A transplanted Southern Californian living in North Dakota Idaho, with some insights on life with deaf dogs, a gluten free spouse, and the occasional mischievous garden gnome. Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Fallout in Japan

The tragedy in Japan, a devastating earthquake and tsunami, is proving to have a catastrophic human toll.  Even in a compulsively natural disaster prepared populace like Japan, it's still reported that the number of casualties could exceed 10,000.  You can donate to the American Red Cross here.

Natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunami's are always going to occur, and as tragic as the staggering loss of life is, it pales in comparison to the potential man made disaster of nuclear fallout from self destructing power plants.  There are currently 6 nuclear reactors in Japan that are concerning to Japanese and global authorities.  Contradicting reports have stated there has been radioactive fallout, that there is impending nuclear fallout, and that everything is fine. 

As of Monday morning, it has been reported that 200,000 people have been evacuated from the areas surrounding the nuclear power plants until they can be safely brought under control.  Let's hope that any damage to the affected people is minimal and the situation does not worsen. 
Photo credit: Jared Rodriguez via Flickr
Regardless of what the truth is surrounding the amount of radioactive exposure, this should be a wake-up call for American policy makers and the general populace.  Yes, we should not be politicizing a tragedy, and no we shouldn't immediately take every nuclear power plant in the US offline.  But it is time to seriously reconsider nuclear power as an option in the future.  

Every other alternative energy source has drawbacks and an environmental impact: wind, solar, geothermal, etc all have some pros and cons.  But none of these other energy sources have the inherent potential devastating capabilities of a nuclear power plant disaster.  Even without considering the disposal of nuclear waste that occurs when the power plant is operating correctly, there is just too much risk in nuclear power.  Let's stop considering this as energy option. 

As safe as nuclear power has been advertised to be, there will always be earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, floods, and acts of terrorism that can undermine the efforts of even the best and well intentioned power plants.   Please encourage your elected representatives that you don't want to see any more nuclear power plants built in the US. 


lifeshighway said...

Great commentary today. I agree, the potential nuclear fallout scares the heck out of me. We have a nuclear plant not 40 miles from here. North Carolina seems very nuclear friendly. There is one right off the coast of Wilmington, using brackish ocean water to cool the reactors. How is this different from Japan?

Only be we have been a little more lucky.

Anonymous said...

what the hell are you talking about? Nuclear is clean and cheap energy-they just need to update plants like these. 12 nuclear plants could provide all the power need for the US as a whole. No more coal or gas fired plants and no CO2. This whole thing in Japan is over dramatized to scare people like yourself.

El Gaucho said...

Bill - Please show me the research that shows 12 nuclear plants could power the whole country. Say you do have those 12 plants, what do you do with all the spent fuel? Current storage facilities for spent fuel are already full and there's a huge debate because no one wants it in their backyard. Where do you put the tons of (still radioactive) spent fuel? And how can you guarantee that no natural disasters will ever affect the power plants? You can't. Maybe it's safe and nothing bad ever happens, but it's not worth the risk.

Anonymous said...

Just did the math-standing naked between the two worst off reactors for 2.5 hours would qualify you as the first tier risk level-a total 5% increase in cancer risk over a lifetime. Add a standard high quality dual activation mask with goggles and you eliminate 90% of that radiation as the alpha and beta particles can't penetrate human skin. The highest energy gamma particles by definition would be at least 99% contained by the reactor core. Keep in mind this was due to both a local earthquake (2nd worst ever recorded) and subsequent tsunami. By comparison-with proper safety gear on an 8 hour shift you would get less radiation than on an 8 hour plane flight.
As for power-an average older 4-core reactor system produces 1000 MWh at standard operating capacity of 25%. Add in newer technologies that increase that by nearly 38% and increase capacity to 50% of max and you get 2760MWh per plant. At 12 plants that gives 33.12 PWh-the US as a whole uses around 29 per year (2009).
In case of catastrophe such as this, only the steam itself is released, not any "fallout" as with older reactors.
Each of these plants produce 3 cubic meters of processed radioactive waste per year (36 total)-about the size of a 1 car garage interior. Several areas are approved by the international atomic energy commission as approved waste spots that are uninhabited and would not have effects on any water table (ie-Nevada).
By comparison the Lithium mines for the batteries that store your precious "green" energy pollute significant areas, only last a few years, and are considered toxic waste.
You might want to review some basic chemistry and particle physics before you spread panic induced rumors.

Anonymous said...

and a blog on it from a nuclear engineer.
BTW- I start my nuclear medicine rotation next week :)

El Gaucho said...

It's a nice blog, but for every "expert" who says that we shouldn't panic, there's another one who says that we should. I'm not advocating panic, but an overabundance of caution.

Given the history of profit driven utilities and their byproduct disposal efforts(see the coal ash issue pretty much everywhere and rampant CO2 problems) and in a capitalist system with virtually non-existent gov't regulation (too many examples to count, but start with Enron/CA electricity deregulation), do you really trust nuclear power plant builders/operators/owners to do this correctly? I don't and am thus exercising the aforementioned overabundance of caution.

"This is a slow-moving nightmare," said Dr Thomas Neff, a physicist and uranium-industry analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Anonymous said...

For those that may have gotten a D in chemistry, this may help:

El Gaucho said...

Thanks Bill, I'm all comforted now. There's nothing like state sponsored cartoon propaganda using poo as an analogy to make me feel better about a situation.