The ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant shows the perils of following the left’s policy on nuclear power.
The debris from the first hydrogen blast had barely settled when DFL-affiliated bloggers and tweeps started chanting “yeah, good job trying to lift Minnesota’s nuke moratorium! Haha! You are teh stupid!”.
We’ll come back to the DFL’s dim-witted politicization in a moment.
The headlines paint a dire (and direly confused) picture of the situation at the Fukushima plant, it’d seem nuke opponents have a point. Things sound bad.
But let’s make sure we’re clear on the facts: the Fukushima plant, like all Japanese plants, were designed to withstand ground motion equal to twice that occurring in a 1000-year quake – which in that part of Honshu is in the low 8-point Richter range (it’s not a perfect measurement scale, since Richter measures energy release, not ground motion). The Japanese earthquake was 9 points on the Richter scale – 5-10 times as intense. And yet by all indications so far, the containment vessels – the steel, lead and concrete capsule that contains the actual reactor cores – are holding up. It was the release of the intensely interactive fuel from the core – many thousands of times more intense than the fairly limited hydrogen and steam-borne radiation we’ve seen from Fukushima – that made Chernobyl the disaster it was. Bear in mind, Chernobyl had no containment vessel. The reactor cooling at Fukushima, of course, seems not to have been up to the damage it suffered in the earthquake and tsunami – or, more directly, to the complete loss of the power grid and backup diesel generators to run the cooling systems.
“Is it wise to build nuclear power plants in areas prone to very serious earthquakes and tsunamis” is a very, very valid question. It is a fact that engineering can make almost anything withstand almost any disaster imaginable – but the costs escalate drastically, as well. Power utilities can no more afford to buy plants that can survive every possible disaster than you can afford to buy a car that will protect you from every possible highway accident. Perhaps building nuke plants in active high-risk quake zones, or low-lying coastal areas, isn’t so smart.
You’ll note, by the way, that Minnesota is prone to neither earthquakes nor tsunamis.
Now, according to the latest reports from Japan, the biggest radiation danger is coming from a fire in a building that contains spent nuclear fuel – uranium that no longer can support a nuclear reaction, but is still radioactive. It’s being kept, basically, in a swimming pool – because water is an incredibly effective radiation shield…
…unless it boils away due to a fire in the building, which seems to be what may be happening.
Now, the people at Fukushima are dealing with conditions that are unimaginably difficult – even finding food to eat in that area is difficult, without having to deal with a damaged nuke plant and all the things that can go wrong.
But the best way to prevent nuclear waste from getting caught up in a building fire is to get it out of the building, and put it someplace where a fire is both impossible and irrelevant. Say, miles underground.
Which has been proposed in the United State for over twenty years; the Yucca Flats waste storage facility would have made disasters like the potential blazing waste plume at Fukushima impossible. But the American left – the “environmental” movement, in this case – scuppered that idea. Partly because of the danger of transporting waste by rail (real, but manageable); partly because of danger to future generations thousands of years from now if the signage, for example, got obscured.
Which leaves us with fifty-odd nuclear waste sites more or less like the one at Fukushima today – including two in Minnesota – vulnerable, in extreme circumstances, to the same kind of disaster.
But the issue of waste disposal can’t be laid at the feet of the DFL alone; it’s a national issue.
What we can lay at their feet is the economy-crippling shortsightedness of cutting off Minnesota’s energy-production nose because of an accident that could not be replicated in Minnesota, or for that matter most of the US; with a 45-year-old reactor design, arguably built in an inadvisable place, with backup power that couldn’t withstand twin disasters that are exceedingly rare to nonexistant away from the American west coast.
Especially given that advances in nuclear technology promise to make proposed nuke plants meltdown-proof by replacing mechanical and human safeguards -which are fallible – with the laws of physics.