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May 24, 2011

When the Tohoku earthquake struck Japan on March 11 it was covered here because the first indication of the massive consequences of the following tsunami was the inundation of Sendai Airport.

That coverage continued over the weekend and migrated into Crikey, where it belonged, as the airline aspects of the disaster faded into insignificance compared to the destruction and loss of life across NE Honshu, and it became apparent there was a crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant line of six reactors, three of which had been operating at the time.

That coverage here and in Crikey came under severe criticism from nuclear power proponents, despite the fact the writer has long editorialised about the prospects for better nuclear energy technology and covered the beginnings of the SYNROC story in the late 1970s, a saga that is far from over and may become a crucial part of future nuclear processes in terms of geological time scale high level waste storage.

Today in news reports we have another carefully metered dose of the truth seeping out from the corrupt, incompetent and totally dishonest Tokyo Electric Power Company, that apart from conceding that a meltdown occurred in the Number 1 reactor there ‘appeared to have been partial meltdowns in reactors Number 2 and Number 3′, and that the pressure vessels in one or more of the reactors ‘appear’ to have been damaged . (Evaporation related radioactive waste releases from spent fuel ponds cleverly built above the core of the reactors was also conceded to have occurred in the Number 4 reactor.)

At the time Plane Talking was accused of making it up and getting it wrong when  we reported that melt down had to have occurred to explain the early detection of radioactive caesium particles at the site, because the only source of the contaminants was from the outer sheath of the fuel rods rupturing in contact with air rather than coolant fuel, and that the consequences of naked ‘hot’ rods was a meltdown.

This was at the time carefully checked. But supposedly learned nuclear power apologists contorted the fundamental mechanics of controlled nuclear fission in power stations to deny that meltdown could have occurred.

This was as unscientific as the rabid denialism of climate change opponents, yet it was coming from persons with multiple degrees in engineering and nuclear physics.

My own experience of the early years of SYNROC, when the science establishment in Australia shunned the inventor Ted Ringwood, because his invention threatened the investment sunk in the vitrification of nuclear wastes, was a lesson in how vicious science can be, and to the detriment of advancement in non-fossil carbon releasing energy technology.

Fukushima Daiichi was early  SYNROC revisited.  The issue with the Japan crisis was failed risk management, and a corrupt nuclear power establishment, and, unfortunately, a supposedly fool proof and sound design that has been found wanting under real stress.  Yet the religious zeal with which the nuclear establishment lied and misrepresented the truth during the Japan crisis was grossly unscientific.

The Japan crisis was never going to exceed level 4 in severity, nor level 5, and never be of the severity of Chernobyl, a level 7 event.  But it became all of those things.  And we still don’t have the full truth.

The conduct of the government of Japan has also been disgraceful and disingenuous. It cannot possibly have been unaware that the Tokyo Power Company deliberately quoted the readings it had from instruments we now know weren’t even working using units that understated the fictitious level of contamination by three orders of magnitude, that is, one thousandth of the real level during the early days of a crisis that will most likely need managing for millennia.

Within three days of the disaster the nuclear regulatory authorities of France, Germany and the United States were breaking nuclear club protocols by going public with real assessments of the dangers at Fukushima Daiichi because the government of Japan wasn’t telling the full story.

Plane Talking gets a bit of flack for being blunt about things. But I’ve been a reporter for more than 50 years, and maintaining this blog is as much a protest at the descent of the general media from direct reporting into offering communications solutions to business and government through message management as it is about airlines and related matters.

The lessons from Fukushima Daiichi should be obvious. We need better nuclear technology, and we cannot afford to let it pass into the hands of criminally incompetent or dishonest enterprises or governments.

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10 thoughts on “Some plain talking about nuclear lies

  1. paddy

    Well said Ben.
    There are a heap of reasons why I subscribe to Crikey.
    Your columns are *definitely* one of them.

  2. scottyea

    When smh or the aus publishes this i’ll start buying them.

  3. stu
    is a link to a email by Steve Wozniak about the SHOCKING Japanese Wikileaks FUKULEAKS. It reveals that all the media and scientists were threatened/and or paid off and has the missing radiation readings and tons and tons of MAJOR DIRT showing you what was covered up. It names names and rad readings.

    you can find FUKULEAKS at:

  4. ralphla54

    This is serious and REAL and the US government has been working on it for 10 years.
    Please take 15 min and explore the link provided

    Andrea Rossi has given three demonstrations so far including with professors from Bologna University and the Swedish skeptics society and the Chairman of the Swedish Physics Union. This is an directory of Rossi efforts This is a link to the LENR site where detailed information about cold fusion efforts is available. The US Naval Research lab has been working on this with positive results for over 10 years and has confirmed it existence. Yet the major scientific magazines refuse to touch this issue since it was purportedly discredited by some researchers and an institution that stood to lose 10s of millions in funding per year in hot fusion.

    Rossi has announced a 1MW Cold Fusion facility to be opened in Greece this Oct. Still top line periodicals have yet to publish even one article. This will change the economics of the world lifting many people out of poverty and it will also threaten many vested interests.
    “..Ampenergo was founded by Karl Norwood, Richard Noceti, Robert Gentile and Craig Cassarino. It is important to note that Robert Gentile was the Assistant Secretary of Energy for Fossil Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) during the early 1990’s. This helps confirm Rossi’s claim that tests of the E-Cat have been observed by the U.S. Department of Defense and the DOE. It is very likely that at least certain individuals in the DOD and DOE are aware and interested in the Energy Catalyzer. However, their silence is deafening.

    It is unknown if any military or secret government research is taking place, but there are unsubstantiated rumors floating around the internet of the US Navy using a nickel-hydrogen cold fusion reactor to power a submarine. Although the rumor is not likely to be true, if they have known about the technology for a couple of years, it is possible testing is taking place. Trillions of dollars go missing from the DOD budget on a regular basis, and the money is obviously being spent on something…”

    FROM LENR-News
    Rossi 6-hour demonstration convinces Swedish experts
    April 2011
    On March 29, 2011, a test of a smaller Rossi device was performed. It was attended by two new observers: Hanno Essén, associate professor of theoretical physics and chairman of the Swedish Skeptics Society, and Sven Kullander, chairman of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Energy Committee. They agree with other independent observers that the device must be producing a nuclear reaction. See NyTeknik: Swedish physicists on the E-cat: “It’s a nuclear reaction.”
    This test employed a new, smaller device with a 50 cm3 cell. It produced ~4.4 kW for 6 hours, or 25 kWh (90 MJ).
    Essén and Kullander wrote a report, also in NyTeknik, Experimental test of a mini-Rossi device at the Leonardocorp, Bologna 29 March 2011. Focardi gave a revealing radio interview. Here is an English translation.
    NyTeknik has published a number of articles about Rossi. They are all listed here. The New Energy Times is keeping a close watch on news articles about Rossi. They have a list of articles here.

    Plans to begin commercial cold fusion reactor production this year
    March 2011
    A company has been formed in Athens, Greece, Defkalion Green Technologies S. A., for the purpose of manufacturing and selling Andrea Rossi Energy Catalyzer cold fusion reactors. According to the Greek newspaper “Investor’s World” and other sources, the company is capitalized at €200 million, which includes €100 million to be paid in as royalties, presumably to Rossi. The Greek press says the company plans to manufacture 300,000 machines a year for the Greek and Balkan market. The company website says it has exclusive rights to sell the machines everywhere except the Americas.

    Rossi has announced that he is fabricating a 1 MW reactor to produce hot water (not steam or electricity), scheduled for October 2011. He is building the machine in Florida before shipping it to the Defkalion factory. It will consist of 100 small devices similar to the one demonstrated at U. Bologna.
    We have uploaded a new paper from Scott Chubb describing the Rossi device and recent events about it.

    Rossi 18-hour demonstration
    February 2011, updated March 2011
    On February 10 and 11, 2011, Levi et al. (U. Bologna) performed another test of the Rossi device. Compared to the January 14 test, they used a much higher flow rate, to keep the cooling water from vaporizing. This is partly to recover more heat, and partly because Celani and others criticized phase-change calorimetry as too complicated. There were concerns about the enthalpy of wet steam versus dry steam, and the use of a relative humidity meter to determine how dry the steam was. A source close to the test gave Jed Rothwell the following figures. These are approximations:
    Duration of test: 18 hours
    Flow rate: 3,000 L/h = ~833 ml/s.
    Cooling water input temperature: 15°C
    Cooling water output temperature: ~20°C
    Input power from control electronics: variable, average 80 W, closer to 20 W for 6 hours
    The temperature difference of 5°C * 833 ml = 4,165 calories/second = 17,493 W. Observers estimated average power as 16 kW. A 5°C temperature difference can easily be measured with confidence.
    3,000 L/h is 793 gallons/h, which is the output of a medium-sized $120 ornamental pond pump.
    The control electronics input of ~80 W is in line with what was reported for tests before Jan. 14. Input power was high on that day because there was a problem with cracked welding, according to the Levi report.
    18 hours * 16 kW = 288 kWh = 1,037 MJ. That is the amount of energy in 26 kg of gasoline (7.9 gallons). Given the size and weight of the device, this rules out a chemical source of energy.
    NyTeknik published a fascinating description of the latest experiment (in English). This includes new details, such as the fact that the power briefly peaked at 130 kW. NyTeknik also published an interview with two outside experts about the demonstration: Prof. Emeritus at Uppsala University Sven Kullander, chairman of the National Academy of Sciences Energy Committee, and Hanno Essén, associate professor of theoretical physics, Swedish Royal Institute of Technology. Two versions are available, in English and Swedish.
    On March 3, Rossi conducted an informative on-line chat with NyTeknik readers.
    Rossi and U. Bologna have announced that tests on the device will continue for a year

  5. homeopathy

    You’re crikey right mate! They were trying to downplay the safety issues and magnifying the less harmful substance. At least the truth is coming out now. The fact is that the cesium 137 is also approaching maximum safe levels in our drinking water and food supply.

    We need to be sure to rinse our foods in sea salt or nascent iodine and treat our water with reverse osmosis or distillation or get it from a source that does that. This is really important to keeping us all healthy.

  6. lindsayb

    Thanks for the un-hyped and truthful commentary. Your blog is very high on the “trusted information” list.
    The situation at Fukushima is very bad, and has the potential to get a lot worse, which makes the silence of the MSM more than a little disconcerting. It adds to the concern when our government agencies seem to be part of the silence (Our border protection agencies decided that screening of incoming Japanese shipments was not required on the same day that the Dutch were quarantining shipments due to hazardous levels of contamination, which were satisfactorily decontaminated, but if you don’t test, you cannot find and fix).
    I have found to be another good source of up-to-date and accurate information, although the accompanying comments can be a little “interesting”.

  7. freecountry

    I don’t recall the prospect of meltdown being denied, although the pundits weren’t talking about meltdown, they were talking about !!!! MELTDOWN !!!! without understanding what it means. The same way they never talk about radiation, instead they talk about !!!! RADIATION !!!!.

    What was being denied was that a Chernobyl situation was imminent, despite what seemed like almost wishful thinking on the part of the international citizenry, who did not have to contend with a tsunami, the erasure of whole towns from the face of the planet, and tens of thousands of dead somewhere in the debris while winter closed in.

    I remember some extremely tasteless and uninformed speculation about nuclear workers being fatally irradiated (they were released from hospital next day after exposing their ankles to contaminated water) but almost no comment at all on how many of those workers had no family left, and no homes, all gone in the tsunami.

    There were all sorts of allegations of corruption, incompetence, and disorganisation against both the power company and the government, even right in the thick of it while the Japanese were still trying to find the injured and the trapped. The US embassy suggested Americans should evacuate from a certain radius of the affected area, and next think the pundits were suggesting the entire city should be evacuated, or else the Japanese must not love their children as much as the Americans do.

    I can’t remember a more tasteless episode of unhelpful arrogance on the part of the international news media in the middle of a very difficult crisis.

  8. Bill Parker

    I’m with Paddy. Well done Ben.

  9. Sancho

    Thanks, Freecountry. Now I don’t have to track down an example via Google.

    Nuclear proponents and the Murdoch media (excuse the tautology) were more than happy to discuss the MELTDOWN and RADIATION in the early days of the unfolding tragedy, because they completely, uncritically believed the TEPC’s lies and thought the episode would provide a wonderful cudgel with which to club those who are cautious about nuclear power.

    We had a solid fortnight of Andrew Bolt & co blasting the hippies with sparkling accounts of Japan’s world-class, foolproof containment techniques which would demonstrate that nuclear power plants are safe in even worst-case scenarios, with little mention of tragic deaths and grieving families.

    Then it all went to pieces, the reassuring fibs collapsed, and we’re still waiting to see just how disastrous this will be for the people, economy and environment of Japan.

    To their credit, the pro-nuke crowd accepted that they’d been misled and wrong all along, and began engaging in a fact-based discussion over nuclear power.

    LOL! Of course not! No, they immediately retreated from all discussion of nuclear energy generation and began shouting about the heartlessness of scrutinising the nuclear industry in the midst of a human tragedy.

    They’ll be pushing this line forever, and in a couple of years Newscorp will begin the whitewashing.

  10. cud chewer

    Well a few things have to be said here.

    First Kudos to this blog for being one of the few sources that indicated that a meltdown had occurred within hours of the earthquake. However at the time I wasn’t sure from what I was reading, which reactor it was.

    Secondly it needs to be said, in fairness to nuclear power, that these reactors are pretty old designs. The technology of actual reactors has come a long way and no one would (correct me if I’m wrong) build a new reactor that didn’t build in passive emergency cooling.

    Thirdly I’m well aware of next-gen reactor designs. Problem is that all of these have still unsolved technical problems so if you were to go ahead and build a reactor here in Australia in the 2020s it would still almost certainly rely upon the heritage of water cooled designs. More’s the pity. I think some new designs are way-cool (speaking as an electrical engineer here).

    Fourthly, despite all the talk about nuclear renaissance and the Fukushima effect, the reality is none of this has much relevance. The cold hard facts are that to build a reactor you’ve got to find someone willing to invest the better part of $10B over the better part of a decade before getting a return. It just won’t happen and I’ll explain why.

    Nuclear power is a mature technology. Its not cheap and the reason is the same reason that manned space flight isn’t cheap. Its about expensive materials. Its about complex systems. Its about layers and layers of oversight. Every part tested and scrutinised. Every action supervised. Its fair to say that nuclear power comes in at about twice the cost of coal.

    And that’s before you add the cost of decommissioning which is proving to be as least as expensive as construction. Fukushima underscores the point that this is the elephant in the room. Its called socialising risk.

    And that’s before you add a premium because you’re either going to import technology, or you’re going to have to build the competence locally – which takes time too.

    You can of course address the lingering safety and disposal concerns. Easy. Just go to central Australia. Dig a very deep hole – a series of holes. And put your reactors there. Leave the waste on site. Decommissioning is cheap – just detonate – no more hole. Put the turbines and other ancillaries on the surface. Use air cooling (yes you can.. its just a bit more expensive). Oh and of course build a HVDC power line to the cities.

    Of course, what I just described has many of the elements of a potentially cheaper geothermal plant.

    And that’s the real problem with nuclear. Other renewable technologies are still maturing. In other words, they’re getting cheaper either from maturity of technology or economy of scale. The simple fact is that there are several technologies available today or within this decade that while more expensive than coal will almost certainly undercut the real cost of nuclear.

    So, as a technophile I find myself mourning the death of nuclear – well except for space propulsion.

    Mind you, if you really want gee whiz and genuinely safe, compact and potentially cheap energy – do a google for “aneutronic fusion”..

    Also good for space travel too..

    cheers 🙂