Some thoughts on the severe Japanese Earthquake
The nuclear problems in Japan are serious, and far from resolved, but the media, for its own interest of gathering viewers and readers, is blowing up this nuclear tragedy above justification. The public is fearful of nuclear power because they still feel it is similar to a nuclear explosion. It is not. Nuclear explosion can not occur in nuclear power stations. The explosions at the nuclear plants are pressure explosions from either high pressure steam, or other gases created in the aftermath of the loss of cooling waters. The danger is from release of radiation material.
Here is some background:
Japan was very sensible in developing nuclear power since they have no energy sources of their own. They produced 30% of their electricity from nuclear power, the rest mostly coal. Japan is the largest coal importer in the world and depends on the Australians to sell it to them, and the US to secure the oceans. In addition, all their oil come from the unstable Middle East which Iran can stop at will by controlling the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.
In addition, much of Japan's economy depends on both raw material inputs and energy inputs from not always a stable world.
Looking at all of these, the Japanese wanted some energy security by producing some of their own electric power. True the nuclear material comes from abroad but you can store several years' supplies in Japan itself, thus approaching some measure of control of their electricity.
With all of these considerations you can not fault the Japanese for relying also on nuclear power.
They would have done better if they designed and built their nuclear safety backup systems to be more self-sufficient and less easily destroyed by a Tsunami. The magnitude of this earthquake was also beyond expectation being one of the largest in recorded history. More recent nuclear plants have higher level of backup safety systems than the Japanese may have. New nuclear plants will incorporate the lesson of this tragedy. The damage to Japan would be much larger from its economic slow down due to this earthquake/tsunami than from these unfortunate nuclear accidents.
There are now over 400 nuclear plants in the world. China and India will increase their reliance on nuclear power to satisfy the increase demand of energy for their impoverished population.
We in the US will be one of the few large nations that want to reduce our nuclear power. And it is a mistake. We will simply increase the amount of CO2 over the globe in the process. Nuclear power is expensive and could be dangerous if not built properly, but its possible danger is lower than the certain danger of global warming.
Think about the total global picture. Think about the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gases. Try to subdue the raw emotions regarding nuclear power to assess the positive global impact of nuclear power. Coal is dangerous too, but we do not see it so vividly. It kills invisibly, over long periods of time, in non dramatic situations via its poisonous byproducts and destruction of the environment.
Think how many thousands of people have died from this earthquake and its tsunamis? The amount suffering from the nuclear release would be considerably smaller than the total suffering. Almost half a million people, again, half a million people! died from the tsunamis after the 2004 Sumatra earthquake. Hundred of thousands died in Haiti without nuclear power.
Again, we need to look at it in global terms; the green alternatives we want are not real yet, at least not for the foreseeable future. We must reduce our energy consumption and waste. But we are doing nearly nothing in energy conservation and efficiency - the most cost-effective and easily available approaches that are domestic both in material and labor.
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