It Is Different When They Do It.
Gentle Readers, there are good points and bad points about doing a weekly column. I get time to look at the world and decide what to write about. And unlike a daily column, there is less pressure. While I am a wordy bugger, I really don't want to be forced to do it every day. If for no other reason than I would not have time to find and document the things I write about.
But it means that sometimes I have to let things go as new things come up. I may get back to them later, but for some reason I have a feeling that as things degenerate, there will be less and less time to look back. So let's look at something new that you probably have not encountered yet.
I will bet that most if not all of you haven't heard of Taishan, Guangdong Province, China. It has been in the news recently, but for some reason American news media seem to be deliberately ignoring it. Incidentally, you will find mention of it in European media, so it is a matter of choice and not lack of newsworthiness.
Maybe you will have heard of another place, here in this country. Does the name Three Mile Island strike a familiar note?
No, not the tourist town in New Hampshire. Nor the one in New York state. This one is in Pennsylvania just south of the state capitol in Harrisburg. Specifically, it WAS a pair of nuclear power plant reactors. Construction began in the late 1960s on both. Reactor 1 (TMI-1) began producing power in 1974. TMI-2 began producing power in 1978. By now, I am pretty sure that you think you know what I am talking about. The details are very different than you may believe.
On March 28, 1979, TMI-1 was shut down for a scheduled refueling. TMI-2 had what was the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history. Short form, the normal procedure for clearing the filters that kept the coolant clean failed. Usually, and normally, they used compressed air to blow the junk out of the filters. This did not work. So it was decided to use water under pressure to clear them. This did NOT work, and it ended up with water getting into a part of the system where it should not be, and at that moment a shut off valve jammed open. The coolant level dropped below where it was supposed to, and a part of the fuel rods were exposed and melted.
The reactor was shut down and backup plumbing was used to restore coolant. Once they were sure that the core was being cooled, and knew what had happened (the whole process took three days), they declared that the danger was over. And it was. TMI-2 did not work anymore, but it was shut down and safe. When TMI-1 completed its refueling, it went back online and continued producing power until being decommissioned on Sept, 20, 2019.
American folklore about Three Mile Island is heavily influenced by the anti-nuclear power movie “The China Syndrome” that coincidentally was being released as the incident took place. The movie was about an entire nuclear reactor core melting down and possibly going supposedly through the earth to China. And the movie claimed that all of the environmental evils that you could think of, including I think Orcs, werewolves, and of course, radioactive contamination of everything came from power reactors. In the movie, the problem is covered up by the evil reactor employees and the even more evil Federal government.
People think of TMI-2 as being like “China Syndrome.” In fact, TMI-2 was how an accident should have been handled. The core was partially melted, but safe in its containment and protected by coolant. It took a long time, and a bunch of money, but the fuel core was safely transported to nuclear waste storage and TMI-2 was dismantled and decommissioned.
There were no people, employee or civilian, hurt. There were no people killed. There was no escape of any of the fuel core from the radiation proof containment. There was a minimal amount of radioactive iodine and steam that got out, and condensed down and was mostly recovered. There were minute amounts of two noble gases (noble gases are part of a family of elements that are gaseous in form and DO NOT interact with other elements), xenon and krypton, that escaped into the atmosphere. While those gases do not float like hydrogen like some people think, they disperse quite readily.
To quote from the Federal final report on Three Mile Island:
“During the course of the accident, approximately 2.5 MCi (93 PBq) of radioactive noble gases and 15 Ci (560 GBq) of radioiodines were released.” This resulted in an average dose of 1.4 mrem (14 μSv) to the two million people near the plant. The report compared this with the additional 80 mrem (800 μSv) per year received from living in a high altitude city such as Denver. As further comparison, a patient receives 3.2 mrem (32 μSv) from a chest X-ray-more than twice the average dose of those received near the plant.”
In other words, the additional radiation for the people in the area was about the equivalent of living in Denver for a couple of months (80mrem/1.4 mrem).
Three Mile Island was not a good thing, but it was handled as well as it possibly could be. Key to it was the staff following procedures, and most especially the government telling the truth with openness and candor, unlike in the movie, most people think of as being what supposedly happened at Three Mile Island. Compare that to what happened later in the then Soviet Ukraine reactor at Chernobyl.
On April 26, 1986, several shifts of reactor staff at the then Soviet Chernobyl #4 power reactor were working to develop a safety procedure to maintain coolant circulation in the event of a power failure. The Russians had been operating the RBMK-type reactors for years without a complete manual of emergency procedures. A new shift came on that was not part of the test crew, and they tried to continue the experiments, without authorization. In the process, they deliberately drained the coolant from around the fuel rods and showed the world what a real meltdown was like.
No, it did not go to China or the center of the earth. But it did explode, take out the containment vessel for the fuel rods and set fire to the reactor. And the particulates from that fire were highly radioactive. Throughout the Soviet government, like all Communist/totalitarian governments, lied about what had happened and what was happening. Hundreds died in trying to control the disaster. And it was not really controlled, just limited. The nuclear fuels are still in the water table. What they did was basically bury the burning reactor building in concrete dropped a bucket at a time from helicopters and the concrete is breaking down now. It is not over. Hundreds died in that effort, and nuclear contamination is shortening lives all over Europe.
To our media, Three Mile Island was the worst disaster possible and they pounded that into the minds of Americans for decades. Chernobyl was reported more as an industrial accident, and forgotten as soon as they could.
Now, let us go from Pennsylvania to Guangdong Province. China built two nuclear reactors just east of Taishan. For a reference, it is about 40 kilometers WSW of Macau and 100 kilometers SW of Hong Kong, right on the ocean.
Framatome, a French nuclear reactor corporation and its owner EDF (Électricité de France) built and are running the two Taishan reactors as junior partners of CGN, the Chinese nuclear authority. The reactors were apparently built, using stolen U.S. nuclear technology and CGN is on a U.S. blacklist. So EDF contacted the U.S. seeking permission first to help, because they say that as of Tuesday, (6-15-21) there is a build up of the noble gases xenon and krypton in the primary cooling circuit. Sound familiar? China responded by saying that there are no problems, no radiation leaks, and that everything is operating normally.
Does that sound familiar, like the early Chinese denials that Covid existed and came from China?
When EDF contacted us, they said that by the way, the Chinese had changed the allowable levels of radiation around the reactor, increasing them so as to avoid a shut down. Which China denied.
What is the record of the Taishan-1 reactor? Well, in March, a faulty voltmeter triggered an automatic emergency shutdown of the reactor. In April, “a burst of radioactive gas unexpectedly entered a pipe at Unit 1's waste gas treatment system” triggering another shutdown. Don't you just hate those unexpected bursts of radioactive gases in a reactor?
Now we have warnings from the European partner of the Chinese government agency running the reactor, denied by said agency even after the two previous very recent shutdowns. What caps off this incident so far is that on 6-16-21 the Chinese government finally admitted that “5” fuel rods had in fact broken, and that the xenon and krypton gas in the primary cooling loop was from them.
That leaves us wondering how they know it was just 5 rods (out of the 60,000 rods in the reactor). And given the notorious lying that the Chinese government has done during the Covid pandemic, we wonder exactly why we should believe them? When a totalitarian government, under whatever name, starts lying it is not a good sign for us.
Let me toss out another thought. Guangdong Province is where a lot of goods sold in the United States are made. And Hong Kong and Macau are where a lot are shipped from. If this turns out to be a lot worse than our Three Mile Island and a lot closer to Chernobyl, they might not be making or shipping those goods. Which will affect OUR economy.
May you live in interesting times is supposedly a Chinese curse. Does this look interesting? The odds are that American media will not find it so, and will not cover it. Until it becomes unavoidable. And then they will blame our country.Late update via BBC and Agence France Press, after I sent my article in last night (6-17-21). The French company that partly owns the Taishan nuclear reactor now states that they HAVE ALREADY released some of the radioactive xenon and krypton into the atmosphere. www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-57474384. Despite weasel words about how it is totally safe and there are no problems, releasing radioactive gases is usually considered a no-no unless Communists do it. I note again that when a smaller amount of the same elements were released from Three Mile Island the American media and the Left worldwide (more than a little bit of overlap there) acted as if the world had ended. For the last few years, the Left has been screaming about a proposed disposal of contaminated water from the Fukushima reactor destroyed by a tidal wave. The water has been stored since, has been treated to remove radioactive contaminants, and will be highly diluted and released over a period of decades into the ocean. To the Left and American media, that is also the end of the world. However, the Soviet Chernobyl reactor spewing nuclear waste or Taishan having radioactive gases released are nothing. There are different sets of rules for Leftist dictators."
I would not be surprised if in the next few days we did not hear that all the previous denials (1. there are no problems, 2. there is an accumulation of xenon and krypton gas (same as at Three Mile Island) inside the reactor, 3. it is inside the primary cooling loop (not a good thing), 4) that 5 (out of 60,000) cooling rods are cracked/broken, and 5) that they have already released the xenon and krypton gas that they at first denied existed into the atmosphere before admitting it was in the primary cooling loop; are superceded by whatever new problem they will be forced to admit comes up. By the way, there must be some really interesting plumbing in that thing, assuming (snicker) that they are telling the truth.