Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Update - Nuclear News in Japan

Fukushima Daiichi Before the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on 3/11/11.
Wow, seems there's more interest in nuclear energy among my friends than I had thought. I have gotten all sorts of links and references so I thought that instead of editing my post from yesterday, I'd just write another one today.

First of all, I'm sure the thing that most people care about right now is the situation at the Japanese power plant Fukushima Daiichi. Now, I try not to get too much into politics because that is an environment (pun haha!) that I don't think I could pull my weight in, but I realize that my blog will move into hot-topic territory now and again and I'm going to be forced to address these problems from a position that's more political.

I guess this means that I'm going to have to get some things straight so as not to confuse my audience. I am, if it weren't obvious already, far more liberal on a lot of issues, maybe even most issues, and certainly on issues concerning the health of people and the environment. However, I realize that overly "liberal" people are just as bad as the "conservative" people they oppose, so I will try to at least be open to both sides of the argument.

Damage to Fukushima Daiichi after the earthquake and tsunami on 3/11/11.

Ok so...Fukushima Daiichi.A lot of media sites seem to be blowing it out of proportion and there are all kinds of conflicting reports. From a practical standpoint, I want to say that the situation has gone a lot better than it could have for the power plant going through a 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami.

Here are a few articles that describe the nuclear situation as "better than it could've been":
1). says:
"From the information we have, we can draw a conclusion anywhere between “the reactor is undamaged and being cooled” to “the reactor cladding and/or fuel has been partially damaged, but the damage is contained and the reactor is being cooled.” The question that should be asked now is whether the reactor has any future value as an electricity-producing asset. The widely-hyped possibility of some Chernobyl-like event is inconceivable without a new, catastrophic disaster. Coolant flow has been re-established and the public is in no danger. Given the magnitude of the precipitating event — a 9.0 earthquake — and the vast property damage it caused, the events at Fukushima are not a serious reason to re-evaluate our own nuclear policy in the United States."

An interesting thing I learned from this article is that the parts that blew off in the explosions in reactor 1 and 3 were the fourth "layer" of protection which was a drywall building not intended to actually contain anything. It seems like its job was to protect the workers from weather as they work around the containment vessel. So that means that the steel-and-concrete buildings could still be intact (the third layer of protection) and the steel container also (the second layer).


2). And
"Radiation health effects have been pretty much zero. At times there have been heightened radiation levels inside the plants from short-life isotopes in the steam releases – sometimes enough that an unprotected person next to a reactor building might have sustained a year's normal dose from background radiation in an hour. This is not particularly terrifying, really – nobody is scared at the prospect of living another year on planet Earth – but it is being reported under scaremongering headlines. Another thing the weekend reporters have missed was the fact that all but tiny traces of the airborne radionuclides (from the salt in the seawater coolant) were disappearing before they could even cross the street; there is essentially no health hazard to people living nearby. Precautionary evacuations and tests were just that: precautionary."

3). The BBC is also saying about the same thing as these two articles above so at this point I'm still feeling confident in nuclear technology.

Reactor 1 after the explosion 3/12/11.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Powering Our World - Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power

Hi Guys!

Sorry it's taken me so long to post something, I'm currently taking a C++ class that is sucking up all of my time. However, this crisis in Japan has gotten me thinking about creating power and how that affects our environment. This is probably going to be very basic as I don't know much yet about the different types of power, but we've gotta start somewhere in talking about what we **know**.

So...The first form of power I wanted to look at is, of course, nuclear power. It seems there is a divide between whether it's safe or not and the impression I get is that it's a pretty big divide. Fun Fact: the US produces the most nuclear energy making up 19% of all its power output and has 140 nuclear power plants. Not surprising as we Americans are used to having the most of everything. ;-)  However, France produces most of it's electricity - 80% - with nuclear plants. Ouch.

The pro-nuclear stance , argue that nuclear power produces a very low amount of air pollution that leads to greenhouse gasses or smog. That also makes it sustainable. Another pro argument is that the risks of storing waste are small and even smaller in light of new technologies in newer plants.

And, to be honest, nuclear safety is a trending pretty high on the positive with the only really big disaster being Chernobyl (so far). Though, if this power plant in Japan becomes a bigger disaster, I think that would be slightly different because they did suffer a 9.0 earthquake. I mean, c'mon...they also had oil refineries blowing up all over the place too. I don't think much would be safe from this type of threat. Though luckily, it's a rare occurrence.

The anti-nuclear view, conversely, asserts that nuclear power does pose serious human and environmental health risks. Transport, storage and disposal of nuclear waste is toxic and the contents can sometimes still be highly radioactive. Some argue that disposal of nuclear waste cannot be achieved 100% safely - with careless disposal polluting lakes, rivers, oceans and land. Lastly nuclear power plants are expensive to build which trickles down to make the energy actually rather expensive.

At this point, I am torn between supporting and condemning nuclear power. I mean, I have seen visible proof of what coal does (did) to buildings in Europe and older parts of America. I can't imagine putting all that black stuff out there wouldn't hurt the atmosphere so the prospect of nuclear power producing virtually no emissions, is attractive.

However, big accidents are just as bad, if not worse, as slow rates of pollution. You know...I can't really make a case against nuclear power right now. I just don't know enough and I can't really come up with a good alternative without doing more research.

Please weigh in with your thoughts. =)
I wanted to post a video talking about nuclear power but the only one I've found so far is a Fox News one and I just can't stand behind the quality of their broadcasting. So, if anyone knows of a good one, please let me know!