Skip to comments.CLEAR POWER PLANTS: The Very Real Possibility Of A Global Nuclear Catastrophe
Posted on 03/26/2012 1:50:06 PM PDT by blam
CLEAR POWER PLANTS: The Very Real Possibility Of A Global Nuclear Catastrophe
Politics / Nuclear Power
Mar 26, 2012 - 01:59 AM
By: Washingtons Blog
The Government Spends Trillions On Unlikely Threats But Wont Spend a Billion Dollars to Prevent the Very Real Possibility of Global Nuclear Catastrophe
Were Spending Money Combating the Wrong Dangers Studies show that people are worry about the wrong things.
We are terrified of things that will probably never happen, and underestimate the real dangers which face us.
As we noted last year, the extreme vulnerability of nuclear power plants to solar flares is a very real threat which we must address:
Nasa scientists are predicting that a solar storm will knock out most of the electrical power grid in many countries worldwide, perhaps for months. See this, this, this, this, this, this and this.
Indeed, the Earths magnetic field protects us from the suns most violent radiation, and yet the magnetic field fluctuates over time. As the Telegraph reported in 2008:
Large hole in magnetic field that protects Earth from suns rays Recent satellite observations have revealed the largest breach yet seen in the magnetic field that protects Earth from most of the suns violent blasts.
Im not predicting some 2012 Mayan catastrophe. [Indeed, I think the whole Mayan 2012 thing is fake.] I am simply warning that a large solar storm as Nasa is predicting could knock out power throughout much of the world, especially if the earths magnetic field happens to be weak at the time.
What would happen to nuclear power plants world wide if their power and most of the surrounding modern infrastructure is knocked out?
Nuclear power companies are notoriously cheap in trying to cut costs. If they are failing to harden their electrical components to protect against the predicted solar storm, they are asking for trouble perhaps on a scale that dwarfs Fukushima. Because while Fukushima is the first nuclear accident to involve multiple reactors within the same complex, a large solar storm could cause accidents at multiple complexes in numerous countries.
If the nuclear power companies and governments continue to cut costs and take large gambles, the next nuclear accident could make Fukushima look tame.
Im not saying this will happen in 2012, or 2013 (although Nasa appears to be hinting at this). But a large solar storm which knocks out electrical grids over wide portions of the planet will happen at some point in the future.
Dont pretend it is unforeseeable. The nuclear power industry is on notice that it must spend the relatively small amounts of money necessary to prevent a widespread meltdown from the loss of power due to a solar storm.
Most current reactors are of a similarly outdated design as the Fukushima reactors, where the cooling systems require electricity to operate, and huge amounts of spent radioactive fuel are housed on-site, requiring continuous cooling to prevent radioactive release. [Designs which would automatically shut down - and cool down - in the event of an accident are ignored for political reasons.]
The head of the leading consulting firm on the effect of electromagnetic disruptions on our power grid which was commissioned to study the issue by the U.S. federal government stated that it would be relatively inexpensive to reduce the vulnerability of our power grid:
What were proposing is to add some fairly small and inexpensive resistors in the transformers ground connections. The addition of that little bit of resistance would significantly reduce the amount of the geomagnetically induced currents that flow into the grid.
We think its do-able for $40,000 or less per resistor. Thats less than what you pay for insurance for a transformer.
If youre talking about the United States, there are about 5,000 transformers to consider this for. The Electromagnetic Pulse Commission recommended it in a report they sent to Congress last year. Were talking about $150 million or so. Its pretty small in the grand scheme of things.
Mechanical engineer Matthew Stein does a good job of reporting on this issue today:
There are nearly 450 nuclear reactors in the world, with hundreds more being planned or under construction . Imagine what havoc it would wreak on our civilization and the planets ecosystems if we were to suddenly witness not just one or two nuclear meltdowns, but 400 or more! How likely is it that our world might experience an event that could ultimately cause hundreds of reactors to fail and melt down at approximately the same time? I venture to say that, unless we take significant protective measures, this apocalyptic scenario is not only possible, but probable.
In the past 152 years, Earth has been struck by roughly 100 solar storms, causing significant geomagnetic disturbances (GMD), two of which were powerful enough to rank as extreme GMDs. If an extreme GMD of such magnitude were to occur today, in all likelihood, it would initiate a chain of events leading to catastrophic failures at the vast majority of our worlds nuclear reactors, similar to but over 100 times worse than, the disasters at both Chernobyl and Fukushima.
The good news is that relatively affordable equipment and processes could be installed to protect critical components in the electric power grid and its nuclear reactors, thereby averting this end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. The bad news is that even though panels of scientists and engineers have studied the problem, and the bipartisan Congressional electromagnetic pulse (EMP) commission has presented a list of specific recommendations to Congress, our leaders have yet to approve and implement any significant preventative measures.
Unfortunately, the worlds nuclear power plants, as they are currently designed, are critically dependent upon maintaining connection to a functioning electrical grid, for all but relatively short periods of electrical blackouts, in order to keep their reactor cores continuously cooled so as to avoid catastrophic reactor core meltdowns and fires in storage ponds for spent fuel rods.
If an extreme GMD were to cause widespread grid collapse (which it most certainly will), in as little as one or two hours after each nuclear reactor facilitys backup generators either fail to start, or run out of fuel, the reactor cores will start to melt down. After a few days without electricity to run the cooling system pumps, the water bath covering the spent fuel rods stored in spent-fuel ponds will boil away, allowing the stored fuel rods to melt down and burn. Since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) currently mandates that only one weeks supply of backup generator fuel needs to be stored at each reactor site, it is likely that, after we witness the spectacular nighttime celestial light show from the next extreme GMD, we will have about one week in which to prepare ourselves for Armageddon.
To do nothing is to behave like ostriches with our heads in the sand, blindly believing that everything will be okay as our world drifts towards the next natural, inevitable super solar storm and resultant extreme GMD. Such a storm would end the industrialized world as we know it, creating almost incalculable suffering, death and environmental destruction on a scale not seen since the extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.
There are records from the 1850s to today of roughly 100 significant geomagnetic solar storms, two of which, in the last 25 years, were strong enough to cause millions of dollars worth of damage to key components that keep our modern grid powered.
The Carrington Event, raged from August 28 to September 4, 1859. This extreme GMD induced currents so powerful that telegraph lines, towers and stations caught on fire at a number of locations around the world. Best estimates are that the Carrington Event was approximately 50 percent stronger than the 1921 storm. Since we are headed into an active solar period much like the one preceding the Carrington Event, scientists are concerned that conditions could be ripe for the next extreme GMD.
The federal government recently sponsored a detailed scientific study to better understand how much critical components of our national electrical power grid might be affected by either a naturally occurring GMD or a man-made EMP. Under the auspices of the EMP Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and reviewed in depth by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Academy of Sciences, Metatech Corporation undertook extensive modeling and analysis of the potential effects of extreme geomagnetic storms on the US electrical power grid. Based upon a storm as intense as the 1921 storm, Metatech estimated that within the United States, induced voltage and current spikes, combined with harmonic anomalies, would severely damage or destroy over 350 EHV power transformers critical to the functioning of the US grid and possibly impact well over 2000 EHV transformers worldwide.
EHV transformers are made to order and custom-designed for each installation, each weighing as much as 300 tons and costing well over $1 million. Given that there is currently a three-year waiting list for a single EHV transformer (due to recent demand from China and India, lead times grew from one to three years), and that the total global manufacturing capacity is roughly 100 EHV transformers per year when the worlds manufacturing centers are functioning properly, you can begin to grasp the implications of widespread transformer losses.
The loss of thousands of EHV transformers worldwide would cause a catastrophic grid collapse across much of the industrialized world. It will take years, at best, for the industrialized world to put itself back together after such an event, especially considering the fact that most of the manufacturing centers that make this equipment will also be grappling with widespread grid failure.
In the event of an extreme GMD-induced long-term grid collapse covering much of the globe, if just half of the worlds spent fuel ponds were to boil off their water and become radioactive, zirconium-fed infernos, the ensuing contamination could far exceed the cumulative effect of 400 Chernobyls.
The Congressionally mandated EMP Commission has studied the threat of both EMP [i.e. an electromagnetic pulse set of by terrorists or adversaries in war] and extreme GMD events and made recommendations to the US Congress to implement protective devices and procedures to ensure the survival of the grid and other critical infrastructures in either event. John Kappenman, author of the Metatech study, estimates that it would cost about $1 billion to build special protective devices into the US grid to protect its EHV transformers from EMP or extreme GMD damage and to build stores of critical replacement parts should some of these items be damaged or destroyed. Kappenman estimates that it would cost significantly less than $1 billion to store at least a years worth of diesel fuel for backup generators at each US nuclear facility and to store sets of critical spare parts, such as backup generators, inside EMP-hardened steel containers to be available for quick change-out in the event that any of these items were damaged by an EMP or GMD.
For the cost of a single B-2 bomber or a tiny fraction of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bank bailout, we could invest in preventative measures to avert what might well become the end of life as we know it. There is no way to protect against all possible effects from an extreme GMD or an EMP attack, but we could implement measures to protect against the worst effects. Since 2008, Congress has narrowly failed to pass legislation that would implement at least some of the EMP Commissions recommendations.
Citizens can do their part to push for legislation to move toward this goal and work inside our homes and communities to develop local resilience and self reliance, so that in the event of a long-term grid-down scenario, we might make the most of a bad situation. The same tools that are espoused by the Transition movement for developing local self-reliance and resilience to help cope with the twin effects of climate change and peak oil could also serve communities well in the event of an EMP attack or extreme GMD. If our country were to implement safeguards to protect our grid and nuclear power plants from EMP, it would also eliminate the primary incentive for a terrorist to launch an EMP attack. The sooner we take these actions, the less chance that an EMP attack will occur.
It's Always Something (IAS) files.
All that “green energy” money that Obama flushed down the toilet would have handily hardened our entire electrical system. But then again that would be contrary to all of his goals.
this is total b.s. Back up generators would prevent such an event.
And when the generators run out of fuel because the refineries are also down? And the electronics of the trucks are fried for the same reason so no new fuel can be delivered? There is only so many days of fuel on site.
Well if I understand the article correctly the are talking about a disaster that would befall us because of a massive EMP event due to solar flares.
Unless those backup generators are heavily shielded in Faraday cages they would be knocked out by the EMP event as well.
having worked in the nuclear industry for years, and served on board nuc subs, I believe I have a feel for the risks involved with nuclear plants.
Regarding solar flares taking out nuke stations, didn't we just have a ginormous flare a couple of weeks ago? There was an X5.4 on March 10th http://www.lmsal.com/solarsoft/latest_events_archive.html And how many nukes tripped off line for this?
I wasn’t aware of any nuc plants going off-line.
They are required to have only 24 hours of fuel... after that, it’s glow-in-the-dark time.
Ahh OK well then do you feel they have placed the proper shielding around the Backup generators? The article seems to think the nuke industry hasn't done the proper hardening of their plants. It would be interesting to know for sure.
what’s to shield? the pistons? the generator? help me out here...
EMPs fry electronics and I believe you will find electronics in just about everything nowadays including Generators.
Has someone created an “IAS Files” site?
We mustn't forget that for only a few hundred billion dollars we might protect society from the catastrophic meltdowns at commercial nuclear facilities, Fukushima and Three Mile Island (there was a fire in the SouthEast but the plant was shutdown with no meltdown). Of course we should also note that not a single death or injury resulted from these great catastrophes, and even the unshielded and ancient graphite reactor at Chernobyl caused many more deaths as the result of being off-line, than from its fire and meltdown. The meltdown killed three immediately and 20 to 60 excess from radiation over five years, while its coal replacement has killed 200 additional respiratory deaths each year since Chernobyl accident twenty five years ago.
Not to say that nuclear energy can't be made even safer. Convection cooling of on-site fuel storage ponds and more examination of auxiliary power systems are under way, and worth the effort. Nuclear electric has no competitor for the safety it has provided for 60+ years, though an argument can be made that other energy sources provide less expensive energy. None are nearly as environmentally benign.
Lack of affordable energy is lethal, and affordable energy is essential to industrial development. Our Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren believes,from “Ecoscience”, Holdren and Ehrlich, that we have about five billion too many humans on earth. Now that he has the power to implement his beliefs, constraining safe and competitive sources of energy is consistent with his, and Paul Ehrlich's, and Amory Lovins’, and E.F. Shumacher’s, and ... clearly stated philosophy.
For whatever Marxism means to Holdren, Ehrlich, Lovins, Shumacher, the former Maoists in China clearly have little use for Holdren’s doctrine, since they are on track to construct one hundred twenty five new nuclear electric plants by 2025. The Chinese are also on-track to becoming the world's largest economy, manufacturer, and are the largest holder of US Treasury bonds.
Think the Chinese would employ Holdren or Lovins, except as agents to help them bury the US economy by making us even more dependent upon them? Think Obama’s largest financial backers, Goldman Sachs, will be able to buy legal protection, “too big too fail” protection, quasi-government agencies to absorb bad loans (Fannie and Freddy), and insider information? Perhaps our mandarins could learn something building Ipads at Foxconn? It is clear that our longshoreman will shortly, if they really want to work, be working for the Chinese, whose single Shanghai shipping port is larger than the six largest ports in the U.S. combined. Marxists whose hands were never dirty are controlling our unions, and have no regard or respect for working people.
The flare from a couple of weeks ago wasn’t that large - not anywhere near the magnitude of even the 1989 flare that knocked out power in Quebec, let alone the 1921 event, further let alone the 1859 Carrington Event. What happened a couple weeks ago was not really a test of the viability of the electrical grid or our nuke plants.
"We are [being asked to be] terrified of things that will probably never happen, [like solar flares knocking out our power grid], and [ to ] underestimate the real dangers [like Islamic Jihadist terrorism] which [actually] face us."
Nasa scientists are predicting that a solar storm will knock out most of the electrical power grid in many countries worldwide, perhaps for months. See this, this, this, this, this, this and this.
Well, yes, and no.
"Every 22 years the Suns magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sun spots or flares hits a maximum level every 11 years............."Dr Fisher, a Nasa scientist for 20 years, said these two events would combine in 2013 to produce huge levels of radiation..........." He said large swathes of the world could face being without power for several months, although he admitted that was unlikely............."A more likely scenario was that large areas, including northern Europe and Britain which have fragile power grids, would be without power and access to electronic devices for hours, possibly even days.
"Large hole in magnetic field that protects Earth from suns rays Recent satellite observations have revealed the largest breach yet seen in the magnetic field that protects Earth from most of the suns violent blasts."
This was discovered in 2008 and at the time NASA predicted telecommunications would be disrupted in 2012. So far, not so.
"If the nuclear power companies and governments continue to cut costs and take large gambles, the next nuclear accident could make Fukushima look tame.
The author has no knowledge what governments or the power industry are or are not spending on securing power plants or the grid but seems to assume whatever the figures are they are in the "not spending" column. Based on his desire to make dire predictions?
"Im not saying this will happen in 2012, or 2013 (although Nasa appears to be hinting at this)."
Here is what NASA is reporting and predicting. In 2008 they announced the start of "solar cycle 24" and predicted it to peak in 2013 at a peak resembling 2003-4.
Apparently it was only a miracle the power plants and the grid made it through 2003-4 of solar cycle 23.
"disasters at both Chernobyl and Fukushima."
Describe as briefly as possible the "death causing" levels of radioactivity release caused by the incident at Fukishima? So far, according to the best reports, small and localized at the reactor and otherwise negligible in the general environment.
Describe the biggest part of the Fukishima disaster. Public relations based on oversold and over-hyped radioactivity issues. The owners of the plant did a bad job of fessing up to the real issues, while everyone did a fanastic job of overselling the actual radiolagical issues. While readings of radiological release at the plant were high and unsafe for wide areas around the plant according to standards that regulators say nuclear plants must operate under, levels later found to exist in the various zones were extremely low or neglibible. That - the disparity between the demands of the standards and what the surrounding environment showed - was the biggest unreported "radiological" story regarding Fukishima.
I repeat my lead comment: "Brought to us by TMO by way of the industries seeking to sell power plant "hardening" retrofits."
“How would an EMP be much worse than being hit by lighting?
I’m sure power plants and transmission lines are hit, somewhere in the world, daily.
I believe they are designed to withstand that just fine.”
EMP isn’t just like a lightening strike. EMP has 3 separate components: E1, E2 and E3. E2 is very similar to lightening, and no one is much concerned with it. E1 is far more rapid, and will by-pass most surge protectors (and virtually all of those sold in electronics stores to protect your computers, TVs, etc.). It will fry sensitive electronics. E3 is a slow-moving wave that affects long cables and the transformers attached to them. E3 is most similar to a geomagnetic storm. http://emppreparedness.com/Problem/EMPBackground.html
E1 will not just fry your iPhone and computer, it’ll also fry all of the circuits used to produce medicines, petrochemicals (i.e. gas and diesel) and lots of food. Cars may or may not be affected, same for aircraft in flight (no one really knows for sure - but I’d rather not be at 30,000 feet when one of these hits). Even with the rest of the grid functioning, without all of the microprocessers that make modern life possible, we’re sunk. With E3, your iPhone, etc. will work - but there’ll be no cell phone network, no GPS and no power, so they’ll be useless. Worse, the transformers will be rendered inoperable, meaning that we won’t have any electricity - for months on end, at least. This is not about being sweaty during the summer - it is about no fuel, no medicines (including vaccines and insulin), no refrigeration, no transport or processing of food, no telephones - nothing modern. We’re simply not prepared for life in the 1800s, which is about where we’d be transported in a matter of seconds. We haven’t the tools or skills to support 300 million people without modern petrochemicals, computers and communications, so literally tens of millions will die of starvation, disease, cold or heat and rioting. The EMP commission itself estimated that 90% of us could die within 1 year.
You have doubts about the panic that would ensue? Take a look at what happens when a hurricane strikes - stores empty out, and at the first sign of police not being present, cities are looted and burned.
Excellent summary of what has long been my worst nightmare, enigmatically referred to in the Book of Revelation:
"When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, Come! I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, Two pounds of wheat for a days wages, and six pounds of barley for a days wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine! (Revelation 6:5-6