Nuclear power comes under scrutiny in aftermath of Japan crisis
The devastating loss of life and damage to property in Japan continues to unfold. While the extent of the radioactive emergency at Japanese nuclear power plants remains to be seen, this situation highlights the concern for safety and will most likely increase the public resistance to nuclear power development, both in the U.S. and worldwide.
Japanese nuclear power plants are among the best-designed and protected in the world, but an unlikely series of events culminated in failure of the reactor cooling systems:
- Earthquake knocked out primary cooling systems
- Diesel backup generators which would have provided sufficient power to cool and shut down the reactors were destroyed by the tsunami
- Seawater and boron are being pumped into the reactor vessels to cool them down, but seawater turns to steam, increasing pressure inside the reactor vessel which necessitates venting of radioactive gas to relieve pressure.
While current readings around and downwind of the plant are supposedly not life-threatening, the words “radioactive release” can still generate a visceral reaction.
Nuclear power should remain an important part of the goal of energy independence and reducing greenhouse emissions, but sadly the Japanese catastrophe will likely inhibit such development. Alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal will likely see a heightened interest in the months and years to come.
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