03.15.11

Would you live in Los Angeles?

Posted in Energy at 16:11 by RjZ

Nuclear power plants are like politics. Nobody wants the government to spend any money, but they sure won’t say no to handouts and nobody wants nuclear power plants, but they sure don’t mind the energy.

The nuclear crisis in Japan comes as a result, not of the 9.0 Mw earthquake; the Daiichi plants survived those just fine, but the ensuing tsunami. The disaster is raising issues and generating renewed protest around the world. This is a already a catastrophe. Heroic people have lost their lives in their efforts to mitigate the disaster at the power plant and radiation has already leaked at occasionally dangerous levels. At least two, and possible three of the units will be decommissioned, with little of value recovered from them, but significant damage to the Japanese economy. If the worse-case scenario were to take place, the fuel rods would melt down and the reactor core would be breached releasing dangerous amounts of radiation that will not simply dissipate in the atmosphere like the material released so far.

The fallout from the Chernobyl disaster destroyed a city, and spread across Europe. The amount of radiation released in the disaster was 400 times the amount released in Hiroshima but 100 to 1000 less than the amount from atomic weapons testing from the 1950s through 1960s. In the region, 237 people suffered from radiation sickness, 31 of whom passed in the first three months. People from the region continue to suffer from effects such as weaker bones and an increase in cancer related deaths. Surprisingly, rivers and ground water suffered relatively little permanent effects of the increased radiation and people can even take tours of the deserted town of Pripyat, but the area is still generally off limits.

The 2011 Sendai Earthquake is being recorded as perhaps the seventh largest quake in history and certainly the fifth largest since the inception of seismological recording began. This isn’t just a hundred year event, it’s more like a thousand year event.

So, would you live in Los Angeles? Ever since I was a child, growing up in Orange County, California, we were told that someday, maybe tomorrow, or maybe a hundred years from now, the San Andreas fault could rupture so badly that half of California would go floating off into the sea. I suspect that just might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but a hundred-year event will return to California and San Onofre nuclear power plant is still sitting there, between San Diego and Los Angeles, just waiting.

Owners of the plant, Southern California Edison, say the plant can withstand a 7.0 quake right underneath the plant and has a 25 foot tsunami wall, but did they design the plant for a thousand-year event? Should they have, or should we just give up on nuclear power because the danger is too great?

If a coal plant is destroyed by a thousand-year, or even a hundred-year, earthquake it doesn’t necessarily just melt down. Tennessee Valley Authority is still mitigating the ash pond spill disaster from 2008. Of course, coal plants emit pollutants and millions of tons of CO2 everyday, earthquake or no.

Before we simply give up on nuclear power, let’s consider Japan’s tragedy in comparison with two other recent disasters. In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 230,000 people in fourteen countries. In 2010, 316,000 people lost their lives in Haiti’s earthquake (even though it was a hundred times weaker than the Sendai quake). Meanwhile, perhaps as a testament to the people and their preparedness, Japan’s quake has claimed the lives of an estimated 10,000 people. The difference is, perhaps, how developed Japan is compared to the to other regions. Like nearly every other industrial nation, Japan has built nuclear power stations to fuel that advancement.

So, would you give up on nuclear power? Are you willing to live in Los Angeles?

1 Comment »

  1. tess said,

    March 19, 2011 at 18:23

    No, to LA. best evidence? that i don’t live there anymore.

    No, to nuclear power. I would really like to see improvements in solar, wind and tidal energy.

    In the meantime, I’ll eat some seaweed and hope for the best.

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