With a half-life of 14 billion years, Thorium-232 is one of the safest, least radioactive elements in the world. Thorium-232 emits harmless alpha particles that cannot even penetrate skin, but when it becomes Th-233 in a Molten Salt Reactor, it becomes a potent source of power. Sunlight, living at high altitude and the emissions from your granite counter-top or a coal-burning plant are more hazardous than thorium-232.
LFTRs are even more fuel-efficient than uranium- fuelled MSRs, and they create little waste because a LFTR consumes close to 99% of the thorium-232. LWRs reactors consume just 3% of their uranium before the rods need to be changed. That’s like burning just a tiny part of a log while polluting the rest with chemicals you must store for years.
Just one pound of thorium can generate as much electricity as 1700 tons coal, so replacing coal-burning plants with LFTRs would eliminate one of the largest causes of climate change. That same pound (just a golf ball-size lump), can yield all the energy an individual will ever need, and just one cubic yard of thorium can power a small city for at least a year. In fact, if we were to replace ALL of our carbon-fuelled, electrical power production with LFTRs, we would eliminate 30 to 35% of all man-made greenhouse gas production.
From 1977 to 1982, the Light Water Reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania was powered with thorium, and when it was eventually shuttered, the reactor core was found to contain about 1% more fissile material (U233/235) than when it was loaded. (Thorium has also fuelled the Indian Point 1 facility and a German reactor.)
India, which has an abundance of thorium, is planning to build Thorium-powered reactors, as is China while we struggle to overcome our unwarranted fear of nuclear power. And in April, 2015, a European commission announced a project with 11 partners from science and industry to prove the innovative safety concepts of the Thorium-fuelled MSR and deliver a breakthrough in waste management.
Please read Thorium: the last great opportunity of the industrial age – by David Archibald
Thorium is four times as plentiful as uranium ore, which contains only 1% U-235. Besides being almost entirely usable, it is 400 times more abundant than uranium’s fissile U-235. Even at current use rates, uranium fuels can last for centuries, but thorium could power our world for thousands of years.
Just 1 ton of thorium is equivalent to 460 billion cubic meters of natural gas. We already have about 400,000 tons of thorium ore in “storage”, and we don’t need to mine thorium because our Rare-Earth Elements plant receives enough thorium to power the U. S. every year. Australia and India tie for the largest at about 500,000 tons, and China is well supplied.
A 1 GW LWR requires about 1.2 tons of uranium each year, but a 1 GW LFTR only needs a one-time “kick start” of 500 pounds of U-235 plus 1 ton of thorium each year.
Waste and Storage
Due to their high efficiency, LFTRs create only 1% of the waste that conventional reactors produce, and because only a small part of that waste needs storing for 400 years – not the thousands of years that LWR waste requires – repositories much smaller than Yucca mountain would easily suffice.
Furthermore, LFTRs can run almost forever because they produce enough neutrons to make their own fuel, and the toxicity from LFTR waste is 1/1000 that of LWR waste. So, the best way to eliminate most nuclear waste is to stop creating it with LWRs and replace them with reactors like MSRs or LFTRs that can utilize stored “waste” as fuel.
With no need for huge containment buildings, MSRs can be smaller in size and power than current reactors, so ships, factories, and cities could have their own power source, thus creating a more reliable, efficient power grid by cutting long transmission line losses that can run from 8 to 15%. Unfortunately, few elected officials will challenge the carbon industries that provide millions of jobs and wield great political power. As a consequence, thorium projects have received little to no help from our government, even though China and Canada are moving toward thorium, and India already has a reactor that runs on 20% thorium oxide.
After our DOE signed an agreement with China, we gave them our MSR data. To supply its needs while MSRs are being built, China is relying on 27 conventional nuclear reactors plus 29 Generation III+ (solid fuel) nuclear plants that are under construction. China also intends to build an additional fifty-seven nuclear power plants, which is estimated to add at least 150 GigaWatts (GW) by 2030.
In 2016, the Chinese Academy of Sciences allocated $1 billion to begin buildingLFTRs by 2020. As for Japan, which began to restart its reactors in 2015, a FUJI design for a 100 to 200 MW LFTR is being developed by a consortium from Japan, the U. S. and Russia at an estimated energy cost of just three cents/kWh. Furthermore, it appears that five years for construction and about $3 billion per reactor will be routine in China.
Since the 1960’s Turkey were trying to get involved with nuclear energy. Turkey was one of the countries that participated in the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, held in Geneva in 1955 September. There is no doubt that Turkey wants to use nuclear energy for energy production. In Turkey, there are many experts that have knowledge about nuclear fission technology. Dr. Reşat Uzmen is one of the most important people who is experienced in the nuclear fuel area. During the interview, his ideas and visions enlighten us about the future of Molten Salt Fission Technology. Here is another instructive interview for building a MSR!
The Atoms for Peace symbol was placed over the door to the American swimming pool reactor building during the 1955 International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, often called the Atoms for Peace conference.
Mr. Reşat, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I graduated from İstanbul Technical University (İTU) in the chemical engineering department. I did my master’s degree in İTU also. As soon as I finished the department I became a researcher in The Çekmece Nuclear Research and Training Center, known as ÇNAEM. My research was about how uranium could be treated to obtain an uranium concentrate. I did my doctor’s degree in that topic. Back then, it was so hard to get information because it is a delicate technology. That’s why we did the research by ourselves. Think about that: there was no internet! There was a library in ÇNAEM, it still remains there. All the reports that were collected from all over the world were kept here. We benefit from those reports that were about uranium and thorium. In addition, getting chemicals was difficult. The ores that we were working on were coming from Manisa so mine was tough to process. Despite all these obstacles Turkey needed uranium so we have done what has to be done. I am the founder of “the nuclear fuel technology department in ÇNAEM”. This department was focused on producing uranium fuel that could be ready for fuelling and we did it. We produced uranium pellets by ourselves in our laboratories. We did research about ore sorting of thorium and how it can be used in nuclear reactors. Now I am working as a nuclear technology director at FİGES.
“Turkey is capable of designing its own reactor now!”
Dr. Reşat Uzmen
What are your thoughts on Turkey’s nuclear energy adventure? Although nuclear engineering education has been given at Hacettepe University since 1982, Turkey has never been able to gain an advantage in nuclear energy. What could be the main reasons for this?
Nuclear energy needs government support and government incentive. Government policy must include nuclear energy. In Turkey, nuclear energy was too personal. A government is formed then a team becomes the charge of the Turkey Atomic Energy Agency and this team is working hard, trying to encourage people about nuclear energy but then the new government is formed and the team is changed. Unfortunately, this is how it is done in Turkey. Also, you need money to build reactors. There were some countries that try to build a nuclear reactor in Turkey. Once CANDUs was very popular in Turkey. Canadians supported us a lot. Argentineans came with CAREM design and wanted to develop the design with Turkey also they wanted to build CAREM in Turkey, it was a great offer but the politicians at that time were not open up to this idea. Nuclear energy must be government policy and it should not be changed by different governments.
As you know, there is a PWR-type reactor under construction in cooperation with Rosatom and Akkuyu in our country. Do you think Turkey’s first reactor selection was the right choice?
This cooperation is not providing us any nuclear technology. When The Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant is finished we will have a nuclear reactor that is operating in Turkey but we can not get any nuclear technology transformation. Right now Turkey can not construct the sensitive components of a nuclear reactor. Akkuyu is like a system that produces energy for Turkey. It would be the same thing if Russia build that plant in a place that is near Turkey. In addition, there is the fate of spent fuels. Russia takes away all the spent fuels, these spent fuels can be removed from Turkey in two ways: by water, starting from the Akkuyu harbor, the ship will pass through the Turkish straits, then pass to the Black Sea and pass through the Novorossiysk harbor to reach Siberia and by land, from Akkuyu it will arrive in Samsun or Trabzon then by water the ship will arrive in Siberia. I suppose spent fuels are going to be transported by water.
What are your thoughts on molten salt reactors?
Molten Salt Reactor is a Gen. 4 reactor and has a lot of advantages. First of all, the fuel of the MSR is molten salt so it is a liquid fuel. Since I am interested in the fuel production part of nuclear energy I am aware of the challenges of solid fuel production. Having liquid fuel is a big virtue. Liquid fuel can be ThF4-UF4. The fuel production step can proceed as: UF4 may be imported as enriched uranium. If you have the technology then UF₆ may be imported as enriched uranium then UF₆ can be converted to UF4. After that step fabrication of the liquid fuel is easier than solid fuel. Second, MSR has a lot of developments in the safety systems of a nuclear reactor. There is no fuel melting danger because it is already melted. The liquid fuel is approximately 700 °C. The important point is molten salt may freeze. If fuel temperature is below approximately 550°C the fuel becomes solid we don’t want that to happen. Also, the fuel has a negative temperature coefficient which means that as the temperature of the fuel rises reactivity of the fuel is going to decrease. There is a freeze plug at the bottom of the core. If the core overheats the freeze plug will melt and the contents of the core will be dropped into a containment tank fed by gravity. This is a precaution against the loss of coolant accident. One of the other advantages is reprocessing opportunity. It is possible with helium to remove volatile fission products from the reactor core. Tritium can be a problem but if the amount of tritium is below the critical level then it wouldn’t be a problem.
FİGES took on the task of designing MSR’s heat exchangers in the SAMOFAR project and your designs were approved. Can you talk a bit about heat exchangers? What are the differences with a PWR exchanger? Why did it need to be redesigned?
There are a lot of differences between a PWR heat exchanger and an MSR heat exchanger. The basic difference is, that in a PWR heat exchanger steam is produced from water. MSR heat exchanger is working with molten salt to produce steam. FİGES finished calculations like the flow rate of the molten salt, the temperature of the molten salt, etc. for a heat exchanger of SAMOFAR. The heat exchanger is made of a material that is the same as the reactor core. In SAMOFAR, Hastelloy is used but boron carbide sheeting may be used for the heat exchanger.
Can you talk a little bit about your collaboration with Thorium Network?
The Founder of the Thorium Network Jeremiah has contacted FİGES about 5 months ago. We met him in one of the FİGES offices which are located in İstanbul. We have discussed what we have done in Turkey thus far. We signed an agreement about sharing networks. We share the thorium and molten salt reactor-based projects with them and they do the same.
If the idea of building an MSR in Turkey is accepted, where will FİGES take part in this project?
As FİGES, building an MSR in Turkey has two steps. The first step is about design. To design a reactor you need software. The existing codes are for solid fuel. First of all the codes that are going to be used for liquid fuel must be developed. There are companies that work to develop required software all around the world. We want to take part in the design step as FİGES. After the design is finished the second step comes. The second step is building the reactor. FİGES doesn’t have the base to build a reactor but an agreement can be made with companies that can build a nuclear power plant.
Do you have any advice you can give to nuclear power engineer candidates who want to work on MSR? What can students do about it?
There are tons of documents about Molten Salt Reactor Technology. These documents are about the material of the reactor core, software codes, design, etc. A student can find everything about MSR on the internet. In addition to this, students should follow the Denmark-based company that is called “Seaborg“. They have a compact molten salt reactor design. Also, there is another MSR design called “ThorCon“. Students can follow the articles, presentations, and events about these two MSR designs. As I said, students must research and follow the literature about Molten Salt Fission Technology.
. . .
It was a great opportunity for me to meet Mr. Reşat who has been working to develop nuclear energy in Turkey. I would like to thank him for his time and great answers.
As students, we are going to change the world step by step with Molten Salt Fission Technology by our side. We are going to continue doing interviews with key people in nuclear energy and MSR!
Molten Salt Reactors are superior in many ways to conventional reactors.
In a Molten Salt Reactor, the uranium (probably Thorium in the future), is dissolved in a liquid fluoride salt. (Although fluorine gas is corrosive, fluoride salts are not.) Fluoride salts also don’t break down under high temperatures or high radiation, and they lock up radioactive material, which prevents it from being released to the environment.
As noted earlier, Dr. Alvin Weinberg’s Oak Ridge MSR ran successfully for 22,000 hours during the sixties. However, the program was shelved, partly for political reasons and partly because we [USA] favoured Admiral Rickover’s water-cooled reactors.
When uranium or thorium is combined with a liquid fluoride salt, there are no pellets, no zirconium tubes and no water, the source of the hydrogen that exploded at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The fluid that contains the uranium is also the heat-transfer agent, so no water is required for cooling. MSRs are also more efficient than LWR plants because the temperature of the molten salt is about 1300 F [700 C], whereas the temperature of the water in a conventional reactor is about 600 F [315 C], and higher heat creates more high-pressure steam to spin the turbines.
This extra heat can also be used to generate more electricity, desalinate seawater, split water for hydrogen fuel cells, make ammonia for fertilizer and even extract CO2 from the air and our oceans to make gasoline and diesel fuel. In addition, MSRs can be fueled with 96% of our stored uranium “waste” – spent fuel – and the fissile material in our thousands of nuclear bombs.
Because some MSR designs do not need to be water-cooled, those versions don’t risk a steam explosion that could propel radioactive isotopes into the environment. And because MSRs operate at atmospheric pressure, no huge, concrete containment dome is needed.
When the temperature of the liquid salt fuel rises as the chain reaction increases, the fuel expands, which decreases its density and slows the rate of fission, which prevents a “runaway” reaction. As a consequence, an MSR is inherently self-governing, and because the fuel is liquid, it can easily drain by gravity into a large containment reservoir. As a consequence, the results of a fuel “spill” from an MSR would be measured in square yards, not miles.
In the event of a power outage, a refrigerated salt plug at the bottom of the reactor automatically melts, allowing the fuel to drain into a tank, where it spreads out solidifies, stopping the reaction. In effect, MSRs are walk-away- safe.
Even if you abandon an MSR, the fuel will automatically drain and solidify without any assistance.
If the Fukushima reactor had been an MSR, there would have been no meltdown, and because radioactive by-products like caesium, iodine and strontium bind tightly to stable salts, they would not have been released into the environment. (In 2018 Jordan agreed to purchase two, 110 MW, South Korean molten salt reactors,)
USEFUL MSR BYPRODUCTS
Besides producing CO2-free electricity, fissioning U-233 in an MSR creates essential industrial elements that include xenon, which is used in lasers, neodymium for super-strength magnets, rhodium, strontium, medical molybdenum-99, zirconium, ruthenium, palladium, iodine-131 for the treatment of thyroid cancers and bismuth-213, which is used for targeted cancer treatments.
Cargo ships emit more air pollution than all of the world’s cars, but we don’t power them with emission-free nuclear power because we are worried about nuclear proliferation. However, if we would equip these ships with new, proliferation–resistant reactors, we could save seven million barrels of oil per day, eliminate 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions and replace those huge fuel tanks with profitable cargo.
Propelling one of our [USA] immense aircraft carriers at 27 mph for 24 hours requires only three pounds [1.36 kg] of nuclear fuel, which is equivalent to 400,000 gallons [1.8 million litres] of diesel fuel. (Burning 100 gallons [455 litres] of diesel fuel creates one ton of carbon dioxide.)
California’s drought-stricken Central Valley, which was a dry savanna before “civilisation” arrived, is more than 10 trillion gallons [46 billion metres3] per year behind in precipitation. Fortunately, there is a remedy, but that remedy will require an abundance of carbon-free electricity created by safe, efficient nuclear power plants.
The non-nuclear Carlsbad desalination plant produces some 50 million gallons [230 million litres] of fresh water per day with 40 MW, which only supplies 7% of San Diego’s needs, but supplying all of the state would require 140 Carlsbads, which is why the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has begun to produce fresh water.
There should be many more plants like Diablo, and there would be, but for the opposition of anti-nuclear zealots whose efforts helped accomplish the closure of California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant. As a result, San Onofre’s 2.4 billion watts of carbon-free electricity are being generated by plants that burn huge volumes of natural gas (methane), which raises CO2 levels and worsens Climate Change.
Why do we persist with carbon fuels when six uranium oxide pellets the size of the tip of your little finger, contain as much energy as 3 tons of coal or 60,000 cubic feet of natural gas? Just a fistful of uranium can run all of New York City for an hour, and the spent fuel “waste” products are far less than that.
The 2.2-megawatt Excel Energy plant at Becker, MN – the state’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases – turns 60 million pounds of coal per day into CO2, but less than 100 pounds of uranium would produce the same amount of electricity without creating any CO2.
How does a water-cooled, uranium-fuelled Light Water Reactor (LWR) work?
What are its pluses and minuses?
Some claim that uranium mining is especially dangerous because the ore is radioactive, but they are wrong. The radiation level just one foot from a drum of uranium [yellow cake] is only 20% of the cosmic radiation level that passengers experience on a jet flight – and the ore from which the oxide was derived is even less hazardous.
In a LWR, uranium pellets containing about 4-5% U-235 are sealed in about 25,000 12-foot zirconium tubes. Within those tubes, the U-235 emits neutrons that sustain a chain reaction that releases huge amounts of heat that raises the water temperature to 600 degrees F [320 C], so it must be “kept” at 2,700 psi [20 MPa] to prevent it from boiling. The super-heated water is circulated through a heat-exchanger to make steam in a separate plumbing loop. That steam powers a turbine, which spins a generator. And because the super-heated water would explosively expand 1,000 times if there were a leak, a huge, immensely strong containment dome encloses the reactor so that steam or other gases can’t escape. Once started, a LWR can run for three years with only periodic breaks for refuelling.
Nuclear power plants are required to contain 100% of their spent fuel (“waste”), but if you were to get all the electricity for your lifetime from conventional reactors, your share would weigh just two pounds [one kilogram], and only a small part of that would be hazardous long term.
During fission, reaction products accumulate in the pellets, which become cracked, and must be replaced during a multi-day shut-down during which the rods are moved to pools filled with water, which absorbs neutrons, to keep the decaying fuel from overheating.
After underwater storage for up to 8 years, radioactivity has decreased to the point that the rods can be stored in self-ventilating, concrete cylinders. And after 10 more years, 90% of the highly radioactive elements are no longer hazardous.
On-site storage is a sensible solution because 96% of this spent fuel can fuel modern, “fast” and other reactors to make more electricity. In 2018, the US generated 4.2 billion megawatt hours of electricity from all sources, but we have enough spent fuel to generate 4 billion megawatt years of CO2-free electricity! Why are we waiting?
These pellets also contain isotopes needed for nuclear medicine. (Plutonium 239, which the anti-nukes fuss about, has a half-life of 24,000 years. When held in a gloved hand, one only feels slight warmth due to its extremely slow decay, and as spent fuel decays, it becomes safer – unlike the toxic ash and the particulates made by burning carbon, which remain toxic forever.
However, Caesium, Iodine and Strontium isotopes are dangerous because they mimic food elements that our bodies need. Iodine decays rapidly, but Strontium and Caesium decay by half in about 30 years, so we should store them safely for 120 years, at which time their activity has dropped by 94%.
Note the absence of shielding, even though Mr. Agnew [b. 1921, d. 2013, age 92] is carrying the plutonium that destroyed Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
Heavily nuclear France has a recycling program that greatly reduces its volume and the length of time it must be stored. As a consequence, all of France’s multi-decade spent fuel could be stored on one basketball court.
In comparison, all of the “waste” generated in the U.S. since the fifties could be stored on one football field in self-ventilating, concrete containers. After just 40 years of storage, only about one thousandth as much radioactivity remains as when the reactor was turned off for fuel replacement. (Only a small portion needs long term storage or recycling.)
However, because recycling can retrieve plutonium isotopes from the waste, some of which can be used for making weapons, President Carter closed our [USA] only recycling plant during the Cold War in an attempt to placate Russian fears that we’d use the plutonium for making nuclear bombs.
Unfortunately, there was, and is, another reason: The anti-nuclear crowd has promoted radiophobia so effectively that many voters and legislators refuse to even consider building the new, super-safe, highly efficient reactors that can use 95% of our stored “waste”, including the plutonium, as fuel. (During the last 70 years, just 56,000 tons of nuclear “waste” was generated in the U S, but the city of New York creates that much in just 6 days.
Radioactive waste is generally divided into three categories depending on its level of radioactivity: low, intermediate and high-level waste.
Low-level waste includes slightly contaminated clothing and items that comes from places such as nuclear medicine wards in hospitals, research laboratories and nuclear plants. Low-level waste contains only small amounts of radioactivity that decays away in hours or days. After the radioactivity has decayed, low-level waste can be treated like ordinary garbage.
Intermediate-level wastes mostly come from the nuclear industry. They include used reactor components and contaminated materials from reactor decommissioning. Typically these wastes are embedded in concrete for disposal and buried.
High-level waste generally describes spent (or used) fuel from nuclear reactors. It is highly radioactive, will remain so for many years, and requires special handling.
According to the IAEA, low and intermediate level wastes comprise about 97% of the volume, but only 8% of the radioactivity of all radioactive waste. ]
Coming up next week, Episode 18 – Pass the Salt Dear – How Fission Gets Rock Solid Stability
The raw material is cheap and available worldwide, not even cooling water is needed and the waste is less and decays much faster than conventional nuclear waste: Thorium technology stands for a new quality of the use of nuclear energy
In the Hongshagang Industrial Park near Wuwei in the central Chinese province of Gansu, a pilot plant will go into operation in the near future, which has the potential to revolutionize energy production not only in the Middle Kingdom, but throughout the world. No more carbon dioxide emissions as a result of the use of fossil fuels, no more landscape degradation by wind turbines, no mass use of batteries from environmentally harmful production, no power outages in calm winds and clouds, but also no radiation risk due to reactor accidents, all this promises the innovative Thorium-based Molten Salt Reactor-Liquid Fuel No. 1 (TMSR-LF1) of the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, which advocates a new quality of use of the Nuclear energy is in place and this should give it a kind of “green coat of paint”.
The operation of the Thorium Molten Salt reactor TMSR-LF1 is relatively simple. The weakly radioactive element Thorium is dissolved in molten salt and bombarded with neutrons. This produces the isotope uranium 233, the fission of which releases large amounts of heat. So the reactor produces its own fuel. This process ultimately brings much more safety than the operation of classic nuclear reactors (see below) and also a variety of other advantages.
First, only extremely small amounts of Thorium 232 are needed. The energy content of one ton of Thorium corresponds to that of 200 tons of uranium metal or 28 million tons of coal, as the Italian Nobel Laureate in Physics Carlo Rubbia calculated.
Secondly, there are larger Thorium deposits all over the world. In principle, the element occurs in the rock crust as often as lead and is also produced as a waste product in the extraction of rare earths. That’s why it’s not expensive. On the other hand, there is a risk of shortages and price explosions for uranium in the future, because the number of conventional nuclear power plants has recently increased significantly again.
Fourthly, its operation also generates significantly less radioactive waste. In addition, more than 99 percent of the nuclear waste from the TMSR-LF1 is said to have decayed into harmless isotopes after 300 years at the latest. Furthermore, it is possible to process the small residual amounts of longer radiating material later in more advanced molten salt reactors and thus completely neutralise. By way of comparison, conventional nuclear reactors powered by uranium produce long-lived radioactive fission products with half-lives of many thousands of years, even though only a small fraction of the nuclear fuel used is used.
Fifthly, the costs for the construction and operation of Thorium Molten Salt reactors are lower than those of the light-water reactors that are usually used. This is mainly due to the low operating pressure of the systems, which makes numerous safety precautions superfluous, as well as the fact that no fuel rods have to be procured.
Sixthly, reactors such as the TMSR-LF1 can also be operated extremely economically because not only uranium 233 is incubated in them, but also many other radioactive fission products are produced, which are required, for example, in nuclear medicine. And some of the radionuclides even turn into highly sought-after elements such as rubidium, zirconium, molybdenum, ruthenium, palladium, neodymium and samarium. Likewise, the noble gas xenon is released, which is used, among other things, as an insulation medium as well as in laser and aerospace technology.
The technology underlying the TMSR-LF1 was not invented in China, but in the USA. As early as 1954, the Air Force experimented with a small molten salt reactor to power long-range bombers. However, the project came to a rapid end when the United States had intercontinental ballistic missiles. Likewise, at the beginning of the 1970s, West German scientists from the Jülich nuclear research facility presented some studies on molten salt reactors, which ultimately received no attention because of the negative attitude of the then head of reactor development, Rudolf Schulten [main developer of the pebble bed reactor design, a non fluid fuel system].
Another reason for the lack of acceptance of the alternative reactor type was the absolute lack of interest of the nuclear industry around the world. With the classic nuclear reactors, excellent money could be earned, and no one wanted to do without the income from the production of fuel rods. Therefore, all sorts of pretended arguments against the use of molten salt reactors were brought into play, such as the allegedly higher risk of corrosion and the hypothetical danger that someone will misuse the reactors to produce weapons-grade fissile material.
This has not prevented the People’s Republic of China from investing the equivalent of 400 million euros in the development of the TMSR-LF1 since 2011. After all, Beijing’s leaders are pursuing the ambitious goal of making the Middle Kingdom “climate neutral” by 2050, and the “perfect technology” of molten salt reactors could prove absolutely indispensable.
The reactor, which is now to be tested on the edge of the Gobi Desert, initially has a nominal output of only two megawatts. This means that it can only supply around 1000 households with electricity. If the design principle of the TMSR-LF1 proves successful, however, the first prototype of a Thorium Molten Salt reactor with an output of 373 megawatts would go into operation by around 2030, which will then be followed by identical plants throughout China in rapid succession. It remains to be seen whether Germany will still remain in its abstinence from nuclear power at this time or whether it will now also rely on “green nuclear energy”.
The Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung (PAZ) is a unique voice in the German media landscape. Week after week, it reports on current events in politics, culture and business and takes a stand on the fundamental developments in our society. In their work, the editors feel committed to the traditional Prussian canon of values: The old Prussia stood and stands for religious and ideological tolerance, for love of homeland and open-mindedness, for the rule of law and intellectual honesty, and not least for reason-guided action in all areas of society . With this in mind, the PAZ maintains an open culture of debate, which passionately represents its own point of view and respects the opinions of those who think differently – and also lets them have their say. Beyond day-to-day events, the PAZ feels committed to remembering historical Prussia and caring for its cultural heritage. With these principles, the Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung is a unique journalistic bridge between yesterday, today and tomorrow, between the countries and regions in West and East – as well as between the different social currents in our country.
Translation courtesy of Duck Duck Go – Your personal data is nobody’s business.
The trail of destruction continues from Episode 15.
Later in 2010, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in Michigan, eventually “spilling” more than a million gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River. When monitors at the Alberta office reported that the line pressure had fallen to zero, control room staff dismissed the warning as a false alarm and cranked up the pressure twice, which worsened the disaster. In 2018, Enbridge’s “cleanup” was still incomplete.
In 2013, a spectacular train wreck dumped 2 million gallons of North Dakota crude oil into Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 residents and incinerating the centre of the town – but that’s just another page in the endless petroleum tale that includes Exxon’s disastrous, 2016 “spill” in Mayflower, Arkansas, that received scant notice from the press.
And in November 2013, a train loaded with 2.7 million gallons of crude oil went incendiary in Alabama, followed in December by a North Dakota conflagration.
2014 began with a fiery derailment in New Brunswick, Canada, and in October 2014, 625,000 liters of oil and toxic mine-water were “spilled” in Alberta.
July, August and September brought Alberta’s autumn, 2014 total to 90 pipeline “spills.” 2015 brought four, fiery oil train wrecks just by March, and 2016 delivered two Alabama pipeline explosions – one close to Birmingham.
In late 2015, California’s horrific, Aliso Canyon methane “leak” (think “geyser”) erupted, spewing forth 100,000 tons of natural gas, the equivalent of approximately 3 billion gallons of gasoline or adding 500,000 cars to our roads for a year.
The Southern California Gas Company finally managed to throttle the geyser in February, 2016. Incidentally, Aliso’s 100,000 tons of “leakage” is just 25% of California’s allowed leakage, which is an indication of the political power of the natural gas industry. (Five months later, a new headline appeared: “Massive Fracking Explosion in New Mexico”)
The Aliso “leak” caused the loss of 70 billion cubic feet (BCF) of gas that California utilities count on to create electricity for the hot summer months. As a consequence, the California Independent Service Operator, which manages California’s grid, estimated that due to Aliso, 21 million customers should expect to be without power for 14 days during the summer.
According to Reuters, (June 2016), “SoCalGas uses Aliso Canyon to provide gas to power generators that cannot be met with pipeline flows alone on about 10 days per month during the summer, according to state agencies.”
However, during the summer, SoCalGas also strives to fill Aliso Canyon to prepare for the winter heating season. State regulators, however, subsequently ordered the company to reduce the amount of gas in Aliso to just 15 BCF and use that fuel to reduce the risk of power interruptions in the hot summer months of 2016. Fortunately, State regulators have also said that they won’t allow SoCalGas to inject fuel into the facility until the company has inspected all of its 114 storage facilities.
The Aliso disaster wiped out all of the state’s Green House Gas (GHG) reductions from its wind and solar systems – and led to a USD 1.8 billion judgement against SoCalGas in September, 2021. In 2016, California officials also reported leakage at a San Joachim County storage facility that was “similar to, or slightly above, background levels at other natural gas storage facilities.”
“Combustion sources [unlike nuclear power], aren’t burdened with their true costs. Natural gas, for example, is not cheaper than nuclear or anything else. In 2016, our allowed leakage wipes wind/solar out by 4 times. In other words, ‘renewables’ in a gas state like California wipe out their benefits every 3 months because they depend on gas for most of their nameplate ratings. The Aliso storage was largely used to compensate for ‘renewables’ inevitable shortfall.
“The most important combustion cost is the unlimited downside risk of its emissions for the entire planet, but in February 2016, our CEC approved 600MW of added gas burning in the San Diego region simply because the San Onofre nuclear plant wasn’t running, due to possibly corrupt actions by SoCla Gas, SCE, Sempra Energy and Edison Intl.
“Such practices were prevented for 75 years by the 1935 PUHCA, but the Bush administration repealed it in 2005 after decades of carbon combustion-interest lobbying. Some states – not California – passed legislation to correct for the 2005 PUHCA repeal.”
There’s more: In August, 2016, the PennsylvaniaEPA admitted that oil and gas production in the state emitted as much methane as Aliso Canyon. The Aliso “leak” was deemed a disaster, but the hundreds of equally damaging Pennsylvania “leaks” were considered business as usual.
Finally, also in August, 2016, a thirty-inch pipeline exploded in southeast New Mexico, killing five adults and five children while leaving two other adults in critical condition in a Lubbock, Texas hospital.
All of this could have been avoided if, instead of pursuing intermittent, short-lived, carbon-dependent windmills and solar panels (Chapters 9 and 10), we had expanded safe, CO2-free Nuclear Power.
Dr. Wade Allison, in Nuclear is For Life, wrote: “Critics of civilian nuclear power use what they fear might happen due to a nuclear failure – but never has – but ignore other accidents that have been far worse: – The 1975 dam failure in China that killed 170,000; – The 1984 chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India where 3,899 died and 558,000 were injured; – The 1889, Johnstown. PA flood that drowned 2,200; – The 1917 explosion of a cargo ship in Halifax, N. S. where 2,000 died and 9,000 were injured; – Turkey’s 2014 coal mine accident that took 300 lives; – The 2015 warehouse explosion in China that cost 173 lives. “
The list seems endless, but no one advocates destroying dams or closing chemical plants.
The way the world has reacted to the Fukushima accident has been the real disaster with huge consequences to the environment, but the accident itself was not.”
“In California, defective, Japanese-built steam generators at the San Onofre plant could have been replaced for about USD 600 million, but the plant is being decommissioned at a cost of USD 4.5 billion because of Fukushima and anti-nuclear zealotry. The plant could be replaced with two, CO2-free AP-1000 reactors for USD 14 Billion.” Mike Conley
In this foolish way, California lost the CO2-free electricity generated by San Onofre – 9% of California’s needs – which was replaced by carbon burning power plants and/or carbon-reliant wind and solar.
Nuclear plants are required to set aside part of their profits to pay the cost of decommissioning, but no such requirement is made of wind and solar farms. Neither are carbon companies required to pre-fund the removal of miles of pipelines, the cleanup of refinery sites, or the sealing of their abandoned wells.
I repeat, NO ONE has died from radiation created by commercial nuclear power production in Western Europe, Asia or the Southern and Western hemispheres, but up to 5,000,000 people die prematurely every year from the burning of coal, gas, wood and oil.
The original version of this chart, which rated nuclear power at 0.04 deaths per Terawatt hour, included thousands of LNT-predicted Chernobyl deaths that never happened.
As a consequence, this image, which reflects reality instead of LNT [Linear No Threshold] errors, reveals that nuclear power is far safer than initially thought, and that nuclear is actually 115 times safer than wind – not 4,340 times safer than solar – not 10, 3,000 times safer than natural gas, 27,000 times safer than oil – and coal is out of sight.
While we are at it, let’s explore resources necessary to build equivalent power facilities and the fuel required.
Fuel Quantity (kg)
CO2 Production (Tons)
Solid Fission (U235)
Natural Gas Burning
240,000,000 cu ft
How Much Does it Take to Move that Much Materials?
Coming up next week, Episode 17 – All At Sea – The Best Technology. Not Used. Why?
What’s the Fossil Fuel Record? Millions of Air Pollution Deaths each year
Because the carbon industries are heavily subsidised, one might expect them to have exemplary safety and social records, but one would be wrong!
According to the Guardian, 6 Oct 2021 “The IMF found the production and burning of coal, oil and gas was subsidised by USD 5.9tn in 2020″ Or USD 11 million a minute every day. This is according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF has noted before that existing fossil fuel subsidies overwhelmingly go to the rich, with the wealthiest 20% of people getting six times as much as the poorest 20% in low and middle-income countries.
The ash derived from burning coal averages 80,000 pounds per American lifetime. Compare that to two pounds of nuclear “waste” for the same amount of electricity. The world’s 1,200 largest coal-fired plants cause 30,000 premature U.S. deaths every year plus hundreds of thousands of cases of lung and heart diseases.
Generating the 20% of U.S. electricity with nuclear power saves our atmosphere from being polluted with 177 million tons of greenhouse gases every year, but despite the increasing consequences of Climate Change and Ocean Acidification, the burning of carbon to make electricity is still rising.
Scientific American, 13 Dec 2007: “Coal-fired plants expel mercury, arsenic, uranium, radon, cyanide and harmful particulates while exposing us to 100 times more radiation than nuclear plants that create no CO2. In fact, coal ash is more radioactive than any emission from any operating nuclear plant.”
In one year, a CO2-free, 1,000 MW nuclear plant creates about 500 cu ft of spent fuel that can be recycled to retrieve useful U-238, reducing its bulk by about 90%. (An average U. S. bathroom is about that size.) In that same year, a 1,000 MW coal plant creates 65,000 tons of CO2 plus enough toxic ash to cover an entire football field to a height of at least 200 feet.
Every year, we store 140 million tons of coal ash in unlined or poorly lined landfills and tailing ponds. In 2008, five million tons of toxic ash burst through a Tennessee berm (see below), destroying homes and fouling lakes and rivers.
Coal-fired power plants leak more toxic pollution into America’s waters than any other industry. (A June, 2013 test found that arsenic levels leaking from unlined coal ash ponds were 300 times the safety level for drinking water.)
And in 2014, North Carolina’s Duke Energy’s plant (now bankrupt) “spilled” 9,000 tons of toxic coal ash sludge into the Dan River. Why do they always say “spilled” – never “gushed?”
Coal companies like to promote their supposedly “clean coal,” which really means “not quite so filthy,” but despite making an attempt at carbon capture and storage (CCS) at a new power plant in Saskatchewan, the plant has been a failure. (Burning fossil fuels causes 4.5 million early deaths per year.)
CO2 removal devices use natural gas or electricity, which is usually generated by burning carbon. The moral hazard of removing CO2 from the air is that it justifies burning fossil fuels.
An electrical plant in Saskatchewan was the great hope for industries that burn coal.
In the first large-scale project of its kind, the plant was equipped with a technology that promised to pluck carbon out of the utility’s exhaust and bury it, transforming coal into a cleaner power source. In the months after opening, the utility and the government declared the project an unqualified success, but the USD 1.1 billion project is now looking like a dream.
Known as SaskPower’s Boundary Dam 3, the project has been plagued by shutdowns, has fallen way short of its emissions targets, and faces an unresolved problem with its core technology. The costs, too, have soared, requiring tens of millions of dollars in new equipment and repairs.
“At the outset, its economics were dubious,” said Cathy Sproule, a member of the legislature who released confidential internal documents about the project. “Now they’re a disaster….”
New York Times by Ian Austen, 29 March 2016, Ottawa
Even modern, 75% efficient coal-burners with thirty-year lifespans can’t compete with nuclear plants that have lifespans of 60 years and provide CO2-free power at 90% efficiency, and the new plants are even safer. In addition, our coal reserves will last 100 years at best. And as we “decarbonize”, we will require increasing amounts of electricity, and the only source of economical CO2-free, 24/7 power must be our new, super-safe, highly efficient nuclear reactors that cannot melt down.
Note: The word “efficiency,” AKA “capacity factor,” in this book means the amount of electricity created over an extended period by wind, solar, etc. compared to their maximum power rating. Unfortunately, the maximum power rating is often used to sell the project. For nuclear reactors, this figure is at least 90%, but it is 33% for windmills and just 19 -22% for pv solar – and solar panel efficiency degrades by 1% per year during their short, 20 year lifespan. (Thermal efficiency is a separate matter.)
When a gas pipeline exploded in 2010 at San Bruno, California, 8 people died, 35 homes were levelled and dozens more were damaged. In 2016, a federal government report stated that natural gas explosions cause heavy property damage, often with deaths, about 180 times per year– that’s every other day.
In 2010, British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico “spilled” 200 million gallons of oil and killed 11 workers and 800,000 birds. Prior to that, an explosion at a Texas BP refinery killed fifteen workers. And BP, which was also involved in the Exxon Valdez “spill” in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, is just one of the many oil companies that we subsidise with USD 2.4 billion every year.
“‘Evolution is driven by the tendency of all organisms to expand their habitat and exploit the available resources… Just as bacteria in a Petri dish grow until they have consumed all of the nutrients, and then die in a toxic soup of their own waste.”
Japan responded [to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake] by closing its nuclear plants – a foolish move that has required the country to spend USD 40 billion per year on liquefied natural gas plus billions more for coal, which has created huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Another USD 11 billion per year has been spent to maintain their perfectly functional-but-idle reactors.
Nuclear power has been tarred by the Fukushima Daichi disaster, but the failure was NOT the fault of nuclear power. It was caused by repeated corporate lying, record falsifying and penny-pinching, by the lack of government enforcement of seawall height, by building too low to the ocean, and by installing backup generators in easily flooded basements.
Blaming nuclear power for Fukushima is like blaming the train when an engineer derails it by taking a turn at 70 mph that is posted for 30. (The Japanese Diet has stated that the Fukushima accident was not the fault of “nuclear power.”)
A few days later, Goodman’s article was read by Captain Reid Tanaka, a United States Navy professional with considerable expertise in nuclear matters who had been intimately involved during the meltdown – and Captain Tanaka presented a very different view:
“I was in Japan, in the Navy, when the tsunami struck and because of my nuclear training, I was called to assist in the reactor accident response and served as a key adviser to the US military forces commander and the US Ambassador to Japan. I spent a year in Tokyo with the US NRC-led team to assist TEPCO and the Japanese Government in battling through the casualty.
“My command (CTF 70) was the direct reporting command for the REAGAN (where we had control over REAGAN’S assignments and missions) and were in direct decision-making with REAGAN’S Commanding Officer and team. I don’t qualify to be called an “expert” in reactor accidents…, but I am well informed enough to know where my limits are and to see through much of the distortions on this issue….
“A Google search will tend to drive people to alarmist websites and non-technical news reports, but you could also find the dull, technical (yet truthful) places such as the IAEA or DOE…
“Numerous bodies of experts have weighed in and provided assessments and reports. A couple are quite critical of TEPCO and the Japanese nuclear industry and regulators.
“… the biggest problem the public has is … being able to distinguish the science-based, objective reports from the alarmist and emotionally charged positions that get the attention of the press, some of whom are self- proclaimed experts in some fields but NOT nuclear power: Dr. David Suzuki and Dr. Michio Kaku. Neither understand spent fuel, nor the condition of spent fuel pools….
“Dr. Suzuki is an award-winning scientist and a champion for the environment, but he is lacking any real understanding of spent fuel or radioactivity. “Bye-bye Japan?’ A headline grabbing sound-bite, but the math just doesn’t work…
“[Sometimes] the true experts cannot give a simple answer because there isn’t one, while those who have no science to back their claims have no compunction in saying the sky is falling and everyone else is lying.
“For the Navy, the contamination caused by Fukushima created a huge amount of extra work and costs for decontaminating the ships and our aircraft to ‘zero’, but [there was] no risk to the health of our people.
“REAGAN was about 100 miles from Fukushima when the radiation alarms first alerted us to the Fukushima accident. Navy nuclear ships have low-level radiation alarms to alert us of a potential problem with our onboard reactors. So, when the airborne alarms were received, we were quite surprised and concerned. The levels of contamination were small, but they caused a great deal of additional evaluation and work. REAGAN’s movements were planned and made to avoid additional fallout. Sailors who believe they were within five miles or so, were misinformed. Japanese ships were close; the REAGAN was not….
“There are former sailors who are engaged in a class-action suit against TEPCO for radiation sickness they are suffering for the exposure they received from Operation Tomodachi. The lead plaintiffs were originally sailors from REAGAN but now have expanded to a few other sailors from other ships. Looking at the claims, I have no doubt some of the SAILORS have some ailments, but without any real supporting information (I haven’t seen ANY credible information to that end), I do not believe any of their ailments can be attributable to radiation—fear and stress related, perhaps, but not radiation directly. Radiation sickness occurs within a ‘minutes/hours’ time frame of exposure and cancer occurs in a ‘years’ time frame. These sailors were not sick in either of these windows. I believe that many of them believe it, but I also believe most are being misled.”
The closure of Japan’s nuclear plants and its increased use of imported liquefied natural gas put an end to Japan’s long-standing trade surplus. But in 2015, bowing to financial realities and because of diminishing fear, Japan restarted the second of its reactors. As of May, 2018, seven reactors had been restarted, with many scheduled to follow.
Shortly thereafter, the U. S. media and many of the “Green” organizations began to report that a Fukushima worker had been “awarded compensation and official acknowledgment that his cancer [leukemia] was caused by working in the reactor disaster zone.” That’s wrong, and competent journalists who do adequate research should know it. Here are the facts:
The worker received a workman’s comp benefit package because he satisfied the statutory criteria stipulated in the 1976 Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act, which says that workers who are injured or become ill while working or while commuting to and from work, can receive financial aid and medical coverage. The worker spent 14 months at F. Daiichi. (October, 2012 to December 2013.)
In late December 2013, the worker felt too ill to work, so he went to a doctor, and was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in January, 2014. No link was made between his occupational exposure and his cancer. In addition, because the latency period between radiation exposure and the onset of leukaemia is 5 to 7 years, the worker did not get cancer from working at Fukushima. It was, in fact, a pre-existing condition that was exploited by opponents of nuclear power who routinely repeat convenient-but-wrong stories because being honest and accurate takes time, knowledge and integrity.
In 2016, anti-nuclear zealots began to fear-monger about the effects of Cesium-134 on fish while ignoring reports from NOAA and the Japanese government that stated, “Radioactive Cesium in fish caught near Fukushima Daiichi continues to dwindle. Of the more than 70 specimens taken in October, only five showed any Caesium isotope 134, the ‘fingerprint’ for Fukushima Daiichi contamination. The highest Cs-134 concentration was [associated] with a Banded Dogfish, at 8.3 Becquerels per kilogram. Half of the sampled fish had detectable levels of Cs-137, but all were well below Japan’s limit of 100 Bq/kg….”
These amounts are tiny, and the particles emitted from the Potassium-40, which we all contain, are more potent than the Caesium-137 emissions that many greens apparently fear.
There is 500,000 times more natural radiation in the ocean than the amount added by Fukushima.
Regarding the risk from remaining reactor material that many greens agonize over, Dr. Alex Cannarasubsequently wrote,
“As of late 2013, the spent fuel at Fukushima was 30 months old. That means that the rods and the fuel pellets within them are able to be stored in air. If any rods had never been in a reactor core, they have no fission products in them and are perfectly safe to take apart by hand.
“So, what do we have at Fukushima? We have some melted core materials (corium), which can be entombed. We have water containing a small amount of fission products like Cesium. And, we have a bunch of fuel assemblies that are very radioactive because of their internal creation of fission products when they were in their reactor cores. (No fission products are created when rods are out of cores, in pools or dry air storage.)
“Since the rods are at least 30 months out of fission-product production , one can see how quickly they’ve lost the need for cooling and the reduction in their radioactivity.
“Nuclear power has for its entire life, been the safest form of power generation. The EPA estimates that we lose more than 12,000 Americans every year to coal emissions. The Chinese lose 700,000, and the Indians, 100,000. To delay building nuclear power plants will cause diseases and deaths that could easily be avoided.”
“A nuclear power plant that melts down is less dangerous than a fossil fuel plant that is working correctly. [Because of their toxic ashes and emissions.] Fukushima illustrates that even a meltdown that penetrates containment is very little danger to the public when a few basic precautions are taken.” Andrew Daniels, author, “After Fukushima What We Now Know”.
No other technology produces energy as cheaply, safely and continuously on a large scale as nuclear power. No other energy source can match nuclear power’s low environmental impact, partly because its energy density is a million times greater than that of fossil fuels – and more so for wind or solar.
As of 2016, the world’s 400 + nuclear reactors created about 15% of our electricity. France, alarmed by the cost of petro-fuels, went to 70% nuclear in just 16 years, and Finland, now at 30%, is aiming for 60%. Sweden is adding 10.
Nuclear France emits about 40 grams of CO2/kWh, but Germany, the US, Japan and most industrialised nations emit 400 – 500 grams per kiloWatt hour – ten times more per kWh than heavily nuclear France. Compared to fossil fuel-reliant wind and solar farms, nuclear power is a gift from the energy gods.
Nuclear power, being CO2-free, is by far the most effective displacer of greenhouse gases, so how can my fellow “greens,” oppose nuclear power when the environmental costs of burning carbon-based fuels are so high?
Dr. James Lovelock, a patriarch of the environmental movement, has begged people to support nuclear energy: “Civilization is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear power, the one safe, available, energy source now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by an outraged planet.”
“In the core of just one reactor, the power density is about 338 million watts per square meter. To equal that with wind energy, which has a power density of 1 watt per square meter, you’d need about 772 square miles of wind turbines….
“Some opponents still claim that nuclear energy is too dangerous. Debunking that argument requires only a close look at the facts about Fukushima….
“Here’s the reality: The tsunami caused two deaths – two workers who drowned at the plant.
“It was feared that radiation from the plant would contaminate large areas of Japan and even reach the U.S. That didn’t happen. In 2013, the World Health Organization concluded: ‘Outside of the geographical areas most affected by radiation, even within Fukushima prefecture, the predicted risks remain low and no observable increases in cancer above natural variation in baseline rates are anticipated.
“High on my list of well intentioned dupes are those who praise science and are eager to confront Climate Change but refuse to accept nuclear power as an essential part of carbon-reduction strategies. They dismiss new reactor designs that they don’t understand, and then talk about how wind and solar power can ‘supply our needs.’
“They are wrong, but nuclear can supply our needs when people conquer their fears, educate themselves on the safety of nuclear power – and constructively join the fray. Until they do, they must accept their culpability in creating an overheated planet with millions of climate refugees.”
Only at the “illegal” plant at Chernobyl, which was designed to also make plutonium for bombs, with electricity being a by-product, has anyone died from radiation from nuclear power, but we’ve had tens of millions of coal, gas and petroleum-related, early deaths. Furthermore, our reactors, by generating electricity from the 20,000 Russian warheads we purchased in the Megatons to Megawatts program, have become the ultimate in weapons-reduction techniques.
What about 3-Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima? We’ll examine each of them, but it is important to remember that nuclear plants have been supplying 15% of the world’s electricity, while creating no CO2, for 16,000 reactor-years of almost accident-free operation. And the reactors that have powered our nuclear Navy for more than 50 years have similar safety records. (Naval reactor fuel can be up to 90% U-235.)
Three Mile Island
In March, 1979, two weeks after the release of the popular movie, The China Syndrome, a partial meltdown of a reactor core due to a stuck coolant valve and design flaws that confused the operators, caused mildly radioactive gases to accumulate inside one of the reactor buildings.
After the gases were treated with charcoal, they were vented, and a small amount of contaminated water was released into the Susquehanna River. No one died or was harmed.
However, when an AP reporter described a “bubble” of hydrogen inside the reactor building in a way that led people to think that the plant was a “hydrogen bomb,” many residents fled, which caused more harm than the accident.
In fact, radiation exposure from Three Mile Island was far less than the amount of radiation that pilots and airline passengers receive during a round-trip flight between New York and Los Angeles [1 mrem, or 1 microSivert – 100 times less than average yearly background exposure in the area around Three Mile Island]. Furthermore, in the following decades, more than a dozen studies have found no short or long-term ill effects for anyone, whether they were downwind or downstream from the plant or at it – and since then, operator training and safety measures have greatly improved.
Despite all of the fear and panic, nothing happened. No one died, and no one got cancer, but the media-hyped event at Three Mile Island came very close to shutting down all progress in American nuclear power. Because of the radiophobia generated by our sensation-seeking press and fervent greens, neither of whom bothered to check the facts, many proposed reactors were replaced by coal plants, and in the following decades, pollution from those plants brought premature death to at least 500,000 Americans.
In 1986, during a test ordered by Moscow that involved disabling the safety systems, a portion of the core of the reactor, which had design hazards not present in Western reactors, was inadvertently exposed. (The RKMB reactor at Chernobyl was long judged to be dangerous by scientists outside of the Soviet Union.)
As Dr. Spencer Weart wrote in The Rise of Nuclear Fear, “In short, for Soviet reactor designers, safety was less important than building ‘civilian’ reactors that could produce military plutonium if desired, and building them cheaply.”
This negligence led to a steam/hydrogen explosion that released radioactive gases into the atmosphere because the reactor had no effective containment structure. In contrast, no U.S. reactor contains flammables. Each has a reinforced concrete containment structure that can survive an airliner hit, and every plant is strictly regulated by the NRC.
There has never been a source of energy as safe or kind to the environment as nuclear power, and the reason for the safety is regulation.
Every responsible nation similarly regulates its nuclear power plants and shares information and training practices via international agencies. This cooperation, which was expanded after Three Mile Island, resulted in so many improvements that civilian nuclear power climbed from 60% up-time in the sixties to at least 90% today.
For three days, Soviet authorities hid the [Chernobyl] disaster and delayed evacuating the area, coming clean when radiation readings across Europe began to rise. (The government also failed to distribute iodine tablets, which could have protected thousands from airborne Iodine-131, which is readily absorbed by the thyroid, particularly in the young. (A body with an abundance of benign I-127 is less likely to absorb I-131.)
Chernobyl failed due to bad design, Moscow’s interference, poor training and a system that forbade operators from sharing essential information about reactor problems. It is the only “civilian” reactor accident where radiation directly killed anyone. Initially, approximately eighteen firefighters died from intense radiation. Yet, with design changes and proper procedures, several similar reactors still operate in the former Soviet Union.
Metsamor, a nuclear power plant in Armenia, (former USSR), also has no containment structure. The European Union has urged Armenia to close down the site for years, and offered $289 million to finance shutting down the plant…
(A round trip flight for the U. S. to Chernobyl will expose travellers to twice as much additional background radiation as their 2-day tour in the exclusion zone, which even includes a tour of the damaged plant).
Furthermore, the deformed and brain-damaged “Chernobyl children” that sensation-seeking TV programs occasionally feature are no different from similarly afflicted children elsewhere in Europe who received no fallout, but that information is never provided by anti-nuclear activists and the media. (Since Chernobyl, cancer rates in the Ukraine have been about 2/3 of the rate in Australia.)
Because of the erroneous, dangerous LNT theory and many dire predictions from people like Helen Caldicott (coming up in future episodes), many thousands of badly frightened European women endured needless abortions because they had become convinced that they were carrying monster babies.
However, the quake destroyed the plant’s connections to the electrical grid, which required emergency generators to power the systems that cooled the still-hot reactors.
Although three of Tepco’s six nuclear reactors were off-line when the quake struck, five were eventually doomed because: 1. In 1967, Tepco removed 25 meters from the site’s 35-meter seawall to ease bringing equipment ashore. 2. Tepco replaced the original seawall with only a six-meter seawall. 3. The Japanese government advised Tepco to raise it, but Tepco declined – and the government did nothing. 4. Tepco had inexplicably placed five of its six emergency generators in the basements. 5. The tsunami flooded all but #6. 6. Batteries powered the controls for about 8 hours, and then failed. Without coolant, meltdown was assured.
Reactors 1 – 4 are useless, and number 5 is damaged, but reactor 6 was unaffected because its back-up equipment was intelligently sited well above the tsunami’s reach. Reactor 6 is capable of producing power, but it has not been started, largely because of the anti-nuclear hysteria fanned by most of the Japanese press.
There were warnings: All along the coast, ancient “Sendai stones” have been warning residents to avoid building below 150 feet above sea level for centuries.
The Onagawa nuclear plant, which was closer to the epicenter of the quake, also survived the quake, and its 45-foot high seawall easily blocked the tsunami. The tsunami took more than 15,000 lives, but Fukushima’s seawall failure took the lives of just two workers who drowned.
Remembering Leslie Corrice’s words from Episode 11, Corrice’s dismay over the results of radiophobia are echoed by many professionals, one being Dr. Antone “Tony” Brooks, who grew up in “fallout-drenched” St. George, Utah, which led him to study radiation at Cornell University. For an excellent, short video of the conclusions he reached, please visit:
The belief that tiny amounts of radiation can be lethal created ALARA – As Low As Reasonably Achievable – an anti-nuclear bias that has permeated our regulations for decades. However, “reasonably” is vague, and “achievable” depends on technology, not health effects.
For example, the World Health Organisation has set a public exposure limit for tritium from nuclear power plants of 0.1 mSv per year. Canada’s reactors comply with this limit, but due to ALARA, the limit in the USA is 0.04 mSv per year. Why? Because it is achievable – not because it is necessary.
Tritium (also known as hydrogen-3), is often used in watches and emergency exit signs. It is also present in our food and water. Furthermore, its tiny nucleus emits a particle so slow that it cannot even penetrate skin. In comparison, the Potassium-40 in our omnipresent banana emits beta particles that are 230 times as energetic, but no one worries about those deadly bananas.
LNT and ALARA can easily lead to absurdities: For example, airline passengers are exposed to about 20 times more cosmic radiation than those at ground level, but despite the dire predictions of LNT, they experience no more cancer than those who don’t fly. Should jets be required to fly at low altitudes, where they produce more greenhouse gases, just to satisfy ALARA – and what about the flight attendants and pilots who constantly work in higher levels of cosmic radiation?
As Radiation detection technology improves, ALARA just increases fear.
Caesium-137 from Fukushima is detectable, so Counter Punch complains of Blue Fun tuna containing 0.0000077 mSv per 7 oz serving [200 grams], writing “… no radiation exposure of any kind is safe”.
It is wasteful to spend money “protecting” people from tiny amounts of radiation. Instead, let’s finance programs that help people stop smoking, which brings carcinogens like cyanide, formaldehyde, ammonia, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide into intimate contact with their lungs. (Smoking related diseases kill 5 million people per year).
Radiation exposure in reactor buildings is so low that it isn’t an issue, but educating the public on basic environmental radiation is a very critical issue.
For example, after Fukushima, lack of accurate radiation knowledge and the media’s eagerness to hype radiation issues caused a run on potassium iodide [KI] pills along our west coast, but no media explained that this was pointless. Pharmacies ran out, and some patients who needed KI couldn’t get it, while those who needlessly took it actually raised their chances of disease because too much KI can cause thyroid malfunction.
“Radiation safety limits have been ratcheted down from 150 mSv/year in 1948 to 5 mSv/y in 1957 to 1 mSv/y in 1991 without supporting evidence by relying on the erroneous LNT model. EPA limits are set 100 times lower than levels that could cause harm. ALARA leads people, the press, and Big Green to falsely conclude that any radiation exposure may kill you.”
James Conca, in Forbes: “There are some easy decisions to make that will save us a trillion dollars, and they could be made soon by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA could raise the absurdly low radiation levels considered to be a threat to the public. These limits were based upon biased and fraudulent “research” in the 1940’s through the 1960’s, when we were frightened of all things nuclear and knew almost nothing about our cells’ ability to repair damage from excess radiation.
“These possible regulatory changes have been triggered by the threat of nuclear terrorism and by the unnecessary evacuation of tens of thousands of Japanese after Fukushima Daiichi, and hundreds of thousands of Russians after Chernobyl. There, the frightened authorities were following U. S. plans that were created because of the ALARA policy (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) that has always been misinterpreted to mean that all forms of radiation are dangerous, no matter at what level. It’s led to our present absurdly low threat level of 25 millirem.
“Keep in mind that radiation workers can get 5,000 mrem/year and think nothing of it. We’ve never had problems with these levels. Emergency responders can get up to 25,000 mrem to save human lives and property. I would take 50,000 mrem just to save my cat.
“This wouldn’t be bad if it didn’t have really serious social and economic side-effects, like pathological fear, significant deaths during any forced evacuation, not receiving medical care that you should have, shutting down nuclear power plants to fire up fossil fuel plants, and a trillion-dollar price tag trying to clean up minor radiation that even Nature doesn’t care about.”
Approximately 100,000 people were evacuated from the Fukushima area after the meltdown, and by September, 2013, about 1,200 evacuees had died from suicide and the stress of the excessive evacuation.
Dr. Brian Hanley: [Fukushima] “If no evacuation had occurred, and everyone had lived outdoors with no precautions, at most 15 cancer deaths might have happened, but probably none.
“People have been going to radioactive spas in Ramsar, Iran for a long time without ill effect. In a 2-week visit, the dose would be a maximum of 10 mSv. That is 6 to 80 times more radioactive than the evacuation zone of Fukushima.”
“To enable nuclear power, the NRC must renounce the non-scientific basis for LNT and ALARA”