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Chernobyl

image credit: ID 19464870 © Arman Zhenikeyev | Dreamstime.com

On Monday, I started the much acclaimed HBO mini-series Chernobyl on my flight back from Texas to my childhood home in New Jersey. The show didn’t disappoint. Between a couple cat naps, I got two one hour episodes in before having to leave the plane—I would have gladly extended the flight if it meant one more episode. Luckily, soon after arriving, I discovered my parents had traded in their Netflix subscription for a couple months of HBO now and I was able to finish the season last night. 

I can’t recommend Chernobyl enough. It’s gripping in the same way all great disaster flicks are, but it goes much deeper. It exposes the wretchedness of the Soviet regime: Total indifference to human life when the system is at risk. 

Yet part of me couldn’t help but fearing that the show’s quality, and consequent popularity, would only further damage nuclear power’s reputation. Despite research showing that only a combination of nuclear and renewables can effectively mitigate climate change, progressives around the world continue to demand nuclear be phased out—and they’re often successful. Tragically, nuclear plant closings are almost always followed by an uptick in greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve seen it in Germany and around the U.S. 

The reality is nuclear has proven safer than fossil fuels over the course of history, and it’s only getting better. I recently came across an article detailing a new, low-cost safety mechanism that could have supposedly stopped Chernobyl: “In a recent paper, published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal Nuclear Energy and Technology and the result of 30-40 years of collaboration, they propose a new safety barrier to be implemented in large Light Water Reactors around the world. Coming at a fraction of the cost of the already obsolete one that it is about to replace, this barrier is expected to reduce the probability of core melt to that of a large meteorite hitting the site.”

Hopefully HBO releases a follow up series on the wonders of the atom and why it should be embraced.


 

Henry Craver's picture

Thank Henry for the Post!

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Discussions

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 30, 2019 4:14 am GMT

Henry, it's not hard to appreciate that the most useful, powerful sources of energy can also be the most dangerous. Like guns, their ability to empower individuals (and societies) can, if wielded irresponsibly, be catastrophic.

Chernobyl was a case in point. As you note, there was a top-down failure of responsibility - from policymakers, to the plant's designers, to its operators. The RBMK reactor design itself was an accident waiting to happen.

Here's why Chernobyl should be viewed in context:

Safety standards for U.S. nuclear plants are the most rigorous in the world. There are many reasons why there hasn't been a single casualty of U.S. nuclear power; housing reactors within 6 feet of reinforced concrete, and not a Home-Depot-style warehouse structure, is only one (it prevented casualties at Three Mile Island).

Extremely encouraging that you, Rakesh, and Matt Chester "get it" - that unless we take substantial and immediate steps to prevent them, the effects of climate change will make 10 Chernobyls look like a walk in the park. It's all about putting things in perspective.

 

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Dec 2, 2019 11:59 am GMT

Bob,

Curious if the earthquake near Diablo Canyon had stuck closer do you think the result would have been the same.  Also, the US safety standards are rigorous, how do we ensure other countries are the same? 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 5, 2019 10:13 pm GMT

Audra, the seismicity and tectonics of the sites on which Diablo Canyon and San Onofre were built have been studied more than any parcels of land in the world. Both were built to withstand stresses well in excess of any potential earthquakes in the region, so yes - the result would have been the same.

Several probablistic risk assessments have been undertaken for each; they put the possibility of human harm from accident or malfunction at one every 22,000 reactor years (one every 11,000 years, for each plant). Sure, there's a chance they could be wrong - an asteroid could strike either one tomorrow. But without immediate action on climate change the outcome won't matter.

onedit: the containment vessels around Diablo Canyon's reactors are designed to withstand the very explosion which tore apart Fukushima #2 - hydrogen escaping from the melted core of the reactor. Like Three Mile Island, they're designed to contain even a reactor meltdown.

David Svarrer's picture
David Svarrer on Dec 7, 2019 6:36 pm GMT

Bob, 

A solar concentrator solution does not need "probabilistic risk assessments". It will not harm a fly even if there was a severe malfunction twice a day. It will also not start a mass pollution if hit by an asteroid.

The solar concentrator I am discussing has a life span of 50+ years, and is made solely of materials such as stainless steel, glass, aluminium, a standard circuit board and 4 stepper motors (made of copper, and typical metals) and 500 gram of other materials - none of them being radioactive isotopes etc..

No solar concentrator or its surroundings need to be able to withstand any "Fukushima like explosion". 

There is no "Kernel" which can melt down in a solar concentrator.

No immediate action on climate change in form of more nuclear power - will be a reckless decision, given the complete lack of any solution to the nuclear waste problem. 

As I think we have discussed before - it is most likely, some time into the future - that we find out how to tame the nuclear powers. However. We do not know that, now. 

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Dec 2, 2019 11:57 am GMT

Henry,

I just recently viewed this show as well and found it very compelling.  I think the overall issue with nuclear power is that man can still make mistakes and when money and power are involved you add another level of issues. In addition, one accident is not like a common fire - it takes 100's of years to recover.   I am personally torn on the issue of Nuclear power.  However, I think this incident as well as the one in Japan have taught us a lot.   

David Svarrer's picture
David Svarrer on Dec 3, 2019 5:47 pm GMT

Dear Henry,

Which professional, scientific research are you referring to, when you say that research has said that only combinations of Nuclear Power and renewables can work? 

We have other options. Let us say that solar / wind energy cannot cater enough for the energy need of Earth ? 

Then we can - dammit - cut own our energy consumption. We are riding on a hot air balloon - this one of the perpetual growth. 

Truly - the world economy would collapse without this growth. But economy as such would not. Currencies would not. We would see a new economy rise from the old one. 

The chaos from such a collapse would be of magnitudes smaller than a total climate change collapse due to our lemming-like heading for the CO2 and overheating abyss.

Sincerely

Rational Intuitive

David Svarrer

David Svarrer's picture
David Svarrer on Dec 3, 2019 5:51 pm GMT

Dear Bob Meinetz, 

Can you explain to me why we would ever run a risk of implementing systems which need huge security systems and which would cause disaster if the security systems fails? 

There is no legit argument for installing anything (radioactive) which has a potential of causing such serious disasters - when we in fact have innocent energy resources which are constantly there - such as solar, wind, thermal and others.

From where comes this infatuation of nuclear systems? They are both dangerous and potentially lethally dangerous. There is no need.

We must get away from this notion that governments are there to get what the population wants. So, if the population demands 24/7 energy supply and that would require seriously dangerous means - then the answer is plain simply: NO.

Sincerely

David Svarrer

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 5, 2019 6:10 pm GMT

David, your irrational fear of nuclear energy is common but misplaced, and the "serious disasters" you envision are apparently derived from horror films (in over half a century there hasn't been a single U.S. casualty from nuclear energy).

In contrast, innocent solar and wind depend on guilty fossil fuel for backup - responsible for 13,000 deaths/yr from emphysema, cancer, and other pulmonary diseases - not to mention climate change.

"So, if the population demands 24/7 energy supply and that would require seriously dangerous means - then the answer is plain simply: NO."

I agree.

David Svarrer's picture
David Svarrer on Dec 7, 2019 7:00 pm GMT

Bob, 

No. The solar concentrator solutions I am discussing, are off grid. And those who install them, are off grid, and do not even have a fossil fuel driven generator as support. 

I would appreciate if you refrain from calling me having irrational fears. You do not know me. I do not have fears. I have desires instead. I do not need nuclear power on one side, such that I can choose renewable energy on the other side. 

The only reason I am discussing this - has nothing to do with fears. It has to do with that I find that the Nuclear Power professionals largely are professionally misleading people. Even trying to abuse the language and tweaking it such that they try to make use of the word "Renewable" about Uranium, despite the fact that Uranium is not renewable. It is being consumed in the power production process, and leaves a guaranteed not renewable waste-product scenario which nobody really knows what to do about.

It is very simple: From a simple risk analysis, and given your previous comment - you mentioned it all yourself - nuclear power need loads of risk-mitigating means - all of which must be in operation, in control, managed correctly. If even a few of these fails - due to one of the events you mentioned yourself - these "once in 22,000 year" events - then hell is loose.

The solar concentrator solutions I am discussing do not have such requirements. They do not leave any waste. They are built cradle-to-cradle - they do not leave a "Monument" of 680,000 tonne of concrete per GigaWatt when decommissioned. Unlike the enormous CO2 footprint when erecting Nuclear Power plants - these concentrator solutions have "Paid" their CO2 dues after 24 days of operation.

You may ask - HOW this solar concentrator solution can avoid the fossil fuel backup? The response is very simple: Due to the extremely inexpensive solution - the energy is being stored in a stone storage from where it is being retrieved as need may be, when the sun does not shine - which is the case 80% of the time, all over the most of the world.

The research institute RISØ (Denmark) (Part of Danish Technical University) is up with a stone storage solution for this for large scale use - this is for storage of wind energy.

Therefore there is no fossil fuel in the "Energy Mix"... 

On your side of the story - the figure I got is that more than 250,000 people are dying every year due to pollution related to fossil fuel of many sorts. However - even though this figure is - likely - much higher than the 13,000 you state - then you cannot prove this figure, either. Let me quote you, using your own words: 
"There has not been a single US casualty from fossil fuel the most recent 50 years". 

It is the same all over: The figures we have - maybe some 50,000 or more dying from cancers related to nuclear industry (including all disasters) - and the 250,000 from fossil fuel pollution - are all realistic figures - but we do not have many direct evidences. This lack of particular, factual, pinpointed evidence based on identified / named dead persons - does not remove the problem neither from nuclear power nor from fossil fuel. 

And - I would guess that the consequences of the work with the different poisonous chemicals in the wind industry (documented seriously over the most recent 20 years) claim thousands of lives every year too in form of cancers induced by these chemicals. It is likely impossible to prove these, too. Yet - lack of formal, named, identified evidence, of dead people - does not remove the problem here, either.

The difference between these problems is, that the nuclear problems have a time-range of thousands of years, and may be the biggest killer of all. The fossil fuel problems may kill us as a species (and millions with us) (climate change), and may overtake nuclear power by 2-figured factors in terms of killings caused by climate change.

The solar energy (and wind energy) may never reach such dimensions of lethality. 

Sincerely

Rational Intuitive

David Svarrer

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 8, 2019 4:50 pm GMT

David, I'm not judging you. Many people have irrational fears (flying is one of my own) - they're safety nets our species has used to help it survive. Your concerns about nuclear energy are based on misperceptions with no rational basis in fact, and that you're worried about anything that will affect the environment thousands of years in the future is a perfect example.

Without a suitable replacement for fossil fuel (renewables don't remotely qualify) the vast majority of life an Earth will cease to exist. Ocean acidification is expected to doom the marine food chain, and all the animals and plants which depend on it to survive, in as little as one hundred years. The existence of one-fourth of all species on Earth, including Homo Sapiens, is threatened within centuries thereafter.

So feel free to fritter around with solar panels, wind turbines, hamster wheels, whatever keeps you from imagining your Nuclear Armageddon. People who understand the scope of the real problem will be working on real solutions to solve it.

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