Rob, your comment goes right to the heart of the issue. The question is, can you afford to build a plant that will stand up more effectively to a 9.0 earthquake? Do you need to make it stand up to an earthquake of 9.5 or even worse? Does the cost-benefit situation indicate that it's too costly to be feasible? The professors we talked with argued that coal-burning plants are still more dangerous to human life, and that nuclear power needs to be compared to the alternatives, rather than viewed in a vacuum.
"There were meltdowns at three reactors and explosions at three reactors buildings"
That depends upon how you define what happened at both Unit 2 and unit 4. Unit 2 appears to have melted down and burned it's way out of the building and Unit 4 did some sort of explosion right out of cold shutdown.
" The Great East Japan Earthquake was the worst Japan has ever seen"
The Sanriku quake was as bad or worse, 6 other quakes killed far more people.
And failing to look at plausible quakes is just incompetence. Is it implausible that Japan gets Richter 8+ quakes and 10 Meter Tsunami? Merely look at 1933 or 1896 which were both on that Tohuko region.
Failing to plan for Richter 9 quakes on the japanese coast and tsunami is criminal negligence.
"The dire predictions of ten of thousands of radiation deaths haven't come true."
There are tens of thousands of children in Fukushima with thyroid cysts and anomalies. Growing up with Thyroid cancer is no blessing.
Good information, Patb2009. The Fukushima plant was built 40 years ago. Would current technology have made the plant safer? Or is it your view that there is no safe place for a nuclear plant on the island of Japan?
The people we talked to were university professors, Thatmonk. One was a physics professor; two were nuclear engineering profs. The studies we cited were done by two physics professors. The Wall Street Journal article we cited was written by a physics professor. The Nuclear Energy Institute declined an offer to talk with us (but did guide us to photos used in the slideshow). The studies cited didn't simply look at the numbers today; they made projections. This article notes the projections. Again -- their point is that given the mammoth devastation, the current projections and the numbers thus far are low, much lower than the media was projecting two years ago.
The points you raise are valid, patb2009. There were meltdowns at three reactors and explosions at three reactors buildings. Hundreds of thousands of residents had to be evacuated from their homes. But I think the three profs we interviewed are taking a bigger picture view of this. The Great East Japan Earthquake was the worst Japan has ever seen. It left 15,000 to 20,000 dead. There were so many bodies, it exceeded the available capacity of crematoriums. There were tens of billions of dollars in damage, 129,000 buildings were collapsed and 254,000 were half-collapsed. More than 230,000 autos and trucks were destroyed. More than 100,000 children were uprooted from their homes. The earthquake was so powerful that it shifted the earth's axis between 4" and 10", which led to differences in the tilt of the earth and the length of the day. The point is that under the circumstances, it could be argued that zero radiation deaths to date (verified by multiple studies at this point) would indicate that Fukushima did quite well. Would engineers design for an earthquake greater than an 8.2 in the future? Almost certainly. Would they design for a bigger tsunami? Absolutely. Would they react more quickly and decisively at the plant, so that the mammoth clean-up process wouldn't take decades? Yes, I would hope they would. Still, I believe the profs have a valid point. The dire predictions of ten of thousands of radiation deaths haven't come true. The numbers are impressive when placed in context against the magnitude of the disaster.
I am often astounded how a person can ignore such critical facts around such a devestating disaster.
1. Design spec of fuel failure was 1%. Reality is 100% in three cores with fuel fragments ejected over a mile from the reactors.
2. 80% of the radionuclides were blown off shore. This is a huge issue and the effect on the Pacific is not known at this time.
3. Over 160,000 people will never return home. From their point of view did the reactors do well? No.
4. Economic harm was not addressed at all. It is safe to say it would bankrupt Japan.
5. TEPCO has yet to pay claims to 160,000 people who lost homes, farms, businesses, and income. They have no funds for this.
6. Containment is meant to do just that: contain. At present we have thousands of tons of fuel and corium with no containment and no tech to remove it.
7. Any medical doctor can tell you it is unreasonable to calculate the cost of health and death just two years out. It takes decates of careful research to determine the actual harm with most cancers not showing up for years. there is also many other health problems related to cesium and others that have not been studied in Japan. The facts will not be in for 50 years as the results play out statistically. This is like saying a car did well in a crash long before it has come to rest.
8. Finally, there is a long history of governments minimizing the massive costs a meltdown and melt through cause. How can this author in good conscience report almost no one was harmed when we do not have full access to the data and detailed and in depth independent studies yet to be conducted.
In closing, it is apparent this author is quite negligent in comprehending the facts of this nuclear disaster and reporting accordingly. He is reporting for the benefit of a failing industry. Plants are not designed to melt down. This is what happened and it is not acceptable.
Anyone who thinks the Fukushima Dai-chi stations passed the crisis of March 2011 has not been paying attention. While the plant no doubt performed past the design basis specification for Ground Motion and water intrusion, that speaks more to poor Specifications then any actual reality based engineering design. Japan is cited on the Pacific rim of fire and has a 10,000 year history of quakes and Tsunami. Japan has had 13 quakes above 8.2 in their recorded history. Failing to specify survival at the 1896 Meiji Sunruko quake and
resultant tsunami was failing to diligently understand the environment. The 1896 quake killed 22,000 people and produced a 38 M tsunami wave.
Failing to design for a 40 M wave was poor planning at best.
Any designer who fails to look at the 100 year environment when designing civil protection systems, is failing to meet the canons of ethics, IMHO.
The Explosion and failure of Fukushima unit 4 when it was in a cold shutdown and had been undergoing refueling for 6 months speaks to fundamental design flaws. Any reactor that can explode when powered down, lacks fundamental passive stability.
It is possible to say that Fukushima performed beyond it's best expectations, only if one means that the actual expectation was all 10 of the fukushima reactors would explode and shower radioactive plumes on Tokyo, however, that's a pretty low bar.
Competent designers should be ashamed of how the fukushima reactors performed.
This is very good news, especially for someone like me who has lived in Japan. It reminds me of a comment I think Jack Ganssle made after 9/11, when the architect of WTC had been shown in interviews as pretty distraught over all the lives lost in the twin towers. Jack, OTOH, pointed out that the buildings actually passed their final test well too: many people below the floors where the airliners hit had time to get out before the towers collapsed. Considering they too were only designed to withstand a smaller accident (I think someone said the biggest plane they considered was a 707), IMHO I think the towers did better than the architect thought they would.
Nice slide show, Chuck. And good news for the nuclear power industry. The Fukushima accident frightened the whole world, with Europe -- previously big proponents of nuclear -- getting shy about this energy source. Nuclear continues to be a surprisingly safe energy source.
The question of whether engineers could have foreseen the shortcut maintenance procedures that led to the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979 will probably linger for as long as there is an engineering profession.
More than 35 years later, the post-mortem on one of the country’s worst engineering disasters appears to be simple. A contractor asked for a change in an original design. The change was approved by engineers, later resulting in a mammoth structural collapse that killed 114 people and injured 216 more.
If you’re an embedded systems engineer whose analog capabilities are getting a little bit rusty, then you’ll want to take note of an upcoming Design News Continuing Education Center class, “Analog Design for the Digital World,” running Monday, Nov. 17 through Friday, Nov. 21.
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