Thursday, March 24, 2011


Critical generally means bad. He/she is in critical condition, bad thing. He/she was critical of my paper, bad thing. People try to dress up critical, "it was just constructive criticism." No matter how you dress it up, critical is not considered much of anything but bad.

Engineers use the term critical for not always bad things. Critical steam is a good thing. If you are making energy with atoms, critical is a good thing. Explaining good critical to the non-engineering masses is tough. Maybe we need a new buzz word?

Critical situation deserves a little PR work as well. Degrees of risk are part of determining if a situation is "critical". Why not just communicate degrees of risk and let others figure out how critical that is?

Take Fukushima for example, the risk of the nuclear fuel creating a nuclear explosion was zero. That possibility was not a "critical" situation. The risk of the nuclear fuel melting and burning through the pressure vessel containment was very low. Nobody, other than a very few that no one listens to, mentioned that. The risk of the nuclear fuel melting, burning through the pressure vessel and then burning through the concrete containment vessel was ridiculously low. That was never communicated very well. The risk of additional radiation release by continued cooling in the pressure vessel after fuel damage was never communicated. What would have happened if everyone ran like hell and did not try to add water to the pressure vessel after the fuel damage? There would have been no water to make the steam that carried the radiation away from the power plant. The very low risk of burning through the pressure vessel containment would have increased. The extremely low risk of the molten fuel burning through the concrete containment building would have increased. With out water to provide the steam to carry the radiation, the radiation release would have been decreased.

Of course, had the molten nuclear material performed the near impossible, there could have been a steam explosion if it hit the ground water. Then you would want to know the risk of a large enough steam explosion to expel enough radioactive material either up through the concrete containment building or around the base of the containment building to cause public health issues. Contaminated ground water risk would be nice to know as well as mitigation plans to prevent the spread of contamination.

I guess I am the only member of the lay public that would like to know all that.

The risk of the spent fuel in the pools going "critical" is also very low. Wouldn't it be nice to know how low? In a dry pool, the risk of "fire" from the cladding is low. The risk of that "fire" spreading is lower. Two things I would like to know, is how low for each. The risk of spreading more radiation trying to recover a dry pool is high. How much and how high? The only thing good about Fukushima is I may get those questions answered.

Super critical steam for power plants using any type of fuel greatly increases the efficiency and provides options to even further increase efficiency. Doesn't that inspire more questions?

I will try to find some of the answers.

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