Multiple explosions at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan are leading many to question the value of nuclear power in America. The latest reports suggest at least 10,000 have been killed by the earthquake and resultant tsunami. With the meltdown of nuclear facilities in Japan, it may get much worse.
Nuclear reactors are located adjacent to sources of water for cooling. Many of the world’s 442 nuclear power reactors are located by the sea, but these power plants are prone to tsunamis. As reported by ENN, the safe operation of these plants are likely to be aggravated by climate change.
Locating nuclear reactors on inland waterways also pose problems associated with climate change because inland water supplies are vulnerable to floods and heatwaves. (A 2003 heatwave in Europe forced Electricite de France to close or lower output at about half its 19 nuclear plants because of temperature limits on the water it returns to rivers).
In America, nuclear power provides about 20 percent of the country’s electricity. There are five reactors currently under construction in the US and some legislators would like to see as many as 100 more nuclear plants.
The disaster in Japan underscores the dangers of nuclear power in America and around the world. Despite the fact that nuclear power is dirty, deadly, and costly, some industry backers on Capitol Hill do not believe that the horrific situation in Japan warrants a moratorium on new American nuclear power projects.
The environmental catastrophe in Japan has inspired Europe and China to delay construction of new nuclear plants. In the US, many legislators have a different view. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “I don’t think right after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to be making American domestic policy.” Even some Democrats continue to support nuclear power including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has suggested a more responsible course of action. He called for a temporary freeze on permitting new US nuclear power plants. “We’ve got to quietly — quickly put the brakes on, until we’ve absorbed … what’s happening in Japan,” Lieberman said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
As reported in Politico, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to impose a moratorium on building nuclear reactors in seismically active areas until a sweeping safety review is completed, and he demanded reviews of the Japanese plants’ designs to determine if there were flaws that could be repeated elsewhere.
Despite the reasonable suggestions of people like Senator Lieberman and Representative Markey, many remain committed to build more nuclear plants. Nuclear power was a big part of the 2010 Republican congressional campaign. President Obama and Energy Secretary, Steven Chu have also indicated thier support for nuclear energy.
President Obama’s 2012 budget includes $36 billion in loan guarantees to the nuclear energy industry. As efforts are being made to reduce spending, it stands to reason that the massive investments required to fund nuclear energy should be reviewed in light of the catastrophe in Japan, particularly in seismically active areas in the US.
The nuclear power plant explosion in Japan, like the coal mine collapse in West Virginia and the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, demonstrate that nuclear power along with coal and oil, cost human lives and destroy ecosystems.
Nuclear is better than coal but events in Fukushima, like the meltdowns in Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, illustrate that there are very real dangers associated with nuclear power. What we really need is more investments in renewable energy.
© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.