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Live webchat with Professor Paddy Regan, nuclear physicist, tonight, 21 Mar, 8-9pm

(170 Posts)
GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 21-Mar-11 10:05:02

We're very pleased that Paddy Regan, professor of physics at the University of Surrey in Guildford, is our webchat guest this evening between 8pm and 9pm.

In the wake of the Fukushima crisis in Japan, you asked on this thread if we could get a nuclear physicist on. So thanks to Prof Regan for agreeing to come on to MN.

He's a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, and holds visiting researcher and teaching positions at Yale University and the University of Notre Dame.

He's interested in measurements of naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) in the environment using gamma-ray spectroscopic techniques.

In his 'spare' time, he says he plays a poor game of squash, even worse golf and tries to do the occasional sponsored run for the Mental Health Charity MIND. He is married to Susie, a nurse, and they have four children.

CuppaTeaJanice Mon 21-Mar-11 10:18:27

Welcome to Mumsnet!!

From the mists of my memories of physics lessons 20 years ago at school, I vaguely remember that there were three types of radiation - two types were particle based and were relatively simple to protect yourself from, and the third was more like a sound wave which could penetrate most materials except a thick layer of lead(?)

Please could you explain the different types of radiation simply, and also explain which form of radiation the people near Fukushima are at risk from and whether it will be relatively easy for them to protect themselves, or is it inevitable that if they are in the area they will be affected?

DamnYouAutocorrect Mon 21-Mar-11 10:48:08

Hello Professor. Do you think nuclear power generation is basically safe? I mean, compared wityh other forms of power generation, and in context of the need to reduce carbon emissions? Or is that an impossible question to answer grin

Welcome to the nest, Professor Regan grin What do you think is happening at Fukushima, and how dangerous is it? <straight to the heart of the matter>

jenpet Mon 21-Mar-11 11:07:17

Thank you for coming to Mumsnet!
Do you think overall that the nuclear industry is secretive and withholds information from the public wherever possible as people tend to panic and assume the worst? And do you think that given the way Japan has kept back information on other "environmental" issues (whaling for example) it is trying to cover up the seriousness of the situation at Fukushima?
Looking forward to the webchat later....

MotherMountainGoat Mon 21-Mar-11 11:12:42

My physics teacher at school hated anti-nuclear protestors with a vengeance and used to give us lectures on how the natural levels of radiation in Aberdeen were X times higher than levels measured next to a nuclear plant. This was post-Three Mile Island but pre-Chernobyl. What nobody said at the time was that Aberdeen is unlikely to explode after being struck by an 8.9 earthquake and tsunami, and if Aberdeen did explode it would be unfortunate for the Aberdonians but not that catastrophic for many years to come for the rest of Europe.

So, if you were forced to live (with your family) either in Aberdeen or right next to a nuclear power plant in a less granite-based part of the country, which would you choose? And (cheeky extra question here) wasn't it a bit short-sighted for the Japanese to build plants right along a major fault line?

ethelina Mon 21-Mar-11 11:39:47

Hello Professor Regan, thank you for answering our questions tonight. Good luck! smile

My question is to do with siting of nuclear reactors.

Japan sits on a juxtaposition of the pacific, eurasian and philippine tectonic plates. This is an extremely geologically unstable part of the world, more so in the past decade. Since the Sumatran earthquake and tsunami in Dec 04 there have been two earthquakes in the Kuril Islands in November 06 and January 07 and one earthquake in Sichuan in May 08, all measuring more than 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Is it even possible to build a nuclear reactor able to withstand this level of earthquake and resulting tsunami? And if so, have Japan (or anyone else) learned how to do this better since Dai-ichi Fukushima was built in the sixties? How would you build a reactor differently today to attempt to compensate for extreme forces of nature?

prettybird Mon 21-Mar-11 12:04:56

Bummer, I'm out on Monday nights

Have to say, I have been impressed by the level headedness of both Paddy Regan and Malcolm Grimston on the media in the past week - although I am starting to detect a "..... and breeeeeaaaaathe " hesitation before answering for the nth time a loaded question where the questioner quite obviously hasn't wanted to listen to listen to what they have just explained grin

Elk Mon 21-Mar-11 12:25:02

I just wish I could think of a vaguely intelligent question.
I have a concern about the radioactive waste products, I understand that they are kept on site (under water?) for a while before being finally disposed of underground. Do we actually have a disposal site for the spent fuel or is it all in 'temporary storage' until a site is found?

Mellowfruitfulness Mon 21-Mar-11 12:46:40

Hello, Professor Regan, thanks for coming to talk to us.

I don't think this is your area of expertise, but I have been wondering, ever since the Japanese disaster, what our contingency plans in the UK are for a nuclear disaster. In the 1980s, I think, we were told to hide under tables ('When the wind blows', I think) ...

So my question is this: If there was a nuclear disaster at a power station near you, what would be the first thing you would do to protect your family, and do you think you would stand a chance of you all emerging unscathed?

jonicomelately Mon 21-Mar-11 12:47:50

I think everything I wanted to ask has already been covered.

Therefore my question is, do all Physics Professors like standing on the top of mountains and looking into space or is that just Professor Brian Cox?

MrsHenryWood Mon 21-Mar-11 12:54:29

Hi Professor Regan,

I wondered if there were any places in the UK that, due to geographical / natural phenomena, you would think unsuitable for siting a nuclear power station e.g. near areas which are prone to flood etc.

And also, whether the UK or other countries now have nuclear power stations in places that you believe are unsuitable due to risks from the natural world, and whether there are enough emergency procedures generally in place to cope with incidents at these plants.

Thanks smile

Zenyattadottir Mon 21-Mar-11 13:13:22

When the various plumes from Japan waft over the UK, what radioactive particles will they contain and will those particles stay high up in the atmosphere if it doesn’t rain; but if the various particles do come down to earth in rain, how long will their radioactive life be?

BeenBeta Mon 21-Mar-11 13:18:13

Hello Professor Regan and welcome to MN.

What do you think the end point is with Fukushima?

As the rods in the reactors and pools seem to have been partly damaged (on fire or partially melted) is is a feasible solution to just cover the whole site in sand, boric acid and concrete as some have suggested the Japanese authorities are considering or are there other better solutions or steps that have to be taken first?

Thank you.

Inertia Mon 21-Mar-11 13:21:13

Hello Professor.

Based on what I've read about what's happened in this particular nuclear power station, the vast majority of the control rods were inserted correctly so the fission process should have stopped. Obviously there would be residual heat inside the reactor, and from what I understand the cooling system continued to be powered for a short time from diesel generators, until these failed.

My question is about how reactors are designed to cope with a shutdown situation and comes in 3 (linked) parts if that's ok?

i)Given that a catastrophic failure is likely to result in no power supply to run the cooling system, what can reactor designers do to ensure that residual heat is removed from the reactor following insertion of the boron control rods?; ii) How likely is it that a major earthquake could cause the control rods to go out of alignment and how much would this reduce their effectiveness in terms of absorbing neutrons and stopping fission from continuing?; and iii) How likely is it that the heat exchange system will remain intact in a situation like this?

sakura Mon 21-Mar-11 13:33:25

HI, Thanks for coming onto MN,

I won't be able to make the webchat as I am in Japan eight hours ahead, but I'm very interested in your assesment of the risks.

I've got two tiny children here and I remember that my classmates in Wales were very much affected by Chernobyl. Many had cancer and lupus during their teens. I didn't make the connection to Chernobyl until I actually left Wales at the age of 18 and met people from England and the US who had never met anyone who'd had suffered from cancer. This put it into perspective and made me realise that not only was Chernobyl to blame, but that you cannot point your finger at anyone by the time the health problems start, because the incident is done and dusted according to the authorities.

SO I suppose my question is: what exactly are the risks for my children? If you lived in Japan now, would you stay? They're already saying the milk and vegetables have been affected by radiation.

Is there any recourse for the people who are bound to be affected by the contaminated air/water/food? Or will their experiences be passed off as "individual cases" rather than a pattern? Or does this really just depend on the Japanese government?

Also, in light of this incident, I am now vehemently against nuclear energy. The idea that it is "clean" is a con as far as I'm concerned because the toxic waste must be disposed of and the repercussions for the environment are far-reaching . I've also noticed that it's a very Big Business and the profiteers would like to keep their pockets lined at the expense of the health of the little people.
What is the best way for me to campaign against this form of energy?

Thank you smile

LeninGrad Mon 21-Mar-11 13:48:38

Why do we persist with this form of providing power when we have no effective or safe means of dealing with the waste? Shouldn't we address that before carrying on?

PaddyRegan Mon 21-Mar-11 14:26:22

sakura

HI, Thanks for coming onto MN,

I won't be able to make the webchat as I am in Japan eight hours ahead, but I'm very interested in your assesment of the risks.

I've got two tiny children here and I remember that my classmates in Wales were very much affected by Chernobyl. Many had cancer and lupus during their teens. I didn't make the connection to Chernobyl until I actually left Wales at the age of 18 and met people from England and the US who had never met anyone who'd had suffered from cancer. This put it into perspective and made me realise that not only was Chernobyl to blame, but that you cannot point your finger at anyone by the time the health problems start, because the incident is done and dusted according to the authorities.

SO I suppose my question is: what exactly are the risks for my children? If you lived in Japan now, would you stay? They're already saying the milk and vegetables have been affected by radiation.

Is there any recourse for the people who are bound to be affected by the contaminated air/water/food? Or will their experiences be passed off as "individual cases" rather than a pattern? Or does this really just depend on the Japanese government?

Also, in light of this incident, I am now vehemently against nuclear energy. The idea that it is "clean" is a con as far as I'm concerned because the toxic waste must be disposed of and the repercussions for the environment are far-reaching . I've also noticed that it's a very Big Business and the profiteers would like to keep their pockets lined at the expense of the health of the little people.
What is the best way for me to campaign against this form of energy?

Thank you smile

test, test, test

Ingles2 Mon 21-Mar-11 15:17:30

Good Evening Professor Regan.
My 9 yr old son has homework about Japan and Fukishima.
Could you please explain the current situation in Japan suitable for this age range or can you please point us in the direction of a website that will do the job.
I notice you have 4 children, so am feeling confident you can help grin
Thankyou

catinthehat2 Mon 21-Mar-11 16:11:17

Can you tell us about the Toshiba S reactors mentioned on the link , are they as sensible as they appear to be?

catinthehat2 Mon 21-Mar-11 16:45:31

.."please" somehow went missing wink

My mother lives in California on the coast and they have been advised that the radiation from Japan will not be a factor. How accurate is this keeping in mind that the reactors, per my understanding, haven't been cooled yet? How can anyone predict the future location of radiation as it seems so unpredictable....

Hello Professor Regan, thank you for joining us - could you please give me your assessment of what went wrong in Fukushima leading us to the present situation (earthquake and tsunami aside, of course) - was it poor/ineffective crisis planning, poor management decisions by the business owning the plant itself, or outdated plant design? My query underlying this is could the problem have been averted in the same natural disaster scenario with different preventative actions? (I've scanned the questions above but am toddler and baby jugglinng so I apologise if I have overlooked someone asking this already.)

moonbells Mon 21-Mar-11 18:08:25

Prof. Regan, thankyou for braving Mumsnet!

I have been reading about thorium/molten salt reactors today; their safety features seem to be quite good, especially in the case of an emergency shutdown.

Admittedly what I've read does come initially via a newspaper, backed up by Wikipedia (I don't have time to check journals this week!) but could you speculate please why these seem to have been quietly ignored? I never heard about this type in my degree course!

Thankyou

dawntigga Mon 21-Mar-11 18:53:14

Hello Prof. Regan.

Question: What is the question you've been asked recently that had annoyed you most?

Sneaky second question - what's your favorite biscuit?

SomebodyHadToAskTiggaxx

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