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Earthquake Risk Keeps Heat on Vulnerable Nuclear Reactors


#1

Earthquake Risk Keeps Heat on Vulnerable Nuclear Reactors

Harvey Wasserman

A proposal by a California administrative law judge has given safe energy advocates new hope

Diablo Canyon power plant in California. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

#2

These reactors were ‘never’ profitable to the people, only to the folks at the top of ‘their’ pyramid scheme!! The cost of decommissioning these monstrosities ends up being many times the possible advantages that are gained by the general public, as in waiting to die from the contamination thereof.


#3

The nuclear lobby keeps rabbiting on about ionising radiation not being a worry really, about renewable energy being ineffective and polluting, about nuclear power solving climate change. Anti nuclear activists nobly fight to correct these lies. But now, it is interesting and heartening to see that the law is beginning to play its part in busting the spin. I think that the nuclear lobby now needs to be afraid, very afraid, of the truth coming out.


#4

These reactors were approved by a commission of the ONLY people that have never read the Three Little Pigs.


#5

Hope so!
;-})


#6

Stand by for the flood of nuclear shills and apologists crawling out from under their rocks to tell us that there is nothing to worry about, nuclear power is absolutely safe and there is no way to generate power to serve the people without nuclear reactors.
*And on, and on, and on…
;-})


#7

Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is a 2 minute video showing movements of three types of particulates in the air this summer and fall, showing about one day per second. I thought the West Coast wildfire movements were fascinating.

https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap171127.html


#8

This reactor has a greater structural stability than literally any other building in California. The idea that the standard for earthquake loads is to be set at withstanding a 9.1 magnitude quake is absolutely ludicrous.


#9

What on earth is this article talking about?
“They operate just 45 miles from the San Andreas. That’s half the distance from the fault that destroyed four reactors in fukushima” There is so much wrong with this comparison.

  1. The San Andreas Fault is on land and more specifically it is a strike slip fault on a transform boundary. The Tohoku earthquake occurred from a similar strike slip fault type but within a subduction zone. The type of earthquake differs extremely depending on its location. Additionally California has a completely different type of soil than that of the region in which an undersea megathrust slip occurred. To act like the two scenarios are the same is ridiculous and illustrates a complete misunderstanding of geology.

  2. The earthquake did not destroy the reactors. The earthquake occured at 5:45 on March 11, 2011. The first meltdown did not occur til March 12 at 3:30, so how on earth were the reactors destroyed for a whole and a meltdown did not occur? Furthermore there is no evidence of structural damage to the reactor vessels similarly created by earthquake loads in any of the reactors, so again how could you possibly make that claim?

  3. What actually happened was the earthquake created a tsunami when the earth was thrusted upward. A following tsunami then hit Japan resulting in over 15,000 dead. When the earthquake hit the reactor, seismic sensors immediately called for a SCRAM or immediate shutdown in the reactors. As a result fission production was discontinued. When the tsunami hit the reactors the seawall withstood force, but the reactors were flooded by the wave. As a result the diesel generators were severally damaged. While some of them were able to function for a period of time, they eventually failed causing a failure to replace coolant into the reactor core. The coolant then boiled and evaporated leaving the reactor core bare, which would result in a meltdown. How on earth does any of this sound like it was caused by force loads of an earthquake?

  4. Given that the reactors in Fukushima were damaged by a tsunami, and San Andreas is 40 miles inland, this comparative analysis is preposterous. The same type of earthquake could never occur, because the location is completely different; the same type of reactor scenario could not occur, because the reactors were damaged by a tsunami; the damage would likely not be as severe, unless you had a stronger earthquake on the San Andreas fault. The reason why the Tohoku earthquake was so damaging, was because when the energy from the slip was transferred down the fault line it extended into attached fault lines increasing the amount of energy that was transferred under the pacific and eventually out to Japan. This is why geologists are looking closely at the Hosgri and Shoreline faults as this scenario could potentially be replicated albeit a smaller magnitude.

"Diablo’s wind-blown emissions could irradiate the Los Angles megapolis in less than six hours if an earthquake destroyed the plant. " Again this is quite a ludicrous statement.

  1. This statement does not even make any sense, because the earthquake nor the meltdown actually caused the release of emissions at Fukushima, so I have absolutely zero idea how you could possibly pinpoint the time in which a hydrogen explosion would occur. In fact this timeline is much quicker than what actually happened in Fukushima. There is zero evidence for this claim that it would take 6 hours to irradiate Los Angeles.

  2. This comment also illustrates a complete misunderstanding of what happened at Fukushima. Mr. Wasserman was already incorrect in assuming the earthquake destroyed the reactors, and now is again incorrect about the emission or radioactive material. A meltdown does not actually indicate that there has been an environmental catastrophe. A meltdown is simply the scenario in which the core of a reactor is no longer covered by coolant and as result the core temperature increases leading to the MELTING of nuclear fuel in the core. That’s why its called a meltdown. However, nuclear reactors are made with multiple layers of containment to keep radiation in the reactor and out the environment. Even if the corium breaks through the reactor vessel there is still a concrete mat, foundation and steel liner before you come into contact with soil. The actual wind bound emissions of Fukushima were caused by a hydrogen reaction in the facility building of reactors 1, 3 and 4. After the meltdown the pressure and heat grew rapidly inside of the reactor and in order to ensure there would be no containment rupture the operators chose to release radioactive particles through venting lines to the chimney (fyi in this scenario this is the correct decision, because if they didn’t do this then the explosion would have been pressure driven and youd likely have a Chernobyl level emission problem). Unfortunately this release was still under pressure and therefore some materials were released into the building from the venting lines. The hydrogen comes from a chemical reaction between the coolant and zirconium fuel rods, so when the operators went to reduce reactor vessel pressure by releasing material through venting lines hydrogen escaped into the facility building. Hydrogen reacts very violently with oxygen in the air and the subsequent result is an explosion that rupture tops of reactors 1, 3 and 4. Reactor 2 had a different issue in which the wet-well suppression pools became pressurized and ruptured. This rupture is what most people think is causing groundwater contamination.

  3. Additionally I would like to point out the fact that Fukushima and Diablo Canyon are completely different reactor designs. Fukushima Daiichi features 6 Boiling Water Reactors, while Diablo Canyon features 2 Pressurized Water Reactors. They have different components and systems, so to suggest an exact scenario would occur is also ridiculous.

“Until they can specify the exact date and time the San Andreas and those other faults will go off, nobody should feel safe”

  1. WTF?!!! This is not possible by current science today. We measure the likelihood of events by calculating risk, but to claim that we cannot feel safe without knowing the exact time and place is insanity. That is not how geology works, and the idea that the nuclear reactor company has to prove to the public that the state’s fault lines are safe is ridiculous. If anyone is to tell you that information it should come from the state government who requires people to survey and identify faults. I also want to point out that this idea that nuclear is not safe, because an earthquake can occur should also apply all types of energy. The Tohoku earthquake resulted in the destruction of 2300 MW of wind turbines, 25 dams were destroyed and 130,000 barrels of oil were lost. This fallacious idea that only nuclear was impacted is wrong, and to set these standards indicates a complete disregard in understand risk and evaluating scientific advances as a whole.

#10

Uranium replaces fossil fuels at pennies on the dollar, and government’s share of that dollar is on the order of 25 cents. So advancing nuclear energy means fighting City Hall — and winning.


#11

California has got it’s last operating nuclear facility on the cliffs of So. Cal. between a dozen different earthquake faults and you’re trying to sell me on those overpriced, resource hogs that have ‘externalities’ costs for health, contamination and water sourcing. Always in need of a fresh water supply.
Wind and solar are now cheaper than ANY other power sources at half the installation cost and all you want to do is fight city hall?..Go fish… Nuclear is poisonous to all humanity. It will be 50 years before Fukushima will be cleaned up at the cost of billions and phking over the lives of hundreds of thousands of victims. Nuclear is phkd up!!


#12

Wind and solar need NO decommissioning since they are not toxic if left idle, as opposed to nuclear which costs billions of dollars for each of the now 700+ reactors that we WILL have to monitor, some of them for hundreds of years because of the complications of tearing them down. Taming ionizing radiation is like herding cats. You’ve already seen how much effort is being put into the ‘fixing’ of Fukushima. So quit trying to ‘sell us a bridge’…because they are just another pyramid scheme to make another billionaire another billion bucks. I say fuck these pricks, and I’m not sorry for saying that.


#13

It would appear that you are ranting about multiple concerns many of which are not applicable to the current state of nuclear. Additionally you fail to recognize the potential economic reductions that come with generation IV models of nuclear reactors that could be implemented into society. First lets remove the inaccurate and unrelated fodder from your comment:

  1. "which costs billions of dollars for each [reactor]"
    Decommissioning does not typically cost billions of dollars for each reactor, but the cost can vary dramatically from about $150 million to $30 billion depending on the method of decommissioning, the type of reactor and the scenario at the reactor. Typically decommissioning costs range from about $300 million to $800 million for most light water reactors around the world.

  2. "for each of the now 700+ reactor that we will have to monitory"
    Worldwide the grand total of reactors is 440 reactors. I have no idea where you got this 700+ figure from.

  3. "some of them for hundreds of years because of complications of tearing them down"
    To date there is not a single decommissioning plan in the world that is planned for 100 years.

  4. "Taming ionizing radiation is like herding cats"
    What on earth does this mean? Furthermore you do not tame ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is physical characteristic of nature and the universe. You are suggesting that we fix fundamental characteristics of subatomic particles. This is not physically possible. Additionally, ionizing radiation is not solely attributable to alpha, beta and gamma particles, but is also a characteristic of UV rays, X rays, and neutrons.

  5. "because they are just another pyramid scheme to make another billionaire another billion bucks"
    Do you know what a pyramid scheme is? A pyramid scheme is an investment technique in which returns on investment are given to contributors, based on the investment of later contributors. This is not how investment in nuclear works, nor is it even attributable to the management scheme of any nation’s nuclear power programs.


#14

"Wind and solar need no decommissioning since they are not toxic if left idle."
This is not entirely true. Yes solar and wind do not require decomissiong programs after they are removed from a location, but after the construction of any site before any new structure is placed in the area you must conduct a variety of environmental tests to understand how the environment has changed as a result of the pre-existing structure. This concept is applied to all of construction though, therefore is not a major concern worth discussing for hazardous waste production.

However, its also important to note that your argument is one of cost in which decommissioning costs a lot of money to provide. Now most nuclear programs in developed countries require nuclear plants to invest a percentage of funds into future decomissiong projects and this is usually collected via taxation. Also solar and wind projects have drastically lower lifecycles than a nuclear plant. The average solar farm has a lifetime of about 15 years, and the average wind farm has a lifetime of about 22 years. The average nuclear reactor lifetime is about 45 years, and decommissioning can take from 15-50 more years. This means when evaluating and comparing net costs you must consider the cost of additional solar and wind units manufactured, constructed and installed within the lifetime of a nuclear reactor.


#15

You are correct in your comment about the dangers, costs and frustration over Fukushima. Fukushima will likely costs hundreds of billions of dollars in cleanup in its lifetime. I agree that Fukushima was a major disaster and an incident with severe lackluster geological oversight. However I also do not support our current design of nuclear reactors in the world. The tragedy of nuclear innovation and technology is the fact that for 65 years the world has been led to believe there was only ever one way to produce nuclear fission reactions, when historically this has never been true. In fact one of the first reactors ever built for power production was NOT a light water reactor. In 1950, the EBR-1 was constructed and produced 200 KW of power. This was a liquid metal breeder reactor, which used sodium potassium coolant and bred Uranium 238 fertile fuel into Pu-239 fissile used in electricity generation. When the USA first began to develop its nuclear submarine program in the 1950s there were two conventional ways of thinking between Light Water Reactors and Liquid-Metal breeder reactors. Ultimately Light Water Reactors won out. Up until the 1960s, nuclear energy had long been an extremely classified and well kept secret by USA, UK, Canada, and the USSR, so when the time came for commercial companies to develop the technology they simply took designs used in most military applications, which were light water reactors, and then extrapolated the designs to develop larger and larger reactors.

This was a major problem, not only because of inherent safety flaws of using water as coolant, but also because extrapolation led to reactors having larger and larger engineered systems, which greatly increase the costs. A similar analogy would be like if we decided to develop electric cars by simply adding more and more batteries to the vehicle and increasing the size of the vehicle to accommodate more batteries. This was a fundamentally poor engineering decision. A much better approach would have been to pursue more effective nuclear technologies that increase thermodynamic efficiency, fission production and reduce design size. Over the last 60 years we have developed many reactors that do this, but very few of them have ever entered into commercial markets due to saturation by light water reactors.

To make matters worse, water cooled reactors like light water reactors have an inherent safety flaw, because their coolant is water. Water is generally thought of as a good coolant, because it absorbs radiation fairly well, is in great supply and has low melting point. However, water also has a very low boiling point of 100 degrees C, and nuclear reactors reach criticality (the point in which sustained fission occurs) at 315 degrees C. This means that the reactors will always operate at a temperature above the boiling point of coolant, but we need the coolant to remain a liquid for moderated neutron transmission and to reduce temperatures in the reactor. To counteract this problem we combine methods of constantly pumping new coolant into reactors and by increasing the pressure of the reactor. Reactors under pressure are a severe safety flaw, because in the case of an accident the temperature will increase driving the pressure even high and potentially leading to a reactor vessel rupture. We have seen the worst case scenario of this in Chernobyl albeit under very unusual circumstances (insufficient graphite moderators and running a high positive void coefficient). This issue of pressure occurred at Fukushima as well, which is why the operators chose to release radioactive material through venting lines of the reactor to avoid vessel rupture. We also saw this issue in 3 Mile Island, and we have seen this issue in many of our light water reactors across the world.

The good news is we have a solution, and we have had solutions for a very long time. Back in the 1950s the US Air Force was attempting to develop nuclear aircraft for the purpose of having fighter jets that wouldn’t require refueling as often as they did in WW2 using petroleum refueling on aircraft carriers. The Air Force had several major problems, one of which is the fact that aircraft change altitude and thus alter the pressure of their vessels very quickly. Using a light water reactor in such an aircraft, would immediately spell disaster as pressure increases would cause reactor vessel rupture. Instead they pursued the concept of using molten salt coolant, because this material had boiling points higher than criticality and thus the reactors could operate under atmospheric pressure.

Fast forward to the 1960s, and a Molten Salt Reactor was actually constructed and operated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 1965-1969. This reactor used fluoride salts as molten coolant that had a boiling point of 1400 C, while the reactor ran at 700 degrees C. This reactor was not under high pressure, and thus the safety of the reactor was far superior to all light water reactors. In fact this was one of the key features discussed by the project head Alvin Weinberg, who actually is credited as one of the inventors of the light water reactor.

We have had this technology for 50 years, and yet it has never been introduced into commercial markets. Today there are many companies that have expanded on the findings of this project and in the USA as of 2014 there is over $1 billion of investments in this technology. Not only does the reactor type operate under atmospheric pressure, but their are physical, chemical and thermodynamic features of this reactor that eliminate the need for extrapolation of engineered systems. Some reactor models feature liquid fuel, which completely eliminates the risk of a meltdown, as the fuel is already in a melted state. The coolant cannot boil, because there is not enough heat in the system to surpass the boiling point. This design eliminates the need of redundant engineered systems to counteract the possibility of pressure build up. No longer do we have to build electric vehicles the size of tanks with multiple battery systems, instead we are using a better battery. These changes would dramatically reduce the costs of nuclear reactors.


#16

Nuclear trolls such as yourself bore the fuck out me, take your argument to some one with loose ethics that would monetarily support your idea, you’l find few banks that will. Two new reactors have been terminated mid-construct in Georgia, so…please make your pitiful case, I’m waiting…and will continue to wait because none of your science holds water, because of the ‘externalities’ and you fucking know it so go the way of the dinosaur,…please? Yeah, that’s rhetorical because what you represent is greed and domination over the ‘commons’…admit it, because your ‘breed’ thinks it is superior to the rest of us.


#17

right you are…and completely unable to get liability insurance


#18

and of the fact that they’re being totally priced out by wind & solar, especially with the new generation of batteries


#19

there is simply no need for this pre-failed technology. it can never compete economically or ecologically with Solartopian wind, solar, batteries, etc.


#20

They are unable to get commercial insurance because of the threat of meltdowns. MSRs completely eliminate that problem.