Japan's safety standard is higher than most, and they still made bad decisions and errors.

Critics of nuclear power aren't all or nothingm, they're concerned about rational high safety standards not being consistently followed, especially when plants are built near fault lines.
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!fengi on March 24th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
That's one massive "citation needed". I think this falls into the range of statements which one shoudn't offer - let alone in bold increased size - until after one has presented clear evidence. I suspect this is going to involve a lot of caveats, dubious comparisons and selective data.

In short: Chernobyl.
Hinoki D'Cheetahhinoki on March 24th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
An improper comparison, as the Soviet RBMK-style reactor had no shielding.. unlike the Japanese reactors. Moreover, they were shown to have cut any and all safety protocols in the course of daily operation.

A more apt comparison would be "3 Mile Island" which was a pressurized water reactor of similar design to the Japanese model. In both cases, the radiation release was minimal.

It is also important to note that the Japanese nuclear reactors had only their primary cooling system fail due to the earthquake. The secondary system snapped in exactly as it ought. The diesel generators failed when they were flooded by the Tsunami.

The failure in design was not with the reactor, but with the secondary power supply; they clearly did not take enough precautions isolating the diesel generators from any and all disturbances. They could easily have adapted a strategy not unlike what we used for diesel submarines in order to provide secondary power; instead, they went with a strategy not unlike the 'boxcar'.. a diesel engine stuck in a box alongside the facility or thereabouts.

Moonfire: seriousmoonfires on March 24th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
It was a failure in site planning. The reactors themselves were at sea level and the generators in the basement, below sea level.
Hinoki D'Cheetahhinoki on March 24th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC)
No argument there regarding site planning, but even that could've been accounted for if they'd used a backup power supply that was designed to be, if not directly submerged.. indirectly. Like that in a submarine.

They certainly designed a core and supporting superstructure that withstood the earthquake. It was the Tsunami that bit them in the arse on this one.
Moonfiremoonfires on March 24th, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC)
Submarine power supplies are designed to work underwater, but still inside the dry confines of the sub :>
Hinoki D'Cheetahhinoki on March 24th, 2011 04:42 pm (UTC)
*grin* That's why I said 'indirectly' submerged. Stick the backup power supply in a shell that's designed to get wet, so that the PS doesn't. :)
Moral Explorernotthebuddha on March 25th, 2011 09:38 am (UTC)
It's nothing like the "Chernobyl" tragedy so far; no structural fires, no significant escape of long-lived isotopes, no dangerous exposures, let alone fatal ones. The overzealous order to evacuate nearby hospitals even of very ill people that shouldn't have been moved and whatever traffic accidents the departing inhabitants have had have been the only source of casualties not caused by the tsunami itself.
Moral Explorernotthebuddha on March 25th, 2011 10:11 am (UTC)
Checking back, I see there were injuries reported from one of the hydrogen explosions. I am not able to find if these injures were severe enough to count as casualties, FWIW.
Paka: pied crowpaka on March 24th, 2011 04:05 pm (UTC)
My gut feeling, too, has always been that no, nuclear power isn't a great solution - it's a limited resource and when it goes boom it really goes boom - but you have to get power from somewhere, and I'd far rather it be a nuclear source if you're not going for geothermal/solar/hydroelectric power. And what Pathia said; f'rex people in Arizona have health problems resulting from Uranium mining, but compare that to the much greater health and natural problems from coal mining throughout Appalachia, and that's before you stick the stuff in a plant and start spewing junk.
Hinoki D'Cheetahhinoki on March 24th, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
Again, that depends on the design of the reactor itself.

There are designs now that we COULD build (but are not being allowed to) that are a whole helluva lot safer than the pressurized water reactor. We could go with a Pebble Bed type, or any of the others.

Calculated nuclear waste on the newer designs is like a single soda-can of waste a year, last I'd heard.

Instead, due to the hysteria, the innovation and progress has been rather stifled and we're stuck using reactors built in the 70's and 80's, that had been designed in the 60's and 70's using antiquated design and fabrication methods.

Hinoki D'Cheetahhinoki on March 24th, 2011 04:23 pm (UTC)
Just a fast pass through google yielded this interesting comparison..

Death Rate from Nuclear Power vs. Coal, as compared in Watt/seconds.


I'll find more in a bit. :)
Paka: borophaguspaka on March 24th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the information!

Also, the obvious bleeding heart liberal comments to make here are that, the same way I've noticed we aren't literally dismantling mountains in the west, I've noticed that we don't have troops overseas dying to make sure we have a supply of Uranium, and that as odious as I find some Arizona politicking, it's a lot less obnoxious than maintaining a good diplomatic relationship with good folks like Saudi Arabia.
one in a billionsiege on March 24th, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC)
This link alone is worth passing on. Thanks for finding it.
one in a billionsiege on March 24th, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC)
Er, and I mean "so are the others, but this one is so clear and obvious that it deserves its own post".
Hinoki D'Cheetahhinoki on March 24th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
Paka, here's a link to a basic comparison on the RBMK style vs. LWR (LightWater Reactors).


Also check out the link I put in a bit lower down.. dealing with the # of deaths per watt/seconds across coal, oil, and nuclear.

Terminotaur: Science 1terminotaur on March 24th, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC)
I don't have the time to go looking, but this might be a start to your searching...

Of course you will also have to assess the potential catastrophic failure situation you talk of as well.
Moonfiremoonfires on March 24th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC)
The biggest problem with nuclear reactors is spent fuel storage. Many reactors are reaching their limit of on-site storage, and the federal government is years late in opening up a national storage site due to lots of NIMBY and politicking.
We spent billions on a repository that might not even be used.
Hinoki D'Cheetahhinoki on March 24th, 2011 04:41 pm (UTC)

This is the product of the hysteria regarding nuclear power, though. Had the new designs of reactors been allowed to be constructed, a lot of that spent fuel could have been cycled through them.

But, since the anti-nuclear activists went bonkers... we're stuck with what we have.

A few good breeder reactors could use the spent fuel and cycle it back into something usable in a pebble bed, for example. Instead.. we're stuck with spent fuel pools.

Heck, we weren't even allowed to build the newer reactors that don't even REQUIRE spent fuel storage.

Yucca Mountain is just one symptom of an over-arching fear-based problem.
Hafochafoc on March 25th, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
Nuclear power is scary. You are using facts and logic so you must be one of them there libruls or commonists or natseys or something.
Hafochafoc on March 25th, 2011 12:10 am (UTC)
...although to be fair to the antinuke crowd, I would have to agree with them about the TYPE of reactor.

With all the different, safer nuclear reactor designs that have been developed since, our power reactors are STILL all just remakes of a 1952 submarine engine. There's no possible reactor design in the world less refined and more primitive than that...

...except the 1942 graphite-core type, designed to produce bomb-making material, that the Russians tried to use to generate electricity. And we all know what happened with that one.
SilverClawbfdragon on March 25th, 2011 01:23 am (UTC)
Err.. isn't it that "Certain Radius" that we are worried about?

Also, many elements that are potently part of the fallout act differently in the body then the carbon-14 that is in the coal. Iodine-131 for instance tends to concentrate in the thyroid. The problem isn't just for people, but for the pants and animals that make up the food we eat.
Hinoki D'Cheetahhinoki on March 25th, 2011 03:01 am (UTC)
The problem isn't just for people, but for the pants and animals...

Wait, what? When did we start eating the pants off of the animals?!

(I'm SO sorry.. but I spit-took when I read that and simply couldn't resist...)

Moral Explorernotthebuddha on March 25th, 2011 09:49 am (UTC)
Iodine-131's half life is 8 days; that means in 90 days, it will have diminished to 1/2000 of its previous amount, and will be essentially undetectable in 90 more. You'll lose the season's crops for human consumption, but you might can salvage some value by converting to feed for the animals you'll have to postpone slaughtering for about the same time.

As for wildlife, which ones does Japan have that live long enough to get cancer that might be in the area? Tortises and maybe dolphins, anything unreplaceable?
Vargrvrghr on March 25th, 2011 02:32 am (UTC)
Hmm... Not sure the difference is quite that extreme. Here a rather excellent chart though, that shows relative exposures from a variety of sources:


While perhaps your assertion of the difference between coal fired emissions and those of the damaged reactors isn't quite accurate, according to the link, it DOES show that a whole lot of other exposures that we ignore or take for granted are far stronger. Yup, there's a whole lot of 'hysteriaizin' goin' on!