Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuclear Reactors in Japan

There's been a fair amount of worry the last couple days about the situation with several nuclear reactors which were hit by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The difficulty is, of course, that most reporters know nothing about nuclear energy or physics, and there is a tendency (in TV news in particular) to focus on whichever "experts" are most exciting. Combine that with the fact that when most people near the word "nuclear" they picture a mushroom cloud and it's easy to produce hysteria.

While the events at the Fukushima plant reactors are serious, they also underline how many layers of redundancy and safety measures are built into modern nuclear power plants. There's a good blog post by an MIT engineer (expanded and corrected by the Nuclear Science and Engineering department as MIT) which covers the basics of how this type of reactor works, what happened to the reactors at this plant which are having problems, and what the relevant dangers are. I'd strongly recommend this post over most mainstream media coverage. Members of the Nuclear Science and Engineering department have continued posting additional updates on the topic at this blog.

14 comments:

bearing said...

Mark found a headline from USA TODAY last night that warned the Japanese disaster "could rival Three Mile Island and Chernobyl."

Considering the vast difference between those two events, it would be pretty hard for anything to rival both. I can't even bear to read the mainstream news reports, they're so clueless.

It's a good reminder that we probably shouldn't rely on journalists for information about anything at all. Every time they write about something we know anything about, we notice how very wrong they are....

Anonymous said...

The radiation released by Three Mile Island was pretty close to zero, yet the public freakout that followed led to the complete regulatory paralysis of the nuclear industry in the US, which continues to this day. So far it appears that the Fukushima situation is indeed comparable to Three Mile Island: a problem, not a disaster.

I live about 20 miles from the San Onofre nuclear plant. The local paper this morning says the plant, which produces about 3GW of power without contributing to global warming, may be shut down due to regulators refusal to renew their operating permit. This is the kind of thing that makes me think the French are justified in looking down their noses at Americans.

Anonymous said...

The above was me.

Joel

Darwin said...

The local paper this morning says the plant, which produces about 3GW of power without contributing to global warming, may be shut down due to regulators refusal to renew their operating permit.

This seems to be the divide between sane greens and crazy greens. I've been really disappointed to see that my young "environmental activist" friends who are always posting about stopping coal mining and tar sands on Facebook are beside themselves with glee over the idea of this resulting in nuclear plants being shut down or not built.

Nuclear is far more realistically "green" than wind or solar farms.

cliff said...

How is nuclear more "green" than wind or solar?

I've read the article you linked, and I hope he is right, but I am also reminded of what the captain of the Titanic said... "not even God can sink this ship".

Pray for Japan. Most of us can do no more, and we should do no less.

Darwin said...

It's not so much that nuclear is more green than wind or solar, it's that if someone is serious about not wanting fossil fuel-based power plants, nuclear ends up having to be a fairly large part of the picture (unless you happen to have a lot of dam-able rivers or geo-thermal opportunities).

The issues with solar and wind are that a lot of energy has to be expected to build and maintain the power generating infrastructure, and once it's up it only works half the time. Sometimes the sun isn't up and sometimes the wind isn't blowing -- other times it's heavily overcast or the wind isn't blowing very hard.

However, cities need energy all the time, so they end up needing to have a nuclear plant or a fossil fuel plant on their grid in addition to "renewable" sources like wind and solar.

Thus, when environmentalists campaign against nuclear, they're basically campaigning for coal and other fossil fuels.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment about Three Mile Island, sadly the consequences have not been monitored over the years. Whole neighborhoods of children have developed thyroid cancer as well as many of the adults that were in the area when it happened. It makes me angry to hear it called a non-event. No one is paying attention or tracking statistics, but there were serious consequences to many people.

Anonymous said...

Document that. Every mainstream source says the opposite.

Joel

Anonymous said...

Hey, Joel - is the "document that." in response to my Three Mile Island comment? (I think that it is, but if I'm wrong, please pardon me). I wish I knew how to document it. I know this information because I have moved into the area affected by Three Mile Island and know the people who grew up here. If I knew how to document it and make it known I would. It shocked me to learn the discrepancies between what is reported and what has actually happened. No entity is following the exposed people because it was considered such a non-event.

Agellius said...

Great article. I thought it would make my eyes glaze over, but it was actually very understandable. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Wish I could document the Three Mile Island comment. All I have are eye-witness accounts. Like I said, no agency has tracked the people because they weren't given any reason to. The cancers have been showing up in the last 10-15 years. I know one young woman who when diagnosed with thyroid cancer in her early 30's stated that she was the lats one on her street to come down with it. All the rest of her childhood friends from that time had already been stricken with it.

Anonymous said...

" . . . no agency has tracked the people . . . "

Of course not. Three Mile Island never got any attention. Not from the government, the media, acitivists, no one at all. No one had any motivation to study it, which is why your statement cannot be backed up. Of course.

Joel

Anonymous said...

Just curious. Could you show me an agency that has tracked the residents to support your conclusion that they are all fine?

Joseph said...

Could you show me an agency that has tracked people on Fridays the 13th to determine if accidents are more or less common then?