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Brit Writer Goes Pro-Nuke.
March 22, 2011 7:17 PM   Subscribe

Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power Brit writer raises interesting points.
posted by goalyeehah (403 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I assume this is an invitation to have that nuclear policy discussion we've all been waiting for?
posted by anthill at 7:25 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Brit Writer, paranormal investigator extraordinaire.

No problem is too freaky for Brit Writer.
posted by Wataki at 7:26 PM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

It really is amazing that this wasn't a much worse disaster. With the advent of thorium reactors, nuclear power should only get safer.
posted by splatta at 7:27 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


He's about as prominent a green public voice as we have in the UK, so this is a bit of a thing.
posted by Abiezer at 7:37 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


His logic: "No one's died yet, so its okay!"
I'm not disagreeing with the fact that it's wonderful and surprising that the failsafes worked to prevent deaths (thus far). I just wish he would have expanded more on the other aspects of nuclear power. There's more to the argument than what he covered.
posted by shesaysgo at 7:37 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


As Abiezer says, Monbiot has been at the forefront of green issues for decades, so this is a big deal.
posted by unSane at 7:39 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's George Monbiot, that is, that Brit writer.
posted by motty at 7:39 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why Greens are so against nuclear power. Don't they help reduce emissions?
I grew up in Connecticut. There were tons of nuclear power plants and I never felt less than safe.

Still, good luck getting through to nuclear opponents. Seems most of their arguments are based on pure fear. Will probably be a few generations until Aus has nuclear power.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:42 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Seems most of their arguments are based on pure fear.

No, the straw-men arguments are. And plenty of people are afraid, but there are issues other than fear.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:44 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


As touched on in the radiation chat FPP the worst case would be a large scale release of long lived radioactive particles across a large swathe of the enviroment -AKA the big ass Chernobyl Cloud. Whether or not that happens seems like a better measure of success than any immediate deaths.
posted by Artw at 7:45 PM on March 22, 2011


I note my browser tab for the article is showing the truncated title "Why Fuk...", which is also an interesting question.
posted by Abiezer at 7:46 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't they help reduce emissions?

CO2 emissions certainly. They do come with their own by-product issues.

I grew up in Connecticut. There were tons of nuclear power plants and I never felt less than safe.

Those tons of nuclear plants have produced tons of radioactive waste, which is presently sitting in temporary facilities waiting for a long-term storage solution which will probably never happen.
posted by pompomtom at 7:49 PM on March 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


I've read claims of at least five dead workers.

For the massive amounts of energy the plant produced, it has caused very little harm even after the worst that could be thrown at it.

Nuclear energy has proven itself safe.

What turns out to be unsafe is allowing a for-profit corporation to run a nuclear plant.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:49 PM on March 22, 2011 [24 favorites]


There seem to be quite a few pro-nuke greens these days, James Lovelock being possibly the earliest and more prominent amongst them. Me, I think it's an argument with a fair bit of merit, though I'm more keen on wind power.
posted by Artw at 7:51 PM on March 22, 2011


One thing that certainly hasn't helped is Nuclears history as a means of making bomb material - something a lot of the more modern and safe designs are less useful for.
posted by Artw at 7:54 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


For the rest of this thread, I'm going to replace "brit" with "ghost".

Everybody knows that ghost writer would get to the bottom of this in 53 minutes, easy.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:57 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure why Greens are so against nuclear power. Don't they help reduce emissions?

Carbon emissions aren't the only environmental issue.

What turns out to be unsafe is allowing a for-profit corporation to run a nuclear plant.

So you're saying all we have to do is solve the problem of capitalism, and we're all set...
posted by gerryblog at 7:59 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh, so they got to him too.

I don't know how anyone can be sanguine at this moment. Get back to me in a decade or two and tell me it's all fine.
posted by spitbull at 7:59 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Those tons of nuclear plants have produced tons of radioactive waste, which is presently sitting in temporary facilities waiting for a long-term storage solution which will probably never happen.

there are a bunch of researches in Australia who I think are working on turning nuclear waste into some sort of ceramic?

and why won't a 'long term storage solution' happen? hell why not just hurl them into the sun or into deep space?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:00 PM on March 22, 2011


Get back to me in a decade or two and tell me it's all fine.

I'd be content to wait until the immediate crisis is resolved.
posted by gerryblog at 8:02 PM on March 22, 2011


James Hansen is another supporter of nuclear power.

Barry Brook is a prominent Australian academic who advocates the same thing. He has costings comparing the cost of nuclear to other low C02 emitting sources.
posted by sien at 8:03 PM on March 22, 2011


I am under the impression that the seawater is returning to sea after it passes through the core or pond.

That alarms me. Would that not cause an oceanic Chernobyl?

The Pacific atolls took a nuclear shit-kicking and turned out… ok?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:03 PM on March 22, 2011


Me, I think it's an argument with a fair bit of merit, though I'm more keen on wind power.

Monbiot does touch on some of the serious issues with wind (and hydro and solar) in this piece, and I have to agree that they're real concerns. I'm not exactly sold yet - it still seems to me that the worst-case failure mode for nuclear is so extraordinarily bad, and the problem of waste disposal so unpleasant, that I really ought to listen to the "hold on a minute here" voice in the back of my head. But I'm forced to admit that there's merit to a lot of pro-nuclear arguments I've been hearing lately from people like Monbiot.

and why won't a 'long term storage solution' happen? hell why not just hurl them into the sun or into deep space?

So aside from capitalism, we now also need a cheap, routine solution to getting stuff out of Earth's gravity well, eh?
posted by brennen at 8:03 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


hell why not just hurl them into the sun or into deep space?

Yes. That doesn't invite a global contamination at all. Rocket launches have a great track record. Just ask Christa McAuliffe.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:08 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am under the impression that the seawater is returning to sea after it passes through the core or pond.

That alarms me. Would that not cause an oceanic Chernobyl?


The ocean is already a giant reservoir of naturally-occurring radiation. Returning the seawater from cooling the plants is a drop in the (proverbial, actual) ocean.
posted by axiom at 8:09 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nice use of XKCD to support his points..
posted by kuatto at 8:12 PM on March 22, 2011


That alarms me. Would that not cause an oceanic Chernobyl?

Well, by "oceanic Chernobyl" you mean a large area where radiation is more or less permanently too high for humans to live safely, and plants/animals that do live there end up radioactive and hobbled by mutations, then... probably not. My guess is it'll be diluted into the oceans as a whole, eventually. Not that that's a good thing, but it won't look like Chernobyl.

And of course it depends on how much and what type of radioactive stuff the water has in it.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:12 PM on March 22, 2011


it still seems to me that the worst-case failure mode for nuclear is so extraordinarily bad, and the problem of waste disposal so unpleasant, that I really ought to listen to the "hold on a minute here" voice in the back of my head.

True, it is bad. Provably so. But we also haven't seen the worst-case failure mode for petroleum yet - I don't even think we know what the worst could be. We could have lost an entire ecosystem last year, that's pretty bad. The problem with nuclear is that it's impossible to dispose of the evidence like say, crude and Corexit.

What turns out to be unsafe is allowing a for-profit corporation to run a nuclear plant.

I don't know, some state-run reactors have proven to be pretty shoddy.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:14 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


NEWS ADVISORY: No. 2 reactor power repair work halted, 500 millisievert per hr radiation found. This comes from Kyodo News at 11:08 pm. Just a headline at the moment. Maybe somebody should send Monbiot a copy of the collected works of Wendell Berry.
posted by Karmadillo at 8:15 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


hell why not just hurl them into the sun or into deep space

The payload of an Atlas Rocket (the one used in the Apollo missions) is about 103,617.263 pounds. The Fernald Feed Materials Production Center in Ohio alone stores around 2.5 billion pounds of waste. I'm assuming that sending stuff up there wouldn't be very cost effective. And that is without contemplating the damage what would happen if a rocket that size, filled with nuclear waste, exploded over Florida.
posted by Omon Ra at 8:16 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


The worst-case scenario for hydro is pretty damn ugly. Can you imagine the cascading disaster the Columbia River represents? It'd look a lot like a tsunami.

There is no worse case scenario for coal. It is the worst case. The emissions, omg. We were very, very stupid.

Come to think of it, I suppose the worst case scenario for petroleum (global climate instability) and worst case scenario for nuclear (global nuclear poisoning) amount to much the same in the end.

I'm relieved to hear there's no need to panic about the seawater.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:18 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


C/petroleum/hydrocarbons/
posted by five fresh fish at 8:20 PM on March 22, 2011


hell why not just hurl them into the sun or into deep space?

More specifically, it's expensive, a lot of communities probably won't put up with having radioactive waste trucked or trained through them, and a launch failure could lead to waste being scattered across land, water, or in the air.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:22 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


there are a bunch of researches in Australia who I think are working on turning nuclear waste into some sort of ceramic?

Already done, but it'll still be radioactive waste.

and why won't a 'long term storage solution' happen?

Politics, mostly.

hell why not just hurl them into the sun or into deep space?

Cost, danger, politics. The usual things.
posted by pompomtom at 8:23 PM on March 22, 2011


Yucca Mountain is a pretty decent solution until we can space elevator it into orbit for sun disposal or whatever.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:23 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nuclear plants as implemented can not fail to render themselves useless as power producers and liabilities as clean up sites if they fail to have reliable and large electricity supplies 100% of the time. Earthquakes and tsunamis are threats, but all similar plants would behave like these plants without electricity.

Nuclear plants do not have the ability to attract private investments without subsidies at levels that render the involvement of private funds as possibly only detrimental in adversely affecting safety margins in initial engineering decisions.

The waste produced requires a real solution, and the waste itself is currently being stored in one of the possibly most dangerous places right now, for reasons that need to be seriously analyzed to avoid future similar ridiculously bad errors.

If you believe nuclear plants answer part of our energy production needs in the future then we need to manage the risks in a new way, and part of that is the fact that private operation means incentives can drive systems toward decisions that may not be the correct engineering decisions if we do honest failure analysis of the existing spectrum of failures.

It might be that nuclear plants producing electricity may represent risks so large that private funding is not viable for engineering and investment reasons, and if it is vital, then the state may be the only entity large enough to assume the financial, environmental, and social risks.

If someone is going to argue for electricity generation via nuclear reactors, then you have to build a new model, in all aspects of plant design, finance, emergency response, and social commitment.

I believe that is possible, but I don't see any of the parties involved working towards these goals.

End of policy points.
posted by dglynn at 8:24 PM on March 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


The horrifying fact of coal is that even if we had a nuclear meltdown every decade that killed 100 000 people, it would still be better than coal.
posted by mek at 8:24 PM on March 22, 2011 [40 favorites]


I don't know why there's such a big no-nuclear policy in Australia. It's not like there would even be a China syndrome problem if there was a catastrophic meltdown because, being at the bottom of the world, the reactor could just be detached and fall away into space.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:26 PM on March 22, 2011 [25 favorites]


and why won't a 'long term storage solution' happen? hell why not just hurl them into the sun or into deep space?

Stupidest thing I've read all day. Which is saying a lot. It's precisely this kind of idiocy that reminds me why humans probably shouldn't be allowed to breed, and to pray for the next ice age to wipe us all out.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:29 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not like there would even be a China syndrome problem if there was a catastrophic meltdown because, being at the bottom of the world, the reactor could just be detached and fall away into space.

Think harder. Look at a globe. It'd totally scrape Tasmania on the way out... and they've got enough mutation problems already.
posted by pompomtom at 8:30 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah you're right it would totally give Tasmania a Brazilian.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:33 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

In the other thread I just analyzed the latest data dump from NISA here.

Salient facts to me was that I see they are pumping 300 liters/minute through Unit 1 and perhaps 180 liters through 2 & 3.

Also, it appears the reactor pressure vessels for Units 2 & 3 are compromised, as are their torus steam suppression vessels.

There are approximately 1500 fuel assemblies in these 3 reactors, each assembly has 180kg of uranium, plutonium, and fission byproducts. That is 270 tonnes of contaminants being flooded with 180 to 300 liters/minute of seawater, said seawater apparently being vented back out into the ocean since all of the steam suppression chambers are now useless AFAICT.

And we still don't know what happened to Units 2 & 3's spent fuel pools, what's left of them at least.

These had another 2000 fuel assemblies, 90% of which were loaded up with plutonium and other radioctive contaminants.

Oh, and TEPCO just got around to informing the press yesterday that readings out in the ocean were getting kinda high for cesium and iodine isotopes.

Not a word about plutonium. Makes one wonder.

Believe it or not, I'm still all for nuclear power, but not 1970s nuclear power, only reactors we can unplug and walk away from. Even then Murphy's Law still applies, but I think if we need energy, we need to explore all viable options.
posted by mokuba at 8:34 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's really interesting how the second worse nuclear accident in history is bringing out the pro-nuke people in droves, more so than the anti-nuke people. At least, on the Internet, which is sort of its own insular world of clean and bright technophiles.
posted by stbalbach at 8:36 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Thanks Karmadillo. There's another story, just after that:

"NEWS ADVISORY: Financial support for Tokyo Electric to total up to 2 tril. yen"

Many of you seem to be, if you'll excuse me, completely batshit insane. How did we, as a society, come to believe we're entitled to consume an amount of energy that involves these risks?

As a society, we're like a teenager who thinks he's immortal, racing a car we haven't paid for yet 120 miles an hour down a road we've never driven before. The weather's closing in, night is coming, and the conversation is about whether such a thing as a "curve" could ever really happen, and how only idiots think we should turn on the headlights...

Look around you, at your home, your community. Do we really need this much energy to live decent lives -- at this much risk?
posted by namasaya at 8:38 PM on March 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


Not me. I turn off lights pretty much everywhere I go. I'm like the Dad of the whole world.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:40 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm still all for nuclear power, but not 1970s nuclear power

Then your really against nuclear energy, because 1970s nuclear power is what we got. Most people talk about nuclear in a dream world utopia, not the real world of 100s of eroding reactors waiting to go boom all over the world.
posted by stbalbach at 8:40 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


As a society, we're like a teenager who thinks he's immortal, racing a car we haven't paid for yet 120 miles an hour down a road we've never driven before. The weather's closing in, night is coming, and the conversation is about whether such a thing as a "curve" could ever really happen, and how only idiots think we should turn on the headlights...

We should be like the teenager who says 'fuck it, i'm going to die anyway. Live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse'. Let's not ruin our time on earth by being 'careful' and turning out all the lights and making sure not to cut down and trees or piss off any animals. We're going to die anyway. Let's die while remaking the world in OUR image. We've come so far! Let's not go backwards.

Besides, except for Australia and a few other countries most of the world ALREADY USES NUCLEAR POWER. It's mostly a settled question.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:41 PM on March 22, 2011


Many of you seem to be, if you'll excuse me, completely batshit insane. How did we, as a society, come to believe we're entitled to consume an amount of energy that involves these risks?

'Entitled'? who are we supposed to answer to? God? Gaia? Captain Planet?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:42 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


My mate Ben Heard summed up close to my thoughts on nuclear power at the BraveNewClimate blog sien has already linked to.
posted by wilful at 8:44 PM on March 22, 2011


Besides, except for Australia and a few other countries most of the world ALREADY USES NUCLEAR POWER.

With respect: bollocks.
posted by pompomtom at 8:45 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most people talk about nuclear in a dream world utopia, not the real world of 100s of eroding reactors waiting to go boom all over the world.

FWIW, the general apologist argument that Fukushima isn't so bad now does have some merit. Maybe if the wind was blowing the other way when Unit 3 exploded and 4 burned itself up, they wouldn't be able to wheel this one out, dunno.

I think we need to pursue (as in research) pebble bed, molten salt, thorium fuel cycle, etc.

Energy is power x time. And power is power, ya know?
posted by mokuba at 8:45 PM on March 22, 2011


And as an aside, that refinery that blew up on the day of the earthquake didn't look like any prize, either, in case anyone thought I was not being fair about the relative risks of other choices.
posted by dglynn at 8:46 PM on March 22, 2011


Many of you seem to be, if you'll excuse me, completely batshit insane. How did we, as a society, come to believe we're entitled to consume an amount of energy that involves these risks?

if you're talking long-term, and talking fossil fuelled power, I agree with you. But that doesn't help us one little bit, not here and not now. If you accept that power consumption will for the foreseeable future remain in the same broad parameters that it has till now, then you have to try and find the safest, greenest (across all metrics), affordable power source. Based on the evidence before me, that's Gen 3+ and Gen 4 nuclear power.
posted by wilful at 8:47 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The horrifying fact of coal is that even if we had a nuclear meltdown every decade that killed 100 000 people, it would still be better than coal.
posted by mek at 8:24 PM on March 22


There you go.

Conserve, yes. Explore alternatives, yes. Concerned about radioactivity? Then shut down coal plants. Coal plants produce 100X the radioactivity that nuclear plants do, per KwH produced. But it is "dispersed" rather than concentrated.

I'd rather my energy be produced via wind, solar, etc., but given the choice between burning fossil fuels or nuclear, I'd choose nuclear.

Even if it were in my "back yard."

[caveat: but not if my back yard were owned by an unregulated corporation pursuing profits over safety, thank you]
posted by yesster at 8:47 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


pompomtom, how many G20 countries use nuclear power? Nineteen.
posted by wilful at 8:48 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Most of the world?"
posted by pompomtom at 8:49 PM on March 22, 2011


well, the nicer bits.
posted by wilful at 8:50 PM on March 22, 2011


Would that not cause an oceanic Chernobyl?

Maybe worse, since pollution is amplified up through the food chain. That's why mercury in the ocean water is almost unmeasurable, but in fish is very high. Previous post about whales and heavy metal uptake.
posted by stbalbach at 8:50 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Could we just farm all our fish? or grow them in vats?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:52 PM on March 22, 2011


well, the nicer bits.

the civilized bits?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:53 PM on March 22, 2011


stbalbach, that's a bit ignorant. I don't know if radioactive elements are bioaccumulative pollutants, but it doesn't sound like you do either.
posted by wilful at 8:55 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stupidest thing I've read all day. Which is saying a lot. It's precisely this kind of idiocy that reminds me why humans probably shouldn't be allowed to breed, and to pray for the next ice age to wipe us all out.

Be nice. There's no need for that.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:55 PM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm a bit surprised that this whole event hasn't generated more discussion about geothermal energy, particularly as it relates to countries sitting on the Ring of Fire.

But what do I know?
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:55 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


To back up my previous post:

In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.


Source: Scientific American. 12-13-2007.
posted by yesster at 8:57 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


We're going to die anyway. Let's die while remaking the world in OUR image. We've come so far! Let's not go backwards.

Some of us like to try to minimize the amount of suffering and harm we cause.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:58 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


My mate Ben Heard summed up close to my thoughts

curious.

but contributed no deaths, minimal injuries in the context of the catastrophe, and environmental impacts that will likely be transitory and local.

The NRC authorized TMI to release 40,000 gallons of core coolant into the environment. Nuclear proponents say that was no big deal and I lack the data to challenge that so whatever.

Presently, TEPCO is apparently shooting ~16,000 gallons a day through three damaged reactor cores and AFAIK has not said where this water is going. But we do now know that cesium-137 levels are 25X above regulatory limits in the ocean around the plant.
posted by mokuba at 8:58 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


More spinach, George? And maybe a nice tall glass of that Ibaraki milk to wash it down?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:00 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some of us like to try to minimize the amount of suffering and harm we cause.

I do to. Suffering to humans.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:01 PM on March 22, 2011


stbalbach, that's a bit ignorant. I don't know if radioactive elements are bioaccumulative pollutants, but it doesn't sound like you do either.

Granted it's an educated guess, but a good one, since radiation is effecting the food supply on land, why wouldn't it in the ocean also? Is spinach on land any different from seaweed in the ocean when it comes to being irradiated? Are plankton immune from becoming radioactive? Really, it seems so obvious I think we would need to see evidence to the contrary.
posted by stbalbach at 9:03 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Come to think of it, I suppose the worst case scenario for petroleum (global climate instability) and
> worst case scenario for nuclear (global nuclear poisoning) amount to much the same in the end.
> posted by five fresh fish at 11:18 PM on March 22 [2 favorites +] [!]

Chances are excellent that any and every solution to the problem "enough energy for nine billion people" has a catastrophic outcome.
posted by jfuller at 9:05 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Be nice. There's no need for that.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints

Yes that was rude of me, and said in anger. I apologize.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:06 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are some fabulous ideas coming up in this thread. Let's put them all together. We should build a giant mining spaceship with a hull constructed of vats of fish and potatoes. It would also have a trailer containing all our nuclear waste. We fly it to the sun and mine our energy directly and replace the holes we make with the nuclear waste (this would have the added bonus of making the sun last longer). When the ship returns with the trailer full of energy we can then distribute the delicious fish and chips that have been cooked by the sun and feed all the worlds starving people.
posted by unliteral at 9:08 PM on March 22, 2011 [19 favorites]


But you know what else you need for fish and chips? Oil!! So we're back where we started...
posted by pompomtom at 9:10 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


On refresh, I see I've fixed the next threads problem.
posted by unliteral at 9:11 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know if radioactive elements are bioaccumulative pollutants

Bioaccumulation of Caesium-137 in pelagic food webs in the Norwegian and Barents Seas:
"a marked bioaccumulation was apparent"
posted by stbalbach at 9:12 PM on March 22, 2011


more on thorium (previously)
-China Takes Lead in Race for Clean Nuclear Power
-Safe nuclear does exist, and China is leading the way with thorium
-i've heard so many wonderful things about you

keep in mind tho that
...in producing nuclear energy, the decay reactions repeat many times, with the imperfections of every repetition resulting in a loss of predictive power of computations. This hampers the optimization process, and is one of the main reasons why several large projects investigating energy production using more abundant Uranium-238 or Thorium (fast breeder reactors) were closed in Europe and the United States before they achieved the expected level of performance.

Another problem is the nuclear waste that emerges when energy is produced in the decay process. The waste can be substantially, or even completely, reduced if we could use an alternative form of nuclear decay that is triggered by externally accelerated particles. Here, too, however, we need more precise knowledge of the properties of nuclear processes.

The force binding atomic nuclei is a special case of the “strong force,” one of the four fundamental forces in nature, and is extremely difficult to investigate, because it acts very quickly and violently. Around 50 years ago, it was proposed to study the strong forces by firing protons at each other at very high energies...

Several large accelerator research centers were built... experiments at the HERA accelerator in Hamburg, Germany, have observed the strong interaction effects in slow motion, which could open a way to a precise understanding of the strong force... The HERA machine operated from 1992 until 2007... two large groups of physicists – one concentrated around the Brookhaven and Jefferson National Laboratories in the United States, and the other around CERN in Geneva – are proposing to restart the investigation of electron-proton interactions.

The study of these interactions should provide a precise understanding of the strong force. And, as the history of physics has shown, a better understanding of natural forces will open new, completely unexpected possibilities... A precise understanding of the strong force could be just as important, opening new ways to use nuclear-energy resources while solving the problems of safety and nuclear waste.
and perhaps more importantly - "[T]he forces that already undermined the revival of America’s nuclear sector are largely economic, not political. The most formidable obstacle: the ongoing shale gas revolution."
posted by kliuless at 9:14 PM on March 22, 2011



More spinach, George? And maybe a nice tall glass of that Ibaraki milk to wash it down?


Sure.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:15 PM on March 22, 2011


The impacts of Chernobyl on fish and bodies of water.
posted by stbalbach at 9:15 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


'Entitled'? who are we supposed to answer to? God? Gaia? Captain Planet?

This isn't that hard. How about our own sanity, conscience, community, children ...

What we've done for 40 reckless years out of the 4.5 billion years it took to bring us into being (or 100 in the case of oil, a bit more for coal) isn't "largely a settled question," it's not even the blink of a blink of an eye. Do you think the way we live can possibly be sustained? Speeding headlong toward disaster, mainlining energy and singing 'live fast, die young' isn't "civilized," it's psychotic.

We've made the future of the human species uncertain in less than a century.

Which form of energy we decide to cook ourselves (and any remaining fish) with isn't the right question...
posted by namasaya at 9:16 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Iit still seems to me that the worst-case failure mode for nuclear is so extraordinarily bad, and the problem of waste disposal so unpleasant, that I really ought to listen to the "hold on a minute here" voice in the back of my head.

The worst case effects are bad; if you listen to Greenpeace, hundreds of thousands of people may eventually die over the next few decades from the exposure to Chernobyl. Of course 3000 people die from mining coal every year, but it's not like they're anybody important. And 3 million people a year die from air pollution, but hey as long as yuppies have their SUVs, it's OK, right?

posted by happyroach at 9:19 PM on March 22, 2011


This one went relatively okay, therefore nuclear power stations will never cause us a significant problem, Chernobyl, *COUGH*, what? Oh, nothing.
posted by Decani at 9:19 PM on March 22, 2011


I do to. Suffering to humans.

What makes you think that filling our only habitable planet with radiation that lasts for millenia, belching out CO2e that traps heat in the air, and acidifying all the oceans won't cause suffering to humans? We have to live here for the foreseeable future - let's try not to shit all over it.

The question of how we provide adequate living standards for 7-9 billion people isn't a theoretical one that can be solved with a bit of technological ingenuity. We need to really re-think the way we approach our own ecosystem and be part of it, not just treat it like a disposable and replaceable place to fling our crap. Nuclear power might be part of that solution, but you can't just wish away the problem of disposing of the waste.
posted by harriet vane at 9:20 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree with your larger point, namasaya, but I'm less pessimistic. Our future isn't uncertain. There are less certain and more certain choices. We're gambling. But we haven't lost.

Fossil fuel, though, is a sucker's bet.

Nuclear? We don't know. But we do know that, in the long run, it is a loser too.

Sure, the best way to win is to not play the game. Too late for that. Can't stop now.

"uncertain" is possibility.
posted by yesster at 9:21 PM on March 22, 2011


We have to live here for the foreseeable future - let's try not to shit all over it.

I've got at most another 70 years.
We all secretly dream of an apocalypse happening in our lifetime.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:22 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


"enough energy for nine billion people" has a catastrophic outcome.

Dunno. Between solar and geothermal I think we could do pretty good. I forget if I've told my Maui story here yet, but back awhile ago I was talking to a friend about Maui's land problem, and they said it was a water problem. In response I waved towards the Pacific Ocean and asked 'then what's that???'. Maui doesn't have a water problem it has an energy problem, yet it sits in a pretty decent insolation zone (with a massive southern-facing slope in rain shadow), its geography has created a natural wind tunnel that actually breaks windmills because the trade winds just load them too much, has plentiful wave energy opportunities, AND is still has copious geothermal potential with a little applied engineering.

Yet it gets most of its energy by burning imported oil. We are, quite simply, tards.
posted by mokuba at 9:23 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


The worst case effects are bad; if you listen to Greenpeace, hundreds of thousands of people may eventually die over the next few decades from the exposure to Chernobyl. Of course 3000 people die from mining coal every year, but it's not like they're anybody important. And 3 million people a year die from air pollution, but hey as long as yuppies have their SUVs, it's OK, right?

Many, if not most, people who oppose nuclear power aren't doing so because they love coal power. In fact many, if not most, of them oppose coal for broadly the same reasons they oppose nuclear power. (This is especially true in the case of Greenpeace, which one would think is pretty bloody obvious).

Now that someone's explicitly stated this, no one has to make the embarrassing mistake of employing such a ridiculous false dichotomy, and you can debate real things. You're welcome. Carry on.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:25 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


From the latest things I've heard, there's radioiodine in the groundwater and on some crops. This is a temporary problem; I-131 has a half-life of only 8 days, so in about 2 months, it'll be at 1/256 what it is now, and it'll be down to a millionth of the already-low levels in 5.5 months. It could be a big hassle, because they might have to truck in water for humans, pets, and edible livestock, and they'll probably lose a season of crops, but it's not a long-term threat.

The cesium in the water is potentially a fairly large problem, in that it does bioaccumulate. However, I read comments by a chemist earlier today that cesium concentrates in the muscles, and apparently muscle cells almost never get cancerous. So it's bad, but it's not as bad as it could be.

What I'm worried about is strontium-90 contamination. That has a half-life of about 28 years, and it reacts chemically almost exactly the same as calcium, so it bioaccumulates into the bones. Radioiodine is more intensely lethal, but doesn't last very long -- strontium-90 is the nuclear gift that keeps on giving. If much of that got out, it's gonna be a HUGE problem.

I was under the impression that if cesium got out, strontium is highly likely as well, but I haven't seen any direct claims yet.
posted by Malor at 9:28 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


So, I'm generally pro-nuclear.

I'm also generally pro-wind power, and pro-hydroelectricity. I'm very pro hydrogen, as well. I see all of these in an optimistic ideal form in the future, not as the incomplete forms they exist in today, where wind is inefficient and moody, hydrogen power can't be transported properly, and nuclear plants were built in 1970 or beforehand.

As I understand it, advances in nuclear power and safety have come a hell of a long way in the past 40 years, and really, why shouldn't we expect a modern plant to be much, much better built now than built then. Between that time and now the world has seen the greatest period of technological advances in history. But they take a long time to build and get online.

What concerns me is that so many of the U.S. Nuclear plants are in California. They were built to spec knowing that earthquakes could be a factor, and so far no California earthquakes have caused any issues. But none have been at the level of the recent one in Japan either.

My point is that all alternative energy solutions are going to have to be used where they may be most efficiently and most safely deployed. Wind farms could be great in Southern California when the Santa Ana's are coming in, for instance, but less so at other times. And Nuclear plants are probably going to be safer in regions of the country less susceptible to massive natural disasters than in sites along the ring of fire.

Because the main opposition to Nuclear power does come from fear. That's not all of it, but it's the main thing. And that fear is irrational in comparison to other power sources we use today. Nuclear, simply, is far far safer than what we are currently using. It's just that in the rare instance when something goes down it strikes to our hearts.

As for the disposal problem, the main argument against Yucca Mountain as I understand it has been that it would be bad politics for Harry Reid, and I don't like that guy anyway.

Let's use all alternative energy solutions, but let's be mindful of where we are putting them. Nuclear has it's place, but that place probably isn't "everywhere,"
posted by Navelgazer at 9:31 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


also btw this may be more relevant now:
...policymakers are becoming dangerously complacent... Existing commitments for emissions reductions by 2020 do represent major action. But even if implemented fully, they are collectively not enough to put the world on a path that would give us even a 50-50 chance of avoiding a warming of 2°C above 19th century temperatures. Worse still, recent work by the International Energy Agency has concluded that without full implementation there is a real risk that the 2°C goal will be pushed out of our reach altogether. A less ambitious target is not good enough: global temperatures have not been 3°C higher than today for about 3m years. Such warming would likely lead to mass migrations away from the worst affected regions, with the risk of severe and prolonged conflict.

...global emissions per unit of output must now be cut by two-thirds in the next 25 years...The problem is that, as the IEA has shown, 80 per cent of projected emissions in 2020 are already “locked-in”, as a result of power plants that already exist or are under construction. This limits room for manoeuvre and underlines the sense of urgency for action.

In transport, around 25 per cent of energy emissions, a number of countries and companies have set targets that could see 20m electric vehicles on our roads by 2020. But this only represents 2 per cent of the projected global car fleet of 1bn, in 10 years’ time...

Action will vary from country to country but should include three common elements. First, benchmarking tools should be used to bring energy efficiency to best practice levels. Energy efficiency measures help to address current economic anxieties, and can deliver half of the emissions reductions necessary to achieve the 2°C goal.

Second, we need strong disincentives, such as adequate carbon pricing, against keeping old infrastructure, and more incentives to bring in new low-carbon technologies. Fossil fuel subsidies, amounting to $558bn worldwide in 2008, must go.

Third, measures to improve fuel economy, expand sustainable biofuels and promote the uptake of new vehicle technologies must be prioritised. This will bring about the cost and security benefits of cutting oil import bills and it is also crucial in reducing emissions.

At a time of intense fiscal pressure, revenue from carbon pricing and the savings from energy efficiency can fund these policies, and also lay the foundations for future growth. Such moves will improve energy security, and become an important part of global economic prosperity.
posted by kliuless at 9:33 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


We all secretly dream of an apocalypse happening in our lifetime.

even as a way too cranky for my age, (benevolent) misanthrope, no, this is not what i dream about. i'd really like the world to be a less fucked up place for your kids, no matter what metric you use.
posted by rainperimeter at 9:37 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


We all secretly dream of an apocalypse happening in our lifetime.

No, we don't. Some of us grow up, learn some history, get some perspective, and have children we love.

I see you're 25. It could all happen to you. I hope you post again afterwards ...
posted by namasaya at 9:37 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Children, plural, is a bigger factor than anything else.

No one who is commenting on metafilter is using little enough energy to claim the high ground here. Even if by some miracle you're close to energy neutral in your home life, you are definitely not in your work life or your virtual life.
posted by maxwelton at 9:45 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Every religion, every form of thought has some sort of apocalyptic scenario that ensures its adherents that their lifespan has meaning because it's the last lifespan. I've got my glorious techno-apocalypse. Environmentalists have various extreme scenarios (based on fact, no doubt, but still there). Religions have their own.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:46 PM on March 22, 2011


We all secretly dream of an apocalypse happening in our lifetime.

I won't lie, as a kid, I did. Now, not at all. And I don't even have children (yet) to want to leave a better world to.

But I know many people who dream of this. One might even say that this dream is the most prominent faith in the United States today. But that is a fact to be horrified about, not condoned.

We will not be the last generation here. Not by a long shot. This is the most important fact for people to learn, in American politics at least.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:48 PM on March 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


Just a couple of rebuttal points.

1) Chernobyl. As far as I know, all currently operating nuclear plants and all nuclear plants in construction have a containment structure that's designed to, well, contain the reactor core in case of a meltdown. Chernobyl didn't have one. So as bad as the situation at Fukushima has been, those reactors still have something standing between the core and the environment, even though the containment structure on at least one of the reactors has been compromised.

2) Navelgazer is incorrect to say "so many of the U.S. nuclear plants are in California." There are currently 104 operating nuclear reactors in the U.S. (or at least there were last time I checked in 2010). Four are in California. I think two are in Washington state. Those are the only ones on the West Coast.

Also, the disturbing thing to me about Fukushima is that at least one containment structure did crack. These plants are licensed (at least in the U.S.) on the basis that even in a "worst-case" scenario (earthquake, tornado, whatever) in the plant's particular location, even if the plant can't shut down safely and the core starts melting, the containment will stay intact. That's not what happened here. And pumping ocean water through the reactors, as I understand it, isn't part of the standard emergency plan. Which means they're flying by the seat of their pants right now. I would follow this train of thought further, but I'm really tired right now.
posted by inara at 9:49 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nuclear has it's place, but that place probably isn't "everywhere"

It certainly isn't along fault lines. I realize this is only a map of the US. But it could happen here.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 9:49 PM on March 22, 2011


I should mention that inara has a history with the NRC, and thus knows a hell of a lot about this.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:51 PM on March 22, 2011


Of course, in 20 years we'll have fusion.
posted by Artw at 9:58 PM on March 22, 2011


Well there's always the (now theoretical) Traveling Wave reactor which has a fuel cycle of 50 to a hundred years, is passively safe, and produces no radioactive waste.

The only design problem I see is the same design problem all reactors have: if their cooling fails it's a catastrophe. If this happens at a second-generation plant like Fukushima you can always pump or spray in water from somewhere else. With higher-temperature reactors in the fourth and fifth gen which use exotic fluids like molten salt, you're putting all your chips on "the cooling will never fail" and doubling down.
posted by clarknova at 10:00 PM on March 22, 2011


Of course, in 20 years we'll have fusion.

Jesus fuck, I hope so. But let's come back here in 20 years and see if we got there or not, shall we? I'm not as confident as I once was.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:10 PM on March 22, 2011


Environmentalists have various extreme scenarios

U.S. had 'near-miss' nuclear accidents at Indian Point, 13 other plants last year.
posted by stbalbach at 10:11 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


But let's come back here in 20 years and see if we got there or not, shall we?

And at that point Fusion will just be 20 years away...

/fusion humour.
posted by Artw at 10:11 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


traveling wave previously :P

oh and more on thorium!
posted by kliuless at 10:12 PM on March 22, 2011


inara, the fukushima plant had a fairly cheap and poor 1960s designed containment structure, that was acknowledged even by the early 70s to have been inadequate. And they planned only for an 8.2 quake and associated tsunami.

In fact, the quake itself was fine, fukushima would have survived the quake itself with few problems, it was the loss of the back up generation in the tsunami that was the flaw. I can't believe that adequate retrofitting reinforcement couldn't have protected the backup generators, but that's all hindsight now.

The take away from all this is that TEPCO are liable for much of this problem, these risks were more foreseeable than was foreseen. However, so far no one has died, it looks likely that there will be very very few casualties (lets not forget there are up to ten thousand deaths in the vicinity). Comparisons with Three Mile Island may be apt, comparisons with Chernobyl certainly aren't.

Even with a worst case scenario, the total number of death attributable to nuclear power remain staggeringly low.
posted by wilful at 10:18 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


After reading this article, I wonder if the writer knows anyone, a relative maybe, who was unfortunate enough to live downstream from Sellafield, who was sickened and died from some nasty form of cancer. Probably not. I just hope he got paid well for his piece. I got called out by some jerk for calling Oehmen a shill for nuclear power — which I hadn't done — but it turned out in the end that the guy probably was a shill, after all. I hope these disasters are making these guys some money. I'd hate to think they are doing it for free.

Until proponents of nuclear power honestly acknowledge the damage that their plants do to the environment, to the food chain, and to human beings, it seems plainly evident that none of them — to a single person — can be trusted about whatever they say about the minimal risks of radiation released when mismanaged plants explode or otherwise cause havoc. And that includes Mr. Xkcd and his reductive, context-free comic strip.

We still don't know what will happen down the road from Fukushima, because the fires haven't stopped, the downwind contamination of food supplies, water and air continues, and we don't know how many total workers have died, let alone suffered radiation poisoning to the extent of causing long-term harm.

These types of pro-nuclear cheerleading sessions never, ever talk about the corruption that always — without fail — leads up to these disasters. For Fukushima, it was about keeping the plant infrastructure intact and protecting financial investments by a few, despite the catastrophic situation at hand.

Without systemic changes to how these plants are operated, there is virtually no reason to trust the people running them, whatever pie-in-the-sky technical claims they and their paid and unpaid shills make about the latest reactor design du jour.

It's actually quite depressing to use a disaster like this to cheerlead for a form of technology that we know is almost always mismanaged and inevitably kills and sickens many on a long-term basis.

The kind of amoral boosterism that has been on display here gives science a deservedly bad name, putting technology and money ahead of the safety of the people that this technology is supposed to serve. Moral applications of science help improve people's lives, not get used to rip them off and sicken and kill them.

These events increase the public's mistrust of scientists, of government and of businesses that run these plants, because of a complete lack of honesty about the inherent risks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:31 PM on March 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


I'm sorry if I'm a bit extreme, but when you're arguing against people who are utterly against nuclear power in any way, shape or form sometimes you need to be extreme.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:34 PM on March 22, 2011


I can't believe that adequate retrofitting reinforcement couldn't have protected the backup generators, but that's all hindsight now.

The problem was also that the surge flooded the electrical switching room. This plant was sited ~20' too low, though if they had hardened the backup power system they would have been able to get into cold shutdown.

Plans have been announced to make sure a similar surge does not take out the Hamaoka plant, which is near Shizuoka IIRC.

Also, the operators and disaster response were seemingly getting behind in the decision-loop thing.

One minor but interesting example was the decision to bring in an NBC-hardened bulldozer to start cleaning up all the debris this past weekend. This was pretty slow response to the explosions of mid-week, and I don't think they've been able to actually get the bulldozer working yet because the emergency power lines laying on the ground present a challenging topology problem.

Clearly there was no backup plan to get water into the seven spent fuel pools, either.
posted by mokuba at 10:35 PM on March 22, 2011


I'm sorry if I'm a bit extreme, but when you're arguing against people who are utterly against nuclear power in any way, shape or form sometimes you need to be extreme.

You could try a reasoned argument.
posted by pompomtom at 10:37 PM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Comparisons with Three Mile Island may be apt, comparisons with Chernobyl certainly aren't.

Tell that to Fukushima Prefecture. This is far, far beyond TMI. It's not Chernobyl yet, but we have a real scarcity of information still what theyv'e been washing into the sea for the past week.

Plus Unit #1 is not exactly out of the woods yet, either.
posted by mokuba at 10:39 PM on March 22, 2011


It certainly isn't along fault lines. I realize this is only a map of the US. But it could happen here.

Actually it's possible to passively seismically isolate plants.
posted by mokuba at 10:43 PM on March 22, 2011


Reuters is now reporting: "NHK says radiation found in a Tokyo city water purifier, water from affected purifier should not be given to infants... Purifiers affected by radiation in Tokyo city proper and 5 suburban districts - Tokyo official"

Apparently the radiation levels in the water in parts of the Tokyo area are a bit more than double the legal limit for infants and aren't too far from the limit for children and adults. It clearly isn't Brit Writer's day.
posted by zachlipton at 10:44 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


nd that includes Mr. Xkcd and his reductive, context-free comic strip.

Really? To be honest I saw that chart and the various links that came with as badly needed context.
posted by Artw at 10:48 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


As far as I know, all currently operating nuclear plants and all nuclear plants in construction have a containment structure that's designed to, well, contain the reactor core in case of a meltdown. Chernobyl didn't have one. So as bad as the situation at Fukushima has been, those reactors still have something standing between the core and the environment, even though the containment structure on at least one of the reactors has been compromised.

The primary pressure vessel might be good to contain a steam explosion, but the current state of Fukushima I plant is rather parlous at the moment.

They've been pushing ~600 gallons a minute through the three reactor vessels, and nobody is bothering to ask where this stream is going.

GE considers the steam torus as part of primary containment, yet 2 of the plants have compromised suppression chambers (pressure reading "downscale" in industry talk), and the other has 36 Sv/h worth of contamination in it, not all of it relatively harmless Xenon and Iodine contaminants.

Oh, #1's reactor temp is 30% over design limit and primary containment vessel pressure is pushing 60% of design limit so another dry vent may be Fukushima's future. Hopefully the wind will be blowing the right way for that.
posted by mokuba at 10:51 PM on March 22, 2011


the disturbing thing to me about Fukushima is that at least one containment structure did crack.

hmm, if I'm reading this chart right, #2 and #3 primary containment (drywells) are at ambient sea level pressure . . . 0.11 and 0.1MPa (abs).
posted by mokuba at 10:57 PM on March 22, 2011


I thought this chart that shows the number of deaths per TWh of power from various energy sources was interesting.

Sure, people who are opposed to nuclear may well be opposed to coal too, but I don't think it's enough to just be opposed to both. You need to be opposed to coal by several orders of magnitude if you really care about the planet and people's lives because it is SO much worse than any other power source from what I can tell that there simply is no comparison.

I look forward to the days when we can get more of our power from solar or wind, and until then, I would vastly prefer nuclear to coal, but I know we'll get more coal and less nuclear as a result of this tragedy.
posted by willnot at 11:02 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


that chart and the various links that came with as badly needed context.

My problem with both that diagram and watching Edano on TV saying there's no present danger is that they are comparing external gamma radiation we get from daily life with much more harmful internal decay events.

Sv readings are supposed to be calibrated for that allegedly, but I'd much rather take my 0.4 µSv in a plane than in Cesium-137.
posted by mokuba at 11:02 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


We can have Nuke power when every single person working involved in the process of manufacturing, handling, and operating of a plant will speak up in the case of a known safety hazard taking place, a misstep, or shortcut being taken.

Right now in almost everyone situation those individuals are silenced because they can't afford to lose their jobs, their benefits, their house. In nuke towns, it means they can be blacklisted and end up not finding work at all.

When we can make sure that "doing the right thing" means the person doing it can still feed their family and not be intimidated, then we can talk about nuke power. Or off shore oil drilling. Or situations where shortcuts can affect the lives of millions of people.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:02 PM on March 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


I was under the impression that if cesium got out, strontium is highly likely as well, but I haven't seen any direct claims yet.

It's almost as if the tens of tons of plutonium at Fukushima-1 do not even exist.

You can't manage what you don't measure.
posted by mokuba at 11:07 PM on March 22, 2011


As someone with finger bruises from the parent threads, I expect nothing less than medical-attention typing here, OK? DO NOT LET ME DOWN.
posted by mwhybark at 11:11 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


We can have Nuke power when every single person working involved in the process of manufacturing, handling, and operating of a plant will speak up in the case of a known safety hazard taking place, a misstep, or shortcut being taken.

Yes to this.

It appears that the problems with the Mark 1 reactor design were known to the nuclear engineering community. Other than Dale G. Bridenbaugh and two of his colleagues at GE who resigned in protest over 30 years ago, nobody has really protested about this in public. We still have 23 reactors in the US with this design.

For those same nuclear scientists who have been silent to now start claiming that they should be trusted when they claim things are safe. That doesn't ring true to me. It seems if you really believed in public safety, you would have been vigorously protesting the continued operation of these unsafe designs.

I understand talking about your industry critically may be harmful to your career. But remember that events like the one in Japan will be even more harmful.
posted by formless at 11:17 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


you would have been vigorously protesting the continued operation of these unsafe designs

But that's surely a relative thing, isn't it? How many have failed in such a way as to, say, add up the the traffic deaths in a small town in a year, or polluted enough land to, say, equal that damaged by dumping the waste generated by the residents of a large city (or worse, the "recyclables" sent to the third world to be attacked with poisonous chemicals and then dumped into a river)?

Can someone post some actual information about what might contaminate the seawater passing through the damaged reactors at the moment? I don't doubt something gets in it, but how much? Of what? Not conjecture, but actual numbers or at least scientifically-grounded speculation. Is even within a few magnitudes of the ongoing and probably irreversable acidification of the seas that comes from burning as much carbon as we can get our hands on?
posted by maxwelton at 11:48 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Until proponents of nuclear power honestly acknowledge the damage that their plants do to the environment, to the food chain, and to human beings, it seems plainly evident that none of them — to a single person — can be trusted about whatever they say about the minimal risks of radiation released when mismanaged plants explode or otherwise cause havoc. And that includes Mr. Xkcd and his reductive, context-free comic strip.

But, nearly always, they just don't cause any noticeable damage, certainly far less than our other alternatives. Fossil fuel pollution is killing tens of thousands of people a year, and it now looks like whole tiny nations are going to disappear under the ocean.

As you say, we can't really argue intelligently yet about Fukushima, because we don't know what's been released. And your point about corruption is very good, and definitely worthy of further discussion. That's a big problem. But I'll repeat a phrase that I've used before: when we screw up with nuclear power, we pay a price, perhaps a heavy one. But with fossil fuels, we pay a huge price even when we're doing it right. And, worse, that price is inflicted on people who don't benefit from the energy use.

I love the various forms of renewable energy as much as anyone else, but they simply do not generate the kind of energy density we need for heavy industry. That may change over time, but we always have to work with and plan around the technologies we know work. Solar and wind and geothermal and wave energy are all wonderful supplements, but they simply can't serve as a backbone in the same way, and that doesn't look likely to change for a very long time, if ever.

With present and reasonably foreseeable technology, only nuclear power and fossil fuels can allow our global civilization to exist. And of those two choices, I'll take nuclear 10 times in 10.
posted by Malor at 12:00 AM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh, and in regard to this:

they just don't cause any noticeable damage

I glossed over the waste issue here.

With reprocessing, the total volume of nuclear waste can be reduced about 99% from where it is now. There simply is no reason to have all this refined uranium piling up. It's just dumb. Highly radioactive ores are energy, and we only burn up about 10% of the available uranium in fuel rods, and then throw the rest away, because the impurities stop it from working properly. This is stupidity on a ridiculous scale; we have to mine ten times more uranium, inflicting environmental damage, and then store 90% of the stuff we should be using to create energy, giving us a storage headache, and potentially causing more environmental damage.

After reprocessing, the remaining wastes are, to my understanding, largely metals. They can be encased in vitreous glass, which prevents dispersion into the water table in case of disaster, and then stored almost anywhere. With a lot of that stuff, you can almost toss it in a shed out back once you've encased it. (in fact, to my understanding, a number of nuclear plants do precisely this.) The primary danger isn't generally radioactivity, but rather chemical toxicity. And, being metals, they're really not hard to lock down into forms that will only be dangerous to people actively trying to break open the storage units.

It would take quite a bit of technical advancement, but another perfectly good way to get rid of the stuff would be by digging below the Earth's crust, into the mantle, and dropping it down there. If we're smart, and put it into a subduction zone, it would probably never come back up at all, at least in any recognizable form. Even it did, it would take hundreds of millions of years.
posted by Malor at 12:20 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even with a worst case scenario, the total number of death attributable to nuclear power remain staggeringly low.

The worst case scenario ends with a fair bit of Japan uninhabitable for thousands of years. While unlikely, the fact that it's even possible should give anyone pause.

I recommend watching this documentary on Chernobyl:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5384001427276447319#

For a society that doesn't plan very well for future generations it's fitting that Monbiot wrote this piece when the crisis at the plant is still far from over.
posted by MillMan at 12:23 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The worst case scenario ends with a fair bit of Japan uninhabitable for thousands of years.

I don't think, with that plant design, that that can even happen, at least not over any kind of large area. The thing about Chernobyl was that the fuel rods were themselves flammable, and there was a design error that actually increased the radiation permitted into the reactor during the scram process. They were right on the ragged edge without realizing it, due to poor management, and then when they finally figured out they were in trouble, they tried to shut it down. As the rods moved toward a safer position, they briefly moved through a more-permissive state. The reactor went prompt critical, and kablooie. And then the burning fuel rods spread radioactive waste far and wide.

The Fukushima design is nothing like that. It's not as safe as it should be, but it's a far cry from those horrible Soviet reactors. This plant did go through partial to complete meltdown, and what we've been TOLD about, at least, isn't even vaguely like Chernobyl. Even if they'd completely fucked everything up the worst possible ways, I don't think that's a plausible scenario.
posted by Malor at 12:32 AM on March 23, 2011


I'm don't know who started this whole "carbon footprint" phenomenon (Gore?), but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was the nuclear lobby. It's not a bad idea, obviously--emissions are a big deal that are certainly worthy of attention--but the constant emphasis on carbon emissions distracts from a lot of other environmental problems, like resource extraction, processing, and waste disposal, all of which apply to nuclear power every bit as much as any other form of power generation, if not more so.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:45 AM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


I don't think, with that plant design, that that can even happen, at least not over any kind of large area.

Christ. With your track record on predictions we're truly fucked now.

Just like that British twat you're failing to look two steps down the road on this. OK, Unit #1 blows up real good and a 3km radius goes into the hundreds of milliSievert range.

What happens to the recovery effort on 2,3, and 4? Everybody just works until they drop dead?

The thing about Chernobyl was that the fuel rods were themselves flammable

Well then Japan is indeed screwed because both Chernobyl and Fukushima are using Uranium Oxide with Zircaloy cladding.

If you are referring to the graphite moderator, there is still some debate on what caused Chernobyl to blow up, steam explosion is one hypothesis, and the wikipedia article goes into some other ideas like a criticality excursion (ie Hiroshima bomb) and other stuff.

The Fukushima design is nothing like that.

Reactor 3 doing its Chernobyl impression

Even if they'd completely fucked everything up the worst possible ways, I don't think that's a plausible scenario.

Things are not quite fully under control yet. They've been pouring seawater through the three reactors for more than a week now, and I have questions about salt buildup.

#1's temperature is 30% over design limit, its wetwell is measuring 32 Sv/hr, it's primary containment pressure is nearing 60% of its design limit. Not good.

Both #2 and #3 containment vessels are apparently at atmospheric pressure, as is their torus chamber. All drywells are measuring in the tens of Sieverts.

The only good news is the containment pools, but if the site has to be abandoned, maybe those will actually cook off like i was told they would by the alarmists.
posted by mokuba at 12:54 AM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think, with that plant design, that that can even happen, at least not over any kind of large area.

For the reactors that's probably true - it's the spent fuel pools that are exposed to the open air if the water drains out that are a big risk. There is plutonium / MOX in the spent fuel pool of reactor 3, which is bad news, and looking at this up to date document (pdf), they are openly admitting it is at least partially exposed to the open air.

It's been getting tougher to get news about what is going on over there over the past few days.
posted by MillMan at 12:55 AM on March 23, 2011


I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was the nuclear lobby

yeah, I have a big problem even wanting to look at what pro-nuke people are saying on their green-washing sites like BraveNewClimate. If they can scam at the domain name level they can scam deeper down too.
posted by mokuba at 12:56 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The hydrogen explosion at reactor 3 is fuck all like Chernobyl, and you know it. You are now actively spreading garbage and misinformation, please stop.
posted by Artw at 1:02 AM on March 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


There is plutonium / MOX in the spent fuel pool of reactor 3

There is plutonium in all 2000 used fuel assemblies. There is 52 *new* (I assume MOX) assemblies in Unit 3's fuel pool, yes, with about a tonne of plutonium.

But the seawater cooling that's going on now is probably stripping plutonium out of the damaged cores continuously. How much, I leave it to all the reactor experts here.

The parameters are pretty simple -- 70% rod damage, all water levels at -2.0m or so for a week now, and 300 liters/minute flow. oh, and 2 out of 3 RPVs are apparently now unpressurized, if that's relevant.

Latest datasheet from NISA. It's partially in Japanese but any nuke engineer can read it easily enough.

they are openly admitting it is at least partially exposed to the open air.

? this was rather obvious almost a week ago, plus the Mark I design is older than me, and I'm no spring chicken.
posted by mokuba at 1:02 AM on March 23, 2011


I have to say I'm sick of hearing everyone rave about Thorium reactors.

Germany tried a thorium plant and shut it down four years after it was producing power because it was just too expensive to run.

The German taxpayers paid out about at least 3 billion dollars for a total of 3 million MWh of power or about $1000/MWh, or about 10 times the cost of solar energy.

Even with all of India's experimentation, they don't have a fully operational reactor yet (though one is producing power and is close).

Let's let other countries work out the bugs before we start spending billions on unproven technology.
posted by eye of newt at 1:03 AM on March 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


The hydrogen explosion at reactor 3 is fuck all like Chernobyl, and you know it. You are now actively spreading garbage and misinformation, please stop.

Depends on what happened to the contents of the SFP and the suppression chamber for that matter.

If Unit #1 goes like that, and the wind direction is onshore, things are going to get rather worse.

Plus of course my point isn't that we're going to get a global cloud of death, but another explosion like that can very well make the Fukushima plant a Chernobyl situation WITHIN the plant.

Too radiologically hot to work w/o bringing in the robots or biorobots.
posted by mokuba at 1:06 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


It seems if you really believed in public safety, you would have been vigorously protesting the continued operation of these unsafe designs.

I would love to see all those 1960s-1970s-era nuclear power plants decommission. And I would love not to have any nuclear power plants in places with high levels of seismic activity such as California. Nuclear power in an earthquake zone is an unnecessarily risky proposition.

On the other hand, we haven't put a new reactor online in the US since 1996. We can't decommission reactors with outdated designs or mediocre safety records without a strategy for dealing with the ~20% of electricity demand supplied by nuclear power. Neither renewables nor conservation are able to plug that gap yet, and in the meantime we still derive ~50% of electricity from coal, which is not really any better.

Given a choice between crappy existing nuclear plants, and better-engineered newer models, I would rather replace the outdated technology and make the most of the 30-40 years of engineering knowledge we have accumulated in the meantime. This seems both safer and cheaper than doing nothing while we wring our hands. We can't pass laws that will reduce energy consumption by 20% or suddenly increase the renewable energy sector by a factor of 10. So while we continue to invest in other sustainable power infrastructure, we might as well invest in making our nuclear power supply safer.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:16 AM on March 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't believe the fat lady of Fukushima has sung.
posted by Segundus at 1:46 AM on March 23, 2011


I don't believe the fat lady of Fukushima has sung.

She won't for a long, long time.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:16 AM on March 23, 2011


green-washing sites like BraveNewClimate. If they can scam at the domain name level they can scam deeper down too.

You're badly misinformed if you think Barry Brook is some sort of astroturf operation. he knows and cares a damn sight more than you do about the effects of climate change. And has become somewhat expert in nuclear power generation.
posted by wilful at 2:36 AM on March 23, 2011


Carbon emissions aren't the only environmental issue.
They're the most important issue. Wanting to get rid of CO2 without proposing a realistic alternative isn't a real position. It's just absurd.

I've actually though that this accident will actually end up benefiting nuclear energy, because while mistakes were made, ultimately the result wasn't that bad. But we'll have to see what happens over time. If Japan ends up with a 20km exclusion zone for the rest of eternity, that's obviously going to be a huge problem. We still don't know if more radiation is going to be released, or what kind of long-term environmental contamination we're going to see

But here we've seen a pretty terrible disaster, but no one died and not many people have been exposed to harmful levels of radiation. It's bad, but it's a manageable level of bad. Other forms of energy cause injury and illness too. In fact, more people are killed falling off roofs while putting on solar panels then are killed by nuclear energy. Coal is actually the deadliest form of energy out there. Coal is also radioactive and burning it puts radioactive dust in the air, in fact they put more radiation into the air then nuclear plants.

The problem I see with Nuclear is we still don't really know what the costs are going to be like. Plant decommissioning is still a huge expense, probably more expensive then construction. So Nuclear, ultimately, may not be cost competitive with wind and solar anyway.

What I think people should do is put a price on carbon, and see where the economic incentives lead.
it's not a bad idea, obviously--emissions are a big deal that are certainly worthy of attention--but the constant emphasis on carbon emissions distracts from a lot of other environmental problems,
Maybe it gets more attention because it's way more important?
Well then Japan is indeed screwed because both Chernobyl and Fukushima are using Uranium Oxide with Zircaloy cladding.
The problem with Chernobyl was the tons of carbon that caught fire, releasing radioactive byproducts into the environment.
posted by delmoi at 2:47 AM on March 23, 2011


I'm more or less anti-nuke, but I don't like to see people accusing Barry Brook of astroturfing. He's deadly serious about climate change and has done some excellent work battling the deniers in Australia. I don't agree with him on this issue, but he's not a shill and he raises important questions about renewables that must be answered. I happen to think those questions will be resolved sooner than nuclear advances will become cost-effective/more than vaporware, but reasonable people can agree to disagree on that.
posted by harriet vane at 3:21 AM on March 23, 2011


But here we've seen a pretty terrible disaster, but no one died and not many people have been exposed to harmful levels of radiation.

This is becoming a running joke on the japanese twitter streams -- 「直ちに」blah blah blah, where 直ちに means "for now".

We've got the government of Japan announcing several prefectures will not be able to sell produce or dairy products, and this will probably keep expanding.

It took over a week for TEPCO to announce its emissions into the ocean. I spotted that eventuality a while ago, and I do think they're washing a lot of plutonium and other nastiness out of their reactor pressure vessels and into the ocean.

The press has yet to mention the word 'plutonium' to either NISA, TEPCO, or Edano, and we may never hear that word.

The problem with Chernobyl was the tons of carbon that caught fire, releasing radioactive byproducts into the environment.

My nightmare scenario is Japan and the world being forced to watch 500 tons of UO2 and PuO2 cook off over some number of weeks due to a catastrophic failure like Chernobyl.

I can't predict which reactor can possibly spit the dummy here, but I do now think it's possible again.

(I thought this situation was going to bed when they released those color thermographs of the site on zerohedge but in retrospect those were probably faked; I could not find them anywhere else, and that should have been a red flag).

Right now the latest data dump from NISI has the reactor 1 pressure vessel at 345deg (above design limit), and the drywell pressure is 47PSI, approaching its design limit of 51PSI.

Maybe all the Zircaloy cladding in #1 is burned off so there's no more chance of a hydrogen explosion but I would like to see the industry safety tests of what happens to a reactor and its primary cooling system when seawater is injected into it for a week or so.

I don't think the situation is going to get materially worse from here, but the damage that has been done should not be minimized. I think we haven't learned the half of it yet.
posted by mokuba at 3:44 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


but I don't like to see people accusing Barry Brook of astroturfing

I don't know Barry Brook from Adam, but I accuse that site of green-washing, dressing up their dogmatic pro-nuke viewpoint in ecological robes.

It's deceptive on its surface.
posted by mokuba at 3:46 AM on March 23, 2011


We still have 23 reactors in the US with this design.

formless, is there a list? I have seen allegations that Vermont Yankee is the same design, and selfishly wonder if Pilgrim Station is, too. (It is the same vintage as VT-Y)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:13 AM on March 23, 2011


Well, it's his site, written almost entirely by him with occasional guest posts, so effectively you are saying he's a greenwasher. People who are familiar with his previous work are telling you that he's not. He's geniunely concerned about climate change, and believes (wrongly, in many people's opinion) that nuclear power is one of the things that will help. I disagree with him too, but he's not deceiving anyone or trying to trick them. He's not pro-nuke because it makes him any money, and he's completely upfront about his sources of information and income.

Someone who disagrees with you or someone who is wrong is not being deceptive.
posted by harriet vane at 4:16 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tokyo water 'unfit for babies' due to high radiation
posted by NoMich at 4:35 AM on March 23, 2011


Germany tried a thorium plant and shut it down four years after it was producing power because it was just too expensive to run.

The linked wired articles and most of the Thorium proponents I've heard were about smaller plants. Not giant ones like that appears to have been.

Let's let other countries work out the bugs before we start spending billions on unproven technology.

Ahh, right. Let's leave innovating to others, because profit is really the only stick with which we should measure any endeavor.
posted by DigDoug at 4:41 AM on March 23, 2011


Someone who disagrees with you or someone who is wrong is not being deceptive.

Actually, I agree with him. I've long said that if we could have a nuke program as well-discplined as the Navy's we should.

My distaste for that site was getting there via a search and soon cottoning to the fact that it wasn't about what it said on the tin. If the site was eg. nukesforgreen, I'd have zero problems with it.
posted by mokuba at 4:41 AM on March 23, 2011


SA was going to invest heavily in Pebble Bed Modular Reactors (PBMR). I think we pumped about R9 billion into it but it was shutdown before even a demo reactor could be built. I think the technology is sound but SA is not the country to be developing cutting edge nuclear reactors.
posted by PenDevil at 4:48 AM on March 23, 2011


These enterprising youngsters have apparently learned how to make electricity from ping-pong balls and mousetraps.
posted by punkfloyd at 4:52 AM on March 23, 2011


Stupidest thing I've read all day. Which is saying a lot. It's precisely this kind of idiocy that reminds me why humans probably shouldn't be allowed to breed, and to pray for the next ice age to wipe us all out.

Thanks for helping to maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the
issues, topics, and facts at hand.
posted by Scoo at 4:59 AM on March 23, 2011


Since the healthy, respectful discussion is trashed now anyway, can we get back to this universally held dream of destroying the world in one's lifetime that motivates support for nuclear power? I'd just gone to bed and missed the whole thing.

I'm against it!
posted by gerryblog at 5:02 AM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


So you are saying that nuclear power supporters are so because they secretly hope it will destroy the world?

No wonder you are anti-nuclear! You are completely batshit insane!
posted by CautionToTheWind at 5:24 AM on March 23, 2011


In fact, the quake itself was fine, fukushima would have survived the quake itself with few problems, it was the loss of the back up generation in the tsunami that was the flaw

wilful, have you seen this first-person account? The worker describes pipes bursting in the ceiling and showering the workers with water *before* the tsunami hit, while the plant still had emergency lighting:

Soon the lights inside the building went out and emergency lighting came on. An announcement came next, telling workers to stay where they were. But seams on metal pipes installed in the ceiling had been broken by the strong jolts and water started flooding out.

Someone yelled: "This could be dangerous water. Let's get out of here!" and they rushed down the stairs to the first floor exit.


According to this account, water at least some workers thought might be radioactive was flooding from the ceiling after the earthquake. On what reports, aside from TEPCO's assurances, are you basing the claim that "the quake itself was fine"?
posted by mediareport at 5:33 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


No wonder you are anti-nuclear! You are completely batshit insane!

No wonder? Are you saying that everyone who opposes nukes is insane, or that everyone who's insane opposes nukes?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:34 AM on March 23, 2011


Just like the conversion of Paul.
However fine Nuclear might be, there is still the elephant in the room of who is responsible for running the beast. Private enterprise lies through its teeth and is venal and politicians lie and are corrupt.
Sustainable Energy – without the hot air - synopsis - full free download.
posted by adamvasco at 5:36 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm late to the discussion, but I'd just like to say that I'm impressed that he cited E.A. Wrigley, whose concept of an "advanced organic economy" is hands down the best explanation of the difference between the pre-industrial world and the post-industrial. It's not about the organisation of the economy - it's all about the sources of energy.
posted by jb at 6:39 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, are we open for discussing how well Japan's wind farms performed throughout this crisis in contrast to nuclear, which turned out to be not only dangerous but perhaps more importantly unreliable (since we're apparently at the live fast die young stage of prioritizing such things)--or does this smelly, expensive, potentially unstable and radioactively flatulent schlub we call Nuclear Power have to be the designated guest of honor at all our future energy tech parties now?
posted by saulgoodman at 6:55 AM on March 23, 2011


No one is saying nuclear energy is problem free, but rather then it's better then the alternative of burning fossil fuels. It's probably possible to meet our energy needs with just wind and solar, but it would be a lot easier to get off coal and oil more quickly if we included nuclear energy.

Australia uses coal instead of nukes. Germany shut down all it's pre-1980 reactors. It's not replacing them with solar panels and wind turbines. Japan is burning a lot more coal and oil now to make up for the reactor being offline.

For people who are opposed to nukes, what exactly do you propose doing instead? Because people aren't going to sacrifice no matter how much you bitch at them.

I never hear anti-nuke people say what we should do instead. It's kind of annoying. Just "Nukes are terrible!!!!" without any followup about what we should do instead. And it's just not really an argument, we have to do something
posted by delmoi at 7:08 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, this is one plan put forward to power Australia without nukes or coal: Beyond Zero Emissions. Downloads of full plan or synopsis on the left.
posted by harriet vane at 7:12 AM on March 23, 2011


Australia is a really good candidate for going solar/wind only having a ton of land that isn't really arable where wind and solar plants can be put in.
posted by delmoi at 7:14 AM on March 23, 2011


I'm not convinced yet. Nuclear waste has ramifications that can last for generations - long after the seemingly 'imminent disaster' has been averted. The documentary "Into Eternity" raises some really compelling questions about storage and disposal of nuclear waste by looking at the world’s first permanent repositor in Finland. Seems there are a lot of question marks still left unaddressed.
posted by bloody_bonnie at 7:15 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


We should subsidize solar and wind tech more than we do fossil fuels and nuclear. How's that? According to industry observers, solar tech is basically ready to operate at grid parity--there are still some limitations with storage, but even accounting for the fact that solar won't necessarily be available 24/7 at the outset doesn't mean it couldn't be used to replace close to 40% or so of our current energy consumption.

Even with significantly less in the way of subsidies than fossil fuels and nuclear energy tech, solar is approaching cost competitiveness. So just imagine where we could be if we ever did achieve subsidy parity. And battery storage technology breakthroughs are coming at an almost daily basis now; when solar is running at peak, with the more efficient photovoltaic tech available now, a lot of the excess energy could be stored at least for short term use during times of unavailability--there are actual working residences in the US now that operate exclusively on solar power, so to depict solar as some kind of pie-in-the-sky fantasy is either dishonest or ignorant.

And as the article I linked in my previous comment above discusses, wind farms have been up and running and providing a major chunk of Japan's energy throughout this whole crisis, but instead, the only energy source whose performance we're really interested in talking about in the aftermath of the catastrophe is the one that proved to be the least reliable and the most potentially dangerous.

Before all this happened, I was fairly comfortable with nuclear, but not a staunch proponent (I was not an active opponent either). But in the post-Fukushima reality, I find myself becoming more and more skeptical of the wisdom of nuclear power's becoming the leading alternative energy source to fossil fuels. There's still a role for nuclear in the relative short term as we transition from fossil fuels to alternatives, but it's not even in the running as the ideal winner of the race anymore as far as I'm concerned.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:31 AM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let's do a quick pro/con, for clarity eh?

Nuclear Pros:

* Fission reaction generates energy without emissions. Yay!
* Umm. We'll come back to this section later, maybe.

Nuclear Cons:

* Fuel (fissionable material) is a nonrenewable, mined resource.
* Mining and refining the fuel generates lots of emissions.
* Running the plant generates a lot of radioactive waste, which we have no good storage or disposal solution for.
* Plants (so far) are inherently dangerous. Require large and reliable inputs of electricity and water to operate, suffer from greater or lesser degrees of catastrophic failure if deprived of external inputs.
* Risks of a major failure that are distinctive to nuclear power include essentially permanent loss of the use of the land on which a major catastrophe occurs. Chernobyl happened, there are no guarantees in this world that some different disaster with the same basic result can't happen elsewhere.

There may be more. That's just off the top of my head. The pro-nuke greens are allowing the current focus on CO2 to overwhelm their good sense. There is no way in which nuclear power is a viable long-term solution to our energy problems. Effort spent on it is wasted. Monbiot is not doing his movement any favors here.
posted by rusty at 8:09 AM on March 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


For people who are opposed to nukes, what exactly do you propose doing instead? Because people aren't going to sacrifice no matter how much you bitch at them.

I never hear anti-nuke people say what we should do instead.


We've built an economic system that requires infinite growth on a finite planet. And as has been pointed out before, only madmen and economists believe in that. And we've gotten used to the lifestyle that comes with high-energy usage. And since Capitalism never really resolves it's contradictions, it just ships the waste someplace poor and brown, or foists the problem off on future generations, and then books the profits today.

Maybe we're not smart enough to think our way out of this. Maybe we're just destined to hit the wall. I think that sucks, but I think it's a non-zero possibility. If we don't want to voluntarily sacrifice and continue to live off more than is sustainable, maybe societal collapse is the natural result.

To quote Jim Kunstler, "People who refuse to negotiate with the circumstances that the world throws at them automatically get assigned a new negotiating partner: reality. Reality then requires you to change your behavior, whether you like it or not."
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:23 AM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Although I think Saletan has it right in that if you're gonna start up a reactor, you should be required to have robots capable of shutting it down if it all goes squiffy and humans can't get close enough. These robots exist, but Japan (of all places) didn't have them on hand.

Because robots that replace day to day human workers are good for the corporate bottom line. Incredibly $PENDY emergency robots that you hope never come out of the docking bay (but could help stave off catastrophic radiological disaster) are not popular @ quarterly shareholder meetings.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:30 AM on March 23, 2011


I am unable to add anything technical to this post. I can but say this:
France has a govt run nuclear system that not only has thus far proved safe and with oversight but also manages somehow to recycle nuclear waste. To have the govt run things is : SOCIALISM.

WikiLeaks etc have alerted us to the fact that in Japan the plants were old and in trouble. Such problems were ignored by the corporations and allowed by the govt.

Here in the US there are a number of plants that have had near misses for disasters...seldom if every reported; and a number of plants that knowledgeable people claim are not safe and yet nothing is being done about it.
posted by Postroad at 8:32 AM on March 23, 2011


i>Many, if not most, people who oppose nuclear power aren't doing so because they love coal power. In fact many, if not most, of them oppose coal for broadly the same reasons they oppose nuclear power. (This is especially true in the case of Greenpeace, which one would think is pretty bloody obvious).

Yeah right. This is why whenever there's a coal mining accident the yuppie Greens do hundreds of posts on every forum they can find about the hazards and environmental effects of coal production. That' they do articles and repeat breathless news accounts about the radioactive particles in food and water from the coal and petroleum industry. That's why every chance they get they make dire warnings about the deaths coal use causes. That's why they've spent an equal amount of time focusing on the non-nuclear power plant that caught fire.

l see self-described Greens giving lip service to the deaths caused by coal use, but it's nothing compared to their obsessive paranoia about nuclear power. It's like the Catholic Church's attitude toward molesting priests: "Oh yeah.It's bad. Real bad. We'll certainly take a stand against it. OMG look over there! Someone's having a nuke plant!"

And don't give me a line about alternative energy;
yuppies love alternative energy until it comes time to build a plant in their neighborhoods, and then the protests start, mainly about noise and declining property values. Why can't those alternative energy plants be built where there's only poor people?

I see relatively little reasoned conversation about energy trade-offs and transitioning off of petrochemicals, and a lot of ex-hippie hysteria about nukes, combined with handwaving about alternate energy. And that's not even including the gleeful "meathook future" scenarios.
posted by happyroach at 9:00 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, happy roach, coal isn't currently making inroads and beginning to gain increasing acceptance as a viable alternative to--erm, well, coal, among "greens." That's probably why Green Peace is less interested in making that case, don't you think?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:08 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


yuppies love alternative energy until it comes time to build a plant in their neighborhoods, and then the protests start, mainly about noise and declining property values.

Oh, I know what you mean - the noise from my PV solar array is just deafening. It must be, because I don't hear a thing. And I hate how my property's value has been declining upward.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:23 AM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is There A Third Option To Being Just Pro- or Anti-Nuclear?
posted by homunculus at 9:32 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


There simply is no reason to have all this refined uranium piling up. It's just dumb.

But isn't this just another indictment of the nuclear industry, not an argument for more nuclear power?

A responsible nuclear industry in the US would be engaging in fuel reclamation more aggressively.

I realize a large part of the problem here is that the necessary regulations to ensure safety reduce the number of entrants in the nuclear market to only those large established firms with the resources to ensure compliance. Without a robust competitive environment, firms aren't competing on performance and features so we're not seeing the implementation of things like fuel reprocessing and more aggressive deployment of new reactors.

Perhaps my original comment was too critical of the individual actors in the nuclear industry. As I outlined above, due to important and necessary regulations, we don't see a competitive environment with hundreds of competing firms. Which means that employees are competing for placement at a few firms, so it's much more difficult to be critical of the industry as a whole. It's easy for engineers like myself to stand up for things like net neutrality, because there are thousands of software companies out there.

So, in summary I guess a system like nuclear by it's very nature is going to be unsafe. We're going to see fewer whistleblowers because the cost of whistleblowing is much higher in a non-competitive environment. My argument against nuclear isn't really the technology per se, but the economic system that encourages unsafe practices.
posted by formless at 9:36 AM on March 23, 2011


Kirth Gerson: Pilgrim Power Plant in MA is the same design & equipment as Fukushima. There was a map somewhere, but now I forget where. Try the NYT maybe.
posted by rusty at 10:02 AM on March 23, 2011


Also, I'd like to point out, if you skip to the bottom of the previous thread on the ongoing situation at Fukushima, you'll see that while the situation has greatly improved and is considerably closer to what we'd call under control at the moment, it's not over yet, and there are still some serious risks.

And tap water in Tokyo has now been deemed unfit for consumption by children due to radiation effects. So claims that there haven't been serious non-local impacts from this event is only true for a ridiculously broad conception of "local" that includes a major chunk of Japan and an absurdly narrow conception of "impact" that apparently only includes direct vaporization of individuals by atomic blast coincidental with the occurrence of a reactor failure.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:07 AM on March 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


And one more link to demonstrate the point on the viability of solar energy despite the ubiquitous doubt-mongering of competing industries and renewable skeptics:

New Buildings Aim to Produce Energy, Not Consume It
Solar panels on the roof generate energy, although the building still draws from the grid when it needs to. Other energy-saving mechanisms include using Energy Star-labeled appliances, using equipment to shade the inside from Florida's hot sun and applying high-performance insulation to further reduce solar heat gain. A utility bill in October of last year confirmed the net-zero claim when it found that the building was generating more power than it was using. Forty-five percent of the energy produced in the panels goes back into the grid.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:12 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


wilful: how many G20 countries use nuclear power? Nineteen.

You mean, they operate nuclear power plants? Or just, they purchase electricity generated from nuclear plants in other countries? It's a fungible commodity.
posted by msalt at 10:20 AM on March 23, 2011


We can't compare the costs and risks of nuclear power plants until their waste cycle has been completed, in 10,000 years. 10,000 years ago, history hadn't been invented. That would seem to make some humility and caution advisable.

The fact that we can't even agree on an initial long-term plan for this waste after 60 years, while the waste piles up, is not a hopeful sign. Fukushima was not a reactor accident; it was a nuclear waste pool accident.
posted by msalt at 10:26 AM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


We can't compare the costs and risks of nuclear power plants until their waste cycle has been completed, in 10,000 years. 10,000 years ago, history hadn't been invented. That would seem to make some humility and caution advisable.

The same has been said (and largely ignored) about the CO2 emissions of hydrocarbon-based energy generation.
posted by peeedro at 11:16 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


The big problem with fukushima is not the reactors-that problem is now going away and if that was the only problem the radioactive particle release would have been minor and no real danger to anyone outside the plant (and maybe not much of one inside the plant). Storing the spent fuel next to the containment vessel elevated well off the ground level was foolish and not a stable situation. This is the problem and an easy one to design around-put the pool at ground level and closer to the cooling towers in its own containment vessel. The containment vessel for this material could be much cheaper than the reactor vessel, and probably a small fraction of the cost of the plant, in other words cheap insurance. In all honesty I thought this was how all plants stored it based on some diagramns I have seen.

The waste problem is solvable, right now. It is a political hot potato because most people don't understand the nature of it. The really danegerous radioactive stuff decays fast to something stable-ie non-radioactive. It is its nature, if it is giving off lots of energy it isn't stable and will rapibly decay. And we should be recycling this stuff anyway. We aren't because Carter signed some excutive order (i may be wrong about the order-it might be legislation)outlawing reprocessing of fuel. It was done in the name of non-proliferation, but it was kinda dumb them, and it is really dumb now. The cost of reprocessing is a fraction of the cost of mining new (in every way-emissions, mining scars, money).

The remaining material that is cannot be recycled is really tiny volume wise. The current stored spent fuel (unreprocessed volume) could be stored in one big box store. Actually encasing it in glass and stacking the blocks in an empty warehouse on a military base surrounded by a company of marines actually strikes me as a pretty could interim solution. I am sure there are suitable buildings on Edward Air Force Base or all the ranges in nevada, arizona and new mexico. All of them have rail lines to the bases already for shipping in the waste. I am pretty sure that a movable vitrification facility could be built that could travel to each site to encase the material, if that was deemed necessary. The casks they have designed for transporting the spent fuel are pretty damn tough and should suffice for any reasonable person.

The nuclear waste problem is a political one, not a technical one or physical one. Political problems can be solved.
posted by bartonlong at 11:32 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The nuclear waste problem is a political one, not a technical one or physical one. Political problems can be solved.

Except when it comes to the relatively safer, cheaper (in terms of externalized costs) and more reliable in a disaster renewables, apparently.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:36 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


> And it's just not really an argument, we have to do something
> posted by delmoi at 10:08 AM on March 23 [1 favorite +] [!]

Unfortunately that's not "have to" in any sense that can't be resisted or evaded. It's not "have to" in the same sense as "an object in motion has to remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force." Thrashing around doing a lot of different somethings haphazardly and half-heartedly (while also doing a lot of nothing) is certainly an option and frankly it's the one I'm betting on.
posted by jfuller at 11:39 AM on March 23, 2011


My view is that there ought to be solar everywhere. There are tons of roofs all over the world that aren't doing anything and adding solar panels too would be easy, especially stuff like big-box retail and stuff. Wind power is a little bit more of a problem, as it apparently makes noise and annoys some people. But the smaller turbines are not as big of a deal.

The price of silicon panels as well as thin film has been dropping rapidly too.

I do think that if Nuclear is going to be done, it should be done by the government. The current model of letting private companies make money unless something goes wrong, in which case the government pays is more problematic. It has the same perverse incentives as wall-street (although one would hope nuclear plant operators would be a little more worried about spewing radiation everywhere then wall-street was about trashing the economy).

I don't think the cost structure really makes much sense for private companies, since the investment is so huge and decommissioning is such an unknown cost.
posted by delmoi at 12:06 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


is not the reactors-that problem is now going away and if that was the only problem the radioactive particle release would have been minor and no real danger to anyone outside the plant (and maybe not much of one inside the plant)

You seem to not have any understanding of what has happened over the past week at Fukushima. This is understandable since the last IAEA video report I've seen was either 1) just whitewashing nearly everything or 2) my reading of the situation is totally wrong. I welcome any expert here to look at the data I have and tell me where I'm wrong in the following.

Here's the latest situation report from NISA. The following is my best untrained understanding of what these numbers are saying:

Reactor pressure vessels of 1,2,3 are being flushed with ~200l/minute of seawater and their fuel rods, or what's left of them, are uncovered by 1.25M to 2.3M.

All 3 active units on 3/11 have experienced hydrogen explosions, probably due to oxidation of the Zircaloy casings in steam.

Reactor pressure of Unit 1 appears OK, but the readings for numbers 2 and 3 are negative for some reason.

Reactors 1 and 3 temperatures are still at design limit, 300deg. Reactor 2 is at 100. Saying this is "over" is premature.

Drywell pressure of unit 1 is at 94% of design limit. Pressures of 2 and 3 are at 100kPa (abs), ie. 1 ATM, ie. compromised.

Wetwell pressure of unit 1 appears high, pressures of 2 & 3 are listed as "downscale" ie. compromised.

Radiation in 1,2,3 drywells is measured at 50 Sv/hr and higher.

Reactor 1 wetwell radiation is 30 Sv/hr, and ~2Sv/hr in the others.

Storing the spent fuel next to the containment vessel elevated well off the ground level was foolish and not a stable situation

It was a stopgap until their reprocessing facility comes online. Fukushima's common storage facility is nearing capacity.


And we should be recycling this stuff anyway. We aren't because Carter signed some excutive order

"President Reagan lifted the ban in 1981, but did not provide the substantial subsidy that would have been necessary to start up commercial reprocessing" -- wikipedia
posted by mokuba at 12:32 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oops:

"All 3 active units on 3/11 have experienced hydrogen explosions, probably due to oxidation of the Zircaloy casings in steam."

is not in the datasheet listed. But NISA has made these estimations elsewhere.
posted by mokuba at 12:35 PM on March 23, 2011


What turns out to be unsafe is allowing a for-profit corporation to run a nuclear plant.

Citation, five fresh fish? Proving both that the for-profit status caused the failures (which AFAIK were mostly related to outdated safeguard methodology), and that state-run systems aren't subject to exactly the same failures?
posted by IAmBroom at 12:51 PM on March 23, 2011


Northwestern Wyoming could supply the entire continent with geothermal power. The major cost would be transmission lines which would end up being lower than the cost of 2 nuke plans ($20 billion). Perhaps we might even be able to drain off enough heat to stop a catastrophic eruption. But let's build the nuke and coal plants and grind the Wyoming oil shales up into dust to extract the last drops of oil.
posted by humanfont at 1:22 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tokyo water unsafe for infants after high radiation levels detected (more here)

What's in the smoke emerging from Fukushima I?

Hong Kong bans Japanese food imports as concerns over radiation mount

It occurs to me that perhaps it is a wee bit premature to declare at this time what long-term lessons can be learned from the still unfolding news and not yet under control situation in Japan.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 1:24 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mokuba, I have tried to keep up with the latest and it is a dynamic situation. The people running the plant (what is left of it) are very tired, probably sick, maybe dying at this point and their priorities are probably not geared toward getting out accurate up to date information to the press.

The steam/hydrogen explosions would likely not have been nearly so polluting if they spent fuel had not been stored high up, next to the reactor vessel and I stand by my statement that this design is at the heart of why this incident has been as bad as it has, and we still don't know how bad it will really be. I do beleive that on any scale the loss of life, hardship and suffereing is going to be much worse from the earthquake and the tsumani, followed by the lack of electric power to the survivors. Even Chernobyl did not have that high of a death count just from the meltdown and fire.

Nuclear power is danegerous. So is coal, so is gas, so is wind, so is solar. They all have costs and benefits. Such is life in an advanced technological society. We (civilization, humankind) have accomplished far more with widespread, abundant power than we ever did before. Even with the costs of coal I think an argument could be made that it is still cleaner used to generate electricity than lots of other power sources used by individuals for heat/cooking/light. Nuclear is far, far cleaner than coal and we need to learn from the mistakes of fukushima and move forward. Noone advocated ditching natural gas after it blew up a neighborhood near San Francisco (or several other major explosions over the years). The BP oil spill has caused more harm over a wider area than this reactor has and we are still drilling, pumping and using oil. Massey energy managed to kill lots of miner in Pennsylvania (I think) and we are still burning coal.

Techonology can be danegerous, but fission nuclear power is an understood, developed mature technology that has fewer costs than most thinks and more practical than solar or wind for base load. We should pursue and perfect both technologies but they will not power industry (too unreliable) upon which we all depend for our daily existance.

I do not want to hand the next generation a world lit only by fire with a future that only promises shivering in the dark. I want them to be able to accomplish more than we have, clean up the messes of past generations (just as we have cleaned up the messes we were handed) and hand their children a brighter future. To do this we have to maintain an industrial base and learn from our mistakes without throwing up our hands and taking the council of our fears.

As a final word, the current inequalities in distribution of wealth will only get worse in an energy constrained world, see Dark Ages, Europe for what that is like.
posted by bartonlong at 1:28 PM on March 23, 2011


Nuclear power is dangerous. So is coal, so is gas, so is wind, so is solar.

Surely we can all agree that not all sources of energy are equally dangerous.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 1:32 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


What's dangerous about solar? I mean, yeah, there's the fact that it doesn't work at night or when it's cloudy, but that's not really a danger so much as an inconvenience.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:42 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


are probably not geared toward getting out accurate up to date information to the press

No, NISA has now held 46 briefings in Tokyo. It's NISA's -- Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency -- job to collate and manage, and report.

The steam/hydrogen explosions would likely not have been nearly so polluting if they spent fuel had not been stored high up

This is referring to something we do not know, what happened to the SFPs when 1 & 3 exploded.

#1 was fully under water on the 12th and may not have suffered any pool integrity or loss of containment

#3 was the very serious explosion, but the response effort has been trying to "cool the SFP" for a week now. I honestly don't know the state of #3's SFP. There wasn't much wind when #3 exploded, so the debris fell all around the plant. NISA sure as hell hasn't said there's fuel rods on the ground, and they've sure tried very hard to get some water in that pool for the past week, so the situation on this is still quite a mystery.

The SFP in #4 was of course the cause of 4's conflagration apparently but if TEPCO had gotten ladder trucks on-site sooner this would have been avoidable. The last measurement we have on #4's SFP was 84°C on the 14th, and it began its cooking off the next day.

I stand by my statement that this design is at the heart of why this incident has been as bad as it has

That wasn't your original statement. You said the reactor problems were "minor" and "no real danger to anyone outside [or perhaps inside] the plant".

I attempted to educate you how this is utterly untrue.

Nuclear is far, far cleaner than coal and we need to learn from the mistakes of fukushima and move forward. Noone advocated ditching natural gas after it blew up a neighborhood near San Francisco

blah blah blah. Trying to reach nuclear apologists is really pointless. It's like a fucking religion with you people.
posted by mokuba at 1:53 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Solar is potentially dangerous to the bank accounts of people who'd like to make you pay rent for access to energy, so they can have a relatively predictable recurring revenue stream. Beyond that, yeah, it's basically the safest energy tech going.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:54 PM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


A couple of notes about thorium:

The German thorium reactor was an interesting experiment but is nothing like the designs that have people really excited today. It was a gas cooled pebble bed reactor using both uranium and thorium. It was a very unusual design. Other mixed fuel reactors have been tried in various configurations. It was also done for awhile at either Indian Point near NYC or one of the reactors on Lake Ontario. They stopped because it wasn't worth the added expense.

What thorium proponents talk about is LFTR. It's a design that uses a molten thorium salt and has pretty impressive safety properties. The two big ones being that it operates at atmospheric pressures (no steam to explode) and that, if it gets too hot, safety plugs melt draining the salt into holding tanks where it will cool down. There's no chance of a meltdown since it's already melted. There's very little waste and what waste there is will be safe after around 300 years instead of tens of thousands. It can even consume the waste produced in conventional reactors.

This isn't some new unproven technology. In the 1960s the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment ran successfully for five years.

Why aren't LFTRs all over the place? Because they can't make plutonium for bombs.
posted by joegester at 2:06 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Northwestern Wyoming could supply the entire continent with geothermal power. The major cost would be transmission lines which would end up being lower than the cost of 2 nuke plans ($20 billion). Perhaps we might even be able to drain off enough heat to stop a catastrophic eruption. But let's build the nuke and coal plants and grind the Wyoming oil shales up into dust to extract the last drops of oil.

and

Because they can't make plutonium for bombs.

Well, there it is in a nutshell.

Maybe someone should get T. Boone Pickens on the whole transmission lines thing. Offer him a lease so he can get his greed on, get some things done.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:28 PM on March 23, 2011


The major cost would be transmission lines which would end up being lower than the cost of 2 nuke plans ($20 billion

instant-internet fame "arclight" nuclear proponent/twitterist made the odd claim that electricity from eg. solar plants in Az was too expensive or somesuch to redistribute throughout the nation.

I thought that was an odd assertion to make. . .
posted by mokuba at 2:35 PM on March 23, 2011


Transmission line losses are huge in a country the size of the US.
posted by unSane at 2:50 PM on March 23, 2011


instant-internet fame "arclight" nuclear proponent/twitterist made the odd claim that electricity from eg. solar plants in Az was too expensive or somesuch to redistribute throughout the nation.

I thought that was an odd assertion to make. . .


It is an odd assertion to make. I figured the cost was related to energy loss through long power lines. Wikipedia actually has some stats on that: power line losses. According to it, the longest cost-effective distance for a line is 4,300 miles. Considerably longer than the ~3,000 width of the US.
posted by formless at 2:52 PM on March 23, 2011


This thread is all so much noise, disappointing level of debate for metafilter.

We don't have to rely on nuclear, but it's likely that it will be significantly cheaper and less intrusive to do so. For people who are keen on the 100% renewables approach I suggest you read the excellent (and free online) Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air. 100% renewables means we devote huge areas of the planet to generating energy, be aware of what that means.

As for those who want us to abandon industrial, energy-intensive society, I'm willing to have that conversation, but nobody else is. Politics is the art of the possible, and 99% of people would laugh you out of the room. Never going to happen.

Of course what's happening at Fukushima is awful, but at this stage all of our options have consequences and I agree with Monbiot that this is probably the least worst.
posted by greytape at 2:56 PM on March 23, 2011


I stand by my statement that this design is at the heart of why this incident has been as bad as it has

That wasn't your original statement. You said the reactor problems were "minor" and "no real danger to anyone outside [or perhaps inside] the plant".


I believe I said that the biggest problems seemed to be from the spent fuel pools and their location next to the reactor. This really compounded the problem and made it much harder to solve. I also said this was a bad idea, my understanding of how the fuel is stored on site was different from the reality at fukushima and it was a bad idea. This was one of the lessons learned and hopefully the problem won't get any worse than it is (and the problem is bad-just no worse than other cost for different kinds of generation).

Trying to reach radiation phobes and luddites is pointless. Its like a religon to you people. See it works both ways. i am trying to put forth ration arguments from my point of view. If you have a concrete alternative to nuclear please share. Otherwise you are just being a fear monger.

As for dangers of solar-a surprising number of people do fall of the roof when installing the things. The manufacturering of them is polluting from what i understand. However they should be used for residential power where it makes sense-and it does for a great part of the US. Especially thermal solar for hot water-both just hot water and space heating. A hydronically heated house is very comfortable, more so than forced air central heating can manage. The storage problems for solar are easier to solve on a small scale also for individual homes with a tie to grid power as a backup. And the manufacturer of all those batteries to store solar power when its dark is also fairly dirty technology. Ground based Solar power requries a large physical footprint and is a diffuse energy source. This is not the answer for our industrial needs. It doesn't supply power for 50% of the time and the enviromentalists seemed to protest using our deserts (meaning the US) for building large installitions of either photovoltaic or thermal. The real promise for solar power for widespread use is space based. Look up solar power satellites for more info. Plus we get a space infrastructure with this one. But just using it on rooftops for residential use would take a great deal of the load off the grid and is looking like it makes economic sense for sunny areas.

Geothermal holds a great deal of promise for base load. This technology is still to be proven on a large scale for a long period of time but from what I have read the problem is largely solvable, just not worked out yet. I think the enviromental protests and nimbyism will kill this one more than the technical challenges. Using the yellowstone hotspot for a power plant makes a lot of technical sense but I bet the protests are even worse than nuclear ones if it ever gets going.
posted by bartonlong at 2:59 PM on March 23, 2011


It occurs to me that perhaps it is a wee bit premature to declare at this time what long-term lessons can be learned from the still unfolding news and not yet under control situation in Japan.

Careful, you'll get called a fear monger if you point out inconvenient facts about reality like these.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:12 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you have a concrete alternative to nuclear please share. Otherwise you are just being a fear monger.

Yeah, I've got an alternative. Conservation. Radical energy conservation and radically scaled back use, the likes of which have not yet been seen in the industrialized world, but damn well need to be. Buildings whose windows can't be opened, necessitating full-time AC? Ban 'em. Make 'em illegal. It's absurd. the insane amounts of electricity that Akihabara's electronics district (for example) sucks up every single day with their thousands of TVs and radios turned on and beaming to no one in particular? Turn 'em off. Fine offenders who waste electricity in these and countless other ways. In general, stop the insane, pointless electricity gluttony that has become the norm.

And goddammit, I'm sick of people hurling accusations of "fear mongering". Go tell it to the young Tokyo mother who's just been told the tap water is unsafe for her baby, and there's NO bottled water left on the shelves of the Tokyo grocery store. You go tell her about fear mongering. Disgusting.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:34 PM on March 23, 2011 [16 favorites]


Yeah, I've got an alternative. Conservation. Radical energy conservation and radically scaled back use, the likes of which have not yet been seen in the industrialized world, but damn well need to be

We'll discover workable cold fusion, achieve faster than light transportation and meet all kinds of cool aliens long before that ever happens. Your hoping for utopia. Maybe you aren't a fear monger. Maybe you're just a wild eyed dreamer. The world needs dreamers, but the world also needs energy too, and unfortunately, we can't all power our computers and factories with your hopes and dreams.
posted by willnot at 3:57 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


We'll discover workable cold fusion, achieve faster than light transportation and meet all kinds of cool aliens long before that ever happens.

Maybe you're just a wild eyed dreamer.


So, people and governments are now incapable of passing laws and ordinances regulating building codes and energy usage? What the hell is so utopian about my suggestions? I admit that they have a slim chance of being enacted under current leadership, but I'm holding out hope that irradiated food and drinking water (and god forbid, worse) might just bring people, here in Japan, at least, to their senses.

OTOH, if you really feel like making the drinking water of a metropolitan area of 20-plus million people unsafe is a good tradeoff for the kind of energy waste I'm talking about, then it might be time for you to consider (along with your characterization of me as a wild eyed dreamer) that you are kind of... insane?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:07 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, fear mongering. I do not see how a needless reduction in living standards will materially help anyone in Japan right now. What is disgusting is that you want to keep poor people poor (that is one of the effects of lack of abundant cheap power does) because you are afraid of a something you don't understand. Getting electicity to people in need will help them. Nuclear reactors can do this, and with good design incorporating the lessons learned from this and other disasters, the dangers can be minimized.

This is not the worst burden japan has to bear right now and my sympathies are with the people without a fucking house, not just a minor water problem that might be treatable with good filters or flocculation (I have no idea the source of tokyo's water supply or treatment facilities) but I do know about water treatment in general. The current amount of iodine in the water is not good, but it is hardly the problem that being without shelter in the early spring at a northerly lattitude is, especially for infants. This problem will pass and the radiation problem is not the overwhelming issue that our news media is making it out to be or some of the commentors of this thread are. It is a well understood natural phenomen and the poision is in the dose not its mere presence. Our lives are dependant on an unshielded fusion reactor in the sky that gives us all way more radiation than most residents in Japan are likely to get from this incident. I lived on the Colorado Platuea for 15 years and my extra dose from living their exceeds what most Japanese are getting from this. The amount of iodine in the water is safe for adults indefinately and likely safe for infants for a short time. How short? who knows. If it was a choice of not feeding my infant formula or giving it some formula made with very mildly radioactively contaminated water I think I would feed the child, and let the world class health care system work out any ill effects that the infant may have (on the order or maybe a 2-4% increase in likelihood) for an easily treatable cancer deal with years later. If there is any cesium contamination this a harder problem to solve and a much more danegerous emitter. So far I have not read any accounts of cesium out of the reactor, but there probably is some. This is a bad thing that happened at the Reactor that could have been avoided with better design. Most technological problems are in this category. We live and Learn and do better. See the advances made in car collision safety over the past 20 years. It is not a reason to abondon a productive, useful technology that improves the life of millions if not billions of people all over the world on a daily basis.
posted by bartonlong at 4:09 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


That transmission line losses stat is from a theoretical paper from 1984. If you talk to people actually involved in power generation, they try to keep losses right down by building power plants close to the consumers. This is why Ontario has wind farms stuck right in the middle of Southern Ontario rather than Way The Fuck Up There in Northern Ontario where no-one would complain about them. The cost of building infrastructure in remote places is also massively higher, and the most significant factor of all is this: power plants get built where politicians get votes for building them, not where they should be.
posted by unSane at 4:13 PM on March 23, 2011


What is disgusting is that you want to keep poor people poor

Yeah, right, pal. That's what I want to do. You nailed it. But keep in mind that there are almost no truly "poor" people (as that word is understood) here in Japan.

just a minor water problem...

let the world class health care system work out any ill effects that the infant may have


Get lost.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:13 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]



Ugh... I cannot keep quiet any longer. I rarely comment anywhere about anything on the internet but I cannot hold it in any longer.

Do you guys hear yourself speak? Flapjax is actually in Japan right now where the tap water in Tokyo is not safe for infants. This is not some theoretical consideration for the people in Japan. They are right now experiencing the effects of an earthquake, tsunami and to add insult to injury- a fucked up nuke plant.

This is not fear mongering to them it is a pragmatic consideration that relates to their survival. If the plant is not brought under control soon - it means some very serious consequences for Japan and for the rest of the world to think about when a decision is made as to what we use for energy.

Conservation is a valid option. Not some fucking pie in the sky dreamer talk.
posted by yertledaturtle at 4:18 PM on March 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


NYT: Optimism Is on Hold at Japan Plant as New Problems Arise
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:40 PM on March 23, 2011


First pictures emerge of the Fukushima Fifty.
posted by gman at 4:43 PM on March 23, 2011


So, people and governments are now incapable of passing laws and ordinances regulating building codes and energy usage? What the hell is so utopian about my suggestions?

Declaring buildings with windows that don't open illegal isn't going to solve a damn thing in the short term, unless you're willing to take on the cost (in both energy and fiscal terms) of tearing down all the existing buildings and replacing them with new and better ones. Turning off all the consumer electronics in the shopping district of a country whose leading export is consumer electronics isn't going to do the Japanese economy any good either.

Obviously, your computer is up and running because you consider your own energy use to be justifiable and reasonable. Protip: everyone else feels the same way about their energy use. Most people are willing to conserve, or spend some extra money on devices that consume power more efficiently. They're not willing to fuck the entire economy by running around switching arbitrary parts of it off. That's the problem with simplistic solutions: when it comes time to implement them, they often turn out not to make a great deal of sense.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:48 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


How safe is the water?

My reply was not based on a pie in the sky answer. It was based on advice of experts i trust and a sound understanding of the physical principles involved. Our forebears worked hard and sacrificed for us to have a better life. It is foolishness to throw it away because some people are afraid of the word radiation or nuclear. We should not take the council of our fears.

Conservation should be used, and there is a good mechanism in place for this-electricty costs money. Should it cost more? maybe, but a dwindling energy supply is not going to spread prosperity or improve anyone standard of living. And currently the only viable replacement for nuclear power plants is either coal or natural gas. Both have problems, just like nuclear.

Alternative sources should be researched and utilized as much as it makes economic sense to do so (see my above comments for more thoughts on this), but there is no technology that can give us the power we need as a technological society like nuclear can.

One of the great tragedies of the Iraq war is that it continued our dependance on fossil fuels. If we had invested that money in research and building new, clean power plants (of all kinds that show real promise-thermal solar, geothermal, nuclear, wind, OTEC) we would be a long way toward a safer, cleaner world and a much more prosperous country.
posted by bartonlong at 4:50 PM on March 23, 2011


This is a positive sign. People gonna have to change their way of thinking, and conservation will have to be a big part of the new energy order.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:02 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


An NPR article on the safety of drinking the tap water in Tokyo is some pretty cold comfort to the mother's of Tokyo who have been told not to drink their tap water by the authorities in Tokyo.

No one is saying we should take the council of our fears barton. However fear is not always unreasonable either. It is an evolutionary instinct that ensures our survival!
The simple fact remains that conservation is a valid option and that nuclear power as an option has serious flaws that it's proponents like to gloss over. Am I saying or is any one else saying that conservation is our only option and that it will solve our energy needs - no. This is not an either or situation it is just another way help solve the problem.

If just once instead of using this disaster as proof that some how nuclear power is the best way forward the proponents of nuclear power would acknowledge that it can be dangerous and that what just happened in Japan is not a success but a failure. I personally would give more weight to their arguments.

FWIW- I was on the fence until now.
posted by yertledaturtle at 5:05 PM on March 23, 2011


Conservation is only a valid option if you also choose authoritarianism. I really feel for you guys, this whole ordeal is terrible, but pretending like this event is magically going to stop the rest of the world from being inconsiderate assholes is just alienating people.
posted by polyhedron at 5:09 PM on March 23, 2011


Conservation is only a valid option if you also choose authoritarianism.

Cite?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:11 PM on March 23, 2011


If it was a choice of not feeding my infant formula or giving it some formula made with very mildly radioactively contaminated water I think I would feed the child, and let the world class health care system work out any ill effects that the infant may have (on the order or maybe a 2-4% increase in likelihood) for an easily treatable cancer deal with years later. If there is any cesium contamination this a harder problem to solve and a much more danegerous emitter. So far I have not read any accounts of cesium out of the reactor, but there probably is some. This is a bad thing that happened at the Reactor that could have been avoided with better design. Most technological problems are in this category. We live and Learn and do better. See the advances made in car collision safety over the past 20 years.

What the heck? First of all, cancer is not a case of strep throat, it's a pretty big deal. Thyroid cancer is fortunately relatively treatable if detected early enough, and survival rates are good, but radioactivity can cause other types of cancers too. The water isn't lethal, but it is dangerous, certainly to infants. Feeding radioactive water to infants might be better than starving them, but it is objectively a Very Bad Thing (tm). Your attitude is basically that it's cool that some people will get cancer from this because we'll "live and learn." Our point is that if your invention puts parents in a position where they have to make a choice between starving their infants and feeding them radioactive water, it's not the parents who have the wrong attitude.

You say "this is a bad thing that happened at the Reactor that could have been avoided with better design. Most technological problems are in this category." This is true of virtually every possible thing that can go wrong with virtually any technology in the world. If you improve the design to harden against mutant robots from outer space, the reactor is less likely to be destroyed by mutant robots from outer space. That shouldn't be confused with actually making the thing safer in general, which covers a very wide range of situations and includes an array of disaster response options. It's a moot point how safe the new reactors are when four 40 year old reactors are belching toxic amounts of radiation and no one, seemingly anywhere in the world, has a particularly good idea as to what exactly is happening or how to fix it. It's not a testament to nuclear safety that the Fukushima-1 plant survived at all; it's a testament to human ingenuity and luck that the situation is only as fucked up as it is.

It is not a reason to abondon a productive, useful technology that improves the life of millions if not billions of people all over the world on a daily basis.

We abandon productive, useful technologies all the time because they are dangerous or harmful. Flown in a hydrogen-filled zeppelin lately? Used an x-ray machine at the shoe store to check the fit of your new sneakers? Filled up your car with leaded gas? Used a CFC containing aerosol? Taken Darvocet? Driven a Ford Pinto? Sprayed asbestos insulation? Painted with lead paint? What about smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco? I'm not saying that completely abandoning nuclear power is the right response here, but why is it so absurd?
posted by zachlipton at 5:12 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Conservation is only a valid option if you also choose authoritarianism.

False dichotomy.
posted by yertledaturtle at 5:13 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I work on a sailboat. It's not the nicest sailboat afloat. It's not the most high tech sailboat afloat. It's just a sailboat.

We have 8 solar panels on the "roof". Collectively, they power a fridge, a drinks fridge, a freezer, a watermaker, lights, electronics, stereos, an icemaker, a 32" and 42' led flatscreen, a sat tv dome, a sat data dome, wifi, 3 electric toilets, our water pressure system, etc. In short, a very comfortable way of life. When it's just me and Mrs. Karst aboard, solar covers our needs with energy to spare.

When the boss is aboard with family, though, consumption skyrockets. Concepts like closing the tap while brushing your teeth, turning off lights when not in the room, turning off the tv instead of falling asleep with it on are entirely foreign to a landlubber. I tell him that he can still shower 3 times a day, or read with the lights on, or watch movies. There is no change needed regarding what he does. It just requires changing what he consumes when he isn't doing anything. He easily consumes 4x more than he "uses".

The answer isn't nuclear. The answer is increased efficiency and reduced consumption. Combined with solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro.
posted by karst at 5:15 PM on March 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's the other people. I'm down with conservation (although currently my life involves a lot of driving). Everyone isn't, and it would take some serious force to stop people from using cheap energy (which is generally also dangerous/dirty energy).

If we spend our efforts improving the technology, we can solve most of the problems. Pretending like we can solve them all isn't going to help.

But yes, it is a false dichotomy. It's just not as easy as saying conservation.
posted by polyhedron at 5:15 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe the solution is a little of everything? More renewables, better newer Nuclear plants and more efficient use of the energy we do use? Just a thought.
posted by troll on a pony at 5:15 PM on March 23, 2011


It's the other people. I'm down with conservation (although currently my life involves a lot of driving). Everyone isn't, and it would take some serious force to stop people from using cheap energy (which is generally also dangerous/dirty energy).

I agree. I have a feeling economic considerations are going to take be the force that makes conservation a reasonable choice to more than just a few open minded and conscious individuals.

If we spend our efforts improving the technology, we can solve most of the problems. Pretending like we can solve them all isn't going to help.

But yes, it is a false dichotomy. It's just not as easy as saying conservation.


I agree. I hope that the research and implementation of new! and better! technologies does solve some of the problems we are facing with energy and global climate change.
I don't think any one thing will be the solution. I am also assuming that those who are proponents of conservation are not saying that it is the only solution either. it's just another tool in the tool box that should not be overlooked while we rush to implement energy policy.

Over all though I am pretty cynical about these problems really being solved. I have feeling we will delay implementing solutions until it is too late.
posted by yertledaturtle at 5:27 PM on March 23, 2011


Nuclear power cheerleaders just cannot be trusted.

Japanese nuclear plant’s safety analysts brushed off risk of tsunami

Yukinobu Okamura, a prominent seismologist, warned of a debilitating tsunami in June 2009 at one of a series of meetings held by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to evaluate the readiness of Daiichi, as well as Japan’s 16 other nuclear power plants, to withstand a massive natural disaster. But in the discussion about Daiichi, Okamura was rebuffed by an executive from the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, because the utility and the government believed that earthquakes posed a greater threat.

That conclusion left Daiichi vulnerable to what unfolded on March 11, when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off Japan’s northeast coast. Experts now say that Daiichi, as designed, withstood the quake. It was the ensuing tsunami, with waves more than 20 feet high, that knocked out the facility’s critical backup power supply and triggered a nuclear emergency, resulting in widespread releases of radiation.

The disaster highlights the government’s miscalculation in prioritizing one natural disaster over another and casts scrutiny on a review that more often reaffirmed NISA’s and Tepco’s standards than challenged them.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:37 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm getting those numbers from here

But, radiation lasts a long time and it hasn't had time to kill everybody it's going to kill yet. OK. Even if Nuclear is a 1,000 times worse than we think, it's still 4 times better than coal and on-par with Natural Gas. Still, let's say that we need to get rid of Nuclear, Natural Gas and Coal.

So, to get rid of those and replace them with conservation, you, and everybody else will have to reduce your energy usage by at least 68%. Never mind the factories or the street lights or other things over which you have no direct control. How are you personally going to reduce your energy usage by 68%?

Oh, and since my mother will refuse to reduce her energy usage by even one iota (she tells me they'll come up with a solution eventually, and even if they don't, she'll be dead soon), how are you going to reduce your needs even further to off-set her? There are, I'm willing to wager, WAY more people like her than there are like you. I'm sure she's petrified about nuclear, but honestly she could give crap all about coal or natural gas.

Now, once you've done that, let's talk about all the factories and all the street lights and all the stuff over which you don't have direct control, and let's talk about the emerging countries who will only use more and more energy over time.

I know you're hoping that people will wake up and realize we can't sustain these levels, but even if they do, they aren't going to curb their energy use as long as there is a baby somewhere that they can render for fat to run their generators. Sure, not all people will go as far as powering their factories off rendered babies, but they'll go a lot farther than you seem to think they will, and some people will certainly go that far.

That's why I think that suggesting conservation as the answer is wild eyed dreaming. I would love to see more conservation, and I think you will where it can be shown to make financial sense for people. But I wouldn't count on people doing it purely out of a sense of enlightened altruism.

Interestingly, rooftop solar kills .44 people per TWh, which is 10 times more than nuclear. I guess people fall down a lot, but I would still love to see more energy produced from rooftop solar as I think it's worth the risk.
posted by willnot at 5:51 PM on March 23, 2011


Interestingly, rooftop solar kills .44 people per TWh, which is 10 times more than nuclear. I guess people fall down a lot...

Did you hear about that guy who fell off his roof installing a solar panel? He landed on his son's skateboard, which went careening down the driveway and into the street, where a truck, swerving to avoid it, hit a pipeline carrying natural gas, which exploded. The explosion was heard by workers at the nearby nuclear power plant, who stepped away from their control panels long enough to miss the warning signals of an imminent criticality accident. The nuke blew up and irradiated all livestock and vegetables in a 100-mile radius, followed immediately by a torrent of online and media statements of support for nuclear power, most of it pointing to the fact that nuclear power is much, much safer than putting a solar panel on your roof.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:05 PM on March 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


We don't have to rely on nuclear, but it's likely that it will be significantly cheaper and less intrusive to do so. For people who are keen on the 100% renewables approach I suggest you read the excellent (and free online) Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air. 100% renewables means we devote huge areas of the planet to generating energy, be aware of what that means.

Do you have any idea what's going in this world with MTR coal mining, oil fields, hydraulic fraking the tar sands? We are irrevocably destroying large portions of the earths surface just to scape out the last few drops of oil and dig up the last coal.

The nonsense you are peddling is just nuclear industry PR. The technology is big, expensive and the industry has a poor track record of identifying and managing risks. I'm not just talking about the latest incident either. I recall all the guys who mined yellowcake near my hometown all dying of lung cancer back in the 80s and 90s. And the quiet cleanup of radioactive tailings.

Between geothermal, solar, and wind there is ample capacity for all of our needs. The cost per watt of solar has fallen from 21.75 to close to $1/watt since 1980. The energy efficiency of lighting and cooling and heating systems have also increased dramatically. It can be done without substantial impacts on your lifestyle. Consider that the aveeage American consumes 14k kWh/ year of electricity compared to 8k kWh for the Japanese. That's a 40% reduction and before the tsunami the lifestyle over there wasn't particularly Spartan.
posted by humanfont at 6:15 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


i am trying to put forth ration arguments from my point of view.

You are ignorant of the actual facts of what has happened at Fukushima. You are talking out of your ass, like so many of the pro-nuclear shills have been here.

If you have a concrete alternative to nuclear please share. Otherwise you are just being a fear monger.

This is quite the red herring. I am just telling you what has happened in Fukushima. It's not up to me to form the national energy policy.

So far I have not read any accounts of cesium out of the reactor

Kan widens ban on contaminated food

"According to the health ministry, out of 35 sampled vegetables, 25 exceeded the government's limit of cesium of 500 becquerels per kilogram and 21 exceeded the iodine limit of 2,000 becquerels. The highest amount of cesium was found in "kukitachina," a vegetable, with a total of 82,000 becquerels, 164 times the legal limit."

Nearby seawater radioactive

"According to a study conducted by Tokyo Electric Power Co. on seawater collected about 330 meters from the crippled plant's drainage pipes Monday, the level of iodine-131 was 126.7 times higher than the limit set by the government and cesium-134 was 24.8 times higher, while cesium-137 was 16.5 times higher."

but there probably is some.

"The nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl had a source term of iodine-131 at 1.76 x 10^18 becquerels of cesium-137 at 8.5 x 10^16 bequerels," the statement added. "The estimated for Fukushima source terms are thus at 20 percent of Chernobyl for iodine, and 20-60 percent of Chernobyl for cesium."

'Likely in the same order of magnitude' as Chernobyl'

This is a bad thing that happened at the Reactor that could have been avoided with better design

The design was largely fine, save for the fact that Japan had not made the modifications that GE recommended and the NRC ordered US operators make back in the 1980s . The disaster response was what was lacking.

FWIW, I am still very pro-nuclear, I think we should be doing a lot more fission research than we apparently are, and nuclear would hopefully make a good back-up plan if other approaches fail.

But it is not being a "luddite" to point out that the failure of Fukushima Daiichi has been a very, very costly one for Japan. They'd have been better off not building the damn thing in the first place.
posted by mokuba at 6:24 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nuclear is responsible for 5.9% of world energy production and kills 0.04 people per TWh

Those numbers are basically bullshit. He's using the "official" Chernobyl death toll, which is a political number, soviet propaganda with no connection to reality, orders of magnitude lower than even some of the mid-range estimates. Less clearly, he also seems to be counting construction-worker accidents in some energy production, but not others. The numbers are lazy, assembled to make a point, rather than to be meaningful comparison.

I think the costs of CO2 dwarf the costs of nuclear, but it would be nice if we could use nuclear responsibly and not have to suffer needless death an destruction to bolster someone's profit margin.

I also think "it's either nuclear and coal" is outdated and perhaps should be regarded as myth. Nuclear is no-longer cheaper than solar.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:52 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's why I think that suggesting conservation as the answer is wild eyed dreaming. I would love to see more conservation, and I think you will where it can be shown to make financial sense for people. But I wouldn't count on people doing it purely out of a sense of enlightened altruism.

Quite. I have a very low energy footprint; the heat is hardly ever on in this house, all the lightbulbs are CFL, and have been for years; I like reading with only one small lamp in the dark; and I have never owned a car, but usually relied on bicycle and public transport. I really get conservation, and have been practicing it since the 1970s or so. Most people don't get it, and even when they do they need a lot of time to change their habits. It's one reason I favor a carbon tax.

However, the electricity that a typical (wasteful) household uses in a year is less than the electricity that a steel furnace needs to operate for a half hour. Just maintaining a modern technological society to accommodate normal population growth and ensure that things don't fall down consumes a large amount of energy. Conservation has a role to play, but thinking it's the whole story is like saying we could save a lot of money on police and courts and prisons if we could just get people to stop committing crimes. Well, of course we would, but there's this yawning gap between theory and practice and ignoring it is not going to yield helpful solutions.

Nuclear power's advantage lies in its ability to generate a huge volume of power per station, with very little pollution when operated correctly. The disadvantages are that when it goes wrong it can be very dangerous, and that waste disposal is an expensive problem for older reactor designs (I too like the possibilities offered by thorium salt reactors). Those risks are significant. However...

...where opponents of nuclear power keep getting it wrong, and making themselves look stupid, is their insistence on treating all nuclear plants as equally risky - regardless of location, operational safety record, or design. There are two nuclear plants in California, where I live, and I am not too happy about that. Earthquake zones are really fucking stupid places to build a nuclear power plant, and Pacific Gas and Electric has a distinctly mediocre record when it comes to public safety. I was all for building that huge molten salt solar plant in the Mojave desert, but Diana Feinstein objected because it might disrupt the habitat of the desert tortoise (since then a compromise has been worked out which involves the tortoises being collected by hand and moved somewhere else). I am also keenly aware of the problems arising from badly run nuclear power plants, having grown up in Ireland and seen the UK government's repeated lousy oversight of Sellafield and the cavalier dumping of waste into the narrow sea between the two countries.

But locations, operations, and technologies have a variable impact on safety. There are a lot of plants that have never had a dangerous incident because they are not exposed to a high risk of natural disaster and have been well run. It makes no sense whatsoever to pretend a plant in one place presents a higher risk because a bunch of planners in Japan chose to ignore the well-known high risks of earthquakes and tsunamis that apply to just about any place on Japan's coastline. They're not having a big problem at Fukushima because nuclear is inherently bad, they're having one because they built a nuclear station right on the coast at around sea level, where it was ideally positioned for devastation by a magnitude 9 earthquake, the most destructive kind of natural disaster that exists short of impact by a meteorite.

It was a terrible place to build a nuclear plant. People will say the same thing if some future earthquake closer to Tokyo results in massive urban destruction. As it is, the loss of life and destruction from the nuclear incident - and I think it probably will result in some deaths, directly or indirectly - are vastly outweighed by the destruction stemming from the earthquake and the tsunami. For all the current anxiety, the nuclear incident is a sideshow to that event. Right now the biggest questions facing Japanese planners, and those in other seismically-active places, are about whether building towns or cities right next to coastlines is even a good idea, or whether it's an economic and humanitarian disaster in the making.

If you want to reduce nuclear risks, prioritize and focus on the cases where those risks are elevated. If your claim is that all nuclear power is equally risky and that other factors are too marginal to matter, then nobody is going to take you seriously because that's not how the world works.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:59 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nuclear is responsible for 5.9% of world energy production and kills 0.04 people per TWh

Part of the difficulty in assessing those risks scientifically, willnot, is that at least some, if not many, of the deaths caused by the various processes needed in nuclear power generation are deaths from long-term cancers that can appear decades after exposure. Does your link consider cancerous deaths associated with uranium mining, for example? How could it?
posted by mediareport at 7:10 PM on March 23, 2011


Do the coal numbers account for coal mining deaths?
posted by joegester at 7:13 PM on March 23, 2011


joegester, the larger point is that coal mining deaths happen immediately and are quickly countable: the mine collapses and we know how many bodies are crushed beneath the rock. The same can't be said for deaths from radiation poisoning in, say, African uranium mines in extremely poor countries where French corporations pull 50% of the material needed to fuel all those wonderful French reactors.
posted by mediareport at 7:17 PM on March 23, 2011


Black lung disease complicating matters a bit, of course, but the point about the difficulty of counting uranium mining deaths stands.
posted by mediareport at 7:19 PM on March 23, 2011


But, radiation lasts a long time and it hasn't had time to kill everybody it's going to kill yet. OK. Even if Nuclear is a 1,000 times worse than we think, it's still 4 times better than coal and on-par with Natural Gas.

Willnot is giving a lot of leeway with those figures - 3 orders of magnitude. The point here is not that nuclear is safe or risk-free (it isn't), but that coal is catastrophically, obviously, and problematically unsafe. We burn such a vast amount of coal that it's changing the thermal characteristics of our entire atmosphere. As I said above, coal provides about 50% of US electricity needs right now. We could reduce that a bit with conservation, and replace some of it with renewables, but that's a very very large gap that needs closing.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:26 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


So far, the human body has 100% failure rate.
posted by goalyeehah at 7:29 PM on March 23, 2011


Well ok, I guess they would be harder to count but there are also orders of magnitude fewer uranium miners than coal.

This whole debate about the exact number of deaths/TWh is silly. Those numbers are probably of the most hand-wavy sort but that doesn't change the obvious take-away. Coal and oil are vastly more dangerous than the renewables or nuclear.

I think that list also leaves out the Banqiao dam failure.
posted by joegester at 7:30 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yep, in Japan here too saying that it's not fear-mongering when actual water intended for drinking by Tokyoians was found to have actual levels of Iodine-131 higher than the recommended maximum levels for infants.

Yes, it was just one location (so far). No, infants aren't going to instantly die if a drop touches their lips. But I do seem to recall a lot of condescending eye-rolling about how there would be no effects on anyone who wasn't actually swimming in the pool with the fuel rods, ho ho ho how droll. So who among the eye-rollers is going to be first to apologize and admit that they misunderstood the situation completely and that the conclusions they drew were worthless and wrong?

I'm not even saying "Let's abandon all nuclear power," so don't bother setting up that strawman. That's a whole different discussion. What I am saying is that if your argument shifts from "Effects will be undetectable outside the plant grounds!" to "Effects will be detectable but well within levels permitted by governmental safety standards!" to "Effects will be more severe than governmental safety standards, but those safety standards are bullshit anyway, what's a 2-4% greater chance of cancer to a 6-month-old anyway?", your opinions start to look like the politically-driven bullshit backed up by research at Wikipedia University that they most likely are.
posted by No-sword at 7:34 PM on March 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'd like to see nuclear fuel reprocessed and more green energy. I want more conservation. As an American, our president has now been party to two major energy crises and it will be a shame if he can't use that to lead our country toward a real sustainable energy policy.

As a human being I am alarmed and concerned at the Fukushima situation. I am still pro-nuclear but any trust I have in the industry is tenuous at best. To be fair, I think even TEPCO hasn't understood the situation on the ground there. I think some environmentalists probably bear an amount of responsibility for the spent fuel situation. But it is clear that the risks have been downplayed and that safety concerns are not explicitly primary in the operation of nuclear power.

It seems the problem is money. I would love to see old reactors shut down in favor of newer, safer designs. The fuel problem has been allowed to balloon to alarming proportions but is manageable. There's no money for any of that.

I know this will come across as FUD, but we don't really understand the long term impacts of various renewable energy technologies. Tidal energy generation could have a major impact on the remaining large ocean predators. Solar power isn't necessarily that clean to produce. Geothermal taps into a poorly understood source of energy and could have a much greater impact than anticipated. Even if we had the money and wherewithal to replace all power plants with clean, renewable energy immediately, doing so strikes me as unwise.

While it's clear that the long term impact of nuclear energy is potentially devastating, it doesn't have to be. Storing marginally depleted, dirty spent fuel forever isn't the right solution for anyone, IMO. Revolutionizing nuclear while making increasingly large scale renewable energy deployments can provide a future without massive amounts of nuclear waste and help us wind down the use of fossil fuels (and nuclear!).
posted by polyhedron at 7:39 PM on March 23, 2011


I'm not even saying "Let's abandon all nuclear power," so don't bother setting up that strawman. That's a whole different discussion. What I am saying is that if your argument shifts from "Effects will be undetectable outside the plant grounds!" to "Effects will be detectable but well within levels permitted by governmental safety standards!"

I'd like to see references to anybody of any consequence actually making any of the statements you have in quotes. Otherwise you just created a huge strawman.
posted by Procloeon at 7:58 PM on March 23, 2011


Been away from this thread for a while, but

What's dangerous about solar?

bartonlong's screeds are not about facts, but merely grinding an axe with nuclear-powered hyperbole:

I do not want to hand the next generation a world lit only by fire

So the only two choices are nuclear power and fire? Exaggerate much?

the current inequalities in distribution of wealth will only get worse in an energy constrained world, see Dark Ages, Europe for what that is like.

This kind of pro-nuke fear-mongering reminds me of the NRA after the Tucson shooting: exaggerate any discussion of gun control measures as a covert move to outlawing guns (i.e. exaggerate any discussion of nuclear power safety as a covert move to banning it and plunging us all into a new dark ages).

Just as there are folks who advocate sensible gun control (not outright banning), so too are there folks who favor some safe, limited nuclear power augmented by cleaner technologies until that time in which cleaner technologies can provide 100% of our energy needs. This is not rocket science, but by tarnishing anyone in advance who questions the status quo as a Luddite who wants to return to candlelight is just bullshit fear-mongering.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 8:35 PM on March 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


^ your interlocutor wasn't talking about "anybody of consequence", he was talking about the mass of pro-nuke proponents/apologists and/or shills swarming the internet in response to current events.
posted by mokuba at 8:35 PM on March 23, 2011


I'd like to see references to anybody of any consequence actually making any of the statements you have in quotes. Otherwise you just created a huge strawman.

Well, I'm not No-sword, but I know how to use google reasonably way and I know how to search through past metafilter threads. Let's see...

"Let's abandon all nuclear power" - German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a "measured exit" to nuclear power and said that the lesson Germany should learn from Fukushima is "the earlier the exit, the better."

"Effects will be undetectable outside the plant grounds" - Medical expert says "the 20-kilometer evacuation radius an "extremely conservative safety zone to protect against fallout." Also this story in which Japanese government "safety officials insisted repeatedly through the day that radiation leaks outside the plant remained small and did not pose a major health risk." Finally, I'll note that they had a 3km evacuation radius initially, then 10km, and then the 20/30km system we have now.

"Effects will be detectable but well within levels permitted by governmental safety standards" - Tweets from the Japanese Prime Minister's office: "Mr. Edano: Japan Gov't has asked residents living btw 20 & 30 km from the plant to take shelter as a precaution. No impact on human body at present even if u staying outside for 24 hrs." Washington Post op-ed: "But when I read past the headlines, I learned that the risks were negligible for virtually all 125 million residents of the Japanese archipelago (except, of course, the heroic plant workers)." The UK's Chief Scientific Adviser: "the basic message is apart from that 20 kilometres or so around the reactor itself, there is really no human health issue that anyone need have concern about."
posted by zachlipton at 9:02 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


er, "I know how to use google reasonably well"
posted by zachlipton at 9:03 PM on March 23, 2011


Geothermal holds a great deal of promise for base load. This technology is still to be proven on a large scale for a long period of time but from what I have read the problem is largely solvable, just not worked out yet.--Bartonlong

Iceland gets 24% of its energy
from geothermal power.

And this cold nation uses a lot of power:
Iceland uses 15,708 kg of oil equivalent per capita.
In comparison, the US uses 7,759 kg of oil equivalent per capital.
posted by eye of newt at 10:03 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Conservation is a much simpler problem to solve than most people think. And it involves the opposite of authoritarianism--it involves the free market.

Someone once told me how the Cubans keep meticulous care of their cars, to the point that travelling around the country is like visiting a vast old-car museum. Of course they do--they have no choice.

The reason we don't conserve as much as we should is because energy is cheap. Energy is cheap because the market is short sighted and doesn't value our dwindling energy sources as highly as it should. If oil and coal cost 100 times more than it does now, you can bet people will start conserving way more than even the greeniest activist could ever even hope to imagine.

And you can bet private enterprise would be investing like crazy in other sources of energy, without any subsidies at all. (Nevertheless I bet few of them would be investing in nuclear power, at least not without government subsidies and government responsibility for the waste--the free market may be short sighted but it isn't stupid).
posted by eye of newt at 10:12 PM on March 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


The US produces about 3GW of geothermal power a year, although this is only about 1% of the total. It doesn't work just anywhere - you need the right geography, a lot of water, and the up-front capital costs are quite high. But it scales well, I'm a fan.

Fossil fuel prices can be increased with a carbon tax, but 100x? Try to stay anchored to reality. Cuba's a tiny island under an economic blockade by a huge neighbor, but generally it's impossible to perpetuate such economic distortions. That's not a free market or anything close. Looking at the various mentions here and upthread, I can't help thinking that a lot of people just do not understand the concept of a market at all.

You'll need to do some reading up on the basics to get your head round this, but it's a great summary explanation of regulatory economics.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:33 AM on March 24, 2011


Geothermal causes earthquakes. That'll work just swell in Japan. What could possibly go wrong?
posted by Sys Rq at 2:09 AM on March 24, 2011


Lets see in 2005 he write about how Corporations were getting behind the global warming message.

In late 2010 he wrote about how Corporations were not to be trusted and were taking over the government.

And this week humanity is reminded that plant #4 was reported to have had manufacturing flaws and the Japanese government was told about it in 1988. Humanity was REMINDED of this charge and report this week.

And somehow, the very same Corporate and Government structure that has a history of burying safety information and deploying known flawed products are to be trusted?

Pull the 1st one George.

I've not spotted when he's addressed the 70% ineffective spending on Carbon reduction projects.
About 30 percent of the funds go into actual projects that reduce emissions, such as a wind farm in a developing nation, reports BBC.

The rest of the money goes into the following channels:

30 percent – Investment banks often buy up carbon offsets before a project is up and running, and they take an average 30 percent of the total in profits and operations.

15 percent – Shareholders of the companies putting the offset project together tend to take 15 percent in profits.

15 percent – Taxes, bank interest and fees.

10 percent – The margin normally taken by the retailer of carbon offsets, who sells them to corporations, individuals and other entities.


A 1 to 1 spending ratio for the actual projects and to the Investment Banks. The same Banking structure he complains about and demands action against in 2010.

Now you can pull the other one George.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:00 AM on March 24, 2011


Your hoping for utopia.

So at this point, we've defined "utopian" down to expecting adult human beings to exhibit even the most basic forms of personal responsibility and self-restraint and/or having systems that try to encourage certain desirable outcomes at all? Dear god, we are totally lost. By this definition, even starting a business with any kind of formal business plan is "utopian." These kinds of attitudes are an insidious form of social and political nihilism, pure and simple.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:32 AM on March 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Pollen or radiation causing yellow rain in Tokyo? (more here)

Having lived in fauna-rich regions with heavy springtime pollen counts, I find the pollen explanation a bit odd, since I don't ever recall seeing yellowish rain. But I suppose I could be just waxing hysterical too...
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 3:26 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


If a worst-case accident ends up irreversibly contaminating entire regions for centuries and threatening the life and health of not simply millions of people now living, but their future children and their children and so on, through hundreds of generations, then I honestly don't care how improbable you say the accident is. I am not prepared to accept the cost, and therefore the risk, however small, of it happening. Period.

That damage, by the way, is not limited to the radioactivity of contaminated soils and the food they produce, but includes also the genetic damage that is done, which is passed on to later generations.

There is no scale on which the risks posed by renewables come even close to comparing with this.

As much as I hate fossil fuels, the damage they do has the hope of being cleaned up in our lifetimes. If the mixed oxide reactor at Fukushima blows and spreads plutonium over the countryside, you can put a concrete wall around that whole part of the island with a sign that says, "Closed. See you in 40,000 years."

Considering the longevity and tremendous toxicity of the waste nuclear reactors produce, it is incredible that anybody could suggest with a straight face that this is a clean way to produce electricity.

And then there is the finiteness of the fuel. The reserves picture on nuclear fuels looks as bleak as that for oil, and this aspect has fallen off the radar only because nuclear thus far accounts for less than 10% of total primary energy. Where, if I may ask, is all the uranium for this nuclear renaissance supposed to come from?

Before we waste any breath talking about all the fancy plants we must now build with all the fancy technology which has yet to leave the lab, we need to fix things on the consumption and conversion side first. Half of primary energy is lost in conversion and transport before it even reaches the consumer, and then the consumer wastes half of what is left. You just can't make this shit up. If my grandmother were still alive, she'd smack us all into next week.

The arguments against the feasibility of a switch to renewables are specious. A renewables-based energy economy looks very different from the big-gen, centralized economy we have today. You can't just take today's consumption behaviour and try to glue on renewables. Today's consumption behaviour is the result of energy that is simply too cheap. Too cheap because it has been subsidized to the tune of trillions. You have an issue with green energy subsidies? Well, guess what - everybody's guilty!

So yeah, I am with the market liberals on this one. Stop subsidizing, and put a price on all the externalities. Under those circumstances, two things will happen. One, energy will get really expensive, which will be painful in the short term but serve us all better in the long term. And two, you will never, ever see another nuclear plant built.

How's that for cheap nuclear power?
posted by rhombus at 3:41 PM on March 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Having lived in fauna-rich regions with heavy springtime pollen counts, I find the pollen explanation a bit odd, since I don't ever recall seeing yellowish rain. But I suppose I could be just waxing hysterical too...

I've seen it. It doesn't happen every year, but one occasion it was so bad the stuff was clumping up and clogging gutters.

Remember that radiation doesn't have a color, and if there was enough airborne uranium oxide to stain the streets no one would have lived long enough to print the story.
posted by clarknova at 4:26 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Germany’s solar panels produce more power than Japan’s entire Fukushima complex
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:39 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Neat, that means solar in Germany is up to like 3% of Japan's total power generation.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:43 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


NYT: Japan Quietly Evacuating a Wider Radius From Reactors
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:34 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, flapjax--that story's over. Didn't you RTFA? It's time to move on from this non-event and reaffirm our embrace of clean, clean nuclear tech.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:36 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, sorry about that, saulgoodman, how silly of me! I keep forgetting there's nothing to worry about.

*goes to check bottled water supply
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:56 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Neat, that means solar in Germany is up to like 3% of Japan's total power generation.

It also means that if Japan had gotten its shit together a few years back and started a solar program like Germany's, they might've been able to take Fukushima offline (it was already overdue) before this happened. And then we wouldn't have farmers and fishermen whose livelihoods are ruined, people in exile from their own homes (perhaps permanently), factory workers with radiation burns, iodine 131 in the Tokyo water supply (and a consequent run on bottled water) and all the many other problems that we'll be seeing in the weeks, months and possibly years ahead related to this disaster.

Gotta hand it to you, though, furiousxgeorge, you really stick by your guns. Sorry to see that you haven't learned anything from all this, though. You one stubborn boy, chuck! I'm thinking maybe you should get yourself over here and hang out for a while in the evacuation zone (or heck, even near it), just to put your money where your mouth is. Come on in, the water's fine!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:06 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Come on guys the engineers have this shit under control for example:
-We are fairly sure that the unexpected pool of radioactive stuff that a few workers were exposed to yesterday is leaking from either the core, water being pumped through the core, or a pool where spent fuel rods were
-When comparing cesium and iodine it may be on the order of 60% of Chernobyl, but thats only two of the more toxic substances released by Chernobyl. Only one of them bioaccumulates and has a half life of 30 years. Fortunately it blew out over the ocean, so the world is safe, because the Ocean is like a magic garbage dump that remediates anything we want to throw into it.
-Japan's distaster relief ministries are already setting up temporary housing for evacuated residents. They will in all likelyhood be able to return home soon. I mean like a little more than a year or two or 90. Japanese people are like elves right, they live forever. For them a week is like a second. right?
- The reactors have cooled down substantially, sure we're stuck at 200 degrees or so for some unknown reason, but hey they probably won't blow up again.
-It's been two weeks and we're just now having to evacuate a few more KM in diameter around the plant. A KM is like a mile, only much shorter so this is also NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT.

Besides most of the problems that Japan is seeing today were known about for decades; and it was ONLY the Japanese nuclear industry that lied to their people to tell them that the plants are safe. In the US with the exception of the Karen Silkwood thing and occasional under-reporting of radioactive steam releases; our industry's track record is spotless. There are also these magical fantasy reactor designs like pebble bed, wavefront and thorium which will come on line any day now and are much less pipe dreamy than clean coal.
posted by humanfont at 8:49 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


And the other 97% still needed after matching the most ambitious solar deployment in the world? Coal or nuclear, pick your poison. There has to be a stopgap while renewable is figured out for mass deployment and I'd rather take nuclear over the certain damage of global warming.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:51 AM on March 25, 2011


con
ser
va
tion.

say
it
over
and
over.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:58 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


97%
con
ser
va
tion
?

No, you still need the stopgap, pick your poison.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:00 AM on March 25, 2011


pick your poison.

Radical conservation measures (there is enormous energy waste in Japan) matched with massive government investment in renewable energy sources (as opposed to the massive government subsidies of construction firms building and rebuilding infrastructure ad infinitum) is what I want to see. That's what's needed. Then we could get rid of the poison a lot quicker than you think. Of course, it would also be a lot quicker than a lot of very, very wealthy power providers want, and they have a stranglehold on the government, and that's pretty much the fucking problem, right there.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:12 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Germany’s solar panels produce more power than Japan’s entire Fukushima complex

The Netherlands has a higher population than America's entire New York city. Yay solar and all, but it's a meaningless comparison.

Yet again, the problem with Fukushima is not so much that it was a nuclear facility as that it was a nuclear facility built in one of the most seismically active places in the world, and a huge earthquake of the kind that was universally agreed to be inevitable sooner or later took place with a predictably high level of devastation. Between a magnitude 9 quake, a giant tsunami, and Japan/TEPCO's lax attitude to engineering risk, I'm surprised the nuclear problem hasn't been a lot worse.

I'm OK with nuclear power because it can deliver a lot of electricity with great efficiency. But putting one in an earthquake zone is stupid. California's nuclear power plants are stupid and should be decommissioned, whereas solar would make great sense here because we have plenty of desert.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:19 AM on March 25, 2011


Radical conservation measures (there is enormous energy waste in Japan) matched with massive government investment in renewable energy sources (as opposed to the massive government subsidies of construction firms building and rebuilding infrastructure ad infinitum) is what I want to see.

We agree on the ultimate goal of course, but not on the timescale involved I think.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:29 AM on March 25, 2011


It's a crisis. In a crisis, you take rapid steps. Rapid steps are called for and with the same national sense of urgency and vigor (or more) in which the US embarked on the space race. Rapid steps to increase the use of renewable energy tech, to penalize waste and to encourage conservation--including harsh market penalties for off-loading industrial externalities like poisoned groundwater--and implementing solar everywhere to cut what consumption it can because of its many obvious advantages, including having finally achieved grid-parity with fossil fuel energy on a cost of watt per hour basis.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:55 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


TOKYO – Two weeks after an earthquake and tsunami triggered a crisis at a nuclear plant, the facility is still not under control, and the government said Friday there is a suspected breach at a reactor. That means radioactive contamination at the plant is more serious than once thought. cite

The news from Japan today is precisely what I meant when I wrote up-thread that it remains premature to start using this still unfolding situation as a an example of a relatively "safe" meltdown scenario.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 10:02 AM on March 25, 2011


I've been hoping #4's fire would be the worst of it. Obviously not.

But must we be so shrill? I'm going to resist pointing fingers but I am having a hard time with the tone of various posts.

Besides, as far as I know the best way to deal with most of our nuclear waste is to fission it into less toxic elements. Unless you have a better solution it's hard to take the environmental argument for shutting down all nuclear seriously.
posted by polyhedron at 10:17 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


(or fission them into less stable isotopes that will decay quickly)
posted by polyhedron at 10:19 AM on March 25, 2011


must we be so shrill?

Who is we? And why is it "shrill" to point out that an article entitled Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power reads, at least on the surface, and given the news less than two weeks after the quake, like tasteless pollyannnaish propaganda? An article a week after the Tucson shootings entitled Why Tucson made me stop worrying and love guns would also read this way, no?
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 10:32 AM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Uh, I wasn't thinking of you but matbe I should have been.
posted by polyhedron at 10:48 AM on March 25, 2011


It was more of a rhetorical plea anyway. It's easy to get worked up when dealing with such a horrible tragedy.
posted by polyhedron at 10:54 AM on March 25, 2011


Solar is not at parity with fossil unless you either include subsidies or you are talking about unusually sunny locations. For example, take this pro-solar blog, anticipating general parity in about 5 years. You notice the point that it remains uneconomical where there are no subsidies.

In Japan's case, any sort of power subsidy has to be weighed against the opportunity cost of a massive rebuilding effort due to the earthquake, and where solar is concerned, Japan is not an especially sunny country. Look at a satellite map in the last week or two and you'll have noticed the whole western side of the islands blanketed in snow. Wind, tidal, or geothermal power seem like they'd be much better options for Japan's renewable energy needs than solar - and I'm sure people there are looking at such options carefully.

Other short term options might include buying natural gas from Russia, but I don't think there any pipelines running that way and shipping would be ruinously expensive. Buying power from the mainland and transmitting it via undersea cables is also a possibility, but that too carries a risk of destruction from earthquakes; in any case, it's doubtful that the Japanese government would be comfortable relying on external power such that China or Korea could bring down their grid at a moment's notice. Most likely, they're buying coal from Australia right now and will build a few conventional power plants to support the rebuilding of their industrial capacity - coal plants are filthy, but they have the merit of being so simple that a country like Japan can build a few within months. The one silver lining there is that they might make some with multiple chimneys and advance the state of filter and carbon sequestration technology while they're at it so as to have a new export at the end of the process.

They will conserve a lot too, but as I have pointed out that won't save as much energy as people imagine, because they don't waste as much as people imagine. Japanese cars and vehicles are already famously fuel-efficient - Toyota came up with the Prius, after all - and they've been doing things with electric vehicles for a long time. Tokyo has electric lights everywhere...and more of them are LEDs than anywhere else, which use a tiny fraction of the power incandescent lights use. The reason we have white and multi-spectrum LEDs now is because we developed blue LEDs back in the 90s, and for that you can thank Mr Shinji Nakamura. All those flatscreen TVs in Akhibara also draw their electricity in polite sips compared to the gulping appetite of cathode ray tubes. Certainly more power can be saved with conservation, plenty more; but the Japanese are already very energy efficient.

As Flapjax points out, in recent years they have wasted a lot of resources on building infrastructure nobody asked for to go to places where nobody lives, so as to funnel money to construction companies and create jobs in an effort to jump-start their stalled economy. The construction will continue, but for the next several years it will be of infrastructure and industrial capacity which is actually necessary now following the devastation caused by the earthquake. On paper that looks like it will be very expensive, but most of Japan's national debt is held domestically rather than externally. Chances are the Japanese people will be willing to tolerate a controlled inflation or else buy some patriotic reconstruction bonds (the kind you stick on the wall to feel good about rather than the kind that pay out). I can't see this happening under Naoto Kan, though. The smart thing to do after the immediate crisis around Fukushima is under control would be to drag Junchiro Koizumi out of retirement and offer him a unity government for 4-5 years, which is about enough time to rebuild the industrial capacity, decommission existing nuclear plants, and bring replacement capacity onstream.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:57 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


And why is it "shrill" to point out that an article [reads] like tasteless pollyannnaish propaganda?

It's not; the article is flawed in multiple ways, like all advocacy journalism, and these flaws overshadow what good points it does have to make. It should be borne in mind, though, that it's written primarily for a British audience, and Britain is not especially earthquake-prone. That does not mean it's risk free, or justify complacency and corner cutting as has happened in the past, particularly at the Sellafield plant, but the risks are lower.

What's shrill is where people go to the opposite extreme, and dispute the article's unjustified optimism with unjustified pessimism, as if the worst had already happened, insist nuclear can never be safe or economic but will always end in tears, dismiss anyone who thinks otherwise as shills or cheerleaders or corporate bogeymen, setting up sarcastic straw men and so on. It's not conducive to a serious discussion.

Yes, there are people who act as PR spokespersons for the nuclear industry, and who mislead the public or minimize the risks of an activity that should be the gold standard for risk management and professional integrity. I've mentioned before how I have little confidence in my utility company or the viability of California's two nuclear plants. But waving away legitimate criticisms of an argument by pointing to bad arguments from the other side is known as a 'tu quoque' fallacy, Latin for 'you do it too.' Actually, most people in these threads who have suggested there is a role for nuclear are people I've been reading on MeFi for years, on a variety of topics. It's possible that one or other poster works for a nuclear power company or owns shares in one or so, but chances are that people here are just regular people, not covert representatives of the nuclear industry, and have arrived at their opinions after thinking the issues over.

I post on another forum besides MeFi where there are a lot of tech business people, and there has been quite a lot of industry bullshit on there (reposted, not spokespersons); people discussing the risks of nuclear power in general or in relation to Fukushima have been dismissed as tree-huggers or enviro-wackos. This is most annoying, but the only way through it is to plod onwards and stick to facts; after several days I was able to cut off a lot of the anti-green bullshit by pointing to a record of linking to official sources about things like the construction of the Fukushima plant or the fact of reactor 3 containing MOX fuel with 5% plutonium etc., and get people to think about the actual issues.

Anti-nuclear bullshit isn't any better than anti-green bullshit. In both cases a real problem is met with a facile argument: environmental degradation can be solved by 'just' conserving and deploying renewables, or the need for affordable power can be solved by 'just' building more nuclear plants or 'just' retrofitting existing ones with some improved technology. Both groups assume their opponents are awful - safety-hating corporate trolls on welfare or science-hating communist hippies on welfare. Neither stereotype is wholly true, but nor are they completely false, and passionate debaters tends to ascribe the worst characteristics of their most extreme opponents to all disputants on the other side, much as in politics or when dealing with threats like crime or terrorism.

None of this gets us any closer to dealing with actual problems, because any discussion that starts with each side listing the things they refuse to discuss carries on in the same vein, and eventually you have two sides that refuse to discuss anything at all. At that point it's just a competition to see who can score more on the noise-o-meter. We can't afford that, because the population of the world is still growing, albeit more slowly, and getting people out of poverty by definition means empowering them to be economically self-sufficient - empowering them in the most literal sense. The people of the world are not going back to or choosing to remain in a hunter-gatherer existence, a medieval existence, or property-free communitarian existence. Nor is it going back to a 'who gives a fuck' industrial/energy policy or disposable consumerism. ending poverty requires improvements in living standards, and that requires technology, and that requires energy. The global challenge in to find solutions that improve lives without repeating the wasteful mistakes of the past. In many cases we discover appropriate solutions rather than foreseeing them - for example, cellphone use in Africa is so widespread and so beneficial that it looks like we can skip the idea of trying to deploy landline telephony everywhere, much the same way as solar + battery power systems can provide electricity without first requiring the creation of an electrical grid. But at some point, distributed systems won't provide the economies of scale for everything that people want to do, like powering cities or satellite launchpads or whatever, which is why we have to keep our technological options open, and that means keeping our lines of communication and debate open too.

So while skepticism of PR and fact-based discussions of nuclear power's risks are entirely justified, politeness and a willingness to consider other fact-based points of view have been a bit lacking on MeFi. And that bugs me, because it makes for foolish-self-defeating policy fights. Here in California, there's an initiative to roll out smart meters to ever home to help people monitor their power use accurately. there's been some resistance to this, partly because people refuse to believe what the meters are telling them and think it's a scam to get more money out of them. I'm happy they're finally catching on, because I think a sensible energy policy and wider use of renewables requires an awareness of just how much power we use and what we use it for. All good, right?

Except that at the store this morning, the local paper's top story is that for $20, people will be able to opt out of using the meters...because the meters transmit the power usage data over the cellular network, and some people are freaking out about 'radiation' and think a new meter installed in their garage is going to give them brain cancer or cause some other 'RF sickness'. This is ridiculous. We need to move towards a leaner, cleaner and greener use of energy, and doing so requires a realistic appraisal of risk.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:47 PM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


New nuke plants will take 10 years build even in best case scenarios. Mass production cooed be a nightmare because if you have a defect you're looking at a very difficult recall /retrofit.

Meanwhile there are multiple manufactures who claim to have their production costs going below $1/watt this year. Last year Germany brought on 7.2gw of pv power. Mqnufactureing is just beginning to ramp up. Last year production capacity doubled to 27gw.

This is just looking at PV. When one considers the new low cost solar hot water heating systems the real "power" replacement capability is very high.
posted by humanfont at 2:07 PM on March 25, 2011


humanfront, I'm be interested in hearing your solution for the vast amount of nuclear fuel waste we have sitting around.

I'd love to replace all our fossil fuel and nuclear plants with sustainable energy but there are some other considerations that just can't be ignored.
posted by polyhedron at 2:31 PM on March 25, 2011


Lack of data from Japan distresses nuclear experts
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 3:18 PM on March 25, 2011


I'm be interested in hearing your solution for the vast amount of nuclear fuel waste we have sitting around.

I'd love to replace all our fossil fuel and nuclear plants with sustainable energy but there are some other considerations that just can't be ignored.


I think that the first step to eliminating our nuclear fuel waste problem is to stop producing more of it. Then perhaps be could setup just an operational long term storage facility for these materials. Rule one of cleanup is don't make such a big mess if you don't know how to clean it up.

Just to point out a few things:
1. Building a safe, efficient nuclear reprocessing infrastructure will take decades. You have to design the plants, review the designs, go through site selection, permits, raise funds, etc. Just opening the first facility would be a decade long project even if all the political wheels were greased. Then you have to have operational experience to ensure you can run the plants safely and at a profit.
2. These new reactor deigns based on thorium, pebble bed, passive safety designs are all mostly still in the testing/prototype phase. They are at least 5 years away from being commercially ready for production and even then it isn't clear what the production rate would be. In the mean time solar pv prices have dropped for new facilities from $21/watt in 1980 to about $1/watt this year. Wind power has also dropped substantially, as has the cost of energy storage.
3. Uranium and fossil fuel prices are volatile and the quantities are limited. There is an illusion with them as base load that assumes your utility will always be able to pay the fuel costs. Uranium has been climbing steadily in price as china and other nations have built up capacity. Given the impacts to the environment and necessary security, we also should consider the problems of protecting the global yellowcake market. Think about what hydraulic fraking has does to the water supplies in our quest for natural gas. Have you read about African Yellowcake mines. Go out to Wyoming and try to find the old timers from the last great uranium mining boom in the 1970s, you won't find many because they are gone from cancer.

Now here's what is going to possibly save our asses:
1. Wind, solar, cheaper energy storage.
2. GMO biofuels that make higher density than ethanol fuels and can grown in tanks like algea at a high density, digesting either cellulose, of simply feasting on sunlight. It will also be necessary to reduce their potassium requirements.
3. Conservation
posted by humanfont at 4:08 PM on March 25, 2011


Scientific American on a solar grand plan for the US.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:30 PM on March 25, 2011


Interesting article from 200& furiousxgeorge, according to Rabobank the US PV market exceeded 1.5GW last year, which is what they suggested for average installation between 2010-2020.
posted by humanfont at 4:52 PM on March 25, 2011


It really is amazing that this wasn't a much worse disaster.

Monblot looks pretty stupid just a few days later, doesn't he?
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:01 PM on March 25, 2011


Monblot looks pretty stupid just a few days later, doesn't he?

Premature assertions that There's Nothing To Worry About Folks have been coming in plentiful doses since this thing started, and, yeah, people should've known better. I mean, were all those pollyanna-sayers born, like, yesterday?

Well, seriously, a lot of them, far as I can tell, are indeed pretty young. Didn't come up through the Vietnam war, never heard of (or only dimly heard of) Bhopal, Minamata, etc. etc. Seem to genuinely have no clue that captains of industry and governments will withhold crucial information or lie outright to their customers and citizens when it suits their purposes. Sad, really. So much for the Information Age, eh?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:45 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


BS. Even now (7PM PST 11Mar25) the tsunami's destruction remains orders of magnitude worse than anything caused by the reactor.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:52 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Apples and oranges, fff. Why are you even comparing them? The quake/tsunamis were acts of god (as they are commonly referred to). A nuclear power plant is man made, and does not have to happen. And anyway, why should one disaster, whatever it is, preclude people from commenting on, taking interest in, bemoaning (etc) another? What's your point?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:58 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Japan Encourages a Wider Evacuation From Reactor Area

New signs emerged Friday that parts of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were so damaged and contaminated that it would be even harder to bring the plant under control soon.

At the same time, Japanese officials began encouraging people to evacuate a larger band of territory around the complex.

Speaking to a national audience at a news conference on Friday night, two weeks after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the devastating tsunami that followed it, Prime Minister Naoto Kan dodged a reporter’s question about whether the government was ordering a full evacuation, saying officials were simply following the recommendation of the Japan Nuclear Safety Commission.

“The situation still requires caution,” Mr. Kan, grave and tired-looking, told the nation. “Our measures are aimed at preventing the circumstances from getting worse.” The authorities said that they would now assist people who wanted to leave the area from 12 to 19 miles outside the plant, and that they were now encouraging “voluntary evacuation” from the area.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:47 AM on March 26, 2011


My point is that you're all "wah wah wah" about this, when nothing much bad has happened.

At worst, perhaps 200 irradiated people are dead men walking and an exclusion zone roughly the size of the facility will be lost to us.

As man-made disasters go, this isn't a big one. Yet.

Premature histrionics are not warranted.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:32 AM on March 26, 2011


Premature histrionics are not warranted.

You know, all due respect, but you can take your "Premature histrionics" and put 'em where the sun don't shine, brother. Come over here to my neighborhood and tell me about histrionics. Fuckin unbelievable, man.

As man-made disasters go, this isn't a big one. Yet.

Thanks so much for the heads up. Really appreciate that.

My point is that you're all "wah wah wah" about this.

Yeah, well, your point is bullshit. Where'd you hear the wah wah wah? You got a wah wah pedal you're running into or something?

At worst, perhaps 200 irradiated people are dead men walking

Yeah, no problem, right? Christ, what an asshole.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:57 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Feel free to review this thread to witness your own assholism. A calm voice of reason and perspective, you ain't.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:19 AM on March 26, 2011


Please feel free to get over here to the vicinity of the Fukushima plant and say that to my face, you cretin.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:26 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to have some respect for you, too. Damn.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2011


Flap, you don't have to personally insult everyone who disagrees with you on this.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:36 AM on March 26, 2011


Flap, you don't have to personally insult everyone who disagrees with you on this.

Yeah, well, you'll forgive me, no doubt, for seeing this thing a little different from the way you "hey, it's no big deal" people do. Or maybe you just don't have the ability to see things from the perspective of the father of a young child who happens to live uncomfortably close to a nuke that is dangerously out of control. You, furiousxgeorge, and now five fresh fish, both seem quite unbothered by the whole affair. Well, good for you. I happen to resent, however, rather deeply, your patronizing assurances, from thousands of miles away, that I am overreacting. So, yeah, let me politely say once again, you can both get stuffed. How's that sound to you?

But, just for you and fff's information, I did indeed take his suggestion ("Feel free to review this thread to witness your own assholism"), and upon reviewing my comments in this thread, I challenge him (or you) to show me a single one that can be characterized as even close to "assholism", "histrionics" or, as he so stupidly put it, "wah wah wah"-ing.

Also, hey, didn't I ask you to come over to the evacuation zone and put your money where your mouth is, furiosxgeorge? Maybe before you go commenting on my interactions with other commenters here, you should address that, first. perhaps you're having trouble purchasing your ticket? But your ignoring (and, I reckon, declining) my invitation was rude, friend, and (one might say), cowardly, especially for a nuclear power booster such as yourself. Come on over here, and I'll cook you up a big ol' mess of that deeee-licious Ibaraki spinach, man! Mmmm... radiocative goodness! After all, it's just histrionics, right?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:00 AM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, well, you'll forgive me, no doubt, for seeing this thing a little different from the way you "hey, it's no big deal" people do.

You are forgiven! No need to add the personal insults though. I challenge you to find any of MY posts in this thread that are out of line.

Buy me a ticket and I'll gladly go as close as I'm allowed.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:06 AM on March 26, 2011


I challenge you to find any of MY posts in this thread that are out of line.

Yeah, I shouldn't have added you into that challenge. It was five fresh fish who made the accusation, not you.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:08 AM on March 26, 2011


Buy me a ticket

Heh. Yeah, well, I've got just one or two things I'd rather spend my money on.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:09 AM on March 26, 2011


I'll gladly go as close as I'm allowed.

I gather that you are still rather young. You'd do well to nurture a healthy mistrust of the authorities, and what they'll allow. They really don't always have your best interests at heart, you see, and the thing is, the zone they told you was safe, well, it might... not be. Exactly. Then, a few years down the road when you are diagnosed with cancer, they'll be unavailable for comment.

That's how these things often go.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:15 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's fine, just buy me a geiger counter with the plane ticket.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:27 AM on March 26, 2011


I can certainly appreciate your perspective as a panicked local, and I don't think there's much to be forgiven regarding your worries.

Your name-calling and "say that to my face" threats and general aggressive, take no prisoners dialogue is quite douchey.

But whatevs, man. If screaming at me is helping you, go for it.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:44 AM on March 26, 2011


That wasn't screaming. That was just talking like I would to someone who was being a jerk.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:25 AM on March 26, 2011


And you haven't shown me those comments of mine in this thread that were assholish, histrionic, etc. That's because they don't exist. But, whatevs, man. I'll be the guy you think is hysterical., if that's helping you.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:28 AM on March 26, 2011


Radiation + Cable Anchor + Science = ?
posted by homunculus at 11:45 AM on March 26, 2011


You've told people to get lost. That they are disgusting. Called them insane. And then you got into calling me an asshole, cretin, and so on.

I understand you are stressed and frightened and lashing out. I'm going to try to drop this now, and I hope you do the same. You don't need more stress and I don't care to continue.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:48 AM on March 26, 2011


At worst, perhaps 200 irradiated people are dead men walking and an exclusion zone roughly the size of the facility will be lost to us.

More than a hundred thousand additional homeless, or potentially homeless as a result of the current 13 mile evacuation radius. Widespread contamination of food and water supplies. Loss of agricultural fisheries for an unknown time. Additional millions of people without power, industry crippled that would otherwise be at work rebuilding. This ain't nothing kid and we don't know how it is going to end. The body count isn't the only stat that matters.
posted by humanfont at 12:29 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


At worst, perhaps 200 irradiated people are dead men walking and an exclusion zone roughly the size of the facility will be lost to us.

Jesus, the certainty doesn't stop with these guys, does it?
posted by mediareport at 4:35 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Jesus, the certainty doesn't stop with these guys, does it?

Indeed not. Although you'll note that as the scenario has worsened, the bar for what is still somehow acceptable does lower. Steadily, incrementally, it lowers.

Unfortunately, what hasn't changed is the smug, almost religiously self-righteous attitude that anyone voicing any concern at all about the situation at Fukushima (astonishingly, that extends right up to people in the vicinity who are directly impacted by the disaster) is a panic-stricken, histrionics-spewing doomsayer and fearmonger. And now we have this latest bizarre variety of finger-pointing that reared its ugly head in five fresh fish's comments above, where he suggested that concern about the situation is unwarranted "wah wah wah"-ing because the tsunami-stricken towns have such a high death rate and misery quotient. He never did address my very first questions to him about this idea, which were, in a nutshell, why does one disater somehow preclude us from concern about another?

Anyway, yeah, the stubborn attitudes of some of these people, I simply have no more time or energy to deal with 'em. Five fresh fish's "200 walking dead" (hey, no probs!) will quite possibly turn into more, and all the other sad results of this disaster (as reiterated by humanfont in his comment just above) will likely multiply, but another 30 or 40 or 100 comments down, or in another thread here, wherever, I'm sure we'll be hearing these same folks tell us that it's all well within the range of acceptability. Their ever-expanding definition of acceptability, that is. As far as I'm concerned, it's all currently at unacceptable levels, and for my own mental well-being, I'm going to now excuse myself from engaging with these people any further. This is something that is affecting me, my family and my friends directly, and whatever these folks have to say about it from their vantage points from afar is, from here on out, something that I will assign to the "why the fuck would I listen to what you have to say about it?" category. Should've done that a while back, actually, and not let myself get all worked up by these knuckleheads.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:30 PM on March 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


Should've done that a while back, actually, and not let myself get all worked up by these knuckleheads.

You've repeatedly posted hours after the thread died down, in a thread explicitly about a pro nuke position, and have hung around for three days and 300 comments. I understand getting pissed off and wanting to post a lot but you have no one to blame but yourself for seeking this conversation out.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:54 PM on March 26, 2011


Metafilter: you have no one to blame but yourself for seeking this conversation out.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:56 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is obviously the Worst Disaster Ever for the folk who are caught in it. As are all disasters.

I am sorry you are in it. I am thankful you didn't die in it. I hope you get a hug.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:20 PM on March 26, 2011


U.N.’s Nuclear Chief Says Japan Is ‘Far From the End’

The world’s chief nuclear inspector said Saturday that Japan was “still far from the end of the accident” that struck its Fukushima nuclear complex and continues to spew radiation into the atmosphere and the sea, and acknowledged that the authorities were still unsure about whether the reactor cores and spent fuel were covered with the water needed to cool them and end the crisis.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:06 PM on March 26, 2011


I totally get where flapjax is coming from, and I don't think it's right, proper or correct to try to shut down someone for posting "in the wrong thread". As BP notes, the situation is very far from being resolved. In fact, no one knows precisely what's going on, in large part because the amount of heat and radioactivity produced by spent fuel rods - a problem that is not unique to the US (or future incarnations of nuclear power technology that relies on fission).

As far as "200 dead, tops", well, this one little accident is going to have a profound economic, social, and political effect on Japan. The effects are not going to localized to Fukushima.

In short, it's probably too soon to talk about (or, rather claim) that nuclear power is still A-OK.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:29 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


NYT: Nuclear Rules in Japan Relied on Old Science
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:21 PM on March 26, 2011


Humans cannot be trusted with this volatile and potentially catastrophic technology. Things won't just get better, in that regard. Arguing that it's not the inherent problem with the technology itself, but with human's faulty oversight of it (whether for-profit, not-for-profit, whether in one set of geographic circumstances or another, etc) misses the point. We've seen in this thread and others many variations on this argument. But it is humans who will always be in charge of nuclear power plants, and humans will always prove fallible: in their judgements, decisions, actions, etc.

This is to say nothing of the insane, unthinkable "fuck you" we're giving to countless future generations on the planet who will be saddled with an ever-increasing amount of radioactive waste, for mind-bogglingly long stretches of time, that no one still has a clue on what to do with. Hell, that point alone should pretty much shut down the discussion of wheher humanity should continue on this nuclear path.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:32 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jesus fucking h christ. So more people are dead from the tsunami than the reactor disaster -- so far at least -- and that makes the reactor disaster no big deal?

I'm totally with flapjax on this one. I do not get the defensiveness of the pro-nuke people (or even the "nukes aren't all that dangerous" people) here. Humans can't make or stop a tsunami. They can damn sure avoid building a plant that can spew out deadly toxins that take decades to dissipate in the environment on the edge of a major tectonic activity zone. Or anywhere.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:38 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


LA Times: Japan utility admits it failed to warn Fukushima workers about radioactive water.

ReliefWeb updates (source IAEA) here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:54 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure we'll be hearing these same folks tell us that it's all well within the range of acceptability. Their ever-expanding definition of acceptability, that is.

Amen to that last bit. An "ever-expanding definition of acceptability" - and thanks for that, flapjax, it's perfect phrasing - is going to be absolutely essential to the continuation of the idiotic, overly centralized, profit-driven model of deepwater oil/tar sands/uranium mining/gas frakking energy distrubution. Consistently lowering the bar about what counts as environmental ruin is key to that process. We're going to see more and more of it as we dig more desperately for non-renewables, spewing multiple streams of toxic waste as we go.
posted by mediareport at 10:01 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Salt Lake Tribune: Radiation  levels soar in seawater near nuke plant
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:07 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everybody want to cut it the hell out? I know this is dicey stuff, but try not to get into the whole extended-sniping-match thing all around, please. Talk a walk sooner if you're going to do shit like call your fellow users cretins or whatever.
posted by cortex at 10:28 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks cortex, but you'll note I announced that I was signing off on the personal exchanges a few comments back. I assume you're not now talking about the past couple of comments I've made that are links to news stories, or non-personal commentary on nuclear power in general?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:46 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reactors have cooled down substantially, sure we're stuck at 200 degrees or so for some unknown reason,

There's a band you want to keep your reactor plant in. Can't be too cold vs. plant pressure or you start to run into brittle fracture prevention curves and really impossibly restrictive heatup and cooldown rate limitations that they may not be sufficiently steady-state to manage right now. You can't depressurize the plant without dropping below minimum pressure to keep reactor coolant pumps, etc. running without cavitation damage. Sometimes during long shutdowns, you actually have to run RCPs just so the work applied to the coolant warms it up a bit and keeps you in band. 200F sounds toward the higher end of a normal shutdown/cooled down situation (but I have never seen the operators curves for that type of plant, so I could be wrong.)

Still out here decontaminating vehicles. When you saw Reagan and George Washington on the news doing wash-downs, that was us telling them when/where/how and doing surveys afterwards. I'm doing a lot of climbing all over helicopters. Numbers intentionally not included, but they are far, far below any levels dangerous to the crews. They are, however a cleanup nuisance. No knowledge of radiological conditions on the ground around the accident site. We have been delivering any supplies we can get hands on via helo to isolated towns in Northern Japan. Cheers!
posted by ctmf at 3:44 AM on March 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


I assume you're not now talking about the past couple of comments

The name-calling needs to stop in general, or needs to go to MeTa a lot more quickly. This thread is five days old, getting into a dispute at the end of it is poor form all around, but very specifically calling people assholes and knuckleheads, though we can easily talk about telling people they're engaging in histrionics which is pretty equally noxious. This sort of thing needs to Not Happen In Mefi. If you want to discuss this further with us there is email or MetaTalk.
posted by jessamyn at 7:47 AM on March 27, 2011


You're a hero, ctmf. Just thought I'd point that out.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:45 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Radiation levels at Japan nuclear plant reach new highs as conditions worsen for workers

Workers were evacuated Sunday from one of the contaminated turbine buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after a massive spike in radioactivity measurements. But the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the facility, said hours later that the reading was a mistake.

A Tepco official said leaked water from the unit 2 reactor will be retested in an effort to determine the level of contamination.

...


Three workers from the electrical engineering firm Kandenko were injured Thursday while trying to lay an underground cable at the No. 3 unit. They stepped in radioactive water, and two of the employees who were hospitalized with “significant skin contamination,” according to a report from the International Atomic Energy Association.

The workers' legs were exposed to two to six sieverts of radioactivity, the IAEA said. Those exposed to more than one sievert often experience temporary sickness, including vomiting. Higher exposure levels can quickly become life-threatening, but the National Institute of Radiological Science said that the two employees will likely be released from the hospital Monday.

...


One subcontracted worker who laid cables for new electrical lines March 19 described chaotic conditions and lax supervision that made him nervous. Masataka Hishida said neither he nor the workers around him were given a dosimeter, a device used to measure one’s exposure to radiation. He was surprised that workers were not given special shoes; rather, they were told to put plastic bags over their street shoes. When he was trying on the gas mask for the first time, he said the supervisor told him and other subcontractors, “Listen carefully, I’m only going to say this one time” while explaining how to use it.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:53 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


George Monbiot’s nuclear mistakes
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Expert: Japan nuclear plant owner warned of tsunami threat

A seismic researcher told CNN Sunday that he warned the owner of the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant two years ago that the facility could be vulnerable to a tsunami.

The owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, appeared to ignore the warning, said seismologist Yukinobu Okamura.

TEPCO has not responded to Okamura's allegation

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:25 PM on March 27, 2011


Radiation, Once Free, Can Follow Tricky Path

Experts hesitate to predict where the radiation will go. Once radioactive elements that can harm health are released into the outdoors, their travel patterns are as mercurial as the weather and as complicated as the food chains and biochemical pathways along which they move.

When and where radioactive contamination becomes a problem depends on a vast array of factors: the specific element released, which way the wind is blowing, whether rain will bring suspended radioactivity to earth, and what types of crops and animals are in an exposed area.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:55 AM on March 28, 2011


Elevated radiation found in Massachusetts rainwater

“In Massachusetts, none of the cities and towns rely on rainwater as their primary source of water,’’ Auerbach said. “That’s why we’re so comfortable in saying that the drinking-water supplies throughout the state are pretty safe.’’

...

Similar levels of radioactivity in rainwater samples have been found in other states, including California, Washington, and Pennsylvania, Auerbach said. Other states have also reported small amounts of radioactive materials that may have originated from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, which was severely damaged after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck northern Japan on March 11. Radioactive material from the complex continues to leak into the atmosphere and the sea.

“Certainly if there is additional significant radiation release in Japan, that would have an impact on the larger environment,’’ Auerbach said.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:01 AM on March 28, 2011


I'm no proselytizer for nukes but you missed out some fairly important parts of that report, Blazecock.
Auerbach said that hypothetically, even if someone drank the rainwater directly, “it is still 25 times less risky than it would need to be in order to cause any kind of health concerns . . . . And that is even true for the population that would be the most vulnerable, such as pregnant women, breast-feeding women, and infants.’’

...

Radioiodine is a byproduct of nuclear energy production and has a half-life of eight days, Auerbach said. The half-life span means that only half of the level of radiation will be present in eight days, and so on until it dissipates.
posted by unSane at 5:50 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somebody should try to very carefully construct a new post on the situation in Fukushima, because that situation has been getting considerably worse while we were all busy debating how best to react to its being over.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:42 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


It ain't over til the radioactive fat lady sings.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:00 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


situation has been getting considerably worse

Either that or TEPCO and Japanese authorities have been in disinformation/spin mode (i.e. lying through their teeth up until now), and there is considerable specific evidence that that is in fact the case.

Contaminated Water Escaping Nuclear Plant, Japanese Regulator Warns
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 12:35 PM on March 28, 2011


nobody has seen much recently of the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, owner of a haywire nuclear power plant just 150 miles from the Japanese capital.

He is the most invisible — and also most reviled — chief executive in Japan.

Amid rumors that Shimizu had fled the country, checked into hospital or even committed suicide, company officials said Monday that their boss suffered an unspecified “small illness” due to overwork after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake sent a tsunami crashing onto his company’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station.

After a short break to recuperate, they said, Shimizu, 66, is back at work directing an emergency command center on the second floor of Tepco’s central Tokyo headquarters. Still, company officials are vague about whether they’ve actually seen their boss...
Vanishing act by Japanese executive during nuclear crisis raises questions
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 1:16 PM on March 28, 2011


I'm no proselytizer for nukes but you missed out some fairly important parts of that report, Blazecock.

I think people should read it for themselves, and Americans should be keeping an eye on their local authorities monitoring radiation levels in drinking water and food. I have been reading of the EPA shutting down radiation monitoring stations in the Western United States after increased readings, but I can't find reliable confirmation. If true, this would be troubling.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:09 PM on March 28, 2011


The EPA has a consumer-friendly page titled Japan 2011 from where one can learn background information, see summary updates, or by clicking on the map, access radiation monitoring data for all states in the US on a per-station basis. The more longitudinally inclined can dig into 23 years of historical data; techies may prefer the data.gov page which gives sources and instructions for near-realtime monitoring data, APIs and so on.

Actually looking at the data shows how vanishingly small the radiation levels are at the US end, and how little they differ from pre-quake levels so far - enough to be detectable, but still not enough to matter in any meaningful way.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:16 PM on March 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually looking at the data shows how vanishingly small the radiation levels are at the US end, and how little they differ from pre-quake levels so far - enough to be detectable, but still not enough to matter in any meaningful way.

After the EPA asserted nothing was wrong with the air downwind of NYC after 9/11, as one example, one would think it reasonable to question their veracity after major toxic events, and at least find it reasonable to pursue independent verification.

Memories are short, I guess.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:48 PM on March 28, 2011


Memories are not short at all. That's why I provided 4 different ways of accessing data in increasing order of precision and sophistication. The following data is a whole 49 minutes old. What have you got, besides an unsourced rumor?

Monitor Information:
Fixed Monitor Location: CA: SAN FRANCISCO
Measurement Start Date/Time: 03/29/2011 01:29:47 AM
Measurement End Date/Time: 03/29/2011 02:29:55 AM
Beta Gross Count Rate (CPM): 15
Gamma Energy Range 2 Gross(CPM): 1851
Gamma Energy Range 3 Gross(CPM): 1195
Gamma Energy Range 4 Gross(CPM): 374
Gamma Energy Range 5 Gross(CPM): 199
Gamma Energy Range 6 Gross(CPM): 133
Gamma Energy Range 7 Gross(CPM): 156
Gamma Energy Range 8 Gross(CPM): 104
Gamma Energy Range 9 Gross(CPM): 29
Gamma Energy Range 10 Gross(CPM): 39

posted by anigbrowl at 8:21 PM on March 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


What have you got, besides an unsourced rumor?

I do not know or care what is unclear to you about the meaning of "I can't find reliable confirmation" or "find it reasonable to pursue independent verification". I am simply stating that the EPA has a record of, well, lying and that it perhaps would help us all to try to check the data with other sources, given the EPA's history. Please go be fighty with someone else.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:31 PM on March 28, 2011


Well, you don't trust the local authorities in MA, and you don't trust the EPA even when you're handed roadmap to all their monitoring data (which it would be quite easy to check for fakery using statistical methods).

This is probably the source of your anxiety about west coast monitoring stations, or you can read the same AP story from other outlets with very minor copy variations. There's an explanation of why and how those monitors work at the EPA website linked above, although it's probably pointless to refer you to that.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:02 AM on March 29, 2011


I make no apology for caring about accuracy, especially on matters of public concern. Since I live on the west coast, I don't appreciate your posting 'troubling' rumors with no sources and no grounding in fact. If you can't find reliable confirmation, then don't post it. To do so is fearmongering, and neither namecalling nor rhetorical flourishes alter that.

Anyone who wants can check the internal consistency of the EPA data or cross-reference it against other sources quite easily. That's how things are done in a reality-based world, as opposed to making vague insinuations about government conspiracies.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:17 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


As I live in the Western United States, I found what I heard troubling in the context of increased radiation in Massachusetts. I didn't claim any kind of government conspiracy, and instead noted that what I had heard was uncorroborated and that I would need to look for verification, but I did think and still believe that what the federal authorities say about safety conditions should be verified, based on past performance. Many of those fact-based links I've been posting in this and the other Fukushima thread all point to the kind of systemic failures that make it difficult to trust the reliability of nuclear power operators and associated government agencies. So if you want to be a nuclear cheerleader and accuse others in an insulting, snide manner of fearmongering, go ahead. But the situation in Japan worsens and significant amounts of radioactive materials continue to make their way downwind and downstream, and this should concern anyone in a reality-based world, especially those of us in the path of the wreckage.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:23 AM on March 29, 2011


Related to Blazecock Pileon's point about federal truthfulness about safety conditions: Obama administration restricts findings on Gulf’s dead dolphins.

I've been watching independent sources of radiation monitoring (the crowdsourced monitors posted earlier), so I'm not worried yet. But his point about being suspicious about government claims of safety are understandable, given the history of collusion between government and industry in environmental accidents.
posted by formless at 9:47 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


You realize they are restricting the data about dolphin deaths because it might affect their lawsuit against BP, right? Their intent is exactly the opposite of covering it up.
posted by unSane at 10:19 AM on March 29, 2011


You realize they are restricting the data about dolphin deaths because it might affect their lawsuit against BP, right? Their intent is exactly the opposite of covering it up.

Yes, I realize this. From the viewpoint of the DOJ, this makes sense. From an individual consumer or citizen standpoint, this may not be the most beneficial outcome. A decision about whether or not to eat Gulf Coast seafood is an immediate decision that can only be made with current information about the true state of the Gulf. Because that information is being restricted, consumers can't make fully informed decisions. Their actions may be harmful to themselves.

Is it for the better public good in the end? Perhaps. If the DOJ ends up winning its case against BP. Assuming there even is a case. But that doesn't help current residents and seafood consumers.

Just because their intent may be the opposite of coverup, doesn't mean that the result is necessarily beneficial to all actors involved.
posted by formless at 10:42 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon, I simply don't believe you anymore. You say you were troubled by rumors you heard in the context of increased radiation in Masachussetts.

What actually happened was that you posted a long but highly selective excerpt from a news article citing state authorities in MA, and when you were called on the selectivity of it you threw up this rumor about EPA shutdowns that you had read about but couldn't confirm. You can't have tried very hard, because I found plenty of related material within a minute or two of searching for it - unsensational fact-based articles from the AP as linked above, along with distorted and inaccurate versions on popular websites like prisonplanet and godlikeproductions. I gave you multiple different routes to EPA data, with which you could have easily checked whether monitoring stations on the west coast (or indeed anywhere else) were being shut down or not, to which you responded that the EPA couldn't be trusted because they have a history of lying. Your other comments on the subject have since been removed.

So now you are calling me a nuclear cheerleader for simply telling you that the data is available and what it shows - as you have done with several other people in this thread - and you still refuse to assess the raw data or make comparison with any independent sources, despite being given a link with access to over 300 non-governmental radiation monitoring feeds in Japan, the US, and around the world. Instead, you claim there are 'significant' amounts of radioactive materials making their way downwind and downstream...again, with no data to back up your allegations and no qualifications of what you mean.

You seem to think there is enough radioactive material heading for the west coast that it presents a distinct danger for human health, because that's why people usually reach for a word like 'significant.' I've pointed you towards hundreds of official and independent monitoring streams available already, and here are even more sources for official and independent streams around Japan. Please substantiate your claims.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:44 PM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


I gave you multiple different routes to EPA data

To be rigorous, all that one dataset said is that it is one dataset.

Cutting and pasting a single chunk of data doesn't validate that data, nor does it validate all data that are collected across multiple readings and sites.

As for the one external link you provided, the only external source you provided was a link farm that pointed to one source of detector data in San Diego, and the rest were links to data sources in Japan.

So now you are calling me a nuclear cheerleader for simply telling you that the data is available

That data are available is not the same thing as data being valid, and you are confusing this point, as well as your representation of one, single datapoint that you copied and pasted from one reading.

You can't have tried very hard

I did try looking, but even I said that I looked for corroboration you would accuse me of lying, so there would be little point in saying so.

Your other comments on the subject have since been removed.

I do not have the exact text in front of me, but other than a non-offensive sentence or two about my motivations for posting links to news articles, I asked you to take your bullshit fightiness elsewhere, and the moderators removed that request. If that is not what I wrote, then I would be happy to have the unedited version of my original comment reposted. I don't think it says anything controversial or wrong.

I've pointed you towards hundreds of official and independent monitoring streams available already

As I mentioned, the one link you provided was a link farm that had only one such example for the United States, at least at the time when I clicked on it. On that basis, I think I do not agree with your strong claim about "hundreds" of data streams.

You seem to think there is enough radioactive material heading for the west coast that it presents a distinct danger for human health

Getting an above-background dose of iodine and possibly cesium through food and water seems to be a strong possibility, and given the past dishonesty of the EPA after major ecological disasters, people should keep their eyes and ears open about what they are being exposed to. Nothing you have posted so far changes their past record, or says, either way, that their data are valid or invalid. I have not claimed their data are valid or invalid, either, despite your best attempts to assert otherwise, even if I think healthy skepticism is warranted.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:27 AM on March 30, 2011


A Debate on the Future of Nuclear Energy Between Anti-Coal Advocate George Monbiot and Anti-Nuclear Activist Dr. Helen Caldicott
posted by homunculus at 9:08 AM on March 30, 2011


Regarding the current dangers of radiation, immediatly adjacent to the plant, the fine folks at MIT have an ongoing blog. The latest entry might be of interest to you Blazecock. And if you aren't going to trust the experts, who the hell are you going to trust? Here is the link to the MIT folks:

MIT link

I stand by everything I said upthread. It is bad, and some of the plant workers may get sick and die (although probably just get sick). It is impossible to attritube any effects on human health beyond the plant boundaries at this time (and I admit this may change) as the exposure effects are lost in the noise of background radiation.

I think there is more risk from panicky people getting sick overdosing on iodine tablets than well ever get sick from this incident.

Far, far more people are getting sick and dying, EVERYDAY, from the effects of coal power plants. Nuclear is the only technology we have that can give us 24/7 grid power with no ongoing CO2 emissions and such a low cost in terms of health effects per KWH produced. This includes the deaths, current and projected, from Chernobyl. The alternative energies are interesting and may help but they don't work when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing. And we still need that power when those conditions exist. Geothermal might be albe to fill the gap, but the right conditions for that don't exist everywhere either or likely in the easily exploitable conditions required to be feasible.

Everything else that could work is either worse than coal, or years off, such as fusion or space based solar power.
posted by bartonlong at 3:39 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Some nuclear experts are now saying the Fukushima crisis could rival the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union.

Nuclear scientists use the term “core-on-the-floor” to describe radioactive fuel burning through protective containment layers, hitting water and bursting into the atmosphere in a huge steam explosion, spreading clouds of radioactive gas and dust.

It’s never happened before, but experts fear it may soon become reality in one or more reactors at the Fukushima nuclear complex, which was gravely damaged in last Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami."

Pentagon preparing for a nuclear worst-case scenario at Fukushima
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:47 PM on March 30, 2011


Gotta wonder now: has George Monbiot maybe started worrying a little again? You know, just a little bit? And has he decided he maybe doesn't "love" nuclear power quite as much as he said he did a few days ago?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:50 PM on March 30, 2011


On Tuesday, a US engineer who helped install reactors at the plant said he believed the radioactive core in unit 2 may have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:57 PM on March 30, 2011


I stand by everything I said upthread. It is bad, and some of the plant workers may get sick and die (although probably just get sick). It is impossible to attritube any effects on human health beyond the plant boundaries at this time (and I admit this may change) as the exposure effects are lost in the noise of background radiation.

At this point, that seems disturbingly optimistic. For instance, the IAEA measured (see also this news report or this one) localized hotspots of radiation in the soil in some areas, including Iitate village: "average total deposition determined at these locations for iodine-131 range from 0.2 to 25 Megabecquerel per square metre and for cesium-137 from 0.02-3.7 Megabecquerel per square metre...First assessment indicates that one of the IAEA operational criteria for evacuation is exceeded in Iitate village."

Iitate is 40km away from the plant. After Chernobyl, the Soviets cleared land that had concentrations exceeding 1.48 megaBq/m2. Iitate isn't showing super dangerous levels of radiation in the short term, but it's enough to cause significant health effects if you continue to live there, absent a truly massive cleanup project. In Fukushima City, 65km from the plant, their radiation exposure in a week was roughly equal to a year of normal background exposure. Especially for infants and children, we're talking about non-trivial exposures. We're also not even counting agricultural exposure. And of course radiation is still being released, as the situation is far from controlled. Certainly no one outside the evacuation zone is going to develop acute radiation sickness from these levels, but we're way beyond the Three Mile Island "no measurable effect on human health" point here. We are now at the "probably more cancer" level, and how much more cancer will depend greatly on Japan's willingness and ability to clear a no-go zone in a densely populated country and/or to undertake difficult and expensive massive remediation projects, the effectiveness of which may be hard to determine.
posted by zachlipton at 11:31 PM on March 30, 2011


I was thinking about the invisibility of this whole disaster the other day. I mean how after the first week/ten days it 'dropped' off the headlines to be replaced by Lybia. As though the really hard/dangerous part is over and done with and now comes the boring ol' clean-up phase.

Yet whenever I go look for reports on the situation it seems to be getting more and more dire. Or at least, nowhere near as less severe as - to my uninformed mind - it seems like it should have become less dramatic, with the less radiation being found in the surrounding area (or at least a 'definite' irradiated zone established), not more and more and wider and wider. To me this is a sign that they have been trying to manage the perception of the disaster and play it down as much as possible. I understand that and if it does not result in danger to life, don't think it's so bad.

But as much as 'TEPCO' has strived to keep this from being a 'Chernobyl' type event, or at least from being categorized or even thought of as a Chernobyl type event, it's increasingly looking like the long term effects are going to be awfully similar. A huge exclusion zone, a not-insignificant loss of life.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:56 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


NYT: Dangerous Levels of Radioactive Isotope Found 25 Miles From Nuclear Plant
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:07 AM on March 31, 2011


Everything else that could work is either worse than coal, or years off, such as fusion or space based solar power.

I disagree. Solar is not years off, technically, only politically.

And new developments in hydrogen fuel based power production and storage find that tech now poised for a take off and nearing readiness to be scaled up for widespread use (at which point, it's not about the tech being "years off"; it's only about investment in it and the politics of rolling it out).

Hydrogen based power plants are a proven cost-effective technology.

And now, as discussed elsewhere, the tech now exists to produce hydrogen fuel very, very cheaply (more cheaply and efficiently than any current fuel source). If that tech can make it to market, and the development of hydrogen power plants can be accelerated, then why couldn't we finally give fossil fuels the slip? Apart from agricultural and other specialty manufacturing uses?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:13 AM on March 31, 2011


I meant to post: "...as discussed elsewhere..."
posted by saulgoodman at 11:15 AM on March 31, 2011


'Letter bomb' attack at Swiss nuclear group hurts two

Two workers at the office were said to have suffered superficial injuries.

Two women have been hurt in a suspected letter bomb explosion at offices belonging to lobby group Swissnuclear in the northern Swiss city of Olten.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:49 AM on March 31, 2011


'Letter bomb' attack at Swiss nuclear group hurts two

Clearly, this action invalidates any and all concerns anyone might have about Fukushima or nuclear power in general. Now, more than ever, then, is the time to build more nuclear power plants!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:26 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Terrorism is pretty awful but that's no reason to abandon your beliefs, there have always been environmental extremists.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:33 PM on March 31, 2011


I reckon that sarcasm detection device next to your computer need a little maintenance, furious. Or is your comment just a wee bit of sarcasm right back at me? Gotta be, right?

Meanwhile, workers made more incremental progress at Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant on Thursday, but troublingly high radiation readings at the plant as well as miles away reinforced fears that the disaster was far from ending.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:38 PM on March 31, 2011


FUKUSHIMA, Japan, April 1, Kyodo

An unemployed man from Tokyo was arrested Friday after allegedly intruding by car into the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant premises, near the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi plant in Fukushima Prefecture, police said.

Hikaru Watanabe, 25, from Shinjuku Ward, allegedly broke through the western gate of the Daini plant around 1:10 p.m. Thursday, before driving inside its premises for about 10 minutes, the plants' operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said, adding that no one was injured in the incident.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:55 PM on March 31, 2011


Crews 'facing 100-year battle' at Fukushima
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:42 PM on March 31, 2011


sigh... Radioactivity surges again at Japan nuclear plant

This thing is so not over it ain't even close to funny.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:51 PM on March 31, 2011


Views of Fukushima
posted by From Bklyn at 12:39 AM on April 1, 2011


A different outcome

This is actual news, not speculation and illustrates my point that this disaster is not a condemnation of nuclear power but rather a clearly illustrated need that we need to learn from this mistake, and build lots of new nuclear plants that don't have the mistakes and shortcoming of the Fukushima reactors.
posted by bartonlong at 1:35 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


build lots of new nuclear plants

Any idea of what to do with all that pesky spent fuel?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:17 PM on April 2, 2011


this disaster is not a condemnation of nuclear power but rather a clearly illustrated need that we need to learn from this mistake

Can this be said that to the face of someone who once lived downwind of Fukushima.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:20 PM on April 2, 2011


Well, Blazecock, lotsa folks downwind are definitely learning from other people's mistakes. The fucking hard way.

otherwise, glad to note that even proponents of nuclear power here have finally come around to using the word "disaster". Took 'em awhile, though. I guess they just had to wait to see that the NYT had started using the term. (Took the NYT awhile, too...)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:50 PM on April 2, 2011


Also, bartonlong, that link of yours is pretty hilarious. I mean, I guess now part of the argument is that nuclear power plants can make reasonably good refugee shelters, so that's another reason we should build more? Haha! And, hey, like you said it's "actual news"! Too rich!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:54 PM on April 2, 2011


But pretty much all the recent links added to this thread are, glad to inform you, "actual news". Yup. Here's another:

From Far Labs, a Vivid Picture Emerges of Japan Crisis
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:00 PM on April 2, 2011


And this actual news is all pretty grim.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:12 PM on April 2, 2011


I tried to find a news source with a better metric than 'missing for several days,' as all the other information associated with the discovery strongly implied they died on March 11. Which I would have to say is not 'several days.' I haven't scrubbed out threads here, but what was the missing worker count on the 12th? Or what were they saying in general? I remember there was one guy who died in a crane, in hindsight probably one of the fuel cranes, probably due to an injury during the quake, and I *think* I remember more missing, but it's out of my head by now.
posted by mwhybark at 11:20 PM on April 2, 2011


Assessing the Radiation Danger, Near and Far.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:54 AM on April 3, 2011


My point was, with proper design and management, even a massive earthquake and tsunami doesn't turn the power plant into a disaster. It is rather a asset, not a liability and still making peoples lives better. The Fukushima plant is an old design, with numerous shortcomings. The power company was in the process of decommissioning it. The waste problem is solvable. See my comments upthread. Their really isn't that much of this stuff (volume wise and in comparison to the amount of waste in terms of power produced), it is fairly easily stored and we will probably want to get at this stuff at some point in the future as we figure out cost effective ways to recycle it. The spent fuel still has lots and lots of energy left. And if we don't want it we can always just inject it in subduction zones and let the earth recycle it.

My biggest point in all of this is take a rational look at the disaster (the earthquake and tsunami-not just the power plant, but that also) and realize this isn't the ZOMG problem that the media and the anti-nuclear activist want it to be. My heart goes out to all the victims of the earthquake (as does everyone here-this isn't an attack on anyone), and in the end the (yet to be any) additional deaths from the power plant are a very minor footnote to all this. The radiation dangers are pretty much totally contained within the plant boundaries. The radiation that has made it outside that area are fairly minor and transitory. The verdict is still very much out on how much long term danger there is for nearby residents and farmers (meaning food supply threats) but every rational, factual analysis of it leads me to think that next year it will be business as usual. Hell, i think that the nuclear weapon tests done in the last century released far more radioactive material, right into the stratosphere, than this has, and we are all still alive and kicking. The environmental damage caused by all the crap the tsunami mixed together and washed out to sea and left behind in the muck is far more of danger, and more likely to make one sick, I think (unless you are one of the dedicated, heroic plant workers anyway).

I think that Tepco did a crappy job in preparing for this disaster at the plant and with a fraction better preparation could have prevent this. Outside of ethical, responsible considerations it was a poor business decision. Much like the causes of Chernobyl this didn't have to happen, even with an earthquake to cause it. And even after all that the containment mostly worked at this plant and did work at other nearby, better managed plants. The suffering that will likely result from the either the decrease in electrical supply or increase in fossil fuel use that would result from shutting down all the nuclear plants is going to be far, far greater than the power plant meltdown.
posted by bartonlong at 11:59 AM on April 3, 2011


My biggest point in all of this is take a rational look at the disaster (the earthquake and tsunami-not just the power plant, but that also) and realize this isn't the ZOMG problem that the media and the anti-nuclear activist want it to be.

I respectfully disagree because,

The verdict is still very much out on how much long term danger there is for nearby residents...

I feel we have been so aggressively misled that I doubt we'll have a good idea of what the hell even happened for another couple of years, much less what the fall-out will be.

Much like the causes of Chernobyl this didn't have to happen, and yet it did. I'm sorry, I understand you saying lots of other things are poisonous and nasty and shit, but that doesn't make this any less horrible.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:32 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that Tepco did a crappy job in preparing for this disaster at the plant and with a fraction better preparation could have prevent this. Outside of ethical, responsible considerations it was a poor business decision. Much like the causes of Chernobyl this didn't have to happen, even with an earthquake to cause it.

In answer to this point, I think this bears repeating:

Humans cannot be trusted with this volatile and potentially catastrophic technology. Things won't just get better, in that regard. Arguing that it's not the inherent problem with the technology itself, but with human's faulty oversight of it (whether for-profit, not-for-profit, whether in one set of geographic circumstances or another, etc) misses the point. We've seen in this thread and others many variations on this argument. But it is humans who will always be in charge of nuclear power plants, and humans will always prove fallible: in their judgements, decisions, actions, etc.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:00 PM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Or, put another way...

The accident in the former Soviet Union 25 years ago “affected one reactor in a totalitarian state with no safety culture,” UBS analysts including Per Lekander and Stephen Oldfield wrote in a report today. “At Fukushima, four reactors have been out of control for weeks -- casting doubt on whether even an advanced economy can master nuclear safety.”

-Bloomberg BusinessWeek
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:05 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant Hi-Res Photos
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 9:33 PM on April 4, 2011


Radiation at the shoreline of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility has measured several million times the legal limit, just four weeks after the earthquake and tsunami and days after workers discovered a crack where highly contaminated water was spilling directly into the Pacific Ocean. Experts say radiation dissipates quickly in the vast ocean, but they are unclear what will be the long-term effects of large amounts of contamination. The new levels prompted the Japanese government on Tuesday to create an acceptable radiation standard for fish for the first time. We’re joined by Philip White of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center in Tokyo. “Cancers from this sort of level of radioactivity will not appear in the first few months or year; they will be late-onset phenomena,” White says. “So, it’ll require a lot of monitoring of health to actually see what the impact of this is.”
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:00 PM on April 5, 2011


Is George Monbiot worrying yet?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:03 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Monbuot doubled-down on it today, IIRC. That, or it was a repeat reference to his original article.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:54 PM on April 5, 2011


"United States government engineers sent to help with the crisis in Japan are warning that the troubled nuclear plant there is facing a wide array of fresh threats that could persist indefinitely..." -NYT
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:56 PM on April 5, 2011


That New York Times article is heavy as shit. Precisely because it's not hysterical hand-waving but methodical, deliberate relaying of contents of reports... ugh. Can you imagine if this shuts down, say a third (even if it's only an eighth) of the Japanese fishing industry? It boggles the mind the scope of this disaster.

Though never explicitely 'pro' nuclear, I stopped being rabidly 'anti' at some point in the past. I will change my mind again and now unequivocally will state, here for the three people still reading the comments down here and the maybe dozen more who might read it into the future - Nuclear Energy is a great idea that we cannot implement safely, hence it is not a practical, safe source of energy and should not be considered for future use.
posted by From Bklyn at 10:53 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Japanese authorities said Tuesday they had discovered for the first time fish swimming off the country's Pacific coast carrying high levels of radioactive materials." -Wall Street Journal
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:08 AM on April 6, 2011


Simpsons did it!

(That, too!)

I know, it's serious. Sorry.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:43 AM on April 6, 2011


"This is the hidden world of nuclear power...”

NYT: Japanese Workers Braved Radiation for a Temp Job
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:17 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Japan Nuclear Disaster Put on Par with Chernobyl. via NYT.

There. It's 'officially' an enormous fucking tragic-as-hell disaster.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:55 PM on April 11, 2011


There. It's 'officially' an enormous fucking tragic-as-hell disaster.

flapjax at midnite waits for any number of people from this thread and other nuke/disaster threads who accused me and others here of being hysterical, panicky, paranoid, fear-mongering luddite dreamers to come here and say "i was wrong and I'm sorry for being such a know-it-all jerk who readily dismissed your legitimate fears and concerns in a generally derisive manner".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:16 AM on April 12, 2011


If I did that, I apologize. My intention was to keep a lid on the OMG end-of-the-world nuclear-holocaust doom crying by providing actual experience-based perspective. I admit the situation turned out a lot worse than I had thought it would. I hope the "dismissed your legitimate... derisive manner" doesn't apply to very many of my comments, though.
posted by ctmf at 5:12 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, ctmf, I wasn't thinking of you at all. At least no specific comment(s) of yours that I recall.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:14 AM on April 12, 2011


Japan Nuclear Disaster Put on Par with Chernobyl.

As far as that scale goes yeah, Chernobyl is still worse though.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:58 AM on April 12, 2011


>>Japan Nuclear Disaster Put on Par with Chernobyl.

>As far as that scale goes yeah, Chernobyl is still worse though.


So far. And so far as we know.
posted by msalt at 8:17 AM on April 12, 2011


Given the information available at the time, F@M, you were on the panicked and irrational end of the scale.

After a month of continuing uncontrolled failures, things have inevitably reached the point where this is genuinely a far-reaching disaster.

If they'd regained control weeks ago, it'd be a very different story. Alas, they didn't. You are, at last, right.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 AM on April 12, 2011


Given the information available at the time, F@M, you were on the panicked and irrational end of the scale.

Part of the information available at the time was the history of past ecological disasters involving very large corporations. Including the relatively recent Deepwater Horizon, who several people compared this to.

It was only irrational if you trusted the official accounts of the Japanese government and TEPCO.

At what point do we realize that in large disasters like this where people and corporations are culpable, that the official story is likely false?

Take for example, one of the reasons put forth by the Japanese government for not raising the alert level to 7 earlier:

“Some foreigners fled the country even when there appeared to be little risk,” he said. “If we immediately decided to label the situation as Level 7, we could have triggered a panicked reaction.”

And now we're seeing the same downplaying of risk of harm around the radiation levels in fish issue:

"What we're concerned about is damage from misinformation," said Hiroshi Somekawa, deputy secretary of the fisheries division of Kesennuma's industrial department. "While we're trying so hard to rebuild this industry, it's not desirable that people may start to turn away from fish or refuse to eat it altogether."

Always about saving the industry. Not the people.
posted by formless at 12:30 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The CS Monitor says Fukushima ≠ Chernobyl. "Some specialists are questioning the usefulness of an international scale for measuring the severity of nuclear accidents – a scale that now rates the Fukushima Daiichi crisis in Japan as equal to Chernobyl."
posted by five fresh fish at 4:00 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Based on the public information presented it seems that we've had continually over optimistic estimates from experts and engineers as to the of the costs of controlling and containing the situation. Now the public at large is left with no basis to trust further expert opinions about the scale and health impacts. As much as I want to believe those who say that the impact is not as bad as Chernobyl, why would I given that the same experts have said it was very unlikely to need a remedy as dire as entombing the reactor in cement and waiting a few hundred years. They said that the radiation into the sea wasn't a worry, now we're told that it needs to stop because whoops pushing tons of radioactive sea water with unknown isotopes in it is really pretty terrible for the north coast of Japan.
posted by humanfont at 4:13 PM on April 12, 2011


five fresh fish writes: Given the information available at the time, F@M, you were on the panicked and irrational end of the scale.

No, you were on the "where have you been for the last few decades when utilities, vested business interests and governments have consistently lied or underplayed the dangers of such incidents?" end of the scale. I was neither panicked nor irrational. You, and several others here like you, were accusing me of panic and irrational fear, however. You were wrong in those accusations, but unsurprisingly, you're still not here to admit that and/or apologize. Big people can admit when they were in the wrong, and they often apologize in such instances. Smaller people are unable to do so, and continue to point the same old finger at those who they should in fact be apologizing to.

formless writes: Part of the information available at the time was the history of past ecological disasters involving very large corporations. Including the relatively recent Deepwater Horizon, who several people compared this to.

It was only irrational if you trusted the official accounts of the Japanese government and TEPCO.


Requoted for truth.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:55 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basically you've acted pretty cranky and abrasive and seem to be using a tragedy to push an anti-nuke political agenda so I wouldn't expect many apologies here, weeks later in an old thread barely anyone is reading.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:52 PM on April 12, 2011


Basically you've acted pretty cranky and abrasive and seem to be using a tragedy to push an anti-nuke political agenda so I wouldn't expect many apologies here, weeks later in an old thread barely anyone is reading.

Yeah well, you're still reading it, ain'tcha george? And you're precisely one of the people owing an apology. I'd say you're pretty much at the top of that heap. Again, not surprised I'm not hearing it from you, though. And as long as we're talking "using a tragedy to push an anti-nuke political agenda", you've clearly used this tragedy from the get go in orde to push a clearly pro-nuke political agenda. Guilt/first stone, all that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:24 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not really, I was certainly over the top at first but by the time I mostly dropped out of the first threads my position was that a failure to get water in for cooling was certainly possible and that of course would lead to further disaster.

Of course that didn't stop the pile-on or stop folks like you from dropping personal insults in my inbox, but that's okay.

Along with the insults came people from Japan thanking me for urging calm instead of panic so it's pretty much a wash for me.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:38 PM on April 12, 2011


Well, good for you then furious. It all worked out real well for you in the end.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:50 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not really, there are 27,000 people dead or missing.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:53 PM on April 12, 2011


Not really, there are 27,000 people dead or missing.

No, I was referring to your "it's all a wash" comment. I wouldn't suggest that you were referring to the epic disaster that was the earthquake and tsunami. And very disingenuous and underhanded of you to suggest that I was. Very cheap rhetorical trick on your part.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:58 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, I misinterpreted what you said as some sort of jerky sarcasm.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:12 PM on April 12, 2011


Seeing as flapjax lives in Tokyo, I think he has been entitled to feel a little cranky and abrasive as this has all unfolded, though I personally haven't found his comments to be anything but interesting and/or informative.
posted by zachlipton at 7:43 PM on April 12, 2011


though I personally haven't found his comments to be anything but interesting and/or informative.

He has posted plenty that is informative and interesting but if you missed the insults, pointless "say it to my face" bravado, strawmanning, demands of apologies for comments from weeks ago in entirely different threads and such you have been reading a little bit selectively.

I'm just glad that we are cool now and he honestly feels good for me, I feel the same for him even if though he is still rightly angry about the disasters.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:00 PM on April 12, 2011


LOL. That was premature.

Anyway, I still think Nuclear is better then fossil fuels, but I think nuclear power isn't really worth arguing for in terms of what needs to be done to stop global warming. Wind and Solar ought to be the first priority for now, add nuclear power back in in maybe 10 - 20 years. The thing about Nuclear power plants it that they have huge up front costs and lead times that wind and solar just don't.
posted by delmoi at 3:21 AM on April 18, 2011


The CS Monitor says Fukushima ≠ Chernobyl. "Some specialists are questioning the usefulness of an international scale for measuring the severity of nuclear accidents – a scale that now rates the Fukushima Daiichi crisis in Japan as equal to Chernobyl."
Yeah now that Fukushima rates as bad as Chernobyl we can't use the scale anymore.

Also it's Dai-Ichi, not Daiichi. 'ii' is a vowel in Japanese and Dai and Ichi are two separate words ('number' and 'one', respectively)
posted by delmoi at 3:24 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


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