Our Skewed Risk Perception of Nuclear Power

You may have heard, as Scientific American reports, that the “U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted to allow construction of two new nuclear reactors” in Georgia. It’s a pretty big deal, since Jimmy Carter was President the last time a commercial reactor was approved.

As the LA Times notes, the new Georgia plant

is supposed to have all of the technology and safeguards to avoid a meltdown like the one that occurred at Fukushima, which was hit by a tsunami after a massive earthquake and lost electrical power to keep its reactor cool. The Westinghouse system is supposed to be able to endure a complete blackout and safely shut down the reactor with passive cooling systems, said company spokesman Vaughn Gilbert.

Of course, for those who are opposed to nuclear power based on safety concerns, what happened at Fukushima remains frightful proof of the dangers. But as George Monbiot argued in a series of columns last year, the disaster could also serve as an argument for the technology’s relative safety.

Over at my latest Yale Forum post, Nullius in Verba makes a similar case. I often don’t see eye to eye with Nullius, but in this comment he shows the skewed risk perception many have of nuclear power:

Fukushima was actually an excellent demonstration of just how safe nuclear energy actually is.

Let’s compare it to something concrete: is your house “safe”? When you sit in home, are you nervous about having tons of brick and concrete suspended a few feet above your head? You would probably say “yes, of course it’s safe”, but let’s judge it by the same standard we judge nuclear power.

You claim your house is “safe”, but if you hit it with a magnitude 9 earthquake, and then shortly after smash a 30 foot high wall of water moving at a hundred miles an hour into it, will it still be standing? Or will the whole thing collapse on top of you?

In Japan, something like 10,000 people sat in their “safe” houses died. And left a landscape strewn with rubble which is going to cost billions to clean up. And a tsunami leaves the land tainted with salt, and no crops will grow until it is gone.

So is a nuclear power station that was still standing and killed less than a handful more dangerous than houses which collapsed and killed thousands? Or, if you want to look at it that way, more dangerous than building thousands of houses on an island prone to earthquakes and tsunamis?

The thinking appears to be that it is, because within a few days of the disaster, none of the news reports mentioned the tens of thousands left homeless or burying their dead, it was all about the nuclear reactor. The tiniest trace of radioactivity anywhere was picked up and breathlessly reported around the world, although the fact that raw sewage was floating down the streets was not. Sewage is more dangerous, it kills more people, but they’re more scared of the radioactivity.

So that’s why I say “relatively safe”. It’s safe, relative to all the other risky things that we consider safe. It’s not absolutely safe ““ nothing is ““ but the risks are far lower than for many other dangers that we consider it acceptable to take.

It would be interesting to know where the anti-nuclear denial of science comes from, political elites, or perhaps the coal mining industry? How should science communicators talk about nuclear energy to overcome this block? Or should we sit back and do nothing, and wait for energy prices to skyrocket before offering it again?

It’s an interesting comparison, isn’t it?

71 Responses to “Our Skewed Risk Perception of Nuclear Power”

  1. Joshua says:

    Two points:
     
    First, you can’t really compare the relative safety of your house to a nuclear power plant without comparing the level of potential danger. Not to say that it balances the equation, but you have to include both sides if you’re going to look at one side.
     
    Second, I’d suggest that trying to fix “denial”  to a particular element external to normal, human psychology will not come up with a comprehensive answer. Again, not to say that determining how the roots of concern might be attributable to external influences is a waste of time.

  2. EdG says:

    “Following a recent conference of the Chernobyl Forum, an expert panel staffed with government envoys of the three directly affected countries and some UN agencies including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the following excerpts could be read in the world press:

    “No evidence or likelihood of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found, nor has there been any evidence of increases in congenital malformations that can be attributed to radiation exposure.”

    “Poverty, lifestyle diseases now rampant in the former Soviet Union and mental health problems pose a far greater threat to local communities than does radiation exposure.”

    Dr. Michael Repacholi, Manager of WHO’s Radiation Program was quoted as follows: “The sum total of the Chernobyl Forum is a reassuring message.” He explains that there have been 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer,mainly in children, but that except for nine deaths, all of them have recovered – a survival rate of almost 99%.

    Otherwise, the team of international experts found no evidence for any increases in the incidence of leukaemia and cancer among affected residents. (“¦) The health effects of the accident were potentially horrific, but when you add them up using validated conclusions from good science, the public health effects were not nearly as substantial as had at first been feared. (“¦) If we do not expect health or environmental effects, we should not waste resources and effort on low priority, low contamination areas,” he explains. “We need to focus our efforts and resources on real problems.”

    http://www.ippnw-students.org/chernobyl/Chernobyl-Paper.pdf

     

  3. Joshua says:

    Not missing the point about prevalence of harmful heath outcomes, this statement struck me as very funny:
     
    “He explains that there have been 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer,mainly in children, but that except for nine deaths, all of them have recovered”


    On the other hand, outside of those who lived, the rest died.

  4. Paul in Sweden says:

    Place things in perspective and compare mortality rates between nuclear power & wind power.

  5. EdG says:

    As they say, more people died in Teddy Kennedy’s car than in all the nuclear accidents in the US.

  6. Keith Kloor says:

    EdG,

    And your reason for that was? You do realize that for every crack about about the moral failings of Democrats, an equal amount can be made about Republicans.

    The difference is the hypocrisy meter for Republicans rings much higher (e.g. Newt Gingrich).

  7. EdG says:

    7 Keith

    My #5 was simply in response to #3. I used that reference because it is a well known. I’m sure there are plenty of Republican equivalents though off the top of my head I can’t think of any other politician who got away with what TK did and cruised on in his career. Can you?

    Just for the record, I consider hypocrisy to be the norm for politicians of all stripes. Some more than others, with no relationship to their party label. They are all individuals.

    Back on topic, my #2 is all I intended to add to this discussion though I could add the similar story about Hiroshima. In other words, the dangers of radiation is so overblown that it is beyond ridiculous – with or without comparisons to any other risk factors.

    And Chernobyl, a Soviet era basketcase facility, cannot be realistically compared to modern facilities in any case.

    I am all for nuclear power. See France.

  8. Joshua says:

    “As they say, more people died in Teddy Kennedy’s car than in all the nuclear accidents in the US.”


    Nice.
     
    Let’s exploit the death of Mary Jo Kapechne to make a politically expedient joke in the climate debate.

  9. EdG says:

    The self-righteous indignation is getting a little thick.

  10. jeffn says:

    AGW- the threat so serious that it’s worth destroying economic growth- something that has proven benefits to all. But is not serious enough to discard anti-science non-sense about nuclear power.
    Oddly enough there are folks who would say that the tribe that clings to economic growth is the one slowing everything down.
    I’m glad to see this plant in Georgia approved. Kudos to Obama for allowing honesty to win out. This may be the first action by the US that actually might reduce GHG emissions.

  11. Keith Kloor says:

    EdG,

    Man up. You’re the one who introduced a distasteful partisan crack into the thread. It’d be nice if one in a while you could admit you went too far. People might even have more respect for what you say. Otherwise, why are you bothering? 

  12. EdG says:

    Always refreshing to watch Monty Python’s ‘Jehovah’ skit.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_hlMK7tCks

  13. Joshua says:

    EdG –
     
    You’re confusing observance with indignation.

  14. Joshua says:

    Perhaps I should say that you’re confusing observation with indignation.
     
    No one can rightly say that I am observant.

  15. EdG says:

    11 Keith

    Really? Repeating a very well known phrase which sums up the exaggerated dangers of nuclear power is “going too far”?

    The fact that the person at the center of that phrase happens to be a Democrat is, for me, entirely beside the point. There are, as far as I know, no Republican equivalent phrases. So your “partisan’ take on this seems almost, dare I say it, tribal.

     

  16. Joshua says:

    EdG –
     
    Which number is greater: the number of times Larry Craig* assumed a “wide stance,” or the number of people who have died in nuclear accidents in the U.S.?
     
    *The fact that Craig was a Republican is beside the point. As far as I know, there are no Democratic politicians who explained soliciting an undercover officer as just having a “wide stance” when going to the bathroom.

  17. EdG says:

    14 Joshua

    You wrote: “Let’s exploit the death of Mary Jo Kapechne to make a politically expedient joke in the climate debate.”

    First, this is not about the “climate debate.” It is about the risks of nuclear power.” And the well known phrase I repeated is directly relevant to that.

    Second, what does partisan politics and this alleged ‘political expediency’ have to do with the risks of nuclear power? Nothing, unless you are a partisan who somehow identifies one party with it.

    Third, how exactly does that analogy “exploit” anything?

    Now, do you have any actual response to that information I posted on Chernobyl?

  18. EdG says:

    16 Joshua

    Fair enough. Go for it. The only difference is that what I used was a commonly known phrase while you had to come up with your own.

    The bottom line of both is still the same. Nuclear power has caused fewer deaths than any number of examples of other incidents.

    That said, given what has happened to the CNN’s Roland Martin, you need to be far more careful about writing your analogy lest someone go all Jehovah on you.

  19. Keith Kloor says:

    Edg,

    Since I never heard that saying before, I googled it. Lo and behold, it pops up on conservative sites/outlets.

    I guess you can’t see that it’s distasteful, nor that it’s a oneliner to score political points.

    That’s too bad. Like I said, if you could just restrain your partisan impulse, people that don’t already agree with you might take your words more seriously. But you insist on poisoning the waters.
     
     

  20. Sashka says:

    That’s the worst thread in a long time.
     

  21. EdG says:

    19 Keith

    Sigh. I just googled it too. Found it here:

    http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=104×3149994

    Learned I could have used a Laura Bush example instead.

    So, I’ll take all the blame for not remembering that too.

    In any case, the bottom line remains that the risks of nuclear power, as indicated by any number of ‘distasteful’ analogies or evident in the results of Chernobyl or Hiroshima, is grossly exaggerated.

  22. EdG says:

    Oops. Was too quick on my google search and reply. That link leads to a slightly different analogy, to guns, not nuclear power. But with the same point, from the same incident.

  23. kdk33 says:

    Place things in perspective and compare mortality rates between nuclear power & wind power.

    OMG.  Please, please, please, let’s do this.  Remember to constrain the analysis to reflect the real world of limited resources.

    Just to help out.  You will find that because of the exhorbitant cost of wind energy (and the standy facilities) that the world will have much less energy and much less wealth to spend on other stuff – food, water, medicine, lke that.

    Wind power kills, my friend.  Same as bullets.

  24. Jarmo says:

    If somebody dies in a traffic accident, it is regarded as “natural”. So is death by tsunami (something like 200 000 victims in the past ten years) or earthquake (Haiti). Nuclear power and radiation…. I guess for some people they symbolize Pandora’s box or playing with powers that might undo us. The link with nuclear holocaust is still strong among those who oppose nuclear power. 

    Btw, G. Monbiot also suggested the use of UK spent nuclear fuel rods and plutonium as fuel for new kinds of nuclear power plants. Get rid of the waste and generate electricity for 500 years at current usage rates in the UK.

    Don’t you guys in the US have a similar problem? Where to put this stuff?  Some problem with Yucca Mountain?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2012/feb/02/nuclear-waste
     

  25. Nullius in Verba says:

    Thanks Keith. Interesting experiment, with an interesting result.
     
    For those who haven’t looked at the Yale thread, my original point had been to suggest that it should be possible for us all to have a civilised and constructive conversation with agreement and consensus and all that if we talked about something like a push for nuclear power. Apart from one slight disagreement on an unrelated topic, we appear to have done so. I’m impressed! I didn’t think it would work that well.
     
    Perhaps I should also say that the comment quoted wasn’t intended to be taken too seriously. Although I genuinely still find it absolutely astounding that humans can engineer things that tough!
     
    On the comparison of mortality rates across different generating technologies, there are a range of sources who have made estimates, all of them finding nuclear vastly safer. Here’s one. You’ll see that wind does badly compared to nuclear, but much better than coal. Something for everyone.
     
    Regarding the use of modern breeder reactors to burn spent fuel rods and nuclear waste, my favourite option is the IFR. I liked the Q&A session here – http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA378.html – but there’s plenty more about it on the web.

  26. harrywr2 says:

    #24
    G. Monbiot also suggested the use of UK spent nuclear fuel rods and plutonium as fuel for new kinds of nuclear power plants. Don’t you guys in the US have a similar problem? Where to put this stuff?
    We don’t have enough waste to make the necessary reprocessing facility cost competitive. 35 GW of IFR reactors would go thru all of our commerical nuclear ‘waste’ in 35 years.

    GE did a fairly in depth presentation here –
    http://www.sustainablenuclear.org/PADs/pad0305dubberly.pdf
    Britain and France already have once thru reprocessing for commcerical nuclear waste. IFR reactors need the ‘waste’ from reprocessing as a kind of ‘nuclear starter fluid’.
    The ‘end state’ is nothing get’s dumped in the ground that would be more toxic then the original Uranium Ore for more then 500 years.
     
    Personally I think Obama made the right call on closing Yucca Mountain…unfortunately I don’t think he has the political clout within his own party to then say to the anti-nuclear crowd that the money that was going to be spent on a nuclear waster dump is now going to be spent on reprocessing facility’s and a new generation of nuclear reactors.
    In the UK it’s seems ‘nuclear without subsidy’ is the party line for all the party’s.
     

  27. Anteros says:

    It seems a pity that a thread based on an extremely pertinent analysis could be so hijacked. As a non-American it strikes me as incredibly thin-skinned or paranoid to ruin a whole thread because someone made a point about Ted Kennedy’s accident. To see that primarily as something about politics rather than about the small number of people killed in nuclear accidents I’d have to tie myself in tribal knots and remove any interest in the topic at hand.
     
    Keith and Joshua – that’s you. Have you no interest in the substantive topic?
    Look at it again – see how it happened and what you did. There is definitely something to be learned from it.
     
    I say that because NIV’s point was so well argued. I agree that the Fukushima incident – to a rational perspective – was a great advertisement for the relative safety of nuclear power.
     
    I don’t doubt that many people’s fears about nuclear are genuine and serious, but I think what I object to is the proportion of that which has been created specifically by fear-mongering.
     
    There’s a strange irony that many of the people who have spent years demonising nuclear power are now in the front ranks of those trying to claim the emissions of Co2 will end all life on this planet. And still can’t see past their irrational prejudices about nuclear.

  28. Keith Kloor says:

    Anteros, spare me. People who want to have substantive discussions shouldn’t indulge in sarcastic point scoring or defend it (that’s you).

  29. Paul in Sweden says:

    “it should be possible for us all to have a civilized and constructive conversation with agreement and consensus”
    Conversation should of course take place and it should be civil and constructive but I see many cases where agreement and consensus are neither needed nor possible.

  30. BBD says:

    NiV
     
    Well, at least we agree on something.

  31. Matt B says:

    To me there is a simple reason why nuclear power safety discussions are rarely rational: the average schmoe doesn’t know what radiation is, or why exactly it can be dangerous. A college educated friend of mine told me, with all sincerity, that they didn’t want to use electricity from a nuclear plant because they didn’t want to be exposed to the radiation. Where do you start a discussion with that person? I swear most people don’t understand that sunshine is radiation. And I don’t want to hear the time-worn American education is crap story, the German decision to close their nukes is about as stupid as you can get (what are they, afraid of tsunamis?)

    KK, I know you don’t like the “bash the media” angle on these stories, but I believe the mass media is very directly responsible for much of the sensationalization of the nuclear boogeyman. I don’t think it’s because of an overt political agenda; I believe the majority of the media is just flat-out ignorant of exactly why nuclear can be risky and what steps can be taken to minimize the risk. The ridiculous journalism surrounding Fukushima illustrated this perfectly (nuclear poisoning on a global level! China syndrome!). And the mass media just seem seems so smugly, hopelessly, profoundly ignorant that it’s hard to see just where to start.  

     

  32. Joshua says:

    I don’t think that people approach fear in a rational way in may areas. Fear tends to produce irrational responses. So I don’t get why people are singling out fear about nuclear energy as particularly irrational, but in addition to that, I think that people are ignoring a certain explanatory factor, over and over again.
     
    A nuclear meltdown is a pretty scarey thought. Now we can argue about the reality of the potential for that, but everyone in their lives has had experiences with “experts” telling us things that things were highly unlikely only to later find that they happened. We’ve all experienced human error on a daily basis, and it would be unrealistic to think that any particular realm would be free from human error.
     
    Could human error produce catastrophic results from nuclear power? The odds are low. What were the odds that a few men with box cutters would bring down the WTC? What are the odds that Al Queda would have continued to pose an existential threat to the U.S. post 9/11? What were the odds that Iraq posed an eminent threat? What were the odds that a president would start a war that would cost us trillions on the basis of a non-existent eminent threat. Who would have believed and an entire governmental structure would have to deal with massive consequences for such a decision that was erroneously justified?
     
    We see “irrational” reactions to fear all the time. The larger the potential danger, almost independently of the actual risk, the more “irrational” the fear becomes. I don’t know that the relationship between the potential and the degree of irrationality are directly proportional, but I’d guess it might be close. 
     
    Go look at a European cathedral sometime. Look at the depictions of hell in the paintings and stained windows and friezes. People dedicated entire lives working on those cathedrals. Why? Because they were “irrationally” afraid that if they didn’t, they suffer for an eternity in the hell that they were depicting.
    I’d say it is “irrational” to expect that humans wouldn’t face fear “irrationally.”

  33. BBD says:

    Joshua
     
    A nuclear meltdown is a pretty scarey thought.
     
    Indeed. Which is why reactor design has evolved to make it virtually impossible.
     
    Could human error produce catastrophic results from nuclear power? The odds are low. What were the odds that a few men with box cutters would bring down the WTC?
     
    FUD, anyone?
     
    Could you spare us the rhetoric and just be openly anti-nuclear?

  34. Anteros says:

    BBD @ 33
     
    Exactly.
     
    And I’m glad to be able to say so.
     
    Joshua – I don’t see anybody making observations about the irrationality of fears surrounding nuclear power as saying they expected people to behave differently. So you have yourself a perfect strawman.
     
    Those of us observing the irrationality are interested in a number of things including relevant causes [see Matt B above for pertinent thoughts about a) ignorance and b) media hype. You could add to that c) activist hype] and what to do about it – from a rational point of view, and from the point of view that nuclear power is a major player in response to concerns about AGW, and finite supplies of fossil fuel.
     
    Of course our reactions to fear are irrational. Part of being self-aware is to find aspects of reasoning and evidence to bypass those reactions – that we all have – so we can behave sanely and intelligently. It is partly what science is about.

  35. Joshua says:

    BBD –
     
    ” Could you spare us the rhetoric and just be openly anti-nuclear?”
     
    Funny.
     
    Perhaps you could avoid jumping to unfounded conclusions?


    The point is that you say that nuclear meltdown is virtually impossible, but apparently many people don’t share your perspective. Why is that? Is it because you are rational whereas they are irrational? Is it because you are more informed than they? Is it because it is human nature to have fear of potential dangers – even if they are improbable? Or maybe they agree that it is virtually impossible, but given the potential magnitude (or what they see as the potential magnitude) of the consequences of a nuclear meltdown, it increases their risk assessment beyond what you think rational?
     
    How does declaring your view rational and the view of others irrational get you anywhere? 
     
    If you haven’t seen it, here’s a book that you might find interesting on a related topic.

     
    http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman/dp/0374275637
     
    What is FUD? I realize that it is come kind of negative assessment of my argument, but I don’t know what the substance of your criticism is.

  36. Joshua says:

    Anteros –
     
    ” Those of us observing the irrationality are interested in a number of things including relevant causes [see Matt B above for pertinent thoughts about a) ignorance and b) media hype. You could add to that c) activist hype] and what to do about it ““”


    What’s interesting about that comment, Anteros, is that you read my comment and apparently deemed it essentially trivial, yet your list of possible explanations doesn’t include the one that I offered.


    There are “relevant causes” missing from your list.

  37. Joshua says:

    Anteros –
     
    “…and what to do about it ““”


    What would you suggest, that is in addition to explaining to them how superior your thought process is, how much better informed of them you are, how they have been duped by “activists,” etc.?

  38. harrywr2 says:

    #32

    A nuclear meltdown is a pretty scarey thought
    The problem with ‘nuclear meltdowns’ isn’t that we have too many of them, we don’t have enough of them.
    Life goes on for most of us after a Earthquake or Tsunami or Hurricane or the daily carnage we call ‘the commute’. Some of us end up dead and their family’s are sad but the rest of us just enjoy the fact that we’ve survived yet another day.
    TMI was a meltdown but Hollywood told us it was a ‘near miss’. It wasn’t nearly as horrible as it could have  been.
    Chernobyl was the worst possible nuclear power accident.  Rods out at full power meltdown without a containment building accident. The death toll ended up being a relatively small number for a ‘major industrial accident’.
    Of course the panic mongers ‘projected’ a huge number of people that would die excruciating deaths as a result of the radiation exposure. The huge numbers never materialized.
    Now we have Fukushima…no deaths from Radiation Exposure as of yet. It’s not even a year later and the Japanese Government is beginning the slow and painstaking process of decontamination and collapsing the evacuation zone.
    Life goes on…the massive numbers of excruciatingly painful deaths Hollywood fantasized about aren’t real. 

  39. Anteros says:

    Joshua –
     
    I think your argument falls down because when you say something is potentially dangerous, the relevant activity involved in imagination. That is why it is irrational.
     
    The irrationality is to take imagination beyond the bounds of the realistic. For instance the potential danger of a nuclear accident is much less than the potential of an accident involving a hydropower accident simply because of the forces invloved. As it happens, one single hydropower accident in China killed more people than have ever died from nuclear radiation – including from that emanating from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
     
    The irrationality concerns radiation and profound misunderstandings about what it is and what it can do. People are still irrationally worried about Fukushima, even though it has already happened and nobody died from radiation. So, the fear is not about something that can potentially happen – it is about something that cannot happen in the real world but exists in the imagination.

  40. Joshua says:

    Anteros –
     
    I suggest you read the book I linked also. One of the interesting issues it discusses is how people trained in scientific and statistical analysis falsely assess risk despite their much practiced “rational” approach to risk assessment.
    I would suggest that using “imagination” to determine rationality is a bit dangerous. We’re all affected by imagination even when we think that we aren’t. For example, I’d say that at least some of this hand-wringing about the “irrationality” of fear of nuclear energy is, in fact, motivated by “imagination” related to a partisan orientation. People want to make an argument (in your case about environmental “activism”) so they see their argument everywhere they look.
     
    “People “irrationally” fear nuclear power? Oh, that’s easy to explain, it’s because of those ebul environmental activists.”
     
    Cleaving rationality from imagination and attributing irrationality to the existence (or even proportion) of imagination is based on a false dichotomy. No human reasons without a component of imaginative influence.
     
    “The irrationality is to take imagination beyond the bounds of the realistic.”


    So you argue that there is some hard line of distinction there? And it just coincidentally happens to lie where you have determined it should be located?

     

  41. Anteros says:

    Joshua –
     
    No, I’m not arguing for a hard line of distinction.
    Maybe you imagined that?
     
    Sometimes your tribal paranoia makes it really hard to keep within a mile if something substantive.
     
    “People “irrationally” fear nuclear power? Oh, that’s easy to explain, it’s because of those ebul environmental activists.”


    You could note that the very relevant point about activists and an agenda to spread fear was merely added as a third explanation for the incredibly irrational perception of radiation. It isn’t evil. It is fear spreading itself.


    You also misunderstand my point about rationalism – it isn’t your strawman exclusion or ridiculing of worry or emotion generally, it is an attempt to bring balance to areas where it has been lost. Where fear has incapacitated people to the point that they cannot think straight.


    An example. The irrational idea that mobile phones are dangerous  and cause brain tumours. This is imagination run riot – it is irrational in the extreme. If you follow back the trail, it leads to a talkshow where a man claims his wife developed a tumour in exactly the place where she held her mobile phone to her ear. In other words – on one side of her head. Everything else is imagination. It is where you might substitute ‘potential’ where I think it is inappropriate. Because it isn’t ‘potential just because someone can imagine it.
     
    Fukushima is exactly how we can distinguish between what sort of thing potentially happens and what can be created by imagination. Pretty much everything that can go wrong did. A very old design of reactor, the worst natural disaster, the dysfunction of safety systems and the total radiation death toll = zero. Imagination, though (with some very effective prodding) continues along and we are worse off as a result – if you think clean safe energy production is a good thing.



  42. BBD says:

    Joshua

    What is FUD? I realize that it is come kind of negative assessment of my argument, but I don’t know what the substance of your criticism is.

    This is slightly ambiguous – if you mean ‘what does FUD stand for?’ then my apologies for the confusion. It stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Which is what I took you to be doing in the paragraph at (32) where you say this:

    Could human error produce catastrophic results from nuclear power? The odds are low. What were the odds that a few men with box cutters would bring down the WTC?

    Your comments on nuclear in general are suggestive that you are not a huge enthusiast.

    How does declaring your view rational and the view of others irrational get you anywhere?

    And earlier (32):

    I’d say it is “irrational” to expect that humans wouldn’t face fear “irrationally.”

    I only argue that the risks of nuclear are over-stated and a rational approach to energy policy in the face of CC requires a large expansion of nuclear baseload capacity. Irrational perspectives on risk need to be acknowledged as such and given greatly reduced weight in public discourse.

  43. Joshua says:

    Anteros –
     
    A couple of thoughts:
     
    A couple of months ago I heard scientists speaking on the radio about some very sophisticated analysis they had done on possible physiological changes brought about by cell phone usage. They said that there was some evidence of such, although it was difficult to quantify to some degree, to control all the relevant variables, and to determine whether the level of physiological changes that seemed to be caused by cell phone usage were sufficient to present some sort of danger.
     
    Now would a rational person say to themselves, “Brain cancer is a horrible death, even if there is a very small possibility that I might die of brain cancer as the result of using a device that I often find intrusive in my life anyway, and that costs me quite a bit of money that I could better spend elsewhere, and that consumes a fair amount of time that might be more productive if directed in other areas, maybe I should just stop using my cell phone, or at least begin using a hands-free device on a permanent basis.”
     
    Or would a rational person say “Sure, it may slightly increase the possibility of getting brain cancer, but it’s kind of fun to use a cell phone and even though I lived life just fine without one for decades, it seems like it is a relatively important convenience to have one, and it would be a minor inconvenience to use a hands free device, so I’ll just keep using mine the way I’ve been using it previously.”
     
    I remember a friend of my parents who was a professor of  engineering arguing with his lefty friends back in the mid-70s about their irrational fear of nuclear energy. It’s interesting because when I think back on that, in some ways I think he was absolutely right. On the other hand, was his argument that fear of nuclear power was irrational inclusive of the possibility that one of the plants of that day would have sustained the impact from an airplane piloted by a terrorist, or the combination of an earthquake and a tsunami – or that people at the time would have known what to do to prevent such occurrences from having significantly dangerous results?
     
    We have all been told many times in our lives, in many situations, that fears were irrational when it turned out that they weren’t. “Black Swan” type events affect our assessments. Lack of trust in the veracity of those providing assurances to us has proven to be vindicated many times in the past. I don’t see any of that as “irrational.” Just human nature.
     
    Do I think that everyone who thinks that nuclear power is not worth the risks is “irrational?” No. Do I personally think that nuclear power is worth the risks to the best of my assessment? Yes. I think that a 60’s design like in Fukushima could survive a massive earthquake and a tsunami is quite reassuring about nuclear power given the potential and proven dangers of other energy technologies. On the other hand, many of the events in the Fukushima situation showed that nuclear experts did not anticipate many of the events which took place. Dangers were underestimated. Emergency response wasn’t as good as it should have been. Do I really believe that all nuclear power plants would survive a 9.0 earthquake without releasing dangerous amounts of radiation? Probably not. For example, there are places in Japan where a 9.0 earthquake would have had considerably greater impact than the one that occurred in March of last year. Would I reassess my analysis if a 9.0 earthquake (an event likely to happen every 1,000 years or so) were to hit an area near a nuclear power plant and cause an unprecedented release of radiation?  Maybe not. Maybe I’d just say that it was a rational decision to build that plant given all the information available. Or maybe I would say that no matter the odds, the risk wasn’t worth it. I’m not sure that if that occurred, you’d call my thinking irrational.

  44. Joshua says:

    –snip–
    Uehara Haruo, the former president of Saga University, who himself was the architect of Fukushima Daiichi Reactor #3, gave an interview to Japan’s Livedoor publication on November 17, where he stated that the explanation of what’s going on given by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) makes no sense at all, and that the dreaded “China syndrome,” he feels, is inevitable. He’s speaking out in an effort to shame TEPCO into leveling with the people of Japan.
    Via Infinite Unknown:

    He stated that considering 8 months have passed since 3/11 without any improvement, it is inevitable that melted fuel went out of the container vessel and sank underground, which is called China syndrome.
    He added, if fuel has reaches a underground water vein, it will cause contamination of underground water, soil contamination and sea contamination. Moreover, if the underground water vein keeps being heated for long time, a massive hydrovolcanic explosion will be caused.
    He also warned radioactive debris is spreading in Pacific Ocean. Tons of the debris has reached the Marshall Islands as of 11/15/2011.

    –snip–
     
    Irrational fear? Maybe. Seems like most of the people promoting this possibility are, well, a bit extreme. I’ve read that a “China Syndrome” would not necessarily be disastrous. But I do think that nuclear power involves risk trade-off, and that it isn’t irrational to question, deeply, the trade-offs involved. Are all the people in Japan who have determined that nuclear is more risky than they think is justified “irrational?”  That seems a bit extreme to me. I’m not so quick to judge.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

  45. Anteros says:

    Joshua –
     
    A general impression I get from your last comment is that ‘dangers’ and ‘risks’ of nuclear power are considered in isolation. “Do I think that everyone who thinks that nuclear power is not worth the risks is “irrational?”


    Obviously your statement includes the implication that something useful is gained as a result of taking the risk i.e. energy. but it isn’t explicit [and I obviously think it should be] that there is a real world risk involved in not using nuclear power. An opportunity cost, in a way.
     
    The Chinese have recently been making efforts to reduce the 5,000 or so coal miners that die every year. Hasn’t the EPA estimated that ~17,000 Americans die each year from air pollution – mostly coal?


    Flicking through some links about hydro disasters and relative nuclear risks, I saw a study counting the number of incidents that killed more than five people in whole range of energy production environments. For coal there were 1,211. For nuclear, just one. 

    Many people would like to add to those things ‘risks’ and ‘potential danger’ from acid rain and climate change. And the risks involved in hydro power I’ve already mentioned – but do they produce a proportionate amount of irrational fear? Perhaps the opposite – I for one like the idea of hydro immensely, and have to actively reason myself into being realistic about its dangers, because large amounts of water hold no fear for me – my imagination leads me to picture myself swimming or floating on a raft….
     
    The ‘incident’ at three mile island and the Chinese hydro catastrophe where at least 30,000 people died hold different places in our consciousnesses.
    A good sense of the depth of this can be gleaned just from the connotations we give the relevant words. I don’t know what you get from ‘water’ but I think ‘radiation’ is a powerful negative and conjures up for almost everybody either toxic, or dangerous, or poisonous or skulls and crossbones. The beginnings of irrationality because of the relative dangers involved.
     
    My point once again is to distinguish between what is produced by imagination [and I’m thinking a special kind of fear that is connected with radiation] and what can be reasonably assessed by reason and evidence.
     
    Your last paragraph was actually a perfect example of rational thinking – probably as much as many people do in their whole lifetimes regarding things that scare them. If you could spread that activity around to the general populace, we’d end up making vastly better, saner, and more rational decisions. Without becoming robots….
     

  46. harrywr2 says:

    #44
    He stated that considering 8 months have passed since 3/11 without any improvement, it is inevitable that melted fuel went out of the container vessel and sank underground, which is called China syndrome.
    Here are the temperature parameters for Fukushima Unit #1 measured at 22 different locations

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/images/12021112_temp_data_1u-e.pdf

    Unit #2

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/images/12021112_temp_data_2u-e.pdf

    Unit #3

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/images/12021112_temp_data_3u-e.pdf

    They are updated daily and posted on line in English and Japanese. You might note that the temperature trends .
    You migh wish to note that the temperatures are inadequate to melt anything

    Here are the radiation levels in the Turbine building sub-drains
    Generally updated twice a week

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/images/subsurface_120204-e.pdf
    Here is the radiation levels in the sub-drains in Sept

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/betu11_e/images/110929e17.pdf

    You might note that the radiation levels in the subsurface drains have dropped an order of magnitude.
    Here is the latest status report – including how much cooling water it is taking to keep the reactors ‘cool’. I would note a 3/4″ garden hose provides about 2 Cubic Meters per hour.

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/images/handouts_120211_01-e.pdf
     
    He also warned radioactive debris is spreading in Pacific Ocean. Tons of the debris has reached
    You might want to enquire at Homeland Security how big a problem the tons of  ‘radioactive banana’s’ that enter the US every day are. We have satellites that can detect ‘banana boats’. Is it a terrorist with a dirty bomb?  Or is it a boatload of banana’s? The only way to tell the difference is to board the boat.
    Without a quantification as to ‘how’ radioactive then it’s just nonsense isn’t it.
    That is another trick of the ‘fear mongers’. They leave out the quantification in order to let your imagination ‘fill in the blank’.
    Just so I can’t be accused of ‘cherry picking’. Here’s the latest report from NHK on the one tempurature reading in reactor number two that is reading ‘high’ at the moment – 71 C.
    http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/20120211_21.html
    I would note all the other temperature readings for reactor #2 are dropping…so they’ve got a ‘hot spot’ issue going on.

  47. Joshua says:

    Anteros –
     

    “Obviously your statement includes the implication that something useful is gained as a result of taking the risk i.e. energy. but it isn’t explicit [and I obviously think it should be] that there is a real world risk involved in not using nuclear power. An opportunity cost, in a way.”


    Absolutely. Same goes for the externalities of using coal or other fossil fuels relative to nuclear, wind, and solar. No, I don’t consider any of those trade-offs in isolation. An interesting trade-off is that I remember reading is that the fallout from the nuclear problems in Japan will probably be more significant with negative psychological health outcomes than physical health outcomes.  It all needs to go into the mix.

  48. BBD says:

    Joshua
     
    Irrational fear? Maybe. Seems like most of the people promoting this possibility are, well, a bit extreme.


    Then why quote questionable statements at such length? For rhetorical effect perhaps?



  49. Anteros says:

    Joshua –
     
    Very true, and of course complicates things.
     
    Many people have said the same thing about Chernobyl.
     
    And here the degree of ‘irrationality’ is rather irrelevant. Psychological ill-health, like worry and fear, is very real.

  50. Joshua says:

    – 46 – Harry –
     
    Thanks for the info. How’s about this:
     
    http://capitoilette.com/tag/uehara-haruo/
     
    Including this:
    http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?storyCode=2061329
     
    and this:
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XU6dGswujFg&feature=player_embedded#!
     
    The youtube video in particular looks a more than a little truther-ish to me. Interesting, though.

  51. Joshua says:

    – 48 – BBD –
     
    “Then why quote questionable statements at such length? For rhetorical effect perhaps?”
     
    Uh. To get information like that Harry provided?
     
    Keep looking for that devious intent, though. If you keep looking hard enough, you just may find it. Just because someone’s paranoid doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get them. Don’t give up.

  52. David44 says:

    This forensic paper by Calabrese explains a likely reason why unjustified fear of even low level radiation has become so ingrained in radiation mythology:
    http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/12/12/toxsci.kfr338.short?rss=1
    The full paper is behind a paywall.  The abstract reads:
    This paper extends and confirms the report of Calabrese (2011a) that Hermann J. Muller knowingly made deceptive comments in his 1946 Nobel Prize Lecture (Muller, 1946) concerning the dose response. Supporting a linearity perspective, Muller stated there is “no escape from the conclusion that there is no threshold” while knowing the results of a recent study by Ernst Caspari and Curt Stern contradicted these comments. Recently uncovered private correspondence between Muller and Stern reveal Muller’s scientific assessment of the Caspari and Stern manuscript in a letter from Muller to Stern five weeks (January 17, 1947) after his Nobel Prize Lecture of December 12, 1946. Muller indicated that the manuscript was of acceptable scientific quality; he indicated the manuscript should be published but the findings needed replication since it significantly challenged the linearity hypothesis. These findings complement the previous letter (November 12, 1946 letter of Muller to Stern) which revealed that Muller received the Caspari and Stern manuscript, recognized it as significant and recommended its replication five weeks before his Nobel Prize Lecture. Muller therefore supported this position immediately before and after his Nobel Prize Lecture. Muller’s opinions on the Caspari and Stern manuscript therefore had not changed during the time leading up to his Lecture, supporting the premise that his Lecture comments were deceptive. These findings are of historical and practical significance since Muller’s comments were a notable contributory factor, changing how risks would be assessed for carcinogens (i.e. changing from a threshold to a linear model) throughout the 20th century to the present.
     

  53. BBD says:

    Joshua
     
    Uh. To get information like that Harry provided?
     
    Unconvincing. Please bear in mind that I have read all your comments on nuclear (not just this thread) and that I am not stupid.

  54. BBD says:

    Furthermore, if you wish to pontificate on nuclear risk in a public forum, you might do well to become as well informed as, say, harrywr2.

  55. Joshua says:

    Just because someone’s paranoid, BBD, doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get them.

  56. BBD says:

    Joshua
     
    Just admit that you are anti-nuclear and stop the pretence. It’s tedious.

  57. harrywr2 says:

    #50 Joshua,
    Re: Link to Article on Jaczo.
    Nuclear Accidents are few and far between. Raising a concern as to whether or not nuclear operators are training sufficiently on Severe Accident Management is a valid question. Reasonable people will disagree as to whether or not the Japanese Operators at Fukushima spent enough time training for severe accidents.

    Re: NEI Article
    Yep, we know the fuel rods melted. There is Cesium spread over the Japanese countryside. Some amount of fuel is sitting in the basement of the containment building under water. Tepco has no short term plan to drain the water from the basements of the containment building.
    They pump water into the top of the reactor…it drains into the basement…finds it’s way to the basement of the turbine buildings where they pump it out, decontaminate it and pump it back in again. At some point the water will come out ‘clean’ and they’ll pop the top on the reactors.
    It took 18 months to get the Cesium decontamination equipment in place at TMI. It only took 4 months at Fukushima.
    http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110602006407/en/Kurion-Delivers-Equipment-Ion-Specific-Media-Support
    I would note that it’s the relatively short lived ‘fission’ products that are producing most of the heat.
    MIT has a list of distribution the fission products.
    http://mitnse.com/2011/03/20/fission-products-and-radiation/
    Iodine has a short half-life and is down to trace amounts by now.
    Cesium has a low melting point – 28C. Which makes controlling dispersion ‘challenging’.
    After the cesium the remaining ‘major health concern’ is the strontium-90. Strontium 90 has a melt point of 769 C which makes for  ‘difficult’ dispersion. One would need a ‘hydro-volcanic’ explosion…and I don’t see any evidence that the amount of heat being produced at the moment is anywhere near enough.
     

  58. Joshua says:

    BBD –
     
    ” Just admit that you are anti-nuclear and stop the pretence. It’s tedious.”


    This is hilarious.
     
    I’m not “anti-nuclear.” If anything, I’m “pro-nuclear.”  I obviously can’t sway your confidence that you can read between the lines to determine that my position is different than what I say it is, so instead I’ll just make fun of your mistaken confidence. Don’t feel singled out. I make fun of misplaced confidence among “skeptics” often also. It’s something I find rather amusing.


    Carry on.

  59. EdG says:

    Re #52 Interesting summary of our irrational fears about radiation, with a surprising (positivive) twist:

    http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/radiation-the-no-safe-level-myth.html

  60. Joshua says:

    Harry –
    Thanks.
     
    The statement from NEI said:
     
    ” Based on what TEPCO calls ‘realistic assumptions’, and PCV gas analysis results, TEPCO estimates that the corium has eroded the 2m-thick PCV floor by about 70cm, but erosion has now assumed to have stopped.”
     
    Is that not of a concern? What is your confidence re: “reasonable assumptions” and “assumed to have stopped?”
     
    Does the fact that is has eroded some 70 cm have wider implications w/r/t the potential of future accidents (notwithstanding the extreme circumstances of this situation)?
     
    “Reasonable people will disagree as to whether or not the Japanese Operators at Fukushima spent enough time training for severe accidents.”


    As a reasonable person, what is your assessment? Do you think that their level of training should alleviate any concern that insufficient training might have implications more generally? Are you fully confident that all nuclear plants have trained their personnel sufficiently to handle any foreseeable type of accident? 

  61. BBD says:

    Joshua
     
    You wrote this:
     
    Could human error produce catastrophic results from nuclear power? The odds are low. What were the odds that a few men with box cutters would bring down the WTC? What are the odds that Al Queda would have continued to pose an existential threat to the U.S. post 9/11? What were the odds that Iraq posed an eminent threat? What were the odds that a president would start a war that would cost us trillions on the basis of a non-existent eminent threat. Who would have believed and an entire governmental structure would have to deal with massive consequences for such a decision that was erroneously justified?
     
    You created the strong impression here (and elsewhere) that you are anti-nuclear. If that impression is mistaken, ask yourself how it came about.
     
    Rather than poke fun at me, tighten up your prose. 
     
    The reason your protestations are unconvincing is because of what you write.  Perhaps you aren’t quite the effortless master of prose and logic that you fancy yourself to be. 
     
     

  62. BBD says:

    Or perhaps you are just a wearying sort who argues because they love the sound of their own keyboard.

  63. Keith Kloor says:

    BBD, do you not realize how patronizing you come off? Try not to read so much into comments.

  64. Nullius in Verba says:

    #60,
    Regarding “reasonable”, does the same requirement to be able to respond perfectly to any conceivable accident apply to all other industries and activities?
     
    For example, if we consider the possibility that your house might catch fire, do near misses have wider implications wrt the potential for future accidents? Are all personnel in your house trained to deal with any conceivable type of accident?
     
    Personally, I would say that it is a truism that “accidents happen”. It’s true in the nuclear industry too, and will be for the forseeable future. Nobody with any sense will claim that a disaster will never happen, or that less serious accident don’t or won’t continue to happen.
     
    But that’s life. Life is risky. We take risks every day – we eat food and drink water that might be poisoned, we live in flammable houses that might catch fire, we drive cars that might crash, we bungee-jump off bridges although the rope might snap and drop us into crocodile-infested white-water rapids with our feet tied together. People find the risks acceptable. They smoke and drink and eat fatty foods. They laugh in the face of danger! They just don’t care.
     
    So what if radioactive material gets into the water table? It’s not like it’ll be the first time an aquifer has ever been polluted by an industrial accident; you just stop using it, or take measures to purify the water first. It costs, but it’s not the end of the world. It even happens naturally – there are lakes full of Arsenic, and boiling vocanic pools full of Sulfuric acid, and Uranium mines where the stuff is just lying around in the ground out in the open! Tons and tons of it.
     
    And so on. It’s not a question of “is it safe?” but “is it as safe as everything else we consider ‘safe’?”

  65. Joshua says:

    BBD –
     
    This will be my last post on this topic. As I said, I see little hope that I will sway your confidence that you can read into my comments opinions that I don’t have. But I’ll give it one last go.
     
    “You created the strong impression here (and elsewhere) that you are anti-nuclear. If that impression is mistaken, ask yourself how it came about.”
     
    The point of the paragraph that you quoted was to say that we all have experiences where our confidence about the odds of certain outcomes were misplaced. That has an impact on how we reason, that I think is sometimes not necessarily what I would call “irrational.” I  would guess that “Black Swan” types of events have an impact that is not only context specific but that also generalize to how we approach risk assessment more generally. When we see events take place that seem beyond what any reasonable person – even those who were dedicated “experts” in assessing risks in those areas – could have expected, it has an impact on our risk assessment processes. We also take into account such factors as situations where risks assessments were also made in bad faith, and situations where unforeseen events occurred because of human error, and unforeseen situations developed because we were simply unable to predict all possible relevant factors.
     
    The point of that paragraph was not to make a statement on how I assess the odds of a nuclear accident.
     
    Now I agree that a person is responsible for the impressions they create when they write something. If someone misinterprets something that you write, you can’t simply blame the misinterpretation on the other person. But I have tried to clarify your misinterpretation of my meaning (and further assumptions of how my meaning reflected my opinions in ways I said weren’t accurate) a couple of times now.
     
    There’s only so much I can do, bro. If you want to persist with your interpretation of what my meaning and opinions are, more power to you. I admire your pluck.

  66. Nullius in Verba says:

    Joshua,
    Don’t bother about BBD. He’s always like that. I think he’s only having a go at other people because I haven’t sparring with him so much recently.
     
    Your questions are perfectly reasonable. The idea is not to accept the word of the scientists that it is safe uncritically. The idea is to ask the right questions, understand the reasoning, and be persuaded (or not) by the arguments and evidence. The default position for non-experts – which describes most people – should always be “I don’t know” and “Tell me why”. The default position is not “Trust the experts”, as BBD seems to think. I found harrywr2’s replies informative, and I wouldn’t have seen them without your questions, so please do carry on asking.

  67. BBD says:

    Joshua
     
    I’m simply trying to determine why you are focussed on nuclear risk. There have been >11,000 years of continuous nuclear operation since 1970. The only serious release of radioactive material during the entire period was from the uncontained reactor at Chernobyl. This is the basis for a rational assessment of nuclear risk.
     
    Most of the safe operation was of obsolete plant, much of which is still running. A great deal has been learned. Reactor design has advanced considerably. A Black Swan would be a Chernobyl presumably – an exposed reactor core. How’s that going to happen with modern containment vessels?
     
    Repeating from (42) I argue that the risks are demonstrably over-stated and a rational approach to energy policy in the face of CC requires a large expansion of nuclear baseload capacity. Irrational perspectives on risk need to be acknowledged as such and given greatly reduced weight in public discourse.

    If you are persuaded by the logic that:
     
    – nuclear is the only proven alternative to coal for baseload
     
    – it is demonstrably safe
     
    what is the point of endless examination of nuclear risk? (You continue at #60). Does it clarify public discourse? Does it ultimately promote rational energy policy? Or what?
     
    That’s what I’m getting at here. I don’t understand your position. 

  68. Marlowe Johnson says:

    @67
    I think the source of confusion is that you’re inferring Joshua’s actual position on nuclear power based upon the questions that he is asking to explore how the general public understands/evaluates the risk of nuclear power. 

    While I admire your tenacity when it comes to trolls and the implications of climate sensitivity, I’d suggest you may want to reflect on your reflexive attacks on anyone who isn’t unreservedly pro-nuclear (like me) 🙂 
     

  69. harrywr2 says:

    Joshua,
    Erosion of PCV vessel.
    The ‘primary containment’ vessel is the reactor vessel itself. We then have the containment building.
    We already know there is ‘some’ nuclear fuel in the basement of at least one of the containment buildings covered in water. The entire massive steam explosion is predicated on a melted core that isn’t being cooled being dropped into  a body of water creating a steam explosion. It’s all already under water. The basements are all flooded.
    There was one short lived gas sample in the last few months in one of the reactors that indicated a ‘random critically’ event had occurred. Tepco pumped boron into the reactor and their hasn’t been another event since.
    As far as ‘ground water contamination’ I don’t believe in the ‘Linear No Threshold Theory’. 
     
    Re: Nuclear Operator Training
    No one in the world spends more time and money inspecting nuclear reactors then the Japanese. I worked in Japan for a year and my general impression is they spend a lot of time focusing on ‘making things perfect’.
    The fact that the diesel generators at Fukushima were in the basement tells me they didn’t spend a lot of time on ‘what if it all goes horribly wrong’.
    We have the same identical reactors in the US with the Diesel Generators on the second floor. Somebody thought about ‘what happens if we have a flood of biblical proportions’.
    On the other hand we keep more spent fuel in our fuel pools then the Japanese.
    I did hazardous material handling in the military. You don’t store different risk class material in the same building. It doesn’t matter that a crate of detonators can’t magically unpack themselves and insert themselves in a crate of bombs.
    It just becomes one ‘extra’ thing to worry about in an emergency.
    So we have some ‘room for improvement’ is our thought process about what happens if things go horribly wrong.

  70. Joshua says:

    Thanks again, Harry.
     
    I’m still having some trouble understanding, however, whether you think that burning through some 35% of the PCV is a serious development, and whether you trust the determinations that it won’t go any further.
     
    I’m also not sure how you’re relating the linear no threshold theory to groundwater contamination.
     
    I thought you might find this interesting and worthy of some comment (along with the mention that 104 plants in the U.S. are up to 20 years beyond their projected 40 year lifespans)?
     
    The federal government’s nuclear watchdog has faulted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for failing to follow through on safety agreements with nuclear facilities, saying its system for tracking corrective action raises questions about its oversight of nuclear safety and security.
    After an eight-month audit, the NRC’s Office of Inspector General concluded last week that the commission has no centralized way to oversee or follow up on documents confirming that a nuclear facility has committed itself to address “significant concerns regarding health and safety, the environment, safeguards or security.”


    http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/13/10399062-us-nuclear-watchdog-questions-oversight-of-safety-enforcement

  71. harrywr2 says:

    #70,
    I’m still having some trouble understanding, however, whether you think that burning through some 35% of the PCV is a serious development, and whether you trust the determinations that it won’t go any further.
    Short answer – no

    Nuclear Power Plants are built with ‘defense in depth’. A ‘fuel rod’ melt is the loss of the first line of defense. The PCV is the second line, the third line is the containment vessel
    A burn-through of the primary containment vessel would be a loss of the second line of defense. Each line of defense buys time.
    MITNuclear Engineering has a projected decay heat plot.
    http://mitnse.com/2011/03/16/what-is-decay-heat/
    At full power Unit#2 would have had 3,000 MWt of heat. within a few minutes of ‘rods in’ that dropped to 60 Mwt.
    It should be at about 5 MWt now without considering how much of the ‘potential decay heat’ was lost due to venting and filtering out of the cesium in the cooling water.
    For reference, the amount of ‘waste heat’ a 350 HP engine has to get rid of is about 1 MW.
     
    Re: Significant Events
    The NRC reporting requirements of ‘events’ is quite meticulous.
    Todays ‘significant events’
    A patient receiving radiation therapy was ‘accidentally’ underdosed.
    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/en.html#en47646
    Some of the radioactive material that was supposed to be injected in a patients liver ended up in their spleen.
    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/en.html#en47648
    A piece of equipment at a California hospital is somehow contaminated with Carbon 14
    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/en.html#en47647
    A movie theater in Oklahoma lost an Exist sign.
    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/en.html#en47650
    Here is another day’s worth of ‘significant’ events.
    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/2012/20120210en.html
    It all makes for good ‘breathless’ reporting…there were X number of significant events filed and the NRC doesn’t have a centralized automated ‘investigation and corrective action’ tracking system.
    Re:
    After an eight-month audit, the NRC’s Office of Inspector General concluded last week that the commission has no centralized way to oversee or follow up on documents confirming that a nuclear facility has committed itself to address
    Every nuclear power plant has a full time Resident Inspector. Then there are four regional offices.
    The NRC averages about 1,000 ‘event reports’ per year.
    The vast majority involve medical procedures and missing/damaged equipment  that contain some quantity of radioactive material.
    To me the case of the missing movie theater exit sign is a matter for the local police. A tritium powered exit sign costs about $150 – http://www.theexitstore.com/SLXTU1GW10.htm
    If I called my local police department and told them someone stole my VCR they would take the report over the phone and send me a copy for my insurance company.
    In the world of ‘nuclear regulation’…a stolen move theater exit sign is a ‘significant event’ that needs to be elevated to the highest reaches of the federal government.  
     

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.