Thursday, September 26, 2013

Safety of Nuclear vs. Gas: Guest Post by N Nadir

The Prisoner's Dilemma

My blog post The Prisoner's Dilemma and New Types of Nuclear Energy Reactors was posted at The Energy Collective.  (The post originally appeared at ANS Nuclear Cafe.) In this post, I compared the types of support given to current and advanced reactors.

N Nadir wrote a comment on the post, and he has generously allowed me to use his comment as a guest post.  (I posted another one of his comments as a guest post in August: Vermont is Part of the World. )

The Best in Terms of Risk

Yes, it (nuclear) is the very best form of energy in terms of risk.

Nuclear energy need not be perfect; it need not be risk free to be better than everything else, it merely needs to be better than everything else, which it is.

There is no form of energy ever invented by humanity that has ever, at any time, produced as much energy as nuclear energy has produced with as small a loss of life.   Zero.   None.

The problem that nuclear has, and no other form of energy has, is that all other disasters - and there are too many to mention - go down the memory hole rapidly, whereas any problem with nuclear plants is rehashed over and over and over ad absurdum.

Gas Explosions and Oil Wars

Memorial Window
The Piper Alpha oil platform explosion took place around the same time as the Three Mile Island meltdown.    Quick, without Google, how many people were killed at Piper Alpha?    How many at Three Mile Island?   How much oil gas and coal has been burned to run websites where people carry on about Three Mile Island?   How much oil, gas and coal has been burned to discuss Piper Alpha?

How many major gas explosions took place this year?    How much attention did they get compared to say, Fukushima?    How many gas explosions took place in the same year as Fukushima?    How did they compare in direct injury and death to Fukushima?   How long will any of these gas explosions be remembered or discussed?

We can go further:

How many oil wars have there been?    How many nuclear wars?

How many people die each year from oil, coal and gas waste?   How many people have died from the storage of so called "nuclear waste" in the more than half a century of commercial nuclear reactions?

The Impossible Standard for Nuclear

Nuclear's problem is not technical, nor is it even rational.    Nuclear energy suffers from being held to a standard that no other form of energy can meet, with the result that we continue to cause huge losses of life, property, and the ecosphere because of our irrational fears of it.

Quite frankly, the pressurized water reactor has unquestionably been the greatest and safest large scale energy device ever invented.    As reported by Jim Hansen in Environmental Science and Technology nuclear energy, dominated by this kind of reactor, is responsible for saving 1.8 million lives.    It might have saved more, were it not for fear and ignorance.

One might build different kinds of reactors with different advantages (and disadvantages) when compared to the LWR but the great engineering success of the LWR is nothing to be ashamed of.    What people should be ashamed of is their picayune objections to this fine technology that limited its expansion and use.

N Nadir is a well-known blogger about energy: for a long time, he blogged at Daily Kos.  A few years ago, Charles Barton of Nuclear Green described and listed many of his posts.


Paul Wick said...

Piper Alpha was a North Sea oil production platform operated by Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Ltd.[1] The platform began production in 1976,[2] first as an oil platform and then later converted to gas production. An explosion and the resulting oil and gas fires destroyed it on 6 July 1988, killing 167 men,[3] with only 61 survivors. The death toll includes two crewmen of a rescue vessel.[4] Total insured loss was about £1.7 billion (US$3.4 billion). At the time of the disaster, the platform accounted for approximately ten percent of North Sea oil and gas production, and was the worst offshore oil disaster in terms of lives lost and industry impact.[5] --from wikipedia. Note: 1988. TMI: 1979 death toll: 0

Anonymous said...

When I speak to students about perceived risk vs. real risk, I always ask the audience two questions. First, I ask that anyone who has heard of Three Mile Island please raise their hand. Everyone in the audience raises their hand. Then I ask that anyone who has heard of Elk Grove Village to raise their hand. Nobody raises their hand. I then tell them the story. In March, 1979, a mishap caused damage at the Three Mile Island power station. While some industrial equipment was damaged, no one was killed, no one was injured. In May of 1979, two months after the Three Mile Island incident, a DC-10 took off from O'Hare Airport and less than a minute later crashed into a trailer park in Elk Grove Village, IL. Over 270 people died, including several on the ground. It was the deadliest air accident in US history, but no one remembers it. They all know about Three Mile Island, a zero fatalities event. But no one remembrs almost 300 deaths in an air crash. I ask them why that is. All I get are shrugs, blank looks, and crickets.

David Kendrick said...

The UK has had PGR reactors using CO2 and Graphite moderators which were orders of magnitude safer than PWR which is inherently unsafe, The PWR will run into meltdown without intervention by a control room, it relys on active cooling systems and recombiners to stop hydrolysis, it needs a manual shutdown sequence which requires power to function. A system of automatic shutdown without intervention has been left out of each and every design. The Graphite moderator PGR has control rods, which if moved - by hand - if need be, will stop the reactor.

"The control rod system is an inherently failsafe design with the control rods suspended
at the top of the reactor core by energised control rod motors. A trip of the system by
the main guardlines, diverse guardlines or reactor trip button, or a complete loss of
electrical supplies, removes power from the control rod motors and the rods fall by
gravity into the core at a speed limited by regenerative breaking of the motors but
taking less than 10 seconds. " EU Stress Test Report – Wylfa
October 2011

Meredith Angwin said...


I don't think that calling one type of reactor "inherently unsafe" is going to do any good for any other type of reactor. You can attack LWRs, I can reply with comments about the graphite moderator at Chernobyl. This does nobody any good.

In point of fact, however, natural gas kills people on a routine basis while power reactors have a stellar safety record.