Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Set And Setting

I have been saying this here and there around the 'net since the reactor malfunction in Japan started on the 11th. I think it bears repeating in my most clear and concise manner so far:

My guess is that the mindset of those running the operation was to "preserve assets" rather than to "prevent disaster". Which is why I think that at this time commercial entities are not a good match for nuclear power. It will have to be a LOT more fail safe.

And in case you were wondereing: Set and Setting.

5 comments:

Fritz said...

All in all, I don't think this mess is a good argument against nuclear power, private ownership, or whatever.

The government presumably set the maximum earthquake/tsunami event that would be built for. The actual event had 30x the energy and almost 3 times the wave height as the plant was built for. And yet, well, the reactors are still there and mostly intact. Would a government-owned entity have done better? I seriously doubt it.

I would also guess a good chunk of the siting decision was based on geopolitical, rather than geological, concerns. That is about as far as you can get from China/Korea/Russia and still be in Japan.

M. Simon said...

And yet, well, the reactors are still there and mostly intact.

You are dreaming. They are not mostly intact.

As to geopolitical concerns. It is now unsafe for babies to drink Tokyo water:

Worst Of Nuclear Crisis Is Over

M. Simon said...

Fritz,

Nuclear power is not viable using current designs unless government insures against catastrophe.

Will Brown said...

M. Simon

Nuclear power is not viable using current designs unless government insures against catastrophe.

Several points of contention encapsulated in this sentence.

A) What precisely would you qualify as "current design" as regards the now 9 Boiling Water Reactor units reported to be experiencing trouble in Japan?

To the best of my knowledge the basic design work began in the late 1950's and construction of these reactor complexes took place during the 1960's for the most part.

B) Define "government insures".

Can you site an example of the Japanese government repudiating responsibility for recovery costs as those directly relate to the nuclear reactors? Even absent that, what would you msuggest to satisfy your stipul;ation of "insure"?

C) Define "catastrophe".

As I understand circumstances prior to the actual quake, all these power plant complexes had external containment structures in place and were situated behind barrier levees. Can you document that any of these preperations failed to comply with the established construction and safety requirements established by the Japanese government? Bear in mind that Japanese construction codes generally are commonly regarded as being the most rigorous in the world. Baring a Bruce Willis movie scenario, what degree of rigour would you recommend based on the standards established prior to the event under discussion? Arguing that those standards might need enhancement (depending on the reactor design and physical location of any replacement units) is certainly a valid pursuit, but I don't read that argument being made here.

I'm a veteran of the same USN you are (if an Airdale instead of a Nuke) and am well aware of just how slow to adapt Navy maintenance standards are. I'm also not going to attempt to argue that Japanese governmental (indeed, social) practices aren't culpable in the recent events - I've been stationed there too and know better. Trying to argue that USN non-civil regulatory compliant practices (however "safe" they might have proved in practice) are somehow a practical alternative for a non-military mission oriented civilian operation to employ is disingenuous in the extreme. Having retired military with the appropriate training and experience performing independent inspections (under authority of national law enforcement) very well might be, but I haven't read that argument being made on these pages either.

A confused and poorly told story about cataclysmic events half a world away actually strikes me as being entirely expectable and within the established norms of news reporting generally. Having counter-factual statements being issued by a variety of uncoordinated sources (governmental and otherwise) also strikes me as an expected occurance following such a massively disruptive event (indeed, the opposite would seem evidence to me of a deliberate cover-up effort). Making condemnatory statements and broad policy observations based on partial and acknowledged-to-be incomplete information strikes me as ill-advised and damaging to the reputatiuon, but feel free to Carry on, Sir!

Fritz said...

The nuke plant is a hell of a lot more "mostly together" than the cities in the area. How are those government-built seawalls doing?

All that happens when the government "insures against catastrophe" is that the government exempts the builders from liability. I'm not sure if that is what you are going for.

We have better options for siting such structures than the Japanese do. On top of the North American craton sounds pretty solid.

The Japanese had a choice between the risks of geologic activity (which they tried to mitigate through engineering) and the risks of being utterly dependent on foreign imports for fuel (and that had gone pretty badly for them in the past). Ironically the earthquake risks were/are considered less in that location than they are further south (closer to Tokyo).