Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I don't believe you

Over the last few days, I have heard several different "experts" (mostly politicians of various stripes) say variations on the following:

"U.S. nuclear facilities are all safe and have been built to withstand any sort of natural disaster that might occur."*

This bothers me on several levels. First, I don't believe you. Politicians are always saying things like that to protect themselves and placate people. Anyone here old enough to remember George Bush (the first one) saying "Read my lips: No new taxes!"? And even if they are in earnest, it isn't possible to plan for everything that could occur. Nature always has something new and unexpected up her sleeve.  One official here in Arkansas said that the Dardanelle nuclear plant was built to withstand up to a 6.0 earthquake. Yes, Arkansas gets earthquakes; no, they aren't anywhere near as big as the Japanese earthquake. But that doesn't mean they won't be someday, or that something else could happen. So, in effect, that plant is not as safe as the authorities are saying.

And second, if the quake, which was a 8.9 - the biggest since they have been keeping records, and the following tsunami, overwhelmed Japan, I doubt our officials are any better prepared. Japan is pretty much the most earthquake ready country on the planet - they have yearly mass drills, their buildings have been built to withstand quakes, they KNOW they will have frequent strong earthquakes. When U.S. politicians say, "That wouldn't happen here," it smacks of cultural egotism and elitism, like "They are foreign and a funny color, so of course they are having problems." This was a massive quake, not something that people are prepared for anywhere, not to mention the tsunami that wiped away cities of tens of thousands of people. I hope that the actual experts are paying attention and learning something, so that the lessons of this horrible tragedy are not wasted.

I know that nuclear power is controversial for all sorts of reasons. It is ecologically pretty friendly, at least when compared to coal and oil power, so some environmentalists like it. And once the plant is built, the electricity and other power can be produced fairly inexpensively. But, and I always return to that but in my own mind, when something goes wrong, it goes really wrong. I don't think I am ready to take that risk.

*Update: Here is a NYTimes article about just that. Still not feeling reassured.

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