Tag Archives: Nuclear Power Plant

Fallout Fears (Part 2)

A pair of reactors in Belgium, near Gent. (Photo credit: Koert Michiels)

This post is the second installment in a two-part post on nuclear worries. If you’re a little lost, read part 1 here! Thanks.

First, radiation has a long history of very negative popular perception (only natural, considering the 20th-century’s long romance with nuclear weapons). Particularly to those who grew up during Cold War times, radiation is a symbol of fear and uncertainty, and it carried with it the threat of foreign aggression. Even now, when nuclear proliferation isn’t quite as much of an issue (though don’t get me wrong, it’s still a concern), at least to the younger generation, nuclear danger is still portrayed as a supreme threat in all kinds of media, even video games. Simply put, radiation is still seen as a grave danger to society by people of nearly all ages and cultures.

Second, radiation is invisible. This may sound like an incredibly stupid point to make, but bear with me here! The fact that radiation can’t be seen, especially at dangerous levels, makes it seem like a dangerous and unpredictable killer, and one which we simply cannot do much to stop. Now, while this is true to a certain extent, the fact is that the amounts of radiation typically produced by nuclear power plants are nowhere near enough to be harmful to our health. In fact, it’s been found that coal ash is frequently more radioactive than NPP emissions.

Third, radiation spreads, and fast. To add to that, there’s almost nothing we can do to stop that spread, or keep it from affecting people, apart from relocating entire populations, which almost anyone would be understandably hesitant to do. Unlike landslides, forest fires, or even tsunamis, there’s almost nothing we can do to halt the advance of radiation’s spreading. We may be able to predict it, but like a hurricane or tornado, there’s nothing we can do to control or avert it. Fires can be dowsed or at least contained, and floods can be dammed, but radiation spreads no matter what.

Finally, radiation has an unpleasant habit of overstaying its welcome, often for a very, very long time. Like a dictator who won’t give up power or a lingering and unwanted dinner guest, radiation is an insidious presence that refuses to be rooted out, at least not without a fight. The greatest damage that radiation inflicts is done over the long term, as it causes long-term cancers and seeps into soil and water supplies. This damage is hard to keep track of or measure, so it has an aspect of nameless dread to it.

So it’s easy to see why people fear radiation so much. It’s invisible, it’s silent, it’s trackless, and there’s almost nothing we can really do to stand in its way once it becomes a problem. But if you really look at the numbers, you’ll find that, danger-wise, nuclear has nothing on coal.

It’s not an easy thing to say that we need nuclear in the midst of the crisis in Japan, and it’s certainly not the most popular stance in the world for me to take. But unfortunately, our energy needs (and our need for cleaner energy) are simply too great to give up on nuclear power. What really must be done is a tightening of safety regulations on nuclear power plants, and further expansion on research into what must be done to keep plants safe. We can’t prepare for all contingencies, but the events at Fukushima Daiichi have showed the world that we must have well-thought-out plans for emergencies.

But the harsh reality is that almost no form of energy is truly 100% safe, no matter what precautions we take. And to move toward a more sustainable energy future, as well as a safer one, we must continue to stand by nuclear energy.

Author’s Note: This post was slightly modified on April 2nd, after its initial publication on March 29th.

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Japan’s Nuclear Nightmare

Fukushima I, the power plant currently in danger of melting down.

Even after all the horrifying destruction Japan has faced over the last few days in the aftermath of a record-setting earthquake and tsunami, the country may have yet another catastrophe on their hands.

A nuclear power plant (NPP) called Fukushima I has been having some major difficulties remaining stable, after the combination of earthquake and tsunami left it badly damaged, and a number of other NPPs have been damaged as well. The government and power company operating the NPP are now saying that there’s a possibility that two reactors are currently melting down, an event which could release great amounts of radiation into the air and water.

It’s still not quite clear at this point (to the best of my knowledge) what the extent of such an accident would be. Experts are saying that the current situation in Japan is already among the top three worst nuclear accidents in the history of nuclear power, along with the events at the Three Mile Island plant in 1979 and the awful disaster that was Chernobyl. But there’s still the possibility of this crisis-waiting-to-happen taking first place for nuclear catastrophes.

Part of the problem here is that the Japanese government has been waffling on the exact state of affairs. The reports given by government officials have vacillated between “it’s only a minor leak to relieve pressure” and “nuclear meltdown is underway.” So it’s been hard to say and see exactly what might be happening, and how severe consequences might be. However, an international security expert said on a fascinating CNN video that the situation is more likely to turn out alright, rather than as a catastrophe (though he doesn’t rule out the chance that a nuclear catastrophe might occur).

The expert posits that the authorities’ tactic for solving the problem is one that would render the NPPs completely and permanently inert. The plan at this point is to flush the reactors with seawater and boric acid. According to the expert in the video, these methods should not only stop the reactors from working temporarily, but completely destroy their ability to produce nuclear energy. A willingness to do something so drastic is a good indicator of the seriousness of this situation. If the government and the power company who runs the plants are willing to suffer the permanent loss of these NPPs, then they must see the possibility of a huge meltdown. It is encouraging though, that the government and the electric company running the plants are willing to take a loss to shut these down.

As I said in a previous post, this situation is still far from resolved. Death tolls are rising dramatically as rescue workers search for the wounded or dead, and the country is tense under the threat of a possible nuclear crisis. All anyone can really do now is offer ny assistance and support they can.

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