Saturday, April 9, 2011

When The General Electric Talks

General Electric has sniffed the traces of Iodine 131 in the air and noted that the public doesn't like it. "Right" or "wrong" from a purely technical nuclear energy point of view GE thinks that a punt on solar, or a slice of renewables subsidies (?) might be a better option. That or its PR designed to distract from their old designs at Fukushima.
General Electric Announces Record Solar Efficiency, Plans To Build Largest U.S. Solar Factory
Reuters, April 8, 2011

General Electric (GE) has been reinventing itself as a green energy behemoth, beginning with a focus on wind energy, then the smart grid and more recently led lighting and solar. They've even developed an electric car charging station called the WattStation.

This morning they are announcing another big step along the path of its rapid push into the thin film solar market, taking direct aim at First Solar (FSLR). The push has been fueled by key acquisitions particularly of PrimeStar of which it acquired a minority stake in 2007, has had a majority stake since 2008, and today announced it has completed a full acquisition of the company. PrimeStar was developing the cadmium thin film solar panels which is the same technology First Solar is using.

GE is saying that its full sized thin film solar panel developed with PrimeStar has been independently certified to be the world's most efficient thin film solar panel at 12.8 percent aperture area efficiency. First Solar reported during its latest earnings report that it had reached 11.6 percent and that it expects to hit 12 percent within a few months. A 1 percent increase in efficiency results in a 10 percent reduction in energy cost, so the current spread isn't insignificant.

GE also announced that it will invest $600 million to build the largest solar panel production facility in the US. At full capacity the 400MW facility will produce enough panels each year to power 80,000 homes. The location of the plant is expected to be announced soon and it's great to see they will keep manufacturing in the US.

The good news for GE's solar business doesn't end there. They are also announcing more than 100MW in new orders for its thin film products which include the panels and inverters.

Fukushima No. 1 plant designed on 'trial-and-error' basis

Asahi Shimbun, 7 April 2011

While changes improved safety at the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant, overconfidence, complacency and high costs stymied such action at the now-crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant, according to people familiar with the situation.

The difference in the safety designs was the main reason why the crisis continues to unfold at the Fukushima No. 1 plant--one of the oldest in Japan--while the No. 2 plant a few kilometers south remains relatively unscathed by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

When asked about the differences in the safety designs between the No. 1 and No. 2 plants, an official at TEPCO headquarters said: "This does not mean we have admitted that a problem exists. We will conduct further detailed studies to identify the problems."

The No. 1 plant was built in the 1960s and 1970s. Improvement work was conducted in the 1970s and 1980s to strengthen its resistance to earthquakes.

A nuclear engineer who used to work for TEPCO and was involved in those improvements said no consideration was paid to the location of the emergency diesel generators or the seawater pumps.

"First of all, there was the judgment that the reactor core buildings were in a safe location in relation to the expected height of any tsunami that might strike the plant," the engineer said. "However, even if they wanted to move the generators, there was no space within the reactor building, so that would have meant a major revision in design.

Referring to the possibility of installing the seawater pumps inside buildings, the former TEPCO engineer said, "It would have been a major project because various pipes are laid out under the pumps, and so all of that would also have had to be moved."

A midlevel TEPCO official also said money was a big reason why repairs and changes to the No. 1 plant were not made.

"The blueprints for the reactor cores at the No. 1 plant were bought 'as is' by Toshiba Corp. from General Electric Co., so the priority at that time was on constructing the reactors according to those blueprints," the official said.

When the Fukushima No. 1 plant was being built, Japan was importing technology from the United States and learning from a more advanced nuclear power nation.

The No. 1 plant was considered a "learning experience." A former TEPCO executive said, "The Fukushima No. 1 plant was a practice course for Toshiba and Hitachi Ltd. to learn about GE's design on a trial-and-error basis."

AND we are still learning.

First it was monsters in the sun and now its radiation is good for you. Brave New Climate is lowering the standard of guest post lately. If this keeps up I might have a post there next! The latest distraction is radiation hormesis - the hypothesis that low doses of radiation may be "good" for you. Interestingly this is exactly the line taken by Anne Coulter and Bill O'Rilley on FOX. The concept of hormesis is well known in toxicology. However it seems that at low doses of radiation, confounding factors make interpretation of data fraught.

A brief review of radiation hormesis
The hypothesis of radiation hormesis suggests low dose radiation is beneficial to the irradiated cell and organism. There is definite standing ground for the hormesis hypothesis both evolutionarily and biophysically, but experimental evidence is yet to change official policies on this matter. Application of the LNT model has important radiation protection and general human health ramifications, and thus it is important that the matter be resolved.

Health Risks of Low Dose Ionizing Radiation in Humans: A Review
Low dose radiation–induced cancer in humans depends on several variables, and most of these variables are not possible to correct for in any epidemiologic study. Some of the confounding factors include (i) interaction of radiation with other physical (UV light), chemical, and biological mutagens and carcinogens in a synergistic manner; (ii) variation in repair mechanisms that depend on dose; (iii) variation in sensitivity of bystander cells to subsequent radiation exposure that depends on whether they have been pre- or postirradiated; and (iv) variation in adaptive response that depends on radiation doses and protective substances (antioxidants). In our opinion, both the linear no-threshold-response and the threshold-response models might not be suitable in predicting cancer risk at low radiation doses in a quantitative sense. Low doses of ionizing radiation should not be considered insignificant for risks of somatic and heritable mutations and neoplastic and nonneoplastic diseases in humans.

These papers suggest prudence (not blanket statements) is the order of the day.
A (partial) reply to George Monbiots widely published article appears in The Age.

Don't be fooled by the spin: radiation is bad

Peter Karamoskos
April 8, 2011

With the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl looming, the pro-nuclear lobby is in overdrive.

YOU have to hand it to the nuclear industry and its acolytes. In the middle of the second-worst nuclear power disaster in history at Fukushima, and with still no end in sight, you would think they would respond with contrition, humility and profuse mea culpas. Not on your life. The industry representatives and its acolytes came out swinging in full denial attire.

Ziggy Switkowski, former chair of ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) and a proponent of nuclear power for Australia, claimed "the best place to be whenever there's an earthquake is at the perimeter of a nuclear plant because they are designed so well", and then quickly added: "On the other hand, you know, if the engineers do lose control of the core, then the answer becomes different."

Strident nuclear advocate Professor Barry Brook gave assurances in his running commentary that seemed ironically prescient of what was about to happen, stating ''I don't see the ramifications of this as damaging at all to nuclear power's prospects'' and that ''it will provide a great conversation starter for talking intelligently to people about nuclear safety''.

Other arguments trotted out by pro-nuclearists about how safe nuclear power is demonstrated their chutzpah more than their good judgment. My favourite: the justification for nuclear power is that it kills fewer people than the coal industry.
It may only be a matter of time before BNC resorts to Godwins Law.
But more insidious and objectionable is the creeping misinformation that the nuclear industry has fed into the public sphere over the years. There seems to be a never-ending cabal of paid industry scientific ''consultants'' who are more than willing to state the fringe view that low doses of ionising radiation do not cause cancer and, indeed, that low doses are actually good for you and lessen the incidence of cancer. Canadian Dr Doug Boreham has been on numerous sponsored tours of Australia by Toro Energy, a junior uranium explorer, expounding the view that "low-dose radiation is like getting a suntan".

In 2006, the US National Academy of Sciences released its Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation (VII) report, which focused on the health effects of radiation doses at below 100 millisieverts. This was a consensus review that assessed the world's scientific literature on the subject at that time. It concluded: "… there is a linear dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of solid cancers in humans. It is unlikely that there is a threshold below which cancers are not induced."

Dr Peter Karamoskos is a nuclear radiologist and a public representative on the radiation health committee of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.

And finally, TEPCO will stop pumping contaminated water into the ocean - with the Chinese taking the chance to have a little dig.

WRAPUP 1-Japan to stop pumping radioactive water into sea.

Beijing to closely monitor Japan's nuclear actions.
Reuters, 8 April 2011

TOKYO, April 9 (Reuters) - Japan expects to stop pumping radioactive water into the sea from a crippled nuclear plant on Saturday, a day after China expressed concern at the action, reflecting growing international unease at the month-long nuclear crisis.

TEPCO is struggling to contain the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl, with its engineers pumping low-level radioactive seawater, used to cool overheated fuel rods, back into the sea for the past five days due to a lack of storage capacity.

"We hope that Japan will act in accordance with international law and adopt effective measures to protect the marine environment," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement on Friday.

China said it had detected 10 cases of ships, aircraft or cargo arriving from Japan with higher than normal levels of radiation since mid-March.

It said traces of radioactivity had been found in spinach in three Chinese provinces, and state news agency Xinhua reported trace levels of radioactivity detected in 22 provinces.

But surely it would be healthful to eat that low dose spinach (above): maybe that was Popeyes secret?


Kyle said...

Though Fox and Ann Coulter are saying that small amounts of radiation are good for you, it's worth mentioning that they have previously said that small amounts are bad for you, for example in airport scanners.

Apparently, when radiation comes from a security scanner it's bad for you, when the same amount comes from a nuclear reactor it's good for you.

Big Gav said...

Well - they got it half right at least.

Security scanners are government mandated (and therefore evil - well, they are evil, but not just because the government mandates them) while nuclear power might be government backed but is privately owned by massive pools of capital, and therefore must be defended against all criticism...