Nuclear Power Problem in China

In a fitting follow up to my blog about Jon Stewart, it seems timely to discuss the newfound revelations that a Chinese nuclear powerplant is possibly leaking higher than safe levels of radiation from it's reactors.

This information comes via a communicae the French comapny Framatome, who was responsible for designing the reactors used in the plant. The company reached out to the U.S. in regards to their concerns about raised levels of contaminents being detected, as well as their opinion that the Chinese government chose to raise the "safe exposure" levels on radiation.

Both claims have thus far been denied by China.

CNN reported on Monday that Framatome, the French company that designed the reactors, had said that China’s nuclear safety regulator had raised limits on permissible levels of radiation outside the plant in the southeastern province of Guangdong to avoid having to shut it down.

via Rueters.

Drone Footage of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant

The nuclear plant in question, the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, supposedly has only about five of the 60,000 fuel rods damaged in the reactor where increased radiation levels have been found. Per a story by Rueters, the officials monitoring the facility say that the reactors are designed to operate safely with as many as 25 percent of the fuel rods damaged.

Now for those of you who do not understand the basic concepts of nuclear power, I'll try to break it down quickly as best I can:

In short, nuclear energy is all about splitting uranium atoms through fission, generating mass amounts of heat and consequently steam which powers turbines that generate electricity in our homes. A lot of these fission reactions are driven by rods of Uranium known as control rods, and it is these same rods that provide fuel to the plant.

Unlike regular fossil fuel based energy plants, nuclear energy plants don't give off green house gases or other environmentally destructive waste which makes them significantly more eco-friendly... at least in theory.

Unfortunately, there are the obvious issues with the disposal of nuclear waste such as the control rods used in the fission reaction, which are often times stored in tanks of water known by some as "fuel pools". In these tanks, the radiation emitted from the rods is blocked by the hydrogen within the water, allowing for workers to be within mere feet of the used fuel cells without any radiation issues whatsoever.

Watch the video below for more on the fuel pool:

As I find myself diving deeper and depper into the topic of nuclear energy, I find myself obviously getting swept away in some of the biggest stories that have come out of the nuclear energy conversation. While some of the most well known issues have surrounded disasterous events, the innovation in nuclear energy is an equally deserving news topic.

From the early days of Marie Curie, all the way through the secretive days of the Manhattan Project, the self-destructive fallout of the Chernobyl disaster, and the accidental meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in the Japanese

earthquake-tsunami in 2011 - nuclear energy and uranium itself has been nothing short of controversial and at times it has proven very deadly (nuclear energy disasters are measured on a one through seven scale with both Chernobyl and Fukushima registering as level seven disasters).

As I researched further into what exactly the issues surrounding the Taishan power plant, I find myself admittedly skeptical of the reported facts. While the French comapny responsible for designing the reactors is claiming raised levels of radiation outside the reactors, the Chinese energy department is claiming the radiation spike is contained to the water surrounding the reactor but has not begun to escape the protective case surrounding the reactor.

However, U.S. involvement in the coming weeks will seek to decipher the truth and lies of this as the French developer behind the reactor will need to be granted an approval by U.S. authorities before they can operate to fix the reactor. Per Rueters:

CGN, China's largest state-owned nuclear company, was placed on a U.S. blacklist in Aug. 2019 for allegedly making efforts to acquire advanced U.S. technology and material for diversion to military uses in China. That means that Framatome, which has operations in the United States, would need a waiver from the U.S. government to allow it to help CGN fix technological problems, Li said.

So on the one hand, you have what could be a very real possibility that the Chinese government is leaking nuclear waste into the environment without reporting the true severity of the issue. At the same time, one could find it equally plausible that the Chinese government are using the Framatome group to access more technology or secrets in an effort to buid up their nuclear military arsenal.

It's also important to remember too that this could all be a lot of tin foil hat thinking that won't actually amount to anything of real value other than American's continuing to grow more skittish about the Chinese government. What remains to be seen are the actual data and facts necessary to prove anything with a necessary evel or certainty.

Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant's Timely Reminder

Over ten years have passed since the island nation of Japan was rocked by a series of disastrous earthquakes the triggered tsunami waves which tore across the country and ultimately lead to the partial meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

While I have attached a video detailing how this disaster happened, the reason for bringing this issue to the forefront wasn't for a simple historical remembrance: over the next two years, the Japanese government plans to further isolate and filter out irradiated particles in the water that is still currently trapped inside the power plant. The plan for this water is that it will eventually be drained into the ocean and returned back to the world rather than sitting trapped in a radiation tank.

Since the disaster, contaminated cooling water has constantly escaped from the damaged primary containment vessels into the reactor building basements, where it mixes with groundwater that seeps in. The water is pumped up and treated. Part is recycled as cooling water, with the remainder stored in 1,000 huge tanks crowding the plant......Early in the crisis, highly contaminated water that leaked from damaged basements and maintenance ditches escaped into the ocean, but the main leakage points have been closed, TEPCO says. Tons of contaminated sandbags used to block the leaks early in the disaster remain in two basements......Tiny amounts of radiation have continued leaking into the sea and elsewhere through underground passages, though the amount today is small and fish caught off the coast are safe to eat, scientists say. - Associated Press

For those of you who may also recall, it was an often stated position that a lack of transparency by the Japanese government at the time of the disaster lead to the future problems in recovery and rebuilding. And even after an overhaul of the government leadership, Japan still sits here ten years later having to make controversial choices in order to continue moving on from this nuclear disaster.

Per an Associated Press report:

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., says the tsunami couldn’t have been anticipated, but reports from government and independent investigations and recent court decisions described the disaster at the plant as human-made and a result of safety negligence, lax oversight by regulators and collusion.

This is all meant to simply say that if we do not keep a watchful eye on issues regarding nuclear power plants, then the results can be catastrophic at best.

It is not an uncommon position to oppose nuclear power because of the heightened downsides that are generally associated with trying to maintain and operate in a facility focused around splitting uranium atoms.

For those of you as equally nervous about the consequences of not holding companies or countries accountable for nuclear disasters, the possible nuclear leak in the Guandong Province of China is a critical story to keep following.

For more information on nuclear power, check out this short documentary from the BBC:

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