The circumstance of science; Episode 10 of 13
A lesson that was learned in the Northeast blackout is that not only must you be concerned about preventing a system collapse but you must also focus on how to restore service as rapidly as possible should that take place. In fact there's been very very little public discussion of the risks of nuclear power and in particular there's been very little information from anyone except the proponents of nuclear power although we reject most of our heat to the water in a nuclear power plant. There are some other side effects that tend to be beneficial. One has to weigh these two things. Power Grid and nuclear power production. One program in the series the circumstance of science exploring the forces of contemporary science and technology and their possible effects on society. When the lights went out in the entire northeast corridor of the United States in November of 965 th white was prompted to write only machines spoke over the system one to the other. It was required
that New York come to the brink of chaos or fashion old truth people men of frailty judgment and human decisions must control machines. There was no single individual nor is there today any single individual or even a. Corporate entity who has primary responsibility either inherently or delegated to it by the utilities that serve in the northeast area Lisi white chairman of the Federal Power Commission. Each is independently owned or or independently operated organization or they have made strenuous and in most respects successful efforts to coordinate and integrate their operations. But there is no single individual or entity who bears that responsibility. Before we had the large interconnections we had no massive blackouts but
certainly the advantages of interconnection must outweigh this disadvantage. What are the desirable aspects of these systems. The statement implicit in the question is completely accurate that there are indeed great advantages that flow from interconnection of our electric utility systems in this country and particularly Is that true in areas such as the Northeast where the abodes are are very great. The advantages are first of all in terms of economies of operation. This permits you toadies to rely upon not only their own reserve capacity but that of other utilities with which they are interconnected. Thus a utility that would otherwise have to spend a considerable amount of its money invested funds in preparing
for events that they know will take place outages storm damage other situations in which equipment fails. This becomes far more easily and economically done if they can depend upon the excess or the spare capacity of adjoining systems. Additionally it provides a higher degree of reliability. This is in addition to the benefits of economy and dollars and cents so that I think it is unmistakable that this is generally in the interest of the nation in the interest of the consumer in the interest of the utilities both those that are publicly and privately owned. I would add an additional point here. It is hardly newsworthy that a power failure does not occur.
We have been able to document hundreds of incidents which would have resulted in either total or partial blackouts of a complete system utility system. But for the fact that it was able to rely upon the emergency assistance from neighboring or adjoining utilities. This is as I say is far more difficult to. Dramatizing to glamorise very rarely do newspapers have headlines saying the lights continued to function today. And yet without inner connection many many cities many many systems would have found themselves with an interruption of service did not occur simply because of interconnection. Since the Northeast blackout what has been accomplished to make the power system
more reliable. First of all as I've suggested there has been a an awareness of the of the problem and studies devoted to it. This awareness has resulted in improved training of operating personnel and improved metering equipment has been installed. It has resulted in the development of plans emergency plans in the event that systems do begin to experience difficulty. There has been a considerable increase in the amount of equipment that has been ordered and already installed by many utilities to provide the quick. Reserve capacity that is needed when the system does get into difficulty. Further a lesson that was learned in the Northeast blackout is that not only must you be concerned
about preventing a system collapse but you must also focus on how to restore service as rapidly as possible should that take place and thus there have been changes in circuit design. There have been new facilities added which can more rapidly put a major system back into operation following an outage. The production of electricity with nuclear reactors is now about 40 operating years old. In that time we've seen a great expansion of nuclear power production. We talked about the problems and promise of this relatively new form of energy with Jacey Ringgold the vice president and general manager of the Atomic Power divisions of Westinghouse and Sheldon Novick program administrator for the Center for the biology of natural systems at Washington University in 1905 when Westinghouse vice president for research Dr. W. e-shop spoke before the American Nuclear Society. He said a public misunderstanding of
nuclear energy is now threatening the future development of nuclear energy. Mr wrangle was asked what created this public misunderstanding Dr. Shah. Was alluding to terms that the people who worked in nuclear energy early in the development of it used themselves and then these terms carried over into general use among the nuclear fraternity so that when they talk to the public the public misunderstood the terms for instance. One of the things that we do in a reactor is to insert the control rods to stop the chain reaction and shut down the machine. These control rods are dropped by gravity into the reactor and the button that does this is called disk.
Used to be called the SCRAM button can also be called the off button and which would have been much simpler approach to the answer. Another thing that we've used is what is called a hazards report. The hazards report is a misnomer because what we are actually doing is assessing the safety of the reactor so we now call these reports safety reports which evaluate the safety of the system so that the experts who review the design can be satisfied that the design is adequate to protect the operators and the public in general. I think those two things are examples of what Dr. Sharp mant when he said that we were mis informing the public of nuclear energy and causing a misunderstanding. Now if I go on to this today
the public I don't believe will ever adequately understand any major technical. Product I don't think we understand electricity nor do we understand our automobiles if you really want to to look at it in that fashion. What the public does want to however I believe is an assessment by knowledgeable people in whom they have some confidence that the things that are being done are being done in such a way that they are being protected adequately and that the benefits that they will receive will be more than the disadvantages or the what. Let's say the. Hazards to which they the public in general would be.
Exposed. Official publications from the Atomic Energy Commission have generally been directed toward showing that the risk is in consequential ways in consequential is a judgment that the risk is justified by the benefit. Sheldon Novak of the center of all the biology of natural systems at Washington University in fact has been very very little public discussion of the risks of nuclear power and in particular there's been very little information from anyone except the proponents of nuclear power which is by statute the Atomic Energy Commission and the nuclear industry itself. I think a very reasonable thing to do is to find a form for a more extensive public debate. And I think that Congress has not entirely destroyed its obligations in this. Congressional committees in the past have made ideal places to discuss this kind of complex question from many points of view. The Joint Committee on atomic
energy unfortunately has long since made its own judgment as to the justification for the present nuclear program which isn't in large part the product of the joint committee's own policies. For more I think there needs to be public discussion in such a journal as a scientist and citizen and in the newspapers and in the colleges and everywhere else where there's an opportunity for people to present the technical side of the question in such a way that it can be related to the policy questions involved. That is there has been an awful lot of discussion of very very improbable reactor accidents which could do really devastating damage to cities nearby them. Unfortunately there's been very little really extensive discussion from anybody except people intimately involved with the
program themselves as to how such accidents might conceivably occur. They have been extremely unlikely things proposed and then poo pooed is unlikely. Which is not really a very constructive way of discussing the thing. Nuclear Physicist Edward Teller recently reported that someplace some haul dangerous radioactivity is bound to escape from the nuclear plant and endanger the public. We asked Mr. Rangle of Westinghouse if we are likely to face this problem. Many studies have been made as to the probability and that's what we really are facing. The probability of such of an incident occurring. The studies have shown that this probability is very low. One in millions of chances that it can happen. So that I think that. The probability of it is happening is so low as to be
almost negligible. I don't say however that it is absolutely zero. There have been several several releases of radioactivity from reactors shelled another Washington University Center for the biology of natural systems. Dr Teller is simply being reasonable in his saying is that accidents will occur despite all precautions unforseen events will some time somewhere occur. You know the accidents which we have had in reactors have fortunately fallen far short of the kind of catastrophe that I talked about before. The most well-known is the accident at the Windscale plant in England. The Windscale accident in London in England in a military installation several years ago resulted in the release of large quantities of radioactivity to the air. But fortunately as far as we know there
was no measurable effect on the health population of England or anywhere else Fortunately the reactor was in a largely unpopulated area surrounded by dairy farms but most of the milk produced after the accident was dumped there and was not consumed so we believe there was no special adverse effect. There have been other accidents in the Charka river installation and counted on and. I had a couple of reactors in the United States and 1961 there was a reactor accident which killed the three men who were operating this a small training reactor and it resulted in some release of radioactivity again in a very remote location. The most disturbing perhaps of the accidents to date was one which occurred in October of 1966 at the Enrico Fermi plant at Laguna Beach Michigan which is
between Detroit and Toledo. Noah Fermi is a fast breeder reactor and had never operated very well in October 66 there were the operators of the plant were trying to run it up to a substantial portion of its full power and a piece of the cooling system. It seems something called a zirconium sheet pried loose and blocked some of the coolant flow into a portion of the reactors fuel which then melted the reactor was shut down and there were no subsequent. Effects. The fact of the accidents occurring however makes one somewhat apprehensive about the possibility of a more severe accident which might release radioactivity in this very densely populated area.
There has never been a nuclear incident in any of our nuclear power plants for production of electricity for the public that in any way affected you in any of the operators or the public so that the safety record of the nuclear industry is the highest safety record of any industry and in the United States. So that in so far as we're concerned our record at this point is absolutely unblemished No. It's very very difficult to say anything precise about the magnitude of the danger or what ultimately might be the cause of such of such a malfunction. I think all we can do is get some idea of the outside limits of the damage with might which might conceivably be done. And these outside
limits represent extremely extremely large costs in health and financial damage. And even if the probability of such a catastrophic accident is small I think the existence of such a possibility raises serious questions about the way the reactor program is being pursued. Ecologist are now expressing concern for a new kind of pollution which promises grave implications in the future. It's called thermal pollution and the problem results when water is taken from a river or stream and used by conventional or nuclear power plants to cool and condense steam for the production of electricity. The water is returned to the streams heated which creates conditions of detriment to aquatic life. By the end of the next decade it has been estimated that approximately one sixth of the total freshwater runoff in the United States will be required for the cooling and condensing process and production of electricity will require the greatest
proportion of this water. Does thermal pollution pose a threat to our environment. Chairman Lee White of the Federal Power Commission I think today there's probably very little question but what the answer to that is yes it does in the generation of electricity through means other than hydroelectric plants where Fallingwater itself the energy of falling water is used to turn generators and create electricity in all other forms there is a considerable generation of heat as well as electricity. And this heat normally takes the form of a hotter water. And this has an impact on those plants that are which are almost all of them that have a need for water and are located near sources of water. The nuclear power plants that we're building today we use approximately
50 percent more cooling water then the conventional plants which are fired by CO or gas Jacey Rango vice president of the Westinghouse atomic power division. This is a what is known as a thermal efficiency effect because our plants are not as efficient thermal as the current. Fossil plants however when one gets to the technology of the breeder reactors whose efficiency will be relatively high I will expect that those nuclear power plants will use comparable amounts of cooling water to those of the so-called conventional power plants. However there are two different things that one also has to consider in addition
to the thermal pollution and that is of our streams and I'd like to bring that out here. There are other. Benefits from nuclear power plants that thermal pollution may be a problem but one also has to look at the problem of air pollution. Nuclear power plants are clean with respect to air. We do not release any. Measurable amounts or major amounts of air pollutants out of nuclear power plants and therefore they tend to be very clean neighbors. While the fossil plants do cause or create a and air pollution problem there is also a thermal. Air pollution if you want to look at it missed by a fossil power plant because a lot of the heat of a part of a conventional plant is rejected to the air rather than it into the
water so that although we reject most of our heat to the water in a nuclear power plant there are some other side effects that tend to be beneficial. One has to weigh these two things. This is a funny kind of problem because in terms of thermal pollution nuclear reactors are very old fashioned. Sheldon no Think of the Center for the biology of natural systems at Washington University. Coal burning plants have become very efficient in the sense that they operate at very high temperatures and use most of or at least a large portion of the heat from the burning of coal directly in the production of electricity. You know nuclear reactors are for a variety of reasons a less efficient. They're not able to operate at these high temperatures and they don't make such efficient use of the heat generated in the nuclear fuel. This means that they discharge more heat to their cooling water they use more cooling water and heat more of it.
And this means that more heat is rejected to the stream or lake which is providing the cooling water. You know heat is a pollutant very much the way other kinds of ways pollutants and it can have very drastic effects on stream unlike life and the fact such things as fishing I mean can be an important and important factor and hand seeing what we generally think of as water pollution the cumulation of unpleasant organic material. I know this is an easy problem to solve in one sense in that it simply requires the expenditure of a lot of money to install cooling towers which allow some of the heat to be dissipated into the air in some areas. Meteorological conditions make
this even worse than heating the water. And yes one would have to say are simply unsuitable locations for power plants of any crime although he unsuited Environmental on suitability of par plans has only very rarely hindered people from building them. There is a stream in Ohio that goes up to about a hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit with hot summers and these these kind of things are happening less. Unfortunately nuclear plants represent an old fashioned retrogressive influence in the field which was rapidly improving cooling towers a Ben suggested as a possible solution to the thermal pollution problem. Recently a Senate subcommittee headed by Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine held a series of hearings to develop further information on the effects of hot water discharges from power plants.
We ask Senator Muskie if cooling towers provide the answer to the thermal pollution problem the cooling tower may or may not prove to be a device they use for in all respects to get to meet this problem. Cooling towers resulting evaporative losses of water so it may be actually be harmful in areas of skin relatives want to scarcity cooling towers also may not be as efficient as we may need to have some kind of cooling device. But they are a way of reading this problem and said they were going to explore they use very very carefully. There are other ways of doing it. Reservoirs to store water for the purposes of cooling are also used and can be used and there may be other devices. Congressman John sailor of Pennsylvania was asked if cooling towers are required by any government agency. When I first got into this subject I had presumed that cooling towers were required in all plants. When I
discovered much to my surprise that the present time cooling towers are required only where state utility commissions impose such a requirement. Apparently one of the reasons for it is that cooling towers will increase the cost of electric plants from 5 to 10 percent with some further increase of course and the cost of electricity resulting in the operation of those cooling towers. My personal opinion it is reasonable to require cooling towers where the amount of heat which would be rejected the river without such towers is great enough to impair the ability of the face of the river to maintain fish. I think usually have to be done in the future whether plants or nucular or coal fired because the growth of power requirements in this country will be so great that our rivers just won't be able to handle the thermal burden without cooling towers. Apparently there was no federal agency responsible for the control of thermal pollution.
Lee White of the Federal Power Commission. We do not presently have an authority in that direction and there is no other government agency did does with the possible exception. And this is an indirect attack to the problem with the possible exception of the Interior Department which has responsibility for the quality of our water and it may well be that its authority is either broad enough now or is or might well be broadened to enable it to establish criteria about the degree of thermal pollution that would be acceptable. There are some states that have already begun to move into this area but your question really went to federal agencies in your estimation would requiring cooling towers by the Federal Power Commission be a
desirable thing. Well that would be sort of an isolated piece of authority and it would seem to me to be better related to two other functions and I think it's probably wiser to answer the question more generally than whether the FTC should. I think it's fair to say that some standards should be determined established promulgated in a forest so that where it is necessary to guard against thermal pollution that there will be some agency responsible to the public broadly that to make such a determination. You've been listening to the tenth program in the series the circumstance of science exploring the forces of contemporary science and technology and their possible effects on society. You're invited to be with us for our next discussion on reporting science to the public. You will
hear remarks from writers and editors on communicating the issues of contemporary science and a discussion of the various organizations that encourage interest and participation of scientists and citizens in activities promoting science and technology. A transcript of this program is available without charge from W. K. our Michigan State University East Lansing. This series is prepared under a grant from the Lewis W. and Maude Hill Family Foundation of St. Paul Minnesota produced by Steve new Shea for Michigan State University Radio. This is NPR national educational radio.
- The circumstance of science
- Episode Number
- Episode 10 of 13
- Producing Organization
- Michigan State University
- WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Series Description
- The Circumstance of Science. Documentary series. No information available.
- Media type
Producing Organization: Michigan State University
Producing Organization: WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-23-10 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “The circumstance of science; Episode 10 of 13,” 1968-08-12, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-057cw61j.
- MLA: “The circumstance of science; Episode 10 of 13.” 1968-08-12. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-057cw61j>.
- APA: The circumstance of science; Episode 10 of 13. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-057cw61j