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The REAL lessons from Fukushima, part 1

mvdwege (243851) writes | more than 3 years ago

User Journal 4

Reading technologically oriented web forums, like e.g. Slashdot, amongst those that are not outright against nuclear power, two views seem to dominate in this author's opinion:

- The earthquake and tsunami were unprecedented, no-one could prepare for that.

- If only TepCo had sited their backup generators better, there would
not have been a problem

Reading technologically oriented web forums, like e.g. Slashdot, amongst those that are not outright against nuclear power, two views seem to dominate in this author's opinion:

- The earthquake and tsunami were unprecedented, no-one could prepare for that.

- If only TepCo had sited their backup generators better, there would
    not have been a problem

As a computer security professional, this line of thinking sounds familiar to me: it's a 'Default Allow' strategy. This is where you allow full operation, and only build in safeguards or blocks against exceptional circumstances.

Unfortunately, as any professional in the field can tell you, this is a losing strategy; defense against exceptions is futile, as there will always be an exploit that you did not foresee. This makes your security policy an endless race to catch up to the bad guys, a race where you will always trail the leader.

If the nuclear industry's view on safety really comes down to assuming safety and planning for contingencies, then any mistrust thrown their way is deserved. This strategy leaves us scrambling for a solution when, not if, a disaster occurs. Fukushima is merely a case in point.

The only way to implement fundamentally safe nuclear power is:

- Make sure that with no outside intervention the reaction slows down
    and stops gracefully. Any system that relies on outside influences
    on the reactor core to keep it stable is fundamentally unsound.

- Assume failure. Build emergency response procedures assuming total
    failure of even the passive systems mentioned above. The point is
    not to think of what can go wrong and try to prevent it, but act to
    contain the damage if things do go wrong.

As long as these two principles are not implemented, not widely supported, and not communicated to the public, the industry will have to live with a well-deserved reputation of being dishonest about the risks of nuclear power.

Part 2, with my thoughts on what the other problem in the nuclear industry is coming up next.

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4 comments

afaik, this is how things work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35676140)

afaik, this is how things work. Modern nuclear reactors do rely on a single external influence: gravity. I suppose this assumes that the core will not be turned upside-down or beamed into space, but afaik every other piece of infrastructure relies on similar assumptions to continue operating safely.

Re:afaik, this is how things work (1)

mvdwege (243851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35677052)

The design of even modern BWRs and PWRs still calls for pumps to keep the coolant flowing. So no, they do require external influence to run, and they're not passively safe.

This is exactly the kind of thing I'm pointing out. Instead of seriously addressing the issue, proponents of nuclear power take the industry line by dismissing concerns.

Mart

Re:afaik, this is how things work (1)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 3 years ago | (#35686182)

The following was mentioned in a piece in De Volkskrant (for non-Dutchies: a quality newspaper in The Netherlands).

Passive components, like a water tower that lets gravity run coolant through the reactor, also has certain disadvantages. For one, you can't operate them remotely, they don't have an actuator. But since they don't have an actuator, they also don't have feedback whether they function or not.

So even passive components have disadvantages.

[BTW Hi Marten, I remember you working @ SRON]

Re:afaik, this is how things work (1)

mvdwege (243851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35686598)

A gravity run coolant system is still an external component required to keep the core stable. In other words, the total system is not passively safe.

This is exactly my beef with the current industry.

And I think you have me confused with someone else. The full name is Mart, not Marten, and I never worked for SRON, although I did once apply for a job there. If you are who I think you are, we met at the Slashdot party in Utrecht a few years back.

Mart

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