Why it Matters

Because the same re-assurances from experts, the same doubts that were disregarded as alarmism, the same ‘pragmatism’ that allowed reckless policy in the name of science and profit are behind the push to expand nuclear power today.

Robert Peabody died almost fifty years ago in a nuclear plant that was sold as state of the art and safe. Workers in Russia were martyred in the Chernobyl cleanup. The news today is about a rotation of volunteers in Japan who brave exposure to radiation in a desperate effort to prevent the worst as nuclear safety fails in the wake of disaster.

It matters because not enough has changed, and not enough will unless we stop digging ourselves into dependence on nuclear power, leaving the mess to future generations.

About these ads

18 thoughts on “Why it Matters

  1. Apparently the Japanese have responded as well as they could.
    The three pressurized reactors have supposedly been cooled down below the danger point and the reactor that was down for maintenance and not pressurized is not a likely explosion risk.
    This info was on the radio today from a Dr.Sharif,an expert on nuclear power,who I believe is from Brown U.It was on the Cianci show,but Matt Allen was filling in.Very interesting stuff.

  2. The Japanese probably had more fail safe and take earthquakes into account when they build anything.
    AP today says they are rotating workers at the site because the radiation levels are too high to let them be exposed for long.
    There have been several explosions in the surrounding buildings.
    This stuff doesn’t ever go away. When the crisis is over, there will be the question of how much cleanup needs to be done, and what to do with the ruined reactors.

    • Probably entomb the leaking units in concrete/sand.
      The reactor with the spent rods is the big danger because of the high radiation present in spent fuel.
      The Japanese people have certainly displayed tremendous discipline and civility in the face of this.
      People could learn from that.

  3. SO far things are much better than the media seems to believe. I blame sensationalism and ignorance on the media’s part, and an abundance of caution (and again, ignorance) on government’s part.

    Radiation levels on-site at Fukushima are measured in hundreds of microsieverts per hour, which is pretty safe for a relatively short term. Containment seems overall intact, too. Sure, they’ll be venting steam for a while, and it’s slightly radioactive, but not in a way that will impact health in any appreciable way, from what I can tell. There were a few spikes to dangerous levels when the cooling fuel at #4 caught fire, but that was a blip, not an event with any long-lasting consequences.

    A few things I like to consider about nuclear:

    1. Yes, accidents are horrible when they happen, compared to day-to-day operations of any type of power generation.

    2. Coal power clearly kills thousands of people in a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ way, while nuclear’s safety record only kills… Well, hardly anyone since we figure out that the stuff is really dangerous. I think it’s disingenuous to point at Rhode Island’s accident, people aren’t carting around vats of liquid uranium waste anymore. Or Chornobyl, because only the Soviets ever built reactors that dangerous and without containment. The -overall- affect on human health for nuclear is clearly much lower than fossil fuels. With fossil fuels, the damage is broad and shallow. With nuclear, it’s very localized, but potentially deep.

    3. ‘Green power’ from hydro, wind, and solar aren’t anywhere near the levels that can run our economies. Really. We should invest in them, but we’re decades away from being able to extract and store enough power to live our lives. Also, while the generation might be ‘green’, how do millions of workers climbing up hundreds of feet in the air every day to work on turbines compare to one mild nuclear accident in a lifetime? How would millions of turbines affect the climate and ecology? How ‘dirty’ is the process to make a modern solar cell, those things aren’t made from Sugar and Spice.

    4. In light of #3… We’re running a mix of coal and nuclear. Coal is straight-up evil. The nuclear plants are all getting dangerously old. New nuclear reactor designs are much safer than old ones (as evidenced by the current events in Japan, notice that only the older reactors are causing headaches), to the point that you can literally pull the power and send everyone home and the thing will keep itself cool and wet instead of melting down. Until we figure out a way to get all our power from greener sources, and before an ancient nuclear power plant causes a disaster because it’s a less-safe design, I think we should close down older current nukes (like Vermont Yankee) and build safer, modern ones to replace the capacity.

    Consider nuclear a ‘bridge’ to get us from fossils to wind, solar, or whatever else we figure out.

  4. I’m surprised by how few blogs are covering this issue, thanks. I have a good quote about it on my site. Also I think Bernie Sanders said something sarcastic like: “Unthinkable, unthinkable, unthinkable…until the day after it happens.”

  5. mangeek-GREAT POINT about what kind of polluting processes are necessary for some of that “green”equipment to be manufactured.
    Just think:Plating is necessary for water sited generators.Plating and galvanizing are dirty processes using(for plating anyway)some incredibly poisonous substances.
    Anyone who ever set foot in a jewelry factory can verify that.
    The David Segals of the world don’t quite get it regarding that.

  6. Thanks, Observer!

    I wish we -could- power everything with green energy. Unfortunately, it’s just not possible yet, and it’s not just a matter of ‘close your eyes and invest until it’s done’.

  7. And for the progressives, you should know that I think it should be law that the nearby population centers own a majority stake in any nuclear development. Safety before profits.

    Check this out and ponder something:

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf06.html

    How many people are dying in out-of-sight mines because we won’t accept a mode of energy production that is 98% safer (and improving exponentially), but carries local risks? Aren’t progressives the ones saying that we should make corporations and people more accountable for the effects of externalities?

  8. It’s true that when we have a human race of 7 billion, any energy production has its destructive side.
    Nuclear safety always seems to lag behind the last accident, and nuclear pollution comes in many forms, some of which last for thousands of years.
    I think the industry has always claimed that no one is hurt because people aren’t dropping dead instantly. Radiation can take decades, and is seen in disease rates of populations. It’s early to say that it’s safe.

    • But on the whole, a nuclear plant ends up releasing less radiation than a coal plant. There’s bits of nasty long-term radioactive stuff in the whole planet’s crust, digging out millions of tons of coal and spewing it into the air ends up putting out more radiation than digging up small amounts of uranium and keeping it in a metal containment vessel.

      Also, the stuff that lasts the longest tends to be the stuff that emits the least radiation.

      Overall, radiation is poorly understood by the public and politicians, and people who understand things poorly shouldn’t be making decisions without experts to advise.

      • Coal is a problem, so is oil. I agree that we need to make tough decisions.
        I think that nuclear has too many unsolved problems that we are kicking down the road, such as radioactive waste generated in the short life of a nuclear plant.
        Concentrated radioactivity, such as we are seeing in Japan, is both a short term danger and a long term hazard. Among the products are plutonium, which will be dangerous long after our civilization has passed. We’re going to leave behind nuclear waste dumps for future generations even if we stop today.

  9. Well,Nancy-you’ve defined the problems,but what’s your realistic idea of an answer?
    Wind and solar just aren’t practical for mass use and not likely to be for a long time.
    Geothermal is very location dependent as is hydroelectric.
    Beating ourselves (the USA)over pollution obscures the fact that “developing” countries don’t even give lip service to environmental protection.
    It seems like political orrectness has poisoned this debate by not allowing criticism of places like Brazil,Madagascar,Indonesia,India,China,Russia etc.Not to mention much smaller and dirtier places.
    Not all the offenders are “developing” either.
    Romania and Bulgaria are environmental nightmares.
    Even in western Europe they burn lignite for chrissakes.Lignite or “brown coal”is used in exactly ONE plant in the US-somewhere in Texas.It’s common in Europe because it’s cheap and abundant.It’s also about the most polluting energy producing fuel imaginable.
    I myself have no answer for this-if I did,I’d be a billionaire “environmentalist”flying around polluting the world in a Gulfstream.
    I’ve herd of “cold fusion”as a safe form of nuclear energy,but it seems to remain science fiction.

  10. “I think that nuclear has too many unsolved problems that we are kicking down the road, such as radioactive waste generated in the short life of a nuclear plant.”

    Well that’s sort of a chicken-and-egg problem:

    We’d have a place to put the waste if we bit the bullet and allowed waste to be put there. We already paid for Yucca Mountain. France has a similar large scale reprocessing/storage facility that should serve as both a model to emulate, and a basis for learning from.

    We’d have safer, cleaner-burning, more efficient plants if we were able to build them.

    Again, it’s the anti-nuke crowd who are making nuclear less safe, by putting roadblocks in front of safer and cleaner developments and rejecting long-term storage facilities.

    There really -aren’t- any ‘unknowns’ in the storage of waste or long-term effects categories. That’s just stalling, and the longer we stall, the longer we rely on energy generation that’s 50 times as fatal as it needs to be.

  11. Dear Observer and Mangeek,
    Thanks for your comments, we’ve all given some serious thought and committment to this issue though we don’t agree.
    I’m working extra hours, a lot of it on a laptop, so I’ve been late in responding, but watching the news day by day.
    I hope that the danger to the people of Japan, and the world, from this nuclear crisis will soon be under control, but I hope that then the incident won’t be minimized.
    I keep hearing ‘no immediate danger’. That’s only part of the issue of course. Radiation exposure is cumulative, and we try to limit lifetime exposure so as not to increase the risk of cancer.
    Whether the area around the nuclear plants will have to be an exclusion zone, in a country where there is not a lot of spare land, will be decided.
    All of the debate about energy is based on the unspoken assumption that energy production has to be big and centralized to work, and that conservation has no role in the good life.
    Every day I drive past old mills, with their dismantled hydropower and still flowing streams.
    Growing up in the sixties, I find the waste and throwaway culture we have become to be oppressive. Convenience is nice up to a point, but it’s not everything, or I’d be living on instant coffee and powdered mashed potatos.
    Growing up in the sixties, I remember the excitement of the space race. We don’t have the will, or the need to put a man on the moon today, but we do have the will and need to win an energy race. I want to see creative, decentralized, local, sustainable and smart energy solutions.

    • Nancy-one of your points is very interesting-decentralized power production.
      The thinking behind that is very common-sense considering we now have mega-grids that are totally interconnected and vulnerable to terrorism and a domino effect failure from overload.
      I believe when we were growing up,there was a more decentralized scheme of producing electric power.
      I just wonder how it could be implemented considering the tremendous demand that exists now.
      The throwaway culture is also a problem.
      Appliances of all kinds are now made to work for a period of time and then be tossed rather than repaired.
      Technology is absolutely two edged,no matter what field one is discussing.
      Maybe medicine is an exception.
      It’s hard to see a downside to rapid blood sugar readings for diabetics or CT scans,MRI’s,laproscopic surgery,etc.
      However,the world of instantaneous communication certainly carries a high risk of precipitate decision making with little time for reflection.
      It’s not really the physical capabilities of thecnology;it’s the way it’s used.

      • We share an upbringing in a culture where we saved more and threw away less.
        It’s not that I think there is an easy way out of our energy dilemma. I drive all day in my job, burning up petroleum. I’m kind of proud I can do it on about 10 gallons a week.
        Even in visiting nursing, we could cut travel time, and as individuals we try to do that for our own sake.
        We have resources now we didn’t have in the ’70′s and I often regret we abandoned energy research and started buying bigger cars as soon as the energy crisis was over.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s