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As 1.5 Million Flee Hurricane Florence, Worries Grow Over Half Dozen Nuclear Power Plants in Storm's Path


If it is any consolation even that won’t be a permanent end to life on earth. Fallout eventually does die out and new forms of life will evolve and thrive. Remember the planet has been hit by surface scorching asteroids in the past and has recovered after millions of years.


But of course given that we have hundreds of plants that will each require protection for many thousands of years, the question is not so much whether they will break open, but when and how quickly.

A lot of critical parts, like primary and secondary pipes for coolant, are made of metal. These rust. Dozens of sorts of rust are categorized. So our fears for these plants are reasonable now and will be more reasonable with each succeeding hurricane and storm surge.

The odds are quite good that all survive this season; they are slightly worse that all survive the next. Paul Swanee is also correct that a hurricane storm surge is not the same valence of threat as a seismic tsunami, but far less.

On the other hand, damage that has been done to plants by various conditions over the years is mostly not delivered to the public, nor is it delivered in full to most employees of the plant. Some is downright censored, kept as proprietary information by the owners and service contractors around the plants. But a lot is just not mentioned, never published, and so forth.


I wonder if worry about the nuclear plants is attracting outsized concern versus more mundane, but also dangerous threats:

Being on the West Coast, I just do not have an informed read on things though.


Part 1 "“Even when a plant is not operating, the spent fuel stored on-site, typically uranium, will continue to emit heat and must be cooled using equipment that relies on the plant’s own power,”

  1. Yes most spent fuel stored onsite is uranium, because the grand majority of your nuclear waste did not actually undergo fission reactions. However, the majority of decay heat comes from fission products not Uranium.

  2. Spent fuel stored onsite is stored in multiple ways either through fuel pools or dry casks. If you are referencing spent fuel pools then yes coolant is replenished so that the point of equilibrium does not reach a temperature capable of boiling the coolant. However, it is also NRC regulation that ALL US Nuclear reactors maintain a 30 day supply of backup coolant, which in certain cases can be applied manually.


To follow conservative’s maxim “opportunity in chaos”, I urge them to spend all their money on shares of nuke stock as its price bottoms.


Remember traditional power plants used to have no back up power systems, because “we can always get power off of the grid”. Then the “impossible” Northeast blackout happened and after the plants were tripped and shut down, they could not be restarted because they had no power from the grid to open or close the valves. In one plant, they manually built a scrap wood fire in one of the boilers so that they could get enough steam up to start the controls to start the plant.

I also remembers two students in a college who were in the “nuclear power control” curriculum. They made Homer Simpson, a fictional nuclear power plant operator, look like a genius.

Heaven help us if anything goes not exactly to plan.


For a spokesperson’s response please read the following article:


Supposedly Fukushima was designed to withstand both earthquakes and storms.
It failed both ways.

First the earthquake caused the cooling to fail and resulted in a meltdown, a supposedly million to one event.
Then the Tsunami took out the secondary power which really made no difference to the meltdown because it had already happened. But the tsunami undoubtedly compounded the problems.

Designers said that these failures were next to impossible.

So I guess the US is safe then. The politicians tell us so.


But you know that the builders and developers of these plants swore that the plants were not at risk of hurricane damage. So much for those promises.


If trump thinks 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico is a success, what is he going to call the number of people who could die when some of those nuclear plants go under water? Does he really think they won’t leak?

Are they planning to shut down those reactors as a precaution?


If the worries probe groundless, are you going to write a column which notes that even the older nuclear power plants are more robust than you thought?

I would bet that the level of honesty on this issue is, with progressives, probably about par with Trump’s.


Yes - lack of clean water and associated bacterial diseases in the aftermath of severe flooding combined with lack of power do indeed present the biggest challenges to health and human welfare as seen this past year in Puerto Rico.


I feel like it was in an interview with George McGovern, but I remember him saying something like the amount of letters he got from constituents about nuclear war was outsized compared to the amount he got when he was pushing for school lunch program funding. He noted one was regarding a looming threat, a frightening one, but the other threat was ever-present and real, hunger, in everyday lives. He just noted how ironic it was what attracted attention versus what didn’t.


Safe is a relative term. Today’s nukes are safer than our fossil fuel options, but different kinds of nukes could be even safer. Spent fuel is as its most challenging to manage when it is fresh and at its most radioactive. The evidence that it can be successfully managed at this stage is the fact that it has been successfully managed at this stage, with a phenomenal safety record that few heavy industries can rival. Over time, spent fuel gets less radioactive and easier to manage. And right now, there are several fast reactors in development which are being designed to consume spent fuel. With, say, 500 gigawatts worth of fast reactors, today’s supply of spent fuel could be consumed in less than three centuries. Double the number of reactors and you can halve the disposal time.

“Meanwhile radiation from Fukushima continues to wash up along the West Coast of North America.”

And if you want to see how much radiation that is, here is the Woods Hole interactive map:

Click on the tags to get the readings. The red and orange tags are the most recent. All the values I saw were less than 5 bq per cubic meter. The natural radioactivity of seawater is generally in the range of 12,000 to 14,000 bq per cubic meter.

“And as for the many millions of human beings around the globe who suffer from cancers and pollution of the U.S.-created Nuclear Era, well they’re just another “international issue” and don’t really count in our myopic scheme of things.”

Many millions, eh? Did you concoct that number yourself, or did you pick it up from some tabloid source?


Interesting point - McGovern’s contributions to peace were much better known than his work on food and nutrition programs - though he spent at least as much time and energy on the latter.


Just like there is “controversy” over whether humans are causing climate change.

Just for a bit of scale for context there, the Pacific has roughly 714 billion times as much water. And the mass of the actual radionuclides in that Fukushima water is around 10 grams–virtually all of which is tritium. Meanwhile, the pacific has billions of tons of radionuclides that have much more energetic decay modes than tritium.

And 10 grams of tritium is trivial compared to the 650 kilograms of tritium released by bomb testing. There is still more than 25 kg. of bomb tritium remaining, and it takes less than 3 days for as much bomb tritium to disappear as all the tritium in storage at Fukushima.


And at the end of your addendum is an addendum which shows why the headline was fake news.


“Thought and prayers” were/are never enough. So what happens after the rains quit? Maybe a roll of paper towels?


There is a solution to the waste problem that the AEC considered in the 80s, subsea bed burial, The idea is to encapsulate the waste in spiral shaped corrosive resistant capsules and drop them near mid ocean rifts. The capsules will bury themselves in sediment and over time be buried deeper. When the capsules corrode, which is slow in an oxygen deprived environment, the clay like sediment will contain the waste. The tectonic ocean plates will migrate and be subducted into the mantel. Problem for humanity solved and no need to monitor. That solution has not been discussed seriously since the 80s. I think the idea that the waste would be a taxpayer funded revenue stream forever for private corporations triumphed over the idea of a simple cheap solution. Think I am wrong?


It is not absolutely safe, but the statistics appear to bear out that it is one of our safer options. And the hazards of old-tech nuclear are not inherent to all forms of nuclear. Much safer reactors are possible.

“Even without the very real concern for operational safety, consider the task of guarding nuclear waste for the next 100,000 years,”

I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. When we have fast reactors, we will start consuming it. We might have to look after it for a few centuries, depending on how many fast reactors we build.

“Finally, I recently watched an episode of “Madam Secretary” on Netflix where of course Nuclear Power is the most logical solution to global warming and anyone would be crazy to question how great Nuclear Power really is.”

Fiction television series are probably not great sources for technical and scientific information–either pro or con.


I am in AZ with no resources to offer but a cement floor and cooking facilities if needed.

It will soon be time for all of us to open our hearts and doors and offer help has needed just as in Katrina.