Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lessons from Japan

They call it clean and efficient, but it takes one thing to go wrong for nuclear energy to cause apocalyptic damage.

This must be the first time in history a devastating natural disaster is made a million times worse by the added danger of an imminent nuclear one.

If the fifth largest earthquake since 1900 and a catastrophic mega-tsunami weren't enough, Japan is now having to deal with the worst threat of radiation leaks the world has known since Chernobyl.

And while the entire world population are wishing the excellent Japanese people to get through this terrible moment as soon as possible, it is also vital that we learn -and quick- from the events.

The point is. If a country as efficient as Japan, with the most advanced infrastructure and the most sophisticated earthquake engineering and seismic vibration control, can experience such levels of destruction and nuclear devastation, one is entitled to wonder if nuclear power is worth it at all.

For all the best state-of-the-art safety measures in the world, it can take one earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, human error, fire, terrorist attack, you name it, to completely fuck up and contaminate an entire country, its natural resources and tens of millions of people for decades.

They say that nuclear power is safe, but in my lifetime alone this is already the second time that nuclear devastation is taking place (please look at this).

Once again, it just needs to happen once to ensure absolute havoc for a very long time.

Germany's decision
this morning to shut down all their nuclear plants built before 1980 and to order an overhaul of all the others can only be saluted. Every single other country should follow suit.

11 comments:

FlipC said...

What levels of nuclear devastation?

So far we've had a couple of explosions and some radiation leakage which is less damaging than if this had happened to a fuel refinery or a gas generating plant.

Which incidentally we get more of because everyone's scared of nuclear power plants and stopped building them.

I think you're getting this from the media; don't forget it's in their own interests to hype, exaggerate and doom-monger.

claude said...

I hope you're right FlipC. As the latest news comes in, things are not looking good at all.

There's a fine line between crowing or scaremongering and denial. Don't forget that for two weeks authorities at Chernobyl were asking exactly that: what level of nuclear devstation? Everything's fine!

Let's just hope the media is just talking crap about this.

FlipC said...

Though I have to point out that Chernobyl lacked the containment that the Fukushima plant does and was positioned such that it was quite possible to lie about what was going on.

In this instance any reporter in that area with the right equipment could expose any lie; likewise if you are going to 'stretch the truth' why go to the trouble of evacuation of both workers and the surrounding area.

If you read the media reports they take the official statements and then mix them with "may" this and "may" that.

I'm not saying there's isn't a problem I was pointing out that it was the same level as that posed by conventional generating plants.

Nuclear plants have become much safer because of past problems. If the Fukushima plant had been built along the same lines as Chernobyl I'm guessing most of Northern Japan would be irradiated by now.

Any future plants will be built taking this disaster into consideration with even more safety procedures in place. It doesn't mean we should give up on it totally.

claude said...

"It doesn't mean we should give up on it totally".

Certainly not. But perhaps the days when a country like Japan (where massive earthquakes are as common as rainfall) happily built 50 plus nuclear plants should be over.

Italy is currently building 2 nuclear plants and over 65% of its surface is at risk of earthquakes. Is that responsible?

Another thing.
The news is full of "this is no Chernobyl", and yes, probably so. Thank god, in fact.

But let it be said that 1/50 of Chernobyl would be enough to cause enormous and prolonged devastation.

Tokyo is 155 miles south of Fukushima and there are a staggering 35 million people in its metropolitan area.

I don't need to elaborate, do I?

For something to have devastating consequences you don't need a nuclear reactor to experience a spectacular explosion.

For the record I'm not saying the Japanese government is lying (for one thing, what the hell would I know?).

FlipC said...

But Claude by the same logic you could say 'the days when a country like Japan (where massive earthquakes are as common as rainfall) happily build tall buildings should be over.'. You can go even further and ask why the island is still inhabited at all.

The simple fact that this is garnering so much news coverage and that so much speculation is going on shows what a rare event it is.

I'm not arguing that there stands a greater risk with nuclear plants merely that these risks are known, which is why safety measure upon safety measure is piled atop of them to the point that any such accidents will result in minimal harm.

By going down this route if we 'ban' nuclear power plants in earthquake prone countries how far do we go? You can make a case that anything quantifies as a risk and thus negates the ability to build there.

claude said...

"You can make a case that anything quantifies as a risk and thus negates the ability to build there."

I sympathise with some of what you write and I can see your point.
But...but...but. There's also some strawmanship there.

Nothing compares to the devastating effects of a radioactive leak. Yes, remote chances, top security, a million to one and all that. But like I wrote in the OP, it needs to happen ONCE to have a noxious impact for decades. Remember the prolonged effects.

A tsunami or a flood are both catastrophic, I'm not for a second playing it down. But within a few years a recovery is possible. Not the case with a nuclear disaster.

FlipC said...

And the impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill; or the BP oil pump? What's the current state of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that were subject to deliberate nuclear explosions?

I can see your comment about being a straw man; but we know that's how laws work. We know that as soon as you say you can't do A because of B someone will argue that means you also can't do A because of C or that you can't do D because of B either.

Evidence shows that good principles can be extended to include that which the proposer had not even considered.

claude said...

Well. We agree to disagree.

Call me emotive but I must confess that nuclear disasters do scare the bejesus out of me.

And I salute Angela Merkel's decision. What is wrong exactly with shutting down older plants and run a round of fresh tests on the newer ones?

FlipC said...

Which is fair enough I'm about 200m away from a fuel storage depot and within the targeted zone for a nuclear warhead. I think you've just got to assess the risks.

As for Merkel yeah no problem. Facilities should be checked on a regular basis anyway and if something happens that exposes faults at one station it's only sensible to look over the others to see if the same applies to them.

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Rizky Junia Adam said...

This is very good article. I think, the president of my country must read this, because, he want to build Nuclear Power in my country Indonesia