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Jul 05 2012

Report concludes Fukushima nuclear meltdown was avoidable

There’s a reason we have regulations in place for various industries: accidents can kill huge numbers of people. But as a new report on the Fukushima nuclear crisis underscores, those regs only work when they are well written and well enforced:

WaPo –In a blistering assessment, authors described how regulators and nuclear operators went to painstaking lengths to either ignore safety risks at the plant or cover them up. It accused Tepco and government officials of slow and faulty communication after the disaster, which, the report said hampered the emergency response.

I’m probably more open to nuclear power than most progressives. The fact is all forms of power have a distinct suite of advantages and disadvantages. But the specific disadvantages of nuclear power can only be addressed with consistent oversight of  effective regulations regarding waste products and emergency preparation.

Regulations of all kinds were already under assault by K-street lobbyists and the entire GOP party apparatus. I just don’t see that changing for the better in a post Citizens United world.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    michaeld

    “I’m probably more open to nuclear power than most progressives.”

    Yay nuclear power ^.^ ;p You’re at least not the only progressive open to well regulated nuclear power.

  2. 2
    Nick Gotts

    well regulated nuclear power – michaela

    If you had been asked to identify a country where regulatory enforcement was likely to be lax, would you have nominated Japan? The problem is, no-one can guarantee that nuclear power will be well-regulated, for the decades and indeed centuries and even millenia necessary. Of course, one can say the same of any energy source, but nuclear, along with large-scale hydro, is the one among non-fossil energy sources with the capacity to cause large-scale disasters. The lesson of Fukushima is: whatever your disaster, nuclear power can make it worse. Nuclear power advocates boast that Fukushima killed no-one; but even if this is true in terms of direct radiation poisoning, the crisis at the Fukushima site itself, the additional limitations placed on transport (Fukushima is directly between Tokyo and the main area of tsunami damage), and the need to evacuate 200,000 people, siphoned huge resources from disaster relief, costing who knows how many lives.

    Incidentally, I heard an item on the radio today, about the potential for wildfires around Chernobyl – encouraged by the unusually hot summers the area has been having – to loft radioactive particles back into the air, and blow them wherever the wind takes them, potentially contaminating large areas of farmland.

  3. 3
    unbound

    The primary issue with regulations of nuclear power plants is the same for all major industries…with the main delta being the level of disaster that occurs when reality hits the wall in the case of the nuclear power plants.

    We are trying to regulate for-profit corporations who will fight tooth-and-nail and lie through their teeth against the regulations in order to increase their profits. This is irrespective of nationality.

    Nuclear power plants can be operated safely when safety is the primary consideration. However, I have strong reservations about the use of nuclear power plants when they are being operated in a for-profit manner.

  4. 4
    michaeld

    I don’t disagree that nuclear power can be hard to regulate especially if you have it run by a for profit group (probably a bad idea). My support mostly comes down to issues of how horrible hydrocarbon based plants have been on the environment. Lets face it they have been a complete disaster on a scale that at least rivals that posed by nuclear power.

    For what its worth I favor a mix of well regulated new nuclear power plants designed around safety and efficiency and current endeavors towards solar, wind and other greener energies.

  5. 5
    leftwingfox

    Nuclear power plants can be operated safely when safety is the primary consideration. However, I have strong reservations about the use of nuclear power plants when they are being operated in a for-profit manner.

    Yep.

    Part of the issue to me as well is the question of whether nuclear is a good short-term, mid-term or long-term solution.

    Short term, probably not. Between the required regulatory and safety issues with current generation reactors, and the lack of proven sub-critical designs, it takes time to bring a new nuclear reactor online. We can bring solar and wind online much faster.

    Long-term, probably not. There are limits to the amount of available uranium and thorium, and without mitigation through alternative means, we run the risk of the same “peak resource” issues that plague fossil fuels. I do think Hydrogen fusion reactors are going to be the long-term solution, but who knows when this will become commercially viable.

    To me, That just leaves the medium-term, where new designs can provide baseline power as old reactors and coal plants are decommissioned. I do think that means making a conscious choice to start working with next-gen thorium and sub-critical uranium systems as soon as possible, to ensure these designs will work properly.

  6. 6
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    The biggest ignorance even came when they ignored geologists before the plant was even in the design stage. (In the land of earthquakes and tsunamis – hell, their language has a word for tsunami, which they gave to much of the rest of the world.)

    The backup power arrangements were pretty sad, too.

  7. 7
    Leo Buzalsky

    I’ll admit, I’d perhaps be more open to nuclear power if I thought it could be regulated well enough, but I don’t have enough confidence in my fellow humans.

  8. 8
    michaeld

    From Wikipedia…

    “As opposed to current light water reactors which use uranium-235 (0.7% of all natural uranium), fast breeder reactors use uranium-238 (99.3% of all natural uranium). It has been estimated that there is up to five billion years’ worth of uranium-238 for use in these power plants. …
    Thorium is about 3.5 times more common than uranium in the Earth’s crust, and has different geographic characteristics. This would extend the total practical fissionable resource base by 450%.”

    And why I’m a little more hopeful for nuclear power (not necessarily U238) as a long term part of our energy. If we’re smart about it I see no reason why it can’t supply part of our long term energy needs. Just need to if we develop, invest and regulate the hell out of it.

    Granted we should probably keep it far far away from you American’s but I don’t see why it need be a problem for countries a little more regulation friendly.

  9. 9
    Nick Gotts

    but I don’t see why it need be a problem for countries a little more regulation friendly. – michaeld

    Which countries would those be? I repeat the question you ignored: would you have thought Japan a country where regulation was likely to be lax? As for breeders, thorium etc., the timescale just isn’t right. It would clearly be foolish to invest a lot in these systems, which have only worked on a research basis, on the timescale necessary to avert climate disaster. Energy efficiency and renewables have a much better payoff in greenhouse gas reductions for a given capital outlay – and they don’t carry the proliferation risk nuclear does: the materials, technologies and skills necessary for nuclear power and nuclear weapons are pretty near impossible to separate.

  10. 10
    Raging Bee

    If you had been asked to identify a country where regulatory enforcement was likely to be lax, would you have nominated Japan?

    No, and that leads me to conclude that if the Japanese can’t do nuclear power right, no one can, so the hell with it. Let’s just take the colossal up-front investment required to design, build, and start up a nuclear power plant, and spend the same amount of money on wind and solar power instead.

    The only plausible suggestion I have left for nuclear power is to just run the plants as government-owned nonprofits. Capitalism has failed miserably here, so what’s to lose by trying socialism instead?

  11. 11
    Pierce R. Butler

    Raging Bee @ # 10 – one word: Chernobyl.

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