By now most of you have probably heard of the Japanese nuclear disaster. A huge earthquake, one of the largest of the last 200 years, hit Japan, plus a gigantic tsunami. The tsunami breached 40 foot seawalls and melted them like sandcastles at high tide. The earthquake and tsunami killed ~17,000 people – ~7,000 are officially dead and ~10,000 are missing and probably dead. Almost everyone died from drowning in the tsunami, since Japan has the strictest earthquake standards on Earth. Drowning must be a Hell of a way to go.
The disaster completely creamed a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, which is right on the coast. The plant was nailed first by the earthquake and then by the tsunami. The result has been a catastrophe. Several of the reactors are in partial meltdown. Partial meltdown is really a misnomer. A meltdown is a meltdown. There are full meltdowns and partial meltdowns. A full meltdown is when the reactor completely melts down. In a partial meltdown, the reactor only partly melts down. Either way though, the reactor melts down.
This interview with Michio Kaku, a famous US physicist who has a popular radio show and writes popular books, is one of the few sensible things I have seen written on the catastrophe. Right now, the news is full of breathless reports about efforts to cool the melting down reactors off by dumping water on them with helicopters. They are also spraying water on them with fire trucks. From the news, you get the impression that this is actually supposed to work. According to Kaku, it’s pointless. He says it’s like shooting a squirt gun at a forest fire.
Also, all of the talk of a meltdown is somewhat misplaced. Even if the reactors melt down completely, they are still entombed on their concrete and steel shells, so the radiation can’t escape. The problem is that the shells around three of the reactors have already cracked from heat and repeated explosions.
He also points out that there are limits to what the brave workers trying to save the day can do. There are scores of workers working actually inside and around the plant with little protective gear. There is pretty good protective gear that can be worn around hot reactors, but the problem is that the gear really warms you up, and it’s already very hot inside the reactor, so you can’t wear the full outfit.
The radiation being emitted in and near the reactor is the equivalent of 2,000 chest X-rays/24 hours. That’s nearly lethal as it is. I am afraid that some of these heroic workers are going to sicken or die as a result of their effort.
As radiation levels rise, Kaku points out, at some point, it’s just too hot radiation-wise to send workers in. If you sent any workers in at at all, they would have to go in as a suicide, or should I say kamikaze mission. Either that or just abandon ship and pull all the workers out of there.
Five days ago, Kaku suggested that the only remaining option was probably to bury the reactors in 30,000 tons of concrete, boric acid and sand. This was the fate of the reactor at Chernobyl. Wild.
A couple of days before the reactor mess, as gas prices were skyrocketing in the US due to the Libyan civil war, Republicans were all over the airwaves calling for a massive increase in nuclear power in the US as an antidote to rising fuel prices. As you can’t run a vehicle on nuclear power, I don’t understand their grandstanding. Two days later, Fukushima hit, and the Republicans are now eating their words.
Well, they ought to be, but instead they are on counteroffensive about how nuclear power really is safe, safe, safe, safe. Yeah right. We are told that only a couple score died at Chernobyl. Actually, deaths are Chernobyl have ranged from 400,000-1 million and are apparently ongoing. Out of a vast pool of nearly a million workers sent in to clean p the mess, ~12% of them are already dead, killed by radiation.
But we are told that Three Mile Island didn’t kill a soul. That’s probably not true, but no one knows. Afterward, a wave of strange illnesses swept through Central Pennsylvania, including large tumors that grew very rapidly. Many animals, domesticated and wild, died. Whole flocks of birds dropped out of the sky.
In the best case scenario, Fukushima is already worse than TMI. That’s not good.
After all this, maybe you want to know how I feel about nuclear power. How about we in the US quit building these damned things for starters? As far as shutting down existing ones, I am less certain. I will have to see how this Fukushima mess plays out.
Ian Walsh has a very provocative piece noting that he is still pro-nuclear power even if it kills. He figures it’s either that or global warming via fossil fuels and global warming is going to kill a Hell of a lot of humans by itself. An interesting POV, and I have no comment on the matter.