Blogs » Politcs Plus » The improbable is not impossible


Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? I’m not ready apply for a nuclear energy degree but I am not as dumb about nuclear power as I was a couple weeks ago. Every night I'm glued to my television learning things about nuclear power that I never was interested in before. The devastation saddened me, but I have also learned that even though Japan is a world leader in nuclear technology; man has a lot to learn about the inevitable; what might be improbable is possible. I get scared when engineers say “we’re in uncharted waters."

Like everyone, I'm always critical of the media but what I've seen so far has been first-rate. I can only imagine what one must go through when they get a call telling them to go to Japan to cover a possible nuclear meltdown. In its own unique way, it's what great reporters strive for, being on the ground level to report what's happening, as it is happening.

The real heroes are the 50 technicians working in shifts trying to minimize the damage at a risk to their own personal safety. It gives new meaning to “it’s a dirty job but someone's got to do it." They have been there for the safe shutdown, the failure of the generator backup, and the eventual failure of the battery backup. I've learned that the Japanese government may have been too secretive to a fault. We were told of the tsunami effect but did it cause the leak in the roof? The plants were designed to survive a 7.2 quake but we all know that they got a 9.0 quake. I heard Lawrence O'Donnell ask former Governor Richardson of New Mexico about the two nuclear plants in California located on the fault lines. Richardson said that California is prepared for a 7.5 on the Richter scale, but he did not discount that politics played a part in plant design. Japan has an 8o second warning system which might not sound like much, but it gives a surgeon time to stop a procedure or for a person to shut off some burners. California does not have an early detection system.

In my continuing television educational class, I learned that the fuel rods have about a six year shelf life and once removed they have to be cooled with circulated water for about 140 Hours before they get down to dangerously low levels. However, spent fuel rod storage pools have no steel and concrete containment for protection. Spent-fuel pools at the plant pose a threat of environmental contamination – if breached – as the multiply-shielded reactor cores themselves. Two of the reactors – No. 1 and No. 3 – have experienced explosions that blew holes in their roofs and upper levels...... I've seen the pictures of 12 feet, high fuel rods and the uranium pellets that fit inside and have been given the grade school explanation of how these things work, but we should give all the credit to Leo Szilard, who conceived of the possibility of a controlled release of atomic power through a multiplying neutron chain reaction as far back as 1932.

The incident in Japan will lead to more nervousness; what mother would wants to raise their children in a city that has a nuclear reactor? I don't think it will have an effect on the future plans for the one in Victoria but nuclear plants have more of a financial problem than anything else. Wall Street is hesitant to fund a 10 year project that is heavily regulated. I think nuclear energy should be about 30% of our energy policy because of its zero greenhouse gas emissions, and I don't fault the governor's that want to shut down some nuclear plants to install some extra safety measures. We know now that the improbable is not impossible.