If you wonder whether Fukushima has left the Japanese worried about nuclear energy, this beaming young woman is holding the first smartphone with a built-in radiation detector, just announced by Japanese carrier SoftBank. The next big fear for Fukushima is that the spent fuel storage ponds will run dry because their jury-rigged cooling systems will fail, or because another earthquake will hit.
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Radioactive tuna found of California.
No grim meathook future tag?
Yes, people are worried here, aren’t you? (I know you are concerned… I’m just being a dick) They just found cesium 134 and 137 in the tuna stocks off of North America.
However, it should also be mentioned that there are currently zero reactors on line in Japan. They are all shut down either because of the earthquake or routine maintenance and they haven’t been able to restart any because of local opposition. The governors of Shiga, Kyoto and Osaka prefectures signed a pact to oppose the opening of any reactor again in the Kansai area. Kansai Power is expecting a shortfall of 13% this summer, but nobody really believes them. Everyone figures they are the same lying sacks of shit as the bastards at Tokyo Power. If we make it through the summer with zero nukes, nuclear power is probably finished in Japan. There are several “mega solar” projects now under way and the solar industry is banging on all eight cylinders now.
Yes, Fukushima was and remains an epic disaster. But we have zero reactors on line. How about in the Homeland? Oh yeah, nobody’s worried about it there. Perfectly safe.
So how is Japan being powered if no reactors are on line?
Anybody remember when Dick Cheney, at the start of his fourth branch, announced that the US would have to start licensing new nuclear plants at the rate of one per week? Good times.
>Kansai Power is expecting a shortfall of 13% this summer, but nobody really believes them.
They’re burning up all the coal and gas they can get their hands on, so they may be right to be skeptical.
@magurakurin: I live under 20 miles from a 60s vintage reactor. If this thing ever gets built, I’m buying one and starting a monitoring station:
If it doesn’t get built in a reasonable amount of time, I’ll look at other alternatives.
Still too soon for Godzilla jokes?
@Waynski: It’s never too soon for Godzilla jokes.
@cathyx: No country in the world is %100 nuke. In fact nuclear power is only about %15 of the world’s power. Japan was at about %30, but there were a lot of natural gas plants that were sitting idle. They have been restarted and a huge conservation effort has made up a lot of the gap.
@cathyx: The Japanese are burning Australian coal, natural gas, crude oil, bunker oil, fuel oil, pretty much all the fossil carbon they can lay their hands on from any source. They’ve brought old carbon-burning plants out of mothballs, shut down decades ago because they were pollution hazards, because they need the electricity bad.
The imports of expensive fossil fuels has contributed to a balance of payments shortfall that is having a serious knock-on effect on the economy and Government finances.
Belafon (formerly anonevent)
@magurakurin: So Obama will be blamed for the earthquake which he used to drive up natural gas prices in order to get himself defeated in November.
@mistermix: It’s twisted, eh. 60’s tech. fuck. good times. The nuke industry is so full of shit. They talk as if the world has been running on their reactors for a 1000 years. Hell, nuclear fission was only first done in 1934 and the first commercial reactor was only on line in 1954. A 60’s era reactor is like a desktop computer running fucking DOS. Outdated crap.
In July the feed in tariff changes big time here and private companies are jumping in with solar generating stations. Softbank’s CEO, Son, is jumping in right in and so are smaller players like Kyocera. This is country that went from barefoot samuri to sinking the Russian fleet in less than 50 years. Expect some big,big changes.
@Robert Sneddon: yeah so serious that the GDP only grew at 4.4% last quarter. How’s Europe and the States doing?
Come on all you shills, bring it on. Suck some nuclear power industry ass.
Yes we should all learn to live with the occasional disaster that causes a few immediate deaths, a bunch of long-term health issues and makes swaths of land uninhabitable. THAT’LL TEACH US! HA-HA SUCK ON THAT NUKE ASS BAY-BEE
BTW – how much of that 4.4% can be accounted for through insurance payments and increased spending to replace the damaged buildings and possessions?
Excellent! And I get the impression that the Japanese are going to try like hell to to make it without nuclear reactors. Go for it!
@Schlemizel: fuck you.
@magurakurin: Here’s a link to a chart showing the balance of payments (value of exports vs. cost of imports) for Japan over the past few years.
“Japan’s trade deficit widened to a record level in January, as falling exports combined with surging imports of energy.”
Fuel for nuclear power plants is cheap; it costs about 0.5c/kWhr. The expensive part is building the plants in the first place (1400-1800 dollars US/kw capacity). On the other hand carbon-based fuel is expensive to buy, ship and handle in million-tonne lots. It also pollutes everything for hundreds of kilometres around each plant burning it, dumping toxic metals, radioactive compounds, dioxins, sulphur compounds, nitrous oxides and acids into the atmosphere as well as millions of tonnes of greenhouse-gas CO2 each year.
Until the panic is over that’s what’s going to be happening in Japan, sadly.
I’d like to expand a bit on that 4.4% growth rate and the effect of disasters on GDP. I live in Florida in the early 90’s and they were suffering a tourist down turn based largely a number of high-profile tourist shootings. There was going to be a short fall in the State budget & people were sweating it.
Then came Andy. It tore through Homestead (the “P”trap of Americans toilet with palm trees) and brushed Miami. What followed was billions in insurance payments and Federal relief. A huge clean up and rebuilding effort ended up filling the State coffers with a surplus.
Nothing like a little disaster to generate an economic boom!
Ah, I see, in lack of an intelligent response you go right to cursing! I guess that proves you are not a paid whore commenting here. Of course it also shows you to be classless, clueless and pretty much worthy of instant dismissal.
@Robert Sneddon: mmm Cesium. It’s what’s for breakfast.
fuck you, too.
In 50 years (I won’t be here, I’ll be dead, maybe from cesium poisoning but surely from old age) this country is going to be the state of the art of green power. How about the US? Nah, fuck it, nukes are just a okay.
And the expensive part of nuclear power is the hundreds of square miles of land that will be useless for agriculture and living for a very, very long time. Land, not something there is a lot of in Japan. But, you can get some good deals in Fukushima right now. If it’s so safe, come on down boss. The waters fine and its always toasty warm…if a bit green.
@Schlemizel: uh, what part of “fuck you” don’t you understand?
@magurakurin: You need to dial it down a bit; your joy over peoples’ suffering is a bit obvious.
We need to throw everything we have as a worldwide society in making fusion power work at a commercial level. This would change the entire world in so many important ways.
Ergo, it won’t happen.
@redshirt: Fusion power is only ten years away. And has been for the last 60 years.
30+ years ago I was in high school, and did a report on nuclear power. It was, of course, a pretty superficial treatment of the topic, but even then it was obvious to me that all it would take would be one really big accident to make the industry nonviable.
Even assuming we don’t get the world-curdling disaster some have predicted at Unit 4 (collapse of the heavily damaged building, draining of the pools, remaining fuel catching fire and permanently contaminating the entire middle section of Japan while sending a nice big cloud of extreme nastiness all the way around the hemisphere), even just the catastrophe we’ve already had will be a gift that keeps giving for our lifetimes, our kid’s lifetimes, and their kids’ kids’ kids’ lifetimes. It’s one big anti-nuke ad that runs perpetually. I think nukes are over in Japan.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t take a meltdown at Indian Point to wake up the U.S.
@magurakurin: Cesium? I presume you mean Cs-134 and Cs-137, released from the reactors at Fukushima along with the short half-life I-131 which has now decayed away to insignificance in regards to contamination.
In seawater the most common radioactive isotope by far is naturally-ocurring potassium-40 or K-40. It runs about 10 Bq/litre everywhere in the oceans. It’s the reason seafood is quite radioactive by itself, running about 120-180 Bq/kg as potassium concentrates in flesh due to biological demand for the element in cells. Seawater samples taken a month ago just offshore from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant have radioactive Cs levels of around 0.15 Bq/litre for each Cs isotope or about 0.3 Bq/litre in total. Further out, about 30km from the plant the Cs levels are 0.025 Bq/litre or 0.05 Bq/l total, one two-hundredth of the radioactivity level due to the ubiquitious K-40.
As the published reports about detection of Fukushima cesium in bluefin tuna caught off the US coast point out there is more K-40 in each tissue sample than Cs-134/Cs-137 by factors of up to a hundred. K-40 is also a gamma emitter, actually more dangerous than Cs which mostly emits alpha and beta radiation which is less harmful and easier to shield.
You know, there’s this nice, safe fusion reactor located just 93 million miles away that we can tap for all the power we really need. We just have to put together the right energy collection devices.
That’s true only for external radiation sources; for internal radiation sources the betas and alphas are much more dangerous because they deposit all their energy in the tissue rather than mostly passing harmlessly through the body. So that 40K is more dangerous if you’re holding the fish next to you, but less dangerous than the 133Cs and 137Cs if you actually want to eat it.
Amanda in the South Bay
Don’t build reactors in Tsunami prone areas. There, case closed, go back to safely using nuclear power.
@Amanda in the South Bay:
Or areas that get severe earthquakes. Or ones that might be operated by fallible, greedy operators who will cut corners on safety.
@Roger Moore: Solar power is not the answer, at least in the large scale. It helps, no doubt about it, but as a supplemental/short term.
That said, large collection dishes in space that beamed power to Earth might be more useful, but those suffer many of the same limitations as conventional power does today – i.e. a limited resource that is controlled by the few. Fusion, on the other hand, could ultimately be decentralized.
@Roger Moore: It’s to do with thickness of material — a beta resulting from radioactive decay inside a food particle probably won’t make it to the surface of the particle whereas a penetrating gamma ray will probably make it out into your digestive tract. Gammas are also more energetic, typically meaning more chance of damage if they do hit a chromosome.
During the winter the levels of background radiation measured around the Fukushima Daiichi plant fell when there was snowfall; a thin coating of snow was enough to noticeably reduce the readings taken with instruments positioned typically a metre off the ground, since nearly all the ground contamination comprises Cs-134 and Cs-137.
Did I miss something or are magurakurin and Schlemizel on the same side of the nuclear debate and are currently calling each other fucknozzles?
@redshirt: An improved nationwide ‘smart’ grid would help make the unreliable renewables of solar and wind more viable. It’d let you set up excess potential capacity so that dark and calm areas don’t kill you, you’d still need a gas/coal/oil/nuke system in place for some usage though. What’s depressing is that this is relatively easy to do, it just costs money. Money which is so much better spent on tax cuts, or something.
@redshirt: Is there a single productive fusion reactor in operation anywhere on Earth at the moment? Don’t most designs require giant magnetic confinements? Yet we’re supposed to believe that solar installations (of which there are millions all around the world) are pointless and that some magic fusion design that doesn’t exist yet is the way to go?
I think better storage technology to overcome solar power’s problem of being intermittent is probably a better long-term investment than fusion. Solar obviously has tremendous potential as a distributed power source, and we have working solar to invest in today, not at some indefinite point in the future. I’ll take something that’s known to work with well understood drawbacks and limitations over something with more theoretical promise but with no working models and unknown real world problems any day.
@daveNYC: No doubt about that. A smart grid would have many other benefits too – just one of which is “jobs” and “investment in domestic infrastructure”, which of course ensures it will never happen. Need 61 votes!
@jheartney: There are functioning reactors but they only run for a very brief time, use more power than they consume, and require substantial prep work before and after to run. This is why I said “massive worldwide effort”. It will take some doing, but if done, our future as a species is ensured.
What? No smartphone with an adorable doe-eyed (but leggy) anime radiation-detector cartoon character in a school uniform?
@Roger Moore: No doubt about that either. I really like the heliostat design at the commercial level – a bunch of mirrors angle sun towards a central collection spot that then boils water to turn turbines. I’ve see the use of molten salts to keep everything running after dark. But still, these are limited, local answers. A heliostat in AZ will not help someone in Toronto, yet.
We obviously need to move on multiple fronts: Reduce current power consumption; find new short term power sources; but for the long term, fusion is where’s it at.
I hate to say it cuz I love it, but I wish the dollars being thrown at CERN were being used for fusion instead.
@Roger Moore: I don’t think that fusion has many unknown real world problems (other than the fact that they can’t get a reactor to reach breakeven). For the most commonly considered input, I think the nasty byproducts would end up being tritium and a messed up reactor due to the neutron flux. Neither are good, but compared to fission outputs and greenhouse gasses, they’d be an improvement. Bad things could happen at a fusion reactor, but nothing too different that what could go wrong at a conventional power plant.
The fact that we can’t get it to work is the real issue.
I a word, no. The problem with Cesium is that it doesn’t stay inside a food particle in your digestive tract. It gets extracted out of the food particle by your digestive system and incorporated into your body. Once it’s there, an alpha or beta is almost guaranteed to be absorbed by your body, while a gamma will often pass through harmlessly. That’s why the radioimmunotherapists I work with use gammas for imaging (many of them escape from the body to form a useful image) but alphas for therapy (because the dose is absorbed very close to the emitter).
And, FWIW, the idea that radiation does its damage by direct interaction with your chromosomes is way, way out of date. The radiation does its damage when it hits just about any molecule in the body, creating reactive species like free radicals. It’s those other reactive things that do the damage. This may seem like a minor point, but in practice it means that the DNA damage from radiation is essentially similar to the damage from other sources like chemical mutagens, rather than something unique.
@redshirt: As well as preventing cascading power failures. Introducing the concept of fault domains to an infrastructure first built in the 20’s and 30’s, would be as transformative as the introduction of freeways.
We don’t see any problems, but that’s because we don’t have any functioning reactors. If we knew how to make a breakeven reactor, we’d know a lot more about the real world problems with the technology. But the fact that we can’t get it to work now proves that we absolutely don’t know all the practical problems associated with it. I’m not necessarily claiming that it will have safety problems, but it’s entirely possible that fusion will only be practical with enormous, centralized power plants, or that there will be problems with reliability, or something else. Until we have something that works, fusion is nothing but unknown real world problems.
@Bago: That was in relation to the power distro net, which is somewhat heat intensive to packetize. But on a more pragmatic note, nobody would work at the Fukushima datacenter because of the neuclear reactors melting down. This led to an attempt to relocate and reroute resources in the facility.
@Roger Moore: We do know how to achieve breakeven in a fusion reactor, and better it by a substantial ratio. What we can’t do yet is design and build a commercially successful fusion reactor that will run for years or decades and generate electricity at a cost-effective price while being repairable as parts wear out.
That’s what the ITER is being built in Cadarache, France for, to do materials science, plasma generation and control and test techniques for extracting the energy from the fusing plasma and turn it into dispatchable electricity. The next step after ITER is DEMO, the first grid-connected power generating fusion reactor which will still be a prototype but after running that for a few years the designers will have gotten most of the bugs out and can design and build the first generation of production reactors, nicknamed PROTO which will run for years without breakdowns or extended maintenance and repair intervals.
That’s a long schedule — first fusion in ITER won’t happen until 2018 at the earliest and DEMO won’t start construction until 2030 at least.
@Roger Moore: Cesium doesn’t stay in the body very long; it has a biological half-life of between 70 and 120 days depending on the tissue type that takes it up — there’s no requirement for cesium in body tissues, it is only incorporated “by error” instead of, I think, calcium. Potassium levels are kept in equilibrium in the body hence the large amounts of radioactive K-40 in all animal tissues and especially sea creatures.
@Roger Moore: Ah, I was reading problems specifically as refering to major safety issues, in the context of this being a Nuclear Tuna post. From my standpoint, reliability is something that would need to be ironed out before fusion becomes a viable power source, so I wasn’t even considering issues like that.
What’s really sad is that we’re just going to get more ‘drill baby drill’ action instead of putting resources where they would actually do us some good.
@Robert Sneddon: I thought ingested cesium imitates potassium, not calcium.
Sweet Blondie reference.
a geek named Bob
How about we use the current nuclear waste as a set of Atomic batteries? If we could get 1% efficiency, then one gram of ought to put out around 3-5 watts. Assume power densities of around 10% for other materials. Therefore, a metric ton of material turned into atomic batteries ought to produce 3 megawatts. There’s about 10 tons of waste at any given plant in the USA. that works out to 30 megawatts. One US site has 1200 tons. That’s 3.6 gigawatts (enough to power NYC).
take it from there…
@a geek named Bob: There’s that word, “assume”. You know the rest…
After a year out of a reactor core a spent fuel rod assembly containing about 200kg of fuel pellets is putting out about 10kW of decay heat; that’s roughly 0.05W of thermal energy per gram of fuel or about 1% of your ASSumption. Recovery and conversion of that energy into electricity will be, at best, about 33% efficient and that takes the sort of pressure vessels and control systems that a full-sized nuclear reactor requires, i.e. billions of dollars in capital costs plus the operational costs of running a nuclear reactor on top. It is possible to use other thermal energy conversion systems like Stirling cycle engines that use lower temperatures and pressures but they’re a lot less efficient, maybe 10-15%.
There are plans and blue-sky bullshit proposals out there for “fast” reactors that can “burn” spent fuel rods, fissioning the waste isotopes with high neutron fluxes to generate lots of heat and electricity and reduce the total amount of waste materials but they are stymied in part by the lack of interest due to financial constraints — they’ll cost a lot to develop and build, they’ll be more difficult to run than classical pressure-kettle PWRs and the cost of fuel is such a tiny part of the cost of nuclear-generated electricity today that the benefits of such fast reactors are marginal.
If you want to reduce the quantity of spent fuel being stored in the US then start reprocessing — a tonne of spent fuel consists of about 950kg of reusable material (U-238 mainly, some U-235 and a little Pu-239 and Pu-240, all of which can be used to make fresh fuel pellets) and 50kg of “waste”, some of which contains useful isotopes like Co-60. It costs money to reprocess though and it’s not cost-effective as long as mined uranium is so cheap and plentiful.
a geek named Bob
What I’m trying to get across in my own humble way, lacking your skills in snark, is that we can get at least some use out of the existing waste. The other nice thing is that the RTG schematics that I’ve heard about have no moving parts. Harder for things to break down…
take the material, ring it with thermocouples (which get a lot better efficiency than 1%), and then pack the whole assembly with shielding material.
@a geek named Bob: It depends on the RTG but some designs use Stirling cycle engines with working fluids etc. Spacecraft and underwater RTGs tend to use thermocouples trading off efficiency for reliability.
The amount of electricity garnered from the low temperature of spent nuclear fuel versus the cost of building the structures needed to harvest that electricity make it not worth the effort. There’s perhaps a financial case for, say, district heating or running greenhouses using the heat energy of spent fuel directly but if this was attempted one can imagine the uproar from the public when they discover the cheap heat in their apartment is from a nuclear source or that the tomatoes on sale in their local supermarket were grown close to dangerous radioactive waste. It would involve moving spent fuel rods around the country to various non-controlled locales as they cool down too far even for this kind of use every few years and the security and safety implications of doing so are worrying enough that it won’t happen.
Regular nuclear plants are usually based far enough away from towns and cities that running long-line thermal heat pipes from the plants for such heating schemes is also impracticable although a 1GW reactor has to shed about 2GW of heat continuously as it runs; that’s enough energy to directly heat as many as 30,000 homes in the northern states of the US during winter. It’s also true of coal-fired and natgas plants too, I should add — any steam-cycle generating system needs a cold sink, the colder the better and CHP (combined heat and power) systems do exist but usually in remote parts of the world like rural Sweden.
a geek named Bob
So instead of turning a pollutant into a resource, you’d rather let it sit there?
My point is that we’ve already got the waste, so why not use it? Thermocouples are cheap, durable, and decidedly a mature technology. (THey’ve been built out of paper clips and copper.) It’s a one time cost, long term power solution.
While I look your rhetoric, you’ve yet to show the numbers against building RTG’s.
I’ve shown my work. Please show yours.