Forgotten But Not Gone

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Photo by Wikimedia Commons. Some rights may be reserved.

Remember the Fukushima disaster, the tsunami-drenched reactor meltdown that was supposed to hit the reset button on the global nuclear power conversation? Remember the day-in day-out coverage on cable news while the world watched with bated breath as hydrogen explosions belched smoke and radioactive steam into the sky?

Our fickle attention has moved on, and Fukushima has become part of the background noise of memory: something dramatic and inconvenient that happened once to those nice people on the other side of the world but scarcely worth investing mental energy in. Occasionally reports surface of tsunami debris washing up on the Pacific coast or Hawaii , but otherwise the disaster has largely slipped out of our consciousness. Out of sight, out of mind. When we think of it at all it is to assume that surely those industrious and tech-savvy Japanese have managed to put things right. No such luck. Fukushima might not be on the brink of melting down half of Japan, but the crisis precipitated by the earthquake and tsunami two years ago is anything but over.

The New York Times tells us that the reactors at the Fukushima site are awash in radioactive waste water,  with more ground water flowing into the reactor buildings at 75 gallons a minute. The amount of radioactive water that accumulates every day is so great that only furious public opposition prevented the operators from dumping it into the sea. In fact, so much contaminated water is being pumped out of the stricken facility that 42 sprawling acres of storage tanks are now being supplemented by clearing an adjoining forest to construct yet more tanks. Oh, yes, and the existing tanks are already leaking. Spent fuel is kept in a tank “perched on the fifth floor” of a damaged reactor building. Only nine inspectors oversea the work of more than 3,000 workers. The Times describes the entire operation as “jury-rigged” – an ad hoc and precarious effort to keep a desperate situation from getting even worse.

The world needs energy, especially energy which doesn’t flood the atmosphere with carbon. It’s not inconceivable that some form of nuclear power might be able to replace coal, natural gas, and gasoline to some degree. But until we grapple with the intractable safety issues nuclear power present (at least as produced by current technology), that avenue would appear to be a dead end. The slow motion train wreck that is Fukushima threatens to derail nuclear power around the world, but the world doesn’t seem to paying much attention.

 

 

 

 

One response to this post.

  1. […] May, I wrote about the strange cloud of amnesia that seemed to have settled over the Fukushima nuclear […]

    Reply

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