Thursday, March 17, 2011

Safe Nuclear Energy?

I am glad the President of the United States finally stepped up and addressed the nation about the recent natural disaster and looming nuclear disaster in Japan. Why it took four days, several rounds of golf and publicized "March Madness" picks on ESPN is beyond me though? Still better late than never, right?

I happen to live in Seattle, Washington. So concern about harmful radiation from Japan reaching the U.S. West coast has been in the back of my mind. I'm not going crazy, however, running out and buying iodine tablets or anything. I am just trying to stay informed. Given the apparent lack of the U.S. government involvement in the situation in Japan (i.e., no formal statements being issued until today) and the fact that the Japanese government and media sources are relying solely on limited, and questionably truthful, information coming from the company that owns the troubled nuclear power plant in Fukushima ... Let's just say that I have been a bit frustrated and on edge these past few days.

Of course, my primary concern is for the people in Japan right now. Those trying to pick up the pieces of their lives in the wake of this horrific natural disaster ... Those on the front lines of exposure to potentially harmful levels of radiation from leaks of the Fukushima nuclear reactors and exposed spent fuel rod pool. I have been praying nonstop for the people of Japan and for a viable solution to the nuclear crisis looming on the horizon in Japan these last few days. 

I must say that I am a bit appalled that there is no global response group that is designed to come together and step in immediately in the event of a looming nuclear disaster. It seems to me, based on the media coverage being provided, that the rest of the world is just sitting back and watching?! Watching and waiting, almost in disbelief ... perhaps denial ... to see what Japan will do. And the Japanese government for its part is relying on the company who owns the nuclear power plant, Dia Iachi, to provide information regarding what is going on at the troubled nuclear power plant and to solve "the problem" of averting a nuclear meltdown with a release of harmful radiation into the atmosphere. Maybe it's just me, but when a nuclear meltdown is looming on the horizon for a nuclear power plant anywhere in the world ... It is no longer just a "single company issue" or a "single country issue": it becomes a GLOBAL ISSUE!!

We have U.N. Peace Keeping Forces that can step in and keep the peace in countries around the globe, as needed. We have U.N. Agencies that can provide humanitarian aid (e.g., food, shelter and medical resources). Where is the U.N. resource for looming nuclear crisis? Cannot ... and more importantly SHOULD NOT ... Global entities unite and work for a common cause in the particular instance of looming nuclear disaster? The U.N. has establish the "International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)", which is responsible for "monitoring" nuclear technology in U.N. countries ... But there appears to be no united global effort in place to help stay the type looming nuclear disaster that we are now facing in Japan? And this is not the first time a nuclear disaster with global reaching impacts has occurred either: What are we waiting for?!!

The need for a dedicated, well thought out, clearly defined, coordinated Global Response Plan for nuclear crisis aside ... I can't help but wonder: Why weren't other countries immediately stepping in to promise provisions (e.g., providing backup generators) and other resources for the Fukushima power plant? I mean if a helicopter can dump a ton of water on top of the power plant housings ... can't it transport in backup gas generators? What about that privately owned ship that helped to filter crude oil out of sea water by the millions of gallons, on a daily basis, in the recent Gulf oil deep well leak? Couldn't that ship's pumping capabilities have been somehow utilized at the Fukushima power plant?

I still have lots of thinking to do on this issue of nuclear energy, but I would say that the time to revisit SAFE nuclear energy policies IS MOST DEFINITELY AT HAND. Starting with solar powered back-up power systems for the "back-up power systems". Then I think the next step is to embrace new, safer forms of sustainable nuclear energy like thorium. Thorium fuel poses little if any safety threat to humans (i.e., have read that you can carry a piece of thorium around in your pocket with no ill effects). Further, this type of nuclear reaction is self-sustaining (i.e., the reaction goes until it reaches a maximum volume and then automatically stops, "cools" and contracts, until a start-up volume threshold is once again reached), and  thus is not subject to overheating and spiraling out of control ... unlike the currently used uranium fueled nuclear reaction. Thorium is also a more widely available resource than uranium, with a minimal amount of byproduct that poses a greatly reduced toxic waste footprint in that it only remains radioactive for about 100 years ... a  minute fraction of the radioactive half life of plutonium (the byproduct of present day uranium fueled nuclear reactions) which is 25,000 years.  Another BIG plus is that the byproduct of thorium fueled nuclear reactions cannot be used to generate weapons grade materials of any presently known kind.   I challenge President Obama to put his "Green Energy" money into funding research for nuclear energy of the 21st century ... Let's leave the outdated, potentially devastating, uranium fueled nuclear technology behind and embrace new, safer, viable nuclear technologies ... like Thorium.

Later p.m. ... Thankfully, the winds on the island of Japan are presently blowing out of the southwest, thus carrying any potential airborne radiation away from land and out into the open ocean. God bless the 180 workers and volunteers who have stayed behind at the plant in Fukushima, at great risk to their own health, and are now working in shifts in an effort to maintain some level of containment while efforts to restore power to the secondary power feeding the plant are underway. These men and women working at the Dia-Ichi plant are true heros and perhaps living angels among us in the here and now.

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