A trifecta of recent well-written articles deserve their own “ICYMI” post today. The first is a piece on The Conversation about thorium as a potential energy source in the Australian context (certainly something we can anticipate in the future). It is accessible to everyone, gets all the facts straight and makes several key points:
While compelling at first glance, the details reveal a somewhat more murky picture. The molten salt architecture which gives certain thorium reactors high intrinsic safety equally applies to proposed fourth-generation designs using uranium.
Indeed, in my estimation the most promising MSR design at this stage is David LeBlanc and Hugh MacDiamid’s effort over at Terrestrial Energy. He has no intention of debuting with thorium in his reactor.
As a nation we haven’t even managed to figure out the best way to handle slightly radioactive gloves in hospitals, let alone have a mature conversation about nuclear power. The real question is whether Australia can find a way forward to have a civilised discussion about how to generate non-fossil baseload power. And so, by all means, we should talk about thorium, but let’s not demonise uranium at the same time.
Second up is a commentary from Swaraja – Mr Prabhu absolutely nails how stubborn opposition to nuclear revolves predominantly around misunderstanding and fear of the hazards – radiation, in particular:
…Most fear of nuclear technology is based on an ignorance of basic science which is then played upon by interest groups using risk aversion, negativity bias, the framing effects of risk, and an echo chamber to amplify it all. …Radiation is prevalent everywhere; there is no such thing as zero radiation. Life on earth is constantly exposed to radiation from dozens of sources, from the building materials they surround themselves with, the earth they walk on, some of the technology they use, to even the food and water they consume. If you had a banana for breakfast this morning, you have ingested a source of radiation and it may be wise to keep away from the rajma chawal or aloo gobi during lunch. …There is a lot of interesting biology that can be discussed here but suffice it to say that the ability of cells to repair themselves seems to be amplified with exposure to low doses of radiation. However, to put this into context, spontaneous DNA damage occurs at the rate of approximately 200,000 events per cell per day. The approved radiation dose of 1 mSv from nuclear power plants results in natural cell damage at a rate of 0.03 events per cell per day.
Third and last, Hollywood’s latest nukesploitation effort Blackhat came in for relatively bemused criticism from Les Corrice at ANS Nuclear Cafe. The film didn’t rate a cinema release here in Australia. The descriptions of the “reactor” remind me of something depicted in a James Bond film decades ago. It was ridiculous then and it’s ridiculous now.
My first inkling was early on, when the control room was shown. I almost laughed because it had wall-to-wall windows overlooking a vast, steaming open pool of water. First-off, there are no windows in actual nuclear power plant control rooms. Also, the depicted control room looked much like a high-tech Press Box at a modern professional football stadium. Regardless, I was curious about the hot-water pool. I wondered if that was supposed to be the reactor. My speculation was soon verified. There was a series of long, vertical metal pipes deep within the pool—the supposed core. Surrounding these pipes were several rotating fan-like devices. It seems that these were supposed to be the circulation pumps. After a brief computer-graphic depiction of a malware bug invading the fantasy plant’s computer system, the fans speed up and fly apart. The metal pipes immediately begin to get red from massive heat generation and…well…it gets so bad that there’s an explosion that blows open the domed containment, a la Chernobyl. It’s Hollywood, folks. There is literally nothing real-world about the nuke in the flick. It doesn’t matter that all nuclear power plant control room operating systems are not connected to the internet. It doesn’t matter that a massive power surge generating cataclysmic heat generation is only possible in units having a positive reactivity coefficient (Chernobyl, again). What matters is that this is purely the fabrication of creative Hollywood minds doing their best to exploit public fears about nukes spawned by skewed Press and internet reports concerning the Fukushima Accident. It is a pure fiction.
It’s also baffling – if the film makers were struggling for inspiration, rewatching The China Syndrome (complete with its enclosed control room and safely functioning reactor) would have enabled far better realism. Also, what people perceive as the hazard of conventional nuclear is primarily the significant pressure under which the reactor water is kept. The reinforced containment dome’s main function is to contain any release of pressure, as demonstrated at Three Mile Island. Today, the interests of Hollywood, like those of many who still dismiss the technology, is apparently better served by avoiding consulting those in the know.