Transterrestrial Musings  

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay

Alan Boyle (MSNBC)
Space Politics (Jeff Foust)
Space Transport News (Clark Lindsey)
NASA Watch
NASA Space Flight
Hobby Space
A Voyage To Arcturus (Jay Manifold)
Dispatches From The Final Frontier (Michael Belfiore)
Personal Spaceflight (Jeff Foust)
Mars Blog
The Flame Trench (Florida Today)
Space Cynic
Rocket Forge (Michael Mealing)
COTS Watch (Michael Mealing)
Curmudgeon's Corner (Mark Whittington)
Selenian Boondocks
Tales of the Heliosphere
Out Of The Cradle
Space For Commerce (Brian Dunbar)
True Anomaly
Kevin Parkin
The Speculist (Phil Bowermaster)
Spacecraft (Chris Hall)
Space Pragmatism (Dan Schrimpsher)
Eternal Golden Braid (Fred Kiesche)
Carried Away (Dan Schmelzer)
Laughing Wolf (C. Blake Powers)
Chair Force Engineer (Air Force Procurement)
Saturn Follies
JesusPhreaks (Scott Bell)
The Ombudsgod
Cut On The Bias (Susanna Cornett)
Joanne Jacobs

Site designed by

Powered by
Movable Type
Biting Commentary about Infinity, and Beyond!

« Spam and Cyberterrorism | Main | A Setup For A Slander Suit? »

Steam kills

An accident at a nuclear plant kills four workers. It was a steam leak, but that won't stop the antinuclear hysteriacs from flipping out. Of course, nothing will stop the antinuclear hysteriacs from flipping out. OTOH, it's worth pointing out that the failure of the steam system lead to an appropriate controlled shutdown of the core, just the way it should. In a sane world the headlines would read "Nuclear reactor safety system works as designed," and the whole thing would lead to no more than a call to reemphasize the safety guidelines for working with high pressure steam that have developed over the last couple of centuries. My prediction is that the accident will turn out to have been preventable had those guidelines been followed. Steam is dangerous, but controllable, and it can be safely harnessed. Just like nuclear power.

Posted by Andrew Case at August 09, 2004 12:14 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference this post from Transterrestrial Musings.

now my bumper sticker is no longer valid. you know, the one that says:

More People Have Died In Teddy Kennedy's Car Than In Nuclear Power Plant Accidents

hopefully i won't cut myself scraping it off :^}

Posted by chris at August 9, 2004 12:16 PM

Try comparing nuclear power plant safety to Amtrack.

Posted by Roger Strong at August 9, 2004 01:23 PM

I hadn't read the story yet, but did see the headline on MSN that read "Nuclear plant leak kills 4 in Japan."

There's no way to read that headline and NOT think that they're talking about a radiation leak.

I live in a town with a nuclear plant and a huge coal plant. When people complain about the danger of the nuclear plant, I point out the yellow smear across the sky coming from the coal plant stacks.

We had such a missed opportunity....


Posted by Bob at August 9, 2004 01:59 PM

"More People Have Died In Teddy Kennedy's Car Than In Nuclear Power Plant Accidents"

You might check into this. I think that a couple of Japanese workers were killed in some kind of nuclear plant accident a few years ago.

Posted by at August 9, 2004 03:04 PM

Anybody remember Chernobyl?

Posted by Rod at August 9, 2004 03:15 PM

Chernobyl was a disaster waiting to happen.

Does someone have a reference to a rough breakdown of nuclear reactor _by_type_?

Either 'first gen, second gen' or by 'breeder reactor' etc?

And a reference to what _type_ of nuclear reactor Iran & NK are building? (Am I right to assume it is the std French model?)

Posted by Al at August 9, 2004 03:19 PM

For a place that doesn't have nuclear power, these people seem to have a strong opinion on the matter.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at August 9, 2004 04:56 PM

More nukes, less kooks!

However, pity the poor victims of radiophobia.

- Eric.

Posted by Eric Strobel at August 9, 2004 05:05 PM

More tragic deaths from a deadly chemical. Nukes are safe enough, but we've got to ban di-hydrogen monoxide. Can't we do it for the children?

Posted by Rand Simberg at August 9, 2004 05:38 PM

"Anybody remember Chernobyl?"

But, of course, Chernobyl wasn't a nuclear power plant, it was a nuclear weapons plant.

Posted by John "Akatsukami" Braue at August 9, 2004 06:05 PM

Um Chernobyl *was* a nuclear power plant; both the site and unit 4 that exploded. In fact, the site continued to generate power until 2000.

Posted by Ian Woollard at August 9, 2004 06:56 PM

It's always amazing to me how the word "nuclear" brings out the stupid in so many people. How many of the above posters have WORKED in a nuclear power plant (my hand is up)? Probably none. But, ALL of them think they are informed enough to render a comment.

Sheesh. I can almost predict that with such a story, there will come the INEVITABLE Chernobyl, TMI, weapons, and radiation horror stories, to which NONE of you have first-hand knowledge.

I have respect for Rand and his space experience, and Andrew with his physics background, but if you're a lurker with an urge to post, at least TRY to contain yourself to something that you KNOW about.

Oh, and just to add my two FACTS to the story, the leak was in the secondary loop of a PWR (pressurized water reactor), which usually means next-to-nothing radiation release, but plenty of hot steam to do the killing. You could get killed just as quickly in any boiler room in ANY power plant on the planet, regardless of the design, construction, or nationality.

In fact, over the 10 years 1991-2001, over 170 brave souls gave their all in U.S. power plants (none of them nukes), just so you'd have enough electricity for you to be able to read this message.

Posted by Dave G at August 9, 2004 09:13 PM

Fascinating collection of power related fatatlities here.

The most fascinating stuff I've seen on the Chernobyl Power Station can be found here. - not sure I'd like to do the later, but it is pretty chilling.

Posted by Daveon at August 10, 2004 01:59 AM

It turns out that the Japanese nuclear industry has been suffering a number of problems over the past few years. There were two fatalities in 1999, and it appears as if the maintenance problems at this facility were getting serious.

What the people who say "this was only a secondary steam line" seem to be missing is that any kind of serious fatal accident at such a facility strongly implies that facility maintenance is lacking--there could be major problems elsewhere. It is not like this was an accident in the parking lot that had nothing to do with the operation of the plant. Can you confidently say that the primary coolant line is fine after something like this happened? Or do you start to wonder if there are endemic problems? And what makes accidents at nuclear power plants worrisome is that their catastrophic effects would not be confined to the plant itself. A coal plant exploding is going to be localized. Not so for a nuclear plant.

This is not to say that nuclear power is inherently evil, but too many pro-nuke advocates easily dismiss the issues, which are serious.

Accident at Nuclear Plant In Japan Kills Four Workers
No Indication of a Radiation Leak, Officials Say

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 10, 2004; Page A15

TOKYO, Aug. 9 -- Four people were killed and seven injured Monday by sprays of superheated steam at a nuclear power plant 200 miles west of Tokyo, but officials familiar with the accident said there was no indication of a radiation leak.

A spokesman for the plant, which is located in the picturesque village of Mihama and run by Kansai Electric Power, told reporters that the accident occurred when steam spewed from a leak in a turbine building at one of the plant's reactors, with bursts of the steam reportedly reaching temperatures as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The accident automatically shut the facility down.

The incident follows a number of attempted coverups, mishaps and other problems that have plagued Japanese nuclear power plants in recent years, raising concerns over the safety of the country's 52 nuclear power complexes. Japan, the world's second-largest economy, relies on nuclear power for 30 percent of its electricity.

The Japanese government launched an investigation as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters that "we must put all our effort into determining the cause of the accident and to ensuring safety." He added the government would respond "resolutely, after confirming the facts."

According to the Kyodo news service, the dead and injured reportedly were subcontractors preparing for a regular inspection. They were laboring under a 22-inch-wide pipe when it apparently burst.

The leak was caused by a lack of cooling water in the reactor's turbine and by metal erosion in a condenser pipe, according to Kansai Electric.

The company told reporters that the broken pipe, originally 10 millimeters thick, had eroded to a thickness of only 1.4 millimeters. The pipe had not been replaced since it was first installed 27 years ago.

"I'm sorry to have caused such trouble," Yosaku Fuji, Kansai Electric's president, said at a news conference. "I cannot find the words to say to the deceased and the bereaved family members."

In February 1991, a tube inside a steam generator at another one of the plant's reactors broke, causing 55 tons of radioactive water to leak from the main cooling system into the secondary system that powers the reactor's turbine.

During that accident, an emergency core-cooling system was activated in Japan for the first time.

The Mihama plant, located near popular beach resorts, was the first nuclear plant built by Kansai Electric. Its first reactor began service in November 1970.

The Japanese public has grown increasingly alarmed by flaws and failures at nuclear plants here. In 1999, a radiation leak caused by human error at a fuel-reprocessing plant in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo, killed two workers and forced the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents.

A string of safety problems and attempted coverups followed. In February, eight workers were exposed to low-level radiation at a power plant when they were accidentally sprayed with contaminated water, although the contamination levels were not considered dangerous.

[The Reuters news agency reported two other incidents at nuclear power plants in Japan on Monday. In one, Tokyo Electric Power -- Japan's biggest electricity producer -- said it had shut a nuclear power generation unit at its Fukushima-Daini plant because of a water leak. In the other, a garbage disposal site at a nuclear power plant in Shimane prefecture in western Japan caught fire, Chugoku Electric Power Co. said. The blaze was quickly extinguished.]

Posted by at August 10, 2004 08:58 AM

Gah. More garbage being spewed by uninformed brainless wonders. "People" (a.k.a. anonymous cowards) who think a properly designed nuclear reactor could "explode" got their education from watching Hanoi Jane in "The China Syndrome". The Japanese reactor at Mihama is a modern, intelligent (i.e., American) design, not stupid engineering (i.e., Soviet) like Chernobyl.

One final thought: Pasting an entire article from the WaPo in your comment (instead of a link) does NOT make you look any smarter.

Posted by Dave G at August 10, 2004 12:05 PM

To Dave G: keep posting, please!!! One of my best friends worked at Palo Verde in Arizona. I am _always_ interested in hearing the truth as opposed to no-neck mouth-breather's hysterical versions of what they imagine.

Posted by Aleta at August 10, 2004 01:14 PM

::::sigh:::: And the polerization continues....

While 'mis-speaking' (mis-typing? :O) a comparison of an exploding coal power plant, with a nuclear one, the poster who quoted the entire article DOES have some good points. Maintenance IS lacking and that does NOT speak well for the maintenance of the reactor itself. Then again, it's most likely that that is where the majority of the money is spent...

Erroding from 10mm to 1.4mm IS a serious concern. Especially since it probably hadn't been replaced in 27 years.

Yet Dave G isn't helping the 'Pro-Nuclear' side with his 'argument' since hurling insults and ignoring the questions and blowing off the facts speaks volumes. All of it on the wrong side of the discussion.

Are American designed reactors safe? Well, they are safer than Russian ones, but less so than European designs.
(I seem to recall that the reactor under discussion was an American design, but that others in Japan are European)

The real point of 'safe' nuclear power comes down to how many compromises you make between safe reactor and power plant design and the ability to make a buck off selling the power.

Dave G seems to embody the 'standard' attack/ignore attitude that dominated the American nuclear industry, (and the government programs as well) that led to the current 'hysteria' over nuclear power and it's applications. The Anti-Nuke folks can gain a foot-hold simple because the are allowed to 'gain' the 'high-ground' by asking questions based on such 'little' things as the lack of maintenance, or actual (factual) problems and letting the pro-nuke 'zelots' attack them, insult them, and totally ignore what they say, simply because they say it.

I've noticed, however that if they are met with facts, and rational discussion the anti-nuke crowd tends to revert to type and start spouting rhetoric and emotional pleas, ignoring the facts presented to THEM in favor of attacks, insults, and basicly looking like fools.

Folks should be upset at the shoddy maintenance at this power plant. As they should even if it was a coal-fired plant! Had proper safety and maintenance been done, this never would have happened.

People have a right to be concerned, because a nuclear power plant IS different than a coal fired one. A ruptured fuel container at a coal plant would dump some coal that would need to be cleaned up and put back into storage. A rupture dumping some of the main loop water into, say, the local drain system, (not likely) would have very different consequences.

Nukes can be made safe. They ARE safe, really, but we've been taught that both the government and industry WILL lie to us about safety, and our health in thier own interests so it's no wonder the anti-nuke folks can gain a foothold. What needs to be done is they need to be met with facts and education of our own.

Me... I'm still waiting, (hoping and working) for my Atomic Rocket ships!
(Talk about a discussion I can't win :o)

(Go DUMBO! Nuclear Rocket ships we almost had:

Posted by Randy Campbell at August 10, 2004 02:03 PM

Which plant _type_ is the Iranian reactor? Or the NK reactor?

Yes, 'explode' means something specific to an engineer. That doesn't make it completely invalid as a layman's description.

(When half a rail car that used to hold chemicals lands half a mile from a 'fast liquid to vapor phase change', only the chemists care if it was technically an 'explosion'. Everyone else had better be running.)

Posted by Al at August 10, 2004 02:20 PM

Good ole Chernobyl, the radioactive charcoal briquette - for a good description, see

The Chernobyl Accident - Can it happen here?

Scroll down near the bottom for a list of things that would not be allowed in the U.S. You can't compare it to conventional power reactors.

A (relatively) short version: Chernobyl is vastly different from U.S, French, Japanese, etc. power reactors. It was a "mixed use" design, both for weapon's grade fuel production and for power. Fuel rods could be easily replaced (for weapons, you don't want to leave the fuel rods in the reactor for too long). There was NO CONTAINMENT SHELL.

It used a graphite moderator. Because of the design, if there was water loss, the reaction rate would go UP. This is inherently dangerous, and not like U.S. power reactors. Given that it was also large (unlike MTRs and most reactors for weapons fuel production) it would need very good active systems to stay under control.

The operators conducted an insane test (my guess is they were TOLD TO DO IT, PERIOD in typical Soviet command style, and became scapegoats). Essentially, they turned the safeties off and goosed the reactor in about the worst way possible.

The water started boiling off and the reaction rate went up. They tried to put in the control rods, but because of bad design, that didn't work. The reactor breached and the graphite burned just like charcoal in a grill. There was no containment shell, so the stuff flew into the air.

People died building a shell, though many of them would have survived if they had U.S. style protective gear and cleaned up properly. And, as bad as it was, the amount of radioactive material still wasn't all that much compared to all the stuff put in the air by nuclear bomb tests.

Posted by VR at August 11, 2004 01:56 PM

Aleta, the bit I linked to was from an online copy of a book by Bernard Cohen. You might want to look at:

The Nuclear Energy Option

My feelings on nuclear power: I would like to see us move away from fossil fuel power plants to nuclear. There is the issue of relative risk - aside from C02, fossil fuel is just plain dirty and dangerous, especially coal, our primary source of electricity. Coal kills A LOT of people.

Unfortunately, when newspapers regularly print nonsense about nuclear power issues, I don't see much hope for the nation to move in that direction.

Posted by VR at August 11, 2004 02:10 PM

Post a comment

Email Address: