Friday, March 25, 2011

Denial Ain’t Just a Tsunami in Japan

The latest news out of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor complex is sobering. It is the worst news yet. They suspect that the partially melted nuclear core in Unit 3 has breached the containment structure and now water tainted with nuclear contamination may be entering the groundwater.

“A breach could mean a leak has been seeping for days, likely since the hydrogen explosion at Unit 3 on March 14. It's not clear if any of the contaminated water has run into the ground. Radiation readings for the air were not yet available for Friday, but detections in recent days have shown no significant spike.”

“Elevated levels of radiation have turned up elsewhere, including the tap water in several areas of Japan. In Tokyo, tap water showed radiation levels two times higher than the government standard for infants, who are particularly vulnerable to cancer-causing radioactive iodine, officials said.”

Bottled water is disappearing off the shelves in Tokyo.

All of this began, I have come to believe because of immense denial in the Japanese nuclear industry. Denial that an event like this could ever occur, or that if it did, their systems and backups were failsafe.

This catastrophe was actually an inevitability.

Now it’s true that Japan has no oil reserves and no natural gas reserves to burn for energy, and no coal either, and it’s true that they import every burnable thing, so nuclear power seems like a viable alternative. So it comes as no surprise to me that Japan has so many nuclear power plants.

But the very reason Japan has no natural energy resources, its location in the Pacific Rim of Fire as an island arc immediately west of a subducting plate boundary, is the same reason why not one nuclear power plant should have ever been built in Japan. Japan has earthquakes, lots and lots of earthquakes. Take a look at this seismicity map. Every square mile in Japan, it seems, has been the epicenter of an earthquake. And look, the color code shows the depth at which the earthquakes occur. Orange is shallow. Shallow earthquakes are the strongest ones. They all occur offshore. Japan’s entire east coast is prone to tsunamis.

And on the coast is where they put the plants, because that’s where the water is.

But Japan needs power and they have no natural resources for energy.

No, wait, that’s not exactly true is it? As I mentioned, Japan is an island arc. A volcanic island arc. They have lots and lots of volcanoes. Japan is sitting on top of what could be called a Saudi Arabia equivalent of geothermal potential. 23.5 gigawatts of geothermal potential to be more precise. But how many geothermal power plants are on the books to be constructed in Japan? Zero. How many nuclear power plants are being planned? Thirteen.

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

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