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Can U.S. Nuclear Plants Handle a Major Natural Disaster?

Congressman Ed Markey has asked the Government Accountability Office to look into earthquake and flood protection at nuclear plants and questions whether the new AP1000 reactor design by Westinghouse is vulnerable to earthquakes.

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Futaba Kosei Hospital patients who might have been exposed to radiation are carried into the compound of Fukushima Gender Equality Centre in Nihonmatsu on March 13, 2011, after being evacuated from the hospital near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. (Daisuke Tomita/AP Photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun)

As engineers in Japan struggle to bring quake-damaged reactors under control, attention is turning to U.S. nuclear plants and their ability to withstand natural disasters.

Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has spent years pushing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission toward stricter enforcement of its safety rules, has called for a reassessment. Several U.S. reactors lie on or near fault lines, and Markey wants to beef up standards for new and existing plants.

"This disaster serves to highlight both the fragility of nuclear power plants and the potential consequences associated with a radiological release caused by earthquake related damage," Markey wrote NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko in a March 11 letter.

Specifically, Markey raised questions about a reactor design the NRC is reviewing for new plants that has been criticized for seismic vulnerability. The NRC has yet to make a call on the AP1000 reactor, which is manufactured by Westinghouse. But according to Markey, a senior NRC engineer has said the reactor’s concrete shield building could shatter "like a glass cup" under heavy stress.

The New York Times reported last week that the NRC has reviewed the concerns raised by the engineer, John Ma, and concluded that the design is sufficient without the upgrades Ma recommended. Westinghouse maintains that the reactor is safe.

Boiling water reactors, like the ones hit by the Japanese earthquake, are built like nested matroyshka dolls.

The inner doll, which looks like a gigantic cocktail shaker and holds the radioactive uranium, is the heavy steel reactor vessel. It sits inside a concrete and steel dome called the containment. The reactor vessel is the primary defense against disaster -- as long as the radiation stays inside everything is fine.

The worry is that a disaster could either damage the vessel itself or, more likely, damage equipment that used to control the uranium. If operators cannot circulate water through the vessel to cool the uranium it could overheat and burn into radioactive slag -- a meltdown.

Reports say a partial meltdown is suspected in two of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan, which was hit by the 8.9 magnitude quake and ensuing tsunami.

Reactors have multiple layers of equipment to make sure this never happens. But last year, Markey asked Congress's investigative agency, the Government Accountability Office, to look into a long list of nuclear safety issues, including earthquake and flood protection.

Markey cited the 2007 Chuetsu earthquake (6.6 magnitude) that hit the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant. The quake started a fire, spilled some low-level radioactive waste and damaged equipment that was not critical to the reactor. It led Japanese regulators to reassess earthquake danger near the plant, and Markey wanted GAO to see whether NRC had been on top of earthquake risk in the U.S.

As seen here, Hurricane Gustave damaged the River Bend Nuclear Generation Station in St. Francisville, La. (NRC photo provided by Union of Concerned Scientists)He also listed a few cases in which other natural disasters had damaged nuclear plants, like a 1998 tornado that knocked out power to the Davis-Besse plant outside Toledo, Ohio, or Hurricane Andrew, which knocked out power to the Turkey Point plant south of Miami site for five days in 1992. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav damaged the River Bend Nuclear Generation Station in St. Francisville, La.

At both Davis-Besse and Turkey Point, the plants' emergency diesel generators kept the equipment running until crews fixed the power lines.

News reports have said the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station went to backup diesel power after the quake but lost it, along with the ability to keep cooling water flowing.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters that U.S. reactors don't have adequate backup power. "We do not believe the safety standards for U.S. nuclear reactors are enough to protect the public today," he told the news agency.

NRC spokesman David McIntyre said the agency was not granting interviews about the Japan quake. He pointed to the agency's website, which does have a lot of information on the seismic issues.

For instance, NRC regulations require that every plant is built to survive an earthquake larger than the strongest ever recorded in the area. The agency says it periodically updates earthquake estimations as more detailed information becomes available.

Most recently, the NRC spent five years reassessing earthquake risk for nuclear plants in the Midwest and eastern United States. The results of the study, which were released last September, confirmed that the plants were built to withstand the heaviest quake likely for their area.

However, the NRC found that the risk of earthquake was greater than expected in some areas, so the agency plans further research.

In an NRC meeting on earthquake safety last September, Torrey Yee, an engineer for the San Onofre nuclear plant near San Diego, said designers evaluate two levels of earthquakes: the maximum possible quake for a site; and an "operating basis" quake, usually about half of the maximum strength.

The critical structures and equipment at the plant are built to withstand the maximum quake, and the plant has to shut down for inspection if it sustains a quake higher than the operating basis.

The 104 commercial reactors in the United States produce 20 percent of the nation's power.

It is interesting that a number of our nuclear plants are on earthquake fault lines, such as the Savannah River Nuclear Weapons plant in South Carolina, the nuclear power plant just upstream from Chattanooga, TN, and several on the west coast of the U.S., including one within 50 miles south of Los Angeles, where earthquakes are a common occurrence.

As powerful as special interests and lobbies are in the United States I would not and do not trust our government (i.e., the US Congress) the members of which may well be on the take to pass legislation favorable towards the construction of nuclear power plants or power plants that are under designed.  Congressmen would rather chance a nuclear catastrophe than make the correct decision regarding the construction (or not) of nuclear power plants if it might cost them thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the nuclear industry.

Karl Schneider

March 13, 2011, 5:37 p.m.

Power plants are for good reason built near where electricity is needed.  People moved onto the fault zones and so that’s why the generating facilities (and very often available cooling water) are located.

Robert Francis Kolbe

March 13, 2011, 5:50 p.m.

I think Congressman Markey is one of the good guys in Congress.
He should be applauded for his concerns, while others, at least so far are covering for the Nuclear Industry.

thank you for this report. I will share it.

As engineers in Japan struggle to bring quake-damaged reactors under control [1], attention is turning to U.S. nuclear plants and their ability to withstand natural disasters.

Minor correction, the plant wasnt damaged by the quake, it was the Tsunami that did the damage. In fact, the quake was some 30 times more powerful than what the plant was designed to take and little damage was done a testament to engineers who designed it. It was the subsequent Tsunami that nocked out the auxilary diesel, leading to the current problmes.

What does Edwin Lyman base his opionion that US nuclear plants dont have enough backup diesel capacity on? What are his qualifications to make this statement? Emergency diesels are tested monthly and capacity is 300% of expected demand if offsite power were to be lost.

Lucretia Rossi

March 13, 2011, 6:45 p.m.

Apparently, there was no lesson learned from Chernobyl. At the time, Chernobyl Reactor #4 was state-of-the-art. It was also, I believe, less than a year old. I do not believe that the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the dire consequences when something goes wrong. The benefits are good, the results when something goes wrong are dire. Radiation from Chernobyl was detected all the way in Scotland. There is no way to justify that kind of risk. I also think it’s moronic that Obama is sending money to help repair the failing Chernobyl sarcophagus, while being in favor of nuclear energy at the same time.

Perhaps tens of thousands of people have died from the quake and the survivors are living in terrible conditions with little food, water and warmth.  So what is everyone focused on?  That’s right nuclear power and how unsafe it is.  Hundreds of people perished while riding on trains in Japan at the time of the earthquake.  Should the world look at the safety of trains in earthquake prone areas?  Perhaps a worldwide cessation of the building of rail lines would be advisable until we can determine if everything possible has been done to make the rails safe.

With the pics coming out of Japan of people being evacuated and screened with Geiger counters and the one above of hospital patients being evacuated, the nuke industry has been set back another quarter century—except, of course, in China.

Mike H Today, 6:09 p.m. emoted:  “What does Edwin Lyman base his opionion that US nuclear plants dont have enough backup diesel capacity on? What are his qualifications to make this statement? Emergency diesels are tested monthly and capacity is 300% of expected demand if offsite power were to be lost.”

And I would ask if that 300% of “expected” demand shares common points of failure or occupies the same physical location.

I.e., is this abundance of capacity as vulnerable as its weakest link (say, a common transformer, breaker panel, or junction box) and can a catastrophic failure in one generator (say, a rod through the block rupturing a fuel line spraying flaming diesel) lead to a cascade that takes all generators down?

Oh, I forgot one…a single diesel storage tank with a single feed line being tapped by all generators.

That feed line or tank goes, and it’s:

“THRRRUMMMMMM….(silence)....[*glow*in*the*dark*]”

What amuses me (you have to understand that I am easily amused) is the continual release of radioactive steam into the environment from the Daiichi reactors.

It doesn’t take a physicist to rig up a temporary cooling solution (think basement dehumidifier) to vent that steam through with the intent of capturing some - or even all - of the radioactives in the condensate.

You’d still have to dispose of the contaminated condensate and the cooling “solution” after all was said and done, but it beats

“How’d you like to try our new sushi special?  Every order comes with a t-shirt with unexposed x-ray film transfer-applied so that you can evaluate your gastrointestinal processes without paying a doctor!!”

All this in order to boil water.

Mike H.

It doesn’t seem popular here to be nice to you, but I don’t work hard at fitting in.  I’m scared, my friends are scared, People are scared!  I know we can’t change the bottomless need to consume energy, so what do you know?  Is this (Japan) an entirely unforeseen occurance?  Are the maximum recorded statistics, given our short history with these technilogical advances, adequet?

Please tell me what you know or where to find candid Imformation (that rings true without that sense that it is dumbed down for the unpredictable masses)  I know that mind of yours could do us some good today.

Thank you.

ibsteve2u

I was typing (very slowly) when you posted.  I get it, I love a morbid joke at times of stress.  It IS a case of what little unplanned glitch topples the house of cards, and is anyone really educated and trustworthy enough to protect ordinary flesh and blood?

I live on a fault line, I have a crack right through the middle of my house, and it is not the first time in my life I’ve watched my home crack up.  It’s the fourth. I also live 70+/- miles from San Onofre NPP.  It won’t be very funny for at least a week to most natives here.

But last month… I don’t know if we should sent money to Chch, Nz.  I Googled them and they looked FINE!  Just because they are an island they think that they can stand on the corner of the world with a cardboard sign saying “hard times” and we are just going to hand over our hard-earned cash!?

Sorry Kiwis, we’re nervous in SoCal, U.S.A.

I liked the matroyshka analogy.  That said ...

“Torrey Yee, an engineer [...] said designers evaluate two levels of earthquakes: the maximum possible quake for a site; and an ‘operating basis’ quake, usually about half of the maximum strength.”

I think that this quote understates the complexity of the situation.  For instance, how does one define the “maximum possible” quake?  I don’t think that the Richter scale has an upper bound.

The International Building Code (2006) defines the Maximum Considered Earthquake (MCE) as that “based on the USGS probabilistic maps for ground motion with 2 percent probability of exceedance in 50 years (approximately 2,500-year return period), but with deterministic values near major active faults and higher threshold values in selected areas of low seismicity.

I think what the layman might gather from this definition is that the “worst case” is based around something that shouldn’t happen but once every 2,500 years.  (This isn’t actually what this means. It’s a bit like the “100-year flood” that way, but I digress.)

OK, you might say: But how does the USGS really know this?  The USGS has only been around since 1879.  Accurate data probably doesn’t even go back that far.  Why don’t we just be safe here and say that the maximum earthquake we should design around is infinite? 

Well, because then we wouldn’t build anything, and you didn’t post this comment via a computer powered only by good intentions.

Chernobyl was NOT state of the art. At the time of the accident, it had been in service for 3 years, but had 30-year old technology. It didn’t have the standard reinforced concrete containment building; used graphite moderators that burned when exposed; and lacked safety features that other reactors built at the same time had. In fact, the design was such that a lack of coolant or overheating could easily spiral out of control.

To top it off, the operators did a lot of things to create the problem and make it worse. Not the least of which was to withdraw all the control rods at once, when there were never supposed to be less than 30 inserted.

The Chernobyl accident was the result of internal human failures, both in design and operation. The ability of Japanese and American reactors to stand up to external natural disasters is a different issue.

There are a number of media reports that are sensationalizing this story and creating fear by using the Anti Nuclear spokespeople.  The best engineering minds work in the nuclear industry and their first and foremost commitment is to the health and safety of the public they serve.  For facts, I suggest you visit the NEI website.

Peter,  Mike S.

Both good points.

The USGS, I believe (without spot-checking it), is constantly updating it’s probability projections, on a 50 yr. table.  Dr. Kate Hutton, is well known for saying (paraphrase) that they are ‘always learning’ more from each new occurance. It is aftershocks that are frequently described as ‘expected’ or ‘following a pattern’.  To me this is equivalent to bringing home new samples from the rainforest to name, or tracking weather with the telegraph.  My point is that this is an extremely young field of study in relation to our ability to interpret the data and accurately apply said knowledge in a concise and meaningful way. Namely, predict earthquakes and the destuction they create.

Building codes are so much more pro-active, and well within our control, if not always reasonably affordable to the average person who needs them.  Until you have been in a Mall (Westminster, Ca) or office building (Loma Linda University Health Care), on rollers, during an earthquake, you have been under protected from this great terror.  Although the building codes improve your likelihood of riding an earthquake out safely they are still based on an infant science. Well, geologically speaking.

This morning on BBC World I heard a Nuc. Phys. (sorry, name escapes me) say that Chernobyl was running at 100 times capacity due to a design problem. I must have been dreaming. Is that a mathematical error? Is there a book similar to “Why Buildings Fall Down” for the engineers designing Nuc. reactors? If there isn’t, it occurs to me that it’s not such a bad idea to update safety precautions in the face of this, hopefully, small-scale warning.

ahhh… the Japanese nuclear officials are assuring everyone not to worry right now, as radiation is leaking and hydrogen is building up and causing explosions.  I would not call pumping in sea water from outside the system, as the controls and cooling are not functioning as designed, something to be taken lightly.  Yes thousands or tens of thousands are dying from drowning etc, but that is nothing new there with earthquakes and tsunamis.  Having the surrounding area contaminated for the foreseeable future, as well as wherever the wind blows the stuff is another scale of disaster.  It seems to me that anything but automatically shutting down the reactions and retaining COMPLETE control of them, and physically ensuring their integrity without having to “figure out” cooling after the disaster is NOT acceptable.

NEI Thank you, Logan. This is a good way to direct the conversations that are inevitable tommorrow. I didn’t let the rumors get to me, but the BBC I consider a news source.

Thank you for an informative report. As a guy who is involved in an effort to design new nuclear power plants in the United States (I work for B&W on the mPower(TM) Reactor) I can personally testify that the seismic criteria and the station blackout criteria are very stringent.

My personal opinion is that they are quite excessive when you think about all of the other uses for the money that is spent to try to make sure that nuclear plants can withstand the worst imaginable effects that mother nature can throw. No other energy supply system - even the ones like natural gas and petroleum that kill people with depressing regularity - have to meet anything close to the standards that have been imposed on nuclear technology.

The events in Japan are NOT illustrating the fragility of nuclear technology. Quite the contrary. There might be some damage at a few of the facilities that will be extensive enough so that the plants never again restart. Right now, it looks like that statement might be true for a couple of plants that were built 30-40 years ago.

However, NO member of the public will receive a dose of radiation that is large enough to cause a negative health effect. Even at the plants themselves, the highest reported dose to anyone is a single worker who was in the secondary containment. His dose was just 10 REM (0.1 Sieverts) which is WAY below the dose that good science suggests might cause any negative health effects.

How many of you have read or seen television news coverage of the massive conflagrations that have been going on at refineries and LNG facilities in Japan? (And how many advertisements have you seen from oil and gas companies in the past 24 hours and every other day in your life?)

The multiple layers of protection that you describe for nuclear energy systems have been the standard since the very beginning, partially because the fuel is so energy dense that it is not all that expensive to do on a per unit energy basis. The standards have been ratcheted up over the years, adding a significant amount of cost, but even the 30-40 year old plants in Japan are not causing any negative health impact on the public.

A single pound of uranium that you can hold in your hand contains as much energy as THIRTY tanker trucks of oil (2 million pounds). A nuclear plant that needs about three lightly loaded trucks worth of fuel every 18-24 months produces as much electricity as a coal fired plant that needs to receive a 100 car trainload of coal every single day (with each car carrying 100 TONS of coal.)

That nuclear plant can be run inside a sealed building without a smokestack while the coal plant will be dumping at least 45,000 tons of “stuff” into the atmosphere every single day.

The calls for ever more stringent regulations and investigations on nuclear energy sometime SEEM to be coming from people who claim to be environmentalists, but if you carefully read what I have just written, you might see that the people with the most means, motive and opportunity for trying to choke off nuclear energy development are the people whose wealth and power comes from selling far less useful coal, oil and natural gas.

Sometimes those calls for ever more stringent regulations come from companies associated with nuclear technology. After all, increased cost for some means increased REVENUE for the people who build the systems, do the technical design work and fill out all of the required paper.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast

Jerry Lee Mayeux

March 14, 2011, 7:47 a.m.

Consider the Connection of this article to: Environmental Communication CTC1 “KNOWLEDGE”
The more knowledge we have the more connections we make.
Reactors have too many nuclear safety issues!!!
Please Google Web Search for me: CTC123GREEN
http://www.facebook.com Jerry Lee Mayeux PROFILE-INFO-3 PHOTOS

I am sure that these plants make tons of energy but why has solar taken such a back seat? I have designed a house to run on very little energy but still cannot afford to get the solar pannels as the expense is to great. The houes is 900 sq feet.Who needs 2 and 3 thousand feet of space. If there was more research in to solar a lot of people would be using it . It would help if there were discounts for getting away from fossel fuel. We also fought having a nulcer plant and won. For the sake of the planet solar , even if it took care of half of our energy needs, would cut down on fossel fuels and the need for more reactors.Unless we invest in more renewavble sources of energy we could see, heaven forbid, a simalar situation as Japan.Vast areas of desart could supply huge amounts of solar energy. But Big business can’t make tons of money on this energy. Its all about greed.

@ ibsteve2u

Believe it or not, but if you have thought of it, so have the people who actually designed these systems. And yes, for the record, there is 100% redundancy with the auxiliary emergency power subsystem. Go read the NRC spec if you want additional information. 

@ B. Rutgers

Try NEI Nuclear notes or UVDIV blog both are written by industry professionals and both hava a lot of good information.

Nuclear generated electricity is not cost effective. The cost of storing the radioactive waste is open-ended. Taxpayers bear the cost of storing the waste forever. Hundreds of years from now the tax supported storage costs will pay for today’s electricity generated in order to run your TV so we can watch “reality programs” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”.

I think more attention should go to the elephant in the room - what happens if the big meltdown occurs?  P

eople who want to avoid such a thing at all costs up to and including prohibiting the use of the most highly scalable lowest cost low carbon replacement energy source that civilization has available to replace the fossil fuels ought to be able to point to some solid, widely accepted evidence that the problem is as bad as all that. 

The closest your article comes is the paragraph when you write “The worry is”... “a meltdown”.  Supposedly, this would be the end of the world.  Well, what if? 

There is an article published in Science, Sept 20 2002 that assesses this question.  “Nuclear Power Plants and Their Fuel as Terrorist Targets”.  Half the core of the Three Mile Island reactor melted and it didn’t even penetrate 0.5 cm into the cladding of the pressure vessel containing the reaction.  The concrete containment building didn’t have to contain the meltdown because the pressure vessel inside the containment did the job.  The TMI reactor, at 906 MWe was larger than any of the Japanese reactors experiencing problems today.  Daiichi 1 is 460 MWe, and units 2 and 3 are 784 MWe. 

According to this article in Science, “the China Syndrome is not a credible possibility”.  Further, “The accident at Chernobyl in 1986 is simply not applicable to American reactors”.  (The Japanese reactors everyone is worried about are American designs.)  And:  “the Three Mile Island meltdown caused no significant environmental degradation or increased injury to any person, not even the plant operators who stayed on duty”. 

Many on the “left” of the political spectrum find it astonishing, incomprehensible, and depressing that so many on the “right” have adopted the view that an entire discipline of science worldwide, i.e. climate scientists, don’t know what they are talking about.  Yet many of these same “progressive” types have no problem dismissing what scientific investigation has discovered about nuclear power.

Coal-fired generator electricity is not cost-effective. The cost of having the 12 million tons of CO2 waste per Gigawatt-year in our atmosphere is open-ended. Our grandchildren will bear the cost of the resulting climate change for hundreds of years.

Do you know how much the spent nuclear fuel from the SAME amount of electricity generated in a current-design nuclear station is? 16 tons of solid waste.

Which is easier to sequester for the long term: 16 tons of solid waste, or 12 million tons of CO2 gas?

The ENTIRE

Look up Tsinghua University site. Find pebble bed gas reactors. Thank God communism in China not directed by corporate interests, thank God for these newer, safer, non-bomb producing Chinese reactor designs, thank God for the billions of good strong, stable, Yuan invested by China in Thorium reactors, safer, cleaner non-bomb producing reactors.
America, the jig is up! Your high pressure, bomb producing, tea-pot, circa 1950’s design, reactors are dangerous, overly patented, moneymakers for dividend collectors, shareholders - they were designed primarily, mostly, with this purpose in mind! Chinese are currently kicking your asses with better ideas! The disasters in Japan seal the notion that your designs, which they followed, are dangerous to humanity, past their time, outdated, poorly designed, overly expensive, far to complex to be practical.
America, did you really spend $650+  Billions of U.S. dollars kicking the Shiite out of Iraq, on behalf of your oil baron over-lords and George Bush and family, only to pay more at the pumps today than ever before? Ass-holes! Had the same $650+ Billions of dollars been spent developing conventional Solar/electric technology in the South Western U.S.A.; today, every American would be gainfully employed in the build, every American would have easy access to cheap and plentiful, renewable, or perpetual, if you think about it a moment, (come on Think!) clean, safe, electrical energy, and America would have regained her rightful position in the world. America failed!
Humanity welcomes the new age, thrust upon us by the failing of the last and greatest Caucasian Empire, and the astounding growth of the new Asian force in the world. With new scientific thrusts for mankind, and not just shareholders, with stronger,  fairer Yuan, less manipulated for the Uber-Rich, and held steady for the common folk, the proletariat, so they can survive, with careful planning for the benefit of all mankind, that exceeds the 4 year political cycle, capitalist corporatist manipulations, of the old Caucasian empire, mankind will surely profit.
Russia does business, exploits Siberia, the largest untouched resource field left in the world. They do this in Yuan, not U.S. dollars, the world’s currency of exchange. Russia sells huge amounts of petroleum products to China using Yuan as currency of exchange, not American dollars. This is a warning sign for America. America’s influence in the world in jeopardy. Question is: will Russians buy Chinese designed Thorium based reactors from China, circumventing the Western Uranium cartel’s grip on nuclear power in the world? Will Prince Charles of Britain’s shares in Rio-Algom become worthless? Will the artificially high price for uranium fall? Is the jig up on the circa 1950’s designed Capitalist, Corporatist, uranium burning bomb-makers, already? Not yet. but very very soon, and their oil energy monopolies will be rendered useless at the same goddammit time!

nice comments

In plain simple english…....If our plants are considered safe only up to a 7.2 quake then we are fooling ourselves.  If they can’t withstand a tsunami…. again the answer is no.  If we don’t make them as safe up to at least a possible 10.0 quake then we have no business building more. Let’s not kid ourselves here especially since a quake can be any size it chooses and we are just along for the ride.

BChappel
With regard to nuclear waste and the nuclear industry getting a free ride, the nuclear power industry is required to pay the US government for the disposal of waste.  So far they have paid approximately 30 billion.  The US government is legally required to take the waste, they have not done this.  Nuclear power plants both pay the federal government for waste disposal and make provisions for storing the waste.  They are effectively paying twice for radioactive waste.

As to the long term fate of nuclear waste, disposal of the actinides is best accomplished in a nuclear reactor that fissions the actinides into other elements (best with fast neutrons or with liquid fuel).  The fission products actually go away relatively rapidly.  Fission product inventory due to 1 MW operation for one year would be about 700,000 curies of fission products.  Within one hundred days of removal from the reactor this inventory will go down to below 150,000 curies.  At one year the remaining activity will be less than 37,000 curies and at five years the level will be down to under 7000 curies.  This is actually much better than a lot of chemical wastes such as mercury.

Pam
Obviously engineering a reactor to withstand a magnitude 10 earthquake and a tsunami at a seismically stable inland location would add cost without benefit.  Geologists are actually pretty good at predicting seismic activity based on historical movements of faults. 

If your reference is to the reactors in Japan, in spite of one of the biggest earthquakes in history, a major tsunami, at least two hydrogen explosions and a loss of coolant with resultant core damage they seem to be doing remarkably well at avoiding any significant exposures to the general population.  I would be hard pressed to think of a more challenging set of problems for a nuclear plant.  The fact that no significant exposures to the public have occurred is a testament to engineers who designed the plants over 40 years ago.

edwin_jackson@byu.edu

March 14, 2011, 7:18 p.m.

BChappel
With regard to nuclear waste and the nuclear industry getting a free ride, the nuclear power industry is required to pay the US government for the disposal of waste.  So far they have paid approximately 30 billion.  The US government is legally required to take the waste, they have not done this.  Nuclear power plants both pay the federal government for waste disposal and make provisions for storing the waste.  They are effectively paying twice for radioactive waste.

As to the long term fate of nuclear waste, disposal of the actinides is best accomplished in a nuclear reactor that fissions the actinides into other elements (best with fast neutrons or with liquid fuel).  The fission products actually go away relatively rapidly.  Inventory due to 1 MW operation for one year would be about 700,000 curies of fission products.  Within one hundred days of removal from the reactor this inventory will go down to below 150,000 curies.  At one year the remaining activity will be less than 37,000 curies and at five years the level will be down to under 7000 curies.  This is actually much better than a lot of chemical wastes such as mercury which is very toxic and sticks around for a very long time.

The handwriting’s been on the wall for an awfully long time. Nuclear
reactors are vulnerable to being breached and a catastrophic meltdown
will wreak havoc and devastation that is beyond the scope of measures now in place to cope with such a disaster. Japan sadly is
now seeing the consequences of the folly of arguments for the implem-
entation of numerous nuclear power plants. There is no way to effectiv-
ely predict all contigencies that could occur.
  I pray for Japan.

Harvey M. Solomon, M.D.

March 15, 2011, 11:07 a.m.

A Modest Proposal
In the face of overwhelming evidence regarding the rapid conversion of “safe” nuclear power plants into raging nuclear infernos our government and the nuclear power industry continue to present false and misleading misinformation about the potential danger these plants represent when unforseen accidents occur.
I propose, and hope that most citizens will support, that all future nuclear power plants be constructed within the Washington, D.C. beltway. If at all possible, one such facility should be constructed adjacent to the White House. This would assure us that the President reallly has confidence in committment to the future role of “safe” nuclear power in our society.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Nuclear Safety

Nuclear Safety

With the disaster in Japan, we're investigating questions about nuclear safety.

The Story So Far

Following a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, hydrogen explosions rocked three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Radioactive spent fuel stored in pools was also affected, especially at one reactor—the plant has a total of six—where multiple fires erupted. Evacuation orders were issued, potassium iodine tablets distributed, and plant employees used seawater and external electrical power to cool the stricken reactors, three of which had a partial core meltdown.

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