Have We Been Snookered Again?

In his magnificent 2004 novel, State of Fear, Michael Crichton revealed why global warming fanatics and their front line eco-terrorists spin their lie. In order to successfully undermine (excuse me, fundamentally transform) America, they must keep us in a constant state of fear. The serious damage and destruction to the five nuclear reactors is the 2011 example of Crichton’s point. Crichton is no longer here to spin the facts into a thriller novel.

Fortunately we have American Thinker’s J. R. Dunn. A novelist himself, Dunn is not writing fiction today. In his post, The Nuke Scare, Dunn gives us technical but clear facts describing why the worst case scenario will not affect us and will cause little additional damage to Japan. More importantly, Dunn shows that reactor technology in generations beyond those built 40 years ago in Japan. Look:

You’ve got to hand it to the Greens — 6,000+ people dead or missing, but that’s not worth mentioning. That can’t be blamed on anyone (except maybe Mother Gaia).  But a series of nuclear breakdowns that have killed a reported one person and with little further chance of harming anyone? That’s worth screaming about. That can be dropped on somebody.

There are plenty of questions concerning the Fukushima reactor breakdowns.  For one, if I were living in Japan, I would like to think that reactors would be isolated from subduction zones. But that’s not the kind of question the Greens and associated media are asking.  The rhetoric they’re using is designed to make the disaster seem much worse than it is, to find someone to pin things on, and to shift public opinion in the direction of shutting down all nuclear plants no matter what the circumstances. (Germany has already shut down seven of its reactors for the next four months, just in case there’s a magnitude 9 earthquake in Stuttgart.)  Anybody who was around for Three Mile Island back in 1979 or Chernobyl in 1986 will recognize the cycle: first hysteria, then accusations, then more hysteria, then demands to return to the pre-modern era.

First, let’s put the accidents in context: the Fukushima reactors survived one of the worst earthquakes in the historical record without breaking down catastrophically. This is a compliment to the designers (GE, in case anyone was wondering), the construction crews, and the operational teams. If the same had been true of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the accidents that occurred at those sites would have been of interest only to specialists. (Remember that TMI had a critical set of coolant valves put in backwards, while the Chernobyl reactor had no containment structure and was deliberately red-lined with all the safety features shut down, for reasons never adequately explained.)

As for chances of a meltdown, we can quote the capable Dr. Robert Zubrin:

“The reactors in question were all shut down four days ago. The control rods have been inserted, and the cores have been salted with boron. It is physically impossible for them to sustain a fission reaction of any kind at this point, let alone cause another Chernobyl. Only the fission-byproduct decay heat remains, and it is fading fast as the short half-life material… performs its decay reactions and ceases to exist.”  It is at this point as likely that the reactors could melt down as a car with an empty tank and all four tires stripped could win the Indy.

A major point being missed is that the Mark 1s at Fukushima are high-pressure light-water reactors of an obsolete design. They operate at extremely high temperature and pressure — needless to say, this is where things go wrong. The GE Mark 1s were designed in the 1960s and most of them went into operation during the 70s. They are all nearing the end of their operational lives and due for replacement. Despite news reports intended to work up a scandal, they have compiled a pretty good record regarding safety and reliability.

Modern designs are quite a bit different, operating on different principles. For one thing, they’re much safer, particularly as regards the nightmare scenario of a meltdown. Despite what everyone has been told, it’s possible to construct a reactor that can’t melt down. This was demonstrated by the TRIGA reactor (Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics) built by a team that included America’s greatest living physicist, Freeman Dyson, and designed in large part by Edward Teller. TRIGA reactors are fueled with uranium zirconium hydride, a compound that acts as its own moderator. Since the fuel loses efficiency as it heats up, it is next to impossible for a TRIGA reactor to melt down. (Dyson has a hair-raising passage in his memoir, Disturbing the Universe, in which he describes deliberately overloading the prototype TRIGA reactor only to have it immediately settle down to standard operating level.)  

Read it all.

Some technical analysts are responsible but few of these get into video or print. I have seen some balance on Fox news. But the over-the-top State of Fear reporting has already turned American public opinion. Turning it back will not be so easy. We only have four critical energy options, Oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear. There is no reason to cut Nuclear from the mix.

About Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson: a mature Christian who understands the sweep of history, the unique role of America and these times clearly and precisely.
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