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Fukushima Crisis Worse Than First Believed: Is Nuclear Still Viable?

Vogtle nuclear power plant


Now three months later, the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan continues to unravel after the publication of startling new data.

A new report to the International Atomic Energy Agency reveals that the inner containment vessels for the fuel rods in reactors no 1, 2, and 3 were breached, allowing fuel to accumulate in the outer containment vessels. As a result, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raised its estimate of the radioactive materials emitted to between 370,000 and 630,000 terabecquerels, which puts the crisis at level 7, the most severe rating for nuclear accidents.

Japanese officials apologized for the nuclear accident, admitting they were unprepared for the crisis. Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, assured the international community that future reports would be transparent, so that people may regain their confidence in Japan.

The nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daaichi plant occurred when a tsunami struck the facility following a 9.0 earthquake on March 11th, 2011. The Tsunami sent waves that were 14 to 15 metres (45 to 48 feet) above sea level cascading over the nuclear plant’s 5 meter sea wall. The ensuing destruction killed two workers and sent the Fukushima plant into various stages of meltdown.

But what are some of the bigger questions that this crisis poses? Does it call into question the viability of nuclear as a viable alternative energy for the future?

I would argue, yes and no.

Sure, nuclear carries with it some grave concerns regarding the potential for meltdown. But the fact of the matter is, meltdown is a very rare occurrence these days with the huge advances made in nuclear technology since Chernobyl. For instance, a recent post highlighted the low death rates for nuclear compared to oil and coal.

But what the disaster at Fukushima does tell us is that we have to be aware of where we are locating nuclear plants. Japan lies on the cusp of the Pacific-Philippine-Eurasian triple plate junction; earthquakes can and do happen. Therefore, every effort should be made to prepare for the possibilities of an earthquake, including appropriate structural design and proper disaster response procedures – items which were lacking in the Fukushima crisis.

What are your thoughts on nuclear as an alternative source of energy? Should we rule it out entirely or is there room for it amongst alternative energy of the future?

Image CC licensed by BlatantWorld: Vogtle nuclear power plant, Georgia, USA

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