Enough of Exploiting Japan’s Disaster for Political Gain
First it was an environmentalist saying global warming caused the 8.9 magnitude earthquake. A sure grasping of straws in their quest to move man back into the cave. Then it was anti-nuclear power Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, who said we should learn from Japan’s near Chernobyl-like disaster. And move back into the cave. And now it’s Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chiming in (see “Put the brakes” on nuclear power plants: Lieberman by Will Dunham posted 3/13/2011 on Reuters).
“I don’t want to stop the building of nuclear power plants,” independent Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
“But I think we’ve got to kind of quietly put, quickly put the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming on line,” Lieberman added.
Put the brakes on? What, he wants to slow down from the breakneck speed we’re building new nuclear power plants and bringing them on line? That’s going to be pretty hard to do considering the speed we’re going at. I mean, when was the last time we built a nuclear power plant in the United States?
It’s not about what happened at the Fukushima Power Plant, it’s about what hasn’t Happened
We’re missing the big picture here. The nuke plants didn’t kill or wipe out cities yet. Like the earthquake-tsunami one-two punch has. Let’s not lose sight of that little fact (see Nuclear Overreactions posted 3/14/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).
Part of the problem is the lack of media proportion about the disaster itself. The quake and tsunami have killed hundreds, and probably thousands, with tens of billions of dollars in damage. The energy released by the quake off Sendei is equivalent to about 336 megatons of TNT, or 100 more megatons than last year’s quake in Chile and thousands of times the yield of the nuclear explosion at Hiroshima. The scale of the tragedy is epic.
Yet the bulk of U.S. media coverage has focused on a nuclear accident whose damage has so far been limited and contained to the plant sites. In simple human terms, the natural destruction of Earth and sea have far surpassed any errors committed by man.
So in the grand scheme of things, the Japanese nuclear plants are minor players in this great tragedy. Even that embellishes their role. Much of Japan lies in waste. Because of the earthquake and the tsunami. The nukes so far have been innocent bystanders in the death and destruction. But it’s all we focus on. Even though they haven’t really done anything yet. But under the right set of circumstances that don’t currently exist…they could. So we use the big ‘what if’ to further shut down the already shutdown American nuclear power industry. Why? Simple. Because congress can’t place a moratorium on earthquakes or tsunamis.
So back to that question. When was the last time we built a nuclear power plant in the United States?
But more than other energy sources, nuclear plants have had their costs increased by artificial political obstacles and delay. The U.S. hasn’t built a new nuclear plant since 1979, after the Three Mile Island meltdown, even as older nuclear plants continue to provide 20% of the nation’s electricity.
So Senator Joe Lieberman wants to tap the breaks on a car that’s been parked and in the garage since 1979. How does he do it? Where does the genius come from?
No coal. No oil. And now no nukes. Translation? No power. I guess we should practice our hunting and gathering skills. Because we’re going to need them when we move back into the cave. Of course, we’ll have to eat our food cold. You know. Carbon footprint. From those foul, nasty, polluting campfires.
In America, Coal, Oil and Nuclear Power all Wear Black Hats
Some in Congress just love the planet so much. They want to get rid of coal and oil and replace them with clean energy. Which means nuclear power. Because windmills and solar panels just won’t produce enough power. Especially when they want us all driving tiny little electric cars that are going to suck more juice off our strained electrical grid. And just how strained is our electric grid? Remember the Northeast Blackout of 2003?
High summer currents caused power lines to sag into untrimmed trees. As lines failed some power plants dropped off the grid. This strained other power plants. And other power lines. More lines failed. More plants dropped off the grid. This cascade of failures didn’t end until most of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario lost power. It was huge. And if you experienced that hot, stifling, August blackout, you know that windmills wouldn’t have helped. There was no breeze blowing. And solar panels wouldn’t have helped you sleep at night. Because there’s no sun at night. No. What would have helped was some big-capacity power generation. Like a coal plant. An oil plant. Or a nuke plant.
Energy demands increase with population. And with electric cars. We need more generation capacity. And the only viable green solution is nuclear power. And now we’re dilly dallying about the dangers of clean nuclear power because of what didn’t happen in Japan (see Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl by William Tucker posted 3/14/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).
Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), a longtime opponent of nuclear power, has warned of “another Chernobyl” and predicted “the same thing could happen here.” In response, he has called for an immediate suspension of licensing procedures for the Westinghouse AP1000, a “Generation III” reactor that has been laboring through design review at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for seven years.
Talk about the irony of ironies. The Soviet-era nuclear reactor at Chernobyl was the most dangerous ever used. That reactor went ‘Chernobyl’ because of its design. A graphite core that caught fire. And no containment vessel that let plumes from that fire spread radioactive fallout throughout western Russia and Europe. If the Soviets had used the type of reactor that’s getting all the media attention in Japan, there would have been no Chernobyl disaster. And now the irony. Rep. Markey wants to suspend licensing of the world’s safest nuclear reactor (the Generation III) by citing the world’s most dangerous reactor that Japan doesn’t even use.
But facts don’t matter when you’re just against nuclear power. No matter how safe the Generation III design is. Or the fact that it doesn’t even need cooling pumps.
On all Generation II reactors—the ones currently in operation—the cooling water is circulated by electric pumps. The new Generation III reactors such as the AP1000 have a simplified “passive” cooling system where the water circulates by natural convection with no pumping required.
Despite this failsafe cooling system, there are calls to stop the licensing. To put the brakes on. To move back into caves. All because of what didn’t happen at Fukushima. What didn’t happen at Three Mile Island. But what did happen in a Hollywood movie. The China Syndrome. (But that’s a whole other story.)
If a meltdown does occur in Japan, it will be a disaster for the Tokyo Electric Power Company but not for the general public. Whatever steam releases occur will have a negligible impact. Researchers have spent 30 years trying to find health effects from the steam releases at Three Mile Island and have come up with nothing. With all the death, devastation and disease now threatening tens of thousands in Japan, it is trivializing and almost obscene to spend so much time worrying about damage to a nuclear reactor.
What the Japanese earthquake has proved is that even the oldest containment structures can withstand the impact of one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history. The problem has been with the electrical pumps required to operate the cooling system. It would be tragic if the result of the Japanese accident were to prevent development of Generation III reactors, which eliminate this design flaw.
Looking at Japan with Awe and Reverence
Japan has been nuclear since 1966. They now have some 53 nuclear reactors providing up to a third of their electricity. Yes, Japan lies on the Ring of Fire. Yes, Japan gets hit by a lot of tsunamis. And, yes, they now have a problem at a couple of their reactors. But the other 50 or so reactors are doing just fine. Let’s stop attacking their nuclear program. So far they’ve done a helluva job. And the Japanese know a thing or two about nuclear disasters. They lived through two. Hiroshima. And Nagasaki. Which make Chernobyl look like a walk in a park. If anyone knows the stakes of the nuclear game, they do. And it shows.
We should be looking at Japan with awe and reverence. If they can safely operate nuke plants on fault lines and in tsunami alley, then, by God, we should be able to do it where things aren’t quite as demanding. And should. It is time we put on our big-boy pants and start acting like men. Before we give up on all energy and move back into the cave. And down a notch or two on the food chain.
Tags: 8.9 Magnitude, anti-nuclear, carbon footprint, Chernobyl, Chernobyl-like disaster, clean energy, Coal, cooling pumps, Earthquake, electrical grid, electricity, energy, Fukushima, Generation III, Global Warming, green, Japan, Japanese, meltdown, Northeast Blackout of 2003, nuclear power, nuclear power industry, nuclear power plant, nuclear reactor, nukes, oil, Ring of Fire, solar panels, Three Mile Island, Tsunami, windmills