This is part two of a series covering the incredible safety of nuclear energy. Today we cover the design and safety features of nuclear power plants. You can find part one here.
In this article, we cover some of the amazing design and safety features used in modern nuclear power plants. Then we will see why we cannot use nuclear power plants to make nuclear weapons.
We cannot hope to cover all the security procedures and design features that go into making nuclear power plants as safe as they are. But we will cover some of the most important ones. This should be enough to show just how safe these facilities in fact are.
Before we get into some of the design and safety features, let us look at the death tolls. After all, this is what a lot of the hysteria hovers over.
The Death Tolls
There have been three major nuclear reactor incidents. Let us go over all three of them and their death tolls.
Three Mile Island.
This occurred in the USA in 1979. This incident severely damaged the reactor, but the power plant contained the radiation. There have been no adverse health or environmental consequences.
The reactor was shut down by the automatic fail-safe systems installed on nuclear power plants and there was very little release of any radioactive material.
Yes, some radioactive gas was released, but at doses below normal background levels.
You can read more here.
This occurred in Ukraine in 1986. There was a steam explosion which destroyed the reactor. The resulting fire killed two people and a further 28 people died from radiation poisoning within three months.
The United Nations links 4,000 cancer-related deaths to this incident. The WHO estimates 5,000. Ever the alarmists, Greenpeace International claim 90,000. But experts say that the actual number is far less than this.
We know that at least 31 people died as a direct result of exposure to radiation at the time of the incident. With many more dying as a result of the evacuation procedures and for other reasons.
We may never know how many deaths can be laid at the feet of the accident. It could be that the United Nations estimate of 4,000 is accurate or over-stated. Or it could be a higher death toll than this. But it is unlikely to be the 90,000-200,000 or so claimed by Greenpeace!
It was reported that the incidence of thyroid cancer skyrocketed after the incident. If this is true then some of these deaths likely can be blamed on the radiation released during the incident.
Chernobyl’s unusually high death toll does not accurately reflect the design of modern power plants.
The designers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant did not design it with modern safety features. In fact, the designers and operators ignored known nuclear safety at the time.
Chernobyl nuclear power plant cut corners and employed improper facilities such as insufficient containment in order to cut costs. The USSR lacked the production facilities to create sufficiently thick steel containment vessels and the like.
They did not follow proper safety procedures, thus greatly increasing the chance of any major incident releasing significant quantities of radioactive material in the environment.
Had the plant been properly designed and proper safety procedures employed, it is likely that very little radiation would have escaped into the environment. And any that might have escaped would have been significantly less harmful.
So, while it might seem that Chernobyl demonstrates the vast danger of nuclear power plants, it does not accurately represent the minimal dangers of properly managed nuclear power plants.
It simply highlights the importance of proper design and maintenance of proper safety systems. And the importance of following proper safety procedures.
In the next part, we shall see that even this death toll of thousands of people over decades is a tiny death toll compared to many other means of energy production. One incident in a hydroelectric dam can kill several thousands of people!
Four deaths have since been linked to radiation exposure from the Fukushima incident. But this is still less than the 40 or so people killed during the evacuation procedures alone! Or the 18,000 people killed by the tsunami itself.
Fukushima is a more realistic indication of the expected death toll from a major nuclear accident than Chernobyl. Yes, people have died and it is likely that several more deaths may be linked to radiation exposure from this incident. But the death toll will be vastly less than Chernobyl.
But even in this incident, the Fukushima nuclear power plant used old designs and did not properly follow modern safety procedures.
On top of this, while they designed the plant to withstand tsunamis, it is impossible to make a power plant completely immune to being compromised by a tsunami. Except by building it in a location too far inland for this to be an issue. Not all power plants are in coastal regions, so tsunamis are not an issue.
So, Fukushima may be a realistic indication of the expected death toll from a major nuclear power plant accident, but it is not necessarily indicative of what one can expect from the average major incident.
Which is likely to be more like the Three Mile Island, which involves a death toll of zero and no major environmental impact.
The world has seen over 17,000 reactor-years of nuclear power plant operation time in 33 countries. That is, if you add up all the hours of operation from all these plants, they have been running for over 17,000 reactor-years.
With only three major accidents and several small accidents of no great consequence.
Yes, there have been deaths, but in all these reactor-years, the only incident of great consequence has been one in which proper safety procedures have not been followed. Since proper safety features have been employed in other cases, the statistics indicate that nuclear power plants are very safe!
But let us look at some of the design features and safety procedures that help explain why this is the case.