Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: What Now?

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  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    And this has been tested? No, didn’t think so.

    Actually it's happening right now in Japan. The core has (almost certainly) melted in one or both reactors with no breach of the containment vessel.

    While nuclear power has it's issues I don't see any value in pretending it's more scary than it really is, it's especially worth remembering that the reactors in Japan were built 40 years ago and no-one would compare the safety of a car built 40 years ago with one built now so why should they compare reactors.

    Of far more concern with nuclear power is the mining of the uranium which screws up environments far more than any power plant disaster or the disposal of the waste.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn, in reply to BenWilson,

    Scotland is not uninhabitable. It produces a lot of food. You have massively overprojected the destruction that the Chernobyl accident wreaked.

    As a small counterpoint it is only in the last four or five years that lamb reared in certain areas of Snowdonia were declared fit for cosumption. This is a problem entirely due to Chernoblyl. In North Wales it accelerated the decline of the local livestock industry forcing a significant number of local families into poverty. Perhaps becasue it was local to me I tend to take these events quite seriously.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to ,

    Aramoana uses 15% of our total generation. You'd need to expand it many times over to justify the cost of building nuclear power infrastructure and capability.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19743 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    In practice, we haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of predicting and controlling all the possible ways that Mother Nature can fuck with our best-laid plans.

    No we haven't. But at some point you have to decide you are going to live your life. You can't be safe anywhere, living is all about balancing risk. being aware of real risks and understanding when a risk is great to change your behaviour is not trivial nor obvious. And people are notoriously bad at estimating risk.

    Nuclear power is scary because of the kind of risk it creates but it's safer than coal power, especially if you count the number of people dying in coal mines in China.

    And just for the record I don't think we should use nuclear power in NZ because I think we have plenty of water and wind to use to make energy, so much that we really shouldn't generate usable energy any other way.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Fooman, in reply to Sacha,

    Nuclear power is not a viable option for his country even just on economic grounds – we simply don’t have the scale of industry or population to justify building a nuclear capability.

    Probably true for conventional nuclear power (generally >1000 MW units). People have been encouraged by the smaller pebble bed reactors (around 50 MW) which are supposedly inherently safer (in design, operation and fuel). Little development on them (more later). Nuclear power generally requires a base load (much like geothermal) as it is hard to turn off (as seen in Japan), and in NZ, there is no base load, especially at night, which can take up the demand.

    It’s really expensive regardless of the poisonous and persistent safety and pollution issues.

    Compared to coal fired generation, which I would consider as more insidious in terms of pollution (both chemical and radioactive - check the estimates on how much U235 goes up out the stack from coal fired plants world wide), nuclear is relatively clean. It is like comparing 400 deaths a year on the road ("meh") to maybe 500 deaths over the past 160 years from earthquakes ("OMFG!").

    But you have hit the nail on the head when it comes to choice of generation technologies:

    It’s really expensive

    The reason for that expense is the capital cost in developing the technology (thanks US DoD for paying for the PWR and BWR designs that are prevalent) and applying it - the factors of safety in design are large (due to the OMFG! factor) and the standards for materials, inspection, operation are high. A former boss of mine worked in the UK nuclear industry, and told tales of the resources thrown at them to help maintain the technology - everything was brand new, in triplicate, again to mitigate the OMFG! factor.

    Until the accountants came in.

    Now, thanks to the idea that power generation needs to be a competitive, profit focused industry, the capital and operating costs of a technology are the prime drivers in development and usage of that technology.

    A few years ago I was at a conference, and the key note speaker was the recently retired CEO (or president) of the american electrical power research institute (read mostly coal/gas/nuclear/little bit of renewable technology people). His summary, for the US at least, given the increasing resentment against conventional coal fired plant was:

    - continue with coal (and live with pollution)
    - rapidly deploy new nuclear generation (at the time there hadn't been a new nuke plant in the US for decades, because of cost and TMI:OMFG!)
    - accept a decrease in the standard of living.

    Which choice is politically or commercially acceptable?

    When in comes to the cost of technologies, gas fired combined cycle plants are cheapest per unit energy (e.g. MWh), followed by coal fired plant (conventional and super-critical), with nuke and hydro (very high capital costs) next. Then the renewables.

    What is being built worldwide? gas fired combined cycle and coal fired plant. These represent the best return on investment in the short to medium term (accountants!) for commercial generation, in the absence of other drivers (e.g. carbon tax, public sentiment, regulatory requirements)

    In the long term, of course, marginal operational costs (i.e. the price of fuel) will tip the balance. But how many businesses are willing to minimise profit now to get an advantage in the future.

    NZ is rather unusual in it's generation profile - thermal generation is still held to be unusual (but look at the increasing market share since the power reforms - again comes back to return on investment).

    Cheers,
    FM

    Lower Hutt • Since Dec 2009 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    .............the reactors in Japan were built 40 years ago and no-one would compare the safety of a car built 40 years ago with one built now so why should they compare reactors.

    Which to my mind raises the greater part of my own concerns. 40 years is an awfully long time to be employing and using same design; I'm sure this wasn't at the insistence of the safety authorities. My point being that there is a genuine conflict between operators and safety authories agrguing about how reasonable are certain safety measures. I have great faith in science and engineering a good deal less in operators who have over time contributed to a culture of mistrust. The recent debate in the UK over this has been ineteresting.

    P.S. For a while I lived down the road from Culham Labs - Run by the UKAEA, the site wasn't always devoted to fusion research. Something that they unsurprisingly fail to advertise or discuss openly. That said I still don't glow in the dark.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    so much that we really shouldn't generate usable energy any other way.

    Well, electricity anyway. If we discovered easily accessible offshore oil, we'd be crazy not to take it. And biofuel might be profitable at some point if we could get away from our obsessions relating to genetic engineering.

    I'm not against various other electric energy generation ideas though, I wouldn't rule out solar farming, tidal power. Also solar power can and should be used directly as heat where it can. Not to mention that it's one of the primary inputs to farming.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to BenWilson,

    What’s happened in Japan has been a real testament to the modern design of nuclear plants,

    True. I worked, back in the UK, with an engineer who had worked on Nuclear Power Plants in Japan, must be thirty years back. I remember him telling me that the foundations of the reactor were designed to slide up to 10 metres and the coolant pipes were designed to allow for that movement. This appears to be the case as the failure resulted from a malfunction of the pump system due to the Tsunami knocking out the emergency power. There will always be a weakest link in any system.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    Would I be right in surmising that power (electricity ?) generation should not be in commercial hands ?

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    Sorry to interrupt folks so ignore this if you like ,just thought this was a thread that mentioned the stadium,on the other hand, I could be completely wrong.
    slight tangent from Te Harold

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Fooman, in reply to Sacha,

    Aramoana uses 15% of our total generation. You’d need to expand it many times over to justify the cost of building nuclear power infrastructure and capability.

    NZAS at Bluff (the Aramoana smelter was never built) uses around 600 to 700 MW operating at full capacity. A mid-size conventional nuke plant (e.g. 2x 500 MW units) could supply the power as required plus a bit for the grid. But it wouldn't. The Manapouri hydro plant was built specifically to power it and the capital cost of it was essentially gifted by the NZ govt at the time (was not operating in a commercial environment). The operating cost of Manapouri is low (rain is free), hence the price can be offered at the low rate NZAS gets. A few other aluminium smelters throughout the world do use hydro, but the majority use thermal generation (coal or gas), due to lower effective cost of supply compared to nuclear or hydro (if available).

    Cheers,
    FM

    Lower Hutt • Since Dec 2009 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Fooman, in reply to ,

    Using coal to smelt steel is iron age technology.

    Er, no its not. Coking coal is a essential ingredient in steel making, regardless of the process (basic oxygen, electric arc, reduction as per Glenbrook).

    iron = iron ore - (oxygen removed by oxidation of carbon)

    Steel = iron plus carbon (plus other additions to improve properties).

    The coking coal is essentially the source of reasonably pure carbon in sufficient quantities for large scale production.

    Cheers,
    FM

    Lower Hutt • Since Dec 2009 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Fooman, in reply to ,

    Charcoal-derived carbon iron reduction is iron age technology. Coking coal is 18th or 19th century technology. The only other large scale reduction process for steel that I can remember is using natural gas (methane) as the reducing agent. Which can be considered a bit of a waste of a useful resource (quick fact: 80% of the worlds nitrogen based fertilisers come from natural gas).

    Cheers,
    FM

    Lower Hutt • Since Dec 2009 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    I've said it before, but it won't be the greenies who'll prevent nuclear energy happening in NZ. It'll be the bean counters. Nuclear energy, in a NZ context, is little more than a delusion of John Frum cultists.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5442 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    True, although I don't know if this will continue to be the case. NZ is going to grow. Who knows how much demand there will be for power in the future? But in the short (like 10-20 years) term, I can't see it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to BenWilson,

    True, although I don’t know if this will continue to be the case. NZ is going to grow. Who knows how much demand there will be for power in the future?

    After all, there's only a limited supply of river valleys one can conveniently flood for hydro generation.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    Scotland is not uninhabitable. It produces a lot of food. You have massively overprojected the destruction that the Chernobyl accident wreaked.

    Yes, to a point. Small areas of the UK are still unable to produce food fit for human consumption, as a direct consequence of radioactive fallout from Chernobyl.

    But: 1) they are still unable to produce that food 25 flippin' years after being dosed, and 2) the UK is a bloody long way away from the Ukraine.

    Best fallout map I could quickly find is here

    If I stand at my front door and look north, I can see two petrol stations and an awful lot of light industrial buildings and big box retail. None of which I'd like to be downwind of if they were uncontrollably ablaze after an 8.9 magnitude quake.

    When was the last time any of the above laid semi-permanent waste to an area?

    What Matthew said. The Buncefield fire did not render most of Hertfordshire uninhabitable for decades.

    but is a distraction from other goings-on that actually do have real consequences here.

    ...so I'm going to shut up now.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    Chernobyl happened in April 1986 and in Feb 1987 my five year old in NZ was diagnosed with leukaemia. I just don't trust fall out maps, sorry. I don't know what caused her illness, but I know some people are more susceptible than others to radioactivity, environmental toxins or whatever, and we are all interconnected on the planet. So I don't trust nuclear power anywhere.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3227 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich Lock,

    But: 1) they are still unable to produce that food 25 flippin' years after being dosed, and 2) the UK is a bloody long way away from the Ukraine.

    They're unable to produce some kinds of food. Which is not the only thing farmland can be used for. It could be used for forestry, for instance. Or it could lie fallow for that time and emerge as considerably better farmland. Yes, it does suck for those farmers, but it's hardly the post-apocalyptic landscape Matthew was suggesting could be an outcome in NZ. And again, that was a fucked old plant in a fucked old empire. I wouldn't want one of those either.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    Hilary that's awful. And I understand your need to find a reason for your own tragedy. But there is no possible way Chernobyl could have had anything to do with your child's cancer.

    You can distrust nuclear energy for many reasons, my personal one is the damage the uranium mines do. And as has pointed out when you run power plants as businesses then you have to trust accountants - yeesh.

    Every way we generate energy has risk and costs, the only way to know which risk to take is to actually take the time to really assess the risks and benefits. Nuclear power is not the worst by any stretch even counting the mines.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    And this has been tested? No, didn’t think so.

    3 Mile Island was a meltdown, so yes, it's been tested. We don't really know what's going on at Fukushima I yet, but it's very likely that meltdowns have occurred in all three of the reactors where the cooling systems failed. So far it does not appear that significant radiation has escaped.
    @Steve Barnes:

    Which to my mind raises the greater part of my own concerns. 40 years is an awfully long time to be employing and using same design; I’m sure this wasn’t at the insistence of the safety authorities.

    The other way to look at it is to consider that we have 40 years experience building and operating these designs. That experience increases safety a great deal. As noted on Wikipedia, it is actually new technology that has been the most prone to accidents, and that is due to unforeseen circumstances and lack of operator experience.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Ok Pigeons, may I introduce you to Cat, shall we call him Colin?
    Quite an interesting documentary claiming all kinds of interesting things such as...

    Radiation, not just for fun and profit, it could be good for you

    For the last 50 years the world has lived in fear of radiation. Hiroshima, Nagasaki and accidents at nuclear power stations struck terror in people everywhere - but Horizon: Nuclear Nightmares has uncovered evidence to suggest these fears could be unfounded.

    But that's not all. Studies have shown........

    Cellphone Radiation will make you a Better you

    All those cancer concerns surrounding cell phones may have to make room for good news. Astonished scientists found that electromagnetic radiation from cell phones not only boosted the memories of young mice, but even reversed Alzheimer's symptoms in old mice. Their study marks the first to investigate how long-term electromagnetic radiation affects memory function.

    Whooda thunk it?.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to SteveH,

    @Steve Barnes:Which to my mind raises the greater part of my own concerns. 40 years is an awfully long time to be employing and using same design;

    Now you're just making me feel even older.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Fooman,

    NZAS at Bluff (the Aramoana smelter was never built)

    Thank you. Too distracted.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19743 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH, in reply to Rich Lock,

    1) they are still unable to produce that food 25 flippin' years after being dosed

    Sheep had to be tested before being moved or slaughtered. I'm not aware of any locations in the UK being unable to produce food. The vast majority of restrictions were lifted by the end of 1986.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report Reply

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