SAIKADO HANTAI! SAIKADO HANTAI!
July 29, 2012 11:25 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, July 29, 2012, saw a massive antinuclear protest, attended by young and old alike, in Tokyo. This video, and this one, too, (both well-edited and featuring English subtitles) bring you right into the center of the action, to get a feel for the energy that the movement is steadily gaining.
posted by flapjax at midnite (112 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very impressive how the protests have grown and grown. I wonder how the news outlets will cover this.
posted by zardoz at 11:39 PM on July 29, 2012


Actually, there was a thing on NHK the other day, their close up program after the seven o'clock news, where they were talking about the protests. As far as I could understand, they seemed to be talking about how rare protests like this, of this size, are here. A good chunk of the program was dedicated to comparing these protests to the student protests in the 60s. I'm interested in seeing where this goes.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:29 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It kind of makes me sad, because well-run nuclear power will be critical to weaning us off carbon and giving us time to get solar/wind/geothermal/etc sources up and running -- once we're used to running on electricity, we can easily replace the source. And only humans really suffer badly from nuclear accidents; we're the ones who benefit, and we're the ones who pay when we get it wrong.

But I'll tell you, my faith in the ability of power companies to run nuclear plants was incredibly shaken by Fukushima. It's like they didn't realize they had a literal atomic bomb on their hands. It was, admittedly, an extraordinarily rare event, and a plant that was put in a fundamentally stupid place, but all it would have taken was real commitment by TEPCO to handle the problem with the urgency it needed, and most of the (literal) fallout would have been completely averted.

And there was some nuclear incident in this country not too long ago, which was promptly hushed up, and it's all making me very worried and uncertain about the whole idea. We absolutely have the knowledge and ability to run these things in near-perfect safety, but the problem is that the people who have that knowledge and ability aren't in the positions of power to make sure it happens.

We get incompetent boobs running things instead, and nuclear power does not tolerate fools.
posted by Malor at 12:30 AM on July 30, 2012 [20 favorites]


If nuclear power is phased out, Japan will have to make up about 20% of energy production. An easier task than it might be here in Korea, where nuclear comprises more like 35%.

I wonder what safeish cleanish viable alternatives there might be to make up the difference, beyond increased conservation and efficiency, and without resorting to the fallback of just importing more fossil fuel.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:39 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Absolutely Nuclear Heroes "SUISHINGER"!
posted by misozaki at 12:39 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Watching the videos, I'm trying to imagine what would happen if a similar protest were to take place in the States. Then again, the worrisome note is that the police were 'unprepared' which makes me wonder what happens next time when they are ready?
posted by Ghidorah at 12:42 AM on July 30, 2012


Nuclear Power?

Yes Please.
posted by Redfield at 12:54 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Watching the videos, I'm trying to imagine what would happen if a similar protest were to take place in the States.

There would be blood in the streets, quite literally. We just saw it happen late last year.
posted by Malor at 1:00 AM on July 30, 2012


Oh, ya hadda little earthquake? A tsunami hit and one of 'em melted down, eh? Fuck you, pay me.
posted by telstar at 1:07 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm trying to imagine what would happen if a similar protest were to take place in the States.

Well, here's what it looked like a few days ago in Anaheim. I think there were about 20 or 30 protestors there that day?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:11 AM on July 30, 2012


Actually, the police are prepared. I drove by this rally yesterday right before it began and there were already many policemen standing along the route to clear one lane for the march and regulate the traffic. They can't really do anything about the protesters, though, because nobody is breaking the law. This is the biggest difference between the protests of the '60s and the recent ones. The police can't crack down on the recent ones because these are just lots and lots of ordinary people, including kids, who just converge every week. They gather, they march, they chant, then they go home. The organizers are trying hard to keep the rallies from becoming violent, because that would just give the government reason to ignore what the protesters have to say.

NYT
posted by misozaki at 1:16 AM on July 30, 2012


If even the Japanese can't handle nuclear power, what are the chances that countries like China or, say, Italy can?
posted by sour cream at 1:26 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


sour cream, the pessimist in me thinks about that a lot. Even if Japan manages to go nuke-free, which it probably won't anytime soon at this rate, there's always China and Korea right over to our west. Which is where the wind generally blows from. So... why bother at all?

But I guess we have to start somewhere.
posted by misozaki at 1:38 AM on July 30, 2012


Can't wait for the protests against brownouts.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 1:50 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


CautionToTheWind, last year, the threat of power shortages was much, much greater, yet there were only a couple, relatively short blackouts. For better or worse, people here have pretty much accepted the cutbacks due to setsuden (conserving energy), and are getting along all right. Did I enjoy sweating in a movie theater yesterday? Oh, hell no. Would I prefer full blast AC, knowing that if all companies kept going like two, or three years ago, there would be brownouts, rolling blackouts and the like? Not really, no. It's brutally hot here, but people and companies are, for the most part, not blasting AC. Most stores haven't used their full lighting capacity since last year (seriously, the convenience store near me uses less than a third of their lighting during the day). People here are pretty committed to taking one for the team, and reducing consumption so that there aren't brownouts.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:59 AM on July 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


It kind of makes me sad, because well-run nuclear power will be critical to weaning us off carbon and giving us time to get solar/wind/geothermal/etc sources up and running -- once we're used to running on electricity, we can easily replace the source.

First of all the idea of any power source being "well-run" has to incorporate the fact that any power source is a complex operation run by actual people. "Well-run" can't just mean that good people who know what they're doing are working hard to keep the place functioning, it has to include the current safety manager's nephew taking his uncle's place when the plant manager has to call in favors to keep the prefectural subsidies coming in, or eco-terrorists with politically incorrect views on nuclear power bombing the exhaust vents to make a glorious point.

Second, if the problem with renewable energy is getting it "up and running," I don't see how switching from fossil fuels to uranium ore as an "interim" solution is a workable response to path-dependency. Even if we could tomorrow just switch all fossil fuel energy production to fission, wouldn't that have us just as stuck with fission plants everywhere as we are with the fossil fuel plants we have everywhere now? If we're going to make the massive investment it takes to switch basic power sources we may as well switch to something actually "sustainable."

In the end there is simply no way to have perpetual economic expansion on a finite planet. Completely discounting the source of energy, economic growth at 3%/yr leaves our planet at boiling point in 400 years. If in fact there is some technotopian future world of interstellar civilization, getting through the next 100 years of drastic climate change, resource depletion, and social instability is going to make it tough to invest in the sleeper ships and benevolent AI development.
posted by eurypteris at 2:09 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


People here are pretty committed to taking one for the team, and reducing consumption so that there aren't brownouts.

Yeah, right. Japan is really taking one for the team.

".... Japan relies heavily on imports to meet its consumption needs. Japan maintains government-controlled oil stocks to ensure against a supply interruption. Total strategic oil stocks in Japan were 589 million barrels at the end of December 2011, with 55 percent being government stocks and 45 percent commercial stocks. Japan consumed an estimated 4.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of oil in 2011, making it the third largest petroleum consumer in the world, behind the United States and China."

Fossil Fuel Imports, Use Soar as Japan's Nuclear Fleet Sits Idle

Due to the increased imports of fossil fuels, Japan has been running record trade deficits since the accident at Fukushima idled nuclear plants.

Sure, the Japanese people have patiently tolerated interruptions in power supply, but let's not overstate Japanese stoicism. The demand for electricity remains unabated. Let Japan live permanently with 30% less electricity use and let's see how tough they are.
posted by three blind mice at 2:11 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Malor: "It kind of makes me sad, because well-run nuclear power will be critical to weaning us off carbon and giving us time to get solar/wind/geothermal/etc sources up and running...

You are telling yourself a fairy tail my friend, what...

But I'll tell you, my faith in the ability of power companies to run nuclear plants was incredibly shaken by Fukushima. It's like they didn't realize they had a literal atomic bomb on their hands. It was, admittedly, an extraordinarily rare event, and a plant that was put in a fundamentally stupid place, but all it would have taken was real commitment by TEPCO to handle the problem with the urgency it needed, and most of the (literal) fallout would have been completely averted..."

Ah you just stopped doing that :) Good for you. This is the point I have problem with with all nuclear apologists. Don't get me wrong I'm not against it just to be against it. I am against it because of money, when people are in it for the money shit will happen sooner or later. The problem with nuclear plant is that their shit is the real shit.

Now take the money of the equation (I mean by that nuclear power plants should run not in a for-profit model, then I'll be all for it.

The same problem I have right now with GMOs.
posted by zouhair at 2:16 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Making nuclear and GMOs run in a "not-for-profit" model might be harder than solving our energy problems.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:28 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's heartening that there is a place in the world where people can still get together to stand up to the nuclear industry, without corporatized police forces launching violent attacks on protestors.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:31 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


CautionToTheWind: "Making nuclear and GMOs run in a "not-for-profit" model might be harder than solving our energy problems."

I don't know if it is that hard, but that's why I am a very pessimistic person.
posted by zouhair at 2:36 AM on July 30, 2012


Now take the money of the equation (I mean by that nuclear power plants should run not in a for-profit model, then I'll be all for it.

*cough* Chernobyl

The other problem with blaming profit is that there is no profit to be made in nuclear energy. The money IS out of the nuclear equation and has been for a long time. Burning fossil fuels offers a far better ROI. The fact is that without pressure from the global warming apologists - and threats of carbon taxes - there is no business case for nuclear energy.

In other words, politics and science and NOT money is what drives national nuclear policy and it seems to me that this should make internet Marxists really very happy - and the rest of us very worried.
posted by three blind mice at 2:53 AM on July 30, 2012


they had a literal atomic bomb on their hands.

No, no no no, that's just not the case in any sense of the word, no. This cannot be more untrue. Do not believe people that make comparisons like this, because it is wrong.
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:53 AM on July 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


These weekly protests, which have barely been covered by mainstream Japanese media, are one of the most impressive things to happen in the time since the quake. As the video mentioned, you need to go back to the sixties to see any kind of protest like this in Japan, and that was mostly confined to college age students. This is young and old, retirees and young parents. It's absolutely amazing.

But yes, let's please have our regularly scheduled nuclear power derail. We certainly haven't heard enough about that.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:59 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


The anti-nuke movement was on it's last legs, before Fukushima had a relatively minor incident. Looks like this has breathed some fresh life into them.

It's one of my top four social movements i wish would just Go Away. The endless screaming hysteria about nuclear power is entirely due to the fact that people don't understand it or the nature of risk. It doesn't help that it's an easy target because it's something so many people are already apprehensive about.

A quick google finds there's 435 operational nuke plants. It's only news when one of them has a problem; just like plane crashes - we only hear about it when there's an issue, and that we don't hear about problems often says something.
posted by dethb0y at 3:05 AM on July 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


a relatively minor incident.

Are you a resident of planet Earth, or some other planet that also has a place called Fukushima. It must be the latter. Please tell us about the minor incident there. The one on Earth was, um... kinda *not* minor.

The endless screaming hysteria about nuclear power is entirely due to the fact that people don't understand it or the nature of risk.

Haha! Surely one of the most cluelessly patronizing and ignorant comments I've seen on Metafilter in a loooong time! But people around Fukushima understand the nature of the risk. Like, say, the ones who've lost their homes? Like, the homes they can never return to? Yeah, they know a thing or two about the risks.

that we don't hear about problems often says something.

Yup. A little something called "coverup".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:13 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Long story short, this is one of the themes I get passionate about and in my short Mefi shelf life I've already gotten one reprimand. So this is the only time I'm gonna say it.

Nuclear power as it is now is the cleanest source of energy we have. Period.

See, how "clean" something is ain't a matter of how cool it is. Well-designed nuclear plants have resisted earthquakes that would have had gas plants raze the earth. And the effects of ionizing radiation in the case of grave accidents -- of which we've had all three of them -- have been wildly overhyped, perhaps because the media is representing other interests. (I know for a fact, and millions do, that it is the case in Brazil) Longitudinal studies at Three Mile Island show no excess deaths. Epidemiological estimates at Chernobyl estimate under 100 deaths. This against the background of oil spills and natural gas explosions -- there's one in Russia that started a fire hole that 30 years after is still burning.

"But what about solar panels? Wind mills? Cow shit?". See, "sustainability" is used as a word disconnected from any meaning other than "this stuff is current and sexy, we have to get some sustainability mojo", but it's actually a technical condition. If you have an input-output matrix for energy -- a matrix with the parcel of source X is required to produce source Y, summing for the total fraction of sources in the rows and columns, you need the largest eigenvalue < 1. This is EROEI, energy return on energy invested, and EROEI > 1 energy sources aren't sustainable at all. Now, everyone says solar panels are expensive but getting cheaper, but how much does it costs in terms of the energy expended in fabrication, the energy spent mining the materials, the energy consumed by the displaced workers and so on? Simply put, whatever the figure you look up, MAYBE hydro power (which is an ecological disaster) has a better EROEi than current nuclear.

Then we have thorium reactors. We've had small thorium reactors since the late 70s but investment is needed in research at the reliability engineering level (and not solar panels or methane from cow shit) to have large-scale thorium reactors replacing the current generation of uranium reactors. And they're vastly better -- simply put, there's a 2-pass thingamajig where the nuclear waste is used once again for extra juice.

"But what about nuclear waste?". You encase it in concrete and drop at the bottom of the ocean. Ecological impact: it heats the oceans. But think of the fossil fuels and hydro plants built to meet the production of solar panels, wind mills and cow shit plants.

You have to think about this whole thing as a system -- for better or for worse post-post-post industrial civilization uses a lot of energy, and while you may want to move towards traditional lifestyle, the general devenir of civilization is to move up the Kardashev scale, at least for now. Don't be a science hater -- support nuclear power.

(I'm hoping an expert will join in, source my off-the-top-of-my-head information and grep my post for technical errors.)
posted by syntaxfree at 3:13 AM on July 30, 2012 [26 favorites]


they had a literal atomic bomb on their hands.
No, no no no, that's just not the case in any sense of the word, no.


Well, actually in the sense of "thing that may explode and leave large swathes of land radioactive" nuclear power plants will do the trick just fine. The explosion itself won't be atomic, but the fallout from a plant based steam explosion will do just as well. We harden them for a reason.

Granted, he probably should have said "dirty" bomb instead of "atomic."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:19 AM on July 30, 2012


The one on Earth was, um... kinda *not* minor.

Yeah, we're talking about 37 injuries and a 10 km exclusion zone.

The only thing worse would be some kind of disaster that killed 15,000 people and displaced 200,000 more and severely damaged 400,000 building. The kind of thing that wipes entire cities off the coast of eastern Japan.

Fortunately nothing like that was going on at the time so we aren't forced to reconsider what we consider "major" as human problems go.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:33 AM on July 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


No, no no no, that's just not the case in any sense of the word, no.

Well, maybe I should have said 'dirty' bomb, but I think 'atomic' isn't too far off the mark. That plant was spewing out radioactive cesium and thorium for, what, months? A bomb, while destructive, just explodes, pollutes the environment, and then it's over, but Fukushima was the gift that kept on giving.

And I was one of the stronger pro-nuclear voices here. I really believe it's important. But, god, when something goes wrong, you have to have good people running crisis management, focusing on preventing deaths and radioactive pollution, not saving money for the company in question. Japan certainly didn't have any available; they were completely and utterly inept. Criminally inept.

If Mitt Romney wins the election, do you trust any government he appoints to manage a nuclear disaster? I sure don't, and I don't think the Republican candidates are going to be getting any more competent in the foreseeable future.

What happens if we, in the US, get Katrina-style crisis management in a nuclear disaster? We already let a city drown. Can we be trusted with uranium?
posted by Malor at 3:39 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can we be trusted with uranium?

Well we sure as shit have proven that we can't be trusted with hydrocarbons.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:50 AM on July 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


three blind mice: "there is no business case for nuclear energy. "

There are several very large power producing conglomerates here in the US that would disagree with you. Some of them are responsible producers that keep a close eye on maintenance. Unfortunately, others are not. The problem I have is that we're going to need an awful lot of electricity if we're going to stop burning dug up carbon in our cars and things like lawnmowers and all the other places we depend on burning stuff.

I'm not quite sure how we get there if we only do wind and solar, what with the substantially increased demand. Nuclear could fill that gap, if we actually replace the 1950s-era plants with modern, more safe, designs.

Unfortunately, we don't really have the time to dither, yet we do. It's getting to the point where only active atmospheric modification will prevent calamity. I like the idea of that kind of experiment on a global scale somewhat less than I like even old nuclear power plants, yet I find even that a nice alternative to displacing billions of people through rising sea level, flooding, drought, extreme heat, and famine.

Uranium might destroy a city. Excess atmospheric carbon is destroying the entire fucking planet. A sense of perspective is required.
posted by wierdo at 4:13 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should have said destroying the ecosystem that enables us to survive on this fucking planet. The rock itself will be fine regardless of what we do, at least at our present technological level.
posted by wierdo at 4:14 AM on July 30, 2012


The species has exhibited self control only in individual instances; it will eat both marshmallows and then loot the room in hopes of the bag and when confronted shrugs, grins, and runs away looking for more. We recommend containment where they cannot harm others.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:14 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are several very large power producing conglomerates here in the US that would disagree with you.

OK weirdo, who are they and how many new plants have the invested in in the last 20 years? It is my understanding that in the US there hasn't been a new nuclear plant built in 30 years and that four new units scheduled to come on line by 2020 will probably be delayed as the economics of nuclear power faces a new challenge: Competition from cheap hydrocarbons poses a greater threat to atomic power than the political backlash after Fukushima.

What drives nuclear energy is not economics but environmental concerns. You say so yourself.

we're going to need an awful lot of electricity if we're going to stop burning dug up carbon in our cars and things like lawnmowers and all the other places we depend on burning stuff

Uranium might destroy a city. Excess atmospheric carbon is destroying the entire fucking planet. A sense of perspective is required.

I do not disagree with this and I do think that nuclear energy has to be considered in light of these concerns, but at the same time when calling for a sense of perspective it helps to avoid hyperbole. It is not helpful when advocates of nuclear energy glibly understate the danger of this technology, nor is it helpful when climate change advocates speak in apocalyptic terms. Taken together, all sense of perspective is lost and to me that is the really dangerous thing. Seeing Greens and the Nuclear Power Industry are on the same side politically is sort of scary.
posted by three blind mice at 4:44 AM on July 30, 2012


Regarding the subject of this post:

It is becoming a social movement to an extent that we did not initially anticipate."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:57 AM on July 30, 2012


I'm trying to imagine what would happen if a similar protest were to take place in the States

Previously
posted by Egg Shen at 5:12 AM on July 30, 2012


Nuclear apologists must have a hard time making friends. "It's okay to destroy some cities to save the world" sounds awfully similar to the argument that "all we need to make the world a wonderful, sustainable place is to remove 3/4 of the world population". Like that's just a technical problem.
posted by rikschell at 5:15 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's like they didn't realize they had a literal atomic bomb on their hands.

They did not have a literal atomic bomb on their hands. A nuclear reactor cannot detonate on that scale. Period. End of sentence.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a literal atomic bomb on thier hands.

Fukushima has done a tiny fraction of damage, and harmed a tiny fraction of people, and spread a tiny fraction of the radioactive material compared to what the Hiroshima and Nagasaki did.

Uranium might destroy a city. Excess atmospheric carbon is destroying the entire fucking planet. A sense of perspective is required.

Uranium might, but so far, has not -- Hiroshima and Nagasaki are, after all, still cities.

It's okay to destroy some cities to save the world

If that was the sole choice -- some cities, or every human being on the planet, it's an easy one.

Right?
posted by eriko at 5:32 AM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


You can't really take the moral argument about pro-nuclear people liking to kill off cities whilst ignoring the deaths (direct and indirect) and environmental destruction of coal, oil and gas.

I'm sort of pro-nuclear, but I'm not entirely sure we, as a nation in the UK, are capable of building and running safe new plants. We have invested too little so all our nuclear experts are retiring and we're still not competent enough with newer, safer tech.
posted by milkb0at at 5:40 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a frustrating argument to watch/engage in, because at a certain point it starts to sound like people arguing that airplanes are scary and dangerous and not financially feasible because when one crashes, it's all over the news, disregarding the hundreds of automotive fatalities that happen eachday that are simply common enough that no one even notices.

To a large degree, Japan's anti-nuclear rallies have been more based in wishes than plans, because as much as people love solar and wind energy, they have obvious shortcomings, such as night. There's never really any alternative, better option proffered along the way, and that can get really frustrating when your Facebook feed is full of what may just as well be info about an anti-hot-weather movement.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:12 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


rallies have been more based in wishes than plans

This is basically always the case, for any type of rally. It's what rallies are all about.
posted by aramaic at 6:14 AM on July 30, 2012


Nuclear apologists must have a hard time making friends. "It's okay to destroy some cities to save the world" sounds awfully similar to the argument that "all we need to make the world a wonderful, sustainable place is to remove 3/4 of the world population". Like that's just a technical problem.

You know who really has a hard time making friends? Dishonest, mean-spirited strawmen.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:15 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have a hard time making friends, too.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:16 AM on July 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


We're not out of the woods yet. There are 1,535 spent fuel rods sitting in an open pool next to Fukushima reactor #4. The pool is leaking and there is no containment vessel around it -- not exactly an ideal way to store them. It's going to take years to get all of the fuel rods out of there: to date they have removed a total of two. If a major earthquake occurs before the spent fuel rods are removed then it's most likely a massive amount of radiation will be released into the atmosphere. Predictions vary about how bad this would be, but range from making most of Tokyo uninhabitable to a hemisphere wide event. Fuck.

There is no easy, short term solution to our energy problem. A nuclear plant failure can have massive consequences and we haven't figured out what to do with the spent fuel. Coal pollutes the air so much it may be changing our climate. Purchasing oil (while we still can) funds some of the most repressive, corrupt regimes on the planet and may being funding terrorism. Fracking for natural gas pumps millions of gallons of deadly chemicals into the ground. And wind/solar/battery storage are a long way from being efficient enough to replace the others. We need a global energy policy NOW so that we can survive long enough to develop new energy technologies.
posted by Dean358 at 6:17 AM on July 30, 2012


So the nuclear power plant that's about 100 km away from where I live has just had part of a safety audit redacted for reasons unknown and suspicious. I'd guess that the problem with running nuclear reactors is a slow and creeping complacency: minor incidents are covered up because no-one wants to lose face - and after all, the incidents were truly minor. Then larger ones also get covered up...

That said, it also fills me with terror that government across the world are switching off their nuclear reactors in a bid to be seen doing something with no clear plan on how the shortfall is going to be made up. By burning more fossil fuels? The cure may end up worse than the disease - but delayed and less visible.

Ultimately it takes a lot more political will to decrease power usage than it takes to turn off nuclear reactors.
posted by Zarkonnen at 6:24 AM on July 30, 2012


it also fills me with terror that government across the world are switching off their nuclear reactors

Hmm. Well, lessee now... according to Wikipedia: Germany decided to close all its reactors by 2022, and Italy has banned nuclear power.

Since when were Germany and Italy "all over the world"?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:45 AM on July 30, 2012


But seriously, I mean, really, there's one key aspect of nuclear power generation that is the crux of the whole fucking matter, and I'm continually amazed that the recognition of it doesn't automatically silence nuclear proponents and shut down the discussion. Period, end. That, of course, is spent fuel. Nuclear waste. Thousands and thousands of tons of it, radioactively toxic for thousands and thousands of years. And no one knows what to do with it. Not the foggiest clue.

I mean, in any sane world, wouldn't that just end the whole goddam business straightaway? What has humanity become? Would the people who built the pyramids, who could seemingly project a few thousand years into the future, consider leaving such a legacy for their children's children's children's children's children's children's children? So they could keep air conditioners running in buildings whose windows cannot be opened?

We are truly a lost species. Unless the voices of July 29, 2012, Tokyo, Japan are heard and repeated and resounded throughout the world.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:58 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nuclear waste. Thousands and thousands of tons of it, radioactively toxic for thousands and thousands of years. And no one knows what to do with it. Not the foggiest clue.

A professor who'd looked at this once told me it would be safe to pulverize it to dust and uniformly disperse it across the country -- that at that level, it would be indistinguishable from background.

Whereas the greenhouse gases from conventional power are stored safely in earth's atmosphere.

I try to stay out of the green energy debates on Metafilter; they get very ugly. But you know who I know to ignore? The kind of poster who says the answer is all nuclear; the answer is all solar; the answer is exclusively X, Y, or Z. This is the kind of individual who will take any single datum and force it to support his argument, no matter how many contortions are necessary. If there were a single ideal answer, the world would converge on it. There is not.

Wind power? What about the fact that dysprosium is only bein mined in China, and that in national security interests they refuse to export the raw material and insist on local manufacturing and export of finished hardware.

Solar? What happens when it rains for a month in London (and if you say it's simply a question of maintaining a fleet of backup fossil fuel power stations, you are missing the economic argument that no one will pay to build fleet B that can generate electricity more cheaply, and idle it while operating fleet A).

Anyone who suggests that all we need to do is invent room temperature superconductors is putting all their eggs in a basket that may prove to be impossible -- not hard, but impossible -- to create.

Sometimes solutions are complicated.
posted by samofidelis at 7:19 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


35% of Fukushima children have abnormal thyroid cysts or nodules.

After the earthquake, I was one of the people suggesting that we had too much alarmism going around, that the nuclear threat wasn't as bad as lots of people were making it out to be. But it's hard for me now to think of what happened as minor.

Japan has at least one nuclear plant that is sitting on a (most likely) active fault line.

My logic-brain tends to think that nuclear power is worth it if the alternative is catastrophic global warming, but when I see things like that -- I think I'd be down there protesting too.
posted by Jeanne at 7:20 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do advocates of nuclear power think that it will stop fossil fuels from being burned? If anything won't it decrease demand which will decrease the price of fossil fuels? What about that coupled with the fact that our industrial infrastructure is tooled to run mostly on fossil fuels, not electricity (and to switch is an expense we can't seem to spare)? Jevons Paradox anyone?
posted by symbollocks at 7:26 AM on July 30, 2012


How is any one method of generation different from another in such an argument?
posted by samofidelis at 7:32 AM on July 30, 2012


flapjax, we have a great idea of what to do with it. Unfortunately, the anti-nuke crowd has used rather alarmist rhetoric to prevent the storage sites from being used. And then folks like you come along and dishonestly claim that nobody has the foggiest idea of what to do with the waste. Perhaps if you'd move aside and allow it to be stored deep underground in a desert that is only going to get more deserty we'd have some of that problem solved.

Perhaps it was the coincident tsunami that was mainly responsible, but clearly strides need to be made in more quickly notifying the populace surrounding a reactor of an impending release of radioactive material so that they can either shelter in place or evacuate. (or shelter in place, then evacuate, depending on the situation) I don't think anyone in their right mind would consider the response acceptable.

Sometimes we have to do dangerous things for the greater good. That they are dangerous does not any more mean that we should ignore the ways in which we can ameliorate some of the risk than it means that we should ignore the somewhat risky solution in favor of the more monumental danger.

My point is that we need to not be making the problem worse. It's already to the point that we're unlikely to prevent a rise in temperature significant enough to cause catastrophic effects on a wide scale at current adoption rates of renewables. If we shutter all the nukes, our only other option will be direct atmospheric modification through god only knows what chemical process. I suspect the uncertainty involved with that will be far more than with the nuclear plants.

And again, nobody is saying we should build more 1950s era boiling water reactors at the edge of an ocean known for its tsunami. I'd prefer to see something like the Toshiba modules that were being discussed a few years back. Put a fair whack of those in nearly every county in the country (buried, thanks) and you've not only replaced a bunch of fossil fuel generation capacity, but have also significantly dropped transmission losses in the same way rooftop solar and wind can do, thus reducing the total generation required. And you get a nice backup for the solar that doesn't require a complete retrofit of our transmission infrastructure. Not that I would have a problem with that retrofit anyway. Better connectivity breeds better reliability, generally speaking.
posted by wierdo at 7:56 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jeanne -- is there any more substantial literature on the thyroid growths found on the Fukushima school children? I get the sense that this is a Bad Thing, but I have no idea how bad -- unless I missed the number in the Telegraph article, there's no number cited for what is considered normal frequency of thyroid growth. And what is the severity of the kind of cysts found on the students' thyroids?

It possibly sounds as though I'm scheming to portray with diminished severity the Fukushima disaster's effects on the Japanese people; I'm not at all, I just want to know more about the radiation related injuries.
posted by samofidelis at 8:01 AM on July 30, 2012


If a major earthquake occurs before the spent fuel rods are removed then it's most likely a massive amount of radiation will be released into the atmosphere.

I don't understand, please explain how that would work.
posted by BeeDo at 8:07 AM on July 30, 2012


From the Telegraph article:
A study by the Japan Thyroid Association in 2001 found that zero percent of children in the city of Nagasaki had nodules and only 0.8 percent had cysts on their thyroids.
So I would take that as a reasonable baseline.

If any more substantial literature exists, it's probably in Japanese. I really don't know the first thing about the health effects of radiation. But considering how long it can take for those health effects to become clear, I would take seriously such a dramatic jump even in totally benign nodules.
posted by Jeanne at 8:11 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps if you'd move aside and allow it to be stored deep underground in a desert that is only going to get more deserty we'd have some of that problem solved.

Yeah, hate to be holding up progress and all. I know I should step aside and let the governments/utilities of the world do what they need to do, for my own good as well as my great great great great great grandchildren's benefit. But I'm just drunk on this amazing power I have, you know, to determine the fate of this whole thing, so... nah, I ain't stepping aside. We nuclear opponents, man, we really call the shots in this world, don't we?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:12 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was clearly a collective you. Nonetheless, on this particular issue, that is pretty much what happened.

How can we not all agree that even if that isn't the best place for the waste it's certainly better than sitting in waste ponds at the reactors? It strikes me very much like how some Republicans use tax cuts in an attempt to shrink government. Just like the money they wish hadn't been spent has already been spent, the waste you wish hadn't been produced has been produced. Nobody likes leaving it where it is, so WTF?
posted by wierdo at 8:22 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps if you'd move aside and allow it to be stored deep underground in a desert that is only going to get more deserty we'd have some of that problem solved.

The thing is, there are lots of living things in deserts, too. There are desert ecosystems. And there are also, you know, people, who live in deserts and have lived in deserts for a long time. But people or no people, there just aren't places on the Earth where nothing is living at all.

Even if you don't care about disrupting the things that live in deserts, isn't it pretty apparent by now that changes to a small part of the planet can have an affect on the whole world? Someone above also suggested that if we put nuclear waste in the ocean, it's "only" a matter of raising ocean temperatures. I'm guessing that person doesn't live near the coast; raising ocean temperatures mean melting ice in the north and south mean higher water level mean goodbye, San Francisco, goodbye, Venice, goodbye.

If nuclear waste were only dangerous for 10 or 15 years, maybe it would be a great idea to seal it up and toss it in the ocean or stuff it under a desert. But that is not the case, and if we stuff it under the bed, it's going to be causing harm for generations to come. There's nothing for it when it comes to waste that already exist--that has to be stored somewhere. But shouldn't we aim not to continue creating nuclear waste in the future?
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:25 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someone above also suggested that if we put nuclear waste in the ocean, it's "only" a matter of raising ocean temperatures.

I know it's not the crux of your argument, but the effects of waste heat coming from hot, expended fuel is not going to be sufficient to drive global change in sea temperature; the risk would be to local environments. Power plants of all stripes are often built next to large water sources, so that they can use the water as a cold thermal reservoir to dump excess heat into. These are often super weird because of the effect the heat has on the flora and fauna of the lake.

I can't remember the name of it, but there's a coal fired power plant in WV on the way out to Canaan Valley that has a turquoise blue colour due to this.
posted by samofidelis at 8:32 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Build a mass driver, shoot the waste into the sun.

Power the mass driver with nuclear energy.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:39 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


snorkmaiden, the damage to the desert ecosystem has already been done. The facility is built. The storage caverns are over 2,000 feet underground. There's simply no reasonable mechanism by which the containment casks could be breached and material migrate out into the ecosystem any time in the not ridiculously distant future. And even that risk that does exist, and it is a real (if remote) risk, is far lower than the risk of the present storage situation.

Putting it in Yucca Mountain does not mean we just dump it and forget about it. The site will continue to be monitored for centuries to come, and if we quit monitoring, it's because we won't be in a position to care. And even in that scenario we're still better off than we are with the waste being where it is now.
posted by wierdo at 8:46 AM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Japan is in the middle of determining a "2030 energy roadmap", and debating the future of nuclear power.

I think one of the major challenges is not only finding a clean replacement for nuclear, but also a replacement that replicates the tremendous capital coasts of nuclear power plants. Nuclear is in some ways the lynchpin of Japan's economy, providing not only power, but equity, future earnings (and of course graft).
posted by KokuRyu at 8:53 AM on July 30, 2012


I don't understand, please explain how that would work.

The rods in the number four reactor's storage pool Arron the top floor of the building. The pool they're in is riddled with cracks, and Tepco is having difficulty maintaining the flow of cooling water, while at the same time, they've had issues with where to store the water that's leaking out.

Add to that the physical state of the building. It is literally a shell of what it used to be, and no one knows just how bad the structural damage is. That's tons, tons of rods stored on the top floor of a heavily damaged building, in a leaky pool, right off of a fault line that has been incredibly active since the quake. If the building should collapse in a new quake, the rods won't gently settle into a well maintained pool. There is every chance they could overheat completely outside even the protection of the reactors. Fuel rods overheating and going critical in the open air? That would be bad, to put it mildly.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:55 AM on July 30, 2012


samofidelis, I guess it's a question of scale. How many local environments can we heat before there is global change in sea temperature? Maybe you're right, and it would never have global results, but is anyone able to say that's the case for sure?

To me, and I have to admit that I am a person without any technical knowledge whatsoever in this field, it seems like the biggest problem with nuclear waste is that it will keep on coming. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it true that as long as nuclear power plants are running, more and more waste accumulates? Maybe it's not that big a problem at first... but 25 years' worth of accumulated waste from now? 50 years? 100? When will the volume be too much? We don't know, and it doesn't seem like a good gamble to just keep producing it until, oops, too much is NOW. I mean, I guess it's possible that one quantity of nuclear waste has the exact same impact as 100x that quantity, but that doesn't seem reasonable to me. Can the facilities that have already been built store an unlimited amount of waste, weirdo? The problem many people have with nuclear power is not all about the short term, the waste that already exists, it's about the problem of what the waste that doesn't exist yet will mean.

(If I'm wrong about the accumulation factor, though, I'd love a link to a good explanation of why I'm wrong.)
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:57 AM on July 30, 2012


Kraftwerk weighs in
posted by philip-random at 9:10 AM on July 30, 2012


The Yucca Mountain facility was built to handle about 70,000 metric tons of waste. Thus far, the industry has generated about 67,500 metric tons of waste and generates a little over 2,000 tons a year.

Ah, you say, then we only have a couple of years of storage capacity left? That's correct. However, the existing facility can be expanded by simply digging more tunnels in the same complex. This avoids any significant increase in the area impacted and were funds allocated as requested in 2007, we'd be on our way to doubling the available storage capacity.

It's no more reasonable to say that we should have storage capacity now for all the waste that will ever be generated than it is to say that solar and wind are not important parts of the solution because they don't make up all that much of our generation capacity yet.

Compared to the impact of burning fossil fuels, or even covering the desert with solar plants, the impact of the waste storage aspect of the nuclear industry is minimal. That's not to say that there's little impact in digging stuff up out of the ground and metaphorically burning it, but you have to dig stuff up out of the ground to make wind turbines and solar cells, also. That part is just a fact of the modern order.

Anyway, the ongoing drama at Fukushima only underscores the need to open Yucca Mountain and empty the storage ponds of waste that has cooled sufficiently to be transported. This stuff is certainly safer under thousands of feet of rock, even if it's not as safe as can possibly be. Luckily, we can work on making it safer as we go. If that requires moving it again 50 years hence, OK. That's still better than another 50 years of it being in storage ponds.
posted by wierdo at 9:14 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


(If I'm wrong about the accumulation factor, though, I'd love a link to a good explanation of why I'm wrong.)

Instead of forming an opinion in an admitted complete absence of knowledge, maybe you could get some information first before asking people to disprove your self-admittedly completely uninformed opinion.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:39 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand, please explain how that would work.

As Ghidorah stated above, if another earthquake knocks out the cooling water in the pool then the spent fuel rods could overheat and start to burn. Although I'm not sure what conditions it would take for a bunch of them to go critical, I suspect that's less likely. But just catching fire would spew so much radioactivity into the atmosphere that we'd have major problem on our hands. Another possibility is that given the unstable condition of the building that an earthquake would cause them to smash apart, also releasing radioactivity. And all of this because it wasn't worth spending the $ to fix a known vulnerability -- the emergency generators being located where they would be flooded if the sea wall was breached.
posted by Dean358 at 9:42 AM on July 30, 2012


That, of course, is spent fuel. Nuclear waste. Thousands and thousands of tons of it, radioactively toxic for thousands and thousands of years. And no one knows what to do with it. Not the foggiest clue.

I mean, in any sane world, wouldn't that just end the whole goddam business straightaway? What has humanity become? Would the people who built the pyramids, who could seemingly project a few thousand years into the future, consider leaving such a legacy for their children's children's children's children's children's children's children? So they could keep air conditioners running in buildings whose windows cannot be opened?


The thing is, those big decisions have already been made, by that so-called greatest generation, and their dads (a few moms, too, I guess). Because we've already got the waste.

I recall reading a Mother Jones article maybe twenty years ago. It was a list of all the things we really should be worrying about (or something like that), and very high up was the fact that, due to the current accumulations of nuclear (and related) waste, humanity had already made a 50,000 year commitment to some kind of military level security apparatus to safeguard it. So yeah, think recorded history, then multiply it by five. Think birth of Jesus Christ until now, multiply it by twenty-five.

The only way I've ever been able to think about this kind of stuff is in Science Fiction terms, like Dune and the Spacing Guild. If there's a future for us humans, I can't help but imagine that the nuclear challenge will end up with a crowd like that, as much a religious order as anything else, conceivably not even human anymore.
posted by philip-random at 9:46 AM on July 30, 2012


That, of course, is spent fuel. Nuclear waste. Thousands and thousands of tons of it, radioactively toxic for thousands and thousands of years. And no one knows what to do with it. Not the foggiest clue.

The thing is, it's not waste. It's fuel for the next generation of reactors like the Integral Fast Reactor and or the Travelling Wave Reactor. That's what we do with it - we scale back uranium mining and use the existing "waste" to power global energy demand for decades.
posted by Dasein at 10:07 AM on July 30, 2012


flapjax at midnite: "Since when were Germany and Italy "all over the world"?"

Oh, about the time Wikipedia became a definitive source on the matter? If you get my meaning.
posted by boo_radley at 10:22 AM on July 30, 2012


wierdo: "Anyway, the ongoing drama at Fukushima only underscores the need to open Yucca Mountain and empty the storage ponds of waste that has cooled sufficiently to be transported. "

But in a more specific sense, how will Yucca Mountain help countries who do not have a Yucca Mountain type facility? The industry may generate 2,000 tons of waste, but surely the industry is diffused across the globe -- do we import waste from across the globe? Is it possible to get buy-in from those countries to export?
posted by boo_radley at 10:32 AM on July 30, 2012


And no one knows what to do with it. Not the foggiest clue.

That's not true at all. I have a bunch of great books written in the 1950s that lay out the original concept for nuclear power, which was a very efficient fuel cycle based on breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities. We never really built either in quantity, and our current reactors are basically "uranium burners" that just consume fissile uranium (and some old weapons, recycled into fuel) and spit out waste, without any facilities to deal with it. That's a shadow of what the whole system was supposed to do.

Most people looking at nuclear power in the 50s figured that we'd only need to enrich a small amount of uranium, and could then take minimally-refined stuff out of the ground, put it in breeder reactors, produce plutonium, react that (not only in big power plant reactors but also in much more compact reactors, e.g. for naval and commercial shipping or compact modular plants), repeat over and over until everything's spent, separate out the reaction isotopes, saving the "hot" ones for use as atomic batteries for spacecraft and medicine, and burying the "cold" ones back in the mines from whence the uranium originally came. (Or geologically similar abandoned mines, depending on when the uranium ones were exhausted. Salt mines seem to come up a lot.) But there wouldn't have been a lot of waste to store, and the stuff that stays radioactive longest is necessarily least radioactive. The stuff that is both long-lastingly radioactive and a major health risk is rare. But again, this was all assuming that we'd have spent just as much time and effort perfecting spent-fuel separation as we did reactor designs or weapons. We didn't.

Unfortunately, we halfassed it. Due in part to economics -- the price of fossil fuels collapsed during the mid-20th century -- and in part to politics -- the US and other 'nuclear club' countries didn't want anyone else to get the Bomb and enforced a moratorium on spent fuel reprocessing and breeder reactors -- we only ever built out one small part of the cycle. This has only been remotely sustainable because we had a lot of enriched uranium and cheap plutonium as a result of weapons development, both in the US and USSR, on top of direct subsidies. Were it not for that, I suspect all of the active nuclear plants would have closed down due to fuel costs (and competition from fossil sources) in the 80s or 90s.

I am a proponent of nuclear power and the full fuel cycle, but when I look at what we are currently doing, it frankly looks like a waste of fissile uranium. It's honestly probably better that we just shut down the plants until we decide to do it right. I don't believe for a second that having nuclear plants in operation will stop us from burning all the fossil fuels on the planet. Just like the Easter Islanders, we're going to do that; I don't think human societies are capable of anything else.

But at some point in the future, probably after all of us here are gone, the human appetite for energy is going to look at those big, temptingly fissionable atoms again. Hopefully they'll do it right.

So while I don't really support the protesters in the sense of thinking that nuclear power is inherently bad or wrong, I can't really argue with them that we haven't lived up to what the technology could have been to us. And maybe they are right, that we are just not capable of doing better.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:52 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hi, Snorkmaiden -- it's just a question of scale. How large an area are we willing to damage? 1,000 square km of ocean? 100,000? The earth has 400,000,000 square kilometers of ocean.

I can't do this on my phone; I need a pencil and someone has to post me a letter so that I have the requisite back of an envelope on which to calculate. But the thermal load would be, I'm quite certain, relatively tiny. If you want, I'll try to work this out later, but I've already committed to conducting a double blind test for the British tea drinking thread in order to determine whether one can truly distinguish between milk-in-first and tea-in-first.

(If I'm wrong about the accumulation factor, though, I'd love a link to a good explanation of why I'm wrong.)

Instead of forming an opinion in an admitted complete absence of knowledge, maybe you could get some information first before asking people to disprove your self-admittedly completely uninformed opinion.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:39 on 7/30
[+] [!]
Well, sometimes it is hard to know where to start looking, and that is OK, too.

burying the "cold" ones back in the mines from whence the uranium originally came. (Or geologically similar abandoned mines, depending on when the uranium ones were exhausted. Salt mines seem to come up a lot.)

Salt domes are really cool geological formations. They're really stable. There's a guy I know at the University of Texas who wants to use them as neutrino detectors by measuring Cherenkov radiation flashes. He's got some wild idea about timing the flash against the sound of the crystalline salt relaxing.
posted by samofidelis at 11:01 AM on July 30, 2012


I must amend my previous comment to note that apparently the previous Nagasaki study was specifically not even looking for cysts or nodules smaller than 5 mm; and therefore it really doesn't work well as a control group.

In that light, the remarks of scientists saying that radiation effects wouldn't show up so soon make a lot more sense!
posted by Jeanne at 11:06 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


>I don't understand, please explain how that would work.

As Ghidorah stated above, if another earthquake knocks out the cooling water in the pool then the spent fuel rods could overheat and start to burn.


This scenario has been making the rounds of teh Innertubes for the past six months, but from what I've read, the reactor building in question still has structural integrity and can withstand another major earthquake (which it did in the first place, by the way). The damage to the building was caused by a hydrogen explosion - the building actually did what it was supposed.

The fact that the storage pool is essentially open to the elements is alarming to consider, but, then again, the original reactor building offered absolutely no protection whatsoever, beyond the primary containment of the reactor itself.

To put it another way, spent fuel storage is extremely problematic in Japan, because the same scenario is repeated at fifty other nuclear power plants.

In this case, the "tilting" reactor building has been debunked as an optical illusion, and Tepco has already started the long process (should take 2 years) of transferring the fuel rods to a common storage pool on-site.

Really the biggest issue is the jerry-rigged coolant tanks, which hold highly radioactive water used in an ad hoc way to cool the (exposed) cores. One big earthquake and once again you will have high amounts of radioactive water spilled into sea.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:17 AM on July 30, 2012


That would be bad, to put it mildly.

Thank you all, very informative. If they are really that close to the edge of losing control of those cooling ponds, I wouldn't blame them a bit if they picked a spot in the ocean and chucked 'em to the sea floor. They can promise to go get them later, when things aren't so severe.
posted by BeeDo at 11:30 AM on July 30, 2012


flapjax at midnite:

I actually thought a lot more countries were shutting down their reactors. Apart from Germany and Italy, Switzerland is also planning to do so. I live in Switzerland, so I'm in the triangle of three countries who are doing it, which gave me the impression it was a lot more.

I think you read my comment as a pro-nuclear statement, with the second paragraph, which you quoted from, overriding the first. I'm actually very much on the fence on the whole issue.

You obviously have strong feelings on this topic. I assume you made this FPP in part to convince people of your point of view. But I have to take issue with the way you're doing it: you quoted me selectively (by omitting the with no clear plan bit, which is really what's causing me the terror, not the switching off). And I guess you assumed that I was lying rather than just misinformed, hence the tone of your reply.

I get that the issue makes you angry, but you're putting people who are undecided on the defensive and that will not help convince them.
posted by Zarkonnen at 12:47 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


There were some environmental protests this weekend.

1. Japan anti-nuke in OP
2. Anti-fracking protest in Washington DC
3. China protest against a paper plant running waste water into the ocean.
4. A protest in Lincoln County, W. Va. against mountain top removal.
posted by stbalbach at 2:17 PM on July 30, 2012


We didn't half-ass nuclear development because of lack of funding, we half assed it because efficient reactors don't produce enriched fuel for bombs. And making fuel for bombs was the original design of the US nuclear industry. Power is Ironically the byproduct of developing and running efficient plutonium breeders.

Modern, efficient reactors are incapable of meltdown regardless of operator error or natural disaster. Even at maximum capacity with no cooling they don't achieve the temperatures necessary to melt down, or fire the fuel.
Although we have designed these reactors and exported them there is no longer any money in the US for building reactors. It was never really a commercial thing, it was always military related. And the US has plenty of hydro and nearly free natural gas.

This thread is riddled with ridiculous hyperbole. By the numbers nuclear power is the safest on earth. 15 people die a year producing JUST natural gas power. Hundreds are injured.
The biggest thread is Hydro. A large hydro plant failure could destroy more square mileage on earth than every nuclear weapon combined.

Dam failures have killed over 200,000 people since the advent of nuclear power. Nuclear power has killed less than 100.

There is not a lot of further risk from fukushima, The rods in the cooling pond cannot be aerosolized. The rods are NOT within critical distance of eachother. Do you think they are insane? Worst case scenario they have to bury them with a bulldozer. The cherynobl method.

Nuclear waste is not the problem everyone makes it out to be. Because its an incredibly small amount of material. 99% of the material is sitting on site right next to the plant, and we have the capacity to do this for hundreds of thousands of years even if we don't find a permanent location.

The waste, after sitting for 20 years, is basically just as inert as it was when pulled from the ground. The nature of nuclear material is that the harmful stuff is incredibly short lived. The military uses the stuff to make bullets now. I knew a professor who had a small sphere of depleted uranium in his office. Its about as dangerous as lead, (still dangerous, I wouldn't sleep with either in my mouth).
posted by darkfred at 3:56 PM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Banqiao Dam Failure
posted by darkfred at 4:02 PM on July 30, 2012


I agree with your general argument, but this part
We didn't half-ass nuclear development because of lack of funding, we half assed it because efficient reactors don't produce enriched fuel for bombs. And making fuel for bombs was the original design of the US nuclear industry. Power is Ironically the byproduct of developing and running efficient plutonium breeders.
is incorrect. While there were a number of reactors built in the US that both produced power and produced weapons grade plutonium, there weren't that many. In fact, some of the biggest weapons-production reactors didn't produce power at all; they were graphite moderated air-cooled reactors that just vented the thermal power to atmosphere.

The majority of electric-power reactors in the US are either PWR or BWR reactors and aren't breeders. They "burn" either highly enriched or mixed-oxide fuel and produce waste that is not reprocessed. In a full fuel cycle program they would be at the very end of the cycle, after you've bred up lots of plutonium but before reprocessing and waste management. They're not designed to be refueled while in operation and for that reason alone are not particularly useful for weapons production. While there was a lot of government funding of civilian nuclear power, and the AEC could rightly be called the handmaiden of industry for much of its life, if they wanted bomb factories they certainly didn't do a great job.

The Soviets, on the other hand, pushed themselves a bit further along in the full fuel cycle, and did have a lot of ... suspiciously dual purpose reactors. E.g. the RBMK, which was designed for constant (automated!) refueling and had graphite moderators, so as to convert more U to P. And its origins were clearly in weapons-production facilities. Unfortunately, the refuelability and breeder design came at the cost of a slight positive void coefficient problem...

What we should have had was a design that offered in-service refueling like the RBMKs but with the negative void coefficient of most American designs. But that was felt to have too many proliferation concerns, and was never aggressively pursued. Thorium designs in particular were never pursued, and if you're arguing that was because thorium doesn't lend itself to weapons, then sure, I'll agree with you there. But that hasn't been the case for a while (there are thorium designs), and if the economics were really in favor of nuclear power (i.e. if fossil fuels weren't so damn cheap) there might have been more private-sector interest. But there wasn't.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:54 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I oversimplified it drastically.

I was speaking more generally in that modern reactors are descendants of the originally weapons program. Modern plants have ditched the plutonium generation for larger operations, but the industry was dominated by duel use plants during the research phase of nuclear power generation the 1950s through 1970s. Most of the designs that came after were incremental improvements, building on that research.

We had working molten salt reactors in the 70s. Small, melt-down proof reactors that could power a train. But it was research never taken into production or expanded. One of the biggest hurdles to taking up this research and expanding into this branch of nuclear power is the (now) unique fuel cycle. This non weapons technology only received 1/50th of the funding of the fast breeder reactor, I believe it was only funded because of the possibility that it could producer a bomber capable of keeping actual nuclear weapons aloft indefinitely. Once ICBMs came along there was no military justification.


I believe this technology or something else willl happen, and is happening, piecemeal, but we aren't going to see the kind of spending on nuclear that we saw in the 1950s-1980s where we spent billions of dollars developing duel use breeders.
posted by darkfred at 5:25 PM on July 30, 2012


Nuclear is in some ways the lynchpin of Japan's economy, providing not only power, but equity, future earnings (and of course graft).

Speaking of graft, I wonder what nuclear cheerleaders think about organized crime running nuclear energy plants. What can possibly go wrong? Nuclear technology is so safe, clearly, that we can let violent gangsters make a living off it. No need to keep an eye on how they are making money, either — whether through cheap labor working in unsafe conditions, or whether it is the illegally disposal of radioactive waste from cleaning up damaged* plants — it's all safe, safe, safe!

*: It is a proven scientific fact that nuclear power plants are safe and can never fail, so the use of "damaged" here is in no way a reference to Fukushima and similar disasters.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:37 PM on July 30, 2012


Speaking of graft, I wonder what nuclear cheerleaders think about organized crime running nuclear energy plants.

That isn't what the article says at all. You're a liar.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:51 PM on July 30, 2012


You're a liar.

Read the article:

The involvement of the yakuza in Japan’s nuclear industry has gone on long before last year’s disaster. According to Japanese government sources, Yakuza have been supplying labor to Japan’s nuclear industry since the late 90s. TEPCO and other firms have paid off yakuza groups in the past to remain silent about safety problems at their nuclear plants and other scandals...

“The yakuza provide the labor for a job no sane person would do considering the crappy working conditions,” said Tomohiko Suzuki, author of Yakuza and the Nuclear Industry: Diary of An Undercover Reporter Working at the Fukushima Plant (ヤクザと原発-福島第一潜入記-鈴木-智彦). “The only way to get the yakuza out of the atomic power business is probably to shutter all the reactors. Even then, like savvy vultures, the yakuza will be living off the cleanup work for years to come.”

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:02 PM on July 30, 2012


The yakuza in japan are not the same as mobsters here. They have public offices with signs, and their members publicly acknowledge their membership. Its more like a cross between hell's angels, teamsters and a political party. The corruption is accepted and common place.

Also this kind of proves the opposite point. Even an unsafe, plant running years after it should be decommissioned by a corrupt and incompetent team, still survived the largest natural disaster the area has seen with 0 deaths.

If that's not safe, I don't know how you would define it.
posted by darkfred at 6:09 PM on July 30, 2012


After an expose in the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun, last week TEPCO admitted that 69 of its plant workers can’t be located for radiation checks—30 of them were found not even to have had their names recorded. This raises questions about how these workers were recruited, paid, monitored for radiation exposure, or vetted before entering the site of the nuclear disaster. Former and current workers within the plant testify that many of the hired hands are yakuza or ex-yakuza members. One company supplying the firm with contract workers is a known Japanese mafia front company. TEPCO when questioned would only say, “We don’t have knowledge of who is ultimately supplying the labor at the end of the outsourcing. We do not have organized crime exclusionary clauses in our standard contracts but are considering it.”

I don't get why these guys are so worried about nuclear plants being run by organized crime outfits, though, because the underlying technology is perfectly safe.

In June of 2000, Kei Sugaoka, a Japanese-American engineer who had worked at the Fukushima reactor one site, blew the whistle on TEPCO’s decades of cover-ups and dangerous practices in a letter to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)...

At that time, the earliest cover-up was thought to have dated back to only 1986; however, in a later 2007 investigation, TEPCO admitted to an additional 199 occasions “involving the submission of false technical data to authorities.”


It's puzzling. Why submit fake data? Nuclear is safe.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:12 PM on July 30, 2012


Honestly blazecock I have no idea what you are talking about? Are you trying to say it wasn't safe because of the coverups or yakuza? That probably made it less safe, but of the millions nearby noone died from the nuclear part of the disaster. So being near the plant was safer than most activities generally considered safe. Like walking outdoors.

You have to really stretch your definition of unsafe to make your sarcasm work. It would be easier if someone had actually got hurt, but don't let that stop the snark.
posted by darkfred at 6:32 PM on July 30, 2012


To clear something up, those aren't Yakuza working at the plants. The Yakuza are, in this instance, acting as headhunters, supplying workers for companies that need them. The question is, where do they, the actual workers, come from? a lot of them are from Japan's growing number of daylaborers, many of whom are men in their forties and fifties, unable to find work on a regular basis. Some of the workers are people who owe the Yakuza money,and are forced into it. And, thought I don't have it in me right now to find it, we're literally shanghaied into it. Reports came out last year of workers who'd boarded a bus in Osaka after getting an offer for work, then were stunned when the bus pulled up to the gates at the plants in Fukushima. These are the people who can't be found, who, frankly, no one really wants them to be found. Sure, the fact that they can't find the workers is an embarrassment, but it's not nearly as bad as what's actually happening coming to light.

So, yes, it's safe. Except for all the people being brought in to work on the cleanup, who pretty much absorb their yearly safe level of radiation in a day or two of work, and are promptly discarded. As long as no valued members of society are being sacrificed, sure, no problem.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:39 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would be easier if someone had actually got hurt

Ignoring for a moment the cluster of abnormal but entirely, 100% benign thyroid growths in Japanese children, it really does help a safety record when some employees can't be located for radiation exposure tests.

And if there's anything that Chernobyl and Fukushima taught us, it's that these cover-ups add an extra level of safety to an already safe technology.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:43 PM on July 30, 2012


To clear something up, those aren't Yakuza working at the plants.

"Former and current workers within the plant testify that many of the hired hands are yakuza or ex-yakuza members."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:44 PM on July 30, 2012


A former yakuza boss notes, “we’ve always been involved in recruiting laborers for TEPCO. It’s dirty, dangerous work and the only people who will do it are homeless, yakuza, banished yakuza, or people so badly in debt that they see no other way to pay it off.” The regular employees were given better radiation suits than the often uneducated yakuza recruits, although it was the more legally vulnerable yakuza and day laborers who typically performed the most dangerous work.

My bad. Still, day laborers. Homeless. People in debt to the yakuza. People with no choice. I would imagine any actual yakuza working there aren't there by choice, and have probably been ordered to go by someone higher up. It seems that as long as the peopl actually cleaning up the mess are unwanted by society, everything is okay, and we can keep talking about how there's no real problem, and everything is dandy.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:17 PM on July 30, 2012


So in your fantasy world, BP, the plants using day laborers supplied by the yakuza means that the yakuza are "running" the nuclear plants. That's inane and you're only using that sort of rhetoric to make a dishonest argument.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:24 PM on July 30, 2012


Best argument against nuclear power: Yakuza

End of argument, you win. Because: Yakuza.
posted by darkfred at 7:26 PM on July 30, 2012


That was sarcasm too. It says something that the worst thing you can come up with to argue about nuclear safety is completely unrelated to nuclear safety. So its basically a derail, yeah the yakuza thing is interesting, and not good, but its not really pertinent.
posted by darkfred at 7:28 PM on July 30, 2012


Best argument against nuclear power: Yakuza

End of argument, you win. Because: Yakuza.


The main issues surrounding organized crime running nuclear plants seem to be at least two-fold: the lack of safety of the workers and the lack of safety of the operation of said plants.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we keep getting told again and again that nuclear power is safe, so why does the nuclear industry require mafia-led pay-offs, cover-ups, falsified data, and disappeared workers?

This scale of corruption seems overboard for a so-called "safe" technology.

In my line of work — hard science — if I falsified data, I'd be lucky if I just lost my job. More likely that I'd lose my funding, my publications, and any hope of getting a job with another research lab.

If I choose a job in the nuclear industry, if I falsify data, I apparently get billions of dollars from taxpayers and a slap on the wrist if thousands of children are sickened and hundreds of square miles are laid to waste for generations.

It's a strange world we live in, and I'm glad that these protestors got to speak about their legitimate concerns somewhere in it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:07 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So its basically a derail

Funny, that, in a thread that started talking about massive protests in a country that, until now, has had one of the most complacent populations ever. Fascinating topic, really.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:09 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nuclear power doesn't kill more people than coal-fired plants, but the deaths from coal fired plants are not nearly as sensational. After all, the folks live fine for decades with severe asthma. Whatever.

And hundreds of square miles are not laid to waste for generations. You may not have noticed this, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki are both inhabited places with reasonably low rates of cancer. There were a lot more nasty fission products in those blasts than were released from Fukushima.

You really think that it's safer to burn fossil fuels as a replacement for nuclear energy? I don't. The evidence is pretty strong at this point that we've already burned enough carbon to get some pretty severe effects from climate change. I'm much more willing to take the small risk of these sorts of problems than the certain risk of catastrophic climate change.
posted by wierdo at 8:13 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


You really think that it's safer to burn fossil fuels as a replacement for nuclear energy?

It would be fun to play bingo out of these statements, if the subject matter wasn't so tragic and predictable.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:54 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can snark all you like, but that is precisely what is going on right now in Japan, to all our detriment.
posted by wierdo at 11:55 PM on July 30, 2012


What's going on in Japan right now? Let's see, the farm industry in Fukushima is fucked. Essentially one of the main breadbaskets of Japan is tainted either by pollutants from the plants, or by public distrust of all clear pronouncements from a government that told everyone that there was nothing to worry about in the aftermath of the tsunami (the same government that told people to evacuate to an area that ended up being one of the worst places to go). Food prices have gone up, and I'd love to say that I'm careful about what I eat, the best I can do is avoid food labelled as coming from any area that is suspect. But, hey, Japan has also been home to widespread mislabeling of food to skirt regulations, why would we expect things would change now?

Meanwhile, there are tons of debris that have nowhere to go because no other prefectures will accept them. There are people whose livelihoods and home are just gone, and the government is still dragging its feet on how they will be compensated, and who will get it. This wasn't the middle of nowhere, this was a heavily populated area, in a country that pretty much everyone thought was the most prepared for this. How well do you think this would be handled in China? Russia? How about the U.S., in light of how well they handled Katrina?

It's wonderful to sit and think of hypotheticals, and talk about how unlikely nuclear accidents are, but the fact is, it did happen, and all of the statistics and probabilities don't change that.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:31 AM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


The people protesting in Japan have heard all those arguments before, wierdo, and they don't give a shit about a single one. Not when compared to the immediate safety of themselves and their children. They're the ones with their lives on the line here, and I think they're entitled to say a weekly "fuck off" to Tepco, and the yakuza, and cover-ups. The creeping insidious problem of climate change is very real and deadly serious - but so is dying slowly of radiation poisoning.

Rock on, Japanese protesters. Keep protesting until you can't be ignored any longer.
posted by harriet vane at 12:37 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Guardian: Anti-nuclear campaigners launch Japan's first green party
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:55 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


As Ghidorah points out, organized crime may not be running the plants, but the mafia have played a key role in the development of the plants over the years. When the plants were first being built, the mafia often were used to "influence" the opinions of locals in order to get them to sell their land to the power companies and move, or shut up. There's a movie about this called Barizogon, and I made an FPP about it a while ago.

Japan has changed quite a bit over the last forty years since the plants were constructed - organized crime does not play quite as prominent role in Japanese society as it once did, but the mafia is indeed supplying workers to clean up Daiichi.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:08 AM on July 31, 2012


Food prices have gone up, and I'd love to say that I'm careful about what I eat, the best I can do is avoid food labelled as coming from any area that is suspect.

What kinds of food price increases have you noticed?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:09 AM on July 31, 2012


What kinds of food price increases have you noticed?

I've noticed dramatic and rather sudden increases in imported cheese prices at import stores like Seijo Ishii and Kaldi. They're probably price gouging because they know there's an increased demand for such.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:53 AM on July 31, 2012


Fruit prices have gone up, as well as vegetables. Usually when things are in season, you can count on a slight drop in price, but apples haven't really ever gotten below ¥198 a piece, which is pretty brutal when they usually drop to ¥98 during the summer. Other than that, domestic fruit has been absurd, with Japanese cherries being more scarce than usual, peaches just coming into season are freaky expensive, as are Japanese pears. For veggies, I've basically stopped buying green beans and asparagus due to the price.

I'm also checking the packaging (for what it's worth), and I try to avoid produce from Ibaraki and Tochigi, but then again, Chiba is home to some of the highest recorded radiation readings since last year (in Kashiwa, where I work), so if the label says Chiba, I can't be sure what part of Chiba they're talking about. I've got a friend who won't buy domestic fruit or vegetables, and instead shops at Costco for their imported stuff. Personally, I think that's excessive, but then again she has children and I don't.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:55 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


We stayed in Fukui for a few months last winter (and we're going over again for a few months in September!) and it was pretty striking about how seafood is labeled now.

Typically if you buy a fish, the packaging will tell you where it was caught, or at least the port it was purchased from. However, a lot of fish like katsuo are simply labeled "Pacific Coast", so it's tough to say where it comes from.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:42 AM on July 31, 2012


Asahi Shimbun: Nuclear power plants: A hidden world of untruths, unethical behavior
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:23 AM on August 6, 2012


Asahi Shimbun: Lead shields masked radiation readings up to 30%
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:20 PM on August 9, 2012


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