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Teacher, activist, interested in energy technology, climate change, environmental issues and global security.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Volcanoes and Nuclear Power - The Absent Discussion

Volcanoes could pose a threat to nuclear facilities - perhaps greater than  admitted up to now  Photo: Jukka Seppälä/Creator's Fingerprints

One issue that has bothered me personally for some time now (in addition to nuclear power & solar storms  ) is volcanic hazards and nuclear power. I think this subjects has just been too difficult to analyze since it brings such horrifying scenarios with it that the main reason for ignorance of discussion would be something like this: "If Yellowstone blows up, we don't need to think about nuclear fallout - we'll end up dead, all of us, and there's no difference which one would be the cause."

But this kind of thinking rejects the logics as too painfull to be continued. The most probable case is that there won't exist any ELE -volcanic eruption on this earth during the next thousand years but thousands of smaller volcanic events that could have a high regional or national impact. And there's where this nuclear thing becomes important.

There was just recently a brief news that Hanford nuclear facility in the U.S.A. is having once more a serious radioactive leak. But when this Hanford case was analyzed, there occurred another hazardous possibility. The Hanford staff would have only less than 24 hours to change 7 000 filters of the facitility in case of volcanic eruption of the nearest volcano. Could that be possible? And what if the eruption and ashfall continues for weeks or months?


That article reminded me of the volcanic black swan ( ) that is hidden from the politicians, the common man and even from the nuclear industry. What if we'll get strong volcanic events near to nuclear power plants? If we'll get 20 - 30 inches of volcanic ash falling down from the skies. How would water intake filters and cooling systems, emergency cooling systems and power grids response to this kind of event?

And how about the structures of nuclear facility buildings? Well, perhaps the reactor buildings would not have any difficulty with coping the extra weight of hundreds of tonnes. The main issue would be the large turbine and generator halls, spent fuel storage buildings, high voltage transformers and such vital equipment that could be destroyed by falling ash.

If you believe this is not possible, you could check out this article about Chernobyl NPP turbine hall which was recently partly collapsed by the weight of the fallen snow. ( LINK -  DAILY NEWS: )

We were lucky the reactor was decommissioned due to that famous accident.

In Japan they have warned that Mt Fuji, the magnificant volcano quite near to Tokyo, may erupt in the near future with a great intensity. They are now making evacuating plans and updating early warning systems.




But no one - at least that I have noticed - have mentioned a single word of the risks that this kind of powerful eruption could  pose to the nearest nuclear facilities. And there are plenty of other active volcanoes in Japan. And over 50 NPPs (It doesn't really matter if the NPP is closed down as long as there is nuclear fuel inside the reactor or in the spent fuel pools - they have to be constantly cooled down).

I know that the designers of nuclear facilities have realized the issue but I think they have underestimated the risk and possible consequences as they did with earthquakes and tsunamis, dam breaks and superstorms and of course solar storms.

I think what we'll need now is a fair and open discussion; how to reduce the risks of nuclear meltdowns and radioactive fallout caused by volcanic events. But the question is: who will take the initiative?

Could it be NRC, or STUK or perhaps JNES? Or GREENPEACE, NIRS or UCC?
We'll see.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Will 10 Billion Euros Be Enough to Get Olkiluoto -3 EPR Generating Power? (And Is It Worth It?)

This week we once more read the news about Finnish Olkiluoto-3 nuclear power plant construction project: the NPP may not be generating power before 2016.

              Olkiluoto-3 will be delayed until 2016    Photo: Jukka Seppälä/Creator's Fingerprints









A few months ago they postponed the construction schedule to 2014, AREVA estimated the total cost for the NPP to be 8,5 Billion Euros. And now two years more. Is it 1,5 or 2 Billion Euros more? So the total cost of this project would rise up to 10 Billion Euros or more. And with that 8,5 Billion Euros it was obvious that this project would not bring the investors back the money which they had thrown into it. Never. Each MWh that will be produced will be just for trying to minimize the lost amount of money.


But if the investors keep on burning their money on this project for many years to come, they will find out that it would have been wiser to back off in good time.

Say you'll have to invest 4 Billion more to the recent level of estimated investments to get the generators running. Then you'll have to pay for the decommissioning of the radioactively contaminated reactor once you'll load the fuel and start the nuclear reaction. You'll have to pay some 300 Million to 1 Billion more. And if you'll use the reactors several years or decades, you'll have plenty of highly radioactive spent fuel to take care of. Another 200 million spent.


So You'll end up with 4,5 - 5 Billion Euros more costs. And that should be added to that 8,5 Billion .

Well, that may be too simple maths but it seems to me to be quite clear that if I were an investor, I would quit my funding on nuclear power and instead put my money on renewables. With about 5 Billion Euros you'll get the same average power generating capacity 1600 MW (4500MW Max.) with wind power parks. And you don't have nuclear waste. You don't produce CO2. You don't pay for the fuel. You don't have nuclear accidents. You'll generate cheaper power - and first years with price quarantee. And you don't have to wait 10 years to get the power on - in three years you'll see your windmills spinning money to your company account. And you will get a true green reputation on the market. In a positive way.

And in addition to wind power there are solar PVs and new wave power concepts. They are really getting ready for powering nations and continents. During the arctic winter we have plenty of biomass or biogas in addition to existing hydro power to balance the supply and demand. It deals with capability of organizing and there we need real leadership, engineering and business skills. But I think that shouldn't really be an issue.

P.S. If you still believe in nuclear, think about if an accident occurs in your brand new EPR-NPP. Well, the core-catcher can (perhaps) handle your reactor core and the containment building can (perhaps) copy with the radioactive particles and gases and 5000 degrees heat of the melting core and keep inside your new reactor building the radioactivity that could wipe out Europeans from our continent if totally vaporized and set free. And this could be the situation if you were extremely lucky and there would not occur any coincidents which the engineers hadn't think of beforehand (that's what happened in Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima: great surprizes)). So if you'll be that lucky you'll only had to pay some 1-20 Billion Euros extra just for decontamination and decommissioning. But If you weren't that lucky there wouldn't be any TVO more just state and taxpayers owned wreck (like TEPCO)  that should be trying to cope with hundreds of Billions of Euros compensations and decontamination costs for a very severe nuclear accident affecting large areas of Finland and Northern Europe.

We have the right to think. And rethink.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wind and Solar Too Cheap to Meter - Nuclear Too Expensive to Think About

Wind power can create a situation where "power is too cheap to meter"  Photo: Jukka Seppälä/Creator's Fingerprints

In 1950ies and 1960ies they told us that nuclear power would be so cheap that by now it should be too cheap to meter.


This scenario turned out to be ultra-optimistic and the real costs of nuclear power are very difficult to count but are far from free power. In fact it seems that if all costs are combined (planning, construction, running, back up systems, accidents, health consequences, nuclear waste, decomissioning and clear weapons proliferation) then nuclear power is the most expensive way of power generating.

LINK -  DW :

But wait a minute - could there be energy sources that generate power almost without costs?
In fact, none. But if you think about old hydro power, wind or solar PV, you have no fuel costs. Only the payback of investement of constructing, transformers and the grid. And maintenance costs. Well, thats a lot of money. But when you have paid the investment, the price of energy remains low. For example the low price of hydro power is pulling down prices on Nordic power market. When the new wind parks will be starting their power generating, the price will be going further downwards.

And last summer - yes it's true - the power price in Germany was almost zero during windy, sunny days. Those moments were short, but they did exist. Wind power combined with solar PV capacity was creating a situation "too cheap to meter". Still the consumers payed full price for their power but this event shows the direction for the future. Many studies have shown out that renewable energy can offer power with lower prices than our coal-nuclear power plants do today.


So we have a clean and sustainable and economical way to go. Let's take the renewables seriously!