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One important observation. When I say
we're losing the ability to adequately handle technologies we ourselves created 40 years ago. For at least 30 years we've been busy at replacing technocracy/meritocracy with cleptocracy. The problem is that this was the result of ideological/cultural shifts which seem hard to reverse and may take another 30 years even if we started now, which we're not.
I don't have any primary memory of how any ot this was done before 1990 (optimistically) so, for instance, I don't remember much about Chernobyl that I haven't read from secondary sources much later.

So it is entirely possible that my view of Western Industrial Civilization pre-1980 is a complete fairytale or wishful thinking. The older among us may be able to clarify this.

So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 04:42:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My impression - from understanding gathered along the way, not from deliberate study, and that's an important disclaimer - is that nuclear technology was often in the past attempting to move ahead faster than its ability to provide full security. It began (and continues) as a military technology, and testing in the postwar decades showed little or no regard for the environment and human life and health (see American testing in the US SW and the Pacific, French in the Pacific, USSR in Kazakh SSR). Civil nuclear came into being in the context of that arms race, with military researchers and engineers providing the know-how. This isn't to say they were slipshod or had no security concerns, but I don't think they were, 40 years ago, better able to get on top of an out-of-control accident than now.

TEPCO has certainly shown ineptitude, and this may be linked to its being a private company concerned with profit. It may also be linked with sheer force of habit over the decades producing a culture in which the thought of major risk has gone out of currency. All the same, if the quake and tsunami had happened early in the life of Fukushima Dai-ichi, the outcome would have been probably similarly catastrophic, because the station just wasn't planned for so much havoc.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 05:35:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
@afew

Feral Scholar » Blog Archive » Nuclear Power - A Really Bad Idea

Then Reagan started the sabre-rattling and eventually invaded Grenada. When he was reëlected in 1984, I'd had enough. I fought for and won an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector -- not an easy task for someone who'd volunteered (and reënlisted). Of course, after I got out -- owing the government a large amount of money -- the only real marketable skill I had involved nuclear reactors. But many of my shipmates had gone on to work in civilian facilities and the horror stories I'd heard were frightening. Besides, I'd already concluded that nuclear power was a very bad idea, even when cost was no object. To try to make a profit off it? Insane. I was having none of it.

One of the things that not many people know is that the Navy's reactors are designed in a fail-safe (sort of) manner such that if the coolant temperature rises, the rate of fission decreases. This provides a negative feedback that helps to maintain temperatures and power levels. It's self-regulating. Civilian power plants, which are much, much larger than the Navy's small reactors, are designed such that higher coolant temperatures mean higher rates of fission, which heats the coolant further, creating a feed-forward loop with a tendency to run away. How stupid can you get? I mean, really... how utterly imbecilic can you get?

I have long maintained that nuclear power is the stupidest idea humans have ever had. Frankly, it's not even arguable, and anyone who says otherwise is either selling something, or a seriously-deluded "true believer." I think the real function of nuclear "power" is to allow nuclear weapons lovers to pretend that there are "peaceful" benefits to splitting the atom.



'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 Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 07:14:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
melo:
I have long maintained that nuclear power is the stupidest idea humans have ever had. Frankly, it's not even arguable, and anyone who says otherwise is either selling something, or a seriously-deluded "true believer." I think the real function of nuclear "power" is to allow nuclear weapons lovers to pretend that there are "peaceful" benefits to splitting the atom.
Straw men are nice.

So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 08:33:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
melo:
One of the things that not many people know is that the Navy's reactors are designed in a fail-safe (sort of) manner such that if the coolant temperature rises, the rate of fission decreases.

Heh. That's (sort of) true for BWR as well.

by generic on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 01:04:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Both PWR's and BWR's are like that, and it's called negative void coefficent. Having a positive one is very bad, as in an exponentially accelerating nuclear reaction when the core heats up. That's what happened at Chernobyl. The core went from 1000 MW to 1000 GW in a fraction of a second, blowing everything to hell.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 03:43:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the things that not many people know is that the Navy's reactors are designed in a fail-safe (sort of) manner such that if the coolant temperature rises, the rate of fission decreases. This provides a negative feedback that helps to maintain temperatures and power levels. It's self-regulating. Civilian power plants, which are much, much larger than the Navy's small reactors, are designed such that higher coolant temperatures mean higher rates of fission, which heats the coolant further, creating a feed-forward loop with a tendency to run away. How stupid can you get? I mean, really... how utterly imbecilic can you get?

That's not true... It was true of Chernobyl, but BWRs such as those in Fukushima have a negative void coefficient.

Part of the reason for this is that water acts as a moderator, slowing down neutrons and thus aiding the reaction. If water becomes so hot to turn to steam, the moderation is lost and the reaction slows down because the neutrons are too fast and leave the core before reacting.

So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 04:27:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd say the opposite. Many technologies have always been too dangerous to use, starting from coal onwards.

In the past they were used regardless and the health risks and environmental consequences were simply ignored. Victorian England was a prime example of this, with non-existent sanitation, slave-like worker conditions and a permanent smoggy haze that must have killed millions. But politically very little changed until after WWII. And even then some industries - nuke especially - have been in a permanent reactionary cover-up mode to pretend that the risks don't exist.

Now it's slowly seeping into public awareness that technology has its costs. The difference between then and now is that then it was possible to pretend that the costs were irrelevant.

Now it's becoming obvious how untrue that is.

Awareness is still patchy and it may be 25-50 years before it becomes the consensus. But Fukushima and the rest are helping make sure that change becomes possible.  

What's missing are similar changes in politics, finance and economics. Those worlds remain steadfastly Victorian in outlook - to everyone's detriment

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 05:52:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not a million miles away from your
I think there's a growing awareness that the old ways of doing things no longer work. Even if it's a minority interest, this is the first time in history there's any serious interest in thinking strategically on a planetary scale.

Psychological sophistication is much higher than it used to be. There's the beginning of an understanding that old assumptions about decision making and rationality are wrong.

...

Morality and awareness of human rights are more developed than ever. Politicians continue to ignore the developments, and there are still substantial elements of the population who are happy with the old ways. But there was barely any concept of humanitarian aid or human rights a century ago, and now these concepts are common currency.

Genocide used to be business as usual. What made Hitler and Stalin remarkable wasn't the scale of the genocide - except for mechanising death, they were hardly unusual in history - but that their actions were considered insane and unacceptable. Five hundred years ago they'd have been generic princelings, and nothing out of the ordinary.



So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 06:08:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps what has happened is that the engineers have wised up, but the MBAs are still fat, dumb and happy.

Whether this has something to do with the fact that the MBAs are now doing the jobs that the engineers used to do back when the engineers were still fat, dumb and happy is left as an exercise for the reader.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 07:05:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What it does do is insure that the decision makers are primarily trained in matters economic and administrative rather than technical. That does make a difference. I would like to see the backgrounds of the senior management at TEPCO.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 08:36:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd disagree here, certainly. If people 300 years ago had decided that coal mining was too dangerous we'd be a lot worse off now. Sure, coal mining is dangerous. But not compared to living in a primitive pre-industrial society.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 06:14:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Certainly, action was much more co-ordinated, determined, and thorough. That is facilitated by an authoritarian state and a command economy, of course.

On a technical level, it seems like they did everything possibe as quickly as possible, unlike the Fukushima clusterfuc. A couple of provisos :

  • Not having to respect human rights makes things a lot easier, in particular you can expose your workers to much higher levels of radiation (then abandon them. Though, to be fair, it was largely the post-Soviet regime that abandoned them.)
  • Not being subject to close scrutiny by the media of the entire world makes it easier to come out looking relatively good.

Would Japan have reacted more effectively to such a crisis if it had happened in the 1980s? That doesn't seem obvious to me. I think there are cultural issues about crisis management involved.

On balance, if I had to live through a major nuclear crisis, I would prefer to do so in the USA or France. Not only because they know the tech best, but because I have a feeling they are generically better at crisis management.

[duck and cover]

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 09:43:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
March 25
Because of the Soviet lack of transparency it was possible for them to send in firefighters without telling them what they were working on. It was also possible for the authorities to start evacuating Pripyat within 48 hours, before Forsmark in Sweden raised the alert due to the radiation levels. It was also possible for the Soviets to deploy thousands of "liquidators" to do the cleanup after the fire was out.

Here we have a situation where safety of emergency workers is taken seriously and information flows relatively openly, which probably results in slower crisis response and contamination over longer times.

Compare the incident of the Japanese workers wading ankle-deep in radioactive water with the Chernobyl firefighters.



So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 09:46:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
eurogreen:
if I had to live through a major nuclear crisis, I would prefer to do so in the USA or France. Not only because they know the tech best, but because I have a feeling they are generically better at crisis management
I don't know about France, but the Katrina disaster in New Orleans completely dispelled any notion that the US can do crisis management.

So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 09:48:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know about France, but the USA!? At crisis management!?

in particular you can expose your workers

Most of the active-duty victims were the more than two hundred thousand liquidators, who were hired volunteers and "volunteers":

(then abandon them. Though, to be fair, it was largely the post-Soviet regime that abandoned them.)

The diseases would have come whether they are abandoned or not. It is a myth spun by the nuclear industry that diseases among liquidators and evacuees could be down to the general drop of healthcare after the collapse of the Soviet union, whereas multiple control group studies showed that disease rates are way above that in the general populations.

I think if I had to choose between Japanese and Soviet disaster management, I would have chosen the Japanese: rather be safely evacuated while meltdown containment is unwinding than stave off a technically greater disaster at the price of much greater human disaster.

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

by DoDo on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 09:56:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Plus, despite the criticism, I would say the Japanese have been more transparent than the Soviets and maybe that the Americans at TMI.

Though that may be a function of not being able to hide the fact that a nuclear plant had been affected by the tsunami and was on battery power on the first day.

So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 10:13:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I do get a sense that much of the outcry against hiding information in Japan is due to failure to find or correctly interpret relevant information. This morning I watched a news channel where an 'expert' admonished the Japanese government for not setting up monitoring stations in the 100 km zone around the plant and publish the results regularly – not knowing they do so for two weeks already, on multiple sites.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Mar 31st, 2011 at 10:31:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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