What about the 980,000+ deaths attributed to the Chernobyl catastrophe?
Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment
Written by Alexey V. Yablokov (Center for Russian Environmental Policy, Moscow, Russia), Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko (Institute of Radiation Safety, Minsk, Belarus). Consulting Editor Janette D. Sherman-Nevinger (Environmental Institute, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan). Volume 1181, December 2009 335 Pages
I happen to live very near TMI and I would much rather live near a modern coal burning power plant. There are too many incidents at TMI. Like the one last year (September 2012) where radioactive steam was released into the atmosphere. The original news reports stated that the core was briefly exposed, but there was no danger to the public. That news story has been scrubbed. I read that it was another case of a stuck valve at TMI, which limited coolant flow causing the coolant to overheat. A safety valve popped releasing radioactive steam and triggering a shutdown of the reactor. At least the auto-shutdown functioned. Otherwise, we might have had a repeat of 1979.
There is a saying in aviation: A new design of an aircraft will not be issued until the weight of the paperwork in the application exceeds the weight of the aircraft. I believe nuclear power plants are the same way.
As an aside: please get your facts right. At the time the WTC was designed, the 707 was the state of the art. There was no 737.
But that's not the point of discussion here.
The failure at the Fukushima Daichi was not really a failure of nuclear power as much as it was a failure of civil engineering to protect the plant. The design parameters were simply too lenient.
There are new plant designs that are more fail-safe. The new AP 1000 design has finally been approved by the NRC. China is building on these designs now.
Regarding the learning experiences, allow me to point out that when the review process is as long and bureaucratic as anything in Nuclear is, the opportunity to "learn" anything is diminished. We have used bureaucracy to bollix up nuclear engineering to the point where we have little hope of being permitted to improve upon existing designs. Furthermore, if you chose to build something that might be revolutionary, such as a thorium fuel based reactor, you might as well give up right now.
The answer will almost always be NO, even if it is a vast improvement over what we are doing now. Since the days of TMI, we have staffed the industry with drones who would be lost without their paperwork.
Oddly enough, if we want a safer industry, we need to allow for innovation, and that means we need to make it less bureaucratic. There is an extreme at both ends of the spectrum. We went from an anything goes environment of the 1960s to an uber bureaucratic insanity by the 1990s. While I'm not in favor of removing all bureaucratic review, we need to allow for some lighter weight review cycles if we have any hope of updating anything.
Given the catastrophic events that let to the issue at Fukishima, and comparing it with the Chernobyl incident it seems that this plant did indeed contain a vast amount of radaition when put under unbelievable stress. However what this shows is opportunities for future plants that can survive something in this magnitude or greater thru automation, perhaps shutdown protocol could have averted even this paltry exposure???
Nice list of the shortcomings, Patb2009. A lot of the regulatory control over the energy industry has been gutted during the last few decades. So I'm not surprised a post-Fukushima operation could get the OK without new retraints
Chuck, as your article points out, the number of illnesses and deaths from a really bad nuclear power plant accident are very low. Even those out year predictions are just that, predictions. Here in Chicago, there is a coal fired plant that opponents claim cause many more illnesses that claimed for Fukushima.
With the desire to reduce carbon emissions and provide abundant power clashing, it is a real shame that more people don't look at the actual numbers.
Your teacher was not wrong: 1) nuclear reactors only pose a threat to health if they have a substantial failure; coal plants provide a continuous and ongoing threat. 2) under normal conditions, exposure to fugitive radioactive ions is higher for coal. There are a number of scientific studies that make this conclusion. 3) the total accessible exposure is higher for coal plants because they are in greater number and less judiciously sited. 4) other emmissions such as mercury, arsenic, VOCs, sulphides, fine particulates, etc. from coal are unmatched by nuclear. 5) the volume of hazardous solid waste produced is much higher and less well contained with coal compared to nuclear.
I am an avowed proponent of nuclear power, just not the type that the US government has instituted. I do not consider the Fukushima power plant a measure of success.
Ask yourself what would the present conditions be like if this been a coal fired plant instead of a nuclear power plant? The affected zone would have been confined to the facility and we would not be arguing about measures of success, for two things.
There are some amazing oversights in the implementation of this power plant that were apparent long before this earthquake. That they were not addressed is a condemnation of the culture, both there and abroad. I know we can do better so I am not ready to condemn nuclear power because of the failure at Fukishima.
To argue that we can use wind and solar power as a substitute for nuclear. coal or natural gas power plants does not even merit a response.
Given what we know already, we have the ability to do nuclear power safely. That we haven't yet is an example of the same failure mode in culture that is clearly demonstrated by the Fukushima power plant and US government mandates.
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