Nuclear power: shut down amid social unrest


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    As a retired biology teacher I don’t know a lot about nuclear power. I have a question that may be important: Is it possible to shut down a nuclear power station and to maintain it in that state without an external power source?

    It struck me that a Fukushima-type situation could develop without a tsunami. For example, in the event of a deadly pandemic of H5N1 or similar pathogen, nuclear power stations might be forced to shut down at short notice because of death of staff. If the electricity grid as a whole were to fail (perhaps as a result of cyber attack), would it be possible for such power stations to be maintained in shut-down mode without an external source of energy?

    Martin Hanson



    Very simply: no way.

    Without going through the entire works, the main one that stands out is that all fuel rods on the premises, both active and “spent”, will need to be cooled for many years after shutdown. Obviously, that takes energy. Lots of it. You raise an important point, one of many that remain hidden for “the greater good”. Our great grand children will have to devote a huge amount of energy throughout their entire lives, and then pass the responsibility to their children, just to try and keep the 400+ active plants we have now in the world, more or less stable. Or else.


    That being so, it seems inevitable then, that most if not all these 400 power stations will eventually ‘run amock’, spewing out unimaginable amounts of radioactivity. Probably not too different from a full scale nuclear exchange.


    That sounds about right Martin.

    In some ways melting down N-power plants are much nastier than N-bombs. Perhaps these pages from the old TAE blog could be useful

    If IT crashes t’will be most fugly.

    Nicole Foss

    Sadly I agree that many existing plants will end their days catastrophically when we can no longer control them. Station blackout is a major risk for reactors – at the heart of both Chernobyl and Fukushima.


    As pointed out by Nicole Foss, there may be no one available that knows how to shut down a nuclear power plant when it comes time to shut them down in the future.

    A good reason the shut down a nuclear power plant is because it is being or has been replaced by something better. One atom away from uranium on the periodic chart is thorium. Thorium is much like uranium. but is cleaner and much safer than what we have now and should be put into service worldwide. Also Bill Gates talks about “Terrapower”. Its a reactor that burns spent fuel rods as fuel. Probably only a computer model now, but if viable, would certainly create a partial win win by using up all those stored fuel rods to produce energy.



    I think this link to the Fairwinds website may help you change your mind regarding the safety and feasibility of thorium reactors:

    Here is some of it:

    Following a review, even the U. S. Department of Energy has concluded placed Thorium Reactors in the same category as all other nuclear power reactors.

    The choice between uranium-based fuel and thorium-based fuel is seen basically as one of preference, with no fundamental difference in addressing the nuclear power issues [of waste management, proliferation risk, safety, security, economics, and sustainability]. Since no infrastructure currently exists in the U.S. for thorium-based fuels, and the processing of thorium-based fuels is at a lower level of technical maturity when compared to processing of uranium-based fuels, costs and RD&D [research, development and deployment] requirements for using thorium are anticipated to be higher.

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