Monday, March 30, 2009

Killer Dams???

Alan Howe has written an opinion piece suggesting that Hydro-electricity more deadly than any other form of power generation. Ok please.. stop it. Stop laughing now. OK, can we go on please?

In shorter form a water bomb is more deadly than a nuclear bomb.

Let us disect this 'article' from the start. The headline:

Nuclear only safe option

got that? ok let us get to the main bit.

IT sounds simple enough, and very green.
You dam a valley, wait until it fills with water then send that through a turbine generating electricity before piping it to the taps of the towns below.
Majestic dams set in pristine, forested water catchments become tourist attractions in their own right and their names are bywords in feats of engineering: Hoover, Aswan, Boulder, Three Gorges, Hume.

Hume? Honestly Alan get with the Engineering History of Oz. Yes Hume is an important dam in Australia but nowhere near the historical significance of Goulburn Weir near Nagambie which used to be on the 10 shilling note produced in the 1880's.

But I digress.

But they are the deadliest form of power generation known to man.
Hydroelectricity kills thousands each year and claims many more lives than other forms of energy generation - natural gas, LPG, oil and even coal, the mining of which can be perilous.
Dams regularly fail, sometimes catastrophically.
Just three days ago a dam burst in Jakarta killing 77, with 100 people missing.
China's Banqiao Dam was built to withstand a 1-in-1000-year flood.
But in August 1975 Typhoon Nina collided with a monstrous cold front, dumping inches of rain by the hour and, as weather records were broken and reset over a few days, its sluice gates couldn't cope.
When the dam wall broke, a 10km long wave almost 10m high crashed down at 50km/h wiping towns off the map.
Another 61 dams downstream failed as a result. Jet fighters bombed some to release pressure on the system. More than 26,000 locals drowned and another 145,000 are reported to have died in subsequent epidemics and famine, violating even Chinese conventions of disaster.
In 1963 a landslide at the Vajont Dam north of Venice sent a 250m wave over the wall that not only killed 2000, but its 50 million cubic metre splashdown displaced air with such force it ripped the clothes and skin off nearby villagers killing them, too.
Last year's devastating earthquakes in China's Sichuan province killed another 80,000 and left serious cracks in the huge Zipingpu Dam and there are fears it could fail, endangering the lives of the 630,000 inhabitants of Duijiangyan City below.

OK... So out of the thousands of dams constructed since the Romans kicked about you claim those deaths... Right.

Now, controversially, it has been put by experts that the dam itself caused the earthquake.
A scientist at Columbia University, Leonardo Seeber, in a presentation to the American Geophysical Union, suggests that the dam has been built too close to a known geological fault line and that the weight of water in the four-year-old reservoir - 320 million tons - triggered the quake.
Seeber is part of a growing body of experts who have grave doubts about the construction of so many dams in areas of regular significant seismic activity.

This is not new news. It is a common Engineering fact that by loading up a fault in the earth's surface a failure in the fault can occur resulting in an earthquake. The tremors that created the rock fall in the Beaconsfield Mine disaster and subsequent rescue have been partly attributed to the mine itself. So now we have 1. when dams fail people die and 2. dams on geological faults can create earthquakes that could make the dam fail. Keeping up so far? Good let us move on:

But China has a voracious appetite for energy that was, until a year ago, growing at almost 10 per cent a year.
The Chinese use power to make the things - fridges, airconditioners, plasma TVs - that we buy and plug in to the wall.

Your point being? The only relevance this bit has to anything I can find is that somehow Victorian's buying a plasma contributed to deaths in China.

Already Victoria can't generate the power it needs, hence the frustrating blackouts over summer. Things will worsen.
The planned desalination plant at Wonthaggi may well pour out 150 billion litres of water a year - but it will be a huge drain on the state's power grid, and that's before we pump it all the way to Melbourne.
Of course, had we built another dam, we might have had the water - and perhaps more power to boot.

Andrew Bolt will love that last bit. He so wants a dam on the Mitchell River. But hey if you read my blog you know that already.

That aside Alan should really look at how often blackouts have occured in Victoria. Honestly Alan do you know how often?

But let's not get too cocky about the safety of our water storages.
I wouldn't live below them.
Work has been done recently to "improve" the ability of Eildon and Dartmouth dams to withstand extreme weather events and comply with international flood and earthquake standards.
Handy, that, because Melbourne University earth scientist Professor Mark Sandiford said last week it is only a matter of time before a major quake hits our state.

What? Alan haven't you warned the good people of Albury-Wodonga that their lives are in imminent danger? Maybe you should go up there with a billboard and stand out the front of the SS&A club with a sandwich board over your head stating "The End is Nigh"?

So now we have:
1. when dams fail people die;
2. dams on geological faults can create earthquakes that could make the dam fail; and
3. aparently we are going to be subject to an earthquake that will cause a dam to fail.
Alan has nearly lost me with his thought train. Australia is one of the most stable geological areas in the world. Most of the earthquakes that effect us are very deep in the ground resulting in less surface movement and potential damage. Also they are well below the magnitude of those experienced elsewhere in the world. Last deaths directly resulting from an earthquake were in Newcastle (again another mining area).
So Alan, I am scared. Do tell me how do I sleep at night when the fridge is going without fearing for the lives of anyone near a dam?

The fact is that the only safe alternative for the clean generation of power - here and anywhere else - is nuclear.
The one serious black mark on its safety record has been Chernobyl.
The Chernobyl nuclear reactor was run by drunks under a system of Stalinist indifference to safety, and the result is in obvious contrast to Three Mile Island accident seven years earlier that exposed some problems with instruments and training that were soon addressed.
No one was killed or injured and the containment building did its job.

Oh phew. I thought you may have mentioned something as deadly as dams like solar (how many people die from skin cancer?) or wind (asthma anyone?).

You dam a valley, wait until it fills with water then send that through a turbine generating electricity before piping it to the taps of the towns below.
Generating nuclear is much safer than it was back then - partially as a result of those two incidents - and we are developing systems to store the waste that in any case in quite small.
One of those driving the issue of our need to adopt nuclear generated power, for both its efficiency, cost and to save the environment, is the Liberal Member for Tangney, Dr Dennis Jensen.
"Nuclear power is safe," said the former CSIRO research scientist.
"An interesting poll a couple of months ago indicated that more Australians were positively disposed than negatively disposed to using nuclear power," he said.
He points to the hundreds of nuclear power station operating around the world, some
using ancient technology, working efficiently and safely, even in Japan, a country that knows a little more than most about nuclear energy.

Oh great. So we have:
1. when dams fail people die;
2. dams on geological faults can create earthquakes that could make the dam fail;
3. aparently we are going to be subject to an earthquake that will cause a dam to fail; and
4. Russians are drunks.
Does Alan provide evidence of the poll taken? nope as it was probably taken at the Australian Nuclear Power Party annual meeting. I say, this politician points to the hundreds of nuclear power plants operating around the world should look at the thousands of dams operating around the world. Also I look forward to the updated list of deaths from dams as a result of drownings.


Jayne said...

Only heard the last bit of the news but reporter was stating the dam was supposed to be used to shift high amounts of water (or something) not to be kept full as it currently was for recreational sports.
Also someone else mentioned the dam hadn't been maintained or repaired for gawd knows how long.
Tsk, tsk, there's an agenda to keep Brumby/Labor in office by painting dams as dangerous.

dam buster said...

Jayne - locals had been telling officials in indonesia for months that there were cracks and issues with the dam that recently failed.

My issue with Alan Howe's bit is that he claims dams are so dangerous yet only considers nuclear as an option for power generation. He also does not consider the other effects that the current dams have regarding irrigation etc in northern victoria where hydro is really a by product.

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