Japan’s Nuclear Armageddon: The Truth About Fukushima Daiichi
Daily Mail (front page): “A NATION IN THE GRIP OF NUCLEAR PANIC”
No. not the UK. Japan.
Fears of ‘an apocalypse’ were raised as radiation levels soared – and experts warned the crippled Fukushima plant had become a nuclear risk second only to the Chernobyl disaster.
The scale of the alarm is the remarkable thing: how it has gone round the world (Angela Merkel has imposed a moratorium on nuclear energy; in France, there are calls for a referendum); how it’s even displaced the terrible story of Japan’s tsunami itself from the front-page headlines. But then, public alarm about nuclear safety, as the Fukushima emergency proves, is very easy to raise – and, as the Japanese authorities are now discovering, very hard to calm.
And at Chernobyl – a reactor design regarded in the West as inherently unsafe, and which would not have been sanctioned in any non-Soviet bloc nation – the environmental impacts occurred through explosive release of material into the air, not from a melting reactor core.
To keep things in perspective, no nuclear accident has caused anything approaching the 1,000 short-term fatalities stemming from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami.
“This is not another Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, and I’ll tell you exactly why. The only thing to fear is the sensationalist reporting that has the world panicked.”
It is tempting to excoriate anti-nuclear activists for their blather about a Japanese Chernobyl occurring at Fukushima.
But to do so would be like scolding a puppy for digging up the garden or chewing on your slippers. There are a large number of full-time anti-nuclear activists across the world, including in Australia, who are paid to misinform us; it’s just what they do.
This B-movie fare is widely mocked, often for good reason. But the early “Godzilla” films were earnest and hard-hitting. They were stridently anti-nuclear: the monster emerged after an atomic explosion. They were also anti-war in a country coming to grips with the consequences of World War II. As the great saurian beast emerges from Tokyo Bay to lay waste to the capital in 1954’s “Gojira” (“Godzilla”), the resulting explosions, dead bodies and flood of refugees evoked dire scenes from the final days of the war, images still seared in the memories of Japanese viewers. Far from the heavily edited and jingoistic, shoot’em-up, stomp’em-down flick that moviegoers saw in the United States, Japanese audiences reportedly watched “Gojira” in somber silence, broken by periodic weeping.
China presents a unique dilemma for energy strategists: it is expanding nuclear power in a race to meet rising demand for electricity and replace heavily polluting coal power plants. If China’s greenhouse emissions keep rising at the rate they have for the past thirty years, the country will emit more of those gases in the next thirty years than the United States has in its entire history. But this week has laid out in all the detail we could imagine what could result from the combination of rapid construction, poor oversight, and events that were previously dismissed as unimaginable.
Josh Marshall defends nuclear energy.
Even if you count all the deaths plausibly related to Chernobyl—9,000 to 33,000 over a 70-year period—that number is dwarfed by the death rate from burning fossil fuels. The OECD’s 2008 Environmental Outlook calculates that fine-particle outdoor air pollution caused nearly 1 million premature deaths in the year 2000, and 30 percent of this was energy-related. You’d need 500 Chernobyls to match that level of annual carnage. But outside Chernobyl, we’ve had zero fatal nuclear power accidents.
I don’t really want to be the nuclear apologist guy. I think of myself as a clean energy guy. I’m an energy efficiency guy. But what I’m definitely not is a fossil fuel guy. And you can’t make sense of the safety concerns around electricity generation unless you put the nuclear risks in some kind of context.
“If there’s a meltdown that’s really hot and the radioactivity rises high enough – yes, it can be picked up by the jet stream and yes, it could be transported continental distances,” said Paul Carroll, nuclear policy expert at the Ploughshares Fund.
“Weather would be a huge factor. It could get rained down over the Pacific. But if we have dry conditions, we could see long-range impact”…
AccuWeather meteorologists estimate it would take roughly seven days for radioactive particles to reach Alaska from Japan, eight days to hit Hawaii and 11 days to get to Los Angeles.
Some exerts say the more likely scenario is never.
“There is a worry, I guess, but Idon’t think [radiation] would reach the West Coast,” said Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, a physicist at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif.
“What you’re producing is radioactive dust of different diameters. The larger diameters tend to fall to the ground.”
Sharon Begley finds a new peril:
The spent fuel produced by reactors has been a challenge since the dawn of the nuclear industry, with most reactor operators opting to store it in pools of cooling water on site. At the 40-year-old Fukushima plant, which was built by General Electric, the fuel rods are stored at a pool about three stories up, next to the reactor (a schematic is here). Satellite photos raise concerns that the roof of the building housing the pool has been blown off, says Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and a senior policy adviser to the secretary of energy and deputy assistant secretary for national security and the environment from 1993 to 1999. He and other experts are now warning that any release of radioactivity from the spent-fuel pool could make the releases from the reactors themselves pale in comparison.
To conclude: we don’t know.