Fukushima Folly: Nuclear Power in Question (Again)

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/12/2011 07:48:00 PM
Chernobyl, Harrisburg, Sellafield, Hiroshima
Stop radioactivity - it's in the air for you and me
[Radioactivity]...discovered by Madame Curie

Shall we be adding Fukushima to this list? Leave it to the Germans to perform probably the most buoyantly morbid song of them all in "Radioactivity." In recent times before Kraftwerk ("Power Plant" in German) co-founder Florian Schneider quit this famous band--or at least for now--banks of primitive analogue synthesizers they used to operate were replaced by far more advanced and compact digital devices. For instance, in the concert footage above from their otherworldly live album Minimum Maximum, they could be arranging pole dancing lessons for all we know on their laptops instead of "performing."

Yet time moves on. For a while--let's say between Chernobyl and now--many longtime environmental activists started to consider nuclear power as a lesser evil to burning fossil fuels. While storing and disposing of hazardous material has and always will be issues, their use did not result in significant carbon emissions. You can indeed say that we are now back to the future with the nuclear power plant troubles in Japan. Rising fuel prices have in recent years been good for the nuclear industry, yet the outcome of the current incident may result in public clamour to minimize its use while lawmakers respond accordingly. Nuclear plant builders and suppliers that have been amidst much competition in recent years may find their business dry up.

Still, there are a number of things to point out. First, contrary to what perma-doom Greenpeace folks have said, the Fukushima reactors are not the most "modern" reactors. As the newswires or even something as pedestrian as Wikipedia notes, these are the oldest operating ones in Japan. Moreover, the explosion that occurred did not happen at the reactor as Kyodo News explains:
Japanese authorities have confirmed there was an explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant Saturday afternoon but it did not occur at its troubled No. 1 reactor, top government spokesman Yukio Edano said. The chief Cabinet secretary also told an urgent press conference that the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., has confirmed there is no damage to the steel container housing the reactor. Edano said the 3:36 p.m. explosion caused the roof and the walls of the building housing the reactor's container to be blown off. He said there has been no serious damage to the steel container of the reactor...

The top government spokesman said Tokyo Electric Power has begun operations to fill the reactor with sea water and pour in boric acid to prevent an occurrence of criticality, noting it may take several hours to inject water into the reactor. In addition, it will take about 10 days to fill the container with sea water, he said. Officials of Japan's nuclear safety agency said there was no sign that radiation levels had jumped after the explosion.
There is a Japlish press release by TEP with much the same facts. Things are still unfolding, and the letting off of pressure may have produced more drama than warranted. While there have indeed been minor incidences with such plants over the years, the Japanese tend to be meticulous about things--the anti-Homer Simpsons. It is up to Japan now to prove the Greenpeace crowd wrong. Otherwise, we will be back in that post-Chernobyl climate that led to much wariness about nuclear power for several years which took global warming and high oil prices to eventually play down.

Chain reaction and mutation - contaminated population
Stop radioactivity - it's in the air for you and me