Chernobyl : every robot from USA, Japan, France quickly broke down because of radioactivity. Fukushima : same problem. Nobody knows how to design a robot sustaining high radioactivity level. A silicon sensor is quickly burned, Chernobyl demonstrated the only robots you can use to solve these disasters are "biorobots". 800 000 young man, named "liquidators" have given their health to stop the Chernobyl drama, a big shrunk of Japanese population will lose health because moving them elsewhere is too expensive. Is the nuclear energy with only 2.6% of the world production worth the price ? Really, we must profoundly rethink the way we live, the future is not solely a technological issue.
We all agree that hindsight is 20/20, but putting a nuclear power plant with numerous reactors and spent rod fuel tanks right on the coast of an area known for earthquakes and sunamis may be the recipe for disaster. As was mentioned already, the spent fuel needs to be taken away from the coast and populated areas. The backup pump systems and facilities need to survive earthquakes and any size sunami.
I would favor smaller, modular reactors away from, and down wind from population centers. Thus reducing the radioactive risk at any one site. Also grid them together in such a way that if any one (or two) go down, the others can pick up the slack.
If any one reactor should fail it could be dropped into a reinforced concrete hole and sealed up forever while it cools down.
Portable reactors could be useful - if such a thing is practicle. Submarines and aircraft carriers are effectivly portable nuclear reactors as well.
Fukishima needed information on the damage in real time - but could not put humans close to the problem. There seems to be a need for robotic video and mechanical construction type equipment to assist in the control of this type of disaster.
We will need massive amounts of electricity to run our cars, and also think we should consider remote nuclear plants which generate hydrogen to power our vehicles...
Unfortunately events like this cause a kneejerk reaction in the public. While tragic, the disaster here still pales in comparison to the damage to the envirnoment caused by coal mining and burning. And the lives lost by coal miners as well as health hazards make the impact here small in comparison.
There are lessons here to be learned and one of them is don't store waste fuel at the site. Additionally we now have much better reactor design. The reactors which failed were the older ones at the plant. the remaining reactors while newer, still are not as good as what we can do today. We have designs now where you can lose cooling water (though you do want to avoid if possible, hard on the reactor). And future designs should take into account how to protect backup generators.
I would hope that we retire old plants and replace them with new, better and safer ones. Until we have an viable alternative, nuclear is a good way to go. Efforts at solar and wind cannot totally replace coal, hydro, nuclear sources. And demand for power generation will skyrocket as we move to electric vechicles. Using a coal fired plant to generate electricty for an electric vechicle will dump way more CO2 into the atmosphere than just staying with gasoline. However a nuclear, hydro, solar or wind source for electric vechiclesworks. We need a thoughtful approach to power generation and no one solution works. However I would like to see coal go.
Also clean coal is an oxymoron and it generates even more CO2 per kilowatt and requires even more coal mining
It's my understanding that a nuclear plant must be cooled with heavy water and nothing else will due because it is inefficient and can't keep up with the heat generated. Having this in mind, I knew the reactors where doomed to fail. I only hoped that it wasn't another Chernobyle type incident for the people of Japan. Because of the heavy water requirement and large halflife of radioactive fuel, I think nuclear power is not that bright of an idea. The plumbing broke, engines failed to start, and foundations broke apart, the only thing one could do was try to lessen the damage.
You're right, disinformation makes people think the drama is the result of the big stroke followed by a big water. The best winning disinformation process is the ONE MONTH DELAY before the INES7 level declaration, and no word about a real level INES8 because no solution exist to stop the Fukushima corium to day. The INES7 reference is Chernobyl : the soviet involved many people digging deadly under the RBMK to stop the corium. Fukushima pressure and temperature data monitoring are always hidden from citizens, hope the release of these data is a matter of weeks, not years. Every one of us must act to make these figures public, we need to know before we can make our mind about these NPPs.
People involved with the very strong march 11 seism evaluation feature this : strength 9.1, duration : 3 minutes. The Fukushima NPP is designed for 7.x strong seism. With that duration and the big power difference larger than 100 times of the seism (more than 2 logarithmic point between 7 and 9.1) no chance the Fukushima design can resist. Bringing on the top of the mountain the generators is of no use. The whole vessel design was off well before the tsunami impact. I fear no one can design a NPP to sustain such a powerful and sustained earthquake, the energy ratio is in the range of thousands above the current design ratings. Now the corium is out of containment and the TMI disaster is a gentle affair compared to Fukushima. The whole planet is concerned, no customs for radioactivity. Can we longer rely on nuclear energy : only 2.6% of final energy used by humanity and each big accident cost so large it nullifies spares from the origin of nuclear era energy.
It seems that as the plants come up for re-licensing here in the US we should seriously consider retiring the older designs and replacing them with new ones.
There are many good points in the article and in the comments. Separating plants physically, removing spent fuel and reprocessing it, and replacing older reactors with new modern and safe designs seems like a no brainer.
It is interesting to note how many of these problems and issues are the result of poor decisions made in the past. Not reprocessing the fuel is a good example. But we can go even further back and ask why we are using uranium fueled reactors instead of thorium? The reason is you cannot make a bomb from thorium. The US wanted the uranium technology to support the defense requirement for nuclear weapons.
One thing I have learned is the sooner one corrects the mistakes made the sooner one can obtain the benefits of doing it right. Unfortunately the NRC has also become the poster child for what is known as "Regulatory capture". The NRC is not so much regulating and providing oversight as they are promoting and acquiescing to the industry demands.
The smartest thing to do is to look at the entire industry and the energy requirements it is intended to support and come up with a national (even international) energy policy. The policy should correct the errors of the past and provide a carefully thought out and well engineered solution for the future. I just don't see that coming from the Federal government and the Department of Energy. I might blame the oil companies for part of this.
I am reasonably confident that the Japanese culture will remedy the current issues uncovered with Nuclear plants in new and remedial work. A look at the systematic, incremental improvements they made in autos demonstrates this.
I am seriously concerned that the US culture of not spending a penny more than we need to to obtain a benefit will hamper us from doing the same with expedited timing. Some suggestions for our activities: (1) For flooding, earthquake , tsunami, and wave action where are the tall berm walls to break up the waves and encircle plants and diesel genertors. Should we add redundant powered pumps inside the berm walls that can come on immediately? Should we reloacate the genertors to high ground? Should we have redundant bare bones control rooms at the edge of the site or offsite? (2) For offsite power should we have reduadant offsite power from 2 diverse locations? Should it be located underground and protected from both terror and natural interruption? (3) Should we over ride the no preemptive shutdown policy of utilities in the interest of national security? How many dollars can compensate for human lives put at risk? Now that we have seen the creative ugly face of terrorism, we should rethink the entire issue for Nuclear and fossile plants and see is we can sufficiently isolate units from each other as well as the nearby neighborhood. (4) I noted a few new safety systems in Japanese plants that were not in US nuc plants when I wrote FSARs 20 years ago, we need to evlauate how well they worked and which ones to incorporate. (5) We need to coordinate military protection for national assets like this and train with special forces to defend the plants. Use redundant diverse communications. Even the spent fuel pool can be a contamination problem. (6) We need a national spent fuel reprocessing and storage faciklity and policy to get the spent fuel safe from accidental and deliberate compromises and away from populated areas. If we can isolate and protect missile silos, we can protect spent fuel. (7) We need a major initiative to inspect plants from corrosion and other silent dangers. Then make a list of infrastructure that needs replacementand do so on a schedule. How can a small utility have the expertise to know where to look for problems and how often, especially in rooms that are only entered once every year or two?
I want to see us do better, we are capable, but really need fresh eyes. The world has changed since the assumed risks were written down in the 1960s and 1970s and we need to evaluate the landscape again.
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