Even if there is a meltdown, it won’t be a major catastrophe. The Chernobyl meltdown, much worse than whatever will happen in Japan, didn’t even cause that much damage. People think it was a horrendously deadly meltdown, and although it wasn’t a good thing, it wasn’t nearly as bad as you have been led to believe (from Roddy Campbell writing for The Telegraph):
We seemed to have just reached the point where civil nuclear power was acceptable in polite society again, as decades on the fears that accompanied Three Mile Island and Chernobyl abated, CO2 emissions fears placed environmental advocacy groups in a cleft stick of nuclear versus global warming, and increasing demand for energy, and energy security concerns drive government policy. The UK has plans to replace its ageing fleet of reactors, the US likewise, and China is already building new nuclear power stations, even green Germany has extended the life of its nuclear generating capacity.
Now we have an earthquake in Japan, possibly causing meltdown at a number of nuclear reactors, whose safety systems seem not to be working too well, and we may be back to square one.
So, how dangerous is it, either when there is massive operator error, like Chernobyl, or an exogenous event, like the earthquake in Japan? We don’t know yet about Japan, although most expert commentary seems reasonably relaxed about the radiation risks in the event of core melt-down. What do we know about Chernobyl?
Filling out his NCAA bracket (hat tip to Mike Flynn of Big Government):
Japan is suffering from a natural disaster that threatens to turn into an existential crisis. Colonel Q-ball has unleashed a blistering assault on pro-democracy rebel forces. Large swaths of the Middle East are in turmoil. The federal government is bleeding red ink, with absolutely no end in site. The economy sucks and is getting battered by skyrocketing commodity prices and a volatile oil market. Near-record numbers of Americans are leaving the work force. If the world isn’t quite on fire…it is at least approaching a slow burn.
On Saturday, the 14 AWOL Wisconsin state senators returned to Wisconsin after camping out in Illinois for a while. They didn’t exactly get a warm welcome from their Republican colleagues:
In a sign that Republicans are still smarting from the exodus of Democrats during deliberations on the budget, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) told his caucus on Monday that Democrats remain in contempt of the Senate.
That means, he said, that Democrats can’t vote on bills or amendments.
What must we do to help Japan? Obviously we will send the kind of aid that one would expect: food, water, shelter, etc. But what more can we do to help Japan recover. Economist Amity Shlaes has some ideas:
There is a way the U.S. can help. Of course, it starts with traditional aid. This week, this month, this year, the U.S. will ship resources to Japan.
There is another, more important way to express our good will. We can shift our economic policies. This will mean more to Japan than any material gift.
To see why, consider pre-quake Japan. The country’s national debt was already enormous, ranking up there with Lebanon’s as a share of its economy. Last summer China surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy, an enormous setback to Japanese pride. Then consider our own country, which is lurching toward recovery. If Japan is to stabilize and avoid a future in China’s shadow, it needs to grow faster. And it needs a strong U.S. to be a counterbalance to China.
So what are here specific recommendations? Continue reading
As I said yesterday, the danger from the nuclear plant in Japan is minimal compared to the death and destruction that was caused by the tsunami. There is almost no risk of a Chernobyl-like event. The Soviet Union sucked, so Soviet nuclear power plants also sucked. Japan doesn’t suck, so Japanese nuclear power plants don’t suck. This is a pretty simple concept, no?
Of course, no one could have predicted that Japan would get hit with a 8.9 magnitude earthquake. The Fukushima power plant was not designed to withstand a quake of that magnitude, but it held up pretty well, considering the circumstances.
What is the big problem at Fukushima? They can’t cool down the reactor.
The radiated steam builds up and needs to be released to prevent a huge explosion. Some of that steam is released, which puts radiation into the air.
Should we be alarmed by this? Probably a little bit:
“Right now it’s worse than Three Mile Island,” said Donald Olander, professor emeritus of nuclear engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. But it’s nowhere near the levels released during Chernobyl.
Despite the devastatingly depressing news from Japan, there are positive stories coming out of this tragedy as well. A four-month-old girl was pulled from the rubble and reunited with her father:
The four-month-old girl had been swept from her parents’ arms in the shattered village of Ishinomaki when the deadly wave crashed into the family home.
For three days, the child’s frantic family had believed she was lost to them for ever.
But yesterday, for a brief moment, the horrors of the disaster were brightened by one helpless baby’s story of survival.
Soldiers from the Japanese Defence Force had been going from door to door pulling bodies from the devastated homes in Ishinomaki, a coastal town northeast of Sendai.
Most of the victims were elderly, unable to escape the destructive black tide.
But for this precious moment, at least, it was only the child who mattered to the team of civil defence troops who found her.