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Japan’s Quake And Nuclear Risks

Japan’s monster quake and nuclear concerns. We discuss the damage and lessons.

Jane Clayson in for Tom Ashbrook

Residents evacuated from areas surrounding the Fukushima nuclear facilities damaged in Friday's massive earthquake, are checked for radiation contamination, Sunday, Japan. (AP/Wally Santana)

Japan builds for natural disasters and it has built its national character on taking disaster in stride, pulling together, and building over.

But on Friday came that super-sized quake, not to mention aftershocks that would have flattened most countries, to the tsunami, and now, a runaway nuclear crisis.

Another reactor exploded this morning, frantic efforts to keep the nuclear fuel from melting down.

They haven’t even had a chance to count the dead or start the great rebuild and this story is still not over.

This hour, On Point: The Japanese people and their indescribable challenge.

- Jane Clayson

Guests:

Jim Walsh, expert in international security and a Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program.

David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times.

Coco Masters, former Tokyo correspondent for Time Magazine.

Costas Synolakis, professor of geophysics and the Director of the Tsunami Research Center at the University of Southern California.

Alex Marion, vice president for nuclear operations at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

More:

The photo on the left of Natori, Japan was taken April 4, 2010. The photo on right was taken Saturday, March 12, 2011, one day after the earthquake struck the Oshika Peninsula. (AP/GeoEye)

More photos from Japan here and here

Earthquakes in Context:

Japan, 3/11/11: death toll unfolding, 8.9 Magnitude

Tangshan, China, 7/27/76: Est. 655,000 deaths, 7.5 Magnitude

Sumatra, 12/26/04: 227,898 deaths, 9.1 Magnitude

Haiti, 1/12/10:  222,570 deaths, 7.0 Magnitude

Pakistan, 10/8/05: 86,000 deaths, 7.6 Magnitude

Chimbote, Peru, 5/31/70: 70,000 deaths, 7.9 Magnitude

(Source: USGS)


This map depicts Japan’s exposed population by area hit by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami on Friday (Source: USGS)

See more detailed coverage and statistics from USGS

 

Google Crisis Response Webpage provides disaster resources and on the ground updates

People watch the aftermath of tsunami tidal waves covering a port at Kesennuma in northern Japan, Friday. (AP/Keichi Nakane, The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Robby

    I live approximately 130 miles south-west of the nuclear power plants. What is the probability of getting contaminated? Should I evacuate back to the U.S.?

    Robby

    • Zeno

      From what I have seen on the news the prevailing wind is mostly in your favor. The plume from the nuclear plant Fukushima Dai-ichi seems to blowing north-north east. The snow that is coming should also help bring down any particulates, but Cesium is a fluffy highly radioactive contaminant that is easily carried in the air.

      It was just reported here that one of the reactors appears to be leaking coolant, requiring constant topping off with sea water. If they cannot keep coolant in the core it will melt down, and others are are reported to be tipping toward meltdowns as well.

      I guess your decision to leave or stay comes down to two things. Personal risk assessment by staying or leaving, and by staying are you a greater help to Japan, or an additional burden on a stressed system.

      Best wishes to you and the people of Japan from New England.

    • Zeno

      From what I have seen on the news the prevailing wind is mostly in your favor. The plume from the nuclear plant Fukushima Dai-ichi seems to blowing north-north east. The snow that is coming should also help bring down any particulates, but Cesium is a fluffy highly radioactive contaminant that is easily carried in the air.

      It was just reported here that one of the reactors appears to be leaking coolant, requiring constant topping off with sea water. If they cannot keep coolant in the core it will melt down, and others are are reported to be tipping toward meltdowns as well.

      I guess your decision to leave or stay comes down to two things. Personal risk assessment by staying or leaving, and by staying are you a greater help to Japan, or an additional burden on a stressed system.

      Best wishes to you and the people of Japan from New England.

    • Tina

      Robby, the news just said that some of the components that are supposed to cool, did not. (Please see Zeno’s reply to you below: he has better understanding of the terms; but I’m posting 4 hours after he did, and that news that I just heard was that the cooling could NOT be stopped.) Also, they just detected radiation levels on a U.S. pilots who flew over the area to drop off relief supplies.
      Best wishes on your decision. Best wishes to you and all.

  • geffe

    First let me say my heart goes out to the people of Japan.
    The level of destruction here is unbelievable and this is in a country that is as prepared as one can be. One has to wonder how prepared the US is for a huge earthquake.

    The lessons? We can’t build nuclear power plants on or near earthquake zones, period. I know some people will say the chances are small that something will happen. Well something is happening now, and it’s never happened before. I for one do not trust what any expert says about safety. Japan has the safest and best built reactors in the world and yet they failed to shut down safely in this disaster.

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      Geffe,
      Yes, there will be lessons but I believe your conclusion is premature. No new nukes in earthquake zones? That would be like saying no high rises can be built in earthquake zones. We do have the building technology.

      Was there earthquake damage? The evidence is no. Was there tsunami damage? Yes. They had a sea wall built for 20 foot surge and they succumbed to a 35 foot surge which killed the backup generator.

      We will learn more in the post mortem.

      1) Why were the backup generators not immune to tsunami (eg, installed at a higher level)
      2) Why weren’t secondary backup generators deployed in a remote location ready to be quickly airlifted in. We do that in this country post 9/11.
      3) Where was the hydrogen removal system? This is only necessary if the cooling backups fail.

      So far the public is safe but there is a large capital loss. I fear the damage to the nuclear industry is immeasurable.

      btw – the new designs being built today in China (and here if we allow them) have passive cooling so they will be OK even with a backup power failure.

      • geffe

        High rises don’t spew radiation all over the land, sea and air.
        It’s not premature. I don’t trust the American nuclear industry any more than I trust the banks to do the right thing. If the Japanese can’t get it right do you really think our industry can?

        I for one do not want to wait for a disaster of this magnitude to find out if the backup systems work. Sorry I’m not going to trust them to do the right thing.

        I do think that building nuclear reactors on or near large fault lines in earthquake zones is a disaster waiting to happen.

        • geffe

          The earthquake caused the tsunami. It also seems that ground under the reactors has also cracked the foundations of some of the reactors. My point is if they can’t build these things to withstand a disaster like this they should not be built in earth quake zones.
          I’m not saying they should not be built. I’m pointing to the reality of what just happened here. By all means we should learn from this and build better plants.

        • Worried for the country(MA)

          I agree with you that caution is warranted. My overall point is we MAY learn that the earthquake damage was not at issue here. Why build them on or near a fault? I can’t answer that. However, how far from a fault is safe? That will be a key question.

          We need to learn from this and improve safety. However, killing the nuclear industry would be the true disaster.

      • docsp2

        The New York Times is reporting today that the back-up generators were built in LOW spots near the power stations because the industry and their regulators were completely convinced that the sea walls would protect them from tsunami. So there was only ONE ‘system’ between the generators and disaster. And we’re supposed to have confidence in this sort of thing?

    • Zeno

      I heard a guy on the BBC yesterday saying how lucky Japan is to have these failing plants and not wind and tidal power. I am not opposed to nuclear power, but like most people not so much that I can’t that there are other sources of generation that can be exploited as well. The Return on investment for nuclear plants is voodoo economics at its best, because the burden of the losses that are paid by the tax payers is rarely figured in.

      Will nuclear power ever be safe? No, because the materials by their very nature are dangerous, and the systems that exploit them are unreliable.

      It will never be possible to build a completely safe reactor…That’s just reality. The contractors are susceptible to graft so each plant is never built to specification, and the plant design is susceptible to modification to save cost by reducing the safety levels.

      No plant will ever be built to maximum safety due to the nature of human greed mixed with big money. It’s like the flood walls in New Orleans, there were specifications and warnings from engineers, geologists, ect…but what was actually built was what could be built within the limits of greed and corruption.

      I’m certain that in Japan when these plants were being designed there were thousands of geologists saying you can’t build a plant like that at this location because…. But plant design and placement are not about science or safety, but are about profit alone. The profit only mentality is what will always make nuclear power unsafe.

      The current plants being built in the US are no longer overseen by any unbiased government agency, but are built by the hands of corporate greed alone (no oversight, except their corporate ROI morality). Because of this, I think a 40 year old plant will be safer than any new plant constructed. The newer design basis will be safer, but the construction will have every shortcut greed can muster.

      • Yar

        Zeno,
        “The Return on investment for nuclear plants is voodoo economics at its best, because the burden of the losses that are paid by the tax payers is rarely figured in. ”

        That statement above can be said for just about any economic investment made.
        Coal is not paying for cleaning up its mess either. I suspect the fossil energy lobby will use this event to say we must not change our current energy policy.
        Turning food into fuel is short sighted as well. We must use less energy! We must change our lifestyle! We must care about the rest of the world!

        We seem to only focus on one thing at a time, right now it is the price of gas, we have so many things we need to do to become a stable society, how do we even begin a conversation on thinking long term?

        • Zeno

          Agreed, that is the “free market capitalism” so oft touted in board rooms across the country. They call it free because they offload the losses onto the tax payers.

          Rationality does not appear to be a component of our governance. It mostly seems to be a mixture of greed and religion, and partisan ideology, and none of that bodes well for the future of rational decision making in this country.

          Actually, all of the energy needs of the country can be met with current technologies static and transitional, but once again the childish mentality in such a huge percentage of critical decision makers will require the usual short term crisis management which reaps even higher profits than long term rational planning.

          • Grady Lee Howard

            EXACTLY- for disaster capitalism to operate disasters must occur.
            The SPICE (or corrosive salts or thorium or whatever) must flow.
            It is sick how the indoctrinated pop up with inane observations at a time of world crisis. I blame the business schools. This would not have happened 20 years ago.

      • Willaim

        It is so difficult to build anything in the USA due to the greedy unions and their inept and corrupt union bosses.

        • Zeno

          That’s not what blocked Cape Wind. It was the skyline of the NIMBY millionaire shore line estates..

          • ThresherK

            No point trying to counter Williambot. He has his one answer to everything subject, including next hour’s show about Gregg Allman.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I can’t help noticing that in the US when disaster strikes we have looting of stores and people cutting into line to get water or gasoline before their neighbors. In Japan, a culture where you can leave your bicycle unlocked at a train station and expect to find it there when you return, they have none or very little of that.

    Disasters are inevitable, it’s how we learn from and deal with them that matters.

  • Worried for the country(MA)

    Death rate by energy source. Interesting.

    Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

    Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
    Coal – China 278
    Coal – USA 15
    Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
    Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
    Biofuel/Biomass 12
    Peat 12
    Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
    Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
    Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
    Hydro – world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
    Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html#more

    • geffe

      What’s your point? That nuclear kills less people? I would hope so.
      Coal mining is a dangerous business.

  • Cory

    There wasn’t much chance of nuclear expansion in the US before. Now, you can completely forget about it.

    • David

      There isn’t the money either.

      Unless they steal 15 billion or so from us for every reactor they build.

  • Yar

    As a society, we can never prepare enough for zero causalities when an event of this magnitude occurs. My prayers are with the people of Japan as they work through their grief in dealing with this disaster. They did most everything right and still had loss of life.
    This quake released 100 times the energy of the 2010 quake that devastated Haiti. The power of a log scale is not easily understood in numbers. Around 1812 three quakes between 7.0 and 8.1 (estimated) hit mid America, when another quake of those magnitudes occurs, will America be ready? We have every reason to believe a quake will occur and the only variable left unknown is when. We would not have a tsunami risk in mid America yet water may still pose a threat. Impounded water in man made lakes are only one danger. All man made structures have the potential for loss of life. I am amazed at images of a building in Tokyo with its broken antenna on top could sustain enough movement to break the mast without falling down. I don’t know if there is any building in the US built to that level of protection. Chicago’s distance from the New Madrid fault is comparable to that of Tokyo to the quake in Japan.
    Below is an estimate of the expected damage of a 7.7 quake on the New Madrid fault.
    http://hdl.handle.net/2142/14810
    Nearly 715,000 buildings are damaged in the eight-state study region. About 42,000 search and rescue personnel working in 1,500 teams are required to respond to the earthquakes. Damage to critical infrastructure (essential facilities, transportation and utility lifelines) is substantial in the 140 impacted counties near the rupture zone, including 3,500 damaged bridges and nearly 425,000 breaks and leaks to both local and interstate pipelines. Approximately 2.6 million households are without power after the earthquake. Nearly 86,000 injuries and fatalities result from damage to infrastructure.

  • Peter Melzer

    In the past, government leaders struggled with presenting coherent messages about fallout hazards. Zero-becquerel milk may coming to the West Coast.

    Read more here:
    http://brainmindinst.blogspot.com/2009/07/no-country-for-shrinking-violets.html

    The Japanese plant operators must be commented on their heroic job. Let us hope that most radioactive material stays inside the containments.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    Cory is correct that nuclear financing in the USA was already problematic as attested by Lester Brown at Earth Policy Institute. We are also past peak in uranium availability.

    Zeno is correct about the voodoo financialization that keeps nuclear power talked up. I’m Worried for My Wallet when i consider the CDOs that could be involved in these new trillions in insurance claims. Another type of “meltdown” (as we saw in 2008) could be on the way. The epithet “GE” chills me to the bone when I think how entangled our government is with this global monster, and how that alone could obligate our taxpayers in this situation.

    Your concern and sympathy may go out to Japan now but a financial tsunami could soon engulf our mainland.

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      “We are also past peak in uranium availability.”
      That statement is patently false. The oceans have more than enough Uranium and fuel costs are a small percentage of operating costs so even a 100x price increase won’t kill the economics.

      The dependence on Uranium is moot since these current generation plants are a bridge to the gen IV plants that will consume the ‘waste’ as fuel. 95% of the volume of the waste is available energy for the next gen plant. Further, several of the next gen plant use Thorium. Thorium is supplies are abundant.

      • Grady Lee Howard

        Please do not allow your false financial hopes to color your commentary. Any sane person who has investigated this subject cab=n surmise you’re way off base and still traveling. Don’t make yourself the nuclear Brandstad.

  • Zeno

    The way people view the nuclear hazard is very apparent in Japan. Their citizens are standing in the rubble caused by earthquakes, Tsunamis, refinery fires, rotting and burning debris, soaked in sea water, no food , no water, no electricity…and the biggest worry on their minds is the radiation from the nuclear plants.

    That is the central issue at the very heart of nuclear power.

    • Yar

      I am not sure that is true on the ground. Japan has a horrific experience with exposure to radiation, so they give it the attention it deserves. Media coverage is only a small part of what is going on. I am amazed at how the people seem to work together to deal with the challenges they face. The scope of damage is so vast most of it goes uncovered by the media. I expect most workers are trying to figure out how to provide shelter and food to the displaced victims of the quake and tsunami.

      • Zeno

        They have a justifiable innate fear of radiation, but I think the thing that stresses them most is the chaos. When I first saw the tsunami moving over those incredibly neat fields, my first thought was this is the antithesis of Japanese culture.

    • http://moreover.myopenid.com/ moreover

      Zeno, your smug remark ignores that the Japanese people were decimated by two atomic bombs in 1945. This will play a role, count on it.

      • Zeno

        There is nothing smug or ignorant in my statement. Why the pedantic anger? I’m well aware of the bombings… your preaching is quite unnecessary. I also remember TMI and how the whole incident was perceived by the public. The statement is about the perception of radiation…and is not a bigoted remark in any way.

  • Anonymous

    Tom,

    Nuclear Power is the most efficient and most reliable form of power. The only thing we should learn from the Japanese tragedy is, don’t build a Nuclear power plant in an area that can get hit by a tsunami?

    • Grady Lee Howard

      So here we must congratulate New Zealand for remaining a nuclear free zone. Plot all the faults and tsunami zones in the USA and see what you get. Then add the potential for terrorism, domestic or foreign, especially airplane tactics Condi Rice has never considered.

      • Philonous

        Any source of power is vulnerable in one way or another, and many of them produce waste that is dangerous. A modern society has to have plans to mitigate this, but until we can produce all of our energy from safe and renewable means, we have to accept the risks.

    • Cory

      I agree… with you…. Brandstad. (I can’t believe it!)

    • Cory

      I agree… with you…. Brandstad. (I can’t believe it!)

    • nj

      Efficient and reliable. You forgot to mention “safe” and the “safe” waste disposal schemes. And inexpensive (remember “too cheap to meter”).

      /sarcasm off/

  • Willaim

    We still don’t have Cape Wind project online and that project has gone on for nearly nine years.

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      I was for Cape Wind until they signed a corrupt contract to sell the power for 2-3X market rates for the next 15 years. Now I’m forced to pay for their profit.

      • Grady Lee Howard

        I’d blame that old billionaires union and have the governor outlaw the abomination.

        • Worried for the country(MA)

          This is Governor Deval Patrick’s baby. He’s behind the corrupt contract. He’s certainly not going to kill it.

          • Philonous

            How are wind turbines involved with a corrupt contract? Are you opposing the idea of turbines, or is there a specific problem with the contracts in question?

          • Worried for the country(MA)

            I’m not against the project.
            I’m not even against the low cost lease and other federal subsidies.

            What I am against is the contract that guarantees the purchase price at 2-3X market rates and then passed on to about 1/2 the rate payers in MA.

            The whole thing stinks. There wasn’t proper oversight from the Governor or that Atty General protecting the rate payers.

            I used to be very bullish on wind but I am now convinced that the economics don’t make sense. It is a marginal player and will remain that way. Even the sec. of energy, Steven Chu, stated it is a mature industry and doesn’t deserve subsidies. He is looking elsewhere for solutions.

          • Philonous

            I’d believe that wind isn’t a good solution if I saw turbines everywhere I go, but there’s a whole lot of wind that isn’t being used right now. It may not be the only thing that we need, but it’s available and clean.

          • Worried for the country(MA)

            Aesthetics aside, the economics don’t make sense. Even in the windiest areas you can have weeks of no wind. Therefore, you need backup power which means you need conventional sources of power too. If those backup plants are idle it doubles the cost.

          • Ellen Dibble

            The trick is to have infrastructure that will carry energy from where it is abundant (say the windy New Mexico desert) to where it is at that time scant (a calm gray day in Boston). There are some energy sources, like geothermal, which pipes energy from below the earth, which is a constant, or maybe wave energy from the seas) that are not variable, but that is no reason to skip the energies that are variable. The problem is distribution and storage. Either one will do, but both is better.

          • Zeno

            Agreed, The wind is always blowing somewhere. There is no need to call wind useless because it does not blow all the time on a single hill in Texas.

  • Zinovy Vayman, the Galilee

    It is not about an advanced culture, folks !

    It is about the advanced people of Japan whose DNA produces their advanced and ethical culture without any Torah, the New Testament or Quran.

    It is Japanese propensity to absorb and use the highest civilizational achievement–Judeo-Germanic culture developed in the Northern Europe by the most amazing Germanic tribes in collaboration with enviable Jews for hundreds and hundreds of years…

    It is Japanese more or less homogenous society. According to professor Putnam, diversity kills the future of societies.

    Oh, Fukushima!
    My happy island’s plum blossoms
    radiate dawn

    • Philonous

      DNA does not produce cultural differences. Human beings are nearly identical on the genetic level.

    • Yar

      Are you saying anytime we see our neighbor as a brother we build a better society? If so, I agree, but if your answer is to segregate societies by race or religion, then I disagree. I believe individuals can learn to care about those who look different than themselves. The problem comes from using race and religion or even political point of view to prevent us from seeing our neighbor as our friend. I fault the individuals creating this divide not the society for accepting it.
      My goal is to build a strong multi-cultural community. What is yours?

      • Philonous

        He’s also making the error of identifying culture with genetics. The two are unrelated.

  • Anonymous

    Tom,

    With China reducing their holdings in US treasuries every month, PIMCO’s Bond fund (largest in the world) has also sold all its holding in US Treasuries, and now Japan (who happens to be the 2nd biggest holder of US treasuries) in need of cash and likely to sell treasuries to fund rebuilding efforts.

    Who is going to buy US treasuries and how much higher are their interest rates going to go in order to attract investors?

    • Grady Lee Howard

      Brand- If you’re really watching the bonds, who is doing those big purchases seemingly rooted in Great Britain? Are they a bogey where the FED is swallowing its own tail? Or is it the Saudi royals trying to purchase diplomatic and military backing against “unrest?”
      Or could it be both?

      • twenty-niner

        Many believe UK debt accumulation in late ’10 was by proxy for the Chinese.

    • twenty-niner

      Brandstad, you know better.

      The Fed is now the largest holder in US debt and is monetizing $25-30 billion / week. They are the buyer of last resort. Unfortunately they don’t take money out of circulation to buy US debt; they just print more.

      http://consultingbyrpm.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/total-debt-holdings.jpg

      Even some members of Congress are starting to realize that we are engaging in a giant Ponzi scheme. Posted today from the website of John Campbell (48th District of CA):

      “The Fed can cure a bunch of this simply by printing a lot more money. That, however, will result in an inflationary period with major wealth destruction and economic malaise.”

      http://campbell.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2959:monday-march-14-2011-treasury-bonds&catid=38&Itemid=300035

      • Anonymous

        You are correct.

        I did know the answer but I was hoping some more people out there would do their research and discover that what you are saying is the Gods honest Truth!

        Now the only question is what will happen when QE2 ends? QE3? Higher interest rates? or both?

    • twenty-niner

      Brandstad, you know better.

      The Fed is now the largest holder in US debt and is monetizing $25-30 billion / week. They are the buyer of last resort. Unfortunately they don’t take money out of circulation to buy US debt; they just print more.

      http://consultingbyrpm.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/total-debt-holdings.jpg

      Even some members of Congress are starting to realize that we are engaging in a giant Ponzi scheme. Posted today from the website of John Campbell (48th District of CA):

      “The Fed can cure a bunch of this simply by printing a lot more money. That, however, will result in an inflationary period with major wealth destruction and economic malaise.”

      http://campbell.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2959:monday-march-14-2011-treasury-bonds&catid=38&Itemid=300035

  • Ellen Dibble

    Fukushima is built the way 20 percent of American nuclear power plants are built. Someone from American administration was saying that on the news yesterday. The person didn’t say whether the other 80 percent are worse or better. There are 102 in all, is what I heard, but I think the guy said 104 at one point. He thought approvals for the go-ahead with new reactors would pause just long enough to confirm that present designs have enough extra protection.
    Obama has been a big supporter of increasing nuclear power since the very beginning. Me, not so much.

    • Philonous

      But what’s the alternative? Coal? Oil? Those have their own risks and harms. We can conserve energy; we can use our own resources, but we have to have power. I’m all for promoting clean energy, though the political climate at the moment isn’t favorable.

      • Ellen Dibble

        The political climate is not favorable, you say, Philonous? Would that be because of campaigns depending on lobbyists and funding from the Old Guard highly profitable oil, gas, and coal industries? (And no, one doesn’t leap with favor at the idea of nuclear power either.) I was reading the Consumer Reports issue on cars, hoping as usual to have a micro car available at some time. There are some that are about twice the size and twice the power I would need, but that is a lot better than a few years back. I’m holding out for what I really want/need, which is not a leviathan.

        • Philonous

          Voters right now don’t seem willing to support having the government spend money on anything. Too many people are focused on the state of the economy right now to worry about development for the future.

          • Philonous

            I hope that we look farther into the future soon, since we do need clean energy.

      • Sean

        how about solar ? but the oil !!!interests will not like it.

        • Philonous

          Solar panels do work, but they’re expensive right now. We do need cheap panels. Until we get them, will you support subsidies to make them afforable?

          • Anonymous

            Subsidies don’t make things more affordable, they only shift some of the cost from the purchaser to the Federal government, and back on the backs of the working poor.

          • Philonous

            Thus the need for a more rational tax structure. That being the case, by distributing the cost to all of us, we reduce the individual burden.

          • ThresherK

            We’re still waiting for nuclear to pay its own way and stop being subsidized. I’d love to do something that dangerous and only need to worry about a pittance of liability.

          • Ellen Dibble

            They’re getting cheaper and better. I don’t think one is automatically connected to the grid bilaterally, but even now, solar panels pay for themselves much, much faster than a mortgage is paid for. It’s a savings, unless the price of gas and of global warming suddenly collapses.

          • Ellen Dibble

            They’re getting cheaper and better. I don’t think one is automatically connected to the grid bilaterally, but even now, solar panels pay for themselves much, much faster than a mortgage is paid for. It’s a savings, unless the price of gas and of global warming suddenly collapses.

    • Gregg

      I think Obama’s pledge to expand Nuclear energy was just lip service. He has his excuse to backtrack now

      • Ellen Dibble

        Lip service to whom? Every lobbyist in Washington must be spooked by the idea of people building houses and businesses that are “on the grid” and actually SELLING energy from solar panels and geothermal pipes from below, and maybe a wind turbine up on the backyard hill. Stop those Americans from selling energy! That’s not only free to them, it’s profitable, and Americans are entrepreneurial enough to go for that BIGTIME. Stop That Pass!

      • Ellen Dibble

        Lip service to whom? Every lobbyist in Washington must be spooked by the idea of people building houses and businesses that are “on the grid” and actually SELLING energy from solar panels and geothermal pipes from below, and maybe a wind turbine up on the backyard hill. Stop those Americans from selling energy! That’s not only free to them, it’s profitable, and Americans are entrepreneurial enough to go for that BIGTIME. Stop That Pass!

      • David

        It really doesn’t matter what he said. There is no money to build 15 billion dollar nuclear reactors unless they steal the money from the little we are living on.

    • Anonymous

      Obama talks about a renaissance in nuclear energy. I wonder what that means. I’m cynical about American leadership, to me that would mean more nuclear plants. I’m not against that, despite the unfortunate events in Japan, Chernobyl, and on Three Mile Island.

      What I want are the right kinds of nuclear power plants. So far when we talk about new types of plants they are incremental improvements to the same conventional plant. These conventional plants are based on nuclear submarine technology and were never good for consumer power production from the get-go, I’d argue they were never good for submarines.

      There are radically new kinds of plant designs that eliminate the possibility of nuclear explosion, are much safer, and produce 99% less radioactivity.

      If we want a renaissance, that is what I want to see. American Scientist had a great article on one kind just a few months ago. Anyways, the cynic in me says that we won’t be doing this. America seems to always try the wrong options first.

  • BHA in Vermont

    Jane, you need to use the phrase “nuclear plant has exploded” very carefully. Those words make it sound like the whole thing is flattened. That is NOT the case, the reactor is intact and is not spewing nuclear waste into the air. This is, at least not yet, a Chernobyl like disaster.

  • Mark

    I can’t say it enough how my heart goes out to the Japanese people!!

  • Sonia

    Tom–
    Please ask your guests to address how the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear power fiascos might affect political stability in the Far East. With North Korea, backed by China, poised to strike at the South, with Japan “distracted” by problems at home, and the US fighting two wars already, but dealing with revolutions in the Mid-East, is some sort of strike/war in Asia also likely?

    • Sonia

      Sorry, I should have written “Jayne.”

      • Sonia

        and without the “y.” (sigh. Daylight Savings Time brain lag.)

  • Ellen Dibble

    The good order that Japanese keep when in danger, when in chaos, is truly enviable. I think back to the unity and coordination with which they conducted their part of World War II. Part of their culture is an awful lot of stoicism and control, and it serves them well on a small island, historically, and it served them well in defeat, apparently, taking the realities and making the most of it. I am thinking of my father, at the time I was born, doing some apparently secret-ish things in that country for many months that are disappeared from what he ever talked about. He must have been dealing with people like this, beaten but still orderly.

  • Ellen Dibble

    The chart up top shows earthquakes back to 1970. My Time almanac from 2009 shows an earthquake in upper Egypt in 1201 or Syria magnitude 9 with a death toll of 1,100,000 — that must have been the entire population. Or in Jeddo, Japan, 1703, unknown level, killing 200,000. Hokkaido, 1730, unknown level, 137,000 dead. In Ninxia provine, China, 7.8, 200,000 dead. In 1923, Tokyo, Yokohama, Japan. 7.9, 143,000.
    Page 178.

  • Philonous

    Every time some event like this happens–be it a natural disaster or a wacko on a shooting spree–we hear calls to make the world safe. The problem is that we cannot do that entirely. Life that is enjoyable and worth living has dangers. We can do some work to mitigate the risk, but we have to live as well. Events like this are rare, and I don’t want to give up our modern world because of them.

    Greg Camp
    Springdale, AR
    http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/

  • Ellen Dibble

    And there are tsunami statistics, which I’m thinking might not include tsunamis triggered by earthquakes, because it doesn’t include those Japanese earthquakes. It shows Tambora, Indonesia, 1815, 92,000 dead triggered by eruption, and next below that is Krakatoa, Indonesia, 1883, 36,000 dead, triggered by volcano. The highest tsunami shown for Japan is Unzen, 1792, 15,000 dead. Like I said, maybe they are ignoring those earthquake victims in Japan.
    I’m thinking this was before the tsunami off Indonesia recently.

  • ThresherK

    There’s “you can’t eliminate every risk”. Let’s not confuse that with the whitewash of “nobody could have predicted”.

    From the NYT (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/world/asia/13nuclear-industry.html):

    Over the years, Japanese plant operators, along with friendly government officials, have sometimes hidden episodes at plants from a public increasingly uneasy with nuclear power….

    Last year, [one] reactor with a troubled history was allowed to reopen, 14 years after a fire shut it down. The operator of that plant…tried to cover up the extent of the fire by releasing altered video after the accident in 1995

    Wow. Where’s Breitbart and O’Keefe when you really need them?

  • http://moreover.myopenid.com/ moreover

    During Chernobyl soldiers carried out suicide missions attempting repairs they knew would kill them. Is that an option here?

    • Philonous

      That was the Soviet Union, not a nation that cared about its people, and this doesn’t seem to be a situation that requires that kind of response yet.

    • Saul

      There is nothing going on at the Japanese reactors – currently – that require Chernobyl-like suicide missions.

      But, the reactor operators are risking their lives. A number were injured, and perhaps killed, in the two (non-nuclear) explosions.

      They are genuine heroes. And, if this situation gets no more serious than it already is, we owe it to them.

  • geffe

    I have to respond to that woman who called about her son in Okinawa.
    First off she would be well advised to look at a map. Second, her son is in the military and I hope she understands that he might be be ordered to help in the relief effort. And so he should be, it’s what he signed up for.

    • Grady Lee Howard

      Correct Professor Geffe: If you love your offspring don’t let them sell themselves into indentured servitude for corporate welfare at taxpayers expense.(called military enlistment) The caller may have been feeling guilty thinking about her potential $400,000 death benefit had her son been under the tsunami or on top of the reactors. Mamas who want rid of an unemployable child get to feeling guilty at the time of reckoning. Okinawa is a long way away from Honshu, if Mama had only looked at Google Earth. On Google Earth she could see his quarters.

  • David

    We are leaving nuclear waste that needs to be safely stored for 30,000 years into the future.

    How is that anything but criminal to future generations?

    • Philonous

      Yes, it has to be stored for a long time, but that can be done. I’d rather leave the future a developed society with a little waste than giving up. What is the alternative?

      • David

        How can we possibly know that what follows us will be a developed society?

        30,000 is 3X the recorded human history.

        • Philonous

          We can’t know for sure, but we can’t have a technological society without energy. What do you want us to do?

          • Ellen Dibble

            Capture the energy that already exists, and distribute it. Use science. Then use science to re-bottle some of the damage we’ve done (CO2) ASAP.

          • David

            That answers the moral question—screw the future generations because we are living high.

          • Philonous

            We have the longest life expectancy in history; we’ve cured many diseases, and we feed more people now than ever before. What level of society will you accept?

          • David

            We are doing it all at the expense of destroying the very environment we need to survive. Makes perfect sense if you are insane.

          • Philonous

            What I keep asking you is what you want to do. Handwringing and demands to change don’t answer that question.

          • David

            I put my money on the sun like Thomas Edison famously said.

            We need to power down, get local and figure how to use renewables to live. It is going to be a lot less energy then we are used to.

          • Philonous

            We can’t “power down” without giving up technology. You’re commenting on the Internet while listening to a radio program because of electricity. What specifically are you willing to give up?

          • Ellen Dibble

            We have an agency that evaluates your energy usage. They hang out in front of town hall. They have no suggestions for me to improve, but that’s because of city planning. I don’t commute, because I use a bike, thanks to not being a suburban dweller. I have figured out a kitchen that uses probably 5% of what most Americans use. I don’t rent more rooms than I need. The building could be a lot more energy efficient, so I campaign for multiunit buildings that are geothermally heated, some that are on bus routes or within urban-ish locations. I’m not getting very far with that at all. Banks aren’t happy with it (developers might buy said building outright without a mortgage). Energy producers aren’t happy with it. Car producers aren’t happy with it. Even contractors seem to think they could get rich faster by building ten stand-alone or five duplex buildings than one building for all ten. No one would profit except the goal of conservation and a sustainable planet.

          • Philonous

            I live some twenty miles from my job, so biking isn’t an option. I don’t want to live with a group of people (apartment). I also don’t want an agency to tell me when I can turn on my lights.

            I’m not alone. What practical solutions are there that don’t involve giving up the society that we have?

          • Ellen Dibble

            What are you talking about “agency to tell me when I can turn on my lights”?
            And there is no problem being in a unit with ten people. I’ve done it for 40 years. If you are in an incompatible unit, with people or landlords whom you can’t establish the appropriate degree of separation from, then you move down the street. Ask around and find a building with a different personality. In my building, if people want to talk, they take their coffee onto the front steps, or they take their cigarettes onto the front porch. In fact, they always smoke cigarettes out there, so the smokers are the ones I know best. We’ve had our share of addicts and criminals, but there are ways to deal with that, and I would not want to have missed those experiences. Mostly, the setup guarantees that I don’t become segregated. There are rich retirees, young people apparently living off trust funds, foreign and American students and graduate students with multiple jobs or start-up businesses, young people, maybe back from the Peace Corps and looking for the next step, or working to support a spouse who is a student while saving up to buy a house. None of these are exactly part of what would be my “cohort,” if I traveled with “my kind,” and as such it keeps me better entwined into present reality than if I were in a house of my own. I almost never hear any of them, and we don’t call each other or knock on each other’s doors. However, we have collaborated pretty well in — well, unbelievably well, in fact. Sometimes just having chatted with someone for an hour creates enough of a sense of who they are to be able to function as a team in very remarkable ways. It’s sad when they leave, but so it goes. As I say, in a functional rental community, there are always plenty of choices. If the landlord is telling you to turn off your lights, just go elsewhere. You live without attic space or basement space, but there are compensations. Where I live, there is a ZipCar facility (two parked there) across the street. My way of earning a living is intertwined with accessibility, so if I lived 20 miles away it would be different. But my town has gentrified, and so I expect to move at least 20 miles out someday. I’m looking for an electric microcar to get me there and back, and am looking for apartments there, not upscale rentals for retirees, but some with young people getting started. It’s much more exciting.

          • David

            We waste a third of the energy we use. Going local is key and really conserving the energy we have.

            I hope we are smart enough to start this while we can transition to renewables with technology. But my bet is we are too selfish and we are just going to fall off of a cliff when we can’t afford to burn oil the way we are doing now.

          • Philonous

            Again, what specifically are you asking us to do? What sacrifices? What do we give up? What can we keep? You use catchphrases, but I don’t see any answers.

          • David

            I have no car. I walk or take public transportation.

            I keep my home in the low 50s. I try not to buy anything in plastic.

            I only use a light in the room I am in.

            I try to buy local food.

            These are steps anyone can take.

          • Philonous

            There is little public transportation where I live, and I want the freedom of driving myself. I won’t live in a rabbit warren or hand over control of my life. That’s what I’m talking about–how do we maintain our freedom and technology? Most people won’t give those up, so solutions that demand sacrifice are unrealistic.

          • David

            You won’t have that freedom when you can’t afford the gas.

            You have lived in a once ever time period of cheap energy on this planet. It is coming to an end.

            Face reality and prepare.

          • Grady Lee Howard

            Your responsibility to demand energy saving policies, lower energy manufacturing and more durable longlasting goods, and walking and biking trails remains. Saying you like to drive and you refuse to move to a convenient place won’t cut it in at a critical time. Some people thing freedom is consumption but the smarter ones know it is all in our heads- having the freedom to do the right things for your community, the planet, and succeeding generations. We lack that freedom right now. Do you know why?

          • Ellen Dibble

            Philonous, I’ve been thinking about your idea of living in a rabbit warren and handing over control and not being able to drive, and it’s not anything like the low-energy lifestyle that is available to me. For one thing, one can own a car. We don’t have a parking space apiece, but that might be partly because there are about a dozen bikes around the building. We don’t need cars. When we do, there are the Zip Car cars across the street. The bus service and train service and couple-up online ride-share service provide some alternatives. The buildings in my town that house renters are nothing like warrens. They are elegant, old, graceful buildings, pretty much exactly like the single-family homes that they are interspersed with. There are some new buildings offering condominiums that are a lot more like warrens, sort of like glorified dormitories, designed for maximum energy consumption. I feel a huge lot more independent with a landlord and his/their team to manage things. I have a lot more time to spend on my work. I don’t have to make decisions and spend time on vast numbers of issues that homeowners contend with. I find that extremely liberating. There are no restraints by the landlord. Supposedly animals are not allowed, but there have been dogs and cats regardless. Smoking is allowed, but people do that outside. If one wanted different situations, one would look for another building. We don’t have dishwashers or laundry facilities, but there has been tethering for horses. It’s that sort of a place.
            My great complaint is that the kind of rental housing is not being built. Instead there is “affordable” housing, which is designed with lease constraints to make it hard to save for retirement or for buying your own house or for building your business. Because managers of “affordable” rentals get a tax deduction, such housing is not “ratable” for property taxes, plenty of rentals are morphing into “affordable,” and the pool of standard rentals has been shrinking in the last 40 years, when that law passed.
            Thus the problem is not that plenty of Americans would see such a style of living as constraining, but rather, the problem is that Americans like me who do NOT see energy-efficient living like this as constraining, we are having a very hard time finding that kind of housing. How many communities are focused on that?
            In many towns and cities, energy-efficient living is not even a choice.

          • Ellen Dibble

            Philonous, I’ve been thinking about your idea of living in a rabbit warren and handing over control and not being able to drive, and it’s not anything like the low-energy lifestyle that is available to me. For one thing, one can own a car. We don’t have a parking space apiece, but that might be partly because there are about a dozen bikes around the building. We don’t need cars. When we do, there are the Zip Car cars across the street. The bus service and train service and couple-up online ride-share service provide some alternatives. The buildings in my town that house renters are nothing like warrens. They are elegant, old, graceful buildings, pretty much exactly like the single-family homes that they are interspersed with. There are some new buildings offering condominiums that are a lot more like warrens, sort of like glorified dormitories, designed for maximum energy consumption. I feel a huge lot more independent with a landlord and his/their team to manage things. I have a lot more time to spend on my work. I don’t have to make decisions and spend time on vast numbers of issues that homeowners contend with. I find that extremely liberating. There are no restraints by the landlord. Supposedly animals are not allowed, but there have been dogs and cats regardless. Smoking is allowed, but people do that outside. If one wanted different situations, one would look for another building. We don’t have dishwashers or laundry facilities, but there has been tethering for horses. It’s that sort of a place.
            My great complaint is that the kind of rental housing is not being built. Instead there is “affordable” housing, which is designed with lease constraints to make it hard to save for retirement or for buying your own house or for building your business. Because managers of “affordable” rentals get a tax deduction, such housing is not “ratable” for property taxes, plenty of rentals are morphing into “affordable,” and the pool of standard rentals has been shrinking in the last 40 years, when that law passed.
            Thus the problem is not that plenty of Americans would see such a style of living as constraining, but rather, the problem is that Americans like me who do NOT see energy-efficient living like this as constraining, we are having a very hard time finding that kind of housing. How many communities are focused on that?
            In many towns and cities, energy-efficient living is not even a choice.

          • Grady Lee Howard

            Goddog! The Internet doesn’t have to run on nuclear or coal. If anything could run on dispersed solar it is the communications system. Cut out gaming and it could run on rechargeable Rayovacs.

        • Cory

          True, but less than a third of the length of the existence of our species!

    • Anonymous

      I suppose it is no more criminal than asking future generations to pay for our Federal Budget debts today.

      • Grady Lee Howard

        Money is a polite fiction favoring the presently wealthy class. Radiation from isotopes produced in nuclear processes is real and cannot be written off even in geological timeframes. What is the half-life of corporate global capitalism? Seemingly about a decade.

    • Ellen Dibble

      Exactly. We think we can isolate smallpox, lock it up and not ever let it loose, the last samples. But with nuclear waste — can we anticipate the next 30,000 years of natural and manmade evil-doing? I hear there is a huge chance of a huge earthquake out near the Grand Canyon. Or was it Yellowstone. I assume those people know who they are. Is that near Yucca Flats? No tsunamis there. Sea level will never bring tsunamis there? But unforeseen does not mean impossible.

      • Philonous

        Yellowstone may have a massive eruption in the distant future, but we do understand the rules of geology well enough to predict what areas are safer than others.

        • David

          We have no place to store our nuclear waste.

          No one wants it.

          • Zeno

            France wants it.

          • David

            France sends nuclear waste to Germany.

            They don’t want it. Didn’t you see the massive protests?

          • Zeno

            Some people in France may not want it, but 75% of the nations power is from nuclear energy. They have been accepting everyone’s waste for reprocessing :http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2009/05/18/18climatewire-is-the-solution-to-the-us-nuclear-waste-prob-12208.html

            Even if “they” don’t want it, its their only resource now.

          • David

            Nuclear waste enters Germany
            Thousands rally against a highly radioactive train shipment which protesters say will not be stored safely.
            http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2010/11/2010116115735771454.html

          • Zeno

            “The waste is returning to the Germany, where it was used to generate electricity, after being treated at a plant in France by Areva.”

            What a bunch of hypocrites…were they protesting the shipments as they left Germany?

          • David

            I guess you don’t get it.

            The company made the profits and the people take the risks.

          • Zeno

            Wrong. I do “get it”, but my understand has greater depth. When the protesters went home did they go home to a cave, or to TV, refrigeration, air conditioning, computers, heat, lighting, etc.

            They protest the risks, but are cradled by the result. The only protesters that wouldn’t be hypocrites are the cave dwellers.

            Rational discourse can only take place when bias is removed.

          • Grady Lee Howard

            There is a monthly shipment of nuclear waste from Le Harve, France to Savannah River reservation in South Carolina, and they never reprocess it there.

          • Zeno

            That’s interesting. What’s that about?

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      David,
      If we continue to develop nuclear technology we should be able to solve this problem. There is a ‘proposed’ design that is based on Thorium that will burn the existing waste and reduces the volume of waste 100:1. The remaining radioactive elements decay to baseline uranium ore levels within 300 years. This should be manageable. If we kill the industry we kill the solution to the problem.

      • Worried for the country(MA)

        Not doing this IS criminal to future generations.

      • Annlachman

        technology will answer all our problems. thats been proven over and over.

        • David

          Yes. Just like it is doing right now in Japan. What’s a little radiation in the air anyhow?

      • David

        I know that James Hanson believes that nuclear must replace coal if our planet is to have any future. Only problem, we are trading one price to pay with another.

  • Orion

    30,000 people die every day due to this system which values exploiting human lives and our collective environment. It is the same disgusting value system which values nuclear energy and fossil fuels over renewable energies. It has to stop.
    My heart goes out to the 10,000 souls departed and their families.
    I pray for you all and I envision you healed.

    –ORION

  • Jack Frost

    Minor quibble, but do *any* of your guests even have the vaguest notion of how a nuclear plant operates & the various containment and other safety systems?
    They’ve clearly read many thrillers, but anyone talking about a “criticality event” at a nuclear plant has skipped quite a few nuclear physics classes.

  • Wjohnstone

    Your speaker states that in the US nuclear power plants are located 10 or more miles from the seaside. The Seabrook Nuclear Power Station (NH) is for all practical purposes located adjacent to the shore line.

    • ThresherK

      And Millstone in CT is awfully close to Long Island Sound.

    • BHA in Vermont

      Then the speaker is NUTS or totally uninformed. The San Onofre plant in Southern California couldn’t be much closer to the ocean. The reactors are about 300 feet from the shoreline.

  • Zinovy Vayman, the Galilee

    4 new comments were just posted. Show
    Zinovy Vayman, the Galilee 0 minutes ago

    It is not about an advanced culture, folks !

    It is about the advanced people of Japan whose DNA produces their advanced and ethical culture without any Torah, the New Testament or Quran.

    It is Japanese propensity to absorb and use the highest civilizational achievement–Judeo-Germanic culture developed in the Northern Europe by the most amazing Germanic tribes in collaboration with enviable Jews for hundreds and hundreds of years…

    It is Japanese more or less homogenous society. According to professor Putnam, diversity kills the future of societies.

    Oh, Fukushima!
    My happy island’s plum blossoms
    radiate dawn

  • A_hansen

    Regarding the mental aspects of this event. How do you as a citizen of Japan go forward. How do you sleep at night, how do you invest in the future infrastructure if this can happen

    • Saul

      You remember that the disaster preparedness drills – which you do over and over again – as well as the engineering and building standards saved hundreds of thousands of lives, if not more.

  • Saul

    I’m really disappointed in this show.

    Resources on the Internet – official, verifiable sources as well informed industry insiders and journalists – have done a much better job at explaining the state and current risks.

    And to let the question of whether these plants are “state of the art” without talking about when they were built is just bad journalism.

    • Ellen Dibble

      Where, Saul? I’ve been looking all weekend. This show could have been about Japan’s governmental response and the situation from a humanitarian perspective. Ways of helping, that sort of thing. It went another way. The conversation and the show is talking in many ways hypothetically. “They’re thinking about this very carefully,” the current panelist is saying. It’ll be a few weeks before the scientific community gets itself together on this, it seems to me. Even with the internet. All the bits of data aren’t in, let alone the analysis.

      • Saul

        For the nuclear issues, read http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/, or the English language site of the power company whose nukes they are: http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/index-e.html

        Remember, Japan takes disaster prep very very seriously (read this: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2011/03/13/some-perspective-on-the-japan-earthquake/ to get a sense of it), not a lot we can do to help other than send money.

        Relief operations are just getting underway, and not a lot of reporting going on. I’m following @kyunglahcnn who’s on the ground in Sendai, reporting for CNN, and tweeting as she goes.

      • Grady Lee Howard

        Ellen/Saul “gets itself together”???????
        I think “they” think the public is not ready to know.
        And just wait until the insurance companies get their act together and start claiming they need trillions of dollars to hold up the corporate capitalist financial bubble. You probably just don’t want to think about it, but I’ve been selling today and getting out of everything. Down in New Zealand I was thinking how bad it would have been had they had nuclear plants, and then my nightmares came true. Got’ny GE stock in your portfolio?

        • Ellen Dibble

          Maybe the scientific community will never “get itself together” because their research is hugely underwritten by Big Money, which in this world is Gas and Oil and Coal, and maybe nuclear. Even the government is to some extent supported by the taxes (one hopes) and profits of those and related industries (most industries are related), and so research that is counter to those entrenched interests are likely to be, what shall I say, in bad odor? Seen as upstarts and rebels? The government did have a series of forums on new clean energies, and the leaders of those industries said they get a fast shot to the top in Canada, but not in the USA. There are any number of road blocks.
          Grady, if you think there is an energy bubble about to burst, that is awesome. Our blimp will blow up like the Hindenburg, and there will be costs, but we’ll start out with our feet on the ground.
          How can I say that? Am I willing to live on local food? Actually my city has plans for exactly that. If we are mostly vegetarian, we can support ourselves. Every rooftop will be part of the solution.

        • Saul

          I think about it. I just make different decisions than you.

          Let me know when you’re done selling. That’ll mean it’s a buying opportunity. :)

  • Geri

    It appears that there are a large number of listeners / commenters who submit multiple comments on a daily basis. Since the substance of those comments appear to have little or no impact on whatever issues are being discussed – perhaps we could figure how to connect a hot air connector to your mouths and use that hot air to heat low income homes during the cold months.

    • Philonous

      Perhaps you’d like to respond to the particular points that you object to?

    • Ellen Dibble

      Think about it. If there were a totally different group commenting every day, wouldn’t it be more difficult to develop a meaningful conversation? A “group” develops a kind of underlying flow, you might call it the drum section in an orchestra, that can support and guide a conversation, sometimes picking it up, sometimes getting loud. But I find it an advantage to know that so-and-so is likely to be able to make that point better than I can. So I wait for it. That sort of thing. And I am very glad not to participate plenty of days because it guarantees that the same sort of group dynamic can carry on without any particular individual. Me, in that case.

  • Jim Romer

    True to form NPR (Nominally Public Radio), has bunch of nuke apologists on this program but no sign of anybody from Beyond Nuclear (http://www.beyondnuclear.org) or Nuclear Information and Research Service (http://www.nirs.org).

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      Good for NPR. These guys are antinuclear propagandists attempting to take advantage of a crisis.

      Fox News had Kevin Kamps (beyondnuclear.org) this weekend and he must have repeated “the containment blew up” a dozen times in 5 minutes. Of course, we know the containment vesicle it intact and doing its job.

      • Ellen Dibble

        Didn’t the concrete outer container blow up, and the metal container remain intact? It’s semantics, I think.

        • Saul

          No! What blew up was not part of containment defense in depth. What blew up – at both nukes – was a building designed to keep the weather out, not the nuclear stuff in.

        • Worried for the country(MA)

          Ellen,
          I believe the outer shell that blew up was sheet metal. You can see pictures of the steel skeleton remaining.

          This is much more than semantics. “Containment structure” is critical element in nuclear design. It is the final fail to contain the radiation. Chernobyl had none. During the TMI crisis there was a lot of speculation whether the containment was breached. Kevin Kamps is an industry ‘expert’. He was intentionally misleading. There is no other explanation.

        • Saul

          And to continue, the radiation releases have not been failures of containment.

          Think of these nukes like they’re pressure cookers. You’ve got to vent the pressure to keep it from exploding. It’s that venting that’s causing the radiation release.

          Similarly, that sort of venting releases hydrogen and that’s what turned those buildings into small Hindenburgs.

          None of this is good, many things have gone wrong. But in terms of nuclear containment so far things are working as designed, even in the face of multiple failures.

    • Saul

      The problem with these guests were that they were (pick one or more) underinformed, mis-informed, poor communicators, or poorly questioned. I’m anti-nuke, but the reality – currently – is that defense in depth at the Japanese nukes is working. The problem is that you had to rely on defense in depth because the failures were so catastrophic.

      The reason for the catastrophes is straighforward: they weren’t designed for tsunamis this large. Sure, they survived the earthquake – and a pat on the back to Japanese engineers, they survived a much bigger earthquake than they were designed for – but then the water came and took out the deisel generators. So, without power from the plants, with the backup generators flooded, with backup batteries either run down or flooded, you don’t have cooling.

      It’s not a particularly complex story, doesn’t need a lot of study to talk about in broad outlines, yet that seemd to me to be utterly lost in this show.

  • Annlachman

    The show today was lame…The “problem” is not earthquakes, cooling systems, electrical malfunctions (let alone totally catastrophic terrestrial and cosmic events which are not predictable). The “problem” is the nuclear reaction itself. It is a ‘runaway’ situation to begin with. Then we try to ‘control’ & ‘contain’ it. Its crazy-dangerous and stupid.

    • Grady Lee Howard

      Not only this show but most are lame on this type subject. It is called “corporate censorship by glut.” You fill people’s heads with buzzwords and favorable misinformation until they go away sated and poop it out on the rest of society. Shows like this cannot cut to the chase and remain on the air. If they are blamed with investment losses they could even be sued. That’s crazy at a time when pharmaceutical firms and butchering doctors expect to be immune from legal actions. Corporate citizens are not only bigger, richer and immortal; but they are also more “sensitive to criticism.”

      You understand what I’m saying is true when you see how the word THORIUM is used on this commentary. Real Popular Science level minds at work, maybe hooked on penny stocks touted by James Fallows at Atlantic Monthly. Wouldn’t it be easier to just buy a scratch-off and hope for $50 in beer money?

      • Zeno

        LOL, but you are being a little hard on this tiny radio show. I agree that the “product” is a direct result of the desired level of consumption.

        I blame the media, parents, and education. In America any superficial low level understanding as presented by ones friends and relatives is now a substitute for real knowledge.

        I had a friend ask me a question about their old water heater that was about to be replaced. They asked if they turned off the gas and then used up all the hot water would the tank be empty?

        A program like this has to deal with this level of knowledge before it becomes “technical”, and thus, sadly it cannot become technical at all.

  • Ann

    the nuke plants all have to be near water. lots of water.
    the sea levels are rising. has anyone mentioned that?
    maybe they can design floating generators, powered by sea breezes!

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      Why? They need no more water than coal or natural gas plants.

      • Ann

        please tell that to the guys in japan hauling buckets of sea water…

        • Worried for the country(MA)

          The irony is Japan’s problem was the proximity of these plants to water.

      • Saul

        Um, no.

        They need no more water than coal or natural gas plants of similar thermal efficiecy. But, nuclear power plants are not as thermally efficent as coal or gas. Since nuclear power plants don’t need to be sited near their fuel sources, they can be sited near the water needed to cool them.

        Don’t believe me? Check out the nuclear industry itself:

        http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/cooling_power_plants_inf121.html

        • Yar

          “However, currently operating nuclear plants often do have slightly lower thermal efficiency than coal counterparts of similar age, and coal plants discharge some waste heat with combustion gases, whereas nuclear plants rely on water.”

          Steam carries 540 calories per gram and water carries 1 calorie per degree centigrade.

          We are wasting a lot of low grade heat from all forms of electrical generation. Even solar Photo Voltaic units have a problem with heat buildup in the cells reducing their operating efficiency.
          The most efficient plants would use the low grade heat as useful energy. Heating homes or greenhouses to grow food is better than throwing it away. The reason generating plants are located far from people is because any plant has risks associated with it.
          I would love to see a photo voltaic system for home owners that has circulating water to cool the system and uses the low grade heat. Co-generation of heat and electricity.
          I envision a double wall glass tube where the PV cells are between walls of the tube and water circulates in the center of tube to cool the cell while mirror surfaces on the bottom half of the outer tube reflect light to the cells.

          I heard a piece on NPR this morning about Gorilla glass, I wonder what its thermal properties are. I think a 4 inch outer diameter and one inch inner diameter about 4 feet long would make a good standard size cell. They should fit into a system so individual cells can be replaced without difficulty.
          Cooling can be obtained from a heat gradient as well. That is a little tricker but I think we can solve many of our energy challenges once we realize the true cost of cheap energy.

          • Zeno

            In Japan they do use a a fuel cell technology that reforms natural gas and then passed it through a fuel cell to generate domestic hot water, heat and the household electricity. The excess electricity is sold to the grid. Believe it or not these generators are made right here in the USA, by Plug Power and Ballard Power Systems.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    Salt water is corrosive to piping.

    • Saul

      The plants that are currently being cooled by seawater have been written off. They’ll never be used again.

      Seawater can be used to cool the cooling water through piping systems where corrosiveness is less of an issue.

    • Gregg

      I’ve seen it described as a “hail Mary” last ditch effort. I hope it works.

  • Saul

    Here and Now just had a much better guest on these issues. Perhaps you should using her producers/bookers.

  • Tina

    I didn’t hear the show yet; please keep that in mind if you read this. This is not arm-chair quarterbacking, though — I would have said the same thing I’m gonna say before these events. After the quake/tsunami, I heard the analysis that included the fact that the area is right where THREE tectonic plates come together. Had I heard this when the nuclear plants were first being planned, I would have said that NO engineers can out-engineer a natural condition like THREE plates coming together where you want to build! The hubris is SO obvious, it is just plain sad. I wonder if this came up in the show; I’ll just listen to the podcast. I ONLY bring this up so that in the future, MAYBE hubris won’t prevail!

    • Anonymous

      The plants survived the earthquake. It was the tsunami that did them in. So, yes, we can engineer with 3 tectonic plates in mind (but perhaps not for every natural disaster).

      As for why they built nuclear power plants…they don’t have any natural resources for power. Nuclear seemed the best option.

      Perhaps they could have built them further inland. The guests don’t know why they were so close to the coasts, although they said that the 30 foot seawalls probably gave them a false sense of security.

  • Dainbug

    When we can’t deal with the waste, short of burying it, when we can’t deal with the radiation when natural or other types of disasters happen, we are not ready to produce electricity with current Nuclear Power Technology. Lets keep working on the science.

  • Saul

    Or maybe you could have done the same research as a blogger:

    http://my.firedoglake.com/jimwhite/2011/03/14/tepco-has-scandal-plagued-past/

  • Gregg

    I think it’s kind of distasteful to use this tragedy for politics. Let’s see what the fallout (no pun) is before making broad pronouncements. It’s a debate worth having but now is not the time.

  • AJ North

    The second World War wedded science (and its derivative technology) to the State and ushered-in the Atomic Age; commercial nuclear power generation was sold as the answer to Man’s future energy needs, providing “electricity too cheap to meter.”

    Often used as synonyms, there is a fundamental – and profound – difference between wisdom and intelligence. Though nuclear power plants are designed and operated by intelligent people to be “fail-safe,” the fact is that no highly-complex system can be made absolutely failure-free; moreover, the actual degree of safety is based on cost. In commercial operations, cost is directly related to profit, and therein lies the “bottom line” – in more ways than one; the Wikipedia page, “List of civilian nuclear accidents” (updated today), should set most readers bolt upright.

    Our way of life depends on the availability of reliable economical energy. From cradle to grave, from production to end-point, the true cost of energy derived from nuclear fission – just as with petroleum, coal and natural gas – would astound most people, which is why great effort is expended to keep these costs from the public.

    We also inhabit the surface of this planet; we breathe it air, drink its water and consume what we grow and raise on it. All needs must be sustainably maintained. As we are here for the long-term, it would behoove us to make our tenancy as pleasant – and as healthy – as is possible.
    Extractive energy technologies are based on privately-owned resources sold at market prices. Their industries – and the politicians they lavish their largess upon – are at the forefront of decrying energy which source-cost is essentially zero – solar, wind and geothermal (among others), and has nothing to do with what is in the best interest of humanity; it has only to do with profit – and the power that great wealth confers.

    No matter the industry’s spin, the inarguable fact is that at ground level, the Earth receives from the Sun in two hours more energy than all of humanity consumes in a year; we need harness but a tiny fraction – reliably available, literally, for as long as we inhabit the Earth (as are wind and geothermal).

    Technology (especially complex technology) can be seducing. Albert Einstein use to ask profoundly simple questions about the workings of the universe, and he liked to say that when the answers were simple too, it was then that you heard God thinking. As for the question of wisdom, future generations will regard nuclear-fission power plants as monuments to Man’s stupidity.

    • Wavre

      North

      Just like I’ve mentioned in previous posting to Beverly,

      It’s not a coincidence that Mother Universe has kept Mankind in this little planet and its tiny atmosphere. Mankind is a virus in quarantine. Our planet is a penitentiary!!!We are doing TIME,People.
      We have been (rightfully so)given a LIFE sentence.

      Food for thought…crusades, genocides, WWI, WWII,Napal bombs,Hiroshima, Nagazaki,Chernobil,Exxon Valdez,The gulf spill,pollutions, even spatials mechanic junks in our stratosphere!! and the list goes on and on and on.

      Mother Universe knows best!

  • Jan

    This morning’s guest David Sanger made two comments that I wish the host had followed up on. I wish the host had paid more close attention to Sanger’s comments and provided us with an opportunity for him to clarify his thoughts. I was disappointed in the host for not reacting. A BBC reporter would have leapt into the topic with tough follow-up questions or comments. The first comment Sanger made was about the “resilience” of the Japanese. Fine, maybe it’s true, and maybe he thought that would be nice for listeners to hear. But my reactions were 1. Did he think the Japanese people really care if an American reporter bestows on them the compliment of calling them resilient, when they are in the midst of a catastrophe and what they need is help? 2. I couldn’t help thinking that his statement in some way was an indirect comment on people in third-world countries, like Haiti, who don’t seem to show such “resilience” in the face of disasters. Maybe, just maybe, it could be that the people of those countries can’t be complimented for resilience because they have no stable governments, no infrastructure, no safety nets, terrible education and public health systems, if any, so maybe, just maybe Sanger might want to think what he means by resilience. I somehow found his suggestion of some kind of national character as offensive towards people in other countries who face desperation without an organized government to help them. Thanks for reading. I did call the station to explain my reaction.

  • Jan

    In addition, the most offensive thing Sanger said, was that while this was obviously a tragedy, maybe it would be “an opportunity for Japan to rebuild.” What? The host didn’t follow-up on this at all! Would a journalist have ever made this comment about lower Manhattan after 9/11? Maybe 10,000 people might have died, millions are homeless, and Sanger makes an idiotic comment like that, and the host just sits there? Pathetic.

    • geffe

      I agree. Sanger was patronizing to the good people of Japan.
      What amazes me is their resolve, sense of community and order.
      I’m humbled by the way these people are able to use so much self control in such crisis like this. Something to be learned here.
      We Americans could do well to take note.

  • Chuck

    For what its’ worth……the Host appeared to be critical of Japan building the plant so close to the ocean. The largest Nuclear plant in California is built at waters edge – Pacific ocean.

  • JK

    Just wanted to remark that several guests on this program made unfactual statements to the effect that molten fuel rods create the conditions for criticality (i.e. nuclear fission). Molten uranium fuel pooling on the floor of the reactor cannot go critical. The neutrons emitted by their radioactivity are too energetic to bind to neighboring nuclei and lead to the splitting of the atom. This is why the uranium needs to be fashioned into rods and surrounded by boron-enriched coolant, which moderates the energy of the neutrons and enables fission to take place. These reactors are designed so that if coolant is lost, the chain reaction is broken and fission does not occur.

    The radioactive elements being released from the power plants are a by-product of the environment inside the reactor. While they are of concern, this is nothing like the fallout from an actual nuclear explosion. It’s a disservice to the public to perpetuate – or let go unchallenged – inaccurate information about the potential for a nuclear explosion from the events unfolding in Japan.

    There are risks and benefits associated with all energy systems. Even renewables carry risks. E.g. an off-shore wind farm or solar panels on the roofs of those homes would be vulnerable to an earthquake followed by a tsunami. I haven’t heard whether fossil-fuel power generators would have fared any better. I fear more lives will be lost because of the loss of electricity to provide heat, food, clean water and medical care than will be lost from the release of radiation from these plants.

    I’m sure society can and needs to do much better in terms of developing safer, more stable energy sources, but to have that conversation, we need sober facts, not hysteria, half-facts and outright misinformation.

    • Gregg

      Thank you JK.

  • YCP

    Great to be back

  • JD

    After listening this evening to the Japan’s Quake and Nuclear Risks program there is a total disconnect between some of the comments and the program. The guests were knowledgeable and provided detailed explanations such as why there were explosions. Jane Clayson is an outstanding host and does not cut guests and callers off and does not constantly interject her own emotional opinions like some hosts. The negative comments about the program and the producers were total nonsense.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s my comment:

    http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/

  • Gregg

    I heard someone today point out a reality regarding the tragic death toll in Japan thus far:
    Mother Nature – 10,000
    Nuclear power – 0
    That may yet change but that’s where we’re at now.

    • Durham kid

      Yes, Gregg, and I can jump off a building and in mid-air proclaim that I am still perfectly fine….

      Things may work out in Japan with the nuclear power plants but you make a very specious argument.

  • nelsonville

    TVA says TN isn’t on a fault line? Maybe not, but the New Madrid Quake made the ground in Louisville, KY roll like an ocean wave according to an observer and made the Mississippi run backward, creating Reelfoot Lake. Seems to me that we could have something like the Japanese tragedy happen right here in the middle of the US.

  • Durham kid

    This horrific tragedy offers Japan a unique opportunity: they can rebuild their country using state of the art energy conservation and renewable energy technologies and abandon dangerous, expensive nuclear energy.

    JK writes, “we need sober facts, not hysteria, half-facts and outright misinformation” to make informed decisions.

    Here are some facts: When we look honestly at the environmental, health, social and economic effects of all power sources (fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, etc), energy conservation comes out on top with renewable energy a close second. Conventional energy sources lose in a big way – and we will go bankrupt if we don’t look at this with an open mind. The Union of Concerned Scientists just put out a 150 page report on how bad the economics of nuclear energy are.

    Half-facts and misinformation have been put out for many, many years about the necessity and safety of not only the nuclear industry but also coal and other fossil fuel industries.

    This is one of the tragic prices we continue to pay for a political system where corporations and vested interests have so much power – groups like UCS does not have the same megaphone to spread their views, which are based on sound science and a respect for the truth, rather than corporate profits.

    For the record: I am a physicist who has worked in energy conservation and renewable energy for my entire career of over 30 years.

  • Tim

    Thorium can solve many Nuclear concerns.
    Thorium is the most energy-dense substance on Earth, and enough exists to power civilization for millennia.

    REF: ThoriumEnergyAlliance.org

    Interview Guest Bookings:
    John Kutsch, Executive Director, Thorium Energy Alliance
    Phone: 312-303-5019

    ————————-
    Thorium Energy Conference May 12 – Washington DC
    –REQUEST PRESS CREDENTIALS NOW

    Spring 2011 TEA Conference – May 12, 2011 –
    Top of the Hill Conference Center,
    ROA Club, One Constitution Ave, NE, Washington, DC

    Press Conference and Reception Immediately Following

    The 3rd Thorium Energy Alliance Conference will cover the latest developments in:
    • Overview of Thorium Energy Issues
    • Breakthroughs in Thorium Energy Research
    • Legislative

    Speakers and Topics:

    Col. Paul Roege – United States Army

    Ed Kee – NERA Economic Consulting

    Kirk Sorensen -Teledyne Brown

    Dr. Magdi Ragheb – Univ. of Illinois

    Canon Bryan – Thorium One

    Dr. David LeBlanc – Elling Disen

    Rusty Holden & Dr. Larry Birchfeld – Thorenco

    Kim L. Johnson – Cheminnovar

    Takashi Kamei – Ritsumeikan Univ.

    Jim Kennedy – Wings Iron

    http://thoriumenergyalliance.com/downloads/2011_TEA_Conf_PDF.pdf

    http://www.ThoriumEnergyAlliance.com

    RESOURCES:

    http://www.ThoriumEnergyAlliance.org
    http://thoriumenergy.com/
    http://wiki.twit.tv/wiki/Dr._Kiki%27s_Science_Hour_84
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEpnpyd-jbw

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