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:
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.