A coalmine explosion in West Virginia kills 20-30 miners. A drilling platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico killing nine and befowling the environment. A nuclear plant explodes, melts down and an entire region may be off limits for the next 200 years. All of our choices about energy carry risks, including exacerbating global warming, but nuclear power is a choice where one mistake will result in devastation for generations to come. Some things are too big to endorse.
The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station is illustrating all the problems associated with nuclear power. It also shines a light on the reality many of these problems have not been adequately solved; and yet President Obama and even some environmental groups, are supporting the expansion of nuclear power plants in this country. At the top of the list is the question about the physical plant itself. Japanese officials admit the plant was designed to survive a quake ranging in size from 7.0-7.5 on the Richter scale. They site scientific findings which claim that range is the highest quake possible from the fault line near the plant. We now know, more recent scientific data was not factored in to any upgrades in the plant structure. (Data, which show a much larger quake, was possible.) We also now know they did not take into account the affect a large tsunami would have on the physical integrity of the plant. This from the nation who gave us the word to begin with. As radiation reaches the West Coast, a 200 mile evacuation zone is being created and the crisis enters its second week. Defenders of nuclear power ask you to pay no attention to the nuclear plant behind that curtain. They say "trust us", it couldn't happen here.
The Diablo Canyon Nuclear reactor sits almost on top of the San Andreas fault and the San Onofre reactor is within five miles of a major fault line. Spokespersons say San Onofre is built to withstand a 7.0 quake and Diablo Canyon up to a 7.5. This is not welcome news. You and I know the San Andreas Fault could easily produce an 8-9 sized quake as could the fault near San Onofre. As of this writing, no one from either plant has spoken about how the reactors are, or if they are, protected from a tsunami. A 9.0 quake off the Pacific Coast, an area scientists say is ripe for a big quake, could produce a huge tsunami reaction. What would happen to these plants then?
The physical integrity of the nuclear reactor is not the only concern. One of the biggest worries in Japan are the pools containing spent fuel rods and their ability to keep these rods cool and submerged. The Fukushima plant is ringed with such pools and plant workers have been unable to keep water in the pools from escaping and exposing the rods. The resulting radiation leaks and potential for fire and explosion are a clear and present danger. Why are these pools, containing hundreds of spent rods, ringing the nuclear plant? The answer is because there is no way to safely dispose of nuclear waste. Every nuclear plant in the world has similar pools. The dirty little secret of the nuclear power industry is this waste is a huge danger and no one knows what to do about it. There was an attempt to bury waste in the Nevada desert in deep salt caves. When they tested how secure the caves were, it was discovered they leaked and over time the radioactive waste would get into the underground aquifer and contaminate it throughout the state. There are even those now who propose shooting the waste into space to get rid of it. The defenders of nuclear power never talk about the waste and they know there is no place to put so it sits in pools and needs to be constantly cooled and covered in 30 ft of water to protect radioactivity from escaping.
P.G. & E. run Diablo Canyon. This is the same company, which claimed its natural gas pipelines were safe. It is the same company which has failed to produce safety records and test records of its thousands of miles of pipelines and its the same company which claimed it used seamless pipes under populated areas. We now know the pipe in San Bruno was not seamless and a faulty weld could have been the cause of the recent disaster which killed 8 people. Do you trust P.G. & E. when they claim Diablo Canyon is safe?
A coalmine disaster or oil platform explosions are both terrible events, which have huge costs in human lives and environmental damage. However, they don’t come close to the calamity, which would be caused by a nuclear accident. Until the problem of the structural integrity of nuclear plants is solved...until a solution is found for what to do with the spent fuel rods currently stored at these plants, the last thing we should do is build more of them and place time bombs all over this nation any one of which could do more harm to this nation than a dozen terrorist attacks similar in nature to the attacks of September 11th.
We control our own fate on this one. Don't we?