In the wake of the crisis at Japanese nuclear reactors, the conservative media have pushed for the removal of "obstacles" to nuclear power and a faster nuclear permit process for nuclear plants. Nuclear energy experts, meanwhile, agree that Japan's nuclear crisis is cause to reevaluate whether nuclear regulations contain sufficient protections for public safety.
Conservative Media Advocate For Removal Of "Obstacles" To Nuclear Power
WSJ Laments That "Nuclear Plants Have Had Their Costs Increased By Artificial Political Obstacles And Delay." In a March 14 editorial titled, "Nuclear Overreactions," The Wall Street Journal wrote:
We have no special brief for nuclear power over any other energy source. Our view is that it should compete with other sources on a market basis, without subsidies or government loan guarantees. Every energy source has risks and economic externalities, whether they are noise and bird kills (wind), huge land requirements (solar), rig explosions and tanker spills (oil), or mining accidents (coal).
But more than other energy sources, nuclear plants have had their costs increased by artificial political obstacles and delay. The U.S. hasn't built a new nuclear plant since 1979, after the Three Mile Island meltdown, even as older nuclear plants continue to provide 20% of the nation's electricity.
Our larger point is less about nuclear power than how we react as a society to inevitable disasters, both natural and man-made. Because a plane crashes, we don't stop flying. Because an oil rig explodes in the Gulf, we don't (or at least we shouldn't) stop drilling for oil. And because the Challenger space shuttle blew up, we didn't stop shuttle flights--though we do seem to have lost much of our national will for further manned space exploration. We should learn from the Japanese nuclear crisis, not let it feed a political panic over nuclear power in general.
The paradox of material and technological progress is that we seem to become more risk-averse the safer it makes us. The more comfortable we become, the less eager we are to take the risks that are the only route to future progress. The irony is that one reason Japan has survived this catastrophic event as well as it has is its great material development and wealth.
Modern civilization is in the daily business of measuring and mitigating risk, but its advance requires that we continue to take risk. It would compound Japan's tragedy if the lesson America learns is that we should pursue the illusory and counterproductive goal of eliminating all risk. [The Wall Street Journal, 3/14/11]
Bolling: "We Should Permit Nuclear Reactors A Lot Quicker." On the March 11 edition of Fox Business' Follow the Money, host Eric Bolling pushed for granting more nuclear power plant permits and decried regulations for obtaining such permits, stating: "Shouldn't Obama step up and say, 'You know what, let's permit'? We should permit offshore drilling, and we should also permit nuclear reactors a lot quicker." Bolling further stated: "Here's the problem. No one can get the permit to build the reactor. They have to jump through literally thousands of hoops." [Fox Business, Follow the Money, 3/11/11]
Fox Nation: "Never Let A Crisis Go To Waste: The Left Goes After Nuclear Energy." On March 14, Fox Nation posted the headline, "Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste: The Left Goes After Nuclear Energy," and linked to a New York Times article about the Japan nuclear crisis' potential effects on nuclear power in the United States. From the New York Times article:
Nuclear power, which still suffers from huge economic uncertainties and local concerns about safety, had been growing in acceptance as what appeared to many to be a relatively benign, proven and (if safe and permanent storage for wastes could be arranged) nonpolluting source of energy for the United States' future growth.
But even staunch supporters of nuclear power are now advocating a pause in licensing and building new reactors in the United States to make sure that proper safety and evacuation measures are in place. Environmental groups are reassessing their willingness to see nuclear power as a linchpin of any future climate change legislation. Mr. Obama still sees nuclear power as a major element of future American energy policy, but he is injecting a new tone of caution into his endorsement.
"The president believes that meeting our energy needs means relying on a diverse set of energy sources that includes renewables like wind and solar, natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power," said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman. "Information is still coming in about the events unfolding in Japan, but the administration is committed to learning from them and ensuring that nuclear energy is produced safely and responsibly here in the U.S."
That policy will be on the table at a hearing of the Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, when Steven Chu, the energy secretary, and Gregory B. Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are scheduled to testify.
"We will use that opportunity to explore what is known in the early aftermath of the damage to Japanese nuclear facilities," said Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, the committee chairman, "as well as to reiterate our unwavering commitment to the safety of U.S. nuclear sites."
Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a skeptic of nuclear power who nonetheless supported expansion of nuclear power as part of the House energy and climate legislation he co-sponsored, said the United States needed tougher standards for siting and operating nuclear plants. [New York Times, 3/13/11]
From the Fox Nation:
[Fox Nation, 3/14/11]
Nuclear Energy Experts: Japan's Nuclear Crisis Cause To Reevaluate, And Possibly Revamp, Regulations
Princeton Nuclear Physicist: Accident At Japan's Fukushima Reactor "Suggests Once More ... That Rejected Suggestions Like The Filtered Vent System Should Be Considered Again." Discussing Japan's nuclear crisis in the New York Times' Room for Debate blog, Frank N. von Hippel, a nuclear physicist and professor of public and international affairs at Princeton, wrote:
In 1982, a colleague and I pointed out that not all U.S. reactor containments would have survived the T.M.I. accident, and we suggested that all U.S. reactors be retrofitted with a robust filter system made of sand and charcoal that could filter the gases that would have to be released if a containment was approaching its failure pressure. The nuclear utilities resisted, however, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as usual, did not press for change.
The Fukushima accident suggests once more that the "defense in depth" design of current nuclear reactors may not be deep enough and that previously rejected suggestions like the filtered vent system should be considered again. [New York Times, 3/13/11]
Theoretical Physicist Says It's Necessary To "Rethink" "Probability Analysis," "Design Specifications For Reactor Components," And Our Emphasis On "Redundancy." In a post on the New York Times' Room for Debate blog, author and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku wrote:
The Fukushima nuclear accident, second only to the Chernobyl accident in its severity, has many lessons for the U.S.
First, Japanese reactors are among the safest in the world. But even the Japanese sometime ignore the "once in a century event" because it won't happen in their lifetime. We saw that with Katrina. Once in a hundred year events do in fact happen, with tragic results. So we have to rethink probability analysis for nuclear power plants in the U.S. as well.
Second,the GE Mark I boiling water design found at Fukushima has been criticized for the weakness of the containment building. We saw how easy it was for a hydrogen/steam explosion to blow the containment structure to bits. So environmental impact statements for nuclear plants should rethink the design specifications for reactor components.
Third, nuclear plant operators are proud of the redundancy of their multiply layered safety back-up systems. But we saw how ridiculously easy it was for an earthquake and tsunami to knock them all out. This, too, has to be reanalyzed. [New York Times, 3/13/11]
MIT Professor Of Nuclear Science And Engineering: "Strong Regulation Can Enhance Public Safety"; "Regulations Can Be Made More Coherent And Efficient If There Were Greater Use Of Risk Information And Risk Assessment Methods." In a post on the New York Times' Room for Debate blog, Michael W. Golay, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wrote:
We do know that strong regulation can enhance public safety. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considered an international leader in regulatory innovation and implementation. Even so, regulations can be made more coherent and efficient if there were greater use of risk information and risk assessment methods. The N.R.C. has been making progress in this area, but less effectively than potential benefits would justify. This may be particularly important if the seismic risks to nuclear power now come to be reassessed. [New York Times, 3/13/11]
Director Of Nuclear Safety Project Of Union Of Concerned Scientists: Japan's Nuclear Crisis "Just The Most Recent Reminder Of The Need To Revisit Emergency Plans To Ensure That People Get The Help They Need." Discussing Japan's nuclear crisis in the New York Times' Room for Debate blog, David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and director of the Nuclear Safety Project of the Union of Concerned Scientists, stated:
The nuclear disaster in Japan is still unfolding, so it is not yet possible to fully assess it or its impact on American nuclear power policy. But we do expect the U.S. government to react the way it did following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster by evaluating what happened and identifying the necessary steps to better manage risks here at home.
The issues the government should address include whether reactors should be better protected against power outages and against earthquakes, whether fire protection deficiencies should continue to languish uncorrected, and whether emergency response plans should be broadened to better handle regional disasters.
We know that earthquakes can cause fires at nuclear reactors, and U.S. reactor safety studies conclude that fire can be a dominant risk for reactor core damage by disabling primary and back-up emergency systems. Yet dozens of nuclear reactors in the U.S. have operated for years in violation of federal fire protection regulations with no plans to address these safety risks anytime soon.
Finally, there is the issue of protecting nearby communities. The breadth of the disaster in Japan overwhelmed emergency response capabilities. Reactor emergency plans in the U.S. rely on the assumption that a reactor accident would be the only demand on emergency response resources. The accident in Japan is the just the most recent reminder of the need to revisit emergency plans to ensure that people get the help they need even when disasters overlap. [New York Times, 3/13/11]