As this is written, the outcome in Japan remains uncertain. Rocked by a massive earthquake and tsunami less than one week ago, a nuclear plant there is on the brink of total meltdown. At least three of its reactors have had partial meltdowns. The entire facility is close to a catastrophe such as the world has never seen.
And yet – and yet – already I am hearing the siren song of insanity. A scientist interviewed yesterday on NPR (whose own future is uncertain) said the biggest obstacle we face when it comes to nuclear power is fear.
That's right, fear. Not a nuclear holocaust, but fear itself.
This scientist has been studying the aftereffects of the Chernobyl disaster some twenty-five years ago. He says the region's flora and fauna is showing radiation levels far lower than anyone anticipated.
Furthermore, he noted that in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, countless women around Chernobyl terminated pregnancies out of fear of what radiation exposure might do to their unborn children. But a later study of women whose pregnancies went full term, he said, showed no significant increase in birth defects or other abnormalities.
So that was yesterday's report. Today I heard another report on NPR about newer designs of nuclear plants. These newer designs are much safer, some expert said. They don't rely on water to cool the reactor rods like older plants do – such as the plant in Japan. In a situation like the present one, these new designs would take up to five days for the plant to reach dangerously overheated levels.
Blah blah blah. Such a brave new world we live in.
None of this addresses the issue of nuclear waste, or the utter insanity of building such potentially dangerous facilities in areas of great seismic activity.
Nor does it address how on earth NPR, or any other media outlet, could entertain the notion of safer plants at a time when the fate of Japan's plant is unknown.
If somehow we manage to dodge this bullet and avoid a total meltdown, we need to completely re-assess the future of nuclear power. This issue has been dormant for years, but it's about to re-assert itself. I fear it will take a catastrophe of unthinkable magnitude to restore some sense of sanity – if it isn't too late.