Good night Japan
As i go to sleep tonight two reactors in Japan are outside of the control of their operators and venting radioactive gas. The 8.9 earthquake on Friday night was beyond the design basis for the crippled Fukushima reactors (and all the reactors in Japan and the US). This was not supposed to happen.
The reactors need power to cool the fuel in the core of the reactor (and in the outside cooling ponds). Normally, the reactor has lots of power to cool its fuel. In emergency situations nearby back up diesel generators kick in to cool the fuel. Because of the tsunamis from the quake, the back up generators were knocked out as well. Currently there is a rush to get power for cooling to these plants. If the core is not cooled we could have as soon as tomorrow a meltdown in one of the worlds most densely populated countries.
My friend and brilliant clean energy activist Harvey Wasserman points out that had this quake hit the San Andres fault on the west coast of the US, the 4 coastal reactors there could be threatening the US with meltdowns. None are designed to handle this size quake, all are vulnerable to these scale tsunamis knocking out their back up generators.
The quip is that should one of these Japanese reactors meltdown, i will be out of a job because no one will build new reactors. The reality is more complex. Nuclear industry executives are already claiming that this accident is proof of how safe nuclear power is. And in this Orwellian world we inhabit i would not be surprised to see Obama respond to this crisis by saying more money needs to go to nuclear plants to insure that they are safe.
Our global political leaders as expected failed us. Japanese PM Naoto Kan said early in the crisis that the reactor had not leaked and will not leak proving both that Japanese PMs are both prescient and fools. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the press that the US Air Force had been ordered to fly “special coolant” to Japan for the reactors. Reactors are cooled using water. Demonstrating that despite going to Yale law school, she has less than a high school understanding of this technology. Fox News unquestioningly reported this act of American heroism.
With luck we will not replicate the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island catastrophes tonight in Japan. And it will take much more than luck to stop industrial capitalism from building more of these deadly dangerous machines.
You can find the best regular updates at:
NIRS Fukushima Update
An excellent tho slightly technical article on the hydrogen explosion at Fukushima 1
Basic Background Reading
CitiBank on why new reactors fail 5 investment criteria
Why nuclear fails as a climate solution by Amory Lovins
NY Times Report on how Solar power is now cheaper than nuclear