Monday, March 14, 2011

I'm not worried about Japan's reactor either.

This post is in reaction to this one that was tweeted by Tested's Will Smith. (

The original post is here:

While it's not the best written (Build instead of Built kept popping up to bother me) I think it does a fair job of explaining some of the factors of the current situation in Japan. Does the author know all of the details? Hell no! But the general premises and physics of a nuclear power plant are sound.

To me the funniest part of the blog were the comments. While I didn't read it until after comments had been shut down, I find it hilarious how afraid people are of nuclear power. For instance:

"Nuclear energy is not 100% safe and the risks it takes if something goes terrible wrong are not worth it in my opinion…"
Seriously? Nuclear has a terrible reputation due to the 60's and Chernobyl. It's like sharks, thanks to Jaws everyone is terrified they'll be eaten by sharks, yet more people are killed by cars than sharks yearly, yet we don't fear cars like we do sharks. (It'd be funny getting to work if we did!)

What I find even funnier yet at the same time pisses me off, is how many of these same people who complain about the dangers of nuclear power complain about coal as being "dirty." Yet nuclear is cleaner and safer than coal! Now how can I say that? Well why not define "safer" shall we?

How about "total number ACTUALLY killed?"

As pointed out in the above link, the total number of actual deaths from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island Combined. Ready for this? 56. Yep a whopping 56 people DIED during the two largest nuclear accidents to date. Just to put that in perspective a commenter there pointed out that since 2000 According to the U.S. Department of Labor - Mining Safety and Health Administration, there have been 369 deaths related to coal mines in the U.S. That's the U.S. alone, that's not counting the poor slobs in China or those from Chile. So by actual deaths Nuclear power is SEVEN TIMES safer than coal.

Don't take our words for it, how about a professor Bernard L. Cohen at the University of Pittsburgh?

That link goes on to show some of the POTENTIAL risks. This is the big scary boogy man everyone worries about. How bad could it REALLY REALLY be?! He states it rather well here:
Risks from reactor accidents are estimated by the rapidly developing scienceof "probabilistic risk analysis" (PRA). A PRA must be done separately for each power plant (at a cost of $5 million) but we give typical results here: A fuel melt-down might be expected once in 20,000 years of reactor operation. In 2 out of 3 melt-downs there would be no deaths, in 1 out of 5 there would be over 1000 deaths, and in 1 out of 100,000 there would be 50,000 deaths. The average for all meltdowns would be 400 deaths. Since air pollution from coal burning is
estimated to be causing 10,000 deaths per year, there would have to be 25 melt-downs each year for nuclear power to be as dangerous as coal burning.

Of course deaths from coal burning air pollution are not noticeable, but the same is true for the cancer deaths from reactor accidents. In the worst accident considered, expected once in 100,000 melt-downs (once in 2 billion years of reactor operation), the cancer deaths would be among 10 million people, increasing their cancer risk typically from 20% (the current U.S. average) to 20.5%. This is much less than the geographical variation--- 22% in New England
to 17% in the Rocky Mountain states.

Very high radiation doses can destroy body functions and lead to death within 60 days, but such "noticeable" deaths would be expected in only 2% of reactor melt-down accidents; there would be over 100 in 0.2% of meltdowns, and 3500 in 1 out of 100,000 melt-downs. To date, the largest number of noticeable deaths from coal burning was in an air pollution incident (London, 1952) where there were 3500 extra deaths in one week. Of course the nuclear accidents are hypothetical and there are many much worse hypothetical accidents in other electricity generation technologies; e.g., there are hydroelectric dams in California whose sudden failure could cause 200,000 deaths.

Just so you know, I grew up in the shadow of the entire "Dam Train" that is the Colorado River. (Needles, CA) I knew darn well that "IF" someone blew up or a dam broke further up the river it could "Chain react" and kill us all by flooding pretty much everything south of Vegas. Did I WORRY about it? Hell no. The Damn was cool, and it provided energy to everyone. (Can't build any more of those now because it kills fish.)

So what does this all mean? Well I know it sounds callous but seriously those of us who work in emergency responses even as peripherally as I do, (First Responder for my site's Emergency Response Team) you realize real quick that people WILL DIE. It is our job to minimize that body count, and as my first rule don't add to it. It is this point of view that lets me look at nuclear power as a GOOD thing. Here's why:

1. The fuel rods can be recycled! Even though we're not allowed to in the USA nuclear fuel can be recycled and reused several times. Hell many rods are recycled warheads!

2. It's a steam engine! There are newer cooler designs but the basic design is a steam engine. Steam is clean! Hell most commercial power plants are steam engines after all. :)

3. It doesn't require huge amounts of fuel.

4. It's scalable. There's lots of smart people who have created newer nuclear designs that can be used to power as few as 100 homes. These "nuclear batteries" as I call them have a great potential to allow for a move over to a more pure electrical system. (For those who don't like Gas)

5. Space! Come on I track Voyager 1 still for crying out loud! Solar panels don't work that far out baby, and that same battery makes the energizer bunny look like watch battery. Sure, an RTG isn't a reactor, but the the theory of nuclear power is still there.

Basically I wish people would stop fearing nuclear power so we can move on. ESPECIALLY those who hate "carbon fuels" so bloody much.

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