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Can Science Save Us? The Great Acceleration: The Anthropocene, Kicks, Dead Zones And Bridging The Abyss

The Great Acceleration: The Anthropocene, Kicks, Dead Zones And Bridging The Abyss

In Seventeenth Century and the Arts Stephen Toulmin cautions that “the more narrowly we draw the boundaries between our sciences, the less reliable they are”. Toulmin, advises us to “reappropriate the wisdom of the 16th century humanists, and develop a point of view that combines the abstract rigor and exactitude of 17th century “new philosophy” with a practical concern for human life in its concrete detail”.

In the spirit of Toulmin this poster is designed to: (1) provide a conceptual framework for rethinking the relationships between physical and social scientists and scholars in the humanities; (2) to provide a starting point for the reconceptualization of school and university curricular divisions; and (3) to encourage the reengagement of the public in conversations about inseparable relationships between people and the planet.

Crossing fields, disciplines and paradigms, and working with different scales of documentation, this 11-year transdisciplinary study draws on the physical and social sciences and humanities in response to the overwhelming scientific evidence that people are changing the planet.

Five theoretically grounded conceptual metaphors have been constructed based upon the analysis of the data: 1) The Anthropocene; 2) Kicks; 3) Dead Zones; 4) The Great Acceleration; and 5) Bridging the Abyss. These metaphoric representations draw on the humanities as well as the sciences, and each descriptor embedded in the graphics is supported by the analysis of key research within the specific fields and disciplines represented. Each Conceptual Metaphor is made up of a series of interrelated graphic representations constructed to address head on the issues of resilience, vulnerability, adaptation, and transformation across biophysical and social dimensions of anthropogenic global change.

Thus the visual representations can be thought of as useful fictions – an attempt to depict the interactions of phenomena, occurring on multiple temporal and spatial scales, happening simultaneously and sequentially, that are contingent and conditional, and highly dependent on the interactions of an infinite number of other phenomena, that have taken place, from deep time stretching through the present time and into the future.

Each Conceptual Metaphor: 1) combines the physical, biological, and social sciences with the humanities; 2) pulls from governmental, economic, and industrial sources, as well as social media; 3) provides transdisciplinary spaces that encourage situated engagement in research on climate change, biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation with research on the impact of human enterprise on the planet as well as research on human vulnerability and resiliency; and 4) encourages the global science community to find new approaches to engage political leaders, government establishments, and the public sector—to prevent, mitigate, adapt and transform— but most importantly to act. This article focuses on the first conceptual metaphor: The Anthropocene.

The first graphic (figure 1.1) focuses on the potential for environmental and atmospheric stressors to cause the decline and extinction of bees, bats, birds, and frogs, and the critical concern of scientists and environmentalists about what is happening to these vulnerable and declining populations.
The observed factors identified in the research include: 1) poor nutrition and health; 2) abnormal growth and development; 3) decreased abilities to avoid predators; 4) decreased resistance to fungi, viruses and bacteria; and (5) shifts in reproductive timing. The factors are dynamic, complexly interrelated, and contingent and conditional on upon local, regional and global conditions. Tracie Seimon (2010) in Acta Zoológica Lilloana, provides a forum for frogs to speak for themselves:

We, the frogs, have continuously inhabited and evolved on this planet since the Devonian period some 350 million years ago. Our calls announce the beginnings of spring, we keep insect populations under control, we serve as toxic pollutant indicators for human health, we are bellwethers for environment change, we provide important medicine from the chemicals we produce, we help forest peoples hunt food with our poisons, we inspire art and poetry, and perhaps most importantly we inspire peoples to appreciate nature. Once a stronghold of 6200 species, we are now disappearing rapidly and scientists predict that nearly one third, or 2000 species, will disappear within this century. Our population declines have been attributed to a number of factors such as habitat loss, disease outbreaks, and environmental. In particular, the global spread of an emerging infectious disease, the pathogenic chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dentrobatidis (BD), has resulted in population collapses and outright extinction among many amphibian taxa over the past 20 years. Now, we serve as indicators to humans of a more insidious slow-motion catastrophe playing out on a global scale. Human-created climate shifts resulting in increasing temperature and changing precipitation patterns are having large impacts on amphibian assemblages, population numbers, reproduction, behavior, phenology, and physiology. The climate changes are resulting in desiccation of ponds and aquatic breeding habitats, reducing leaf litter, reducing precipitation in cloud forests, all culminating in increased stress, disease outbreaks, and mortality.

In the second graphic (figure 1.2) birds, bees, bats and frogs are represented by the red dot at the center and their local habitat is circled in green. Now we can see the atmospheric and environmental stressors. The second graphic makes the case that biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are intimately connected, and that the negative impact of anthropogenic changes has serious and possible lethal consequences for assemblages, populations, and species. The brown bands around the second graphic represent the waste from human enterprise. To this image of our own detritus we can add the everyday toxicity of the run-off of contaminated water, which is compounded by environmental disasters, such as in the 2008 collapse of the coal ash pond in Kingston, Tennessee, in the U.S., and in Ajka, Hungary in 2010, when the dam holding back a vast reservoir of toxic red sludge from an alumina plant gave way, releasing a flood of processing chemicals and heavy metals, such as cadmium, cobalt and lead. In Sustaining Lie: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity, Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein (2008) make the case:

During the past fifty years or so, for example, our actions have resulted in the loss of roughly one-fifth of Earth’s topsoil, one-fifth of its land suitable for agriculture, almost 90 percent of its large commercial marine fisheries, and one-third of its forests, while we now need these resources more than ever, as the population has almost tripled during this period of time, increasing from 2.5 to more than 6.5 billion. We have dumped millions of tons of chemical onto soils and into fresh water, the oceans, and the air, while knowing very little about the effects these chemicals have on other species or, in fact, on ourselves. We have changed the composition of the atmosphere, thinning the ozone layer that filters out harmful ultraviolet radiation, toxic to all living things on land and in surface waters, and increasing the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide to levels not present on Earth for more than 600,000 years. These carbon dioxide emissions, caused mainly by our burning fossil fuels, are unleashing warming of Earth’s surface and of the oceans and a change in the climate that will increasingly threaten our health and the survival of other species worldwide. And we are now consuming or wasting or diverting almost half of all the net biological production on land, which ultimately derives from photosynthesis and more than half the planet’s renewable fresh water.

(View large format info-graphic in new window)

Figures 1.3 and 1.4 depict the rapid acceleration in human enterprise and the increase in demand for raw materials, energy, food, water, manufactured goods. The graphic relies on primary data and a critical document analysis of research studies in the physical sciences – including reports by IGCC, NOAA, and primary research data available on websites, and presentations to the U.S. congress. Our focus here is on human enterprise, ecosystem destruction and climate change. It is important that we resist reading each descriptor as if it were a category separate from every other category, laminated or pasted on. The supercomplexity and infinite possibilities for Earth-biota “synaptic”, could be described as the infinity of semiosis, of life on and of the planet. These figures show the planet domesticated for human use. Earth has been and is being transformed by the activities of people. We use the planet as an infinite source of products and services for our use alone and an infinite sink for our wastes. We are now consuming or wasting or diverting almost half of all the net biological production on land, and more than half the planet’s renewable fresh water. The human driven changes that are taking place are a global threat that will deprive future generations of the life sustaining possibilities. We cannot live independent of nature—as if we own the planet.

Figure 1.5 reflects the effects of the increase in population in the latter half of the 20th century which is anticipated to reach 9-10 billion by the middle of the 21st century. In this figure research in the social sciences becomes increasingly significant.

The negative consequences of the protection of “invested interests” and the limited piecemeal and mechanistic responses of governments is examined, and is used to support the proposition that it is the inertia of governments, combined with the aggressive competition
of geopolitical markets and the greed of the global financial institutions, that provide the tipping elements for a step change for the planet and for humanity.

Jean Baudrillard (1993) in The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena, who makes us aware of our mindless intransigence and of the imminent dangers to our very existence. Baudrillard writes of “an economy freed from ‘Economics’ and given over to pure speculation; a virtual economy emancipated from real economics (not emancipated in reality,) of course, we are talking about virtuality – but that is the point too: today, power lies not in the real but in the virtual; and an economy that is viral, and which connects with all other viral processes. … We forget a little too easily that the whole of our reality is filtered through the media, including tragic events of the past. The moral and social conscience is now a phenomenon entirely governed by the media … symbolic power is always superior to the power of arms and money. … The striking thing about all present-day systems is their bloatedness: the means we have devised for handling data – communication, record keeping, storage, production and destruction – are all in a condition of ‘demonic pregnancy’ … So many reports, archives, documents – not a single idea generated … So many messages and signals are produced and disseminated that they can never possibly all be read. … Ours is a society founded on proliferation, on growth which continues even though it cannot be measured against any clear goals. A society whose development is uncontrollable, occurring without regard for self-definition, where the accumulation of effects goes hand in hand with the disappearance of causes … when a system rides roughshod over its own basic assumptions, supersedes its own ends, so that no remedy can be found, then we are contemplating not crisis but catastrophe. …. It is as though the two poles of our world had been brought into contact, short-circuiting in such a way that they simultaneously hyperstimulate and enervate potential energies. This is no longer a crisis, but a fatal development – a catastrophe in slow motion.

In the central graphic (figure1:6) Vulnerable and declining populations are critically affected by abrupt changes – kicks – natural disasters, earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes and social disasters such as global and regional armed conflicts, and public health emergencies. Kicks are exacerbated by the impact of local and regional increase of extreme weather patterns, and become additional stressors on ecosystems and further exacerbate climate change. The increasing scale and intensity of these complexly interrelated disasters challenges our capacity to adequately respond, either in the aftermath of the events taking place or in the recovery phase of disasters.

“What we have to do,” Stephen Toulmin once said to Sheldon Hackney, the University of Pennsylvania’s Past President, “is make the technical and the humanistic strands in modern thought work together more effectively than they have in the past.” “Technicality, technical excellence, is no longer an end in itself. It’s something which has to be kept in balance with humane consequences,” Toulmin told Hackney. “I’m sure that it will never be possible to get the governments of the members of the United Nations and the rest to sign a common document,” Toulmin said. “On the other hand, I think on the nongovernmental level there is in practice a strong and large consensus which governs the way in which people do things. And, if ethics is more a practical matter than an intellectual matter that may be what is important” . “That’s what I thought you would say,” Hackney responded, “that it’s not so much discovering the platonic ideal of justice universally, but people talking with each other across their differences and reaching some agreement”.

Based upon the empirical evidence, if we wait for a response from global leaders and policy it will be too late. Governments must act. Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) will require legislation, but this will not be enough to reduce our transgression of planetary boundaries which places humanity at grave risk. There are multiple social tipping points that urgently need to be addressed, including global changes in financial regulation. Immediate action must be taken to stop speculative trading in vital commodities such as oil and food which causes extreme volatility in the market. Gambling on the price of food is catastrophic for vulnerable populations, counted in the billions, for whom the rapid rise in the price of food is a matter of life or death. When food prices rise rapidly there are cascading effects, including a rise in social unrest and armed conflict, public health emergencies, a rise in the internal displacement of people, and massive migrations, all of which lead to further destruction of ecosystems, accelerating climate change, and diminishing the essential conditions for human life on the planet.

Click on each of the four Planet Under Pressure images below to download the PDF file.

Can Science Save Us? Poster 1 PDF Can Science Save Us? Poster 2 PDF Can Science Save Us? Poster 3 PDF Can Science Save Us? Poster 4 PDF

Copyright © 2012 Denny Taylor

Can Science Save Us? When The Temperature Rises More Than 2 Degrees Celsius What Will We Do? Non Linear Interrelationships Between Atmospheric And Ecosystem Stressors And Human Activity

If we cannot provide an adequate response to disasters now, what will happen when the temperature increases by more than two degrees centigrade?

When the temperature rises more than 2°C what will we do? What can we learn from our response to present catastrophes which are increasingly caused by extreme weather conditions associated with climate change? Our present emergency procedures for coping with human and ecological disasters are inadequate or non-existent. Given the ever increasing volume of disasters that people experience worldwide, we should be better prepared. Knowing that the temperature could rise 4°C should galvanize us to support and participate in the planning and preparations, but it has not. Urgent action is required, but:

How can timely actions be undertaken at unprecedented and multiple geographical and geopolitical scales, where the nature and scale of the issues involved means that the actors have widely differing—and—disconnected values, ethics, emotions, spiritual beliefs, levels of trust, interests and power?

It is the enduring question, the QoQ, first asked by ICSU during the 2009-2010 Visioning that scientists are limited in their capacity to address and have no way of answering.

This article draws on the findings of ongoing 11 year transdisciplinary study which includes emergency first response initiatives and research on social and biogeophysical disasters. The research explores “in situ” the epistemic complexity of the interconnections between: (1) climate change and extreme weather events; (2) ecological crises; (3) economic crises; (4) extreme wealth; (5) extreme poverty; (6) armed conflict; and (7) public health emergencies. The work re-examines the interconnections between the social, cultural, psychological, biological, and physical sciences, and the humanities – philosophy and literature – so that new questions can be asked, new understandings gained, and actions taken.

The non linear interrelationships between atmospheric and ecosystem stressors and human activity bring into sharp focus the epistemic complexity of the relationships between the physical, biological and social sciences. The potential for a step change challenges our understandings of the status quo, encourages us to rethink our positionalities within institutions, our relationships with other scientists, with the public, and with global decision makers. Any response to catastrophic events both in the present and in the future will be highly dependent on the ability of all those who participate to take into consideration the professional challenges of working with participants who hold different views of science and humanity.

“What might a 4°C world look like?” Mark New et al., ask the question in “Four Degrees and Beyond”, in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A,” January, 2011. New et al. pose the question even though, as they point out, the 2009 Copenhagen Accord “recognized the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2°C despite growing views that this might be too high”. If we cannot provide an adequate response to Real World Hazardous Events (RWHE’s) at the present time, what will happen in the not too distant future? New et. al. write. “Even with strong political will, the chances of shifting the global energy system fast enough to avoid 2°C are slim. Trajectories that result in eventual temperature rises of 3°C or 4°C are much more likely, and the implications of these larger temperature changes require serious consideration, and the nature of the changes in climate we experience may well start shifting from incremental to transformative”

Richard Betts et. al., in the same themed edition of Philosophical Transactions ask “When could global warming reach 4°C?” They state, “While much political attention is focused on the potential for global warming of 2°C relative to pre-industrial, the AR4 (ICPP Fourth Assessment Report) projections clearly suggest that much greater levels of warming are possible by the end of the twenty-first century in the absence of mitigation. The centre of the range of AR4-projected warming was associated with the higher emissions scenarios and models, … including uncertainties in carbon-cycle feedbacks, and also comparing against other model projections from the IPCC, our best estimate is that the A1FI (A1: “family of scenarios”; FI: “fossil intensive”) emissions scenario would lead to a warming of 4°C relative to pre-industrial during the 2070s. If carbon-cycle feedbacks are stronger, which appears less likely but still credible, then 4°C warming could be reached by the early 2060s in projections that are consistent with the IPCC ‘likely range’”. Mark Stafford Smith et al., (2011) state in the same themed edition, “Adapting to global warming of 4°C cannot be seen as a mere extrapolation of adaptation to 2°C,” they state, “it will be a more substantial, continuous and transformative process”.

The Millennium Development Goals Report (2011), refers to the 2012 UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, as “a major opportunity for new progress”. But what progress will be made when the increasing scale and intensity of the complex interrelationships of RWHEs challenges the capacity of human societies to respond? The massive migrations of people and the millions of internally displaced people the Earth is currently experiencing are an indication that not only are we unprepared now, we are unprepared for future RWHEs.

The global erosion of social trust and the resistance of global decision makers to becoming catalysts for positive change has increased the pressure on the scientific community to “deliver knowledge”, “build the capacity to deliver solutions”, “effectively deliver end-to-end environmental services”, “to provide new insights and solutions”, “to solve real world problems”, and most recently to deliver “actionable science”. This begs the question: Can science save us if scientists have outpaced the governmental capacity to respond to what’s happening to the planet, or have governments outpaced science? The paradoxical situation in which we find ourselves is that scientists can calculate planetary boundaries, but cannot “calculate” the everyday. Hannah Arendt writes of this as “the curious contradictions inherent in the impotence of power”. Curiouser and Curiouser, is that global decision makers who have a tight grip on “power” and only a rudimentary understanding of what’s happening to the planet calculate the everyday as if there 
are only short term profits and no long term price to pay. If their present response to RWHE’s and 
humanitarian crises is anything to go by, the impotence of their response to future disasters and potentially cataclysmic events, will, in and of itself, be a global catastrophe.

“(T)he scientific community must now deliver the knowledge that will enable countries, regions, and economic sectors to embark on transitions to sustainability in order to secure human development in the face of rapid global change,” ICSU, ISSC and IGFA (the Alliance) write, “as a means to solve real world problems. … while deepening our understanding of the Earth System and of human impacts, we must build the capacity to deliver solutions to pressing sustainability challenges at regional and global scales”. But in real world terms what does it mean to respond as the temperature rises more than 2 degrees Celsius?

If we juxtapose a RWHE happening now with the Alliance proposal for Earth system Research for global sustainability, can we “measure”
 the effectiveness of the knowledge delivered? For instance, if we focus on actual events that have taken place in a country in which, against all odds, the shift to renewable energy has occurred, that mitigates against the temperature rising, what knowledge was delivered? What actionable science was available to provide real world solutions to the pressing sustainability challenges that the country faced?

Fukushima: Gathering Car Batteries When the Temperature Rises

The first RWHE is the Tohoku Chihou Taiheiyou Oki Mega Earthquake, which began at 14:46 on March 11, 2011. The tsunami was the second RWHE. The third RWHE was the human induced nuclear disaster. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station survived the earthquake, but the tsunami which inundated the plant resulted in: (1) a complete station black out; (2) the meltdown of the cores of three reactors; (3) the explosive destruction of three reactor buildings when the hydrogen generated by the core meltdowns ignited; and (4) major releases of radiation from the destroyed reactor buildings. If we focus on the RWHE that occurred at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Disaster, can insights be gained into some of “the most pressing questions that the world needs answered”, as the Alliance puts it,“in the context of securing human development in an era of rapidly escalating global environmental risks”? The local, national, regional and global consequences of the nuclear disaster are immediately evident, but the inextricable complexity of the dynamic interrelationships between the RWHE and the delivery of scientific knowledge presents a challenge.

Sabu Kohso (2011) writes, “What has been happening in Japan since 3/11/2011 cannot be deemed merely a situation particular to a nation- state in the Far East, but unfortunately a new phase of human history, an opening toward an apocalypse, or a total transformation or both. It is a universal experience in the sense not only of its economic and environmental impact but also of the self-destruction of the apparatuses that the modern world has been building up on a planetary scale”.

Kohso’s shouts, his anguish, rooted in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, explode on the page. Angry about the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on the lives of the Japanese people, he uses the disaster as an allegory, an extended metaphor for a new phase in human history, self destructive and apocalyptic. He confronts us with the metaphoric imperative of what will happen to us on a planetary scale when the temperature rises, predicting the collapse of human societies on a planetary scale.

But in the immediacy of this moment the question that scientists must ask is whether knowledge had been delivered for actions needed to mitigate the nuclear disaster that occurred. The question can be approached from many different angles, but in this work serious consideration is given to the anomalous gathering of car batteries in an attempt to avoid a nuclear disaster. The use of car batteries challenges us to contest the rationalist assumptions about the delivery of scientific knowledge in the everyday world. The narratives that follow reflect a detailed analysis of three sets of documents, extracted from a much larger corpus of digitally mined data that focuses on Complete Station Blackout (CSB) conditions and the use of auxiliary power in commercial nuclear power stations both in Japan and the United States: 1)Official reports from Japan made public in the aftermath of Fukushima; 2) The Oak Ridge Nuclear Laboratory (ORNL) Browns Ferry Station Blackout Research; 3) Reports, memoranda, final draft revisions, and generic letters, supplements and corrections produced by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The informational trace on auxiliary/battery power underscores the fact that scientists delivered the critical knowledge, but that it was not effectively acted upon by policy makers in the U.S. or Japan, or by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or by stakeholders in the nuclear power industry.

Official reports from Japan made public in the aftermath of Fukushima

The car battery question is grounded in an analysis of the first response account provided by TEPCO, which used plant records up to the point of the tsunami, photographs, white boards, operator logs, supervisor logs, to provide a record of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Excerpts from the firsthand account by Fukushima operators, the emergency response team and plant personnel follow. The underlined and bold text is in the original document.

March 11, 15:42 p.m. – Activities after Loss of all AC Power.

Situation at Main Control Room (MCR) of Unit 1/2
Lighting and indicators in the MCR (Main Control Room) gradually fading due to loss of all AC power. Sound of alarm was lost, too. In Unit-1 side of MCR only emergency lights remained. In Unit-2 side, all lighting was lost and it became completely dark. For IC (isolation condenser) and HPCI (high pressure coolant injection) were operable by DC (direct current, i.e. batteries) power. Operators judged HPCI was not operable because indicators on the control panel were gradually faded. For Unit 2, operating status of RCIC (Reactor Core Isolation Cooling) became unknown.

Restoration of MCR Instrumentation

The restoration team in the site emergency response headquarters prepared for necessary documents and drawings to restore power in MCRs. Also they started to gather batteries and cables at offices of contractor’s office on site. The team carried batteries and cables which were collected in the site to MCR of Unit 1/2. Then confirming drawings, they started to connect the batteries to instrument panel in MCR. At the event of “ECCS (emergency core cooling system) was unavailable to inject water into the reactor”, a top priority was to understand the status of water injection into the RPV (reactor pressure vessel). So restoration work was focused on connecting batteries to reactor water indicator which functions by DC power.

Batteries gathered from contractor’s offices were used to supply power to the instrumentation in Units 1/2. Once the batteries were connected the operators were able to check the reactor water level indicators with flashlights. The tsunami took place at 15:35 and it was 21:19 for Unit 1 and 21:50 for Unit 2 when the first indications of the reactor water levels were known. Unfortunately it was too late. A Japanese Government report for Unit 1 states that TEPCO “estimated that the fuel was uncovered about three hours (17:46) after the earthquake with reactor damage starting one hour after that”. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, no one knew the state of the core, or the state of the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) or the primary containment vessel (PCV), and so no one knew how much radiation was released into the reactor building (RB) during the first twenty four hours after the tsunami. The hydrogen generated during the core meltdown escaped both from the reactor vessel and the containment which was designed to prevent its release. The concentration of hydrogen that escaped into the huge Unit 1 reactor building was sufficient to cause the building to explode at 15:36 on March 12, twenty four hours after the tsunami. Gaseous radioactive components in the reactor escaped along with the hydrogen. All four engineered barriers to radiation release were breached or destroyed –fuel assemblies, RPV, PCV, and RB. No one aspect of the Fukushima nuclear disaster can be fully understood without taking every other aspect of the disaster into consideration, but the use of car batteries recovered from parking lots by the emergency response team to provide auxiliary power to critical instruments in a nuclear power plant does provide an opportunity to ask what actionable knowledge was delivered by scientists, and what happened to that knowledge once it was received? Putting a trace on battery power makes it possible to connect past and present events and, perhaps, to mitigate disasters that might occur in the future.

ORNL Simulations of Station Blackout (SBO) Result in Core Melt at Browns Ferry

The critical knowledge that one hour from battery loss core uncovery
 begins and three hours from battery loss fuel melt starts was delivered 
by scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) which was operated at that time by Union Carbide for the United States Department
of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The research, which simulated the Station Blackout at Browns Ferry Unit One—Accident Sequence Analysis, was conducted by Cook, Greene, Harrington, Hodge, and Yue 
(1981), and is directly relevant to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Cook et al. constructed a computer simulation to describe the predicted response of Unit 1 at the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant to a hypothetical SBO.

The researchers state that the computer simulation presumed “a loss of offsite power
 concurrent with all of the onsite diesel-generators to start and load”. In the simulation
“the only remaining electrical power at the plant would be that derived from the station
 batteries”, which was not the case at Fukushima where all of the station batteries were lost.
Focusing on “Instrumentation Available Following Loss of 250 Volt DC Power” Cook et al., state,
“Reactor vessel level and pressure control can be maintained during a Station Blackout for as long
 as 250 DC power from the unit battery remains available”. However, in the final phase, after the unit
 battery is exhausted, they write, “a Station Blackout would constitute a Severe Accident because there would be no means of injecting water into the reactor vessel to maintain a water level over the core”.

The ORNL SBO simulation assumed that the unit battery would last from four to six hours. Six accident sequences, with 
other equipment failures assumed to occur, were considered in which onsite AC power and DC power were not restored. Each sequence led to core uncovery, subsequent core melting, and reactor vessel failure. Cook et al. write, “Any sequence resulting in core melt will eventually lead to containment failure if electrical power is not restored before the reactor vessel fails”.

In the companion report, Station Blackout at Browns Ferry Unit One—Iodine and Noble Gas Distribution and Release, Wichner, et al., (1982) write, “Battery exhaustion results in loss of the HPCI High Pressure Coolant Injection and RCIC coolant injection systems, and a boiloff of coolant begins in which the reactor vessel level decreases as the decay-heat-generated steam is vented through the steam relief valves to the pressure suppression pool. The top of the core is uncovered one hour after the loss of battery power. At 95 min. after the loss of battery power, the first fuel rods reach 1000°C. … The fuel rods start to fail 103 min after battery exhaustion. The failure is caused by over-temperature (1300°C) and embrittlement from the steam oxidation of the Zircaloy cladding. … The steam-zircaloy reaction quickly heats the fuel rods in the central region of the core. Two hours after the start of the boiloff, portions of the core have reached the melting point of the fuel eutectic (~2280°C) … The core collapses 137 min after the loss of battery power. … When the core collapses into the lower plenum of the vessel, the water quenches the molten pool. The water boils away and the molten fuel heats the lower head of the reactor vessel. The heat and pressure cause the head to fail 172 min after the start of the boiloff, and the contents of the reactor vessel are dropped into the drywell sump. … The water covering the molten pool boils dry, and the fuel starts to interact with the concrete floor in the drywell. … The high temperature in the drywell causes the electrical penetration assembly seals to fail at this time. … The gases which have passed through the electrical penetrations in the drywell wall flow through the reactor building and out to the atmosphere.

These excerpts from a comparative analysis of Fukushima and the ORNL Browns Ferry SBO simulations combining the lived experience of a nuclear disaster with descriptions derived from theoretical science is compelling. However, if our concern is the stated purpose of the Alliance to deliver knowledge societies need to adapt and mitigate to hazardous global environmental change, it is the meta-analysis including the response of decision makers that is most critical. We know that the findings of the ORNL SBO simulations were delivered to the U.S. NRC, but what happened when the knowledge was delivered? How was it received? Was it acted upon?

October 9, 1979: Memo: The subject: TAP A-44 STATION BLACKOUT [“task action plan for unresolved generic safety issue A-44, 12/31/79”]. “I think we all agree that there may be a few plants at which station blackout poses an unacceptable risk, but that at most plants there is time for a careful and thorough study of the problem before rushing into a licensing position”. Then an informational trace is established connecting Fukushima to the decision making of the NRC. “Event sequences entailing blackout and failure to start of non-AC-dependent cooling systems will be tackled first in PWR’s (pressurized water reactor), then in BWR’s (boiling water reactor). Blackout out-lasting the point of no return for the restoration of AC power will be addressed later”.

February 25, 1981: Generic Letter (GL 81-04) to all licensees of operating nuclear power reactors on “EMERGENCY PROCEDURES AND TRAINING FOR STATION BLACKOUT EVENTS”. A review of current plant operations is requested “to determine your capability to mitigate a station blackout event and promptly implement, as necessary, emergency procedures and a training program for station blackout events”.

June 30, 1988: NRC publishes: “Evaluation of Station Blackout Accidents at Nuclear Power Plants: Technical findings Related to Unresolved Safety Issue A-44” (NUREG-1032). Critical to this chronology are the following statements, “Perhaps the most important support system for both PWRs and BWRs is the DC power supply. During a station blackout, unless special emergency systems are provided, battery charging capability is lost. Therefore, the capability of the DC system to provide power needed for instrumentation and control can be a significant time constraint on the ability of a plant to cope with a station blackout”.

August, 1988: Seven years after the ORNL Browns Ferry SBO report, the NRC published a “Regulatory Guide to Station Blackout” rendering actionable science inactionable. The NRC’s regulatory response to the risk of an extended SBO and a reactor meltdown was to establish an accepted range of battery power of 2 to 16 hours. The average real-life battery time for the majority of U.S. nuclear plants was four hours – which is coincidently, perhaps, the same number of hours that the ORNL 1981 analysis assumed for the battery life in the six SBO simulations at Browns Ferry.

February, 1990: Brookhaven National Laboratory published a report prepared for the Office of Nuclear Regularity Research – NUREG/CR-5474 – entitled “Assessment of Candidate Accident Management Strategies”. The report focused on prevention or mitigation of in-vessel core damage
 and included strategies related to the loss of power. There were seven recommendations including: conserving battery capacity by shedding non-essential loads; using portable battery chargers or other power sources to recharge station batteries; and using diesel-driven firewater pump for core injection.

On April 4, 1990, the NRC sent another Generic Letter (Generic Letter 88-20, Supplement No. 2 which was the NUREG/CR-5474 Brookhaven report ) to all holders of operating licenses and construction permits for nuclear power reactor facilities. The NRC states: “This generic letter supplement does not establish any requirements for licensees to take the specific accident management strategies into account as part of the IPE or implement any of the strategies. Adoption on the part of a licensee of any accident management strategies in response to this supplement is voluntary”

December, 2005: The NRC published “Reevaluation of Station Blackout (SBO) risk at Nuclear Power Plants: Analysis of Loss of Offsite Power Events: 1986-2004”(NUREG/CR-6890, Vol. 1). The report provided an update on the analysis of Loss of Offsite Power (LOOP) for all 103 U.S. nuclear power plants operating at that time, based on data collected between 1986 and 2004. The NRC states: “the loss of all ac power can be a significant contributor to the risk associated with plant operation, contributing more than 70 percent of the overall risk at some plants” followed by “when we focus on grid- related LOOP events, the SBO risk has increased. Our current results show that the grid contributes 53 percent to SBO core damage frequency. Severe and extreme weather events, which are generally related to grid events, contribute 28 percent. Therefore, the increasing number of grid-related LOOP events in 2003 and 2004 is a cause for concern.

Fukushima, Browns Ferry, and the NRC: An Allegory for the Profound Meaning of What Will Happen When the Temperature Rises on a Planetary Scale

July 12, 2011: The NRC published “Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century: The Near Term Task force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Accident.” Tier 1 – NTTF Recommendation 4.1. The Task Force recommends that the NRC strengthen station blackout (SBO) mitigation capability at all operating and new reactors for design-basis and beyond-design-basis external events. 4.1 Initiate rulemaking to revise 10 CFR 50.63 to require each operating and new reactor licensee to: (1) establish a minimum coping time of 8 hours for a loss of all alternating current (ac) power, (2) establish the equipment, procedures, and training necessary to implement an “extended loss of all ac” coping time of 72 hours for core and spent fuel pool cooling and for reactor coolant system and primary containment integrity as needed, and (3) preplan and prestage offsite resources to support uninterrupted core and spent fuel pool cooling, and reactor coolant system and containment integrity as needed, including the ability to deliver the equipment to the site in the time period allowed for extended coping, under conditions involving significant degradation of offsite transportation infrastructure associated with significant natural disasters.

August 19, 2011: NRC published the Commission Voting Record in response to the Near-Term Report and recommendations for Agency Actions Following the Events in Japan (SECY-11-0093). In commenting on the NTTF, Chairman Jaczko noted, “Recommendation 4 provides for improving mitigation of station blackout events (SBO) where a nuclear plant loses all AC power. While many of the contributing causes to the conditions learning to core damage at Fukushima Dai-ichi remain unknown at this time, operating strategies and equipment did not provide sufficient operating margin to prevent core damage for the low-probability events involving extended loss of AC power. There is no doubt that the cross-cutting aspect of the prolonged loss of electrical power at Fukushima Dai-ichi severely impacted the ability of the site’s operators to prevent and to mitigate the accident. The Task Force recommended that the Commission direct the staff to begin the actions to further enhance the ability of nuclear power plants to deal with the effects of prolonged SBO conditions at single and multiple unit sites without damage to the nuclear fuel in the reactor or spent fuel pool, and without the loss of reactor coolant system or primary containment integrity. …

October 3, 2011: Letter: SUBJECT: PRIORITIZATION OF RECOMMENDED ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN IN RESPONSE TO FUKUSHIMA LESSONS LEARNED (SECY-11-0137). The NRC staff assessment is included as an enclosure: The specific July 12 NTTF recommendation 4.1 to replace the August 1988 “4 hour battery rule” and issue a new “8-72-extended coping as needed rule” is not in the Staff Assessment. The NRC staff concludes that: This regulatory action would consider the need for SBO power source(s) and mitigating equipment to be diverse and protected from external events. This regulatory action would also examine whether there is a need to expand SBO mitigation requirements to require power reactors to mitigate an SBO event at a plant (each unit for multiunit site) until either the onsite or offsite power source is restored to bring the power reactor to a cold shutdown and to maintain spent fuel pool cooling. The staff said the schedule for developing the new rule was 4.25 years.

October 11, 2011: The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) expressed agreement with the NTTF recommendations and stated that the 4.25 year timetable for issuance of a final rule “is far too leisurely”.

January 2012, the NRC published a brightly colored reassuring brochure described as “a plain language summary” for the public on the safety of nuclear power. Modeling Potential Reactor Accident Consequences is filled with reassurances. In the “Key Results” descriptors include “operators were successful”, “they can prevent the reactor from melting”, “accidents progress more slowly and release much smaller amounts of radioactive material than calculated in earlier studies”, “the public health consequences are smaller”, “reduce the risk of public health consequences”, “no risk of death during or shortly after the accident”, “longer term cancer fatality risks … are millions of times lower than the general U.S. cancer fatality risk”. Thus irrefutable evidence is obfuscated by key decision makers in a textural maneuver that covers up dangerous scenarios and maintains the present status and protects the profits of the nuclear power industry.

Just five months (August 9, 2011) before Modeling Potential Reactor Accident Consequences was published, the Chairman of the NRC wrote: Almost immediately after receiving the Task Force report, the Commission began discussions of the process to review the report, and not, unfortunately, on the content of the report and its profound meaning for nuclear safety. Several of my colleagues have found one aspect of the report they accept without question. The most frequently cited statement is that “continued operation and continued licensing activities do not pose an imminent risk to public health and safety.” A majority of the Commission appears to accept this statement without the need for further scrutiny, debate, or discussion. On the other hand, the substantial body of the Task I Force report which details safety gaps in our regulatory system, and all of the recommendations about how to close those gaps do require additional analysis, according to my Commission colleagues. The same “nuclear power is safe message” is also being given to the stakeholders and the public.

January 13, 2012, The NRC published a status update on the NTTF recommendations in which they state the staff has “reconsidered its proposed approach” citing House and Senate Hearings, and letters from the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS). As it stands at the time of writing (March, 2012) the Commission has directed the SBO rulemaking be completed within 24-30 months.

It is more than 30 years since the ORNL Browns Ferry SBO research findings were published showing that after one hour the top of the core is uncovered, and that within two hours the core starts to melt. If we measured the effectiveness of the knowledge delivered? Fukushima delivered the knowledge. It took a cataclysmic nuclear accident to uncover the documentation produced by the NRC which reveals that the official discourse of decision makers is highly persuasive and extremely effective at obfuscating scientific knowledge. Which brings us back to Kohso’s allegorical interpretation of the Fukushima disaster and the metaphoric imperative for scientists, the public, and those who hold power to rethink and reimagine what will happen on a planetary scale when the temperature rises and human societies are left high and dry or lost beneath the sea.

Click on each of the four Planet Under Pressure images below to download the PDF file.

Can Science Save Us? Poster 1 PDF Can Science Save Us? Poster 2 PDF Can Science Save Us? Poster 3 PDF Can Science Save Us? Poster 4 PDF

Copyright © 2012 Denny Taylor

Planet Under Pressure 2012

At the Planet Under Pressure conference in London, March 2012, the people-planet biophysical system was not news. Scientists focused on asking big questions like “Can science save us?” and “What can be done to sustain the planet for future generations?” The focus was on “climate extremes”, “impacts of changing planetary pressures”, “life in extreme environments”, “disaster risk reduction” and “adaptation”. At the conference there were intense debates taking place about “barriers to action”. Delegates from all five continents participated in sessions that focused on what must be done to sustain the planet and its people. “What are the opportunities?” they asked. “What are the challenges?” Presenters spoke of the “lack of strong leadership”, “deficient authority”, the “lack of willingness of governments to act”, “political inertia”, the need for a “paradigm shift” and a “shift in discourse”, “a move from national security to collective security” and a “need for global action”.

In one session delegates met in small groups, and wrote on large sheets of paper about  “rights and responsibilities” using descriptors including: “accountability”, “cooperation”, “agreements”, linking “human rights” and “Earth rights. Taking turns, they wrote, “democratize”, “humanise”, “values versus money”, and in large bold letters “stake holder participation on a planetary scale”. Other delegates focused on: “living within means” with “specific goals for resource consumption”. At other tables they wrote: “encourage participation”, and of the importance of “bringing in individuals, not just governments”.  “Equity” was a recurring theme. One delegate wrote “the market has no morals”. Another wrote: “capitalism and globalisation rely on rich v poor so need different system to allow equity and balance”. Questions were also asked: “How can we use what we know? Combine? Make sure we are not constrained by the past?” And, “How do we measure the progress of a country, by the government or the people?”

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