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Should We Commemorate 3-11?

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the beginning of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi multiple nuclear meltdowns disaster began on March 11, 2011.  This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the beginning of the nuclear disaster in Japan. 

The Japanese government has not yet been able to establish whether the initial earthquake or the subsequent tsunami was the causal event in the fatal damage to the plant’s reactors and cooling systems.

Even in a highly technologically advanced society such as Japan with its long tradition of emergency planning, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster shows three things. First, that unexpected events do occur.  Second, that no fail-safe exists with nuclear power plants. And, third, that the consequences of a nuclear disaster are dire. 

Last month in a split vote, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the first new nuclear power plant applications since 1978. The two reactors approved for the Southern Company’s existing Alvin W. Vogtle nuclear plant near Augusta, Georgia will involve newer, safer designs. The construction cost is $14 billion, of which $ billion has already been spend on foundations and water piping. 

The sole dissenting vote on the Vogtle application came from NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko who said, as reported by the New York Times, that the license would not assure that all of the safety improvements sought by the agency in response to Japan’s Fukushima disaster would be accomplished before the reactors begin operating in 2016 and 2017.

Two other reactor applications in South Carolina are waiting in the wings at the NRC.

Our economy needs reliable energy sources. Every energy source comes with its own mix of environmental, societal, and economic impacts.  

The candid discussion we need to have involves balancing all the impacts over the life cycle of a given energy source and its fuel.

For example, coal is a relatively cheap fuel to strip mine and ship. But, up until now, the cost of burning coal has largely not included its contribution to the real and significant cost to society of skyrocketing asthma rates.

For nuclear plants, we have no functioning, long term disposal plan for the spent fuel rods that have been accumulating for decades at the nation’s nuclear facilities.

As a nation, we are just beginning to take the fuller spectrum of impacts for each technology into account.  For coal, for example, we are beginning to impose the true costs by means of limiting the allowable emissions. Such regulation helps calibrate the true cost for using a public good, like our air or water,  to create value for stockholders of a private company. 

In sum, 3-11 should serve to remind us to take all the potential and actual impacts into account before committing to new energy facilities. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

John Vergo March 09, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Source: http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html
John Vergo March 09, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Deaths per Terawatt-hour: Coal: 161, Oil: 36, Nuclear: 0.04 So yes, we should commerorate 3-11 as a reminder of just how safe Nuclear is.
EAR Consulting Associates March 10, 2012 at 12:02 PM
When one considers Risk/reward ratio for nuclear or coal fired facilities the long term risk maybe frightening. Sustainable Energy generation sources: wind, solar, geo-thermal or Co-Gen maybe a better choice if one considers long term risks (3 mile Island or Fukushima Dai-ichi). If we additionally consider job creation, Sustainable Energy projects tend to be smaller and more geographically distributed than nuclear or coal fired projects, thus distributing construction and maintenance jobs more fairly across NY State and the United States. This anniversary gives us food for thought about these two considerations rather than just short term dollars and cents economic justification studies which never seem to include these factors..
John Vergo March 10, 2012 at 04:31 PM
EAR, I gave hard statistics about the relative dangers of common energy sources, yet you say that "if one considers long term risks...". Considering long term risks is exactly what I did. I guess you do not understand. I must also point out that "Sustainable Energy generation sources: wind, solar, geo-thermal or Co-Gen" are inefficient and simply unviable alternatives to provide the power we currently need. If the government (i.e. you, me and everyone else in the country) pays for the development of these sources, it will create more jobs than if we develop new nuclear plants, but that is because nuclear is incredibly more efficient that wind, solar, etc. We need to break our dependency OPEC oil. That should include allowing private development of oil, nuclear and clean coal. I also think that we should be supporting BASIC research into alternative energy sources, but the current policy of our goverment acting as a VC is wrong.
Leo Wiegman March 10, 2012 at 05:00 PM
@John: Thanks for the data link on deaths by terawatt-hour (TWh) of energy by technology. There is no doubt that fossil fuels, led by coal, cause higher death rates than wind, solar, hydro, or nuclear. The point of the column is that we should factor all the impacts (environment, societal (including but not limited to death rate), and economic. Nuclear power competes well on some impact measures (like emissions per net energy unit), but very poorly on others (like construction costs or fuel disposal gap).
john March 10, 2012 at 05:29 PM
With all due respect to the mayor, right now your focus should be on the village, its problems, its nuts and bolts needs, and so forth. You are certainly welcome to promote alternative energy within the confines of your book, but commemorating 3-11, when we cannot find the funds to commemorate 9-11 by way of a memorial, address our village's needs with real concrete plans that do not alienate our business community or alternatively, end us up in court, should be your first priority. Not 3-11.
Leo Wiegman March 10, 2012 at 05:48 PM
FYI from the Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/21549936 Nuclear power: The dream that failed (Mar 10th 2012) A year after Fukushima, the future for nuclear power is not bright—for reasons of cost as much as safety.
EAR Consulting Associates March 11, 2012 at 05:40 PM
John, I think you had better check your research sources. Furthermore our government NRC has not received high marks in setting adequate safety standards for nuclear plants compared to Europe and other countries. Jobs seems to be at the top of the list of most Americans so sustainable energy projects will receive high marks in that category. Indian Point has been a subject of high controversy in the minds of most Westchester residents so considerations for a another nuclear facility in the Hudson Valley area would also be problematic for most of in Westchester (and perhaps the Hudson Valley, too).
Francis T McVetty March 11, 2012 at 07:18 PM
EAR Consulting Associates, I didn't hear about the construction of another nuclear facility in the Hudson Valley area. Please post the web site for us.
Francis T McVetty March 11, 2012 at 07:20 PM
About nuclear waste. How about pressuring our Congressman and Senators to open the Yucca Mountain facility. We have spent over 80 BILLION dollars on it so far.
John Vergo March 12, 2012 at 12:06 PM
This is a very intersting article that puts Fukushima into perspective: http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/nuclear/24-hours-at-fukushima/0
Scott Walters March 12, 2012 at 01:32 PM
We should commenorate 3-11 as it was on that day a few years ago that Isl;amic terrorists (of still unkonw origin) bombed those commuter trains in Madrid. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Madrid_train_bombings
John Vergo March 12, 2012 at 04:40 PM
@ Leo, please take a look at IEEE article I posted earlier. What jumps out at me is the innovative, problem solving perspective of the author. Mankind has a great track record of continually improving the safety of all technologies (e.g. cars, planes, etc.). We can (and will) do the same with nuclear. As for the costs of nuclear, the article you posted brushed over the costs that result from endless environmental challenges to every project. Even with those challenges, nuclear compares favorably with fossil fuels and alternative sources. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source

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