Safety concerns, leaking tubes, nuclear waste #NoToBNPP
DR. ACHILLES DEL CALLAR
Nuclear engineer, Dean of the College of Science
Our concern centers around a very little 16-gm. pellet which contains about 3% uranium-235 and 97% uranium-238 bonded with ceramic. This little pellet, fully utilized, will give as much energy as 4 barrels of oil. If your burn one carbon atom, you get about 30 electron volts of energy, and that’s being generous. If you split one uranium atom, you get 200,000,000 electron volts of energy, a tremendous amount of energy indeed.
Seven million 16-gm. Pellets are packed in rods that are about 45 feet long and the rods are clustered, and the clusters are put in the reactor core. Our worries begin with the very act of fission itself. You have, say, a basketball-size uranium-235 nucleus. You split that with a small ping-pong size neutron. In the process of fission, you produce energy and two large volleyball-size very radioactive particles, plus two to three more pingpong-size neutrons: one needed to continue the chain reaction, the other to lodge somewhere else, which if it lodges in the structure may produce a third radioactive atom; if it lodges in the fuel, more likely it will lodge in the uranium-238 nucleus which will react; if there’s a nuclear reaction between a u-238 and a neutron, you produce plutonium after two decays, which means there will be enough material in the nuclear reactor after a year’s operation to produce enough plutonium for about 10 to 20 bombs, depending on design. Which for some countries may be a good thing, but for those who believe in Christianity it is not a good thing.
All our safety concerns stem from the fact that radio-activity is being created. During the process of fission, you produce about 35 assorted elements or isotopes. Some in the form of gases like krypton and xenon which you cannot keep in the control rod, they escape into the coolant water from which they have to be extracted and stored or released into the atmosphere. But the bulk of fission products will remain trapped in the control rods. After a year’s use, you replace some 20 tons of it and keep the spent fuel temporarily in swimming pools that are about 12 feet deep. If we allow the nuclear plant to operate, let’s say it operates for 30 years, we will have so much radioactive waste to dispose of.
In the U.S. nuclear reactors are faced with the problem of accumulated wastes. When they designed these swimming pools s temporary sites, they expected in the future to have a permanent storage place, but this has not materialized. So they’re building more swimming pools instead.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) is very very strict on storage because the spent fuel elements are so radio-actively hot that they produce/generate enough heat to melt the fuel rods themselves. And there’s a possibility that you might keep those fuel rods in a configuration that may become critical, that might also produce fission.
Two cardinal rules in running a nuclear reactor: One, never never leave it without circulating coolant water, that is, water at 2000 lbs. per square inch at 635 degrees fahrenheit. I think 600,000 gallons per minute is what you need to cool the reactor and this must be circulating constantly. Two, never never be without power, whether from the Luzon grid or emergency diesel generators or from your own production.
Now our reactor is a Westinghouse reactor whose steam generator might have a defect common to Westinghouse reactors. Westinghouse sold one to Japan in 1970 which turned out to be a lemon. The Japanese never got any power out of it because of steam generator problems, that is, leaking tubes. A leakage of just one gallon per minute out of 600,000 gallons per minute of water is already considered dangerous. You’d be required to shut down that reactor.
What did our Westinghouse friends say on TV when they were asked about this? Oh, they said, we anticipated that problem. All you have to do is plug any leaking tubes, we made provisions for extra tubes. They didn’t mention, of course, that the tubes are in the reactor building, you have to open the steam generator and locte the leaking tube before you can plug it. And what if there were a leakage and the tube did not know how to follow Westinghouse’s directions? What if a leaking tube ruptures? The rupture would cause a decrease in the pressure, steam will form, the release valve will open, so many gallons of water will spill out and contaminate the building. It would take 6 months to repair the steam generator and to complete decontamination.
All major accidents, so far, involved mistakes in design and failure of equipment, usually compounded by human error. What we need are experts with stringent standards to help with the evaluation of the plant’s construction and design. Which is why I question the Philippine government’s insistence to the USNRC in 1980 that any evaluation by the latter of our nuclear plant would constitute a violation of Philippine sovereignty. Why does the government not want to know what nuclear experts think about our plant?
I’m pretty sure that if that nuclear plant is evaluated by an independent team of experts, one not subject to the pressures a Filipino team would be subject to, a lot of safety defects will be found. Then surely the price will even go higher. In the U.S. experience with plants that are 95 to 100% completed, you’ll need at least half a billion dollars more to upgrade design and safety standards.
Now if we’re going to spend half a billion more dollars, let’s construct a dirty coal plant instead. The tubing is already there, the generator is already there, the building is already there. We can have a dirty coal plant for the same amount of money. Yes, there will be pollution of the environment to worry about but at least it won’t be radioactive, nor permanently dangerous. We will not be leaving future generations of Filipinos with a ticking time bomb. God did not create radioactivit in such huge quantities. It is this generation, our generation, that is creating these radioactive particles and wastes. I blame the Church. The Church has not addressed the morality of technological advances such as this.
Question. Will the plant be able to withstand earthquakes? Or what if that nearby volcano erupts without warning?
GONZALEZ. In August 1973 the NAPOCOR engaged EBASCO Overseas Corporation of New York to help select, then evaluate, the site for the nuclear plant. They submitted 13 volumes of reports after 2 years work. The Philippines spent about $615 million for their assessments. Their conclusions: (1) The plant will be able to withstand earthqueakes up to 7.9 on the Richter scale, that is, about 40% acceleration of gravity, which means that all buildings in Manila will have toppled down and the plant will still be standing. (2) That mountain there has not erupted in the last 50,000 years, is not likely to erupt in the future. (3) Although we are situated on an earthquake belt, so is Japan and the Japanese have 24 nuclear plants, Taiwan has 4, South Korea has 8.
Question. Are any steps being made to look for a permanent storage place for radioactive wastes instead of just temporary ones?
DEL CALLAR. There’s a committee looking for geologically stable places and the claim is that Mindoro and Palawan are suitable. But the Palawenos say no. In fact, the’re already complaining, first you gave us a leper colony, then a penal colony, then you gave us Pena, now you want to give us nuclear waste! No, it will not be in Palawan.
Now they’re saying that Tarlac and Zambales are also geologically stable places. I say it’s not that safe. You have the huge Pacific tectonic plate subducting against the Asian plate that produced the Himalayan mountains; you have the massive Euro-Asian plate and the Australian plate; all giant plates, with the Pacific plate, the side of most volcanic eruptions and giant earthquakes, forming a ‘circle of fire’. And in between these three huge plates is our very own, the Philippine plate, which we share with Japan. At the moment the Pacific plate is subducting under our plate in the Mindanao Deep (they subduct usually at deep deep ocean tenches).
So you have this small tectonic plate and you think you’ll find a geologically stable formation on that small tectonic plate? Impossible! Any big tectonic movement of any of these giant plates is liable to produce volcanic activity anywhere in the Philippines. . . . Volcanology is not an exact science. It cannot predict anything.
[“A Primer on Nuclear Power.” Alternative Futures. Vol II. No 1. 1985. 27-32]