Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear power’

Fear of nuclear radiation is much worse than the reality

October 27, 2013

The Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear accident which followed the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, was about the worst accident that could have happened in a nuclear plant. Hydrogen explosions occurred in the outer containment casings of 2 of the 6 reactors and meltdown of 2 of the cores also took place. A nuclear plant is not a nuclear bomb and a chain reaction leading to an explosion is not a real possibility. It is meltdown of the cores which is the bottom line.

Yet there were no deaths. As the official report from May this year said:

 No radiation-related deaths or acute effects have been observed among nearly 25,000 workers (including TEPCO employees and contractors) involved at the accident site.

It was the earthquake and tsunami which did the damage, caused some 18,000 deaths  and which led to the nuclear accident. But radiation from the nuclear accident has caused no deaths. And the radiation will cause no deaths. The report goes on:

The additional exposures received by most Japanese people in the first year and subsequent years due to the radioactive releases from the accident are less than the doses received from natural background radiation (which is about 2.1 mSv per year). This is particularly the case for Japanese people living away from Fukushima, where annual doses of around 0.2 mSv from the accident are estimated, arising primarily through ingestion of radionuclides in food. …. 

Given the small number of highly exposed workers, it is unlikely that excess cases of thyroid cancer due to radiation exposure would be detectable. Special health examinations will be given to workers with exposures above 100 mSv including annual monitoring of the thyroid, stomach, large intestine and lung for cancer as a means to monitor for potential late radiation-related health effects at the individual level.

The assessment also concluded that although the rate of exposures may have exceeded the levels for the onset of effects on plants and animals several times in the first few months following the accident, any effects are expected to be transient in nature, given their short duration. In general, the exposures on both marine and terrestrial non-human biota were too low for observable acute effects.

The fears of radiation it would seem are completely out of proportion to the reality of damage actually done. The imagination gone wild of writers and movie scriptwriters, has fantasised about mutations and monsters but have had little basis in the history of both military and civil use of nuclear power. The psychological effects of the fears – apparently quite unfounded – have been orders of magnitude greater than the direct effects of any radiation. Japanese children in Fukushima have suffered more from obesity because they have been banned from playing outside than by any effects of radiation.

Perhaps the biggest disservice done by environmental groups is due to their propensity to exaggerate quite legitimate – but manageable – concerns to become Alarmism. Once the Alarmist phase is reached, rational behaviour is no longer possible.  But they have been calling “Wolf” for 3 decades and for far too long now. As catastrophe scenarios and doomsday predictions keep being pushed into the future, alarmist scenarios are increasingly being discounted. There is a beginning of a welcome  return to rationality.

David Ropeik writes in the New York Times:

It has been more than two and a half years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began to unfold, and still the world watches events closely, fearfully. The drumbeat of danger seems never ending: Earlier this month, to take just one example, international news reports spread word that six workers at the plant had been accidentally doused with radioactive water.

Yet leading health scientists say the radiation from Fukushima has been relatively harmless, which is similar to results found after studying the health effects of Chernobyl. With all that evidence, why does our fear of all things nuclear persist? And what peril does that fear itself pose for society?

Our anxiety about nuclear radiation is rooted in our understandable fear of the terrible power of nuclear weapons. But in the 68 years since those weapons were first used in anger, we have learned, from the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki themselves, that ionizing radiation — the type created by a nuclear reaction — is not nearly the powerful carcinogen or genetic mutagen that we thought it was.

Beginning shortly after World War II, epidemiologists and radiation biologists began tracking atomic bomb survivors. Researchers have followed roughly 112,600 Japanese: 86,611 who had been within 10 kilometers of the center of the explosions, and 26,000 who were not exposed.

The most current analysis estimates that, out of 10,929 people in the exposed population who have died of cancer, only 527 of those deaths were caused by radiation from the atomic bombs. For the entire population exposed, in many cases to extremely high levels of radiation, that’s an excess cancer mortality rate of about two-thirds of 1 percent.

These studies have also found that, more than two generations later, there have been no multigenerational genetic effects on humans, Godzilla and the mutant giant ants in the 1954 film “Them!” notwithstanding. Fetal exposure in utero produced horrible birth defects, but no permanent genetic damage.

Perhaps most importantly, research on the bomb survivors has found that at lower doses, below 100 millisieverts, radiation causes no detectable elevations in normal rates of illness and disease. (Among several measures of radiation exposure, sieverts reflect the biological effects of radiation.) The vast majority of the doses received by people living near Fukushima or Chernobyl were well below this 100 millisievert threshold.

The robust evidence that ionizing radiation is a relatively low health risk dramatically contradicts common fears.


The World Health Organization’s 20-year review of the Chernobyl disaster found that its psychological impacts did more health damage than radiation exposure did, and a principle cause of the population’s debilitating stress was “an exaggerated sense of the dangers to health of exposure to radiation.”

Epidemiologists are already seeing the same things in Fukushima, where radiation exposures were far lower than at Chernobyl. Radiation biologists say the increased cancer risk from Fukushima will be so low it won’t change general cancer rates for that area, or Japan generally. (The World Health Organization predicts minor increases in rates of some cancers, for some ages and genders, in small pockets of more highly contaminated areas near the plant.)

Nonetheless, thousands of people are refusing to return to their homes and businesses in evacuated areas, even where dose levels have fallen low enough to declare those areas safe. Levels of stress, anxiety and depression are significantly elevated. One survey found that stress among children in the Fukushima area is double the level of other children in Japan.

And the Japanese Education Ministry reports that the children in Fukushima Prefecture have become the most obese in Japan since the nuclear accident prompted schools to curtail outside exercise, in most cases in areas where the risk from radiation was infinitesimal.


When this interglacial ends ….

June 7, 2013

This interglacial will end.

It may take another 100 years or 5,000 or it may already have ended. From whenever the end is reckoned  it could take about 4,000 years for full glacial conditions to set in.


This interglacial will end

The ice sheets will advance again. New land will be exposed as sea levels fall – up to 120m.

The land mass of the world with the reduced sea levels might look like this (

world map ice age image National Geophysical Data Center at NOAA

world map ice age image National Geophysical Data Center at NOAA

Geography will change. Islands will expand. Some seas will disappear as water gets locked up in the expanding ice sheets.  Greenland will expand. Siberia will connect to North America again. The United Kingdom will once again rejoin the continent. Indonesia and Australia will be extremely close. Japan will no longer be islands. The Baltic Sea will not exist. The Persian Gulf will disappear. Across the world coastlines will be “pushed out”. Ancient coastal city sites – long submerged – will reappear. The ice sheets will expand and will drastically reduce populations above 55 °N. The global population would have stabilised and may even fall. Populations will migrate. Nation states will  see their boundaries changing – physically not just by war. No doubt there will be new human conflicts as populations shift – though the shifts will be over hundreds of years and quite gradual in our terms. Average global temperatures will be about 2 – 4°C colder than today.

But this time the ice sheets will not stop humans from utilising the resources under some of the ice sheets. As during the last glacial period, human innovation and engineering will flourish and reach new heights as the challenges are met. New science and new technologies will appear. Art will take new forms. A new wave of exploration will occur – this time into space. And through all of this our energy needs will increase.

Time line of prehistoric inventions (pdf)

But it is the availability of abundant energy which will be the deciding factor, which allows growth to continue and which allows the continued  improvement of the human condition. And this energy will primarily be fossil energy and nuclear energy.  It will be nuclear energy for large central plants (> 1000 MW), fossil energy (coal, and gas) for medium sized plants (100 – 1000 MW)  and gas for municipal and domestic applications. Transportation will – largely as now – be electric or oil-based though the proportion of electric (charged from “cheap” nuclear power) vehicles will increase. Solar and wind and wave and tidal power will have their little place but will – as now – be of small impact.

It is fossil and nuclear power which will allow humanity to meet these new challenges. They will be a necessity for humans to flourish. Carbon dioxide emissions – as now – will be irrelevant. It is in the development of small nuclear, energy storage and more efficient gas- winning and utilisation that we should be concentrating.

Commonsense returns as Japan “reviews” its 2040 nuclear abandonment plan

December 27, 2012

In spite of the seriousness of the Fukushima nuclear plant accident, it was never sufficient to justify the hysteria which ensued and the knee-jerk anti-nuclear decisions taken not only in Japan but also in Germany and other countries. The alarmist, anti-nuclear hysteria often seems to forget that it was the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which killed around 18,000 people (15,878 dead with 2,713 missing). The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant incident killed no-one directly. There may well be some indirect deaths which can and will eventually be attributed to the nuclear plant accident but there were no deaths caused directly.

Nevertheless Japan and Germany announced hasty, panic-ridden plans to abandon nuclear power. Greens began to rejoice and then started to realise that there is no practical alternative to nuclear power other than large-scale hydro-power and fossil fuels. The pipe-dream of thinking that base-load nuclear power could ever be replaced by unreliable and intermittent wind or solar power began to be seen for the mirage it was.  The high electricity price which has resulted has also seriously disdvantaged industry and hit households hard. Reality has begun to sink in.

Now Japan has a new government and a new Prime Minister. The task of reversing the fear-driven decisions (invariably bad decisions) of the past has begun. A “review” has been ordered and the results are inevitable …..

BBC: The new government in Japan has announced it will review the planned nuclear power phase-out proposed by the previous administration.

Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said that reactors would be restarted if considered safe by the nuclear authority. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised bold measures to revive the economy. The stoppage of nuclear power use by 2040 was ordered following last year’s Fukushima disaster.

….. Veteran trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who is also in charge of energy policy, made it clear that the government would not allow its plans to be hampered by higher energy costs.

“We need to reconsider the previous administration’s policy that aimed to make zero nuclear power operation possible during the 2030s,” he told a news conference. ….. 

…… “A strong economy is the source of energy for Japan. Without regaining a strong economy, there is no future for Japan,” Mr Abe said after taking office.

The prime minister had also said that he would allow nuclear energy a bigger role, despite last year’s disaster. Japan, which relied on nuclear power for almost one-third of its energy supplies before the incident, shut all its 50 nuclear reactors after the leaks, but recently restarted two of them. The move has resulted in higher energy costs, and many big businesses want Japan to return to using nuclear power.

Reality Check: add renewables subtract nuclear = more coal (and more gas)

August 20, 2012

Reality of course is that coal, gas, hydro and nuclear are the cheapest sources of electricity generation and will be with us for some time to come. And there is no need – for the sake of idiotic scenarios of nuclear holocaust and nonsense theories about AGW – to move away from them.


Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government says RWE AG (RWE)s new power plant that can supply 3.4 million homes aids her plan to exit nuclear energy and switch to cleaner forms of generation. It’s fired with coal.


Another dent in anti-nuclear paranoia as wildlife thrives after Chernobyl

April 13, 2012

Even with the advent of shale gas, the capital cost of nuclear power plants means that they remain the most economic, viable and safe option for large-scale, base-load power generation for the foreseeable future. And part of the unnecessary time (and cost) associated with building nuclear power plants is primarily due to the obstructionist and delaying tactics of the alarmist lobbies.

A new research paper finds that some of the alarmist scenarios after the Chernobyl accident have been grossly exaggerated. In all likelihood the same strident alarmism evident after Fukushima is also highly exaggerated.

J. T. Smith, N. J. Willey, J. T. Hancock. Low dose ionizing radiation produces too few reactive oxygen species to directly affect antioxidant concentrations in cellsBiology Letters, 2012; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0150


China downgrades solar and wind power – pushes for nuclear, hydro and shale gas

April 8, 2012

Common sense and simple economics are beginning to reassert themselves as the the fundamental weaknesses in the fashionable – but subsidised – expansion of solar and wind power plants are revealed. The expensive, intermittent and unpredictable generation  that derives from solar and wind power plants can – at best – be used to augment an existing system. They are actually useful as an auxiliary heat and power source as small decentralised units. But in a large power grid they are more of a nuisance than an asset and can only increase the cost to the consumer.

China has now published a policy document changing direction towards nuclear and hydro power and an accelerated development of shale gas use. Solar and wind power are downgraded.

Electric Light & Power

China will accelerate the use of new-energy sources such as nuclear energy and put an end to blind expansion in industries such as solar energy and wind power in 2012, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says in a government report published on March 5. 


New uranium finds help fuel India’s nuclear program

July 19, 2011
India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program and expects to have 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by 2032.  The target is to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.
But uranium ores in India are largely low-grade ores which are not usually economic for power generation (and are therefore mainly used for weapons programs). Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons program, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, which has hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009.
The civil nuclear program is heavily dependent upon the continued import of nuclear fuels. Nevertheless new finds of uranium ore in India provide comfort for the continuing nuclear program in the wake of Fukushima.
Uranium mining in Andhra Pradesh, which has been held up for years by environmental and other activists, has finally begun. Andhra Pradesh’s uranium ore is five times richer than in India’s old mines at Jaduguda. But this does not solve India’s uranium shortage for nuclear power plants. Jaduguda ore has just 0.06% uranium, and AP will yield maybe 0.3%.
But internationally, commercial ores have up to 15% uranium and India will need imported fuel for the foreseeable future

From The Hindu:

Tummalapalle in Andhra Pradesh could have one of the largest uranium reserves in the world. Recent studies have indicated that it could have a reserve of 1.5 lakh (150,000) tonnes of the scarce material.

Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, and Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission Srikumar Banerjee said: “Studies have already shown that the area had a confirmed reserve of 49,000 tonnes and recent surveys indicated that this figure could go up even three folds.”

He said uranium deposits in Tummalapalle appeared to be spread over 35 km. Exploratory works are under way. At present, the country is estimated to have a total reserve of about 1,75,000 tonnes of uranium, apart from this.

Terming the new findings a major development, Dr. Banerjee, however, pointed out that the indigenous reserves would still not be sufficient to meet the entire demand of the country’s nuclear programme. “The new findings would only augment the indigenous supply of uranium. There would still be a significant gap. We would still have to import.”

Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant: Status on March 25th

March 25, 2011

It is 2 weeks today since the quake and Tsunami struck. The toll of dead and missing exceeds 27,000.

Progress continues steadily but painfully slowly at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The radiation levels are fluctuating but pose no health hazard to the general public. Containment vessel at Reactor #3 is damaged and may be causing radiation spikes.


  • The work to restore external AC power for units-1, 2, 3 and 4 is in progress. External AC power to the main control room at unit-2 will be available today. According to TEPCO, the reactor surface temperature at unit-1 increased to  approx. 400 ° C once (design assumption maximum 302 ° C).  Now it has dropped to 204.5 ° C (as of 06:00 on March 25).
  • Meanwhile,  in the turbine building at unit-3, drainage work is also in progress. (10:45, March 25)
  • On March 24, 2 workers, who were working to lay electrical cables in turbine building at unit-3, were sent to the hospital. TEPCO suspected that the nuclear fuel in the reactor or spent nuclear fuel at the pool was damaged and water contaminated with high radioactivity was leaked  to the workspace. Further investigation is now carrying on. These 2 workers were not wearing boots. Another worker wearing boots is safe. (07:15, March 25).
  • As for the coolant of reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, TEPCO would like to switch from seawater to fresh water as fast as possible. The first switch will be carried out at unit 3. (04:30, March 25)
  • Ministry of Defense announced that the Self-Defense Force helicopter measured the surface temperatures of Fukushima Daiichi units-1, 2, 3 and 4 from the air by using infrared rays and  found that the temperature of each units is below 20 ° C. Unit-1:17 ° C; Unit-2: 13°C; Unit-3: 11 °C; Unit-4: 17 °C (as of the morning on March 24). Especially, the surface temperature of the spent fuel pool at unit-3 dropped significantly to 31 °C, compared to 56°C on the previous day. (21:15, March 24)

From IAEA:

Unit 1: Workers have advanced the restoration of off-site electricity and lighting in the Unit’s main control room was recovered as of 24 March, 11:30 UTC. They are now checking the availability of the cooling system. While the pressure in the reactor vessel remains high, Japanese authorities are reporting that it has stabilized.

Unit 2: Engineers are working for the recovery of lighting in the main control room, and the instrumentation and cooling systems.

Unit 3: Around 120 tonnes of seawater was injected in the spent fuel pool via the cooling and purification line. The operation was carried out between 23 March, 20:35 UTC and 24 March, 07:05 UTC. Work was under way for the recovery of the instruments and cooling systems. However, it had to be suspended because three workers were exposed to elevated levels of radiation on 24 March.

Unit 4: The spent fuel pool was sprayed with around 150 tonnes of water using concrete pump truck. The operation was carried out between 24 March, 05:36 UTC and 06:30 UTC of the same day.

Units 5 and 6: Repair of the temporary pump for Residual Heat Removal (RHR) was completed as of 24 March, 07:14 UTC, and cooling started again 21 minutes later.

At the Common Spent Fuel, the power supply was restored as of 24 March, 06:37 UTC and cooling started again 28 minutes later. Work is now under way for the recovery of the lighting and instrumentation systems. As of 24 March, 09:40 UTC, the water temperature of the pool was around 73 °C.

As of 24 March, 10:30 UTC workers continue to inject seawater into the reactor pressure vessels of Units 1, 2 and 3 and are preparing to inject pure water.


Media coverage dies as work resumes at Fukushima Dai-ichi – steam plumes did not raise radiation levels

March 22, 2011

Fukushima hysteria dies down as the media find that their alarmist and sensational reporting is not going to be sustainable.

Perhaps they will return their attention and their headlines to the victims of the earthquake and the tsunami in between the bombing raids on Tripoli.

As George Monbiot puts it in The Guardian:

As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

Now George Monbiot’s views about energy in general, and renewables in particular, are usually quite ridiculous and ill thought through but  where he is absolutely right is of course that in spite of the headlines and the apocalypse scenarios, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation”.

The work at Fukushima is difficult and hazardous  and it will test the courage and ingenuity of many – but it goes on even if all the headlines are gone     —– Kyodo News:

Work to restore power and crucial cooling functions resumed Tuesday morning at the crisis-hit reactors at the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, following suspension Monday after smoke was detected at its No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, its operator said.

Firefighters and the Self-Defense Forces also prepared to restart a mission later in the day to spray a massive amount of coolant water onto spent nuclear fuel pools at the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Although white smoke, possibly steam, was found to be continuously billowing from the buildings of the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, the utility known as TEPCO found it does not obstruct electricity restoration work as radiation levels did not particularly surge at the site.

An external power source was connected to the No. 4 reactor in the morning, making it the fifth of the plant’s six reactors to have regained a power supply needed for the restoration of equipment such as a ventilation system to filter radioactive substances from the air and some measuring tools at the control room.

TEPCO aims to restore power systems to revive some key facilities such as data measuring equipment and functions at a control room by Wednesday for the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors and by Thursday for the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors, said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, at a press conference.

Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant: Status as of Monday (21st) morning

March 21, 2011

Status of Fukushima Daiichi power station as of 09:00, March 21, 2011

Cooling continues and power is gradually being brought to all reactors. Systems and equipment are being checked. All units now have surface temperatures of less than 100 °C. Reactors # 5 and 6 have acieved “cold shutdown”.

External power reached the power-receiving facilities of the No. 2 and No. 5 reactors on Sunday.

The government is also preparing SDF tanks to remove radioactive rubble from around the reactors that has hampered operations as well as a truck with a concrete squeeze pump to pour water from a higher point.

Reactors # 5 and 6 have achieved the status of “cold shutdown”.

Developments at Fukushima Daiichi on March 21st

  • Injecting water to the spent fuel pool at unit 3 of Fukushima Daiichi by Tokyo Fire Department’s task force was finished at around 04:00 am this morning after 6.5 hours operation. Unit 3 has been sprayed with over 3,700 tons of water on Sunday and Monday.
  • Then, the Self-Defense Force conducted the operation of injecting water to the spent fuel pool at unit-4 from 06:37 am to 08:30 am this morning.
  • A construction company in Mie Prefecture voluntarily offers assistance for water injection at Fukushima Daiichi. The government emergency headquarters decided to accept the offer. The company’s 2 special vehicles and 3 operators departed last night to the site. The vehicles can inject water by using its 50-meter-long arm and pumps.
  • Ministry of Defense announced that the Self-Defense Force helicopter measured the surface temperatures of Fukushima Daiichi from the air and found that the temperature of all units are below 100 degrees C.
    • Unit 1: 58 ° C;
    • Unit 2: 35 ° C;
    • Unit 3: 62 °C;
    • Unit 4: 42 ° C;
    • Unit 5: 24 ° C;
    • Unit 6: 25 °C. (as of the afternoon on March 20)

Yesterday the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency reported that the pressure of the Reactor Containment Vessel at unit 3 of Fukushima Daiichi rose once (to 320 kPa as of 11:00 March 20th). TEPCO prepared to lower the pressure but concluded immediate pressure relief was not required. Monitoring the pressure continues (225 kPa as of 22:00 March 20).

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