Posts tagged “nuclear”

Socolow: Reflections on Fukushima

Amazing article from a leading energy thinker. A portion is quoted below; I recommend reading the whole thing.

I can find no escape from Fukushima Daiichi. Words I hoped never to read in a news report, like loss of coolant accident (LOCA), exposed core, hydrogen explosion: Here they are. Except for those who can identify ways to contribute directly to the management of the disaster, we scientists have only one job right now -- to help governments, journalists, students, and the man and woman on the street understand in what strange ways we have changed their world.

We must explain, over and over, the concept of "afterheat," the fire that you can't put out, the generation of heat from fission fragments now and weeks from now and months from now, heat that must be removed. Journalists are having such a hard time communicating this concept because it is so unfamiliar to them and nearly everyone they are writing for. Every layman feels that every fire can be put out.

We must also explain the strange temporal features of radioactive spent fuel. Hour by hour, week by week, year by year, one isotope passes grief to a second and the second passes grief to a third. As the tragedy emerges at Fukushima, the moral complexity is overwhelming. The radiation is coming primarily from short-lived isotopes, and it is lethal in hours for anyone who is near the plant. We are watching a civilized society facing Sophie's Choice writ large, as the Japanese government decides how to use workers and soldiers and volunteers at the site, trading their large doses of radiation against an outcome where far more people will face the statistical risks of a shortened life. Evacuation is another part of the agony. So, too, is distribution of iodide tablets to limit thyroid cancer.

Already, however, the next form of grief is emerging: grief that results from ambiguity. Small quantities of radioactivity are being detected in food. Unless a large dread-to-risk ratio is assigned to choices such as whether to eat or not to eat, the experts' models of risk will not match the choices. Inevitably, much more of the same lies ahead, with immense human costs, as measurements on fields and city streets and in buildings confirm contamination with radioactivity. Notably, two rogue isotopes with 30-year half-lives, Cesium 137 and Strontium 90, will be found everywhere, both of them unmistakably attributable to the accident. They will be measurable throughout the lifetimes of everyone alive today. Throughout this century, the poor will live on the contaminated land, eat the contaminated food, and live in the contaminated buildings.

All aspects of the suffering that has come -- and will continue to come -- from the succession of dominating isotopes are familiar to philosophers and economists, to the nuclear power community and its civil defense counterparts.

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