March 22, 2011

Krauthammer Wrong on Nuclear

Charles Krauthammer has an interesting way about him.  He's either bang on or completely off base.  These comments from Krauthammer fall into the latter category.  Nuclear power is not going away.  Just like oil.  In fact, it will probably outlive oil by decades or even centuries. This reaction from Krauthammer is hysteria, and it's just plain wrong.

If safety is the issue stopping nuclear development, there are ways to protect ourselves from the Three Chernobyl, Mile Island and Fukushima level events. Firstly, outside of possibly California and Alaska, the U.S. is not in 9.0 magnitude territory. Those earthquakes and tsunamis can be mitigated by smart reactor location.  Fukushima is the result of some extraordinary circumstances and bad location.

Secondly, the Chernobyl design was bad. The Three Mile Island problem was pretty much human error.   Both of those can be designed out of nuclear reactors.  How is that possible?  Smarter design.  Putting on my Canada hat for a minute, CANDU reactors have that sort of advanced design and are designed for rapid shut down automatically in the event of a system failure.  Even if the power fails, the SDS1 safety system will drop shutdown rods into the system stopping the reaction.  How?  They are suspended above the reactor core electromagnetically and gravity kicks in if the power fails.  And that's only one system.  Yes, Canadian reactors are expensive, but they are safe and they are efficient.

This video might seem like propganda, but it's simply uninspired production.  The reactors are well designed.  I live not too far from a number of reactors. I don't feel unsafe.

From Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, here's a brief description of some of the safety systems:

SDS1 and SDS2
SDS1 and SDS2 are examples of the defence-in-depth protection philosophy. In SDS1, solid mechanical shutdown rods drop in from the top of the reactor core and stop the chain reaction by absorbing neutrons.

SDS2 injects a concentrated solution of neutron-absorbing liquid directly into the low-pressure moderator, which also stops the chain reaction.

Both SDS1 and SDS2 are independent, fully-capable, passive shutdown systems. They are designed to be "fail-safe". This means that if a component of the shutdown system fails, the rest of the system is either capable of performing its function, or is automatically activated to shut down the reactor.

Either shutdown system reduces the heat being generated from 100% to 10% in just two seconds. Residual heat can be taken away by either normal or emergency heat removal systems.

Emergency Core Cooling (ECC) System
The ECC system is an example of the mitigation philosophy. It is designed to continue or re-establish fuel cooling in the unlikely event of a loss-of-coolant accident. The system is available to supply cooling water, if required, during the loss of coolant accident, at any time during reactor operation. When called upon, the system injects water for fuel cooling into the heat transport system.

The ECC system incorporates three stages: high pressure injection, medium pressure injection, and low pressure recirculation. The high-pressure injection stage uses pressurized tanks to inject water into the heat transport system. The medium pressure stage supplies water by pumping it from a storage tank. The long-term, recirculation stage recovers water that has been collected in the basement of the reactor building and pumps it back into the heat transport system through heat exchangers.
Dead industry? Don't believe Krauthammer. This is not 1982. Nuclear submarines patrol the oceans and with the exception of Russian subs, seem pretty safe.  It's not a matter of safety - the success or failure of the nuclear industry is like most anything, a matter of cost and return on investment.

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