Japanese Nuclear Nightmare Could Be Our Own


For all of us living here in Romania, I suppose it is rather good news that we’re nowhere near being downwind of any radioactivity (Rom) from Japan’s crumbling nuclear reactors.

For people living in Japan, however, it looks like there might be some serious trouble. For the best round-up of information on this topic (in English), I recommend this link.

Why am I mentioning all of this on a blog about Romania? Because it ties into exactly what I’ve been talking about many times before – people have a horrendous blind spot when it comes to predicting the future.

I have a lot of respect for the Japanese. Their country was a flattened, smoking wreck 70 years ago, bombed conventionally and by nuclear weapons, and yet today they’ve turned it into a modern wonder. They have the intelligence, the diligence and the capabilities to produce some pretty amazing technological marvels. And yet:

The question that arises out of the Japanese situation, though, is what happens when the actual earthquake exceeds the predicted risk. It’s become clear that the Fukushima reactors were not built to withstand a 9.0-magnitude quake, but rather were built on the expectation that a 7.9 was the maximum the plant would experience.

Again and again and again you will see when it comes to disasters (natural, financial or otherwise) that “nobody could’ve predicted” that a series of concatenating events would culminate in design parameters being breached.

You’d think building a nuclear reactor (or four!) in a country that regularly suffers earthquakes would be a bad idea. Yet all of the smart people went ahead and did it. And they thought they could “foresee” all the potential problems, including earthquakes, and provide for them.

Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case with Japan’s nuclear reactors at the moment and I sure hope things get under control soon before something truly awful happens.

In case you didn’t know, Romania has a nuclear reactor as well – ominously named Cernavoda. And yes, it is located in one of this country’s earthquake-prone regions. Not only that, it has had several technical failures in the last couple of years, including one in 2010 (Rom) that led to a temporary shutdown.

Romania is currently seeking to expand Cernavoda and my non-sleeping internet eye has picked up stories lately about foreign firms bidding to invest in that expansion. I also note that roughly a fifth of Romania’s electricity is currently generated by that plant.

And yet I wonder… is this a good idea? Do we really need nuclear energy? And what happens – God forbid – if something goes wrong and all the safety containment measures fail? If it can happen in America and Japan, it can happen in Romania. Nobody likes to think about that but yet think about it we must.

Внимание, внимание! Уважаемые товарищи! Городской совет народных депутатов сообщает, что в связи с аварией на Чернобыльской атомной электростанции в городе Припяти складывается неблагоприятная радиационная обстановка.

30 Comments Add yours

  1. Lavinia says:

    Daniel let me guess…you are an engineer….so you believe in the religion of science. This type of nuclear plant is DANGEROUS in many ways….if you would have taken out the other type of nuclear power which is fusion (we use fission today) and it’s different and safe I would have listened to you. You are basing your arguments on politics (which is always corrupt everywhere) and science; nature has proved science wrong many times. We cannot predict how nature will react.

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    1. Daniel says:

      Yes, I am an engineer, you got that right.

      And , frankly, I am EXTREMELY pissed off by the ignorant things you are saying.

      “so you believe in the religion of science.”

      No. There is RELIGION (btw, who the hell are you to say “we believe in God” ? Who’s this “we” ? I’m ethnically Romanian and an atheist. So are many of my friends.). And there’s SCIENCE, which is a METHOD of getting things done. SCIENCE has proven itself over time. (and in case you’re wondering why I’m not showing respect, it’s stuff like this).

      “This type of nuclear plant is DANGEROUS in many ways”

      Yes it is. But the question is – do the advantages outweigh the dangers. Some people (myself included) would say YES.

      “the other type of nuclear power which is fusion”

      That one is still in the “pie-in-the-sky” phase. Frankly, we don’t have it right now. Or anywhere in the near future. So IT DOESN’T COUNT.

      “basing your arguments on politics”

      WHAT ????

      “nature has proved science wrong many times.”

      Thank you for proving my point. You have no idea what science is and does.

      To everyone else – people, you’re missing the point.

      If you want to talk serious stuff, let’s talk about Energy Return On Investment (EROI).

      Here’s something to get you started

      http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf11.html

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      1. Lavinia says:

        you should be banned….really. I rest my case here.

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      2. Ruxy says:

        No, he shouldn’t be banned, he’s trying to make a point, maybe he was a bit rude at times, but you, Lavinia, weren’t very far either….
        And I really don’t think you should tell people what to believe in, I do believe in God, but that doesn’t mean science is bad, or that I don’t believe in science and technology as well; and if you’d really be interested in bigger issues or you’d try to find out more about both, u’d know that nowadays religion and science go hand in hand, or at least that’s the way it should be…

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  2. Marian says:

    There is nothing inherently wrong with getting electricity from a nuclear power plant. In fact burning cole produces more radioactivity than nuclear power plants on a daily basis link here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste
    Plus,there are many types of plants that use different nuclear fuels. Newer 3rd generation plants are way safer than the older models and the upcoming 4th generation will be designed specifically to use safer Uranium isotopes like U-238 and U-233 and other features. So the new ones even in case of a catastrophy won’t produce as much radiocativity and they also can’t be used to make atomic bombs.

    One other fact that needs to be taken into account is that the quantity of usable radioactive materials found on earth would be enough for 5+ BILLION years. Can you say that about any other fuel?
    I think it would be tremendous stupidity to stop using nuclear power plants just because now they have some issues, technology is advancing, in 100 years who knows with what they’ll come up. They’re already reprocessing nuclear waste and using it again(reprocessing is banned in the US, I wonder why?) and like I said safer plants are on the horizon.

    At present, there is no other type of fuel that is as cost effective at producing electricity. Maybe fusion reactors will be better and cleaner but those are 30 to 40 years away at best. We can’t live in the past and we can’t live in the future all we can do is do our best and hope.

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    1. Sam R. says:

      Well stay tuned because over the next couple days/weeks I’m going to do some posts on what we can do today w/r/t energy.

      Like

  3. Ayceman says:

    Sam, Cernavodă is designed for an 8.0. The maximum earthquake that Vrancea can produce is 7.9. This was determined by both the historical record and by the two theories regarding what generates the Earthquakes in Vrancea: either it’s a remnant subduction zone from the formation of the Carpathians, or it’s a slab of dense rock that peeled off the bottom of the lithosphere and is hanging by on side into the astenosphere. Neither scenario allows for the area to accumulate enough stresses to create a Japan-like earthquake. Nuclear power is very safe, and the CANDU reactors at Cernavodă are even safer than the Japanese one because it’s easier to intervene with outside means if all systems shut down. You should take into account that the Chernobîl disaster was created by pushing a relatively unsafe design way past its operational limits.

    There’s also the fact that the Dobrogea plateau insulates significantly against Vrancea earthquakes, that mostly affect the areas along a virtual Chișinău-Vrancea-Bucharest line. The location proposed for a new nuclear plant (Someș) is also safe, being on the Transylvania plateau.

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    1. Lavinia says:

      let’s take into acount (which is what Sam is trying to tell us) that something on a bigger scale might happen with all these weather changing and axis shifting….can you predict anything? No! or do you believe that the engineers from Japan are more stupid than the Romanian engineers? They designed the power plants in Japan to withstand the strongest possible earthquake…..and a stronger one came….how long does it have to be until we start thinking about it?

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      1. Daniel says:

        Just so you know – the plants in Japan were designed for a 7.9 (on a Richter scale) earthquake.

        7.9 is not THE STRONGEST POSSIBLE, they just thought it would be the STRONGEST one the plant would experience.

        Edumacate yourself before saying (typing) something, will ya ?

        Like

      2. Lavinia says:

        will you stop with this superior attitude….as i stated, they designed for the strongest possible earthquake (of course i meant the strongest that the plant will ever get) and a stronger one came….

        so just *** off.

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      3. Daniel says:

        Let me put is this way – engineering is the art of trade-offs.

        You don’t build THE PERFECT design, because that would be too expensive. You build the one that does the job WELL ENOUGH.

        The Japanese guessed 7.9 would be the upper limit. They were wrong.

        I fail to see how that is seen as damning the whole nuclear power concept (other people expressed the very same thought much more eloquently).

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  4. iamronen says:

    funny thing is that Romania has some of the best wind potential for wind-turbine generated electricity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_Romania

    ironically the area with greatest wind potential looks to be in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant – so if not for generating electricity it can be used for spreading radio-activity :(

    Like

    1. Sam R. says:

      Well there’s two kinds of wind energy – one is a giant wind farm aka a “power plant” to produce megawatts of energy. The other is ye olde windmill, many modern variants of which could easily (and cheaply) be constructed on individual homes or plots of land. Look at your current electrical bill to see your monthly usage and I’ll guess it’s not that high – there’s enough of a breeze at least here in Cluj that I’d wager it’s possible for a fairly small device to cover that.

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      1. iamronen says:

        I was referring to giant wind farm power plants!

        The wind in the are of Cluj is not enough nor reliably enough to generate electricity efficiently even when, as we are doing, to a minimum. Sun & water (if you have a stream with enough elevation) are the best options in this area.

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      2. Sam R. says:

        True enough but I’d wager good money a windmill on top of my bloc could power every TV and washing machine and X-Box nonetheless. Definitely need to write up a full post on this topic!

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  5. nuclear in RO means 20% less “burn coal for electricity and polution like hell” stuff. Let’s just hope that the big plans for wind farms are gonna come through. For now nuclear gets the job done.

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  6. c says:

    Sam, of all people, you too?
    If we start “vaicarim” (whining) about all theoretical dangers that can end our lives I bet we won’t have time for anything else and probably die of hunger, thirst, if not lack of air first because we’d be too busy complaining to even breath…

    “And what happens […] if […] all the safety containment measures fail?” Oh boy… really now, what happens? And then how about other theories, like what happens if while driving “all safety measures fail”? The breaks, the airbags, steering, they all fail at the same time, because at least in theory it is possible… Or what if a meteorite as large as a football field would just squash the Cernavoda power plant? I bet all safety measures would fail then too. Well, let’s start worrying!
    I think this is a good place for people to remember an old Romanian writing by one of its greatest authors, especially the part with “drobul de sare” (a large block of salt). There’s a copy here in Romanian: http://www.neamt.ro/cmj/Creanga/Prostia_omeneasca.html

    Honestly, it’s not that bad things cannot happen only because I or others feel that they won’t. But let’s just not “batem campii” (blather) on subjects that _really_ affect other people. Lets put our selfishness on hold and just try to help the ones in need if we can, and whine about theoretical dangers when we really have nothing better to do. I strongly don’t think that time has come in Romania.

    Like

    1. Sam R. says:

      And when exactly IS the right time to worry about it? When there’s been an earthquake and the damn reactor is exploding, like what is happening in Japan? You ever been to Pripyat? You really want to wait until there’s FOUR operational cores in Cernavoda and an earthquake or something else shoots a cloud of radioactivity into the air? I can’t speak about the statistical chance of a meteor strike in SW Romania but I assume even YOU would realize that the chance of an earthquake in a highly seismic zone is FAR more likely, no?

      Like

      1. c says:

        Like I said, the right time to worry about Cernavoda plant being affected by a big earthquake would be IMO when we have nothing better to do. That includes eliminating the [yearly] floods in Moldova, making sure old people have a chance at decent living – see Romania’s countryside and outskirts of cities; in other words deal somewhat better with poverty which still _is_ a problem. And I’m sure you know this list can continue.
        And isn’t Pripyat off topic? Was Cernobyl due to an earthquake or human error? So are we talking about nuclear energy being bad (I’m arguing neither way on this), or the earthquakes that are a menace to people? Confusion won’t make any point of view any stronger…

        For what it’s worth, on all seismic maps that I could find, Cernavoda is in a less dangerous area than even Bucharest which is still at least one level below the risk in Vrancea area (the highest in Romania). A map can be found here: http://www.stareapresei.ro/seismologie-harta-seismica-a-romaniei-incerc-1424.html but google easily finds more of them.

        I’m still saying that unless we have a good reasons to worry we should first weigh the situation, and maybe next step could be to show a good description of the state of things based on a coherent study (a personal one is just as good). But not start with a title implying that this plant will blow up because, well, others have blown up in the past…(?!)

        Like

      2. Sam R. says:

        I hope you didn’t misunderstand me saying “yep this year will be a 9.0 and byebye Cernavoda”. My point is you worry about it BEFORE it happens. I can’t think of a more advanced country than Japan and there’s plenty of smart engineers there and yet clearly what they thought they were prepared for and what’s happening does not match up. That’s my point, not let’s all use candle light to read by nor turn off Cernavoda tomorrow. Pripyat is yet another example (albeit unrelated to earthquakes) of what happens when you think you’ve got tremendous forces of nature under control and you DON’T.

        Like

    2. Lavinia says:

      nuclear energy is a bad idea overall…let’s not forget that. humans in general don’t need so much electricity, people have done well in the past without. Thank God romanians depend on electricity for light and that’s about it unlike americans that have EVERYTHING electrical…

      Like

      1. iamronen says:

        it’s never quite that simple :)

        once upon at time nuclear energy was a great idea … now we know better (how to create energy, how to make more efficient machines and how to consume wisely) and it’s time to move on … so it’s time to move on :)

        Like

      2. Daniel says:

        You know those Englishmen you were complaining about … you know the ones who thought Romanians were intellectually deficient ? Thank you for proving them right.

        If you don’t need electricity, if you think “people have done well in the past without”, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is.

        I gather this will be your last inane internet posting. After all, “people have done well in the past without”

        Like

      3. Sam R. says:

        You gather wrong :D Plenty more inane internet postings to come, at least from me, if not from others :D

        Like

      4. Daniel says:

        Sam,

        This was not directed at you, it was a response to Lavinia.

        I thought that was clear, since I was quoting her. Guess I was wrong.

        Like

      5. Sam R. says:

        yah and I’m adding here that inanity is part of the deal… not everyone is a mega-genius, esp me. So let’s debate whatever we want to debate but cool it with the insults, eh?

        Like

      6. Lavinia says:

        i can manage without internet, thank you and without your insults. I’m talking about real life problems when electricity goes off…you don’t have a life and death problem when there’s no electricity in Bucharest but in America and the “developed” countries you have…you can’t leave your house because your lock is electric, your heating is electric, your oven is electric…=BIG problems.

        So if you can get your temper right we’ll talk some more.

        Like

      7. Ruxy says:

        @lavinia, really romanians depend on electricity only for light? Let’s imagine a blackout in Bucharest, not a big problem, no light, you get home after work, instead of watching tv, you just shower and go to sleep, oops, you can’t shower, because the boiler doesn’t have energy to heat up the water, ok you just go to sleep and in the morning back to work. Oops(again), you can’t get to work, cuz you can’t fill up your car, as the gas pumps need power in order to work, no buses, trams or subway either with no power, but ok you’ll walk, and then, when you get to work, you won’t be able to actually do anything because there is NO POWER!!!! These are just couple of examples, but dear Lavinia the list goes on and trust me it’s a vicious circle and unless you move to the country side and grow your own veggies and raise your own animals , with no power you’re not gonna survive.

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      8. Lavinia says:

        dude….you don’t need power for water…there were MANY black-outs in mu neighbourhood in Bucharest… so i know what i’m talking about. The heating works on gass, so does the oven. Here, where i am now in UK, you can’t get out of your partment, you don’t have any heating because it’s electric, you don’t have an oven because it’s electric etc etc….Romanians are still ok and i hope that they will remain that way.

        Like

      9. Ruxy says:

        first of all Lavinia, I’m not a dude: Ruxy-Ruxandra, anyway…
        Second, yes the central heating is on gas, but you need a spark to turn it on and that is electric power dear…trust me, all the big cities and towns in this world are screwed with no electricity!!!
        And third, I know blackouts in Bucharest, Timisoara and other big cities in Romania, but they are few hours long, which of course is not a problem, but think days or weeks and I bet you’ll change your opinion!

        Like

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