Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

More on Japan

with 11 comments

The news from Japan continues to be terrible, with Judit Kawaguchi reporting 10,000 people missing from just a single town in Miyagi prefecture.

Much of the Internet attention—probably too much—is now focused on the Fukushima nuclear reactor that has been poised on the brink of meltdown. A scary-looking explosion happened on-site early in the morning EST, but it appears to have been in another part of the complex and not affected core containment. One of the inspectors from Three Mile Island says all eleven of the shutdown nuclear power plants will likely be total losses, reducing Japan’s electricity-generating capacity by 20%.

Nonetheless, nuclear experts are still assuring us that the ongoing release of radiation will not be catastrophic. Typing those words reminds me that I feel about nuclear experts more or less exactly the way that Tea Party People feel about climate scientists—with the caveat that the lopsided financial incentives and structural/institutional biases that denialists imagine exist in climate science really do exist with respect to nuclear research, where spending from pro-nuclear industry and governmental sources dwarfs everything spent in the other direction. Japan’s nuclear industry in particular has not given the population much reason to trust it:

Over the decades, the Japanese public has been reassured by the Tokyo Electric Power Company that its nuclear reactors are prepared for any eventuality. Yet the mystery in Fukushima is not the first unreported problem with nuclear power, only the most recent. Back in 1996, amid a reactor accident in Ibaraki province, the government never admitted that radioactive fallout had drifted over the northeastern suburbs of Tokyo. Reporters obtained confirmation from monitoring stations, but the press was under a blanket order not to run any alarming news, facts be damned. For a nation that has lived under the atomic cloud of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, total denial becomes possible because the finger on the button is our own.

Hopefully, though, despite my distrust, the nuclear scientists are right on this, and injury to the people and environment surrounding Fukushima will remain at a minimum.

11 Responses

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  1. Actually, all research that’s been done indicates that nuclear power is much safer than coal power plants, which both alter the earth’s CO2 balance and cause particulate pollution which impacts human health. Ideally, it would be better to move away from both nuclear and coal to wind and solar, but nuclear is nowhere near as bad as people think. The criticism section of the wikipedia article on the anti-nuclear movement has a good overview:


    March 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm

  2. I’ve come around to the idea that some amount of nuclear is probably going to be necessary to keep technological civilization going post-oil and post-carbon, but it still seems clear to me that industry boosters (both paid and unpaid) characteristically refuse to make a realistic accounting of the relative risks and costs associated with nuclear power generation. They just insist the ship is unsinkable and heap scorn on anyone who expresses any doubts. It’s illustrative to read the MetaFilter thread and watch as each subsequent moment of the crisis at Fukushima is proclaimed a triumph for nuclear safety standards. The ever-worsening situation that’s unfolded since yesterday had been declared completely impossible by the nuclear boosters in the thread just hours before it happened after all…


    March 12, 2011 at 2:08 pm

  3. […] thrown up a few updates on the Fukushima crisis in the earlier thread, including a CNN report that the government is now “assuming that a meltdown has […]

  4. I remember you posting a link to an article about paid trolls some time in the past. Whenever a controversial issue is on a blog, far more people come to post on that blog than would normally be the case. With this nuclear reactor thing, the number of people going online just to defend nuclear power seems to be inordinately large.


    March 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    • The thought had occurred to me, moreso on other sites than this one.


      March 13, 2011 at 10:23 pm

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