Future Fuel

Japan’s Nuclear Clusterf*ck

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Despite the rosy picture the media likes to portray of the crisis at Fukushima, I am unfortunately expecting a bad end to this nuclear crisis. No amount of happy Japanese cartoons portraying stricken nuclear power plants as a stinky poo creating “Nuclear Boy” will lessen the fact that the nuclear power plant disaster has been an ecological nightmare that may well end up making Tokyo uninhabitable should the very worst happen. Meanwhile, the people of Tokyo have been drinking nuclear water and will probably end up with long-term health consequences even if this situation ends up resolved “positively.”

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You know what? I know that coal is bad for the environement, and so is oil. But nuclear power, when it goes wrong, is downright catastrophic. Maybe we need to look at alternatives already. All of the pro-nuclear sentiment is based on the idea that the people running our nuclear power plants are ethical and have a freakin’ clue as to what they are doing. Fukushima should be a warning to us all.

Here’s a great comment on the situation I found at Zero Hedge, which was reposted from the New York Times:

Good readers comment here I am re-posting from the NYT (thanks to Old Curmudgeon, Akron, OH):

“It is depressing to read all these well-written (and sometimes even erudite) comments doing nothing but reinforcing pre-conceived political positions for lack of the faintest knowledge of facts and the faintest understanding of their significance. This comment thread is convincing empirical evidence of the fact that humans beings think by exciting their prejudices first and rationalizing later.

Here are the most salient facts of this sad situation, from which I hope the conclusions are obvious:

1. The situation is far from under control. There are twelve trouble spots: six reactors and six spent-fuel pools. All will remain dangerously radioactive for centuries, whether operating or not, whether shut down or not, whether damaged or not, and whether abandoned or not. Radioactivity doesn’t care whether a plant is running, let alone meeting design criteria. The salient task is containing radioactivity.

2. So far only five or six of these trouble spots have been stabilized, namely, the reactors and spent-fuel pools for Numbers 4, 5, and 6, which were never in serious trouble to begin with. The reactors and/or spent-fuel pools for Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are still in trouble. In the case of Numbers 1 and 2, we don’t even know what’s going on because the control room, which is heavily shielded and supposed to be safe, has no air conditioning and is presumed too radioactive to inhabit.

3. Every one of these twelve trouble spots is DESIGNED to require continuous cooling to stay safe, whether operating or “shut down,” whether attended or abandoned.

4. The “concrete sarcophagus” solution of Chernobyl is a last resort, not a preferred solution. The reason: concrete is porous and cracks, especially in climates like Northern Japan’s, where water has been known to freeze. Over years and decades—let alone the centuries of radioactivity—water passing through broken concrete puts dangerously radioactive elements in the surrounding environment, including the water table. Concrete just impedes further access in the event of follow-on disasters, such as a total meltdown.

5. It is possible to design nuclear power plants that have none of these drawbacks. Even some current designs (for example, French ones) have few or none.

These are the facts. I leave readers to draw their own conclusions, in accordance with their own prejudices.

But I can’t resist drawing one obvious intermediate conclusion. There is no “fix and forget” solution to this crisis. Whether on or off, damaged or fixed, generating power or not, abandoned or not, these obsolete reactors and their spent-fuel pools will remain dangerous for centuries unless continually cooled with careful attention, or unless properly decommissioned at considerable expense. Those reactors and pools not decommissioned but “off line” will be sinks, not sources, of electric power for the foreseeable future.

I leave it to readers to consider the wisdom of keeping about twenty plants of this same obsolete design running here in our own country.”

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