So there I was, having drinks with some friends, and telling them about my recent blog posts regarding Germany’s decision to stop using nuclear power and the role of Chancellor Angela Merkel. I threw out the comment: “how many nuclear power disasters will it take until we give it up as an energy source?”
A friend’s boyfriend turned round and remarked: “And how many earthquakes do you need before you move your family out of the Bay Area?”
Cutting. Incisive. And I was just about to offer to buy him a drink.
Now, the validity of his point notwithstanding, I think there is a huge difference between natural and man-made disasters. In my radical teenage years, my friends and I planned to disrupt the movement of nuclear waste through the English countryside. I remember one woman asking how we would feel if we did something that created a radioactive leakage right there in the village where the demonstration was planned? I probably wouldn’t have bought her a drink either, even if I was underage back then.
The LA Times recently published the transcripts of a Q&A with Elmer E. Lewis, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University. Professor Lewis has authored two textbooks on nuclear power, answered questions regarding the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the damage and consequences on the environment. He has conducted considerable research on the physics, safety and reliability of nuclear systems.
“The combination of an earthquake of unprecedented intensity followed immediately by a tsunami of historical proportions in Japan has resulted in the most serious nuclear reactor accidents in decades,” Professor Lewis said. “Understandably, the uncertainty associated with the further progression of the partial melting of the reactor cores has engendered a great deal of psychological trauma as well as media attention.
“However, it appears that loss of life to the public — if any — caused by the radiation releases from these accidents will be minuscule when compared to the thousands of deaths caused by the earthquake and tsunami.”
You can click on the LA Times link to read the entire transcript. While I don’t want to take Professor Lewis out of context – he is an academic researcher, not an emotional, frustrated blogger – I am mystified enough to write a few posts about nuclear power. I do plan to move from there to alternative sources because I don’t subscribe to the naysayers when they do not provide alternative solutions.
As I read the transcript, I became increasingly lost in the technical side of it. But then one caller’s comment (identified as Morgan) stood out. “From the beginning of this disaster the Japanese government and the plant operators have been quoted as saying there is little risk of the situation becoming more critical, and yet that’s what has been happening with each passing day. It makes it difficult to trust anything they say, as it seems they’re not being up front with the public about the present situation. These kinds of events call for complete transparency. This is part of the reason for the rising public distrust over nuclear power.”
I also have no intention of leaving the Bay Area despite the reality that at some point in my lifetime I will probably have to deal with an earthquake. I just hope we know where the ‘off” switch is at the nuclear plants when the earth moves.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).