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Nuclear Power and Government
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mac



Joined: 07 Mar 1999
Posts: 5359

PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2011 1:44 pm    Post subject: Nuclear Power and Government Reply with quote

It makes sense to look at the appropriate role of government in the light of the news today (Kageyama and Pritchard) that "...the people running Jaman's ... power plant dismissed important scientific evidence and all but disregarded 3.000 years of geological history..." The critical question is what is the maximum probably earthquake event that should be the design standard for protecting the public from risks associated with the development of nuclear power generating facilities.

There are two separate questions that both pose challenges for simplistic thinking about the role of government. First, should the government have a role in establishing what we mean by safe? Second, what role should the government have in paying the bill if things go wrong?

For the first question, geologists can tell a lot about both earthquakes and tsunamis if they examine the geological records. Trenches into soils across suspected fault lines show the magnitude of displacement, and can be dated to show the age, and thus expected return interval of earthquakes. I have seen numerous examples where industries involved in proposing all kinds of facilities have suggested smaller forces as a design basis than what we've seen in the historical record. Fortunately, in the United States we have a Geological Service which has sufficient independence, and funding, to provide important information about the expected forces to guide design. Without regulators willing to impose those higher standards, many facilities in California, from housing tracts to bridges to power plants, would have been built to a lower standard. Something to think about when people argue that we are over-regulated.

Several of the USGS scientists in their Palo Alto office are also world experts in Tsunamis. This recent tsunami will undoubtedly increase our understanding of both generation and transmission of tsunami energy. But not everyone knows that tsunamis leave a clear record in alluvial soils. The initial wave has substantial force that scours the alluvium, and then deposits a debris layer. Because different materials settle at different rates, the signature of an historic tsunami is very clear in sediments that haven't been highly altered. In Japan, TEPCO employees argued that "Records that appear unreliable should be excluded." The result? The design standard was one fourth of what occurred. Regulated too much?

Now the economic issue. As pointed out in the March 28 New Yorker, in the early days of nuclear power in this country, private companies "were willing to insure nuclear plants only up to sixty-five million dollars, which was estimated to be just a tenth of what a major accident, in 1956 dollars, would cost, and utility companies weren't interested in building plants without coverage." The response was that the government took over the higher liability under the Price-Anderson Act of 1957. So whether we know it or not, like it or not, or what the objectives of small government folks might be, the Federal government owns most of the risk of a nuclear accident.

Leaving these decisions in the hands of corporations, whatever the laws about corruption might be, generally results in a systematic transfer of the risks to the public. It has played out in the development industry, where fire risks and flooding risks are often transferred to government without having an actuarial base. The Federal Emergency Management Agency only collects about 1/4 of the amount paid out in damages for flooding. California is a high-risk fire zone, and many of the new developments that surround urban areas--like the small lots in the Malibu hills that were the subject of a previously cited lawsuit between the County and the property owner--don't pay taxes sufficient to cover providing the lots with fire protection or flood protection. Citizen initiatives like Proposition 13--there are also two others--compound this difficulty.

We hear much about how pensions threaten government funding, but not much about these others. We also hear much about how we should reduce regulation, but not much about how many lives it saves.

For nuclear power, the fiscal issues are even higher.
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coboardhead



Joined: 26 Oct 2009
Posts: 1960

PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2011 4:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As a structural engineer, I am constantly reminded how "over-designed" my projects are. I respond by blaming the "code", although I generally agree with most of it's requirements.

Notable failures aside, buildings are generally much safer than they were a generation ago; particularly in seismic capacity and fire resistance. This has been the result of a cooperative effort between professional organizations, governmental organizations and the building supply industry. For much of this development time, not much input was heard from the general public.

Now, the private property advocates are fighting the adoption of recent codes, development standards and adequate code reinforcement. I see the development of additional building safety regulations slowing down and potentially slipping back rather than advancing as a result of this public pressure.

Development occurs in areas of higher geologic, flood and fire areas, even though there are higher standards and more knowledge of the risks in building in these locations. Insurers went along for the ride, and have not assigned, until recently, premiums that reflect the true costs of the potential damage.

In Colorado, we currently design most buildings to withstand seismic, snow and wind events based on a 100 year frequency. This may not be long enough when you consider the potential widespread catastophic effects of a large seismic event in a highly populated area such as Southern California.

At some point, economic viability and and risk have to meet. Drawing this line is where the crux occurs. The determination of this "line" is the responsibilty of our government. Governmental and professional oversight verifies that designs meet the constraints and structures are constructed to meet the standard. IMO, the general public (ie the taxpayer) is responsible for the damages that occur when events occur outside of this line.

As a society, we are partially responsible for the dangers in the production of our energy, food sources and public infrastructure. However, we are not responsible for wanton disregard of mother nature by private individuals.


Last edited by coboardhead on Mon Mar 28, 2011 4:41 pm; edited 1 time in total
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swchandler



Joined: 08 Nov 1993
Posts: 5890

PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2011 4:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very interesting comments mac. With Republicans pushing hard for relief from, or removal of regulations on a broad base of business and private interests, it's pretty obvious to me that few citizens have the knowledge or experience to understand what's at stake and the potential risks involved. That's really a big problem in my mind, and it's very troubling that the chorus of voices to lessen or remove regulations persists from the right in light of what happened in the financial crisis, the BP oil spill and most recently with the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, just to name a few.

As difficult as things can get because of regulations and elevated standards, it would still be a big mistake to ignore the important reasons why they're in place, or why regulations might need to be more robust to protect our economy and safety.

Now, with corporations able to spend unlimited sums of money influencing elections, I'm fully convinced that the truth will be sacrificed for the power and greed of a few. And sadly, when the next big tragedy occurs, the recovery and its cost will ultimately be placed on the back of government and tax paying citizens.

I can only hope that Republicans and tea party activists get a lot smarter about what's going on around us. Unfortunately, I'm not too optimistic about that.
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stevenbard



Joined: 11 Nov 1993
Posts: 4228

PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2011 6:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are thousands of these nuclear plants worldwide. We have very few (132) out of 500. China is building 30 right now with hundreds more in the pipeline.

This China thing is an ecological disaster in the making, but we can't stop it. If we don't build more we could lose our economic and military edge. They will have cheap power, cheap labor, control all the worlds resources, and control our debt. Are you kidding me?

If you believe we cause global warming, then nuclear is the easy solution to all our problems....but it's alot like kiting. A quick fast fix with alot of dangerous implications to bystanders.
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boggsman1



Joined: 24 Jun 2002
Posts: 3613
Location: at a computer

PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2011 8:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

China is slamming on the brakes, uranium crashed today as a result. We still have the most nuclear power plants in the world. Stevie, i wouldnt worry about China too much, they need us more than we need them. If we can ween our people off Wal-Mart, and Toys-R-Us, we can find buyers for the debt(Brazil, Australia, others), and we'll be fine.
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stevenbard



Joined: 11 Nov 1993
Posts: 4228

PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 3:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Once China creates their own synergy, we become a very small component on the world stage. Granted I believe this to be 10-15 years away, but still a substanial possibility down the road because of these socialist policies.

China is drilling and mining on every continent. We aren't growing nearly enough. What are we going to sell? Porn?
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swchandler



Joined: 08 Nov 1993
Posts: 5890

PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 7:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey Bard, you could be more positive overall, and promote what you're doing with your money and investments. That would tell us more about what you think is really important in our lives. Hopefully, with an upbeat tempo.
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stevenbard



Joined: 11 Nov 1993
Posts: 4228

PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 12:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

swchandler wrote:
Hey Bard, you could be more positive overall, and promote what you're doing with your money and investments. That would tell us more about what you think is really important in our lives. Hopefully, with an upbeat tempo.


I've been telling you guys for a few years now to continue to buy oil, food, comodities, and gold. This all may be getting a little long in the tooth, but I think you stick with it for a little while longer.

I also think the stock market is a pretty good place to be for the time being, but when the Bernanke decides to end QE2 I think everyone should run for the hills.

I think Real Estate could continue it's decline, especially if interest rates go up. That is a no brainer.

Maybe Boggs can come up with some better ideas. How about some free advice?
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boggsman1



Joined: 24 Jun 2002
Posts: 3613
Location: at a computer

PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 8:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dont eat yellow snow.
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stevenbard



Joined: 11 Nov 1993
Posts: 4228

PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 10:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

boggsman1 wrote:
Dont eat yellow snow.


And with that, I'd like to offer free advice to Boggsmans clients. FIND A CONSERVATIVE ADVISOR..... Razz
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