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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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Going to take a long time.
By SavagePotato on 7/17/2007 10:58:18 AM , Rating: 2
It is just going to take a long long time for people to by majority concede that the potential risk of a nuclear plant is outweighed by the benefits. Thanks to the ever nagging ecological catastrophe that is Chernobyl. It's going to be sitting there reminding everyone for the next 900 years plus before the region is even inhabitable again.

Personally I am for nuclear, In Canada our reactor designs are probably some of the best and most efficient if not the best and safest going. It's just that no matter what that potential and example of what a total catastrophic failure CAN do are far more extreme than what any other disaster scenario involves. People are always going to be leery of that.

Statistical fact is great but in the end it doesn't dictate the will of the consuming masses. They are still ruled by emotion, and personal opinion by and large. So no matter how much more statistically harmful coal fueled electricity is over time, it goes a short way in convincing the average taxpayer to believe in nuclear.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By TomZ on 7/17/2007 11:28:37 AM , Rating: 1
This is precisely the reason that the U.S. is organized as a republic, instead of a pure democracy. There are some cases when the majority doesn't know what is best for them. Ideally, this would not be the case, but history has proven this time and time again.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By SavagePotato on 7/17/2007 11:34:07 AM , Rating: 2
The US is only a part of the world. I know they see themselves as the center of it, however there there is more to it than that, and many democratic countries out there. Billions of opinions as well that still play a big part in dictating some things.

Then again the country is embroiled in a war that most of it and the rest of the world think is an absolute joke, so it Isn't always a good thing when crazy Christian loons with a third grade reading level get to decide what is best for everyone.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By TomZ on 7/17/2007 12:19:04 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure your point. I only brought up the US because that is where I live and where most of the DT readers live, so it is the normal context of my views. I certainly didn't say or imply anything about the US being the center of the world, etc. Where did you get that from?

Our (the US) system of government certainly makes its share of mistakes, but I don't see how a pure democracy would produce better results, if that is what you are getting at.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By Hoser McMoose on 7/17/2007 5:41:43 PM , Rating: 2
It's going to be sitting there reminding everyone for the next 900 years plus before the region is even inhabitable again.

Actually wildlife is thriving in the 30km exclusion zone around the Chernobyl reactors. Even the few people living in that area aren't really suffering any ill health now.

Radiation is an interesting thing, it's either very dangerous for a short period of time or it last a long time but it's not very dangerous. A hugely critical accident like Chernobyl has a bit of both. The really dangerous stuff is LONG since gone, it mostly had half lives measured in days or weeks. Within a year that stuff was at levels so low it couldn't even be detected anymore. At the other end of things is the really long-lived stuff gives off so little radiation that it's almost completely undetectable among the natural occurring background radiation.

The only element that's really of concern at Chernobyl today is Cesium 137. That stuff has a half-life of just over 30 years and is reasonably radioactive. Fortunately the levels don't seem to be causing too much harm and certainly within 300 years (10 half lives) it'll be totally negligible (less then 0.1% of the original amount).

It's just that no matter what that potential and example of what a total catastrophic failure CAN do are far more extreme than what any other disaster scenario involves.

Failures at hydro-electric dams can and HAVE killed many more people then even the worst-case nuclear reactor failure (ie Chernobyl). Estimates for number of deaths from Chernobyl have mostly ranged from 2000 to 50,000, while the Banqiao hydro dam failure killed 150,00 to 200,000.

Chemical industry accidents can be extremely dangerous too. The Union Carbide leak of methyl isocyanate in India killed somewhere around 15,000 to 22,000 people. I remember hearing one nuclear physicist once mentioned that if the chemical industry were as tightly regulated as the nuclear power industry then it would be totally unable to function. Having worked in a chemical plant with thousands of tons of toxic chemicals sitting in tanks and trucks, I fully believe that.

As you mentioned though, people are ruled by emotion rather then reason when it comes to nuclear power. The fact that MANY more people are killed every single year from coal power then those that have ever been killed by nuclear accidents (including Chernobyl) means absolutely nothing as compared to a Hollywood movie showing some mutant zombie from the radioactive waste.

Sadly I think this speaks volumes of our societies total and absolute failure at understanding science at even a junior high school level.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By SavagePotato on 7/17/2007 6:21:29 PM , Rating: 2
The exclusion zone is still very much a dangerous place to be. Nor is it inhabitable. Yes there are a few old timers that stayed there and refused to move which were in less dangerous areas. The radiation there is very inconsistent. You can take bus tours of the place which are perfectly safe. However standing three feet in another direction from where you are in places can expose you to dangerous doses of radiation. Essentially a radioactive minefield which is why it is still cordoned off. The surviving reactors themselves were still in service till 2000 I believe. However the entire area was excavated and filled with clean non-radioactive soil to make it safe. Trust me I've spent far more time than anyone should watching documentaries and reading about the exclusion zone.

Like it or not people are going to react more strongly to the radiation boogeyman than they will to sheer statistics and death tolls. The reason is that if a dam bursts and wipes out 200k people it isn't seen as a threat to the person sitting 3000 miles away watching it on the news. When a place like Chernobyl blows up and spews a radioactive cloud over half of Asia, that tends to scare the hell out of people. Even people a continent away sitting in their home wondering if they will be affected, or yes attacked by the savage mutant hordes they saw in a movie.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By porkpie on 7/17/2007 11:27:56 PM , Rating: 2
The exclusion zone is still very much a dangerous place to be. Nor is it inhabitable
Complete and utter nonsense.

Most people don't realize that only one of Chernobyl's reactors had a meltdown. The others were kept in operation after the accident. The last one wasn't shut down until just a few years ago. Who do you think operated them on a daily basis? Robots? No-- people. Workers who came and went every single day.

There are also regular tours through the zone, even today. Operated by guides, who come and go continually. A few people still live in the zone, and have done so since the accident. And don't even get me started on the wildlife. It has THRIVED. So much so, in fact, that a few biologists have even suggested putting radioactive waste in other natural preserves, just to keep away nasty humans.

If you eat food grown in the soil of the exclusion zone, you're at slightly higher risks for thyroid cancer. Some people still do, of course. But the zone itself is actually LESS radioactive than a few other areas on earth, ones naturally radioactive due to uranium or thorium deposits.

The zone is more than habitable today. If the average Ukranian didn't tend to grow vegetables in their own backyard, the government would likely remove the restrictions entirely.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By SavagePotato on 7/18/2007 9:19:27 AM , Rating: 2
Why don't you see people lining up to live there and all the checkpoints coming down? And if you actualy read my post you would see that I mentioned the other reactors were going till 2000. I also mentioned that the entire area around them was excavated to remove the highly radioactive soil. Theres still plenty of highly radioactive soil buildings and vehicles littering the area. Maybe your definition of inhabitable is different than all the other people that evacuated and never returned I don't know.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By porkpie on 7/18/2007 11:47:12 AM , Rating: 2
The fact remains that some people DO live there, and many others work there, coming and going on a daily basis. How is it that a region you call "uninhabitable" is inhabited? Explain that one.

Why aren't millions of people "lining up" to move back into the region? Why would ANYONE already living in a city in Ukraine choose to move to the middle of a deserted rural area, without infrastructure or economic growth? Did you miss the last 200 years of human history? People move FROM these areas into the cities. Now that the government paid these people to move into cities, it'd take a police force to get most of them to leave.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By SavagePotato on 7/18/2007 2:41:36 PM , Rating: 2
The people that do live there do so at the risk to their own health, because they refused to leave. There are always those that will. The people that worked at the plant did so in a controled and cleaned up environment. Living in a town specificaly created to house them where they were brought in by train everyday.

The land is contaminated and no longer useable as farmland, which it primarily was. As well as being a health risk to anyone living there on a long term basis, if not a more immediate risk. The areas around the plant were compleltely excavated and filled with clean soil, if not for that it would have been impossible and extremely hazardous for those workers to be there. The thriving wildlife and vegitation are contaminated as well. You would be a fool to eat any of the vegitables or meat from any of the animals dwelling there.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By SavagePotato on 7/18/2007 9:40:36 AM , Rating: 2
Furthermore the workers that came and went every day, were brought in by train from a completely new town built in a cleaned up area. Most of the zone is farmland which is contaminated and will be contaminated for a long time. Just because Cesium-137 has a half life of 30 years doesn't mean everything is fine in 30 years, nor has it even been 30 years. Not to mention Strontium-90 contamination which is linked to lukemia.

Because areas were cleaned up and used does not mean people could stroll back in and frolick in the feilds. Places exist where nature has thrived and people think that means clearly theres no danger whatsoever. The places where nature thrive are less affected and less contaminated. Humans are not animals either for that matter.

RE: Going to take a long time.
By SavagePotato on 7/17/2007 6:31:01 PM , Rating: 2
A word regarding magnitude of effect. I think a great deal of detractors would consider an event like Chernobyl a far greater disaster than a dam bursting and wiping out a couple hundred thousand.

Reason being the reminder remains. Not only that the after effects such as birth defects in surrounding areas such as Belarus which got some of the worst of it. Large areas of land rendered uninhabitable. Not to mention the crumbling sarcophagus sitting there scaring the daylights out of people as it deteriorates and threatens to collapse, where yes the rest of the nuclear material that was not ejected from the reactor still sits.

In terms of magnitude of effect. Things such as this make it higher on peoples scale than death toll numbers.

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