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Tags Japan earthquake , Japan incidents , nuclear power issues

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Old 13th March 2011, 08:24 PM   #161
BenBurch
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Originally Posted by technoextreme View Post
Actually, you forgot the punchline to that joke. The only viable source of Americium is in nuclear reactors. Its the only element that is industrially produced.
True, I guess I thought that was obvious because I know it too well. :-)
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Old 13th March 2011, 08:48 PM   #162
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So the earthquake and tsunami hits. The oil refineries go up in huge balls of fire, the dams break and add to the flooding, various other plants spew toxins everywhere, and people are worried about the safety of the nuclear power plants which haven't even melted down and will not explode?

Those plants got hit by a huge earthquake, and aftershocks, and all the other effects. If this isn't a great case for the safety of nuclear power plants, what is?
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Old 13th March 2011, 09:32 PM   #163
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Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
The worst nuclear accidents in history occurred in countries that did not have capitalist economies.
True, but the principle behind the decision is the same. Some godlike feeling that it won't happen to me. Doesn't matter if its a CEO or Mao, they're both human.

Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
We don't do that because the powerplant is rated for 40+ years. You don't knock over a perfectly safe and functional nuclear reactor five years after construction because someone has just designed a better one.

You don't throw out a brand new car when you find that next years model has a better safety rating, do you?
Yes, but then again it isn't five years after it's been constructed. It's been well over forty. Couldn't they have upgraded or changed the facility. Maybe one reactor at a time over the years? And no I don't change my brand new car, but if it is troublesome or I find a car with a better rating I eventually change it a lot sooner than its expected life span. So maybe not the following year, but two or three down the road. The car is good for 10 or maybe more years though.

Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
No, they didn't. A 9.0 earthquake came along and destroyed everything.
The point is that it doesn't matter if a 9.0 earthquake did it or a fly on the wall cracked the dome. Whatever the cause is people might still be dead and its radiation could spread over a huge area. So its the odds of not happening which is very small vs the potential damage which is very large if it does happen. This constitutes a considerable risk once you multiply both values in. Yes radiation issues from nuclear power plants are very rare and far apart, but people are still suffering problems from Chernobyl. So although safe and the accidents rare, the scars are deep and long lasting.

Yes the worst nuclear accidents happened in non capitalistic states. But it wasn't because capitalist radiation is nicer on the skin. Its because the system is more open and better prepared to communicate and handle such issues. We're not prone to keep the lid on it so long and let it escalate. But don't fool yourself. If by a fluke accident (and remember Murphy's Law) it were to happen it will be as serious as any of those "commie" incidents.
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Old 13th March 2011, 09:35 PM   #164
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Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
We're already at tens of thousands of deaths, BD.

How many have died at Fukushima so far?
The tens of thousands dead were due to the earthquake and tsunami. We can not control nor anticipate such things and we have no say on when they will strike and where people will find themselves when they do. But we can control our energy production systems because we build them. We not only get to choose what we do, we get to be responsible for them as well.
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Old 13th March 2011, 10:05 PM   #165
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Originally Posted by Java Man View Post
The tens of thousands dead were due to the earthquake and tsunami. We can not control nor anticipate such things and we have no say on when they will strike and where people will find themselves when they do. But we can control our energy production systems because we build them. We not only get to choose what we do, we get to be responsible for them as well.
You may want to read what you have written there.

First you say that people can not control or anticipate things like quakes and tsunamis (and thus their magnitude as well), but then you also want people to do exactly that when it comes to power plants.

Either you can anticipate what might happen, or you can not. They anticipated a certain level of earthquake being safe, but it was stronger than that in the end. Also, it is not the quake that caused the trouble at these plants, but the tsunami that resulted from it. In fact, the plants did just fine in case of the quake. They did exactly what they were supposed to do.

And about your other argument about radiation spreading so far and wide in case of a disaster, you have to be aware that Tschernobyl was a completely different type of reactor. And that with "western" reactor types, the radiation that could escape through things like water and vapour is usually very short half-life stuff that would decay very, very quickly. While it is possible that some of the nastier stuff can escape as well, the risk is much lower and also it would be way smaller amounts.

These kinds of reactors simply do not blow up like Tschernobyl did. In fact, they just can't.

Greetings,

Chris

Last edited by Christian Klippel; 13th March 2011 at 10:06 PM.
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Old 13th March 2011, 10:59 PM   #166
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I'll go on record as being tentatively pro-nuclear power... but as long as it's properly regulated. Reading stories like this, though, make me worry.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/ar...984206,00.html

I'm sure that nuke plants can be run safely, and I'm sure they can be run profitably, but those two don't necessarily have to be the same thing.
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Old 13th March 2011, 11:36 PM   #167
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Originally Posted by bikerdruid View Post
here's a timely news bit:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/world-europe-12724981
Tens of thousands of people have protested in Germany against the government's plans to extend the life of its nuclear reactors.
Yeah. Ignorant people (not an insult , a fact) getting their news from sensionalist media protest in the street against the safest source of energy. Does it surprise you ? Me I am jsut sick and tired of the mass media.

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Old 13th March 2011, 11:40 PM   #168
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Originally Posted by Ziggurat View Post
If you take iodine tablets, the excess (meaning, more than your body needs) non-radioactive iodine in the pills will help flush the body of any radioactive iodine you might have absorbed.
Actually this is not how it works, if I recall correctly. You take the iodine before the contamination, pumping your thyroid full of iodine saturating it, then all *additional* iodine you swallow won't be absorbed by the thyroid since it is saturated and will be eliminated by the body. You can't flush out radioactive element that way, since radioactive isotope are chemically identical to the normal isotope.
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Old 13th March 2011, 11:44 PM   #169
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Originally Posted by Java Man View Post
True, but the principle behind the decision is the same. Some godlike feeling that it won't happen to me. Doesn't matter if its a CEO or Mao, they're both human.
Except that it does matter. One actually has a proven record of being worse than the other by multiple orders of magnitude.



Quote:
Yes, but then again it isn't five years after it's been constructed. It's been well over forty. Couldn't they have upgraded or changed the facility. Maybe one reactor at a time over the years?
That's exactly what they were planning to do. The unit that failed was going to be decomissioned this month with two brand new units planned for construction and to go online in 2016.

Quote:
Maybe one reactor at a time over the years? And no I don't change my brand new car, but if it is troublesome or I find a car with a better rating I eventually change it a lot sooner than its expected life span. So maybe not the following year, but two or three down the road. The car is good for 10 or maybe more years though.
Not if your car costs a billion dollars, you won't.

Quote:
The point is that it doesn't matter if a 9.0 earthquake did it or a fly on the wall cracked the dome. Whatever the cause is people might still be dead and its radiation could spread over a huge area. So its the odds of not happening which is very small vs the potential damage which is very large if it does happen. This constitutes a considerable risk once you multiply both values in. So although safe and the accidents rare, the scars are deep and long lasting.
You said that the people of Japan gambled on this reactor meeting fulfilling its design pourpose and meeting its projected lifetime and they lost. This is not true, they got exactly what they were hoping for out of it. It did its job for 40 years and is now permanently shut down (minus a few days). And it performed spectacularly well given the circumstances. The containment held against punishment that far exceeded it's design and no large scale releases of radiation occurred.

You seem to have missed several experts and people who have access to experts telling you in this thread that your doomsday scenario is not possible.
Quote:
Yes radiation issues from nuclear power plants are very rare and far apart, but people are still suffering problems from Chernobyl.
Chernobyl is the Godwins law of nuclear debates. Comparing western reactors to Chernobyl constitutes automatic loss of debate.

Originally Posted by Java Man View Post
Yes the worst nuclear accidents happened in non capitalistic states. But it wasn't because capitalist radiation is nicer on the skin. Its because the system is more open and better prepared to communicate and handle such issues. We're not prone to keep the lid on it so long and let it escalate. But don't fool yourself. If by a fluke accident (and remember Murphy's Law) it were to happen it will be as serious as any of those "commie" incidents.
NO...IT...WON'T.

Why aren't you listening to what people are trying to tell you. You're basically telling us that a semi-trailer truck can be used in a formula one race and frankly, it's bull@#$%. Yes, Formula-1 racers and semi trucks are both internal combustion engined wheeled vehicles with rubber tires... but semis just can not meet the speed, endurance and maneuverability of the F1 racer. Similarly, you can't squeeze a Chernobyl out of the Fukushima reactors.

Last edited by Sword_Of_Truth; 13th March 2011 at 11:52 PM.
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Old 14th March 2011, 12:19 AM   #170
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Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
Except that it does matter. One actually has a proven record of being worse than the other by multiple orders of magnitude.





That's exactly what they were planning to do. The unit that failed was going to be decomissioned this month with two brand new units planned for construction and to go online in 2016.



Not if your car costs a billion dollars, you won't.



You said that the people of Japan gambled on this reactor meeting fulfilling its design pourpose and meeting its projected lifetime and they lost. This is not true, they got exactly what they were hoping for out of it. It did its job for 40 years and is now permanently shut down (minus a few days). And it performed spectacularly well given the circumstances. The containment held against punishment that far exceeded it's design and no large scale releases of radiation occurred.

You seem to have missed several experts and people who have access to experts telling you in this thread that your doomsday scenario is not possible.


Chernobyl is the Godwins law of nuclear debates. Comparing western reactors to Chernobyl constitutes automatic loss of debate.



NO...IT...WON'T.

Why aren't you listening to what people are trying to tell you. You're basically telling us that a semi-trailer truck can be used in a formula one race and frankly, it's bull@#$%. Yes, Formula-1 racers and semi trucks are both internal combustion engined wheeled vehicles with rubber tires... but semis just can not meet the speed, endurance and maneuverability of the F1 racer. Similarly, you can't squeeze a Chernobyl out of the Fukushima reactors.
other experts say if the vessel brakes it could be even worse than Chernobyl as the rods in Japan were much longer in use.

And that came from experts that are not only working in the postoffice of real experts.
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Old 14th March 2011, 12:22 AM   #171
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Originally Posted by BenBurch View Post
However, if you want a device that everybody uses and few people think of as a radiological device, look up; Most smoke detectors have an ionizing source that is Americium, about one micro-curie of it.
Looked up: Got three.
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Old 14th March 2011, 12:26 AM   #172
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Originally Posted by tyr_13 View Post
Those plants got hit by a huge earthquake, and aftershocks, and all the other effects. If this isn't a great case for the safety of nuclear power plants, what is?
That is not what the news heads leave people thinking. They are leaving people thinking "melt down" to "Chernobyl" to "Oh Godzilla's coming!"
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Old 14th March 2011, 12:37 AM   #173
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Does anyone have any information on how long this is expected to go on? It's now been more than three days since the control rods were inserted.
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Old 14th March 2011, 12:50 AM   #174
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Originally Posted by DC View Post
other experts say if the vessel brakes it could be even worse than Chernobyl as the rods in Japan were much longer in use.

And that came from experts that are not only working in the postoffice of real experts.
The people you are referring to are not experts in nuclear engineering.

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Old 14th March 2011, 12:52 AM   #175
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Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
The people you are referring to are not experts in nuclear engineering.
yes they actually are. But different to you, they are experts and are not only working for experts........
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Old 14th March 2011, 12:54 AM   #176
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Originally Posted by Par View Post
The dark would rank as positively hazardous.
Lots of hazardous things happen in the dark. You can stub your toe in the dark. You can even catch a disease in the dark.

Oh, and you might be eaten by a Grue...
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Old 14th March 2011, 12:55 AM   #177
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Originally Posted by DC View Post
yes they actually are.
Prove it.

Show us these experts and their degrees.
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Old 14th March 2011, 12:57 AM   #178
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Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
Prove it.

Show us these experts and their degrees.
did you do so for the experts you refer to?
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:00 AM   #179
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Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
Why aren't you listening to what people are trying to tell you. You're basically telling us that a semi-trailer truck can be used in a formula one race and frankly, it's bull@#$%. Yes, Formula-1 racers and semi trucks are both internal combustion engined wheeled vehicles with rubber tires... but semis just can not meet the speed, endurance and maneuverability of the F1 racer. Similarly, you can't squeeze a Chernobyl out of the Fukushima reactors.
It must be very late, but I just had a vision of someone trying to squeeze a Fukushima like a koosh ball to get at the Chernobyl reward inside.</derail>
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:04 AM   #180
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Originally Posted by DC View Post
did you do so for the experts you refer to?
Yes, I did.

Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
The Canadian Nuclear Society has issued a statement on some of the claims made in the Canadian media by a representative of the anti-nuclear movement:
CNS Response to Gordon Edwards

This is a response from the Alberta Branch of the Canadian Nuclear Society to comments made by Mr. Gordon Edwards concerning the events at the Fukushima-I nuclear power generating station, in Japan. It was written by Dr. Susanna Harding, with the assistance of Duane Pendergast, head of the Alberta Branch, and Jeremy Whitlock, Chair of the Education and Communications Committee

History of the plant: The reactor in question was ordered by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) in 1965, with construction beginning in 1966. The plant first went critical in October of 1970 and was formally commissioned and put into operation on March 26, 1971. It is a General Electric BWR-3 (boiling water reactor) with an electric power output of 460 megawatts. Over the years it has operated quietly and without incident, but due to its age had been scheduled for decommissioning on March 26, 2011. It is a first generation BWR.

Plant characteristics: This type of plant has a steam generator directly over the nuclear core, with that steam then piped directly to the turbine driving the electric generator. This has certain thermodynamic advantages although at the cost of enhanced maintenance issues. The pressure vessel which houses the reactor core is equipped with electrically driven circulation pumps as well as with a steam driven emergency circulation pump. There exists a system for direct injection of water (ECCS, or Emergency Core Cooling System) which does not depend on electrical power. The entire reactor assembly is housed in a concrete containment structure designed to prevent the release of radioactive material in the event of a breach of the pressure vessel or the associated plumbing. This plant has emergency diesel generators for use when other forms of electrical power are not available.

Safety features: The plant is designed using a "defence in depth" concept. The nuclear fuel is encapsulated in zirconium alloy fuel rods (or pins) designed to contain fission products and gasses produced during operation. Even though water is circulating around these fuel rods, the encapsulation prevents the radioactive material from being taken up into the water. The reactor is equipped with several types of cooling system, at least two of which do not require electrical power to operate. The entire assembly is contained in the pressure vessel, which houses the reactor and which can be isolated from the generator turbine in event of emergency. The control rods mechanisms are designed to shut down the reactor in event of loss of power. Finally, the entire system in enclosed in a purpose-built structure, the containment, intended to keep that which is inside, inside.

Cooling and Meltdowns. A nuclear reactor continues to produce heat even after the reactor is shut down. In order to maintain safe conditions this heat must be removed. Normally this is done with electrically driven circulation pumps which drive cooling water through the core and take the heat to a heatsink. If the water level in the core drops below the top of the fuel, the exposed fuel (which is no longer being cooled) will heat up and warp. In extreme cases this could result in rod failure, thus releasing fission products into the cooling water. However in no case can this result in a nuclear explosion or detonation. The amount of heat generated decreases over time as the more volatile radioactive materials within the core decay, following a trend known as a "decaying exponential curve".

Venting and ECCS. If it becomes necessary to use the ECCS then the pressure within the reactor pressure vessel must be decreased to ambient pressure. This is because use of the ECCS assumes no electrical (or steam) power is available to drive pumps that could force water into the pressure vessel against a head of steam. Venting is normally done in two steps, not both of which might be necessary. First, the reactor pressure vessel is vented into the containment. Then, if necessary, the containment is vented through filters to the outside. At this point gravity fed water can be injected or (as is happening at Fukushima) water supplied by a fire truck can be used to cover the reactor core and cool it.

Fukushima and Chernobyl. The Fukushima-I reactor is a water moderated boiling water reactor. The Chernobyl RBMK reactor was a graphite moderated boiling water reactor. In the Chernobyl incident the reactor was driven into an unstable operating regime by operator action. The RBMK reactor then had an uncontrolled power spike of 100 times full power which blew the roof of the reactor building off (there was no containment structure) and exposed a glowing hot mass of graphite (carbon) to the atmosphere. The resulting chemical fire of carbon mixed with radioactive material burned for several days with results that are well known. The ensuing blast destroyed any capability to cool or control the RBMK reactor. At Fukushima there is no carbon, nothing to burn, such a scenario is not possible here. The Fukushima reactor underwent a controlled shutdown and maintains the capability to be controlled and cooled.

Fukushima and Three Mile Island. TMI-I was a pressurized water reactor (PWR) supplied by Babcock and Wilcox. Due to operator error and poor design the reactor was driven into a state where the core was unintentionally exposed. Without cooling the tops of the fuel assemblies warped and some ruptured. While this was fatal to the use of that facility (and expensive to the shareholders) very little radioactive material was released into the environment. This is very similar to what would happen at Fukushima if the core were to be exposed.

Seawater cooling. News reports have that the reactor at Fukushima is being cooled with seawater, pumped in by fire truck. In order to do this, it is necessary to vent the reactor pressure vessel sufficiently that the pump can move the water into the core. Additionally, the seawater which is being used is doped with boric acid. Boron is a neutron absorber, and it is standard operating procedure in circumstances such as this to add boron in order to ensure that the core stays dead, and to aid in suppressing residual heat generation.

Prognosis. News reports have that there has been damage to the containment building, though there have been conflicting news reports indicating that the damage was confined to an outer building and that the containment is intact. Even if the containment integrity has not been compromised, the focus is now, by whatever means, of keeping the core covered. If the core can be kept covered then the fuel rods will not rupture and there will be minimal environmental impact. It will take approximately ten days to two weeks to bring the heat generation rate down to the point where a core melt is no longer an issue.

Dr. Susanna Harding holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Calgary, an M.Sc. in nuclear engineering from the University of Virginia, a B.S. in engineering physics from the University of Santa Clara, and additional degrees and certifications. She is a licensed Professional Physicist, a member of the Canadian Nuclear Society and of the American Nuclear Society, and works as a nuclear engineer in the US for a company which designs and manufactures safety and radiation monitoring systems for the nuclear power industry. Her background includes hands-on experience with nuclear reactors.
Here is Dr. Hardings linkedin profile.

Your turn. Put up or shut up.

EDIT: I've also linked previously the qualifications of several of my other contacts at the CNS:
Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post

Last edited by Sword_Of_Truth; 14th March 2011 at 01:14 AM.
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:19 AM   #181
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Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
Yes, I did.



Here is Dr. Hardings linkedin profile.

Your turn. Put up or shut up.

EDIT: I've also linked previously the qualifications of several of my other contacts at the CNS:
and what does he say what happens if the vessel brakes? i am pretty sure he does not claim it is impossible to happen.
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:22 AM   #182
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Originally Posted by DC View Post
and what does he say what happens if the vessel brakes? i am pretty sure he does not claim it is impossible to happen.
List the qualifications of your experts please.

I gave you what you asked for even though I asked first.
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:25 AM   #183
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Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
List the qualifications of your experts please.

I gave you what you asked for even though I asked first.
it was a comment by Wolfgang Renneberg, former boss of the german ministry for reactorsecurity.

So what does your expert say about a broken vessel?
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:28 AM   #184
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Originally Posted by DC View Post
it was a comment by Wolfgang Renneberg, former boss of the german ministry for reactorsecurity.

So what does your expert say about a broken vessel?
Source?


And a couple pertinent bits from the above quote:

Quote:
At Fukushima there is no carbon, nothing to burn, such a scenario is not possible here. The Fukushima reactor underwent a controlled shutdown and maintains the capability to be controlled and cooled.
...
Fukushima and Three Mile Island. TMI-I was a pressurized water reactor (PWR) supplied by Babcock and Wilcox. Due to operator error and poor design the reactor was driven into a state where the core was unintentionally exposed. Without cooling the tops of the fuel assemblies warped and some ruptured. While this was fatal to the use of that facility (and expensive to the shareholders) very little radioactive material was released into the environment. This is very similar to what would happen at Fukushima if the core were to be exposed.
...
If the core can be kept covered then the fuel rods will not rupture and there will be minimal environmental impact.
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:30 AM   #185
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Originally Posted by BobTheDonkey View Post
Source?
when the vessel brakes do to the molten rods, not only will the cooling water be contaminated, but also the enviroment surounding the area.
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:36 AM   #186
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Originally Posted by DC View Post
it was a comment by Wolfgang Renneberg, former boss of the german ministry for reactorsecurity.

So what does your expert say about a broken vessel?
Renneberg? Really? That guy from "Renneberg Consult" who seems unable to afford a company eMail address, and instead uses @netcologne.de (a regular internet provider)? The Renneberg that seems to have fun taking part in the nuclear hysteria? The guy who favours and supports that political party that is most vehemently against nuclear energy?

I'm sorry, but that guy has a very big conflict of interest here. Oh boy, that won't end well, i think.

Greetings,

Chris

Edit: Not to mention that his company creates studies/reports exlusively for the ant nuclear lobby organizations and said party ("Die Grünen").

Here is his company website. This guy is absolutely not neutral.

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Old 14th March 2011, 01:37 AM   #187
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Originally Posted by DC View Post
when the vessel brakes do to the molten rods, not only will the cooling water be contaminated, but also the enviroment surounding the area.
Like the vessel broke at TMI:I?


ETA: As an aside and a part-time grammar nazi (and just generally because I think the translator is failing you on this one), the correct word is "breaks", not "brakes". This one really chaps my ass because I see the opposite mix-up on my car forum all the time. I hope you don't take this minor correction personally, it's not intended to be
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:38 AM   #188
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Originally Posted by DC View Post
when the vessel brakes do to the molten rods, not only will the cooling water be contaminated, but also the enviroment surounding the area.

My understanding is there's a catchment area under the reactor so that even if the containment vessel is ruptured, the radioactive material will not go into the ground. Can anyone confirm that?
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:40 AM   #189
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Originally Posted by gumboot View Post
My understanding is there's a catchment area under the reactor so that even if the containment vessel is ruptured, the radioactive material will not go into the ground. Can anyone confirm that?
yes i heard that too.
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:52 AM   #190
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Here is a picture.
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Old 14th March 2011, 01:54 AM   #191
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Originally Posted by Cleon View Post
Regardless of actual damage done by the reactors, the psychological damage is done.
If people are walking away from this thinking nuclear power is unsafe then I think the damage was already done before this event. I've watched refineries burn, dams burst, buildings fall, roads wash away and yet the nuclear plant is still there and hasn't done any harm to anyone except apparently a few workers injured.

Psychologically I'm feeling a lot better about nuclear power today than I was last week. If you can hit a plant with a 9.0 and umpteen smaller aftershocks (6.0 and above) and a tsunami and have it explode and still not kill anyone then I'm confident we could have one near me where the worst it will get is some quite heavy rain.

Originally Posted by tyr_13 View Post
So the earthquake and tsunami hits. The oil refineries go up in huge balls of fire, the dams break and add to the flooding, various other plants spew toxins everywhere, and people are worried about the safety of the nuclear power plants which haven't even melted down and will not explode?

Those plants got hit by a huge earthquake, and aftershocks, and all the other effects. If this isn't a great case for the safety of nuclear power plants, what is?
Exactly.
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Old 14th March 2011, 02:02 AM   #192
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Here is a link with a good description of the BWR picture I posted earlier.

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/teachers/03.pdf
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Old 14th March 2011, 02:06 AM   #193
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Originally Posted by DC View Post
yes i heard that too.
I've heard similar things, and that it's shaped so that the "melt" spreads out somewhat so it can cool quicker. Not sure if that's true though.
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Old 14th March 2011, 02:18 AM   #194
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Here is a copy of an e-mail I received this morning.

What happened at Fukushima
I will try to summarize the main facts. The earthquake that hit Japan was 5 times more powerful than the worst earthquake the nuclear power plant was built for (the Richter scale works logarithmically; the difference between the 8.2 that the plants were built for and the 8.9 that happened is 5 times, not 0.7). So the first hooray for Japanese engineering, everything held up.
When the earthquake hit with 8.9, the nuclear reactors all went into automatic shutdown. Within seconds after the earthquake started, the control rods had been inserted into the core and nuclear chain reaction of the uranium stopped. Now, the cooling system has to carry away the residual heat. The residual heat load is about 3% of the heat load under normal operating conditions.
The earthquake destroyed the external power supply of the nuclear reactor. That is one of the most serious accidents for a nuclear power plant, and accordingly, a “plant black out” receives a lot of attention when designing backup systems. The power is needed to keep the coolant pumps working. Since the power plant had been shut down, it cannot produce any electricity by itself any more.
Things were going well for an hour. One set of multiple sets of emergency Diesel power generators kicked in and provided the electricity that was needed. Then the Tsunami came, much bigger than people had expected when building the power plant. The tsunami took out all multiple sets of backup Diesel generators.
When designing a nuclear power plant, engineers follow a philosophy called “Defense of Depth”. That means that you first build everything to withstand the worst catastrophe you can imagine, and then design the plant in such a way that it can still handle one system failure (that you thought could never happen) after the other. A tsunami taking out all backup power in one swift strike is such a scenario. The last line of defense is putting everything into the third containment, that will keep everything, whatever the mess, control rods in our out, core molten or not, inside the reactor.
When the diesel generators were gone, the reactor operators switched to emergency battery power. The batteries were designed as one of the backups to the backups, to provide power for cooling the core for 8 hours. And they did.
Within the 8 hours, another power source had to be found and connected to the power plant. The power grid was down due to the earthquake. The diesel generators were destroyed by the tsunami. So mobile diesel generators were trucked in.
This is where things started to go seriously wrong. The external power generators could not be connected to the power plant (the plugs did not fit). So after the batteries ran out, the residual heat could not be carried away any more.
At this point the plant operators begin to follow emergency procedures that are in place for a “loss of cooling event”. It is again a step along the “Depth of Defense” lines. The power to the cooling systems should never have failed completely, but it did, so they “retreat” to the next line of defense. All of this, however shocking it seems to us, is part of the day-to-day training you go through as an operator, right through to managing a core meltdown.
It was at this stage that people started to talk about core meltdown. Because at the end of the day, if cooling cannot be restored, the core will eventually melt (after hours or days), and the last line of defense, the core catcher and third containment, would come into play.
But the goal at this stage was to manage the core while it was heating up, and ensure that the first containment (the Zircaloy tubes that contains the nuclear fuel), as well as the second containment remain intact and operational for as long as possible, to give the engineers time to fix the cooling systems.
Because cooling the core is such a big deal, the reactor has a number of cooling systems, each in multiple versions (the reactor water cleanup system, the decay heat removal, the reactor core isolating cooling, the standby liquid cooling system, and the emergency core cooling system). Which one failed when or did not fail is not clear at this point in time.
So imagine a pressure cooker on the stove, heat on low, but on. The operators use whatever cooling system capacity they have to get rid of as much heat as possible, but the pressure starts building up. The priority now is to maintain integrity of the first containment (keep temperature of the fuel rods below 2200°C), as well as the second containment, the pressure cooker. In order to maintain integrity of the pressure cooker (the second containment), the pressure has to be released from time to time. Because the ability to do that in an emergency is so important, the reactor has 11 pressure release valves. The operators now started venting steam from time to time to control the pressure. The temperature at this stage was about 550°C.
This is when the reports about “radiation leakage” starting coming in. I believe I explained above why venting the steam is theoretically the same as releasing radiation into the environment, but why it was and is not dangerous. The radioactive nitrogen as well as the noble gases do not pose a threat to human health.
At some stage during this venting, the explosion occurred. The explosion took place outside of the third containment (our “last line of defense”), and the reactor building. Remember that the reactor building has no function in keeping the radioactivity contained. It is not entirely clear yet what has happened, but this is the likely scenario: The operators decided to vent the steam from the pressure vessel not directly into the environment, but into the space between the third containment and the reactor building (to give the radioactivity in the steam more time to subside). The problem is that at the high temperatures that the core had reached at this stage, water molecules can “disassociate” into oxygen and hydrogen – an explosive mixture. And it did explode, outside the third containment, damaging the reactor building around. It was that sort of explosion, but inside the pressure vessel (because it was badly designed and not managed properly by the operators) that lead to the explosion of Chernobyl. This was never a risk at Fukushima. The problem of hydrogen-oxygen formation is one of the biggies when you design a power plant (if you are not Soviet, that is), so the reactor is built and operated in a way it cannot happen inside the containment. It happened outside, which was not intended but a possible scenario and OK, because it did not pose a risk for the containment.
So the pressure was under control, as steam was vented. Now, if you keep boiling your pot, the problem is that the water level will keep falling and falling. The core is covered by several meters of water in order to allow for some time to pass (hours, days) before it gets exposed. Once the rods start to be exposed at the top, the exposed parts will reach the critical temperature of 2200 °C after about 45 minutes. This is when the first containment, the Zircaloy tube, would fail.
And this started to happen. The cooling could not be restored before there was some (very limited, but still) damage to the casing of some of the fuel. The nuclear material itself was still intact, but the surrounding Zircaloy shell had started melting. What happened now is that some of the byproducts of the uranium decay – radioactive Cesium and Iodine – started to mix with the steam. The big problem, uranium, was still under control, because the uranium oxide rods were good until 3000 °C. It is confirmed that a very small amount of Cesium and Iodine was measured in the steam that was released into the atmosphere.
It seems this was the “go signal” for a major plan B. The small amounts of Cesium that were measured told the operators that the first containment on one of the rods somewhere was about to give. The Plan A had been to restore one of the regular cooling systems to the core. Why that failed is unclear. One plausible explanation is that the tsunami also took away / polluted all the clean water needed for the regular cooling systems.
The water used in the cooling system is very clean, demineralized (like distilled) water. The reason to use pure water is the above mentioned activation by the neutrons from the Uranium: Pure water does not get activated much, so stays practically radioactive-free. Dirt or salt in the water will absorb the neutrons quicker, becoming more radioactive. This has no effect whatsoever on the core – it does not care what it is cooled by. But it makes life more difficult for the operators and mechanics when they have to deal with activated (i.e. slightly radioactive) water.
But Plan A had failed – cooling systems down or additional clean water unavailable – so Plan B came into effect. This is what it looks like happened:
In order to prevent a core meltdown, the operators started to use sea water to cool the core. I am not quite sure if they flooded our pressure cooker with it (the second containment), or if they flooded the third containment, immersing the pressure cooker. But that is not relevant for us.
The point is that the nuclear fuel has now been cooled down. Because the chain reaction has been stopped a long time ago, there is only very little residual heat being produced now. The large amount of cooling water that has been used is sufficient to take up that heat. Because it is a lot of water, the core does not produce sufficient heat any more to produce any significant pressure. Also, boric acid has been added to the seawater. Boric acid is “liquid control rod”. Whatever decay is still going on, the Boron will capture the neutrons and further speed up the cooling down of the core.
The plant came close to a core meltdown. Here is the worst-case scenario that was avoided: If the seawater could not have been used for treatment, the operators would have continued to vent the water steam to avoid pressure buildup. The third containment would then have been completely sealed to allow the core meltdown to happen without releasing radioactive material. After the meltdown, there would have been a waiting period for the intermediate radioactive materials to decay inside the reactor, and all radioactive particles to settle on a surface inside the containment. The cooling system would have been restored eventually, and the molten core cooled to a manageable temperature. The containment would have been cleaned up on the inside. Then a messy job of removing the molten core from the containment would have begun, packing the (now solid again) fuel bit by bit into transportation containers to be shipped to processing plants. Depending on the damage, the block of the plant would then either be repaired or dismantled.
Now, where does that leave us? My assessment:
§ The plant is safe now and will stay safe.
§ Japan is looking at an INES Level 4 Accident: Nuclear accident with local consequences. That is bad for the company that owns the plant, but not for anyone else.
§ Some radiation was released when the pressure vessel was vented. All radioactive isotopes from the activated steam have gone (decayed). A very small amount of Cesium was released, as well as Iodine. If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy. The Cesium and Iodine isotopes were carried out to the sea and will never be seen again.
§ There was some limited damage to the first containment. That means that some amounts of radioactive Cesium and Iodine will also be released into the cooling water, but no Uranium or other nasty stuff (the Uranium oxide does not “dissolve” in the water). There are facilities for treating the cooling water inside the third containment. The radioactive Cesium and Iodine will be removed there and eventually stored as radioactive waste in terminal storage.
§ The seawater used as cooling water will be activated to some degree. Because the control rods are fully inserted, the Uranium chain reaction is not happening. That means the “main” nuclear reaction is not happening, thus not contributing to the activation. The intermediate radioactive materials (Cesium and Iodine) are also almost gone at this stage, because the Uranium decay was stopped a long time ago. This further reduces the activation. The bottom line is that there will be some low level of activation of the seawater, which will also be removed by the treatment facilities.
§ The seawater will then be replaced over time with the “normal” cooling water
§ The reactor core will then be dismantled and transported to a processing facility, just like during a regular fuel change.
§ Fuel rods and the entire plant will be checked for potential damage. This will take about 4-5 years.
§ The safety systems on all Japanese plants will be upgraded to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami (or worse)
§ (Updated) I believe the most significant problem will be a prolonged power shortage. 11 of Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors in different plants were shut down and will have to be inspected, directly reducing the nation’s nuclear power generating capacity by 20%, with nuclear power accounting for about 30% of the national total power generation capacity. I have not looked into possible consequences for other nuclear plants not directly affected. This will probably be covered by running gas power plants that are usually only used for peak loads to cover some of the base load as well. I am not familiar with Japan’s energy supply chain for oil, gas and coal, and what damage the harbors, refinery, storage and transportation networks have suffered, as well as damage to the national distribution grid. All of that will increase your electricity bill, as well as lead to power shortages during peak demand and reconstruction efforts, in Japan.
§ This all is only part of a much bigger picture. Emergency response has to deal with shelter, drinking water, food and medical care, transportation and communication infrastructure, as well as electricity supply. In a world of lean supply chains, we are looking at some major challenges in all of these areas.
If you want to stay informed, please forget the usual media outlets and consult the following websites:
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Old 14th March 2011, 03:00 AM   #195
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Originally Posted by Skwinty View Post
That right there is the most important part of your post. Whatever you do, avoid the mainstream media and DC's "experts".
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Old 14th March 2011, 03:16 AM   #196
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I was listening to a harrowing account of an elderly women looking through the wreckage of her home for her husband's medal (he had died 100 days before) and one of the journalist's descriptions turned to the globules of tarry petrochemicals dripping from everywhere. The local refinery had exploded before catching fire, how much damage is that type of pollution going to cause?

Yes a nuclear reactor malfunctioning is very worrying - especially one so old - but I suspect that compared to the pollution caused by everything else as a result of the tsunami and earthquake it will be almost insignificant.
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Old 14th March 2011, 03:24 AM   #197
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They couldn't just hardwire the backup generators?
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Old 14th March 2011, 03:35 AM   #198
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Originally Posted by a_unique_person View Post
They couldn't just hardwire the backup generators?
Depends what was damaged. Fuel? Wiring? Pipework? Valves? Generators themselves? Mountings? Prop shafts? Even pumping seawater will be problematical, because of debris blocking filters .The seabed for miles has been churned. They may be pumping a mud slurry rather than water. That takes specialised pumps- and even those need frequent maintenance. Believe me. I pump mud for a living. Power station equipment and drilling rig mud pumps are very different.

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Old 14th March 2011, 03:50 AM   #199
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Originally Posted by Sword_Of_Truth View Post
That right there is the most important part of your post. Whatever you do, avoid the mainstream media and DC's "experts".
still more preferable that the unqualified comments from the postoffice guy....
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Old 14th March 2011, 03:58 AM   #200
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Originally Posted by Soapy Sam View Post
Depends what was damaged. Fuel? Wiring? Pipework? Valves? Generators themselves? Mountings? Prop shafts? Even pumping seawater will be problematical, because of debris blocking filters .The seabed for miles has been churned. They may be pumping a mud slurry rather than water. That takes specialised pumps- and even those need frequent maintenance. Believe me. I pump mud for a living. Power station equipment and drilling rig mud pumps are very different.
The emergency generators they brought in after the quake. They said they couldn't use them because the plug didn't fit.
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