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19 November 2017


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The French are very hedonistic, that is more interested in immediate pleasure than in long-term consequences. That's why so many French continue to smoke so much.

There's a nuclear power station at Joinville-le-pont, only 30 Km southeast of Paris. Everybody expects it to blow sooner or later. Let's hope that the prevailing wind is blowing that day, and carries the crap away.

More seriously, the French choice of nuclear power has much to do with the availability of uranium in the former French African colonies. Power without pollution.




You are right. French technology is as good as anyone's.

Not In Istanbul

As with many things, short term interests and the profit motive can erode or corrode any system no matter how well built or advanced the country/company behind it.


There is a theory that the Israelis, who were guarding the plant, sabotaged the reactors.


see these pictures first:

even longer:

Stone alleges that Reactor 4 had been defueled, yet it exploded anyway; that stereo camera devices installed by Israel looked like bombs and somehow weighed half a ton--for an electronic camera; that the containment walls were about 15' thick, and even Three Mile Island did not blow its walls.

The Japanese are like the Swiss, extremely precise when it comes to engineering. A theory of sabotage should not be ruled out ahead of time.


Had the Tsunami been 9 feet lower (~30 feet instead of ~39 feet), we'd be talking about Japanese engineering prowess.

The reactor survived an earthquake rated higher that it was designed for. Everything worked perfectly until the Tsunami took out the generators required for cooling for some of the reactors (others stayed functional which prevented another core meltdown). Hindsight being 20/20 the reactors and fuel ponds should have had some kind of emergency passive cooling system or a redundant active system. Putting the generator fuel tanks and the generators themselves on lower floors meant that the seawall was the only line of defense from Tsunamis. That was, again in hindsight, a design oversight.

But I don't see much comparison in terms of critical comparison between the two - French nuclear power has not faced a catastrophic test of similar magnitude as Fukushima. The French are also blessed by geography where natural disasters are much less common. I, for one, hope the French system never gets a similar test.


I am reluctant to put music up, but I will post this from Ireland 36 years ago as some/many of the folks there wanted a nuclear-free Ireland. By way of background, my better half was mountain climbing in Bulgaria when the Chernobyl cloud passed over on a rainy Easter weekend here in Greece. The main isotope emitted was an Iodine isotope, that is absorbed by the thyroid. Children in France and here in Greece were given iodine tablets to preempt the thyroid absorbing the isotope. She had thyroid surgery three years later in Portugal as did several colleagues who were exposed.

I first heard this performed live in 1981 in Donegal, Ireland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6tIBFwNj3o

The men who developed these were not Einstein's disciples.


Maybe because not all stereotypes are accurate.

ex-PFC Chuck
" . . the French choice of nuclear power has much to do with the availability of uranium in the former French African colonies. Power without pollution."
The French choice also had a lot to do with the country's lack of petroleum resources. IIRC, it was back in the 60s that the country made an industrial policy choice to go heavily nuclear, which it could do relatively quickly because Electricite de France is state owned. During those pre-Yom Kippur War days when that decision was made, the lowest cost fuel for fossil-fired steam electric generation was the heavy residual oil from refineries. Subsequent to that war the well-head oil price quadrupled overnight and France's decision looked brilliant.

The risk assessment was wrong. In addition to which putting the backup generators just behind the sea wall' so they were the first thing swamped, did not help. With no power the blow up rubber seals on the spent fuel pool doors leaked exposing the rods. When you factor in the number of quakes and tsunami with the fact that there are plants all the away around Japan's coast it matters little where an tsunami hits it will find a station. The all causes risk is a lot higher than we are being sold. Japan is not alone.
I am not anti nuclear power but I would like a more realistic risk assessment, one I can believe.


It seems people have forgotten that the natural disaster deaths and destruction was from the tsunami. Directly. It kill around 20,000 people!

Fear and loathing associated with the reactor meltdowns has been more damaging than actual injury from radiation.

The reactors and safety systems performed - and failed - as designed. Arguably the estimated risks of such large earthquakes and concomitant tsunamis were too low resulting in excessive loss of life and insufficient barriers to protect the reactors - and the population.

Japan has perhaps the best early warning systems for both earthquakes and tsunamis but there proved to be flaws in the computer simulations that went to work immediately after detecting the quake.

Initial warnings were generated before the quake had propagated across several faults based on point source data. It understated the expected tsunami size. The population was warned but they expected a much smaller tsunami. Subsequent modeling and sensor measurements produced a more accurate estimate, but provided less than 10 minutes warning before the tsunami hit.

The population had become somewhat accustomed to false warnings. While I read that 58% did seek higher ground the rest just ignored the warning. And, many of those that did seek higher ground did not go to regions appropriate for the unwarned larger tsunami.

But had not Japan put in place the systems it did they likely would have suffered perhaps 40,000 dead.

As always, lessons are learned, and there is much more known about the risks to Japan from quakes and tsunamis as a result of this disaster.

But getting back to nuclear reactors for a moment, they are much better understood than nature's vagaries. They are designed for specific limits and should be expected to withstand those. The rest is a tradeoff between cost and risk. My main concern about reactors is that they are terrorist targets and sensitive to large scale infrastructure breakdowns that could occur from natural or human causes. Not so much the reactor as the cooling systems and backups to them. The problem isn't continuing fission, it stops immediately, but getting rid of continuing high levels of heat generation from decay of radioactive isotopes has to be uninterrupted and continuing or you have a real mess. So how long are the backup systems good for? What happens if fuel to run the cooling systems can no longer be delivered?

ex-PFC Chuck

Very few people, whether in the industry or outside of it, appreciated the danger presented by the spent fuel pools prior to Fukushima. The spent fuel rods still give off a lot of heat and the water must therefore be circulated through heat exchangers to prevent it from reaching the boiling point and evaporating away. Plus the pool as constructed must not spring an unstoppable leak even in the most violent upheaval (seismic, terror, etc.) predictable. As pools fill up at older power plants some of them are transferring some fuel rods to storage in dry casks in which they are surrounded by an inert gas. It would be useful if the Wikipedia entry on dry casks contained more information on their design, especially with regard to heat build up and dissipation.


The French built lots of near identical PWRs. In the UK our reactors were all pretty much one-off (or a few off) designs.
Thatcher killed off the Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor design (which had better passive safety than PWRs) as part of her deindustrialisation strategy (eg she also killed our train locomotive design capability).

She decided to buy US designed PWRs (from Westinghouse IIRC) but, again, we only built 2 before the programme was halted. Now we are planning on buying French reactors (using Chinese money) in a very expensive public-private partnership agreement.


It seems as though there have always been some Americans who have liked down upon the French, but their refusal to invade Iraq with us helped to cement that among certain groups here. The French were portrayed as cowardly and also as an incompetent, poorly run country. In fact they are quite technically competent (their medicine is excellent). That said, as others have noted, they don't have to account for tsunamis when they engineer their plants.



Dear colonel,

Actually France does awe-inspiringly well.


During one of the heat waves in the summer, I recalled reading that some 35000 french (mostly elderly) died. I was in Italy at the same time. Same heat, Italy has lots of old people, no reports of anyone dying. Probably not due to wine in Italy being better (as any Italian will swear).

Media reportage is a major factor, IMO, except when some threshold of destruction is exceeded.

The US is much better thanks to our legions of lawyers.

Babak Makkinejad

Chemical plants are easier and more lethal potential terrorist threats:
; e.g. the sabotage of the Union Carbide plant in India.
There are millions of liters of deadly chemical residues stored haphazardly all over the place, juicy targets, no doubt.

Bill H

The Fukushima reactors created disaster due primarily due to two factors.

One, they are of the boiling water type rather than the pressurized water type. The BWR is cheaper both to build and to operate, but is much less robust and should never have been licensed for operation. There are some BWR power generating stations in the US still in service, but US Navy reactors and most US power reactors are PWR types, and I believe the French use PWRs as well.

Second, the water immersion storage for spent fuel was elevated to the level of the top of the reactor vessels. This was done to facilitate and reduce the cost of transferring fuel into and out of the reactor vessel, but it was an unsafe construction that is not permitted in the US, as the elevated storage tanks are too prone to failure.

A third issue, which would not have been a factor had the first two not been operant, was that the generators were inadequately sited and were taken out by the tsunami. A well maintained PWR with a properly trained crew probably could have been shut down without catastrophe when power was lost.


Der Oberst schrieb: "So, how did these events at Fukushima get so out of hand and why have they not worked out solutions over the last six years?"

Wrong question. Would have French NPPs the same issues as Japanese ones in a Fukushima scenario?

However, my real beef with this article is the economy of NPPs:

Frenches electricity prices are low, they are supported by government. The costs of electrcity generation is NOT low.

This is important as new French reactor designs are eye-watering expensive and are not competitive and no solution in sight. Areva is more or less bankrupt and was merged with EdF.

The current situation is a legacy from good times that are gone, nothing a serious projection could be based on.

It will cost >100 billion EUR to prolong the production life of 2/3 of the NPPs by 20 years, most will be around 40 years before 2030.

OTOH Offshore wind power (the expensive one) is now cheaper than electrcity generated by new NPPs, unfortunately, France has no large domestic producers of wind turbines, neither onshore nor offshore.

Overall: French nuclear energy is not good but in deep trouble. And the alternatives (windpower) require a huge commitment if a domestic industrial base is on the wish-list.

Minor quibble: France indeed exports a lot of electrcity, unfortunalely, in summertime. During winter France imports a lot as electric space heating dramatically increases demand (58 GW NPPs, 103 GW demand), France is a netimporter of German electrcity and in winter 2012 the Frech butt was saved by German windpower, only to get the facts straight. :-)


"This is representative of a much deeper expertise in nuclear power in France."

The point is, that NEW French NPPs are too expensive and not competitive. If you have to pay >7000 $/kW then you are economically dead.


2017: Flamanville 3 (1.7 GW) is 7.2 billion EUR(!) over budget, and 6 years late, actually, still under construction.

In Finland the situation is the same.

Babak Makkinejad

You cannot be serious about Wind Turbines, they are heavily subsidized - the Green Utopia.


Scott Humor reviews Russian technology, here is a small part:
Two years ago, Russia formally launched a commercial MOX fuel fabrication facility at the Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC) in Zheleznogorsk. The production line will fabricate MOX fuel for the BN-800 reactor at the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station.

The plant uses weapon-grade plutonium, which Russia committed to eliminate under the PMDA agreement with the United States, but it can work with “any isotopic composition, any plutonium.”

In 2016, after spending several billion dollars the US discontinued construction of its own MOX Fuel Fabrication facility, because it just doesn’t have the technology.

At this point, Russia is the only country on earth that has the technology to make MOX fuel from the nuclear waste.

“Fast breeders significantly expand the fuel base of the nuclear power industry, enabling it to provide reproducible nuclear fuel. In addition, it will be possible in future to reduce the volume of radioactive waste through burning hazardous radionuclides from spent nuclear fuel in fast breeders, softening the impact on the ecology.”

Radioisotope products made in Russia are now available in the Philippines and Morocco



Very infrequent but enough to be an issue one needs to keep in mind. It is something like ones every 10000 years or so (excluding the Italia and Spanish border regions). If you build something with a change of less than ones in a million years than you really do need to assume that an earthquake will hit.

ps Major as in 6 or 7


It is a reminder of the inherent danger in certain technologies (and I am not necessarily against nuclear technology). There are things that can and do happen that were unexpected and are highly improbable, even things that were never even thought of. We anticipate the dangers and estimate the risk on the basis that we know the unknowns well enough, so to speak. That's a paradoxical hubris. If the potential danger is big enough, one should always overbuild, against unknown unknowns, which are always larger than what we think (b/c we can only think about the known unknowns, by definition.) It's not just Japan or France, but anyone trying anything "new," big, and risky. ("New" as in we haven't done enough of X before...so some things, even if they might be "old" chronologically, are still new because we don't have enough experience with them to know all that could go wrong.)


It is not like Tepco would use hobo's to clean their reactors to get away with maximum allowed dose or that Isreali's don't stand out in Japan.

ps. Search for what happened to Tepco in 1999. I would prefer USSR nukes to Tepco run ones.


It is like snow. If a feet off snow falls in Toronto than nothing happens but it would be an emergency situation if a inch falls in Atlanta. Italy is used to such temperatures, France is not.

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