I’ve ranted about a number of things, and you might think i’m quite the cynical bastard. And you’d be right! Today’s target is the big boogey-man of the month: Nuclear Power! Yes! Good old Mr. Atom!
The events in Japan following the M9.0 earthquake and the consequent tsunami caused major issues at the Fukushima nuclear powerplant. Radiation has been released. Water and soil in the local area has been contaminated. Meltdown has occurred. So should this be the end for nuclear power? Not if you ask me.
First of all, all of these words sound really scary to Joe-Average. Radiation! Meltdown! I’ll add the echo effect in post-production. But if one has even a cursory concept of how nuclear power, or radiation works, it should calm you down somewhat. Meltdown is simply the process in which the fuel in the reactor is overheating, and causing the fuel to literally melt. This releases radiation. Radiation on the other hand comes in many different shapes and sizes. Elements that are radioactive are not stable and they have a half-life. For instance, the isotope of Iodine released from the reactor core was 131 if i’m not mistaken. This isotope of Iodine is very dangerous to humans because it gets stored up in the thyroid gland and causes issues. But this particular isotope also has a very short half life; 8 days. Which means that the isotope will not stay dangerous for long. That’s not to say it can’t cause damage, but it is to say that people on the other side of the fucking globe will not be affected.
What people can do if there is a release of Iodine-131 is to eat iodine supplements. The thyroid gland in the human body can fit an x-amount of iodine, be it of a stable or a (dangerous) unstable isotope. “Filling up” your thyroid gland makes sense if you are in the area that has a high chance of getting elevated doses of dangerous Iodine isotopes. It does not make sense to eat them in say Finland, or most other place in the world. Yet, we had people stocking up on iodine pills “just in case”. And i’m willing to bet a number of people started eating them too, as soon as the news of the accident broke.
I’m not belittling the accident at Fukushima. I am belittling once again the idiots of our world. But i dunno.. does stupidity based on ignorance count? I vote yes.
A meltdown does not equal a nuclear explosion either. A meltdown sounds really bad, but all it really is, is elevated temperatures in the fuel rods which cause the fuel containers and finally the fissile material to melt, and release radioactive isotopes into the surrounding areas (usually still inside the core containment structure). The elevated temperatures were caused by failure of the cooling and redundant cooling systems due to the tsunami and earth-quake. The Fukushima plant was designed to handle up to 18 foot ( 6 meter ) waves, and the tsunami of the M9.0 earth quake exceeded this, thereby causing the facility to fail. Failure of the cooling system prevented water from cycling in the system, thereby increasing temperatures, melting zircaloy surrounding the actual fuel, creating hydrogen gas, and thereby pressure (which resulted in some spectacular releases of that pressure in the form of smokey puffs, partially destroying the building). Correcting this was accomplished using seawater pumped in with hoses and dropped from various aircraft.
But again, it’s easy to also blame the media. Fear sells. Nuclear fear sells better. In this video (thanks BoingBoing for the link), a CNN news anchor goes apeshit on a meteorologist (who goes “oh boy here we go again..”), when the weatherman firmly asserts that no harmful levels of radiation are or will reach the US West-Coast. The news anchor tries desperately to keep the atmosphere of fear going. Sure, measurable increases in radiation are reaching the continental US, but measurable does not mean dangerous. Measurable means that you can detect if a fucking radioactive mosquito farted on the south pacific and the wind carried it to the general direction of the US. The type of technology used is so incredibly sensitive, and because of this fact we have good time to move people out of affected areas, when the increase in radiation is upcoming. It does not just happen. It’s physics. There are rules for such things. No matter how afraid you are, the magical radiation will not enter your home, unless there are conditions that warrant that. There are distances, half-lives, dissipation, weather, and countless other factors that are all of critical importance. This is not guesswork.
Although, shit-points also go to Tepco, the power company responsible for Fukushima. In one report of radiation levels, they apparently misplaced a comma somewhere, and ended up reporting ass-crazy results. People who have problems dealing with numbers should not be involved with nuclear reactors. Media outlets who are speaking out of their assholes should not be on the air spreading fear. I don’t want to suppress freedom of speech, but this kind of fear-mongering is fucking rediculous.
Should we stop using nuclear power because a power company failed to put in adequate measures of protection for their stuff? Hell no!
Out of the viable methods of producing power, nuclear power is still the safest, and provides us with the most power to fill the needs of industry and increasing urbanisation. Sure we can go back to coal only, but do you want to have a look at the number of people who died of fossil-fuel based pollution world wide last year for instance? While i don’t have the numbers with me, coal production, logistics, handling and combustion is a major cause for concern world wide. Sure, no radiation, but killing people? Oh hell yes.
Ok, so the alternatives then. We have wind, which is cool. But to provide the amounts of energy that even a small western country such as Finland needs (we have a lot of industry, in proportion), we would need to fill up a vast space with wind power. Wind is also not predictable, and the initial costs vs. the amount of power derived from the finished product is not a happy number to look at.
Solar power then? Ok, let’s just pick a state and fill that with panels and we’ll be all done. Oh wait, that will cost insane amounts, and is not nearly suited for every place on the planet. Take Finland for instance. We have maybe three actual months of real summer and sunshine, and while new solar panels are better att charging from ambient light even when it is filtered through clouds, it does not make it effective by any stretch of the imagination. I think current solar panels are able to get a 20-25% conversion ratio of sunshine hitting the panel -> power. When we can up that just a bit, and make it suitable for places that do not have fucking sunshine, then we’ll talk again.
Other alternatives include tidal- and other water based power generation methods, geothermal, even looking at making power out of magma (Iceland i think was looking at this), the fact is that at the current state, we do not have the technology and/or the money to just magically switch off our nuclear power plants and move to something green. It’s just not feasible.
I’m not saying we should stop looking at alternative power, infact i encourage it. But what we can’t do is make a five year phased plan and just shut all our reactors down, because 5 years is not enough time to do jack shit in terms of widespread development and deployment of alternative, renewable power sources. Period. 20-40 years, perhaps. But tomorrow? Keep dreaming. We keep using the still safe nuclear power, focus on securing our reactors against possible risks (everything can’t be accounted for in any system, but we can at least try (I’m looking at you Tecpo!), and also focus on better ways to handle nuclear waste. On the side, energy companies commit to researching and developing *feasible* solutions for producing the amount of power that a country needs. Either that, or we shut down 50% of our industry, and then make a law that you can watch TV for one hour a day, no dishwashers and laundry can be done once a week. See how that feels for the average voter, who spends most of his life in front of the fucking televison. I’m not arguing that we can’t make power using alternative techniques, but i’m saying we’re just not there for the kind of large scale deployments that we need to support our industry and residential power usage.
End of rant.