14 March 2011

Saving the Planet

Never say never! For most of my life in the army and later at sea sailing around around the world I lived by Sod's Law which says, "what can go wrong, will go wrong!" and planned accordingly. Why is it then that other planners around the world do not follow this rule. The Fukushima power station as far as I have found out was built to withstand an earthquake of 7 on the Richter scale. Actually they use a different scale called the PGA or Peak Ground Acceleration, but let's not get too technical. They did this on the basis that no earthquake of greater magnitude had yet occurred in the area. My Sod's Law says just wait it will. The actual earthquake measured almost 9 on the Richter scale.  I believe that the reactor has not itself been damaged by the quake, but rather that the earthquake brought about failures in other parts of the system. How come that there are not duplicate and triplicate redundant systems in power stations as in aircraft. If one system fails there is a back up. Someone will tell me I am sure, "but there are". So how come the backups failed too? We are back to Sod's Law for it also takes into consideration human error in planning and in operation. 

If you have read my "About Me" you will know I live in Germany. Here the Germans decided to give up their nuclear power stations by 2020. The first country to do so. Recently they discovered that their building of renewable resource power stations was not keeping up with the aim and that consequently they would need to prolong the use of the current atomic stations until 2032. This was not a popular move and now the problems in Japan have led the government to rethink the whole thing. Today Chancellor Merkel announced a moratorium of 3-4 months on the decision to prolong the use of nuclear power and that all nuclear power stations were to undergo a security review where there are to be no "taboos".

To help them with this review they might like to consider that Fukushima nuclear power station, which is one of the worlds 25 largest, was built in 1967, came into service in 1971 and was due to be taken out of service in early 2011. However, the Japanese authorities granted an extension of 10 years to this old power station. Now they are having problems! Is this because the systems are old? We can keep old cars running, but only as long as we still have original parts for it. When they run out the problems start to occur. Nuclear reactors cannot be very different. As the years go by old systems wear out and the new technology is not always compatible with the old. Yes it can be fudged and got round, but should we allow fudging with nuclear reactors?

The Germans have 17 nuclear reactors two of which were originally due to be taken out of service this year, notably Biblis A and Biblis B! I wonder if after this latest investigation they will not be taken out of service. I believe now they should be. The lessons of Japan teach us that if nothing else.

Open cast mining to feed the hungry power stations

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