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    Why You Should Be Worried About Japan’s Nuclear Reactors
    By Sascha Vongehr | March 16th 2011 03:03 AM | 61 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    For days now, scientists and science blogs tell us not to worry about Japan’s nuclear reactors. Nothing can happen; no radiation will be released, all is fine. We are treated to false experts even, to one-sided rants of somebody who studied risk management in corporations, published originally on a business friendly website.


    That piece of fluff was reposted all over the net, but the crucial claim -- that there was no chance radiation would be released -- has been conveniently cut. The forgetful masses with their short attention spans are given ever new versions, from “all under control” over “no radiation will be released” and “no significant levels will be released” to “what was released poses no danger at all” and “the danger it poses can be averted by breathing through wet towels”.


    Only one aspect is for sure: Whatever level of mess will be reached, there will be scientists afterward explaining to us that that level was actually totally expected and by the way the maximum level possible and moreover no more dangerous than flying long distance a certain number of times. Finally: If you want to avoid cancer then just stop smoking. You do not smoke? Well you cannot blame the nuclear industry for that!


    Right here on Science2.0, we had a contributor basically arguing that the Chernobyl incident 1986 is due to the Russians being stupid. Nuclear power is safe and reactors do only blow up every five million years, and whenever one blows up every so often, it does not count, because it was just the stupid people from [enter wherever it blew up here].


    Few science blogs had the guts to an independent opinion, e.g. Greg Laden, and Catdynamics. I for one actually am an expert (certainly much more so than mister MIT business guy!) and I have my potassium iodide pills ready since day one (!) – so should you by the way!


    A boiling water reactor the type of which there are now several disintegrating in the Fukushima reactor complex in Japan. This type needs active cooling even when “switched off” – that means, you cannot really switch it off! It keeps going at a steady rate of at least 3% normal (in case all is well, otherwise more) for over 30 years. Any disaster that stops the active cooling leads to scientists assuring you that cancer rates are naturally high anyway due to your [enter whatever you do here].


    What really ticks me off is the pretend science we are fed by wannabe science literate. For example, they tell you in great detail about the logarithmic scale and how the magnitude 8.9 quake actually shows how safe the nuclear plant turned out after all. In fact however, magnitude relates to an estimated total energy release and does not reveal local intensities around the nuclear plant.


    Intensity depends on where the earthquake happens and how the shaking is relayed and often focused or dispersed via the medium in between the epicenter and the location in question. You can have the same type of building falling to the ground in a weak quake while it keeps proudly erect in a much worse one.


    Being asked in what distance from an epicenter of a quake there is still danger, the geologist professor Gerhard Jentzsch from the University of Jena in Germany answers:

    “When 1992 at Roermond the earth shook with a magnitude of 5.9, there where chimneys falling over in a distance clearly above 100 kilometers. A quake of the strength 5.9 is a rather moderate quake.”


    Guys, once and for all: It does not freaking matter what the magnitude was or how high the tsunami wave! The disaster went from bad to worse when the cooling could not be restored because backup generators could not be connected to discharged batteries (because of not fitting plugs or, according to other reports, because they had been positioned below the to be expected waterline in case of flooding), and guess what: Being an expert about technology stuff, this is exactly the kind of unexpected stupidity that I expected!

    This is what separates the stupid pseudo-science hacks writing “science blogs” from the actually experienced! This is what makes me an expert; this is how people like me predicted 9/11 and further, yet worse nuclear catastrophes. Not by pretend science, but by experience with science and technology and all that in a real world inhabited by humans doing it.


    The public trust in science and scientists is low. Now we are told again that the reason for such is the public’s stupidity and the panicky media. No, this is not the full story. The public has a very good reason to panic! It has been told that all is good and perfect so often that at some point even the stupidest goes “wait a minute, how the hell am I supposed to yet again trust you guys after you have sold me out so many times?”


    Jentzsch:

    “Frankly spoken, I am very frustrated when I see how our insights are treated. I belonged to the work group ‘Selection Method Final Storage Location’ (original: Auswahlverfahren Endlagerstandort) for four years. When we presented our results, there was a wine reception and little later new elections, after which our paper vanished in a drawer.”


    I am sad to witness that science blogs are offering themselves as an instrument helping to fool the public. Science blogs should instead be the trusted source far elevated above political lines; a force that watches out for science not being misappropriated for political means.


    Scientists repeatedly underestimate risks (callously disregarding a history of strong earthquakes for example), cover up radiation leaks, even forge documents, as has been proven just recently again in the case of Gorleben, a proposed German site to store "spent" nuclear fuel rods. Scientists are not the better people you can trust, and those you can trust, are weeded out!


    And so there can only be one conclusion to the question of whether nuclear power is safe. It certainly could be, but since humans are involved, and since even the scientists involved have been cheating you so many times, you cannot trust them with nuclear power. Nuclear power could be safe, I know enough about physics to know that it indeed could. BUT IT IS NOT SAFE! I know enough about humans and science and technology to know that it is nowhere close to being as safe as they are trying to make you believe!


    The largest costs to nuclear energy are the future costs related to managing the nuclear waste and the increasing number of no-go zones in the world. The Ukraine spends 5% of its GDP for the aftermath of Chernobyl and it may well keep doing so for another 100 years. Let me give you another one of my sadly too often accurate forecasts for you to disregard: We have not even started to pay the real costs of nuclear power yet. The bill is still to come.

    Comments

    So...why should we be worried about Japan's nuclear reactors?

    vongehr
    Wow!!! Article posted at 3:03. First knee-jerk reaction at 3:08. So there is indeed some group of people closely observing "the internets" to immediately bash anything critical about nuclear power without even reading the articles fully. Wow! Welcome to the real world. See guys, this is what it is all about. THIS is one part of why you should be very worried indeed!
    You claim to be an 'expert' , with headlines saying "why you should be worried . . . " ; and then you don't give any science or math or empirical data - just . . they said it was safe, but it wasn't . . . . . .
    With a proper locality and proper precautions and redundant safety systems in place nuclear is very safe. Nothing is perfectly safe.
    We probably have in excess of 1000 nuclear plants functioning in the world as we speak - and the vast majority (about 99%) have functioned that way for DECADES without a hitch. Name the FEASIBLE energy source that is SAFE.
    Natural gas ? Nope
    Coal ? Nope
    Oil ? Nope
    So what are we to power our cities with ??
    Hydro-electric is fairly safe - as long as the damn doesn't burst - But you wreak havok on the eco system when you build it.
    Solar power - totally unfeasible at todays level of technology - way too prohibitive cost wise. Also undependable at times if cloud cover
    Wind power - same as above - and undependable when currents stop.
    I guess we can all just crawl back into a cave and eat raw meat.
    Oh wait, THAT'S UNSAFE !! THERE COULD BE A BEAR IN THERE !!

    Gerhard Adam
    So your argument is that it doesn't matter whether it's safe or not ... we need it.
    We probably have in excess of 1000 nuclear plants functioning in the world as we speak - and the vast majority (about 99%) have functioned that way for DECADES without a hitch.
    Yeah, ain't that a kick in the ass, because the same thing could've been said about the reactors we're currently experiencing problems with.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    It is safe. Could it be safer, absolutely.

    How many people would die if we just went out and shut them all down?

    Even if global warming isn't an issue, we're still going to run out of fossil fuels in the near future, and there is no other technology that can provide the power needed to run the modern world.
    Fusion will be an improvement, if they can ever make it work. Plus neutron irradiation of the reactor vessel causes that material to become radioactive also.
    Never is a long time.
    You have natural gas explosions - occaisionally.
    Oil rigs on fire - oil spills - occaisionally.
    Mine accidents - occaisionally.

    Because of the inherent high potential energy content of most energy sources - you have significant risk.

    Solar would be great if it were developed to a point that is economical. Until then we're stuck with what we have.
    The bottom line is, if people can't afford it, (people being: individuals, companies, and governments alike) - you can not successfully use it.

    Nuclear is somewhat dangerous - but so are all of our other logical choices

    Gerhard Adam
    The irony here is that alternative sources aren't economically viable because the status quo is maintained through government assistance and subsidies.  I don't believe there are any instances of where such industries aren't favored in some way and therefore prices don't reflect the true costs of production (since they would also need to include safety, disposal, and clean-up costs).

    In addition, whenever someone mentions the growing population on the planet, they are usually greeted with some dismissive claim that there is no "optimal" number of humans that can be supported on this planet.  Yet, isn't this really at the heart of the discussion, because our growing energy needs are directly linked to an ever increasing population.

    We also need to be clear that safety is not an intrinsic issue with the technology but rather it is associated with economics and government.  Most of the dangers associated with such technologies occur because we are only interested in doing it cheaply and with as minimal amount of oversight as we can get away with.  So people start digging out the statistics about how long plants run without incident as if that's an indication of safety. 

    Any facility (energy or not) can experience a disaster, and it is during such a crisis that we begin to discover just how many short-cuts were taken.  Had such a disaster not occurred, then we would continue to cut corners under the explanation of being economically competitive.

    However, if we examine the situation occurring in Japan, after we get done offering up all the explanations and excuses, the inescapable reality is that the TRUE costs of this will only be borne by the people there.  You can be assured it won't be absorbed by those responsible for it.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Populations in most 'western countries' except the U.S. are decreasing, not increasing.
    You can't force an economically prohibitive source of energy on the population - you will have millions more not able to pay their basic bills and mortgages - therefore heading for another depression with many living on the streets.
    You can't avoid accidents, occaisionally, human beings make mistakes - if you want a utopia on Earth - you're delusional.

    Gerhard Adam
    You can't avoid accidents, occaisionally, human beings make mistakes - if you want a utopia on Earth - you're delusional.
    I'm not looking for utopia.  However, I don't see the point in having corporations make profits while absorbing no risk, and then my getting the bill after an accident occurs anyway.  If corporations like socialism enough to have governments bail them out, then let's nationalize them in the first place.  At least at that level, we citizens can make the decisions regarding the risks we're willing to take.  The way it is now, someone that is maximizing their profitability is also determining the acceptable risk that I'm supposed to absorb, so that when the worst happens, they can walk away from the responsibility and liability.

    I'd rather go back to wood-burning stoves than put up with that kind of economic model.

    I also don't accept the notion of accidents being inevitable when even basic safety standards are being violated and inspections bypassed.  Until we know what the true costs of our energy (or other needs) are, we can't responsibly plan for anything in society and I'm tired of the "feel-good" attitudes that seem to suggest that we can't handle the truth nor come up with real viable solutions.  One solution that is unacceptable is to simply give in and say that we can't possibly hold CEOs responsible, so therefore we should keep our mouths shut and let them do as they please.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Part of the problem, is that the Obama Administration did a fake inspection on the Deep Horizon well, and even gave them an AWARD FOR SAFETY just months before the spill !! Greedy government looking for corporate money in return for favors (it works BOTH ways) is just as guilty as the Corporations.

    If we drilled in Anwar, tapped into other areas in the gulf, and tapped into the new huge deposits just discovered in the Dakotas - The U.S has enough oil to supply our energy needs, even considering increased demand over time - to supply us with power for OVER 200 YEARS. MANY OIL EXPERTS HAVE TESTIFIED TO THIS. We don't have to panic, we have time to deliberately and methodically develop new alternatives to a point where they are FEASIBLE.

    BP didn't get off the hook. The Federal Government MILKED THEM for 10's of billions (and perhaps rightfully so).

    If you SOCIALIZED the big corporations and let the corrupt government run them - YOU still would have no say, and then you would find that not only was the 'new' Corporation greedy and corrupt, but it would also become INEPT, just like everything else the government is in control of !!

    Socialism only assures 1 thing for the common citizen: EXTREMELY OPPRESSIVE TAXES. and still no say so in the matter.

    You say you would rather go back to burning wood - you don't have to. There are 1,000's of wells that have been pumping oil out of the Gulf for decades - and there have been spills very rarely. Even as bad as this one was, most areas of the Gulf are nearly back to normal, already.

    Solar and wind and h ydro and even Fusion may have their day - but as of now, whether we like it or not , oil is the life blood of the world. Look around you: the pens, calculators, paint on your walls, rubber on your shoe soles, microchip boards, glues, watch bands, roof materials, asphalt, eyeglass frames, computer keyboards, bottles, even artificial limbs and heart valves - all made from oil and oil byproducts. Literally 50% or MORE of everything we use in today's society is dependent upon oil.

    If we want to solve today's energy problems, we have to think logically and avoid panic. In the early 80's, Al Gore said "We have about 10 years left before the ice melts and the oceans inundate our coastal cities".

    I'm all for clean energy, but I want to base my ideas and solutions on solid facts and think it thru thoroughly.
    Peace to you. We may have our differences, but we all want a clean beautiful world.

    Gerhard Adam
    Why is it that governments are always inept, until it becomes time to pass legislation to advance someone's agenda (i.e. gay marriage, abortion, etc.).  In addition, I'm not clear on why government should be trusted with a military, law enforcement, etc. 

    Government is only inept because people allow it to be inept, however if the idea that corporations are better is being advanced, you'd better consider the geniuses that are responsible for the financial meltdown.  Why is it that every time a corporation fails (because they're so brilliant), it's the inept government and taxpayer that is tapped to help them survive?

    I'm not a big fan of excessive government intrusion, but there's no worse master than someone looking to make a profit.  If it wasn't for the government, we'd all we working for slave wages at 120 hours a week.  It was the government that ensure that civil rights were protected despite what local individuals (and companies) wanted to do.

    It isn't always fair and it isn't always pretty, but without the government you'd be sitting in a shack eating rotten meat.  You may think that's an exaggeration but in reality, we are not a society where we can count on local businesses and individual access.  Therefore we depend on an authority that is capable of overseeing and representing our interests when other (i.e. financial) interests would typically win the day.   We're already experiencing one of the possible outcomes of continued corporation "growth", which is that such unregulated activities has decimated the U.S. ability to produce almost anything and now the remaining elements that produce jobs in this country are also being outsourced offshore. 

    I have little faith in government and no faith in corporations.

    As I said, I'm tired of corporations that make billions in profits whining about how onerous their responsibilities are because of government intrusion and laws.  This is a clear demonstration about how corporations  have no sense of obligation to the communities that support them, but instead would sell every one of us down the river if they thought it would improve their dividends by an additional penny.

    I want to be clear that I don't think that CEOs are fundamentally evil.  It is the nature of having created corporations in the first place that almost forces decent people to become "evil" in their actions since their loyalty is supposed to be to a legal fiction (i.e. the paper of the corporation).
    Mundus vult decipi
    You said, "Therefore we depend on an authority that is capable of overseeing and representing our interests" when referring to the Federal Government. The only interests they are interested in representing is THEIR RE-ELECTION, and they will try to BUY those votes by making deals with Corporations, Unions, 'Community Organization groups', special interests - including every wacko environmentalist group, etc. etc. All for the almighty vote !! Give me term limits for all !!
    You say you are sick of the greedy corporations and their Billions in profits. Huh !!
    Yet you support the insatiable appetite of the gluttonous Federal Government and it's TRILLIONS THAT IT HAS PRACTICALLY STOLEN FROM THE SMALL COMPANIES ACROSS THIS LAND - WHICH HAPPENS TO BE THE BACKBONE OF AMERICA. Big corporations only account for 20-30percent of employment in the U.S, but little companies, including "Mom and Pops" are OVER 70% of businesses in America !! It's THESE GUYS that are getting reamed a new one by BIG BROTHER to the tune of TRILLIONS !!!
    Also, our present government is no where near as responsible as it may have been years ago.
    There was no 'lock box' for social security" as they had promised - no indeed - the HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS THAT people trustingly allowed the Fed government to put away for them for retirement - got THROWN INTO THE GENERAL FUND AND EVERY LAST NICKEL SPENT ON OTHER THINGS !! The feds are really looking out for our best interest aren't they. Here, I'm going to take your hard earned money, against your will, and put aside a retirement fund for you because I really care about you. Ok, I'm retired, where's my 'socially secured future ? oh, sorry, we spent all the money. But, don't worry, we made the same lie to your sons and daughters, so - we're taking THAT money and giving it directly to you. (of course, some of it, we're still throwing into the general fund for important indespensible programs like the federally-funded California tatoo removal progam.)

    Your hated Corporations may have Billions that they earned by selling products and services people willingly pay for)
    But your beloved Government has Trillions that they TOOK from people and companies and gave us little in return - aside from each American having little in his paycheck left after taxes to make ends meet.

    How is it possible that the radiation stops in California? we have wind and it will circle the whole world and our sea water will be infected as well as our fish. Our food and water is the question. what about iodine pills where can I get them??

    Sascha,

    Great post. Indeed, this more or less sums up my experience as "public" (with a physics bachelor) of the Nuclear Energy lobby since the 1970s.

    Also nice of the trolls to prove your point so clearly. If you have read the whole HBGary Federal versus Anonymous ruckus, you know there is indeed money spend by agencies to mess up social sites (like blogs).

    Stellare
    Well, Sascha, even though you make an important point - the human factor overrules scientific and technological know-how - I disagree with your conclusion that it is the fault of scientists. By that I mean that it is not the scientists who make decisions on WHERE we put the plant, that is politics. Very much politics, too. And economics. Decisions are made by politicians and other decision makers.

    Also, the earthquake resistant buildings do make a difference and the magnitude of the quakes also is important. However, one could ask why the power plant is placed so close to the tsunami infested sea - and on that particular side of the Japanese islands.

    The Japanese are very experienced with managing risks and I think your communication comes out a little unfair to them. Intended or not. :-)

    I have been involved with evaluation of nuclear reactors so I know a few thing about them too....;-)
    The human factor that you underline (I think), is taken very seriously, both in nuclear plants and on other high risk operations like off-shore oil platforms. Humans and technology interaction is a scientific field of its own.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    vongehr
    Well, Bente, of course "scientists" are never to be blamed for anything if we just count whoever we like to the "real scientists", and we always better do that after the fact. And with this then, the whole debate about crisis in science, corrupt scientists, peer review and all that goes out of the window. Society selects who becomes and may stay a scientist, who may speak as one and so on, what is presented as science. I either can go ahead with my private definition and write a different language from anybody reading, or I go partially along with what I am supposed to accept as science, and then there is sadly no other way but being either naive or admitting that scientists are very guilty of many crimes today. They are basically selected to justify a horrible system, whether this is putting innocent people into jail on grounds of that science shows that hemp is dangerous, or many many other examples, here persistently misrepresenting the huge dangers of nuclear power. I have for most of my life also defended scientists and science. Now I am experienced enough in the world of science to be a little smarter. If anybody is to be blamed at all, it is those who are intelligent enough to potentially know better: The scientists! They tell us that they live for making the world better. It is nothing but deception and self-deception. The truth is; those that want to do good science are largely weeded out of the system.
    The public distrusts science. Why? Maybe because they have caught on to that a scientist today is never anymore the brilliant seeker of truth in a patent office, but plainly a paid and fully indoctrinated agent of the system trying to justify whatever the system wants him to justify. The patent clerk is being kicked on the streets if he tries to disturb. Whistle blowers are rendered silent.
    "The Japanese are very experienced with managing risks and I think your communication comes out a little unfair to them. Intended or not."
    Where in my post do you get the idea that I blame the Japanese? You read again stuff into my posts that is really not in there. I blame first and foremost science bloggers for being irresponsibly naive science apologists.
    Stellare
    I blame first and foremost science bloggers for being irresponsibly naive science apologists.

    And you are not? ;-)

    Where in my post do you get the idea that I blame the Japanese?

    I believe your anger makes you blind. And entertaining, I have to admit. :-)

    Those who nourish fear and engage in scaremongering, particularly related to radiation, are doing more damage to people's health than a good doses of nuclear radiation. That is my view, the astrophysicist who knows that if there is anything humans are built to handle, actually need to survive, it is radiation. In the right amount, of course.

    Yet, when radiation is mentioned people go ballistic! Go figure!


    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    vongehr
    I blame the Japanese?
    I believe your anger makes you blind. And entertaining, I have to admit.
    Sorry, no Bente, this is going too far. First of all, writing rationally without pretend tears about poor victims does not equate to anger. Secondly, you imply I have something against Japanese. I for one have always thought (read: not just since a few days and until they are again out of the news and become the usual yellow threat) the Japanese to be one of the most civilized and advanced people on earth, disregarding torturing dolphins etc. (And I am in Nanjing, so you can believe me that it is not easy to hold this view without sometimes getting into trouble for it.)
    Those who nourish fear and engage in scaremongering, ... when radiation is mentioned people go ballistic!
    Who you refer to as scaremongering? There are always scaremongers. Smoke a joint and become addicted - right. You cannot see or smell radioactivity, so people depend on government and scientists telling them about it. So, of course, since in the past and even now in Japan, information is withheld whenever radiation values go up, people are especially afraid. They should be.

    the astrophysicist who knows that if there is anything humans are built to handle, actually need to survive, it is radiation. In the right amount, of course.
    You care to explain??? What would happen to my body if I do not get a little muon shower once in a while? What is plutonium nutritional supplement good for exactly? You know the difference between beta and gamma radiation, between what hardly penetrates the skin and what radiates right out of your bones and all that, right?
    Stellare
    Scaremongering: Your very article is a contribution to the scaremongering. The title of your article alone:
    Why You Should Be Worried About Japan’s Nuclear Reactors
    Particularly when it is presented at this point of time when we have a disaster going on in Japan that includes a nuclear plant.

    With all due respect, I do not think you are objective and rational in your article. I am not implying that you are an irrational person though. On the contrary. Just saying. :-)

    When you express yourself through sentences like : Being an expert about technology stuff, this is exactly the kind of unexpected stupidity that I expected!, among others. Like I said, it makes you come out as angry - not at the Japanese though.

    It is very easy to interpret your article as saying that nobody has thought about the human factor when it comes to nuclear plants (or large technological installations?). This is what I think is unfair to the Japanese in this particular case.

    Of course the human - machine relation, with the human failure as one risk, are being addressed. Like here at OECD Halden reactor Safety Man-Technology.

    Also, the possibility of human failure is considered seriously and mitigated in space exploration! Otherwise we would not be able to go back and forth between International Space Station and the Earth like we do.

    I agree with you whole-heartily when you say that we tend to underestimate risks, but that is a general statement allowing for exceptions.

    As for radiation: What do you think you would be WITHOUT solar radiation? :-)




    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    vongehr
    Scaremongering: Your very article is a contribution to the scaremongering. The title of your article alone:
    Why You Should Be Worried About Japan’s Nuclear Reactors
    As you well know, the title is a play on the ridiculous "Why I am not worried about Japan's Nuclear Reactors" article that told us NO radiation will be released at all. I am not scaremongering. It is totally rational, given experience with other disasters, to distrust officials when they take the monitors offline and tell you all is good.
    With all due respect, I do not think you are objective and rational in your article.
    To the point please! Where? This is a science site. Lets come with the arguments please.
    Of course the human - machine relation, with the human failure as one risk, are being addressed.
    My article is not so much about human-machine relation as human-human relation, for example falsifying safety records and downplaying dangers.
    As for radiation: What do you think you would be WITHOUT solar radiation? :-)
    Bente, please. You think this is funny? You accuse me of scaremongering because I mention that science blogs downplay dangers, now here you come telling people in this very comment thread on Science2.0 that alpha radiation from inside your bone marrow and sunshine are the same? Who pays your salary?
    John Starrett
    "If anybody is to be blamed at all, it is those who are intelligent enough to potentially know better: The scientists! They tell us that they live for making the world better. It is nothing but deception and self-deception. The truth is; those that want to do good science are largely weeded out of the system."

    Nonsense. Most good scientists who just want to do science do just that. Unless you are using some non-standard definition of "the system". I know you are speaking from frustration, but let's try to be clear in our expressions.
    John Starrett
    vongehr
    Dear John, thank you for your interest and your willingness to comment here though you feel it is nonsense. Forgive my being frank, but your comment is a little naive; actually, it even seems you do not understand the point I am making. My position is never about bad people or conspiracy or mere stupidity but always about co-evolved functionality between the environment that selects the sub-systems that make up the environment in turn [i.e. the self-deception is an automatic one due to selective (and selected(!)) perception]. Your misunderstanding of course derives from your own selective perception, i.e. from your own position and lack of understanding of your evolved function as an academic scientist inside society. I invite you to read some of my articles touching on these issues; a good start would be here and the links provided, although blog posts that are basically just scratching the symptoms of an underlying cause cannot of course be a substitute for a good grounding in system theoretical sociology (if you do not know what this is, Niklas Luhmann is a good place to start).
    John Starrett
    I am not at all surprised that I am wrong, ignorant and deluded.
    John Starrett
    vongehr
    Join the club, we all are, those that know maybe a little less so. Some get wiser with age, most of course do not.
    I certainly agree in the future costs things, the electricity we consuming today from nuclear reactors is going to be paid for our futures generations, big costs in handle the waste, thats not fair, event not smart.

    Also true governments wants from scientist an alternative and what scientis have to now ? the ITER ? :(

    Thank you for some real truth on Science 2.0. All the "experts" telling us "don't panic" are more than just a little annoying. It's about time someone with expertise really acknowledged that what's happening in Japan is a disaster and that the inherently dangerous spent fuel makes a mockery of all the "green" claims for the nuclear industry.

    From a PEANUTS cartoon: I *LOVE* humanity! It's PEOPLE I can't stand!

    Clemenceau said "War is too important to be left to the generals." Watching the Exxon Valdez, BP GOM oil catastrophe and now this, it may be that "Environmental Crises are too important to be left to corporations." The problem is that the corporation has the detailed knowledge of the situation required to solve, or at least manage, the problem; the corporation's primary responsibility is to their stockholders, not the public or the government. I don't know how to fix the situation other than nationalizing the corporation until all the problems are fixed, cleanup is done, and claims are paid off.

    Tom

    Why, why, why, when talking about the nuclear industry do we keep referring to "science" and "scientists" ??

    The science was just about entirely sussed before 1950. Everything since then has been engineering. The bad design of Chernobyl was poor engineering, not poor science. The science was understood. The engineers (or their managers....) didn't understand it properly.

    TMI was poor engineering. Poor MMI (Man-Machine Interfacing) and inadequate instrumentation were the key elements of that.

    Tell me, how many people have died through the pollution caused by coal-powered industries ?? How does this compare with the number killed by the nuclear industry ?? Is this progress or not ??

    vongehr
    Why, why, why, when talking about the nuclear industry do we keep referring to "science" and "scientists" ??
    Who is doing that? We don't even talk about the nuclear industry specifically here. This is a science blog talking about science and scientists and science bloggers being one-sided and at times clearly naive about what goes under the name of science. You are quite right, a lot of crap should not even come under that label.
    The science was understood. The engineers (or their managers....) didn't understand it properly.
    Well if you say that engineers cannot handle it, then maybe that just means that humankind cannot handle it, because those clever scientists you imagine so far above the puny engineer obviously belong working in the LHC and universities, not rotting in the control rooms of a power companies.
    Tell me, how many people have died through the pollution caused by coal-powered industries ??
    Tell me, who argued for coal companies? Straw man!
    How does this compare with the number killed by the nuclear industry ??
    The costs of nuclear energy (as well as that of coal) are largely deferred into the future and to those who are otherwise without say. If you count those, I am not sure. But then, such counts are anyway totally beside the point. If we had to pay the actual cost of power, we would not consume half of it, by now, probably not a tenths without any less advancement (certainly actually more on the energy efficiency front) in science, health, whatever. Leave your straw men at home please.
    rychardemanne
    Hi Sascha
    Agree that public mistrust and fear are actually understandable: for every corporate scientist that crows about how safe this situation is we get footage of yet another explosion at Fukushima.

    Voices that are both scientific and sceptical seem to be few and far between.

    My brother lives in Tokyo - he has temporarily moved to Osaka. The Japanese people have zero confidence in TEPCO, especially since they were found guilty of falsifying safety records. Falsifying safety records! There's a bunch of people you want managing a nuclear disaster!

    However, public ignorance also continues to be staggering and fodder for the sensationalist media.
    This week I have done 3 lessons on this disaster with 3 different physics classes. Today we had the viral idiocy that people in Bangkok must not go out in the rain today because it is radioactive! Most of the kids got this piece of wisdom from their parents; the rest from their friends. About half the class also believed that one of these reactors could undergo a nuclear explosion.

    My own approach was not to soothe all their fears, but rather to show them which fears were justified and which were not.

    The sad truth is that ignorance is also ignorant of itself. Education seems such a sisyphean task.


    One does not want to spark panic when there is no fire in a theatre, but this is a bit different right now. And so many supposed experts are lying, downplaying the problems. I guess when thousands are dead from a tsunami, losing a few hundred to radiation is less frightening. We have entered the age of relative safety, in which we measure things in terms of cost per life saved, and comparing deaths from this to deaths from that. Perhaps this is rational. Mercury poisoning from coal power vs. radiation poisoning or cancer from nuclear power, and so on.

    In any case, the current problem is people do not understand radiation dosing. The permissible level for a person working in a plant is 20 mSv per year (averaged over five years or 50 mSv in one year). At 400 mSv per hour, that is reached very quickly, hence the permissible limit has been doubled in Japan for the present. Still, workers can only be exposed for a few minutes. So someone will have to overexpose themselves, or new workers have to be found. For the general public, maximum permissible exposure is 1 mSv per year. One chest x-ray is said to be around 20 micro-Sieverts (no mu character, sorry). The highest measured level outside the 20 km perimeter around Fukushima was .33 mSv per hour (according to NHK TV today, March 16th.) Unfortunately the idiot Yukio Edano (chief cabinet secretary) doing most of the status announcements about the power station status claims that this will not cause health problems unless one is exposed for a long time (months). In fact, it means that some evacuees are probably getting their yearly acceptable dose of 1 mSv in 3 hours. And this is just based on the released data. The radiation monitors are no longer accessible online, and there are doubtless many worse readings. I notice that there is significant under-reporting of the many people who died related to Chernobyl. We can hope the present situation will not get that bad, but there is no sign that things are getting better yet. But we have to realize that thousands of people got sick and died from Chernobyl, mostly through cancers. Doubtless many new cases of cancer will happen from Fukushima as well. At least people are getting some help, but it sounds like Japan is completely overwhelmed and giving up on reaching many of the people in nursing homes, etc.

    The main thing is to put an end to false reporting and biased reporting from the nuclear power industry. I hope we can do this. I have heard too many pro-nuke creeps telling us things like the plants were only designed for 7.9 magnitude quakes, so it is good that they have done so well in an 8.9 quake. Absurd, indefensible, moronic people have got to be pointed out, identified, and put back to work on whatever harmless things they can, instead of being given any responsibility in selling our lives to corporate interests.

    Hfarmer
    As I wrote in my own blog yesterday the "where" of the plant is a distraction.  The real problem is, as you pointed out, this is an old design that needs active cooling in order to not have just such a disaster.  We have designs on the drawing board and even under construction which do not have this weakness.   Had this plant been of a more modern design this problem would not be as bad.  
    The real human factor is not just scientist who will, like anyone else, do anything for a buck.  The real human factor is the overall drive to cut corners, cheat, and be cheap about nuclear power.   Reactors like that were made when nuclear power was practically experimental.  They should never have been built in large quantities, and should have been dismantled long ago. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    rychardemanne
    One sad irony to prove your point is that reactor 1 was due for decommissioning this month. It is having a very bad 40th birthday! However, in February 2011 the government gave the operators a 10-year extension to their operating licence. One major lesson here is that old reactors really need to be put out of our misery.
    Gerhard Adam
    Excellent post, Sascha and as always you force me to think.

    It seems that the primary problem is illustrated in this statement from one of the links provided in the article.
    Risk management allows companies to design and achieve the optimal risk-return balance in their portfolio of activities, successfully take entrepreneurial risks, increase their performance, and focus their attention on where it is needed most.
    http://lean.mit.edu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=845&Itemid=816
    In effect, we have this notion that risk-return is a quantifiable entity that can be used by business practices to determine how they should operate.  It is notable that actual ideas of safety and/or public awareness are not part of this discipline, so we invariably end up with a purely economic assessment of how such technologies should be used.

    When a problem occurs, then the rationalizations begin (usually with an eye towards avoiding liability).

    As mentioned in the article, scientists are not trustworthy in their conveying of actual scientific information.  Science, by its very nature, should be beyond opinions when we are talking about something that is considered grounded well enough to be deployed as a technological implementation.

    Therefore we must conclude that many scientists are either expressing themselves well beyond their expertise, or they are rationalizing explanations through other motives (i.e. money).  Obviously none of these things will foster trust and between the people that are already prone to believe every conspiratorial idea that surfaces, it is little wonder that many people think that science is simply about making stuff up because it "sounds right" or "sounds possible".  This type of thinking has permeated politics, the media, virtually every point in social discourse.

    When we add to this the notion that every idea is legitimate to explore because of "open-mindedness" then we foster an environment where we have few skeptics and many alternative explanations for phenomenon that is supposed to be grounded on scientific theories and ideas.

    In effect, the "God of the Gaps" has come to science in general where every gap in scientific knowledge is now a candidate for exploitation by every crackpot idea that comes along. 
    Nuclear power could be safe, I know enough about physics to know that it indeed could. BUT IT IS NOT SAFE! I know enough about humans and science and technology to know that it is nowhere close to being as safe as they are trying to make you believe!
    This is perhaps one of the most important statements in the article, because it captures the reality that we do not behave and live based on the actual knowledge we possess.  Everything is transformed into a cheaper, shabbier version of what we know is true, and it's as if we insist on building a fairy-land where we can live with our fantasies until reality (like an earthquake) intrudes.  Once that occurs, then we haul out our experts that carefully explain the nuances of the story we've been telling ourselves, and offering little more than propaganda to advance which ever group is being represented at the moment.

    I don't even know where to begin looking at how such a problem can be addressed, let alone solved.  I fear it may be an intractable problem that can't be corrected by direct action.  It's unfortunate, but the majority of people live as if they were domestic cattle on the corporate/government ranch.  If 1000 die, then that's better than 10,000 or 100,000.  So goes the reassurance.  Whether you get exposed to high radiation levels, live over a toxic waste dump site, or have an airplane fly into a building, the story is invariable ... "nobody could've envisioned that such a thing could happen".  We all know that this is a lie, but we blithely accept it as part of the normal discourse in our society.

    A fifth grader could predict the risks of most of the things we engage in, but then a fifth grader wouldn't be capable of calculating the "cost of doing business" to manage the risk, could he?

    Sorry for the rambling post, Sascha, but this is a good and important article.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Three observations about the nuclear industry and related governing bodies.

    1. I don't know what the law is in Japan. In the US and Canada, reactor operators have virtual immunity. Both jurisdictions severely limit the liability of plant owners and operators. In Canada the limit is $75 million per incident. Without limited liability, government guarantees, taxpayer subsidies and captive ratepayers nuclear power would have been deemed uneconomic from the start. When you add in the unfunded decommissioning and waste disposal costs, nuclear power has been an unprecedented waste of money.
    2. The nuclear industry was built on lies. This is what happens when you plunge headlong into reactor-building, then attempt to prove it is safe as an afterthought. This reckless experiment has enabled third world countries and enemies of democracy to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, as well as providing great targets for terrorists or state enemies. All for what ?
    3. Besides the National Rifle Association and 2nd Amendment gun nuts in the US (who vehemently defend the appalling carnage caused by guns every year) I know of no group as rabid and defensive as the nuclear lobby. They shamelessly avoid responsibility for anything and tirelessly try to justify the indefensible at every turn. Unlike some redneck NRA supporters, they should know better. I think they are pure evil. Read Killing Our Own at http://www.ratical.org/radiation/KillingOurOwn/

    rychardemanne
    1252: Germany's Angela Merkel says that she aims to accelerate Germany's move away from nuclear energy. "We want to reach the age of renewable energy as quickly as possible," she said, according to Reuters. via BBC World's feed.

    btw I was once going to go into the nuclear power industry, but after investigating it further I thought these were hugely dangerous kettles and the waste has never been effectively recycled, as in the theory, apart from into weapons.
    logicman
    Sascha: although I agree with Bente about the title's impact on some people, I do agree with most of the points you raise here.  Most especially I agree that nuclear power (as at present implemented) is not safe.  But it could be.

    My 'angle' in my own articles is to try to glean the most accurate information from primary sources and people with relevant expertise and to try not to allow my own prejudices as a 'greenie' to stand in the way of accurate reporting. 

    Of course, being human - I am reliably informed - my trying may not lead to my succeeding. ;-)
    Stellare
    Hi Patrick - and Happy St. Patrick's Day! :-)

    I value your links to primary sources. And it is just what it is. Direct information from those involved, with all that implies. ;-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    vongehr
    "glean the most accurate information from primary sources and people with relevant expertise"
    That sounds good. Mc Donalds is the primary source about hamburgers, right? There is so little reliable about nutrition, could you help us with posting some stuff from Ronald so I know what is good for me? ;-)
    Seriously, is it not a little naive to just post directly, without disclaimer, from an agency that is not only well known to generally downplay any risks or actual incidences to do with nuclear power, but that have been actually found out quite recently to falsify safety reports?
    logicman
    Mc Donalds is the primary source about hamburgers
    - but not about the engineering design of hotplates and fire extinguishers.  ;-)

    is it not a little naive to just post directly, without disclaimer
    So, you never heard of mirror sites? ;-)

    ... an agency that is not only well known to generally downplay any risks or actual incidences to do with nuclear power, but that have been actually found out quite recently to falsify safety reports?

    Can you cite the official transcript of any official hearing into that?  Besides, even if they downplay risks - a plausible scenario - that does not excuse the media from promoting mass hysteria by grossly over-stating the situation.

    More seriously: I am merely giving the general public access to the same sources that most of the media rely on.  If any newspaper wants to translate "may be loss of water in the spent fuel pool" into "reactor core exposed", then let them - but only if they have sent a reporter to have a look inside the reactor!
    Guys, once and for all: It does not freaking matter what the magnitude was or how high the tsunami wave! The disaster went from bad to worse when the cooling could not be restored because certain generator plugs did not fit into certain battery sockets, and guess what: Being an expert about technology stuff, this is exactly the kind of unexpected stupidity that I expected!

    is what makes me an expert; this is how people like me predicted 9/11 and further, yet worse nuclear catastrophes. Not by pretend science, but by experience with science and technology and all that in a real world inhabited by humans doing it.

    As someone with nearly 25 years in the nuclear industry (design and operation) that made me chuckle! Keep the laughs rolling.

    Aitch
    Well, despite Sascha's best efforts, I am no more worried about the Japanese reactors than I was before his article However, John, I find your jocular appraisal of his mini-rant, for all your 25 years worth, even less appealing.... It seems to me that it is not the Scientists' work which is in question here - it is the Businessmen's! ...and herein lies, IMO, the real problem....that Scientists have about as much concept of the 'business' of nuclear power, as the Businessmen have of the Science, and it is this simple fact of our society and its 'energy needs' that are major contributors to how we end up in a discussion about whether there is a crisis or not.... ........with additional [unexpected?] input from mother nature Aitch
    MikeCrow
    I am surprised no one cut the plug off, and wire it in by hand.
    Never is a long time.
    Dr. Vongehr, finally, you have given us something of value to judge this catastrophe, the media seems to be slacking a bit.

    While I have no PhD in "nuke stuff" I have read and learned a thing or two, enough that as soon as I saw the initial report of "no backup generators" I knew enough to call two major drug store chains for Potassium Iodide pills. The first had none, and you needed a perscription anyway, same with the second store. I mentioned what I wanted them for, and the "quizzical" look I got spoke volumes, but alas, no pills... .

    Next we see two buildings blown up due to Hydrogen ignition...well, I doubt that they store 'H' there, so in my mind, I figured the water is being split by the fuel rods into its component atoms, 'H' and 'O', which makes a nice rocket fuel. From what I could scale off the TV picture, the second explosion launched a full sized flat roof of the reactor building at least 1000 ft up... . Yes, in my mind I thought, not good, not good... .

    And this thing is going as I dreaded and suspected, and pointed out to people, so we probably will see contaminents on the West coast shortly. (One news program did mention this!), along with Cesium and Strontium. Perhaps some Plutonium also, as the program above also mentioned. These are things we learned in H.S. Chem... .

    I have spent some time around depleted 92, which is used as an X-ray source for inspection of critical steel fabrication welds, and full well understand the power available to x-ray 4" thick steel. Now, we have fuel rods exposed to the air with no cooling and probably control rods severely damaged, and they want to take command by dropping water from a helicopter... .

    Question is, next, will we have multiple spontaneous fission "events" (yes that does sound so "government") and what can be the outcome?

    Dr. Vongehr, most importantly you make the "people" issue paramount, can "we" be trusted with Nuclear items?
    Recent history seems to indicate...no.

    Now, when will Washington let us drill and pump some of that multi trillion bbl of Williston Basin oil to supply our energy needs from a continental LAND source. Note: deep drilling in the Gulf of Mex is another example of 'people problems' with horrendous costs... .

    And to the immendiate concern...what about the Japanese people, first recovering from unimaginable horrors, and the very real possibility of having to abandon large areas of contaminated land.

    Any thoughts?

    vongehr
    Potassium Iodide needs a prescription in the US? You can get them no hassle from the internet. If you are ever desperate, you get OTC iodine solution, but do not take it orally; smear it on the skin. Anyways, these things should be in any household, but there is no reason as yet to take them, and that is me saying so, being in Nanjing, downwind from Tokyo.

    About your oil drilling - well, I disagree, but this would bring us far off topic.
    While I have no PhD in "nuke stuff"

    Neither has the author of this piece. Vongehr has published a limited number of scientific articles, none in the area of reactor physics.

    Gerhard Adam
    Potassium Iodide needs a prescription in the US?
    You don't need a prescription, since it's sold in "health food" stores.  Seattle is going on a buying frenzy and the point was to make the public aware that Potassium Iodide is also toxic if too much is taken.
    http://www.king5.com/health/Warning-issued-for-people-buying-up-potassium-iodide-pills-118112179.html
    Mundus vult decipi
    So why do all you fringe science guys love to either accuse everybody who disagrees with you of being a corporate shill or a black ops agent or censor their comments rather than accept that people have different points of view than yourself.

    vongehr
    "accuse everybody who disagrees with you of being a corporate shill or a black ops agent"
    Nobody did anything like this. Learn to read or get out of my comment thread.
    Steve Davis
    Patrick, how are you going old mate? For the first time, I think, I shall disagree with you. You said, "Most especially I agree that nuclear power (as at present implemented) is not safe. But it could be." They have had more than enough time to make it safe. How long is long enough? Ask the blokes who are trying to bring the problem under control. They are dead men walking, just like their counterparts at Chernobyl. We have learnt nothing. The whole industry is a disgrace.
    Gerhard Adam
    I think the primary point about safety with nuclear power (as with any technology) is that there is a huge gap between the science and the politics/economics.  We are forever hearing about how alternative sources aren't economically viable, but that is only true when the total costs aren't included.

    It is easy to blame politicians or businesses for making these kinds of choices, but ultimately it is also up to the citizens to start ensuring that we get honest about our economic options instead of always looking for the cheapest solution. 

    This is the real hurdle of achieving a sustainable society.  We saw the same kinds of problems with the oil spill in the Gulf, where safety was sacrificed for profits.  So, my point is that there is nothing gained in discussing the relative safety or merits of a particular technology unless we focus on the political and economic forces that determine what is actually implemented.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Exactly partly my point of achieving a sustainable society,why was safety sacrificed in the Gulf? I would say as I have before for profit aka-greed/power.
    If we focus on the political and economic forces that determine,(as quoted earlier by me) ,how do we go about such change?
    We can personally decrease the demand and hence supply of a plethora of products,we so "desperately need".
    What we need is a REVOLUTION!
    Oh and gerhard,you can wear any hat you like.

    Stellare
    Right on, Gerhard! Complex sets of information and interests influence decisions. We tend to underestimate this complexity.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    An interesting article, Sasha. I was all set to quibble about your assertion that nuclear power generation 'could' be made safe.
    Then Gerhard burst my balloon with this:

    "So, my point is that there is nothing gained in discussing the relative safety or merits of a particular technology unless we focus on the political and economic forces that determine what is actually implemented."

    And there, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road.

    we are a greedy mob,we waste,want more than we need or have space for,you are part of the system that dictates to you,how and when and what you will do,buy,think......fools!

    Gerhard Adam
    Only a fool would say that, and think that it solves anything or helps in any way.  Whether ideas are good, bad, or indifferent, it helps no one to simply rant as if you're the only person in the world that sees what's going on.

    Personally, I'm not ready to simply join a pity party, so unless you've got something actually worth saying, your perspective is, in itself, extremely foolish.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Just read that a powerline connection has been completed to Fukushima and the reactors are connected again. Since now they are supplying power again the crisis should be over. Thank God and Rush Limbaugh for setting us straight!!

    Thank you Sascha for posting this great and clear article. I will post it in face book

    I was absolutely shocked about the international press and how they dealt with the Fukushima event. It is not rocket science to see that this is a dangerous event and may cause great harm in the future. I experienced the time of Chernobyl in Germany with a small kid and remember all the scares we had to go through regarding food supply for toddlers as well as leaving them outside to play in the sunshine.
    It is time to say Goodbye to this technology and hopefully humanity will wake up before more places of this beautiful planet is poisoned.

    Not worried but you seem to be concerning my last attempted post.

    I can't wait for another one to blow up & bring an end to this idiotic byproduct called civilization.