Bye, Bye, Nuclear Power

Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear reactor in Japan that is keeping us all on the edge of our seat right now and holding our breath. This morning it became clear that reactor 1 and 3 in this second generation nuclear power plant are probably OK, but reactor 2 is likely melting down because of a stuck valve. The broken valve makes it impossible right now to pour cooling water into the reactor and the rods are out of control. The rods are still inside a containment vessel, but it is not clear how much heat and pressure this can hold. Well, we’ll find out but it’s not the best way to conduct a pressure test.

The damaged Fukujima Daicchi nuclear plant. Photo from NYtimes.com

Fears of nuclear energy are growing. Even though the troubled reactor is not a third generation reactor, which are considered to be much safer, it is unlikely that this nuclear crisis in Japan will be ignored in future nuclear energy debates. My guess is that it will lead to an immediate hold on nuclear power in the US, and possibly also in Europe. Germany already reacted today by deciding to hold off on life extension of several of its nuclear power plants. Germany has been debating this for a long time, and is not as pro-nuclear as other European countries such as France and Sweden, but still it is a significant political step.

What will this mean for US energy politics? The combination of increased fear of nuclear power and rising oil prices is already leading to a renewed “Drill, Baby, Drill” call, not even a year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. You’d think that after oil spills, meltdowns of Chernobyl in the 80s and likely Japan now, and coal mining accidents, we’d hear the urgent and very loud calls “Save, Baby, Save” for efficiency, “Blow, Baby, Blow” for wind and “Shine, Baby, Shine” for solar. But, I don’t think that these calls will be any louder here than the Drill call.

So, I’m holding my breath for several reasons this morning, anxiously checking the computer for the latest news out of Japan, and anxiously awaiting the response of congress and the administration. Days like these, it’s hard to be the optimist I usually try to be: it is hard to smile when you cannot breathe. I am sure I’m not alone. Surely, Burton Richter will feel pretty down as well right now. We interviewed him just last week about the future of nuclear energy. I think he can say bye, bye to nuclear power. Check out our interview with him in the next post.

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