Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nuclear Power Plants

Let me start by wishing the Japanese people the very best in the weeks, months, and years ahead.  Your quiet dignity in the face of such overwhelming destruction is enviable.

So why do we allow people to report lies?  Is it "Freedom of Speech" and/or "Freedom of the Press"?  Are provably-false statements protected when they're not reported as opinion, but facts?  My mother used to call it "lying" and provided varying degrees of "incentives" to curb the behavior.  As a society, should we not demand at least some degree of research and journalistic integrity from our sources of information?

If we had started educating our children 20-30 years ago as to the differences between Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons, maybe we would have an informed voting block these days, not to mention politicians and reporters that had some clue about what they were saying.  Of course, I recommend teaching how to read, write, and perform basic mathematics first . . . so we may not get around to nuclear power topics in a system developed and overseen by The Department of Education.


Did that get anyone's attention?  Now, before the flaming starts, let me answer some specific concerns.  There have been three "accidents" attributed to the Nuclear Power industry.  Most people could tell you two of the three.  I'd like to briefly discuss each of them:

This was the last time an American was killed by a nuclear reactor . . . over 50 years ago.  Contributing Factors: Human error in design and operation.  All three fatalities were due to injuries, not radiation, although the radiation would likely have caused death at a later time.   The lessons learned from this tragedy have contributed to a 100% safety record for the last 50 years, including 100s of nuclear reactors onboard U.S. Navy vessels, and are still being taught throughout the industry.

Three-Mile Island
The only commercial nuclear reactor accident in the history of the United States . . . nearly 32 years ago.  Contributing Factors: Human error was a major factor and combined with what would be considered a poor design today.  The operators failed to believe their indications, failed to take appropriate actions, taking the wrong actions instead.  It resulted in ZERO loss of life, measurable environmental impact, or verified health concerns.  The lessons from this accident are also taught throughout the industry and the flaws in the design have been overcome in new designs and do not exist in today's (or tomorrow's) nuclear plants.

Nearly 25 years ago, a horrible, foreign-designed nuclear reactor caused the single-largest public panic associated with the nuclear power industry in history.  Contributing Factors:  No containment structure, graphite moderator, and inexperienced operators facilitated and amplified the devastation to the surrounding area and the world-wide concerns associated with nuclear power.  This disaster, as horrific as it was, resulted in only localized damage and fatalities and has never been shown to have any effect on the United States or any other nation.  Less than 300 total deaths, both immediate and longer-term, have been attributed to this disaster - the worst nuclear power disaster in history and they were all at or near the site.

So, in the history of the industry, there have been less than 300 deaths attributed to nuclear power production IN THE WORLD for over 50 years!  I challenge anyone to find an industry that's safer to be around . . ..

What's the metric for evaluating a successful reactor design in Japan?  If your design criteria is that a Nuclear Reactor should be able to survive a massive earthquake, that's a realistic standard.  If you need the plant to survive a Tsunami that shorts out the entire cooling capacity of the design, that's a realistic standard.  If you expect the containment structure to protect the public from major release of radioactive materials, that's a realistic standard.
If, however, you expect a 40-year-old, highly complex system to experience the largest earthquake recorded in that area (and at least 10 times the strength that it was designed to withstand), an immediate Tsunami that removed the normal cooling capability, and continue to function as if nothing happened, you're not only unrealistic, you're insane!
I have no doubt that there will be people that die from radiation exposure received inside these nuclear power plants.  There are heroes inside those facilities that believe their lives are less important than the lives of their countrymen.   They are overcoming the worst problem ever faced by the nuclear power industry because it's not man-made (contrary to some idiot's claims) and you never know how natural disasters will present themselves.  However, reactor design changes, operator training, technological advances, and proper levels of regulation have proven that they can operate nuclear reactors safely both in the United States and the rest of the developed world.

Telling the safest industry in the world to stop doing what they're doing because a few mis-informed and lazy journalists and politicians can't get off their butts and do some research and independent thought is not only irresponsible and dishonest, it will also contribute to higher energy prices, rolling blackouts, and the already-bad economic situation facing the world.


Chris said...

All great points, I've been telling people I work with and study with these same things.

the problem rests equally amongst the journalists and society in general. Most people don't want to understand your points or the truth about nuclear power, so they find it easy to believe all the "nuclear power is dangerous" hype....shame on them.

Infinite Spiral said...

I've long believed that we missed a huge opportunity about 30 years ago to include "Nuclear Power" as part of our science classes. The unfortunate thing now is that the students of today are the voters of tomorrow and we're struggling with such difficult topics as balancing a checkbook and trying to understand why you can't just keep borrowing money to buy everything you want. That, and the teachers that would be providing the information to our most precious resource are the same ill-educated people that began suffering under the Department of (no)Education in their younger days. It's a downward spiral...