Japanese Nuclear Disaster Will Affect US Nuclear Plans

Fukushima Dai-ichi

Fukushima Dai-ichi

A centerpiece of initiatives to free the United States from dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gas emitting coal-fired utilities is the construction of new nuclear power plants. MidAmerican Energy here in Iowa has even begun a lobbying effort to clear the regulatory and rate-making underbrush to make it easier to build a new nuclear plant in Iowa. But the spectacular video showing the containment vessel for a Japanese nuclear plant blowing up after the plant lost backup power several days after the massive earthquake is likely to sway public opinion against the prospect of building nuclear power plants. It may be days, months or even years before we find out the true extent of the problems at the three affected Japanese nuclear power plants given the Japanese government’s woefully poor track record of being transparent about the problems at their nuclear power plants. As an example, after the containment vessel had disintegrated into dust cloud, they announced the good news that radiation levels had decreased. Ignored was the fact that the reason that radiation levels had decreased is that the radiation that had built up in side the containment vessel had been released into the air.

UPDATE: It appears that the Japanese government is taking the matter seriously and one hopes that given the intense scrutiny that this event is getting around the world that the information is accurate.

Meanwhile, it is likely that many groups will work hard to force intensive reviews of both Japanese boiling water reactor designs and the largely identical GE mark 1 design commonly used in the US in the 1960s and 1970s with the goal of delaying the building of new nuclear power plants until the reasons for the Japanese failure are understood. This is all very unfortunate for those looking for ways to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. The Japanese have known from day one that they are building nuclear power plants in earthquake-prone areas. An early report attributes at least one of the failures to having only three hours of battery backup in case the backup power supply is also knocked offline by an earthquake. Apparently, even though the nuclear power plant can generate its own steam even if it is turned off (because of the remaining radioactivity of the core), it was not designed to charge its own batteries.

Update: A second outer containment vessel has exploded. The Swiss government has also put a stop to all nuclear plant permit approvals pending a full investigation. The German government has ordered its similar reactors to be taken off line.

Second Reactor Explosion

The best current explanation regarding the relative levels of radiation can be found in these New York Times articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/world/asia/17nuclear.html?hp

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/16/world/asia/20110316-japan-quake-radiation.html?ref=asia

UPDATE: June 6, 2011: Japan’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters has issued a new evaluation on this date stating that Reactors 1, 2 and 3 experienced full 100% meltdown. There are also reports that radioactive emissions were twice what was announced. CNN

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About James Pray

Attorney with BrownWinick Law Firm in Des Moines, Iowa.
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