Patrick Takahashi doesn't estimate the situation correctly


I realised that I forgot to counter the 5th argument by Takahashi. I have now added it.

In the Huffington post Patrick Takahashi flaunts some misconceptions about nuclear and the technological impact the Fukushima accident will have on future new builds.  We will take a look at some of the flaws here on his 4 point list.

1. Economics
Patric states that due to increasing regulatory demands on nuclear after this accident the price of nuclear will escalate into the industries oblivion. But that doesn't necessarily have to be the case and should not be the case of the issue is treated rationally by the regulatory bodies.  What Fukushima has shown us is that one can not rely on emergency diesel generators for core cooling and that spent fuel pools are sensitive. Let's look into those two issues.

Emergency core cooling, a core needs to be cooled even after shutdown due to the decay heat from fission products. The typical way to design a plant is to have several redundant diesel generators that can supply power to the coolant pumps. The vulnerability is if one accident can take out all diesel generators at the same time, like the tsunami did in Fukushima. The solution to this problem is not to build dramatically expensive sources of back up power that will rack up costs, the solution is to design the core itself so that it can be cooled passively by natural convection etc. This solution will reduce cost since it reduces the need for piping and backup generators. Both the AP1000 and the ESBWR are already designed with that in mind. The EPR however might be dead in the water.

Spent fuel pools, the cooling needs of a spent fuel pool is smaller than for a reactor and the possibility of rigging up a passive cooling system is easier. One can also easily increase the safety by putting up a sturdy roof above the pool that can handle terrorist attacks. This change will not dramatically increase cost. Having centralized spent fuel pools deep under the rock, like in the Swedish CLAB facility, also ensures safety and limits the necessary changes to the on-site pools. In short make pools passively cooled and move spent fuel assemblies to a centralized location as soon as possible.

2. Liability
For some unknown reason Patric mentions the cost of the entire Tsunami disaster in his discussion about liability. I have a very hard time understanding what impact the 200 billion dollars in tsunami damage will have on nuclear insurances. A better comparison would be to point at TMI. The clean up after TMI cost around 1 billion dollars. The cost of the Fukushima accident per reactor should not be vastly much more than this unless the situation deteriorates significantly.  Any rational insurance company would treat nuclear like anything else, do a probabilistic assessment and figure out a cost per kWh produced. This number is very small based on any reasonable analysis. The problem is that the total cost of an accident might very well overwhelm an insurance company. But that is no different from a major accident in hydropower(banqiao), refineries, chemical plants(Bhopal) etc. The insurance model used for those industries should also be used for nuclear. For reactors that are meltdown proof like pebble bed reactors or molten salt reactors the insurance cost would be very low indeed.

3. The attitude of the public

This is a tricky issue, the attitude of the public usually is very distant from reality. Right now we don't know if the public will see this as a spectacular failure of nuclear and as proof of its danger, or as a spectacular demonstration of how nuclear can withstand the worst of accidents without causing large scale damage to its surrounding.  The real environmental and public health impact of the Fukushima accident is likely to be much less than the fire in the Japanese refineries. China's decision to halt approval is a completely rational response to new data, its unlikely that they will downsize their nuclear ambitions.

4. Freshwater
This point is, I am sorry to say, absurd. Patric states that the French nuclear reactors together consume half of the fresh water of France. However we have to separate between plants using cooling towers where water is acctually evaporated and plants using once through cooling where water is passed through and then returned to the river or lake a few degrees hotter.  32 plants in France use cooling towers and 26 use once through cooling. Patrick links to this article by Chellaney which states that the rectors in France use 19 billion cubic meters of water per year. According to WNA the water consumption for a plant with cooling towers is roughly 4 liters per kWh of produced electricity. Thus one can with some simple arithmetic see that 19 billion cubic meters of water is enough to produce almost 4750 TWh of electricity. That is the power production of almost 550 1GWe nuclear reactors. Obviously the number claimed is utter nonsense since France only have about 50 reactors and if even a fraction of those 19 billion cubic meter is actually used by nuclear then most of it is returned to the body of water it was taken from.

5. Worst case scenario.

Patrick speculates on what would have happened if Fukushima had exploded like Chernobyl. In my eyes this is a question that invites to fearmongering and requires some attention. First and foremost the accident in Chernobyl was a criticality accident, the chain reaction itself got out of control and the power of the reactor increased by orders of magnitude. In essence one had a nuclear explosion. In Fukushima such an even is physically impossible, the problem there is to take care of the decay heat from the reactor and the worst thing that can happen are various forms of hydrogen or steam explosions. Not nearly as powerful or catastrophic as the Chernobyl explosion. There is no conceivable way for plutonium to spread out of the reactor in large amounts. In Chernobyl the main problem was iodine in the short term(the weeks following the accident) and now cesium, strontium and other fission products, even though Chernobyl certainly did have plutonium in its core, any nuclear reactor creates plutonium during its operation. Plutonium and other transuranic elements simply do not spread very well, they are not soluble in water, they tend to form particles to heavy to be spread by wind and in the form of oxides(like nuclear fuel is) they don't chemically react with much of anything. Plants can not easily incorporate them either so there is no natural pathway for plutonium to end up in food. IAEA explains this very well in their Chernobyl legacy report. Cesium-137 is the issue in Chernobyl and any other reactor accident, plutonium never had, and wont in the future have, any significant impact. For some reason plutonium has turned into the nuclear bogeyman without any factual reason for such fear.

On a more positive note George Monbiot is turning into a very outspoken voice of reason.