The Fukushima stuff was all very exciting, and doubtless still is if you live nearby (James?). But it does seem to lead to high levels of drivel from the more soppy-hand-wringing Guardianista types:

We had a pretty good warning earlier this year, when the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused an even bigger tragedy when the Fukushima nuclear power plant suffered a meltdown

The tsunami killed 20k people, or whatever. Fukushima killed no-one, directly, though it wouldn’t be surprising if it kills a few eventually. So why was Fukushima an “even bigger tragedy”? Perhaps Kate Sheppard is really really sad that it harmed the image of nukes, and values that image more highly than peoples lives?

But more likely she just wanted some cheap fodder for an article without actually troubling to think at any point. h/t to Timmy.

[Update: I’m still with my, and Timmy’s, reading of the piece. But for the sake of fairness I should say that KS has turned up in the comments and interprets her words differently – see there.

And updated to add the pic, prompted by a comment by RP at KK’s place -W]

Comments

  1. #1 Dunc
    2011/08/25

    [wail]But think of the shareholders![/wail]

    Alternative suggestion – as a journalist, she naturally (and entirely unconsciously) gauges the relative scale of tragedies in the metric most available to her: column inches. To mangle Stalin, “A string of feature articles marks a tragedy, 20,000 deaths is a statistic.”

    Actually, that’s probably not just limited to journalists… Remember that “fear of crime” correlates much better with breathless saturation news coverage of crime than it does with actual crime statistics.

  2. #2 Neven
    2011/08/25

    William, to be fair, as tragic as the tsunami was, it was basically over after a few days (of course rebuilding houses etc will take some time). The consequences of Fukushima will be sticking around for what, centuries, millennia?

    And this of course is why everything nuclear up to Gen III reactors need to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. I was always divided on this point until I translated a French television programme about their nuclear facilities. Did you know they have been dismantling their first nuclear power station for more than 25 years now, and they haven’t even done 50% (and it has already cost 20 times more than anticipated for the whole project)? They still don’t have the technology to dismantle and safely tuck away the reactor core!

    [Better not to do it then. Why not just leave them there? -W]

    So, we’re talking time scales here.

    We’re also talking quality of life versus a superficial dead/not dead look at things.

    [That is easy for you to say: you’re not dead! -W]

    I also have happened to have translated several programmes/documentaries on Tchernobyl in the past year. We could look at that and say: oh well, not so many people died from that directly, did they? But what about all those children who had their thyroid gland removed and have all kinds of hormonal problems because of that and the medication they’ll be on for the rest of their lives. What about all the kids who live around the Zone who have way too high radiation levels in their bodies. A little bit of second hand radiation here, a little bit there. “Yes, you have cancer. No, we don’t know what caused it exactly.”

    If you think all of that is mere stupidity, I would urge you and Timmy to take your kids and go live in the Fukushima Prefecture or Pripyat. Bashing the Kate Sheppards of this world, however stupid they may be, has become increasingly cheap and stupid in its own right.

    [I’m missing your logic. You admit that what she wrote was stupid, but pointing that out is bad? -W]

    Wake up.

  3. #3 keith Kloor
    2011/08/25

    U.S Republicans (at least the current variety) aren’t the only ones to let ideology trump science:

    http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2011/08/25/a-tragically-warped-view/

  4. #4 Eamon
    2011/08/25

    As someone who went through the earthquake, but thankfully not the tsunami I have to say William is spot on.

    Neven wrote:

    William, to be fair, as tragic as the tsunami was, it was basically over after a few days (of course rebuilding houses etc will take some time). The consequences of Fukushima will be sticking around for what, centuries, millennia?

    No it’s not bloody over. Families are grieving – and thousands still have to bit the bullet and declare their missing loved ones dead, people have had their homes and livelihoods washed away, the reconstruction needed is massive. As for how bad the Fukushima disaster actually is – we’ll have to wait and see.

    If you think all of that is mere stupidity, I would urge you and Timmy to take your kids and go live in the Fukushima Prefecture or Pripyat.

    And comments like that are pretty juvenile ways of trying to end a discussion.

  5. #5 Martin Vermeer
    2011/08/25

    > [Better not to do it then. Why not just leave them there? -W]

    Perhaps because they have a way of, slowly, dismantling themselves if left alone?

    [I’m not convinced. There may be a good reason for taking these plants to bits, but I’m not sure anyone has clearly shown it. Other than making good profits for the firms doing it, of course -W]

  6. #6 Neven
    2011/08/25

    I’m missing your logic. You admit that what she wrote was stupid, but pointing that out is bad?

    I didn’t admit that what she wrote was stupid.

    [You did say the Kate Sheppards of this world, however stupid they may be. If you’re going to re-interpret that as “well, taken literally that doesn’t say she (or what she wrote) is stupid” then I’m going to call you Jesuitical (in the bad sense) -W]

    I interpret it as ‘Fukushima made the tragedy already caused by the tsunami even bigger’, but I see how you got out of it that she is implying that Fukushima was an even bigger tragedy than the tsunami. I don’t think she meant that, but it’s possible, as Sheppard is very, very anti-nuclear.

    [She didn’t *imply* that. I think it is the natural reading of her words. She’s here in the comments, though, and puts your construction on it – perhaps not surprising, in retrospect -W]

    But even if it is stupid what she wrote, the piece wasn’t about Fukushima, but about something else (nuclear emergency planning in the US following the US Coast earthquake). So pointing out that that particular sentence was stupid, isn’t exactly bad, but it’s nitpicking and thus pointless. Added to that people might get the impression that by extension you disagree with Sheppards piece in its entirety (you don’t make that clear, you just pick out one sentence that can be interpreted in more ways than one) and thus downplay the Fukushima disaster or any risk of nuclear disaster.

    [I disagree. If she is capable of writing a sentence like the one I picked out, then she isn’t thinking. Which strongly suggests that her *opinion* isn’t worth having. Since the thing is an opinion piece, that devalues the whole thing. I agree that if the text was stuffed with well-researched and relevant facts combining to form a coherent argument, that wouldn’t be affected. But it isn’t -W]

    And comments like that are pretty juvenile ways of trying to end a discussion.

    If it is people’s intention to downplay the seriousness of Fukushima or Tchernobyl (I’m not saying that’s William’s intention, even though I’ll repeat that I find it pretty pointless to write a blog post about one line in a column that’s about something else), then it’s only natural that the discussion ends when you tell them to go live with their kids in Fukushima or Pripyat. Because, of course, no one in his right mind will. Confrontational and cutting through the BS isn’t necessarily juvenile.

    But let’s bash the anti-nukes anyway. That’s what rational grown-ups do.

    I need to get wound up some more, but I can’t seem to access Worstall’s piece.

  7. #7 Neven
    2011/08/25

    For some more soppy-hand-wringing Guardianista stuff:

    WikiLeaks cables reveal fears over China’s nuclear safety

  8. #8 John Mashey
    2011/08/25

    Every once in a while I get to disagree with WMC.
    I wouldn’t have worded it that way, but one has to read Kate’s whole article.

    Long ago, I almost went into nuclear physics, I still talk to physicists and attend energy seminars at Stanford. Some of the same experts who think nuclear power is part of the long-term solution (especially Gen IV, which I sure wish was here already), do talk about concerns about safety in the face of rare events and sometimes laxity of safety in some designs and their operation of the older reactors.

    Now, a big earthquake in Japan is no surprise, but it is on the US East Coast, and there are a fair amount of older nuclear power stations not too far from heavily-populated regions (unlike the Japan case). Here is the location of the Indian Point nuclear plant:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Point_Energy_Center
    Maybe WMC might be a little more concerned if there were an aging nuclear plant, akin to having a meltdown just North of London. A meltdown at Indian Point would be serious.

    [The one nearest me is Sizewell, about 80 miles away. Its on the coast, just awaiting its tsunami (http://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Cambridge,+UK&daddr=sizewell&hl=en&sll=52.1554,1.002502&sspn=1.626115,3.348083&geocode=FTCMHAMdpQACACktASrziV3YRzEhPV6j4SCjYw%3BFVyPHAMd3osYACn5h94JMSbaRzGLmam292o4bg&vpsrc=0&mra=ls&z=10) -W]

    Actually, overall, I think Kate’s article echoes stuff I’ve heard from real experts about concerns over rare events and how to build nuclear plants that remain safe when surprises happen.

    [I’ve no objection to the idea that we should review our disaster planning and preparedness. What I object to is a mindset that is so anti-nuclear that it is capable of writing utter twaddle, and doesn’t even realise it. But you can tell, from that, that all her thinking is infected by similar mistakes. It is just like the GW denialists, but on a different subject -W]

  9. #9 Kate Sheppard
    2011/08/25

    Hi William,

    I think you’re misconstruing what I wrote; perhaps I could have structured that sentence better. If you read the actual piece at The Guardian, my point was that we need to think about emergency preparedness. In the case of Japan, you took a country that had already suffered multiple catastrophes in an earthquake and tsunami, and then compounded it with the need for a rather large evacuation, not to mention sucking emergency response capacity to handle yet another problem.

    [Oh, hello. Welcome. Reading it again, I agree that it is just about possible to construe it that way – but it isn’t the natural reading -W]

    My point was that in the US, we saw an earthquake far stronger than many anticipated, which was too close for comfort to the design capability of some nuclear plants for comfort. Moreover, we’re only prepared to evacuate within 10 miles of a plant if something does go wrong. In Japan, they had to evacuate much farther than anyone was prepared to do, in the midst of multiple other catastrophes.

    [Yes, I can see that as a point. But you could just as easily have written it as “large quakes, nukes are all OK. I didn’t really intend to turn this into a post on nukes vs the world – we did that before -W]

    Further, it would be hard to argue that Fukushima was not a tragedy for the plant and emergency response workers exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, or the sick and elderly left to die in the rush to evacuate.

    [Were there “sick and elderly left to die in the rush to evacuate”. News to me. Do you have a reference for that? -W]

    For those of us who live in DC, the rush out town was awful on Tuesday even without having an actual disaster. My point is that our nuclear power infrastructure isn’t going away, but perhaps we need to rethink our preparedness and what exactly a worst-case-scenario really is, since we never know how many curve balls the world can throw at us at once.

    Best,
    Kate

  10. #10 TheGoodLocust
    2011/08/25

    The anti-nuke activists from the 60’s thought that Fukushima was their big opportunity to get nuclear power banned. I know this because I looked at some of the organizations behind the fear-mongering with their use of scientifically inaccurate slogans like, “There is no safe level of radiation.”

    Very small levels of uranium/plutonium exposure appear to be safe, but these people think that if you inhale a single atom you’ll get cancer from it.

  11. #11 keith Kloor
    2011/08/25

    Ah, I see Kate has come by here, too, which I’m glad to see. She responded similarly at my place, sans the friendly salutation and sign-off, and the acknowledgement that the sentence could have been structured better.

    Unlike you, I have prostrated myself, though I can plainly see in the different tones of her responses to us that, ahem..how should I put this…that I am not in as esteemed standing as you, William. :)

    [Hmm, very ‘umble of you. There may just possibly be a lesson for me (what, me learn something at my age? Good grief): that if someone writes something that appears to stupid to be true, maybe you’ve misunderstood them -W]

  12. #12 Neven
    2011/08/25

    Indeed, Keith. There is a lesson for you too, if you are willing to learn.

  13. #13 keith Kloor
    2011/08/25

    Neven,

    Hmm, what lesson would that be? I can be dense, sometimes.

  14. #14 Neven
    2011/08/25

    I for one also need to apologize to Kate Sheppard. I wrote:

    Sheppard is very, very anti-nuclear.

    Somehow I mixed her up with Helen Caldicott (probably because it was The Guardian) and tried to be as objective as possible. Besides, I have become pretty anti-nuclear myself lately. So I didn’t actually mean it pejoratively. Sorry.

    Okay, back to the hurricanes and the ice.

  15. #15 Neven
    2011/08/25

    I don’t know, Keith. Ask yourself: Why are you not in as esteemed standing as WC?

  16. #16 David B. Benson
    2011/08/25

    Look, here we have a looming climate catasrophe and all this drivel is the best one can do?

  17. #17 keith Kloor
    2011/08/25

    Neven,

    Well, I was being a bit wry about that, but you’re the one who said there was a lesson for me in all this. Do you feel like giving me a straight answer or do you want to play footsie?

    So have at it.

  18. #18 Hank Roberts
    2011/08/25

    > Wikileaks

    Not everything in a State Department cable is a big secret, even assuming they stamped it so.

    China’s officially on record on that possibility–they’re worried about going too fast for their quality control:

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP_Maintain_nuclear_perspective_China_told_1101112.html

    “… advice … from the State Council Research Office (SCRO), which makes independent policy recommendations to the State Council …. appeared officially in Xinhua’s weekly Outlook publication.

    While noting that ‘the situation for the development of more nuclear power is good’, the body said: ‘We should keep a clear head. Not only seeing the favourable factors, but paying attention also to a variety of constraints to ensure steady progress.’Going too far too fast ‘could threaten the long-term healthy development …

    … ambitious targets to deploy AP1000s with reduced foreign input have proven difficult due to frequent quality control issues in the supply chain. As a result … China is building Generation-II units in such large numbers, said the SCRO, counting 57 on the books…..
    … meaning a large fleet of Generation-II units will still be in operation into the 2070s, when even Generation-III reactors would have been far surpassed ….”

    —–
    The “Generation-II” design is from the 1960s.

    Note: “frequent quality control issues in the supply chain” will lead you to much information if you look for it. E.g.:

    “We are constantly being disappointed by our Chinese suppliers because they are taking shortcuts we have not approved to save money.” http://memagazine.asme.org/articles/2009/March/Quality_Control.cfm

  19. #19 Neven
    2011/08/25

    No, Keith, this is something you have to figure out yourself. If I give you the answer, you’ll find something in it that allows you to ignore it. But I haven’t been to your blog for a while now, so maybe you changed.

    I finally got to read Timmy’s enlightened view on this. WC, you have to be more careful. You might consider taking a step or two back (like filing this article under a different category, unless the category refers to Worstall). Talking about knee jerk.

    [I’ve added my update. I’m still of the opinion that the original language used was, at best, very badly chosen. I do somewhat regret the hand-wringing stuff, which I’d retract if asked to, but I’d rather leave as the original. I don’t see a corresponding clarification added to the Grauniad article, though -W]

  20. #20 David B. Benson
    2011/08/25

    Oh, I see William already used ‘drivel’. Change my prior remark to ‘drool’.

  21. #21 quokka
    2011/08/25

    Kate,

    You state that the accident was a “tragedy” for the plant and emergency workers who were “exposed to dangerous levels of radiation”. Not as much of a tragedy, I would suggest as the fate suffered by the workers in the Chiba oil/gas fire who are in fact dead and all but forgotten in the public eye.

    No denying the difficult working conditions at the plant, but the number one health threat may well be the risk of heat exhaustion in summer working in heavy protective gear.

    According to reports the number of workers exposed to greater than 100 mSv dose is somewhere between 100 and 200. That would imply a projected risk of excess cancer cases of a handful – perhaps no more than one or two. It really is a stretch to describe doses of less than 100 mSv as “dangerous”. The reality is that when this is all over the workers should be allowed to get on with their lives, without fear of adverse health effects which in all likelihood will never happen.

    Compare to Chernobyl where, according UNSCEAR, 300,000 “liquidators” received an average dose of nearly 150 mSv to get some perspective. Even in the Chernobyl liquidator’s case, it has been difficult to definitely attribute adverse health effects to radiation exposure.

  22. #22 David B. Benson
    2011/08/25

    quokka | August 25, 2011 7:28 PM — That was well done and more temperate than I seem to be cabable of this afternoon.

  23. #23 rusty
    2011/08/25

    Frankly nothing puts me off nuclear power more than pro-nukes stating that death toll is the only significant factor in determining a disaster. By that definition the Global Financial Meltdown was a non-event.
    During the whole episode, the pro-nukes have been making sanctiminous pronouncements that have proven to be total BS (eg the reactor vessel can’t be breached).
    Personally, I accept that we need to use every method available to fight global warming, that includes nuclear power. The biggest problem with nuclear power is not accidents, waste disposal or proliferation, it is brain-dead, ignorant, uncritical zealots who support it.
    We are now being told that people evacuated from the area may never be allowed to return. The company owning the plants has been bankrupted, the mess will takes decades and trillions of dollars to clean up, Japans economy has recived an enormous kick in the guts, and nuclear power (and perhaps the fight against climate change) has been seriously wounded – no disater here – move along.
    I don’t know if nuclear power could be a significant factor in fighting climate change but there’s no doubt that Fukishima has put a significant dent in that promise. Not only has it had a chilling effect on public opinion, it has probably made it far less attractive to investors. So the biggest disaster emanating from Fukishima could end up being the world’s climate.

  24. #24 David B. Benson
    2011/08/25

    rusty | August 25, 2011 9:06 PM — Hyperbole does not help. (1) The total cost associated with Fukushima Dai-ichi will be in the tens of billions of US dollars. (2) Some small areas may need to remain evacuated for many decades; there should be a preliminary detrmination for you to ponder on Saturady (Japan time). (3) The plans for, and construction of, nuclear power plants around the world has changed remarkably little post-Fukushima; one factor is that nobody builds those old Gen II reactors anymore, new designs are much safer.

    Now we didn’t stop building steam locomotives after the first few times boilers blew up and we didn’t top building airplanes after the first few times that airliners crashed. We learned from out mistakes and pushed on. For more On this most important point, please read Henry Petroski’s “To EnginERR is Human”.

    As for nuclear power progress, keep up @ World Nuclear News.

  25. #25 quokka
    2011/08/25

    rusty,

    What exactly would you have supporters of nuclear power do? Remain silent in the face of some of the most exaggerated nonsense imaginable. You seem to be engaging in this too with claims of “trillions of dollars” costs. I have seen no credible estimates of this magnitude.

    The reality is that if you point out the facts, you get accused of being a shill for the nuclear industry, a zealot etc. It’s pathetic.

    [It has, in fact, eery echoes of the language of the climate denialists – are we seeing some Grand Alliance between them and the anti-nuke folk? -W]

    As for the number of people who will be permanently evacuated, we will have to wait and see. So far the only official stuff I have seen suggests a 3 or 4 km radius around the plant, though it certainly seems there will be other areas judging from the radiation maps.

    The Japanese government is about to announce some actions which may throw further light on this issue. It seems they believe they can reduce external radiation dose in residential areas by up to half by some fairly simply cleanup measures such has pressure cleaning of roofs, pruning trees and shrubs, cleaning ditches and drains, removing some topsoil etc. If nothing else, they will have some tidy towns!

    The reality is that as yet we don’t know how much land may be abandoned to productive use and for how long. But that doesn’t stop the doom mongers. Wild claims of hundreds and thousands of years abound and are very likely to be nonsense. Reports I have seen of the measured contamination suggest a contribution to external radiation dose of 2.5:1 of Cs-134 and Cs-137 favouring the former. Taking into account their respective half lives this implies a reduction to about 25% of current external dose in 10 years and to about 3% in one hundred years. That is without decontamination efforts or natural dispersal. But pointing this out will no doubt lead to accusations of being a shill.

    I doubt if many people will contest that Fukushima is a serious and costly accident. However it would be best to deal with the facts and minimize the hand wringing nonsense.

    It’s not really a question of “if nuclear power could be a significant factor in fighting climate change”. It already is and has been for decades. In OECD countries it provides 21% of electricity. In fact nuclear and hydro are the only technologies that currently make a worthwhile difference.

  26. #26 Vince whirlwind
    2011/08/25

    Fukushima is an economic tragedy on a vast scale which will affect all in Japan and many outside.

    You only have to look at the huge proportion of GDP in Byelorussia and Ukraine that is still consumed by Chernobyl to understand that Japan will continue to suffer monstruous economic effects into the indeterminate future.

  27. #27 quokk
    2011/08/26

    Vince Whirlwind

    2009 GDP:

    Japan $5 trillion
    Belarus $50 billion
    Ukraine $113 billion

    That “all in Japan and many outside” will continue to suffer “monstrous economic effects” looks a bit unlikely.

    And that is before considering the actual details of the Fukushima and Chernobyl accidents. But who is to say that a motto of “seen one nuclear accident …. seen em all” is inadequate?

  28. #28 Kooiti Masuda
    2011/08/26

    The issue “which is bigger tragedy” can have various answers.

    In terms of counts of human deaths, certainly the main hazard of the 11 March event was a tsunami, not the earthquake itself, and not radioactivity.

    But the hazards of tsunami and of radioactivity are qualitatively different. We tend to fear radioactivity more, and the reason is partly irrational, but partly rational response of human beings to something uncertain. The future hazard of already dispersed radioactivity is more uncertain than the remaining hazard of the already occurred earthquake and tsunami.

    [Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m not quite sure what you mean by uncertainty,here. Certainly the future impact of the radioactivity is highly uncertain, and in that sense there is more uncertainty than there is in the direct tsunami impact, which is now largely known.

    However, if you meant that the uncertainty in the radioactivity impact is such that there is a significant probability of more future deaths from radioactivity than from the tsunami, then I’m very doubtful -W]

    Perhaps it is an issue of time scales, and I think that both Neven and Eamon are right in different senses.

    The disaster (response of the human society) of the 11 March tsunami has not yet subsided. But the natural hazard of the giant tsunami and the giant earthquake no longer exist. (The hazards of future possible earthquakes and tsunamis are considered here as another issue.) Actually the frequency of minor earthquakes (presumably aftershocks) is still high. (Accordingly the earthquake in the US East coast last week was not newsworthy in Japan.) But it seems that the seismic activity is gradually damping to the normal situation. In terms of natural elements of the environment, the situation is the affected area has been back into the normal range in a week or so after the event.

    On the other hand, even if the containment of radioactive matter at Fukushima No. 1 power plant has become successful, the regional environment has been contaminated with radioactive cesium which decays at half-life of 30 years. The natural environment of the region will be abnormal for several decades.

    [Yes, but what I’d like to know is something like: how much is actually contaminated, in the sense of now having radioactivity levels higher than naturally occurs in granite-based areas like Cornwall? How much has been officially declared “contaminated” isn’t a very interesting number -W]

    So it is reasonable in a sense to consider the nuclear accident much greater disaster than the tsunami, though this “sense” may be insulting to holders of different senses.

    (To me, being partly a hydrologist, the most remarkable part of the 11 March event was destruction of a small irrigation dam (Fujinuma Dam) by the earthquake which caused a flood and then several human deaths. It is conceivable that a dam has such hazard potential that a natural earthquake may cause a flood that may cause human deaths, but we have not known actual examples. I do not claim that this is the greatest part of the disaster, just remarkable.)

  29. #29 P. Lewis
    2011/08/26

    Of some tangential relevance, possibly, on restrictions and time-scales can be gleaned from these two articles in The Guardian:

    Thursday 13 April 2006

    Wednesday 7 July 2010

    I’ve not got time to do the digging on what the initial Cs-137 and Sr-90 (or whatever) levels were and how they compare with the land around Fukushima NPP now. But I’m sure if anyone is interested enough that the info can be found.

  30. #30 Kooiti Masuda
    2011/08/26

    >how much is actually contaminated, in the sense of now having radioactivity levels …

    One of the official source is here:
    Distribution map of radiation dose around Fukushima Dai-ichi&Dai-Ni NPP (MEXT.go.jp)

    The numbers are “air dose” in mSv. Actually most of radiation observed in the air just a few metres above ground comes from soil. Measurement of radioactivity of soil itself is ongoing (says one of the documents).

    The internal exposure by nuclides taken into human bodies is not incuded here. It is hard to evaluate, but for a very rough estimation, it is considered to have the same order-of-magnitude as the air dose (assuming that people inhale soil dusts).

    I am not sure about comparison with natural granite areas. According to my vague memory, the level of air dose in Tokyo (not Fukushima) seems lower than natural granite areas.

    [Thank you. This seems worth follownig up, so I write http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2011/08/comparing_radiation_doses.php -W]

  31. #31 MikeB
    2011/08/26

    ‘What exactly would you have supporters of nuclear power do? …The reality is that if you point out the facts, you get accused of being a shill for the nuclear industry, a zealot etc. It’s pathetic.’

    Greg Laden has frequently pointed out the difference between the information coming from the Japanese authorities/regulators and the nuclear industry, and the reality of what has actually occured at Fukishima. The fact that the Nuclear Safety Agency has been transfered from the discredtied Trade Ministry to the Environment Ministry underlines the problems that emerged.

    Rusty rightly pointed out that ‘We are now being told that people evacuated from the area may never be allowed to return. The company owning the plants has been bankrupted, the mess will takes decades (to clear up)’. In fact the cost of this will all be bourne by the Japanese taxpayer, who already have an enormous cost to shoulder in relation to the earthquake/tsunami itself. Fukishima was a natural disaster (largely unavoidable) made worse by essentially a man-made one.

    Looking from the outside, its very difficult to see this as anything other than a mess, and for nuclear supporters to pretend otherwise is to fly in the face of economic reality. Does anyone really think that regulators are not going to ask about upgrades to make reactors less vulnerable to similar conditions, and does anyone then think that these will a) not add to construction/running costs and b) investors wont notice?

    If I was on the US East Coast, an earthquake followed by a hurricane (and a probable storm surge – described by a GOP governor as a ‘100 year event’) is likely to make me wonder about my nearest nuclear power plant. Thats hardly irrational or anti-nuclear.

    If I found out that the equipment meant to be studying earthquake activity at these plants had been removed twenty years ago due to budget cuts, I would be concerned. If I’d been reading about the possible problems that have emerged after Fukishima, then I would be inclined to worry. After reading about North Anna and it needing to shut down (and about one of the backup diesels failing completely) and discovering that many US nukes have had their chances of being damaged by earthquakes recently increased (in a lot a of cases by a great deal) would not make me sleep better at night.

    Fortunately, I’m in fairly boring East Anglia, although I am now vaguely wondering just how immune Sizewell will be to increased risks of flooding from rises in sea level, large storm surges, terrorists, etc.

    If I was looking at the possible safety of Chinese nuclear plants, then the recent bullet train accident would make me wonder. A hugely prestigous project, driven through by a powerful ministry in record time. A train crashes, and the wreckage is bulldozed in record time to avoid questions. Censorship is invoked to muzzle the media and victims families either threatened or bribed. It turns out there was faulty equipment, bad management, no oversight and design flaws. And government coverups. Yeah, that would make me feel better about the Chinese desire to build so many plants so quickly.

    One other thing I did notice. Fukishima and other nuclear plants shut down, yet Japanese windfarms (including Kamisu) were completely unaffected and carried on producing power.

    I’m hoping that everyone in the path of Irene is OK, and that the damage will be minimal. Good Luck.

  32. #32 TheGoodLocust
    2011/08/26

    @MikeB

    I’m not sure if comparing Fukushima to windfarms is a fair comparison.

    1) Fukushima (IIRC) is a fairly old plant – how old is the Kamisu windfarm?

    2) How far away was Kamisu from the earthquake? Fukushima?

    3) Was Kamisu hit by the tsunami? IIRC that was the most damaging aspect of the disaster to the Fukushima plant.

    4) How many nuclear power plants were unaffected? How many wind farms were unaffected?

    5) How much power does Kamisu produce compared to Fukushima’s power output?

    I believe newer nuke power plants store water in a tower so they can cool reactors in case the diesel generators are damaged using simple gravity power.

  33. #33 MikeB
    2011/08/27

    TheGoodLocust – just checking quickly (its been a long day), I’ll quote from a news report from March:

    The ‘Japan Wind Power Association and Japan Wind Energy Association, who told her that none of its members reported damage to wind turbines after last week’s natural disasters. Although some wind turbines did stop operating as a result of grid failure caused by the earthquake and tsunami, Ueda said most Japanese wind turbines were fully operational, including the Kamisu semi-offshore wind farm which was located about 300km from the epicenter of the quake.

    Eurus Energy Holdings said on Monday that it had resumed operations at six wind farms in northern Japan, which had stopped running after the earthquake. The resumption of power output came in response to a request from Tohoku Electric Power, one of the utilities battling to cope with power shortages in the wake of the disaster.’

    It seems that the windfarms that did stop running were effected by grid failure, rather than damage to the turbines, etc by the quake/tsunami. Certainly Wind Power stocks seem to have risen in Japan.

    Its true that Fukishima was just 40 miles from the epicentre, while Kamisu was 300km away (and much more recent construction). On the other hand, the farm is semi off-shore and was hit by the tsunami, but survived perhaps becuase of its ‘anti-earthquake “battle proof design”‘.

    My larger point is that that wind power survived very well, and continued to produce power, and with a more resilient grid, would have performed even better. No cleanup costs, etc. either.

    Building reactors in the most geologically active country on earth was always going to be risky (plus the fact that this was the country that invented the word ‘tsunami’). If the nuclear lobby, both in industry and in government had not been so powerful, perhaps Japan would have invested more in renewables, and produced a far larger amount of its energy from non-nuclear sources.

    I note the irony that ‘The largest wind farm operator in Japan, Eurus Energy with about 22% of all wind turbines in Japan, is a subsidiary of Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO) which operates the Fukushima nuclear facility.’ If I was an investor in that now basically bankrupt utility, wind power would probably be a relative bright spot.

  34. #34 TheGoodLocust
    2011/08/27

    @Mike

    That seems to prove my point – it was much farther away. Not only was it farther away, but the forces from the earthquake would exponentially decrease in strength.

    That alone would make the comparison pretty weak, but adding in the other factors (age of facilities, improvements in technology/construction/materials, power generation, etc) makes it difficult to draw any conclusions.

    Remember, the Fukushima design was quite stupid (GE I think) – the backup generators were in the basement which was flooded by the tsunami. Modern nuclear power plants would not have had that problem and so no meltdown would’ve occurred.

  35. #35 quokka
    2011/08/29

    MikeB,

    Wind farms shut down all the time – when the wind is not blowing (and also when it is blowing too hard) and sometimes for days at a time. Capacity factor is 30% if you are lucky and averages less than 20% in for example Germany. In the US nuclear has run at over 90% capacity factor for a decade. There is simply no comparison in terms of reliability and dispatchability.

    The reason so many of the Japanese reactors are off line is not that they are broken, but that local authorities will not give permission for them to restart after routine maintenance/refueling. It’s a bit ridiculous to draw some engineering conclusions about reliability from that.

    The claim the allegedly all powerful “nuclear lobby” inhibited the deployment of renewables 30-40 years ago is just bunk. You know as well as I do that without nuclear, it would have been more coal, oil and gas. As will in all likelihood be the case now – more gas plants because they will be the quickest to build. Just like Germany.

  36. #36 silburnl
    2011/08/29

    TheGoodLocust said:
    “That seems to prove my point – it was much farther away. Not only was it farther away, but the forces from the earthquake would exponentially decrease in strength.”

    Also it was an off-shore windfarm – so a Tsunami rolling through wouldn’t be much different to the everday ocean swell that the turbine mountings are built to handle.

    Regards
    Luke

  37. #37 MikeB
    2011/08/29

    Its certainly the case that wind does go off-line, and its true that the windfarm mentioned was a fair distance from the epicentre of the tsunami, but this is missing the main point.

    The failure of the Fukushima plant was directly due to the tsunami, but indirectly due to poor oversight, unsuitable design features, poor procedures and siting (the plant could have been built on the orginally higher site, but this was levelled down due to cost). It’s failure compounded an already badly affected region of Japan, and took away resources from other rescue and recovery efforts.

    Possibly a newer design might have done better, but its not certain. Nuclear will always have problems with regard to earthquakes, and in the case of tsunami’s/storm surges and sea rise, because of their need to be sited near the coast or rivers.

    The grip the industry had over its regulator/promoter has also warped Japanese energy policy, with nuclear plants being promoted by government in places which greatly increase risk. If similar efforts over the same period had been devoted to hardening/devolving their grid and promoting renewables, perhaps Japan would have avoided many of its current problems.

    Certainly Tepco would have been better off financially – the costs of Fukushima have bankrupted it, whereas Japanese wind companies have seen an increase in share prices and investor interest. And of course the Japanese taxpayer would have been better off as well.

    The arguments over nuclear are well-rehearsed (just have a look at Class M), but as an investor, you want to reduce risk and Fukushima showed the risks of nuclear very clearly, particularly financial risks.

    I don’t believe that the nuclear industry sits in a smoke filled room and tells everyone what to do, like the Stonecutters in the Simpsons (although Dick Cheney’s Energy Taskforce makes you wonder!). However, its clear that the industry, both at a national and at an international level, has been very effective at lobbying governments and opinion formers. Nuclear has become the favourite of ‘Very Serious People’, no matter what the cost.

    The Japanese situation is now pretty clear, but just two years after the UK government rejected the need for new nukes, it changed its mind completely and even subtly announced long term subsidies, even though it had promised the exact opposite. It even bailed out the privitised company when the wholesale price of electricty fell too low for it to continue to be viable.

    In the US, massive amounts continue to be available as subsidy, although Wall Street, like the City of London, continues to be very much against nuclear, at least with their own money. The French programme is one basically owned and built by the state, with extra money from the taxpayer being used to shore up EDF’s balance sheet.

    All these governments continue to promote nuclear, and continue to guarentee the enourmous costs of any incident, over and above the relatively tiny amount the industry itself has to pay. Storage and decommisioning also continue to be part of this package. Yucca Mountain anyone?

    On the other hand,its only now that renewables are getting even part of the pie which has gone to nuclear, and interest seems to change constantly. A consistant effort in the direction of renewables would be helpful and economically useful.

    Wind is not going to be the whole answer, and no one should pretend it should be, and neither will a smart (and hopefully devolved) grid, although Commonwealth Edison of Northern Illinois do seem to think it might help overcome poweroutages during extreme event.

    However, if I was looking for an energy techology which would have relatively few downsides during earthquakes, high winds, floods and storm surges and could be got online as quickly and profitably as possible, would I be looking at nuclear?

  38. #38 TheGoodLocust
    2011/08/29

    @Mike

    1) As I said before, newer power plants don’t need backup diesel generators to pump coolant – they keep it above the reactors so they don’t need power – as long as gravity works they can just open a valve.

    2) Wind power would have to go over a huge amount of territory to provide the same amount of power as a nuclear plant – and it would be unreliable too.

    3) Even not counting the huge amount of steel/aluminum/copper/etc it would take to build a significant amount of them, there would be shortages of the rare earth metals used in their construction.

    4) Since they are unreliable they need alternative power sources or battery backups. In the case of the latter you need more rare earth metals. In the case of the former, if you use something like solar, you need more rare earth metals.

    5) Thousands of wind turbines means thousands of moving parts, which means you’ll have maintenance issues and require even more resources.

    Wind simply makes no sense, which gives it a step up over solar which is dreadfully senseless.

  39. #39 MikeB
    2011/08/30

    Good Locust, you seem to be trotting out the standard ‘why windpower can’t do it’ arguments, which tend to come from the nuclear industry.

    Leaving aside your view that modern plants are inherently safer (which I’m not qualified to judge), the idea that wind tubines would have to take up a huge amount of area is regularly debunked.

    [Got any numbers? Andrew Mackay has http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c4/page_32.shtml -W]

    Tubines sited on land allow farming to continue in those areas, and of course Japan is an island nation, and has plenty of shore line and off-shore areas where marine turbines could be based, as they already are.

    There is no reason they could not be sited next to nuclear plants, thus reducing the costs of building new transmission lines…

    Its strange that nuclear advocates despair of the resources needed for tubines, while completely forgetting the enourmous resources needed for building even one nuclear power plant. And a recent report from the German Environment Agency in May http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2011/06/we-can-do-it-says-german-environment-agency-on-nuclear-phase-out reckoned that Germany could phase out nuclear power and keep the lights on, so the idea that wind is too unreliable seems to be just a theory. In any case, who is suggesting that wind alone will be used?

    As far as maintenace issues, its true that gearbox failures have been a worry for the wind industry, but recent advances in gearbox design are helping, and of course solar really doesn’t have any moving parts. Could I ask how many parts are in an averge nuclear plant, and are such plants maintence free?

    I note that windfarms in Nova Scotia survived Irene just fine and were producing 20% of the provinces power on Monday. Luke has already noted the ability for off-shore turbines to deal with tsunami’s.

    I get it that you don’t like solar or wind, but its clear that the market does. Japan has obviously seen a new wave of interest in wave/solar (and wave might be a very good fit as well for them), and Germany has very ambitious targets. Solar is getting to the point it is cheaper than nuclear http://theenergycollective.com/oshadavidson/40559/study-solar-power-cheaper-nuclear, with far fewer downsides.

    Wave is growing slowly (it could be argued that Salter’s Duck was one of those renewable projects clearly killed off by the nuclear indusrty), but for nations like Japan, has many advantages.

    If nuclear wants to play, then it has to be able to compete in cost terms. At the moment, it just isn’t, which is why so few new build reactors have appeared in free-market economies recently. If nuclear can be reliable, safe and pay its way, I’m ready to listen (its better than coal), but I suspect the second investors saw the footage from Fukushima, they stopped hearing the industry.

  40. #40 TheGoodLocust
    2011/08/30

    @Mike

    1)So the solution to area use is to put them off the coast? Doesn’t that make them even more expensive and difficult to maintain? That sounds good for island nations, but then I look at graphs like this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Electricity_production_in_Japan.PNG

    The growth rate of “renewables” can’t even keep up with population/demand growth – much less replace fossil fuels/nuclear.

    2. The other idea is to use farmland. Fine, go and use it, convince every farmer in the US to go along with it. Well, every farmer with good wind-producing land – and let’s hope it isn’t too far away from the city or we’ll deal with transmission losses too.

    3. Again, you tell me there is great interest, that it is incredibly competitive, and yet despite the huge subsidies these things get they just don’t compete. They’ve been the “wave of the future” for longer than I’ve been alive.

    4. Regarding maintenance of nuclear reactors. First off, they are condensed into a single plot of land – not spread out over hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands square miles of land needed for wind power (depending on how aggressive you want to be with it).

    It is a logistical nightmare.

    Second, you have far fewer moving parts for nuclear reactors. I don’t know the exact number of turbines that reactors typically power, but I imagine they could not be turned using wind power.

    How many wind turbines does it take to equal one nuclear plant? My guess is that a nuclear plant would have 2-3 times as many moving parts as a single windmill (if you count things that don’t move constantly), but it would take many more wind turbines to produce an equivalent amount of power.

    5. Irene didn’t affect windpower in NS? I’m not surprised. If anything it probably helped. I must say that I doubt your numbers – are you sure you aren’t counting ALL renewables? The NS power website says combined they total 13% of power generation – and you just know most of that is hydro.

    It also says on their website that they were mandated to increase renewables for power generation.

    You can mandate anything you like – but it doesn’t make it practical.

    6. In any case, not counting hydro, wind does make more sense than solar, and on paper it might look “okay” on a small scale, but the lack of resources (land, metals, minerals) and logistical issues make it completely impractical on a meaningful scale.

  41. #41 MikeB
    2011/08/31

    Good Locust – I’m detecting some handwaving.

    Japan can put turbines where ever it wants, but as an island nation, near to the shore does have many advantages. Yes, it increases costs, but the EU climate change commissioner recently said that off-shore wind was cheaper than nuclear. Why don’t we let the market decide?

    Transmission losses? New developments for long distance trasnmission (such as the Europeans are building right now) will reduce that, and of course you have to admit that there are no nuclear plants in cities either. Like turbines, they tend to be away from people. Of course you can just put solar on your roof.

    Would farmers allow turbines on their land? Barclays Bank has just announced a £100m fund to finance UK farmers in putting renewables on their farms. More than a third are willing to have such schemes on thir land , and ‘A Barclays survey of 300 agricultural customers also showed four out of five farmers recognise renewable energy can save costs and 60% see it as a source of additional income.’

    Part of the reason for their enthusiasm is because wind and solar are the ‘cheapest to build and their costs are forecast to drop by up to 50% in the next three to five years as demand rises and technology improves’. And because they get an income from them, in some cases by simply putting panels on their barns. Will US farmers be equally interested? If they get paid, they yes they will.

    Wind and solar are relatively recent arrivals to the energy scene compared with nuclear. The first large turbines only started to be produced in the late 1970’s, and it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that they were installed in California.On the other hand, recent expansion has been dramatic. World wind generation capacity more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2006, and U.S. capacity has more than doubled in the past three years. Solar has possibly done even better, with dramatic lowering of costs.

    Are they subsidised? Yes. But that really is the pot calling the kettle black, when you consider the huge subsidies the nuclear has received in the past, and continues to enjoy.

    When you consider the huge number of wind turbines in operation already, it seems the logistical nightmare you imagine has not yet come to pass. And can it really be true that nuclear power stations are really any less complicated than a wind turbine? The nuclear part tends to be highly engineered (for obvious reasons), and the actual power plant (the turbines particularly) is complex, although well understood.

    Of course you will need many turbines/solar/hydro, etc to cover the base load of a nuclear plant. However, that also helps to devolve the grid, and smart grids should help to balance out the different power sources more efficently. How practical the different sources are remains to be seen. Mandating certainly isn’t enough, so lets see what renewables and other sources can do in the market place (with a level playing field of course).

    The problem of resources would hit mass nuclear build even more than renewables – how much steel is in the average nuclear power station, and how many skilled nuclear engineers are there to build them?

    As I’ve said before, I’m not anti-nuclear, but if you look at where the money’s going, its away from nuclear, and Fukushima simply pushed them further.

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