The 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastates Japan last week will have a variety of repercussions back in the United States. One of the most immediate will be an economic impact as trade balances shift, supply and demand curves move about and the Wall Street traders speculate. But a more interesting impact will come in the future of nuclear power for America. In the face of weaning America off fossil fuels last year, the Obama Administration had brought back the interest in nuclear energy especially with newer technologies as a clean, long-term solution. The suggestion seemed even more apropos with pushes towards an electric vehicle infrastructure and fluctuating oil prices thanks to waves of protest and unrest in the Mediterranean and Middle East. However, with the earthquake, Japan is facing potential nuclear meltdown and other problems with various reactors.1 And this of course leads to renewed fears from Americans about the nuclear technology at home.
Are the fears warranted? Or is the risk worth the benefit?
1 I work with a former Navy nuclear engineer and he gave me a pretty good “armchair” description of the situation. For what it’s worth, the situation in Japan is partially a function of their own deviation from designs used in America that would have prevented some of the overheating in the absence of the diesel generators. Even with physical damage from the earthquake, he says current American designs would have maintained core integrity, temperature and containment despite the magnitude. The Japanese design decision likely came from a nuclear stigma held from prior experiences with Hiroshima and Nagasaki …
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