(or How I Came to Prefer the Bomb)
With reports and hype currently abounding regarding Japanese nuclear plants endangered by recent (and continuing) earthquakes, perhaps it is time to take a look at the truth about the state of nuclear power in the world today.
Oh, why bother, the hype and knee-jerk reactions are so much more fun. After all, talking about human beings glowing in the dark (without the aid of glow-in-the-dark condoms or body paint) is a much more fascinating subject, right?
Well, prepared to be bored. It’s time to have some rational discussion on the subject. If that’s not your thing, then you are excused. Well, not really, but your comments won’t be missed.
First of all, let’s dispose of a few Frequently Asked Questions about nuclear power (please note that all of these are questions are ones I have been asked since Friday morning):
Q1: Why can’t we have safe nuclear power?
A: Profits. Building a safe, stable nuclear power plant costs money. As Bechtel conclusively proved in the 1970’s in Midland Michigan, adhering to standards of construction, most of which are intended to make the power plant safe, is not cost-effective. Bechtel proved this by the way, by consistently ignoring standards of construction for nuclear plants.
If corporations were required to adhere to standards of construction (which are only included in ordinances, legislation, and building codes to make the books thicker and more impressive anyway), then people might also start expecting them to use safe materials in their products, pay a decent minimum wage, compensate employees for injuries caused by the corporation, allow employees to go back to their homes on their off-hours, and all sorts of other things advocated by governments who only want to subjugate and enslave their peons, I mean, slaves, I mean, citizens.
Q2: When will the radiation reach the West Coast and irradiate all those namby-pamby leftists?
A: About the time that pigs fly through a wormhole in space to the Delta Quadrant.
I would strongly suggest anyone fearing the West Coast being irradiated (or, conversely, praying for it) look at ocean currents and wind currents of the Pacific Ocean. I’d lay odds on the chances of most people taking the time to do that, so I will just say this: the odds are better that you would be able to fly a paper airplane through a convoy of tornados.
Yes, we all remember how Canada was irradiated by the Chernobyl incident, such that nobody lives in Canada anymore. But Canada is a lot closer to Chernobyl (4434 miles) than Tokyo is to San Francisco (5133 miles), so the end of the gay rights agenda is not within your grasp. Better luck next time.
Also, Chernobyl was a very “dirty” power plant. The Japanese plant was built by qualified engineers who did not receive their degrees solely based on their political loyalties (and bribes to government officials), making those Japanese engineers very suspect to the Republican party and their inbred political cousins in other countries.
Q3: Why wasn’t the Japanese nuclear plant built to withstand an earthquake?
A: See the answer to question Q1 above.
Also, I would say that it is for the same reason that Corvettes are not built to withstand being run over by an 18-wheeler. And 18-wheelers are built with a better suspension than we current manufacture earthquakes with.
Q4: Are we going to die?
A: Yes. We are all going to die. However, unless the Rapture happens (and Yahweh decides to make a power grab and snatch up a lot of people who he has no claim on, such as people from other religions), we won’t all die at the same time.
Death is a fact of life. Everybody dies. Most people die at different times, unless Palin or Britney suddenly tweet something of monumental importance (like what restaurant they just escaped from without paying the bill), in which case a lot of sheeple may die at the same time as they try to retweet while driving through a construction zone.
Q5: How much radiation is actually being put out by the Japanese reactor?
A: Not much.
“Rear Admiral Richard Wren, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Japan, said the additional radiation exposure for the past 12 hours at the two bases was about 20 millirem, less than one month’s exposure to naturally occurring background radiation.
“There is no appreciable health risk, and we are being very conservative in our recommendations,” Wren said in a video message to naval forces.
The confusion here is the concept of “elevated levels”. Let me put this concept in plain language: if the creek near your home rises 1 inch, it is “elevated levels”. And that probably happens several times a day, but you aren’t evacuating your family every time.
Q6:Why do you keep bringing logic and facts into this? What is wrong with you?
A: I was born with a brain, which I do not use to prop up my eyebrows and my hat, but rather for the purpose for which the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Steve Irwin, Robert Heinlein, and Gaia intended.
I was also educated by a long series of teachers, instructors, mentors, and professors who conveyed a love of learning, taught me how to do basic research (Google is your friend, and wants to know why you never call anymore), and taught me how to construct a logical argument. In other words, union teachers, which puts me near the top of the list of Wisconsin Governor Walker’s list-of-people-to-eliminate-by-whining-about-them-to-the-media-and-the-Koch-brothers.
The sarcasm is all my own, I have a signed statement from my mother’s obstetrician to prove it.
Now, I have seen part of this discussion somehow derailed with comments and reminiscences of Chernobyl. In fact, CNN is currently quoting a French official (who does not seem to have actually gone to Japan) saying the Japanese “crisis” is on par with Chernobyl, despite the fact that experts present in Japan and actually monitoring the situation have already said that the levels are already dropping back down.
We have some people screaming that it’s not fair to compare Chernobyl and Japan. Construction, and therefore flaws, are completely different, they say. As a matter of fact, the only people I have seen comparing the two are either saying “not even close” or are so-called experts who are worried that their names haven’t been in any articles lately and they are afraid they may have to resort to alcohol in order to get that warm, fuzzy feeling before leaving the office (and unconfirmed reports suggest that the price of alcoholic beverages has risen by a whopping 31% this past year).
Yes, there are people who are recalling or reminiscing about Chernobyl. The “crisis” in Japan has caused some people to go back and look at the lasting damages caused by the Chernobyl incident, as well as Three Mile Island, Love Canal, and Bristol Palin’s Dancing With The Stars appearances.
This is normal behavior. I have also seen people talking about the Haiti disaster, despite the fact that there appear to be more people who care about Japan a lot more than Haiti. After all, none of our favorite electronics are manufactured in Haiti, other than tourism. And there is a surplus of tourism in lots of other places, so it’s not like the global economy will suffer. Besides, we can always ship Las Vegas to Haiti to make up for any shortfalls, and everybody will be happy.
When the supposed “crisis” about Priuses was going on, nobody complained that it was unfair to bringing up the old Pinto “crisis”. Despite the fact that Pintos were totally chick-magnets, and not even a gay man finds men driving Priuses attractive.
No, my friends (and I use the term intentionally knowing how many of you will feel insulted), it’s not a question of “that’s different!” It’s a question of “they are related”.
When something like a reactor breaks, or a cheaply-made Styrofoam car develops issues with brakes and accelerator pedals, it is common to draw on our past experiences with similar instances. Nobody is saying they are the “same”. They are saying that they are reminded of something “similar”.
Let me say this again: it is common. It’s kind of like saying something tastes like chicken. It doesn’t taste like chicken, per se, but it reminds us of eating chicken.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look at what is really driving the discussion right now: cheap power.
Why can’t we have a cheap, efficient method of powering our thousand-and-one-absolutely-necessary-accessories? Because of profits.
Cheap power is only considered cheap if consumers pay less for it. This violates the basic precept of so-called “public utilities”. Power should only be cheap for those who provide it, so they can jack up the price, and therefore the profits they get.
So what is going on right now? Nuclear power is, once again, catching flack as being unsafe. Yippee. Synchronize your watches, because it’s going to happen again.
Utility companies love it when this subject comes up. They get to whine and cry to the media about how they are being maligned, and how they wish everybody (except them) would stop bringing up these “false facts”. As a result, the price of their stock drops, the company can then buy back their own stock from nervous investors, which means that when it comes time to distribute profits (and they always have profits) the company gets the biggest share. And the only ones who get to share in that lion’s share of profits are company executives – in other words, the people who have been whining about it on TV.
A few months from now, the utility companies will whine about how they can’t provide enough power unless they build another (publicly-funded) power plant, and someone will leak some documents showing how dirty coal or natural gas power plants are. Activists will get fired up about clean energy once again, but natural forms of energy are erratic or inefficient due to the state of technology, etc., so the public will demand a nuclear power plant instead. Which will be funded mainly through public funds, have huge cost over-runs, and probably never open anyway, as evidenced by the two nuclear power plants that were supposed to be built in Midland Michigan.
Meanwhile, the utility companies will jack up their price per kilowatt-hour to account for the increased demand, so they make even more profit.
The argument about how different plants are constructed is inconsequential. Why? Because that is information you do not have, and will never have. Sure, the US and the UN would love to give you details on schematics and architectural plans for nuclear reactors! Good luck on the Freedom of Information Act request, despite the fact that the UN and other countries are not even beholden to follow that Act, and post-9-11 has the plans and details of any power plant as classified material.
I toured the Midland nuclear plant (the first one, the one that was actually built) in the 80’s, more than 6 years after it was started. One of the things that scared the bejesus out of me was the piles of kitty litter under a large number of rather large pipes. An engineer on the project explained that the kitty litter was intended to soak up leaks when they occurred.
He said “when”, not “if”. In other words, leaks in those pipes, carrying irradiated liquid away from the reactor, were not a possibility, but a certainty. Just to be clear, “certainty” means it will happen.
Are you surprised that the US government finally refused to entertain any notion that the Midland plant would ever be allowed to go online?
Why are these power plants constructed so shoddily? Let me break it down for you.
The plants are designed by engineers who are supposed to know what they are doing. Few of those engineers will ever visit the power plant. Most work their 9 to 5 job and go home. The power plant is an intellectual exercise for them. They will never be held responsible for any issues. Ask Bechtel how many of those engineers were fired after the US shut down the Midland plant.
The plants are constructed by construction companies who usually do not have more than one or two actual engineers on staff. Those engineers are supposed to review the plans and implementation for multiple projects at the same time.
The people doing the actual construction work are people like you and me. They have no idea what kind of stresses the system will be under, what the specifications should be, they can only go by the plans they are given. Most construction companies, to save money, will cut corners here and there. They have to, in order to make a profit themselves. They have to bid under everyone else in order to get the job, and to make a profit off that bid, they have to do the job as inexpensively as possible. And inexpensive, in today’s society, means cheap. As in, not worth paying for, not intended to last long, not worth a snowball’s chance in hell.
The people overseeing all of this are the executives of the utility company. They want profits. They will never live within the blast radius, should something go wrong, and the plant is usually put on stand-by while they are present for ribbon-cuttings and other photo-ops. The safety of the power plant itself is of no consequence to them.
Pop quiz: how many people were charged in criminal or civil court for the Three Mile Island incident? (an all-expense paid trip from my house to the corner to the first one who gets the question right)
The people paying for the plant are usually those who pay taxes in the area, since municipalities love to write contracts giving large corporations open access to their standard of life, without any penalty clause anywhere (I refer you to the way Jackson Michigan willingly submitted to being sodomized by Consumers’ Power, later renamed to Consumers’ Energy, to the tune of millions of dollars). While there are mutual funds and investors who enjoy buying up bond issues for these power plants, the burden is usually shifted, over time, to small investors and local communities.
In other words, people who don’t count anyway.
Why can’t we find a cheaper way to get energy? Check why Nikola Tesla’s energy transmission patents were never acted upon. The answer is, there was no way to make money on it. Think of it, freely available electricity for the world.
Obviously, that’s not the way the world works. It’s unethical not to charge people as much as the market will bear, while trying to force them to bear the burden of budget over-runs, poor management, and management perks.
Power, and the profits to be made from it, do not lie in the hands of citizens, the poor, the workers, etc. Power rests only in the hands of those willing to abuse it, just like Yahweh intended.