Chuck, this is an interesting and important question. We do not design things to be failsafe. As you point out, that would cost too much. On the other hand, our whole attitude to risk and human safety is completely bizaire on a societal level. We get all upset by things like a school shooting, while we drive our cars in a very dangerous fashion. Go figure.
Automobiles, on the other hand, are MUCH safer today. The number you quote is far less than it was when the population was much lower than it is. There are a number of factors at work here, but the most important is the design of the vehicle.
Finally, I am reminded of the old Tank McNamara cartoon. When fans were asked how long they would watch cars go round and round a track (we're talking NASCAR), they answered a few minutes. When told that there was a possibility someone would die they answered as long as it takes.
patb2009, on the topic of fish, one of the biggest sources of contamination in fish is chemical runnoff, mostly from lawn fertilizer.
What I find interesting in the study you provided the link to is that there is no mention of the level before. This study is a single point in time. You really cannot draw inferences from that. In addition, I am not conversant on what the natural level for these compounds would be in that area, and what the safe levels are considered to be.
Not too long ago there was a NIH study of arsenic, I believe, in rice. The level was higher in US grown rice. All rice has some level of the compound that it absorbed from the soil. As far as I can tell, there is also no standard for the allowable exposure level. That is being studied. I have not heard anything since the press published articles on the study. I do not see any evidence of large scale problems in rice eating countries from this.
My message is, be careful of how you use statistics.
if you knew much about radioactive isotopes, you wouldn't be asking these
questions. Radiation contamination is different from chemical contamination.
Many areas have natural arsenic, chromium, lead, copper, in the water and
it tends to be very stable because it's leaching out of aquifers.
however radio-isotopes have a half life, and over most periods of geological time, these half lives go away. Cs-137 has a 30 year half life, so it's a decay product from
reactor operations and a few other activities,
if you bother reading the map, it's also a nice distribution of the downwind effects of Fukushima.
the skeptical observer is useful for denying reality, but, for anyone who is consistently denying the reality here, all they need to do to prove their beliefs is start feeding their grandkids food products from Fukushima.
This is a really interesting topic to tackle, Chuck, and very relevant. It's true that safety comes at a price and that the barometer for creating safe products, buildings etc. can't really cover every possible event. Still, when you look at some occurrences in retrospect, it seems like tragedy could be avoided in many cases. Lou has a point that there are a lot of disparities in our attitudes, but generally a lot of products are much safer today than they used to be. One thing to keep in mind is you can't control individuals--you may be able to make a car safer in general, but you can't control someone who is determined to drive recklessly.
As an interesting aside ... after several severe casualties in "sweatshops" in Bangledesh ... workers were asked if they would prefer higher wages or safer conditions. 95% chose higher wages. So safety definitely is relative and I like the option (I ride a motorcycle for example which is clearly not something that puts safety first). My fear as people look for gov't to solve problems is a place where the size of your soft-drink is monitored.
As for "sweatshops" being in quotes, the conditions and wages are very bad compared to the US. They tend to be, however, far better than other options in those countries. So as Nike and others pull out of there for the safety of the people, they will greatly increase misery in those nations. It is very true that the road to hell was paved with good intentons.
Excellent post Mike. Some of the same covers the "horrible" conditions in the industrial revolution. People forget that the alternative was starvation for many.
IIRC the population of England was "stable" for several hundred years before the industrial revolution, and then doubled in less than a century. Mean ol' capitalism has been the only effective method in history of reducing poverty and starvation. Socialism has been an effective way to restore it. Which way is our Gummit heading again...
Every aspect of power generation has numerous failure mechanisms and each of those has a statistical number of deaths associated with it. The total number of predicted deaths per million from a 9.0 vs an 8.2 earthquake involves more calculations than there are engineers to make them. A trash-to-energy plant I'm familiar with requsted a permit to build and was denied because the predicted number of deaths per million of one of the stack gasses (out of 30 or 40 analyzed)was 4 per million (calculation showed one death wtih a margin of error of +/- 3). The applicant hired a world respected engineering firm to re-evaluate the formula and was able to reduce the margin of error from 3 to 2 (for several hundred thousand dollars) which reduced the prediction to 3 per million which was considered acceptable. It is difficult to separate a statistical model from the individual human lives those models represent.
And then we make choices to use fossil fuels over Nukes, which have orders of magnitude more deaths and injuries. Instead high use of coal, gas, and oil fossil fuels produce high levels of polutants that cause measured increases in SIDS, killing kids, babies, and harm/kill adults too.
A few more billions of dollars to improve Nuke safety, do safety retrofits, and triple the number of nuke power plants would save several times that in real costs, real lives lost.
Until fairly recently there were no alternatives to fossile fuels. NONE AT ALL! Really, think about that and don't go dragging out the ramblings of a writer devoid of accurate information. It has not been that long ago that hydroelectric power was developed. Prior to that water powwer turned only the local manufacturing systems, primarily mills. So don't bash all of humanity for burning candles to push back the dark, OK? Fossile fuels have been around for a long time because there was no other alternative, except maybe to sit in a cave and eat rocks. Rocks are OK, but not for eating, except on rare occasions.
At 30,000 deaths per year, we're at about the same raw number of auto deaths in the late 1960s. With a larger population, that shows progress. Even so, if the airline industry experienced one tenth of the number in a year, all planes would be grounded until a solution was found. I'd love to see some pressure on the auto industry to create safer cars.
The airline industry has professionally trained and certified pilots operating their aircraft, a cast of thousands constantly watching every plane in the air, and years-long investigations of every crash. Automobiles rely on amateurs with less than an hour of testing and often no training at all.
Airlines pay tens of millions of dollars for every plane, several thousand times the cost of the average new car, and yet when a plane crashes, people quite often die. A car crash happens about once every five seconds in this country and yet only 30,000 people a year die.
I think it is clear that our cars are quite safe, that the problem is the concept of nearly 200,000,000 careless amateurs being allowed to operate these devices. When 1/3 of all traffic fatalities are still alcohol related, it's obvious that what we need to fix is the driver, not the vehicle.
Good points, Jwa. I recently spent considerable time helping my daughter prepare for driving. She took four months worth of training lessons and I kept a running instruction during before and during her training time with a permit. Given all this, she was surprised by the tons of examples of bad driving she saw -- and often worked to avoid -- by drivers of all ages. So many drivers don't seem to be aware how dangerous driving is. The carelessness I see can only be explained by inebriation or a failure to understand the nature of the danger involved in driving.
The industry has been under pressure for decades to produce safer cars and they have had amazing success given the price restraints they have to work with. The problem remains having a 2 ton machine that can go over 80mph being controlled by an organism that can't exceed 30mph on its own and, historically, probably was limited to closer to half that. Remember that despite clear statistics and years of mandatory use laws, there are still a substantial number of drivers who refuse to use a seat belt and it absolutely astounds me that there are so many drivers who try texting at the wheel.
You're right to bring up texting, Intersil_Bill. I have now learned the telltale signs -- doing 20 in a 40, swerving in and out of lanes, a delay in getting started when the light turns green. High consequences have made some progress in driving down drunken driving instances (though not enough by far), perhaps stiff consequences might bring down the accidents, injuries and deaths related to texting.
You want auto safety on par with airline safety? Easy. Replace airbags with explosives. Airline safety is largely predicated on the fact that a crash usually means instant death. No such deterrent exists in auto travel. In fact, it's just the opposite. Cars are becoming larger, faster, more isolated, more capable in acceleration, braking, and cornering. Result: drivers who drive in a way more risky manner (agressive driving, texting, etc) because the vehicle largely protects them from such irresponsible behavior. In fact, many specifically select larger, more protective vehicles just so they can operate it in a more irresponsible manner. And the consequencies of such behavior is largely borne by others. The airbags, crush zones, seat belts, and vehicle mass do a great job of protecting the irresponsible driver, while the vehicle is wreaking destruction on everything around it.
No, I'm not actually suggesting replacing airbags with explosives, but the situation we have now, with auto related deaths surpassing those from all crime and all but a couple of diseases, is clearly not the answer. How much is a life worth? Apparently, not as much as people's sense of entitlement in driving how they wish. So the "How safe is safe enough?" question, when it pertains to auto safety, is almost impossible to answer, given that improvements in safety are often defeated by human nature.
Good points, BillyMoore. I think the reckless drivers would be just as careless if they were in smaller cars. I think it has to do with a false sense of safety drivers feel simply because driving becomes so familiar.
I see a corollary from the other side of risk. I am a long time bicyclist and motorcyclist but I also drive a van. Drivers are far more likely to pull out in front of you when your vehicle presents little risk to them. The typical claim is they "did not see the bike".
I used to commute by bike and I did an experiment. One gets pretty good at spotting the cars that are likely to pull out (you can be going 30 mph in a 30 zone and they will ignore your right of way) and I started pointing, arm extended, toward the encroaching vehicle. Essentially comunicating "I see you". They ALWAYS stopped. They ALWAYS saw me. Every single time. Drivers rarely hit bikes and motorcycles because they didn't see them. The bikes just don't threaten their lives so they do what they think they can get away with.
They were simply willing to risk my life for their convenience. It was actually rather funny to see them hit the brakes, slam the suspension to the bump stops and turn their heads and pretend nothing was going on.
On vehicle size choice-I don't think people buy big so they can drive irresponsibly-I think they buy big to feel safer, and driving poorly is a by-product of feeling safer rather than the goal of the purchase.
We can apply these principles to excessive govt programs also-when people feel more secure/comfortable not working more of them will chose that route. Shocker.
Excellent, thought provoking post. It's clear that safety is a critical issue for all of us but how are our expectations set? Many times, there are additional factors that also come into play. Not alot of easy answers.
it is foolish to apply any form of statistical reasoning to a problem set more akin to a black swan then a normal distribution.
Any system should be designed for robustness as well as net risk assessment and to apply Probabilistic Risk Assesment is to foolishly assume you know the probability of any phenomena occuring.
Fundamentally, the Japanese and GE took a guess at the largest earthquake and tsunami and never looked back.
Had even minor thought gone in, then, the plants would have been sited on mildly higher ground. Fukushima 5 and 6 were 10 meters higher then 1-4 and as a result, rode out the EQ with a writeoff but no meltout.
The failure modes of things matter also, if you ever read Petrosky. If a failure mode
leads to the destruction of large areas of land, or the poisoning of millions, it's not a benign or acceptable failure mode.
It appears the Editors seem pleased that the winds pushed 80% of the nuclear material out to sea and towards California.
I do not think the Editors would be so happy, if the wind had pushed 80% of the material at Tokyo, instead of the 20% it did.
On a rough scale of probability, lets assume there are 50 reactors in Japan with a average 20 year operating time so they have 1000 reactor years of experience. Fukushima and the others were built to 100-year event standards. It was apparently well known that >9.0 earthquakes and 40-m tsunamis had occurred in Fukushima area as recently as 800 years ago. The evidence is readily available. With 1000 reactor-years statistically Japan could have experienced 10 reactor events exceeding 100-year limits. In reality they have just experienced 6 of them in March 2011 (there were 6 reactors at Fuk Dai-ichi) causing three meltdowns - fortunately three of them were cold shutdown at the time. Why are we only using 100-year limits?
Now comparing the earthquake and tsunami damage to 120,000 buildings vs damage to 1 reactor plant and where they should have placed the money to make them safer. The article suggested money (if available) to improve safety would have been better spent upon the 120,000 buildings.
Lets assume that another $1 Billion could have improved the reactor plant to withstand the events of March 2011. Failing to do so has probably cost $30-40 Billion. - loss of a plant worth $6B and $20 or 30 billion in property damage and displacement. Untold cost in lives but not immediate.
$1 Billion would have bought $8333 improvement for each structure destroyed. Not enough to withstand much of anything. But for almost $0 cost they could have built their businesses and home 20 mile inland. Look however at the history of low lying areas (New orleans, hurricane Katrina) - people will live close to their source of livlihood and the sea to save time and transportation and risk their lives against a 1 in a 100 year event for that. So even saving $8333 against ebeing 20 miles from the sea is not for them.
The difference between a Fukishima reactor and an ordinary building, dwelling or insfrastructure is, that the building loss is limited to the cost of the building and the property and maybe the life in it (who assumed the coastal risk). With a Fukushima the damage potential is much greater - tens of thousands of lives (who did not get to make a choice) and many square miles of land and other property in consequential damages.
I think there's no question that the $1 billiion would be better spent on protecting the plant with its huge capacity to generate consequential damage in the event of an Event.
Readers should be incensed. Those Gen I reactors were underbuilt for the location and the underwriters will likely lose their business and reputation for not properly considering the tsunami wave height, critical control points for auxilliary power generation for the storage pools and cooling the piles and having bridging generators susceptible to salt water ingression and destruction. All things powerful and convenient must be respected and defended. The Fukushima operators should not be lauded for being lucky. Their job, compensation and responsibility was to be super terrific 100% of the time. They failed and they know it. Lets not spin it.
Titanic shouldn't have been speeding. The WTCs should have had better sprinklers and elevator systems. Buildings in India should be inspected. And no matter how well we fix the bridge infrastructure around San Francisco and the San Andreas, sooner than we'd like, we'll find out more ways we could do better. Human journey, not a race.
Busybodies (esp. the variety found in the Gummit) love the "if one life is saved..." arguement-but they don't live it. Would a 25 mph speed limit reduce traffic deaths? Sure. Does anyone (Amish excepted) want/advocate one? Never heard of anyone doing so.
Thomas Sowell has an article today on words that substitute for thought. This type of thinking would fit right in.
We all want to be "reasonably safe", it is agreeing on what that means that is difficult.
Yes, the plant performed surprisingly well considering the size of the disaster. But if you quantified the cost of stabilization, cleanup, etc., it will be an astonishing sum. On that basis alone additional measures should have been taken to protect the plant.
EXCELLENT POST CHARLES- I have a good friend who was a math major in college. He completed his undergraduate degree and went for his master's at Stanford. His specialty is risk analysis. We were talking the other day and he indicated he has seen more and more inquiries from companies and consulting engineers asking to calculate the risk relative to operation of products supplied to the market place. Of course, this work was up front prior to manufacturing. His service was basically providing FEMA analysis, with statistics, for baselining the probability and severity of any one of several occurrences. He is now making a living serving the engineering community.
"science" of earth's geology , power generation, risk accessment, etc... All are continuously evolving.
The knowledge of earthquakes over 100 years or 1 million years is extremely limited. Anything we "knew" 40+ years ago on these subjects (when the facility in Japan was being designed) is completely different now.
Same is true of cars, airplanes, etc...
"Defining the risks" accurately is equally impossible as placing a monetary value on a human life. We try to act in a responsible, caring manner... that is all that can be expected. (yea .. sometimes we can "guess" correctly - the definition of an "expert" - three apparently correct guesses in a row)
Don't like the risks? Pay someone to re-assess until the risks are exceptable. Even using the most knowledgeable and honorable people.. the risks will still be changing... because the "facts" (knowledge base) continues to change. Even the "value" of the money (standard to which we are assigning value of life) is changing.
"Truth" in the sciences isn't stationary... even when is is agreed upon.
Creating examples to prove a position after the fact.. isn't valid or even helpful.
Charles, thanks for making us to realize how safe is the safest thing. The question is how you should be safer in present situation and for tomorrow. I don't think there should be any limit for that. The best example is Titanic ship, which deployed all the most modern safer things; but we know what happens in its first journey.
Dear Chuck, I am reading your article "How safe is safe enough" still shocked at the horrific LPG Truck accident yesterday near Mexico City. It is easy to comment on a disaster when one is far away, seated comfortably and enjoying a cup of cofee... but it much harder when it happens much closer or at a place your are familiar with. This was my case yesterday's morning, when I was taking my wife and my 3 year old son to his school as we were listening to the news on our car's radio, as the reporter gave the news about a grave highway accident involving a large double trailer LPG tanker truck. I was concerned, but had to keep driving to work and just remembered the tragedy a couple of times during the workday. By night, as the death count was still rising, I turned-on the TV and watched the news, soon I was shocked, not specially by what I saw, but what I heard.
As of today, the deaths are believed to be around 30 people, complete families were burned alive when they were peacefully sleeping in their beds. One of the TV News show had the incredible lack of respect of showing a video whose audio let us clearly hear the voices of small child not visible because they were completely surrounded by the huge fire, crying outloud asking for help and then silence!... I could hardly sleep last night from the impression.
As an engineer designing petroleum installations like Offshore platforms for more than 30 years, I have always looked for safety in design, above anything else. Trying to "save" money or "reduce cost" is the last thing I want to consider, and many times my personal philosophy has confronted me with my bosses, companions and clients alike, but every time an accident gets in the news, I feel my position towards design and safety is correct and valid. And please do me a favor: DON'T start taling "Risk Analysis" or Statistics, please.
On the daily transportation of hazardous substances by trucks, I have many questions, related to design aspects or "certification", permits and similar ones.
Why are heavy articulated trailer type trucks allowed at all? Considering many purely engineering aspects, those would be entirely banned. Lets see: on modern (well, not so modern) cars, we have hydraulically actuated assisted DISC brakes, and lately, all kinds of "enhancements", like ABS, ESC, EBD etc. etc. BUT on most trucks, brakes are still drum type. Drum type brakes are often quoted as "not as efficient" as disc brakes, emphasizing their limitations as related to overheating effects, but very often, the worst behaviour of a drum type brake is the tendency to lock heavily as it is practically impossible to keep the drum truly circular, which coupled to the shortcommings of the brake lining shoes to be completely free to retract as needed to modulate the braking, produces the frequent brake locking with the catastrophic result of lateral skidding. Now, with articulated trucks, any sudden braking often produces a condition called "Trailer swing" or "Jackknifing". Some truck braking system designs go further (aggravating), and build a degree of mechanical leveraging into the mechanism that pushes the shoes (Bendix called it "Servo" or "Auto-energizing") which multiplies the tendency to lock completely as the shoes get wedged and press even harder. The final result is that the truck driver cannot humanly control the skidding once it starts.
Saddly, authorities and the heavy interests of the transport industry not only allow the use of articulated trucks, but actually promote them as they are more fuel efficient, making "green-loving-people" happy in spite of the accidents.
How many more frightening accident videos on You-Tube or "Destroyed in Seconds" do they need to watch to start thinking and order companies to redesign and limit the size, weight and number of trailer tanks in order to reduce this type of road hazards?
On the accident of the Deepwater Horizon, you can easily trace the factors that caused the disaster to several DESIGN shortcommings. The first large explosion of the several produced during the event, was caused by the Diesel engined generators overspeeding and becoming ungovernable as those aspirated natural gas leaking from the well. It IS a known occurence, but I've seen and continue to see platform designs that completely ignore the installation of means to prevent and supress that kind of engine runaway. And I have not read anything about this in the multiple reports and documents written by anyone on that accident. You can also trace other contributing causes to the shameful failure of the "safety" mechanisms called "Blow Out Preventers" or "BOP's", that were ineffective by design flaws, but no US Governmental agencies has had the guts to penalize the manufacturer at all. Amclaussen.
One of the better citations in that book, is that of deceased president John F. Kennedy:
". . . The number of children and grandchildren
with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their
blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem
statistically small to some, in comparison with natural
health hazards, but this is not a natural health
hazard—and it is not a statistical issue. The loss of
even one human life or the malformation of even
one baby—who may be born long after we are
gone—should be of concern to us all. Our children
and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward
which we can be indifferent. "
[U.S. President John F. Kennedy speaking about the necessity to stop atmospheric nuclear tests said in June 1963]
Too bad he was assasinated.
So I have to ask, why is it acceptable to poison, injure, and kill millions with fossil fuels, to save a few in relatively rare Nuke accidents, that with time and energy we can fix the flaws and retrofit poor designs to make safer than killing and posioning millions every year with fossi fuels.
Are not the baby's sick and dieing from polutions just as important? are not the kids dieing and sick from polution just as important? are not the adults sick and dieing from polution just as important?
We have a choice ... protect the many ...to protect everyone by working hard to make nuke power plants clean and safe.
This living in fear of an accident, while accepting millions dieing from fossil fuels is just plan WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG.
We can build safe nuke plants ... and stop fossil fuels from killing the many with cancers and poisons.
Why are radiation cancers so feared ... while anti-nuke protestors accept millions of chemical cancers?
How safe is safe enough? That depends partly on one's ambient fear level and a whole lot on one's ability, and willingness, to take personal responsibility for one's own safety. Believing that your safety is exclusively the responsibility of others is stupid beyond words, and at the same time a condition of the basest slavery to "others". Likewise, an existance bound in fear because others say things are not safe enough is a horrible tragedy indeed. The pitiful fact is that we see examples of this every day, manifested in the concept that others, (usually the government), must pass laws and curtail freedoms in the name of protecting us from yet another unsafe something.
None of us will live forever, at least not in our current form, so we need to realize that given a limited lifespan we are much better off if we are not enslaved by the fears of those incpable or unwilling to know what to do. Those who are the safest are the slaves who only do exactly what they are told to do. But we need to understand that those slaves are not free, even as they are safe. Freedom does include the right to take a few risks, and also the duty to understand what we are doing. That points at the fact that ignorance and stupidity are the more common forms of slavery, relating to the assertoion that "knowing the truth will make you free". (somebody else said that first).
It seems that a lot of people who are somehow involved with rulemaking have decided that the rest of us are just plain to stupid to understand the trade-offs involved with everyday life. Tha fact is that I understand the risks and I make my choices and I really DO NOT CARE AT ALL what you think or want relative to running my life. One good example is , if I recall the name correctly, the pain medication Celebrex. In it's originally relaeased form it was a great medication for relieving the pain from severe arthritis, which, until you experience it, is difficult to imagine. It is a very cruel type of pain that interferes with everything one would do. The problem is that with the very effective pain medication there was also a quite small chance of dropping dead from a heart attack. So, some of the idiots decided that we could not be allowed to have such a medication, all without asking any of those who used it:"would you accept the risk of dropping dead in exchange for living a pain free life?" NO, instead they chose to make it unavailable in the most effective form, not to anybody, not ever. So now there is one less means available to prevent that creul pain affliction. Nobody considered that a whole lot of folks would consider that an entirely acceptable risk. Not everybody is chained to those same fears. Some risks are entirely acceptable to some of us.
WilliamK writes: "NO, instead they chose to make it unavailable in the most effective form, not to anybody, not ever."
Thanks ... a very powerful statement about how many of us feel about anti-nuke folks blocking clean, safe, green house gas friendly nuke power options.
They are certainly free to move away from what everyone else wants. This driving up the costs with litigation, and fear mongering, is just taking other peoples freedoms away. And in millions of cases, poisoning and killing them with fossil fuel polutants.
Pebble Bed Reactors (PBR) with passive safety, and multilayer containment have significant promise to avoid the past failures seen with other designs. No explosive venting of steam. Minimal radioactive materials.
While atomic power plants may help to eliminat a few of the coal fired power plants I don't see how they will have any effect at all on the transportation or aviation industries. And I don't think that there are a lot of coal fired ships in use now, but I may have missed that informantion.
One more fact is that as more generating capacity comes on line there will be a HUGE effort to sell the additional power, rather than to take any plants off-line, since the more power sold the greater the profits, and the driver for it all is return on investments to maximize shareholders returns. Unused capacity is a non-profit making use of expensive capital and most boards of directors work very hard to avoid that. So building new power plants, while it is a good idea, will probably not deliver the goal that you seek.
Efficiency is usually regarded as desirable but not if the price is excessive. That is just how it is. If gaining an additional 10% of efficiency will double the cost of my new furnace then the payback will take at least ten years, which would prompt me to consider the choice very carefully, because things may change a lot in that time.
WilliamK writes " I don't see how they will have any effect at all on the transportation"
A PBR doing "high-temperature electrolysis" allows direct conversion of water to commercial quality H2 fuel gas for ICE applications, while also producing steam for generation. That can be combined with "Concentrating solar thermal" (SCT) as a renewable source for a H2 fuel gas transportation economy. To minimize transportation costs that reduce overall efficiency, both PBR and SCT production facilities should be highly distributed around population centers, and augmented with high presure pipeline distribution of H2, possibly reusing existing NG distribution lines.
PBR "high-temperature electrolysis" is important in an H2 transportation economy because it provide a cheap H2 source in areas where solar is just not cost effective.
I'm surprised that your industry view has been so narrow to have missed all the ways to deploy EV's, Hydrogen Fuel Cell EV's, Hydrogen(H2), and H2-EV Hybrid's as an alternative to Oil for all areas of transportation.
Conversion of existing engines can be done several ways, but from several research versions this seems the most practical, and it would not take much to create conversion kits for the most common engine designs.
So ... transportation might be one of the easier applications, with bolt on injections kits and DOT approved tanks.
PBR's are farther along in development for what are several reactor technologies that can be mass produced, and have a passive fail safe basic design. Advantages besides increased safety are relatively small size, easy spent fuel handling, improved efficiency, easily decomissioned, and the high temperature operation is easily integrated into a dual use plant producing both electricity as well as H2 for transportation fuels.
Longer term evolution of research suggests either the molten salt reactor or the liquid flouride thorium reactor are likely to replace PBR's
Hydrogen is indeed, at least in theory, an ideal fuel.
BUT HYDROGEN LOGISTICS ARE CHALLENGING INDEED!!!
For starters, since hydrogen gas is the smallest moleculre, and hydrogen is the smallest aton, it is difficult to seal. It will flow through a teflon gasket quite rapidly, while the same gasket will completely halt natural gas, and even acetylene gas. This means that hydrogen is a serious challenge to keep captive. Yes, I am aware that it is used in a lot of places, but it takes quite a bit of extra effort just to keep it in the bottle. It would find it's way out of our present natural gas piplines quite easily.
Next, because hydrogen does not liquify without a huge amount of effort, it has to be stored at very high pressures if you need to get an adequate amount in a tank. Those high pressures require a serious compressor, which is expensive and takes lots of power to drive it. In addition, high pressures increase the tendancy toward leakage.
Producing hydrogen gas by any means requires quite a bit of energy, and if that is solar energy it takes a fair amount of area to collect enough to o the job. There may be enough open land around Phoenix to build a plant close by, but not around many other cities of major size.
MY point being that while something may sound like a good idea, a study of all the many details may show otherwise. Also, just wishing something were true does not make it true, no matter what Jim Moore says.
William K writes: "Hydrogen is indeed, at least in theory, an ideal fuel. BUT HYDROGEN LOGISTICS ARE CHALLENGING INDEED!!!"
Agreed, which is why high temperature reactors lend completely different solutions than other choices. Heat input as part of the reaction significantly increases efficiency, which directly affects the bottom line costs of the fuel.
Gasoline and Diesel make wonderful fuels, as both are "relatively" safe from ignition perspectives. Gasoline requires a very narrow vapor density to be really explosive, and diesel is really hard to ignite unless under high temperatures.
Given both fuels have their days numbered with increasing shortages of oil, and both are carbon releasing fuels subject to carbon taxing and CO2 contribution to global warming. Both have high toxic particulates, that are directly linked to health issues and deaths.
SO we know why gas and diesel have been popular for the last 80 years, and there are no other choices that are as nice, that are not CO2 producing.
So, we have to look at 2nd and 3d tier fuels that are not nearly as nice from an engineering solution, but possibly have high marks for improved public health. H2 fuel gas is at the top of that list with no direct emissions if burned at low temps. Direct injection, lean burn, solves most of the NO3 problem
H2 fuel gas, when produced with a PBR and the SI process, are at least economical. We know how to produce relatively safe high pressure cylinders for transportation uses. Both also put H2 fuel gas at the top of the alternative fuel list. There are some that argue that H2 fuel gas isn't a fuel, because it has to be manufactured with some energy input. True ... but the energy costs to extract and refine other fuels is also a net energy investment in the resulting "fuel". PBR combined with SI, or Thorium combined with SI, is near on parity on that basis.
Li-Ion and Li-Polymer batteries are NOT nice either, with a high risk of fire and explosion ... Obama let China have the A123 LiFePO4 patents that are very safe compared to other choices. There are few other relatively cheap and safe battery solutions for EV's storage.
The base line research says that cleaning up a Thorium very high temp reactor to produce H2 with the SI process, will generate transportation fuels very very economically. Fleet retrofits of gas/diesel engines are viable, at reasonable costs. PBR w/SI creates H2 that can be cleaned up for fuel cells at a modest cost too ... which also improves efficiencies for transportation by a factor of 2-3.
This is my last post on this blog topics discussion thread, but it's not the end of the discussion, which will be moved to another venue. This is clearly the wrong forum for moving forward technical solutions that advance the state of the art toward the goal of reducing fossil fuel death and illness.
It is still not clear that "many are dying from fossile fuels", at least not around here, in the US. So without agreement about that basic premise the rest of the argument becomes rather "secondary". The two people who I knew who died from fossile fuel use died because of motor vehicle accidents, not especially related to vehicle emissions.
Pat, the higher the pressure the greater the amount of hydrogen that can be stored in a given volume. So as the pressure is increased the energy density does get better. So "good" is a relative thing. There exists a trade-off between how much fuel and range one has versus how much weight and volume one must carry, and the thing that relates to it is how convenient it is to refill the tanks. The logistics of refueling are what limit hydrogen as a practical fuel.
Pat, it sounds like you are closer to that technology than I am. What sizes and resulting weights are a subject for a detailed computational investigation, since anything else is a guess. Some folks guess very well, but in that area I would need to do all of the math. Good engineering practice dictates that when one does not know, one researches and finds out. But for a hydrogen fueld car, even after you have the best size gas bottle and working pressure all calculated, the serious issue of avoiding leaks is still there. Keeping a hydrogen system intact in a lab environment takes some effort, but in a car that shakes and vibrates it could be much more challenging. That is the basis for my conclusion that it may not be worth the effort.
Some people, it seems, just don't understand that not everything that can be done can be done satisfactorily and with a reasonable amount of effort. But perhaps there could be some reasonable means to provide hydrogen fuel for all vehicles and power generation and heating applications, as our departed blogger suggests. Or possibly not.
I've posted a number of sources to review for US deaths/injury, and world wide death/injury .... some are below ... which easily total more than world wide nuke power related death/injury.
See the following links for US deaths, which are far from zero, plus the other links I provided reciently. Us deaths are significant, world wide are higher. There are particulate related deaths/injury, and chemical related deaths/injury.
This article states: http://www.worldwatch.org/air-pollution-now-threatening-health-worldwide "In the U.S., air pollution causes as many as 50,000 deaths per year and costs as much as $40 billion a year in health care and lost productivity."
The article www.nrdc.org/health/kids/ocar/chap4.asp states: "Which states "A recent study estimated that approximately 64,000 people in the United States die prematurely from heart and lung disease every year due to particulate air pollution".
http://www.countercurrents.org/cc191212.htm states: Worldwide, a record 3.2m people a year died from air pollution in 2010"
The article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_monoxide_poisoning states: "In the United States, approximately 200 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with home fuel-burning heating equipment. Carbon monoxide poisoning contributes to the approximately 5613 smoke inhalation deaths each year in the United States. The CDC reports, "Each year, more than 500 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxid"
I have nothing against nuclear power plants, I think that they are a god idea but they certainly need to be designed to survive multiple systems failures. BUT that should not be that much more effort, an FMEA for the complete plant would probably take a team of engineers less than a week. It would certainly be time and effort very well spent and could never approach 1% of the cost to build the plant. So if the power plants can be built using a bit of common sense, with the politicians kept at bay for the duration, we could have a good chance at atomic power to replace the coal fired kind.
But you will find that nobody dies from atmospheric CO, but rather from enclosed space incidents. And a lot of people die from fires, which really can't be blamed on fossile fuel.
And air pollution comes from many sources and getting rid of all of them will reduce our standard of living to staying in caves and eating rocks. OK, that is an exageration, I know, but I am also aware that there are a whole lot of people, some who are actially well meaning, who want to force us into some utopian realm by taking away most of our freedoms, which include driving away from them in our carbon-based fueld automobiles.
WilliamK writes: "But you will find that nobody dies from atmospheric CO, but rather from enclosed space incidents."
So? what's the point? Carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common cause of injury and death due to poisoning worldwide
And it affects an unborn child significantly worse, because the CO binds to their blood in significantly higher percentages, to the point that it means the death or injury of the child, while the mother is just sick from it. Which is a statistic that probably isn't being kept.
All electric homes and shifting to an H2 fuel gas based transportation are two ways to avoid over 20,000 deaths each year world wide, and a significant number of brain and organ injuries for those with near death concentrations.
This isn't the biggest reason for becoming a fossil fuel free planet, unless you are one of the 50,000 or so affected by this each year.
WilliamK writes: "And air pollution comes from many sources and getting rid of all of them will reduce our standard of living to staying in caves and eating rocks. OK, that is an exageration, I know, but I am also aware that there are a whole lot of people, some who are actially well meaning, who want to force us into some utopian realm by taking away most of our freedoms, which include driving away from them in our carbon-based fueld automobiles."
Funny, when I do the math, removing 3.2M deaths and many times that illnesses/injuries from fossil fuel pollution, frees up about $3T to be added back into the global economy to improve the quality of life on this planet ... which is almost enough to pay the entire cost of needed high temp reactors.
If we simply stop producing gasoline/diesel cars/trucks, then other than a small number of collectors vehicles, everything else can be phased out to H2/EV hybrids in two decades or so by natural attrition. Providing H2 conversion kits at a low subsidized cost, will entice even a significant number of car collectors to upgrade, just so they can drive them everyday, without having to find gasoline/diesel which will start to get scarce/expensive with lower volume use.
I don't see any reason to come knocking at your door, asking for your car keys.
Windhorn, Six months for an FMEA on one component? Either they are: a.) evaluating it on a molecular level, or b.) doing it part time with a weekly FMEA committee meeting, or c.) Milking the project most strenuously. I can see that there could be 40 pages of report, but it is unomaginable that the FMEA could take that long, if the team understood the product beuing evaluated. If it was a team of "avaerage" engineers that had never seen the product previously and had never worked to gether before then it might take a lot more time. But why in the whole world would a team be selected for an FMEA that did not understand the product intimately. OUr team that worked so (apparently rapidly) knew and understood every aspect of the product completely, prior to our first time spent on doing the FMEA. There is no other raional way to approach such an important project.
The article says that the prototype vehicles carry about 5kg H2 at 10,000 psi. Assuming the tank is at a balmy 80F, that hydrogen occupies about 24gallons (basic PV = nRT calc). The article also says that a kg of H2 is roughly equivalent to a gallon of gasoline, so that's about 5 times the volume of ordinary, liquid, atmospheric pressure gasoline, just for fuel.
And that's just the hydrogen. What about the pressure vessel? And all of the ultra-high pressure lines and pressure regulation and risk of sitting on a bomb?
It's cool that we're experimenting with this technology but I can't see it being anything but a niche application for a long time to come. Petroleum prices have to get redonkulously expensive before this tech becomes even remotely attractive for a common user.
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