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Exploring the nuclear option

Like a lot of people, the rising gas prices has had me doing a lot of thinking about energy. About our dependence on petroleum. And I'm starting to wonder if it's time to give nuclear power another try.

In addition to being incredibly energy-efficient, petroleum is one of the most versatile substances around. That's not entirely by accident; we've literally spent decades finding new uses for it, and ways to use it more efficiently. And what is the most common application? Burning. We take this substance that has all these wonderful uses and instead convert it into foul, toxic, corrosive fumes.

For all the hysteria and scare-mongering, nuclear power has a remarkable safety record in the United States and, for the most part, around the world. In over 60 years of research, development, and application of nuclear power, there has only been a single major incident -- and I think we can safely lay Chernobyl at the feet of a corrupt, totalitarian, oppressive, Communist regime. (But I repeat myself a bit there.) Never in the United States or any other nation (such as France or Japan, both heavy users of nuclear power) has there been a disaster anywhere near that magnitude, and (to the best of my knowledge) not a single nuclear power plant mishap has claimed a single life in the United States.

For an even more impressive safety record, look at the United States Navy. By my calculations, the Navy has sent almost 250 reactors to sea in warships over the last 50+ years, and not once has there been a major reactor incident. The Navy is doing something very RIGHT with its plants, and we ought to see about adapting that particular bit of military expertise to civilian use.

Also, there have been tremendous advances in nuclear energy since the United States last really focused on nuclear power. Pebble bed reactors show tremendous potential for safety. Also, the notion of simply standardizing reactor designs, instead of making each a "one-off" unique design like we did in the 60's and 70's, could help keep the construction and operation costs more economical.

Nuclear power generation is not some horrible, scary, evil force that threatens the lives of every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth. And they are not run by Homer Simpsons. If we want to truly have affordable energy, we really need to look at building some new reactors.

Or, if you'll forgive a "crude" metaphor (and a worse pun), we can keep ourselves bent over the barrel.

US Naval reactors, based on easily-found sources online and a copy of Jane's Fighting Ships, 19-77-78:

Class #vessels Reactors/vessel

Submarines:

Los Angeles 62x1
Ohio 18x1
Seawolf II 03x1
Virginia 01x1
Lafayette 31x1
Ethan Allen 05x1
G. Washington 05x1
Lipscomb 01x1
Narwhal 01x1
Sturgeon 37x1
Thresher 13x1
Tullibee 02x1
Skipjack 05x1
Halibut 01x1
Triton 01x2
Skate 04x1
Seawolf I 01x1
Nautilus 01x1
NR-1 01x1

Total: 194

Cruisers:
Virginia 04x2
California 02x2
Truxtun 01x2
Bainbridge 01x2
Long Beach 01x2
Total: 18

CVNs:
Enterprise 01x8
Nimitz 10x2

Total: 28

Grand Total: 240

(Truxtun and Long Beach added, thanks to jim in the comments. My apologies for overlooking them.)


Comments (60)

I thought the nuclear optio... (Below threshold)

I thought the nuclear option was to bomb the heck out of Iran and destroy their oil reserves...

Good idea!... (Below threshold)
CurlyLarryMoe:

Good idea!

See <a href="http://www.nrc... (Below threshold)
Brian:
According to Wikipedia:<br ... (Below threshold)

According to Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Naval_reactor#Nuclear_Naval_Fleets

"The US Navy has accumulated over 5400 reactor years of accident-free experience, and operates more than 80 nuclear-powered ships."

If nothing else testifies to the safety of nuclear power production, that certainly does.

Also, the notion o... (Below threshold)
Also, the notion of simply standardizing reactor designs, instead of making each a "one-off" unique design like we did in the 60's and 70's, could help keep the construction and operation costs more economical.

There was a fascinating article a few years back in American Heritage of Invention and Technology about why nuclear failed to take off in the States. One of the reasons was the unique-designs issue, while France pushed ahead with only a few designs that they simply repeated until today they get well over 50% of their electricity from splitting atoms. Nuclear power is one area the French have right. (Another is treating Scientologists like the mind-bending, financially ruinous cult that it is, but that's another story.)

The real issue is no neighb... (Below threshold)
steve:

The real issue is no neighborhood anywhere will allow a nuclear power plant to be built near them. It will never happen.

Another thing: "spent" fuel... (Below threshold)

Another thing: "spent" fuel rods can be reprocessed to get more fuel out. We should do that, too.

Do you actually think those... (Below threshold)
Tim:

Do you actually think those enviromentalist nut jobs are going to let nuclear power make a comeback after all the protest time they invested in the 70's? They're already bitching about hydrogen fuel cells. They won't be happy until we live like the Amish. And even then you better check your cow's methane emmisions.

Another thing: The control ... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

Another thing: The control systems used in commercial reactors that are all operating now were designed in the '50s. Computerized systems have of course evolved a lot since then. So have user interfaces -- there's no way a contemporary designer would use the roomfuls of flip-cards and steam gauges seen on currently operating reactors.

Hmmm.*shrug* we co... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

*shrug* we could do what the Chinese are doing: building 6,000 megawatts of pebble-bed nuclear reactors.

This design is supposed to be the safest modern design around since it's impossible for it to meltdown.

Of course we should explore... (Below threshold)
Lee:

Of course we should explore nuclear power options - we have no choice. No industrialized nation will survive without oil alternatives...

And now you may understand better why taking away Iran's nucelar power options is such a bonehead move. We drain the desert of oil to feed our SUV's, then tell them they can't have nuclear power?

Bush is such a moron.

Like you, I'm a slow conver... (Below threshold)

Like you, I'm a slow convert to the nuclear power cause. My parents were New England liberals (very sensible on most things) and anti-nuclear; I've come to think they were mistaken about this one. I love alternative energy, but I'm just not persuaded that it can deliver the gigawatts - make that terawatts - that we're going to need in the 21st century.

This sounds really good. It... (Below threshold)
stan25:

This sounds really good. It would raise the price of uranium and put a few people in a very economically depressed area of my state back to work. The area is Fremont County Wy. This area back in the mid-to-late 1970s was world's largest producer of yellowcake.

Of course, idiots like Tyson Slocum will have a shit fit and fall backwards in it. Well screw him and the rest of the enviroweenies. If they want to live like the eskimos and and other backwards people, ship them to the Gobi Desert, where they can live in their so-called utopia.

There is another aspect that will happen. The building of these plants will replace the oil fired electric generating plants and leave that much more oil that we have to run our cars and trucks

Interesting historical fact... (Below threshold)
kevino:

Interesting historical fact: reactor number 4 at Chernobyl exploded on April 26, 1986 -- twenty years ago.

And, yes, I too think that the accident was caused by a bad design and bad procedures. A socialist country endangers its people that way. The peasants don't actually suffer and die: they sacrifice for the common good.

Nuclear power is safe. However, ecology nuts will never allow it because they will bury the licensing of nuclear plants in unnecessary costs -- making them artificially uneconomical, and because they won't allow disposal of the spent fuel rods in a central facility.

And those same Envirus wack... (Below threshold)
John Kerry:

And those same Envirus wackos are reaping big payouts from the american people to promote their lunacy !
I bet they all have SUV,s parked in their garages and plenty of Haliburton stocks too! phoniegreedcocks.

USS LongBeach (CGN-9)? <br ... (Below threshold)
jim:

USS LongBeach (CGN-9)?
USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25 then CGN-25)?

I doubt the future of pebble bed reactors.

Flaws or cracks in fuel "pebbles" leads to the release of fission products, especially gases. Each pebble has just 9 grams of fissionable material, so the consequences are greatly minimized, but the public has essentially a zero tolerance for such.

The problem is that a single 120 MW reactor has a constantly changing inventory of 380,000 of these tennis ball "pebbles" and the QC task is to get essentially perfect manufacture of literally MILLIONS of these relatively complex objects. It was in part this QC burden that led to the Germans abandoning this technology in the first place.

Since a modern LWR design is typically ~1200 MW, it would take ten PBMRs of the 120 MW size, or 3,800,000 "pebbles" each of which has to be replaced frequently as the 9 grams in each one gets expended.

Also, not ever stated but a challenge nonetheless, is to get a turbine to operate with high temp helium. Steam turbines have elaborate seals that use the principle that steam condenses to preserve vacuum around the shaft (labyrinth seals). Helium obviously does not condense (until one gets nearly to absolute zero, anyway). The problems with very large turbines spun by high temp gas are very tough. I am not sure there are such turbines in reliable use anywhere. Last I heard (two years ago), this aspect was one of the critical design challenges of the PBMR and I have not heard that it had been resolved.

Crud, Jim, you're right. My... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Crud, Jim, you're right. My book lists the cruisers in chronological order, not CGNs all together. The Truxtun is on page 584, with the Belknaps on 585, so I stopped looking. Bainbridge and Long Beach are on page 587, after the Leahys.

I'm updating the tables now... thanks for the correction, and if there are any veterans of either of those worthy ships reading, my sincerest apologies.

J.

Regardless of whether pebbl... (Below threshold)

Regardless of whether pebble bed reactors turn out to be useful, there are a number of "inherently safe designs" (i.e. physically pretty much melt-down-proof for various reasons). If pebble bed turns out to be too difficult, they would make a fine choice.

I believe there is a Swedish one which relies on fluid dynamics. The core is kept in operation by a convection current. If the reactor runs too hot or too cool, the current dissipates and the reaction stops. In fact I believe with the right fuel mix, many reactors have a negative temperature reactivity coefficient and thus are quite safe even without all their elaborate safety systems.

As for Lee.. it's pretty clear who's a moron.

I have a little insight int... (Below threshold)

I have a little insight into this topic, seeing as how I have master's degree in nuclear engineering.

First, Chernobyl: I've told people until I'm blue in the face that the Chernobyl disaster could never happen here. The description is a bit lengthy for a comment, though. Suffice it to say that it was a combination of a reactor design not used in the US, pressure applied by Moscow, some poor decision making and some awful luck. The US also likes triple-redundancy for safety. Just an FYI.

Second, reprocessing septn fuel: The US created the process, but we're not doing it. If memory serves, upwards of 90% of the aged reactor core fuel could be reprocessed and used. The question remains as to how the remainder should be stored. Personally, I think that you embed the intensely radioactive material in a vitreous mass(glass), seal in containers, set them on the Antarctic shelf and let them melt down the 3-4 miles to the continental shelf, where they'd remain until long after humanity had died off. I can hear the screaming from interested parties already, so I've decided that this is unlikely. Too bad.

Finally, the pebble bed reactors: They're a great design and, I believe, should be used as the next generation of reactors. They were a hot topic in the industry a couple of years ago until someone noticed that the design didn't have a typical containment vessel. It's not needed, of course, but some people went apeshit over the "uncontained" reactor core, which helped shelve the design for a while. I know that Virginia has several more nuke plants planned for groundbreaking within the next few years, but they're of the traditional PWR/BWR design.

Even the doomsday scenario ... (Below threshold)
BrianOfAtlanta:

Even the doomsday scenario hasn't turned out to be that bad in the long run. The restricted zone around Chernobyl, devoid of humans, is teeming with all sorts of wildlife, with a very low incidence of cancer or other detrimental effects from the radiation.

Not to say Chernobyl is safe, but it hasn't turned out to be the nightmare which we were warned about.

I served on a nuclear sub a... (Below threshold)
Steve:

I served on a nuclear sub and we had a saying regarding the safety of the Navy's nuclear program.

"There have been more people killed in Ted Kennedy's car than in a nuclear accident in the Navy."

Careful, Steve. I mentioned... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Careful, Steve. I mentioned on another site the bumper sticker from the 1980 Democratic primary ("More people died in Ted Kennedy's car than at Three Mile Island") and was accused of being an obsessed Kennedy-basher.

It's pretty much true, but it was still a rude thing to say.

J.

Seconding Physics Geek on C... (Below threshold)

Seconding Physics Geek on Chernobyl... mostly. The key problem was that they were doing high-power testing on the reactor which required them to override some of the safety interlocks which would have shut down the reactor. During this precarious state, they chose to ignore incoming alarm signals "because they had to finish the tests".

More human stupidity than anything else.

As for the Navy's nuclear safety record... while admirable, it's based on the core value of zealous overcautiousness. Commercial plants have a strong incentive to maximize uptime - can't sell power when you're shut down - which was part of the reason for Three Mile Island.

The other part being, again, human stupidity in assuming that an alarm signal was false.

However, since TMI, the importance of never ignoring an alarm has been well-imprinted in the civilian nuclear industry, so I don't foresee any more problems.

Citing the safety record of... (Below threshold)
Lee:

Citing the safety record of the military is helpful, but certianly not the whole story. We're still going to end up with your next door neighbor Larry on the graveyard shift -- and Larry will have drunk a little too much the night before, and had a fight with the wife this morning, and he'll be thinking about Sara that hottie in HR that he'd love to boink, so when the red lights start flashing Larry won't push the correct switch -- and we'll be on our way to a meltdown.

Now if the military ran the nuclear power plants it would be a different story. I'd go for that...

Meanwhile, we can't compare apples and oranges. The designs are safe - it's the people who run these plants who are dangerous, and that isn't going to be reflected in military safety stats on nuclear operations.

Of course, if the reactor c... (Below threshold)

Of course, if the reactor can't melt down because of the way it's designed, then there isn't so much to worry about isn't there.

Even with those designs, there are still plenty of safety systems, monitoring systems, well-trained operators, etc. Mainly because it's stupid to take a risk even if you're 99.99999% sure nothing can go wrong. But, now that reactor designs have progressed to the stage where it can be made physically impossible for a melt-down to occur short of divine intervention, people really ought to be feeling better about them.

Actually, your statement, "... (Below threshold)
Ken O'Banion:

Actually, your statement, "not a single nuclear power plant mishap has claimed a single life in the United States", was not entirely correct.

On January 3, 1961, the SL-1, an experimental nuclear power reactor, went "prompt critical", resulting in a steam explosion, which blew the top off of the reactor containment vessel; three men were killed in the incident.

One of them, Army Specialist Richard McKinley, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 31), in a lead-lined concrete vault, with instructions that, if his body is disinterred for any reason (for instance, reburial in a family plot), the NRC must be notified. Yes, the body was, and presumably still is, that radioactive.

Even so, compared to the number of people who have died in petrochemical explosions, nuclear power's overall safety record is, as you suggest, laudable.

You are correct about the n... (Below threshold)
ed:

You are correct about the navy's reactor programs.
More, mil reactors are built by Westinghouse or General Atomics (or the current corps resulting from these starts). None of their civilian reactors have had problems!
Civilian reactors which have had problems have been built by companies whose expertise has been in coal, gas etc. generation.
There is a case for gov run reactor programs, but even more for consistant unit designs across many plants so that experience gained will be useful to others. Current situation with almost all reactors different from each other (due to independent design) leaves much to be desired. Note experience of other countries, especially Japan and France which have large numbers of reactors under a common structure. This is one area where private enterprise has not been to our benefit. Distribution and sale of power, fine. Construction and operation of plants, all different from each other, not so good.

"Of course, if the react... (Below threshold)
Lee:

"Of course, if the reactor can't melt down because of the way it's designed, then there isn't so much to worry about isn't there."

Sure, but there are still huge issues to worry about. For example, how do we move and store the waste?

We need leadership who can think their way out of a paper bag so we can get on our way towards solving problems like this - hold on, it's coming -- we'll start with Congress next, and then focus on flushing out the worthless messianic moron in the White House.

Lee's an obsessive little m... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:

Lee's an obsessive little moron, isn't he? Too bad he's always off topic.

Lee -Moving and st... (Below threshold)

Lee -

Moving and storing waste is an engineering problem that's already been solved. The political aspects of it are still up in the air, with an absolute 100% unbreakable ironclad guarantee of safety being the only acceptable criteria - and anything else being seen as completely unsuitable.

Have you seen the shipping casks that are proposed for use for transporting nuclear waste? Slam into them with a locomotive at 80 MPH, and you scratch the paint. Douse them in jet fuel and light them off, and 12 hours later they'll be intact. They're about as impervious as a block of concrete, and they're still not seen as safe enough.

In the mean time, we transport chlorine gas and a whole host of other toxic stuff that's FAR more dangerous by tank cars with no special armoring or precautions taken. A jihadi blowing a few holes in one of those going through a major city, and you're looking at major deaths...

You can't make any system perfectly safe. You can lower a risk to what's considered an acceptable level (like with chemical transports) - but there will always be some risk.

J.

Jlawson -- Oh I agree that ... (Below threshold)
Lee:

Jlawson -- Oh I agree that the problems are solveable, or at least addressable to within the acceptable risk zone, I just know we need new leadership. The folks who put Michael Brown in the top seat at FEMA SHOULD NOT be calling the shots on how we step-up and manage an accelerated nuclear program.

Doesn't France derive somet... (Below threshold)
Old Coot:

Doesn't France derive something like half of their electrical needs from nuclear? So you're gonna tell me that we can't do it at least as well as those infrequent-bathing stinky-cheese eating surrender-monkeys?

It should be noted, for all... (Below threshold)
mantis:

It should be noted, for all of the "why can't we do this?" and "how nuclear failed to take off" folks, that the United States has the highest nuclear capacity of any nation on Earth, and uprates have been increasing that capacity. While safety concerns have stemmed the installation of new reactors and more public relations on the part of the industry is needed to assuage people's fears and pave the way for new plants, this should not be overlooked.

(Oh, and all that fearmongering about planes hitting reactors following 9/11 didn't help matters any.)

Harvey wrote (April ... (Below threshold)
docjim505:

Harvey wrote (April 25, 2006 04:39 PM):

...the Navy's nuclear safety record... while admirable, it's based on the core value of zealous overcautiousness. Commercial plants have a strong incentive to maximize uptime - can't sell power when you're shut down - which was part of the reason for Three Mile Island.

Keep in mind that you also can't exactly shut down the reactor when your carrier's conducting flight operations or your sub is 300 feet below the Arctic ice cap.

I'm not a nuke, but I've always understood that much of the credit for the Navy's success and safety record belongs to Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, a person so crusty, irritating, bitchy, nit-picking, and unbearable that he wouldn't make it fifteen seconds through a modern Senate confirmation. So, we'd be stuck with some political flunky who doesn't know a control rod from a breadstick running the program.

THAT'S scary.

I really really don't want ... (Below threshold)

I really really don't want to disparage the military, or the Navy, but if Lee's example of the neighbor working at the local power plant were scarier than any E-3 coming off of shore leave after a 6 month cruise, well, maybe he would have a point. However, if the Navy can run a nuclear program on board ships that's safe, I think that's a pretty good measure of their safety program and design. I would think us land lubbers would be hard pressed to duplicate the stress and hardships of 180+ days without a port call. Or the subsequent port call and its after-effects.

Former squid here...<... (Below threshold)
Chuckg:

Former squid here...

The US Navy's nuclear power plant safety record is indeed admirable bordering on miraculous, but it's based on a couple things that I don't think the private sector would easily duplicate:

a) discipline bordering on obsessive-compulsive (seriously, nuclear power plant training is finishing school for OCD as regards safety procedures)

b) a magnificent disregard for "cost-effectiveness" when paying for initial build, maintenance budgets, training budgets, and triple-redundant everything.

J... re: bumper sticker, ru... (Below threshold)
wave_man:

J... re: bumper sticker, rude, but true.

As an employee of a company... (Below threshold)
SCSIwuzzy:

As an employee of a company that owns and operates 10 nuclear power stations, I'd like to make a point here: "Homer Simpson" does not work in the nuclear power industry. The bright boffins that work the reactors are mostly ex-navy, and much of the anal retentive ways they learned have carried over to commercial nuclear operations. The rest of the engineers come from places like MIT.
You might find a chuckle head or two somewhere in the facility, but only a few people have the full badge access needed to cause any trouble.

..control rod from a breads... (Below threshold)
DJ:

..control rod from a breadstick.. funniest thing I've read all day...

if we want to truly hav... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

if we want to truly have affordable energy, we really need to look at building some new reactors.
Ask the taxpayer in Ontario, Canada who are still picking up the billion dollar amortised debts of some very costly and expensive to maintain reactors in Ontario. after several decades. This isn't my area of expertise, but Kevin Drum in his liberal blog floated the same idea of a comeback for nuclear energy last week, just as sanguinely as Jay, and most of the informed comments guffawed at the enormous nuclear reactor construction and maintenance costs, along with some of the long term disposal problems.

Lee...The engineer... (Below threshold)

Lee...

The engineering's already been done. The tunnels at Yucca Mountain have already been drilled. The casks have been in use for years (http://www.uic.com.au/nip51.htm those are Aussie casks, a bit less studly than US casks) with no problems.

The main problems now lie in the political spectrum. With the NIMBY folks against any sort of nuclear power and their hordes of tame lawyers, the demand is for an unbreakable, perfect, complete, utter, absolute, no-fail under the most improbable circumstances warrantee.

Lawyer: "What would happen if the cask were hit by lightning after being hit by a locomotive after being in an earthquake after being doused by a tidal wave after going through a hurricane after being hit with an armor piercing round from an M-1 after having explosives stacked around it and being blown up and then having a fully loaded 747 smash into it IN A TUNNEL????"

Engineer: "Um... we didn't test for that scenario."

Lawyer: "Then how in the world can you maintain something so fragile, shoddy and untested is safe!"

There will always be objects. Meantime, has anyone bothered to measure the output of uranium, thorium and radium from coal fired power plants?

J.

Duh.There will alw... (Below threshold)

Duh.

There will always be objections. The question is - at what point do the objections go beyond valid to downright ridiculous?

Meanwhile, has anyone bothered to measure the output of uranium, thorium and radium from coal fired power plants?

Yep.

J.

I used to be a student in t... (Below threshold)

I used to be a student in the U.S. Naval Nuclear Power Program, and I received training at an active nuclear facility. So I know a little bit about nuclear power production.

As I see it, the biggest obstacle to more nuclear power production in the USA is the ignorance of U.S. citizens in regards to nuclear power production. Too many Americans know nothing about nuclear physics, know nothing about shielding, no nothing about how reactors work. Too many Americans think of nuclear power plants as being atomic bombs ready to explode, or they think that every reactor is capable of melting a hole all the way to China.

It is difficult to convince people that nuclear power production is safe when those people get their information about nuclear power production from Hollywood movies, The Simpsons and commercials for Holiday Inn Express.

Not to pick nits or anythin... (Below threshold)
JD:

Not to pick nits or anything, but wasn't Thresher lost due to a failure in the power system in conjunction with a weld failure in the ballast piping system?

Thresher is by no means leaking radioactivity or anything, but her loss, and the incidents at TMI, SL-1 and Chernobyl, indicate that when things go wrong with a nuke power plant, they can go very wrong, very rapidly.

Perhaps a solution would be a complex of reactors in two fairly central but isolated locations on either side of the Rocky Mountains, such as White Pine County, Nevada, and in Wyoming or western Nebraska for the mid-plains.

(Oh, and all that ... (Below threshold)
(Oh, and all that fearmongering about planes hitting reactors following 9/11 didn't help matters any.)

I heard that. Anybody worried about that never saw a civilian nuclear power plant's containment building up close.

What do you get when you crash a jetliner into one of those? Scorch marks.

JD -The civvy land... (Below threshold)
jim:

JD -

The civvy land nukes do not shock test their plants, Navy sub types will know to what I refer. What testing of that type that does occur takes place at the component and subsystem level on shaker tables in test facilities, not underwater. BTW, last I heard, Thresher's piping failure was thought to be at the seawater inlet or outlet to the condenser. Those welds are not a risk at plants on land.

My longer post with referen... (Below threshold)
jim:

My longer post with references got held up, it appears.

Anyway, SL-I was a military research reactor, not a power reactor. Look at the names/ranks that the other poster cited as being at the accident. It was 3 MW(t) - tiny when one considers that power reactors started in the 1000+ MW(t) range and current ones are 4,000+ MW(t) or 1000+ MW(e). The SL-I was a prototype for military DEW facilities above the Arctic circle.

France generates over 75% o... (Below threshold)
DCE:

France generates over 75% of its electricity from nuclear. They also use a standard, modular design, making it less expensive to build reactors. It also lessens the learning curve should a worker move from one nuke plant to another. We could take a lesson from them in that regard.

It's unfortunate that the perceived risk of nuclear power is far greater than the reality. Most people don't realize that they are many orders of magnitude more likely to die in their cars and trucks than because of nuclear power. But people are still against nuclear power because they've been told for decades that it's A Bad Thing.

JD -There's been p... (Below threshold)

JD -

There's been plenty of analysis of what was wrong at TMI - bad control layouts, misunderstandings, doing darn near everything wrong that they could - and still there was virtually no release of radiation.

SL-1 - bad design, bad planning - IIRC there was a single main control rod for the thing that needed to be connected manually to the control linkage. The rod needed to be lifted about three inches. Instead, it was apparently withdrawn about 20. The reactor went prompt-critical, and a steam explosion ensued. Info here. Based on what I've read about where the third body was, the probable cause was a sticking control rod - and the tech climbed up, got a good grip on it and lifted with his legs instead of his back. The rod came free, the reactor went critical, and 6 milliseconds later a steam explosion happened.

Chernobyl was a stupid chain of events - they wanted to see how long the reactor would run without proper cooling, so they disconnected virtually ALL of the safety systems in order to 'simulate' the problem, and removed almost all of the control rods, violating operating and safety regs. More on that here.

Yep, when things go bad in nuclear reactors, they go bad fast. However - TMI had badly trained people and a confusing layout. SL-1 had people who weren't well trained, and young - thus prone to errors in judgement. (Let's be honest - the oldest was 23. At that age, you're still immortal, and that you got picked to RUN a reactor? Woo-hoo! You've got big brass ones!)

Chernobyl - as badly designed as that plant was, they still had to WORK at it to get the thing to explode.

And we've learned a lot about reactor design in the last 20-30-40 years - especially what NOT to do, and how things SHOULDN'T work.

In the early days of steam there was a lot of empiracle testing - build it, see what was wrong, build a better one. Occasionally, boilers blew and people were killed. But they learned what to do to make things safe. When was the last time you heard of a boiler in a power plant blowing up?

In the early days of aviation, a lot of people were killed. In the early days of electrification of the country, a lot of folks got zapped. Cars? Well, there's a REAL killer for you.

There's no technology without some risk. It may not be readily apparent, but there's a risk.

The question is, how large does that risk have to be to make people give up the technology?

J.

Farg. "In the early days o... (Below threshold)

Farg. "In the early days of steam there was a lot of EMPIRICAL testing"

Falling asleep. G'night, folks...

J.

One more ship to add to you... (Below threshold)
Hornet:

One more ship to add to your list - N. S. Savannah.

A nuclear powered commerical ship buit as a demonstrator for peaceful civilian uses of nuclear power. Spent most of its life tied up to the dock in Galveston. Few ports would allow it to dock.

The last time I read anything about the Savannah was in an issue of National Geographic. She was tied to a dock in Savannah, GA. Her reactors, which could have been used to supply electricity, were instead 'cold'. A security watch had to be maintained to monitor the ship years after the fuel rods had been removed.

Hey, in the other energy th... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Hey, in the other energy thread there were some asking about new nuclear reactors in the US. I didn't know of any, but a little reading turned this up:

The US nuclear power industry has been virtually frozen since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, but in the US Congress 2005 energy bill, tax credits worth $3.1 billion, along with liability protection and compensation for legislative delays, were added for the industry. On 30 December 2005, for the first time in years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) certified the design of a new reactor--the 1000-MW Westinghouse advanced passive (AP) reactor.

Six US power-plant operators are preparing combined construction and operating license (COL) requests to the NRC that could restart construction in the next five years. NuStart Energy, a consortium of nine nuclear energy companies, submitted plans for a General Electric simplified boiling water reactor at the Grand Gulf nuclear station near Port Gibson, Mississippi, and an AP-1000 reactor at the Bellefonte nuclear plant near Scottsboro, Alabama.

Holy shit! An energy bill that actually may help our energy situation!

Btw I know I'm a bit of an oddball being a lefty environmentalist who supports nuclear power, but hey, I'm a bit of an oddball (plus most environmentalists are stupid. Well-intentioned, but stupid).

regarding my rude comment a... (Below threshold)
Steve:

regarding my rude comment above.

at least I didn't say that a woman doesn't belong in a dugout.

any number of comparisons to the Navy's safety record could be made. that just has more impact. PC is for the birds.

Mantis -That's goo... (Below threshold)

Mantis -

That's good news - here's hoping that it doesn't take a couple of decades to get them up and on-line.

J.

Regarding the loss of USS <... (Below threshold)
docjim505:

Regarding the loss of USS Thresher on April 10, 1963, the reactor apparently had nothing to do with it. As I understand it, a weld to a sea connection failed, leading to flooding in the boat. A constriction in the high pressure air system lead to a venturi effect causing ice to plug the lines, preventing the boat from performing an emergency blow.

In a sense, the loss of the Thresher is not dissimilar to the loss of USS Squalus a quarter of a century before and the loss of USS Scorpion five years later in that the power plants had nothing to do with the accidents.

What do you get when you... (Below threshold)

What do you get when you crash a jetliner into one of those? Scorch marks.

Damned funny. It also has the benefit of being true.

I'm a former Navy Nuke with... (Below threshold)
brainy:

I'm a former Navy Nuke with a quick message to Lee....

If you want to insinuate that your nextdoor neighbor being drunk and operating a nuclear plant is something that could not happen in the Navy, then you'd be right......but only for the past 10-15 years. The saltier firsts and chiefs on my boat used to entertain us with stories of more memorable reactor operations, such as an infamous .9 startup. In this case, the .9 represented the average blood-alcohol-level of the plant operators involved.

You also have to realize that operating a plant a few hundred feet under the sea in enemy waters...which I've done...is totally different than operating a reactor in upperstate NY.... which I've also done. Civilian plants don't generally have to worry about death due to their building imploding, etc...

Ladies and gentlemen, behol... (Below threshold)
Chuckg:

Ladies and gentlemen, behold a sterling example of that artistic product known as "the sea story", immediately above.

Hint -- .9 BACs is ridiculously above the lethal level. Last I heard, the record was .38, a DUI case somewhere in Ohio. And /that/ guy was a stone alcoholic who'd built up his tolerance over years and years, as people have been known to die at .35.

Hint -- .9 BACs is ridic... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

Hint -- .9 BACs is ridiculously above the lethal level.

Probably dropped a zero...likely he meant 0.09, which is enough to be legally impared in most states.

Oops. Yep, meant .09. But s... (Below threshold)
brainy435:

Oops. Yep, meant .09. But sea stories do have a way of growing exponentially more unbelievable with each retelling, don't they? :)




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