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Nuclear power, clean, safe, too cheap {er… complicated} to meter
Posted: 16 March 2011 06:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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http://tech.mit.edu/V131/N13/yost.html

As a nuclear engineer, it is depressing to read the recent reports on the Fukushima nuclear incident — not because of the incident itself (at this point I strongly believe that we will remember Fukushima as evidence of how safe nuclear power is when done right) — but because the media coverage of the event has been rife with errors so glaring that I have to wonder if anyone in the world of journalism has ever taken a physics class. My favorite: in one article, boric acid was described as a “nutrient absorber” instead of a “neutron absorber.” How many editors signed off on that line without asking, “Why would a nuclear reactor need to absorb nutrients?”

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Posted: 16 March 2011 06:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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Along the same lines, I had lunch today with a group that had three engineers (one, also a retired navy pilot), and during the discussion all three of them pronounced it “new - que - lor”  I didn’t scream and yell, “New-clee- are”; I just gritted my teeth.

Occam

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Posted: 16 March 2011 08:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 16 March 2011 06:01 PM

http://tech.mit.edu/V131/N13/yost.html

As a nuclear engineer, it is depressing to read the recent reports on the Fukushima nuclear incident — not because of the incident itself (at this point I strongly believe that we will remember Fukushima as evidence of how safe nuclear power is when done right) — but because the media coverage of the event has been rife with errors so glaring that I have to wonder if anyone in the world of journalism has ever taken a physics class. My favorite: in one article, boric acid was described as a “nutrient absorber” instead of a “neutron absorber.” How many editors signed off on that line without asking, “Why would a nuclear reactor need to absorb nutrients?”

As I was reading the quote, I thought to myself, “What nutrients would a nuclear reactor need to absorb?” and then I read the last sentence! ROFLMAO!! LOL

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Posted: 16 March 2011 09:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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Undoubtedly a case of NIMBY,...

That’s exactly what it was, at least if some of the talking heads can be trusted. Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. You see much the same happening everywhere else on the face of the planet. Everybody wants plants which produce power, plenty of it, and cheaply as well, but they don’t want it in their neighbourhood. Especially if it’s a nuke.

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Posted: 16 March 2011 10:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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There are two nuclear plants in SoCa near the San Andreas fault line. I read that earthquakes were not taken into account in the planning of emergency situations. This is a little disconcerting.

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Posted: 17 March 2011 08:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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Hummm what does one do when, how embarrassing, your fission fuel rods are showing under your concrete skirt?  Imagine how that will affect those around you for miles away?  How would one handle those rods without soiling one’s self?

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Posted: 18 March 2011 09:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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Reality is complex, black swans exist but the outcome is neither inevitable nor precisely determined. From this article in Slate

The crisis in Japan is teaching us that this isn’t true. Nuclear safety, like nuclear doom, is never certain. Too many things can go wrong. And then, just when catastrophe seems inevitable, things can go right. Our challenge in managing the current crisis, and in preparing for the next one, is to broaden our options. We can’t anticipate or prevent every scenario. But we can give ourselves a fighting chance.

Rethinking the design of nuclear plants for greater robustness:

To head off the next nuclear accident, we need to rethink the parameters of plant design. Why do we build backup cooling pumps for reactors but not for spent-fuel pools? And we need layers of protection that are truly independent. If some safety mechanisms require electricity, others should be functional without it. Store cooling water above the reactor so you can deliver it with plain old gravity if you lose power. And diversify the layers. At Fukushima, all the gizmos failed, but the containers have largely held firm. Build in different kinds of protection—barriers, gizmos, training, manual tools—so that if one kind fails, another can intercede.

This is precisely what nature does.

Instead of relying purely on redundancy, nature has evolved (over 3 billion years)
degeneracy in biological systems for greater robustness to ensure the survival of biological organisms:

Within biological systems, degeneracy refers to circumstances where structurally dissimilar components/modules/pathways can perform similar functions (i.e. are effectively interchangeable) under certain conditions, but perform distinct functions in other conditions

Contribution to robustness:

Degeneracy contributes to the robustness of biological traits through several mechanisms. Degenerate components compensate for one another under conditions where they are functionally redundant, thus providing robustness against component or pathway failure. Because degenerate components are somewhat different, they tend to harbour unique sensitivities so that a targeted attack such as a specific inhibitor is less likely to present a risk to all components at once

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Posted: 18 March 2011 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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kkwan - 18 March 2011 09:00 AM

Reality is complex, black swans exist but the outcome is neither inevitable nor precisely determined. From this article in Slate

Well that did a good job of summing it up.
Seems to me it begs certain questions about perhaps our collective engineering having surpassed our collective ability handle it?  Let alone our collective will/ability to maintain it through the passing decades.

I keep wondering how - in the face of reality - can anyone propose solutions that are yet more complicated than what has caused the disasters in the first place.

How many have noticed that the vary landscape of this planet has fundamentally and quantitatively been degraded of it’s former ability to support our dreams, let alone our long term survival?

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Posted: 18 March 2011 11:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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Occam. - 16 March 2011 05:47 PM

Re: Potassium Iodide pills.  In the unlikely event that any of you may be exposed to radioactive iodine and fear thyroid uptake, there’s a much easier and cheaper protection method.  Buy a bottle of tincture of iodine and put it in the back top shelf of your medicine cabinet.  Then, when the time comes, just paint an inch wide stripe on your forearm.  You’ll absorb enough iodine that your thyroid will be chock full and won’t accept any more so the radioactive iodine isotope won’t be absorbed.
Occam

Occam, it’s not that I don’t trust you but I need to ask: is this for real? 
What kind of quantities of iodine are we talking about here? 
What molecular sizes are we talking about compared to Epson Salts that I’m told can’t be absorbed through the skin?

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Posted: 18 March 2011 05:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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Yup, iodine is pretty volatile and does penetrate the skin relatively easily.  And the amount we need is quite low.  Until the 1930s or 40s seeing people with large lumps on their throat (goiter) wasn’t uncommon in areas where there was no iodine in the water and they didn’t eat quite a bit of fish.  As soon as they started adding very small amounts of sodium iodide to regular table salt, goiters practically disappeared.  It takes a only very small amount iodine, which your thyroid absorbs to make thyroxin. 

I recall in my old backpacking days, the best way of purifying the stream water for drinking was to add two drops of tincture of iodine to each quart of water.  It was even better to kill the paracite guadia (I think that’s the name, Asanta or McKenzie can correct this) and other bugs in the water.

Occam

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Posted: 18 March 2011 07:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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Fascinating.
I knew about the water purification, and small wounds and actually try to keep some in my kit, but once opened they seem to bleed and leak until empty {extreme temp changes and elevation differences I image… and like you say it’s volatile}.  But you can bet I’ll treat it with a little more respect and awe in the future wink

Any one else have any good iodine stories?

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Posted: 18 March 2011 09:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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Giardia, a protozoa which causes a nasty and sometimes stubborn diarrhea!

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Posted: 19 March 2011 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]
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Interesting lecture and slides re. Fukushima radioactivity from Prof. Ben Monreal of UCSB Physics department. The lecture itself, which I haven’t yet had time to see all of, is HERE.

See the slides HERE. The last slide has the conclusions section:

My feeling: the worst-case radiation hazards from Fukushima are mitigatable and local
(early evacuation + controls on 131I in food)

My feeling: the global radiation hazard is nil.

The best way to reduce worldwide low-level radiation releases is ... stop burning coal

EDIT: OK, watched the video. It’s a few days old but a really excellent intro to the relevant issues.

[ Edited: 19 March 2011 11:05 AM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 19 March 2011 09:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]
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An interesting graph: deaths by TWh by energy source.

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Posted: 19 March 2011 03:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]
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I went to pick up a routine prescription at Target Pharmacy yesterday and three people in line were demanding the pharmacist order “anti-radiation pills” for them. Two people wanted to take the pills now, the third guy wanted to resell them on Ebay for a hundred dollars. The pharmacist was trying to calm them and explain that radiation was not going to effect them over here in New England.

Most places are sold out. The local compounding pharmacy is making a pretty penny, however. They are creating it “from scratch” by mixing potassium and iodine, both of which they have plenty of in stock. People are lined up around the block for it (I’m sure many people are reselling it like the guy mentioned above).

They probably figure it’s good for business - while people are picking up the compounded mix, they can inform them about the other wonderful things a compounding pharmacy can do - like making your toddler’s medicine flavorless to hide in applesauce, or create custom liquid meds for people who can’t swallow pills. They can mix two or three of your medicines together into one pill that’s easier to take. I use a compounding pharmacy for my dog’s medicine. They mix his thyroid medicine and his allergy medicine into one chewable beef tablet he takes every day. My friend uses the compounding pharmacy to get her cats medicine made into a gel she rubs onto its ear, and it’s absorbed through the skin. I love compounding pharmacies!

I hope they are telling customers the limitations and potential dangers of taking the KI/potassium iodine pills. Some people have horrible allergic reactions to them; it is not a harmless pill. It’s made to be an “overdose” and flood the system. We’re not too far away from our own “local” power plant so it’s not a bad idea to have the little pills in the cabinet and replace them every five years (short shelf life) in case we have an accident near home. But the plant in Japan is probably not going to effect us over here. So I hope that as responsible pharmacists they are telling customers about all this, or at least handing them a brochure on its proper use. Poison control centers have already gotten a couple of calls from panicked US residents who have popped their pills and had bad reactions.

But most of all - I wish we’d send any EXTRA TO JAPAN WHERE THEIR KIDS NEED IT! Especially if another reactor damaged from the disaster goes bad. It works best when taken immediately after a large exposure, and works best on children 18 and under. Those over age 40 it has the least effect on.

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