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March 12, 2011

Nuclear explosion in Japan

There's been a nuclear explosion in Japan.

The Fukushima reactor has blown up after the earthquake and the following tsunami.

As that article asks, what is actually going to be the effect of this? Are we about to see another Chernobyl type disaster? Or are nuclear reactors really as safe as their manufacturers say they are?

So, as far as we can tell at the moment, the radiation coming from the Fukushima explosion is 1/3,600,000 th of the radiation from the Chernobyl explosion. This isn't quite right for a number of complicated reasons (for example, we don't know how far the Japanese radiation will spread, what the total release will be and so on) but it does give an idea of the relative magnitude.

It is 0.00002% of the Chernobyl levels of radiation.

Another way of saying the same thing is that if you were standing at the reactor now you would, in one hour, receive the usual permitted level of radiation for an entire year. About half what you would get if you had a medical CT scan (which is 2,000,- 2,200 micro sieverts). This is of course a very, very, much lower level of radiation than at Chernobyl, where workers got in minutes amounts that killed them.

We just don't have enough information at present but we most certainly are going to find out. Is nuclear power safe or not?

March 12, 2011 in Nuclear | Permalink


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It's not a "nuclear" explosion. It's a chemical or steam explosion at a nuclear power plant with an apparently minuscule release of radiation.

(By minuscule, I mean, as much as you get from an afternoon of suntanning or spending an hour in a granite building. )

Given that the plant is pushing 50 years old, that it took the 3rd largest earthquake recorded as well as IIRC as tsunami, I'm going to go with "safe."

The real question for nuclear power, especially the smaller modern designs, isn't whether they or "safe", however you want to arbitrarily define the word, but whether we have a choice.

Nuclear power is the only low-carbon (there are no completely carbon free options) that can actually provide reliable baseline power for a modern power grid. If an energy source cannot provide power when and were it is needed, it is useless. "Alternative" power is weather dependent and worse, climate dependent, in an era of climate change or even "chaos". It can never hope to carry the baseline power for any major grid.

Alternative power looks attractive compared to nuclear power because alternative power remains a fantasy while nuclear power is real. Like all new and unproven technologies, alternative power looks bright and shiny because we don't have enough experience with it to see all its flaws and tradeoffs. Nuclear power has warts because it is real and understood. To many people fall for a fantasy without considering how rarely the fantasy predictions about new technologies actually pan out.

We can't do without electricity. Without electricity people die. Without electricity we can't take care of the poor or the elderly. Without electricity we have no hope of raising the planet's poor up to a decent standard of living.

So, our choices are to build nukes or to stagger alone with coal and natural gas providing baseline power with wind and solar tacked onto the side for show. If we choose the latter we better hope that global warming turns out to be much ado about nothing.

Posted by: Shannon Love | Mar 12, 2011 4:44:59 PM

to mitigate the global warming,united nation must create a law that all nations must do planting trees..save nature,save life

Posted by: gene uba | Mar 14, 2011 7:17:50 AM

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