The China Syndrome and Three Mile Island

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In summary, the movie, The China Syndrome, was released just twelve days before the Three Mile Island accident. The movie is about a TV news reporter and her cameraman who visit the Ventana nuclear power plant. While viewing the control room, they go through a reactor SCRAM. Shift supervisor Jack Godell notices what he believes to be an unusual vibration during the SCRAM. Checking their gauges, they find that water levels in the reactor core have risen to high levels. They begin opening relief valves in an effort to prevent too much water from damaging the plant. However, the needle in the water level gauge turns out to have been stuck and when
  • #1
Ivan Seeking
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Some people here may remember the movie, The China Syndrome.

TV news reporter Kimberly Wells (Fonda) and her cameraman Richard Adams (Douglas) visit the Ventana nuclear power plant outside Los Angeles as part of a series of news reports on energy production. While viewing the control room from an observation room, the plant goes through a reactor SCRAM (emergency shutdown). Shift supervisor Jack Godell (Lemon) notices what he believes to be an unusual vibration during the SCRAM. Checking their gauges, the control room staff finds that water levels in the reactor core have risen to high levels; they begin opening relief valves in an effort to prevent too much water from damaging the plant. However, the needle in the water level gauge turns out to have been stuck, and when Godell taps the glass cover on the gauge, the needle rapidly drops to indicate that the water level is actually far too low, and the core has almost been uncovered. The staff begin restoring coolant systems, but for several agonizing minutes, the crew doesn't know whether the core is undergoing a meltdown or not. Eventually, backup systems are able to raise the water levels, and the reactor is brought under control.

...Meanwhile, Godell, suspecting there to be more to the strange vibration he felt at the beginning of the SCRAM, does some investigating of his own and uncovers evidence that the plant is unsafe. Specifically, he finds evidence to suggest that another reactor SCRAM at full power could cause the cooling system to be severely damaged...

...allegedly leading to a complete meltdown of the core. Note that in spite of the movie's title, the notion of the core going all the way to China is rebuffed even in the movie.

I never saw the movie until recently, so I never realized that it opened twelve days before the incident at Three Mile Island!

The film was released on March 16, 1979, just twelve days before the real-life events at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. The Three Mile Island accident helped propel The China Syndrome into a blockbuster.[4][5]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Syndrome

Talk about bad luck for the nuclear industry... and great luck for Hollywood!

Then, four years later came the movie, Silkwood.

Karen Silkwood died on November 13, 1974 in a fatal one-car crash. Since then, her story has achieved worldwide fame as the subject of many books, magazine and newspaper articles, and even a major motion picture. Silkwood was a chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee's plutonium fuels production plant in Crescent, Oklahoma, and a member of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers' Union. She was also an activist who was critical of plant safety. During the week prior to her death, Silkwood was reportedly gathering evidence for the Union to support her claim that Kerr-McGee was negligent in maintaining plant safety, and at the same time, was involved in a number of unexplained exposures to plutonium. The circumstances of her death have been the subject of great speculation.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/interact/silkwood.html

The story of Karen Silkwood, a metallurgy worker at a plutonium processing plant who was purposefully contaminated, psychologically tortured and possibly murdered to prevent her from exposing blatant worker safety violations at the plant.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086312/

Not only that, in 1979 we also saw Love Canal.

The Love Canal Tragedy
by Eckardt C. Beck
[EPA Journal - January 1979]
Quite simply, Love Canal is one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history.

But that's not the most disturbing fact.

What is worse is that it cannot be regarded as an isolated event. It could happen again--anywhere in this country--unless we move expeditiously to prevent it.
http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/lovecanal/01.htm

This certainly raised suspicion in the public mind in regards to the storage of toxic waste; including the storage of nuclear waste. The point? I just thought it was interesting to note the timeline of these events and the role that they certainly played in helping to shape the public perception of nuclear power.
 
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  • #2
Indeed. It seems that nuclear is associated with a large "outrage" factor, much more so than in many other sectors of activity. An interesting read about that is what Peter Sandman tells about the issue on his website http://www.psandman.com/
Sandman is a known risk communication consultant and he has put much of his material online.

You see that in nuclear, most of the elements promoting "outrage" are present.
(see http://www.psandman.com/index-intro.htm and http://www.psandman.com/index-OM.htm on that same site).
 
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  • #3
In the mid-1980s I coined the formula “Risk = Hazard + Outrage” to reflect a growing body of research indicating that people assess risks according to metrics other than their technical seriousness: that factors such as trust, control, voluntariness, dread, and familiarity (now widely called “the outrage factors”) are as important as mortality or morbidity in what we mean by risk...

I think the key word there is "trust". Vietnam was a recent memory, as was Nixon, and distrust of the government and large corporations was a given. This easily played into distrust of the nuclear industry. And the story of Silkwood didn't help to change this perception. Not only that, we lived under MAD - mutually assured destruction. The potential for the destruction of civiliation due to the use of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons was also a given. Even the men who implemented these policies called them MAD. As children, we had even practiced hiding under our desks in school in preparation for the day that the Russians attack. So the word "nuclear" was unavoidably associated with death and destruction. Next, the remote possibility of a meltdown in a nuclear plant was thought to be far more likely than calculated because of corruption and human failings, rather than because of the process or safeguards. I still adhere to this point of view in regards to both operation and security.

Note that in a post-911 world, we still find this:
The operators of a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant have been fined $65,000 after a federal commission learned several security guards at the facility were sleeping while on duty...
http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=6597151&page=1

Of course reducing outrage is a socially valuable thing to do only if the outrage is misplaced – that is, if the hazard, the technical risk, is genuinely small. (Similarly, increasing people’s outrage, as activists do, is socially valuable only if the hazard is genuinely big.) A recurring theme in my writing, and in others’ writing about me, is the ethical issues raised by outrage management, especially when deployed on behalf of huge multinational corporations.
http://www.psandman.com/index-OM.htm

Chernobyl was seven years later, in 1986.
 
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  • #4
While neither a sleeping security guard saftey nor Chernobyl have much useful to say about the safety of modern nuclear power, they really do hammer home the point of vansesch's link!
The most important fact about risk communication is the incredibly low correlation between a risk’s “hazard” (how much harm it’s likely to do) and its “outrage” (how upset it’s likely to make people). If you know a risk is dangerous, that tells you almost nothing about whether it’s upsetting. If you know it’s upsetting, that tells you almost nothing about whether it’s dangerous.
I've never seen that before, vanesch - it's a really good characterization of the problem. Thanks.
 
  • #5
russ_watters said:
While neither a sleeping security guard saftey nor Chernobyl have much useful to say about the safety of modern nuclear power,

Chernobyl, no, but in part because of the timing it did help to shape public opinion. It took place on the heels of the other events mentioned. But sleeping security guards are another matter. This is a great example of how a system can begin to slide. For a more dramatic example we might consider the Challenger shuttle explosion. In spite of redundant safeties intended to prevent that sort of disaster and decision making process, in the end, budget concerns outweighed engineering concerns.

The Hubble telescope would be another example. In that case it was a blatant deception. And this latest peanut food poisoning fiasco might be another example of a malicious disregard for public safety in lieu of profit.
 
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  • #6
The thing is, I have spent most of my thirty-year career watching people in industry cheat and cut corners. Not to say that it happens every day but it is fairly common to see things that shouldn't be done. Also, organizations [companies] can become severely dyfunctional. This in turn can lead to extremely incompetent management of systems and operations. This is partly what happened at NASA in regards to the Challenger.
 
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  • #7
Ivan Seeking said:
The thing is, I have spent most of my thirty-year career watching people in industry cheat and cut corners. Not to say that it happens every day but it is fairly common to see things that shouldn't be done. Also, organizations [companies] can become severely dyfunctional. This in turn can lead to extremely incompetent management of systems and operations.

It was also the base of the Chernobyl disaster, btw. The level of incompetence and disfunctioning was total there, from design, through management, through operation, through emergency management. Everything there went as wrong as it could be, in every aspect.
But then, the whole Soviet Union was like that in the end.

Now, there's nothing special to nuclear. Nuclear disasters are not worse than other culminations of dysfunction and incompetence in large-scale activities when looking at cost and victims. If, on a large scale, everything dysfunctions, then that will give rise to cost and victims on a large scale. Not to say that Chernobyl was nothing, but it didn't play in a different category of disaster than other disasters - except maybe for one point: a piece of land has been turned in a natural reserve for a century or two, and is economically dead. Indeed, with most other disasters, there's not this aspect: after a few years at most, you can reconstruct on the same spot.

You could say that the dysfunctioning of the financial and banking system will probably cost much more and cause way more victims than Chernobyl did. But, true, a few years from now, hopefully, we can put that nightmare behind us and pretend it never happened. That cannot be said of the natural reserve in the 30 km zone around Chernobyl, which is now a natural park "with a guarantee".

That said, as long as there is a safety culture (that's the thing to check regularly), individual errors are not a problem: the system is normally designed to be robust against individual errors, and even relatively small accumulations of errors. That's the whole idea: that the safety of the whole thing is not based upon one or two elements. It is not because the guard was sleeping that there was a serious problem, by itself. It is not because this or that didn't function, that there was a problem. That's what people have sometimes a hard time realizing: the system is designed such that individual problems are never an overall problem. You need a long chain of individual errors before something serious can start to happen. Of course, if the whole chain is rotten, you will get a serious problem in the end. So one should check the integrity of the whole system, which is nothing else but the safety culture.
 
  • #8
Ivan Seeking said:
The Hubble telescope would be another example. In that case it was a blatant deception.

I don't think it was evil so much as ineptitude. The Allen Report says "The Perkin-Elmer plan for fabricating the primary mirror placed complete reliance on the reflective null corrector as the only test to be used in both manufacturing and verifying the mirror's surface with the required precision. NASA understood and accepted this plan. This methodology should have alerted NASA management to the fragility of the process and the possibility of gross error, that is, a mistake in the process, and the need for continued care and consideration of independent measurements."

I do think that this is an example of what happens when QA paperwork becomes an end unto itself and becomes more important than actual QA. This is the biggest problem I see with trying to create a "safety culture" - what can happen (and has happened) is that safety paperwork becomes more important than actual safety.

vanesch said:
Not to say that Chernobyl was nothing, but it didn't play in a different category of disaster than other disasters - except maybe for one point: a piece of land has been turned in a natural reserve for a century or two, and is economically dead. Indeed, with most other disasters, there's not this aspect: after a few years at most, you can reconstruct on the same spot.

But there certainly other disasters that do this. Coal seam fires have rendered sections of Pennsylvania uninhabitable for decades. St. Lucia's Flood in what is now the Netherlands in 1287 has permanently reshaped the Dutch coast - places where people once lived are underwater even today.
 
  • #10
I do think that this is an example of what happens when QA paperwork becomes an end unto itself and becomes more important than actual QA. This is the biggest problem I see with trying to create a "safety culture" - what can happen (and has happened) is that safety paperwork becomes more important than actual safety.
This was defiantly the problem with Nasa at the time of Hubble (and in the years after) they had a large number of inspectors at PE's plant, all of them checking the quality paperwork but nobody checking the actual work.
Rather like the security theatre of airport security
 
  • #11
MELTDOWN AT THREE MILE ISLAND"
A 1999 cable-TV documentary which probes the March 1979 near-catastrophe at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.
http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=D2F74ACA319749F5

In the news, yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the failure.
 
  • #12
The question is in how much this was a "near catastrophe", or an almost non-event.

The first barrier (the fuel cladding) melted, but simply due to remnant heat (radioactive decay), the reactor was stopped. The second barrier (the reactor vessel) was somewhat damaged on the inside, but didn't break, and the 3rd barrier (the confinement building) was still there. So we were still 2 barriers away from the products being released to the outside, and even if that were the case, it would have been a slow, leaking release - nothing comparable to Chernobyl where everything was put out in a smoke plume driven by a still working reactor and a huge fire directly high in the atmosphere.

So even if (and that's pretty unthinkable) the 2 other barriers would have been broken, we would have had a very serious, but very local, contamination of the site and slightly beyond, apart from a release of volatiles such as I-131, which would have indeed contaminated a larger area, but for a few weeks only. So one would have to evacuate for a few weeks the area in, say a few miles around it, give non-active iodine to inhabitants, and have a serious local cleanup mess on site.

In other words, the hypothetical "near catastrophe" would be equivalent to a similar accident of a local release of toxic products in industry.

Statistically, probably a few people would get a cancer (as they would if there were a release somewhere of say, aromatic hydrocarbons or something) a few decades later.

So the catastrophe wasn't that near, and wasn't that terrible.
 
  • #13
Even the worst case of TMI would have been far less severe than Bhopal, and carbaryl is still in use almost worldwide.
 
  • #14
A catastrophic meltdown in the spent fuel pool of a nuclear power plant could cause fatal, radiation-induced cancer in thousands of people as far as 500 miles from the site, according to a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission study.

The analysis of spent fuel pool meltdowns also states that millions of people within such a 500-mile zone might have to be evacuated for periods ranging from 30 days to one year and that people living within 10 miles of a nuclear plant, such as Indian Point in Buchanan, might never be able to return to their homes...
http://www.pro-resources.net/nuclearnews/NRC%20study%20warns%20of%20500-mile%20radiation%20spread.htm

Can you even imagine an evacuation at that scale? Experience tells us that it is almost impossible to evacuate even one city.

So let's consider something like San Onofre nuclear power plant, in California. A 500 mile evacuation perimeter would include all of San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and even San Francisco. Do you really think this is feasible? It would probably destroy the US economy... in fact it almost certainly would; if not the global economy.

Note that the GDP of California is about 1.7 trillion dollars US - counting as the 13th largest country and just a little smaller than the GDP of France.
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2001rank.html
http://www.dof.ca.gov/HTML/FS_DATA/LatestEconData/Data/Miscellaneous/Bbgsp.xls
 
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  • #15
My favorite part of the video is where the country's two foremost experts on the situation were arguing about whether or not the plant was about to blow up due to a hydrogen explosion, even as Jimmy Carter was arriving to see the plant. By the time Carter was informed of the danger, he had already publically committed to seeing the plant. To turn back at that point would send a catastrophic message to the nation. How would you like to be an engineer caught in the middle of that mess? :biggrin:
 
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  • #16
A very unfortunate fate for such an amazingly powerful and efficient source of energy.

I'm of the opinion that the opposition isn't driven so much by fear as it is by politics, which is driven by the oil industry. Currently, 20% of the US' electricity is generated by nuclear power plants. I'd think if it were the case that the opposition was completely driven by fear, the government would spend just as much time fencing anti-nuke activists as they would environmentalists.

By the way, that statistic should be enough to destroy any argument about "incompetence". Currently, there are 104 operational nuclear reactors in the US. Perpetuating the belief that we aren't responsible enough for nuclear technology is reckless, irresponsible, and wholly dangerous to economics.

Nuclear power is the way to go, and the market is ready for it. Now, if only people would stop being so unreasonable.
 
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  • #17
Brilliant! said:
I'm of the opinion that the opposition isn't driven so much by fear as it is by politics, which is driven by the oil industry. Currently, 20% of the US' electricity is generated by nuclear power plants.

And about 2% by oil. Hard to see how the oil industry has much to gain here.
 
  • #18
http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table1_1.html

Coal is nearly 50%, and natural gas has eclipsed nuclear as the second leading source.

Certainly the coal industry has an incentive to have new generation being coal, while gas producers have an incentive to have new generation from gas-fired plants.
 
  • #19
Ivan Seeking said:
So let's consider something like San Onofre nuclear power plant, in California. A 500 mile evacuation perimeter would include all of San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and even San Francisco. Do you really think this is feasible? It would probably destroy the US economy... in fact it almost certainly would; if not the global economy.

To really be certain, a perimeter of 50 000 miles would even be safer, don't you think ? :biggrin:

If it would ruin the US economy to evacuate 500 miles around the plant, to avoid people to get, say, a 0.5 mSv (*) extra dose or something of the kind in that area, then the best thing to do is not to evacuate. And to let them have their dose. It would be far far far less costly to have a few thousand extra cancers over a 50 years time, than to do something crazy like that, wouldn't it ?

A "nuclear catastrophe" is nothing else but a pollution event, with a certain potential health impact, which is, apart from strong expositions nearby, quite small as compared to most pollutions we already undergo. And it is pretty rare. Not entirely impossible, true.

(*) world average natural yearly dose: 2.4 mSv.
 
  • #20
Vanadium 50 said:
And about 2% by oil. Hard to see how the oil industry has much to gain here.
Sorry, I did mean 'coal industry'. I've had so many conversations about the oil industry that it's almost a habit to type "oil" before the word "industry".

That being said, Astronuc has made a good point in favor of my typo.
 
  • #21
Astronuc said:
Coal is nearly 50%, and natural gas has eclipsed nuclear as the second leading source.
Fortunately for natural gas, they have the benefit of relatively unmitigated allowance for expansion. In nuclear's case, most growth is made through upgrading the existing reactors.

When (and if) the majority comes to accept nuclear power, it's share of the production of electricity will sky-rocket.
 
  • #22
I think we should design skyscrapers to withstand asteroid impacts.
 
  • #23
russ_watters said:
I think we should design skyscrapers to withstand asteroid impacts.
:smile: That reminds me of a lady, apparently a member of an anti-nuclear, pro-environmental group, who came to our university to sit in a presentation that was given by someone from the nuclear industry. The talk was on safety, and I think it covered some of the issues with Three Mile Island.

She asked - "What if large meteroid struck a nuclear power plant?" A large meteroid is essentially an asteroid.

The presenter indicated that if a meteroid was so large, the nuclear plant would be the least of the worries. The implication is that a sufficiently large meteroid would have a much greater devastating effect than a breach of a nuclear plant.


The problem with natural gas is the price volatility. As I understand it, gas-fired plants loose money when the price of gas goes up because they were built to be profitable at around $2-3 /MMBtu. Above about $5-6/MMBtu, they are marginal or break-even. But when gas was about $7+/MMBtu, the plants were losing money through generation, and the only way to make money is to sell gas directly to heating.

Since the completion of the last plants, various utilities have increased the output of many nuclear plants anywhere for about 7% to 20%, and there are some looking at further power extensions, in addition to plant life extension from 40 yrs to 60 yrs.

We're still waiting for new plant orders, although NRG has apparently purchased two pressure vessels and large components for two ABWRs to be sited at the South Texas Project.
 
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  • #24
Astronuc said:
We're still waiting for new plant orders, although NRG has apparently purchased two pressure vessels and large components for two ABWRs to be sited at the South Texas Project.
This is really exciting because, along with GE, Toshiba and Hitachi are hoping to get in on the South Texas Project. If they become a fixed source of nuclear technology for the US, there's no telling what advances we'll see in the near future.
 
  • #25
Toshiba just bought Westinghouse from BNFL, so Toshiba has more or less parted ways with GE/Hitachi, which have formed a joint company GEH (GE-Hitachi) in the US. Toshiba/Westinghouse markets the AP1000. GEH is marketing the ABWR and ESBWR. Unfortunately, two utilities who were looking at ESBWR have backed out.

AREVA has their EPR, two of which are being built at Flamanville, Fr and Olkiluoto, Fi, but both plants are having problems.
EPR - Flamanville 3 The EPR is designed to prevent a China Syndrome event.
 
  • #26
Very interesting. I haven't been keeping informed. Thanks for the update :smile:
 
  • #27
Astronuc said:
The problem with natural gas is the price volatility. As I understand it, gas-fired plants loose money when the price of gas goes up because they were built to be profitable at around $2-3 /MMBtu. Above about $5-6/MMBtu, they are marginal or break-even. But when gas was about $7+/MMBtu, the plants were losing money through generation, and the only way to make money is to sell gas directly to heating.

Much new gas construction is in so-called "peaker plants". These are small plants that are designed to supplement electricity production when it peaks. Natural gas is an attractive technology, because small plants are efficient and cost-effective, and they can be turned on at a moment's notice. Because power is only sold when demand is highest (and thus, when it's most expensive), price volatility becomes less of an issue.
 
  • #28
Movies like the China Syndrome came along at a time when there was growing concern about nuclear power, and the industry didn't help matters with problems like the fire at Browns Ferry 1 (1975), then TMI (1979) and the Karen Silkwood case (1974). It also didn't help that there were significant cost over-runs of several billion dollars in that last several plants, e.g. River Bend, Shoreham, and others. Plants like Midland (Michigan) and Zimmer (Ohio) had quality control problems in addition to going overbudget, so they were converted to gas fired plants.

Then in 1983, we had WPPSS - "In 1983, it became infamous for defaulting on $2.25 billion USD worth of bonds after construction on two of its nuclear power plants, WNP-4 and 5, was halted. The default remains the largest municipal bond default in the history of the United States, acquiring the nickname "whoops" in the financial media"

It seemed like for a long time, the nuclear industry couldn't do anything right. But we've made big improvements in operation. And we need to continue improving.


In addition, the DOE's dawdling on Yucca mountain is problematic, because the government was supposed to have started taking spent fuel back in 1982. Unfortunately, each time we change an administration, the Yucca mountain projects gets changed or deferred. No utility (except maybe NRG) is going to commit to a new nuclear plant if they expect to have to hold onto the spent fuel indefinitely.


The most recent challege to new nuclear plants is the dramatic rise in cost of nuclear grade materials, steel and concrete, and even more recently the financial crisis. Lenders may not be willing to set out $5-7 billion per unit, given all the other uncertainties facing the industry and the economy.
 
  • #29
Vanadium 50 said:
Much new gas construction is in so-called "peaker plants". These are small plants that are designed to supplement electricity production when it peaks. Natural gas is an attractive technology, because small plants are efficient and cost-effective, and they can be turned on at a moment's notice. Because power is only sold when demand is highest (and thus, when it's most expensive), price volatility becomes less of an issue.

Here's an article from 2003 - US gas price a boon for coal-fired power
http://www.miningweekly.com/article/us-gas-price-a-boon-for-coalfired-power-2003-07-14

Analysts warn the average price of gas will be $5,50-6,00/million British thermal units in 2003, up from about $3,30 in 2002.
. . . .
"Naturally when gas prices are higher, companies that are dependent on gas-fired generation go looking to the wholesale market for power from the big coal generators, who have less expensive power," said Pat Hemlepp, a spokesperson for AEP, the nation's biggest coal burner.
. . . .
There's a lot of gas (as well as oil) in combined cycle plants, which are more intermediate load instead of peaking units, which tend to be straight gas-fired. Given that gas is used to produce 20% of the electrical energy, it seems to be more than just peaking units.

Back in 2002 AEP closed several gas-fired plants - http://madmax.lmtonline.com/textarchives/100202/s8.htm

In 2006 - http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/earth/inside-the-earth/coal-paradox.html
For the past 15 years U.S. utilities needing to add power have mainly built plants that burn natural gas, a relatively clean fuel. But a near tripling of natural gas prices in the past seven years has idled many gas-fired plants and put a damper on new construction. Neither nuclear energy nor alternative sources such as wind and solar seem likely to meet the demand for electricity.
. . . .
and
Natural gas prices could rise so high that gas-fired plants are too expensive to operate.
Bill Bojorquez, director of system planning for ERCOT. (April 2006)
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/stories/041906dnbuselectricity.1234d358.html

The industry has changed since then, but many gas-fired plants may not be located near the desired markets, and there is a problem with transmitting power over long distances due to capacity limitations. Now there is a mix of public utilities and merchant generators, and some utilities are a mix/hybrid of regulated utilities and unregulated merchant generators.

Locally, Dynegy bought the generation of the local utility, which due to deregulation (to save us money) became a T&D company which buys electricity from the grid. Well it hasn't saved us money, and it didn't help us when the entire NE grid went down in Aug 2003 - despite the fact that we had sufficient generation capacity just 10-15 miles from us.
 
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  • #30
Have a country where science and engineering is now so poorly regarded that they might as well shut down?
Decided that the future is in selling financial services - but need a bit of cash to help you over a short term glitch?
Want reliable power generation for the future?

Then just sell off your last world class industry.
Anybody want to buy the world's most innovative waste reprocessor - going cheap!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7972293.stm
 

Related to The China Syndrome and Three Mile Island

1. What is "The China Syndrome"?

"The China Syndrome" is a term used to describe a hypothetical situation in which a nuclear reactor meltdown would result in the molten core melting through the containment structure and into the earth, potentially reaching all the way to China.

2. What happened at Three Mile Island?

On March 28, 1979, a partial meltdown occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. A combination of equipment malfunctions and human error resulted in a loss of coolant and a buildup of pressure in the reactor, causing a partial meltdown of the nuclear fuel rods. This was the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history at the time.

3. Was "The China Syndrome" a factor in the Three Mile Island accident?

No, the term "The China Syndrome" was coined before the Three Mile Island accident and was not a factor in the incident. The name comes from the idea that the molten core would continue to burn through the earth's crust until it reached China, but this is not scientifically accurate.

4. What were the consequences of the Three Mile Island accident?

The Three Mile Island accident resulted in the release of a small amount of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment. The immediate area around the plant was evacuated, and there were concerns about potential long-term health effects for those living nearby. However, studies have shown that the accident did not cause any significant health impacts.

5. Has "The China Syndrome" ever occurred in real life?

No, "The China Syndrome" has never occurred in real life. While there have been several nuclear accidents throughout history, none have resulted in a molten core burning through the earth's crust. Advances in nuclear technology and safety protocols have greatly reduced the likelihood of a meltdown occurring in modern nuclear reactors.

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