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Are we safe from our nuclear power stations?
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Posts: 388
Joined: May 2004
Post: #1
15-03-2011 05:25 PM

I don't believe any of this nonsense that the UK's nuclear power stations are of a totally different design to the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. I don't agree that our aging power stations are inherently safe. I don't believe that the UK is not on a fault line. I do agree with Chris Huhne knee jerk pandering to others like me and ordering a review of the safety of the nuclear power plants, even if they are already designed and operated to a very high standard. I clearly had nothing to do with the public inquiry that gave the go ahead to the proposed Hinkley Point C PWR, that as with Sizewell B was designed to beyond worst case seismic activity, rises in sea level, plane crashes etc.

(children, Hinkley Point C was a series of similar reactors to Sizewell B, that would have ensured UK energy security, until Maggie decided that it was better to promote the burning of our limited North Sea gas for the sake of a quick win).

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Posts: 3,238
Joined: Mar 2005
Post: #2
15-03-2011 05:39 PM

I don't think it matters what the safety of the reactors are while they are in use, they create dangerous waste that stays around for longer than recorded history. That is not something that is safe to store in any way whatsoever. Until we have perfected safe off-planet disposal of nuclear fissile waste I think we must do without it as an energy source.

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Posts: 3,238
Joined: Mar 2005
Post: #3
15-03-2011 05:41 PM

michael wrote:
I don't think it matters what the safety of the reactors are while they are in use

Just to correct myself, of course it matters. But my concerns do not relate to the assurances we are given on any specific nuclear reactor.

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Posts: 133
Joined: May 2007
Post: #4
17-03-2011 02:24 PM

No to nuclear? Then you better start stocking up on candles now, because coal and wind will not suffice for our future energy needs.

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Posts: 3,238
Joined: Mar 2005
Post: #5
17-03-2011 03:40 PM

Nuclear fusion:
Electrodynamic tether:

With the first three we should be capable of producing all the additional energy requirements. The last two are still some way off but that does not mean they cannot be achieved.

And new energy sources come along all the time:

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Posts: 388
Joined: May 2004
Post: #6
18-03-2011 01:05 AM

With thanks to BBC Question Time, and 'This Week' for explaining the dangers of this unstable energy source. When are governments around the world going to wake up to the real risk? The pro lobby go on about how fire has safely provided energy for thousands of years. But how many people has fire killed? Millions. And what about the poor firefighters who are brought in when fire goes out of control? The government should review the use of fire now. And ban fire for heating, fire for generating electricity and fire for any other uses. Who knows what will happen if fire got into the wrong hands.

Apologies for the parody, but I think this explains it all. What a load of nonsense that is being talked about on the media.

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Posts: 2,002
Joined: Apr 2005
Post: #7
18-03-2011 06:14 PM

I like 99.9% of the population not qualified to make a judgement.

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Posts: 8
Joined: Dec 2007
Post: #8
20-03-2011 07:45 PM

My Sister loves her local power station. She lives a few miles down the coast from Sizewell, and the sea is always a couple of degrees warmer where all the water used for cooling is discharged into the sea.
They have tablets that they would have to take if there were an accident at the plant, but doubt they would do any good if it went totally *** up.
We have to have some form of sustainable power, and given the location of the UK, it seems a lot safer a location, than those in the Far East.

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Posts: 814
Joined: Dec 2006
Post: #9
20-03-2011 09:57 PM

I think there are some questions that you are entitled to ask brian.
Like where will all the spent fuel be stored?
This has to be stored safely for generations - actually civilisations.
Somewhere very remote, yet accessible enough to be regularly inspected and maintained. Hmmm.

I think you should ask how expensive the electricity is if you factor in the bill for decommissioning the plants. The current subsidised price does not include this significant cost.

I think you need to ask how many years worth of uranium we have left - 100yrs I believe then it is going to get very expensive to extract. This is not a long term solution.

I think you need to question how safe these plants are - run by the same British management that has cut corners and cut quality since the 50's - destroying the reputation of our manufacturing industry. Do you really trust them with something so important?

It's all a nice idea in theory, but in practice it does not add up.

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Posts: 28
Joined: Jun 2006
Post: #10
21-03-2011 10:16 AM

Thought this illustration would be of interest to this thread:

It doesn't say much about the risks of catastrophes or the costs, but putting everyday radiation in context is helpful I think.

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Posts: 388
Joined: May 2004
Post: #11
21-03-2011 04:50 PM

Wow. Good link, AF, the voice of reason. What it doesn't add is the small background dose from nuclear weapons tests in the 60s, but that was a time when the truth was concealed. And in relative terms pretty small and I'd forgotten how much radiation some coal fired power stations produced.

The article could have also explained better the large variation in natural doses. Interestingly many American's were zapping themselves in the past due to build up of natural radon in their poorly ventilated basements (that no doubt sometimes doubled up, ironically, as nuclear shelters).

But what flabergasts me is this is the first time I've seen something from the 'States that does not use some ancient and totally out of kilter units of measurement (Curies, Rems, Rads).

Also see for an interesting viewfrom the 1950s on the dangers of letting poor people have electricity .

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Posts: 133
Joined: May 2007
Post: #12
22-03-2011 01:14 PM

Personally, I don't have a problem with it. I appreciate that most of us have a basic fear of radiation, but like it or not, we are all subject to a daily dose of (environmental) radiation which I understand adds up to around 4 to 5 chest X-rays worth a year. Moreover, some civil airline flight crew are exposed to higher annual doses than the safe levels set for Nuclear Power station staff.

Does that make it any better? No. But it would be wrong to believe that we all currently live in a radiation free zone. We don't, it's all around us and it's a part of everyday life. You just don't see it, feel it, or smell it.

Alternative energy sources are of course welcome, but I think we are some way off from being able to fully rely on them and exclude nuclear as yet. Hence in the short term and until they are proven to provide all the power we need I think they must be considered as supplementary to nuclear.

The situation in Japan is an interesting one since it appears that neither the earthquake nor the tsunami damaged and exposed the inner cores that contain the reactors and the high levels of radiation. So credit should be given to the fundamental engineering construction. Rather, it appears that the earthquake or tsunami knocked out the services required (essentially electricity and subsequently the pumps) to cool the reactors. This then has had the knock on effect of overheating and a build up of pressure which has resulted in a series of explosions and much greater damage than first caused. No doubt there will be a full investigation and what we learn we will apply to future plants.

What to eventually do with the spent fuel rods? Well if I had to choose between storing them somewhere or getting rid of them, then I'd consider launching them out into space. It's already a hostile place and it's also already full of radiation.

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Posts: 321
Joined: Jan 2007
Post: #13
22-03-2011 01:38 PM
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Posts: 3,238
Joined: Mar 2005
Post: #14
22-03-2011 02:39 PM

I affraid that as a physics graduate I still have very deep concerns about nuclear safety; in terms of accidents in reactors, deliberate acts of terrorism, and waste disposal / decomissioning.

The threat of terrorism should not be under-estimated. How many nuclear plants across the world are capable of withstanding a direct hit by a plane or bomb? And what damage can be done if terrorists get hold of some low-level nuclear waste and spread it on the London Underground system or water supplies?

I'm still not convinced by the assurances that depleated Uranium is perfectly safe for using in munitions (other than the intended target). So while the graph provided by Alex is helpful in understanding the scale of the present dangers, I don't believe it gives us a simple answer regarding the risks of nuclear power.

It remains unclear is whether nuclear power is actually economically sensible. Once the costs of building, decomissioning and long-term storage are all taken into account are they actually cheaper than other sources of fuel? The government's latest idea, quite sensibly, is to leave this to market forces (assuming this does not lead to shortcuts and lower standards for quick/any profits). But, like banks, nuclear plants are too big to fail and even if profits may be possible, the state will end up cleaning up the mess if anything goes wrong.

Launching nuclear waste into space is an attractive option, until you consider the possibility of an accident and nuclear isotopes being liberally released in the upper atmosphere for dispersal across large regions.

For me the advantages of investing in new power generation technologies makes much more sense than considering building a single new nuclear power station, especially in Iran.

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Posts: 296
Joined: May 2006
Post: #15
25-03-2011 07:27 PM

Not building nuclear reactors in the UK because it will keep us safer is hardly a valid reason given that France is packed with them - some closer to us than Sizewell (if not Dungeness). Maybe the French have underestimated the cost of decommissioning them, but I'm pretty sure that their electricity is much cheaper than ours as a result of their presence.

I think that there may be viable renewable energy sources - in the case of the UK, wave and tidal might do the trick, but unlike nuclear power, no-one has made these systems work on any significant scale yet.

Wind energy is a terrible red herring. Not only are wind generators phenomenally expensive for the power they produce, they are very unreliable because of the vagaries of the wind. We still have to have all the necessary generating capacity on standby to cope with the times the wind doesn't blow - with the ability to turn it on rapidly. I think they have been built at our expense to satisfy a very dubious green agenda at the whim of politicians that don't understand the physics.

Disposing of nuclear waste is a problem - but it is one we have to deal with from legacy power stations anyway. I'm all for building some more to tide us over until fusion, tidal etc come on line. Disposal of coal mining waste was a problem too - and Aberfan alone probably killed more people in one hit than nuclear energy ever has in the UK.

In response to Michael's point about protection from impact, I believe the reactors are designed to withstand a direct hit from a plane.

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