Sunday, March 20, 2011

A exceptionally good summary of what's going on at the Japanese reactors

In case you were wondering. Bottom line: the reactors worked exactly as they were designed to. These are forty year old reactors, they experienced one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history, and while they have been damaged, there has been no danger to public health. And the most likely long-term danger to the public is that everyone will freak out over nuclear energy, which will hamper efforts to control carbon emissions.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you are wrong. There was supposed to be no risk whatsoever. These reactors where supposed not to fail even on the face of such a disaster. And they failed. Not by as much as they could have failed, but they failed nonetheless, and have confirmed what critics were always saying.

The issue is wider. It is one of trust. The plant managers did a lot of shady things, falsifying inspection documents, and so on. So maybe it is possible to make them zero-risk, but would you trust cynical and greedy corporations with that?

Ron said...

> There was supposed to be no risk whatsoever.

Says who?

> These reactors where supposed not to fail even on the face of such a disaster.

No, they were designed for a 7.5 earthquake (or thereabouts). This was a 9.0. This was the fifth largest earthquake ever recorded anywhere on the planet in all history. And in all likelihood there will be ZERO deaths from radiation.

> The issue is wider. It is one of trust.

That is certainly true.

> So maybe it is possible to make them zero-risk,

Nothing is zero-risk.

> but would you trust cynical and greedy corporations with that?

Yes, I would. Nuclear energy implemented by corporations (note that Chernobyl was not built by a corporation) is BY FAR the safest form of energy every invented -- safer than hydropower (people die building dams), safer than solar (people die falling off roofs during installation). The total death toll from corporate nuclear over the entire history of the industry remains to this day ZERO.

Nuclear power plants are, statistically speaking, some of the safest things mankind has ever built.

Anonymous said...

>> but would you trust cynical and greedy corporations with that?

>Yes, I would.

Do you realize how crazy that is? The only explanation I have is that in the US you guys have a massive case of Copenhagen syndrome.

>Nuclear power plants are, statistically speaking, some of the safest things mankind has ever built.

You have the anti-nuclear-energy loby to thank for that. Otherwise, we'd have 10% of the surface of the planet unsafe to walk on by now.

Ron said...

So I should maybe clarify my position: I do not believe in laissez-faire capitalism. I think corporations need to be regulated. But I think it has been clearly demonstrated that with an adequate regulatory regime in place, corporations can deliver reliably safe nuclear power even in the face of a three-sigma disaster.

So, no, I don't think my position is at all crazy, and I don't think I'm suffering from Copenhagen syndrome. If you do, would you mind explaining why?

post said...

@Ron, there have been deaths related to nuclear power already. For example in a reprocessing facility in Japan.

Ron said...

I presume you're referring to this:

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

Two people died. What else ya got?

No one ever claimed that nuclear power was perfectly safe. Nothing is perfectly safe. But nuclear power is, statistically, safer than anything else. Even solar power kills TEN TIMES as many people per watt as nuclear power, mainly from workers falling off roofs during installation:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2008/03/deaths-per-twh-for-all-energy-sources.html

No technology is perfectly safe, but nuclear energy is about as close as it gets.

post said...

@Ron, yes i was referring to that. I agree that, in the perspective youre putting it in, nuclear power is the energy source with the lowest death/twh. When ignoring the deaths caused by pollution (which could theoretically be caused by cars etc, too), then nuclear power is the only source (setting breaking down windmills aside) which can kill people who were behaving normally and were not involved in the energy source.

Don't get me wrong, radiation is a great source of energy with capacities which exceeds any other (for example plutonium on spacecrafts etc.) but should be used carefully.

Also, I believe the biggest problem about Fukushima is the media which publishes exeggerated articles, shows etc.

Moreover, due to the fact that explaining what happens in Fukushima to the layman and what the consequences are is very complicated compared to "the coal-burning powerplant is burning down, close your windows and stay inside to avoid smoke". As we know, people are more frightened by things which they do not understand. Additionally, radiation is invisible, which levels the "frightenedness" (sorry I am not a native speaker) up significantly.

Ron said...

> nuclear power is the only source (setting breaking down windmills aside) which can kill people who were behaving normally and were not involved in the energy source.

No, that's not true either.

http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-09-10/news/23996646_1_gas-line-explosion-wind-whipped-blaze-smoke-inhalation

> people are more frightened by things which they do not understand

That's certainly true. Fear of radiation is often more dangerous than the radiation itself.