Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: What Now?

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  • Ross Mason,

    One day after an oil refinery fire I could walk in and start cleaning it up. One day after a nuclear meltdown would mean how many years before I can grow rice???

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Ross Mason,

    One day after an oil refinery fire I could walk in and start cleaning it up. One day after a nuclear meltdown would mean how many years before I can grow rice???

    Not necessarily that long, because a meltdown is not the same as a catastrophic release of radioactive materials. There have been (prior to this earthquake) three of the former - Fermi 1, 3 Mile Island, and Chernobyl - but only Chernobyl resulted in the latter.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler,

    Having said that, Fukushima 4 is now on fire. That's bad.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    Nuclear Power in New Zealand is impractical from economic reasons (there is no cost justification whatsoever that I’ve seen that works without massively externalizing costs), engineering (issues about the grid load from one source), and social. All could in theory change, but I am pretty confident in saying “not in my lifetime”.
    Meanwhile, Ahhhh the stupid it burns (More from Ken Ring). I left the comment:
    Ken Ring cites a blog post that the moon was above Tokyo (technically it was about 2/3rds of the way above the horizon) as evidence of the significant effect of the moon. I wish to point out that in the recent major Canterbury quake, the moon was below the horizon- i.e. on the other side of the planet.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to David Hood,

    Well Ring's " predictions " for the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival were TOTALLY off
    (possible earthquakes and very wet SW weather = none of 'em and a v. fine sunny day) just like all his other predictions (excluding the random factor of chance...)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to David Hood,

    Oh, please, let us not replay the Ring Cycle! Sigmund, deliver us!

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2935 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to SteveH,

    3 Mile Island was a meltdown, so yes, it’s been tested

    That’s arguable. It wasn’t a melting of the entire mass of fissile material.
    When I asked if it’d been tested, I meant has anyone actually tried setting up a runaway, uncontrolled reaction that results in complete core meltdown in order to validate this supposed design strength? And the answer, of course, is no, because nobody would be that stupid. After all, what do you do if you’re wrong?

    I’ve also seen suggestions that the only reason 3MI didn’t pop its top was that, being in the approach path for a B52 base, the containment building and vessel had been built significantly stronger than the norm to withstand a possible crashing heavy bomber - IOW, forces in excess of the loaded 747 that is the standard for the US. We’ll never know if that’s true, but if that’s the degree of strengthening that’s needed to be certain can we actually honestly say that it’s feasible to contain a reactor such that it cannot catastrophically release?

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Tsunami video. 6 minutes 22 seconds..

    Holy shit.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    It wasn’t a melting of the entire mass of fissile material. When I asked if it’d been tested, I meant has anyone actually tried setting up a runaway, uncontrolled reaction that results in complete core meltdown in order to validate this supposed design strength?

    That would be rather ridiculous. Are building designs tested for earthquake strength by subjecting them to earthquakes?

    Over half the fuel in the TMI core melted and 90% of the fuel cladding failed. It was not a complete meltdown but it was a very significant test of the containment system.

    if that’s the degree of strengthening that’s needed to be certain can we actually honestly say that it’s feasible to contain a reactor such that it cannot catastrophically release?

    Given that a commercial reactor went into production with that degree of containment (if it did in fact have extra containment), yes I think we can say it's feasible. It's also feasible to design reactors that simply can't meltdown. Whether there is a will do so is the real question. After all, we're quite happy to live with cars killing half a million people per year.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH, in reply to Ross Mason,

    Holy shit.

    Indeed. It all gets a bit surreal when the buildings start floating away.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    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.

    I think it worth clarifying that sheep continue to fail the test to this day and that farmers are compensated to the tune of 1:30 GBP; the same sum offered in 1986. Many livestock farmers cannot afford to graze animals on the high hills in Wales. This renders land effectively unproductive.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to SteveH,

    Whether there is a will do so is the real question

    Ultimately I don't think it's a will that NZ is ever going to have to seriously examine.
    We have other options, ones that get caught on "It ruins my view" NIMBYism rather than ones that get caught on "It could destroy our entire agricultural sector and turn us into an emerging economy overnight. And it ruins my view!" NIMBYism.
    That renders the question of whether nuclear power can be made truly safe somewhat moot in the NZ context. I'm far from convinced that it can be.

    Oh, as for earthquake design, a lot of lessons will be learned from Christchurch, and Japan - where, I'll point out, a lot of very tall buildings remained completely intact and inhabitable. So, yes, buildings do get subjected to earthquakes to determine if they survive. If they do the design passed, but if they don't at least the land isn't irretrievably contaminated. Earthquakes happen all over the world, every year, serious ones at least a couple of times a decade. How often do nuclear reactors get subjected to meltdown containment tests?

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    How often do nuclear reactors get subjected to meltdown containment tests?

    They don't get built just so they can be melted down, no. But you can test a lot of things in isolation to get a very accurate picture of the overall system. They don't use actual people in car crash tests either, but those tests give very accurate information about what the effect on the human body is in those cars well before anyone ever gets to actually die in one.

    It is quite possible to work out the melting point of the containment materials, how much energy is required to melt them, and how much energy there is to burn in the deactivated reactor. If you make one of them more than the other, plus a massive safety margin, you can be pretty damned certain of the outcome. I don't need to hold a candle against a 1 ton slab of concrete to know it isn't going to melt it. I could use a cutting torch to melt it, if I had enough fuel, and exactly how much fuel that would be could be worked out by melting the entire ton. Or I could melt one kilo of it, and multiply the fuel used by 1000. How inaccurate do you think this is? Once you quantify that inaccuracy, you build huge safety margins around it. At some point, you have to say "that's enough safety". They don't use the bare minimum.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    That renders the question of whether nuclear power can be made truly safe somewhat moot in the NZ context. I'm far from convinced that it can be.

    I'm not sure it can be made truly safe economically (in NZ), which is probably what you mean. And I agree there is no convincing case for nuclear power in NZ, and even if it made sense economically, we don't want it.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    and yet we're talking about it seriously rather than the rebuilding of Christchurch..

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Do people realize what the cost of the Japanese situation is likely to be? Lets say:
    - total loss of plant $20 billion
    - indefinite loss of land use within 1km of plant (300 hectares @ $2mln/hectare = $600mln
    - loss of land use within 20km of plant for one year (100,000 hectares @ $200k/hectare) = $20 bln
    - decommissioning of site (based on 50% of Sellafield estimate) - $15 billion
    - loss of agricultural production due to contamination (10% of $71bln) - $7bln
    - loss of earnings by evacuees (200,000 * 50% * $30k) - $6bln
    Total ~ $69 billion

    That's a conservative estimate. And guess what - they weren't insured! No insurance company would cover such a risk, so the government and people absorb it. If nuclear power plants had to be insured for their potential liability, they would never get built.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    and yet we're talking about it seriously rather than the rebuilding of Christchurch..

    Ok, I'd like to talk about the rather disturbing but persistent rumours of heavy-handed 'salvage' operations in ChCh. Anyone got anything?

    Also, while I'm here: I didn't get a tsunami warning text on Fri/Sat despite supposedly being signed up to the council's text alert system. A friend who is signed up to the civil defence text alert system did get one.

    It's possibly an unintended side-effect of the amalgamation of all the separate councils into the supercity - I was signed up under North Shore Council's system, to the best of my memory. This doesn't seem to have automatically transferred to a pan-Auckland system.

    I went looking on both the Auckland region Civil Defence website, and the Council website, with no joy. There's no explanation. Neither is there a sign-up instruction page.

    I finally managed to find a sign-up for the Auckland region by googling, and going through Northland Civil Defence. The website is here.

    Frankly, unless I've missed something obvious (and I'm happy to be corrected by any of our resident CD experts), then that counts as a big fat fail on several counts. I've sent Auckland CD an e-mail asking for an explanation, but no reply as yet.

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

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    That's a conservative estimate. And guess what - they weren't insured! No insurance company would cover such a risk, so the government and people absorb it. If nuclear power plants had to be insured for their potential liability, they would never get built.

    To be fair to insurers, they can't build actuarial tables with no data, so fair enough. That's not proof in itself that the cost would be too high for insurers, just that they have no way of working out how much to charge, and they don't insure if they can't work that out. Part of the problem is there have been too few meltdowns.

    If 69 billion seems like a lot, consider also the very large number of plants that exist and how long they have operated for, and how much profit they make. The cost of insurance might not be that high to them, if decent data could actually be collected.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    - loss of land use within 20km of plant for one year (100,000 hectares @ $200k/hectare) = $20 bln

    Your estimate on the land area is too high. Being on the coast the amount of land within 20km is more like 70,000 hectares. Obviously it remains to be seen as to whether this amount land will in fact be unusable for a year. More to the point, is this land really generating $200k per year per hectare now?

    - decommissioning of site (based on 50% of Sellafield estimate) – $15 billion

    I don’t think Sellafield is a good template. It’s not just a power station but has a long history of civilian and military nuclear research, has reprocessing facilities, a lot of waste storage, and has experienced several accidents. The Wikipedia page you linked suggests £2B per Magnox site. Three Mile Island cost about USD $1B for one reactor. Fukushima I has 4 reactors which will need to be decommissioned so I’d expect at least $4B, probably higher as it looks like more radiation has been leaked than in the TMI case. But from what we know of the situation right now I’d say $15B is on the high side.

    - loss of agricultural production due to contamination (10% of $71bln) – $7bln

    Have you got anything to back up the assertion that this will cost Japan 10% of it’s agricultural production for a year? I can see that as a result of the tsunami but for the nuclear accident we don’t yet know of a radiation release that would cause such a loss.

    - loss of earnings by evacuees (200,000 * 50% * $30k) – $6bln

    100,000 people out of work for a year? I’m not how realistic that estimate is either. Though obviously there will be costs involved in the evacuation and support of these 200,000 people that you haven’t included.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg,

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 802 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Martin Lindberg,

    All RWC games moved from Christchurch.

    That's gotta sting. But there was no other choice - even if they somehow got in boatloads of Chinese labourers and did a Hong Kong on the local red tape, AMI Stadium likely still wouldn't have been fixed in time, if even properly to start with. Health and safety takes precedence over regional pride any day - even one spectator death would have been a fiasco come game day.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    Absolutely.
    And, it has been a general assumption by CHCH residents that the RWC games were not possible from -o, about the 23rd February? Key & Parker’s comments not withstanding.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    $4.1m package for AMI Stadium

    Mr McCully announced the Government will grant $4.1 million to allow the turf repair work to commence immediately at AMI Stadium so it will be ready for next year's season.

    "The stadium is an important sport and recreation asset and revenue earner for the region, and I am pleased that we can assist to ensure it is repaired as quickly as possible," he said.

    Ok then. Now that the really important stuff is sorted out, how about some houses for people to live in, you know, when you can get round to it, no hurry.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    I guess it's a bit much to expect McCully to come out and say it was an expensive folly we were bullied into ‘upgrading’ so we could get a few WC matches?
    I dunno how many thousands it’s now sposed to fit. But before they added all those seats, it already seemed very empty most super X games (where X = how many teams SANZAR can make dance on the head of a well-poured Speights- I’ve forgotten:)) Attendance was in decline. I can’t remember when it was last full- and that’s before they added the whopping new eastern stadium.
    So yeah, thanks guys. Can we have our money back? :)
    (I'm not worried about the games leaving, although I did have work on them. That seems sensible. I do hate the blackmail that's pushed public dollars into Lancaster Park/Jade/AMI stadium. Yeah, those big fancy corporate areas are very nice, but they don't epitomise the rugby spirit, and what's really galling: they sit completely empty about 330 days of the year.)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to SteveH,

    Ok, I take your point on the land being coastal. The price of land in that part of Japan appears to be over $2mln a hectare, so I took 10%. The actual figure somebody could sue for (assuming that nuclear reactors aren't protected by statute in Japan) would be quite large - based on annual rental plus incidental costs.

    AFAIK most of the facilities at Sellafield are physically intact (with the exception of Pile I which suffered a serious fire in 1956). Decomissioning a wrecked reactor or fuel pond is likely to more difficult than working on an intact facility.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

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