Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Things keep getting worse for the brave people of Japan. There seems to be no doubt that the nuclear crisis is now a Level 6 Event on the INES Scale. That would make it one of the worst in history.

Map via BBC

In addition to the danger of a meltdown there is a real danger that the spent fuel rods may causing a criticality accident. To understand just how bad that is consider what would happen if there were a pool fire at the nuclear waste storage facility at the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant as reported by Jeffrey St. Clair,

An October 2000 report from the Sandia Labs in Albuquerque painted a grim picture of the consequences from a pool fire. The report, which was kept under wraps for two years by the NRC, found that a waste pool fire could spread radioactive debris over a 500-mile [805 km] radius, including Cesium-137, a carcinogen linked to birth defects and genetic damage.

I think that there's a real danger that the evacuation zone surrounding the plant will have to become a permanent Exclusion Zone like the one around Chernobyl. I hope I'm wrong about all of this, but things seem to be going very badly right now.


Jordan179 said...


About the only worse one was Chernobyl, and things could get that bad here. I hope that the Japanese can get the fuel rods contained without a radiation release large enough to harm people outside the plant's immediate vicinity.

This could kill nuclear power in Japan and the Western world, which would be a terrible thing both from the point of view of us losing technical leadership in a major field, and from the point of view of increasing our energy dependence upon Mideastern oil. If it does kill nuclear power in Japan and the West, I expect to see a lot of wars fought for oil in the future -- the dead in the contaminated zone around the plant would be only the first of many :(

One sad thing is that these plants are using outdated technology: they're not "fail-safe" given a LOCA (Loss Of Coolant Accident) like more modern designs. The combination of this outdated technology with the biggest earthquake to ever hit an industrialized area (and, btw, the second biggest also happened to Japan, in the 1920's -- that country has no freaking luck) may ironically result in older (and less safe) reactors being kept in service longer, making us less safe, because we'll fear to build their (safer) replacements.

Jerry Cornelius said...

Interesting viewpoint but I see it differently. The problem with your main argument is that it relies on the logical fallacy of either/or. It's not a question of either oil or nuclear. There are other safer and more economical energy sources.

And the fact that these obsolete plants were kept in operation despite safety warnings just highlights how irresponsible this industry is. They do this kind of thing all the time. Giving them new taxpayer subsidized reactors is just giving them new opportunities for malfeasance.

Luckily things seem to be going better at Fukushima. I sincerely hope my fears about those burning spent fuel pools were misplaced. Even so, that plant and the grounds around it will be uninhabitable for centuries.