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Chernobyl myths

Incoming from Michael Jennings, which started with the link to this Fukushima update piece in The Register (subtitled “Still nothing to get in a flap about”) which at the end says this:

Reaction to our earlier piece praising the actually rather brilliant response of the Fukushima reactors and their operators in the quake’s wake has shown that hoary myths and legends surrounding Chernobyl persist, and that one will still, even after all this time, generally be pilloried for suggesting that Chernobyl – far and away the worst nuclear incident ever which didn’t involve an atomic bomb – was genuinely not that serious.

We here at the Reg attended the launch of this rather excellent recent book, Flat Earth News, in which veteran Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies dared to include the Chernobyl myths of thousands dead (actually the established figure is 56) alongside other great, baseless modern scares like the Millennium Bug.

Davies said that nothing else he has ever done in his life earned him as much flak as that.

Michael says:

I think most people are unfamiliar with the story of what actually happened at Chernobyl in 1985, beyond “There was a meltdown”. Basically, pretty much every possible fuckup happened one after another (from reactor design, to reactor management, to employee supervision, to safety procedures (there weren’t any, quite seriously) to after the fact disaster recovery. This of course had little to do with problems with nuclear power and quite a bit to do with problems of the Soviet Union. Not that I need to tell you this.

But I do need to pass it on.

77 comments to Chernobyl myths

  • pete

    It was UN agencies which produced the low death figures for Chernobyl.

    But greens refuse to believe them.

    However, when the UN produces the IPCC report which tells the greens what they want to hear, they lap up every last word uncritically.

    That’s how greens do science – if it fits in with their beliefs they know it is correct.

  • I think we should accept that the rather massive amount of radioactive material released into the atmosphere due to the Chernobyl accident likely has caused some cancer deaths that would not have occurred otherwise. As to how many, who knows? One doesn’t know what the cancer rate would have been otherwise, because much cancer has multiple causes and lifestyle factors in the former Soviet Union are bad anyway. Certainly the number is as small compared to the number of Ukrainians who have died in road accidents since, or the number who have died of cancer due to smoking, or the number who have died due to drinking too much vodka. (And if you want to go down the multiple causes, deaths caused by various combinations of vodka, tobacco, and road accidents). And the post accident cleanup costs have been immense. Certainly, though, there is a very large city 100km to the south of Chernobyl (Kiev), and life goes on normally there. I am willing to say though that “Chernobyl incident = really bad”. The worst cases we are talking in Japan are of Three Mile Island magnitude incidents, and in that case everything was sealed, there was no major release of radioactive material, and nobody was hurt, although once again there were large cleanup costs.

    If there are large cleanup costs in Japan, well that is what happens when you have a natural disaster of this magnitude.

  • Cousin Dave

    Brian nails it: Chernobyl was one F-up after another, and absolutely typical of Soviet engineering. Fukushima, by contrast, seems to have been a three-sigma bad day (in other words, way out of the scope of what was imagined to be the worst possible combination of events). Per the USGS, the earthquake was either the 4th or 5th most powerful earthquake in the history of earthquake measurement and recording (going back to about 1880). Even so, the reactors survived that, and the backup cooling systems had come on line. Then… the tsunami came along and swept all of the backup generators away. Operators cut in battery power, and that worked, but the batteries ran down before power from the heavily damaged power grid could be restored. I think there may have also been some control system failures in there; I’m still looking for news on that.

    And in spite of all that, the reactors are still contained (or at least they still were on Sunday afternoon). The explosions have been of blowout panels on the outer shelter buildings; not a good thing, but the shelter buildings are not part of the containment system. They’re just to keep the rain out. Yes, some radioactivity has leaked, but nowhere near the scope of Chernobyl. The isotopes involved have pretty short half-lives and will be nearly undetectable eight months from now. The reactors themselves are probably trashed internally, but the methods for cleaning that up safely are known.

    I’m not one to go around calling the Western public ignorant. However, a lot of them are mal-educated, and one of the worst areas is science and technology. Far too much of the New Age gobbledygook has gone unchallenged for so long that the average Joe, reading accounts of stuff like this, has no rational basis for making a judgment. (And it doesn’t help that mainstream media accounts are usually wildly inaccurate.) Lacking any means of forming an opinion, the natural inclination is to give in to the fear response. After all, no one ever got killed from avoiding nuclear power, did they? Well, actually, yeah they did… only in ways that weren’t so obvious and probably didn’t make good TV.

  • Annie

    was it not ’86?

  • Annie: Yes. I don’t always factcheck my e-mails, alas.

  • Laird

    Cousin Dave, that was a fine post, but I have one question: what is the substantive difference between being “ignorant” and being “mal-educated”?

  • llamas

    Michael Jennings wrote

    “The worst cases we are talking in Japan are of Three Mile Island magnitude incidents . . . ”

    . . if that. The peaks being reported are for radionucleides with half-lives measured in seconds or minutes. The key answer will be a final assessment of just how much radioactive material is released – based on what we know now, there is no reason to think that it will be anything like the amount released from TMI, and almost-all of trivial radionucleides with extremely transient half-lives.

    And the health effects form TMI continue to be – non-measurable.

    But the panic spreads unabated. I saw an image on the TV of a reporter or somebody holding a dosage meter on a Tokyo street and declaiming that the radiation from Fukushima was “detectable”!

    Well, the meter was reading 2 microSieverts per hour. If that reporter took that meter to Princes Street in Edinburgh (lots of granite) I’ll bet that it would show a higher reading.

    But the public has been successfully gulled into believeing that all radiation is artificial and any radiation is dangerous. I’m still waiting for someone to convert the radiation doses being recorded beyond the plant gates in Fukushima into a really meaningful unit, like the BEM.

    It’s actually a triumph of nuclear engineering and a testament to the engineers who designed and built the thing. Despite a shock insult various reported as between 9 and 16 times what it was designed for, the nuclear reaction shut down automatically, exactly as designed, and it took the successive destruction of 2 more independent back-up systems to even get to the relatively-minor problems they have now.

    Tens of thousands have certainly died, and the economic losses are in the trillions, and we’re getting all wee-wee’d up (to quote a famous leader) over what amounts to a non-event? They’ll have it secured and cold in a couple of days, and the radiation releases will be less than what a coal-burning power plant puts out in a few weeks. We should get over ourselves.



  • Cousin Dave

    Laird: That’s a good question. “Mal-educated” is a word I made up. It describes people who have made an honest effort to become educated, but have had the misfortune of, through unwitting reliance on untrustworthy schools and institutions, having being taught a bunch of stuff that isn’t true. One of my favorite examples is the group of university students who major in “XYZ studies” — practically everything that they are taught about basic psychology and human interaction is false, to the point where most employers consider them unemployable. Certainly, with some of these students, it fits in with tendencies that they already had, but many who went into these majors were guilty of nothing other than misplaced idealism when they went in. If there were such a thing as a “do-over university” for these people, it would probably take 2-3 years just to undo the damage and get them back to the state of knowledge that they were at when they graduated high school. That’s one of the most severe examples of mal-education, but there are plenty of others.

  • Gary

    Nuclear industry are basically lazy corporate welfare spongers so I have little time for the parasites, who dump the costs of dealing with the waste on the taxpayer, and in the US hide behind the Corporatist Price Anderson Act

    TEPCO (who have a history of lying) have failed miserably. You have to be mentally deranged on a Charlie Sheen level to consider what is happening at Fukushima a success.

    The nuclear industry is populated by crony capitalists and corporate welfare spongers, and has a contemptuous disregard for the public (hence its secretive, shifty behaviour).

    There’s a breach in the No.2 Reactor, which I had heard a number of so-called experts say wouldn’t happen.

  • Readings appear to have crept up into the “Worrying” category and then begun to fall.

    All-in-all, I think this is a triumph for 40-year old reactor design. The earthquake fail-safe kicked in shutting the reactors down, it survived the loss of mains power switching over to backup generators, it survived the loss of the generators, switching over to backup batteries and even when these failed, still contained all the nuclear materials in a pretty safe condition (albeit the reactors are completely fucked).

    So multi-level failure of a nuclear power plant and pretty much everything worked as designed. I’d say that’s pretty good really. Not perfect obviously, but then we’re human and not deities. Well within the safety limits given all the chaos that has gone on.

    Additional deaths over the next 20-years due to radiation exposure. Anything above zero would be a rounding error.

    Well done guys, I wonder how much better a 2010 reactor design would be as opposed to a 1970 design. Probably the 1970’s design was 99.99% safe and the 2010 design will be 99.999% safe.

    More chance of getting killed by a badly aimed Frisbee!


  • Jacob

    Don’t celebrate too early the “success” of Fukushima in averting disaster. It ain’t over yet. Don’t believe the calming reports. It seems that the worse, a full meltdown, might still happen. The operators have run out of ideas and are at a complete loss about what to do, and it gets worse all the time, new problems are reported by the hour.
    We don’t yet know how it will end, fearing the worst is the correct stance, IMO.

    Don’t belittle the Chernobyl catastrophe. We can’t say exactly how many people got seek because of radiation exposure, and how many deformed children were born because of it, but the number isn’t zero, don’t delude yourselves.
    Then some 50-100 thousand people had to be evacuated in a hurry, a city of 50,000 was abandoned, and area of 30 km in radius was closed off, and will remain so for many decades. It was a major catastrophe, claiming otherwise is not honest.

    Three Miles Island, on the other hand wasn’t so bad. No one dead or injured, very little radiation escaped. The scary thing about that incident was – how close it was to a major catastrophe, which, luckily was avoided.

  • Jacob

    I blame the greens for stopping the building and development of nuclear reactors, of killing the nuclear industry. Without the moratorium imposed on the nuclear industry in the 1970ies, it would have developed better and safer reactors, which we now sorely miss.
    The lack of power plants (thanks again, greens) forces many countries to keep in operation old, primitive, reactors.

    I also wonder: since the danger of tsunamis was known, why were the reactors not built on an elevated platform, 30 feet high, beyond the reach of tsunamis ? It is a very simple solution to a problem which proved fatal. The nuclear industry is by no means blameless in this case.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Still, this does show that group-think can have some positive effects- there have been no reports of looting and robbery. Probably because no-one has ordered them to.

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    Chernobyl Tours


  • Gary


    The Corporate Welfare whores have screwed up big time:

    TEPCO is the crooked company which faked safety reports and which has lied blatantly about a previous incident in 2007.

    Toshiba made the EDGs which don’t actually work. Well done Toshiba, great work on failing, guys.

    General Electric f****d up the design of the reactor, ignoring warnings from engineers, two of whom resigned in protest.

    Naoto Kan is learning what happens when governments subsidize corporations; you get Corporatist Clowns.

  • Will Sheward

    You realise of course that no matter how rational we are about events in Japan, the likelihood is that when asked in 10 years time “What happened in Japan in 2011?”, schoolchildren will likely reply:

    “A nuclear reactor blew up, causing an earthquake that killed thousands of people”

    However, even a BBC hater like me can’t really fault them or our disgraceful newspapers for the concentration on the reactor problem (which so far seems to have killed few, if any). After all they, and other media, have a choice between:

    1. showing and commenting on endless pictures of devastation caused by an event over which we had and have no control (unless you believe the warmist extremists) or

    2. showing and commenting (mostly uselessly) on pictures of an ongoing event over which we can or could have control, where human action might make a difference.

  • llamas

    Oh, stop it.

    The radiation levels at points within just a few hundred feet of the reactor structures are elevated but still at trivial levels. The highest recorded level at the gates to the facility has been 11.9 mSv per hour, and it has already fallen significantly since then, to below 1 mSv per hour. At that highest rate, a person would have to stand unprotected at the gate for 5 days straight, at that highest recorded rate, to receive the minimum dose at which the first stages of the mildest form of radiation sickness have been observed. Funnily enough, people have been discouraged from standing there. But the risk to people miles, tens of miles, or hundreds of miles away – zero. Zip. Nada.

    For reference, an abdominal CT scan will deliver you a radiation dose of about 20 mSv.

    Are radiation levels higher inside the plant? Of course they are. But claiming that we’re all going to get radiation sickness form that is like claiming that a person in Cleveland is going to get 3rd degree burns because I lit my oxy-acetylene torch in Detroit. Inverse-square law, folks.

    Most of this radiation has been trivial in level and transient in nature at any distance above a few hundred feet from the plant. The likely health effects on the population at large will be incapable of measurement.

    Number of radiation-linked deaths or injuries from this incident, to date – zero.

    Chance of serious radiation-linked health effects for anyone in the area – indistinguishable from zero.

    Chance of a ‘full meltdown’ – zero. Remember, the nuclear fisson reaction in all 4 reactors was already stopped – all we are dealing with is the decay heat, less than 1% of the power of the reactors on line.

    More people will die in traffic accidents in the panic of trying to flee this non-disaster than will be harmed by the radiation releases.

    I know that there are vested interests that want this to be a disaster, and of course there is no news story in the careful and cautious process of rendering these reactors safe. And when they are secured and cold, in just a few days, the story will then become how close we came to disaster, just like the last time we came so close to disaster, and yet nothing bad happened. But some people will never be happy, because for them, it’s not about the facts anyway.



  • hovis

    Obviously I am mal educated according to most commentors here !

    I find it hard to believe UN figure whatever they are and and certainly not going to call the outcome of the japanese problems until a long time yet.

    One of things that sticks in the craw is that the tone and timing of the original article. It was far too early in calling this a “triumph” for nuclear power. Indeed if this is a triumph then I’d hate to see a disaster… As to the tone to my ear it had thering of a spotty sixth former trying to rove how jolly clever and controversial they are, whilst missing the point entirely.

  • Jacob

    “Number of radiation-linked deaths or injuries from this incident, to date – zero.”

    Zero announced. I’m not sure there wasn’t radiation injuries among the plant’s operators. They have been evacuated for a reason.
    Chances of a full meltdown – from what I read, there already was a partial meltdown of the fuel rods, though the containment dome was not breached (yet). They have totally lost control and abandoned (fled) the plants, and are trying to cool them from afar, maybe by splashing water from helicopters.
    I’m not sure (seems nobody knows) that there was not a breach of one of the containment domes.
    If these break or melt, then there will be a Chernobyl like case – direct emission of radioactive particles into the athmosphere. Maybe there won’t be many deaths, but the permanent relocation of about 200,000 people, who have been evacuated so far, is no small matter.

    Let’s hope there won’t be a melt-down.

    As to Chernobyl tours – you can hop in and out. Radiation levels there are elevated, you can’t stay there for long. In a short time – an hour or two you won’t absorb too much radiation, especially if you stay on the roads, from which the radiating particles have been washed away by the rains.
    Besides I prefer my vacation tours in the Canary Islands.

  • I’d be a little leery of giving the nuclear industry any high fives just yet guys. Let us see what happens over the next few days.

    When I see a video of an explosion at a nuclear plant and then see a government official in effect saying “nothing to worry about, move along, move along”… well that would be exactly when I would start worrying.

  • Jacob

    Here is an update: 2 containment domes have already been damaged and breached(Link), though it is not clear how big the breach is.

    The situation is very serious, probably more than they admit, maybe more than they know, they don’t seem to know much. I don’t see what’s to stop then from reaching a full meltdown, and how the Japs are going to cope with that.
    The Russians sacrificed people – they sent them in to pour concrete and entomb the breached reactor. Those people died later. I don’t know what the japs will do.

    The claim that nothing grave happened and there is no room for concern is absolutly false.

  • hovis

    Excuse me a little O/T – but have just seen this in the FT about nuclear contaminatin risk being uninsurable and hence the nuclear industry is subsidy junky link here

  • llamas

    Jacob wrote:

    ‘Here is an update: 2 containment domes have already been damaged and breached(Link), though it is not clear how big the breach is.’

    That simply isn’t what the report says. It says ‘may have been’ – yet you state it as fact.

    ‘The situation is very serious, probably more than they admit, maybe more than they know, they don’t seem to know much.’

    You obviously know even less, and are reduced to prejudiced speculation.

    ‘I don’t see what’s to stop then from reaching a full meltdown, and how the Japs are going to cope with that.’

    It’s obvious you don’t see that, because you don’t know what you’re talking about. Once again, the recators cannot experience a ‘ full meltdown’ because the fission reactions are stopped and have been for days. The problems being dealt with are of decay heat, which is by definition a decaying reaction, not a sustaining reaction. The production of heat and radiation is reducing by natural processes. And so a self-powered, uncontrolled ‘melt-down’ a-la China Syndrome just is not possible – the hysterical vapourings of liberal-arts graduates on MSNBC notwithstanding.

    Can the fuel rods melt? Sure, they can. Can they catch fire? Sure they can? But since the nuclear fission reaction has ceased, there can be no nuclear-powered ‘full melt-down’. The problem then is merely one of molten and burning metal. Foundries deal with this every day.

    Before you post again, suggest you go and actually learn just a little bit about what you are talking about. The rest of your posts are a mixture of conspiracy theory, prejudiced speculation and mere ignorance. The plant workers have been evacuated or rotated to prevent them exceeding safe dosage limits, yet you twist this into some form of evidence that they must have suffered radiation injuries. Plucked from thin air.

    Comparisons with Chernobyl and what happened there are simply asinine. Completely different reactor technology, completely different construction, completely different mode of failure, completely different on more levels than one can count.

    Once again – radiation-related injuries to date – zero. The most-severe contaminations experienced by anybody so far has been resolved by the application of a hot shower and change of clothes. Radiation levels experienced by the general population – trivial, and declining fast. Releases of radioactive materials – tiny. Energy levels in all reactors – declining. I simply don’t understand your compulsion, in the face of actual data, to creat imaginary boogeymen where none exist.



  • Cousin Dave

    Yeah, I see the usual leftist trolls are jumping with their usual anti-technological ignorant rants. Jacob, you destroy your credibility by citing the NYT as a source on this. The NYT is doing its usual piss-poor job that it always does on technological issues. For instance, they seem to be one of the media outlets that was spreading the story yesterday that one of the spent fuel pools was on fire. MIT, which has been following developments closely, states categorically that this is false. Some other media outlets have been using images of a burning oil refinery to illustrate their stories on the reactors, an obvious act of journalistic dishonesty.

    Perry, I know it’s kind of hard to believe, but the outer building explosions were really not that big a deal. Something like that was anticipated and planned for in the plant design. The explosions occurring inside the reactors is far more worrisome. And here’s the thing about that: those explosions may have occurred because the operators were told not to vent any more hydrogen into the outer buildings, specifically because that made for bad TV, even though it was the safer path to take. I don’t know that, but it has to be considered as a possibility that in order to kowtow to media pressure, the operators actually made a decision that was more dangerous.

  • Jacob

    I admit I’m not a specialist and I might be wrong.

    As far as I understand, the reactors have been stopped by introducing control rods. That’s fine, but if the fuel rods get uncovered and melt, as they seem to have done, at least partially, the control rods may melt too, and the nuclear reaction might resume. Maybe this is impossible, I don’t know.
    The japanese spokseman told about a partial rupture in the containment dome of unit no 2. Maybe he is mistaken, but how would you know ?
    A ruptured dome means the release of a lot of radioactive particles into the atmosphere from the molten fuel rods. Maybe there was no rupture or no big rupture, I don’t know.

    It is possible that the reactors will cool down in a few days, with no catastrophic amounts of particles released (i.e. not much radiation).
    I’m not so sure about it as you seem to be. I don’t think your optimism is well founded. After all, you’re not there, you read the same reports I do. It’s too early to sound the all-clear.

    Here is an explanation (Link)by an expert, who is an advocate of nuclear energy.

  • Jacob

    Here is a quotation from some people (Link)that seem to know a lot:
    “At this time people started talking about the possibility of core meltdown, because if cooling cannot be restored, the core will eventually melt (after several days), and will likely be contained in the containment. “

  • Laird

    Since this thread is about “myths”, I thought it would be a good place to drop in a note that the aluminum-foil-hat brigade is already claiming that the Japanese earthquake/tsunami was deliberately created by rogue elements within the evil US government, via something called “HAARP”. I don’t know much about HAARP, but evidently these folks think that broadcasting high-frequency radio waves into the ionosphere can somehow trigger earthquakes. Personally, I remain unconvinced.

  • RW

    There seems to be some confusion as to the difference between a “full meltdown” in an operating reactor and a melt of the rods in a shut down reactor (thanks for distinguishing, Llamas). I agree with Cousin Dave that the explosions in the reactors are worrisome as, if the reactor housing is breached, then we do have a problem. How major, I’m not qualified to comment.

    Taking this in context, the primary death toll from the earthquake and tsunami seems to be estimated at 10,000+. The secondary toll from hypothermia, disease, starvation etc will depend on the effectiveness of the Japanese response but will almost certainly be greater than any radiation deaths.

    The good (?!) thing about this catastrophe is that the Chinese and Indians, who are not renowned for quality building, may beef up their security.

    A lot of the North/South American Pacific coast is active or potential earthquake zone. The Atlantic is far less active – offhand I can only think of Lisbon in the 18th century – but there is the threat from Cumbre Vieja on La Palma. So lessons to be learned all round, not just the shameless political grandstanding of Merkel in particular.

    Anyone know if Thorium/salt reactors are intrinsically safer? First search through various blogs indicates they may be?

    Another thought on Japan’s alternatives to nuclear. Windpower? Vulnerable to earthquake, tsunami and typhoon so no surprise that they are way down the league on this. Gas? I’d be interested to know what Samizdata experts think of the risks of an LPG fuel/air explosion.

    Anyone know of a site with reliable, up to date info on all this? Or should we just sit it out?

  • PeterT

    It would be interesting to see a post mortem on the comment thread in a week or so. Maybe one of the masters can post something on it next week?

  • Cousin Dave

    “That’s fine, but if the fuel rods get uncovered and melt, as they seem to have done, at least partially, the control rods may melt too, and the nuclear reaction might resume. Maybe this is impossible,”

    No, that is impossible. In this type of reactor, the water has to be in the reactor in order for the reaction to take place. The reason why is because the water absorbs some of the energy from the neutrons which drive the reaction. (It’s called a “water moderated” reactor for that reason.) The neutron energy with respect to the reaction is a Goldilocks thing — the neutron energy has to be just right. If the neutrons are either too “hot” or too “cold”, the reaction stops. Without the water, the neutrons are too “hot” and so no reaction.

    The other thing about this type of reactor is that the reaction depends a lot on the specific geometry of the fuel elements; that’s why they are encased in long thin rods. If the rods all melted into a puddle, the mass wouldn’t have the right surface area and it’s very unlikely that there would be a sustained reaction. The biggest threat in a meltdown is the stuff in the fuel rods that’s already reacted: the radioactive products of the fission. The fission products continue to undergo radioactive decay for some time, and they create some heat as they do so. If there is a partial or full meltdown and all of the containment is breached, the decay could produce enough heat to vaporize some of the fission products and then they would obviously escape to the atmosphere. That’s what everybody is worried about in this accident.

    I’m not saying it’s all clear. There is certainly still some danger; meltdown combined with total containment breach would be a Bad Thing at this point, and the authorities are right to keep everyone evacuated. However, the worst case scenario still wouldn’t be as bad as Chernobyl was.

    An update: I just checked with mitnse.com. It appears that there may have been a primary containment rupture in Unit 3 similar to what has happened in Unit 2. Also, they are estimating that Unit 1 has mostly melted down, but it appears to be contained within the reactor vessel. There was a brief spike in radiation levels at the plant of 400 mSieverts/hr, which is not some place where you want to hang around, but it won’t make you sick instantly. It appears there were no personnel in the vicinity of Unit 3 when this happened. They are saying that radiation levels now at the plant boundary are around 1.5 mSievert/hr, which is high but not dangerously so.

  • A happy bunch of idiots. The Russians say about 100,000 died or will die early.

    F-Dachi #4 has an empty spent fuel containment pool. The radiation at it’s lip will cause a lethal dose in about 15 secs. It is even possible apart from all the other misery it can cause that it will go critical.

    #3 is blown up. It’s pool is most probably empty too. The #3 reactor used MOX fuel. Essentially recycled plutonium.

    #2 has most probably a breached containment vessel.

    #1 is blown up too.

    Have a nice day.

  • llamas

    The physics continues to win out over hysteria.

    Radiation levels continue to decline:


    Claims of 100,000 radiation-related deaths, now or ever, are pure, unadulterated fantasy.

    Claims that any of the damaged reactors can ‘go critical’ (an imprecise term, so let’s take this to mean the worst possible thing, namely, that a nuclear fission reaction can somehow re-start itself), are similarly nothing but fantasy.

    Oh, and because I check these things –

    ‘General Electric f****d up the design of the reactor, ignoring warnings from engineers, two of whom resigned in protest.’

    A classic case of deliberate misdirection. Here’s the actual story:


    Note the rest of the story, namely:

    ‘Bridenbaugh said that to the best of his knowledge, the design flaws he had identified were addressed at the Daiichi plant, requiring “a fairly significant expense.”

    As another has suggested, maybe we will want to revisit this issue in a week or two. We’ll see who was right.



  • Jacob

    Here is another source, Dr. Allen(Link), who seems to know what he is talking about:
    “Like many others with roots in the nuclear industry, Allen is watching the events unfold in Japan with keen interest and concern. He said there’s no question there’s been at least a partial melting of fuel cores at three of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, likely a breach in one reactor pressure vessel, exposed spent fuel rods in strorage pool, and other damage “…

    “”It’ll be like somebody dropped a bomb, and there’ll be a big cloud of very, very radioactive material above the ground,” Allen said, noting that it would contain uranium and plutonium, as well as the fission products.”

    He didn’t say it’s going to happen, just that it is a possibility.

  • Paul Marks

    Three Mile Island shows just how effective a media disinformation campaign can be.

    Everything went wrong – yet NO ONE DIED.

    It showed just how safe American nuclear energy is.

    Yet the media disinformation campaign (newspapers, magazines, television shows, and of course Hollywood movies) went into overdrive – thus brainwashing the public (at least many people) into being anti nuclear. And kept the United States dependent on imported oil (now more than ever).

    “But the government should have ……”

    As always the govenrment worked with the left (although the left “rebels” are supposed to be arch enemies of the govenrment).

    This is partly because of the full time nature of the govenrment (civil service and so on – i.e. elections do not have the impact they should, and once did, have they do not mean a great clear out down to the file clerks) and partly because of the politicians themselves.

    President Carter had a background in physics (nuclear physics) – he knew perfectly well that the disinformation campaign against nuclear power was B.S., so did he stand with nuclear power?

    Of course not.

    As for Chernobyl…..

    I see so the reactors in Japan (and the United States) are based graphite – accept they are not.

    And they have been used for insane experiments – accept they have not.

    And so on.

    No design is perfect – as these reactors in Japan are based on a General Electric design (never trust anything from General Electric), but Chernobyl type reactors they are NOT.

    Also all this nuclear stuff is distracting attention from the real horror.

    Tens of thousands of people dead and missing – due to a force 9 eathquake (one of the worst in recorded history) and a vast wall of water that came and crushed whole towns.

    People are obsessed with steam comming out of a few reactors – whilst they IGNORE the real horror of the events of the last week (a horror that is still going on).

    The sense of priorities of the media (and so on) disgusts me.

  • Cousin Dave

    “partial melting of fuel cores at three of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant,…”

    Almost certainly true, at least in the case of reactor #1. However, melting per se is not catastrophic. As long as containment can be maintained, it should be OK.

    “likely a breach in one reactor pressure vessel”

    Yes, reactor #2 appears to have been breached, and possibly reactor #3. The breaches appear to be in the water condensing torus at the bottom of the reactor. I’m not quite sure what that means in terms of leakage. It’s not good, obviously. Secondary containment on reactor #3 might also be breached. There were some bursts of radioactivity near that reactor yesterday, although it seems to have dissipated now.

    , exposed spent fuel rods in strorage pool”

    Not from what I’ve read. Per IAEA data this morning, the spent fuel pools at reactors 5 and 6 are at elevated temperatures but in no immediate danger. The water temp in the pool at reactor #4 was at 84C last night. That’s obviously not boiling yet, and there should still be plenty of water in the pool (when it’s full, the water level is about 10m above the level of the spent fuel rods). I don’t know if vapor from the pool is being allowed to evaporate or not. Evaporation would cool it, but there would obviously have to be a way to replenish the evaporated water.

    It appears that there is one plant worker who has been exposed to significant levels of radiation. I’d say that right now the most worrisome situation is the breach at reactor #3. There is a potential for a significant radiation leak there.

    I will say one other thing: It appears that the anti-nuclear activists are assigning people to sit on blogs all day and put up post after post of unsupported rumor and innuendo. I see one guy who is all over the PJM Tatler this morning. They figure that they can win the day through emotional hot-buttoning, and the fact that it’s always easier to make up bullshit than it is to refute it. Be careful about your information sources.

  • Jacob

    “People are obsessed with steam comming out of a few reactors – whilst they IGNORE the real horror of the events of the last week (a horror that is still going on).”

    Well, the people killed by the quake and the tsunami are already dead. No more people are going to be killed by this quake and this tsunami. This is a known quantity.
    A full failure at the nuclear plants is a catastrophe that is developing, and has the potential to be much worse -kill more people and render huge areas of japan inhabitable for centuries. So, the obsessed with this grave danger that lurkes in the future is fully justified.

  • Jacob

    It appears that there is one plant worker who has been exposed to significant levels of radiation.(Link)

    There are more workers exposed, we don’t know to what levels, but much more than usual, and more than is good for them.

    The danger of a full blow-out is great, they’ve lost control there. Claims that nothing grave has happened are nonsense. See my link above, to Dr Allen, who, IMO, is not an alarmist or anti nuclear propagandist.

    The danger is great, the situation serious.

  • The danger is great, the situation serious.

    Yes I think that is clear. One does not have to be an alarmist to be alarmed by video showing substantial explosions on the outer surface of nuclear reactor followed by calming words from government spokesmen to suspect Fukushima is in very serious trouble.

  • Gary

    GE’s designs are incompetent.
    TEPCO’s reaction has been incompetent.

    Using MOX fuel? That is utterly irresponsible and stupid.

    The nuclear industry costs the taxpayer far too much. Why is it nuclear companies don’t pay for the cost of dumping the waste?

    Ridiculously expensive.

  • llamas

    The danger is great – if, if, if. You have to go through a long line of ‘if’s to get to any imminent danger – to anybody.

    Postulating a possible outcome as being possible, and then claiming grave danger as though this outcome is real, imminent and unavoidable, is nothing but hysterical fearmongering. That’s like saying there is a ‘great danger’ of being crushed like a bug by an 18-wheeler on your drive home tonight. Sure, it’s possible. But it is not a ‘great danger’.

    I really can’t grasp the mentality of a person who would call this situation ‘serious’ when hundreds of thousands are without food, shelter, water, clothing electricity, sanitation, transport, medical attention or any of the basic necessities of life. Some perspective, people . . . . It’s a tiny little bit of radiation. Right now, it’s not doing any harm to anyone. Even in the wildest worst-case scenarios (that so many seem to so ardently wish to come to pass) nobody can say with the slightest degree of certainty what the extent of the outcome may be.

    One worker has now exceeded, by a small margin, the already extremely-low limits for occupational exposure to radiation. Radiation levels in the areas beyond the plant remain extremely low, and well-below any threshold of measurable danger to public health. This is hardly a disaster when compared to what is going on all around them.

    But we shall see.



  • llamas

    More-measured voices with actual data:

    ‘Graham Andrew, a senior official of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, said the situation remained “very serious” but also noted that “there has been no significant worsening” at the plant over the previous 24 hours. He spoke to reporters Thursday shortly after IAEA chief Yukiya Amano flew to Tokyo to assess the relief efforts.

    Assessing what he called “the current situation” and citing NISA, Andrew said the fuel rods assembled inside reactor Units 1 and 3 were half covered by water, while the rods in Unit 2 were more than half submerged.

    Mario V. Bonaca, a physicist who sits on an advisory committee to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said he believes the focus of the effort has shifted to the spent fuel pools. “I understand that they’ve controlled the cooling of the cores,” said Bonaca, who said he was basing his understanding on NRC and industry sources.’



  • OK llamas I will be back to see if you have any integrity. “It can’t happen here”

    It looks much worse than anyone would nave predicted. The over storing of spent fuel, in too dense an array has produced a situation where a naked critical event is possible. This is what is frightening the Americans.

    This will make it impossible for anyone to approach the area and #3 is probably breached and is leaking from a MOX fuel load. Plutonium.

    #2 Is also probably breached and is a problem developing.

    #1 has it’s roof blown off. Who knows?

    The Russians themselves claim the 100,000 harmed by Chernobyl. Since they used 600,000 people to effect the clean up, a few minutes each, and they have kept pretty good data I’d go with their number.

    Feel free to whuffle in your mustache. It may make you feel less idiotic. YMMV.

  • Laird

    I don’t know anything about nuclear reactors so I’ve been silent on this thread. But yesterday PenGun said “The Russians say about 100,000 died or will die early” and today he says “The Russians themselves claim the 100,000 harmed by Chernobyl.” I’m not a doctor, so perhaps I’m wrong about this, but it seems to me that there is a significant difference between “died” and “harmed”. Perhaps the exercise of a little more caution before questioning someone’s “integrity” would be in order.

    Llamas seems to be the voice of reason around here today. (Did I actually say that?)

  • Jacob

    Read again this story by Dr. Allen.(Link)

    The danger if very real. The chances of a melt-trough is great, they are working desperately to stop it. If they leave it alone and flee and do nothing, it will melt, and will cause terrible damage. (Your analogy to the 18 wheeler is wrong, a more apt analogy would be: an 18 wheeler is racing downhill straight at you, you are nailed down to the ground in it’s path and are struggling desperately to free yourself and escape in time)

    The good news is the japs haven’t fled, despite the high radiation levels at the plant site, and keep fighting valiantly. Many of those participating in this struggle are probably doomed.

    True, the quantities of radiation that have escaped so far are not fatal, (except at the plant site), if the data published by Japanese authorities is to be believed ( a great if ). The melt-trough has not happened yet (if we believe them). They report that not all the water has evaporated from the reactor cores and from the spent fuel pools. If so, there is hope of preventing the melt-down. Let’s hope they manage it.

  • Jacob

    Llamas seems to be the voice of reason around here today. (Did I actually say that?)

    You said and you erred.

  • “Perhaps the exercise of a little more caution before questioning someone’s “integrity” would be in order.

    Llamas seems to be the voice of reason around here today. (Did I actually say that?)”

    With comprehension being your problem Laird it may help you to read all that again.
    Maybe not.

    People with very little knowledge trying to make an argument based on ideology lack integrity. Among other things.

    Congratulating yourselves on your undoubted superiority makes you very vulnerable to actual facts.

  • James Waterton

    I will say one other thing: It appears that the anti-nuclear activists are assigning people to sit on blogs all day and put up post after post of unsupported rumor and innuendo. I see one guy who is all over the PJM Tatler this morning.

    Interesting. I was wondering about Gary’s angle on this very thread. His posts contain a suspiciously high number of talking points.

  • James Waterton

    And PenGun’s comment directly above mine persuasively argues why commenters such as PenGun are best ignored.

  • “And PenGun’s comment directly above mine persuasively argues why commenters such as PenGun are best ignored.”

    Indeed. Ignorance is bliss. You were made for bliss, might as well ignore anything else.

  • James Waterton

    Well, that was weird…

  • Cousin Dave

    Yes, James, Gary and PenGun are doing what leftists always do when their arguments are challenged — they’re resorting to schoolyard insults. As for Jacob, he was sounding pretty reasonable for a while, but now he’s ignoring the counterpoints llamas and I have made and just repeating himself, getting more shrill with each post.

    Most of Dr. Allen’s article is pretty credible, although it doesn’t directly support everything that Jacob is claiming. Dr. Allen’s assertion that the melted fuel will easily melt through the bottom of the reactor is not supported by the Three Mile Island accident data, where the melted core didn’t come close to melting through the reactor vessel. Dr. Allen seems to have a blind spot in assessing the thermal data — maybe that’s outside of his area of expertise.

  • R7

    PenGun said:

    It is even possible apart from all the other misery it can cause that it will go critical.

    Another ignoramus chimes in about nuclear power. The reactors will go critical eh? The term “critical” means that for every neutron absorbed by the fuel, one neutron is produced. That is, critical means that the reactor is producing power at a steady level. Supercritical means reactor power level is going up. Subcritical means reactor power level is going down or is shutdown.

    PenGun has no credibility on this issue.

  • R7

    PenGun said:

    Indeed. Ignorance is bliss. You were made for bliss, might as well ignore anything else.

    Ironic, coming from someone who knows jack squat on the subject at hand.

  • Jacob

    To be clear: the danger is not a nuclear explosion (going “critical”). The nuclear reaction inside the working reactors has been stopped, We hope – TEPCO said so.

    What happens (see Dr. Allen) is that the nuclear fuel keeps decaying and emitting heat, and if this heat is not cooled by circulating water, the rods can reach high temps above 2000 deg Celsius. At such temps all protective domes melt too. If all this molten mass falls into water pools below, a blow-up will occur that spews all this radioactive mass into the air.
    I repeat, and nobody disproved this claim: if left alone, that is what will happen, and it is a terrible catastrophe.

    The Japs are trying heroically and frantically to improvise some ways to cool the reactors. They are trying water cannons and helicopter spraying, because the installed water pumps and hoses don’t work. These efforts are severely hampered by the fatal levels of radiation at the plat itself, which hinders access.

    The danger is very real and imminent, and chances of averting it are, maybe, 50-50. (That is my guess).
    I’m no green alarmist and no opponent of nuclear power. But the claims that there is no danger or that the danger is small are not based on facts.

  • llamas

    Excellent summary of current data:


    Reactor pressures = trivial.
    Radiation levels within the facility – elevated and quite serious. Outside the facility – trivial.
    Spent-fuel pool water levels – low, but nowhere near dry.
    Spent-fuel pool water temperatures – elevated but nowhere-near boiling.

    Note the detailed description of how the emissions of radiation and radioactive materials from the reactors are declining and will likely continue to do so, and how the possibility of a melt-through of the lower reactor vessel and/or burnthrough of the lower concrete containment is extremely remote. The media is focussing on that possibility, becasue they have been conditioned by movies and years of propaganda to think that that is what will happen. As this summary accurately notes, that is not the primary issue now – the issue is the spent-fuel storage, which is why the workers are concentrating their efforts there.

    The worst single radiation exposure continues to be the man who got a dose that equates to 5 abdominal CT scans. The rest of the workers are still below occupational exposure limits, although these have been raised on a one-time basis from vanishingly-miniscule to just-above vanishingly-miniscule.



  • Gary

    Private corporations care only about profits, nothing else. Once you understand this fundamental law of human nature, you understand why these things happen.
    Anyone who thinks otherwise is either very naive or very stupid.

    Fukushima is a man-made disaster, the result of human incompetence, greed, laziness, and arrogance. Let’s have no more of these pathetic, laughable excuses about the Quake and Tsunami, which they should have made contingencies for.

    We know TEPCO are incompetent, proven liars, motivated by greed, I would take anything they say with a large truck of salt.
    Should we trust a company that falsifies safety records? No.
    This is a company so useless it has to have the millitary and government help it because its too inept to handle its own problem.
    While the brave engineers, firemen, soldiers, and policeman risk their lives, the greedy fat cats in charge at TEPCO and their prostitutes, the politicians, are hiding away like cowards. They could not give a toss about their employees sacrifices.
    I see brave men risking their lives while their bosses do absolutely nothing of any worth.
    The Japanese government seem to be more concerned with protecting their buddies in the TEPCO boardrooms than protecting the Japanese people. I call that treason.

    Even the Soviets weren’t stupid enough to put spent fuel pools on top of the reactor, near the roof. General Electric truly surpassed themselves, managing to fail at every level, with their pathetic excuse for reactor design.
    How’s about them diesel generators, none of which did their job, all failed. Well done, guys, heck of a job!

    Fail-Safe’s that Fail, a lack of backup power. The incompetence is truly staggering.

    Note how the clowns at GE have done nothing to help other than their cynical PR stunt of giving a pitiful $5 million in aid. Immelt is too busy counting his money to give a second thought to the Japanese people.

    How’s about some transparency in the nuclear industry, hmmm? How’s about the nuclear industry actually speak to the public instead of schmoozing politicians behind closed doors. How’s about they actually take safety seriously instead of cutting corners and looking for ways to dump toxic waste and cost on the taxpayer.
    Always, always, they look for ways to steal from the taxpayer (the Price Anderson Act), to scam more Corporate Welfare, while dumping any losses on the taxpayer.


    Andreev said a fire which released radiation on Tuesday involving spent fuel rods stored close to reactors at Fukushima looked like an example of putting profit before safety:

    “The Japanese were very greedy and they used every square inch of the space. But when you have a dense placing of spent fuel in the basin you have a high possibility of fire if the water is removed from the basin,” Andreev said.

    The IAEA should share blame for standards, he said, arguing it was too close to corporations building and running plants. And he dismissed an emergency incident team set up by the Vienna-based agency as “only a think-tank not a working force”:

    “This is only a fake organization because every organization which depends on the nuclear industry – and the IAEA depends on the nuclear industry – cannot perform properly.

    “It always will try to hide the reality.

    “The IAEA … is not interested in the concentration of attention on a possible accident in the nuclear industry. They are totally not interested in all the emergency organizations.”

  • Jacob

    See this:(Link)
    “Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the plant, said earlier this week that there was a possibility of “recriticality,” in which fission would resume if fuel rods melted and the uranium pellets slumped into a jumble together on the floor of a storage pool or reactor core.”

    Is that an alarmist lie, llamas ?

    “American officials warned earlier this week that the situation at the crippled plant was much more serious than Japanese officials had indicated, ”

    “If the fuel rods are uncovered and exposed to air, they heat up and can burst into flame, spewing radioactive elements. So far the officials saw no signs of dropping temperatures. ”

    Lamentably, llamas, the situation is very serious and dangerous, and getting more so, not less, over time.

  • Laird

    I don’t know about reactor design; perhaps this one was woefully deficient. But really: “Let’s have no more of these pathetic, laughable excuses about the Quake and Tsunami, which they should have made contingencies for.” Give me a break. There should be a contingency for every conceivable eventuality? Asteroid strikes, perhaps? Mount Fuji becoming active again and spewing lava? Godzilla and Gammera both attacking at the same time? By all accounts this was the largest Japanese earthquake in the history of measurement, and the 4th or 5th largest in all the world. And it was combined with a tsunami of equally historic proportions. And you think that somehow engineers can “make contingencies” for that? Are you really that stupid, or is it just that you hate TEPCO so much that you’ll spew out any nonsense that come into your head?

  • “Another ignoramus chimes in about nuclear power. The reactors will go critical eh? The term “critical” means that for every neutron absorbed by the fuel, one neutron is produced. That is, critical means that the reactor is producing power at a steady level. Supercritical means reactor power level is going up. Subcritical means reactor power level is going down or is shutdown.

    PenGun has no credibility on this issue.”

    You are a useless lot. The Power company it’s self said that a reaction in the spent fuel storage pool, which is empty, could go critical.

    They have over stored fuel, too densely in that spent fuel pool. This is why a critical event is possible. A naked one.

  • Where I come from. My game, I play it a lot and partly because of it I know a great deal about Chernobyl and the surrounding area and the history of the event.


    The top thread may supply some knowledge if you actually care. There are links to much more there.

    If you like shooters with character it is the best video game I’ve ever played. It is unusually tough though. Oh yeah I’ll be 65 soon.

  • James Waterton

    PenGun: are you trying to look unhinged? Telling us about your little computer game with the expectation that people will take you for some kind of expert because you play it. And you’re 65. A 65 year old man bragging about playing a computer game. Impressive.

  • Life truly is wasted on the young…;-P

  • PenGun: are you trying to look unhinged? Telling us about your little computer game with the expectation that people will take you for some kind of expert because you play it. And you’re 65. A 65 year old man bragging about playing a computer game. Impressive.

    Thank you. The top link on that page will supply more information about the Chernobyl incident than I have ever seen in one place. As always YMMV.

  • Gary

    If the plant were safe why were they having to resort to the utterly desperate tactics of using helicopters and fire-engines (obviously because they can’t get close to the reactors without being exposed to dangerous doses).

    Michio Kaku compared the helicopter drops to “fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun”.

    The 200 workers at that plant are going through hell, and I hear clowns dismissing their sacrifice as “trivial”.
    So, these engineers, soldiers, and firefighters, what they are doing is “Trivial” and no big deal, is it?
    Those men and women fighting to avert disaster at the plant are heroes, and they are the only people who come out of this well. They are the only people who deserve praise.

    These brave souls have had little help from the cost cutting, record-falsifying, profit obsessed clowns in charge of TEPCO and their butt-buddies in the corrupt Japanese government. They have certainly had no help from the pointless pen-pushers at the IAEA, who are cowering in Tokyo producing pointless Powerpoint presentations, certainly not from GE, whose CEO (Immelt-down) was swanning around in India bribing politicians while this mess (partly of his company’s making) was unraveling.

    Note how the CEOs and politicians are hiding away at a safe distance while the workers, engineers, soldiers, and firemen risk their lives. Why doesn’t the CEO of TEPCO go into the reactors and help? Why won’t GE’s CEO Immelt visit the plant? Why won’t Kan go to the plant? Why won’t the head of the IAEA visit reactor 3? What has happened to Leadership and Responsibility? The Leader should always be the first to make sacrifices.
    They are indeed conspicuous by their cowardice, and how nice of them to raise the safety limit of exposure for the brave men they clearly consider expendable.

    The nuclear industry has not uttered a word of support to the Fukushima 50. I have not heard a word or action of support for the heroes, from the nuclear industry, which has thrown them under the bus. All they care about is their precious profits and “PR”, and making sure that while profits are privatized, losses are socialized (Price Anderson).

    I’m not totally against nuclear power (I am in favour of Thorium), but I strongly believe that nuke plants should be built in Wall Street (which won’t insure the nuke industry), Washington, the City of London, next to the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace.
    Build these reactors where the rich and powerful live and I might actually take the nuclear industry seriously.

    As for scare-mongering, how’s about the Daily Telegraph’s ridiculous “wind farms kill Whales” made-up story they pulled out of their ass this week.

  • llamas

    Number of persons killed or injured by radiation remains zero.

    Radiation levels beyond the plant – decreasing from trivial to sub-trivial.

    Long-term risk to anyone’s health – incalulably miniscule. Please don’t waste anybody’s time trying desperately to suggest that trivial levels of radiation detected in milk or spinach will have any effect on anybody’s health, now or ever. You’ll get more radiation eating one banana that you will from drinking gallons of this awesomely-tainted milk.

    I note the valiant attempt to equate those working to stabilize these reactors with the doomed heroes of Chernobyl who sacrificed their lives to secure the reactor there. But the fact remains that the workers at Fukushima, while working long hours at arduous taks, are still operating within occupational radiation limits. Nobody is going ‘through hell’ – they are merely working very hard. Their sacrifices are no different than the thousands of responders and rescue workers who are toiling valiantly across the earthquake- and tsunami-affected areas of Japan.

    The extensive discussion of the social and political aspects of nuclear power does not interest me because it has no bearing on the question at hand. I will only note, for those to whom it was not already obvious, that by far-and-away the worst nuclear-power disaster ever, a disaster with which the problems at Fukushima cannot even be compared because they are so trivial, occurred in a socialist workers paradise where the motives of profit were not a factor and all the other corporate shenanigans so lovingly set forth as the reasons for the issues at Fukushima simply did not apply. Based on past experience, given the choice between capitalist nuclear power and socialist nuclear power, you are a lot safer with the capitalist approach.

    To this point, the issues at Fukushima are playing out exactly as I have predicted all along, and all the gloom-and-doom predictions set forth by others have not come to pass. Clown I may be – have you no better insult than that? – but this clown is right so far and there is no reason to think that that will change. But we shall see. I have little doubt that I’ll be just as right a week from now as I am this evening.



  • Jacob

    Well, turns out llamas was mostly right, I’m happy to concede.
    The reports of possible breach of the containment vessel were probably false. As to the partial melt of the exposed fuel rods – nobody can know for sure if, and how much of that happened. Seems it was less big than feared.

    As more time passes without a new incident the chances of one happening diminish. I don’t know if the water cannons saved the day, seems dubious to me, probably the danger wasn’t so big to begin with…

    Llamas is wrong about radiation danger at the plant itself. The venting of radioactive-laced steam caused high levels of radiation that hampered the rescue efforts and endangered the workers. I’m not sure no one absorbed harmful radiation doses. However, radiation outside the plant is indeed not dangerous.

    But the fact remains that there were big failures of emergency procedures and equipment, that the situation was out of control. A catastrophe was averted mostly by luck.

  • llamas

    Jacob wrote:

    ‘A catastrophe was averted mostly by luck.’

    Bullsh*t. The suggestion that the occurrence or otherwise of a catastrophe was a matter of mere chance, the turn of a card or a the roll of the dice, is the most arrogant condescension, as though all the world turns on random and unknowable events beyond our ability to influence.

    A catastrophe was averted by

    a) the skill of engineers and constructors who designed and built a system that withstood assaults far and away beyond what it was specified to take and came out more-or-less unharmed and eminently recoverable.

    b) the skill and dedication of plant operators and controllers who maintained a 40-year-old plant in a condition that it could still perform far better than it was specified to do.

    c) the skill and dedication of plant operators who stayed at their posts despite the media-whipped hysteria of those far away and unaffected, and used their skills to assess and then address the issues before them.

    The sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited
    that good part;
    But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the
    careful soul and the troubled heart.
    And because she lost her temper once, and because she
    was rude to the Lord her Guest,
    Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without
    end, reprieve, or rest.
    It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and
    cushion the shock.
    It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that
    the switches lock.
    It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care
    to embark and entrain,
    Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by
    land and main.

    They say to mountains, “Be ye removed.” They say to
    the lesser floods, “Be dry.”
    Under their rods are the rocks reproved-they are not
    afraid of that which is high.
    Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit-then is the
    bed of the deep laid bare,
    That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly
    sleeping and unaware.
    They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece
    and repiece the living wires.
    He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry
    behind their fires.
    Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into
    his terrible stall,
    And hale him forth a haltered steer, and goad and turn
    him till evenfall.
    To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till
    death is Relief afar.
    They are concerned with matters hidden – under the
    earthline their altars are-
    The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to
    restore to the mouth,
    And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again
    at a city’s drouth.

    They do not preach that their God will rouse them a
    little before the nuts work loose.
    They do not teach that His Pity allows them to drop
    their job when they dam’-well choose.
    As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark
    and the desert they stand,
    Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s
    day may be long in the land.

    Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path
    more fair or flat –
    Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha
    spilled for that!
    Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness
    to any creed,
    But simple service simply given to his own kind in their
    common need.

    And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed – they
    know the Angels are on their side.
    They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for
    them are the Mercies multiplied.
    They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see
    how truly the Promise runs.
    They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the
    Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons!

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too:
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same:.
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
    And never breathe a word about your loss:
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much:
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!



  • Jacob

    llamas, thanks for the poetry.

    I stand corrected again. Luck was a poor choice of words. What I meant is that the catastrophe was averted by a very narrow margin. It was a close thing, much too close for confort.

    “withstood assaults far and away beyond what it was specified to take ”

    Well, then the failure was in the specification.
    The danger in a full blow-out, Chernobyl style, is so great that we can’t have it, under no circumstances.

    “who maintained a 40-year-old plant in a condition that it could still perform far better than it was specified to do.”

    I don’t see an acheivement in maintaining a plant beyond what it was specified for. If it’s not fail-safe, close it down. The only acheivement that counts is the prevention of a full melt-down.

    I fully appreciate and applaud the dedication and skill of the people who managed to prevent the catastrophe.

    Still, the fatcs is that emergency measures failed, there was no backup power after the generators were flooded (another failure – they should have been better protected).
    Radiation levels at the plant came dangerously close to reaching a level that would have made evacuation mandatory. We don’t know why radiation climbed, and why it stopped climbing, it was out of control.
    A partial melt-down of the fuel occured.
    People (engineers) scrambled to improvise ad hoc measures, it should not be so, all contingencies should have been taken care of and rehearsed.

    We were very close to a major catastrophy, much, much too close. You can’t ignore this fact or paper it over.

  • llamas

    Jacob wrote:

    ‘The danger in a full blow-out, Chernobyl style, is so great that we can’t have it, under no circumstances.’

    Well, let’s review.

    Killed at Chernobyl, by radiation – less than 40 persons. Among the 240-odd Chernobyl workers who contracted radiation sickness at various levels at the time of the accident, according to a WHO report in 2006, the rates of cancer 20 years later are no different than the general population. Most of the doom-laded predictions of vast excesses of cancer cases and deaths as a result of the Chernobyl accident have simply not come to pass. Most of the identifiable cases of cancer attributable to the accident could have been avoided by simple public-health measures – there’s that socialist workers’ paradise again.

    Meanwhile, in Pakistani Baluchistan, just yesterday, at least 43 miners were killed in an undergound gas explosion. This appears to be more-or-less business-as-usual in the Pakistani mining industry, but we know to our cost that even in Western coal mines with much higher safety standards, such accidents and loss of life are not unknown. The coal mines of the old Soviet Union, that socialist workers paradise , were well-known for their death tolls.

    So let me see if I have this straight – we can’t have a Chernobyl-style accident, no matter what – no measure is too extreme, too costly or too impractical if it can avert any risk of such an accident, no matter how slight.

    So what makes any death or injury from radiation absolutely unacceptable, but thousands of deaths and injuries each year from the coal-mining industry pretty-much unremarkable? Both industries have the same goals – to keep you warm and well-lit – but one can kill many men each day and you have nothing to say, while the other can never hurt anybody, any time, anywhere, no matter what?

    Double-standard much?



  • Jacob

    ” we can’t have a Chernobyl-style accident, no matter what”

    Yes, that’s correct.

    Don’t belittle the Chernobyl catastrophe.
    Here is the 2006 WHO report you mention.(Link)

    While “less than 50” persons died from direct exposure, and “up to 4000” may yet die … the other damages, beside deaths, where enormous.
    350,000 people had been permanently relocated,
    some 780,000 hectares of agricultural land abandoned, some 700,000 hectares of forrest. An area approx. the size of Switzerland (40,000 sq. km) is closed off for human habitation for 300 years. 200,000 square Km of land were contaminated. 7 million people get government disability payments.
    The sarcophagus entombing the ruins of the plant starts cracking up, and a new super-duper “permanent” containment structure needs to be built on to of the sarcophagus.

    The costs involved are so big, they cannot even be calculated.

    Yes, I repeat: ” we can’t have a Chernobyl-style accident, no matter what”, this is a no-brainer.

  • Jacob

    Conventional energy sources have their problems. Coal mines accidents and gas pipes explosions cause probably several hundreds death cases, every year.

    Yet they don’t cause relocation of population in the hundreds of thousands, and don’t render tens of thousands square km of land inhabitable for 300 years.

  • llamas

    “350,000 people had been permanently relocated,
    some 780,000 hectares of agricultural land abandoned, some 700,000 hectares of forrest. An area approx. the size of Switzerland (40,000 sq. km) is closed off for human habitation for 300 years. 200,000 square Km of land were contaminated. ‘

    Or not. As we now find, 25 years on, virtually-all of the dire predictions of doom and gloom regarding Chernobyl have turned out to be – simply untrue.

    All that land abandoned? There doesn’t appear to be any actual reason for it. The levels of contamination do not appear to cause any issues for human health or the environment, in all but a very few locations.

    All those people relocated? Mostly, same thing.

    Anti-nuclear activists have managed to scare the world into believing in a completely irrational and imaginary dose-response model for radiation, in which any exposure, no matter how trivial, is a deadly threat to health, now or in the future. Better science tends to show the exact opposite – that low levels of radiation actually offer health benefits.

    I’m not suggesting that a Chernobyl-style accident is a good thing – merely that the bald statement that there is no acceptable risk of it ever occurring is fatuous and irrational. On that basis, we should immediately stop using all nuclear technology of any sort immediately, from nuclear power to CT scanners, and never develop or use any more, ever again. There is no such a thing as a zero-risk implementation for any technology.

    That won’t stop anti-nuclear Luddites, of course. Now that a nuclear facility has survived a direct hit from one of the worst earthquakes ever, with no serious injuries and no long-term effects, they will now demand that it must survive a direct hit from a 50m asteroid and continue running, unaffected. Only then will the risk be tolerable. Probably not even then. But coal miners? Let ’em die.



  • Well llamas it seems Fukushima is approaching Chernobyl levels. With a large crack in the containment vessel of reactor #3, the MOX burner, and probable breaches in #1 and #2 reactors, to say nothing of the fuel pool meltdown in reactor #4 we are facing a real disaster.

    New Scientist:

  • llamas

    Or not:


    Once again, the clies of ‘wolf’ are heard. Don’t you just hate it when the ardently-hoped-for disaster continues to fail to materialize?

    There is no ‘large crack in the containment vessel of reactor #3’ – pure fantasy, dreamed up based solely on radiation level reports which turned out to be instrumentation errors.

    There are elevated radiation levels in water inside the reactor body. Well, duh.

    There are no ‘probable breaches in #1 and #2 reactors’ – pure fantasy.

    Meanwhile. the official death toll has risen above 27,000, and millions are still in dire straits. But of course, they are not important – what really matters is that we find something bad is happening at the nuclear plant!

    I’ll happily keep this up as long as you like – this discussion has a half-life considerably longer than many of the radionucleides you so dearly wish were leaking – but will suggest that you – not I – petition our gracious hosts to bump it to where it is easily accessible.



  • Oh dear. In deep denial I see.

    Both #2 and #3 are admitted to be breached. The extremely high levels of radiation are increasing and substantial amounts are being detected worldwide to say nothing of the immediate area. Some 3300 times the limit in local seawater. Levels that will require evacuation to a 40 km radius have been detected.

    This is just getting worse and worse as truth inevitably comes out.

    I want nuclear power, make no mistake. I am angry that the fools, like you for one, have tried to trivialize the extent of what a nuclear accident can mean. This will make it much harder for nuclear power to grow and that’s not good.

  • Now we have a full level 7 disaster. It will be worse than Chernobyl.

    I’d much rather you were right and I were wrong but ….