Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Recently the media has been talking about meltdowns at 1 or more of the reactors at the Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant. Specifically, a partial or full meltdown of reactor 1 has been confirmed, and partial or full meltdowns at reactors 2 and 3 are suspected. They still don't know because nobody has been inside reactor buildings 2 and 3 yet to have a look. Actually, today for the first time workers ventured into reactor building 2, to be beaten back by high levels of ... steam.

So in any case it looks like damage to the fuel rods in all three reactors has been greater than feared.

Perhaps I am yet again going against the grain of puclic opinion when I express the opinion that this is very good news. There have been meltdowns in all three reactors ... and nobody noticed! The meltdowns happened in the first few hours and days after the tsunami, before cooling had been restored to the plant, and resulted in the relatively high radiation emissions that were recorded at the time. So basically, the worst thing that could possibly have happened happened...yet nobody was harmed by radiation. No injuries, no deaths. And since then things have inexorably improved...

To me, this is yet more evidence that the danger of radiation from the accident at Fukushima has been massively exaggerated.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

More Madness from Japan

Some more details came out today about the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka. It turns out that its closure has thrown 2,800 people into unemployment and badly damaged the local economy. Not only that, but it looks like the Tokyo government will compensate Chubu Electric and the local economy with public funds...coming from...who knows where, maybe my pension again!

In more crazy news stuff, the first group of residents of the 20 km exclusion zone outside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were today allowed to go home temporarily to collect belongings.

Evacuees were outfitted in radiation suits with masks, gloves and footwear designed to protect them from the 'dangers' around the plant. With military precision the evacuees were driven to pre-designated points inside the radius and given exactly two hours to get to their home, retrieve what belonging they could, and return to the buses. Any belongings they managed to get hold of had to be placed in plastic bags measuring 70 centimetres in both length and width. Every person was individually checked for high levels of radiation contamination on return and facilities were set aside to 'cleanse' any people who tested positive for such radiation. In what must have been no surprise, nobody did.

In typical Japanese style, none of these precautions are actually necessary. The area has been perfectly safe for human habitation for weeks, and there is no reason to suspect the situation will change. Workers are sleeping perfectly soundly in dormitories on the actual nuclear plant site. The only dangerous radiation levels are found within a relatively small area around the reactors themselves. Officials know this.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Shizuoka nuclear power plant to close.

Chubu Electric Power company, which owns the Hamaoka power plant in Shizuoka, today bowed to pressure from prime minister Naoto Kan to shut it down.

Over the past few weeks pressure from various sources has mounted to shut down the plant, which is fairly close to the major urban centres of Tokyo and Yokohama, and lies atop a major fault line that could be involved when 'The Big One' finally hits. On Saturday the prime minister officially requested its closure until modifications can be made in order to cope with a major earthquake or tsunami. Although the operators of the plant are under no legal obligation to close it, a Chubu Electric official said, "Although a request, it carries the weight close to an order."

To some extent I can understand the necessity of giving in to public pressure over something like this. But the decision has left Chubu in a serious bind. There is a good chance that available power supplies will not be sufficient to cope with upcoming summer demand, resulting in rolling blackouts over the Tokyo region.

The main concern about electricity supplies will come when summer temperatures reach their highest. This is when air conditioner use goes through the roof. And if this summer is anything like last year's, there will certainly not be enough power. The irony is that last year's heatwave has been blamed on global warming, a trend no one expects to abate in the near future. The nuclear power plant in Shizuoka, like all others in Japan, was doing its part to help Japan reach greenhouse gas emmission reduction targets and thus help to mitigate global warming. Those targets will likely be thrown out the window now, because as part of the attempt to make up the power shortfall, Chubu will utilise heavy oil and liquefied natural gas power plants.

Nor is this decision actually in the interests of public health. One thing that is often forgotten about the Fukushima incident is that everything worked perfectly. The earthquake activated shutdown sytems for all the reactors and all reactors shut down. The problem was in maintaining cooling water for those reactors as they cooled down. What actually happened was that diesel generators designed to do just that failed because of the tsunami. Once that problem is solved (e.g. through an external power source) there is no reason why any nuclear power plant anywhere in Japan should be especially vulnerable to tsunamis.

Meanwhile, because of this decision, efforts to mitigate global warming are adversely affected, the local Shizuoka economy is seriously hurt, Tokyo will likely suffer blackouts, and many people will be out of work.

The more I think about it the more I think I have to go against public opinion and openly support nuclear power. If anything Fukushima has led me to this. If an aging, obselete power plant can get hit by one of the largest quakes on record, be swamped by a 14 metre tsunami, survive a terrible power cut, and still shut down safely without anybody (so far) being affected in any way by radiation, well, let's build more of them. If the bulk of the world's power was supplied with atomic energy, we would have a safe, non-polluting, carbon-neutral, reasonably-priced limitless supply of energy.