My thoughts and prayers are with the people in Japan as they struggle to first survive and then to begin rebuilding their lives.
Not surprisingly, people who are professionally invested in actions to slow or kill nuclear energy developments are working at a feverish pitch to try to spin reality around. They have been working overtime during the weekend to make uninformed people forget that an enormous earthquake and tsunami have devastated much of nation of Japan. Instead, they want people to focus on a series of breathlessly reported stories about mysterious explosions at nuclear power stations and on the fact that the operators at the nuclear plants are struggling – like many of their countrymen – in the face of a broken infrastructure that cannot supply reliable power.
I want to keep it short this morning to give people more time to focus on more important things, like how to help people find enough clean drinking water and food and, longer term, how to help the Japanese economy recover. The activities at the nuclear plants will continue, the well-trained operators will continue to do their jobs admirably (not heroically, because they are in no personal danger either), and the anti-nuclear professionals will continue to hope for the worst and continue to be disappointed.
If you want to understand more about why nuclear reactors can experience brief hydrogen explosions, I highly recommend that you read a recent post at Brave New Climate titled Further technical information on Fukushima reactors.
Bill Tucker, the author of Terrestrial Energy, also has a piece worth reading in the Wall Street Journal titled Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl (I am tempted to add a subtitle to that – I think it would be accurate to put it this way “Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl: Much to the Disappointment of Professional Anti-nuclear Activists”)
I have also been participating in interesting conversations at Can U.S. Nuclear Plants Handle a Major Natural Disaster? and Nuclear Experts Explain Worst-Case Scenario at Fukushima Power Plant – Aside: Can someone explain to me why Scientific American could not locate a more qualified nuclear operations expert than Peter Bradford? End Aside. It would be nice if some of you could come and join me to add a bit more perspective, information and sanity to the discussions.
I also think it is important to recognize the opportunity to explain to people why there will be no health consequences to the public from challenges at Japanese nuclear plants and why that prediction could confidently be made almost as soon as the earth stopped shaking, long before all of the details of the events began to unfold. This event should be understood and should certainly not lead to any additional uncertainty about whether or not it is a good idea to build as many new nuclear power stations as possible, even in places that occasionally shake, rattle and roll.
Because nuclear fuel is so energy dense, we can afford to wrap it up in numerous layers of engineered materials that protect the public even in the rare event of an earthquake that measures 9.0 on the Richter scale that is followed in close succession by a 30 foot high tsunami wave that wipes out emergency power supplies. We have known how to do that for a long time; even the 40 year old plants with 50-60 year old technology are coming through without harming the public. When nature throw all of that at you and the worst that happens is that you lose the services of a few industrial facilities for a while, you have a pretty darned resilient technology.
People who have been studying the lessons learned from the past have made some improvements in nuclear plant construction techniques. Newer plants in Japan are fairing better than older ones and the new plants that we will be building will be even more resilient. However, there is NO need for additional layers of regulation increased requirements that will simply add cost and make more dangerous natural gas more attractive for short term thinking energy executives.
Not that I want to gloat or anything, but can anyone tell me how the natural gas transmission and delivery infrastructure, the LNG reception infrastructure, and the oil refining infrastructure has weathered the natural disaster that occurred on March 11, 2011 in Japan? Has the fossil fuel industry managed to contain its hazardous and explosive material well enough so that it has not contaminated any areas outside of their gates and not hurt any member of the general public?
As you are watching all of the breathless tales about the unfolding nuclear plant issues that seem to be taking up about 50% of the coverage of the tragedy, notice how many times the stories are broken by advertisements from companies that sell natural gas, oil and coal. Think suspiciously about the flow of money that makes that inaccurate and emotionally charged coverage possible.
Daily Mail Online (March 13, 2011) – Trains tossed around like discarded toys: Terrifying pictures reveal full horror of Japan’s worst quake
Slate (March 4, 2011) Nuclear Overreactors (Highly recommended reading!)