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Monday, July 16, 2007

Remember Godzilla?

posted by on July 16 at 12:56 PM

There was a gigantic earthquake in Japan today and eight people died. That’s bad.

But this seems potentially worse:

A strong earthquake shook Japan’s northwest coast Monday, setting off a fire at the world’s most powerful nuclear power plant and causing a reactor to spill radioactive water into the sea - an accident not reported to the public for hours.
Officials said there was no “significant change” in the seawater near the plant, which is about 160 miles northwest of Tokyo.

… but …

That fed fresh concerns about the safety of Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors, which supply 30 percent of the quake-prone country’s electricity and have suffered a long string of accidents and cover-ups.

(Eerily, the Atomic Age officially began 62 years ago today, when the United States detonated a plutonium-based nuclear weapon in New Mexico. Happy birfday, Atomic Age! Maybe this year you’ll get that giant death lizard you’ve always wanted… )

RSS icon Comments


That settles it, Japan should have used coal powered power plants instead.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | July 16, 2007 1:16 PM

sometimes you just have to laugh at a really really really bad situation

Posted by Cale | July 16, 2007 1:29 PM

Please don't fear monger on nuclear power plants. They our best short term option for fighting global warming. If people weren't so frightened of them, and much more research had been done, we might not be in the environmental pickle we are now.

Posted by Andrew | July 16, 2007 1:34 PM

Meanwhile, GWB continues to move the clock hands closer to midnight. Just ask Russia.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 16, 2007 1:53 PM

Um, I think a good day for fear mongering about nuclear power would be the day that some radioactive water is released into the environment. I hear what you're saying about more research needing to be done and people's fear blocking movement towards what could be a "clean" energy source, but there are good reasons for that fear. You may have heard that the nuclear industry hasn't had a super great track record, that there are still literally pits filled with leaching radioactive waste about 150 miles from downtown Seattle, and that the governments who have spent the most to develop the technology have done next to nothing to take care of the workers tasked with doing energy work that exposed them to radiation... Those are good reasons for people in general to fear nuclear technology.

That said, the newest generation of plant designs are leaps and bounds ahead of what is out there. We just need to figure out a practical method of reducing and dealing with waste products, show that the plants are safe and secure, and that the long term costs really are less than other alternative energy sources.

You mention that nuclear power is a good short term way to fight global warming. I agree, but I'm not willing to embrace it unless I'm convinced that the short term answer doesn't create a bigger, uglier problem of how to deal with dangerous radioactive waste for the next generation...

Posted by other Andrew | July 16, 2007 2:27 PM

Don't use Hanford as an example, that waste was primarily from nuclear weapons, which is a whole other can of worms.

Nuclear power is different from nuclear weapons. Other than Chernobyl, there hasn't been a serious accident from nuclear power. And Chernobyl was such a freak occurrence (let's see what happens when we turn off all the safety features and cause a meltdown!) it can be discounted.

Sure the radioactive water today wasn't the best thing in the world, but it probably will have relatively minor long term effects. The amount of damage to the environment would be much less than if you placed a coal power plant in the same spot for its lifetime.

The waste problem isn't really a problem at all. Burning coal releases more radioactive material into the air then ever is released from a nuclear power plant, and at least with the nuclear power plant we know where it is. Containment of the waste is actually pretty easy, especially if you recycle it and use it again. Plus, if you think back to high school physics, nuclear material has a great property. The more dangerous it is, the shorter time it is dangerous for. So if someone says it will be dangerous for millions of years, you know that it isn't actually that dangerous, because anything with that long of a half life is not decaying at a fast enough rate to release much energy.

The rest of the world has already pretty much jumped on the bandwagon. The US Navy is using reactors to power almost the entire fleet. South Africa and China are about to roll out reactors that are melt down proof. It's about time the US power grid joined the party.

We have to replace coal power plants with something. Solar and wind just aren't going to cut it. Beaming microwaves down from space is still too far in the future to consider. Nuclear Fusion is at least 20 years away. If we started building plants now, we'd have enough energy to seriously consider fuel cell and electric powered cars and we'd be able to reduce our emissions even more.

Posted by Andrew | July 16, 2007 3:31 PM

Remember, nuclear energy is safe.

Well, except for meltdowns.

And radioactive leaks.

And earthquakes.

And terrorists using the waste from hijacked trains to poison our water supplies for 100,000 years.

Yeah, real safe.


Posted by Will in Seattle | July 16, 2007 9:20 PM

Don't forget the excellent recent headline: "Firefighting helicopter scoops water from uranium tailings pond."

My favorite quote from that story comes from the Health Department spokesperson: "You wouldn't anticipate an aerial breach of security."

Leaving the responsibility-shirking third person (is that what that is?) sentence construction aside, I think it illustrates the main problem with the hubris of humankind playing with something that could destroy all life on the planet: there is no way to reasonably anticipate every single thing that can go wrong and prevent every possible accident scenario.

The combination of the imperfect and dynamic mechanics of the physical world, the imperfect work ethics and practices of workers, the imperfect profit motive of corporations, imperfect safety regulations and regulators, and, most unpredictably, good old fashioned entropy, add up to the predictably imperfect ability of humans to control the physical world.

As long as there are planes some of them will fall out of the sky; as long as there are surgeons there will be medical errors; as long as there are trains some of them will derail; as long as there are cars some of them will crash; and as long as there is nuclear testing, nuclear weapons, or nuclear power there will be nuclear accidents.

Posted by Diana | July 17, 2007 9:45 AM

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