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The worst scenario for nuclear power plant disaster and the risk of human extinction

Anonymous Coward
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Russian Federation
04/06/2011 04:25 PM
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The worst scenario for nuclear power plant disaster and the risk of human extinction
A.V. Turchin. The worst scenario for nuclear power plant disaster and the risk of human extinction (Ines 8 = human extinction)

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A.V. Turchin. The worst scenario for nuclear power plant disaster and the risk of human extinction (Ines 8 = human extinction)

Version 0.802 (translation from Russian)
Disclaimer: This is a very preliminary version of the text, written in hot pursuit in March 2011 after the accident at Fukushima. The text does contain many errors and very quick conclusions, and published only for the subsequent discussion, but not as a final conclusion. I am not a nuclear physicist, and I use estimates from open sources. I am not associated in any way with the nuclear industry. I am not an activist of Greenpeace and do not call for complete abandonment of nuclear energy.

The purpose of this article is to consider whether the accident at a nuclear power could lead to the existential risk (see N.Bostrom article “Existential risks”) – that is, to the extinction of mankind, or substantial damage to its building.
In the article will be considered "extremely worst" options. That is, in all cases where there is uncertainty of our knowledge, will be taken the worst score. Maximum worst-case scenario is certainly worse than any real catastrophe that may occur. The study of these scenarios gives an upper bound for disaster. If you find that the maximum worst-case scenario in some object does not lead to global catastrophe, then this system can be called "inherently safe" in respect of global catastrophes.
Note that there are frequent disasters which are worse than the worst imaginable case. For example in 2001, terrorists seized and sent into the buildings 4 aircraft, while the worst case was considered a seizure of the one aircraft. In 2011 Fukusime suffered an accident with 4 reactors (7 objects more precisely, if we assume that spent fuel ponds, and possibly more, given the problems at other reactors), while the worst-case scenario was considered an accident with one reactor.
In the article are considered only possible accidents with nuclear plants, and it does not address other risks that may be related to nuclear weapons: uncontrolled nuclear proliferation, the Doomsday Machine in the form of a cobalt bomb, nuclear winter/summer, giant planets detonation, artificial supervolcano explosions and so on. About them, see my book "Structure of global catastrophe".

Hypothetical scenarios of disasters that could have global implications
I list all possible scenarios that could have global consequences, and then assess which of them may actually lead to global catastrophe and with what probability.
1) A nuclear attack on the nuclear power plant with missiles with nuclear warheads.
2) The explosion of a small nuke inside the station, brought by a terrorist.
3) "Devil's pipe" - a continuous separation of isotopes as a result of accidental chain reaction in the ruins of a reactor.
4) Penetration to the Earth core by melted reactor core - corium ("China Syndrome").
5) The explosion of hydrogen and combustion of spent nuclear fuel in spent fuel storage. Global contamination of food chain by cesium-137
6) The collapse of technological civilization, as a result of a systemic crisis, associated with not developing new technologies, radiophobia, economic crisis, the evacuation of the population, rise in price of food, lack of energy.
7) An explosive release of all nuclear energy, located at the station, as well as thermonuclear reactions in heavy water (deuterium) in the heavy water reactor.
8) The destruction of several large nuclear power plant under a water dam, or other natural disasters, leading to massive destruction of nuclear plants. For example, the explosion of a supervolcano, supereartquake, tsunami (as in Japan in 2011 but worse), the fall of an asteroid into the ocean.
9) Radicals who want to create a nuclear Doomsday weapon come to power in a country with nuclear plants. Alteration of nuclear power plants for producing large quantities of dangerous isotopes and then explosion of it.
10) Turn off electricity across the earth as a result of a certain global cataclysm, which leads to a loss of cooling at all nuclear power plants. For example, super-flash on the sun can lead to global disruptions of the electricity. Or a world war, or the effects of medium-sized asteroid (1 km).
11) The underestimation of long-term effects of radiation on humans and the biosphere.
12) Distribution of nuclear power plants around the world leads to a sharp increase in the spread of nuclear weapons, primarily due to the fact that reactor-grade plutonium could come how be use for military purposes, as well as by the general spread of nuclear technology, which then leads to an increase in other nuclear risks.