It's a conspiracy I tells ya!

Derek Wall, principal speaker of the Green Party of England and Wales, appeared on 18 Doughty Street's Cross Talk programme on the 12th July, where he faces simultaneous questioning from a left wing angle by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and from a right wing angle by Iain Dale.

Okay, so we don't expect much lucidity from the head honcho of the Green Party. We barely expect it from the Lib Dems and they're mainstream. But this guy really seemed off it. Yasmin asked him at one point to list the straight forward reasons behind their anti-nuclear position. So we get terrorism, waste, etc, but apparently the Green Party of England and Wales also opposes nuclear power because it is a threat to civil liberties. Wall seems to believe that a "nuclear state" will have to cut back on civil liberties for some reason (probably because he knows his lot will wage a campaign of what is euphemistically called "direct action" ie aggrevated trespass, intimidation, vandalism, and sometimes full blown terrorism).

At its heart, this seems to come from the mindset that nuclear power and nuclear weapons are as intertwined as electric and magnetic fields; that one cannot exist without the other. Derek Wall seems unable to disconnect the two. This is exemplified, not only by his use of the term "nuclear state" to describe a country with nuclear power stations, when it is usually for countries with nuclear weapons, but also by his response to Iain's question on why some European countries like Denmark had slowed their renewables project. He suggested it's just because they have "right wing governments that obviously prefer nuclear power and nuclear weapons". Of course, in the case of Denmark, the statement is ridiculous anyway because that country has neither.

It's almost a throwback to the acid soaked 60s mentality of raging against the perceived "military-industrial complex". Nuclear power cannot just be seen a technology for generating electricity. It can only be seen as part of "The Machine" controlled by moustache twirling villains hell bent on destroying the planet and oppressing the people for some reason.

Bring back Caroline Lucas. At least she appeared somewhat rational in her opinions, even if she was woefully misinformed.

The one benefit though is it makes you somewhat appreciative of the lot we have in government. At least they're not the Greens.

Have the Tories just saved their immortal souls?

The Conservative's Quality of Life report is coming out soon, part of the blitz of reports launched by Cammy with policy ideas for the party to pick and choose as they please (essentially a smart way of testing the waters before commiting to anything). I don't know how it got that name because it seems to be more of a report on Greeniness.

The report was written by John Gummer (eww!) and Zac Goldsmith (triple eww!). Naturally, our hopes were not set high. However, latest leaks appear to suggest it isn't as bad as we think. If these leaks are true, Gummer managed to swing Goldsmith round to accepting nuclear power.
Gummer, whose constituency includes the Sizewell B nuclear power station, will also signal Tory support for nuclear power. Tests will be set for the industry, but Cameron will be given an escape route from his description of nuclear power as an option of 'last resort'.

Signing up to nuclear power marks a major shift for Goldsmith. Only three months ago, he told The Observer that he would 'fight like hell' if the party declared that nuclear power was good.

Good news! I'll give Goldsmith credit for moderated, though I would still prefer if Susan Kramer held her seat (not often I want a LibDem hold).

EDIT: Whoops! Spoke too soon.
The group will also suggest scrapping Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of the nation's success in favour of a model that measures people's happiness drawn up up by Friends of the Earth.
Never mind the twatological use of "happiness" as some kind of scientifically measureable quantity, if Cammy chooses to trust Friends of the Earth's assessment of the success of the nation, then the Conservatives are due for a 97ing. But let's give him the chance to reject this first. Iain Dale has suggested Cammy is rejecting large sections of the report anyway on the grounds that G&G are muppets (it's why I'd reject it).

How passive does passive have to be?

It's a cerebral day (easy to happen when you've been waiting two days for the production techs to change a simple needle valve on top of a well head).

Safety mechanisms are often broken down into two categories: active and passive. Active is where an operator or an automatic system must sense and take action to correct for a fault. Passive is where such action will happen without the need for anyone or anything to decide where it happens.

There are obvious examples of active and passive safety. Active safety was a pump must be activated in order to supply emergency cooling water. Passive safety is where a the natural effect of Doppler broadening will cause a pebble bed reactor to become sub-critical if the temperature rises too high, such as in the case of a loss of coolant accident.

But what about the more grey areas? In boiling water reactors, control rods are inserted from below due to the fact that attempting to control the reaction from the steam laden upper portion of the core is ineffective. To aid safety, these control rods are spring loaded. During operation, they are withdrawn against the resistance of the springs trying to push them back in.

Is this passive safety? From one perspective it is. In the event of a total loss of electrical power to the control system, the springs will force the control rods into the core without any outside assistance. However, this is still dependent on the operation of engineered components unlike the PBR system, which depends solely on the immutable Laws of Physics.

The PBR case is an example of inherent safety. The BWR case is an example of a system designed to fail safe. Can these two types of safety be described in the same manner?

Is nuclear the most independent energy source?

All energy sources rely on natural resources to make them go. Nuclear relies on actinides. Coal, oil and gas rely on their respective fossil fuels. Wind relies on wind, solar on sunlight, geothermal on subsurface heat. This means that the economics of each power source is dependent upon these inputs to a large degree. If fossil fuels are expensive in a particular area, the fossil fuel economics will be comparatively poor. If availability of wind or sunlight is poor, then ditto for those energy sources.

Nuclear is like fossil fuels in that it depends on a market commodity, whose price can vary. However, unlike fossil fuels, it is not vulnerable overall to that price because the requirement for fuel is only a small fraction of the overall cost. Like renewables, nuclear is mostly capital intensive, with most of the money going into building the power station in the first place. However, despite this, nuclear avoids the pitfalls of renewables of being dependent upon the quality of natural goods in the area.

It looks like nuclear is relatively independent of either critical factor for other energy sources. Does this mean that nuclear economics should be the least variable of all energy economics?

Time to get tactical

I said before that the nuclear vote should rally behind the Conservatives as the best hope of getting new nuclear build in Britain. The situation may have changed. Teddy Bear Brown has bounced like a ping pong ball. The Conservatives have had a row over grammar schools and have had embarassingly disappointing results in two high profile by-elections. The knives are now out for Cammy.

Whether or not Cammy holds on, the very fact that the public see the Tory desire for self-destruction reappearing once more means the next election is now lost. Given the lead they need due to the Labour bias in the electoral system, it is unlikely they will emerge from the next general election as the largest party. Therefore a Conservative government, even a minority one, is no longer on the table.

So the credible choices are Labour majority government or Lab-Lib coalition. Therefore, the nuclear vote must now rally behind Labour to ensure they hold their majority at the next election. It's our best hope.

A side note on the possible confidence motion for Cammy: what planet are these MPs living on? Do they really believe for a moment that ousting a leader mid term for the second parliament in a row would actually do anything for the party other than damage it? If the election is lost with Cammy, changing the leader will not save it. It will simply make the humiliation of defeat even worse and damage the party's chances of rebuilding in the aftermath. Not only that, but rather than allowing Cammy to be the one to fall on his sword after the election, someone else will have to do it, meaning the Conservatives are wasting a potential talent in a no-hoper election.

Whatever have to the British stiff upper lip? I thought Conservatives of all people would be the ones to appreciate that. Take your defeat like men! You can either lose with dignity, or lose in disgrace.

The search goes on

I previously posted about decorating a swimming pool with Cerenkov radiation. Cerenkov radiation is cool. My original suggestion was to use strontium-90 because it is a (almost) pure beta emitter (aka emission of a high energy electron). I had to rule out the idea, because yttrium-90, the decay product of strontium-90, emits powerful gamma emission, which cannot be realistically be shielded by the water.

But some more in depth calculation reveals a further reason to reject strontium-90.

Cerenkov radiation is caused by sub-atomic particles exceeding the speed of light in water. The speed of light in water is 0.75 times the speed of light in vacuum (the maximum speed in the universe). The question is how much energy an electron would need to achieve this speed.

In 1905, Einstein had an Annus Mirabilis. As part of that, he published his Theory of Special Relativity. Within that included an important equation on the energy of a particle.

E is the energy of the particle. m0 is the mass of the electron. c is the speed of light in vacuum. v is the speed of the electron. Putting in all these numbers, an electron travelling at 0.75 times the speed of light will have an energy of 0.775 MeV. But the electrons from the decay of strontium-90 is 0.55 MeV. This means these electrons have insufficient energy to exceed the speed of light. So in fact strontium-90 is not capable of generating Cerenkov radiation in the first place.

Oh well, back to the old drawing board.

Define "unsafe"

I sense that it may be necessary to add the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa incident to the Other accidents page, since it has been exploited by the fuddites far more than I had (naively) expected. Over at NEI Nuclear Notes, a commenter is milking it for all its worth.
Secondly, NEI can try to mitigate reality all they want...this quake has shown nuclear reactors to be unsafe, and with each passing hour, the number of SIGNIFICANT issues at the world's largest reactor site continue to grow.

This raises one important question: what does "unsafe" mean? Does it mean that the device is impervious to all forms of damage and fault? Or does it mean that the device is suitably designed so as to prevent harm to the public?

It is universally agreed that cars themselves are safer than they were decades ago. That is not just due to inventions such as seat belts and airbags. It is also due to the engineering of the vehicle itself. Such advancements are commonly made the subject of some adverts.

One such advancement is the inclusion of crumple zones. These are areas of structure in the front of the car built to collapse in the event of an impact. In collapse, they absorb the energy of collision, thereby ensuring it does not pass to the occupants, hurting or killing them. The car essentially is designed to fail, sacrificing itself, in order to save the occupants.

So safety of cars was improved by allowing them to be more heavily damaged from collisions. The importance of this is the fact that those automotive engineers had a very clear idea as to what constitutes safety. Safety is about protecting people from harm, not about protecting equipment.

If we apply this to Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, we reach one inescapable conclusion: the power station is safe. This is because no-one has been hurt as a result of it. Some equipment, especially the transformer that caught fire (not a nuclear event anyway), was damaged. Some LLW containers were knocked over (and I'm sure LLW storage methods will be reviewed), but the radioactivity released was less than the radioactivity from the hordes of feral journalists hunting down the Tepco officials for a statement.

Did the earthquake do damage to other parts of the massive facility? There's a good possibility of that and safety critical equipment should be checked as soon as possible. But equipment fault does not equate to lack of safety as long as it does not endanger the public.

We have no evidence of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa bringing credible threat to the public, certainly not on the scale of the devastating earthquake itself, which has killed 8 people and injured hundreds more. Therefore, to say the power station is unsafe, is pure FUD.

On a more general note, Japan has been waiting a long time for an overdue earthquake. Let us hope this was it.