Way back when I was just a novice environmentalist, Greenpeace seemed like a good idea. It published a decent newsletter, was drawing attention to otherwise neglected issues, and, while understandably suspicious of technology, seemed to have more than a grudging respect for science as a tool to preserve those things worse preserving. It was one of the few NGOs that received what little I could afford to donate to charitable causes. I don’t regret supporting them in the 80s, and not just because I shared the group’s desire to save the whales.
We can’t seem to stop thinking about nuclear power. Given what’s at stake — the biosphere, the economy, our genetic integrity — this is understandable. But I think too many are getting distracted from the fundamental problem with splitting atoms and arguing scientific questions we are unlikely to resolve anytime soon.
I’m almost weary of blogging about nuclear power. But others are still going strong. Take the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders, who writes this week that we shouldn’t even think of abandoning the technology. Such enthusiasm is particularly curious because he glosses over the Achilles heel of nukes — the cost — and Canada has one of the most expensive varieties of nuclear reactors around. Continue reading “The future of nuclear power = [null set]”
There’s an amusing little video making the rounds, and receiving a largely positive response. Which is unfortunate, because it’s little more than government-industry propaganda that glosses over the colossal abrogation of responsibility that led to the Fukushima crisis.
At first glance, the cartoon does an exemplary job explaining the situation to Japanese schoolchildren too young to understand half-lives and the role of water as a coolant and moderator in boiling-water reactors. But there’s a gaping omission right at the beginning. Nuclear Boy has a stomach ache. No kidding. Why? This is never answered. Could it be because the government of Japan let the Toyko Electric Power Company build a series of nuclear reactors next to a seismically active fault line?
Sticking with the bowel-malfunction metaphor, perhaps the video’s creators could have produced a few frames testifying to the reality that Nuclear Boy’s parents fed him some poison because they forgot to read the label carefully. Something along those lines.
Is that too much for Japanese kids to swallow (so to speak?) I don’t think so. Responsibility is something we all try to teach our children as early as possible. It’s important that Japanese leaders acknowledge the real reasons why they (and their children) are going to have to spend tens of billions of dollars to replace the Fukushima reactors years earlier than expected. Reactors that require an independent source of electricity to maintain coolant levels are, of course, a bad idea, and one that today’s generation of reactor designers have abandoned. But building them in an earthquake zone is tantamount to lunacy.
That reduces the list of adequately safe sites for Japanese reactors, making the replacement task that much more challenging. But too bad.
Same applies to the reactors built in the U.S., of course.
How nuclear power is perceived by the general public will take decades to return to what it was a week ago. (Kind of like radioactive decay.) But the list of immutable and defining characteristics of the technology is long one and nothing that happens in Japan is likely to change them. First up: the daunting economics. Continue reading “What Fukushima doesn’t change”
The journal Nature inadvertently (I suspect) reveals why the nuclear power industry has a public-trust problem:
Robin Grimes, director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London … says that he believes the [Fukushima] event actually proves the safety of nuclear power plants. Despite being more than 30 years old, and having faced the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan and a towering tsunami, the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi have, so far, largely contained their dangerous radioactive fuel. “Actually, it’s a success,” Grimes says, then adds: “Although do I think the general public will be able to see that? I think the answer is, sadly, no.”
At one end of the hyperbole scale we have Helen “If you love this planet” Caldicott, who raises the specter of “cancer and genetic diseases” if things get any worse at the growing list of nuclear power reactors crippled or destroyed by last week’s earthquake in Japan. At the other we have Republican congressman Mitch McConnell, who argues that we shouldn’t abandon nuclear power, especially “right after a major environmental catastrophe.”
What happened at Three Mile Island in 1979 led to a new regulatory environment that increased the costs of building and running nuclear power reactors in the U.S. The environment was so hostile to the industry that no new reactors have been ordered since then. There are several in the planning stages, but none have been approved. The question now being debated among energy analysts is whether or not what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico at the moment will lead to similar challenges for the oil industry.
A debate at TED in February over nuclear power’s merits as a clean source of electricity featured Whole Earth Catalog guru Steward Brand (pro) and Stanford energy systems analysts Mark Jacobson. A lot of ground covered in 23 minutes, including just how much ground various clean energy options cover.