The 9.0 earthquake in Japan has been a nightmare for people in that country. Not only are thousands dead or missing, with massive destruction by both the quake and the tsunami, they have a crisis with a nuclear power plant. Even milk and spinach in the area have been found to be contaminated as a result. Small amounts of radioactive iodine have been found in tap water.
Naturally, this disaster has resulted in many people calling for nuclear power plants to be shut down. I understand why. You can’t see radiation, you can’t tell if it’s effecting you, but it can shorten your life. That’s a scary thing.
That said, as of this writing I haven’t heard anything to make me stress about the radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant. It has plenty of problems, but so far it hasn’t done the worst possible, by a long shot.
I’d love for solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power to take over the power generation we need. That would be wonderful. The only problem is that it won’t happen soon. There are a lot of obstacles in the way, and quite simply people aren’t willing to make that sacrifice, even though we’d be better off once we made it work.
I fully expect nuclear power to be around for a long time to come. That’s why I’d rather focus on making it safer.
For one thing, the radiation from a functioning nuclear power plant is actually less than that coming from a coal power plant. You don’t really think about natural radiation coming from coal, but it does. XKCD made a really interesting radiation chart, and it’s amazing to see what the numbers really are.
With Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima as examples, engineers now know more about the disasters to plan for in a nuclear power plant. Much of it was known before Fukushima, but that plant was old and lacked certain safety features.
The major problem I have with nuclear power is disposal of waste. Spent rods have been a big part of the Fukushima problem, after all. Nuclear waste is hazardous for far too long and is incredibly difficult to dispose of safely. More passive safety features must be in place in all nuclear power plants.
Grist has some interesting points on using thorium in nuclear power plants, stating this is safer than uranium. Some of the people commenting on the article have interesting ideas as well.
I hope that more serious looks will be taken at generating power in safer ways than nuclear or coal, but I’m also realistic enough to know it’s not going to happen that soon. Too many people with too much power over the situation are invested in keeping things the way they are. I think it’s better to fight to make them safer as we continue to work toward using more sustainable technologies to power our country.