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Coal: The Ignored Juggernaut

The most likely fuel for a world in decline
Thursday, June 28, 2012, 9:46 AM

Oil, natural gas, and alternatives dominate the headlines when it comes to energy. But there's a big and largely-overlooked revolution occurring with the energy source likely to become the most preferred fuel for a world in economic decline: coal.

The United States coal sector has been hit very, very hard this spring. Demand has been crushed by over 10%, as warm weather and bountiful supplies of cheap natural gas have induced power plant operators and all other users where possible to switch away from domestic coal. The rapid change in fortune has sent the stock prices of big, listed names such as Peabody and Arch down by double digit percentages, as the Dow Jones US Coal Index has fallen below 160 from above 225 at the start of 2012.

From Bloomberg:

Central Appalachian thermal coal futures, the U.S. benchmark, averaged $60.20 during the first quarter, down from an average of $73.58 in the year ago period and down from a high of $143.25 in July 2008. “It’s like a perfect storm,” Mann said. “The three main challenges are the really mild winter, a lethargic economy and on top of that, with gas prices being so low, those utilities that can burn gas have opted to burn gas instead of coal because gas is so cheap.” Cheap gas has undercut power producers’ revenues because it drives down wholesale electricity prices, squeezing margins for plants that run on nuclear, renewable and coal power. Moody’s Investors Service changed its outlook for the U.S. coal industry to “negative” from “stable” on May 7, citing weak prices and a drop in power demand, and said it expects a 5 percent decline in prices for coal deliveries in 2013. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects the industry to see a 10.9 percent decline in coal consumption this year and Moody’s expects U.S. coal demand from power plants to plunge by 100 million tons by 2020, the ratings company said in the report.

(Source)

Given the rather weak near-term and long-term outlook for US coal demand, it’s not surprising that within such a capital-intensive business, a number of smaller coal producers were hit recently with bankruptcy rumors. Indeed, even large cap names like Arch Coal have seen an escalation of concern over debt levels. Accordingly, many have concluded that coal -- in an era of solar, wind, and natural gas -- has finally displaced itself due to its problematic extraction, distant transportation, and overall costs. Is coal finally going away as an energy source?

Not a chance.

Indeed, everything currently unfolding for coal in the United States is precisely what is not unfolding for coal globally. Prices to import natural gas to most countries via LNG remain sky-high, easily protecting coal’s cost advantage. And the demand for coal in the developing world remains gargantuan. Accordingly, just as with oil, lower US demand simply frees up supply to elsewhere in the world.

The global coal juggernaut rolls onward.

Soaring US Exports

In the same way that falling US oil consumption has freed up global supply, so now is US declining coal demand freeing up production for export. Last year marked a twenty-year high in US coal exports:

For the full year of 2011, the US exported 107,259 thousand short tons of coal. This was the highest level of coal exports since 1991. More impressive: exports recorded a more than 25% leap compared to the previous year, 2010. (see data here, opens to PDF).  Additionally, this was also a dramatic breakout in volume from the previous decade, which ranged from 40,000 – 80,000 thousand short tons per annum.

(Source)

The United States remains a large consumer of coal, and currently places second, behind China, in the top global users, which I call the Coal 7: China, USA, India, Japan, Russia, South Africa, and Germany. Accordingly, this means that the US, which currently consumes about 15% of total global demand, is about to become a marginal new source of global supply.

Although most grades of coal are still trading at a cheaper price level than a similar equivalent amount of BTUs sourced from natural gas, the all-in costs of burning coal in the United States given our regulatory framework is now higher than burning natural gas. In one sense, this is not a new story. Indeed, the advent of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and the historic wave of pollution regulations set the United States on a course away from coal and towards natural gas over 40 years ago. Even the coal industry is eager to advertise the long decline of coal-fired pollution (as a portion of the whole) in the United States, which is due overall to an increase in emissions control, but is mostly the result of the rise of natural-gas-fired power since the early 1970s.

Global Coal Picture

What has changed, however, is that coal is the preferred energy source of the developing world.

In addition, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has shifted its manufacturing to the developing world over the past few decades, coal has been the cheap energy source that has powered the rise of such manufacturing, especially in Asia. Accordingly, the extraordinary increase in global coal consumption the past decade is partly due to the OECD offshoring its own industrial production. How are most consumer goods made? Using electricity in developing world manufacturing centers, generated by coal.

Only a very small portion of the global public is aware that global coal consumption has advanced by over 50% in the past decade. According to data from the just-released BP Statistical Review, from 2001 through 2011, global consumption of coal rose an astonishing 56%. Using the energy unit Mtoe (million tonnes oil equivalent), global coal consumption rose 1,343 Mtoe, from 2,381 to 3,724 Mtoe. And this trend shows no sign of slowing down.

Additionally, this advance contrasts greatly with the flattening of global oil production and thus the slowdown in global oil consumption. Oil's price revolution has killed a great deal of oil demand. But few are aware that while oil has fallen as a portion of primary world energy supply, coal has stormed to prominence. This is why the export of US coal, and world trade in coal, still has room to run.

Coal Hunger: It’s Not Just China

Coal consumption in the robust Indian economy has grown rapidly in recent years, averaging 8.5% per year in 2006-10 according to EIA data, including growth of 10.8% in 2010. Although we have slightly reduced our 2012-13 growth forecasts for India in light of global developments, the economy is still expected to grow by around 8% per year. Coal consumption is therefore expected to continue to rise strongly, boosted by the long-term plan to increase thermal power-generation capacity in an effort to increase access to electricity in rural areas. In its new five-year plan for the period 2012-17 the Indian government envisages that the rate of annual demand growth could stay at around 8%.

(Source: World Coal: The IEU’s Monthly Outlook, via The Economist Intelligence Unit)

2008 saw the crossing of a major milestone in humanity’s march towards industrialism, when, for the first time ever, more than 50% of the world’s population became urban.

This great migration from the countryside to the cities, which is happening in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, is a primary driver for coal demand, as millions of new city dwellers take their place in the power grid. This recent table of projected urban population growth rates from the Economist, in its piece on Emerging Market Cities, demonstrates that an enormous phase of change still lies ahead:

(Source)

The world continues to marvel at the growth rates seen in Chinese cities, like Shanghai, which is expected to add over 200,000 new residents per year in the 15-year period from 2010 to 2025. Such a pace will grow the Shanghai population from its 2010 level of 16.6 million residents to at least 19.6 million residents. However, the growth rates of urbanization are even faster in emerging mega-cities such as Kinshasa, Lagos, Karachi, Dhaka, Mumbai, and of course, Delhi. As Mike Davis writes in his terrific book, Planet of Slums:

Ninety-five percent of this final buildout of humanity will occur in the urban areas of developing countries, whose populations will double to nearly 4 billion over the next generation…The scale and the velocity of Third World urbanization, moreover, utterly dwarfs that of Victorian Europe. London in 1910 was seven times larger than it had been in 1800, but Dhaka, Kinshasa, and Lagos today are each approximately forty times larger than they were in 1950.

(Source)

Despite the fact that the developing world has indeed increased its demand for oil, thus taking nearly 100% of the supply freed up by weak OECD economies, the economies of the developing world are largely running not on liquid BTUs, but rather on BTUs from coal.

Coal’s versatility, in that it can be stored cheaply and transported via ship, rail, truck, or in smaller quantities by small personal transport, makes it the logical energy choice for the developing world. (This is not to say that wind and solar do not also make sense in non-OECD nations. Indeed, the fast pace of growth in renewables in the developing world is astonishing as well). Most important is that the cheap price of coal, especially when burned without environmental regulations, aligns with developing world wages.

For those concerned with climate change, this is, of course, terrible news. However, many of the world’s international organizations, from the International Energy Agency in Paris to various OECD policy-making groups, remain very focused on making sure that developing world nations get access to electricity. There is a strong view and strong agreement among Western policy makers that working to ensure that the world’s poor have access to electricity is the most transformative action to pull humanity out of poverty. Surely this is why the World Bank has been investing heavily in coal-fired power production. From World Bank Invests Record Sums in Coal, via The Ecologist.

(Source)

Rebounding Into Coal

The financial crisis period of the past five years has served to highlight the new and constant restraint that oil prices place on the world economy. What’s over now is the fast growth made possible by cheap, liquid BTU (oil). But this is precisely why the economies of the non-OECD continue to increase their coal consumption, and why the world economy -- when it advances -- rebounds into coal.

There are enough BTUs from natural gas and coal to fund global economic growth for years to come. If natural gas from North America was exportable right now, then world prices for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) would be much lower than the $14-$18 level seen from Europe to Asia. Instead, North American natural gas remains landlocked and will remain so until export facilities are completed. This makes for a highly irregular pricing landscape in natural gas, in which Americans pay $2.50 for a million BTUs of natural gas, while heavy importers like Japan can pay as much as $17.00 per million BTUs. Accordingly, it is coal and not natural gas that provides the converged pricing to the world market. And with thermal coal trading around $2.50 - $3.50 per million BTUs, the continuing transition to coal is unstoppable.

In Part II: Coal is the Fuel for a World in Decline, we explain that a series of ongoing financial crises only accelerates the transition to coal as the obvious energy source in a time a declining wealth. As the world gets poorer, with higher-income OECD economies set to converge with lower-income non-OECD economies, coal remains the cheapest form of globally traded BTUs, adding low-cost power to economies under pressure. Finally, using the just released data from the BP Statistical Review, we update the latest forecasts on the future crossover point, when coal regains its number one position from oil and once again becomes the primary energy source of the world.

Click here to read Part II of this report (free executive summary; paid enrollment required for full access).

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64 Comments

brjohnson789's picture
brjohnson789
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Coal's health impact

I actually just submitted an article to the Daily Digest about coal's impact on health costs.  (Did not see this article out yet, honest!)  Sorry if this is old news to everyone, I did not recall seeing this yet. 

"We all knew coal is harmful — we figured people just ignored that harm because of their profit margins. But according to the prestigious American Economic Review, harm from coal-fired electrical plants costs more than twice as much as the electricity they generate. All told, coal plants cause $53 billion in damage every year. And none of that even takes climate impacts into account.
Health effects from coal-fired plants — increased deaths from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates — comprise more than a quarter of pollution-related damages from U.S. industry. That's a conservative estimate, done by centrist economists, that leaves out the health effects of climate change altogether. But probably more important is the conclusion that coal plants are a cost-benefit nightmare. 

  
[actual research article can be found here:  http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/aer.101.5.1649 ]

 

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rhare
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1 sided - What would be the impact wihout electricity from coal?

brjohnson789 wrote:

"We all knew coal is harmful — we figured people just ignored that harm because of their profit margins.

Glancing though the research article, just skimed it.  I didn't see anything indicating they analyzed the impacts of lack of electricity as a harmful effect?  It's all well and good to point out that burning coal produces some harmful effects but unless you compare it to the other alternatives, less electricity and the impact that has (crime due to less lighting, less cooling/heating, etc).  How do you know if the tradeoff is worth it?

It's quite possible that not burning coal would be more harmful?  Every power generation techology  including solar/wind have impacts and side effects.

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
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Stop the press.

I am all set to go to the ICCF17 conference in Daejeon, Korea. There will be demonstrations of Cold Fusion. I will tell you what I see with my eyeball.

There is an impressive lineup of attendees. No Australians.

I loath and detest coal. Very bad safety record. Nasty lifestyle. Something about the climate catastrophe.

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
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Re: Going to Korea

Arthur,

I will be most interested to read your direct observations of cold fusion.  I definitely have one eye on the technology as a potential disruptor.  Haven't seen anything truly convincing yet that it is anything more than a minor laboratory curiosity, but there's enough there to capture my attention.

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Jim H
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Cold Fusion

Unless and until an operating reactor is monitored by an independent, knowledgeable third party, with all inflows and outflows of electricity, Hydrogen, and heat isolated and measured with calibrated equipment, how would you really know what you are looking at?  

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cmartenson
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Need proof

Jim H wrote:

Unless and until an operating reactor is monitored by an independent, knowledgeable third party, with all inflows and outflows of electricity, Hydrogen, and heat isolated and measured with calibrated equipment, how would you really know what you are looking at?  

You won't.

I have not yet spent a lot of time looking at the, say, Rossi device because all of the observed 'tests' were not done independently.  

However, I have seen a few presentations by professors at major US universities that have enough peer reviewed data to suggest that there might be something there.  

But until everything is done according the very highest standards of measurement and verification I remain in curious-skeptical mode.

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Septimus
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Coal in the U.S.

I used to work in the utilities industry in Kentucky and was just back for a visit connecting with friends, including those still in the industry. Current and upcoming federal regulations are causing causing coal plants to be canceled and existing plants to be shut down, coal will not be used as a fuel of any type (in the U.S.only) as the current administration continues to implement its regulations utility prices will "necessarily skyrocket".

See http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/06/09/Your-Electricity-Bill... for more info.

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herewego
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Arthur

Arthur, I'm delighted to hear we will have your eyeball on the job at the International Conference on Cold Fusion, whether or not this technology will be part of our future.  

I've been reading John Michael Greer's very enjoyable "The Wealth of Nature:  Economics as if Survival Mattered" and am struck by his explanation of diffuse versus concentrated energy sources (ie, the Sun's energy versus fossil fuel energy) in his chapter "The Price of Energy".  There's a re-thinking challenge there at least for me.  Apparently, sci-fi themes aside, the extremely concentrated energy forms that have been the norm for my entire life are NOT lying around all over the universe waiting for us to use them.  Further, attempts to transform diffuse energy into concentrated fail both in terms of money and EROEI.  So (pg 143):

"What this means, ultimately, is that the change from today's industrial economy to the economies of the future can't be accomplished by plugging in some other energy source to replace petroleum or other fossil fuels.  Nor can it be done by downscaling existing technologies to fit a sparser energy budget.  it requires reconceiving our entire approach to technology, starting with the paired recognitions that the very modest supply of concentrated energy sources we can expect to have after the end of the fossil fuel age will have to be reserved for those tasks that still need to be done and can't be done with any more diffuse source, and that anything that can be done with diffuse energy needs to be done with diffuse energy if it's going to be done at all."

Shorthand, from his June 6 blog entry at http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.ca/  "Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush".  I want the T-shirt.  Meanwhile, it surely is sweet to sit here in front of my magic machine listening to superb electronica from the other side of the world and learning from fine minds around the globe.  Concentrated energy has some nice features....  How I will miss it!

Where all this fits in with cold fusion remains to be seen.  Have yourself a fine time at the conference and please do fill us in when you get back.

Susan

PS Love your quirky, pointy posts!

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funglestrumpet
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Coal

Climate change will put an end to all this nonsense about coal becoming the fuel of the future. When the public catches on to the way their politicians have deceived them, they are going to demand proper action. Part of which will be ditching coal as a fuel. Many think that climate change is something for future generations to worry about. Think on! While we cannot say with certainty that any particular extreme weather event is due to climate change, we can say with confidence that the increased frequency of such events is exactly in line with what the models say should happen. Furthermore, we can also say with confidence that it is going to get worse, a lot worse, before it gets better. Old Mother Nature’s laws are immutable, no matter how much some politicians and TV ‘personalities’ might think otherwise.

There has been a hiatus in air temperature rise over the last few years. That does not mean that the warming has stopped. Just look at the temperature rise in the oceans, if you do not believe me. The heat has been going into the them because we have had a series of La Niña events. This site should be advising its followers to be prepared for the next El Niño, which is a lot more important than ‘backyard chickens’ etc. If the next El Niño is anything like as big as the 1998 one, heaven help us.

If you really want a means of energy supply for the future, then surely thorium reactors are top of the list. Go to TED talks and search for Kirk Sorensen if you would like to know more. It is a pity that it looks like China is going to beat the west into developing them and I guess we will have to go cap in hand if we don’t soon get on with developing them here. It is difficult to believe that they were proven in the U.S.A. over fifty years ago and only dropped because they cannot be used to make nuclear weapons, which were needed for the Cold War. Today that is surely a big plus.

For anyone who suspects that the politicians could possibly be wrong (think Sarah Palin and her kind) about climate change and the scientists who spend their lives investigating the issue could be right, go to skepticalscience.com and read up on the matter. Do it for your children and grandchildren, if not for yourself.

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rhare
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Doesn't matter if you believe in AGW or not....

funglestrumpet wrote:

Climate change will put an end to all this nonsense about coal becoming the fuel of the future. When the public catches on to the way their politicians have deceived them, they are going to demand proper action. Part of which will be ditching coal as a fuel.

No chance.....

It doesn't matter if everyone suddenly said okay fine, man made global warming is real, people are not going to give up their TVs, Ipads, Air conditioning, ....  all those nice things that all use tons of electricity.   And with no alternative (at least not reasonably close), the coal plants are with us for a until the coal runs out.  Even if the OECD countries weren't completely broke and could actually build replacement generation, all the developing countries aren't about to give up on their development either.

As far as Thorium, while its a technology that might be developed it's never been and never will be the panacea all the advocates make it out to be.  There are a lot of technical challenges to it (as with any non-trivial technology), and it would take a huge amount of investment.... but we are broke...

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Arthur Robey
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Thanks all.

If we are to continue this civilization experiment that I depend apon for my survival, then we will need a concentrated form of energy.

The most concentrated form that we have is nuclear. But Fukashima should have convinced sane people that fission has it's drawbacks.

The only source of fusion energy we can see is the sun. This has led people to the illogical conclusion that hot fusion is the only fusion that can take place.

My choice for the three most likely candidates for a fusion are Focused Beam Fusion, Muon fusion and Cold fusion. Scanning the experimental results of Cold Fusion leads me to believe that there are a family of explanations for a range of phenomena.

Notwithstanding the long rollout time, if all of these avenues are duds then our future is set in concrete. Hence the trip to Daejeong. I have a lot of reading to do.

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locksmithuk
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Population growth 'facts'

I note that Shanghai's 2010 population in Credit Suisse's "Cities in emerging economies" chart above is at odds - materially - with the official 2010 census for Shanghai's urban count by China's own National Bureau of Statistics (16.6m vs 20.6m).

Unless we're saying that China's maths differs from everyone else's then I'm thinking that if the start point for the subsequent population forecasts, assumptions, and conclusions isn't correct then what else have the chartists and bloggists got wrong?

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funglestrumpet
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Climate Change

rhare wrote:

It doesn't matter if everyone suddenly said okay fine, man made global warming is real, people are not going to give up their TVs, Ipads, Air conditioning, .... all those nice things that all use tons of electricity. And with no alternative (at least not reasonably close), the coal plants are with us for a until the coal runs out. Even if the OECD countries weren't completely broke and could actually build replacement generation, all the developing countries aren't about to give up on their development either.

Yeah, you're right, screw our chlldren and grandchildren, our toys are more important. And Americans wonder why they are so despised!

rhare also wrote:

As far as Thorium, while its a technology that might be developed it's never been and never will be the panacea all the advocates make it out to be. There are a lot of technical challenges to it (as with any non-trivial technology),

Strange how those working on it think otherwise. Climate change shows just how far vested interests are prepared to go (even to the extent of jeopardising the well-being of their own offspring) in defending their shareholders. The current nuclear industry has a lot to lose if thorium were to be adopted, so we should beware of just how far it too will go to protect its own shareholders. As for not affording to develop thorium reactors, the question is: can America afford not to develop them? They are, among other things, fail-safe. There may well come a time when the general public demand that as a pre-requisite for even using any form of nuclear reactors (many already feel strongly that way). In that circumstance it will be bye-bye the uranium fueled dinosaurs that the world is currently stuck with. Another 3 Mile Island and suddenly America is in deep doo-dah (I mean much deeper than the doo-dah it is currently in).

I would have more respect for rhare's views if they were to cite sources for information on which they are based.

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funglestrumpet
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fusion

Fusion has been thirty years away for as long as I can remember and by the look of things will remain thirty years away well past any point in time that it might come even close to actually working, let alone come remotely close to sufficiently widespread application that would have any significant value to society.

As far as the comment that fission has its drawbacks, well true, uranium fueled fission reactors have a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous, as one would expect from a fail-dangerous technology. Not all fission reactors, however, fall into that category. Try finding fault with the proven technology of thorium reactors, which are fail-safe and a good bit better in almost every comparable aspect of their application.

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Coal will enable US to go Solar (of all flavors) in a Big Way.

Good luck in Korea, I hope they have something to show the World that is ready for Prime Time and not just a request for more funding for ever more R & D...

Germany will be bringing some of their "NEW" state of the art coal fired generators on line very soon and I'm looking forward to seeing their numbers, hopefully they will be orders of magnitude cleaner than US coal fired generators.  We need coal to "fillin" untill we can get rid of nuclear reactors because they are too RISKY because no Country can afford a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster like Fukushima and neither can the Planet....

With the price of Solar (of all flavors) dropping monthly and the cost of Nuclear Reactors (R&D, construction , repairs and decommissioning) spiraling ever upward by the time many of these reactors get finished the energy will have to be subsidized by their Government!
 

China better start doing some future cost analysis or they will be digging a nuclear "hole" for themselves at the very time other major Countries are shifting to Solar (of all flavors) as the modern safe Energy Alternative, like Germany is doing!
 

If the Chinese, Indians, Russians, Japanese, Europe, US and Koreans wanted to become true World Leaders, they would Champion Solar from Space Together and then lead the World toward a safe new future; these books explain how:
 

The High Frontier by Gerard K. O'Neill,
Colonies In Space by A. Heppenheim­er.
The Third Industrial Revolution by G. Harry Stine
The Space Enterprise by Philip Robert Harris
Mining the Sky by John S. Lewis
 
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CaptD
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I agree, curious-skeptical at best...

Until someone constructs a working demostration "plant" and allows others to monitor it, I believe this is just more advanced funding advertising/requests for "partners"...

If by some chance S. Korea has pulled the rabbit out of the hat, I'll be the first to salute them when it is built and working 24/7/365...

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CaptD
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Thorium is Borium...
Don't believe the spin on THORIUM being a greener nuclear option:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/23/thorium-nuclear-uranium
 
Solar (of all flavors):
... Is faster to install,
... Costs less to install
... Is ready for 24/7 power
... Requires no decommissioning costs
... And has no Nuclear RISK...
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CaptD
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Coal is here to stay for the near future, as Nuclear winds down.
Yes coal has problems but it is important to remember tht coal is not a scary as Nuclear which can such enormous RISKs associated with it that it is no longer acceptable when their is any alternative energy source )pun intended).  The nuclear industry is very powerful, so there has been little credable reporting on what has up until this point been mostly Nuclear Baloney* foisted upon both the Japanese and all those now breathing Fukushima radioactive pollution GLOBALLY…
 
LEFT UNSAID, is why anyone should accept any amounts of radioactive pollution from any reactor World-Wide. If radioactive pollution from say Iran or North Korea covered the USA and Europe like Fukushima’s radioactivity is now doing, the USA and or NATO would be considering bombing them or at lease rattling sabers; yet because it is Japan, the Nuclear Fascists** just put on a happy face and lobby for ever more nuclear reactors.
 
Thanks to the web and blogs like this one, many have taken up the call to report on what is really happening not just in Japan but in every Country that is plagued by leaking and or aged reactors. No more are people willing to accept the myth of 100% safety since Fukushima proved beyond a doubt that Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7/365! That realization plus the RISK of a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster like Fukushima have made even previous supporters of nuclear energy rethink future Energy plans. With the cost of Solar (of all flavors) dropping almost monthly and the cost of nuclear spiraling ever upward, shifting to renewables has never been more practical unless you are receiving some form of Nuclear Payback***.
 
* http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Nuclear+Baloney
** http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=nuclear+fascism
*** http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Nuclear+payback
Those that support nuclear power because nuclear power somehow supports them; no matter what the health implications or other “costs” are for others.
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CaptD
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See #17

Try Googling Thorium and then realize that the thorium tech is futureristic at best...

Remember upscaling a tiny lab model into a workng power plant is difficult and costly at best.

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CaptD
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Thumbs Up

Agreed!

Our Energy suppliers want to maintain the status quo at all costs and are now just starting to add Solar (of all flavors) to their energy mix because the public is demanding it...

Expect to see more of this, from our Leaders:

Nuclear Power and the Not-So-Divided Japanese Public

 
http://wp.me/pDwKM-2lH
 
​BTW: This is a great site for Nuclear info that is well researched.
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CaptD wrote: LEFT UNSAID, is

CaptD wrote:

LEFT UNSAID, is why anyone should accept any amounts of radioactive pollution from any reactor World-Wide. If radioactive pollution from say Iran or North Korea covered the USA and Europe like Fukushima’s radioactivity is now doing, the USA and or NATO would be considering bombing them or at lease rattling sabers; yet because it is Japan, the Nuclear Fascists** just put on a happy face and lobby for ever more nuclear reactors.

 
Thanks to the web and blogs like this one, many have taken up the call to report on what is really happening not just in Japan but in every Country that is plagued by leaking and or aged reactors. No more are people willing to accept the myth of 100% safety since Fukushima proved beyond a doubt that Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7/365! That realization plus the RISK of a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster like Fukushima have made even previous supporters of nuclear energy rethink future Energy plans. With the cost of Solar (of all flavors) dropping almost monthly and the cost of nuclear spiraling ever upward, shifting to renewables has never been more practical unless you are receiving some form of Nuclear Payback.
 
 
Why you ask?  Mostly because, with a few exceptions, the levels of naturally occurring radiation are higher.
 
As you spend more time on this site you will come to find out that we function for the most part in a world of facts.  You would need to source your claim that the nuclear industry ever believed it was 100% safe - having spent 20+ in the Navy's nuclear propulsion program it was the knowledge that it wasn't a 100% "safe" program that made me and my crew focus that much more closely on procedural compliance, safe operations and frequent casualty drill scenarios.
 
Ad hominem attacks do not bolster your opinions.......
 
Now if you'll excuse me, I have another meeting of "Young Nuclear Fascists" to go to.  And right after I finish polishing my jack-boots I'm going to go drown some kitties and puppies.
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rhare
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So where's your math?

funglestrumpet wrote:

I would have more respect for rhare's views if they were to cite sources for information on which they are based.

Okay, so let's assume the world says Yeah "thorium is the best fuel ever", and we decide to figure out how to build these reactors, note that they are being worked on but most say they hope to have a pilot scale reactor in 20 years (2030).

So lets be optimistic and assume we have only 20 years before the science and material technology will allow us to build a working scale reactor, 30 TWh/yr (like Palo Verde - largest US plant). 

World electrical production in 2008 was 20,261 TWh, of which coal is about 41% of that generation, so that means to replace coal consumed in 2008 would need 8,307 TWh of production.

So at very large plants, to replace world coal use you need: 8,307/30 = 277 plants, or somewhere close to 800 reactors (3/plant).  That's just to replace usage in 2008, EIA projects 53% growth by 2035, so that would mean you really need 1,270 reactors. 

So, how are you going to build them?  Who will build them? That a lot of highly specialized skilled labor in a technology that does not exist today. Who will pay for them?

For some more sobering facts, this gives a good view of Chinas role.

So I've shown you some math.  Even if you started today, your looking at many decades to replace the generation capacity of coal in use today. So perhaps you should show some of your math versus that hopy-changy thing you've got going on there.

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Space based solar power - less likely than thorium reactors

CaptD wrote:


If the Chinese, Indians, Russians, Japanese, Europe, US and Koreans wanted to become true World Leaders, they would Champion Solar from Space Together and then lead the World toward a safe new future; these books explain how:

Space solar is ever less likely than the thorium reactor.  Fortunately someone has already done a great job of the math for this one:

Space-based solar power

The bottom line is terrestrial solar power is much much much easier and cheaper than space based, why go to space when you can actually use a proven technology to get the same results.

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Earth Based Solar is cheaper NOW but not in the near Future

I agree, Earth based Solar IS cheaper now but the concept of using NON-Earth based materials to built them in space will make them far less costly over time and the Sun shines 24/7 in Space so the power generated is much greater...

Thanks for your link, I'll check it out.

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Few Exceptions?

Naval reactors are yet another issue, one because of their size and another because of their operation by the Military; that said, there have been a number of military nuclear related accidents, as I'm sure you are aware...  Accident happens and when a Fukushima happens it affects the Planet; how many accidents will it take before mankind learns we have to do better?

IMO, Land based nuclear reactors pose the greatest threat to mankind not only because they can cause a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster but also they are typically run for profit by companies like TEPCO that tend to put safety way down their "To Do" list...

It is no surprize that tthe Nuclear Industry is doing everything it can to retain it's market share instead of investing in other forms of Energy generation that pose less danger for the USA and the Planet.

RE: Your meetings and the rest of your comment, I think you are over reacting to a preceived "attack" and the use of the word "Fascist" which I believe accurately describes those that want to push ever more nuclear at any cost for short term profits...

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Great Comment and link...

Great Chinese Coal Info... THX and Thumbs Up

Here's hoping the Germans are coming up with a much better system that China will then adopt or build upon!  Anyone that has been in China knows what their air quality is like!

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CaptD wrote: Naval reactors

CaptD wrote:

Naval reactors are yet another issue, one because of their size and another because of their operation by the Military; that said, there have been a number of military nuclear related accidents, as I'm sure you are aware...  Accident happens and when a Fukushima happens it affects the Planet; how many accidents will it take before mankind learns we have to do better?

Not sure what you mean by "yet another issue"

CaptD wrote:

IMO, Land based nuclear reactors pose the greatest threat to mankind not only because they can cause a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster but also they are typically run for profit by companies like TEPCO that tend to put safety way down their "To Do" list...

Land based reactors don't cause eco-disasters but in the case of Fukushima they clearly contribute to and exacerbate them.  Earthquake + tsunami + operating reactor plants = Disaster.  It's a series function.  Take away any of the three and we wouldn't be having this conversation.

You are dead wrong with your statement that power companies (deliberately) put safety way down on their "To Do" list.  They conduct risk analysis which often times turns out to be flawed.  I can't speak for official DOE and NRC policy, but I do know a lot of people in the industry, many of whom I trained and served with.  They would take great exception with your statement and unless you can provide concrete evidence of widespread practices such as you claim then all you are doing is making an unfounded statement of opinion.  Have there been cases of poor decision making with regards to safety?  You bet.  Chernobyl was such an event.  Is the practice endemic and widespread throughout the industry as it seems you would have us believe?  Not a chance.

CaptD wrote:

It is no surprize that tthe Nuclear Industry is doing everything it can to retain it's market share instead of investing in other forms of Energy generation that pose less danger for the USA and the Planet.

RE: Your meetings and the rest of your comment, I think you are over reacting to a preceived "attack" and the use of the word "Fascist" which I believe accurately describes those that want to push ever more nuclear at any cost for short term profits...

You're starting to sound like an Arnie Gunderson shill.

Mike Vick beat me to the puppies............

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Not completely....

I recently came across energy plan I could live with and it works like this:

I get a propane fueled truck and use propane as long as the price agrees with me. Because I can eventually use my farm resources to make methane, which is very near propane's carbon. Though I will most likely still buy some propane for use, I can reduce my dependancy on it.

I also get a propane electric generator and do the similar switcher-roo as my methane production increases.

What I like about the use of propane now-methane later is its easy and powerful enough to get us places and if we co-generate, we can take heat off the electrical generator.

We may add some solar and wind integrated into the design of the methane production just to make the production more effecient, but the bottom line is for the bang for the buck and that I can depend on methane production from sources like a toilet to the farm animals - means I can always have transportation and electricity.

I realize, this may not work for people in large populations....or would it? If sewer systems fueled public transportation, it just might and the change can begin now using propane and natural gas as the fuel of choice.

One more note, using natural gas to fuel trucks is already available to people and the convenience is over that of gas powered cars n trucks. People who use natural gas vehicles (mainly made by Toyota) can fuel up from the gaslines they already have at their homes.

I know the fracking arguement on natural gas, but I have heard solutions to it that don't involve chemicals into the ground. One safe fracking method is to pump anarobic microbes into the shale, which will not only break up the rock, but by their nature will also increase the pressure as they multiply (reducing the cost to pump it up from the ground.

I think coal has its place and will continue to grow in uses, but so will many other unique solutions that are on the drawing board now. It is going to take every input we can think of to ride the slide down of energy decline to a safe landing.

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Back on Track

It is sad when even blog discussions are reduced to name calling by folks that think that they have the only answers, + forget the puppies talk, it is unnecessary and it makes you look silly ...

You want an example of a nuclear utility trying to soupup a reactor without getting permission from the NRC, here is a current on; it even has the engineering info for you to review, enjoy!

http://is.gd/qiXNdJ

Would you put up with this kind of "service", I know I would not...
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Citing a report when the "expert" witness isn't an expert....

CaptD wrote:

It is sad when even blog discussions are reduced to name calling by folks that think that they have the only answers, + forget the puppies talk, it is unnecessary and it makes you look silly ...

You want an example of a nuclear utility trying to soupup a reactor without getting permission from the NRC, here is a current on; it even has the engineering info for you to review, enjoy!

http://is.gd/qiXNdJ

Would you put up with this kind of "service", I know I would not...

Please tell me you did not just cite an Arnie Gunderson "report" and expect anyone to believe he has a shred of credibility.  He has inflated his resume in the nuclear energy industry and in some cases has been accused by some of flat out lying.  Without getting into a pissing contest over this, I am a certified engineer on 4 different Navy power plants, the smallest of which had several hundred million times the power output of Gunderson's.  If you are going to come into these forums and have Arnie Gunderson carry your water you can expect to get called out.  You may call it name calling, but using Gunderson as a credible expert and trying to make an argument based on his "expertise" rightfully qualifies you as a shill for the other side.  Besides, where have I heard the expression "Nuclear Fascist"??????

He was licensed to operate a reactor that operated at room temperature and pressure in a fish tank.  Max output?  About 100 watts.  It could, on occasion power a light bulb.

Gunderson has a long history of fear mongering while touting an experience base, and certification and experience history that he simply does not have.  Read more here about your "expert" - some material is repeated because I didn't feel like re-editing the post cited:  http://www.peakprosperity.com/comment/135433#comment-135433

"Gundersen has ZERO credibility with me - and many others. He inflated his resume, he overstated his experience. For one, the only reactor he was ever "licensed" to operate was a reactor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1971 to 1972. This reactor was a 100 Watt reactor that operated at room temperature, at atmospheric pressure in an open tank of water. For the record, 100 watts is about the heat output of a freakin' lightbulb. One version of his resume read as follows:

“Critical Facility Reactor Operator, Instructor. Licensed AEC reactor operator instructing students and utility reactor operators in start-up through full power operation of a reactor.”

I'm taking some license, but in short, he instructed students how to turn on...................a light bulb.

His "4 decades of experience in the nuclear industry" is a bit of a stretch. According to his resume, following his graduation in 1972, he worked at Northeast Utilities from 1972-1976. Digging around on the internet shows that he was assigned to the licensing group at NU and that he had no real design engineering responsibilities as he has recently frequently claimed.

There are many inconsistencies with other things Gundersen has said - here's a glaring one taken from a 2008 application to serve on the Diablo Canyon Safety Committee:

" Since 1970 Arnold Gundersen has been an expert witness in nuclear litigations at the Federal and State hearings such as Three Mile Island, US NRC ASLB, Vermont State Public Service Board, Western Atlas Nuclear Litigation, U.S. Senate Nuclear Safety Hearings, Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant Litigation"

Gundersen graduated from RPI in 1971.  Do the math.

More discussion about his inflated resume and exaggerated experience claims here: http://atomicinsights.com/2011/02/arnie-gundersen-has-inflated-his-resume-yet-frequently-claims-that-entergy-cannot-be-trusted.html

More info about his fear mongering here: http://atomicinsights.com/2011/06/arnie-gundersen-going-international.html

(Note: this article was written a year ago and there is a statement in it that claims that the radiation released from Fukushima hasn't made anyone sick and that it was a non-fatal accident. While that may have been correct at the time, it is highly likely that there have been cases of radiation sickness since June 2011)

Here are some pretty good links to articles discussing what really happened at Fukushima - that contradicts claims that Gundersen made frequently, loudly, and incorrectly.

http://atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com/2011/06/fukushima-daiichi-update-saturday-june_18.html

A breakdown of what really happened at Unit 4 with respect to the spent fuel pool:

http://www.4factorconsulting.com/energy-industry/nuclear-power-and-the-witch-hunt

Full disclosure - these articles and debunks were written by current nuclear industry insiders. I know Rod Adams, we went through the training pipeline together and the US Navy's submarine community is pretty small. I trust Rod Adams. I DO NOT trust Arnie Gundersen. Some will argue that anything written by the nuclear industry is to be dismissed because they are biased and solely profit motivated. I am in no way saying that to some degree this does not exist in the industry, but to outright dismiss these articles is a poison pill argument.

Fukushima wasn't and isn't as rosy a situation as some would have you believe - it is bad, but as I have stated numeroues times, it is bad.....locally. It is not the "Mass Extinction Event" some articles have labelled it. Nor is it the "biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind" as Arnie Gundersen is claiming. The Union Carbide disaster at Bhopal still tops my list and is still causing problems in the area almost 30 years later. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster

To wrap up, Gundersen has repeatedly exaggerated his very limited experience in the nuclear industry - some would say he outright lied. To say he lied is a pretty strong statement, and I won't go there. But there is no doubt in my mind that he has greatly exaggerated things. He has preyed on the fears of an uninformed audience by waving around a resume that doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Chris hitched his cart to the wrong horse by bringing Gundersen to the site - he flat out blew it on the discussion of the spent fuel pool in Unit #4. I think now would be a good time to get Rod Adams as a guest speaker on the current state of the accident response at Fukushima Daiichi, but as of yet that suggestion has fallen on deaf ears."

BTW - if you think my puppy comment was "unnecessary and only makes me look silly", you have a lot of my posts to read that are much better than that comment.  I'm rather fond of an irreverent approach to many topics, and even when I'm mostly serious you can expect a distractor or two......

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No reply to the list of issues, why is that?

Your reply was long and contained lots of Anti-Arnie links but you failed to even comment on the list of Utility issues mentioned in the link...  Why is that, since you consider yourself "nuclear knowledgeable," can you not see forest for the trees or is all nuclear just wonderful to you? 

I bet a Rod Adams Arnie Gundersen dibate would be very informative, especially if both kept to the facts and the conversation did not become name calling...

BTW: Where were all the "nuclear knowledgable" people's comments about Fukushima and the radioactive pollution it has and continues to cause Japan?

Any comment on the Japanese burning of radioactive tainted debris that is making its way to North America?

Unlike you, I salute your right to have an opposing opinion even if it is completely misguided; nuclear fallout from reactor accidents like Fukushima is a bigger worry than Global Warming...

In short, the USA has just been very LUCKY so far, since Fukushima proved that Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7/365!

How would you suggest the USA pay for a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster, should one occur here?

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CaptD wrote:Your reply was

CaptD wrote:

Your reply was long and contained lots of Anti-Arnie links but you failed to even comment on the list of Utility issues mentioned in the link...  Why is that, since you consider yourself "nuclear knowledgeable," can you not see forest for the trees or is all nuclear just wonderful to you? 

I bet a Rod Adams Arnie Gundersen dibate would be very informative, especially if both kept to the facts and the conversation did not become name calling...

BTW: Where were all the "nuclear knowledgable" people's comments about Fukushima and the radioactive pollution it has and continues to cause Japan?

Any comment on the Japanese burning of radioactive tainted debris that is making its way to North America?

Unlike you, I salute your right to have an opposing opinion even if it is completely misguided; nuclear fallout from reactor accidents like Fukushima is a bigger worry than Global Warming...

In short, the USA has just been very LUCKY so far, since Fukushima proved that Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7/365!

How would you suggest the USA pay for a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster, should one occur here?

Since you have exactly ZERO experience in the nuclear field can you please be done with this discussion now.  I don't even know where to start to begin to address your affinity for fear mongering which can only come from an acute ignorance of fact.

As soon as I saw the author of the article you provided I stopped reading.  Gunderson has no credibility in the industry anymore.  He discredited himself by fabricating and inflating his resume with respect to his qualifications and experience in the industry.  He does generate quite the following by writing articles that do nothing but prey on the fears of the ignorant and uninformed - and voila, everyone becomes an expert because they can cite an Arnie Gunderson Fairewinds article.

Except they aren't experts and the article is non-objective and non-scientific.  They are, in short, creative writing assignments meant to instill fear.  Gunderson has a wide reputation for presenting the worst case scenario as an inevitable fact.  Like the molten cores burrowing through the pressure vessels at Fukushima, melting into the ground and causing gigantic steam explosions when they hit groundwater.  Except there was no core breach, there was no molten slag that ate into the bowels of the earth.

Just like there was no hydrogen fire in the spent fuel pools from zirc hydride and melting spent fuel cells.  According to Arnie we needed to be all concerned over spent fuel - meanwhile a few hundred yards away, fully loaded fuel was at risk.  Way to focus Arnie. 

Unlike you, I have an experienced based, objective respect for nuclear power.  I know how to operate a plant safely in just about every forseeable normal operating mode.  I know how to respond to just about any casualty in a power plant.  I know what the repercussions are of not operating a plant properly.  I understand the risks, risk avoidance and risk assessment and when to apply them.

How much hands on experience do you have?  None?  So why do you persist in presenting material as if you knew what you were talking about?  You clearly have an agenda - I suspect driven by your ignorance and fear.  You lack objectivity.  You cling to such statements as "nuclear fallout from reactor accidents like Fukushima is a bigger worry than Global Warming".

Really?  REALLY???  Considering there are no current accidents in progress I would say your comment is a bunch of malarkey.  Now if what you mant to say was "if there were to be multiple, simultaneous meltdowns and releases from all of the reactors in the world, the resulting nuclear fallout would be of significant global impact.", I might agree with you.  I'll put the likelihood of such an event just slightly ahead of the likelihood that Kim Kardashian wins the Nobel Peace Prize in Physics.

A debate between Gunderson and Rod Adams would not be very interesting.  One person brings an many years of experience in a real power plant, oh let's say, a plant with a power output larger than that of a light bulb.  One person underwent an extensive period of training and certification beofer being allowed to operate a power plant.  One person was frequently examined by an external oversight organization for aptitude in procedural compliance, completion of scheduled preventive maintenance, efficacy of unscheduled responsive corrective maintenance, proficiency in normal and casualty scenario operations. 

The other person is Arnie Gunderson.  He operated a heater in a fish tank - and then deliberately and willfully exaggerated his qualifications and experience.  That calls into question one's integrity and character......Not exactly the kind of guy we want running Naval Nuclear Propulsion Plants and then moving into the civilian power industry.

Nobody is trying to say that Fukushima wasn't a significant event and that the cleanup and recovery will take a long time.  No one has ever said that there won't be repercussions - people will develop cancer and die from exposure to radioactive material released during the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.  But it is a largely localized event.  However, the "End of Days" global "Mass Extinction Event" stories coming from Gunderson and his ilk are for lack of a better description, completely overblown bullshit stories - lacking technical accuracy, scientific objectivity and any shred of credibility.

You are free to choose where you want to hang your hat..........

As far as how we'd pay for it?  Well of course it would all be George Bush's fault.  But then we'd just put in a call to Helicopter Ben Bernanke and Turbo Timmy Geithner and we'd fire up the printing presses at Treasury and print a whole boatload of nuclear powered bailout money.

Can't you just see the headlines now.....Radioactive Quantitative Easing XII

Really now, I'm done.

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davefairtex
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hi dogs - i have a question!

Please don't go yet!  I have some questions first.

As I understand it, current plant designs assume that power will be available to run the cooling pumps for both the spent fuel pool and a scrammed reactor basically on a 24/7 basis for years after a plant shutdown.  A power failure for any substantial amount of time (measured in the tens of hours) will result in an eventual major issue; how major depends on how much spent fuel is present, and how recently the plant was shut down.

Is my understanding correct?  I know there are backup generators, and my understanding is the backups have about 7 days of fuel.  Battery backups are present too (although I'm not sure if they can run the pumps) - my understanding is they're good for about 4 hours.

So based on this situation and my understanding, the implication is that if you have a grid power connection failure at a plant, and you cannot refuel the backup generators, in a little more than 7 days, you end up with a meltdown assuming the plant was running at the time of grid power loss.  Likely too the spent fuel pool (with 5+ years of old cores in it?) will have some issues as well, and the fuel pools are not secured nearly as carefully as the active reactor core is.  Issues with non-cooled spent fuel pools might include things like exploding buildings, fragments of old cores being blown into the air, etc.

If you could correct any misunderstandings I have on the implications of the design and the failure modes, I'd be most grateful.  Given the extreme difficulty of getting something to work 24/7 over a long period of time, I am actually pretty impressed we haven't had more problems to date.  That speaks to the skill of the engineering involved.

While natural disasters make me nervous about individual plant vulnerability, my true "doomsday" scenario would be the detonation of an EMP device over the continental US taking out 1/3 of the power grid for the better part of six months.  40 plants would lose grid power simultaneously.  Presumably scheduling refuelling operations for the backup jennys for 40 plants would be "complicated" in such a scenario (given we lose the communications network a few days after the EMP event), resulting in multiple simultaneous meltdowns and spent fuel pool explosions all across the country 7 days after the event.  This would seem to make a bad power-down situation into something a whole lot worse.

http://www.empcommission.org/docs/A2473-EMP_Commission-7MB.pdf

Please tell me where I might have gone wrong here.  I design software systems for a living; you can present me with facts and I'll listen.  :)

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Grid failure is just one thing that could cause a Fukushima

Unlike ANY other form of Energy generation, Nuclear reactors and their spent fuel pools requirement of constant cooling pose a special problem should ANY disaster strike!  That is why they are now too RISKY to depend upon in the future; how would any Country "fund" a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster like Fukushima, where would people relocate to and for how long?

The cause does not matter, it could be anything like:

~ Tornado strike?
~ Earthquake?
~ Human error?
~ Tsunami?
~ Power outage?
~ Pipe break?
~ Test gone wrong?
~ Old fuel issues?
~ Terrorist attack?
~ Hurricane?
~ Plane crash?
~ Heavy rains/River floods?
~ Metal Fatigue?
~ Nuclear Ransom?
~ Solar Flair?
~ EMP?
~ Lightning?
~ Dam Failure?
~ Fire?
~ Operator suicide?
~ Jihadist?
~ CME?
~ Carrington Effect?
~ Cyber-warfare?
~ Meteror?
~ Aliens?
~ Volcano/Eruption? 
 
... Just to name a few possibilities how NPP's (nuclear power plants) can fail.
 
Thanks for asking...
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davefairtex wrote: Please

davefairtex wrote:

Please don't go yet!  I have some questions first.

As I understand it, current plant designs assume that power will be available to run the cooling pumps for both the spent fuel pool and a scrammed reactor basically on a 24/7 basis for years after a plant shutdown.  A power failure for any substantial amount of time (measured in the tens of hours) will result in an eventual major issue; how major depends on how much spent fuel is present, and how recently the plant was shut down.

Is my understanding correct?  I know there are backup generators, and my understanding is the backups have about 7 days of fuel.  Battery backups are present too (although I'm not sure if they can run the pumps) - my understanding is they're good for about 4 hours.

You have some things correct, others not so much.  The first thing is to separate an operational plant and spent fuel.  I'll discuss the spent fuel in a bit. There is a bit of variation in the design of specific plants so I'll speak in glittering generality.  You are correct in the observation that plants assume there will be power available to operate the cooling pumps.  Under normal operating conditions, that power is generated from the plant itself as water is heated in a steam generator and that steam is expanded through steam driven turbine generators to produce electricity for both the grid and consumers and for the plant.  Obviously the plant needs to be operating to do so.  Plant designers also had to provide for the ability to operate the colling pumps when the plant is shutdown for scheduled maintenance and following emergency shutdowns.  Typically, this is done by tying into the grid so there is continuity of power.  As a defense in depth approach, there are backup power sources on site - usually emergency diesel generators, any one of which are capable of providing power to operate coolant pumps, associated support systems and instrumentation.  Most plants have these generators as stand alone emergency systems that are only used in the event of an emergency.  In some cases you may have shutdown maintenance on a portion of the electrical distribution system where these generators are used, but they are designed for emergencies.  That said, plants have procedures in place to routinely test run these generators to make sure they will be available for operation if needed.  Power plants also have contingency plans in place for generators to be delivered within a specified time frame from commercial industry in the event soemthing were to happen to their on-site generators.  Fuel really isn't an issue since it is stored on-site.  At the training plant I taught at, there was enough fuel to run the emergency diesel generators continuously for about 3 months before you would need fuel from outside sources.  Chances are you would start to see mechanical failures of the generators before that time was up, but since we had 6 generators, each capable of providing sufficient power, mechanical failure wasn't an issue. 

Battery back-up power exists, but you have a good understanding of the limitations there so it doesn't need to be discussed.

To correct your statement, a power failure for any substantial amount of time - absent planned casualty procedure response - MAY result in a major issue.  The primary factor affecting the potential severity, is not so much when the plant was shutdown, but the reactor power history prior to the shutdown.  If the core had been operating at near peak power for months and was shutdown, decay heat generation is a major concern.  But understand, decay heat generation, while substantial, is not like heat generation from normal operations so the installed coolant circulation systems are more than capable of removing decay heat following a shutdown, even with with a high power history.  As you know, decay heat generation falls off exponentially with time following a shutdown, so as time progresses, less heat is being generated so the coolant circulation requirements change.  Immediately following a shutdown, you would need to operate coolant pumps continuously.  All power plants have a band in which they are operated in terms of pressure and temperature.  It is critical (no pun intended) to stay within the bands.  You may have a 100 degree temperature band to operate in so after a few weeks, decay heat generation has fallen to the point where you can lower temps down to the low end of the band, secure pumps and allow the core coolant to slowly heat up before you need to run pumps again.  Variations in plant designs will make the temp/pressure bands vary, but basically they all follow that operational profile.

Spent fuel really isn't an issue because it's, well, spent.  Spent fuel cells aren't even removed from core power units for storage until the decay heat rate is so low they can be safely stored in unpressurized, open spent fuel pools.  The water in the pools is for both coolnig and also radiation shielding.  The cooling is done through natural circulation and convective heat transfer, but their is also radiative heating of the water from decay heat.  The ability to add water to these pools is needed, but it does not need to be recirculated for forced heat removal like in the cores.

I was flabbergasted at how much attention the Fukushima spent fuel pools were receiving considering that a mere hundred yards away, 5 operating cores with unspent fuel and no coolant circulation ability were undergoing partial fuel matrix melting.  Talk about a case of focusing on the hangnail instead of the sucking, penetrating chest wound.......... Frankly, Chris flat out blew it with his assessment of the spent fuel pools boiling dry and zircalloy matrix breakdown and hydrogen release and explosions and burning fuel and prompt criticality.  But hey, bad news sells, even if it's wrong.

The real issue with the spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi wasn't the fires and melting (that didn't happen) it was the loss of shielding that resulted in high radiation areas - some lethally high - that complicated emergency response at the site.

The emergency response workers at Fukushima Daiichi were rightfully focused on getting the plants stabilized as best they could and not worrying about spent fuel that was just never a significant issue.

Quote:

So based on this situation and my understanding, the implication is that if you have a grid power connection failure at a plant, and you cannot refuel the backup generators, in a little more than 7 days, you end up with a meltdown assuming the plant was running at the time of grid power loss.  Likely too the spent fuel pool (with 5+ years of old cores in it?) will have some issues as well, and the fuel pools are not secured nearly as carefully as the active reactor core is.  Issues with non-cooled spent fuel pools might include things like exploding buildings, fragments of old cores being blown into the air, etc.

If you could correct any misunderstandings I have on the implications of the design and the failure modes, I'd be most grateful.  Given the extreme difficulty of getting something to work 24/7 over a long period of time, I am actually pretty impressed we haven't had more problems to date.  That speaks to the skill of the engineering involved.

Sort of....contrary to what CaptD would ike you to believe, a grid failure is not in and of itself going to cause a meltdown within 7 days.  You need a catastrophic event - like an earthquake that shuts down the plants that were operating at near peak power (high decay heat generation) and likely caused significant structural damage to the plant PLUS a 45 foot high tsunami that destroys your emegency diesel generators PLUS a loss of external power into the plant to run the systems knocked off line.  Fukushima was the perfect storm of BAD things that lead to core damage.

I think you keep overstating the spent fuel issue.  While it is a concern, you aren't going to get exploding buildings (I assume you mean hydrogen explosions from decomposition of the zircalloy fuel matrix in a steam environment?) and pieces of cores tossed into the air.  Remember, it isn't the core that is being stored, it is the fuel cells themselves.  Most industry insiders refer to the "core" as a collective term to include the reactor pressure vessel and the fuel cell assmebly unit or power unit housed within the pressure vessel.  In most cases, the spent fuel pools are stored near by the power plant but are not necessariy within the primary or secondary containment boundaries.  The buildings at Fukushima blew up because of hydrogen buildup as the emergency response workers made the very deliberate decision to vent the system to lower pressure.  As the steam was vented, hydrogen was stripped out and collected in sufficient quantity to detonate.  The spent fuel pools were within the structure of the building but were not inside the primary containment boundary.  Again, spent fuel may be an issue, but the real concern is the unspent fuel in the cores.

As to your observation that you are surprised we haven't had more problems to date and your statement that it speaks to the skill of the engineering involved?  It also speaks to the rarity of the combination of events that could cause problems.  No one is saying that there aren't any risks, but it can be said that the risk of such a combination of events leading to a Fukushima type event is extremely low.  Otherwise it would have happened before........

Quote:

While natural disasters make me nervous about individual plant vulnerability, my true "doomsday" scenario would be the detonation of an EMP device over the continental US taking out 1/3 of the power grid for the better part of six months.  40 plants would lose grid power simultaneously.  Presumably scheduling refuelling operations for the backup jennys for 40 plants would be "complicated" in such a scenario (given we lose the communications network a few days after the EMP event), resulting in multiple simultaneous meltdowns and spent fuel pool explosions all across the country 7 days after the event.  This would seem to make a bad power-down situation into something a whole lot worse.

http://www.empcommission.org/docs/A2473-EMP_Commission-7MB.pdf

Please tell me where I might have gone wrong here.  I design software systems for a living; you can present me with facts and I'll listen.  :)

While I don't consider myself an expert on EMP attacks, I do know quite a bit about them from my tour at US Strategic Command.  I think you have overstated the threat of an EMP explosion over CONUS on a couple of fronts.  The first (as we discussed via PM) is the size and number of warheads needed, plus the delivery system requirements to do so.  Not many countries have the ability to do so.  Even then, a HAB (High Altitude Burst) EMP attack is primarily designed to knock out communications through gamma and xray scintillation and atmospheric activation and won't have as much of widespread impact on the ground.  There will be some affect, but it will be concentrated in a relatively small area.  I'd be completely guessing as to the number of weapons needed to knock out all the nuke plants in the US, but I can state that it would be intuitively high.  Assuming an adversary would have the intent and will to use, you could certainly launch enough weapons to completely overwhelm the US grid with the potential for the resultant problems at nuke plants you postulated.

But, such an attack would also correctly be interpreted by National Command Authority as an attack on US sovereignty and we would likely be reponding in kind.  In other words, things would get pretty crappy, pretty quick and reactor plant meltdowns would be well down the list.

The other factors affecting the impact of an EMP burst are altitude and the strength of the Earth's magnetic field where the NUDET occurs plus the type of weapon used.  While all nuclear weapons have an EMP effect, not all are created equally.  The construction of the physics package within the warhead in large part determines how much EMP occurs and is in part a function of the physical relationship between the primary and secondary device.

Back in the '60s, the US conducted a test called STARFISH PRIME where a 1.4 megaton weapon was detonated 250 miles above the mid Pacific.  It knocked out streetlights and triggered burgular alarms in Hawaii almost 900 miles away so the affect can be widespread.  back then, electrical distribution systems were a lot more rugged than they are today, so the same test would have a much larger impact. 

A few years after STARFISH PRIME, the Soviets conducted a test called the K Project where they detonated a weapon with one fifth the yield of STARFISH PRIME over a populated area and in an area where the earth's magnetic field was much higher  It caused a current surge in a power line that fed back into a power plant and caused a fire.  Go figure the Soviets would run off and conduct a test to out do the US that involved blowing up their own citizens surprise

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_pulse This one has some discussion about K PROJECT

Today's electrical systems are a lot less rugged than they were back in the day, so the affect could be large scale and potentially devastating.

But what you have to look at is the likelihood of such an attack.  While very few things have a true 0% chance, the chance of a country striking the US with a coordinated attack using enough weapons to completely shut down the grid is not high.  A single well placed weapon will have varying degrees of impact (as a function of radius from the aimpoint), but it won't be nationwide.  I also can't speak to specifics about each power plant's emergency planning and whether or not their emergency elctrical generation and distribution system s are hardened against an EMP, but I do know such hardening exists and it's likely more widespread than you think.  wink

So the bottom line is, there are a few countries who could launch such an attack on the US that would knock out our power grid and potentially lead to accidents at nuclear power plants, but the impact of the power plant accident would be localized - just like the accident at Fukushima is now almost entirely a local event, albeit a very significant one. 

I just don't see the likelihood of such an attack being high enough to worry about. 

I hope I took care of most of your questions - if not, please follow up and ask and I'll do my best to help out.

Now it's time to brave the 98 degree weather (106 heat index) to pick tomatoes and do some spot watering.

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davefairtex
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I'm interested in finding out

CapD-

I'm interested in finding out specifically what are the risks of a cooling loss for a spent fuel pool.  If the water evaporates entirely, what are we faced with?  When armed with implications of technology failure, we can each be the judge of how likely we estimate such a situation might come to pass.

It is known that people often have a poor sense of how dangerous something really is.  Air Travel.  Smoking.  Nuclear Plant Accidents.  Driving home on New Years Eve.  Its likelihood times impact.

Planes crash, yet we still fly.  And per passenger-mile, air travel is a lot safer than driving.  And how many people choose to smoke, when we KNOW it kills 5,000,000 people each year worldwide, and smokers die 13 years earlier than nonsmokers.  The Fukushima disaster will never kill that many people ever, and yet smokers do this voluntarily to themselves.  Yearly.  One would expect a careful consideration of the actual risk to human life would end up banning smoking long before dealing with nuclear power, but that's just not how we operate.

At least nuke plants produce something useful - electricity.  Occasionally they'll spew radiation when things go wrong, and then Cesium litters the area for a few hundred years.

I recall two people being asked about the chances of a fatal shuttle accident.  The NASA administrator set the odds as 1:1,000,000.  The aerospace engineer put it as 1:100.  From our three commercial plant accidents, 430 operational plants, and 40 years of operation, simplistic math puts severe accident risk at 1:5700 per year.  Of course an EMP event "Black Swan" would change that math overnight.

As a (software) engineer myself, I like to have the facts.  Then I can decide for myself what the different danger scenarios are, and how likely they are to come to pass.  Likelihood times impact.

Here's an interesting list of nuclear accidents I found while trolling the net.

"Since 1950, there have been 32 nuclear weapon accidents, known as "Broken Arrows." A Broken Arrow is defined as an unexpected event involving nuclear weapons that result in the accidental launching, firing, detonating, theft or loss of the weapon. To date, six nuclear weapons have been lost and never recovered."

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Almanac/Brokenarrows_static.shtml

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Some more info.....

davefairtex wrote:

I'm interested in finding out specifically what are the risks of a cooling loss for a spent fuel pool.  If the water evaporates entirely, what are we faced with?  When armed with implications of technology failure, we can each be the judge of how likely we estimate such a situation might come to pass.

Again, the exact scenario is dependent on how much time has elapsed since the spent fuel cells have been used inside a critical core power unit and what the pre-shutdown power history was.  Spent fuel is not transferred into a spent fuel pool until such time has elapsed that the decay heat generation rate is low enough that it can be stored safely with other spent fuel cells and a depressurized column of water.  Since there will be some decay heat generation for several years there will be natural circulation of the water due to conductive heat transfer (and a small degree of radiative heat transfer).  Warm water rises, cooler water sinks, decay heat is transferred away from the spent fuel cells safely.  On occasion you will need to add make-up water to the pools - but since they are open to atmosphere the primary reason is normal evaporation, not water boiling away.

If structural integrity of the spent fuel pool were to be compromised such that you could no longer keep the spent fuel cells covered with water you would have two dynamics occurring.  One would be a loss of shielding with resulting high radiation levels.  The oxide layer on the outside of the spent fuel and structural components of the fuel matrix assembly can be activated and become radioactive.  Depending on the type of decay, water is an extremely effective shieding agent.  Water will completely attenuate alpha and beta particle decay, and is fairly effective at shielding gamma.  Depending on the energy evel of the gamma particle, the tenth thickness of water shielding can be anywhere from 8 inches for a 1 Mev gamma particle, up to 48 inches for a 6 Mev gamma.  So a four foot column of water surrounding a spent fuel cell with an on contact reading of 100 Rem would attenuate the dose rate to 10 Rem.  Each additional 48" of water would attenuate the dose rate by another factor of ten.  The spent fuel pools where I worked were 60 feet deep.  Since water is not a free standing compound, i.e., it needs to be in a tank or pool.  Most of these pools are constructed of concrete lined with stainless steel because of its corrosion resistance properties.  Steel is also a good gamma shield, the tenth thickness is 2-4 inches depending on the energy level.  The tenth thickness for concrete is 24 inches.  Using my example above, a 100 Rem on contact reading would read 100 millrem if it was measured through 4 feet of water shielding, 2 inches of steel tank and 24 inches of concrete.  100 millirem general area readings are very easily controlled and stay times to work within such an exposure rate are well studied and planned for during maintenance shutdowns.

The biggest concern with a loss of water from a spent fuel pool is the loss of shielding.  A secondary, but very real - although less likely - concern is the buildup of decay heat within the spent fuel cells as long lived fission product daughters decay.  It is entirely possible that you could get blistering of the fuel cell zircalloy cladding that could result in a release of fission product daughters.  Under the right (or wrong) circumstances, you could get some deformation of the fuel cells, a much lower likelihood is melting of the fuel cell matrix (since spent fuel isn't transferred into spent fuel pools until decay heat generation rates are very low.)  A tertiary concern, with an even lower probability of occurrence is a partial loss of water, combined with high enough decay heat generation such that the water actually boils.  In this case, you could get a reaction between the steam and zircally cladding that would result in the formation of zirc hydride and the release of hydrogen.  Then you have a real danger of a hydrogen fire.

This is what Arnie Gunderson and Chris said had probably happened at FD Unit #4 "because there was smoke".  What it turned out to be was stored lubricating oil that caught fire following the hydrogen explosion from core venting.  Whether the oil caught fire because of the hydrogen explosion or damaged electrical wiring that came in contact with the oil is not known. 

The short answer to your question of  "If the water evaporates entirely, what are we faced with?" is:  Probably a high radiation (> 100mr/hr dose rate) area in the vicinity of the pool(s).  If there is more than one pool undergoing that scenario, the severity of the situation is compounded.

Quote:

It is known that people often have a poor sense of how dangerous something really is.  Air Travel.  Smoking.  Nuclear Plant Accidents.  Driving home on New Years Eve.  Its likelihood times impact.

Planes crash, yet we still fly.  And per passenger-mile, air travel is a lot safer than driving.  And how many people choose to smoke, when we KNOW it kills 5,000,000 people each year worldwide, and smokers die 13 years earlier than nonsmokers.  The Fukushima disaster will never kill that many people ever, and yet smokers do this voluntarily to themselves.  Yearly.  One would expect a careful consideration of the actual risk to human life would end up banning smoking long before dealing with nuclear power, but that's just not how we operate.

At least nuke plants produce something useful - electricity.  Occasionally they'll spew radiation when things go wrong, and then Cesium litters the area for a few hundred years.

I recall two people being asked about the chances of a fatal shuttle accident.  The NASA administrator set the odds as 1:1,000,000.  The aerospace engineer put it as 1:100.  From our three commercial plant accidents, 430 operational plants, and 40 years of operation, simplistic math puts severe accident risk at 1:5700 per year.  Of course an EMP event "Black Swan" would change that math overnight.

As a (software) engineer myself, I like to have the facts.  Then I can decide for myself what the different danger scenarios are, and how likely they are to come to pass.  Likelihood times impact.

Here's an interesting list of nuclear accidents I found while trolling the net.

"Since 1950, there have been 32 nuclear weapon accidents, known as "Broken Arrows." A Broken Arrow is defined as an unexpected event involving nuclear weapons that result in the accidental launching, firing, detonating, theft or loss of the weapon. To date, six nuclear weapons have been lost and never recovered."

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Almanac/Brokenarrows_static.shtml

Point of order......a nuclear weapons accident and a nuclear power plant accident are two distinctly different events.  I am aware of 11 US weapons that were lost and not recovered.  All told, there are an estimated 50+ weapons lost - most a sea and most of them Russian.  To provide a little clarifying information....

DOD Directive 5230.16 Nuclear Accident and Incident Guidance:   http://usgovinfo.about.com/bldod523016.htm

Decent recap of major US nuclear weapons accidents:  http://voices.yahoo.com/broken-arrows-nuclear-weapons-accidents-38221.html

2 of the "unrecovered" 6 (or 11) weapons were on B-52H flying into Palomares, Spain in 1966.  The Buff, collided with a KC-135 in mid-air.  The crew was able to jettison all four of the weapons on board.  One landed in a field and was recovered, one landed in the ocean and was recovered, the other two were destroyed when they hit the ground and the high explosive triggers detonated scattering radioactive material all over the field.  So while there was nothing to recover, the weapons weren't "lost" from the standpoint that they are out there somewhere lying around.  The US came in behind and essentially removed the top 10 inches of soil from the field where the material was scattered - some 1500 tons of dirt were removed.  To this day there is some gallows humor about glow in the dark tomatoes from that field......

Another of the unrecovered weapons is in a bog in Faro, North Carolina near Seymour Johnson AFB.  In 1961 a B-52 carrying two gravity bombs exploded in mid-air and the two bombs fell to earth.  One of the weapons went through 3 of the four arming steps to detonate, but the fourth step was the pilot's arming sequence so there was no possible way the weapon would have detonated.  Since it was a retarded air burst delivery, that actually helped the recovery since it RTAB parachute deployed and the weapon floated gently to the ground where it was recovered quite inert.  The other didn't deploy its chute and it hit a swampy bog at 700 miles an hour.  Most of the physics package was recovered, but a portion of the thermonuclear device is at the bottom of the bog at a depth of around 200 feet.  The Air Force now owns the land surrounding the site so while this bomb wasn't fully recovered, the Air Force knows where the remaining components are.

A fourth unrecovered weapon is suspected to possibly be at the bottom of Baffin Bay off Greenleand following another B-52 crash in 1968 that lost four gravity weapons.  Two were immediately recovered, one was not recovered until 1979.  The official story is that all 4 were recovered, but there is some question about the accuracy of that claim based on some old grey hairs at Thule who claim to know otheriwse.

A fifth weapon was on an A-4 SKYHAWK that fell from the deck of USS TICONDEROGA in 1965 and was lost in over 16,000 feet of water off the coast of Japan.  That weapon was never recovered.

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davefairtex
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Dogs - Thanks for the

Dogs -

Thanks for the responses.  Its inspired me to read up on the subject.  I found a link to a series of 11 PDFs at the NRC website that is providing me a higher level of detail on matters relating to commercial nuclear plants, nuclear waste, radiation effects, and the like.  Just change the 01 to 02, 03, etc to see the next PDF in the series.  (I'm sure you know all this stuff, its basic enough that someone with my intro to physics background can easily understand it - I just put that in there for others who might be interested)

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/teachers/01.pdf

So now I get the units - rem per hour, curies per gram, etc.  10 rads is unfortunate, and 1000 rads is death.

Missing for me is a conversion from curies to rem/hour.  If an accident ends up emitting 100 curies, and that falls to ground, and now a particular square meter of earth downwind has 10 microcuries of contamination from the radioactive cesium deposited there, how many millirem/hr does a person receive as an external dose if they decide to camp at that spot for 10 hours?  [We'll ignore for the moment the issues of internal doses, just to keep things simple]

I'm also curious as to the contact reading in rem/hour from various spent fuel assemblies - lets say the spent fuel ranges from 5-30 years old.

How long does it take for a fuel unit to be "used up"?  I.e. how long does one fuel unit last in production?

If you have a collection of spent fuel with no water in the pool, do the spent fuel units start interacting with one another - and to what degree?  Lets say the contact reading of a spent fuel unit in water is 100 rem/hour.  What does it look like when the water goes away?  How much higher does it get from interacting with other nearby spent fuel units?  Let's assume the structure of the fuel pool remains intact so the units retain their spacing (i.e. they don't collapse and fall on top of one another).

Would the internal temperature of some of the spent fuel start to approach the 1800F level in this situation?

About how many curies/hour of radioactive products would be emitted from a dry spent fuel pool containing 30 years worth of (possibly interacting) spent fuel units, assuming the fuel pool was exposed to atmosphere and there was reasonable air circulation.  I.e. the surrounding building is gone, the water is gone, but there are no further explosions, just a nice breeze blowing.

Numbers make me happy, because then I can judge for myself what I think bad really is.  Related: I also don't believe that a priest should stand between me and God.  :)

Apologies for the non-sequitur about nuclear weapons accidents.  I know its apples & oranges; I just ran across the link and thought it was really interesting.  Alarming too.  I'm guessing the Captain of the Ticonderoga (that "lost" the A-4, the pilot, and the 1MT hydrogen bomb off the deck) didn't make Admiral.

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Phew!!!!!

davefairtex wrote:

Dogs -

Thanks for the responses.  Its inspired me to read up on the subject.  I found a link to a series of 11 PDFs at the NRC website that is providing me a higher level of detail on matters relating to commercial nuclear plants, nuclear waste, radiation effects, and the like.  Just change the 01 to 02, 03, etc to see the next PDF in the series.  (I'm sure you know all this stuff, its basic enough that someone with my intro to physics background can easily understand it - I just put that in there for others who might be interested)

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/teachers/01.pdf

So now I get the units - rem per hour, curies per gram, etc.  10 rads is unfortunate, and 1000 rads is death.

Missing for me is a conversion from curies to rem/hour.  If an accident ends up emitting 100 curies, and that falls to ground, and now a particular square meter of earth downwind has 10 microcuries of contamination from the radioactive cesium deposited there, how many millirem/hr does a person receive as an external dose if they decide to camp at that spot for 10 hours?  [We'll ignore for the moment the issues of internal doses, just to keep things simple]

I'm also curious as to the contact reading in rem/hour from various spent fuel assemblies - lets say the spent fuel ranges from 5-30 years old.

How long does it take for a fuel unit to be "used up"?  I.e. how long does one fuel unit last in production?

If you have a collection of spent fuel with no water in the pool, do the spent fuel units start interacting with one another - and to what degree?  Lets say the contact reading of a spent fuel unit in water is 100 rem/hour.  What does it look like when the water goes away?  How much higher does it get from interacting with other nearby spent fuel units?  Let's assume the structure of the fuel pool remains intact so the units retain their spacing (i.e. they don't collapse and fall on top of one another).

Would the internal temperature of some of the spent fuel start to approach the 1800F level in this situation?

About how many curies/hour of radioactive products would be emitted from a dry spent fuel pool containing 30 years worth of (possibly interacting) spent fuel units, assuming the fuel pool was exposed to atmosphere and there was reasonable air circulation.  I.e. the surrounding building is gone, the water is gone, but there are no further explosions, just a nice breeze blowing.

Numbers make me happy, because then I can judge for myself what I think bad really is.  Related: I also don't believe that a priest should stand between me and God.  :)

Apologies for the non-sequitur about nuclear weapons accidents.  I know its apples & oranges; I just ran across the link and thought it was really interesting.  Alarming too.  I'm guessing the Captain of the Ticonderoga (that "lost" the A-4, the pilot, and the 1MT hydrogen bomb off the deck) didn't make Admiral.

Sheesh.....I thought I finished Nuclear Power classroom training in 1983?!?!?!!

I'll work on your answers later today - after we get back from the beach. cool I should have it posted sometime this evening.

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You are the man.  :)

You are the man.  :)

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davefairtex wrote: Dogs

davefairtex wrote:

Dogs -

Thanks for the responses.  Its inspired me to read up on the subject.  I found a link to a series of 11 PDFs at the NRC website that is providing me a higher level of detail on matters relating to commercial nuclear plants, nuclear waste, radiation effects, and the like.  Just change the 01 to 02, 03, etc to see the next PDF in the series.  (I'm sure you know all this stuff, its basic enough that someone with my intro to physics background can easily understand it - I just put that in there for others who might be interested)

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/teachers/01.pdf

So now I get the units - rem per hour, curies per gram, etc.  10 rads is unfortunate, and 1000 rads is death.

Missing for me is a conversion from curies to rem/hour.  If an accident ends up emitting 100 curies, and that falls to ground, and now a particular square meter of earth downwind has 10 microcuries of contamination from the radioactive cesium deposited there, how many millirem/hr does a person receive as an external dose if they decide to camp at that spot for 10 hours?  [We'll ignore for the moment the issues of internal doses, just to keep things simple]

You need to consider the time frame for the exposure and whether or not it was an acute or chronic dose.  10 rads over a lifetime isn't that big a deal.  10 rads in 10 minutes is a big deal.  What you can look for is observable somatic effects like changes in the blood.  If you can see somatic effects, you are probably talking about an acute dose.  Otherwise you are likely going to be looking at stochastic effects that occur randomly and are independent of the amount of exposure and the received dose.  Cancers are stochastic effects which is unfortunate since in most cases, cancers cannot be definitively linked to the agent the person was exposed to.  There is a lot of anecdotal evidence, but you being a numbers guy can appreciate the limitations there.

On to curies.  There is no straight line conversion from curies to rem/hour. A curie is a unit used to quantify the number of radioactive disintegrations per second in a specific type of radioactive material (not type of radiation, type of material, i.e., polonium, uranium, plutonium, cobalt-60). Here is a great discussion that succinctly summarizes the curie-REM relationship.  (Link here: http://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae553.cfm)

"Curies (Ci) and Roentgens (R) are both related to radiation, but they describe different properties.

A Curie is a unit associated with the number of radioactive disintegrations per second in a particular sample of radioactive material. The Curie describes the activity of a radioactive source. One Ci of radioactive material produces 37 billion disintegrations per second. A disintegration per second is also known as a Becquerel (Bq).

A Roentgen, on the other hand, is a measure of the amount of charge produced in a particular sample of air from ionizing radiation (i.e. - a type of radiation that has enough energy to remove an electron from an atom, producing ions). The technical definition is the amount of X or gamma radiation that produces one electrostatic unit of ionic charge in one cubic centimeter of dry air at standard temperature and pressure. The Roentgen describes the exposure of air from a radioactive source.

Radioactive decay produces various types of radiation in the form of particles (alpha, beta, neutron) and photons (x-rays, gamma rays). A radioactive source will emit these radiations at various frequencies, depending on its activity and its decay mode. Each type of radiation, depending on its energy, produces a different amount of ionization of air, and hence a different exposure. Alpha particles, for example, will produce substantially different amounts of ionization than highly penetrating gamma photons. The total exposure produced from a radioactive source is therefore related to the total number and type of radiation emissions from that source; the total number of emissions is related to the activity of that source.

Hence, there is no general equivalence between Curies and Roentgens, but a certain number of Curies of a particular radioactive material with a known size and shape will produce a certain number of Roentgens at a specified distance."

In your example of an accident releasing 100 curies - the first question is "Of what"  Surveys and sampling will need to be done and a half life plot will need to be clculated to determine the specific isotope released.  Let's say isotopic analysis confirmed that the material was Cobalt-60.  Cobalt is a component of the steel used in the manufacture of reactor plant systems because of its excellent corrosion resistance properties.  Cobalt gets activated in a flux and becomes radioactive cobalt-60.  I'm going to use Cobalt-60 thumbrules because I no longer remember the conversion factors between Cobalt-60 and other isotopes.  Suffice it to say, conversion factors exist to relate the different energy levels of the decay particles from Cesium, Cobalt, uranium, plutonium, etc.  As my Fluid Dynamics and Het Transfer instructor used to say "The proof is left to the interested students..."

To find out the number of curies, you use the Curie-Meter-Rem rule.  A 1 Curie point source emitter of Co-60, measured at 1 meter will give a dose rate of 1 Rem/hour.  The dose rate falls off as a 1/r squared function.  To determine the curie content of the source, you measure the radiation readings at 1 meter.  Now, a little prudence and common sense is in order.  If your radiacs are reading 10 Rem/hour and you are 10 meters away, it would be really stupid to walk in to measure the level at 1 meter when you can simply calculate it as follows.

DR1 = DR2 x (X2^2/X1^2) where DR is the dose rate measured at distances 1 and 2 and X is the distance at point 1 and 2. 

In my example, 10 Rem is DR2, X2 is 10 meters.  We want to calculate the dose rate at 1 meter so we can estimate the curie content.  Plugging and chugging......

DR1 = 10 Rem/hour x 10^2/1^2. 

DR1 = 10 Rem/hr x 100 = 1000 Rem/hr measured at 1 meter.

The dose rate at 1 meter is 1,000 Rem/hour, so we can estimate that there was 1,000 curies of cobalt 60 released. 

You can also work it backwards if you somehow you knew the curie content of the material released, but this is a rare occurrence.  In your example you had 100 curies of Co-60 released.  We know that it will read 100 Rem/hour at 1 meter.  Applying the formula above we can calculate the dose rate at 4 meters:

DR2 = DR1 x (X1^2/X2^2)

DR2 = 100 Rem/hr x (1 meter^2/4 meters^2) = 100 x (1/16)

DR2 = 6.25 Rem/hour dose rate.  That's still pretty high so I would slap the guy who picked 4 meters and go with 10 meters next time. 

In all of this discussion I have assumed that the material was a pont source emitter.  Depending on how the material was distributed, it may not always be a point source.  You may have highy radioactive material in a run of piping that is 22 feet long - what is known as a line source.  In this case you would use a slightly different calculation to determine dose rates. 

DR1 x X1 = DR2 x X2

In this case let's say we measured general area radiation from the pipe at 6 meters and it was 5 Rem/hr.  The dose rate at 1 meter would be calculated as follows: 

DR1 x 1 meter = DR2 (5 Rem/hr) x 6 meters

DR1 = DR2 (5 Rem/hr) x (6 meters/1 meter)

DR1 = 30 Rem/hour

Note that at a distance of half the length of the pipe run and greater, you can use the point source formula.

Moving on.....

I think you have confused dose and dose rate in the second part of your first question.  Reading back through my response, I have used dose and exposure and dose rate and exposure rate interchangeably.  Rather than change what I wrote, I took the easy way out with this disclaimer - they are interchangeable. 

A dose rate is measured in millirem or Rem per unit time, usually an hour.  Now that you know the curie meter rem rule for a point source emitter, 10 microcuries of Cobalt-60 scattered in in a 1 meter square area will result in a general area dose rate of 10 micro rem per hour measured at 1 meter.  This converts to a dose rate of .01 millirem/hour.  If you stay in that spot for 10 hours you will receive a total dose or exposure of 0.1 millrem.  To put that inperspective, you receive anywhere from 10-60 millirem of exposure on a 5 hour flight from New York to San Francisco and can probably a few more millirem if the guy in the seat next to you is fat.

Quote:

I'm also curious as to the contact reading in rem/hour from various spent fuel assemblies - lets say the spent fuel ranges from 5-30 years old.

How long does it take for a fuel unit to be "used up"?  I.e. how long does one fuel unit last in production?

The short, easy answer is "It depends"  On my first submarine, we went 10 years between nuclear refuelings.  There are cores today that will never need to be refueld over the 20+ year service life of the submarine.

Commercial power plants aren't typically designed with the same robust, long lived fuel cells.  Commercial fuel cells are "burned up" faster than that of a Navy warship.  A little poking around the internet yielded service lives of anywhere from 2 to 10 years for commercial fuel cells.

Quote:

If you have a collection of spent fuel with no water in the pool, do the spent fuel units start interacting with one another - and to what degree?  

No.  They are spent and can no longer sustain a critical fission reaction.  They won't interact with each other to cause fission events.  They won't look "spent", and there isn't a dipstick or a gauge on the cell to indicate how many fuel particles are left, but the fuel has for the most part, been burned out of the fuel cell matrix.  What's left behind are fission product poisons, that in many cases, absorb neutrons and would actually prevent fission from occurring. 

That said, there is interaction from the standpoint that radioactive decay of activated structural components and decay of radioactive fission products and fission product poisons is going to generate some heat.  Stacking a bunch of spent cells together just means you have a bunch of warm spent fuel cells stacked together.  The heat generation is not additive and other than conductive heat transfer, with a small amount of radiative heat transfer if some of the surface radioactive meaterial decays and the decay particle hits an adjacent spent fuel cell it may add heat to the adjacent cells, but this is at a very low level.

Quote:

Lets say the contact reading of a spent fuel unit in water is 100 rem/hour.  What does it look like when the water goes away? 

Well the smart ass in me says it looks pretty much the same only drier.........laugh

Seriously, again, it depends.  What type of decay, what isotope and how much water?  I am assuming you mean that the fuel cell measured 100 Rem/hr on contact BEFORE it was place in the pool?  If it was at the bottom of the pool covered by 16 feet of water, you would hve to account for both the impact of 4 tenth thickness of water shielding, plus the distance of 16 feet and the drop in dose rate with distance.  For arguments sake, let's say the cell measured 100 Rem/hr 1 foot away.  Using the formula above and assuming a point source you have DR2 = 100Rem/hr x (1 ft ^2/16 ft^2) = .39 Rem/hour or 390 millirem/hour due to the distance to the top of the pool.  Now you have to add the shielding effect of the water - 16 feet is 4 tenth thicknesses, so the 390 millirem drops off even further to .039 millirem/hour.  Such a dose rate is well within reason and stay times for working in spaces with those dose rates are easily managed.  Back in the day, I had to conduct closeout inspections of portions of the primary side coolant system on the submarine I was the refueling Engineer for.  Some of the general are radiation levels (dose rates) were 9 Rem/hour and my stay times were on the order of 90 seconds to manage my lifetime accumulated allowable exposure.

Quote:

How much higher does it get from interacting with other nearby spent fuel units?  Let's assume the structure of the fuel pool remains intact so the units retain their spacing (i.e. they don't collapse and fall on top of one another).

Would the internal temperature of some of the spent fuel start to approach the 1800F level in this situation?

While the spent cells will get warmer with no water covering them to remove decay heat through natural circulation and convective heat transfer they won't heat up to 1800 degrees.  In extreme cases, you may get some blistering in the fuel cell if there are fission product gasses trapped within the zirc matrix of the fuel cell assembly, but the probabiity of them getting hot enough to melt or burn is extremely low and in any event would take time - time enough to get water back into the pool or the fuel cells moved to a pool with water.

Quote:

About how many curies/hour of radioactive products would be emitted from a dry spent fuel pool containing 30 years worth of (possibly interacting) spent fuel units, assuming the fuel pool was exposed to atmosphere and there was reasonable air circulation.  I.e. the surrounding building is gone, the water is gone, but there are no further explosions, just a nice breeze blowing.

Going back to the earlier discussion about curies and dose rates, I think your real question is what the radiation levels would be coming from a dry spent fuel pool..........

As discussed before, they won't be "interacting" with other fuel cells to produce sustained fission and criticality.

The answer to your question is yet another "It depends"  It depends on how long the spent fuel has been in the pool, what the power history was prior to shutdown, time elapsed from shutdown to when the fuel cells were removed from the core and placed in the pool, the specific isotopes that are decaying - fission products, activated corrosion particles and oxides, activated structural materials in the fuel cell assmebly, etc.

Quote:

Numbers make me happy, because then I can judge for myself what I think bad really is.  Related: I also don't believe that a priest should stand between me and God.  :)

A Higgs-Boson walked into Saint Peters.  The priest looked up and came running down the aisle and stopped in front of the Higgs-Boson and said "You can't come in here, we don't allow Higgs-Boson particles in Saint Peters."

The Higgs-Boson replied, "But Father, how can you have Mass without me?"   angel

I told that to our priest this morning and he laughed out loud......

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Apologies for the non-sequitur about nuclear weapons accidents.  I know its apples & oranges; I just ran across the link and thought it was really interesting.  Alarming too.  I'm guessing the Captain of the Ticonderoga (that "lost" the A-4, the pilot, and the 1MT hydrogen bomb off the deck) didn't make Admiral.

Captain Robert Nicholas Miller, Commanding Officer, USS TICONDEROGA (CV 14) from May 1965 - June 1966.  Back then, a typical command tour was one year so it doesn't look like it impacted his career.  Couldn't find anything about whether or not he made Flag officer.

http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/people/miller_robert_n.jpg

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Dogs - Thanks again!  This is

Dogs -

Thanks again!  This is all really helpful.  I'm slowly getting it.

I like the curie-meter-rem rule.  Distance is good - and more distance is a whole lot better.  I read it over several times to make sure it sank in.  And it makes sense that different materials decay with different effects.  I guess all disintegrations are not created equal?

Something I don't understand from the formula though.  What happens at range=0?

Let's say your damnfool dog ate a 1-curie pellet of that cobalt-60 "just because".  He poops it out 10 hours later (assuming he's still with us).  How many rem has he received?  [Yes, I really do love these problems!]

It is most heartening to know that a bunch of spent fuel units cannot get together and start a chain reaction, even if all the water is gone.  Although I get the sense if they were removed from the reactor relatively recently, didn't sit for long, and weren't operated at full power during their lifespan, things might be a little dicey if the water in the pool were to escape through a crack in the floor...

I'd like to understand just a little more about general levels of radioactivity of the components we're talking about here though.  Precision doesn't matter - I'm looking for orders of magnitude.  I humbly request that whenever you feel that (apparently irrepressible) urge to say "it depends", to instead make a simplifying assumption or fill in a value you feel is reasonable, and then just let me know what that assumption was along with the answer.  :)

rem/hour measurement, taken at 1 meter in air for a:

* new fuel unit about to be installed into a reactor

* running fuel core undergoing a chain reaction at full power

* spent fuel core (completely used up) immediately prior to being placed in spent fuel pool

* spent fuel core, in air, after 10 years in the spent fuel pool

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Great set of posts

I enjoy reading these posts, especially when they are filled with data and empty of name calling!

BTW: I'd still like to see some links that say that it is NOT possible for SFR's to burn and or cause a meltdown if they are left without cooling water...

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Nuke Accidents Civilian and Military 99 since 1950

davefairtex

Here is a great site filled with factual info that you might enjoy!

http://is.gd/s61jRU

Thanks for being interested enough to ask questions...

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CaptD wrote: davefairtex Here

CaptD wrote:

davefairtex

Here is a great site filled with factual info that you might enjoy!

http://is.gd/s61jRU

Thanks for being interested enough to ask questions...

The wiki is incorrectly titled.  It should read "List of military nuclear accidents and incidents" 

A spill of radioactive liquid is not a nuclear accident.  It is a nuclear incident and there is a big difference.

Even then, the article takes a lot of literary license in calling the loss of USS THRESHER and USS SCORPION as nuclear accidents.

Note that the vast majority of the naval accidents/incidents are Soviet.

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CaptD -"I enjoy reading

CaptD -

"I enjoy reading these posts, especially when they are filled with data and empty of name calling!"

It usually takes two to tango.  Our friend Dogs is being very patient in explaining these things.  His responses take real work to come up with.  It seems clear if you approach him asking for help in really understanding his field, he's more than willing to do so.  And he's actually pretty gentle about it too.  Many engineers I know are not so kind or patient.

What's an SFR?  Google tells me its a French mobile telephone company.

One thing I'm slowly beginning to understand is just how powerful this stuff really is.  Imagine running a massive submarine for 20 years using 100 pounds of metal.  Its almost magical.  Same thing with a power plant.  You can generate 800 mw of power for 2-5 years with maybe 1000 pounds of material.  A coal plant will consume at least 6 million metric TONS of coal to do the same thing.  What's that, a factor of 12 million difference?

With this much power lying around, there are bound to be issues.  When Dogs talks about "activation" it means normal things like steel get turned radioactive (cobalt-60) just by being nearby.

I think we all hope for a day when our home solar panels hooked up to the PEM stacks in the basement create enough power for our homes and our cars.  But even then, anytime you store energy, its dangerous simply by definition.  The power to do a lot of work can usually get released in a dangerous and unpleasant way when things go wrong. 

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Incident vs Accident

I cannot control what Wiki does...

That said I would agree a spill is not in the same "universe" as a reactor meltdown!

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SFR = Spent Fuel Rods

Spent Fuel Rods are not all alike some of them in Fukushima are of the MOX type and are much more dangerous because they have Pu in them...  Think more highly reactive...

Storing energy can be dangerous but nothing is like NUCLEAR because of the radioactive No Go Zone it can create for generations!

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davefairtex wrote: Dogs

davefairtex wrote:

Dogs -

Thanks again!  This is all really helpful.  I'm slowly getting it.

I like the curie-meter-rem rule.  Distance is good - and more distance is a whole lot better.  I read it over several times to make sure it sank in.  And it makes sense that different materials decay with different effects.  I guess all disintegrations are not created equal?

Something I don't understand from the formula though.  What happens at range=0?

Let's say your damnfool dog ate a 1-curie pellet of that cobalt-60 "just because".  He poops it out 10 hours later (assuming he's still with us).  How many rem has he received?  [Yes, I really do love these problems!]

Bad dog....sit Ubu, sit. 

I can tell you are a software engineer because you want to multiply by zero and get something other than zero.....wink

For arguments sake to put you in the ballpark, apply the Curie-Meter-Rem rule and run it in to 1 inch (assume the particle was trapped mid-poop surprise)

The formula is slightly different:

D1 x X1 = D2 x X2

D1 x 1" = 1 Rem/hr x 39"

D1 = 1 Rem/hr x (39/1) = 39 Rem/hr dose rate

Multiply by 10 hours and Fido has just zorched his GI tract with 390 Rem.  It may not kill him, but he will most likely exhibit signs of radiation poisoning and have a lot of vomiting and diarrhea.  Just what everyone needs....a vomiting dog with radioactive diarrhea. 

390 Rem over 10 hours is probably not a Lethal Dose, but it is close. 

In humans, the dose of radiation expected to cause death to 50 percent of an exposed population within 30 days is known as LD 50/30 and is in the range from 400 to 450 rem received over a very short period.  10 hours isn't an acute dose, but it isn't chronic either. 

There are studies of sample mice populations being exposed to between 600-700 Rem.  It takes a few days for symptoms to show up and a few more days for deaths to occur.  After 30 days it is almost impossible to discern between healthy and irradiated mice.

http://www.informatics.jax.org/greenbook/chapters/chapter22.shtml

Quote:

It is most heartening to know that a bunch of spent fuel units cannot get together and start a chain reaction, even if all the water is gone.  Although I get the sense if they were removed from the reactor relatively recently, didn't sit for long, and weren't operated at full power during their lifespan, things might be a little dicey if the water in the pool were to escape through a crack in the floor...

There's always the possibility for "dicey", but understand that as a matter of procedure, spent fuel cells are not removed from the core until decay heat generation rates are manageable within a spent fuel pool.  They also are not removed until they are spent.  Cores are rated for a certain number of hours of operation, typically denominated to 100%.  For example, a core may be rated for 20,000 hours of full power operation.  Cores are rarely operated at 100% of the time - it takes time to start-up and shut down cores, so there will be periods of time where the plant is operated at less than 100%.  You can still calculate the "burn rate".  2 hours at 50% power is accounted for as 1 hour of 100% operation against the 20,000 hour total.  Likewise, operation at 20% would take 5 hours of operation to add another hour to the 20,000 hour rating total.  Operating power levels over time are meticulously tracked and recorded so this total can be tracked to the hundredth of an hour.

Refueling operations are expensive and plant downtime means customers aren't getting electricity, which means the power company isn't making any money.  Rightfully so, there is a good business practice to use up all of the fuel in a fuel cell before shutting down a plant for a refueling operation.  Unless a fuel cell were to start exhibiting problems (uneven power flux, larger impact of fission product poisons, physical  integrity compromise) it isn't going to be removed until it is "empty".

Quote:

I'd like to understand just a little more about general levels of radioactivity of the components we're talking about here though.  Precision doesn't matter - I'm looking for orders of magnitude.  I humbly request that whenever you feel that (apparently irrepressible) urge to say "it depends", to instead make a simplifying assumption or fill in a value you feel is reasonable, and then just let me know what that assumption was along with the answer.  :)

rem/hour measurement, taken at 1 meter in air for a:

Quote:

* new fuel unit about to be installed into a reactor

It will read whatever the background radiation levels are.  A fuel cell doesn't accumulate fission product poisons until after it has undergone criticality.  New fuel has never been exposed to a moderator and doesn't emit any radiation except for stocahstic, random, spontaneous fission events that likely won't be detectable since the particle won't even leave the fuel matrix, much less be capable of causing another fission event.  I had to personally inspect every single new fuel cell that was going into my boat's new core.  It was an underwhelming event and I spent more time getting into and out of the cleanliness suits (like the suits egg heads wear at chip manufacturing facilities to run the software that egg head software engineers write wink)

Quote:

* running fuel core undergoing a chain reaction at full power

Depending on the plant's specific core type, thousands to tens of thousands of Rem/hour.  A human being in the reactor compartment of an operating plant would receive LD 50/30 almost immediately and would likely receive an immediately incapacitating dose.

Quote:

* spent fuel core (completely used up) immediately prior to being placed in spent fuel pool

Tens to hundreds of Rem/hour.  Some due to fission product poison decay, some due to activated materials, oxides, etc.  From my personal experience, the highest I saw was around 30 Rem/hr.

There will be a little variability from cell to cell since both fuel particles and burnable poisons are deliberately placed within the fuel matrix to help "shape" the flux of an operating plant.

Quote:

* spent fuel core, in air, after 10 years in the spent fuel pool

Since the half life of the predominant oxides and isotopes of structural materials, you are still going to see pretty significant readings.  Not quite as high as a spent fuel cell that had just been removed, but high enough to be a concern.  Complete wag here, but I'd estimate levels at about half of what you'd measure on a recently removed spent fuel cell.

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CaptD wrote:Spent Fuel Rods

CaptD wrote:

Spent Fuel Rods are not all alike some of them in Fukushima are of the MOX type and are much more dangerous because they have Pu in them...  Think more highly reactive...

Storing energy can be dangerous but nothing is like NUCLEAR because of the radioactive No Go Zone it can create for generations!

NO, NO, NO!!!!!  Your statement is 100% incorrect.

One core at Fukushima Daiichi had MOX fuel.  It IS NOT more highly reactive, it is "differently" reactive.  Plutonium fuel particles are no more inherently dangerous than uranium oxide fuel particles.

Because plutonium is more toxic than uranium, cleanup - if a core containing MOX fuel were to be damaged, breached and fuel particles disperesed - would be necessarily more complex, but not prohibitively so.

This was exactly what Chris and Gunderson started hollering about early in the Fukushima Daiichi accident that made me realize that neither knew what they were talking about.  Arguing over the presence of MOX fuel in a reactor core while there is an accident in progress is like the fire department standing in front of your garage with pressurized, but idle hoses, while your house is burning down debating over whether the gas in your gas can for your lawnmower is 87 or 93 octane.

Storing energy from any generation source is not in and of itself dangerous provided proper operating procedures are followed in normal and casualty scenarios.  However there is a lot of difference in the relative safety between different types of power generation.  Coal is by far and away the worst in terms of lives lost.  For every 1 person killed in the nuclear power industry, 4000 are killed in the coal industry.

I don't like using comparative metrics, because anyone can squish numbers around to develop a metric that supports their position, but this one is pretty good. 

http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/visualizations/2e5d4dcc4fb511e0ae0c000255111976/comments/2e70ae944fb511e0ae0c000255111976

Deaths per terawatt hour produced

Coal: 161

Oil: 36

Natural Gas: 4

Biofuel/Biomass: 12

Peat:  12

Hydroelectric: 1.4

Nuclear: 0.04 

Now can we discuss the No Go Zone that is being created on our planet by the burning of fossil fuels compared to nuclear power and put things in perspective?

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