Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bottom Line: Nuclear Power Plants Are Inherently Unsafe

Majia here: The following article is interesting because it makes a number of implicit arguments that I am going to analyze here:

Kageyama, Yuri (2012, Nov 4) Inspector Authority Accepted Money. The Arizona Republic, A4.

[Excerpted] (AP) "Four members of a Japanese government team that sets atomic reactor safety standards received funding from utility companies or nuclear manufacturers, raising questions about their neutrality in the wake of last year's tsunami-triggered disaster. [end excerpt]

Majia here: One regulator, Prof. Akio Yamanoto, received $339,000 for research over the last 3 years. Prof. Akira Yamaguchi received $125,000.

The article notes that Mr. Tanaka, the head of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority, has been criticized for being too pro-nuclear.

The findings reported in this article reflect many important dimensions of the crisis. The article also makes some implicit arguments designed to frame readers' perceptions of the Fukushima disaster.

First, the large contributions to university faculty illustrate how academics become "captured" by large industry. 

We saw this phenomenon recently in the US with the study out of Stanford on organic food. The Stanford researchers, claiming to be neutral, argued that organic food is no more nutritious than non-organic food (i.e., pesticide-Round-up laden food). The research findings were reported widely in the mainstream press. The interpretive frame found in the study trivialized and marginalized the most important reason people eat organic food, which is to avoid pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.

See these two posts:
Sep 15, 2012
[Excerpted] A recent study by Stanford University researchers made international headlines when it claimed that organic foods are no more safe or nutritious than conventional foods. Organic researchers, farmers and ...
Sep 05, 2012
Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce by Kenneth Change Sep 3, 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/science/earth/study-questions-advantages-of-organic-meat-and-produce.html ...

The "capture" of scholarship by industry interests is an endemic problem that has been well documented in books such as Bending Science (McGarity & Wagner), Merchants of Doubt (Oreskes & Conway), and Doubt is Their Product (Michaels). Unfortunately, this problem of politicized research and captured scientific authority is widespread.

Second, this article illustrates the failure of reform after a terrible accident because of vested economic and military interests. 

Japan's new regulator, Tanaka, has embraced nuclear power. I'm sure the reasons are complex for his commitments but the main reasons I can see are the power of the "nuclear village" in Japan and also Japan's desire to have on hand the components necessary for making nuclear weapons:

Oct 21, 2012
[Excerpted] "The existing safety standards fall short of international levels," Tanaka said, adding they in particular lacked severe accident management and disaster prevention measures. "We've aimed to make new ones ...
Sep 25, 2012
"We will not use 'stress tests' as our judgment criteria," Tanaka said in an interview with Kyodo News, referring to the two-stage safety examination process that the government introduced after the nuclear disaster at the ...
Sep 16, 2012
To repeat: Reprocessing or "recycling" fuel is linked to Japan's national security. (http://majiasblog.blogspot.com/2012/07/hmmmjapans-collective-self-defense-is.html). See Mainichi: Atomic energy law's sly alteration is abuse ...
Oct 19, 2012
....the appendix in question adds a sentence stating Japan's atomic energy policy should contribute to national security. What constitutes "national security?"....A deputy press secretary of South Korea's Ministry of Foreign ...
Jul 28, 2012
On June 23, 2012, The Mainichi newspaper, argued in an editorial that a national security clause embedded into Japan's Atomic Energy Basic Law passed on June 20, 2012 must be deleted because of its links to nuclear: ...
The final element of this article that I find important is the implicit effort by the US mainstream press to represent the nuclear disaster in Japan as stemming primarily from internal corruption of regulators. 
The implicit argument is that regulators in the US are independent and therefore US nuclear reactors are safe because of a righteous NRC. I've commented on this before. The same phenomenon holds for the Britain, which has put nuclear center stage:

Readers who see story after story about the corruption of Japan's nuclear authorities may be inclined to see corruption as responsible for the crisis.

And it is true that corruption and an inept response by the Japanese government (aimed at avoiding panic rather than protecting residents) played important roles in exacerbating the crisis.

However, the problems with nuclear reactors are universal and not restricted to particular circumstances. Nuclear reactors have a problem of residual heat that complicates shut down efforts.
Moreover, the equipment necessary for nuclear reactors is extraordinarily vulnerable to flooding and power disruptions. Reactors are also expensive to build and their fuel is very carbon-intensive to create. Moreover, there is no solution for long-term safe storage of DNA destroying nuclear waste:
Flood Threat To Nuclear Plants Covered Up By Regulators, NRC Whistleblower Claims http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/flood-threat-nuclear-plants-nrc_n_1885598.html 
For an analysis of risks please view nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen's analysis Here
For an example of costs see Costs at ailing Calif. nuke plant top $300 million By MICHAEL R. BLOOD | Associated Press http://news.yahoo.com/costs-ailing-calif-nuke-plant-top-300-million-205143124.html

For a discussion of the problem of nuclear waste see "Fixing America's Nuclear Waste Storage Problem" by Robert Alvarez June 20, 2011. The Nation http://www.thenation.com/article/161500/fixing-americas-nuclear-waste-storage-problem# 
A case in point is provided by the necessity for bringing in fire hoses to assure water availability for cooling spent fuel pools and reactors at Oyster Creek in NJ during Hurricane Sandy:
Also see this article in The Guardian: America's nuclear safety under scrutiny after Oyster Creek's Sandy alert Richard Schiffman Nov 1, 2012 The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/01/nuclear-safety-oyster-creek-sandy-alert
See also Union of Concerned Scientists report on near misses
Bottom Line: Nuclear power plants are not safe.  
Corrupt regulators make them even more dangerous but even the most principled regulators cannot ensure that nuclear reactors and spent fuel pools are safe in the event of flooding and/or power outages. We need to find a safer, more sustainable energy regime.

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