Friday, March 25, 2011

Fukushima nuclear plant and the consequences

The position at the moment seems to be that at least one of the Fukushima reactors (No 3) is damaged, and that workers have been hospitalised due to having been exposed to water containing 10,000 times the normal radiation level.

IMO: I do not like to say "I told you so" but at about the time the reactors were installed (many years ago) I did point out during the course of giving a University lecture to Engineering students on nuclear reactors  that the GE boiling water reactor was a bad choice, and dangerous, and that just as GM cars were 'clunkers', so too were GE reactors of the time. OK, that is long ago and doubtless these reactors had been improved during use, but they were already well past their recommended closure date AFAIK. The saying goes, "if you buy US goods, you buy Enron and Bhopal" - at present India is still seeking extradition of Warren Anderson, and also would like to proceed against Dow Chemical, but this has taken a long, long time. Will Japan win any rights due ? They will be lucky.
Kaiga atomic power plant in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, has four plants of 220 MW each under operation. These are quite close to where I am writing now. People say the plants are safe, but then they called the nearby Bangalore a "garden city" and now they say it is not a "garden city" but a "garbage city". I do not wish to upset Bangalore, Krishna forbid, but some of the better off folks do not just refuse to drink any tap water in Bangalore, and incredibly they WASH in soda water, bottled elsewhere - just sayin' the facts. The enormous new nuclear plant allegedly to be built at Ratnagiri, also not that far, will be in an earthquake zone - just like Bhuj, and we all know what happened there. Congress say it will all be OK but we certainly do not have engineering details as to how it will be OK. The great Bal Thackeray, Shiv Sena, and many others in Maharashtra are strongly against the site - but it is a long way from Delhi so that shows how much Delhi seems to care about the ghattis.

What can be done ?

I know one answer, but many will not like it, understandably. Buy from China. I said to someone in Madgaon just the other day that most of the overseas stuff, supposedly from Switzerland, USA etc is actually made in China. I wish we could make it in India. Maybe we can. Here is how the Chinese propose to proceed: China is launching a rival technology to build a safer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper network of reactors based on thorium. China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. I guess the US still made money selling 'clunkers'. Radioactive waste is said to be 1000 times less and if the plant begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. Pressure is atmospheric and neutron production stops at the click of a switch. I do not know full details, brief elementary description here, and it sounds like it might work.

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