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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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RE: Japan is not a western nation
By porkpie on 7/17/2007 11:37:56 PM , Rating: 2
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? 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? 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.

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad

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