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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.

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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