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My local nuclear power station

by In Wales Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 03:18:17 AM EST

I spent the weekend working up in North Wales and decided to explore on the way home.  Following a conversation with a colleague about the nuclear power station at Trawsfynydd I thought I'd take a closer look at this rather unique piece of architecture and also to explore his claim that the lake next to it is poisoned and that cancer rates in that part of Wales are astonishingly high.

From the diaries - afew


I've often seen this structure on my journeys to and from North Wales and wondered what it was.


The Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station is off the A470, in a rather picturesque area of North Wales, alongside the Trawsfynydd Lake.


The station began generating electricity in 1965, and stopped in 1991, according to a DTI report. Other sources put the last breath of the station between 1993 and 1996.  There was initially an attempt to put forward proposals for measures to extend the life of the station but these were rejected and the site was decommissioned.

The lake itself has an interesting history, and ironically it was originally created (by damming the valley) in order to provide hydro-electric power for the region.


Gwynedd Archeological Trust article

The land on which the Maentwrog hydro-electric power station, and the lake and dam necessary to supply water to it, was purchased in the mid-1920s by the North Wales Power Company: work began in 1925 and the station was opened in October, 1928.  It originally had an 18 megawatt output from three turbines driven by generators, but a fourth was added in 1934 increasing its output to 24 megawatts.

Work on the construction of Atomfa Trawsfynydd (power station) begun in July, 1959, by which time Snowdonia had been designated as a National Park. Over 800 non-local workers lived in the Bronaber camp (area 20), recently vacated by the Army.  Both of the station's reactors were in operation by March 1965 and the station was finally opened in October 1968.  Built at a  cost of £103 million, Trawsfynydd power station was the former Central Electricity Generating Board's (CEGB) first inland power station, and the first to use a lake to obtain water for cooling the condensers of its turbo-alternators.

A Friends of the Earth breifing note on renewable energy, highlights the alternatives that are available to Wales.  There is a wind farm not all that far from the nuclear power station. I don't have any photos of it but I always love seeing the windmills, there's something graceful about them. I find them an interesting addition to the landscape.

Remote and beautiful, the south of Snowdonia National Park is host to a decaying and dangerous nuclear power station. Trawsfynydd lake and the site will be polluted with radiation for thousands of years, even though the power station itself closed in 1993. Electric pylons wend their way through the surrounding park in two directions, carrying electricity to keep the defunct power station cool. Nearby, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) and local windfarms testify to alternative methods of generating energy.

Cefn Croes windfarm is one such local windfarm near Aberystwyth which opened recently. Its 39 powerful turbines are now supplying half of Ceredigion's annual electricity demand. Mid Wales could in fact generate much of its own electricity demand from the regions' own wind resources.

What I find fairly astonishing, is that the site had barely run for 35 years or so.  There are more people working on the site now to decommission it, than there were running the station when it generated electricity. And for 35 years worth of use, the immense and long term operation needed to get rid of everything left over hardly seems worth it.



Can old reactors take the Strain? - New Scientist, 1992

Safety inspectors threatened to close down the oldest commercial nuclear power stations in England and Wales last year unless the company operating them, Nuclear Electric, could confirm that the steel pressure vessels surrounding the reactors were fit enough to go on working. Their concern was prompted by evidence that welds in the pressure vessels at the Trawsfynydd station in North Wales had aged faster than expected.

The ageing at Trawsfynydd was mainly the result of long-term exposure to neutron radiation. Nuclear Elec-tric, which regularly assesses the level of neutron damage at its stations by monitoring the condition of samples of construction materials placed in the reactor, decided to shut down the plant's two reactors to investigate what was happening more thoroughly.


The decommissioning process is likely to take at least 100 years.  Various bits of information can be gleaned from places such as;

Public participation in EIA of nuclear power plant decommissioning projects: a case study analysis(Feb 2004)

Info on the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority website


Archives and photos of the site

And (quite possibly linked to from here before)A fairly comprehensive blog article on the issue, looking at problem of decommissioning the sites. It has researched the decommissioning age of 11 sites - which ran for between 25 to 47 years. I notice Starvid has made comments on this article!



BBC online article on the decommissioning of the site, 2006.

The labour, energy and taxpayers' money (about £45m this year) being devoted to this site are all part of the decommissioning process which will continue here for nearly another century.

...470,000 cubic metres of waste - enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall five times over.

This is the estimated quantity of waste material from existing nuclear plants, including those like Trawsfynydd which are being dismantled, for which there is still no long-term disposal plan.

That process is only projected to be completed by the end of this century, as it is not considered safe to start dismantling the highly radioactive core until the 2080s.

The bulk of the waste produced at Trawsfynydd is debris of various materials not radioactive in themselves, but which were in prolonged contact with nuclear fuels.

Another key component of the Trawsfynydd waste is the sludge and resin extracted from the water ponds adjacent to the reactors, used to cool spent nuclear fuel before it was removed for re-processing.

a building behind the Trawsfynydd reactors, 90m long and 20m high, which will act as a temporary store for the waste containers, probably for around 30-40 years.
This building and the reactor towers themselves, whose height will be reduced, will be clad in local Welsh slate designed to make them blend better into the landscape.

An example of the slate cladding that is starting to go up. Certainly more aesthetic that the current crumbling concrete, especially when the height is reduced.


I know there has been plenty of discussion on ET already about nuclear power and what shold be done with all the waste, and whether or not we should press ahead  with a new generation of nuclear power stations. I found it quite useful for me to put it into the context of the energy resources of my own country, and the corresponding problems that have arisen from having a nuclear power station here.


So, has the site caused a rise in cancer incidences in the area? According to a report, published last year, yes it has.  It also suggests that the cancer rates have been covered up by various authorities.
The report examined cancer rates between 1996-2005 and 2003-2005.

Western Mail article on cancer rates around the power station.

Cancer rates in villages near the Trawsfynydd power station are 'alarmingly high' leading to new concerns about the side-effects of nuclear power, a new investigation reveals.

The study claims that women under 50 are particularly at risk, with their level of cancer during the past three years being 15 times more than the national average.

But Dr Busby is adamant that his conclusions should be taken seriously. He said that fallout from Chernobyl in 1986 could have had a bearing on the results. But he believes the most obvious suspect is Trawsfynydd nuclear power station.

The 'Busby' Report, 2006:

Trawsfynydd nuclear power station is the only inland nuclear station to be built in the UK. The power station has two MAGNOX type CO2 cooled graphite moderated reactors and is situated on a lake, Llyn Trawsfynydd, which acts as a cooling water source and is also a sink for radioactivity released from the plant. Very large amounts of radioactive material exist in the lake bed sediment (Fern, Odell, Cobb 1988) ) at
concentrations which under UK legislation ought to require it to be controlled as Low Level Waste.

The Trawsfynydd lake sediment contains serious contamination from Plutonium, 10 Caesium Americium, Strontium and other radioactive isotopes. Astonishingly, it has been advertised as a tourist amenity with people swimming and fishing in the contaminated lake.

The report found that a number of people who had reported incidences of cancer had also eaten fish from the lake.

I don't know as much as I ought to about the pros and cons of nuclear power, but given this small amount of research into my nearest power station, I'm finding it hard to be convinced of the merits of nuclear power. Especially in a country like Wales where we have alternative energy options available to us.


Finally I will end on the note that I actually like these rather odd looking pieces of architecture, and I enjoyed walking around them and getting a closer look.  They loom with great atmosphere over the landscape when you see them from the road. Closer up, you can see the decay and crumbling at the edges and realise it isn't all quite as it seems from a distance.

Display:
...designed to produce military plutonium. The electricity was a just a nice-to-have bonus. Since the military where in a hurry to get their bombs, they didn't pay too much attention to life-amortized costs and EOL disposal (still, I'm appalled by the figures you quote, France had it's own "UNCG" reactors in the 60's, all decommissionned in the 80's, and the dismantling it thoroughly finished now).

Besides, I want to go on the record as saying that British nukes are probably the worst on Earth after the RMBK. Worst designs (very old ones, with lots of graphite-gas which is less durable), worst safety record, worst leaks (some by design, some by sloppy procedures), worst reprocessing plant, and worst location: UK being north west of continental europe makes it a perfect spot from which to spray the fumes of the next meltdown over all of Europe.

Basically, I don't believe the UK has any more right, based on their appalling track record, to keep operating their nukes than Bulgaria had to keep its RMBK at Kozloduy (and yet the EC demanded that they stop it before joining).

On principle, I'm in favor of nuclear, but the problem with the UK nukes, is that it's run pretty much the same way as the UK railway system. Considering this, it's a miracle that they "only" have high cancer spots...

Pierre

by Pierre on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:00:23 AM EST
Great insight, thanks very much for the comment.  I hadn't realised that UK was especially poor with its record on nuclear.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:12:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the French are exceptional in that, by and large, they do have reason to trust their government.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:31:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The French do seem to do infrastructure better than most.....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 08:33:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or, maybe, they have even less reason to trust their government, which is just more effective in cover-up?

Remember that the French state, fearing bad public opinion for the nuclear industry expansion at home, prevented even the measuring of Chernobyl fallout in bogs and plants and animals, not to speak of establishing meat radiation controls like those even Britain instated.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 04:51:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
See for instance:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windscale_fire

Even the soviets at their worst never came up with anything so stupid. It remained the greatest (acknowledged) contamination until tchernobyl. Still the second today I think. Although some unacknowledged incidents in US military facilities may have been quite bad in the 40's, and the cumulated releases of the dreadful Sellafield reprocessing plant nearby appears quite large too according to activists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sellafield

Pierre

by Pierre on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 10:01:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
whilst not wishing to let the monsters who ran Windscale off the hook, I believe that there was significant "controlled" venting from Harrisburg after their explosion that contaminated a significant area.

I'm sure I read somewhere that in the wake of chernobyl a lot of measurements of radiation were taken in the downwind area of Harrisburg alleging to be average for the USA so's they could blame the elevated readings on the Ruskies.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 10:35:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Harrisburg is the TMI site. There was indeed "controlled" venting by the plant managers, for which they were later blamed as it could have been avoided if they had taken advice from higher authorities. But the amount of radiation released at TMI was orders of magniture below windscale, and mostly tritium I believe (which is very short lived).

I don't follow the point of their dumping extra stuff at the time of chernobyl: considering the kind of degradation at TMI, they had no particular pressure accumulation of radioactive gas to cope with so many years after the accident. May be some activists claimed the bad TMI guys were at it again, but this sounds like paranoia to me.

Pierre

by Pierre on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 10:54:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, the TMI realease was so small it didn't matter. If you lived in Harrisburg and fled to Colorado that would have increased your dosage, as the Colorado plateau is at a higher elevation and hence has less atmosphere above it to shield it from cosmic radiation.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 12:58:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, no new release. The way I read Helen's claim, it is that at the time of Chernobyl, background radiation was measured at sites contaminated by TMI a decade earlier and presented as normal.

(I didn't know that claim, I shall check whether it holds water.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 04:45:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, I understand. But if it really was tritium as I recall, had they released thousands of curies, it would effectively be down under ambiant noise after a few months.

Pierre
by Pierre on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:43:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you mean because of the short half-life (which isn't that short), or dilution?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 05:31:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup. My grandfather - Liverpool docker - died of aggressive leukemia not long after Sellafield, and my father always said there were shedloads like him down the coast who were "buried" literally and figuratively.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 12:52:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A friend of mine on the coast near here used to fish in the Irish sea, and eat what he caught. till one day he fished out a  small (1m long 15cm arround) yellow and black Bouy, so he popped into the local pub to ask about it thinking it was  someones fishing marker, only to be told to remove a card from a sealed pouch and put it in the post, and there would be someone along to collect it in a few days. Turns out they are thrown into the coolant outflow of Sellafield to see where the current is going to take any leaks.  He dosen't eat the fish anymore

The Mark Thomas Comedy Product did a programme after someone forwarded them a memo that had gone to Sellafield workers about wearing protective clothing while working outdoors, be cause the seagull shit was radioactive around the site. Heres a link to the programmes webpage including the fact that pigeons were also contaminated, and the local lobsters were 30 times the safe limit of some radioactive substances.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 04:52:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Between 1950 and 2000 there have been 21 serious incidents or accidents [at Sellafield]involving some off-site radiological releases that merited a rating on the International Nuclear Event Scale, one at level 5, 5 at level 4 and 15 at level 3.

I wonder why Sellafield is so much worse than La Hague?

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 02:07:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Part of the answer may be: we know more about what happened there? (On nuclear facility information politics, also see my latest diary.)

La Hague doesn't have a west that clean either.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 04:37:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dodo,

Going in reverse:

La Hague doesn't have a west that clean either.

Sellafield neither. Look at the map :)

Part of the answer may be: we know more about what happened there? (On nuclear facility information politics, also see my latest diary.)

Actually no.

Areva and EDF are operating under IAEA and Euratom supervison and they have the same reporting requirements as UKAEA and its descendants (BNFL, NDA, British Energy).

All is not "fine, move along, nothing to see" in the French nuclear program. And no one pretends otherwise. Risks and issues are known. It's simply that people are level and rational about them rather than crying bloody murder at every opportunity.

In La Hague, there was a significant tritium release in 1976 and a level 3 accident with a fire in a storage silo in 1981. There are graphite and zirconium magnesium left-overs of the UNGG process that should be taken care of sooner than later. Also, there are still more than 9,000 cubic meters of high-activity sludge in the STE2/STE3 storages which are still awaiting conditioning. More recently, there was a level 2 issue at the MOX plant in Cadarache last year. France also had a level 4 accident at Saint-Laurent A1 reactor in 1980, the highest level a problem ever went in France. There was ILW dumping at sea in the late 60s (a European "program" ran by the OECD) before France decided to stop the madness in 1969, mostly prompted by its own engineers (activists were completely insignificant at the time).

France's industry also has hundreds of level 0 and level 1 notices each year and no one freaks out.

All of it is reported and documented and there is no particular "secrecy" that needs to be broken into. All of that is known, available, in the open.

Now, why things are going better in France than in the UK or Germany?

I'd love to tell you it's because France is French and as all things French, it's perfect as it's well known that in France, even shit smells of roses, right ?

:>

The real reasons are more far more pedestrian and at some extent, a stroke of historical good luck:

  • The good luck of growing in the political culture of the 60s and 70s in France: highly centralized and driven by technical experts rather than managerial hacks. The French program has always existed under a very integrated and stable structure. A single plant operator (EDF), a single technical contractor for plants and fuel cycle (Areva=Cogema/Framatome/Eurodif), a single scientific advisor (CEA), very high level of standardization between plants, unified rules of operation, committed support from the political class, stable financing, etc. Bureaucracy is very low and internal communication is very fast and fluid.

  • The good luck of a very high level of public trust and of the absence of short term financial pressure. As a consequence, there is no incentive to sweep things under the rug for fear of a public or financial backslash at the merest problem. If something goes wrong, the information propagates quickly, things are put on hold, everybody keeps its cool, people use their brain then fix the issue and carry on. Conclusion: issues get addressed quickly, efficiently and early before they snowball in real problems. That in turn feeds the cycle of public and political trust and so on.

  • The very, very good luck of being a late comer to the nuclear industry, of having had its industry 100% destroyed in WWII and been stonewalled by the US in the 50s. The French program didn't really start on a large scale before the 60s. France had the luxury of leveraging the experience from the US and the UK and avoid most of the learning pain, taking the right technical decision very quickly based on a wealth of information the pioneers had to create the hard way. In particular, safety and waste issues really came at the forefront of the nuclear industry in that era, just in time for France to make the right choices. Those notions have been ingrained in the industrial culture since its birth. Starting late, France never had to manage the legacy of the 40s and 50s as the US and the UK and never had to suffer the huge loss of trust that followed in the 70s and the 80s. There again a virtuous cycle. Incidentally, the level 4 accident I mentioned above happened on a UNGG power plant, one of the rare nuclear legacies of the 50s in France.

In comparison, the British nuclear program was created right out of WWII and since then, UKAEA has been through an absolutely inordinate number of restructuring, reorganizing, splitting and merging, miracle cures and whatnots. Read that article about the Thorp shut-down in 2005. The problem is not technical. There was a technical issue that should have shut down the plant for a few weeks. When that kind of shit happens in La Hague (and it does), it's "OK, shit happens. Stop. Think. Act. Review. Fix it. Learn". But no. Instead of that, they just ignored the issue until it blew in their face. The problem in the UK is an insanely fucked-up culture.

Similarly, the German nuclear industry is divided between many operators, different suppliers in a very hostile political environment. And for the US, well, they started by nuking Hiroshima so, necessarily, that leaves a mark.

The issues with nuclear energy are above all cultural, not technical. That, I think, is the really substantial objection that can be made to nuclear energy.

by Francois in Paris on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 07:59:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The issues with nuclear energy are above all cultural, not technical.

This is true also in the mind of the public and the opponents. For instance, when we hear that no insurance will take the liability for nukes, it has nothing to do with rational evaluation of worst-case or averaged liability. There are some 400 reactors worldwide. We have centuries of cumulated operation for various designs. We know the statistics. We know the worst that can happen (Tchernobyl) and we know that counting by loss of life and damage to property, it is bad, but not worst than your average hurricane season over Florida + road fatalities.

Yet insurers won't take it, because they know that in court, a defendant will have a biased audience and will get exhorbitant indemnities, just because a damage was incurred by "the ugly nuclear lobby", when the coal lobby is doing more damage to miners every year and gets away with it. One death by radiation gets a harder punishment than one death by most other means, be they guns, knifes, bombs, mines...

Also think about that: do we hear about the dreadful accidents and release in all the commercial reactors of smaller nations ? Just from the wikipedia list, we have pwoer reactors in Korea, Armenia, Argentina, you name it... And virtually every country in the world has had a toy reactor <10 MW in some research institute. How many have melted and sprayed the world with iodine ? The simple answer is that they have their incidents of course, they have their lot of cover-ups, but the view that nuke is bound for disaster is simply doomsday mythology, and this is popular only in the affluent western nations.

Pierre

by Pierre on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 04:46:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We know the statistics. We know the worst that can happen (Tchernobyl) and we know that counting by loss of life and damage to property

Unfortunately for your argument, both the statistics and the magnitude of the Chernobyl disaster are hotly contested, with opinions differing in orders of magnitude; I dealt with the Chernobyl numbers game in a rather long diary on the 20th anniversary here on ET.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 05:27:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know about your upper estimates, I read your diary. I still contend that these numbers are low when compared to the size of the population sample (hundreds of millions) and the duration considered (decades). Other causes of death, will all give fatalities that are in the  millions over such times and populations. This dwarfs the impact of chernobyl. And coal or diesel pollutions over the same length of time and the same population is also in the same ballpark. I think you have an irreconcilable bias of analysis vs me on this subject, a bias common amongst nuke opponents, and it verges on scaremongering the numerically illiterate masses.

Of course, you can call me a big nuke puppet (which I'm not) and a despiseful elitist technocrat (which I am) if you wish.

Pierre

by Pierre on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 06:30:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, you both appear to have biases and each of you believe that you're being objective.

Is there an obvious summary of the range of estimates available?

What I'd love to see is a range of estimates of the dangers of including nuclear power in the energy generation mix vs. the dangers of not including it, neglecting the bizarro land belief that we will choose to kill technological civilisation and move to some bucolic utopia rather than kill tens of millions of people through global warming and coal fired electrical generation, because we won't - and the transition to that utopia would kill hundreds of millions.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 06:36:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is there an obvious summary of the range of estimates available?


Stupid Colman. Now, where's that diary hiding?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 06:40:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Refer to Jerome's How can we talk rationally about nuclear energy? (March 27th, 2007)

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 06:52:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My diary attempted to give an overview of the claims on Chernobyl. But Pierre argues that even the high estimates are low for him.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 06:55:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, there is no short term "danger" in not including nuclear in the energy mix. This is why I do not advocate a crash program to expand nuclear power everywhere: it is the best path to disaster, as the engineering base is depleted right now, quality assurance is paramount in nuclear, and clearly nuclear should not be expanded vastly until reactor technologies based on thorium and breeding are matured, probably not before two decades.

However, there is a danger on the long term, in phasing out the plants (and henceforth, the operating expertise), and stopping development of new generations. It is a technology with very long lead times. We cannot predict with certainty that we won't need it in 20-30 years. Renewables are on a fast growth curve and can go on like that for 30 years, but we cannot be sure about minimal demand.

What I mean is: even with conservation (and certainly demand destruction), total electricity demand may increase due to a crash switch to PHEV, heat pump heating (now installed in 6% of new houses build in France, so it is really taking off)... And demand for non-fossil heat could come from seawater desalination if we have dramatic changes in rainfall patterns.

We have no guarantee that renewables alone can cope with both nuclear/fossil phase-out, and those new demands. Quite the contrary I think for the 20-30 yrs term.

Pierre

by Pierre on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 08:20:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I never called you names, nor intend to. I respect your arguments, especially the willingness to go into details.

I also try to keep my points more limited, e.g. I cast doubt at is your claim that we know the risks well, rather than settle down for a figure or a comparison with the risks of a rival technology.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 06:59:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nukes are a lottery problem - the chances of a payout are very, very small, but the payout itself is potentially very, very big. (In a negative sense, naturally.)

That makes it very hard to quantify risks accurately.

If the Windscale fire problem hadn't been solved, it's likely that much of the Midlands would now be uninhabitable. You can more or less get a way with an accident like that in Russia. In Europe, population densities are somewhat higher and the prospect of losing large sections of a country aren't appealing.

So it's not just imputed fatalities, clearly. The overall risk has to include the extremely small - but not quite zero - prospect of a more serious accident.

As everyone else has been saying, the sanest way to assess the risks is to look at governmental competence and corporate culture.

From that point of view, nukes are politically demanding. If insurers don't want to insure them, it could be as much because they know that the political stability and oversight required to minimise risks isn't there, as because they're worried that any trial will be railroaded by hordes of angry chanting hippies wearing sunflowers.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 09:39:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All of it is reported and documented and there is no particular "secrecy" that needs to be broken into.

Well, for nuclear oversight in all of France, I already mentioned the stonewalling of measurements of Chernobyl fallout -- a rather strong case of "if we don't look for it, it doesn't exist". I also don't think that IAEA and Euratom oversight is different for Brunsbüttel, though Sellafield is another thing, being known to have been in breach of Euratom rules. (But again, check the frequency of Euratom control visits to La Hague.)

There were La Hague issues after those you cite. Not on the level of Sellafield, but still.

There is a leukemia cluster controversy for that site too, in 1997 measurements at a wastewater pipe exit showed radiation levels up to 500 times above background, from not only liquid waste but solid in grains up to twice the permitted diametre, there was controversy about excessive inert gas and increasing iodine release in the air, more recently similar measurements of groundwater contradicted official reports.

What's more, La Hague was also part of the German Castor scandal I passingly mention in my own diary: inproper handling of the containers and bad information flow about external contamination and damage they measured. Also worth to point out that while the French authorities referred to international limits still above the values measured at that pipe, the pipe's contamination was above levels where in Germany they would be considered waste to be disposed of in concrete.

But at least they stopped pouring concrete over highly radioactive material.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 06:10:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The "stonewalling" of measurements of Chernobyl fallout was coming from the SCPRI and was the invention of Noël Mamère et France2 TV (then Antenne 2).

At the time of Chernobyl, Pierre Pellerin said what was true - that the Chernobyl cloud was passing over France and was clearly detected - and what his professional judgment was - levels were too low to be a threat and justify public action.

One thing is that his judgment was debatable and Pellerin was problably treating bio-concentration too lightly.

The other thing is that Mamère, who was the chief editor and main anchor of the midday news on Antenne 2, spun Pellerin's words and reported flat-out that government was denying that the Chernobyl cloud was passing over France.

The two, Mamère and France 2, were condemned for defamation in 2001, 2002, 2003 until the European Court of Human Rights decided that lying was a human right in 2006.

-

There is a leukemia cluster controversy for that site too, in 1997 measurements at a wastewater pipe exit showed radiation levels up to 500 times above background, from not only liquid waste but solid in grains up to twice the permitted diametre, there was controversy about excessive inert gas and increasing iodine release in the air, more recently similar measurements of groundwater contradicted official reports.

Whose measurements? That CRIRAD joke? Controversy? Sure. There's a controversy between evolution and biblical creationism where I live. So what's the point?

-

Also worth to point out that while the French authorities referred to international limits still above the values measured at that pipe, the pipe's contamination was above levels where in Germany they would be considered waste to be disposed of in concrete.

And don't worry, it's treated as waste and it shows up in the ANDRA inventory. La Hague, item 6b

Nature des déchets :Concrétions issues du nettoyage de la conduite de rejet (34,7 m3)
Radio-nucléides : PF PA
Classe : FMA-VC

There again my point. The supposed "secrecy" is a myth.

by Francois in Paris on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 05:48:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The "stonewalling" of measurements of Chernobyl fallout was coming from the SCPRI and was the invention of Noël Mamère et France2 TV (then Antenne 2).

Nope, the case is not reducible to the Mamère-Pellerin libel case. You conveniently forget about the leaked report by Marie-Odile Bertella-Geffroy and other recent re-evaluations. That was in late 2005. Read here and here.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 11:48:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We'll see what happens at the trial ... if it ever happens. Nothing has moved since summer 2006 and Pellerin is a very old guy (83 years old going 84).

But again, Criirad is involved and I hold those guys to be first class wankers. So I expect the whole thing to dissolve in a non-lieu.

by Francois in Paris on Sun Jul 15th, 2007 at 01:10:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How high did that plutonium factory release in the Soviet Union rank?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 04:52:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
About Chernobyl times 1000? They were pumping waste into a river (lake?) for decades. And then those storage tanks at Mayak blew up. Twice. Yeah, and then the lake lost all water and turned into a radioactive desert, and the sand was carried by the wind and dropped all over the place.

Military+nukes+commies(or any other ideologic idiots)= very bad

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 04:59:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When was the other big blow-up?

The total leakage from Maybak was 8,900 PBq, that lake drying wind transport meant only a fraction of that.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:05:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Checking at Wikipedia, I see I might have mixed up some of the Russian accidents.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 12:05:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nevermind. The releases I found:

Windscale: 0.7 PBq
Lawrence Livermore 1965: 11 PBq (c. 15 times Windscale)
TMI: 90 PBq into the atmosphere (1900 PBq total)
Mayak/Chelyabinsk: 700 PBq (1000 times Windscale)
Chernobyl: 14,000 PBq (the bulk iodine and xenon)

Curiously, I found no data for the Tsar Bomba or Castle Bravo.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 05:53:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is Mayak the one where they blew up an underground silo of solvent carrying radioactive waste by pumping the wrong chemical in it ?

Your number for TMI seems orders of magnitude higher than what I remember, sure it's the right unit ?

Pierre

by Pierre on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:47:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes Mayak = Kyshtym = Chelyabinsk-40. 1957. A level 6 accident.

TMI total release was very high but something like 99% (I don't remember the exact number but it was ridiculously high) of the release was "noble" gas - Kr, Xe, etc. - with extremely low to inexistent biological impact.

by Francois in Paris on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 08:09:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, Pierre probably saw Caesium figures. A large part of the Chernobyl release was inert gas too, but there Iodine was of the same order of magnitude.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 05:11:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Upon checking another source, I am confused. It may be that the higher figure is the total into the atmosphere, and 90 PBq is another estimate for the non-noble-gas part. And of that, tritium is the bulk.

03

some 14 million curies of noble gases (~500 PBq) and 14 curies (~500 GBq) of I-131 were released during the course of the accident. About 50,000 curies (~2 PBq) of Kr-85 were vented from the containment and 2 million curies (~75 PBq) of tritium was released.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 05:21:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think those numbers match what I remember reading about TMI although the tritium number seems high.

What people were justifiably freaking out about was iodine with the bio-concentration in the thyroid. Turned out there was very little of it.

by Francois in Paris on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 04:39:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When thinking of military facilities in the US, I was thinking about the one in california, that has leaked into the watertable basically since WWII, and it's now showing up in the basements at distant gated communities, can't remember the name, but it was in the news about a year ago.

There is no way to assess the release accurately, but it is probably comparable, over time, to the worst releases of the russian military complex.

Pierre

by Pierre on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:50:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I believe you're referring to the city of Livermore, CA, home of Lawrence Livermore Labs.  There they make nuclear bomb triggers and advanced design weapons, and Los Alamos has a facility there as well.  They've found radioactivity in the water table under the entire area, but the population keeps swelling.

The labs are also about a kilometer from the western (windward) edge of the Altamont Pass wind resource area, so i've spent much time there over the years.  i ate lunch often at the Labs, because... well, i can be pretty dumb, and i got a thrill watching bomb designers eat and discuss baseball as if they were normal people.  (Full disclosure:  they do lots of other things at the labs besides bombs.)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 07:58:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The UK gas reactors are really crappy. The lifetime, well, 35 years when light water reactors are going for 60... Bad, bad design. Incredibly ugly too, compared to graceful PWR's and modernist BWR's. Only good one can say about them is that thermal efficiency was high, but with the best current PWR's at 37 %, even that point is moot.

Though 100 years of decommissioning sounds absurd, considering that the French got rid of their much faster, even though gas reactors produce far more contaminated construction waste compared to ordinary reactors. It might be almost as much as an order of magnitude more.

PS. The reactors at Kozloduy weren't RBMK's but VVER's (=Soviet PWR's) which could well have been modernized and kept online for a few more decades.

PPS. This story makes me feel inspired to continue my long dormant "Nuclear Renaissance in Europe"-series. :-)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:57:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Starvid.  How did the French manage to decommission theirs so fast? What's the difference in the waste other than the amount of it?

I hope you do pick up your series again, I'll look forward to reading!

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 07:06:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't say how the French did it faster, though most likely I guess the British 100 year number is just plain wrong.

The problem with decomissioning the gas reactors is that the moderators are big graphite blocks, the same things that cut the lifetimes of the plants as they crack due to irradiation. Much nicer in LWR's where the moderator is water, which can't become radioactive (any radioactive particles are captured in filters which are then treated as intermediate level waste, 500 year storage in cave).

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 07:16:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The UK instalment of the series might have the subtitel: will 21st century nuclear be the first infrastructure the UK gets right since the 1900's?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 08:44:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It depends who gets to build it, EDF or some national champion needing cash after its gas reserves have tapered out ?

I think it'll turn out to be pretty moot anyway: no more than a handful of new nukes will get built before the country melts down, credit is crunched, and demand destroyed. So it will not really qualify as "infrastructure".

Pierre

by Pierre on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 09:53:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're really beginning to scare me into buying that open-date one-way ticket out of the country ;-)

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 02:14:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't forget to buy the carbon credits at the same time :)
by Francois in Paris on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 09:17:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and people wonder why the British are nuclear-averse.

Just as the French trust their government with risky infrastructure, we have good reason to not trust ours the distance we can throw them.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 10:37:32 AM EST
if a technology requires near-perfect government (honest, incorruptible, technologically adept, secure, with continuity, immune to crony capitalism and nepotism, transparent, genuinely servants of the people) in order to prevent its becoming lethal and sublethal for large numbers of citizens, is it a sensible option?  especially when the lethality of the technology has a run-time that exceeds the tenure in power of any government on Earth, ever?

how many people, for how long in time, have enjoyed a perfect government?  suppose Sarko manages to inflict an IMF-style 'adjustment' on la belle France and starts selling off the government utilities?  how safe and reliable would EDF's facilities be under private capitalist management by, say, Halliburton and Bechtel?

after many years in big projects I do not believe in "success-oriented engineering"...  it always costs far too much in the end.  "failure-oriented engineering" may be less giddily exciting and fun at the time, but it lasts longer and cost of ownership is lower.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 01:29:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't want to put words in Jerome's mouth, but I think his writing is driven in large part by the angst of realising that the French elite [of which he, as an 'X', could have been part had he stayed closer to the administration] has "sold out" and put the medium-term trustworthiness of the French State at risk.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 01:56:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But isn't that the point ? The French govt didn't do these things, and even under Sarko doesn't look like it's going to. The emotional committment to the Great Project of France prevents the building of cheapskate infrastructure, which is the true and enduring British disease.

Our civil service has always prided itself on being cheap, even if it's the most expensive solution in the long term. Quality is an alien concept in British public space, so long as it serves somebody's commercial interests their attitude has always been to screw the public.

Nuclear power was built to serve the military (as already mentioned) and windscale was built for the same reason. It also needlessly dumped low level radiation into the Irish sea as part of a secret experiment to test long term exposure to radiation in populations along the NW coasts of England and Scotland. (oh, lookee here, cancer rates are high for people who live on the coast there).

Our motorways were built cheaply to a rotten specification because it meant they wer cheap to deliver but bloody expensive (ie lucrative) to maintain. It's why UK motorways are always being dug up.

Our railways were closed down at the behest of the Transport Minister, a man whose personal fortune was from road haulage.

Look at the privatisations, who benefited ? How come so many Tory cabinet ministers ended up as directors ? It's one of the things I kind of admire about the USA, at least their corruption has imagination. Our's is so mundane and pedestrian.

Wanna get a knighthood ? That'll be a hundred grand. House of lords ? Half a mill to you guv.
Change a govt policy ? That's a refunable million, Mr Ecclestone.

so when our government proposes something, like the Olympics, or a war for freedom our immediate reaction is to count the spoons cos we know we're getting conned somehow. We know it will be done badly because it always is. We know it will be shameful cos somehow it always is. We know it won't be built on time, or work properly, cos it always is. We'd just like it if they were above copying a 10 year old graduate thesis as a justification for war, y'know it's lack of respect.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 02:42:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not always done badly - just usually.

The High Speed Rail links to the Channel Tunnel were built on time and on budget - just very late, politically. That and the station renovations are one of the few infrastructure projects I can think that have been managed professionally.

Institutionalised corruption is the elephant on the table in the UK. We haven't come to terms yet with the fact that the reason that the NHS is being pushed towards marketista nonsense, and that rail has been a disaster, and that road haulage is being talked up even when the oil is about to run out, and Tube PFI has wasted around half a billion, and airports are being built and extended isn't because civil servants are myopic anal retentive penny pinchers - although some of them are.

It's because many people involved in infrastructure in and out of politics are crooks.

BAE is just the tip of the iceberg. Dig deeper and I'm sure you can easily find equally cynical, if perhaps less spectacular, conflicts of interest, backhanders and other misdemeanours.

People assume corruption usually happens at the local level. But it really doesn't.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 03:56:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's more than "corruption": it's structural.

It's the Anglo Disease.

The hunger for short term profit to feed the insatiable City at the expense of any other consideration

The incestuous relationship with the professions - particularly lawyers who have always been massively over-represented in Parliament - and consultants.

The vested interest in conflicts and complexity arisng from being paid by the hour, rather than the outcome.

The disdain - still lingering to this day - of civil servants for anything so mundane as PLANNING, as opposed to esoteric points of intellectual masturbation.

The pathological fear of putting your head above the parapet and actually making a decision.

The fact that the only thing worse than being wrong is being right by accident.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 04:24:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All true. But my point was really that people are either ignorant of the political realities or in denial.

Government is badly broken in the UK. It's not quite as venal as the Bush administration is, but we've had much higher levels of corruption for much longer periods, to the extent that it's now political background is.

The great mystery is why this hasn't become common knowledge. People should be furious, but there's almost complete ignorance of the true situation. The consensus is that the population still believes that government in the UK is mostly functional. Sometimes it makes procurement mistakes, but when it does it's due to incompetence and not inherent criminality.

The reality is that UK PLC is run by the City, for the City, and that's the main aim of government - not the support of the population at large, but the support of the banks and trading floors.

This is why I'm so scathing about the Econo and the FT. Knowing that this is the case, their constant cheerleading for profit is really just cheerleading for top-down exploitation, tax evasion and outright fiscal criminality.

That's why there's little point in engaging with the talking points. They're not actually relevant, because there is only ever one message, which is "How can the City make as much money in as short a time as possible with as little social responsibility as it can get away with?"

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 05:25:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DeAnander's Law again:  it is always more profitable (for somebody) to do things wrong.

Or to put it another way, if I know I'm playing with someone who cheats, I can live with a few rounds of poker for low stakes, but I sure as hell don't want to take their invite for a game of Russian Roulette.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:58:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks, in wales...gruesome, yet delivered with a light, almost winsome touch, all the more devastating for it.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 08:19:06 PM EST


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