« "And justice for all..." Not so fast, Palestinians! | Main | SF Summary of Syria situation »

19 November 2017


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Babak Makkinejad

Like I said, France is the authentic Diocletian Coffee and Japan a very good decaffeniated coffee.
Any way, progress requires Diversity and Discontinuity.


nuclear power also provides more than 50% of power requirements in Ontario, Canada. Despite this success, recent virtue-signalling governments have launched huge subsidy-sucking windmill programs that produce essentially zero power in peak demand (here hot humid summer days) and unneeded power in shoulder seasons, which we have to dump into NY, Michigan. In recent fourth quarters, Ontario has paid ~$425 million for unneeded wind power, dumping it for ~$5 million. Meanwhile, nuclear plants, mostly built a generation ago, hum on.


France is not immune, but they manage somehow to hide persistent weaknesses and minor accidents well, simply because their merdias are completely “aux ordres” and only report what they are told on this and most other issues.


Assuming that by Babak’s comment is meant as a compliment to France, it’s deserved in this case to a great extent. France has of course maintained an independent, if not enormous nuclear weapons program, but has also pioneered many aspects of civilian nuclear power. French scientists and engineers developed the vitrification process for disposition of nuclear reactor fuel, for example, and the British nuclear fuels industry gained prominence in the US after it purchased French technology, making it available in the US without the cultural issues that sometimes arise here in regard to France. In a similar vein, the British were not as independent from the US as was France in the development of weapons. Authentic coffee is a good way to put it.

Fellow Traveler

I don't think there's a degree of difference between the Japanese govt and utility, given that the govt was regurgitating the Tepco press releases while the containment buildings literally exploded
In the background. No shame in that from their perspective.

French engineers love a good debate over wine.


Hard to be sure about what's going on, but consider the following:

The Fukushima reactor was purchased from GE; EDF designs and builds their own reactors. This is representative of a much deeper expertise in nuclear power in France. In this way the U.S. is like Japan: the local U.S. utilities who own and operate nuclear reactors bought them (in the 1970's and 1980's) from vendors like GE and Westinghouse and had to develop sufficient expertise to operate them.


the French are far more technologically & engineering ops adept than you give them credit for.
as to Fukushima, it is confirmation that eventually all human designs, materials & operations will fail - it’s right up there w/ death & taxes. so, we’d better be willing to mitigate & accept consequences.


)ne big difference between France and Japan is that Japan is sitting on top of some very active faults having experienced at least two earthquakes richter 8 or above. It is even worse than California. France doesn't have to engineer around that danger.


seem able to manage a nuclear power system that provides 40% of the countries electric power needs.

Why is that? pl

Just pure luck.

Seamus Padraig

In the Fukushima case, I don't think the Japs actually did anything wrong at all. As I recall, the whole disaster was caused by a tsunami or a typhoon. Am I wrong?

Farmer Don

Japan's problem was not hiring Nassim Taleb (Black Swans, Antifagile),to calculate the height of the ocean wall needed to protect the power plants.



France doesn't have strong earthquakes.


"Patrimoine and good cheese" could be why the French can manage nuclear infrastructure. Just about every nuclear disaster I've ever heard of has not been just due to a technical problem, it's been a control problem (Chernobyl, Three Mile Island) or an organization problem (Fukushima). You want to run nuclear power plants successfully, you need to be small c conservative and you need to be a long term thinker. I'm being somewhat flippant here, but, you need the same mindset to make really good wine and cheese (minute attention to detail over a long term plan) as you need to run nuclear power infrastructure.

I admit, I could also just be reasoning backwards. However, I have an uncle who was in the US Navy as a nuclear engineer. They're another organization that's been quite successful in running nuclear power plants. When he came up to visit we got to talking about Hyman Rickover, and his approach to radioactive 'crud', or unidentified deposits forming in nuclear cooling lines. He made a point of talking about how Rickover had insisted that instead of being flushed out at sea, it had to be sealed in barrels and brought on shore for disposal. The larger point my uncle made was that Rickover had both the vision to see that uncontrolled releases of radiation would scare people and damage the future of the nuclear navy, and was enough of a perfectionist to make sure they didn't happen. Similar sort of traits, and IIRC the US Navy has one of the better safety records of any country that operates nuclear powered anything.


Seismic risk in Japan is an order of magnitude higher than in western Europe. And although Japanese earthquake engineering and construction techniques are world class there is still some mumbo jumbo and magic in that discipline.

What I want to know is what do the French do with nuclear waste?


It's helps to keep in perspective that Fukushima was subjected to a series of extreme events which were significantly outside of the reactors' design envelopes. The Tohoku quake and tsunami killed upwards of 20,000 people--its a pretty mind boggling number in the context of one of the most technologically advanced countries on earth. For perspective, death toll projections for the "Cascadia event" in the PNW are 10,000... although who knows if we have an appropriate appreciation for risks there either.

I do not know if there are any sort of cultural pathologies unique to the Japanese that have slowed down recovery at Fukushima, but my guess is that the French (or anybody else) would be at risk in similar circumstances.

Tim B.

I'm sure that if a French nuclear reactor was located near a magnitude 9.0 - 9.1 magnitude underwater earthquake (fourth largest ever worldwide since modern record keeping began in 1900) and 50 minutes thereafter was hit with a 42 foot high tsunami that destroyed the emergency diesel generators that powered cooling and electronic controls to the reactors, the result would be the same.

Frankly, the question isn't much different than asking why the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11 but the Sears Tower in Chicago did not. The answer has nothing to do with the differences between engineering techniques in New York and Chicago and everything to do with a local phenomena one experienced and the other did not.


France may have more flexibility in siting nuclear plants.


1) is much more densely populated
2) has a much smaller proportion of buildable space due to its terrain
3) has a much higher proportion of its buildable space near its coasts (& tsunamis)
4) is much more earthquake-prone

One wonders whether nuclear plants are a good idea in Japan at all.


Technological prowess is one thing, but the stunningly civilized Japanese have achieved their present state of order and grace (as compared to, say, Baltimore) at the cost of willful blindness to the sorts of things that the US military has taken to referring to as "challenges" - i.e. when things do not go as planned, or not as well as they should, and so on.

The entire culture seems predicated on the precise opposite of the greased squeaky wheel model. Tall poppies, etc.

So even when something like Fukushima happens, there is a general absence of accountability, little finger-pointing, and a general sense of being all in it together.

This can go to an extreme, of course: going hungry in a disaster area instead of breaking into vending machines being a stark example. But I would rather have that than post-Katrina behavior.

But with nuclear power, the consequences of this behavior are too damn high.

A simple solution might be effected by inserting a Korean here or there as quality control. They seem to have less problem calling horse-hockey when needed.


As you say, there have been some far from innocuous events in French power plants in the past. A notable one is the partial core melt-down in Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux in 1980. The nuclear power plant was subsequently stopped for about three years and a half for repairs -- which were accompanied by by deliberate discharges of plutonium-contaminated waste in the river Loire during the whole period. The accident and its consequences were well-hidden for decades and only became public a couple of years ago.

The new generation atomic power plants that the French are building in France, in Finland and in China have been marred by shoddy practices in the construction of the reactor vessels and concrete pouring, tripling of budgeted costs and (so far) doubling of project time-scale.


does france have major earthquakes?



I think highly of French technology. My statement was for the benefit of those who do not. pl

Rob D.

Indeed, France escaped a Fukushima type accident during the storm "Martin" in december 1999, when a much higher than usual tide flowed into the diesel building for the emergency cooling system of the "Blayais" power plant, near Bordeaux (~ 1 million people with suburbs)... (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blayais_Nuclear_Power_Plant)
France "immunity" is not a matter of cheese or technology, but sheer luck: the conception of previous generations nuke reactors does not cover enough emergency cases. Anyway the problem with fission nuke is you can start the reaction (catalyse a natural phenomenon), but you cannot guarantee to be able to stop it once started (since it's an extremely energetic natural phenomenon...)


It was France that built Israel's plants at Dimona, and Norway that sold Israel the heavy water.


From what I've seen the risk is low.


And experience

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2020

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
Blog powered by Typepad