“Unintended Consequences”?

Gotta love Bill O’Reilly. He opened his show tonight with the question: “What will be the unintended consequences of the Japanese earthquake for America and the rest of the world.”

My question for Bill, in the no-spin zone: what were the intended consequences of it? And who intended them?

41 thoughts on ““Unintended Consequences”?”

  1. He brings soft headed, benefit of the doubt, the only evil is that which directly attacks me, thinking to all topics.

    If the earthquake intentionally went after Bill, that would be a different thang.

  2. In O’Reilly’s tidy little universe, someone is to blame for everything. Like the tides, for example.

  3. Well one consequence, of the earthquake, is that it might result in building more nuke power plants becoming more difficult.

  4. One unintended consequence is global warming getting credit for the earthquake, or is that an intended consequence?

  5. We’ll be hearing a lot more about the nuke plants soon. It will be interesting to find out why either they couldn’t scram the reactors
    and if they did why the subsequent residual heat was such a problem.

  6. They did scram the reactors, K. The problem was in cooling them afterwards. The residual heat comes from decay of short-lived fission products, which continues even after the chain reaction is terminated.

  7. I wondered why their emergency generators didn’t kick in automatically to run the cooling pumps. But then I wondered if they had damaged cooling water systems because of the violence of the quakes and aftershocks.

    Regardless of what’s going on, I’d bet a paycheck that we’ll here a lot about the dangers of nuclear power before the weekend is out. Even if they solve the problems with no ill effects around the plants.

  8. Meanwhile, we won’t hear a peep about the massive natural gas fire caused by the earthquake, or about how the operational nuke plants provide plenty of electricity to help with the rebuild with no dependencies on constant fuel transport.

  9. Or about how the fact that since Japan depends so heavily on public rail transport, which of course shut down, huge numbers of people were stranded.

  10. OTOH, there is some hope for the “narrative” that an event like the earthquake didn’t instantly get shoehorned in.

  11. Fox news is showing video of a massive explosion at the reactor facility. Huge shower of debris and a shock wave. Looks like the containment building of the #1 reactor is gone. Unless I am very much mistaken, this is going worst case, with a full scale melt-down.

  12. I wondered why their emergency generators didn’t kick in automatically to run the cooling pumps.

    From BBC coverage I get the impression they did, but lost power an hour later after the tsunami itself struck. Something about water in the diesel generators. They then switched to battery power, which only lasts a couple of hours, but then again decay heat apparently drops very quickly.

    Unless I am very much mistaken, this is going worst case, with a full scale melt-down.

    The BBC had a nuclear expert from Imperial College who believed things might not be so bad. The reactor vessel itself appears to be intact and not generating much heat anymore.

  13. I don’t know about unintended consequences, but here’s my prediction for likely consequences:

    1.) Any support in the U.S. for a rebirth of nuclear power here will be scuttled due to that explosion video and a complete lack of context in the reporting.

    2.) Japan will clean up that nuclear plant and continue relying on nuclear energy for its power needs, only breaking stride long enough to learn actual lessons from what happened so the same thing won’t happen again.

  14. The BBC’s expert explained that this was a very old design and that newer systems could rely on passive convection cooling alone to prevent overheating of a reactor that had been shutdown. Even if you did have 1) an earthquake and 2) a tsunami.

  15. I don’t know the details, but suspect the “massive explosion” was caused by steam. Boiler explosions happen all the time (and even occur naturally in geothermal areas.) It’s also an example of why relying on water for cooling has its limitations. But expect the anti-nukes ignore any of that and to play it up as being a nukular explosion.

  16. They’re saying it was a hydrogen explosion. Hot reactor vessel + water -> hydrogen. Hydrogen + oxygen + spark -> boom. They’ve decided to give up on the plant and they are going to flood it with sea water and boric acid.

  17. Headline: “Top Question of the Day: Is Nuclear Power Safe?”

    One of the top stupid questions ever asked: see above.

    Nothing is “safe,” absolutely nothing. But compared to the oil and natural gas that’s burning down the rest of Japan, I’d say nuclear is far safer.

    The explosion (which didn’t look like much to me) is surprising, as was the appearance of the plants. They didn’t appear to have much in the way of containment structures. U.S. plant containment buildings are *pressure vessels*, which can contain the release of all of the core coolant. On top of that, they’re designed to withstand a direct hit of a 747 at landing speed. All of the hot loop hardware in the guts of the plant is designed to remain tight after a worst-case seismic event for the region in which it’s built, and the cooling pumps are triple redundant (two fault tolerant pumps).

    All of this was in place before Three Mile Island, which is why no one was even injured in that event. Though no plants have been built since that time, design improvements continue to be made.

    None of this is credited in the MSM…

  18. The anti-nuke kooks are already on it….


    [[[Meanwhile, former German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel, who heads the center-left, opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD), called for an “international re-evaluation of nuclear policies” following the catastrophe in Japan. “People can’t just continue to go on as if the expansion of nuclear energy around the world is the correct and only path,” he said. “The International Atomic Energy Agency promotes the construction of nuclear power plants in all parts of the earth, even in war and crisis regions,” he added. “That needs to stop.”

    “We are once again learning that so-called meltdowns, the melting of the core that is considered the greatest possible accident, are not just a theoretical parameter that one can neglect,” he said. “Rather, a meltdown is a real and concrete danger that has unimaginable risks for humanity. That’s why we need to abandon atomic energy worldwide rather than increase the risks.” ]]]

  19. MfK,

    [[[All of this was in place before Three Mile Island, which is why no one was even injured in that event. Though no plants have been built since that time, design improvements continue to be made.]]]

    Yep. The folks who fled by flying to other states probably got a larger dose of radiation from the flight then if they stayed by Three Mile Island.

  20. I still like the idea of building the core building, including primary cooling, backups, and generators on a large concrete barge. That should be all that’s necessary for a complete immediate shutdown, and it should be inherently quakeproof. Tsunamis and the flash floods they cause are another issue. The flash flood piece, at least, can be well-ameliorated on a barge provided the anchoring piers are adequate.

    Secondary cooling (the gigantic cooling towers) isn’t (or shouldn’t be!) necessary for an emergency shutdown. So they don’t need to be on the barge.
    If this sounds extremely farfetched, think of it as an extension of “Hey, parked aircraft carrier!” and contemplate the costs thereof.

  21. Yes, it is looking now like the containment is intact, which is very good news and speaks volumes for the robustness of the design. The video of the explosion was still pretty frightening.

    I suspect the earlier efforts revolved around trying to save the reactor rather than prevent a catastrophe. But now that they have given that up, boron and sea water should shut it right down. But it will sure be an expensive mess to clean up.

  22. Al,

    The U. S. Army Corp of Engineers already proved the concept in the early 1960’s. You just need to update it and scale it up for commercial use. An old Super Tanker would probably make a good test bed.


    One advantage is that it would simplify the siting process while standardization and mass production in ship yards would likely reduce the costs over conventional reactors.

    Also being at sea you probably wouldn’t need the cooling towers. They were only added to power plants to reduce the temperature of the water used to cool the cool systems when released into bays and rivers. If your barges are offshore the discharge could be spread over a larger area reducing the temperature impact.

  23. Al,

    Actually it looks like the French are already planning a similar underwater system for their next generation of reactors…


    France Building Underwater Nuclear Plants
    Jan. 21 2011 – 12:53 pm

    [[[A clutch of energy companies and government agencies in France plan to build capsule-shaped nuclear reactors moored underwater on the sea floor several miles off the coast of France. The first reactor in the project, called FlexBlue, is scheduled to go online by 2016.]]]

  24. “Hey, parked aircraft carrier!”

    Which may be the solution to the whole, environmental wackos shut down another industry, problem. Just build large powerplants in ships without the nuclear fuel someplace nobody pays attention to. Then buy the fuel somewhere in the third world and/or process the yellowcake on board (although I read on Wikipedia that a worldwide surplus of highly-enriched uranium currently exists.)

    Then the next time CA has brownouts float by and ask, “Want some?”

  25. I was actually thinking of doing inland by building the (reinforced concrete) lake/pool-off-river too, but whatever works.

    One advantage is that it would simplify the siting process while standardization and mass production in ship yards would likely reduce the costs over conventional reactors.

    The siting analysis is (by my understanding) amazingly difficult to pass, and a significant fraction of final costs. If the actual site preparation’s major goal is “just” the pool (or bay, or whatever), then there’s many-orders-of-magnitude fewer actual moving parts and mechanisms that need earthquake evaluation.

    The “Actually -at-sea-” option means the tsunami itself shouldn’t even be an issue. Though hurricanes off the eastern seaboard….

  26. Thanks for the ACoE article Thomas. Interesting to see that they mention the asbestos and lead-paint abatement issues in a tone that’s almost as concerned as the radioactive decay issues.

    “A research goal to design nuclear power plants that could be transported by air, erected quickly, and operated under adverse environmental conditions was achieved.”

    Wow, what a different era.

  27. “…a meltdown is a real and concrete danger that has unimaginable risks for humanity.”

    At Chernobyl (which had no containment), 1,000 tons of graphite, uranium oxide, and fission products (half the reactor) were vaporized and blasted into the atmosphere. We don’t have to imagine the consequences to “humanity” from that. Locals weren’t evacuated or even, notified of the nature of the accident for days. The results was about 50 deaths among the first responders, and 2,000 to 4,000 thyroid cancers in the local population.

    In a U.S. plant, a core melt would result in a core being deposited on the floor of the containment, where it might penetrate a few inches into the concrete before the afterheat decayed. That’s about it.

    The der Spiegel folks don’t have much imagination if they can’t imagine the “risks for humanity” of that…

  28. Al,

    [[[Though hurricanes off the eastern seaboard….]]]

    Yes, but you are able to see a Hurricane coming so you could shutdown and batten down before it strikes. There is also a lot of solid engineering experience from offshore rigs to drawn on if placed in hurricane risk areas.

  29. Al,

    BTW ever hear of the NB-36H, the testbed for the Nuclear Bomber? It actually flew with a reactor operating, although it never powered the aircraft.


    The U.S.A.F. spent billions in the 1950’s on the idea of a nuclear bomber, when billions actually amounted to real money.

    I understand the Russia also flew a similar aircraft, the TU-119, based on the Tu-95 Bear in the 1960’s. Yes, the anti-nuke crowd today would be horrified at such ideals.

    But then they also forget that in the 1950’s and early 1960’s nuclear bomb tests were spectator events…

  30. Oh, I agree.

    My main point there is avoiding even the potential objection. The war of hyperbole is a lot easier if you’re able to flat-out state the implausibility of the opposition’s point. “But hurricanes!!!” -> “West Coast. Say it with me.” I suppose the comment “The top speed of our nuclear power plant is classified, but higher than 30 knots” does it for me too. 😀

  31. Bob-1,

    Yes, you would have to do more research on them, especially in terms of the most likely locations for them to occur.

  32. It strikes me another Unintended Consequences might for Japan to increase focus on ideas like SBSP.


    Japan plans giant solar power station in space

    Japan’s space agency is planning to construct a solar power station in space and use it to beam energy down to Earth using lasers.

    Yes, the economics are not as good as nuclear power or even other power options, but this just might be a case, like Apollo, where national politics over rides it.

  33. This is one benefit of the liquid fluoride thorium reactors. The molten salts will just melt through a freeze plug and dump the contents of the reactor vessel into holding tanks that can passively deal with the decay heat.

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