Is Fukushima Dai-ichi the Third Strike for Nuclear Power?

The full picture of what has happened at reactor number one of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant following the earthquake and tsunami on March, 11, 2011, will develop in time.  Today, even with environmental disasters sadly being somewhat routine, concern over the ramifications of a nuclear “meltdown” seem to trump what has become commonplace.  Is nuclear power worth the risk?

Will Fukushima Dai-ichi be known in history alongside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?  Three Mile Island occurred on March 28, 1979, and may be viewed as a turning point in the development of a relatively young nuclear power industry.  The Chernobyl disaster followed on April 26, 1986.  This April marks the passing of the 25th year since Chernobyl was abandoned.

Many conclusions have been made saying the Chernobyl design was inherently unsafe.  Unsafe compared to Three Mile Island and Fukushima Dai-ichi indeed, but both of these plants were built with redundant systems to protect against failures during emergencies.    News coverage of cascading failures, radiation being detected, and increasing zones of evacuation do not provide feelings of comfort and security.

To the country’s credit, Japan seems prepared to respond to the eventualities of building and operating nuclear reactors in earthquake and tsunami zones.  Without question, lessons will be learned from the Fukushima Dai-ichi event.  Should reactors be built in the future, expectations of greater safety than today would need to be addressed.

Nuclear power advocates may see this as three strikes and your out, while opponents may see this as third time is the charm.  Following Three Mile Island, new nuclear plant development in U.S. dropped to virtually zero and has only recently seen an increase in activity.  Followed by Chernobyl, a pause of over 30 years has been the result of only two very serious events.  Fukushima Dai-ichi may not be as serious but it may be serious enough  to nullify current interest in nuclear plant development.

While the majority of early attention has been on Fukushima Dai-ichi number one, there are several reactors that have been impacted to various degrees, this is not over.  At least one refinery has been burning following the catastrophe, adding to the environmental toll.  The environmental impact is certainly second to the human tragedy but it is unlikely that either will fade from memory anytime soon.

As the world transitions to future energy sources, the good and the bad of each one must be balanced against the others.  Emissions are only one of the factors to be considered but it is in emissions that bad is often found.  Is deciding between radiation, carbon, or an oil spill, a decision we should have to make when clean alternatives are possible?

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