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The inevitable call by the energy unfriendly left to shut down nuclear power

Of course anyone who is a student of politics knew this was coming. The anti-nuclear crowd, mostly found on the left, couldn’t wait to politicize the earthquake disaster in Japan and call for a moratorium on nuclear power plant construction.

Not that we’ve had a single nuclear power plant constructed here in the US for decades. But this is a call to kill any nascent plans for building any new plants. Right on schedule the expected reaction attempts to build public opinion against nuclear power by invoking "scare" rhetoric. The culprit is Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA):

“I am shocked by the devastation that has already been caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It is heart-breaking to see the destruction that has already taken place, and to hear of so many people being killed or injured,” said Rep. Markey. “As a result of this disaster, the world is now facing the looming threat of a possible nuclear meltdown at one of the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors. I hope and pray that Japanese experts can successfully bring these reactors under control and avert a Chernobyl-style disaster that could release large amounts of radioactive materials into the environment.”

“I am also struck by the fact that the tragic events now unfolding in Japan could very easily occur in the United States. What is happening in Japan right now shows that a severe accident at a nuclear power plant can happen here," said Rep. Markey.

No Rep. Markey, they couldn’t "very easily … happen here". And while it is obvious the 8.9 quake that hit Japan has severely damaged the Japanese nuclear power plants, it isn’t at all clear that they won’t be able to contain the damage or that a similar accident is bound to happen here.

The Heritage Foundation lays out a few of the salient facts

* The low levels of radiation currently being released will likely have no biological or environmental impact. Humans are constantly exposed to background radiation that likely exceeds that being released.

* The Chernobyl disaster was caused by an inherent design problem and communist operator error that is not present at any of the nuclear plants in Japan.

* There were no health impacts from any of the radiation exposure at Three Mile Island.

* The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not need to regulate more in response to this. It already regulates enough.

* The plant in trouble in Japan is over 40 years old. Today’s designs are far more advanced. * No one has ever been injured, much less killed, as a result of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.

Obviously those represent the facts at this time when talking about the Japanese reactors and could change. However the other facts stand.  Chernobyl was the nuclear industry’s Deep Horizon.  A one-off occurrence that the Chicken Little’s of this world, coupled with other anti-nuclear groups, have used for years to oppose the expansion of nuclear generated power.  And they plan on trying to add Japan’s troubles to the litany of opposition.

As you might expect, Markey has proposed – wait for it – a moratorium on siting “new nuclear reactors in seismically active areas”.    Any guess who will get to define “seismically active area”?  We have earthquakes everywhere in this country with most of them being so minor they’re not even felt.  Does that qualify for a “seismically active area”?

Let’s not forget that this earthquake Japan suffered along with the resultant tsunami was massive and extremely rare. In fact, it is the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history.  The largest earthquake recorded in American history occurred in 1964 off Prince William sound in Alaska coming in at 9.2.   Below, on the map, are the top 15 earthquakes recorded in the US since 1872 (7.3 or above).  The year they occurred is by the marker.  As you can see they’re mostly centered in California with a few here and there in other areas of the US.  South Carolina, for instance, hasn’t see a quake of that size since 1886 – over 100 years.  Missouri not since 1812:

 

earthquake

 

Let’s also not forget that Japan has suffered 275 aftershocks of 5 point or greater.  In fact, since the quake, Japan is averaging 12 to 15 aftershocks per hour.  That too hampers rescue and recovery efforts as well as the efforts to contain the damage at the nuclear sites.

To give you an appreciation of the magnitude of difference between the numbers on the Richter scale measurement of an earthquake, a “5” equals about 474 metric tons of TNT exploding.  A “6” is 15 kilotons.  A “7” is 474 kilotons.   An “8” equals 15 megatons.  And an 8.9 is approximately 356 megatons.  The “Tsar Bomba”, the largest thermonuclear weapon ever tested,  was a 50 megaton device coming in at 8.35 on the Richter scale.

That gives you an idea of the power of the Japanese quake.

Does anyone anticipate that in the vast majority of the continental US?  Of course not.  Is there a history of those sorts of quakes.  Again, for the vast majority of the country, the answer is “no.”  For Japan the answer is quite different.  The islands lay on the “Pacific rim of fire”, one of the most earthquake and volcano prone areas in the world.

But that won’t stop the scare mongers from trying to gin up a movement to not just place a moratorium on “seismically active areas”, but eventually to all areas of the country. 

“Seismically safe” will become the new watchword for the anti-nuke crowd.  And I predict that regardless of the design, they’ll find all of them to be wanting. 

“The unfolding disaster in Japan must produce a seismic shift in how we address nuclear safety here in America,” said Rep. Markey.

No, it shouldn’t.  And we shouldn’t let alarmists like Markey steal a step on nuclear energy.  We have the means and the technology to provide safe nuclear power generation.  It should proceed with an obvious eye on the safety of such plants.   But we do not need to let the scare mongers use this lifeboat incident, this outlier scenario, as a means of slowing or stopping our move to more nuclear powered energy.

We ought to be saying, “split, baby, split”.  Split here and split now.

~McQ

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50 Responses to The inevitable call by the energy unfriendly left to shut down nuclear power

  • Nor should we forget the plants suffering failure are 40 years old. – They were built and ‘reactive’ between 1967 and 1979 – plant 1, the one that had the hydrogen gas explosion on Saturday, came on line in ’71, and #3 a couple years after that.
     
    >sarc on<
    Of course,nothing has changed between 1971 and today, my bell bottoms are a bit frayed and I don’t like this trend in music towards weird bands like ZZ TOP.   We have discovered nothing new in the interim to make using nuclear power safer.  And my car only gets about 10 miles/gallon, but who cares!  gas is only 34 cents a gallon!.  The Soviets are threatening Western Europe and we’re pretty sure the People’s Republic of China exists, but they kinda keep to themselves.  Hopefully Nixon will change that.
    >sarc off<
     
     
    No surprise – another crisis the left has no intention of wasting.   It doesn’t help I suppose that coal fired plants release more detectable radiation than the nuke plants since they hate coal for every other reason under the sun all ready.
     

  • If the argument is that we shouldn’t build something because a “hand of god”-level quake followed by a “posideon’s wrath”- level tsumani may ruin it, then we never should’ve built anything anywhere EVER. 

  • Does anyone anticipate that in the vast majority of the continental US?

    >>> No, at least not until the Yellowstone underground volcano busts out….

  • The anti-science Collective will take full advantage of the scientific ignorance of the people, and the nuclear boogey-man.
    We live in a world of radiation.  We were made for it.
    I was struck by how many wildfires were apparent.  I expect some people were casualties.  I doubt anybody will seriously call for us to suspend using fire.

    • … and then there is NIMBY …

      Park Slope, Brooklyn. Cape Cod, Mass. Berkeley, Calif. Three famously progressive places, right? The yin to the Tea Party yang. But just try putting a bike lane or some wind turbines in their lines of sight. And the karma can get very different.

      • Funny … I didn’t hear Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) call for the quadrupling of the size and the immediate building of Cape Wind off the coast of Cape Cod.

  • I believe the Japanese have sea water lined up for backup cooling.  But I guess if you use that, the plant is gone. 

    • Water doesn’t really get radioactive, but any impurities in the water will, so the moderating water going through the core is super pure.  Once they put sea water (I think it’s actually water with boric acid added) through the core it would require the hold assembly to be recleaned from top to bottom, which is almost impossible.

  • “I am also struck by the fact that the tragic events now unfolding in Japan could very easily occur in the United States. What is happening in Japan right now shows that a severe accident at a nuclear power plant can happen here,” said Rep. Markey.

    So, does that mean that we can build coal, oil and LNG plants because they can’t possibly melt down?  No?  Surprise, surprise…

    The plant in trouble in Japan is over 40 years old. Today’s designs are far more advanced.

    I wondered about this.  O’ course, I pretty much HAD to wonder as MiniTru has done its usual job of NOT publicizing this relevant datum.  I’m not sure whether it’s because (A) reporters have an ideological agenda; (B) they are too lazy to look up this fact, or; (C) they were scared off by numbers.

    lookerOf course,nothing has changed between 1971 and today…

    My thoughts exactly.  The funny thing is that the gorebots promise (pinky swearz!) that we’ll have technological breakthroughs any day now* that will make it possible for wind and solar to completely replace oil, coal and nuclear, yet nuclear technology is and always will be frozen at 1965 levels.

    lookerIt doesn’t help I suppose that coal fired plants release more detectable radiation than the nuke plants since they hate coal for every other reason under the sun all ready.

    While I’m not exactly a fan of ionizing radiation, the extent to which the left has managed to terrify people about the very word is harmfully absurd.  I have a relative who works in a phosphate plant in FL; they generate tons of gypsum as waste.  It COULD be used to make a variety of products such as wall board, blackboard chalk, etc., but because there is a TRACE of radioactivity, the material has to be sequested in huge mounds that dot the landscape, there to remain for eternity.

    But these are the same morons who force us to use lightbulbs that contain mercury and get zapped with X-rays every time we want to fly to visit grandma in Hoboken.

    Bah.

    —–

    (*) If the federal government keeps “investing” billions of (borrowed) dollars in them, that is.

    • breakthroughs any day now*
      There have been breakthroughs, but just no major breakthroughs.
      Batteries are better, but not good enough (and most of these breakthroughs came from research for laptop batteries).  The real killer here is that there has been significant research in many of the adjunct areas relating to electric cars, etc. and barring some unknown combination of yet to be found raw earth metals (probably on available only in China or Afghanistan), there aren’t many breakthroughs to be found.  The science of ionic mobility isn’t an unknown science as it may have been a few decades ago.

    • My neighbor was a nuke engineer during construction of the Comanche Peak plant here in Texas (former nuke sub engineer), he was the one that told me the coal plants release more radiation than the nuke plants did, he pointed out that TXU (this was before deregulation) really didn’t want to advertise the fact that the coal plants DO produce radiation by pointing out how cool it was that the nuke plants gave off less….for obvious reasons.
       
      And I mock the EPA superfund cleanup efforts they claim you have to have for a broken mercury lamp now – show of hands, how many posters here have chased, bare handed, ‘quicksilver’ across the tile/linoleum floor after a thermometer broke back just after we had wiped out the mastodons?  Nuff said.  I’m not sayin you should eat the stuff, but let’s get realistic for a few minutes.
       
      I’m so tired of this pretense we can live forever if just behave ‘properly’.  From what I can see ‘behave properly’ is shorthand for ‘do as you’re told, your betters have spoken’.
       

      • The lignite underlying much of Texas is rather radioactive.  So much so that Texas towns with deep water wells find it necessary to cool water prior to sending it out via distribution.
        I’ve worked a few oil wells that had to have on-site cooling systems to cool the well effluent to prevent the very quick corrosion of the location equipment.
        When our Texas lignite plants burn our native lignite (which has to be helped with really good coal to combust), they put out multiples of the TOTAL radiation released by Texas nuclear plants.

        • shhhh Rags, our perfectly safe universe will be undone and years of liberals doing their best to protect us from the world and ourselves will be for naught!
           
          And don’t be silly, radiation only comes from ‘Nucular’ plants and we both know those things go up in mushroom cloud explosions just like Bikini atoll, practically all the time.  Only the efforts of eco friendly forces making plants go through decades of paperwork and approvals has prevented that from happening here!
           

          • Yeah, and the Japanese are just TOTALLY unconcerned about atomic stuff.  They have no bad history like we do with Three Mile Island or anything…
            An’s those Europeens are famous for being enviro-rapers…

      • A banana equivalent dose is a concept occasionally used by nuclear power proponents to place in scale the dangers of radiation by comparing exposures to the radiation generated by a common banana. Many foods are naturally radioactive, and bananas are particularly so, due to the radioactive potassium-40 they contain. The banana equivalent dose is the radiation exposure received by eating a single banana. Radiation leaks from nuclear plants are often measured in extraordinarily small units (the picocurie, a millionth of a millionth of a curie, is typical). By comparing the exposure from these events to a banana equivalent dose, a more intuitive assessment of the actual risk can sometimes be obtained. The average radiologic profile of bananas is 3520 picocuries per kg, or roughly 520 picocuries per 150g banana. The equivalent dose for 365 bananas (one per day for a year) is 3.6 millirems (36 μSv). Bananas are radioactive enough to regularly cause false alarms on radiation sensors used to detect possible illegal smuggling of nuclear material at US ports. Another way to consider the concept is by comparing the risk from radiation-induced cancer to that from cancer from other sources.
        For instance, a radiation exposure of 10 mrems (10,000,000,000 picorems) increases your risk of death by about one in one million—the same risk as eating 40 tablespoons of peanut butter, or of smoking 1.4 cigarettes.

    • the tragic events now unfolding in Japan could very easily occur in the United States
      There might be a few nuclear plant near the ocean, but the vast majority are so far inland that if they are ever hit by a tsunami, these nuclear plants will be our last worry.

    • Ironically, Unit I, which was the first to have a hydrogen explosion, had just last month been announced to begin the first stages of scheduling it’s decommissioning.

  • tool–noun

    1. A person, typically male, who says or does things that cause you to give them a ‘what-are-you-even-doing-here’ look. The ‘what-are-you-even-doing-here’ look is classified by a glare in the tool’s direction and is usually accompanied by muttering of how big of a tool they are. The tool is usually someone who is unwelcome but no one has the balls to tell them to get lost. The tool is always making comments that are out-of-place, out-of-line or just plain stupid.  Example, Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA)

  • And in the old days, life expectancy was 40 yrs, maybe 50 with luck. Then the industrial revolution arrived bringing wealth which was used to provide clean water, sewage treatment, distributed electrical power, pharmaceuticals, and so on. Forests were no longer mowed down to provide heat and intelligent people everywhere rejoiced, while understanding that technology brings new dangers. The new dangers can be controlled and managed but nothing is 100% safe. Intelligent people understand this and accept the tradeoff, while continuing to look to better solutions. Ignorant people, such as liberals, enviro-fascists, Democrats, and other uneducated Neanderthals, prefer to return old days.

  • Ah, fun about to ensue, they’ve glom’d onto to fall-out maps showing the sweep across the Pacific to San Fransisco.
     
    Count down to panic buying of water, iodine tablets, 50 gallon trash cans (to hold water), canned food, breathing gear, rad suits, etc, etc, etc.
     
    My God!  it’s Three Mile Island all over agai….huh?  excuse me….what?  no fatalities?  no measurable number of cases caused by radiation released into the atmosphere at Three Mile Island?  are you sure?   really?   Well, those are just facts!
     
    I have PANIC ON MY SIDE!
     
    RAAAADDDDDIIIIAAAATIOOOOONNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!
     
     
     

    • The biggest purchaser of the VHS version of “The China Syndrome” was the nuclear industry.
      It showed that even though there was an “event” at the nuclear reactor plant, it was contained to the facility, which is exactly what utilities want to know in order to compartmentalize their liabilities.

    • I know people in Taiwan trying to buy iodine. Not sure if they are serious or not.

  • Let’s not forget that this earthquake Japan suffered along with the resultant tsunami was massive and extremely rare. In fact, it is the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history.

    Also worth remembering is that all nuclear power plants in Japan survived, unscathed, an earthquake 0.7 higher than they were designed for (8.2).  Further, the core of the seaside Fukushima power-plant survived the subsequent tsunami.  It was the the backup diesel generators that pumped the coolant that failed, and the decimated local infrastructure that compounded the incident.  For all with the time, I highly recommend this article, explaining just what happened, and exposing just how irrational and hysterical the media coverage has been.
     
    If the left really wanted clean energy, if they, to paraphrase the blogfather “started acting like [AGW] was the imminent crisis they keep telling us it is”, then the left would be all over both nuclear and hydroelectric power sources.  Alas, most are just watermelons; cunningly using a green plea to mask their desire for soft fascism.  They view themselves as the learned, socially-enlightened vanguard that will usher in the dreamed of utopia us neanderthals yearn for but are too stupid to achieve.
     

    • I heard that the diesel fuel was contaminated by tsunami.  Obviously something that can happen at every nuclear plant in the US.

      • I wouldn’t be surprised if former Colorado Senator Ken Salazar would demand all US carbon based power-plants be retrofitted with such a threat in mind. In fact, in addition to tsunami protection, I would imagine he would require them to be built to withstand avalanches.
         
        The thing that dismays me most of the public’s understanding, via The China Syndrome (natch), is how misinformed it is regarding nuclear power.  Remember that the Jack Lemmon character emphatically declares “the system worked!”  In fact, the movie goes so far as to prove the system worked – it was a nefarious contractor that was cutting corners. with an intentionally blind eye by the utility company in restarting, that caused the second failure.  Who would think that any utility company would restart, without any investigation, any power plant after a systemic failure?  Unfortunately (said with irony) the anti-corporatist message was supplanted by an anti-nuke narrative.

        • Even the second failure was contained to the plant, which makes it look even better.

        • At the nuclear plant just 5 miles downwind of me, they used to joke that they would have to install Emergency Gravity Generators (EGGs) because so much of the plant required gravity to operate.

        • So it is far from incredible that a whole chain of command at a nuclear power plant in America solemnly passed procedure to follow in the case of sudden loss of gravity, unplanned or inadvertent, as the spoof procedure said.
          The engineers who put the procedure together, with their tongues well into their cheeks, scattered enough clues that it was a hoax, they thought.  References quoted included the Old and New Testaments and even stated that during partial or complete loss of gravity, operators were cautioned not to move about or jump excessively.  The emergency was to be signalled by visual indication on a gravity meter or a Moon drift indicator showing excessive drift away from Earth and symptoms would be inability of loose objects to stay in place. Emergency gravity generators were to start up and as off-site fravity was restored, they were to come under manual control adn their induced gravity gradually tapered down, although the operators were cautioned of the dangers of passing into negative gravity range.
          All this, to the mingled horror and delight of the perpetrators, went through the solemn routines and was caught out only in an audit of emergency procedures much later.

          I remember reading this thing. Besides having acronyms like EGGs (Emergency Gravity Generators), there was also some that spelled out items that go with eggs, like bunnies or such (I forget now).

      • Solution: Move diesel generators and fuel supply to 20 M height.

  • I don’t think we have good data yet, but as far as I know the death toll from the Horrible Doom At Fukushima stands at zero. Assuming it’s zero now it’s likely to remain at zero until the end of time. (If it’s not zero now, it’s from mechanical stress and the hydrogen explosion, not Evil Radiation And Meltdowns – and, well, if zero fatalities ever is our requirement for power sources, here’s to freezing in the dark, because it’s all we’ll have.)
     
    Quoth Markey: I hope and pray that Japanese experts can successfully bring these reactors under control and avert a Chernobyl-style disaster that could release large amounts of radioactive materials into the environment.
    To which I reply: The laws of physics have already assured that, since, as those meanies at Heritage accurately report, them boiling water reactors turn out to not be flammable, like graphite-moderated reactors, and they have these newfangled “containment” systems that it seems the Red Menace never really bothered with.

    • What is unremarkable is the Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) has been on the Energy subcommittee for a couple of decades and is no smarter for the efforts of the staff and witnesses.

      • I don’t want to be too cynical, but I have a recollection the Congressman Markey was once overheard saying that being highly cynical of nuclear power and being on a committee that oversees the nuclear industry is a great way to get big campaign donations. I’m sure part of this statement is a vestige of that ploy.

        • I think I heard this directly from somebody at Public Citizen, Ralph Nader’s shop.

  • Neo said: For instance, a radiation exposure of 10 mrems (10,000,000,000 picorems) increases your risk of death by about one in one million
     
    Since I didn’t see a link, I’m going to ask directly – is that based on epidemiology, or does it assume a LNT model from doses high enough to actually have detectable effect?
    Because if it’s based on an LNT model, it’s probably drastically overstated, even as mild as it is; evidence does not support the LNT model well (indeed, at all), and there’s some evidence that low-level radiation exposure might actually be helpful.
    (This is not very surprising, since the world is full of low-level radiation sources… like bananas, and we’ve adapted to them along with the rest of our environment.)

  • As a member of a generation old enough to have worn watches with radium painted hands and have my feet xrayed when buying shoes, I really don’t think there is much to fear from a few millirems of stray radiation. Not to mention all the Strontium 90 and other stuff from atmospheric nuclear testing. When I die it ain’t going to be from radiation.

  • Hey, isn’t this the same Rep. Markey whose name was on the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade Bill that (thankfully) got shot down in Congress?  And wasn’t its purpose to combat Global Warming, aka Climate Change, aka whatever we’re calling it today to avoid embarrassment when Nature show that belief to be a bunch of hooey?  So Markey thinks we’re destroying the world by burning coal, natural gas and oil, so he’s going to restrict their use.  NOW he wants to restrict the use of nuclear power even though it accomplishes his stated goals in Waxman-Markey.  To all the fools who think like this: YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!  Pick one.  This is what adults call a tradeoff: compare the relative costs and benefits of two possible courses of action and then choose the one that seems to have the most reward for the least cost.  There will be a cost regardless of which course is chosen, as well as a benefit.  One more thing – in order to get buy-in from more people for your proposal, you will have to pay some of the cost yourself.  I’m talking to you, Mr. I-want-wind-power-because-its-green-but-don’t-put-a-wind-farm-where-I-have-to-look-at-it two faced hypocrite.
     
    One more thing.  To those who are trying to persuade with facts: math and science are hard.  As Looker said, “I’ve got PANIC on my side”.  And magical thinking.

    • Despite their message of the moment, they are ultimately Luddites with the intent of restricting us all. 

  • “Quoth Markey: I hope and pray…” Hey what’s with that “prayer” stuff?!?!?  What happened to the (non existant) separation of church and state clause in the First Amendment?

  • With all the radiation that Three Mile Island purportedly released, us folks in Denver at the time got that dose EVERY STINKING DAY.

  • Speaking of earthquakes and tsunamis, this place should really cause some heartburn. I expect to read a lot about it in the near future.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:San_Onofre_NPP_cropped.jpg

    • Ah yes, the boobie station, just a few miles from Camp Pendleton.
      Hope they’ve got their spit together there.

  • To give you an appreciation of the magnitude of difference between the numbers on the Richter scale measurement of an earthquake, a “5” equals about 474 metric tons of TNT exploding.  A “6” is 15 kilotons.  A “7” is 474 kilotons.

    I was wondering if these numbers are correct.  In articles I’ve read in the media, they explain that the Richter scale is logarithmic, a “6″ is 10 times a “5″, and a “7″ is 10 times a “6″.  Therefore, shouldn’t a “7″ be 100 times a “5″?  If so, then 474 tons * 100 should be 47,400 tons (47.4 kilotons).  Except, the simple formula of multiplying by 10 is wrong.  The numbers are a power of 10, but then raised to a power of 1.5.  So, instead of multiplying by 10 for each notch, you multiply by 31.6.
    Yet another simplistic explanation that journalists seem to screw up more often than not.  I’m shocked and disillusioned. </sarc>
     

  • ““I am also struck by the fact that the tragic events now unfolding in Japan could very easily occur in the United States.”

    WHy yes mr Dem Congressman.  The biggest earthquake in recorded history for Japan and a once in a lifetime tsunami happens every day in the US.   I am sure you have long intellectual conversations with your good friend who feels that 8k marines are going to cause Guam to tip over.