Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nuclear Powered Misgivings

As a diligent homeschooling family, when the kids were younger, we made a trip to a nuclear generation plant in Virginia. It was an impressive educational program which had been geared for high school students. Our oldest children at the time had not yet done a unit on nuclear studies, and for Daniel it was little more than a change of scenery with interesting architecture. I was glad we went though, because after 9-11, all tours and educational classes at those locations ceased for security reasons. What I did garner from the tour and classes myself though, is that this particular facility which had been recently built, was of a design which they indicated "required constant human intervention to sustain the nuclear reaction" rather than human attention necessary to curb it. The people running the educational department at least, were convinced of the safety and great value of what they were doing.
Even though we are very much out in the country, a large portion of of our electricity in our location is generated by nuclear power. This has provided us with relatively low cost electricity in our rural environs. We did spend the first year in this particular farm off grid, and let me tell you, that generating and managing your own electricity for a family of six is costly, difficult and really did require an electrical engineer to manage. I have therefore been quite appreciative of the nuclear station quite some distance away.
When the Great Earthquake of Eastern Japan occured recently, and impacted containment of multiple operational reactors at Fukashima Daiichi,I was concerned for the people there. When I learned there were not only multiple reactors, but two pools containing spent nuclear rods which were also potentially melting, I was concerned that too many reactors, and too many spent rods were being stored in the same location. When TEPCO began to cool the rods using seawater, I asked what they would do with all that radioactively contaminated seawater they were creating. My husband thought it might evaporate. I thought seawater might not. When I learned that one of the reactors uses a mixed fuel containing plutonium, I was also concerned. Local farming and potential for thyroid cancers and leukemia will exist there for many of the people exposed to more than simple background radiation.
The Japanese as a whole, are concerned detail oriented people, and their preparations for earthquakes and other disasters are legendary. Today, Fukashima Daiichi and Fukashima Daiini remain in a state of partial meltdown liberating Iodine 131, 137, and radioactive Cesium. There is no end in sight to the challenges being generated by these quake and tsunami damaged reactors. I am left wondering that if the Japanese, who are generally detail oriented and careful people, cannot manage and contain this nuclear plant, then how rational is letting the rest of the world try to produce nuclear power ? I know that NO power generation is without human and environmental risks, but the risk on return ratio this week is certainly looking concerning.

Chicago-based group Barlow Girl

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