Advocates and skeptics of nuclear energy weighed in about the future of nuclear power as Japan waged a deteriorating battle at its Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
According to media reports on March 16, Japan announced plans to use a water cannon truck to cool the plant after other plans were canceled that would have had water dropped from a helicopter to accomplish the same objective.
At one point, the few remaining plant workers were withdrawn due to radiation levels – only to return later in the day. Meanwhile, the Pentagon said U.S. forces would not engage in relief work within 50 miles of the plant.
The ongoing fluid and conflicting reports about the situation at Japan’s Dai-ichi plant did not dampen commentary about the safety of nuclear power.
Fox News host Glenn Beck ridiculed the unfolding nuclear crisis on his March 14 radio program.
“Don’t even get me started on nuclear energy and how dangerous nuclear energy is. Oh, it’s as horrible as Three Mile Island accident,” mocked Beck. “If I hear that one more time, blood is going to shoot out of my head. No, it is. Might be from a self-inflicted gun wound because I can’t take it anymore.”
The controversial conservative said, “You know why it won’t turn into Chernobyl? Because the Japanese are not the Russians. The Russians suck.”
In 1979, one of the units at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania had a partial core meltdown, becoming America’s worst nuclear accident.
The worst nuclear power accident, however, occurred in 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. Some 30 deaths were attributed to the Chernobyl disaster that resulted in thousands of cases of thyroid cancer in children, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility.
A zone of almost 20 miles around Chernobyl remains uninhabitable 25 years later.
On the Fox TV talk show “Hannity,” Jay Lehr said, “I can tell you with the utmost confidence there will not be a health impact of anything that is going on at the Fukushima power plant.”
Lehr is a hydrogeologist with the Heartland Institute, an organization with a mission “in defense of free-market environmentalism.”
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not need to regulate more in response to this. It already regulates enough,” wrote blogger Jack Spencer with the Heritage Foundation. “We need to remember that nuke plants are privately owned and that their owners have every incentive to maintain safe operations.”
Joseph Romm, a physicist and climate expert, and Richard Caperton, a policy analyst, both with the liberal Center for American Progress, wrote that nuclear power can be safe but has become “phenomenally expensive.”
Writing an opinion piece on CNN, they said that a “nuclear catastrophe would be ruinous on a scale that would overwhelm any private company, which is why they [insurers] won’t insure nuclear plants. Instead, the U.S. government – which is to say taxpayers – takes on the liability for nuclear reactors.”
They noted that banks would not finance new reactors without federal government loan guarantees.
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“Let’s be clear: If something goes wrong with a U.S. nuclear reactor, the American public will be in double jeopardy – we’ll suffer the health consequences and then also have to pay for it,” they wrote.
“Nuclear power is an inherently dangerous technology,” wrote Llody Dumas on the liberal Huffington Post.
Dumas is the author of “The Technology Trap: Where Human Error and Malevolence Meet Dangerous Technologies.”
“Natural disasters, such as the gigantic earthquake off the coast of Japan, remind us of the fragility of even our most impressive technologies and the utter interconnectedness of our modern societies. We cannot prevent these disasters any more than we can eliminate the potential for human malevolence that leads some people to terrorism or overcome the ubiquity of human error,” he said. “But we can choose to depend on technologies that do not expose us to the level of risk posed by nuclear power.”
Interviewed on CBS’ “Face the Nation” about the nuclear situation in Japan, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said, “I think it calls on us here in the U.S., naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what’s happened in Japan.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cautioned against reacting to the nuclear crisis in Japan.
“I don’t think right after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to be making American domestic policy,” said McConnell on “Fox News Sunday.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) spoke optimistically about nuclear energy on the U.S. Senate floor on Monday, March 14.
“While the risk is by no means over and the events in Japan continue to evolve, the reactor safety systems so far appear to have done their job in withstanding the earthquake, tsunami, power loss and explosions – and none of the reactor containment structures seem to have been breached in these worst-case conditions,” said Alexander.
The pro-nuclear power senator proposed last year to build 100 new nuclear power stations over the next 20 years.
President Barack Obama defended the use of nuclear power on Tuesday.
“Nuclear plants are designed to withstand certain levels of earthquakes, but having said that, nothing’s completely failsafe, nothing is completely foolproof,” he said.
Twenty percent of America’s electricity comes from nuclear power plants. America has 104 nuclear reactors.
Reuters reported on March 15 that Iouli Andreev, a Russian nuclear accident specialist, charged that the nuclear industry and the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency covered up the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.
“After Chernobyl all the force of the nuclear industry was directed to hide this event, for not creating damage to their reputation. The Chernobyl experience was not studied properly because who has money for studying? Only industry,” he said.
He accused the Japanese of placing profits ahead of safety with the design of their nuclear plant.
Andre-Claude Lacoste, president of France’s nuclear safety authority, said on March 15 that the situation in Japan was “between what happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.”