Are nuclear power plants safe?



CStuart Hardwick,Award-Winning Scifi Author, Analog regular
AnsweredAug 25, 2017
Well, they certainly can kill people, but…wait a minute, lots ofthings kill people. You wouldn’t let your kids ride in an unsafe car, but carskill 30,000 Americans a year, even with airbags and anti-lock brakes.
But think of the radiation. Why, at Fukushima alone, radiationhas killed….no one. Zip. Well, okay, there was recently a plant worker whoparticipated in the cleanup who came down with leukemia, and that might be dueto his radiation exposure. And that’s terrible, sad, tragic, but you know,Japan doesn’t have an army, and it’s nuclear industry has been instrumental inkeeping the country clean, safe, and prosperous, and in the US, we give folkswho die in service to that sort of thing a military funeral with honors. It’svery much the same thing.
Even so, nuclear power plants are not anywhere close to thebiggest emitter of radiation—that would be coal, followed by oil. Both releasenaturally occurring radioactive materials on a truly industrial scale, butdon’t get too worried. The idea that there is “no safe dose of radiation,” is amyth.
We know for a fact it’s a myth, because there are people inIran, India, and Brazil (among other places) who are naturally exposed to overten times the normal background radiation—and scientists can see metabolicevidence of their cells reacting to radiation damage—yet they do not have anystatistically significant increase in cancer risk. So clearly, there IS a safedose, and we all need to stop worrying about the tiny radiation emissionsdiluted throughout the whole biosphere.


However, coal fired power plants emit radon, a heavy,radioactive gas that settles to the ground and gives people living downwind anincreased risk of lung cancer. That one, we have no trouble measuring.
But you can’t just look at radiation. You have to look at thebig picture, deaths from all causes, radiation, fire, pollution of variouskinds, etc.
So here are those numbers, as compiled by the NAS
Are nuclear power plant safe? Well, not as safe as they ought tobe. Chernobyl NEVER should have happened (it was built without propercontainment). Fukushima also should never have happened, and an NRC report hadwarned of exactly this sort of tsunami risk just a couple of years earlier.These older second generation plants need to be shored up, closely monitored,and expedited into retirement. But if you replace them with anything other thannuclear, more people will die. Instead, they should be replacedwith third generation, passively safe designs. Then, in a couple of decades, wewill have fourth generation designs, including traveling wave reactors that canconsume the spent fuel waste accumulated over that last fifty years, and whenthey run out of that, run on unenriched, naturally occurring uranium-238 — forthe next few tens of thousands of years.
Meanwhile, we just relax just a bit, knowing that worldwide,poor as things are, nuclear power is over a thousand times safer than coal.

相反,它们应该被第三代被动安全的设计(passively safe designs)所取代。然后,几十年后我们将进行第四代设计,包括能够消耗过去50年积累的废燃料的行波反应堆。在接下来的数万年里,当它们用完这些元素后,就会继续使用未经浓缩的天然铀238。与此同时,我们只是稍微放松一下,因为我们知道,在全世界范围内,尽管情况很糟糕,核能比煤炭安全一千多倍。

Ilya Bulanov
Aug 25, 2017
Whyare people in Iran,Brazil, and India exposed to “Ten times the normalbackground radiation”? Do you have any sources for that?


CStuart Hardwick
Aug 26, 2017 · 5 upvotes
Ineach case, high levels of thorium in the geology.


Jul 28 · 1 upvote
Thatis absolutely true.
WhenGreenpeace Geiger counter monitoring teams travelled to Cornwall to measurepossible outfall readings from the Sellafield rad-waste reprocessing plant,they were amazed to find the local environmental radiation levels much higherthan the possible artificial ones.
Oldgranite emitting radon gas.


Christian Dechery
Aug 25, 2017 · 5 upvotes
Wehave a beach in Brazil, where the sand is radioactive. And it measures withlevels higher than Fukushima.


David McFarland,studied Nuclear Energy at Naval Nuclear Power Training Command
upxedMay 11, 2018
Let me put it this way:
People bicker of the exactness of data suggesting that nuclearpower kills fewer people per terrawatt-hour versus Solar and Wind that itshould be rather telling that if you can even have that argument, it’s gotta bepretty freaking safe when most people’s first question is “How in the world canit be safer than solar or wind?”
The answer is “Regulation.” Politicians don’t think to regulatesolar or wind specifically, so it doesn’t really get regulated beyond what lawswere already in place.
As a result, you experience occasional fires, fall hazards, et cetera. Nothingsuper concerning (except the industries don’t know how much waste they areproducing because no one bothers to record it!). Now, solar and wind are safe!They’re also relatively cheap (due to lessened regulation - not that they needas much regulation as nuclear, but more would be nice in some areas).

因此,你偶尔会经历火灾、坠落等危险。没有什么特别令人担心的(除了这些方面不知道制造了多少垃圾,但没有人会费心去记录它!) 如今太阳能和风能是安全的,它们也相对便宜(由于监管力度的减弱——并不是说它们需要像核电那样多的监管,而是在某些领域需要更多监管。)。

Nuclear power, on the other hand? We’re regulated as hell.That’s where most of the cost comes from once you get past initialconstruction. Just the other day we had OSHA tell divers they couldn't go overthe safety railing into the water without a life jacket and safety line… (thedivers reacted in a great way - they just ignored them, and rightfully so.) Butits that sort of reason why nuclear power plants are safe, and expensive:regulation is followed to the letter until it is proven that the regulationdoes not apply in a specific situation.
We can’t take water from the river to wash off bird poop backinto the river. That’s how regulated we are.
As a result, the slightest sign of potential injury, and majorfreakouts occur. Someone accidentally bumps their head on something? Gottaspend tons of money turning the area into a padded room. (Not literally).
And unlike Chernobyl, American plants are designed to withstanda pressure detonation.
Fukushima had issues, yes, and they didn’t follow proper safetyculture. But Fukushima still has yet to kill anyone. As much as I hate TEPCO,they still did do some things right.


That wind turbine fire killed two,compared to Fukushimas zero. I’m not keeping score. I want us to use wind. ButI’m putting things in perspective.
Nuclear power is ridiculously safe.
What’s that, terrorists you say? Whatare they going to hit it with? A plane won’t dent the containment. They don’tknow enough of the layout of the plant to do anything. We’ve tested this. Ifyou question this:
1. Planes areflimsy and made of aluminum.
2. 2 meter thickreinforced concrete walls can withstand just about anything, and that’s noteven the reactor yet; the reactor itself is made of thick steel; it might aswell be a battleship.
And nuclear power security forces aretop-notch - and entrenched. Good luck on that.
“But it’s so much more expensive?” Oh,I thought we wanted to save the environment, not save money. There areplenty of ways we could make it cheaper. Like get rid of the CoalLobbyists. You know, the guys who are promoting a form of energygeneration more than 10,000 times deadlier than nuclear.
I will say this: They are safe for thegeneral populace. Our old plants are hardly killing anyone at all, the ones weare building now are half a century more advanced in some cases. Compare thatto computers, and you’ll see why I consider it ridiculous to use “Chernobyl” asa reason to argue against building new reactors. (Aside from the fact that fewnuclear power plants operate like Chernobyl).
They are not so safe for the operators.One of my supervisors likes to remind us on at least a weekly basis “This placewill kill you if you let it.” Rotating machinery, places to fall, danger ofelectrical shock, et cetera.

1. 飞机很脆弱,是铝制的。
2. 2米厚的钢筋混凝土墙可以承受任何东西,这还不是反应堆;反应堆本身是由厚钢制成的;它就像一艘战舰。

“But what about waste?” Well, we need totake care of that, but we have plans, but I suspect the Coal-lobbyists thatshot down high-temperature (therefore higher efficiency, therefore higherenergy and lower cost - thanks for forcing some validity to that “reactors costa lot” argument, Coal) reactors are also shutting down things like the TWR andother reactor designs that would makenuclear power the first and only form ofenergy generation to reuse it’s own spent waste.
As it stands, that waste isn’t goinganywhere - which is good. We can contain it, regulate it, and monitor it untilwe can store it. We’ve got a while… now if onlyanti-environment fearmongers would let us do something with it.


Sep 4, 2017 · 48 upvotes
Nuclearwill kill us if something goes horribly wrong. Coal will kill us if it worksperfectly as designed.


Aug 24, 2017 · 7 upvotes
WhileI'm in favor of nuclear, I'm cautiously so. The fact is, regulation almostalways fails at some point. In an ideal world, the regulations in place fordrilling, mining, fission, etc., would keep us safe all the time.
Thereality is that accidents will always happen. Even worse, it is often cheaperfor energy companies to break the law and to pay the fines when eventuallycaught.
Sothe question becomes, “What are the consequences when anaccident occurs?” With nuclear, as with drilling and other extraction, theconsequences can be extreme.


David McFarland
Aug 24, 2017 · 52 upvotes
As itbecomes clear now with Fukushima, the consequences… aren’t really that severeat all.
Andthat’s with a ridiculously old plant. Once we replace them with new plants,we’re golden. Accidents do not always have to happen. There are multiple layersof regulation, both internal and external, there are operators in the way, andmultiple layers of redundant systems.
Ittook a once-in-a-thousand-year tsunami and Earthquake toexpose Fukushima’s insufficient safety culture, namely in regards to their lackof sea-wall and improper placement of diesel generators. What no one talksabout is that it also exposed that another power company, TohokuElectric, knew how to do it right.
TheOnagawa Plant was hit harder than Fukushima. Yet no one talksabout it, because it was fine.

千年一遇的海啸和地震才暴露出福岛安全文化的不足,即缺乏防护堤,以及柴油发电机放置不当。没有人谈论的是,这也暴露了另一家电力公司,东北电力公司(Tohoku Electric),知道如何正确行事。
女川核电站(The Onagawa Plant)受到的冲击比福岛核电站更严重。但是没有人谈论它,因为它很好。

Aug 24, 2017 · 10 upvotes
Don'tget me wrong, I think nuclear is safer than extraction. I also think it's theonly viable alternative right now.
But Ialso don't dismiss the inherent risk.
Mycousin is a nuclear engineer. He's worked at both Oakridge and the reactor inColumbia, SC. He's obviously a strong proponent of nuclear. He's also veryhonest about the state of funding and technology for nuclear in the US.
Ourplants are badly, badly outdated. They have already been stretched far pasttheir intended usage. And there isn't much hope for massive new construction oreven updating. The fact is, we’re stuck with old, overused technology for thetime being, with no end in sight.
That'sscary. You paint a picture of safe nuclear given an ideal context. Our contextis far from ideal. Achieving said ideal context isn't realistic. You're alsooverly optimistic about the efficacy of regulation. Accidents, both preventableand not, will continue to happen.
Shouldthat stop us? No.
Butit should scare us. It should motivate us to improve our technology, bothnuclear and alternative.


James Henry
Aug 25, 2017 · 7 upvotes
Thereason our power plants are so old is because of that regulation. It’s toodifficult (financially/politically) to build a new nuclear power plant.