Tag Archives: nuclear power

A letter from The Smiling Sun

As most of you are no doubt aware the Smiling Atom, for which the website Nuclear Power Yes Please was created, has an ancestor: The Smiling Sun. The Smiling Sun is a registered trademark of the Danish OOA Foundation. And just a couple of hours ago, an email from their copyright consultant arrived. I am quoting it here in full (pardons if there has been any errors in transcriptions):

30 April 2009
Nuclear Power Yes Please
Att. Michael Karnerfors
S-xxxx Lund
Dear Mr. Karnerfors,
Re. Infringement of Copyright and Registered Trademark.
The Danish OOA Foundation has become aware that your pro nuclear network Nuclear Power Yes Please has designed and is distributing a logo which clearly is an infringement of our copyrights and trademark rights.
The OOA Foundation belongs to the Danish antinuclear movement and is the owner of all intellectual property rights, copyrights and trademark rights to the world famous antinuclear logo, in general referred to as “The Smiling Sun”. The logo was in1977  registered as a trademark in Denmark and later in Sweden and other European countries as well. These national registrations have been extended with a EU Community Trademark Registration (No 004193091), effective from 14.12.2004. The registerered logo is a figurative mark with the wording “NUCLEAR POWER?  NO THANKS”, published in the European Trademark Bulletin. For easy reference I attach a copy of the original mark as it is registered. For further information we refer to our home page www.smilingsun.org.
On the home page of Nuclear Power Yes Please you are displaying a logo using significant elements of the protected logo, as your logo is drawn with exactly the same smiling face and using the same font and background colour as used by the protected Smiling Sun logo. Yet you have applied the smiling face to some kind of nucleus rather than to a sun. Moreover you have turned the message into the opposite, saying ‘Nuclear Power? Yes please’. You are displaying your variation of the logo in English, French, Swedish and Russian language versions and encouraging whoever interested to download these for use in their respective pro nuclear campaigns. This exploitation of the protected Smiling Sun logo infringes upon the copyrights and trademark rights of the OOA Foundation. 
As your use and modification of the Smiling Sun constitutes a clear violation of the rights of the OOA Foundation, we request that you and your network Nuclear Power Yes Please:

Immediately removes the unlawful logo from your home page and and other forms of promotion

...and no later than 4 (four) days from today in writing:

Acknowledges that your modification of the Smiling Sun is a violation of the copyrights and trademark rights belonging to the OOA Foundation.

Confirms to have informed regular users of your network of the infringement and requested any relevant user to remove your unlawful version from their respective websites and to stop any other possible use of the logo.

Informs the OOA Foundation since when and to which extend you have made use of the logo.

For the sake of good order we shall stress, that the OOA Foundation is not objecting to your slogan “Nuclear Power?  Yes Please” and of course not to your campaign as such. We only request you to redesign your logo avoiding any visual similarity with the protected Smiling Sun.
In case Nuclear Power Yes Please does not comply with the above conditions, at the latest on 4th May 2009, the OOA Foundation reserves the right to take any appropriate legal step in this matter according to Swedish and European law and possibly as well to claim compensation for damages..
Yours sincerely,
Siegfried Christiansen
Copyright Consultant
The OOA Foundation

It turns out however that Siegfried missed out on the most important aspect of The Smiling Atom: it is a parody. As such, Swedish compyright law exempts it from copyright claims. Here is the reply I sent to Siegfried.

Hello Siegfried!

I understand the OOA Foundation's claims, but they have no grounds and The Smiling Atom artwork does not constitute a violation of rights.

The reason for this is that The Smiling Atom is a parody. As a copyright engineer I am certain you are well aware that works of parody, satire and pastiche commonly are exempt from copyright claims, and the Swedish copyright law is no different.Parody and travesties are not mentioned specifically in Swedish copyright law, but both the works leading up to the law and earlier court cases clearly state that parody and travesties are to be considered independent works and thus not subject to copyright claims of the original.

Look up the Swedish "Nytt Juridiskt Arkiv" for more information, specifically "NJA II 1961 s. 81", and "NJA 1975 s. 679".

Further more I'd like to point out that The Smiling Atom is being made available on a strictly non-commercial license (Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA) which means that any exploitation of The Smiling Atom for profit is prohibited. We (me and my friends that are embers of the network that is Nuclear Power Yes Please) do not make any money out of this at all and we have denied suggestions that The Smiling Atom be used for such ventures. We have no intention of changing this. The only money being moved is the fee I pay the web hotel for their hosting services, and the domain name registrar.

I would also like to point out that from all download pages we link to both WISE's web shop and The Smiling Sun's homepage. We are clearly stating that if people do not agree with our pro-nuclear message and would prefer the anti-nuclear one instead, they should see you. In effect we are advertising for OOA and you are thereby benefiting from us, not taking damage.

So to summarize, not only are we clearly giving you credit for the original, we are linking to you and inviting people that do not agree with the message of "Nuclear Power? Yes Please!" to seek you instead. Making profit on the original is by our license strictly prohibited. And, most importantly, the work is a parody in that it is a humorous imitation that reverses the message of the original for the purpose of criticising and discussing it, and it is thus exempt from copyright claims in the better part of the world, Sweden included.

Therefore Siegfried, I hereby I reject OOA's claims as they have no grounds in Swedish copyright law and do not damage you in any way.

On a bit more personal note, I would like to point out that we seek no quarrel with you. In fact, if you would like to contribute to an interesting debate about the subject of Nuclear Power, we would in fact be overjoyed! You are more than welcome to register on our forums and participate in discusstions there and state your view as much as you like. There is nothing more boring and uneventful than just talking to people that agree with you. So some antagonists in the mix would liven things up a bit and we welcome you. Participating would most certainly bring even more attention to your work and I cannot how that could do anything but benefit you.

Trying to force away the artwork however, I cannot see is beneficial for you in any way. Onlookers these day and age tend to react negatively to people trying to bully their way around, especially with vague or, in this case, non-existing claims of copyright.

If there is anything else we can help you with, please do not hesitate to contact me on [my email address]

with the very best regards
/Michael Karnerfors, Lund 2009-04-30

Continued in The second letter from The Smiling Sun.

Did you think renewable power is sustainable? Think again...

"Sustainability" is a buzz-word these days. It is used often and eagerly, especially by opponents of nuclear power and proponents of renewable alternatives. There is an assumption to there that if something is renewable it is also automatically sustainable. There is also an assumption that nuclear power is not sustainable. How surprised people get when they find out that the exact opposite is true...

Let's take a step back and for once examine what we actually mean by the concept of sustainability.  In this article, we will be focusing on sustainable power production.

What sustainability is not

There seems to be a vague notion out there that something that is sustainable we can start using now and then keep using forever, or that something that is sustainable never consumes any resources. Well even by this faulty definition, renewables are not sustainable. This is because solar panels are not built from sunshine,  nor are wind turbines built from a stiff afternoon breeze. You build them from consumable materials such as steel, copper, neodymium, gallium, arsenic, indium and other sometimes not too common materials. Also they have a finite life span after which they must be torn down and replaced. This means that solar and wind power does consume resources and in the end cannot be used forever.

But that is not the definition of sustainable, so let's move on.

What sustainability is

"Sustainable development" was defined by the Brundtland-commission report "Our common future" in June 1987 as:

...development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

Now let's look at this. Does this say anything about renewables, using the same things forever, or even that using fossil fuels would be a bad thing? No it does not. The report doesn't even say we cannot deplete a resource.

As for non-renewable resources, like fossil fuels and minerals, their use reduces the stock available for future generations. But this does not mean that such resources should not be used. In general the rate of depletion should take into account the criticality of that resource, the availability of technologies for minimizing depletion, and the likelihood of substitutes being available.

So what sustainability means is this:

  • We have needs, and we must meet them.
  • The future generations will also have needs, and we must not do anything that prevents them from getting these needs met.

People talking about sustainable development often talk about the future. But what they keep forgetting is that development that does not tend to the needs of the present as well, is not sustainable. Sustainable development must meet both current and future needs.

So now that we have established what sustainability actually means, let's get to work applying it.

Applying the definition of sustainable to the real world

What are our needs when it comes to power? Among all needs, one is reliability.

Reliable power production means that we get have the amount of power we require, the instant we require it. Power is a perishable commodity. Especially electricity must be produced the very second we intend to consume it. If production does not meet demands, we have a power deficit. We do not accept power deficits. Not only is a power deficit annoying, but it can also be very dangerous as we are relying on electricity for a great number of critical applications, such as hospitals, tele-communications, cold food storage and pretty much anything that makes our society modern and thriving. Also power drops on the electrical grid risks damaging or destroying equipment connected to it.

Hence a source of power must be able to deliver as much as we want, the moment we want it or it is not, by definition, sustainable.

Are wind power and solar power sustainable sources of power?

Solar power and wind power are not living up to Brundtland commission definition of sustainable, for that most inane of reasons: when there is no wind, and when there is no sun, they do not deliver power. And by not doing that, they fail our need of reliability.

But surely there is always wind and sun, isn't there? No, not always. Sun is a no-brainer, because sun does not shine 24 hours per day (except above the arctic circle in the summer but that doesn't help us in the cold dark winter). So what about wind?

Wind power in Sweden, jan-feb 2009
Reported wind energy production in Sweden, Jan-Feb 2009

The graph above is statistics for wind power in Sweden, fetched from Vattenfall's page www.vindstat.nu. This page represents day average wind power production in Sweden for 30 days. The reporting plants range all the way from the south tip of Sweden to the far reaching north. The image is a snapshot of the graph taken at February 14, 2009.

The amount of installed wind power, that is to say the maximum power capacity, that reports to this webpage was 695 MW for the 30 days displayed, which is about 85% of all installed wind power in Sweden. This means that theoretical maximum power production in this graph is 16 680 MWh per day. Keeping this in mind, we see that for January 25 to January 30, wind power delivered 2-4% of installed capacity. After that it made a skip up, but less than a week later is was down below 10% again for another four days.

And again we must remind you that this is day average production and does not consider fluctuations during the day. This means that wind power in Sweden at times most likely delivered less than 1% of installed capacity.

This means that development that would rely on renewables such as solar and wind to meet our power needs, would not be considered sustainable unless there was something else that could entirely replace them for low periods. Such replacements do not exist.

Are bio-fuels sustainable?

Bio-fuels is another renewable alternative that is getting much attention. Do they meet our needs? That can be questioned, because while reliability is acceptable, the guarantees of capacity are shaky at best. And even worse is that bio-fuels strike at one of our most basic needs: health and long life. Bio-fuels, just like any other combustible power sources, release gases and pollutants that are harmful to human health. While being mostly neutral when it comes to carbon balance, this does not make the emissions any less harmful to people. Improvements can be made, but it must be asked how many premature deaths we are willing to tolerate before the technology of bio-fuels have been improved to acceptable levels. Hence this leaves the sustainability of bio-fuels in doubt.

Is nuclear power sustainable?

Let's look at the needs we have, and that the future generations will have:

  • Capacity
  • Reliability
  • Clean air, land and water
  • Health

Does nuclear power fulfill these needs? Yes it does. Nuclear power has a capacity and reliability that is matched only by hydro power and fossil fuels. It does not pollute air, land nor sea in such a manner that we cannot accept it. And it does not threaten health in such a manner we cannot accept it. In fact, the power it replaces, such as for instance coal plants, kills about 2 million people prematurely every year from air pollution. So in replacing that, nuclear power saves lives.

Nuclear waste is an issue, yes. But it is a solvable issue, solvable in such a way it will not impede future generations from having their needs met. The science needed to know how to do that has been available since the 1970's. It is part needing to gather experience on how to do it, and mostly politics that has kept us from implementing them so far. But for instance the Swedish method for a deep geological repository KBS-3 is at such a level of maturity it may begin being implemented in the near future. And more alternatives for dealing with nuclear waste are being made available as technological development progresses. We have no reason to assume nuclear waste cannot be dealt with in a sustainable manner that meets the definition by the Brundtland commission.

If we use nuclear power, must future generations use it too?

Using nuclear power now does not force future generations to use it. Nuclear plants have a finite life span of about 40-60 years. For renewables like solar and wind, their life span is even shorter. After that, the plants must be replaced. The future generations are free to choose whatever method of production they want for these replacements. They are not locked in by our choice. If they want to use something else, they are free to do so.

And choosing something else, they most likely will. Fusion power has dodged us for some time, but the progress is very promising. The research facility ITER is being constructed as we speak. The follow-up DEMO is on the drawing board. If there are no big snags, work at these plants will be done by 2050, at which time fusion power can go commercial. If we are unlucky, it might be another 100 years before they work out the problems. Being pessimists, we can reasonably estimate that by 2150 at the latest, fission nuclear power, solar, wind and pretty much everything else we use for our base load, can be phased out. This is what the Brundtland commission report speaks of: "the likelihood of available substitutes".

And even if fusion power never takes place, whatever opponents of nuclear power claim can be used to replace nuclear power now, can most certainly be used to replace it then. If not, their case falls apart anyway and we must keep using nuclear power and make it even more effective.

So does it really matter that we risk depleting our nuclear fuel resources? No, it does not. If we start to reach the end of such resources, something that is not likely to happen by at least 2 000-5 000 years anyway, then future generations may switch to whatever else they want to use. They are not bound by our choices, and as such, the definition of sustainable development is met by nuclear power.


It has been said that the person that stares too far ahead, risks tripping over their own feet. This is true also in this matter. We must not forget that our needs must also be met, and not just the needs of future generations. Otherwise we do not have sustainable development. And sadly, renewables such as wind, solar and bio-fuels do not yet meet these needs. No matter how much we spend on research, we cannot force the sun shine when we want it to, nor make wind blow on demand. Bio-fuels rely on combustion, which we do not know yet how to make non-hazardous to health. Hence they are not sustainable.

Nuclear power however is, as far as we can make out, sustainable.

Comment regarding corriosion in KBS-3 copper capsules

During 2008, and highlighted in articles this past week, there has been statements that the maximum rate of corrosion of copper in pure water may be higher than anticipated. This is important to the nuclear issue because copper is one of the four barriers of the Swedish Nuclear Fuel And Waste Management Company (SKB) method of storing nuclear waste: KBS-3.

Scientists from The Royal Institute of Technology and Uppsala University Peter Szakálos (KTH), Gunnar Hultquist (KTH) and Gunnar Wikmark (UU) are calling into question statements by SKB that copper is immune to corrosion in pure water devoid of oxygen. This statement is found on page 102 in the SKB report TR-06-22.

 In the absence of oxygen, copper is thermodynamically immune to corrosion in pure water. 

Szakálos, Hultquist and Wikmark claim that in experiments of their own, they have achieved a very high rate of corrosion of copper in pure water if hydrogen is present. The results can be viewed in their Berns presentation from 2008 (in Swedish).

Copper after 15 years in pure water
Copper after 15 years in pure water. On the left, the bottle was closed to everything but hydrogen. On the right, the bottle was closed to everything

At Nuclear Power Yes Please we are - of course - following the matter closely. Part of the foundation for our confidence in nuclear power is the ability to deal with nuclear waste in a safe manner. KBS-3 is a disposal method, one of many, that holds great promise to live up to our demands on safety and not requiring human supervision. It is currently perhaps even the most promising method considering its technical maturity and political feasibility. So if KBS-3 is called into question, this may in an extreme case force us to re-evaluate our position on nuclear power.

However there is a long way to go before we get there.

Even by the words of Szakálos, Hultquist and Wikmark, this is a solvable issue. As such it does not spell the end of KBS-3, nor does it warrant a major rethinking. Szakálos, Hultquist and Wikmark say that modifications that protect the copper capsules from corrosion in a short term perspective, that is to say 1/100'th or less of the repository's full life expectancy, should solve the issue since it can only happen when the capsules are hot, that is to say only at the very beginning of the storage period.

We also need to remember that the experiments Szakálos, Hultquist and Wikmark performed to achieve the corrosion were very specific and may perhaps not reflect real life subterranean conditions of a deep geological repository. SKB will need to examine if the conditions stated for the experiment can be expected 500 meters down in the bedrock, or if this sort of thing can only be achieved in a laboratory.

Of relevance to that is the fact that SKB has responded and said that they themselves have not been able to reproduce the results of Szakálos, Hultquist and Wikmark, which in turns calls into question the validity of their statements since reproducibility is perhaps the most important quality of any scientific claim.

SKB is also currently conducting an experiment at their Äspö laboratory where they have buried copper capsules in conditions very similar to what it will be in the real KBS-3 repository. These capsules are scheduled to be retrieved next year, which will give us empirical data on how the capsules are affected once buried. Nothing shows us better what can happen than going out and doing it for real.

In summary: while this issue may force SKB to take one extra think before submitting KBS-3 for final review, this still does not constitute an insurmountable hurdle. So far it appears to be solvable. Even Szakálos, Hultquist and Wikmark state that they do not think this issue is a show-stopper. And as such KBS-3 can only become better from this.

Also, on a very positive note, we at Nuclear Power Yes Please are pleased to notice that this criticism has brought KBS-3 into view of the public eye. This is good(!), because very few people have until now been aware of just how far the work on KBS-3 has progressed. Constantly we are hearing people, especially opponents of nuclear power, saying "We don't know what to do with the waste". The issue of copper corrosion has shown everyone that we do in fact have a very good idea what to do with it and that KBS-3 is a well researched method that is approaching the point where when it will be implemented for real.

This issue will of course have to be adressed and at Nuclear Power Yes Please we are eagerly waiting to hear what SKB has to say about it. We will continue to monitor this issue with great interest.

And after all: we are on no big hurry. Nuclear waste is a very patient player and will wait for us in intermediate storage while we take the appropriate time to determine what we will do with it. 🙂

Mediasammanfattning, vecka 7 - SKB
Kärnavfallet kan läcka ut - Aftonbladet
SKB svarar kritikerna: "Vi är öppna för granskning"

Blog posts:
Vad skall vi göra av kärnavfallet?
FRAmtidens energi och konst
Mest kärnkraft i världen
Hets mot folk

Study says German nuclear power causes child cancer... or does it?

A German report (summary) on cancer incidence seems to indicate that there is a higher frequency of cancer cases, mainly leukaemia in children, around nuclear power plants in Germany. The report was written at the Federal Office for Radiation Protection in Germany and based on two articles [1, 2].

The report was quickly embraced by the Swedish movement against nuclear power (SNF, Schlaug) and has also created a few headlines in Swedish newspapers (AB, HN).  These newspaper articles claim that people living in the vicinity of Swedish nuclear power plants are worried by this report. Lars Barregård at the Centre for Medical Enviromental Sciences wants to investigate the incidence of leukaemia around Ringhals nuclear power plant. However, he says to HN:  "...the radiation levels are very low and should not be able cause an increase in cancer frequency, though a study can be good to lessen the worries". (translated from Swedish)

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) however does not consider it important to perform another study in Sweden as such studies have already been conducted with consistent negative results. A study in 1995 found no increase in numbers of cases of leukaemia. Also the number of cases of child leukaemia has been more or less constant at around 60 cases per year over the past 30 years, a period of time which includes the gradual phase-in of nuclear power in Sweden. SSM states that further epidemiological studies trying to blame cancer on nuclear power are not needed. Instead, there is a need of a larger knowledge base and more studies that tries to find the underlying reason for child leukaemia in general [6].

Still this leaves us with the German report. Does it give us due cause to worry? Not really, because in the conclusion of the report, the authors state:

...the present status of radiobiologic and epidemiologic knowledge does not allow the conclusion that the ionising radiation emitted by German [nuclear power plants] during normal operation is the cause.

What this means is that in order for nuclear plants to have caused these cancers, there must be some completely unknown effect in play; some kind of cause that science does not know anything about yet.

They further note that...

This study can not conclusively clarify whether confounders, selection or randomness play a role in the distance trend observed.


...these estimates are rather inconclusive because they are based on a very small number of cases

This means that they have not been able to rule out that other factors may explain the results, factors such as: carcirogens unrelated to the nuclear plants, errors in the study, or pure chance due to the amount of data being much to small.

Reading further we find that they have not measured the level of radioactivity around the plants or even include any kind of estimate of this:

This study is not able to state which biological risk factors could explain this relationship. Exposure to ionising radiation was neither measured nor modelled

One amusing interpretation of this would be that closeness itself, and not radiation, is a cancer causing agent. That is to say being 100 meters from a non-leaking plant would be more dangerous than being 200 meters from a wrecked one, because distance is what they have looked at, not radiation.

This is perhaps not odd concidering that radiation is not significantly or even measurably higher around these plants. The report concludes (again) that radiation cannot be a factor in this study on account of the additional exposure from nuclear powerplants being staggeringly small.

Annual exposure in Germany to the natural radiation background is approximately 1.4 mSv and the annual average exposure through medical examinations is approximately 1.8 mSv. Compared to these values, the exposure to ionising radiation in the vicinity of German NPPs is lower by a factor of 1,000 to 100,000. In the light of these facts, and based on the present status of scientific knowledge, the result of our study cannot be explained radiobiologically.

A far more serious thing to be remarked is that the second article notes that the study goes against findings of other studies made previously [2]:

....this observation is not consistent with most international studies, unexpected given the observed levels of radiation, and remains unexplained. We cannot exclude the possibility that this effect is the result of uncontrolled confounding or pure chance.

Looking at French studies [4,5], similar to the German one, we see that they indeed could not find any significant relation between cancer incidence and absorbed dose or closeness to a nuclear power plant.

Further reading reveals that they have not been able to process data considering children moving around prior to the cancer notice, nor the importance of lifestyle or whether the time the children spend in their homes is of relevance.

All of this summed up leaves us with a report that in effect states: "We think there might be slightly more cases of child cancer around some nuclear power plants, but we don't really know why. And in order for the nuclear plants to be the actual cause, instead of something else, 60 years of radiobiological science must have completely missed something here".

This notwithstanding the Swedish self-proclaimed enviromental movement beats the big drum and claims that it would be "irresponsable to concider constructing new nuclear power plants before it is clear whether children that live around existing plants suffer from conditions like leukaemia more often than the general public" (translated from [3]).

At Nuclear Power Yes Please we find this kind of alarmism to be just as irresponsible. We do not oppose performing epidemiological studies on nuclear power plants because science, openness of information and continuous review is one of the pillars that support our confidence in nuclear power. If anything we would welcome an exhaustive, well conducted study that settles the matter once and for all so we can either go happily about our lives, or get to work on a solution should one be needed.

But to spread fear of nuclear power among the general public without a solid scientific reason is reprehensible, especially with a report that even by its own words state that the results are vague, inconclusive and goes against most previously made scientific studies.

In light of the movement bringing this up just as there are huge political shifts in the view on Swedish nuclear power, possibly lifting the three decade old ban on building new nuclear power plants, we at Nuclear Power Yes Please are left to wonder what the real cause of the alarmism is. Why is the movement against nuclear power bringing this up now? Is it a genuine worry about public health, or is it a desperate attempt by the movement to try to justify their anti-nuclear stance? If it is the latter, we cannot express enough our outrage at such reckless abuse of science in order to try to make a political point.

1: Peter Kaatsch, Claudia Spix, Renate Schulze-Rath, Sven Schmiedel and Maria Blettner. Leukaemia in young children living in the vicinity of German nuclear power plants.

2: Case–control study on childhood cancer in the vicinity of nuclear power plants in Germany 1980–2003. Claudia Spix, Sven Schmiedel, Peter Kaatsch, Renate Schulze-Rath and Maria Blettner.

3: http://www.naturskyddsforeningen.se/natur-och-miljo/aktuellt/?news=7104

4: M.L. White-Koning, D. He’mon and D. Laurier et al.. Incidence of childhood leukaemia in the vicinity of nuclear sites in France, 1990–1998.

5: A.-S. Evrard, D. He’mon and A. Morin et al., Childhood leukaemia incidence around French nuclear installations using geographic zoning based on gaseous discharge dose estimates.

6: http://www.stralsakerhetsmyndigheten.se/Om-myndigheten/Aktuellt/Nyheter/SSM-Tysk-studie-ger-inga-nya-ron/

News articles:
Tysk forskarrapport som borde oroa

Blog entries:
Kärnkraft, barncancer och sannolikhetskalkyler
Ett (o)sannolikt ställningstagande av Centern
Barnleukemi, kärnkraft och Maud Olofsson

Swedish government to lift ban on building rectors

Just this morning: the Swedish government four alliance parties have agreed to work for lifting the ban on building nuclear reactors in Sweden (in Swedish). The ban was introduced in 1980, and was part of the world wide decline in building new rectors for much of the 80's and 90's. But now, it may be lifted even before the next Swedish government election in 2010.

The year 2010 incidently was supposed to the year we would not have any more nuclear power in Sweden. Now instead it looks like it'll be the year for nuclear rebirth, and will continue to hold Sweden as one of the most environment friendly nations on this planet, with record low energy generation emissions per capita.

The Forsmark incident was not Chernobyl

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.


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.


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.


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!!

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!

The day wind power nearly blew out Europe

On November 4, 2006, Europe suffered one of the largest disturbances in its electrical power grid of the past half century. 15 million households were disconnected from the grid for 20-40 minutes. A trivial error that should not have meant any significant disturbances cascaded and spanned much of continental Europe. This nearly threw the continent into a blackout that would have dwarfed the North American power-out in 2003. While the direct cause of the 2006 disturbance was operator error, a root cause of the problem and a significant factor in delaying getting the grids back online, was wind power and combined heat and power (CHP) plants.


The European power grid has been constructed, basically from scratch, since the end of World War II. The grid in itself is divided between a number of different Transmission System Operators (TSOs), like for instance E.ON (Germany), RTE (France) and TenneT (The Netherlands). Each country's domestic power grid is serviced by one or more TSOs. In order to provide stability and safety of the power supply TSOs are connected to each other. The basic idea was that if an area suffers a major disruption, neighbouring TSOs can help by pushing power from their grids into the affected area.

However over time things have changed. With the increased use of supposedly more environment friendly power plants, such as wind turbines and CHP plants, coupled with requirements to cut down on emissions, TSOs today are required to accept power from neighbours if the latter has a surplus of low-emission power. While this sounds good in theory as it forces TSOs to use "greener" power, instead of for instance coal power, this means that the power grid is used in a way which it was not designed for. Shunting power from one area to another puts high loads on the power transmission lines. In effect the European power grid is often operated close to maximum of what it can handle. To rectify this problem, more power lines should be built, but this is becoming increasingly more difficult and thus we are stuck with the problem.

Due to environmental reasons, the development of the transmission system is more and more affected by stricter constraints and limitations in terms of licensing procedures and construction times. The reality today is that many UCTE TSOs face significant difficulties to build new overhead lines due to long authorization procedures and regulatory regimes.

Final Report
System Disturbance on 4 November 2006
union for the co-ordination of transmission of electricity

The windy weekend

November 4, 2006, was a Saturday. The event took place in the evening, starting at 22:10 CET. While power consumption is low in evenings and even more so during weekends, the load on the grid was still high. The reason for this was that TSOs use these low-periods to disconnect some power lines to perform maintenance on them. This means that remaining lines still operate at near full capacity even if demand is low.

Such conditions also meant that the fraction of intermittent and distributed power production such as wind and CHPs was higher than normal, something that was further compounded by the fact that Germany was experiencing windy conditions that evening. Large amounts of power was therefore being routed into The Netherlands and Poland, straining the power lines.

Problems begin

E.ON Netz was to disconnect a power line. Calculations had predicted that this should have been alright without compromising the safety of the power grid. However due to changes in the conditions - Germany's unforeseen windy weather, and a rescheduling that was communicated late to the other TSOs - the disconnect and rerouting of power overloaded the remaining lines. These power lines tripped (automatically disconnected) in order to protect them from becoming damaged. This caused more overloads in other power lines,  causing further trips. This is what is know as a cascade. The cascade had within seconds divided the European power grid into three isolated "islands": west, north east and south east.

The disturbance of nov. 4 2006 divided Europe's power grid into three parts
The severe disturbance of nov. 4 2006 divided Europe

The west area, having lost the connection to eastern Germany where much power was coming from, suffered a large deficit in power production. In order to protect the power grid and equipment connected to it, TSOs started load shedding, that is to say they started disconnecting customers from the grid in order to lighten their load. For each TSO 3-20% of all customers were disconnected and suffered power outs. In total approximately 15 million European households were affected by this.

In the north east area, the problem was the opposite. With the consumers in the west disconnected, the power generators surged as there was no-one that could accept the power they produced. Windmills are particularly sensitive to this and automatically disconnected from the power grid. Within a minute the north east area stabilized.

The south east area suffered a rather small power deficit in comparison and the impact was therefore smaller.

Trying to get back online

The west area started up power generation reserves to counter the production deficit. Within fifteen minutes the west area had stabilized to nominal production, although they were still disconnected from the north east.

In the north east however the different TSO operators had big problems. This was because the windmills and CHP plants that had tripped, automatically reconnected themselves, again causing a production surplus. There was no way to keep the windmills from doing this. To counter it the TSO operators had to manually prevent overloading the grid by instructing other power plants to cut down on production or shut down completely, and engaging power buffers such as pump storage units. This was while they at the same time tried to diagnose what had happened and why they had a disturbance in the first place. There was much confusion and which meant that the north east area was delayed in getting things back to normal.

In order to help counter the production surplus from the uncontrollable windmills, the control block leader for CENTREL (TSOs in Poland, the Czeck Republic, Hungary and Slovakia) somewhat unconventionally agreed to accept much of the surplus. However this meant that huge amounts of power was suddenly being routed eastwards, overloading some power lines up to as much as 140% of normal capacity, severely risking splitting the power grid again. Luckily this did not happen.

As the power levels were restored they tried to get the different areas connected again. Starting at about 25 minutes after the problems began, they tried to resynchronize the different networks. However for another quarter hour, the networks would not connect to each-other because they were fluctuating too much or not lining up to each-other. Either they wouldn't even attempt a connection or they would trip out again after a few seconds. At 22:47 did the networks begin to connect properly, and not until over an hour later, at 23:57, were things back to normal.


Opponents of nuclear power and proponents of "green" power such as wind and CHPs often argue that nuclear power leads to poor safety and reliability of the power production. The argument is that "putting all eggs in one basket" puts us at a risk of a serious power shortage. They argue that distributed power such as wind is better because it spreads the risk.

However the events of November 4, 2006, point to the exact opposite. While the grid was always made to handle large single-point outages, such as a nuclear power plant going offline, with fairly local load balancing, it was not made to being operated the way we are forced to do with intermittent power. With wind power being essentially uncontrollable and fluctuating there is a need to shunt power long distances through power grids that were never built to handle it. This in turn puts strain on the grids, lessening the margins and risking cascading chaotic failure of an entire continent.

With increased use of wind and other intermittent power sources, this risk can only be increased unless we basically tear out our entire transmission grid and build a new one. This is an investment that will not come cheap. Those arguing for large scale power production using intermittent sources, such as wind, must seek an answer to the following question:  

Is it prudent, economical, or even feasible to replace the entire power grid of a continent, just to accommodate a notoriously troublesome source of power?

/Michael Karnerfors, for Nuclear Power? Yes Please

Source: UCTE - Final Report, System Disturbance on 4 November 2006