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The world's largest nuclear power plant demonstrates inherent safety

Those opposed to nuclear power have long raised doubts over its safety.  Often raised is the question, "what would happen if major earthquake struck one?"  Would a radioactivity release endanger millions?  

This morning, we got a chance to find out. A 6.8 earthquake struck northern Japan, almost directly underneath the massive Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Plant, responsible for a third of the Japanese residential electricity supply. The quake leveled hundreds of homes, left fissures 3 feet wide in the ground, and swayed buildings in Tokyo, 300 km away.

What happened at the plant itself? An electrical transformer caught fire and was quickly extinguished. And a tiny amount of mildly radioactive water was released -- one billionth of the safe amount allowed under under Japanese law, or 1/1,000,000 of what is generated from a single dental x-ray. Not even the workers actually inside the reactor were exposed to a dangerous dose, much less the general public. All reactors were shut down for inspection purposes, and initial reports indicate no damage or safety issues. 

And that's it.  Nothing to see here folks, move along.

The western world's nuclear safety record remains unbroken. Over five decades and thousands of reactor-years later, not one person has ever been harmed by commercial power generation. Nuclear power generates no greenhouse gases, and operating costs continue to drop, reaching a level of 1.66 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2006 -- one twentieth the cost of solar power. Despite all this, the U.S. and most of Europe continue to shy away from nuclear power, and pursue pie-in-the-sky energy approaches that, even if they eventually become feasible, will remain forever more expensive to operate.

The West may be ignoring nuclear power, but others are not. Last year, China announced plans to build 30 new reactors, in a bid to reduce air pollution and provide cheap power for its burgeoning economy.


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Japan is not a western nation
By Flunk on 7/16/2007 2:01:00 PM , Rating: 1
"The western world's nuclear safety record remains unbroken." Japan is an eastern country, even had their been a horrible disaster there today this statement would be true.




RE: Japan is not a western nation
By Kefner on 7/16/2007 2:26:18 PM , Rating: 2
Where did he call Japan a western nation? He mentions the Western worlds nuclear record, but never that Japan is a part of it.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By Verran on 7/16/2007 3:05:18 PM , Rating: 5
Nobody's saying that was said. There's no need to fall into an argument over the semantics of the comment.

I too found the statement odd. Even if 300 people die tomorrow from the events of the story, the statement about the western nuclear record is still true. It just doesn't seem to really fit the story.

I'm not anti-nuclear by any means, but the "western" statement read to me like they were trying a bit hard to find positive large-scale comments about nuclear power, and stretched to a statement that didn't really tie into the story.


By masher2 (blog) on 7/16/2007 5:41:51 PM , Rating: 4
> "I too found the statement odd"

Poorly-phrased, I agree. The point I was trying to make was that nations which operate Western-style reactors have an unbroken safety record. The world nuclear power industry falls into two basic camps: the "Western" style vs. the "Soviet-bloc" graphite-moderated design, one which is inherently much less safe.

From a standpoint of reactor design, Japan belongs to the former camp, not the latter.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By glynor on 7/16/2007 4:23:47 PM , Rating: 5
As someone who grew up with a daily view from my bedroom window of the cooling towers at Three Mile Island, and as someone who strongly supports using Nuclear Power, I have to take issue with this statement:

quote:
Over five decades and thousands of reactor-years later, not one person has ever been harmed by commercial power generation.


I beg to differ. If you look at the cancer and leukemia cluster statistics in Middletown, PA, you'd have to conclude that certainly at least a few people were seriously "harmed" physically. Not to mention the plummeting property values there and other "collateral" issues.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/long...

The way forward is not through spin and lies. Honest analysis of the truth, and of the real dangers of continuing to burn coal with reckless abandon (both through climate change and health issues associated with burning and mining the fuel) still leads to the same conclusion without making indefensible statements like this. Nuclear Power is not without risk and is certainly not completely "clean". However, if we are able to work to make it economically viable (and cheating using taxpayer subsidies doesn't count), it is certainly a lot cleaner than many of the other sources of energy we rely on today and is worth our attention and investment.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By masher2 (blog) on 7/16/2007 5:33:00 PM , Rating: 4
> "If you look at the cancer and leukemia cluster statistics in Middletown, PA, you'd have to conclude that certainly at least a few people were seriously "harmed..."

Did you read your entire link? Let me quote from it:
quote:
In a letter accompanying the article, the Columbia University researchers who initially analyzed the cancer data disagreed sharply with Wing's conclusions and labeled the new study "tendentious and unbalanced."
Dozens of researchers with credentials far more impressie than Wing's have looked at the data and concluded there was zero health impact. None whatsoever. Wing- an associate professor at UNC well know for his justice crusading-- collected no new data, but simply reinterpreted the results of others...others who sharply disagree with him. And its not the first time he's done this. Wing-- whose undergraduate degree was in Psychology--has written papers on everything about the "environmental injustice" of hog farming to the dangers of industrial chemicals. All of them have a common theme...a theme shared by his alarm-sounding TMI paper.

The basic flaw in Wing's reasoning is easy to state. Correlation does not imply causation. Pick any disease or health condition known to man. Any one. Now look at its rate of occurrence across the country. It's going to show a natural variance, with some areas seeing higher rates, some lower. The rarer the disease, the smaller the sample set...and thus the larger the variance. Simple statistics.

Now take any factory or plant in the country. Around it you'll see some conditions occurring at a higher rate than average, some lower. Does that mean the plant is causing certain diseases and actually suppressing others? Making people healthier? No, of course not. It simply means the laws of statistics operate everywhere.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By TomZ on 7/17/2007 9:38:30 AM , Rating: 1
This misses the point, really. Maybe it is hard to prove that certain people got cancer due to the plant, but it is pretty clear that plenty of people have died due to accidents in nuclear power plants. As cited by Griswold:

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

As Griswold pointed out, saying that none have died in "commercial nuclear power plants" is deceptive since it arbitrarily limits the scope to only the safest subset of such power plants. Looking at the big picture of nuclear power generation, it is clear that accidents have and continue to happen (and often get covered up), and significant numbers of people have been killed and injured.

Statistically, nuclear power may be relatively safe, but to say it has a perfect track record is untrue. Accidents can and do happen, and the companies and governments running these plants have to continue to be very vigilant regarding safety.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By masher2 (blog) on 7/17/2007 10:09:43 AM , Rating: 2
> "but it is pretty clear that plenty of people have died due to accidents in nuclear power plants. (link snip)"

There have been no deaths in western civilian nuclear power plants. I'm not sure if you read that link, but it doesn't detail any. There have been two fatal accidents in Western research reactors (one listed in that link, one not), but these were not commercial power plants generating electricity. The track record is indeed perfect.

Soviet-bloc nations have a different record, obviously. But separating them out is not a false distinction. Besides the vastly differing levels of maintenance, training, and safety factors, there is the overriding point that they utilize RBMK reactors. These graphite-moderated reactors are inherently subject to runaway effects. The reactors used everywhere else in the world are light- and heavy-water moderated, and immune to the problems of the RBMK design.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By TomZ on 7/17/2007 10:18:47 AM , Rating: 2
The distinction you make is useful to characterize the superiority of the Western-style reactors, but it is not appropriate, IMO, to discuss in the general context of nuclear power safety. This is because it leaves the false impression that power plants are perfectly safe, when the reality is that they are potentially quite dangerous.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By masher2 (blog) on 7/17/2007 10:40:40 AM , Rating: 3
> "it is not appropriate, IMO, to discuss in the general context of nuclear power safety"

Its appropriate to non-Soviet nuclear power safety, as RBMK-style reactors do not exist in this context. The two designs are wholly different, and calling "nuclear power" dangerous due to these reactors is like calling a green bean poisonous simple because Castor beans are.

Energy production is always 'potentially' dangerous. But nuclear power is, by far, the safest form of power generation ever invented. If you look at the safety record of the coal, oil, natural gas, or even hydro or solar-- people have been killed, and the overall safety factor is lower.


By Hoser McMoose on 7/17/2007 4:52:15 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Energy production is always 'potentially' dangerous.

Just to add some numbers to that, there have been 31 people known to have been killed from wind power. Mostly these have been people installing or doing maintenance on the turbines, however they also include a skydiver that landed on a turbine and a crop-duster pilot that was killed when his aircraft hit a guy-wire for a wind farm meteorological station.

Depending on what estimate for number of deaths from the Chernobyl accident (which range from the 41 known deaths to as much as 200,000 if you take Greenpeace's figures), the numbers may be quite close in terms of deaths/TWh. ie if wind power was as widespread as nuclear we could expect about as many people to be killed by wind power as by nuke power INCLUDING Russian-style reactors with the Chernobyl accident.

Hydro power and coal power both come out MUCH worse then nukes or wind power in this regard. Hydro power has by far the highest number of deaths/TWh from accidents (the bulk of which have happened in China) while pollution coal power is known to be killing many tens of thousands every year just through regular use. A recent report gave a very rough estimate of over 400,000 deaths/year in China for coal power plant pollution, while North American numbers are usually in the 5,000-30,000 deaths/year.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By 3kliksphilip on 7/17/2007 10:01:04 PM , Rating: 2
I'd feel much safer living next to a wind farm than a nuclear power plant. At least with a wind turbine, the worst that could happen is that it comes loose and smashes up a couple of houses. With nuclear power plants, although there hasn't been a major disaster yet (Lets forget about Chernobyl, it's obviously not important at all) there is a POTENTIAL for a terrible disaster. Unlike fire (worst thing which could happen from, say, a coal power plant), radioactivity is much scarier IMO because it can't be seen, smelt etc. Sorry if this sounds really obvious, but I'm tired and for some reason everybody here seems to be forgetting how scary radioactivity is.

I can cope with a power plant setting on fire, exploding or even a freak wind blade cutting me in half, but radioactivity is something I find disturbing, especially with all of the long term risks.

When people say that Nuclear Power plants are clean, does this include the waste? What happens to that? Do we really expect nothing to go wrong for the next 10,000 years whilst the half life takes effect?

Has anybody else heard of the possible risk of Japan sinking? *sleeps*


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By porkpie on 7/17/2007 11:37:56 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Sorry if this sounds really obvious, but I'm tired and for some reason everybody here seems to be forgetting how scary radioactivity is
Scary to those people who don't know anything about it. To those who realize we live in a constant bath of radiation daily, its not.

Do you know that bananas commonly set off the radiation monitors at US ports, designed to detect terrorists smuggling in nuclear material? Do you know that living in a Rocky Mountain state means you have a few thousand pounds of nuclear waste in your own backyard-- waste left over from when Mother Nature created the planet. Do you know how much radiation you're exposed to every time you take a plane flight? Or visit a city more than a few thousand feet above sea level?

Live next to a coal plant and the plant could potentially explode, incinerating you instantly. Live next to a hydro plant and the dam could burst, drowning you and all your neighbors without warning. Live next to a windfarm and a massive turbine can break loose in high winds, destroying your entire house.

Whats the worst that can happen for a modern nuclear reactor? A billion-to-one chance of a meltdown, which would force you to evacuate. If you were slow about it, you'd be at a slightly elevated risk for certain types of cancer. I'll take that over instant-death anytime, especially when the odds against it happening are so incredibly low.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By 3kliksphilip on 7/18/2007 5:40:44 AM , Rating: 2
I'd rather take instant death over slow and painful death any day of the week.

Please don't patronise me, as I believe that I do know a thing or two about radioactivity. I guess I'm going to be rated down because I've got a different opinion to everybody elses, but surely with so many civilian accidents with radiation (All of which contain but a fraction of the amount of radioactive material found in a power plant), it is possible for something to go disastrously wrong with a nuclear powerplant? Sure, it's unlikely, but with so many over the world, it can only be a matter of time.

I like in Cornwall in the UK. We have a lot of granite rock around and need special fans extracting the radon gas from underneath our houses. It might just be me, but through out my entire life I haven't cared if something happens naturally- it can't be avoided. However, when people are playing around with nuclear power plants and causing radiation which shouldn't be around, I believe that it's a problem we could avoid. What about all of the waste from these plants? Do you honestly expect it to be stored safely for thousands of years?

I'd like to see something the size of Chernobyl occur in a wind farm.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By porkpie on 7/18/2007 8:50:11 AM , Rating: 2
--> "it is possible for something to go disastrously wrong with a nuclear powerplant? ...it can only be a matter of time"

Thats true for everything in life. If you wait long enough, eventually something will go wrong....or barring that, till a meteor ends all life on the planet. The question is HOW LONG?

Risk studies done on 1970s-era nuclear power industry put the probability of major accidents at one every 10,000 years. There are newer designs safer by a factor of 100X, but lets ignore those. If we built 10 times as many of those old-style plants, we could expect an accident every thousand years. But how many people would die from coal, hydro, wind, or solar power in that time? A thousand times as many. Nothing is 100% safe in life. But nuclear power is SAFER than all the alternatives.

--> "We...need special fans extracting the radon gas from underneath our houses....I haven't cared if something happens naturally"

So you don't care if you die from natural radiation, only the manmade variety? You're right, most people won't agree with you. It seems you don't even care if you're sliced into bits by a windmill, being incinerated by a gas explosion, or even getting cancer from the toxic materials generated by solar cell manufacture. You just don't like nuclear power, period, and you're willing to stand up against it, no matter how many people that means die as a result.

--> "What about all of the waste from these plants? Do you honestly expect it to be stored safely "

Waste is a nonissue, used to drum up fear to stop nuclear power. A normal reactor generates only couple cubic meters of high level waste per year, waste that we could easily reprocess right back into into fuel. There's more low-level waste. But that just isn' that dangerous. You could just disperse it in the ocean. Even 10,000 years worth of that waste wouldn't even be enough to detect in the sea, given all all the natural radioactive elements already in there. If you don't want to do that, just glassify it and store it somewhere dry.

By the way, did you know coal plants release more radioactivity than nuclear ones? They burn vast amounts of coal, which releases about half a kilo of uranium vapor into the air each and every day.


By 3kliksphilip on 7/19/2007 2:44:02 PM , Rating: 2
"it is possible for something to go disastrously wrong with a nuclear powerplant? ...it can only be a matter of time"

But nuclear powerplants can go more disasterously wrong than any other power plant that I can think of. I'd like to see a windfarm cause as much commotion as Chernobyl did ;)

As for 1 major disaster every 10,000 years... how long have we had nuclear powerplants? 30 years? How many accidents have there been? Chernobyl and 3 mile island? At least if your theory of 1 in 10,000 years holds up, it'll be at least another 20,000 years before the next accident.

'So you don't care if you die from natural radiation, only the manmade variety' - Not so much manmade, but AVOIDABLE radiation. If I die because I climb up a granite cliff, I'd probably think along the lines of 'hmmm, that was very unlucky!' but if I die because, say, a nuclear powerplant explodes, I'd think 'That could have been avoided'. You get the gist of it.

Can you honestly say that nuclear is safer than solar and wind turbines? Is it actually possible for a disaster which kills more than a couple of people with these sources of power? Sure, somebody might slip from the top of a wind farm or get crushed by a solar panel, but at least it's a nice, quick death. And it's their fault for being in such close proximity in the first place.

'There's more low-level waste'

HLW accounts for over 95% of the total radioactivity produced in the process of nuclear electricity generation. - Wikipedia.


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By porkpie on 7/17/2007 10:19:04 AM , Rating: 2
The EPA estimates up to 10,000 ppl per year die from respiratory and other problems caused by coal-fired power plants. And we're afraid to build any more nuclear plants!


RE: Japan is not a western nation
By shamgar03 on 7/16/2007 5:04:51 PM , Rating: 1
Eh, Japan is an eastern country....sort of. Since the US has put who-know-how-much money into Japan, it has become pretty western. This very well may be a "western" nuclear plant regardless. Since the united states invested money in Japan its likely that the original designs were probably based on western designs, not like Russian or something.


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