Antinuclear Hysteria

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the news reporting about Japan's horrendous earthquake and tsunami has been the inordinate emphasis on the situation at the nuclear power plants that suffered damage. Indeed, as jaded by environmentalist hysteria as I am, I have still been astounded by the anti-nuclear power commentary, protests, and political machinations that have followed this -- although I should not have been. As I noted after reading an article about some allegedly pro-nuclear greens some years ago:

If they really cared about saving human lives and they really equated nuclear power with Chernobyl, they would not line up behind it now.
Based on that, and what I've been seeing in the news media, most environmentalists (a) understand nuclear power so poorly that they really do think (incorrectly!) that any such power plant is a "Chernobyl waiting to happen," (b) they don't care how or why nuclear power is actually quite safe generally (and, in particular, Chernobyl isn't going to happen in Japan), or (c) both.

To do my small part in injecting a rational perspective into this debate, I'll recommend a look at this situation from a couple of perspectives:
  • Broad "A Meltdown Of Fearmongers" -- This article considers the safety of nuclear power within the context of the safety of other forms of energy and debunks a few of the more common ... misconceptions ... in the media. (Don't be put off by the superfluous references to global warming.)
  • Technical (But Accessible to Laymen) "Why I Am Not Worried about Japan's Nuclear Reactors" -- Originally by Josef Oehmen of MIT, but edited by a group of nuclear power students from MIT. This group is also now tracking developments on a blog. Based on my past experience as a nuclear-trained submarine officer, the post is a good place to gain a grasp of what the potential hazards are, as well as how they are countered by an integration of plant design, normal and emergency operating procedures, and training practices.
Here are a few other useful sources of information, recommended by a couple of regular commenters at an earlier post a couple of days ago:
  • The protests are already starting, and Alex Epstein has already found some excellent rebuttals to the madness. -- kelleyn
  • [B]ecause of the press of events it's hard to get good information even from people who know what's what. The best one I've found is this. [link added] -- Mike
  • [There is] a good overview of the plant design here, though it turned out within a day to have been rather too sanguine about the consequences of the earthquake and tsunami. [link added] -- Mike
There is, doubtless, more out there that I simply haven't had the time to consider. If you've seen other good reporting or commentary out there, feel free to pass it along in the comments.

-- CAV


: I forgot to add a good, intuitive presentation of how to think about radiation dosage, called, "Going Bananas over Radiation" (HT: Dismuke).

3-22-11: (1) John Cook discusses radiation units and links to a graphic comparison of the relative safety levels of various energy sources in "deaths per Terawatt hour." (2) XKCD posts a great graphic on radiation doses.


Anonymous said...

I think the blame for the Japan's nuclear troubles(if any at all is deserved) should be on Greenpeace. The plants are 40 years old, 10 years beyond intended retirement. In their 30 year (original) lifespan, significant knowledge was gained on how the Rx will handle different situations and how to counteract if needed. If Greenpeace hadn't blocked the construction of new plants, these would be long retired and a newer, more resilient design would have been operating at the time of the natural disaster that started all this. So good job Greenpeace, you helped mother nature cause what you were trying to avoid! Reminds me of a song by an angry Canadian....

Gus Van Horn said...

I am unfamiliar with the extent of Greenpeace activities or influence in Japan, but they can be relied upon to oppose the construction of new energy plants of almost any useful kind.

In any event, even the old design used in the damaged plants is fundamentally different from (and much safer, even though compromised in unexpected ways by the disaster) that used in Chernobyl.

Anonymous said...

Its a topsy turvy world when the media relies on the Union of Concerned Scientists as authoritative experts on nuclear energy.