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Ageing Reactors: Why Nuclear Meltdown is Severely Overdue

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posted on Oct, 8 2013 @ 04:17 PM
America possesses a deadly combination: The highest number of old nuclear reactors, many of the world’s most decrepit reactors, licensed by a regulatory body that makes anything run by the Russian mafia seem integral.

To see the near-misses (caused solely by age-related deteriorations) watch this video by Al Jazeera

1. It begins with Vermont Yankee Plant (operating since 1972) and how a section of the cooling water system was allowed to collapse in 2007. It wasn’t that dangerous in that the other cooling towers can easily handle the plants decay heat. But it does demonstrate a poor maintenance culture.
More worryingly by 2010 leakages of highly radioactive tritium into ground water had exceeded federal safety limits.

Amazingly: America’s NRC extended the plants licenses by 20 years in 2011. However due to cheap gas from Fracking, the Vermont Plant is due to close in 2014 (i.e. for commercial reasons).

2. Since 1995 the NRC has effectively stopped looking for problems (in 85% of a plant) that might cause a reactor license not to be granted. It all began with Yankee Row Power Plant which operated from 1960 to 1992 (it sought a 20 year extension, but was forced to close 8 years early, following NRC inspections which showed the core was in danger of collapsing). Because of this these inspections are no longer conducted, which now means Yankee Row would be allowed to operate in the same-worse condition today.

Most Worryingly of All…
This picture shows the degree of corrosion on a pipe absolutely critical to emergency cooling of the Bryon nuclear plant in Illinois
It isn’t even given a mention on Wikipedia, and I’m unsure how to upload it there.
This plant has only been operating since 1985 meaning it took just 22 years for this degree of corrosion to happen.
The plant reactors are due to carry on operating till 2024 and 2026, but (knowing the NRC) don’t be surprised if its license is given a 20 year extension.
Most U.S reactors operating today are significantly older than this 1985 one.

What The Video Didn’t Mention…
Nuclear Brittling: The biggest, and most unseen problem, facing ageing nuclear plants is the tendency of anything containing iron to turn as brittle as glass following decades of intense neutron bombardment.
Most US reactors use iron-steel to hold the fuel rods, and reinforced concrete to shield against the radiation. One problem is that if the steel in reinforced concrete turns brittle, then it’s no longer reinforced –merely akin to something made purely of concrete.

The main risk comes from the reactor being rapidly shut-down (as would happen in pretty much any emergency) in such a situation the cold water would crack the reactor vessel rather like how a hot plate will crack in your sink.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided to set a 200-degree Fahrenheit benchmark known as "reference temperature" — a calculated measurement that predicts the threshold at which the vessel could break apart. The higher the reference temperature, the more likely the coolant will crack the vessel.
By 1982, 14 nuclear plants had violated the standard. An NRC staff report offered the faint reassurance that no shutdowns would be needed "in the next few years."
The agency went to work — not figuring out how to fix vessels, but justifying a higher standard.
The article goes on to explain how today’s relaxed safety standard are now 356 degrees.

Which Raises the Question: What Can You Do?
1. Can US states tax till economic extinction nuclear plants operating within their borders? (It seems they don’t have any power to close them down, but that does not mean that where there is a will, there isn’t a way)
2. Can the rich folk amongst America’s population pay to make it an election issue? I believe States should e.g. have the final say.
3. How does one go about uniting America’s environmentalists into first seeing, then publicising the fact its “old nuclear” rather than “new nuclear” that is an imminent threat. Whatever miss-giving’s your grandparents had when America’s nuclear plant were being constructed, the fact is they received a safer power station than exactly the same (but worn-out design) exists today.

My Own View…
Like most UK guys I support new nuclear power
Sep 2011:
Support rises again by 23rd October 2012

Up again (according to the nuclear sceptical Independent newspaper)…

28th May 2013: More than two-fifths (43%) think the Government should subsidise the construction of new reactors, compared to 28% who do not back the idea, the survey of more than 2,000 people showed.
Almost half of those questioned (46%) support the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants in the UK, while 29% do not.

The UK nuclear industry isn’t even bothering to advertise on TV here, because support continues to climb as the problems with wind and solar become more & more apparent (basically: too little reliability, at too high a financial cost, causing too much upset, to too many people over their home-business fuel bills).

As someone assisting with nuclear reactor design I also happen to be more informed than most about the this technology, and why coal is far more lethal in terms of deaths caused per unit of electricity generated…

Coal kills 22,300 in the European Union alone per year
Another 13,200 Americans

And coal ash (in terms of radiation actually released into the environment, is worse than nuclear too)

Other fossil fuels aren’t much better, fracking is even worse, and regardless of what you believe about global warming, there is no doubt world fossil fuel supply is not keeping up, and even in the medium-term cannot keep up, with world demand.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those opposing nuclear energy are nearly always young, nearly always more informed by propaganda rather than balanced facts & education, and are more often than not quite utopian.

It really worries (greatly) that nuclears reputation is about to be hit again, not because people like me did not do their design job right, but because America’s NRC can’t do its job right in…
A. Allowing U.S plants to run much longer than designed
B. With extremely little safety-deterioration inspection
C. In a very bureaucratic, yet very unpractical way, all within a culture clearly driven by lobbying.

New nuclear plants (benefiting from technological systems far superior than anything in Fukushima, and planned in much saner locations) are going to be delayed simply because the U.S energy industry isn’t that bothered about new nuclear, but rather new fracking, new fossil fuel power-stations, because that’s what makes money (in the short-term).

It worries me that at least as many people killed by fossil fuel power every year in e.g. Europe will die in America, nuclear will therefore be delayed, and world fossil fuel consumption will increase in places not even linked to the disaster (as is happening right now in even solar-wind keen Germany

Germany’s air pollution is set to worsen for a second year, the first back-to-back increase since at least the 1980s, after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to shut nuclear plants led utilities to burn more coal.

posted on Oct, 8 2013 @ 06:45 PM

Most Worryingly of All… 3. This picture shows the degree of corrosion on a pipe absolutely critical to emergency cooling of the Bryon nuclear plant in Illinois Text

That is bad. I wonder what the pipe looks like on the inside! With so much crap floating around it would not take much to block the pipe internally. This is an ongoing problem. Will it take a Fukashima type event to awaken everyone? Problem is, the radiation will not be moving away over the North Pacific but will move over the continental US.

The big boys just don't care.


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