Japan's Nuclear Crisis Highlights U.S. Energy Policy Problems

Wed, 2011-03-16 18:43Joanna Zelman
Joanna Zelman's picture

Japan's Nuclear Crisis Highlights U.S. Energy Policy Problems

As the tragedy continues to unfold in Japan, the U.S. nuclear energy debate has been reignited.

The New York Times points out that some potential 2012 Republican candidates have already reaffirmed their support for nuclear energy. After citing his concern for the crisis in Japan, Donald Trump recently stated:

 “I’m in favor of nuclear energy, very strongly in favor of nuclear energy. If a plane goes down, people keep flying. If you get into an auto crash, people keep driving. There are problems in life. not everything is so perfect. But we do need nuclear energy, and we need a lot of it fast.”

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour expressed similar sentiments, stating, “We need to study and learn and make sure that we continue to have safe reliable clean nuclear energy in the United States.”

But is there such a thing as “safe reliable clean nuclear energy”?
It’s not just Republicans who have classified nuclear power as “clean energy.” In President Obama’s State of the Union address this year, he set a clean energy goal – by 2035, 80 percent of electricity should come from clean energy sources. His “clean energy sources” include nuclear, natural gas, and coal.

There is debatably no such thing as “clean coal” and natural gas is only as clean as the water it contaminates.

This brings us to “clean” nuclear energy. First, the glaring issue of what happens when a catastrophe strikes a nuclear plant. The U.S. is currently warning people in Japan to stay at least 50 miles from the Fukushima nuclear facility, and small radiation spikes have been detected in Tokyo. Reports suggest that the workers who have stayed to combat the crisis at the nuclear facility may be older retirees, who might die of old age before nuclear-related cancers could kill them.

Obama thought Japan’s nuclear plants were safe. Mother Jones found a speech in which Obama cited Japan as a exemplary model of safe nuclear power, an example that America should emulate.

“There’s no reason why, technologically, we can’t employ nuclear energy in a safe and effective way… Japan does it and France does it, and it doesn’t have greenhouse gas emissions, so it would be stupid for us not to do that in a much more effective way.”

Here’s the problem. Let’s say no catastrophe strikes near a nuclear plant in the U.S. Say that the nuclear plant in California located less than one mile from a fault line, with no earthquake response plan, is never harmed. Putting aside the worst-case scenarios, nuclear energy is still not “clean energy.” It should not be Obama’s solution to climate change.

Some reports suggest that nuclear is in fact one of the worst energy sources for the environment. As the German Environmental Ministry once stated:

“If one takes into consideration the mining of resources [uranium], the transportation, the building and maintaining of nuclear power plants, the distribution of the electricity and the necessary additional production of heat, then nuclear power does often look worse for climate protection than other forms of energy production.”

While the Obama Administration must shift away from nuclear energy, they must at the same time make a move from natural gas and coal. The Wall Street Journal recently posted a graph revealing that if nuclear plants were shut down, there would be an increased reliance on coal, which could raise our country’s carbon footprint. Although the graph shows a controversial estimate on the amount of greenhouse gases that nuclear power emits, it does show that alternative energy sources such as wind and geothermal are some of the cleanest energy options.

Recent events in Japan have raised concerns over nuclear energy. But disaster or not, it is time to remove nuclear, coal, and natural gas from Obama’s clean energy agenda.

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The late nuclear physicist Vassili B. Nesterenko (2 December 1934–25 August 2008) was hounded and persecuted by the KGB because he published inconvenient truths: research about the consequences of Chernobyl.

He wrote a book that said 985,000 extra deaths happened worldwide due to Chernobyl.

Some information is also on Youtube–Gorbachev narrates part of the film.

In Part 2 of the film, the famous nuclear physicist Vassili Nesterenko explains that the nuclear core might have exploded like a giant atomic bomb. Minsk would have been obliterated and Europe rendered uninhabitable. Many lives were sacrificed so that this would not happen.

India’s Daily Latest News (4-27-10) reports:

A report by Alexey Yablokov, Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko which appeared in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences [See “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”] showed that by 2004, there were 985,000 additional deaths worldwide caused by the nuclear disaster, including 212,000 of them within Western Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

According to a press statement released by the New York Academy of Sciences (4-28-10):

[T]he 327-page volume is an English translation of a 2007 publication by the same authors. The earlier volume, “Chernobyl,” published in Russian, presented an analysis of the scientific literature, including more than 1,000 titles and more than 5,000 printed and Internet publications mainly in Slavic languages, on the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

For more information about the life and work of Dr. Vassili Nesterenko read “Death of an exceptional resister: Vassili B. Nesterenko.”

“Denialists” in the the Belarus State Security reportedly did not like all this research being published about the consequences of Chernobyl. According to “Death of an exceptional resister” and as noted below in Dr. Vassili Nesterenko’s Wikipedia:

Because of his activities, [Vassili Nesterenko] lost his job and got problems with the State Security Agency of Belarus, which threatened him with internment in a psychiatric asylum. Later, however, the Belarusian government tried to soften him proposing him to get back a job in a state institute, “at the condition that he would not work on Chernobyl anymore.” He escaped two assassination attempts.

I don’t know what is true, but that’s what Nesterov said.

LINKS: http://legendofpineridge.blogspot.com/2010/05/death-of-exceptional-resister-vassili-b.html

There is much hand-wringing in the blogosphere about the dangers of nuclear power generation in the face of future electricity needs and the perception that nuclear is an essential contributor to the future mix. Have we really painted ourselves into such a bleakly perilous corner with the deployment of this techno-juggernaut that is the harnessed atom? I hope not and I believe not. That optimism arises from the realisation that while we are intelligent and increasingly knowledgeable, we are not yet wise…but we can become so.

Nuclear energy is an irretrievable juggernaut along with nano-tech and GM, deployed without wisdom, more to satisfy commercial imperatives than humanitarian ones. The reality is that humanity NEEDS none of them…not now and not in the future. Future generations just need a safe place to live with safe food and a balance between expectations/achievements/modest comforts to generate the personal contentment that underpins peaceful coexistence.
Unfortunately this can’t be achieved in parallel with exponential population and consumption growth in a finite system. This is the true conundrum we must address to rid ourselves of the risk of future Fukushimas.
De-couple commerce from the supply and delivery of essentials, contract our global footprint, submit to the rules of our ecological support system and then we can get on with becoming a noble species with a future.
Sure it requires a serious voluntary cultural shift that is perhaps uncomfortable in our current view of things, but the industrial juggernauts we’ve released and the social system that has facilitated their release are constantly forcing cultural changes anyway… worse still, they’re involuntary ones.
Global humanity and the Fukushima nuclear plant have much in common - out of control and on trajectory to catastrophe.
To further explore this perspective visit http://www.pachacuti.com

In Ontario this debate usually evokes a distinction between “electricity supply” and “base-load electicity supply.” How does the author address reliability of electricity supply in a nuke-free, coal-free, gas-free scenario?

Energy sources provide us with all the comforts that we want. However, it requires a great responsibility in return. A little mistake can affect everything. An explosion in a French nuclear waste treatment facility left one deceased Monday and wounded four others. French authorities say that no radiation was leaked in the event. France depends on nuclear power more than any country on the planet. France has to put a lot of cash advances into the energy because it relies on the energy so much.