Should We Abandon Nuclear Energy?

What a truly unbelievable tragedy has befallen Japan. An earthquake of inconceivable magnitude, followed by even more devastating tsunamis. And now they face nuclear holocaust. Or do they?

It is amazing how well the Japanese people are coping with this string of disasters; it is a tribute to them as a nation. It is also amazing that their nuclear power plants are even standing. They were designed to handle an earthquake of magnitude 8, but they withstood a magnitude 9 — TEN times more powerful!

As is always the case following tragedies of great magnitude, the information available is incomplete, and often inaccurate, in the days following such an event. But initial estimates place the death toll at over 10,000. It appears that the Japanese engineers have done a fine job in preparing this nation for earthquakes, so relatively few of these deaths can be attributed directly to the quake. It is another story altogether for the tsunami. And how many deaths so far can be attributed to the problems at their nuclear power plants?


See Jonah Goldberg’s piece from today’s Los Angeles Times for an interesting examination of the politics of disaster and nuclear energy:,0,5406257.column

Nuclear power is a thermal technology, just like fossil fuel plants. Nuclear energy is converted into heat energy in the reactor core. This heat is used to generate steam, which drives turbines, which drive generators, thus converting the energy into electricity. And the worst thing that can happen to a thermal plant is the loss of cooling capacity.

This is what has happened in Japan, and it is especially bad with nuclear, because of the much higher operating temperatures (compared to fossil fuel plants). The large clouds that we are seeing — as in today’s photo — are being portrayed as radiation plumes, flying just in advance of The Grim Reaper, threatening to wipe out the entire population of Japan — and maybe even the rest of the world.

In fact, most of what we are seeing is steam. Planned emergency cooling operations with sea water are underway. What happens when cold water contacts something very warm? Yeah, we get steam. Not quite Death Incarnate.

Is there radiation in the steam. Yes! The water just touched nuclear fuel! How much radiation? Experts have estimated the exposure for most Japanese as similar to getting a dental x-ray. Not quite the End of Times.

The United States is far less dependent on nuclear power than most of the developed world, with less than 20 percent of our electricity coming from this source. I am amazed by this small percentage, especially in a world filled with the global warming “gospel.” Nuclear plants do not generate ANY carbon dioxide, unlike plants that use coal, diesel, natural gas, biofuels, gasoline, kerosene, etc. So why haven’t the Warmists jumped on the nuclear bandwagon? It doesn’t make any sense.

Instead, they have done exactly the opposite, and that’s what we’re seeing from “environmentalists” across the globe today: yet another public relations blitz to kill the cleanest, most reliable form of energy that we have with today’s technology. Why?

My cynical side (which tends to dominate my thinking — even more as I get older!) says to “follow the money.” The enviros are big into the immature technologies of wind and solar power, and I think it is because they are heavily invested — financially as well as philosophically — in those technologies. I believe that the time is coming when these technologies will mature and come to fill a large fraction of our energy portfolio. But I also believe that this is not yet their time. We need a few more technological leaps in these fields to make them economically competitive with existing technologies.

So listen closely to what is being said about nuclear power in the next few weeks. It is similar to the calls we heard to discontinue offshore oil drilling following the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. What these events have in common is that the “environmentalists” are using disasters to further their agenda against safe, proven, reliable energy technologies.

One Response to Should We Abandon Nuclear Energy?

  1. avatar Bob Ostrove says:

    As usual, a sane opinion from a real scientist.

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