Japan crisis: Now is not the time to give up on nuclear power

The news out of Japan has been gripping precisely because the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck it, and the resulting crisis at nearby nuclear power plants, has been so unpredictable. While the natural-disaster storyline — bodies being discovered, survivors still being sought and in dire need of relief supplies — has been gut-wrenching, it has been progressing more or less how natural-disaster storylines usually progress. The ups and downs of the subsequent nuclear crisis have been a different matter.

As I write this post, things are looking slightly better again — for now. Radiation levels have fallen substantially after their enormous spike earlier in the day, although the plants are still far from stable and a change in the wind threatens to carry radiation down the coast toward Tokyo.

In many ways, this story is only just beginning. That’s why it’s still far too early to declare what this tragedy ought to mean for the future of nuclear power elsewhere.

Air travel didn’t end after 9/11, the building of levies didn’t end after Hurricane Katrina, and drilling for oil didn’t end after the BP/Deepwater Horizon accident. It is unreasonable to say, five days after the earthquake, that nuclear power should be written off as unsafe.

There surely are lessons to be learned. Some of them were already known: The next generation of nuclear power plants now being built, including the new reactors at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle, incorporate more methods of cooling fuel rods in an emergency. And there will be debate over whether, when building power plants designed to operate for a few decades, we ought to engineer them to withstand the kind of natural disasters believed to occur with such force only once every 300 years.

But knee-jerk reactions — such as the German government’s panicky decision to reverse course on nuclear power production — are foolish. As Alex Berezow reminds us at RealClearPolitics, there’s no such thing as risk-free energy.

Human history is a story of trying to tame those risks to the extent possible, a story that will continue in spite of the tragedy in Japan.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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91 comments Add your comment

Stephenson Billings

March 15th, 2011
11:06 am

Unfortunately, the narrative is already starting from the main stream media with the story about how there’s 23 similar reactors to the ones in Japan manufactured by GE already in use in the US.

Peter

March 15th, 2011
11:12 am

Kyle what risks are involved with solar ?

Just the fact that Millions in profit won’t be there for the Republican base ?

Republican “Family values” has become the Joke of the decade.

Kyle Wingfield

March 15th, 2011
11:18 am

Aside from the fact that solar power requires large tracts of land, and it’s very difficult to store/transport the electricity it generates?

Solar power will never — well, never in our lifetimes — be more than a complementary power source.

Common Since

March 15th, 2011
11:20 am

I say we go back to clean burning whale oil.

Falk

March 15th, 2011
11:22 am

Just a reminder for the anti-big-government people: Atomic energy is the biggest big government project ever. It requires huge government investments in development, it requires government supported financing, and it requires huge investments in security to protect atomic power plants against terror attacks. The reaction of the German government is not foolish but exactly what 80% of the people want (according to the newest polls). Could you imagine a policy in the US that would be against 80% of the people’s will?

Daniel Aldrich

March 15th, 2011
11:23 am

Many people have asked why the Japanese authorities placed their nuclear power plants in such low lying, coastal areas which are vulnerable to tsunami. A recent book (http://www.amazon.com/Site-Fights-Divisive-Facilities-Society/dp/0801476224) argues that it was because Japanese authorities thought these communities showed less resistance to nuclear power and wanted the millions of dollars in subsidies offered to host communities.

Peter

March 15th, 2011
11:26 am

Solar power can work on the tops of many corporate buildings….Funny that is NOT what power companies want, or Republican’s.

Seems once in place, there is no money to send to a power company, if you are producing your own.

joe

March 15th, 2011
11:28 am

You know the libs are going to veto any talk of nuclear power now that the Japan disaster is front and center, just like they did soon after the BP oil spill with regards to drilling here at home…even though we have enough oil in N Dakota alone that would be the world’s 8th largest oil producer…larger than Libya, Venezuela, Nigeria and Iraq. See here> http://bakkenshale.net/bakkenshalemap.html

Pat

March 15th, 2011
11:29 am

Kyle: Solar power will never — well, never in our lifetimes — be more than a complementary power source.

Truer words were never spoken…but not for the technical reasons you state, which other countries are actively invested in circumventing. We will never receive the full potential solar offers because millions are actively being spent by the oil and gas industries and their congressional beneficiaries to make sure it never happens here.

A Frank Zappa

March 15th, 2011
11:32 am

Solar power will never — well, never in our lifetimes — be more than a complementary power source.

You speak as though you are an expert in the field. Do tell us more. For starters, tell us why you believe that solar power cannot be implemented as more of a distributed power source as opposed to a concentrated source such as a steam turbine. Then, do tell us all you know about advancements in solar cells that allow for more power extraction under reduced solar irradiance such as on cloudy days. Then, by all means, tell us what possible plans you might have for vast stretches of barren desert that do little more than support life for an occassional cactus so we might all know the relevance of your statement regarding the use of vast amounts of space for said solar panels. Do tell, Kyle.

joe

March 15th, 2011
11:33 am

“Republican “Family values” has become the Joke of the decade.” Maybe for those who lead lives where having a family isn’t an option… >>

Fred

March 15th, 2011
11:35 am

Nuke power is the cleanest energy we have because it kills you and your children invisibly. And it’s ability to kill lasts, hummm, forever.

A Frank Zappa

March 15th, 2011
11:36 am

there’s no such thing as risk-free energy.

However there is such a thing a risk assessment and ranking of risk associated with different sources of energy. Agenda much, Kyle.

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 15th, 2011
11:38 am

It’s my understanding that these plants in Japan, whether they melt down or not, can never be used again. If that is correct, they are going to have power problems for a very long time. New plants can’t be built overnight.

Pat

March 15th, 2011
11:44 am

Kyle, you say now is not the time to “give up” on nuclear power. Well, it’s certainly not the time to go rushing headlong ahead in a reckless manner either. It’s also, one would hope, not the time to “go nuclear” with lies, spin and distortion. Too bad nobody told that to Rupert Murdoch and his News. Corp. outlets.
I don’t know how many times in the last few days I’ve heard “Faux news” blather absolute crap in response to this tragedy through Hannity, Beck and the bubble-headed bimbos on their anchor desks… my personal fave? The continual reminder by all the parties above that “no one died at Three Mile Island.”
I guess a 30% increase in childhood cancers in the area was just dandy. Hey guys, it’s kiddie cancer – you know, the fun, harmless kind.

Or the deft sleight of hand editing that had Fake Noise “reporting” that the initial radiation leakage was no big deal – “equal to a full day of sun.” The real footage, shown and reported elsewhere, said “a full day of sun every HOUR.”

On and on, constant lies and spin from Fox, parading nuclear lobbyists posing as “experts” before the camera, congressmen “concerned about our energy future” who conveniently never mentioned the huge campaign contributions received from the nuke industry. Simple, blatant lying.
If it’s safe, why lie?

Answer me Kyle: Surely a crisis of this magnitude demands absolute truthfulness if anything is to be learned. Why, if the right insists we need more nuclear plants expanded across the U.S. – would we possible dare to believe anything we are told about real risks and safety, after experiencing this explosion of disinformation and out-and-out lies from them – in response to a disaster not even in our own country?

ByteMe

March 15th, 2011
11:44 am

The problem isn’t really unsafe nuclear reactors… it’s nuclear reactors that have been in place past their 40-year lifespan that are allowed to stay online by unsafe politicians and their appointees.

Kyle Wingfield

March 15th, 2011
11:47 am

Falk: I’m certainly no fan of government subsidies, and there’s a difference between saying we shouldn’t pursue something and saying we shouldn’t subsidize it. And this discussion leaves out the costs imposed by government regulation (which isn’t to say that all of this regulation is bad).

But in any case, the most recent review of federal subsidies for energy shows that we spend almost four times as much on renewables as we do on nuclear: http://1.usa.gov/bp94gz

And this review of that review (by the Texas comptroller’s office) shows that ethanol alone dwarfs nuclear in terms of subsidies: http://bit.ly/7XU7rm

Peter

March 15th, 2011
11:47 am

Kyle won’t have any answers about solar power. He is a paid blogger for the Right wing agenda that says all folks must pay for power.

The Oil and Gas industry, along with the Southern Company will pay millions of dollars they collect from citizens around the southeast, and spend them on lobbyists. The money will go directly to Republican Senators and Representatives, who will kill any idea of self sufficiency.

Republican just want the money, no mater the human costs. Remember the last VP said “deficits don’t Matter” today all of a sudden Republican’s are up in arms about the deficit their president created.

If this can happen…….WASHINGTON – Freddie Mac secretly paid a Republican consulting firm $2 million to kill legislation that would have regulated and trimmed the mortgage finance giant and its sister company, Fannie Mae, three years before the government took control to prevent their collapse.

Why wouldn’t the other ?

Republican’s haven’t turned Jobs, education, water supply, transportation, or anything for the positive in Georgia…..They continue to make sure a few get richer, at all expense.

Kyle certainly is that talking piece for the few rich, and he certainly knows very little about alternative energies, thus his reality is…….It won’t happen, at least here in this low educated state called Georgia.

Whacks Eloquent

March 15th, 2011
11:48 am

“Then, by all means, tell us what possible plans you might have for vast stretches of barren desert that do little more than support life for an occassional cactus”

The environmentalists are NOT on board with you on this one, by the way. Ditto that for wind power. Ultimately, I think these folks would prefer us to go back to the stone age…

Curious George

March 15th, 2011
11:48 am

Why isn’t the news reporting about all the looting, rioting and crime after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan like they did here in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?

Jimmy62

March 15th, 2011
11:50 am

Fred: Please list all the people who have died due to nuclear power in the last decade. I’ll be surprised if you find a single one. Before the last decade doesn’t count, technology, and thus safety, have risen considerably.

Now is the time to give up on nuclear power.

March 15th, 2011
11:51 am

Mr. Wingfield wrote, “As I write this post, things are looking slightly better again…” Clearly the work of a man who gets his news from the likes of Gretchen Carlson.

Even if we agree that generating nuclear power is safe, something that politicians and the media are desperate to convince us of despite frequent reminders that it’s not (especially when factoring in human error), nobody knows how to safely store nuclear waste. Nuclear energy proponents simply ignore that fact when falsely asserting that nuclear energy is safe.

And let’s not forget that no private investor in his right mind would invest in nuclear energy. It’s a losing proposition which is why fake conservatives favor having taxpayers subsidize construction plus losses in the event of nuclear accident. Our “conservative” state legislature has already made arrangements for Georgians, not Southern Company investors, to pay for the construction of additional nuclear facilities. Welfare for millionaires from “small government” conservatives.

Wingfield wrote in a comment above that solar energy will never be more a complementary power source. If he gets his way, continued government subsidies for big oil and nuclear power at the expense of clean energies such as solar and wind, then I’m afraid that he might be right.

joe

March 15th, 2011
11:51 am

OK Pat, we get it, you’re against nuclear power…what rationale do you have for being against drilling here at home on our own land, thus cutting our dependency on those nations who wish us harm? Or are you just toeing the liberal spouting points of M-ESS-NBC?

I don’t like $4 gallon gas, much less $5, so what would you propose that is a realistic option for the next few years out?

Noneya

March 15th, 2011
11:55 am

Anything that has the potential to contaminate, sicken and deform for 100,000 years is dangerous by definition. Rocky Flats in Colorado is still contaminated. Nuclear power is not the answer for the future.

Peter

March 15th, 2011
11:57 am

Kyle……can you tell us what percentage of government subsidy has been given to the Southern Company for the two nuclear plants being built currently ?

What type of tax breaks they are getting to build ?

Also what rate hike were they given, so we the folks in the southeast will pay what percentage of the build ?

How much really is the two plants costing the Southern Company ?

Peter

March 15th, 2011
12:04 pm

Hey Kyle……. Please answer.

How much really is the two plants costing the Southern Company ?

How much really is the two plants costing consumers via government help, and rate hikes ?

Say something bad does happen in the Savannah area…… What happens to the port, and the city ?

Kyle Wingfield

March 15th, 2011
12:09 pm

Frank @ 11:32: Sure, solar can be used as *a* source for distributed generation…which pretty much by definition means it will be a complementary power source. Maybe you believe that, one day within our lifetimes, everyone will have a solar panel on his rooftop that heats/cools the home, heats the water, and charges the battery for his electric car, in addition to providing the electricity for all the appliances contained within. I don’t.

And as Whacks indicates @ 11:48, the problem with using “vast stretches of barren desert” (as if that were the only kind of land we’re talking about, but whatever) for solar generation is less about me than about environmental pressure groups. See for example here: http://bit.ly/hGaO6D

Pat

March 15th, 2011
12:13 pm

I have nothing against drilling more at home, anywhere it can be done safely without huge environmental impacts. The problem is, continuing to block investment in clean energy while rushing to drill anywhere and everywhere, the long-term consequences be damned, is a penny wise, pound foolish strategy.
I’m sorry you don’t like $4-$5 gas. I don’t either. But the fact is, our kids will pay a hell of a lot more as oil becomes more scarce – even if we’re able to reduce our dependance on politically unstable sources like Libya. Experts are saying even Saudi Arabia has “passed midnight” on their oil reserves, meaning that they will be seeing declining output from here on.
Sadly, because big Oil has been so successful in blocking clean energy investment for so long, the truth is, we WILL have to drill in some environmentally sensitive areas as we transition, even if every Republican grew a conscience today and threw all their support toward such initiatives. We’re so far behind other countries, it’s pathetic.
Unlike some posters here, I’m not even saying, despite what you assumed from my posts, that nuclear power is verboten in any capacity. I AM saying that the track record of those who profit from it (which includes congressmen on their dole) is clear evidence that we cannot accept at face value, anything they tell us about the safety and risks of nuclear power – and that therefore, we have to be guided by ery strong scientific and public oversight and regulation- both of which tend to be strongly resisted by the industry.

You can harness a dragon, but everyone needs to know the real risks – not the PR from the marketing department.

I just can’t justify increasing the cancer risks of this and future generations just so I can enjoy cheap gas.
Anyone who would … if there is a better example of psychopathic narcissm, I can’t think of what it would be.

Mike

March 15th, 2011
12:31 pm

Atomic power plants pose too much risks for future generations. It would be better to shutdown high risk plants and to think of alternative plants (wind energy, sea wave plants,…). Atomic power plants are costly and they poison our environment.

Fix-It

March 15th, 2011
12:33 pm

Peter,
Are you so anti republican that you are blind to the facts? Solar energy at best is 15% efficient, and here is the kicker for you libs and Peter, did you know that the carbon footprint that it takes to make a solar panel is worse than driving a car? But I thought the libtards did not want CO2 emissions, but you think solar is the answer, why is that Peter? One more fact for you to chew on Peter, it would take more roof space than I have to put solar in my house, not to mention over $40,000, so tell me again why you think solar is the answer?

Zappa,
Did you forget why we are not building solar plants in the desert, the desert tortoise lives there, and it is endangered, so the environmentalist have put a stop to almost all progress there….Did you know that solar produces DC current, so you have to convert it to AC to be used in a house, you lose more energy during the process? Since you claim that there are advancements in the field, to generate even on cloudy days, please tell me where the proof is, and a liberal BLOG is not proof…..

Whacks Eloquent

March 15th, 2011
12:33 pm

Peter, are you worried about a tsunami affecting Plant Vogtle? If that happens, we have much more to worry about than nuclear power plants, as that location is over 200ft above sea level, and about 50 miles inland. Even worst case tsunamis I can think of would not touch that.

Savannah itself would sadly be in trouble, though downtown does sit up on a bluff and might be spared the worst of it.

As for the costs for Plant Vogtle, President Obama is behind this and I have not seen any indication that he is wavering in his support for nuclear power. Not sure what your concern is there, but it is worth quite a bit of support especially if it can help lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.

killerj

March 15th, 2011
12:34 pm

Give all you can give America,our economy depends on it to.

the watch dog

March 15th, 2011
12:35 pm

Now is exactly the right time to give up on nuclear power. Nuclear meltdown and radiation, what lunatic would want to continue on? When clean endlessly renewable source of energy, the wind is available. Wind power and wind turbines is the future for energy. Believe me, that is where it is at, clean energy.

The “Nacelle” the worlds largest wind turbine can propvide for all the energy needs for 750,000 homes for pennies a kilowatt hour. With EV the future for transportation now is the time and place for wind power. Clemson U. already is working on wind power with an 88 million federal grant, why not Georgia Tech being the front runner for clean energy from wind turbines.

Wind turbines will bring in millions in tax revenue to run the schools as well as the infrastruture of the cities. Gone with the Wind

Jefferson

March 15th, 2011
12:37 pm

BUT its a good time to give up on education, math skills and writing… cost too much, eh?

kimmer

March 15th, 2011
12:38 pm

Hey Peter, if the evil, rich, greedy, unscrupulous fossil fuels energy companies have so much political clout how come they have not been able to use that clout to build new refineries and open up public land and offshore areas for drilling and exploration?

The reason solar energy has not taken off in this country is because right it is not technologically able to compete economically with other forms of energy production. If and when solar energy technology is developed to the point in which it can effectively compete economically with other sources of energy then it will take off. Then you and your kind will no doubt complain about the evil, rich, greedy, and unscrupulous solar power companies.

Citizen of the World

March 15th, 2011
12:43 pm

We ought to be moving as quickly as possible toward clean, sustainable forms on energy production and not continuing down the road of dirty oil, coal and nuclear. Oh, and there’s conservation, too, which would make a huge difference by reducing our energy consumption.

How many environmental disasters will it take — oil spills, nuclear meltdowns, coal sludge spills — plus just the ongoing disaster of global warming, dirty air and contaminated water supply, before we get serious about changing our ways and working to preserve the planet for future generations?

Peter

March 15th, 2011
12:51 pm

I guess what I am worried about is the fact that a crazy person, can end up with a rocket, and hit a nuclear plant.

So all that clean energy will be contaminating us. Republican’s nor Democrat’s can tell us this won’t happen.

There are alternatives to solar, but all is being squashed, so the Southern Company and the likes can bilk us.

Port O'John

March 15th, 2011
12:58 pm

Oh boy, talk about misinformation, Kyle says:

“the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck it, and the resulting crisis at nearby nuclear power plants, has been so unpredictable….”

Really? No idea that an earthquake may hit Japan and cause a tidal wave? Disaster preparedness means factoring in all reasonably forseeable events. Locating a nuke plant on a geological fault line means that you have to plan for a possible earthquake. We see a lot of “experts” claiming that it couldn’t happen here. It could — we have highly regulated nuclear power in this country and that makes it less likely than other countries. This is a fun one to watch because Conservative here tout our nuclear safety programs, but omit that we have these programs because the gubmint requires them.

Even within the highly regulated US system we still have vulnerabiliities. Companies can falsify data and reporting, operational decisions are made by humans which always has the potential for error. A huge problem here (and elsewhere) is what to do with nuclear waste. I don’t oppose nuclear power, but I think that this country is not willing to face the true economic costs and environmental risks of nuclear power. Given the current Tea Party and GOP position on government regulation, we are not going to get any better.

Oh, BTW, we also have nuclear power plants located on fault lines in California (Diablo Canyon) and near the New Madrid fault line near the Mississippi. Too bad you’d have to understand “science” to understand the risk — otherwise we could have an intelligent conversation about nukes in this country.

And as for new refineries, oil companies don’t neen to build new ones. They are making plenty of money on the existing ones. We don’t have a suply problem for oil and gas, we have a speculation problem. The GOP always complains about the permitting process for refineries — but between 1990 and 2000 the federal government received only one application for a new refinery and it was granted. But if makes you Dittoheads feel better to blame it on the gubmint, go ahead because if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.

A Frank Zappa

March 15th, 2011
1:16 pm

Frank @ 11:32: Sure, solar can be used as *a* source for distributed generation…which pretty much by definition means it will be a complementary power source. Maybe you believe that, one day within our lifetimes, everyone will have a solar panel on his rooftop that heats/cools the home, heats the water, and charges the battery for his electric car, in addition to providing the electricity for all the appliances contained within. I don’t.

I believe that the people that say we will never do something are the ones most likely to succeed, Kyle. What’s wrong, science not one of your favorite subjects. Too bad belittling those undertaking the scientific endeavors is so within your grasp. Have a good day, Kyle.

Peter

March 15th, 2011
1:27 pm

I guess the Republican’s have been reading the Bible, but never figured out what it really says…..The earth being destroyed by fire next……

Yes….Nuclear powered fire from plants of our own making.

Kyle Wingfield

March 15th, 2011
1:31 pm

“I believe that the people that say we will never do something are the ones most likely to succeed, Kyle.”

So, I’m the most likely to succeed? Thanks!

As long as you insist on taking an opinion, such as my belief that solar will remain a complementary power source, and calling that “belittling those undertaking the scientific endeavors,” you’re probably right.

Steve Youngman

March 15th, 2011
1:34 pm

Maybe nukes have a place elsewhere, but it’s clearly foolish to build them near known earthquake faults, like the two in California. California is long overdue for quakes in the magnitude of 7.5 or 8.0 but San Onofre is only built to stand up to a 7.0, and even that has never been tested.

Perhaps plant owners and regulators could demonstrate their confidence to the public by signing an agreement that they’ll be willing to expose themselves to the highest amount of radiation anyone else is exposed to in the event of a disaster.

That plant owners don’t live anywhere near them is telling.

A Frank Zappa

March 15th, 2011
1:39 pm

Fix-It,

It’s a good thing Tesla came along when he did and set old Edison straight. And if not for the two of them, we likely would not be enjoying the fine works of AC-DC.

get out much?

March 15th, 2011
1:47 pm

Until a safe long-term method of dealing with the radioactive waste is adopted (I am shocked that the small government conservatives in Nevada do not want the nation’s radioactive waste stored in their backyard), large scale nuclear power generation will just be a pipe dream.

A Frank Zappa

March 15th, 2011
1:48 pm

“I believe that the people that say we will never do something are the ones most likely to succeed, Kyle.”

So, I’m the most likely to succeed? Thanks!

It’s all relative, Kyle. And you are welcome.

JP

March 15th, 2011
1:56 pm

As liberal as I am, I think we can’t give up on ANY potential source of energy, nuclear included. Why not have a comprehensive plan that incorporates drilling, solar, wind, and nuclear ( and whatever else people come up with)?

DebbieDoRight

March 15th, 2011
2:36 pm

Kyle: Aside from the fact that solar power requires large tracts of land, and it’s very difficult to store/transport the electricity it generates

Kyle speaks with forked tongue. Read link Below:

http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/section/199/article/46889/

If you live in Blairsville, part of your home’s electricity may be provided by solar energy, thanks to a recently opened solar farm on Ed King Road.

The farm, built and maintained by ESA Renewables, a company headquartered in Castellon, Spain, is privately owned and takes up 5 acres, making it the largest privately held ground-mounted solar farm in Georgia.

Rows of solar panels, facing south, collect the sun’s energy when possible and convert it into electricity that directly affects the surrounding region.

The Blairsville site produces 1 megawatt per year.

That’s enough to provide power for 122 houses, according to Javier Latre, director of engineering for ESA Renewables.

“The reason for choosing the Blairsville area, is because it’s under the TVA program,” Latre said.

“(The) TVA gives you the possibility to do a solar installation connected into the grid.”

Ragnar Danneskjöld

March 15th, 2011
2:36 pm

Good afternoon. I perceive that Bill Gates is on the right path with the “neighborhood nukes” idea – many small nukes rather than a handfull of huge ones.

joe

March 15th, 2011
2:39 pm

Here here, hear hear, JP.

DebbieDoRight

March 15th, 2011
2:45 pm

OK Pat, we get it, you’re against nuclear power…what rationale do you have for being against drilling here at home on our own land, thus cutting our dependency on those nations who wish us harm?

Ok I have an idea…….. Let’s drill every drop of the oil out of the earth. Then burn it and see what happens. :roll: