Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors. (via Morgsatlarge – blogorific.)
A voice of reason amid the nuclear hysteria…
Please click through to the new location of the post. I flagged this for a reblog some time ago, and didn’t check that the post had changed before actually posting it.
This post has moved. It is now hosted and maintained by the MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. Members of the NSE community have edited the original post and will be monitoring and posting comments, updates, and new information. http://mitnse.com/ The MIT website will be continually growing and evolving, so bookmark and check back regularly. Thank you everyone for your past and continuing support in our effort to empower the publi … Read More
5 Responses to “Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors. (via Morgsatlarge – blogorific.)”
As one president of the Royal Society said, “Tell people that there are atoms in something and they will demonstrate against it.”
I am presuming that the problem at Fukushima is that water and gunk carried by the tsunami knackered the back-up cooling system, etiher the generators themselves or the coolant circulation path or both. I doubt that the reactors which overheated and led to explosions demolishing their *outer* buildings will generate elecricity again, but the serious inner containment vessels appear to have held (it would be nice to know how easily), and the radioactivity released is merely that in the vented steam and not in the same league as Chernobyl. (The Wikipedia article on the Chernobyl disaster is well worth reading – you can see from it how different that scenario and reactor design was.)
The media hysteria worries me. Nuclear fission power is the obvious stopgap until nuclear fusion power Saves The World and I don’t want a zillion useless windmills in my backyard.
My understanding is that the first line of defence worked perfectly – as soon as the earthquake happened, the control rods went in and the actual nuclear reactions shut down. The problem then is to cool the reactors, in order to get rid of the heat that was already there when the reactor went sub-critical. That’s the bit that’s been difficult, for reasons which are still a bit sketchy. The explosions seem to have been caused by hydrogen produced from superheated steam produced from the sea water being pumped through as coolant. Some radioactive material has been released, and the authorities are taking all sensible precautions about this, but it’s low-level radioactivity not on the same scale as Chernobyl.
It’s clearly a dangerous situation still, but it’s not the nightmare scenario being depicted in the press.
As news comes in this evening, I’m definitely getting more worried. It really looks like they are losing the battle to keep the reactors cool with sea water, and water levels are even falling. Since some radioactive material has been released into the air, it seems likely that some fuel elements have been exposed even in the containment pool for Reactor 4 which wasn’t in use at the time of the earthquake. The resulting radioactivity makes it highly dangerous for people to get near to the reactors to fix the cooling problems, even in helicopters.
I’ve a horrible feeling they may just have to evacuate the entire area and let partial meltdowns take their course.
Fusion power research has, rightly, been going on at a serious level for several decades, and still is not likely to deliver mass power production for public consumption within the next 25 years.
My best bet for cheap, abundant, electricity generation in the next 30 years would be cheap photovoltaic manufacturing. If the cost of production of photovoltaic panels can be reduced greatly, it would become feasible to cover the roofs of buildings with them. This means covering all unused roof space of homes and businesses, fairly easy to achieve given the financial incentives for building owners to sell power to grids. This would produce an excess of electricity in daytime, even under cloud. The economics of energy would be transformed, with electricity in daytime being cheap, and methods having to be found to provide power for night time, particularly long winter nights. Electrolysis plants could provide one solution for storing energy overnight and possibly for the winter months.
The challenge here is for developments in semiconductor technology and manufacturing processes to lower greatly the cost of producing photovoltaic panels, regardless of whether the panels are made of silicon or other materials. Governments could speed the process by increasing funding of research in these technologies.