Re: Fusion and nuclear Power

From: Dr. Blake Nelson (
Date: Mon Sep 16 2002 - 23:14:52 EDT

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    If the list has passed this issue by, my apologies,
    but I just got back from out of town. The question of
    safety of nuclear power plants (NPPs) from airborne
    attack is an over-hyped one...

    The problems for a terrorist trying to fly a plane
    into an NPP are the following:

    1) The airframe of an airplane is mostly -- air...
    they are not hardened structures except for some parts
    of the aircraft engine;
    2) Since the aircraft engine is the only thing you
    have a shot of penetrating the reactor building with,
    you have to have a pretty massive engine. Certainly
    anything smaller than at least a 707 engine will
    likely disintegrate (there are great pictures of F107
    engines disintegrating on impact);
    3) You need to ID the building that contains either
    the nuclear reactor and/or spent fuel pool;
    4) You have to be able to fly the plane well enough
    and low enough (most likely you need to "dive bomb")
    to be able to hit the building in anything like a head
    on collision to hope to penetrate containment with the
    jet engine; and
    5) You have to be able to get a hold of plane larger
    than a 747.

    The best you could hope for, if you can hit the
    reactor building or where spent fuel pools are, is
    that the force of the impact "crushes" the building
    and causes failure of the structure that way. That
    failure would still not necessarily cause a loss of

    In other words, people should worry a lot more about
    things other than airplanes being crashed into NPPs.

    Of course, most of the new generation of proposed
    plants already had reactor vessels that were planned
    to be below ground (even before 911), so you could fly
    planes into the ground above them all day.

    BTW, as far as operator error goes, the Nuclear
    industry has really benefitted from the consolidation
    of NPPs under operating companies that specialize (or
    have subcompanies that do) in nukes such as Exelon,
    Entergy, Dominion, etc., who are really good at
    operating NPPs. That's why the uptime has really
    improved and despite fewer plants they still generate
    20% of the electricity in the US, the plants are up a
    much larger percentage of the time. One can hope that
    the days where podunk utilities had to have a nuke as
    a prestige thing are long gone. Moreover, the
    theoretical new generation that is coming along -- gas
    cooled reactors, pebble bed, etc. -- theoretically
    will have much better passive safety features... of
    course, these are all theoretical still...

    > Of course, the downside is the safety aspect. We
    > can't ignore the fact =
    > that if Nuclear power goes wrong it goes horribly
    > wrong; witness all the =
    > cancers and deformities in Kiev etc in the wake of
    > Chernobyl. One can =
    > protest that the Russians were absolutely terrible
    > at safety, and it =
    > wouldn't happen over here, but the spectre of such a
    > problem hangs over =
    > NP (and Three Mile Island was an uncomfortably near
    > miss). And then =
    > there is the worry of terrorist threats. I guess
    > someone somewhere has =
    > almost certainly done the calculations as to what
    > happens if you crash =
    > an airoplane into a Nuclear Power station, but I
    > don't know what the =
    > results of such a study would be.

    > But I guess in the end, it's going to have to be
    > fission, with all the =
    > safety risks, in the medium term, before Fusion can
    > be practicable.
    > Iain.

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