atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#1636: That's why it's called a CONTAINMENT vessel.

The impossibility of "China syndrome".

Three Mile Island (TMI) is the biggest nuclear disaster other than Chernobyl that anyone can point to. Chernobyl happened because the reactor was deliberatey mis-operated as part of a test and the "containment building" for the reactor had the containment characteristics of a Wal-Mart store. (Also because the reactor was a primitive design with a flammable moderator and a positive void coefficient. But there's no need to get so specific right now.)

As industrial accidents go, TMI was pretty benign. No one died, no one was injured, no one was exposed to poisonous compounds. (Radiation exposure was slightly higher than background, but not nearly enough to cause any health problems.)

40% of TMI's core melted, and it managed to melt through 5/8" of the eight inches of steel which comprised the pressure vessel--and besides that there were several feet of concrete between the pressure vessel and the outside world.

The scaremongering of "China syndrome" holds that a runaway core will melt down, and continue to produce heat such that it tunnels through the pressure vessel and containment structure, soil, bedrock, etc, until it reaches the water table--and once there, it'll release a huge cloud of radioactive steam.

The problem is, of course, that a complete core meltdown will result in a mixture of fuel, cladding, core support structure, control rods, and so on; this mixture will not be conducive to a continued runaway reaction. For one thing, the geometry of fuel pellets within the core is highly important to whether or not the chain reaction can continue; melt all the fuel into an amorphous blob and let it fall to the bottom of the containment vessel: you run a good chance of having the reaction quit because the neutrons aren't being absorbed by the fuel; the pancake-shaped blob is the wrong shape and most of the neutrons fly off into space. ("Space", for the moment, meaning "the inside of the containment vessel".) The nuclear chain-reaction stops.

But the fuel's not the only thing that'll melt. The fuel is encased in cladding; if you're experiencing a core meltdown, that will melt, too. The fuel is maintained in tubes; these will melt. The tubes are supported by some kind of structure; that will melt. There are control rods inserted between the fuel elements to control the rate of reaction; in the event of a true runaway reaction, those will melt. All of that stuff will puddle at the bottom of the pressure vessel, and there's no way in hell an amorphous mixture of stuff like that will allow a nuclear chain reaction to continute, bad geometry or no.

Whenever anti-nukers moan and wail about TMI, they never consider the most important fact about the entire event: all the safety systems of the failed reactor worked perfectly. The operators vented radioactive hydrogen which was from the reactor; they did it on purpose, and it was a controlled release. If you had camped out right next to the reactor for the duration of the event, you might have received a dose of as much as 1,500 millirem of radiation.

Sometime around then Robert A. Heinlein had a heart angiogram. He reported his radiation exposure for that diagnostic test: 25,000 millirem. "I feel fine," he finished.

My Dad had three angiograms.

TMI didn't kill anyone, it didn't hurt anyone, and it didn't make anyone sick. And it's not because "we got lucky"; it's because the reactor and its control systems were designed and operated by conscientious people who knew what the hell they were doing.

* * *

Besides that, though, it is possible to build a nuclear reactor which is physically incapable of melting down. Freeman Dyson (in his book Disturbing the Universe, a must-read for anyone interested in physics) explained how he was involved in the design and construction of just such a reactor, a half-megawatt research reactor. It was designed to be operated by someone with a high school education, and they arranged a little demostration: they set up the reactor so that the control rods could be blown out of the core with compressed air.

Now: with a conventional reactor, if you do that, the core will melt. No one ever does this. But they set this reactor up to do that, to show how safe it was.

At the appointed time they threw the switch and the rods shot out of the reactor. For a brief moment the reactor was making some ungodly amount of power--just for a few microseconds--and then it settled down happily to its design output of half a megawatt. With no control rods in the core.

True story.

* * *

The paranoid morons who say the Moon landings were faked will say, "This looks 'Shopped." (As in "Photoshopped".)

"Pretty mediocre photographic fakery!"


* * *

A fetus aged 30 weeks can remember things.

I can't remember where I saw it, but I saw it recently: someone made the point that we define "death" as the absence of a heartbeat or breathing or brain activity. Yet we're not allowed to define "alive" with the presence of these things.

According to the law, a 30-week-old fetus is "unwanted tissue". Then again, the law is an ass.

* * *

Og tells us how he feels about the death of Walter Cronkite. Although I would not say it the way he does, I do have similar feelings about this; Walter Cronkite was not a "great man", not when he shilled for communists and anti-Americanism.

But you don't have to take my word for it.

* * *

Europe had better hope Obama fails.

Do you want to know why Japan had a really long recession? I'll tell you why; the reason is deceptively simple:

The yen rose against the dollar.

Before 1990 Japan relied on a lopsided exchange rate. In the 1980s, every dollar they brought in was worth around ¥400. Most of the profit which Japanese automakers made, world-wide, came from America.

Let's take a partially fictional example. (I can't find a reference for what a Civic cost in 1985, either in dollars or yen, so I've had to pull numbers from an unlikely orofice...but they'll do for the sake of discussion.) Assume a 1985 Honda Civic cost $10,000. In yen, it would be ¥4,000,000.

In 1995, an English teacher in Japan earned ¥3,000,000 (the equivalent of around $30,000 in 1995 dollars), so that gives us some idea of how much money that is: ¥4,000,000, in 1985, would have been a decent annual income in Japan.

And Honda was building cars in Japan and shipping them here, at the time, so one must assume there was a healthy domestic marked for Civics there. Of course they wouldn't run any ¥4,000,000, not when that represented a middle-class income (imagine someone trying to sell an Escort for $30,000 and see how far they'd get!). It's to be expected that Honda carefully priced its vehicles competitively while trying to maximize their profits--any corporation would do this--so selling a Civic for around the same price that other automakers sold their econoboxes would make sense. If a 1985 Escort cost $10,000, a 1985 Civic would cost about the same.

(The Japanese could probably have undercut everyone and still made a profit--but that would probably have sparked tariffs and trade barriers, and lazzez faire trading worked in their favor. Besiders, their profits were higher this way.)

How much did a 1985 Civic cost in Tokyo in 1985? ¥1,000,000? ¥2,000,000? The latter price would have been about $5,000, but in 1985 that was 67% of a living wage in 1995--the equivalent, in 1995 dollars, of around $20,000. So I doubt a JDM-spec Honda Civic cost much more than ¥2,000,000 in 1985.

So look at what results: the exact same car sold in the United States garnered twice as much money for Honda. Assuming they made a profit on the JDM-spec cars, they made a huge profit on the American-spec ones, didn't they?

(JDM="Japanese Domestic Market", by the way.)

Japan's business model for international trade--particularly with the US--ensured that they could sell products from their domestic markets at prices foreigners found "reasonable" and which pumped stunning amounts of cash into their economy.

But then the yen rose against the dollar.

By the 1990s, a dollar was fetching only ¥200, and in 1995 it hovered near ¥120 to the dollar. So a Honda Civic--now retailing around $13,000--brought ¥1,560,000, about 40% of what a cheaper car brought in just 10 years earlier.

Japan's economy wasn't built on a strong yen, and when the yen got strong they couldn't sustain the business model. Banks failed, unemployment rose, and a decade-long recession set in.

The Japanese economy essentially got too strong for its own good. A stronger yen meant fewer yen to the dollar, and fewer yen to the dollar meant less profit.

To a lesser degree, that's what Europe is looking at, here. If the US economy is not strong enough to have great demand for European products, Europeans suffer: European unemployment rises, incomes fall, etc, etc.

America is a big consumption machine; at the moment it is still the largest economy in the world and no country is more productive or richer than us. This will change, though, if Obama gets his way and implements "cap-and-tax" and socialized medicine and all the other monstrosities on the Democrat wish list. Some Europeans may be glad to see us taken down, but they'll be laughing out the other side of their faces when they find their own economies suffering.

* * *

Incidentally, about exchange rates: when you compare what one currency is worth versus another, you aren't really getting any useful information. What you really need to look at is purchasing power.

In Japan, a serving of instant noodles might cost ¥70. In the US, the same product might cost $0.50, regardless of the exchange rate. For example, in Maison Ikkoku, vintage 1987, we see a supermarket shelf advertising ramen for ¥70. At the 1987 exchange rate, that meant that ramen cost $0.18. At the 1995 exchange rate, that ramen would be $0.59. The dollar price is essentially meaningless because it has nothing to do with the cost of ramen in Japan; the only thing an American will get from the conversion is a handy reference point: an American has a rough idea of what "a dollar" is worth and little or no idea what "a yen" is worth.

In 1987, ¥70 would buy a packet of ramen in Japan. In 1987, $0.10 would buy the exact same product in the United States. But the official exchange rate was ¥400 to $1.

To get an idea of the relative strength or weakness of a currency we have to compare how much of a commodity each currency will buy; generally the world market uses gold for that purpose.

...and I have no real interest in making that comparison right now. I worked last night, I'm tired, and I've already bloviated about this nonsense for long enough.

* * *

Michelle Malkin discusses the impending bloated Obamacare bureaucracy.

* * * I said I worked last night. *sigh* I got home at the usual time, ate breakfast, and started blogging, and so it's nearly 10 and I still have not showered. *sigh* Time to go get that done, I guess.

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