Japan Aftershocks – Is Nuclear Power Safe?

By YeOldeScribe ~ March 15th, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

Let’s face it, for the vast majority of Americans, the extent of your knowledge on the inner workings of a nuclear power plant come from this man:

Amazingly enough, nuclear catastrophe can’t be avoided by playing “Eeenie-Mini-Minie-Mo” or by using one’s own buttocks as a cork on a nuclear waste tank (both of which Mr. Homer Simpson did successfully on Fox’s hit show “The Simpsons”). While I sincerely hope most people don’t think this is an accurate portrayal of what an actual nuclear power plant works like, it’s interesting to us at PoliticalProgressives.com that nuclear power is being run in the fictional town of Springfield by an alcoholic who’s got more belly than brains, to say the least.

The reality is that nuclear power is so complex, it would take a rocket scientist – nay, a nuclear physicist to explain it. Bad puns aside, our writer, who considered himself well-versed on the topic, has learned a lot about nuclear power in the last few days. It’s safe to say we could all use a lesson on what actually goes on in a nuclear power plant, and what’s specifically going on in the Fukushima plant in Japan. For that, we’ll turn to our friends at How It Works and CNN.

Most pundits on the airwaves today are asking what we consider to be a really dumb question – “Is nuclear power safe?” That answer is obvious – it’s an emphatic NO. But then again, flying on a plane or driving in a car isn’t safe either. These days, getting out of bed isn’t really safe. But chances are, you’ll feel no qualms about waking up in the morning, hopping in your car, or taking a business trip in a jet. We still do things that aren’t safe all the time. The real question is “Is nuclear power safe enough?” If you had asked us that question a week ago, we would have told you without hesitation that the answer is an emphatic YES. However, now we’re not so sure.

Make no mistake about it, when we’re using nuclear power as fuel, we’re playing with fire. A nuclear reaction is one of the most dangerous processes known to man. After all, there’s relatively little separating a nuclear reactor from a nuclear bomb. The only difference is control – and this week’s events have shown us how little control we actually have. As one of our loyal readers – Mr. John Hogan – pointed out “Nuclear power is never safe and ‘control’ is an illusion of our own hubris.”

Of course, this is an exaggeration. Mankind has become so technologically advanced that we actually do have control over what goes on inside a nuclear reactor – lots of it, in fact. Japanese reactors are even built to withstand earthquakes and have done so in the past. But this was no ordinary earthquake. This was the largest earthquake in the nation’s history – a 9 on a scale of 10. And even that wouldn’t have been so bad. If it was just an earthquake that hit Japan, we would be talking about international relief right now instead of nuclear disaster because what really doomed the Japanese reactors was the tsunami that flooded the backup generators to the water pumps. So while theses events have shown us some dangers of using nuclear power, let’s also remember that it took two of the worst disasters that mother nature could throw at the Japanese, and the reactors still might have averted complete catastrophe.

The million dollar question still hasn’t been answered, and we don’t think it ever can be, definitively. Is nuclear power safe enough? On one hand, extraction, transportation, and spent fuel rods all are inherently dangerous and don’t have easy solutions associated with them, much less looking at the reactors themselves. On the other, our dependence on fossil fuels isn’t getting any better, and it’s a good alternative to coal and oil.

Our verdict is that nuclear power should continue to be used in the United States – and throughout the world – under the following conditions:

1) Reactors shouldn’t be built on fault lines, flood zones, or any other areas where natural disasters are most likely to hit.

2) The technology should be continuously researched and improved. Reactors need to be inspected yearly, and any reactor that is using technology or designs that are more than 5 years outdated need to be replaced (current plants use gravity instead of pumps to deliver water as a coolant, which would have lessened the tragedy in Japan).

3) We need to decide what to do with spent fuel rods. NOW. If Yucca Mt. isn’t going to work, we need to find somewhere that is, and fast. Also, the transportation and extraction of nuclear materials needs to be monitored and handled better.

We still believe that at a minimum, President Obama’s nuclear initiatives should be completed, and if anything, more of an emphasis should be placed on nuclear power. But it needs to be done under constant supervision and with the utmost care. If Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and now Japan have taught us anything about nuclear saftey, it’s that you can never be too careful with radioactive material.

For all the death, destruction and environmental harm that nuclear bombs and now nuclear power have caused the country of Japan to experience, let’s not forget that this form of power can also do some good, weening us off our dependence on fossil fuels – provided it’s done correctly. We don’t think it’s hubris to say that nuclear power can be controlled and harnessed. Granted, it’s a calculated risk – but so was your morning commute.

And if Homer Simpson can manage an entire plant, I think the world’s brightest and most dedicated nuclear scientists can handle one too.

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3 Responses to Japan Aftershocks – Is Nuclear Power Safe?

  1. Marquitta Metevier

    GREAT BLOG!!

  2. Danilo

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