Discovering Japan

Steve Hayward took time out from posting his observations here this week to review the events in Japan and their likely consequences on power generation. Steve’s Weekly Standard article is “A fossil fuel renaissance?” Here are the first few sentences: “The catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is being regarded as the atomic power equivalent of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which set back offshore oil drilling just as it appeared on the brink of a substantial expansion. This means we’ve now come full circle, as critics of offshore drilling compared the Gulf oil spill to Chernobyl.”
The struggles with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have prompted a few observers to revisit the aftereffects of the Chernobyl disaster. Among these are the New York Times’s “Chernobyl study says health risks linger” and Josh Gilder’s “Chernobyl in perspective.” Thanks to Gilder not only for making me feel young again, but also for reminding me that “[t]he Soviet-style nuclear reactor had been built without a containment structure, and when the graphite moderator components caught fire, they spewed more than 400 times more radioactivity into the environment than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.” Of these two pieces, Gilder’s column is the one worth reading.
Contrast Chernobyl with Hayward’s observation regarding the Fukushima Daiichi rectors: “the reactors themselves appear to have survived intact an earthquake 40 times the size they were designed to withstand. It was the failure of the backup diesel generators necessary to keep the cooling systems operating, swamped by the 33-foot tsunami, that touched off the crisis and subsequent explosions.”
Steve covers a lot of ground in his brief article. He even pauses to nail the media’s performance. He finds that the “coverage of the whole episode is a textbook example of the inability to gauge risks, weigh trade-offs, and put a story in its proper perspective. Instead the media have done what they do best: generate panic.” Steve’s article provides the perspective that has been lacking in the media coverage of Japan’s struggle with the nuclear power plants affected by the horrendous earthquake/tsunami.

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