It is an impressive explosion as the roof blows off Fukushima Daiichi Reactor 3 this morning, and even though the containment vessel is still secure, its effects are being felt around the world. In Spiegel, quoted in the Guardian, Roland Nelles writes:
After the earthquake and tsunami in Japan followed by the ever-worsening stream of terrible news relating to the country's nuclear power facilities, even the last remaining advocates of the technology must realise that we can't go on like this. It is over. Done. Finished. Nuclear energy cannot be controlled by humans, no matter how good the arguments might be in its favour. The danger of disaster is real, and it can happen at any time - even in a super high-tech country such as Japan. And it could also happen here in Germany. A sense of security when it comes to atomic reactors is no longer possible. Not anywhere.
Scary infographic in Globe and Mail about how the radiation from Japan can spread around the world in the Jetstream. Get ready for a run on iodine pills.
In Canada, where the Ontario Government is about to place a a big reactor order, shares of companies in the nuclear industry are collapsing. According to the Globe and Mail:
"It will be a public-relations disaster," said Guy Marleau, professor of nuclear engineering at Montreal's L'École Polytechniques. "It will be a setback like Three Mile Island was in the United States," he said in reference to the nuclear accident in Pennsylvania that gave the industry a black eye for a generation.
It is a little early for "On the Beach" scenarios of drifting radiation, but that's not stopping a run on iodine tablets in Finland, where people are worried about radiation from Japan spreading across the world. According to Finnish news:
"The demand for iodine tablets has been very high everywhere. We received a large consignment at our Kaivopiha outlet today and it has already sold out," said Tuija Tilander-Leppä of a downtown Helsinki branch of the Yliopiston Apteekki chain. She added that she had received similar reports from different parts of the country.
In the States, Representative Ed Markey warned that the problems happening in Japan could happen here as well, sounding apocalyptic:
"I am shocked by the devastation that has already been caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It is heart-breaking to see the destruction that has already taken place, and to hear of so many people being killed or injured," said Rep. Markey. "As a result of this disaster, the world is now facing the looming threat of a possible nuclear meltdown at one of the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors. I hope and pray that Japanese experts can successfully bring these reactors under control and avert a Chernobyl-style disaster that could release large amounts of radioactive materials into the environment."
And he is no anti-nuke activist. He is calling for a moratorium on siting nukes in seismically active areas until there is a top to bottom review, and for a review of the design of the General Electric boiling water reactors in the States. More in his press release.
William Saletan in Slate calls them all Nuclear Overreactors.
"Let's cool this panic before it becomes a political meltdown". Saleton notes that the containment vessels have held, and that radiation leaks have been modest. More importantly, he notes that the alternatives are worse:
If Japan, the United States, or Europe retreats from nuclear power in the face of the current panic, the most likely alternative energy source is fossil fuel. And by any measure, fossil fuel is more dangerous. The sole fatal nuclear power accident of the last 40 years, Chernobyl, directly killed 31 people. By comparison, Switzerland's Paul Scherrer Institute calculates that from 1969 to 2000, more than 20,000 people died in severe accidents in the oil supply chain. More than 15,000 people died in severe accidents in the coal supply chain--11,000 in China alone. The rate of direct fatalities per unit of energy production is 18 times worse for oil than it is for nuclear power.
Perhaps he is right. We should slow down and take a pill, and not an iodine one.