Monday, March 14, 2011

Nuclear Power and No End?

In writing this I do not mean electrical power from nuclear fission that will surely come to an end. I mean the renewed discussion in Germany on nuclear power in view of the present catastrophe in Japan. The apocalyptic scenario we watch with great sympathy for the Japanese people in fact furnishes no new arguments in the debate about the safety of nuclear power reactors.

The explosion (©AP)
Let me say this clearly: Present power reactors are safe as long as a team of incompetent technicians does not mess around with the cooling system (Three Mile Island), an overambitious engineer does not play with the control rods (Tchernobyl) or an earth quake of magnitude 8.9 followed by a tsunami wave of 10 meters height does not hit a nuclear power plant. Whilst the last scenario can be excluded in Germany nobody is safe against human foolishness. This and the unresolved storage of nuclear waste are the main reasons that Germany has an established time-table for phasing out its nuclear power reactors. Let us face it: Presently there is no alternative for "cheap" energy as nuclear fusion still is in the stars only (in both senses).

There is a new generation of power reactors propagated by industry will be more compact and working at higher temperatures hence be more efficient than those we presently operate. Do not believe the people telling you that this new line of power reactors is safer than the old one. Due to the higher energy density and the higher neutron flux density inside the nuclear core the materials used for the reactor vessels will rapidly become brittle and fail much earlier than in present day reactors. Mother Nature presents us with marvelous elements that we melt into alloys showing properties our ancestors only have dreamt of. We have however approached the technological limit of stability of metal alloys as far as the combined influence of neutron bombardment and temperature is concerned.

So please, we want no new nuclear fission reactors and let the old existing ones eventually come to their well-deserved rest. What makes me nervous is that most people today are not aware that the energy they use still is too cheap and they moan if prices for petrol, gas, and electricity steadily go up. The increasing stress on their purses and wallets will hopefully trigger their consciousness for an economical use of our limited resources.

1 comment:

  1. Manfred makes valid comments about fission. I am always how when a nuclear plant gas a problem it is one that was not expected. Also, falible humans operate amd maintain the olanrs and in yg his day of "bottom line" engineeri.g, safety gets overlooked.

    Here is an interesting look at cold fusion:

    Is it real?