Is Nuclear Power Safe
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08-02-2014, 08:01 AM
RE: Is Nuclear Power Safe
Hi JAH - I'm also a mechanical engineer, though still working.

I get your point about the potential for error, but that is the reason for the level of regulation and margin of safety in the design codes for nuclear power plants. Can something still get missed, or some chain of unforeseen events occur? Yes, but that is very rare. With current technology and design rules, nuclear power lands in the "very high consequence, very low probability" box for risk assessment. Very high consequence risks always make people more nervous, even if overall, many more people are killed in more "conventional" energy industries (coal and oil & gas).

One of the biggest issues with fission plants is what to do with the waste, but the latest generation of reactors and technology are able to re-use fuel rods for much longer. The US should consider building some of these new generation plants and retiring the older ones that produce much more waste.

I think nuclear has to be on the table as a long-term answer to our energy needs
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08-02-2014, 08:56 AM (This post was last modified: 08-02-2014 10:20 AM by JAH.)
RE: Is Nuclear Power Safe
My OP was from the point of view of a designer who recognized that humans may be be very good at designing and operating things but they are not infallible. There have been to date 3 major failures with nuclear power plants 2 of which have been significant. I will allow that this is a small failure rate in percentage but there is a difference between a failure rate of say 1% when the consequences are minor and a failure rate of 1% when the consequences are dramatic.

Recently in California the San Onofre nuclear power plant was shut down. Its radiator tubes were failing because their design allowed them to vibrate such that they were failing due to fatigue (I think). I tried to look up what the specific phenomenon was but there was so much noise about the closure on the net that I gave up. Even if I could not find the description, it was a known phenomenon. I during my working life encountered similar things. Designers not up to date with the latest information could design things with built in flaws.

There is also the fact that some things do not become known until events occur that make them known. Without going into detail I am aware that materials on the hot (radioactive) side of nuclear plants tend to degrade more rapidly than on the non radioactive side. I am not sure but I assume this became known only after nuclear plants had been in operation for a few years. It is difficult for me to believe that prior to the building of nuclear plants that materials were exposed to radiation for say 20 years and the change of their properties noted.

sporehux, makes an excellent point. Nuclear power plants buried far underground in stable strata would be a good way to reduce risk to acceptable levels. It would also make a nuclear power plant terribly more expensive when it is already terribly expensive. Plants that are profitable only because of direct and indirect subsidy.

Doing some brief internet research this morning I must say that the european experience with nuclear power seems to be more positive than what I have noted personally. I do need to do more study on that.

I like others here like to think that nuclear power may be a way out of excess CO2 in the air and the problem of the declining availability of fossil fuels. One could certainly make an argument that fracking may be as risky as nuclear power.

To those who are flippant about my intellect and my fears I offer my sympathies.
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08-02-2014, 09:13 AM
RE: Is Nuclear Power Safe
meremortal, I have personal experience with design codes that were flawed because they allowed the use of material subject to stress corrosion cracking (hydrogen embrittlement) a phenomenon known at the time the design code was written. Somewhere on this forum I railed about the use of a similar material on the new eastern span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The hubris of the engineers involved in that decision was offensive to me.

I will allow that the engineers who design nuclear plants should be very cautious and know all they can about what they are doing. I also know engineers make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes are related to what they do not know.

As stated above I understand why nuclear power must be on the table for the future. I currently think the risks outweigh the benefits.
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08-02-2014, 10:23 AM
RE: Is Nuclear Power Safe
Something ive never considered is the supply of radioactive material for nuclear power stations, is there a finite amount or can we create it from other elements ?

Theism is to believe what other people claim, Atheism is to ask "why should I".
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08-02-2014, 01:34 PM
RE: Is Nuclear Power Safe
(08-02-2014 10:23 AM)sporehux Wrote:  Something ive never considered is the supply of radioactive material for nuclear power stations, is there a finite amount or can we create it from other elements ?

Am pretty sure it's a finite amount, like any element within the Earth's crust.

That being said, there are a number (Few?) elements which are atomically unstable. Thorium being another which has been proposed to generate power with.

The good thing about atomic power is that a little bit goes a relatively long way in regards to the amount of energy gain from it.

Much cheers to all.
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08-02-2014, 03:16 PM
RE: Is Nuclear Power Safe
Hydrogen is used in nuclear fusion. It's very abundant in the universe.

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08-02-2014, 03:32 PM
RE: Is Nuclear Power Safe
(08-02-2014 03:16 PM)Alex_Leonardo Wrote:  Hydrogen is used in nuclear fusion. It's very abundant in the universe.

Except we've been at the threshold of creating stars for the past, what, thirty years?

Which is not to say we aren't constantly learning more and new and neat things about said fusion process...Just that, well, it's probably better to keep on plugging away at fission as well. Wink

Very much cheers to all.
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08-02-2014, 06:22 PM
RE: Is Nuclear Power Safe
Is nuclear power safe in the sense that nothing can go wrong?

Of course not.

Is nuclear power relatively safe in the sense that the failure rate is extremely low compared to most other forms of power generation?

Very much yes.

The human issue to consider insofar as safety is concerned is not design but complacency. JAH's example is perhaps more illustrative than intended; a problem occurred, and it was noticed and dealt with. That is precisely what one would want to happen; I'm not sure how that could possibly have gone better.

The famous nuclear incidents that "everyone knows" are outliers. I can say that with utter confidence. Fellow graduates from my university program are currently employed as technicians at Ontario's nuclear power plants. General familiarity of the physics community with the subject matter notwithstanding...

Chernobyl? If you don't think a modern and responsible country can do a better job of managing a nuclear reactor than Soviet Ukraine, god damn you are a pessimist. That incident was primarily a matter of bureaucratic miscommunication, and worst-case-scenario conditions to boot.

Three Mile Island? Caused no lasting harm to anybody. Emergency protocols functioned as designed.

Fukushima? Entirely human error. From several directions - primarily, the continued cutback in maintenance and inspection. The people who pay for such things - ie, politicians - are woefully ignorant on the matter. The assumption was that "nothing has gone wrong yet, therefore nothing will ever go wrong, therefore we can cut the budget with no consequences". The second is more general: the reactor was old. People are scared of the word "nuclear". And so very few new reactors have been built in the old developed world over the last several decades. That means that the original 50s, 60s and 70s era reactors are inevitably nearing the end of the their service lives and have not been replaced or refitted as experts all along have always recommended they should be.

Now - as to the necessity or utility value of nuclear power in general.

Fossil fuels will run out. None but the most delusional denies this. Open to some debate is the timeframe. Given exponential growth in consumption it will be relatively soon in any case. Renewable energy is not capable of meeting demand. In all likelihood it will not be for quite some time. The future will run on solar power. That future is yet quite a ways off...

Nuclear power relies on a supply of fissionable materials. These are finite - but more than enough to last several decades at current levels and rates of growth. That is an ideal stopgap.

Notwithstanding that nuclear power is emissions free. There are of course byproducts associated with it nonetheless. And yet they are not the sort to precipitate catastrophic global climate change. So there's that.
(and also many of the byproducts can in theory be be re-used as fuel inputs - so there's that too)

And I reiterate my original snide comment: colliery disasters have killed hundreds of thousands over the decades. Climate change is going to fuck all of us.

Is nuclear power totally harmless? God no. Does it possess a much better record than presently available alternatives? Oh, you bet.

Running my own cost/benefit I cannot but conclude it to be by far the best option (indeed, practically the only option) to hold over the transition period between fossil fuels and purely renewable energy.

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08-02-2014, 09:30 PM
RE: Is Nuclear Power Safe
I believe the reward is certainly greater than the risk, especially when nuclear fusion comes along.
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08-02-2014, 09:55 PM
RE: Is Nuclear Power Safe
In Aust one of the major reasons the public is not interested in nuclear power is the belief that solar / wind power is equal or better, its a big oil conspiracy preventing it from getting installed eveywhere..

People need to stop bullshitting about solar power efficiency, and callout the tards that are claiming supernatural output levels.

And then to see 8/10 homes around the city with dust caked solar panels on rooftops, its epic face palm and infuriating in its stupidity.

Theism is to believe what other people claim, Atheism is to ask "why should I".
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