Posts Tagged ‘Chernobyl’

George Monbiot: "...the anti-nuclear lobby has misled us all"

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

George Monbiot, environmentalist and journalist... and once a strong opponent to nuclear power has faced an "unpalatable truth": the anti-nuclear lobby lied to us.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/05/anti-nuclear-lobby-misled-world

The article is only about 30 years overdue... but I cannot stop smiling when I read this. Monbiot did what everyone should do: check the facts, think for yourself, dare to think you may have been either right or wrong.

The unpalatable truth is that the anti-nuclear lobby has misled us all

I've discovered that when the facts don't suit them, the movement resorts to the follies of cover-up they usually denounce

George Monbiot

Over the last fortnight I've made a deeply troubling discovery. The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health. The claims we have made are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged, and wildly wrong. We have done other people, and ourselves, a terrible disservice.

Thank yo so much for this George. Along with Mark Lynas and Patrick Moore, you have shown that "green" does not have to mean "unscientific zeal".

The Forsmark incident was not Chernobyl

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

This is the second blog response to a blog entry made by The King of the country Lagom. The previous entry dealt with his claims that opinions are sacred and how one must not speak up against them. This entry will deal with the purely factual errors of his claims about nuclear power.

The King of Lagom claims that an incident that took place in 2006 at the Forsmark nuclear power plant could have escalated into a Chernobyl-type accident.  Well... first he says that, and then he says it could have become something entirely different. If this sounds confusing it is because the King of Lagom probably doesn't quite know what he's talking about but rather builds this statement on misconceptions about what actually happened at Chernobyl and Forsmark respectively. So let's examine the incidents and compare.

The 1986 Chernobyl accident

April 26, 1986. The night shift at reactor 4 at the V.I Lenin Nuclear power plant, 20 km north west of the town of Chernobyl, Ukraine, has been ordered to do a test. Due to operator error, they accidentally poison the RBMK-type reactor which makes it almost grind to a halt. They don't know why the reactor is giving so little power though because they were mostly coal plant workers, inexperienced with nuclear power, and oblivious to things such as nuclear poisoning. The shift boss, determined to finish the test, gives orders to proceed, telling the operators to perform actions that go against several operating rules of the reactor. This puts the reactor in an unstable state.

When the test is finished and they shut down the reactor, a fatal flaw in the reactor's control system causes the reactivity to spiral out of control, making it output between ten to onehundred times normal thermal effect. The water in the reactor flash boils and the enormous steam pressure blows the building apart. A few seconds later a chemical explosion, when water that has been split into hydrogen and oxygen burns, rocks the complex again. The reactor is on fire for ten days, resulting in a large plume of radioactive fallout.

There are several factors that allowed this accident to happen.

First it was operated by poorly educated personnel, in a political system where safety came second. In the Soviet Union, you did not rise to attractive jobs like this one by being good at your craft but by kissing up to the communist party. Also you did not stay at jobs like this by speaking up against safety issues, because such things made the party look bad. For instance this particular test was supposed to have been run years ago when the plant was commissioned. But since it failed back then, it had to be done again, this time in secret from the Soviet nuclear regulatory authorities.

This shouldn't have been a problem. But the second reason the accident could take place was the deliberate violations of the operating rules of the reactor. The test was to have taken place when the reactor was outputting at least 700 MW; they started when it was at 200 MW. They were not allowed to withdraw more than a certain number of control rods; they withdrew almost all of them. They were not allowed to increase water flow in the reactor past a certain amount when operating at low power; they did. They were not allowed to disengage the safety systems that would have shut down the reactor when they did any of the aforementioned; but they did indeed disable them.

All of this made reactor come into an unstable state that let its most critical design flaw come into play: the positive void coefficient. The void coefficient is a quality in a nuclear reactor that tells us what happens when it gets too hot. When coolant boils in a reactor that has a positive void coefficient, the nuclear reaction increases. This makes the reactor hotter, which makes more water boil. This speeds up the reaction more, making it even hotter... and so forth. And not only was the void coefficient in the RBMK-reactors of the Chernobyl plant positive, it was also dangerously high.

Finally, because the reactor had no real core vessel, nor any concrete containment, the force of the explosion wrecked the building completely. A fire started in the hundreds of tons of graphite that was in the reactor. Also the building itself that was supposed to have been made from fireproof material, was not, and the debris caught fire as well.

This is what is known as a criticality accident, when the nuclear reaction goes out of control. In this case it produced so much heat that the entire reactor blew up from all the thermal energy. This accident was not a nuclear meltdown.

The 2006 Forsmark incident

July 27, 2006. At the switch-yard for Forsmark-1, an electrical arc causes a short circuit which leads to the unit being disconnected from the power grid. This is serious as the plant relies on power to keep all pumps going.

If a nuclear reactor does not have working pumps, eventually the cooling water in the reactor will boil away. If that starts to happen you must engage the emergency core cooling, reserves of water kept for this very purpose. If this too fails and the reactor boils dry, the heat can be such that the reactor core becomes damaged, popularly called a meltdown. This can happen even when the nuclear reaction has been stopped because decay heat continues to be produced a few hours after a reactor is shut down as very short-lived nuclear waste falls apart. This is what happened at Three Mile Island in 1979.

So when a nuclear plant becomes disconnected from the power grid, the reactor is shut down and on-site diesel generators start to provide power for the pumps to deal with the decay heat, and this was what happened at Forsmark 1. However in this case, two out of the four diesel generators did not start, disabling two safety trains out off four. But the two remaining diesel generators were more than enough to drive the pumps. Hence the reactor was cooled and emergency core cooling was not necessary. The reactor shutdown proceded normally.

Similarities?

No, there are no similarities between these two incidents. The Chernobyl disaster was the case of a criticality accident that caused an extremely violent explosion that completely wrecked the reactor core; the building it operated in; burned for days. The Forsmark incident was the case of  slight degradation of safety features while the reactor and its cooling operated normally. The cooling system was operational the whole time; the emergency cooling did not need to be engaged; the reactor core was not damaged; the reactor tank was in no way threatened; the over one meter thick reactor contaiment remained perfectly safe. And fire? Naw... there is no graphite in Forsmark-1. Water handles that job instead.

So when the King of Lagom says that the Forsmark incident could have become another Chernobyl, he is wrong. There is no way that Forsmark-1 or any of the other Swedish nuclear reactor could undergo the process that led to the explosion in Ukraine in 1986. And this is not just because we employ people that know what they are doing; care about safety first; follow procedure; don't do things behind the back of the nuclear regulatory authorities. No, the most important reason why a Chernobyl-type criticality accident cannot happen in Sweden is the reactors themselves. Because unlike the RBMK-reactors of the Soviet Union, our boiler- and pressurized water reactors do not have a positive void coefficient. We did it the opposite way, so that when water starts boiling in the reactor, the nuclear reaction slows down because of inescapable laws of physics. It's nature's own choke collar on nuclear reactions.

Conclusion

The RBMK-type of reactor was employed only in the Soviet Union. The international community is working hard to get the twelve RBMK's that are still in operation closed. Even though I'm a nuclear friend I'm not an idiot, and as such I am very glad that one of the remaining RBMK's. Ignalina-2, will be shut down in 2009, meaning that Lithuania no longer operates them. Now we just need to get Russia to shut down theirs and we'll finally be rid of this blight.

When discussing nuclear safety, anyone that uses Chernobyl as an example of what could go wrong in nuclear reactors is ignoring reality. The BWR/PWR reactors of the world hold about as much in common with the RBMK-design of the Soviet Union as does slavery to common work; as does forced child soldiers to commissioned adults. There just is no comparing them as they operate differently down to subatomic level.

The Forsmark incident was not, and could not have become, another Chernobyl. This is not an opinion, it is physical reality.

/Michael

ADDENDUM: As I posted a link to this entry in his blog,  and called him on his Ad hominem attacks, he first approved the entry, then he cencored it and claimed that I was violating his right to have "free opinions", i.e. he doesn't want anyone telling him he's wrong.

This... is an ex-parrot!!

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Let me indulge myself in a bit of personal commentary for a moment and convey my frustration about debating nuclear power. When browsing the sheets, TV-programs and the web, I as a nuclear friend more often than not run into absurdities so staggering it leaves me wondering if this is reality or some really tripped out stage comedy.

The latest act in this Circus Macabre is Christer Borg, who in a recent blog entry argues against nuclear power with arguments so false I am relating to John Cleese's character in the famous parrot sketch: Mr. Praline is faced with a salesman who won't admit that the parrot he just sold is definitely deceased. The man behind the counter keeps arguing his fraudulent case with ever more ridiculous arguments until eventually he's trying to convince the customer that the stuffed Norwegian Blue parrot is not dead but "pining for the fjords".


Video provided kind courtesy of Monty Python

Let me show you what I mean... Christer Borg says:

A wrecked reactor is as deadly to all life as it was when Three Mile Island or the Chernobyl disasters took place.

Bringing up Chernobyl in discussions about  Swedish reactors, or any light-water moderated reactor for that matter since its the most prevalent reactor type in the world, is absolutely silly. If we chose to ignore the fact that the comparison requires an act of God, where He gets devilishly drunk and in a stupor goes on to rewrite the laws of physics, the death toll from the accident itself does not even reach 100 people yet.  Anyone arguing differently had best take it up with the UN.

"This parrot is no more!"

Three Mile Island is slightly more relevant to talk about because that concerned a reactor type that actually exists outside the former Soviet Union, as opposed to the accident prone RBMK-type of reactor that blew up at Chernobyl. But the argument is still trying to assert the vitality of a bleedin' demised parrot because the accident at TMI-2 left us with zero dead, zero injured and zero cancer cases. Why does Borg, when he wishes to speak against nuclear power, bring up an event which tells us that even when suffering a nuclear meltdown the safety measures of a western reactor works and prevents death and injury?

"It has ceased to be!"

Borg continues...

The issue of storing nuclear waste is as unresolved as it was thirty years ago.

This argument tries to ignore thirty years of research and development in the area, not to mention 1.7 billion years of geological truth.  The invalidity of the argument is laid bare the moment you step onto the homepage of SKB, Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB. SKB selects the site to build the Swedish deep geological repository in 2009. The year after that they hand in their application to the authorities seeking permission to begin work constructing the repository using the KBS-3 method, validated by science and Mother Nature in her very own experiment into nuclear waste storage.

"It's expired and gone to meet its maker!"

Borg: Operating nuclear reactors is as difficult as before.

OK, so if we again ignore reality, such as the extremely low accident rate compared to other sources of power and the lack of injuries resulting from nuclear power, his argument tries to deny the fact that design criteria for modern nuclear reactors specify them to be "Walk away safe". That is to say a modern nuclear reactor remains safe even if all of the operators simply walk away from the controls. I know of few other human activities that would allow that sort of abuse. And this did not exist thirty years ago.

"It's a stiff! Bereft of life. It rests in peace!"

Borg: Uranium mining is a detrimental to the environment as it has always been.

Again Borg tries to ignore progress and reality. To illustrate how silly his argument is: the radiation dose that a Swedish iron ore miner received in the LKAB mines in the 70's was twenty times that which an Australian uranium miner receives today. I can concede the fact that back in the last century uranium mining was no picnic. But then again that was the case for all mining. And today the situation is different as all mining, including uranium mining is subject to the same kind of environmental requirements as everyone else. Trying to claim nothing has changed is nearly too stupid for words, but Borg somehow manages to utter them with a straight face. I simply don't know how he does it. Overdosing on Botox perhaps?

"If you hadn't nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies!"

Borg: The centralization of this extremely dangerous activity...

"It's run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!"

...makes it as perfect as before for callous and desperate terrorists.

...which is to say: bloody useless. A nuclear power plant is an unattractive target for terrorists. This case we have covered before here at Nuclear Power Yes Please in our last article "Wind power increases vulnerability to terrorism". Quick recap: distributed power, as endorsed by Borg, shifts our vulnerability from the resilient and easily defendable nuclear power plants to the network grid that is made fragile by distributed and fickle power sources such as wind.

"This... is an ex-parrot!"

As you can surely understand arguments such as those presented by Christer Borg leave me wondering what kind of reality some people live in. There just isn't any truth to his claims. Anyone with a web browser and half a pint of sense can verify that his argument is a load of fetid dingo's kidneys. How does he expect that anyone will not notice the gaping cracks in his anti-nuclear facade?

I'll leave you with the only piece of sense to come out of his ridiculous article... one that I think he in retrospect ought to feel really embarassed about having put there as it perfectly describes the futility of his behaviour:

A lie does not become more true just because you repeat it over and over.

/Michael Karnerfors, member of the network Nuclear Power Yes Please

- No I'm sorry! I'm not prepared to persue my line of inquiry any further as I think this is getting too silly!
- Quite agree, quite agree. Silly silly silly. Right, get on with it. Get on with it!