Tag Archives: nuclear power plants

The Consequences and Prevention of Nuclear Power Accident Disasters for $29.41 per Person

New Orleans  If you live within 50-miles of a nuclear power plant, then count yourself part of the majority of the US population, since that’s the case for 65% of us. On the other hand, you may not want to hear all about this, but folks with the Union of Concerned Scientists and Princeton University wrote a piece in the recent issue of Scientific American that scared the stuffings out of me.

These scientists were looking at the risks posed by the handling of spent fuel and in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in the wake of the earthquake in March 2011, are now making the case that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) did not go nearly as far as needed to assure citizen protection for a potential US disaster. The NRC did a safety review and ordered some safety upgrades, but the scientists argue that they “rejected … a measure to end dense packing of 90 spent fuel pools, which we consider critical for avoiding a potential catastrophe much greater than Fukushima.” I visited the Fukushima area several years after the disaster to try and learn the lessons from that disaster and compare them to what New Orleanians had learned from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, so I found all of this unsettling especially since it is six years after Fukushima and some families are only able to return now, and some will never be able to do so.

Here’s the deal. These spent rods are put in cooling ponds for a few years until they can be moved to dry storage casks safely. In the US, the NRC allows them to be kept in this way semi-indefinitely until a “geologic repository…becomes available.” The operators therefore pack the rods in the pools like sardines in order to keep their costs down, but of course that also increases the risks “about 50 times as much as the corresponding values for a fire in a low density pool,” in the NRC’s technical analysis. Yet, the NRC didn’t order a change, which ought to scare the fiery hell out of all of us.

From there it’s all a dogpile of problems. The NRC didn’t look at terrorism. Hey, what could happen? They didn’t look past 50 miles to the other 35% of the US-population that might be worried. They claimed that disaster areas would be repopulated within one-year, which doesn’t fit either the New Orleans or Fukushima experience. The NRC also “assumed radiation dose standards for population relocation that were much less restrictive than those recommended by the EPA.” The scientists estimate that if EPA standards were used “the average evacuated would increase about threefold.” Using the right figures, the NRC cost-benefit ratio would favor moving, which means making the industry pony up about $50 million per plant or $5 billion overall.

They go on and on from here, and, trust me, it only gets worse, and I think you get the message. It also helps to do the math here, since it’s not like nuclear power companies don’t pass the costs on to consumers. I stand second to no one in wanting to keep utility rates down, but when you divide $5 billion by 170 million people minimum that might be affected if the NRC’s pattycake with industry doesn’t play out in our favor, then the cost would be about $29 and change.

Come on, let’s get serious about this before it’s too late. Where can I send my check today?

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Please enjoy Art Carter’s Mighty Mississippi. Thanks to KABF.

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Scientists Say Our Nuclear Power Plants May Be Fire Bombs Waiting to Explode

plant at Peach Bottom

plant at Peach Bottom

New Orleans  There’s a lot of talk about solar and other renewable energy sources, reduced electricity demand, and even some environmentalists saying that nuclear power might be the way to go to reduce the risk of climate change. You start to think to yourself, well, it’s been a long time since Three Mile Island, maybe I should take a look at this again and update my viewpoint. My stumbling block more recently was a visit in October of 2012 to Japan in the area devastated by the earthquake there in March 2011 and the continuing problems at the Fukushima plant. A more recent article in Science magazine on reports issued by scientists still unpacking the risks of a total meltdown at Fukushima and extended by other researchers to the ongoing latent dangers in US nuclear plants with the same characteristics, once again scared the stuffings out of me.

Pretty much the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in their report claim it was pure luck that saved Japan. Here’s why. Nuclear plants store spent fuel, which is highly radioactive obviously, in huge cooling ponds. In Japan, the earthquake and tsunami shut down the pumps that move coolant in the reactors and cool down the water in the spent fuel pools. Pumps go down, meltdown follows. But, as Science detailed, “the water was evaporating away because of the hot fuel,” meaning the risk of fire and conflagration was imminent, and only averted because, “Separating the well and the spent fuel pool is a gate through which fuel assemblies are transferred. The gate leaked, allowing water from the well to partly refill the pool.” That could have been the big one in Japan!

The study also points out that this potential problem should be a “wake-up call for the industry,” but if so they must be sending encrypted messages between each other, because this was the first warning I had seen. Unpublished modeling of a nuke plant in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania in the southeast portion of that state not far from Washington and Philadelphia, indicated that a spent-fuel fire there would have “trillion-dollar consequences” according to a Princeton University nuclear security expert. Other Princeton researchers published a report saying that depending on when such a fire occurred at that plant and the prevailing winds during that season, the contamination could spread from Maine to North Carolina, and cause the evacuation of 43 million people. And, believe me on this, there are areas in Japan where people will never go home.

Should we worry about this? Well, yes, because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, often derided as an industry lapdog, concluded that these reports were essentially no “immediate” problem. The solution would be costly and involve a $4 billion conversion to concrete containers called “dry casks” which would reduce the chances of a spent fuel fire, and the NRC doesn’t want to saddle the nuclear energy gang with this price tag. But, “the benefits of expedited transfers to dry casks are five-fold greater than NRC has calculated, the academies found.”

What, me worry? Heck, yes!

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