Japan Quake Reignites Questions About Nuclear Power

13 Mar, 2011 | Science And TechnologyTdp

Two days on and there are still concerns over the safety of Japan's nuclear reactors.  Japan relies fairly heavily on nuclear power stations, it produces 34.5% of all of their electricity and they have a total of 53 reactors.  By comparison, it accounts for just over 19% across 19 reactors in the UK, but the US is the largest producer of energy from nuclear reactors, having 104, but they still only account for around 19% of total output.

There has been a lot of talk about Japan's reactors in recent days, due to the damage caused by the earthquake, but the one causing the biggest concern at the moment is Fukushima II, which was built back in the early-mid eighties.

Now, there have been some fairly big nuclear incidents and we've all been led to believe that lessons have been learned and nuclear power is now totally safe.  Apparently that is not the case.  In response to the quake, Japan's reactors shut themselves down automatically.  All good.  Except three of the reactors at Fukushima II are starting to overheat because the diesel generators that were supposed to cut in when they lost power from the generator in order to keep the cooling pumps running, cut out after an hour, no one knows why.  Apparently it can take days to cool the reactor to a state where the pumps aren't needed.  So they've been trying desperate moves to try and cool the reactor, now they're using sea water and the US are sending coolant (Cringely thinks it's sodium polyborate).  No one knows if that's going to be enough.

Now, an earthquake is a pretty unusual event (not so much in Japan), so you could forgive the designers for not designing a plant that could counter one.  But there have been plenty of cover-ups and safety problems before now when they were all running fine.  I'm not pointing a finger at Japan, they're not any worse than anyone else and that's what bothers me.

I'm not a big fan of nuclear power, not least because it costs so much to decommission a site, it can never really be used again and the only solution to the waste it produces is to dig a big hole and bury it for thousands of years.  Maybe it's time we looked again before we commit to building more reactors (as we are in the UK).