Nuclear Musings

Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

75px-AbombOperationSandstoneApril1948It has always seemed to me that the use of nuclear energy is a bad idea given the current technology. My opinion is perhaps formed because I was in school during the 1950’s and due to the “Cold War” and the bomb tests, there developed in most of us, a deep fear of nuclear annihilation. I can remember watching in fascinated fear, in 1952, as they exploded a Hydrogen Bomb at Eniwetok, one of the Marshall Islands. The blast was covered on TV as I guess a reassurance to the American People of the power and might of our government and to give us a feeling of safety from those “Commies” in the USSR. Being eight years old at the time this demonstration of US power was not comforting in the slightest. We had “duck and cover” exercises in Elementary School, where we would go under our desks and cover our eyes in case of a nuclear attack. Given the actual nuclear explosions I had witnessed on TV, the idea that “duck and cover” would save me cast a skeptical suspicion in my eight year old mind.

120px-Atombombentest_Greenhouse-GeorgeAs I grew I learned that beyond the immediate effect of a nuclear blast, the subsequent radiation was even more dangerous. Radiation poisoning could maim you and it could kill you in a slow, lingering death. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings did more than just kill many people. Beyond the maiming of the immediate victims who survived, we learned about the rates of cancer which were off the charts, especially in the infants of pregnant women. As the threat of nuclear destruction faded, the idea of radiation poisoning was nevertheless present as the United States began using nuclear power and a large industry sprang up around it. The industry was fostered by the then named Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which was soon in thrall of the industry it was supposed to regulate. As with cigarette smoking the stories of rising cancer rates were downplayed by the AEC and the “nuclear industry. The AEC has now become the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) because the AEC had developed the reputation as an industry shill, rather than regulator. This is hardly a surprise because it seems that all government regulation today is in the hands of industry lobbyists and an exchange program where the regulators find jobs with the industry they regulate. The “revolving door”.This Wiki article on nuclear power is rather even handed in its approach, but will supply you with all the background you might need on nuclear power plants: One item from it sets up my thoughts for today:

“In many countries, plants are often located on the coast, in order to provide a ready source of cooling water for the essential service water system. As a consequence the design needs to take the risk of flooding and tsunamis into account. The World Energy Council (WEC) argues disaster risks are changing and increasing the likelihood of disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons, flooding.[29] High temperatures, low precipitation levels and severe droughts may lead to fresh water shortages.[29] Seawater is corrosive and so nuclear energy supply is likely to be negatively affected by the fresh water shortage.[29] This generic problem may become increasingly significant over time.[29] Failure to calculate the risk of flooding correctly lead to a Level 2 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale during the 1999 Blayais Nuclear Power Plant flood,[30] while flooding caused by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami lead to the Fukushima I nuclear accidents.[31]

The design of plants located in seismically active zones also requires the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis to be taken into account. Japan, India, China and the USA are among the countries to have plants in earthquake-prone regions. Damage caused to Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant during the 2007 Chūetsu offshore earthquake[32][33] underlined concerns expressed by experts in Japan prior to the Fukushima accidents, who have warned of a genpatsu-shinsai (domino-effect nuclear power plant earthquake disaster).[34]

In this time of global warning worries, with the distinct signs of a rising sea level, nevertheless the economics are such that the optimal way to build nuclear plants is by large bodies of water, preferably the ocean. Which brings me to the disaster at the Fukishima Nuclear Plant in Japan:

“The Fukushima nuclear disaster illustrated the dangers of building multiple nuclear reactor units close to one another. This proximity triggered the parallel, chain-reaction accidents that led to hydrogen explosions damaging reactor buildings and water draining from open-air spent fuel pools — a situation that was potentially more dangerous than the loss of reactor cooling itself. Because of the closeness of the reactors, Plant Director Masao Yoshida “was put in the position of trying to cope simultaneously with core meltdowns at three reactors and exposed fuel pools at three units”.

Some more about Fukushima:

“The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster  Fukushima Dai-ichi was an energy accident at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, initiated primarily by the tsunami of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011.[5] The damage caused by the tsunami produced equipment failures, and without this equipment a Loss of Coolant Accident followed with nuclear meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials beginning on March 12.[6] It is the largest nuclear disaster” since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the second disaster (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale,[7] releasing an estimated 10 to 30% of the radiation of the Chernobyl accident.

A September 1, 2013 story from the BBC related that the radiation levels around the Fukushima Nuclear Plant are now 18 times higher than was initially thought.

“The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) had originally said the radiation emitted by the leaking water was around 100 millisieverts an hour. However, the company said the equipment used to make that recording could only read measurements of up to 100 millisieverts. The new recording, using a more sensitive device, showed a level of 1,800 millisieverts an hour.The new reading will have direct implications for radiation doses received by workers who spent several days trying to stop the leak last week, the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports from Tokyo.

In addition, Tepco says it has discovered a leak on another pipe emitting radiation levels of 230 millisieverts an hour. The plant has seen a series of water leaks and power failures. The 2011 tsunami knocked out cooling systems to the reactors, three of which melted down. The damage from the tsunami has necessitated the constant pumping of water to cool the reactors. This is believed to be the fourth major leak from storage tanks at Fukushima since 2011 and the worst so far in terms of volume.”

It doesn’t surprise me that these new revelations have come out re-estimating the radiation levels at Fukishima. I am in the camp one could describe as skeptical and/or hostile to the nuclear industry. However, I’ve supplied enough information in the various links above and below for people to come to a different conclusion. Indeed, I realize that nuclear power has many beneficial pluses to it use. My specific worries can be classified as its danger to the surrounding community, the long lasting after effects of nuclear radiation and the fact that industry invariably co-opts its regulators. When these factors are put together with the business imperative, which must always be to continually raise profitability, I worry.

“Nuclear power plants are some of the most sophisticated and complex energy systems ever designed.[13] Any complex system, no matter how well it is designed and engineered, cannot be deemed failure-proof.[14] Veteran anti-nuclear activist and author Stephanie Cooke has argued:

The reactors themselves were enormously complex machines with an incalculable number of things that could go wrong. When that happened at Three Mile Island in 1979, another fault line in the nuclear world was exposed. One malfunction led to another, and then to a series of others, until the core of the reactor itself began to melt, and even the world’s most highly trained nuclear engineers did not know how to respond. The accident revealed serious deficiencies in a system that was meant to protect public health and safety.[15]

The 1979 Three Mile Island accident inspired Perrow’s book Normal Accidents, where a nuclear accident occurs, resulting from an unanticipated interaction of multiple failures in a complex system. TMI was an example of a normal accident because it was “unexpected, incomprehensible, uncontrollable and unavoidable”.[16]

Perrow concluded that the failure at Three Mile Island was a consequence of the system’s immense complexity. Such modern high-risk systems, he realized, were prone to failures however well they were managed. It was inevitable that they would eventually suffer what he termed a ‘normal accident’. Therefore, he suggested, we might do better to contemplate a radical redesign, or if that was not possible, to abandon such technology entirely.[17] .

A fundamental issue contributing to a nuclear power system’s complexity is its extremely long lifetime. The timeframe from the start of construction of a commercial nuclear power station through the safe disposal of its last radioactive waste, may be 100 to 150 years.[13]

We live in an age where the “Captains of Industry” believe that efficient management is one that lays off workers, cuts wages and looks to cost savings of all kinds in order to increase profitability. Why would we expect that the nuclear industry is immune to the management fashion of the day? These plants are admittedly among the most complex power delivering entities on the planet. There have been innumerable accidents, with disastrous consequences, that have occurred through the years some of which are referenced in the links I’ve supplied. My position is that I could be open to the idea of using nuclear energy for power, providing that I could be certain that safeguards exist. I don’t believe they currently do exist, despite reassurances from the industry and the NRC. Currently, my two children, my grandchildren and my beloved mother-in-law live in close proximity to a nuclear power plant, Indian Point, in New York. A little history of this plant impacts my concerns for their safety:

“According to the New York Times, the Indian Point plant “has encountered a string of accidents and mishaps since its beginnings, and has appeared on the federal list of the nation’s worst nuclear power plants”.[10] A 2003 report commissioned by then Governor George Pataki concluded that the “current radiological response system and capabilities are not adequate to…protect the people from an unacceptable dose of radiation in the event of a release from Indian Point”.[11] On March 10, 2009 the Indian Point Power Plant was awarded the fifth consecutive top safety rating for annual operations by the Federal regulators. According to the Hudson Valley Journal News, the plant had shown substantial improvement in its “safety culture” in the previous two years.[12]

This is a history of the nuclear incidents at Indian Point, on the important Hudson River, thus far:

  • In 1973, five months after Indian Point 2 opened, the plant was shut down when engineers discovered buckling in the steel liner of the concrete dome in which the nuclear reactor is housed.[10]
  • On October 17, 1980,[13] 100,000 gallons of Hudson River water leaked into the Indian Point 2 containment building from the fan cooling unit, undetected by a safety device designed to detect hot water. The flooding, covering the first 9 feet of the reactor vessel, was discovered when technicians entered the building. Two pumps which should have removed the water were found to be inoperative. NRC proposed a $2,100,000 fine for the incident.[14]
  • There was intense scrutiny of the Indian Point plant between 1993 and 1997, when it was on the Federal list of the nation’s worst nuclear power plants.[15]
  • In February 2000, the most serious incident at the plant occurred, when a small radioactive leak from a steam generator tube forced the plant to close for 11 months.[10]
  • In 2001, a series of leaks sprung up in non-nuclear parts of the plant.[10]
  • In 2005, Entergy workers while digging discovered a small leak in a spent fuel pool. Water containing tritium and strontium-90 was leaking through a crack in the pool building “and then finding its way into the nearby Hudson River.” Workers were able to keep the fuel rods “safely covered” despite the leak.[16] On March 22, 2006 The New York Times also reported finding radioactive nickel-63 and strontium in groundwater on site.[17]
  • In 2007 a transformer at Unit 3 caught fire, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raised its level of inspections, because the plant had experienced many unplanned shutdowns. According to The New York Times, Indian Point “has a history of transformer problems”.[4]
  • On April 23, 2007, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined the owner of the Indian Point nuclear plant $130,000 for failing to meet a deadline for a new emergency siren plan. The 150 sirens at the plant are meant to alert residents within 10 miles to a plant emergency. Since 2008, a Rockland County based private company has taken over responsibility for the infrastructure used to trigger and maintain the ATI siren system. The sirens, once plagued with failures, have functioned nearly flawlessly ever since.[18]
  • On January 7, 2010, NRC inspectors reported that an estimated 600,000 gallons of mildly radioactive steam was intentionally vented to the atmosphere after an automatic shutdown of Unit 2. After the vent, one of the vent valves unintentionally remained slightly open for two days. The levels of tritium in the steam were within the allowable safety limits defined in NRC standards.[19]
  • On November 7, 2010, an explosion occurred in the main transformer for Indian Point 2, spilling oil into the Hudson River.[20] The owner of the Indian Point nuclear plant later agreed to pay a $1.2 million penalty for the transformer explosion.[4]
  • In the middle of February [2013], employee error caused an accidental shutdown of Reactor Two. This incident released no radiation.

Now these incidents have occurred at a nuclear plant that has a “relatively safe” history, but from my perspective it remains a potential threat to those I love.  There are also some who say that nuclear plants contaminate the surrounding area and raise cancer risks. This has devolved in a “he said, she said” argument between environmentalists and the industry, with the NRC siding with industry. There is another Indian Point safety issue to be mulled:

“Indian Point stores used fuel rods in two spent fuel pools at the facility.[16] According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Indian Point spent fuel pools, which contain more nuclear material than the reactors, “have no containment structure”.[28] While the spent fuel pools at Indian Point are not stored under a containment dome like the reactor, they are contained within a 40-foot-deep pool and submerged under 27 feet of water. The spent fuel pools at Indian Point are made of concrete walls that are four to six feet wide with a half-inch thick stainless steel inner liner.[29][30] According to Jonathan Alter, the pools are located in bedrock, not above-ground as at many other plants including the Japanese ones.[31]

And then:

“In 2008 researchers from Columbia University‘s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have located a previously unknown active seismic zone running from Stamford, Connecticut, to the Hudson Valley town of Peekskill, New York – the intersection of the Stamford-Peekskill line with the well known Ramapo Fault – which passes less than a mile north of the Indian Point nuclear power plant.[35] The Ramapo Fault is the longest fault in the Northeast, but scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is. Many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. Visible at ground level, the fault line likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.[36]

Indian Point was built to withstand an earthquake of 6.1 on the Richter scale, according to a company spokesman.[37] Entergy executives have also noted “that Indian Point had been designed to withstand an earthquake much stronger than any on record in the region, though not one as powerful as the quake that rocked Japan”.[38]

So in the end “you pays your money and you takes your choice”, as the old canard goes. My choice is that nuclear power comes at too great a potential cost to be relied on as the power source of the future, given current technology. There are semi valid arguments that it doesn’t pollute the atmosphere and that it helps keep energy costs down. The fact is, that all things considered, these plants are quite costly to build and maintain. The plants are expected to last 100 to 150 years because of both initial cost and the need to clean up the nuclear waste produced. The question also comes about as to the cost both financial an physical of the disposal of nuclear waste.   I concede that neither do I have a scientific bent, nor am I an expert. I further concede that there are points to be made that favor nuclear energy used as a power source. Nevertheless, in my opinion the downside exceeds the benefits. Where do you stand?

Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

88 thoughts on “Nuclear Musings”

  1. My bad, Bron, From your comment and slart’s reaction, it sounded like the accusation was there. Make no mistake, nuclear power is no long solution. Power plants are always located near water and water moves. In the event of a leak, contamination is extremely difficult to contain. Wind farms are much more appealing compared to coal plants

  2. Slarti,
    Thanks for those kind words. He was thinking outside the box when still in the tenth grade. And has a wicked sense of humor to boot. He commented in an email that it is a wonder either one of us managed to keep our teeth, considering some of the science based pranks we pulled. We did stuff back then that would certainly attract the attention of the ATF if kids did it now.

    We are both getting older now, but I told him that if he got that call to go to Stockholm, I would be glad to help him carry his luggage.

  3. RTC:

    I was joking around with him. I know he is not a republican.

    Slarti is pretty interesting, he is right on the nuclear power, at least in my opinion.

    Although solar farms and wind farms sure look like hell.

  4. Silly {^..^ * many}, if I had been working on a TARDIS, I would have shown up the day after I left after taking as much time as I needed… 😛

    I’m still working on my project, but I’ve finished the “basic software development and learn about entrepreneurship” phase and I’m working on actually launching the business. In partnership with an academic lab doing bench research on cellular subsystems (and some other talented people), I’ll be applying for a small business grant from the NSF (and probably the NIH as well) this spring in an attempt to start a company that will provide a service helping pharmaceutical companies reduce the cost of developing new drugs (as well as possibly allowing them to tailor combinations of drugs—such as chemotherapeutic agents—to an individual’s actual gene expression levels, although that’s somewhat speculative at present). We’ll also be helping academic labs do research more efficiently as well.

    That’s about as good as I can do in a paragraph, but I am back and certainly intend to continue making a comment or two when I’ve got something to say.

    As for Dredd, I realize he doesn’t remember me, but I remember him and it really doesn’t matter as trolls like him only pay attention to other people’s arguments when they’re trying to make a straw man. Besides, for Dredd to actually have a productive conversation he would have to accept that I wasn’t just completely evil and that my beliefs and positions, even if they are different from his, are honestly held and I think that is probably something that is beyond him. I think that the knee-jerk vilification of opponents probably correlates well with and unscientific worldview, but maybe that’s just because both traits are strong in the Teahaddi… 😉

    I agree about the need for an “energy Marshall plan”, as you put it, and also about how likely it is to happen, in part because of people like Dredd, who have staked out a position and consider the matter settled—apparently they don’t feel the need to reevaluate their decision in light of new evidence or new contexts. But it’s hardly surprising to find Dredd holding an unscientific mindset.


    The problem is that there aren’t many people like your friend who can properly triage the negative impacts of various forms of energy production (as well as their strengths) and fewer still who could come up with an accurate cost/benefit analysis. Which is a problem, since any policy which isn’t based upon such an analysis is much less likely to be correct.

  5. @lottakatz

    Thanks for checking. Is is so frustrating to have a clear memory and not be able to Google a trace.

    I was reduced to looking back through sent email. No luck but I was reminded of this quote from the Christian Science Monitor:

    “I think GE should really be saluted for their design of the
    reactors,” says Dr. Meshkati. “[The crisis] really hasn’t been a
    problem with the reactor design.”

    and this:

    Megan McArdle in the Atlantic writes:

    “That left the question: who pays? According to the New York Times,
    the answer is that while the global reinsurance industry will bear
    some substantial losses, in many cases, the losses will be borne by
    the government–or by people and companies whose insurance does not
    cover the damage that was done. The nuclear industry was required to
    buy insurance through a special industry insurer with liability limits
    that now seem laughably small–about $2 billion. And many of the
    damages simply aren’t insured at all:”

    I think it is ironic that some who argue the loudest for the free market also support policies that protect the nuclear industry.

    I don’t have the facts to prove it, but I suspect that full costing of nuclear power would remove it as an alternative for consideration.

  6. Nick: fracking is probably the worst way to develop energy, short of shoveling puppies into a furnace. In case you’re not paying attention, it’s your first clue that the world is running out of fossil fuels.

  7. The choice between the dangers of nuclear power vs. coal are like the choice between having your head cut and a death of a thousand cuts. How would you like to go? Slarti is correct about the hazards of coal, however, there really is no such thing as a completely safe nuclear plant. The way forward is to insist that coal plant emissions be tightened. And, while there may be drawbacks to virtually every type of enrgy production, we need to move ahead with the least harmful method now, until that perfect grand discovery for splitting hydrogen from oxygen is achieved.

    Oh, and Bron, I’m not sure what part of the energy debate you’re not getting. Slart is anti-coal, right? He’s been saying that energy production from coal is worse than nuclear. Meanwhile, repubs have been desperately fighting every effort to regulate coal plant emissions. So why on earth would you presume that slart is a repub?

  8. LOL LMAO …… Woe is me, something is puckering!!!!!

    ““The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) had originally said the radiation emitted by the leaking water was around 100 millisieverts an hour. However, the company said the equipment used to make that recording could only read measurements of up to 100 millisieverts”.

    Joseph Heller at his height of Genius (Catch 22) would have blushed at imagining the above statement to be true. Truth can be more absurd than fiction.

  9. I find the effectiveness of the brainwashing of the Price/Anderson Act Apologist just amazing.

    After all that’s happened and yet some will still attempt to argue Nuke industry is a viable industry.

    Look in the mirror, you’re what insanity looks like.

    Scary Update! Fukushima Nuclear Radiation, Depopulation begins.

  10. Oky1:
    The fact that the mainstream media often sucks at their job does not rain credibility down on Coast to Coast, a show that regularly gives Richard “Giant Glass Structures on the Moon” Hoagland a forum.

    I could keep going with everything wrong with what you said (or more accurately, what you didn’t say, like refuting the flaws in the study in question), but I’m dealing with someone who uses the term “puppet masters” without irony so it’s probably a waste of time.

  11. these incidents have occurred at a nuclear plant that has a “relatively safe” history

    considering what’s at stake “relatively safe” and “should be okay” aren’t good enough. 100% safety is not possible and anything less is not acceptable given the consequences.

    how many fukushimas and chernobyls can we survive. the earth will live on, the question is, will we.

  12. Japan has a strong incentive to carefully test food exports so as to not risk broadly tarnishing a deeply respected brand. I believe they will be vigilant on this front, despite a government that continues to understate certain risks within the country. It’s going to be a long haul, and I would expect growing concern going into the 2020 Olympics.

    I found this video interesting to reflect on the scale and permanence of the problem, although sad to see the abandoned dogs (especially 9:15):

  13. Jason,

    Where the he’ll has the NRC, EPA, CDC, USDA, FDA, etc & old dying dinosaur media been with the daily/weekly/monthly Public Service Announcements explaining to the general population the about radiation levels from Fukushima here in the US & what safety precautions the public/pregnant women should be taking?

    Those Baastards!

    Had CBS’s Edward R Murrow old boss had not been the known American Hating piece of Trash, Hitler supporting Nazi, board member of both a Nazi enterprise & CBS, the former Sen Prescott Bush, then maybe Murrow could have told us all the truth back then without the fear of having his microphone unplugged.

    Mean while that Nazi piece of trash’s grandson, GW, a mass murdering slime ball in his own right was just up the road the other evening, walking around freely as the local polecats kissed his Nazi Azz.

    How do those Nazi azzholes walk free, because they have Obama & Impeachment is off the table, U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi & Ted Cruz & others covering their backsides.

    Jason, it’s about over, either those Nazi creeps completely destroy the world right now or some how we are going to get those ring leaders in front of a judge & have them hung Nuremberg Style!

  14. Jason: “Alarm bell one: The interview was on freaking Coast to Coast AM. …bullsheeet, bullsheeet, bullsheeet….., and general conspiracy theory claptrap. ”

    Well, Jason, just where the he’ll has the old dying dinosaur media been on this Nuke Kook Disaster the last 60 years?

    Phk’in no where other then busily attempting to cover up what a total FUBAR the so called Nuke Industry is & has always been & always will be.

    So of course anyone serious about getting factual data out to the public or the public attempt to find out that truthful data are forced to turn to coast to coast, infowars, etc..

    Yes, there’s bullsheeet there sometimes also.

    But I like posters like you, readers know just exactly who you guys are as soon as you post 2+2=5 & the likes.

  15. Dredd:
    Among your pieces of evidence was a study claiming 14,000 American deaths in the U.S. as a result of Fukushima.

    Alarm bell one: The interview was on freaking Coast to Coast AM. For those who don’t know, this is your one stop shop for Bigfoot, alien abuction, and general conspiracy theory claptrap.

    Alarm bell two: The “peer-reviewed” journal is, to put it charitably, not exactly at the top of the heap.

    Alarm bell three: The study has been debunked. See above link as well as . I’ve got another link that tears it up, but isn’t there a two link limit or something?

    This is not to say that nuclear power is all rainbows and unicorns. There is no free ride. Every current and near-future solution exacts a price.

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