14 iii 11, 10:00AM GMT—To clarify a prior statement, when I said that the Fukushima reactors were of a Three-Mile-Island type, I meant that both the TMI and Fukushima reactors are moderated by light water, that is ordinary water, unlike the heavy water reactors used in Canada, or graphite-moderated reactors like the units at Chernobyl. Graphite exacerbates the production of radioisotopes in a meltdown scenario, and unlike water, it burns. These factors made Chernobyl worse than anything we might expect in Japan.
I should have clarified that the TMI reactors were PWRs, Pressurized Water Reactors, whereas the Fukushima reactors are BWRs, Boiling Water Reactors. There are engineering differences but the meltdown scenarios are similar, and indeed we have seen that the buildup of explosive gasses was a principal problem at both TMI and Fukushima, where the second stricken reactor has now exploded in its outer shell. Such explosions were narrowly averted at TMI.
The San Francisco Chronicle
has led with a story about the drop in nuclear industry stock values and prospects, as predicted here: Nuclear Renaissance Wobbles as Quake Hits Japan Reactors.
Australian and, of course, Japanese nuclear stocks were hit hard Monday. US markets are yet to open as of this writing. The fact that the first big new US nuclear construction project led by Constellation Energy in Maryland collapsed last fall for financial reasons bodes poorly for any nuclear revival, given this latest catastrophe.
Joseph Lieberman is quoted in that article as especially down on nuclear futures. That’s indicative because Lieberman is the only ‘centrist’ Independent, and he comes from Connecticut, the most nuclear-dependent state. If Lieberman is trashing nuclear, it means something. Also from the article, India has announced a re-evaluation of nuclear expansion plans because of the Japan situation.
One interesting drama will play out in California, as the nuclear plant perhaps at greatest earthquake risk is the Diablo Canyon plant in San Luis Obispo, near the San Andreas fault. That plant was under construction when Jerry Brown ran for re-election as governor in 1978, and Brown then threatened to use emergency powers to prevent the plant from opening, but he did not do so. Now Brown is governor again and Diablo Canyon is a ticking time bomb. So Diablo Canyon will be the bellwether for other at-risk US reactors.
The “perhaps” in the last paragraph is in consideration of the Callaway Plant in central Missouri, the reactor nearest the New Madrid fault zone, which is rated as the most likely location in the USA of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. (Mayanist New Agers say it will strike in 2012.) The operator of Callaway announced plans in 2008 for a second unit at the site. I don’t think that’s going to happen.
— Geoffrey Sea
Geoffrey Sea holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Science from Harvard. He did graduate work in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and in radiological health physics at San Jose State University. He is co-founder of Southern Ohio Neighbors Group, which successfully defeated plans for the centralized storage of spent nuclear fuel at Piketon, Ohio. He has published in the American Scholar, the Columbia Journalism Review, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and many newspapers. He can be contacted via email at SargentsPigeon@aol.com