My colleague, Stuart Nathan, at www.theengineer.co.uk, is dead right on in his column entitled "Fukushima alarmism is a bigger risk than radiation." Let's just look at why.
I worked for the old Texas Nuclear Corp., now part of Thermo Fisher Scientific, in the 1980s and early 1990s. I went through radiation safety training, and carried a license and a dosimeter for nearly 10 years. So I'm pretty sure of my facts here.
Despite what Nathan calls "breathless coverage" of "desperate" and "crazy" attempts to create a "freeze-wall" around the leaking containment vessels, the idea is neither desperate nor crazy, and has been used to deter various kinds of contamination, including nuclear. This type of coverage, including misleading citations and demonstrably false statistics, is the norm when discussing nuclear power, and in fact, is normal when discussing science at all. This is bad for civilization, for power generation, for engineering and for science education. I've written before how teachers-in-training for elementary schools not only do not understand science, but are actually afraid to teach it.
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Nuclear power has a phenomenal record of over 50 years of safe operation worldwide, but you'd never know it from the coverage that these accidents get. It was beginning to look like the United States would actually do nuclear plant projects again until Fukushima and the hysteria surrounding it. Now most of those projects have vaporized. But as Nathan points out, "The reactors at Fukushima Daiichi were old, scheduled for shutdown; their newer neighbors at Fukushima Daiini worked perfectly."
It is sad, too, that the howling about Fukushima Daiichi is drowning out the real tragedy here: the devastating effects of the tsunami on that part of Japan.
Again, Nathan points out, "18,500 people lost their lives as a result of the tsunami. Of those, the number attributable to Fukushima is zero, despite the meltdowns continually being described as 'deadly' and radiation levels as 'lethal.' "
Demonizing nuclear power is stupid. Unless the ITER project actually works and produces fusion reactions that give off more power than they require, nuclear reactors are the best source of clean, non-polluting power we have or are likely to get. Solar, wind and geothermal power can produce somewhere on the order of 20% of the requirements of current generation, and coal and oil plants pollute, are severely limited resources, and are major sources of carbon emissions. It's no accident that China is in the process right now of building and commissioning 72 nuclear plants.
The attitude fostered by the coverage of Fukushima by reporters and editors who have no clue is dangerous to the entire body of engineered infrastructure. It fosters NIMBYism (that stands for "not in my back yard") and an unrealistic worldview. It's one of the reasons children choose as early as grammar school not to enter science tracks. It's one of the significant roots of the lack of trained engineers and technicians we see in the process industries.
We learned to make safe nuclear plants long ago. We learned to safely dispose of radioactive waste years ago. But with irresponsible and biased reportage of nuclear effects, nobody knows about this, and worse, nobody believes it.
When Texas Nuclear was on Research Boulevard in Austin in the 1980s, there was a Whole Foods across the street. Every so often, the barbarians would come picket us, protesting against food irradiation (which also has been shown to be entirely safe), just because we had the word "nuclear" in our name. We were making industrial nucleonic gauges for level, density and elemental analysis and didn't do food irradiation. But the ignoranti didn't know that and didn't care.
You can't have reasonable decisions in a democratic society with that level of willful ignorance and partisan reporting.