The Impact of Japan on Nuclear Power
Twenty-five years ago the Chernobyl nuclear disaster changed public thinking about the risks of nuclear energy. Today, events in Japan have again affected how many people think about this source of power. Join Active Minds as we evaluate the impact of recent events in Japan on the ongoing debate regarding the pros and cons of nuclear energy.
Key Lecture Points:
• On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake struck about 80 miles off the coast of northern Japan, triggering a tsunami that swept over the eastern coast of Japan,. It was the most powerful quake ever measured in Japan, a land familiar with such events. In addition to taking the lives of thousands, the earthquake and tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant on the Pacific coast.
• Since the earthquake and tsunami, Japanese nuclear officials have struggled to control the temperature of the spent and unspent nuclear fuel at Fukushima’s 6 nuclear reactors. While their efforts have managed to avoid a total meltdown in the reactors (a Chernobyl-like situation), they have done so by releasing radioactivity into the atmosphere (albeit less radioactivity than would have been released had a meltdown occurred).
• April 25-26, 2011 marks the 25th Anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear power disaster in Chernobyl in the former USSR (now Ukraine). The Chernobyl nuclear power plant located 80 miles north of Kiev had 4 reactors. While testing a safety procedure for one reactor, plant staff disregarded numerous procedures. At 1:23am a power surge in the reactor caused the nuclear core to heat up beyond control. The total nuclear core meltdown created gases within the core that exploded and blew off the reactor's heavy steel and concrete lid. The Chernobyl accident killed 30 people immediately and eventually caused the deaths of 26 more, according to a 2005 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency; as a result of the high radiation levels in the surrounding 20-mile radius, 135,000 people had to be evacuated.
• Nuclear energy has come to the fore in recent years as scientists, politicians, and the public begin to debate the implications of global warming. In the search for cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels, many see nuclear power plants as a viable and sustainable option, while others view it as dangerous, both from a safety stand point and in terms of dealing with the nuclear waste that will be generated.
• What are the major arguments in favor of and in opposition to the increased use of nuclear power in the US?
• In what way has the debate over nuclear power changed in the last 50 years?
• What are your memories of the ay in which nuclear energy has been portrayed in a negative light in movies, music, or other popular culture?
More to Explore:
• US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Overview: www.nrc.gov
• IAEA Coverage: www.iaea.org
Books For Further Reading:
• Mahaffey, James. Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power. Pegasus, 2010. 368 Pages. A timely look at nuclear technology that, the author argues, could provide plenty of cheap, renewable energy, if only we can get past our oversized dread of it. Click here to order.
• Caldicott, Helen. Nuclear Power is Not the Answer. New Press, 2007. 221 pages. Caldicott presents exhaustive evidence to refute the now-resurgent claim that nuclear power is the solution to global warming. Click here to order.