Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Featured Educating the general public about pro nuclear energy?

  1. May 8, 2017 #1
    Pardon my ignorance, but why would nuclear energy be better option, I hear a lot of fears from the general public of why it is not safe?
    How would someone convince someones fear about the safety of nuclear power, considering what happened in Japan?

    cheers,
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 8, 2017 #2
    Since you mentioned Japan, a Japanese will give you a reply.

    There is no way of convincing anyone about the safety of nuclear power. Their fear is emotionally driven, and they cannot be reasoned with. Media overreacted to Fukushima incident causing unnecessary panic among people. In all honesty, I was one of them. It was until I decided to do some research on my own that I learned that I was panicking over something that I shouldn't have. Among all of the media coverage of the incident that I've seen, they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. I'm not sure if this because they do not have the time to understand the background necessary to at least qualitatively understand nuclear power and radiation hazards, or because they are extremely biased. I'm not a professional, but only an educated non-specialist. So I wouldn't really know all the mathematical theories behind everything, but I can at least qualitatively and broadly understand what they probably do mean.

    I doubt that the general public would really understand the difference between Sv and Gy, much less what units like Sv/y and stuff means. I also do not believe they would understand all these standards that the government established regarding radiation and exposure. People would barely know the difference between external and internal exposure, neither. Unless they do some research on their own, they won't know about the fact that the effects of internal exposure to radiation on human body not only depends on the type of radiation, but the source of radiation (radioactive materials). If well educated people like us study these, we can at least get an idea of what they scientifically mean. But media coverage of the meaning in these words are ambiguous and abstract, and they sometimes make completely absurd assumption and speculation based on two different data that cannot be compared. I know they invite scientists to explain the incident, but they only choose the same person to explain again if they can say something against nuclear power. It almost made it look as if all scientists were against nuclear power and that they are unmistakably dangerous power source.

    Japanese media has been extremely biased against nuclear power for quite some time, and they got the right timing to attack them. They say stuff like the number of people in Fukushima diagnosed with thyroid cancer increased since the incident, when in fact, a completely different medical procedure was done in the first and second test (second one was more specialized in detecting thyroid cancer, while first one was for general checkup). Of course they are going to find more people with thyroid cancer. However, the media haven't covered the fact that when same test as the first one was done no difference was observed.

    To be fair, one or two people did die of acute radiation exposure, and several others were diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome. All of these people worked inside the reactor to resolve the issue after the incident.

    What people need to understand in terms of "risks" and "hazards" of nuclear power, or in fact EVERYTHING, is that science is neutral. They don't determine what is safe or not. They only provide experimental or theoretical facts. We, or more precisely, the government decides what is safe or not. And the truth is that they misjudged Fukushima Plant. Fukushima Plant is one of the oldest nuclear power plant of obsolete design. They were supposed to be decommissioned before the incident, only except that the company (Tokyo Electricity) and the government decided to postpone the decommission for political reasons. That's when the tsunami happened. The newer design (all active plants other than Fukushima plant) was invulnerable to the same tsunami.

    This is all about bad decisions by human. It's a human error. What is dangerous is us and how we run the plant, not the power plant itself.



    As for why nuclear power is used? Well I don't quite know the details in terms of finance but I guess because it can make some money. Although the total cost of power plant and its running cost (including money given to local people as compensation) may be comparable or possibly more expensive than burning coals, but the fact that the stable fuel cost, electricity production, and the production per area of land is efficient, is a good reason. Also, it indirectly contributes to technological advancement as well as profits for some company in producing necessary parts and materials due to the nature of the plant (which in turn also advances their production techniques) compared to other sources of energies. Quick google or wikipedia provides many pros and cons so you might want to review them.
     
  4. May 8, 2017 #3
    Here's an easy to read, non-techno book. Amazon has it for $10. It was written in 2007 (before the tsunami) so it does not discuss Fukushima, but it covers a lot of the typical anti-nuclear concerns.

    https://www.amazon.com/Power-Save-W...70524&sr=8-1&keywords=power+to+save+the+world
     
  5. May 8, 2017 #4

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Could you please reword that; it looks like a combination of two incomplete thoughts. In particular; better option than what?
    It depends on how deep you want to go, but I generally open such discussions by pointing out that nobody outside the power plant died (perhaps some will, but the number will be so small it will be difficult to measure)....and does anyone even remember what happened to precipitate the accident and how many people that killed?
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2017
  6. May 8, 2017 #5

    mfb

    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Coal is cheap only because the power plant operators don't have to pay (notably) for the health issues their ash produces, or for the long-term effects of the CO2 they emit.

    Chernobyl was by far the largest nuclear accident ever, and it would have been easily avoidable - by not using their stupid reactor design or by following the clear safety rules like "never remove these control rods this, no matter what happens". A few thousand deaths are probably linked to it. Coal ash kills 3000 people per day - coal power plants are equivalent to a Chernobyl accident about every two days. That is the design operation of them. Calculations and sources here.
     
  7. May 8, 2017 #6

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    How extreme is our intolerance for risk that even when the primary cause of the accident was one of the worst [two] natural disasters in human history we still feel the need to call-out human error as a substantial or even primary contributor? That's like if a meteor takes off the wing of a plane and we call it pilot error + design flaw!
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2017
  8. May 8, 2017 #7
    I wouldn't say that Fukushima plant was like the meteor and plane situation. Earthquakes happen every often in Japan, and obviously for that reason, tsunami is also likely to happen. Like I said in that post, Fukushima did have a design flaw that was already been accounted for and fixed in the later power plants in other parts of Japan before tsunami ever happened. People of Tokyo Electricity says they weren't expecting such large tsunami, but I speculate that they did know there was a design flaw due to the reason stated above. Politics prevented them from doing anything about it.

    I agree that the scale of the tsunami was unpredictable. Nonetheless, since power plants are built near large water, and considering it's Japan, extra precautions are a necessity. All active plants other than Fukushima would have not had the same problem, which proves that they knew they needed such design even if it might have been an exaggerated precautions. Besides, Fukushima itself may have had other problems considering they were being used much longer than the expectancy of the plant. They should've decommissioned it anyway. So this is not a benefit of the hindsight or anything.
     
  9. May 8, 2017 #8

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2016 Award


    Humans (in fact all large brained mammals) learn from their mistakes.
    Somebody uncovered evidence of huge tidal waves within recorded history that were larger than the fellows who designed the plant believed possible.
    That SHOULD have triggered a corporate response to fix the plant so it could handle them.
    I blame bureaucracy and fear to speak out.

    Had a lowly electrician and a lowly geologist got together to write a letter to TEPCO executives explaining the electrical system's vulnerability to flooding with actual photographs and history of regional flooding sufficient to disable said electrical systems,
    I have to believe TEPCO would have flood proofed the electrical systems.

    Executives are people too, and still i believe you have to be a pretty good person to make it to executive ranks.

    Ask anybody who works in a US nuke plant about their company's post Fukushima changes
    .I lived through Brown's Ferry and Three Mile Island backfits. The improvements we made after those incidents exceeded the original cost of my plant.

    old jim
     
  10. May 9, 2017 #9
    Or maybe it may have turned out like Challenger disaster. Just maybe.
     
  11. May 9, 2017 #10

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    We got quite a lot of management training following the Challenger disaster too, with themes of "Eschew groupthink, Listen to your knowledge workers, don't yield to schedule pressure" .....

    Industry learns from mistakes. That's how we got codes for buildings, boilers and pressure vessels, electrical systems; these machines we build. Management science is catching up with technology. (I hope)
     
  12. May 9, 2017 #11
    I'm no way denying that people learn from mistakes. We should and I know we always are. If we had no way of knowing the precaution necessary to prevent a disaster then it's going to be forgiven to some degree. I would justify them that nothing could've been done. All the blame people put on the responsible institute after such disaster is with a benefit of the hindsight.

    However, the problem I am saying is that for the specific case like Fukushima Plant and Challenger disaster was something that could've been prevented without the benefit of hindsight. Once one is aware of a problem that could potentially lead to disasters, then they are obliged to do something about it, ideally. Now several things are of course less hazardous than the other. Those with minor hazard probably gets ignored and I can understand that to some degree. But I don't understand when critically crucial precautions that could prevent large scale disaster gets ignored.

    Luckily, Fukushima incident isn't as bad as Chernobyl, despite the same level of hazard. But we were more or less lucky.
     
  13. May 9, 2017 #12

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    It was a case study in my Engineering Ethics courses in college. It was entirely preventable by people who knowingly violated safety protocols.
     
  14. May 9, 2017 #13
    I think education is important, but so is trust. One does not necessarily lead to another. Sometimes the contrary is true. In some cases, the more we know about a system, the less we trust it.

    As I mentioned in a previous post, from my point of view there are at least four levels of trust. I must trust the science, the engineering, the operations, and the oversight.

    As pointed out by others, human error is at least part of the problem. But there are unintended safety violations, and there are intended safety violations.

    For example, people can understand how a tired human at a nuclear power plant can make a mistake. The expectation of those who trust is that there are safety measures in place to deal with this. But what about trusting a system which performs intensional safety violations for financial or political reasons? I could mention military reasons, but that is more problematic. If we believe that what the military does is vital to the national defense then it is hard to argue against. But if people believe safety is violated for financial or political gain, then I think any sane person will be outraged.

    Here in the USA, the level of trust in many institutions is very low indeed. We do not trust politicians, scientists, engineers, programmers, doctors, hospitals, lawyers, billionaires, the media, teachers, or in general our fellow citizens. Is this a result of inadequate education? On the contrary, sometimes it is the result of more education.

    Is education the answer? People are wise to the fact that sometimes education is just another word for indoctrination.

    I think the solution to the energy problem is to develop fusion power, unless someone comes up with something that is even better.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2017
  15. May 9, 2017 #14

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2016 Award


    in US there's a concept named "Probabilistic Risk Assessment"(PRA) , a mathematical process whereby 'things' are evaluated and prioritized according to their likelihood and severity of consequence.. The PRA experts can make it look pretty esoteric to one at my level.

    When Japanese archeologists found those stones way up the hill that'd been engraved "do not build below here you'll get washed away"
    and historians uncovered records of huge tidal waves within a thousand years
    the PRA folks should've raised their 'likelihood' number for 'Loss of All AC' to 1/1000 per year or greater
    which would make their ' likelihood X consequences ' product significant enough to warrant action .

    I can understand how the 'Modest Proposal' that one's Sacred Diesels(that's how we plant guys feel about them) are at extreme risk would be met with initial disbelief and take some time to percolate up through a bureaucracy .
    In that bureaucracy you have competing forces - a group whose job it is to think up "What If's" and another whose job it is to assess them and recommend action or dismissal. Most warrant dismissal or minimal action.
    With a bureaucracy you get all the human complications of power, prestige and personalities. . So they're prone to herd behaviors like vacillation and immobility and stampede that promulgate the mistrust you mentioned.

    Tepco's bureaucracy failed them on this one. That's why i maintain that they needed somebody near the bottom and close to the facts of the matter, to bypass the bureaucracy and apprise those near the top that their company's whole net worth hung on a decades old PRA equation with a badly underestimated Likelihood term in it .. .
    And that's how i see it in my 'view from the bottom'.

    We like to place blame on an individual.
    I suppose someplace there's a bureaucrat mid level manager who agreed to send back for further study that challenge to their tsunami likelihood assumptions . He gets my vote. But he's surely a lot wiser now and has suffered plenty already in self recrimination so why flog him? Act on the lesson and go on.

    My old mentor was expert at shredding red tape.
    But if you're at the bottom and decide to bypass middle management you'd better be doggone sure you're right.

    It could've been done for this one. Challenger too.
    Oddly, Three Mile Island was caused by bureaucratic over-reaction to a hypothetical "What If" . Proximal blame for that one lies with whatever bureaucrat issued the edict to operators "Thou shalt not fill thy Pressurizer" , over some What-If called 'Pressurized Thermal Shock' . Not long afterward they changed their edict to "Thou shalt overfill thy Pressurizer and let the water run out onto thy floor". That left Crystal River operators with a wet containment to clean up but proved the point.
    That's how large brained mammals and large organizations learn - through our mistakes.

    Progress not perfection..


    Wow i really rambled on that one,, eh? Old guys just do that. Thanks for reading it.

    old jim
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2017
  16. May 9, 2017 #15

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, I agree that such precautions are a necessity; I was simply pointing out just how wide the expectations gap is. Planes are probably a bad example because expectations are so high for planes as well. I probably should have picked an example where the expectations are low, like a car. How about: a head on collission at 100 kph due to falling asleep at the wheel killing the passengers and the deaths being blamed on a design flaw?

    My point is that there is a near zero risk/ risk tolerance and near perfect safety record that nevertheless people incorrectly perceive as a high risk and poor safety record. As a result, they make every-day decisions regarding their own safety that are much, much worse even while opposing nuclear power -- and some even instead of nuclear power. When in the 1970s and 1980s Americans successfully got the nuclear program of the US halted, the result was replacing new nuclear capacity with new coal capacity. They - knowingly or not - replaced a technology that has never killed a civilian (anyone outside its production) in the US with a technology that kills several civilians every day. And if you ask the same people today, many will still argue they made the right choice!
     
  17. May 9, 2017 #16
    I agree to most of it. Bureaucracy definitely is one of the problems when it comes to management. I'm not sure if there is any realistic option other than that, but bureaucracy in Japan quite often cause serious problems because Japanese corporation almost always take form of seniority. Although there are exceptions, many of the executives in Japanese companies are less likely to be familiar with science even if the company is based on scientific and technological products. For example in TEPCO, only one out of five CEO and presidents have scientific background. Scientific suggestion are less likely to be understood correctly for these people.
     
  18. May 9, 2017 #17
    Okay, I was misunderstanding your point. Yes, I agree.
     
  19. May 11, 2017 #18

    mheslep

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Yes quakes happen in Japan, are common, and the reactors survived this severe one intact. All of them shut down immediately, automatically. Tsunamis like this however are not at all common, once in perhaps 500 years. Indeed, the tsunami and quake killed some ten thousand people. The reactor accidents killed none.

    One could similarly label a plane wing hit by a meteor as a design flaw, by looking at safety measures not taken. It is possible, though wildly impractical, to accommodate the passengers on a plane with parachutes of some kind. Fuel tanks can be pressurized with inert gas (and are in in some miltary aircraft) to prevent explosion. None of this is done. Design flaw?

    Edit: Russ's high speed head on collision example is better yet.
     
  20. May 11, 2017 #19
    This is not a valid argument.

    Every other plant (which is the newer design) other than Fukushima in Japan are designed different and would have been invulnerable to the same disaster. Moreover, Fukushima was running longer than the life expectancy of the plant for political reasons. Other disaster may have happened one way or another. This means that something realistic could have been done, but just wasn't.

    This is the huge difference from planes than can be struck by a meteor, which you pretty much can't do anything realistic about it. I mean, our houses can be struck by a meteor. Design flaw?
     
  21. May 11, 2017 #20
    People are not concerned with design flaws in nuclear reactors any more than they are concerned with design flaws in gasoline powered generators. Design flaws are not the center of their concerns.

    Their concerns are with regard to the destructive potential of nuclear reactors as well as the mass centralization of our power grid to a smaller quantity of sources/locations.

    You can decrease the likelihood of failure to nearly zero, but the destructive potential that a reactor has will always be greater than some people are comfortable living near. Also, decreasing the likelihood of each reactor failing is counter-acted by the increase in quantity of reactors. If you reduce the likelihood of a destructive failure by half, but you triple the amount of individual reactors, how has the risk changed? Which one do you want to build your house nearest to?

    A core problem here is that you have people trusting their lives to a system with extraordinary destructive potential that they have no control over. So these people know that their lives are in somebody else's hands and that they can do virtually nothing about it. However, those hands which control the nuclear reactor can not be trusted to value the lives of those nearby as much as those nearby people value their own lives.

    Are going to suggest to those people that nuclear reactors don't fail? Are you going to suggest that all safety procedures are always followed? Wouldn't you also have suggested that very same thing to those affected prior to nearly every single failure to date? If you are going to use either of those things as appeals to change people's outlook on the future of Nuclear Power, then be assured that your appeals will not work. Those appeals have been given since the dawn of nuclear power. Nobody will believe that Nuclear power will fuel civilization for thousands of years without a failure.

    After a few thousand years of running on nuclear energy, how much waste will we have, and what will we do with it? Is that nuclear waste actually better for the earth than CO2, in the long term?

    There. Now you can discuss ways to comfort people's actual concerns , rather than made up non-analogous straw man concerns as posted by HAYAO and mheslep.

    Disclaimer: I am neutral on this topic. I am merely trying to encourage deeper thought into both sides of the topic. I don't think that the central topic of the OP was being sorted out effectiently.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2017
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted



Similar Discussions: Educating the general public about pro nuclear energy?
  1. Nuclear energy (Replies: 8)

Loading...