“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good.” Old saying
How to Best Protect All Future
Nuclear Reactor-Powered Generating Plants
This blog will concern two closely related aspects of the Japanese tragedy that began over a week ago . . . .
1. John Heywood’s “Book of Proverbs” published in 1546 included this now famous saying: "An yll wynde that blowth no man to good, men say" and how it relates to the American economy now
2. How to protect the nuclear power industry and, more importantly American citizens and the American economy
Let’s begin with a current anecdote that thematically ties the two stories together: did you know that in response to the “meltdown” of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s support, Russia --which holds U.N. Security Council veto power -- was the main obstacle to the world agreeing to institution of a no-fly zone over Libya? Why? Because as one of the world’s greatest oil producers, Russia enjoys all manner of chaos that regularly tends to drive the price of oil skyward. In other words the “ill-wind” in Libya was blowing the Russian economy lots of good, thankfully worldwide pressure has seen the Russians capitualte. Similarly, that same “ill wind” in Libya is causing lots of consternation here in America as oil prices rise and drive gasoline cost at the pump inexorably higher. The connectedness of the world’s economy is both a curse and a boon depending upon which way the wind blows.
America has a duty to help out our long-time ally Japan, no question. At the same time, the American auto industry and auto- parts industries and all other American manufacturers need to respond to fill the vacuum left by the severe hit on Japan’s manufacturing from the combined 8.9 magnitude earthquake and horrific tsunami. Demand for automobiles and their parts; and electronics; and other manufactured goods is not going to drop substantially, someone needs to fill that void and it might as well be us. An ongoing and surprising example is the present boom in the sales of American Geiger counters and of American nutritional sales of potassium-iodide pills to the Japanese and to our own West Coast citizens. On point #1, the ill-wind** needs to be exploited in our favor, ‘Nuff said.
Point #2 As a former navy nuclear reactor operator on an American warship, Rajjpuut is aghast at the apparent state of the peace-time American nuclear industry in general; and more on our blog topic, those in Japan run by TEPCo (the Tokyo Electric Power Company); and most pointedly at the reactor plant grouping found at the Fukushima Daiichi generating station in the northeast of Japan’s main island of Honshu. As a former trainee of the Kepner-Tregoe management advisors, Rajjpuut believes that nuclear safety while a very complicated and utterly critical requirement: is ultimately quite easy. “Yes,” complicated and critical, therefore NOT simple, but also “Yes,” easy.
Nuclear power safety issues are made easy by the utter necessity of ZERO failures. If cost, for example, can become a serious issue, then you wind up weighing-balancing cost and safety; and cost vs. safety . . . clearly cost can NEVER become part of the decision-making process. Quality at every step, in every decision ties in to virtual 100% safety planning. The key question as it always is in Kepner-Tregoe’s PPA (potential problem analysis) process is “What could go wrong?”
With that key question “What cold go wrong?” guiding us, then it immediately becomes obvious that Japan is one of the worst places in the world to build nuclear reactors. That does not mean that smart-safe reactors cannot be built there . . . it just means that SAFETY, which we knew was vital before, becomes absolutely a thousand-fold more critical. Why? Because sitting on the edge of the Pacific Rim of Fire where severe and violent earthquake and tsunami activity are relatively common activities a whole lot more can be expected to go wrong on a regular basis. TEPCo (a Japanese corporation with a scandal-ridden past throughout much of its fifty-year history in the nuclear industry) is the corporation ultimately responsible for cooling down and safeguarding the public from the threatened Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. However, TEPCo clearly hasn’t lives up to the challenge as its communications generally appear at odds with the international nuclear power agency’s evaluations and even to be internally contradictory. Since TEPCo has five times been cited for false safety records in just the last decade, it’s an easy call to say that even though logically COST cannot matter . . . TEPCo has badly violated that principle in the past and presumably is doing so right now also. Planning for a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in the initial stages and then not protecting reactors from potential tsunamis is a travesty.
Someone deliberately violated the safety before cost principles and now the whole island nation is at risk. Rajjpuut’s betting that in future, nations will be insisting upon nuclear plants built a minimum of five miles inland (away from tsunamis at any rate) capable of withstanding magnitude ten earthquakes. Rajjpuut will also bet that common sense will prevail and future nuclear sites will contain only one reactor within a three-mile radius. Obviously the problem at the Fukushima complex has escalated so that if one reactor becomes a new Chernobyl, than the prospects are that the immediate three other reactors and the other two reactors at the site (six in all) will also become part of a monstrously greater problem.
It’s been a long time since Rajjpuut worked in a nuclear reactor environment. However, referring back to his magnificent Kepner-Tregoe training, he believes that virtually any thinking man or woman with even a moderate exposure to the basic concepts of nuclear physics (and learning those basics are no harder than mastering many principles of the internal combustion engines (ICE) powering our cars) could plan how to safeguard virtually any nuclear reactor with very little effort. Again, the key concept is that failure is NOT an option/100% virtual safety is the goal. So what’s the idea here?
What is the worst-case scenario with Japan’s nuclear reactors right now? Something Chernobyl-like at least in the public consciousness? And why does that situation now exist?
The problem exists because power was cut by the earthquake. Power was cut by the tsunami. Power which was supposed to keep the reactor cooling system was not available. Backup systems that were supposed to replace essential cooling systems all failed 100%. And the tsunami corrupted the reactor area itself. So what is the essential problem underlying the potential nuclear disaster in Japan?
The cooling of the reactor’s fuel cell and total core has failed. If, despite the 8.9 quake and the ills brought by the tsunami . . . somehow the reactor core remained at normal operating or normal shutdown temperatures . . . no harm, no foul. So here’s Rajjpuut’s failsafe method . . . offered to the world for free:
With each reactor (and remember they should each always be located separate and independent from other reactors and away from potential tsunami damage) build two rectangular buildings capable of withstanding an earthquake of magnitude 11. Each will house a diesel-powered emergency generator -- each generator built integral with the building itself. The generator, for example might be attached to the building with four solid beams attached one to each wall. Test Generator A every Wednesday and Generator B every Sunday and examine all their connections to the reactor electrically and mechanically every other week. Even if all hell breaks loose as happened in Japan, you can lug in portable pumps etc. just knowing you’ve got lighting, fans and electric power would be a “Godsend!” Expensive? You bet? But public safety should NOT be compromised. Short of an earthquake with its very epicenter below the reactor and the two emergency generators . . . nothing except a one in a quadrillion hit by a giant meteorite will bring on the equal of today’s problems at the Fukushima site.
Ya’ll live long strong and ornery,
** Sidebar here: By the way, speaking of ill winds, there is a growing body of scientific knowledge that says that very small amounts of radiation from nuclear plants; x-rays; security scans; etc. is actually beneficial . . . it’s called “radiation hormesis:”
and actually helps prevent cancer for just one of its many indicated benefits. That means it’s quite likely that the thinking that any sun at all is bad for you; and any radiation at all is bad for you is just utter nonsense. No sun, for example, means that millions of Americans are suffering from inadequate levels of Vitamin D-3 . . . .
The trouble with “medical science” is that so much of it is tied to profit for somebody or other which gets in the way of serious science. It’s all reminiscent of a time when health educator Rajjpuut was telling people back in the 1970’s that eggs were a wonderful food and that cholesterol didn’t cause heart attacks despite their so-called scientific evidence (based upon a mere 47% correlation between heart attack deaths and high cholesterol – less than a coin flip; while triglycerides in some studies show 86% correlation). Cholesterol levels used to be considered high at 280; then they were adjusted to label “high” at 250; then 200; and now some idiot doctors are saying that a 175 reading is “high.” Two comments: 1) Very low cholesterol readings can leave you vulnerable to strokes (and the idea that taking an aspirin every day can prevent heart attacks also makes one similarly more vulnerable to strokes) that waxy substance cholesterol is absolutely vital for your body’s well-being and your brain needs more of it than any other parts do and 2) if you drop the cholesterol readings low enough soon you’ll have a 100% correlation that will mean exactly nothing. When they can explain ultra-high cholesterol readings in highly fit aboriginal peoples (for one example, in Eskimos who subsist on blubber) and in Third-World peoples who never have heart attacks, then Rajjpuut will be listening.