1. Monbiot is certainly right that uranium mining is perhaps the worst bit of nuclear fission, and you Rod are wise to address the issue. However, I am surprised you don’t mention in-situ leaching – a method of mining with little or no environmental impact.

    On the issue of Fukushima, I would debate the issue of if areas of Japan are now inhospitable. According to the US EPA, even the most fallout stricken areas should yield a one year cumulative dose of 2 rem (20 mSv). This is equivalent to some forms of CT scan, and parts of the world have a normal background natural background dose higher than this. And yes, I would go live there.

    Your right that reactors of a similar design should not be shut down. Any which are shut-down will likely be replaced with coal plants, which will without a doubt result in death and illness for more people than Fukushima will cause.

    Finally, it is worth noting that modern reactor designs are a world away from the 60s designs used at Fukushima. The Onagawa plant for example was built in the 1980s and was hit harder by the earthquake and tsunami – why didn’t that experience similar problems? Designs built today – such as the EPR and AP1000 are even safer still.

    1. Huw – I thought about mentioning ISL mining, but the post was already getting to be a bit longer than most people will read. That is the only form of uranium mining currently in use in the US, but it is not appropriate for all deposits.

      I was not aware of the max dose rate being as low as 2 REM per year. I agree, that is not inhospitable; people in Ramsar have been living their whole lives in areas where it is possible to accumulate 70 rem per year every year.

      Modern designs are indeed more resilient. We never stop learning and never stop working to make things better.

      1. This is the image from which I obtained the figure of 2 REM being the max dose –


        Sorry I looked everywhere, I can’t seem to find the original source. I had it on my computer and had to re-upload it. It’s probably best that the exclusion zone remains whilst the situation is resolved at the reactors, however in the long run, I do not feel that these areas should be permanently abandoned.

    2. The Onagawa plant got lucky – one of their three power lines survived the earthquake / tsunami. We don’t know whether its more modern design would have helped if it had lost all three, like Fukushima 1.

  2. I checked out the graphic. It made me think of an interesting question – how much of that annualized dose, starting with March 16, comes from the measured level of I-131 on that date?

    Since that isotope is a major contributor to radiation levels soon after shutdown, I suspect that its gamma rays were big contributors to the levels that the flyovers measured. Of course, that isotope also has a short, 8-day half life, so the doses would have nearly completely disappeared by now. What would the graph look like if a flyover was conducted today or tomorrow, 2 months later?

    I suspect that the red area would be almost undetectable.

  3. I also support nuclear power for the same reasons you do, but I would not write off the “renewables”. Basically, abundant energy — electricity in particular — is just too vital to our way of life.

    No, scratch that. Energy isn’t merely vital to our way of life, it’s vital to human survival. With 7 billion of us now depending on modern, energy-intensive agriculture and food distribution, a major hit to our energy supply means reducing our population — perhaps all the way to to pre-Industrial-Revolution levels — by means of famine on a scale far beyond anything in human experience.

    So it would be foolish to write off any method of generating energy that is even remotely viable. That does exclude the fossil fuels because, while they’re still viable right now, they won’t be much longer. Either we’ll deplete them or we’ll create a massive environmental disaster in the form of global climate change, or both.

    So I’d say that we need nuclear AND solar AND wind AND hydro AND geothermal AND biomass AND anything and everything else that works, as long as it doesn’t produce net CO2. Yes, solar energy is intermittent and thinly distributed — but the total potential dwarfs everything else available to us, even nuclear. Solar technology is just too new to say how well it will ultimately work. We’re inventing diverse ways not only to convert solar insolation to electricity but also to store large amounts of electric energy and to make loads as well as generators dispatchable.

    Electricity generation has always used a highly diverse set of sources and I see no reason to change that. We can’t put all our eggs in one basket when those eggs are so vitally important.

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