Nuclear power debate up in air

Ryan George & Gregory D. Cook
March 30, 2011
Filed under Opinion

By Ryan George
Photographer

Nuclear power plants are beneficial to the electrical supply of the Untied States as well as many other countries around the globe. California sits along and on the San Andreas Fault, connected to the Ring of Fire which is a chain of volcanoes all sitting on separate faults lining along the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

It is simply a dangerous place for California to actively use two operating nuclear plants and five non-operational plants, some of which are still holding spent fuel rods as the California Nuclear Energy’s website states.

The two functioning plants, one in Diablo Canyon (near San Luis Obispo) and the other in San Onofre (between Los Angeles and San Diego) use ocean water to cool the fuel rods.

Through my research, I am unclear if ours are using either plutonium rods or uranium rods for their energy creation.

These two ‘live’ plants could easily be damaged or even destroyed if an earthquake similar to Japans were to strike California.

So many people I have spoken to about Japan almost always add the statement “California is in for a big one,” and I don’t blame them, California is by far overdue for a big quake.

I am not trying to predict the future, but I am saying that it will happen one day. Heck, the earthquake in Japan could have easily landed along or in California instead.

Most critics of my argument are probably thinking that our nuclear sites are stronger and more secure than Japan’s. To back those critics stance, on the Today Show, aired March 22, NBC reporter Tom Costello visited a nuclear reactor in Killona, Louisiana.

After having full access to the plant, including the control room and the one of the pools containing the spent fuel rods, he stated that upon leaving that he “had zero percent radiation exposure.”

That shows the strength of only one plant, one that survived Hurricane Katrina, running on diesel-powered generators for a few days after the power grid went out there, but does that mean all plants can withstand a 9.0 earthquake with a following tsunami?

I sadly doubt it.

Somehow and somewhere, California is going have a big one. We’ve felt Japan’s in minor waves and trace amounts of radiation in California, but would California be able to evacuate large cities such as Los Angeles or San Diego, where between those two cities sites one of the operational plants in San Onofre?

San Onofre is around fifty miles in between both Los Angeles and San Diego, and fifty miles was the recommended evacuation area around the nuclear plants in Japan.

In the end, I believe the risks do not outweigh the benefits.

Let’s protect California and decommission our existing power plants and find a different location that would cause less havoc and panic than where they exist today.

By Gregory D. Cook
Features editor

Atomic power. Thanks in part to six decades of campy science-fiction movies, the thought of atomic or nuclear power conjures up thoughts of giant irradiated bugs and lizards running amuck and destroying cities.

Combine that with the incidents at Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and the current crisis at the Fukushima I site, and it is understandable how we can be a little fearful about the safety of this power source. But in reality, when all things are considered, nuclear power is extremely safe, and given the current alternatives, one of the best options for meeting the power needs of our expanding world and is well worth its risks.

While the situation in Japan is serious, as of March 23, no radiation causalities have been reported, radiation levels are declining, and workers are still on-site and regaining control of the situation. That means that for all of the failures in equipment, the overall system still worked and under conditions far worse than its design intended.

Nuclear power plants are not new technology. On December 20, 1951, four light bulbs lit up with power from a reactor in Idaho, illuminating the dawn of the atomic age.

Seven years later, the Soviet Union flipped the switch on the first full-scale nuclear power plant. Currently, there are 442 nuclear reactors operating in the world, producing nearly 14 percent of the world’s electricity. In addition, nearly 150 ships and submarines are at sea under nuclear power. The United States leads the world with 104 reactors, but China is playing catch-up with 29 reactors under construction as you read this.

In nearly 60 years of commercial nuclear power production, there have been only three major incidents at nuclear power plants. The partial core-melt of Three Mile Island resulted in only miniscule radiation leakage, about the same amount as a medical X-ray, although the fear it instilled in the American public nearly stopped nuclear power advancement in its tracks.

The accident in Chernobyl was horrible, but it was the result of a chain of errors that simply would not happen today. Poor design elements, coupled with abysmal communications, contributed to the high numbers of people exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

But as bad as the incident was, today the area around the Chernobyl power plant is a thriving wildlife reserve.

And while the arguments still rage on about the long-term impact of the accident, reputable studies of the area show very little lasting effects to the ecosystem and the lessons learned there have served to improve the safety of today’s reactors.

The bottom line is that after more than a half century of worldwide nuclear power production, huge Gila monsters do not roam the Mojave Desert and Godzilla remains a thing of fiction, much like the fears of Japanese fallout laying waste to the West Coast.

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