to BNPP or not to BNPP

19 March 2011

had just finished reading winnie monsod’s inquirer column BNPP sturdier than Fukushima plant when i got this fwd email from flor lacanilao, a reaction from AC de Dios of PhilScience@yahoogroups.com to a philippine star article Despite nuke crisis in Japan, science chief backs opening of BNPP

I think we may be surprised in the end to know what is happening or what really happened inside the troubled reactors in Japan. It is unfortunate that the Philippine science chief jumps into conclusion even without the complete information at hand.

There are two sources of radiation inside every nuclear plant in the world: the main reactor and the spent fuel rods. The uranium fuel rods could only be used for about six years – after that, it has depleted its U-238, to a point that it is no longer economical to keep using. These spent fuel rods, however, are still highly radioactive and are still producing a lot of heat that these need to be stored under circulating water – it takes another ten years before these spent fuel rods could be handled safely. Thus, in every power plant, there is a pool of water that contains the used or spent fuel rods. This pool needs to be circulated, otherwise, it will boil and cotinue to heat, and the zirconium casings protecting the radioactive material will oxidize.

I think the main reactors inside the troubled reactors of Japan were not the problem – After all, the safety of these reactors have been greatly emphasized.So these are contained in super strong stainless containers, probably not just by one but two protective containments. The problem, I believe, concerns the spent fuel rods, the nuclear waste that these plants have been accumulating and stored inside pools, which, of course, are not, inside the strong stainless steel containers. The lack of electricity meant no circulation of water inside these pools.

And these pools began to overheat causing oxidation of the metal casing and production of hydrogen which then cause the explosions. If this is indeed the case, then the problem is almost unsolvable because chances are, the container holding these pools has probably been breached. Therefore, the pools could no longer hold water that is necessary to control the radioactivity of the spent fuel rods. Japan will still try to pour water into the nuclear plants in the hope that the cooling pools will be restored.

It is not only the integrity of a plant against an earthquake or tsunami that is in question. The problem of nuclear waste still requires an answer and if the above is correct, handling and storing the spent fuel rods require as much attention. I think, if one then factors this, it could be easily seen that it is not really economically sound to build and operate a nuclear power plant. If a plant will operate for 36 years, it will have, by the end, an equivalent of 6-cycle nuclear waste (since the rods are useful only for six years) – the design and construction of the plant that will take care of this waste will add tremendously to the cost. This is the question that I think the science chief needs to ask before backing the opening of the BNPP.

Angel C. DeDios
Associate Professor of Chemistry
Georgetown University

but read, too, glenn e. sjoden’s Why nuclear power is a necessity

As a career nuclear engineer, dedicated to public safety and to the advancement of nuclear engineering and nuclear power for the world, this has been devastating — all for want of some diesel fuel, clean water and decent electrical couplings on backup generators. However, that is the truth. If the backup generating (diesel) sources had been properly sited to operate post-tsunami, I wouldn’t have written this article, because the Daiichi reactors would now be stable.

…”What about the waste?” I answer this by asking, did you ever wonder why our French colleagues have 40 years of mostly nuclear power and no waste problems?

Like most nations, they recycle their used fuel, since 95% of the fuel can be recycled back into the reactor and used again, making nuclear power the most “green” energy source out there. Burying the waste, as we do in the United States, is completely wasteful, and other nations, including Japan, recycle all of their used fuel.

We do need to take pause, as the events in Japan are certainly immense, and we need to collectively ponder ways to improve at all levels. However, I believe we need to be smart and carry on the mission of nuclear power for a sustainable future, learning from our mistakes. Likewise, I don’t stop driving my gasoline powered automobile when I hear about an oil refinery accident. Let us be smart, but let us also be sensible and realistic.

as for the BNPP, no doubt it would take a lot of upgrading, specially with regard to recycling the nuclear waste.

and what about the finding of international experts that the BNPP was built near major earthquake fault lines.   is it true that PHILVOLCS Director Renato Solidum Jr. has debunked this, saying there is no evidence to support the presence of an active fault beneath the nuclear reactor building of the BNPP or within the BNPP area?   meaning, not near enough to be affected by a major major earthquake?   really?

don’t know na whom to believe.  i’m still anti-nuke.

4 Responses to to BNPP or not to BNPP

  1. March 19, 2011 at 10:27 pm
    manuelbuencamino

    There is some controversy regarding France’s recycling of spent fuel rods. It seems that the processing produces radioactive emissions as well. I read somewhere that England and some other countries had complained about it because the radioactive whatever was reaching their countries.

    As to all those claims that nuclear power plants are safe and the number of casualties as a result of chernobyl and tmi are small etc. All I can say is the nuclear power industry is as honest and straightforward about their product as the tobacco industry is with their product.

    Mankind has discovered a fantastic form of energy. Unfortunately it is still not capable of using it safely.

    Of course one can always argue that nothing is 100 percent safe but it’s relatively safe, it does not emit hydrocarbons and it’s cheaper in the long run so it’s worth it considering the minimal risk involved. And I would agree with that if there were no other option.

    But there’s solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric alternatives. There is even fusion technology on the horizon. True these alternatives may be expensive at the moment but so was nuclear energy in the beginning.

    At day’s end I think will sleep more soundly around a solar power plant than a nuclear facility. And that’s the bottom line.

  2. March 19, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    i forgot to say, our science chief pala is a “nonscientist” acc to flor lacanilao…

  3. March 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm
    UP nn grad

    to manuel: Maybe the reason that Danding or other kamaganak’s have not proposed Solar Power is typhoon-belt countries are bad locations for those photo-voltaic and other lenses for solar. And Pinoys-in-Pinas may prefer coal to solar. Reason — solar costs three to five times as much as coal, just imagine what happens to Pilipinas electricity rates.

  4. March 31, 2011 at 2:11 am
    manuelbuencamino

    UP,

    Those costs relating to solar energy that you speak of begin to go down as the technology matures. Parang LCD yan o kaya yung mga cellphones.

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