Questions about nuclear energy

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Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Force Lord » 2009-02-03 07:34pm

I've originally posted this on the SDN group at Facebook, but there was no response, so I decided to post it here.

1) Why there is a lot of controversy about nuclear energy?

2) What are common myths ascribed to nuclear energy?

3) Which facts help debunk those myths?

I have little real knowledge about nuclear energy, so I hope someone can explain to me the reasons for such bitter debate over an increasingly necessary tecnology.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby OsirisLord » 2009-02-03 09:12pm

Nuclear energy is controversial for the same reason evolution in schools is controversial. The people attacking it have a very limited, possibly non-existent knowledge of the subject, and there are politicians out there always willing to sweep up those activists votes. Despite numerous scientific studies showing that nuclear power is perfectly save, no new nuclear power plant has been built in the United States since the 1970's, which says a lot about these activist's power to shape our energy policies.

Here's a link to a PDF at the University of California Santa Barbra that lists the biggest myths about nuclear power, and debunks them.
http://www.c2c.ucsb.edu/summit2007/pdf/presentations/mujid_kazimi.pdf

And here's a paper done by the American Nuclear Society on the safety of nuclear power.
http://www.goshen.edu/bio/Biol410/BSSPapers98/schrock/schrock.html

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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Patrick Degan » 2009-02-03 10:00pm

People fear nuclear reactors because of the supposedly ominpresent threat of a meltdown and massive radiological contamination of whole areas or even states. They've "learned" that a nuclear reactor is simply a horrific accident waiting to happen and which can happen any day. The two most pointed to examples are Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, naturally. The thing of it is, TMI suffered only a partial meltdown but no breach-of-containment accident. In Chernobyl's case, techs who didn't know what they were doing had to disable over one hundred separate safety systems to carry out an unauthorised test in order to make the RBMK reactor actually melt down, and the lack of a proper containment structure resulted in a massive contamination of Pripiyat and a radioactive cloud which reached as far as Lapland. However, these are the only two truly disasterous events in the sixty-plus year history of nuclear power. There have been other incidents which resulted in small-scale radiation release but nothing which contaminated whole regions or even the immediate area surrounding the plants but that hasn't stopped the antinuke hysteria which has been fed by idiot greenies who hold that nukes are TEH EVEELZ.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Serafina » 2009-02-04 02:25am

Well, nuclear energy IS dangerous.
There is no solution for nuclear waste.
Its not even CO2 free.
There will be other energy solutions in the near future.

Thats what most people belive, and it is true.
But that does NOT mean nuclear energy is a bad thing, or unsafe.

It is all about the "unanswered question" fallacy. You can not "prove" above statements, thus, they are unanswered questions. And if there are unanswered questions, it is unsafe technology. And we do not want to use unsafe technology if there are substantial risks.

You can ask those people this question: "Are you sure your car will not explode? After all, there is a lot of volatile fuel in it, and this fuel is ignited. Thats sure a tremendous risk fur such a simple thing as transportation."
You will get a response like "Well, there are tons of failsafes in there - cars just do not explode for no reason."

Problem is, you use (or at least see) a car every day - you KNOW from your own, personal experience that it will not explode.
People have no such experience with nuclear reactors. It is a unknown, unpersonal risk - thats SCARY!

Heck, i heard the following argument over and over "Sure, there may be a lot of failsafes, but they are bound to malfunction one day, according to "murphys law". As this will kill millions of people, no matter what we try to prevent it, we must not use it!".
They think "murphys law" somehow invalidates propability and that ALL failsafes will fail at once.
But if you ask them something like "what if a space rocket fails and hits a big city?" then they will say "sure, that may happen, but what are the odds?"

Its all about a great, unknown (to them) risk. They try to argue about it, justify it and apply science to "prove" its bad, but they simply want to proove their beliefs. The fear shuts down any reason.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby K. A. Pital » 2009-02-04 02:36am

Oberst Tharnow wrote:Thats what most people belive, and it is true.

How is it true? Hell, a single chemical disaster at Bhopal killed more people than all nuclear incidents in the world combined. There are solutions for nuclear waste (bury them in old tectonic plates, for one - how about, um... using science). It's more emission-free than any currently existing mainstream energy source. And other "solutions" won't be there in the "near future" - they won't compensate the loss of fossil fuel-based energy, and they are also less effective than nuclear.

But yeah, the point you make about people just being delusional regarding "big risk" is true.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Sky Captain » 2009-02-04 04:57am

I think nuclear paranoia has to do something with the fact most people don`t know how nuclear power reactors work, what mechanisms and failsafes are built in to prevent something like Chernobyl to happen again, they have no idea how RBMK reactors differs from PWR reactors used in western countries and so on. People who oppose nuclear energy possibly think in the lines: any nuclear reactor is a Chernobyl waiting to happen at any moment.

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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Serafina » 2009-02-04 05:33am

Stas Bush wrote:
Oberst Tharnow wrote:Thats what most people belive, and it is true.

How is it true?


Well, it IS true. There is no good solution for nuclear waste YET, and nuclear energy IS dangerous.
Nuclear energy is NOT CO2 free, and there will be better solutions in the future.
The claims themself are true - but they are overlooking important stuff.

What i wanted to ilustrate is that there are some good points against nuclear technology, but those are hardly impossible to overcome and/or bad.

Those people are arguing similar to creatonists:
-Scientists are still arguing how to dispose nuclear waste. Therefore, there is no solution at all.
-Nuclear energy is producing radiation. Radiation kills people. Scientists can not create 100% protection, only 99.99%.
Therefore, nuclear energy kills people.
-Mining/disposing nuclear material is producing CO2. Therefore, people claiming nuclear energy is CO2 free are wrong. How can we possibly believe anything they say?

They are just overlooking the facts and falling for logical fallacies. Their basic claims are true, but that does not mean their arguments are valid.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2009-02-04 05:51am

Oberst Tharnow wrote:
Well, it IS true. There is no good solution for nuclear waste YET, and nuclear energy IS dangerous.


ANYTHING involving high energy levels will be dangerous. The failure of the Banqiao hydropower dam killed 200,000 people for example. Coal power meanwhile is killing the entire planet as we speak.

It is patently false that we cannot deal with nuclear waste. Vertifirication can render even the worst nuclear waste stable for millions of years, and is being used actively by the US, Russia and Finland to name a few. This technology has been around for a good 30 years now. The only reason we don’t make more progress on dealing with all the waste is precisely because of endless political interference based on pure ignorance at best, outright lies more often, preventing work from going ahead full scale. We already know what we have to do. Indeed in the US we even have a government fund with a good 20 billion dollars in it, money from a tax on every kilowatt of nuclear energy produced, that literally cannot be spent because no one will let work start on Yucca mountain.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Stark » 2009-02-04 07:03am

Saying we 'can't deal' with nuclear waste is asinine when we're pumping huge amounts of ash into the atmosphere instead. Comparing the volumes of high level waste and ash over a person's lifetime is hilarious.

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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby folti78 » 2009-02-04 07:05am

Sky Captain wrote:I think nuclear paranoia has to do something with the fact most people don`t know how nuclear power reactors work, what mechanisms and failsafes are built in to prevent something like Chernobyl to happen again, they have no idea how RBMK reactors differs from PWR reactors used in western countries and so on.

Heck, most people think that all Soviet made reactor is an RBMK one, 'just like Chernobyl'. My other favourite is the belief, that the explosion in the Chernobyl reactor 4 was a nuclear blast... :banghead:

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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Glom » 2009-02-04 07:34am

Oberst Tharnow wrote:Well, it IS true. There is no good solution for nuclear waste YET, and nuclear energy IS dangerous.


Depends on what you mean by "good". Vitrification and deep geological disposal is perfectly viable for the worst stuff. Recycling and incinerating is there for other stuff (the former being a bit expensive, the latter being technologically immature). Any kind of "dumping", no matter how safe the dump, does seem a bit of a haphazard solution for good reason. However, we do it in far greater quantities, with far less controls without qualm in other industries.

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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Zixinus » 2009-02-04 07:51am

1) Why there is a lot of controversy about nuclear energy?


Because people are stupid and are afraid of things they are lazy to understand.

2) What are common myths ascribed to nuclear energy?


1. It's like a nuke, ready to blow at any second.

2. We don't really know anything about it.

3. The people using it are mental artists who do not comprehend the dangers of using it.

4. It's evil and that a nuclear power plant is not competitive power source. It's old and stupid and we should move unto power sources that are new.

5. Chernobyl killed millions of people.

3) Which facts help debunk those myths?


1. Compared to regular boiler-type power plants that use oil or coal, nuclear power stations have a superior history. The reason you don't hear about these, is that its uninteresting to the media.

2. We are entering the fifth generation (I think) of nuclear power stations. The capability of nuclear power stations is beyond doubt, as they have proven themselves to be a safe and reliable power source. Every problem we had, we are able to reasonably fix. Every negative possibility accounted for and worked against. We know the technology inside and out, we even have a whole series of theoretical units that may go along the future.

3. Coal-based power plants that are working properly release more radioactivity over a year than what any malfunctioning nuclear power plant ever did, including Chernobyl.

4. Chernobyl is not an example of anything, but mind-bogging incompetence. The only possible way they would have made the reactor more unsafe is if they threw the fuel material into the middle of the street.

It varies on who you ask, but the initial death tool barely numbered a hundred. It was the radioactive materials that were released into the wind that are attributed many deaths. How many, is a matter of debate.

5. Every other competitive power source is either location-specific, are highly pollutive or are in their prototype stage.

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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Zixinus » 2009-02-04 09:25am

Change "mental artists" to "autists".

Another common myth:

1. Terrorists can use the radioactive fuel and power station for terror purposes! Like making nukes!

Reality:

1. Fuel is transported in casks so thick with steel and concrete(!) that even the people intended to open them require specialised heavy-duty tools to open them. These casks are more resilient than tanks.

2. Even if the terrorists get the fuel, they a more likely to burn themselves or kill themselves rather than make any use of it.

3. Even if they miraculously don't kill themselves there is the issue that power-plant rated fuels are not pure enough. You need 50-60% purity of fissile materials for power plants, a bit higher for Navy applications and you need about 85-90% purity for any weapon application.
Purifying facilities are extensive, expensive and require expertise.

4. Even if they somehow steal surplus military-grade fuel, making a nuke is not a simple matter. Nukes are surprisingly complicated and sensitive machines and you need extreme precision for it to work. Even if you do, there is a good likehood that you may have to make a testing launch.

5. Nuclear power plants are always guarded, whether by private security or even armed military forces (like in the USSR). Getting into the reactor building will require a well-trained and highly-equipped, armed force.

6. Terrorists actually seem to dislike targeting nukes. There have been very few if any cases where an act of terror even involved radioactivity, never mind nuclear power plants. Of course, the attack of Superphenix stands out, but ironically, it was environmentalists that committed the attack, not foreign terrorists. I consider this incident a prime example of anti-nuclear politics. "You will not build an evil nuclear power plants because we say so!

As for why they don't other terrorists do this in general: This is because its too roundabout way to archive something that they can archive with much cheaper means. Getting radioactive material is very difficult but a pipe-bomb can be made by the dozens using common materials and surprisingly little expertise.

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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby ArmorPierce » 2009-02-04 10:00am

I read in the school paper that had a forum that addressed this issue. Some prominent anti-nuclear guy who have written books on the subject was in the audience and he trounced all agruments. He argued that nuclear energy puts out a low amount of energy and needs fossil fuels to run it anyway and was arguing 'sustainable energy sources' as opposed to nuclear. What are your guys opinion on that?
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Darth Wong » 2009-02-04 10:43am

ArmorPierce wrote:I read in the school paper that had a forum that addressed this issue. Some prominent anti-nuclear guy who have written books on the subject was in the audience and he trounced all agruments. He argued that nuclear energy puts out a low amount of energy and needs fossil fuels to run it anyway and was arguing 'sustainable energy sources' as opposed to nuclear. What are your guys opinion on that?

Imagine if you went to a bank and asked for a loan, and your business plan was just assuring people that it would work, because you read articles in magazines about it. That's basically what people like this do when asked about the viability of their alternative plans.

It's true that nuclear energy tends to use fossil fuels, but it's a deception. Uranium mining operations and other support operations use machinery which typically use fossil fuels, but that doesn't mean those operations actually REQUIRE fossil fuels in order to operate. In theory, they could use electric vehicles. In any case, by this logic ALL power generation methods require fossil fuels. You could make the same argument against wind turbines because the parts are carried to the build site by trucks.

He's also lying about how it puts out a "low amount of energy". He's just pulling that out of his ass; nuclear reactors are usually in the gigawatt range.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Twoyboy » 2009-02-04 10:46am

Oberst Tharnow wrote:There is no good solution for nuclear waste YET, and nuclear energy IS dangerous.


Vitrification has already been mentioned. There's also an Australian invention (plug) called SynRock. Both are more expensive than just burying it underground, but the resulting material would actually be "safer" than the original ore body. Nuclear energy generation would only be as dangerous as chemical manufacturing, oil refining or mineral refining. It's just people don't understand how any of these work.


Nuclear energy is NOT CO2 free, and there will be better solutions in the future.


No, but it's a hell of a lot better than fossil fuels and is capable of supplying baseload power, unlike current "renewables". But I understand this may be what you mean when you say there's other things being overlooked.

Zixinus wrote:Even if they miraculously don't kill themselves there is the issue that power-plant rated fuels are not pure enough. You need 50-60% purity of fissile materials for power plants, a bit higher for Navy applications and you need about 85-90% purity for any weapon application.


They can however make "dirty" bombs. But as you say, the nuclear fuel is so well guarded, there's easier ways for terrorists to get it.


ArmorPierce wrote:He argued that nuclear energy puts out a low amount of energy and needs fossil fuels to run it anyway and was arguing 'sustainable energy sources' as opposed to nuclear. What are your guys opinion on that?


WTF? It puts out around 1000 times more energy per unit mass than coal. It doesn't require fossil fuels to run it, only to produce the infrastructure if you don't already have nuclear power (does he mean the carbon cooling rods? what a dick!). "Sustainable" energy sources may be sustainable environmentally, but not economically as they can't compete with nuclear on cost, or socially as they can't supply consistent, reliable baseload power yet.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Darth Wong » 2009-02-04 10:51am

BTW, part of public hysteria over nuclear energy can be blamed on Hollywood. I'm old enough to actually REMEMBER the 1970s when the anti-nuclear craze really picked up steam, and there was a huge spike in this movement when a movie called "The China Syndrome" came out.

Yes, that's right. We can put a lot of blame on Jane Fonda.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Twoyboy » 2009-02-04 11:04am

Darth Wong wrote:BTW, part of public hysteria over nuclear energy can be blamed on Hollywood. I'm old enough to actually REMEMBER the 1970s when the anti-nuclear craze really picked up steam, and there was a huge spike in this movement when a movie called "The China Syndrome" came out.

Yes, that's right. We can put a lot of blame on Jane Fonda.


One of our chemical engineering lectures told us to watch that movie for our final year risk management unit. (It was boring and I had a new girlfriend, so three guesses how much of it I watched.) I think he thought it would teach us how easily safety systems can fail. I think what it actually taught me is that the average movie goer must be semi-retarded if processes need to be dumbed down THAT much for them to understand them.

I wonder if there's still people out there who think nuclear reactors measure temperature using two analogue gauges and if one breaks, it could mean meltdown? :)
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Darth Wong » 2009-02-04 11:07am

What the fuck kind of engineering course uses a Hollywood movie (never mind a shitty movie like that) to teach risk management? My prof would have shit a brick if he was told to teach risk management that way.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Twoyboy » 2009-02-04 11:11am

Darth Wong wrote:What the fuck kind of engineering course uses a Hollywood movie (never mind a shitty movie like that) to teach risk management? My prof would have shit a brick if he was told to teach risk management that way.


I should clarify. We weren't marked on it, asked about it, or even discussed it more than in passing in class. It was on TV during the semester and he said we should watch it.

He was, however, one of those guys who went straight from graduating, to post grad, to lecturing without setting foot in the real world. Nice guy, and great for the wordy type units, but fucking terrible when we had him for heat and mass transfer...
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Zixinus » 2009-02-04 11:23am

They can however make "dirty" bombs. But as you say, the nuclear fuel is so well guarded, there's easier ways for terrorists to get it.


Like from hospitals. The capitol of my country, Budapest, has more background radiation than next to our NPP. That's because our hospitals rely quite a bit on using nuclear medicine, a much less guarded and cheaper source for radioactive materials for terrorists (look up the thread I started in the history sub-forum about this).

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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Gil Hamilton » 2009-02-04 11:33am

There is that, but I think what really started the anti-nuclear culture was that the first two uses of nuclear power were to incinerate a pair of cities. Then the Cold War hit and people lived under the idea that it was conceivable that any day, nuclear bombs would start raining down and that would be it. There is some potent psychology there that is just going to have to die out with the baby boomers, who grew up with civil defense drills in schools and propaganda on the subject that the Soviets were eventually going to try to kill all of them. My high school still has a sign saying it is a nuclear fallout shelter in case of a war (well, it would, but I believe the building got tore down this year). I think it effected quite a few people having to walk past such signs every day back when they actually meant something.

There is alot of ignorance on the subject, but I think alot of it stems from that source. When alot of people think of nuclear power, they don't go to power plants, but mushroom clouds.

Of course, NIMBYism and bureaucracy are every bit problems as simple ignorance. There are plenty of people who support nuclear power, so long they are built far, far away from their constituency. There are states that have forbidden nuclear material from even being SHIPPPED though there state to Yucca mountain, to say nothing about the politicians in Nevada who are fighting tooth and nail to keep anything from being stored there. So spent nuclear material just sits in water pools, bubbling away. Another thing people are going to have to get over is that if they want nuclear power, they are going to have to live next to it.

Bureaucracy is the other major killer. The government is PONDEROUSLY slow in passing regulations. We had a lecturer at our university who was a organic chemist that now works with nuclear policy and waste disposal (go figure), and he discussed alot of the issues in policy. He mentioned one set of safety regulations, which I believe was an OSHA update that everyone, every step of the process, approved of strongly... which took TEN YEARS to go from formation to implementation. Everyone approved of it, thought it was a really good idea, and in fact is was... and the red tape took that long to cut through.

Now imagine policy that has resistance to it. He said there are like 20 or 30 proposals out as of the time of his speech on the construction of nuclear power plants, and every single one of them is in political limbo because of NIMBYs and red tape.
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Sky Captain » 2009-02-04 11:48am

In my country environmentalists are starting to attack planned replacement reactor for Ignalina nuclear power station in Lithaunia by claiming the nuclear power with 3 - 4 billion euro price tag for 1.6 GW reactor is too expensive to be economical also they claim it takes 10 years to build new reactor and at time when it`s going to be finished there will be better energy sources (one can wonder what sources ZPM`s perhaps :lol: ).

Their proposed alternative is to use waste biomass and set up a whole bunch of large wind turbines in Baltic sea to compensate for power deficit when Ignalina will be shut down.

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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby Darth Wong » 2009-02-04 11:54am

Sky Captain wrote:Their proposed alternative is to use waste biomass and set up a whole bunch of large wind turbines in Baltic sea to compensate for power deficit when Ignalina will be shut down.

As I said, it's easy to come up with a plan when you're allowed to be vague. They probably have absolutely NO idea whether their plan can work; it just sounds good when it's expressed verbally.
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OsirisLord
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Re: Questions about nuclear energy

Postby OsirisLord » 2009-02-04 12:32pm

Oberst Tharnow wrote:Well, it IS true. There is no good solution for nuclear waste YET, and nuclear energy IS dangerous.
Nuclear energy is NOT CO2 free, and there will be better solutions in the future.
The claims themself are true - but they are overlooking important stuff.

What i wanted to ilustrate is that there are some good points against nuclear technology, but those are hardly impossible to overcome and/or bad.

Those people are arguing similar to creatonists:
-Scientists are still arguing how to dispose nuclear waste. Therefore, there is no solution at all.
-Nuclear energy is producing radiation. Radiation kills people. Scientists can not create 100% protection, only 99.99%.
Therefore, nuclear energy kills people.
-Mining/disposing nuclear material is producing CO2. Therefore, people claiming nuclear energy is CO2 free are wrong. How can we possibly believe anything they say?

They are just overlooking the facts and falling for logical fallacies. Their basic claims are true, but that does not mean their arguments are valid.

Claiming something is true doesn't make it true. I have brought two links in favor of nuclear power, both done by experts in this field of study, and both contradict your claims that nuclear radiation produced by power plants is killing people. Back up these claims or else they're just meaningless.


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