Saturday, March 12, 2011

We Might Have Lost Japan....

When I was 14 years old, in the 8th Grade attending St. Monica Elementary in Detroit, MI, we were taken on a field trip to the brand spanking new Detroit Edison Enrico Fermi Nuclear Power Plant, between Detroit and Toledo in Luna Pier, MI. Luna Pier is a sandy spit, rising out of the marshes on Lake Erie. Visiting the plant, we were regaled with fun comic images that touted the safety of Nuclear generated Electricity. Everything was done to diffuse the horrific fears that the planet was traumatized with after the deployment of the atomic bombs at the end of WW2 in Japan. Nuclear power was safe and Nuclear power was the cheap future of energy for everyone. 
A year and a half later, the Fermi Plant was the site of what could have become the biggest nuclear energy disaster of all time. The phone rang in the Monroe county Sheriff's office on October 5, 1966 and a nervous official from the Fermi Plant asked "How soon can we evacuate the city of Monroe?"
The Fermi Plant was a sodium breeder reactor, it was new technology at the time, so new in fact that they were making it up as they went along.  The plant was cooled using highly volatile liquid sodium.
As the plant was being built, the cooling system was being designed and modified as the  problems arose. One of the unforseen problems involved the motion of the sodium and on the spot, the elder designer came up with the solution. He designed stainless steel "flutter valves". His solution never made it into the final schematic of the system.
In October, 1966, the sodium coolant stopped flowing and the reactor began to overheat. No one had a clue as to what was happening and a frantic crew of technicians shut down the reactor only minutes from a meltdown We will never know how much radiation was actually released or the true consequences of this event. The event was memorialized in the song by Gil Scott Heron, We Almost Lost Detroit, which was also the title of a real expose of the history of Nuclear Power research by John Fuller, written in 1975.
It took years of painstaking research inside the contaminated building to discover the little stainless steel piece that was blocking the coolant line. At first, the researchers blamed the construction crew, misidentifying the piece of metal as a pop top tab from a beer can. It was not until the mud 70's, after the engineer who had designed the stainless steel flutter valve died, that the plans were discovered in his records and the"beer can pop top" was correctly identified as a broken "flutter valve" plate.
Then, of course there was the little problem of storage of thousands of gallons of plutonium contaminated  liquid sodium. Any one who has a basic background in chemistry should feel chills....Sodium is a very violently reactive substance in contact with water. It had to be stored in drums, on site for over 20 years before the NRC could figure out how to safely move it.
a picture of the Fermi Plant in Luna Pier, MI on the swampy shore of Lake Erie
demonstrating the ecological fragility of the site....
Around the same time,  as the Fermi Plant was recommissioned and  put back on line with a new reactor, there were a number of unpublicized problems in the start up procedure. The plant is operating, but as of today, one of the rectors is out of service after a relatively unpublicized event that occurred on February 13, 2011.  The reactor was shut down after leaks were discovered in the cooling system when it was restarted after a routine servicing procedure.
I am focusing on the history of only one energy producing reactor facility because, it is a small snapshot of the overall view of the industry in it's  60 year corporate legacy of wasted money, untold centuries of poisonous pollution and how human populations are treated as collateral damage in the pursuit of immediate profit. If only a fraction of the wealth wasted on The Nuclear Power Industry had been invested in research on clean, safe, free energy, we would be living in a much different world today.
Today in Japan, after the 8.9 Earthquake, we are seeing a situation which as information is released, and the magnitude of what has occurred could very well dwarf the Chernobyl Disaster. Here's a video....

5 comments: said...

And Japan is the most prepared country in the world when it comes to earthquakes and tsunamis. Didn't do a lot of good, but it could have been MUCH worse.

Watching the events unfold is a sobering thing. I hope there isn't a meltdown.

Graham Dawson said...

Thanks for this post. I really didn't know about this. You are doing a great job and I read your blog daily.

Engineer of Knowledge said...

Hello Microdot,
Love Gil Scott-Heron!! Here is just another example in Japan that Nuclear Power Plants are NOT safe because as Murphy's Law states:

If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.

If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.

Now we have the proponents touting Nuclear Power to be the answer to CO2 Green House Gasses. Yea who needs to worry about Radio Active Waste that lasts 100K Years? No Problem, Right?

microdot said...

As I said, if only a fraction of the amount of money that has been poured into the bottomless pit of the nuclear power industry had been spent on safe, cheap passive energy, this would be a different world now in so many ways!

squatlo said...

Well composed post! That bloggie award you received has really upped your game, sir!

The nukers will never relent, despite smoldering evidence of the dangers involved, sorry to say. Our own members of Congress are staying the course, urging the country to pursue nuclear power even though they'll never have more compelling reasons to abandon that course of action than this.
Incredible how profits trump people every time, isn't it?