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Power Earth Japan Science Politics

Americans Favor Moratorium On New Nuclear Reactors 964

An anonymous reader writes "While a drop in public support for nuclear power would be expected after an incident like the Fukushima reactor crisis, the nuclear disaster in Japan has triggered a much stronger response among Americans. When Japan — the nation that President Obama held up as an example of safe nuclear power being used on a large-scale basis — is unable to effectively control its considerable downside, Americans are understandably leery about the same technology being used even more extensively in this nation. And safety concerns about the existing nuclear plants also deserve serious attention."
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Americans Favor Moratorium On New Nuclear Reactors

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  • by Talderas ( 1212466 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @08:34AM (#35637436)

    Yes. That is how current designs function. They use an electromagnetic to hold the control rods up. When the power for the electromagnet is severed the control rods fall into place. Fukushima reactor designed featured control rods that were lifted into the reactor.

    That said, control rods weren't the problem at Fukushima.

  • Re:So uh (Score:5, Informative)

    by AlecC ( 512609 ) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Monday March 28, 2011 @08:36AM (#35637472)

    According to New Scientist, coal kills about 13,000 Americans per annum. In a chart in their most recent edition, coal is by far the most lethal power source per billion GWh generated.

  • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @08:53AM (#35637686) Homepage Journal

    Actually, if not a THICK layer of red tape, SSTAR [wikipedia.org] and HPM [wikipedia.org] type reactors could be deployed exactly like that.

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @09:09AM (#35637938)
    Ahhh so quick to blame the private enterprises. Maybe you don't actually pay attention but the nuclear industry is the most heavily regulated industry in existence. An operator can't fart in the control room without authorisation from the NRC. You know all those expired leases on ancient reactors which are renewed are the result of the NRC extending the licenses, not the evil private enterprise doing their best to milk old equipment. If you want to start replacing the old reactors with something better then maybe you should start pointing the fingers at the government.

    Also if you've ever been exposed to anything to do with engineering, there's always cost cutting. You know the entire incident in Fukushima could have been contained if they built a giant lead dome over the city too right? But that option was knocked down as too cost prohibitive. But on a more serious note there's always an extra redundant system that could have been put in, the design scope could always have included securing against a mag 9 earthquake instead of the magnitude 7.9. There's always room for an extra quadruple redundant cooling system, but in the end cost cutting does feed in the ultimate ability to build a project. If we build anything to withstand everything it is often no longer economical to build it.
  • by BZ ( 40346 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @09:12AM (#35637980)

    > The increase in background radiation will
    > absolutely cause a raise in cancers

    Increase in background radiation where? Do you have numbers to cite here?

    > there's the matter of radioactive material put into
    > environment

    Details? Which isotopes are we talking about? Is it worse than your typical coal plant operating for a month?

    > Radioactive elements can never be made safe.

    That's just not true. For example, oxygen-15 makes itself safe in a matter of hours (half-life of 120s with decay to a stable nitrogen isotope). A large fraction of the radioactive release from Fukushima has been elements like that.

    Now maybe what you mean is that long-half-life isotopes can't really be made safe. I agree; the goal would be to prevent them escaping the containment vessel.

    > Solar, wind, and hydrothermal are much safer.

    I'd _love_ to see numbers for this, on comparable scales.

    That is, how safe or unsafe is your typical solar plant generating 0.8GW (which is what each of the reactors at Fukushima was generating)? How safe is your typical wind plant of that capacity? Whole-life numbers (i.e. including construction and maintenance) would be good. Problem is, no one actually tracks that stuff, so we don't have those numbers....

    > that would otherwise plague a small area around
    > the plant

    Uh... you can't have it both ways. If pollution from coal plants (including the radioactive elements they put in the air) is localized to a "small area", how is that not the case for nuclear?

    > But since the deaths from nuclear are primarily
    > cancers

    Citation please?

    > The best you can do is mitigate the risks.

    This is true for all power-generation setups. The only question is when in the life cycle the highest risks are. For photovoltaic solar, for example, it seems to me that they are primarily at the solar cell production stage and the related industrial accidents. For hydroelectric they're when your dam is operating (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam is a good read). For nuclear there's the initial uranium purification or plutonium production and operating risks. But yes, risk-mitigation is the name of the game. That's how life in general works: walking down stairs is unsafe. People die from it all the time. We do it all the time, but we put in handrails and people who're particularly susceptible to the risk get single-floor houses...

  • Best Bet? (Score:4, Informative)

    by wytcld ( 179112 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @09:15AM (#35638032) Homepage

    Thing is, with nuclear, you don't want a bet, you need a sure thing, at least in safety. GE has lately been pointing out about the Mark I reactor design, that they've run for 40 years without a major mishap. That's with 23 in the US, and how many others abroad? Let's pretend in total there are 40 of them. Then of 40 Mark I reactors over 40 years only 6 have partially melted down! If we project that out to a century, there will only be a 37.5% failure rate for this design. What, you say they won't run for a century? But the NRC has recertified the plant of this design in Vermont for another 20 years, and issued that after the Japan meltdowns. Surely if they can recertify it now, they can do it twice more.

    This is a design over which 3 top GE engineers resigned in the 70s, saying it was unsafe. The AEC at the same time considered ordering all Mark I plants shut down, but declined to because of the political implications for atomic power. And that containment vessel that's been leaking in the Japanese Mark 1s? In the US they're routinely packed with 5 times the spent fuel they were engineered to hold safely, while in Japan they are only at 2-3 times engineered capacity.

    Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

  • Re:What happened? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Monday March 28, 2011 @09:16AM (#35638050) Journal

    No it does not remain dangerous for billions of years. We had a word for things with half lives measured in billions of years: "stable". Something with such a long half-life will have very little radioactivity.

  • Re:What happened? (Score:4, Informative)

    by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @09:32AM (#35638268) Journal

    When he talks about recycling, he's not talking about reducing the radioactivity of uranium and plutonium - you want those to be radioactive. He's talking about removing the neutron poisons and fission products from the fuel elements, and returning the fuel to the core for more energy production. A nuclear reactor only uses about 1% of the fuel in an assembly before the reaction is no longer sustainable due to neutron poisons. This allows you to get at the other ~99%, increasing efficiency and reducing waste.

    Removing the trans-uranics and fission products allows you to separate the high-level wastes that decay much faster (tens to hundreds of years rather than tens of thousands) from the usable fuel assemblies that can undergo critical assembly to be useful again. Also, it gives us access to lots of materials useful for medical imaging and radiotherapy.

    Read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_reprocessing [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:So uh (Score:2, Informative)

    by Svartalf ( 2997 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @09:32AM (#35638270) Homepage

    Biofuels are largely zero net increasing in CO2 emissions. They're peeling out the CO2 that's already THERE in the environment.

  • Re:What happened? (Score:5, Informative)

    by HappyHead ( 11389 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @09:32AM (#35638274)

    I wonder what would happen if such disasters had hit a dam or a thermal gas/coal plant...

    The massive environmental devastation that resulted would once again be hushed up and glossed over by the majority of the media, just like these [celsias.com] ones [popularmechanics.com] were [wikipedia.org]. Of course, they didn't even have a 9.0 earthquake or a tsunami, just some incompetence, bad safety protocols, and much looser restrictions on how they store and treat their toxic waste products.

  • Re:So uh (Score:2, Informative)

    by fritsd ( 924429 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @09:33AM (#35638294) Journal

    ... So you are left, now with two possible strategies:

    (coal or nuclear or gas)
    You left out :

    • Wind
    • Better insulated homes
    • Solar thermal
    • Hydro (most capacity probably already in use)
    • Solar PV
    • Tidal power (futuristic)
    • Energy storage by cooling cold-storage warehouses extra during off-peak hours (EU plan)

    I'd say that wind turbines are much quicker to build (2-3 years?) than nuclear plants, so why on earth would you need

    - use nuclear as a stopgap for renewable/fusion

    for anyway.

  • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @09:33AM (#35638296)

    All joking aside, I keep hearing about "pebble bed reactors" as being the Power thats Going to Save the World.

    But it's my understanding (correct me if I'm wrong) that nobody on the planet has yet succeeded in building one that's actually worked, let alone a commercially successful one.

  • Re:So uh (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kreigaffe ( 765218 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @09:58AM (#35638692)


    sure, the plants used to make the biofuel take in carbon, and then release it when the processed product -- biofuel -- is consumed..

    but there's a lot of processing and transportation to get to that point, nevermind the carbon footprint of growing the stuff -- fertilizers, pesticides, planting and harvesting. all those things output co2 -- all those things consume energy. biofuel really doesn't actually produce much energy, if at all, when you take the totality of the picture into account

  • Re:So uh (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kreigaffe ( 765218 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @10:07AM (#35638820)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_Fast_Reactor [wikipedia.org]

    that's just one, that i particularly like -- there's PLENTY of new reactor designs that include a 'kill switch'. there's a bunch of different ways of doing it, too, either with control rods that are suspended above the reactor and if power fails, fall automatically, or in the IFR in the case of loss of power the liquid sodium would naturally heat up, which sucks more neutrons out of the fuel rods (not exactly but near enough for nontechnical crap yeah..) -- basically, if things go wrong, the coolant being used actually becomes a big ol' control rod when it gets too hot and stops reactions, naturally without any human guidance. Oh, and the coolant system is designed so that during loss of power, the coolant (liquid sodium here) will continue to circulate and cool things down for quite a while (and hopefully long enough to avoid a shutdown, but failing that the coolant will get hot and the core reactions shut down).

    Seriously, we've got 40 years since TMI was built -- we've got this shit figured out. You don't KNOW about it because "the public hates nookyoular!" and politicians shut it down. constantly. clinton killed the IFR, last I heard GE was shopping some drop-in reactors of a more advanced design than we had back in the '90s.. to the Chinese. Basically just a big ol' box that you drop into an existing coal power plant -- remove coal furnace, replace with nuclear furnace, leave existing steam turbines in place

  • Re:What happened? (Score:4, Informative)

    by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Monday March 28, 2011 @01:23PM (#35641780)

    You made me curious.

    The standard steel production process takes .6 tons of coke coal per ton of steel produced. http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/coal-statistics/coal-steel-statistics/ [worldcoal.org]

    And a 3.5 GW coal plant burns about 1.4 million million tons of coal a year.
    http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/question481.htm [howstuffworks.com]

    So building your wind mills will take at minimum the same amount of coal as running a coal plant for 6 months, just for the steel. I just thought that was interesting.

C makes it easy for you to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes that harder, but when you do, it blows away your whole leg. -- Bjarne Stroustrup