Viewing post #635033 by Steve812

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You are viewing a single post made by Steve812 in the thread called Nuclear Disasters.
Apr 25, 2011 11:50 PM CST
Name: Steve
Prescott, AZ
I guess I don't understand the scale very well. I have no reservations whatsoever about calling Chernobyl a major catastrophe. Perhaps it is even the single worst technological catastrophe in the history of man. I think it's easy to show that hundreds or even thousands of people died directly from Chernobyl, but I'd need to see the analysis to believe that it was within a factor of a hundred of being a million people. Do you have the citation of the scientific paper that provides that estimate?

It seems non-intuitive to me that Fukushima should be considered qualitatively in the same category as Chernobyl. One difference is in reactor design. The Japanese reactors were in confinement buildings, Chernobyl was not. The amount of material released at Fukushima is almost certainly less - probably by orders of magnitude - than the amount released at Chernobyl. A second difference is that Chernobyl had a graphite core for producing plutonium. Commercial power reactors in Japan and the west don't use graphite. My educated guess is that this makes the toxic melange that spews from western reactors materially less dangerous.

Another difference is that dozens of people at Chernobyl actively fought the graphite reactor fire and were knowingly exposed to levels of radiation that were potentially lethal over a short period of time. I would be surprised if the radiation levels at Fukushima have been even 10% as high. I'm not aware that the levels have been high enough that the operators have been forced to abandon the site - as was the case at Chernobyl.

So it seems to me that comparing Chernobyl to Fukushima is like comparing a motorcycle accident that produced one badly broken leg to a ten bus pile-up that killed 200 school children. At this point in history they seem categorically different to me.

Power generation is a dangerous business. In the US 10,000 people per year die before they otherwise would because of health problems that result from burning of coal. I don't think anyone has died from the operation of a commercial nuclear reactor in the US. And 20% of our power comes from nuclear plants. A typical coal burning plant releases more radioactive material - mostly radon gas - as a result of its operations than a typical nuclear plant. And of course coal plants release a lot of other pollutants including CO2.

I really think we have a lot to learn from Fukushima. For example, the industry has designed nuclear plants in California (Diablo Canyon) to withstand 7.5 earthquakes. It might be a lot more expensive to do so, but designing for a 9.0 earthquake is not a bad idea. Earthquakes of this magnitude strike California a few times a century. Fukushima withstood 9.0 earthquake; but it choked on a tsunami. And the technological solution would have been simple and inexpensive. Besides being better with designs we desperately need a sensible and effective waste disposal plan.

I think if we can be as good at deploying nuclear power as we need to be, nuclear power can be a sensible choice as the backbone of our power system. Fossil fuels have more limited supply and cause global warming. Renewable resources cannot take up the slack for many more decades. And each technology has a specific problem that prevents it from taking over the role that nuclear power plays.

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