I feel as if I’ve flashed back to the 1980s when I made any number of trips to protest near the Nevada test site or to march in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chico, California. This time I’m not so much concerned about the production, transportation and use of bombs I am about the conditions and safety of our nuclear facilities.
Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster has turned our attention once again to the potential destructive and life threatening consequences of nuclear power plants. We all watched in horror as explosion after explosion rocked the plant, we listened as word leaked out about the failing pumps, the loss of power, and the very real possibility that we were facing a nuclear melt down. Now, weeks later, we still don’t know a lot about what’s happened or is happening at the plant, but we do know that according to experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), levels of radiation 1600 times the normal rate have been measured radiation in the air and soil at 11 locations in Fukushima Prefecture within 20 kilometers of the plant. Japan is monitoring radiation levels in the food, water and people throughout the country as continuing rain and snow bring radiation from the air down to the earth and into the underground water supply.
Several European countries such as France and Germany have ordered the shut down and complete inspection of their existing nuclear facilities, and now Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has declared nuclear power off limits. As Juergen Baetz puts it in a recent CommonDreams.org piece, Germany has decided “to stop using nuclear energy because of its inherent risks.”
Meanwhile, in the US, congress is continuing to push for the development of more nuclear power plants as well as for the NRC to renew the licenses of the more than 100 US plants–some more than 40 years old; these renewed licenses would give the plants the authority of operate for another 20-40 years. The NRC, in fact, just renewed a 20-year license extension to the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
Raw Story reported Monday that “U.S. nuclear regulators are launching additional inspections and considering a 90-day review of the country’s 104 nuclear reactors in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis.” And while President Obama requested a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear plants, he did so while maintaining his support for atomic energy in the US.
I think there is little to no possibility that the US will follow Germany’s lead. There seems to be little interest in congress to pursue alternative energy options despite the increase in oil prices and our continued balancing act with oil producing countries in the Middle East. Solar and wind power seem like viable options to me. There are already a number of wind power generating areas in the US; I’m most familiar with the one near Santa Barbara, CA. And here in the desert southwest, solar power makes perfect sense. And while there are some solar power options available–solar sky lights, solar water heaters, solar pool heaters, and even solar panels in use at several of our power stations–the fact is all our power should be solar generated.
Perhaps the tragedy in Japan will generate enough concern among the American people about the safety of our own nuclear power plants to push congress to do something other than cashing in the contributions of the companies who own these US plants and then looking the other way. But I’m not hopeful.
In the meantime, I’m going to pull out all my old no nukes t-shirts and hope others do the same and more.