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Japan’s Nuclear Nightmare: The Price of Technological Optimism
by Ritt Goldstein
Tuesday Mar 15th, 2011 1:23 PM
We are all human, and that means we inevitably make mistakes - first BP in The Gulf, now Japan's nuclear crisis. A string of human errors has dogged the Fukushima Daiichi tragedy, from placing back-up generators in a low-lying area, to forgetting to refill fuel on vital pumps. Catastrophe is occurring, as is a cruel testimonial to the reality of 'nuclear safety', empty assurances of 'technological infallibility' having spawned a waking nightmare.
Japan’s Nuclear Nightmare: The Price of Technological Optimism
by Ritt Goldstein

It was June when I wrote an article titled ”Problems with Nuclear Power Highlighted by Gulf Disaster?”, highlighting the consequences of undue optimism, the particularly grave implications regarding nuclear power. With AP currently reporting the Japanese government is forecasting the possibility of ‘multiple’ reactor meltdowns, the first three paragraphs of that article read:

Nobody's perfect, and so mistakes do happen. But while I doubt if any of us could conceive of the tragedy coming with a reported 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil daily entering The Gulf, are we any more capable of conceiving what might come with a nuclear disaster? While optimism is important, it's sometimes a trap - just ask BP.

Before we are ‘sold' into a wholehearted embrace of the ‘clean, safe, and reliable' energy that gave us the Chernobyl Disaster, perhaps we might want to consider why so many of us are so sure ‘the unthinkable' can never least until it does.

We humans are an interesting species, our achievements demonstrating that we are capable of virtually incalculable greatness. Unfortunately, our catastrophes - such as that ostensibly ‘one in a million' chance oil debacle in The Gulf - demonstrate that we have our downsides too. Of course, sometimes even I happen to have that ever so rare occasion when, dare I say it, even I actually make an error; though, I reassure myself that this just means I'm only human. But that's precisely it - 'human error' can be a problem.

Currently, as seawater is being pumped into at least three reactors in what has widely been described as a desperate, last resort attempt to avert the ‘unthinkable’, The Washington Post quoted a nuclear industry expert citing the differences between Japan’s nightmare and BP’s Gulf debacle. He emphasized that: "The problem with the BP event is that they didn't have a Plan B…we have, I would say, sufficient defense in depth. We have Plan B, C, D and possibly E."

Given present circumstances, and that – as of this writing - there are reportedly at least three reactors in severe trouble, and at least three more in a reported ‘emergency’ condition, I wonder where on this expert’s back-up plans we presently are. Notably, Daiichi 3 just blew up, a hydrogen explosion similar to that which occurred at Daiichi 1 transpiring.

Unfortunately, in a display of ‘technological courage’ number 3 is fueled with an experimental plutonium and uranium mixture termed ‘mox’. As plutonium is substantively more toxic than uranium, what that means is markedly increased health injuries and contamination in case of a release.

Earlier, news reported a relief valve at number 3 was stuck and being opened manually, hampering possibilities to release pressure. I won’t speculate if that was pressure within the reactor container or the building surrounding it, and we’re told that the reactor containment is intact following the explosion.

As with BP, it does seem the infallible backup systems keep failing. I wonder what letter the plan for running as fast as you can is, not that it would do much good.

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