Archive for Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tragic results

March 17, 2011


The tragedy and consequences of the terrible earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan cannot be overstated. It will be years before the island nation will recover, and the effects of this natural disaster will be felt by billions of people around the globe.

There is no way for anyone to adequately measure the current and eventual cost of this calamity. However, one of the costs of the two-pronged disaster is likely to be major delays in the construction of new nuclear power plants here in the United States to help meet our nation’s ever-growing need for energy. The fear of a nuclear accident is the greatest and most powerful deterrent to the construction of more plants in the United States, and the Japan tragedy will be maximized by those who oppose building more plants.

The fact is, however, nuclear power plants can be built with extreme safety features, and the situation in Japan is the result of “perfect storm” conditions that caused a breach and contamination. No one can say whether there ever would be another set of conditions that could cause a similar failure.

What is known, however, is that some way must be found to meet this country’s ongoing energy needs. It is wrong and silly to think solar or wind power can provide the energy to keep this nation free from dependence on foreign oil. Nor will electric or battery-powered cars be the answer.

Strict regulations are keeping this country from accessing huge deposits of oil. Some politicians who consider this issue to be critical to their political success also are putting up roadblocks even though they realize the eventual need to allow more exploration of drilling areas in offshore locations as well as in Alaska.

Likewise, this country has huge deposits of coal, but President Obama’s energy and environmental policies will make it extremely difficult for any company to establish new coal-fired power plants. He has said trying to meet his standards will surely bankrupt any such effort.

Natural gas is a possibility that, so far, has gone undeveloped.

Nuclear power can meet the demand, but getting approval for new plants will become even more challenging due to the situation in Japan.

Hopefully, the decisions concerning the future of nuclear power in the United States will be handled in a sensible manner and not based solely on fear. What is best for the future of this country and its people? What will be the energy needs of this country 25 or 50 years from now, and how can these needs be met? What will be needed to continue to provide the quality of life in this country that made the United States a true world leader? Or are there politicians likely to use the energy situation to justify the federal government entering the picture to ration and control the amount of energy individuals and companies can use?

The crisis in Japan is ugly, but it should not be used to handicap the nation from using modern technology, such as nuclear reactors, to provide clean, affordable energy.


pace 7 years ago

Why do some o f the same people who don't believe pollution effects the skies, seas and earth, isn't sure about evolution, sneers at science have such blind perfect confidence in a nuclear e energy source. After 59 years of industry fighting any thing but mass produced and sold energy they join in poopooing conservation. They wave their uncalloused hat at alternative energy resource as silly. They will risk a lot. They don't address spent fuel rods, they don't address remediation, they don't address after the plant closes cost. they just express confidence that we , the little people downwind and down wing should just go for it, what the hey.

bearded_gnome 7 years ago

but wait! ... what is Mr. Obama's basketball bracket choice again???

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

Ah, the right wing's talking point. There can't be anything wrong because the President did something unrelated for several minutes.

Majestic42 7 years ago

And then proceeded to not address anything important for a couple weeks. Saturday's radio address=women's rights. [sigh]

sr80 7 years ago

Really! where is our president anyway,I haven't seen hide or hair of him since the SOTU speech !

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

Your statement reveals quite a bit about what you consider important. Majestic? No, not by a long shot.

BigPrune 7 years ago

Is the reason why Obama doesn't want to help the Japanese racist in nature? There is a long history of racism between the two cultures, Asians and blacks. Just curious.

pace 7 years ago

Don't worry, cost of after production nuclear care. that is silly. The corporation won't go bankrupt and leave the site and cost to US

pace 7 years ago

conservation silly is , I don't know. Building code fights, it is A matter of one time increase in product price. We can't afford upgraded homes and buildings. Energy prices will never make up that investment.

Maddy Griffin 7 years ago

Why don't you fly to Japan and see how bad the situation really is. If the meltdown occurs, and all indications are that it will, thousands of square miles of Japanese land will never, I repeat, NEVER be inhabitable again. There are 114 nuclear plants in this country. Nuclear is NOT the answer.

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

And the same arguments were made before this tragedy, and before the BP Oil spill, and before Chernobyl, etc.....

Responsible citizens should evaluate the situation and then quiet the forces of greed and plunder.

gudpoynt 7 years ago

Well, there's 2 on the coast of Southern California, with 2 reactors each. Since tsunami's are triggered by offshore earthquakes, I'd say these two are the most susceptible to that specific threat.

But then there's threat of tornadoes in the plains, which could affect: Wolf Creek in Burlington, KS Cooper and Fort Calhoun plants in Nebraska Callaway plant near Columbia Missouri Clinton plant in central Illinois Duane Arnold near Cedar Rapids Iowa Prairie Island, Elk River, and Monticello plants in Minnesota Arkansas One near plant Little Rock Comanche Peak plant near Ft. Worth

Of course, hurricanes are much more devastating than tornadoes, so I'd be more worried about: South Texas plant near Corpus Christi River Bend and Waterford in Southern Louisiana Farley plant in Southern Alabama Crystal River plant near Tampa, St. Lucie plant south of Orlando, and Turkey Point on the southern tip of Miami Brunswick on the coast near Wilmington N.C. Surry on the coast in Virginia

So, while there are a couple that are susceptible to earthquake/tsunami, there are different types of natural disasters all over our continent that could potentially cause damage to the cooling systems and/or containment vessels of nuclear plants in the US.

And the plants listed above are only those in areas typically affected by the three natural disasters mentioned. Cooling systems and containment vessels can be damaged by explosions and/or fires which don't necessarily require a natural disaster to occur. Note that there was no natural disaster that caused the full melt down at Chernobyl. Ironically, they were trying to do a safety test, and it went horribly wrong.

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

No, the lesson is don't build where the power needed to supply the cooling may fail.

LoveThsLife 7 years ago

Maybe not tsunami, but how about earthquakes and other natural disasters out of our control?

notajayhawk 7 years ago

Run for the caves, grammy! The sky is falling, the sky is falling!

pace 7 years ago

Asking about spent fuel rods storage is vilifying nuclear power? I can hear you now. You get home late and drunk, when you are asked where have you been? You scream "How dare you," Oh Tom, couldn't you just stick to expressing your self on your emotional and personal dislike of you know you. At least when you express your emotions garbage , it at least true in the sense you really feel that way.. Forget argument on point, if that is the best you can bring. I can support nuclear power better than that. I am split about nuclear power, but I want to hear better points than emotions of faith and confidence. When Wold Creek was built there were not plans to store the waste and spent rods on site. That is what they do, since the collapse of the nuclear waste storage plan. If you find a newspaper's editorial assurances and dismissal of conservation a good argument., that is you. I don't want to move because I live downstream and downwing and lo something went wrong. I don't want to pay for a utility's error (?). Where they get paid for the product but declare bankruptcy once they paid out the profits and lo there is no money left for maintenance of a dead plant or clean up from accidental or careless management.

notaubermime 7 years ago

"The fact is, however, nuclear power plants can be built with extreme safety features, and the situation in Japan is the result of “perfect storm” conditions that caused a breach and contamination. No one can say whether there ever would be another set of conditions that could cause a similar failure."

Well that's the rub, isn't it? The plant in trouble was built for an earthquake. It took steps to shut down the fuel rods when the earthquake hit. When the power went out, they switched to a back-up generator to pump water into the reactor. When the back-up generator was damaged in the tsunami, they switched to a battery back-up to pump in water. That lasted 8 hours.

So, no, no one can say whether such conditions would arise again, or whether something else would manage to override all of the fail safes. It is extremely arrogant to think that one can plan for everything, especially when it comes to natural disasters. The question is not whether it will happen again. It will. The question is whether you want to run the risk of that area being made unsuitable to human use.

Scott Drummond 7 years ago


Unfortunately, there will be plenty here who will argue that we should all take the risk so that a few may profit.

dinoman 7 years ago

i to realize that nuclear power is not the answer... did anyone forget that back in the early 1900's there were thousands of windmills powering water wells all across the us... and just why can we put a man on the moon but cant figure out how to put a cost effective battery in a car?? i m just saying that if we really wanted to do something like solar or wind power it could sure put a dent in the overall power grid.. by the way has anybody ever heard of the windy city Chicago or just how many days is it sunny in Arizona i don't know but just an option.. oh and by the way ethanol is also a great option just ask south america...

notanota 7 years ago

We could innovate our way out of this mess if the old fossils in old fossil fuel would let us instead of demanding continued corporate welfare for dirty fuels that will run out and then crying that innovating new fuels is too expensive.

ivalueamerica 7 years ago

The problem is 2-fold.

They are built to a certain degree..or are supposed to withstand earthquakes, tornadoes, Tsunami, forest fires and the like of a certain degree, but use cost/risk math to limit that degree. What is wrong with that is the fact that the bigger disasters will strike, it is only a matter of when, making any plant we have unsafe in an extreme event.

The second threat is the fact that the industry is incredibly corrupt. The owner of this plant was caught not only on this plant, but several of their plants around the world taking shortcuts in construction, forging safety documents, bribing inspectors and a host of other violations around the world, and needless to day, similar findings can be made about the owners of other plants, including most US plants.

That means most likely the plants are not even up to the safety standards to meet a lower level disaster.

I thought it was so insane that Leiberman went on Fox news, said he does not want to abandon nuclear energy as he considers it vital to our nation, but he does want to take a pause, learn from what is happening in Japan and review US Nuclear plants for safety based on that new knowledge and then proceed...

Beck called him a knee jerk radical for suggesting it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

If the Price-Anderson act were repealed, no one would even consider building a nuclear power plant, given that they would then become responsible for any and all damage that the nukes might create.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

It appears to me that no one in this discussion has yet mentioned that we might try to decrease our energy consumption. That could be done in various ways. I don't want to get into that debate, it's been rehashed so many times already.

But about natural gas - we've got plenty of that, and it can easily be converted to propane, and automobiles can easily be powered with it. My father had a couple pickups that were converted to run on propane, and they ran very well. The only downside was that there was a slight decrease in horsepower from the engine, and thus when towing heavy machinery, we had to flip the switch and run on gasoline instead.

But there was another downside, and I think this could be easily solved. When my brother's propane powered tractor was shut down with the engine warmed up, it was impossible to get it started again until the engine had cooled down again. But, I don't think that problem couldn't be overcome.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Well, now that I think about it, there was another downside. My father used to always go to my brother's place and fill up his pickup from the propane tank that was used to heat the house. His excuse was that he really wasn't using that much propane, anyway.

That really ticked off my brother! All my father needed to do was carry a connecter hose, head for the propane tank when my brother wasn't home, and fill 'er up!

jafs 7 years ago

Decreasing our consumption is the elephant in the room that rarely gets discussed, unfortunately.

It can be done without any massive investments on either the personal or communal level, and will save money.

devobrun 7 years ago

We are decreasing our energy consumption. Figures for electric power generation have been relatively flat for years here in the U.S. Even as population of the U.S. increases, the demand for electricity stays flat.

This is attributable to conservation programs that insulate houses. They also replace incandescent bulbs with high efficiency sodium bulbs and fluorescent bulbs. Factories are moving off shore and demand for electricity from business is reduced. About the only sector where electrical demand is increasing is computers. Even then, flat screen monitors replacing CRTs has reduced energy consumption a lot. Wait until memristor based memory becomes ubiquitous. Hard drives will go away. Computers will be quiescent until a keystroke or internet input happens. Duty cycles for personal computers will be reduced to about 20%. Energy requirements will decrease accordingly.

Engineers work all day every day to reduce the energy needs of the things you use. Battery technology research is the most vibrant and funded area of study today. Lithium-ion batteries are a result of such research. They are more efficient than any other. They aren't good enough for automobiles yet, but new batteries just might make electric vehicles viable in the next 10 years.

If real electric vehicles are available in 10 years (due to batteries that work), then where will the electricity come from to charge these cars?

Nukes, coal, gravity, and mostly natural gas. Wind and solar are crazy-bad in comparison.

gudpoynt 7 years ago

non-renewable is simply not a long term solution. Period. It's in the term itself... "non-renewable". Why is that hard to fathom?

The better that battery technology gets, the more viable will be solar and wind.

You speak of awesome advancements in technology leading to less energy consumption. Why don't you have the same enthusiasm for maximizing the output of solar and wind energy generation?

jafs 7 years ago


So all of this talk about needing to build more power plants to supply our "need" is nonsense then.

And, there are many things that individuals can do, in the realm of personal choice, that make a difference - changing the settings on thermostats (not overheating or overcooling one's house), not using those systems when it isn't necessary - I'm sitting in a space with all of the windows open with no heating or cooling necessary, etc.

That's the part that somehow doesn't get discussed very much, as if our needs were fixed and not due to personal choices.

And, those choices not only don't cost money, they save money - use less, spend less.

BigPrune 7 years ago

Lawrence already has a nuclear reactor at KU, right off 15th Street, so building one to generate electricity should be easy.

Jonathan Kealing 7 years ago

KU shut down and decommissioned their nuclear reactor in 1985. The building that used to house it now contains KU's department of environment, health and safety.

BigPrune 7 years ago

I did not realize that. I remember seeing a blurb about it after 9/11 but I didn't read the article. Thanks for the info.

pace 7 years ago

The current right rant on conservation is that it is silly. Most of our houses heat as if we leave the front door open all winter. Every time we strive for the building codes to include more energy efficiency, developers clamor that it would add increaseed cost to the house and less houses would be sold or built. The code has made improvements in 50 years but the current code reflects the developers argument not the consumers. The code is a developers dream and a consumer nightmare. They don't even allow most of the real labor and energy savings developed or refined in the last twenty years because, because they have their head up somewhere else. There are a thousand details that are fought tooth and nail because they don't profit some company directly, they only save energy or resource. The mere mention of sustainable buildings or products are met with hatred. If we set a goal of saving 10 percent of our energy consumption we could do it in two years. But we would have to close the front door in the winter.

pace 7 years ago

It isn't the big bad developers? It is and a hundred other excuses and roadblocks.. The developer next to my house built well. I was talking about how the building code served builder's cost more than consumer costs. You want tax breaks, I want different code requirements and flexibility in design. I am not enthused over tax breaks. I know it is fun and somewhat effective to get the money. But we are giving tax breaks to everyone, large corporations, the wealthiest. the oil industry, the etc, etc. Economically I want less tax breaks, less complicated tax system and a fairer one. I personally would rather just pay my tax on my income and have the loop holes and breaks cut out. It means I am paying for those people who get the tax breaks. We have a rental. We added insulation. we upgraded the driveway, no the renters didn't ask, we got a tax deduction. I concede that many would never do anything unless they got a tax break out of it or were forced to. . I am more ruthless. I say structures should be held to a standard. I know that is hard. I might hate the complex tax system more than most.

gudpoynt 7 years ago

"It is wrong and silly to think solar or wind power can provide the energy to keep this nation free from dependence on foreign oil"

It is wrong and silly to simply dismiss the two most ready and renewable energy resources on our continent, simply because they are currently insufficient in meeting our energy consumption levels, which are multiple times what they need to be.

Nuclear energy is cheap, and while it's operating, pretty clean. However, the risks and effects of a meltdown should be taken as seriously as the risks and effects of nuclear weapons. I heard a story this morning about new plants that are designed to where they simply cannot get hot enough for a melt down. Now that's an idea worth looking into. But even if we were to devise a way to eliminate the threat of melt down, there's the issue of spent fuel, which can have just as devastating effects if not managed properly. And the responsibility for that management extends far, far into the future. In short, nuclear energy, while cheap, is just another unsustainable form of energy whose toxic wastes are not neutralized nearly as quickly as they are created.

Moving from reliance on one non-renewable resource to another is wrong and silly.

What would be smart, is to think about the ways in which solar and wind are not sufficient, and work to make them sufficient. For instance, one of the main arguments against solar and wind energy is that you can't effectively store it. If the wind ain't blowin' and the sun ain't shinin', then you're S-O-L. Well, then the answer is not to give up on solar and wind. The answer is to build a better battery.

You would think that Kansans would strongly support this idea. If you think about it, an efficient, light weight battery capable of storing wind energy is one of the major roadblocks that stands in the way of Kansas becoming a major energy exporter.

It would also be smart to revisit that old motto "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle". I think that we can all agree that we, as a nation, are simply using too much damn energy. The marketing campagin for recyclable products had taken over a decade to really start to sink in with people. Unfortunately, recycling should be the last resort, after reduction, and reuse. We need to really, honestly, and truly start taking measures to reduce our energy consumption. More efficient batteries, more efficient appliances, more efficient cars.

In my mind, the goal should not be to find an energy source to meet our demands because solar and wind are not enough. The goal should be reduce our energy demands to where solar and wind are sufficient -- a lofty goal that is probably infeasible within our lifetimes, but one that we should be constantly striving for -- that is, a steady reduction in energy combined with a steady replacement of non renewable resources of high risk to health and environment, with safe, clean alternatives.

And never let profiteers dissuade you from the simple and sound logic.

notanota 7 years ago

Hear, hear. We should cut down on consumption and also decentralize some of the tasks in generating power.

beatrice 7 years ago

So help me out here -- did President Obama cause the earthquakes, or was he just personally responsible for Japan's building of a nuclear power plant?

Or is it, he was supposed to use the same super powers to cool the melting reactors that he was called on to use when people wanted him to swim to the bottom of the Gult and plug the oil leak last year? Why won't Obama use his super powers more often to fix the troubles in the world?

Focus people, focus. This story is about nuclear power plants.

beatrice 7 years ago

To the op-ed piece:

"The fear of a nuclear accident is the greatest and most powerful deterrent to the construction of more plants in the United States ..."

Yes. That is correct. Fear of an accident is a major deterrent. Were there no such danger, there we be no reason to fear nuclear power plants. For that matter, because of our fear of accidents some are opposed to oil rigs in the ocean as well. As we see happening, despite our best plans, accidents still happen. The fears can be considered reasonable given the realities ... especially for those living in northern Japan today.

"No one can say whether there ever would be another set of conditions that could cause a similar failure."

Just as no one can say with certainty that such conditions could never happen again. This wasn't the first time there has been a meltdown at a nuclear power plant. I can hope, but I doubt, it will be the last.

"It is wrong and silly to think solar or wind power can provide the energy to keep this nation free from dependence on foreign oil."

Solar is silly? Why? To what degree has it been used? It seems silly to just dismiss it out of hand like this. How much energy could fields of solar panels gather were they lined up in Arizona or Southern California? I certainly don't know, and I'd be surprised of the author of this column knows either.

"The crisis in Japan is ugly, but it should not be used to handicap the nation from using modern technology, such as nuclear reactors, to provide clean, affordable energy."

Why shouldn't it? Why should we ignore the very real dangers of harnessing nuclear energy? I guess the writer wouldn't mind a nuclear power plant being built in his backyard, but I would have major reservations. Solar panels, on the other hand, don't meltdown and expose god knows how many people to radioactivity. Ignoring the dangers of nuclear power is what seems silly to me, especially at this moment.

We need to guard ourselves against the hubris of those who feel they can control the uncontrollable. To do otherwise is silly.

notajayhawk 7 years ago

"This wasn't the first time there has been a meltdown at a nuclear power plant."

If you're referring to a domestic incident, i.e., Three Mile Island, that happens to be a wonderful example of how safe the domestic plants are. Everything that could have gone wrong at TMI did go wrong, and yet there were no deaths, no uninhabitable moonscape, no three-headed cows wandering the countryside in Pennsylvania. The system worked.

If, on the other hand, you're referring to Chernobyl, there is nothing that this country could have done about that. No matter what political party is in power, what leader is elected, what laws we pass, what policies we set, nothing WE do is going to control how the Russians - or the Chinese, or the North Koreans, or the Western Upper Bolnishbergianovics - run their own nuclear programs.

"We need to guard ourselves against the hubris of those who feel they can control the uncontrollable."

Like the climate, for example?

beatrice 7 years ago

Having an influence on something and controlling it are two different things. Excessive greenhouse gasses have an adverse influence on the climate. What we can control are the greenhouse gasses, not the climate. Similarly, you can't control the oceans, but that doesn't mean you can't pollute them.

I was thinking of Chernobyl. Of course we couldn't tell the Russians how to run their nuclear plants. I'm just not convinced our engineers are any better than the Russians.

notajayhawk 7 years ago

"I'm just not convinced our engineers are any better than the Russians."

Then maybe you should try learning a little about the - very - different outcomes at Chernobyl and TMI.

beatrice 7 years ago

Ah, yes, American exceptionalism. We are better at everything. I forgot.

Orwell 7 years ago

Interesting sidenote: the initial right wing talking point out of Washington on this is that our existing domestic reactors are just fine because they meet the design and safety criteria set by … (wait for it)… the government!

Yep – the same government that's incompetent to do anything the wingnuts don't want done.

jhawkinsf 7 years ago

The problem isn't how much energy we need, it's how many humans can this planet support. There's too damn many of us. Until we get a handle on our overpopulation, there is no solution to the energy problem.

jafs 7 years ago

That's certainly part of the problem.

What would you suggest as a solution? Limiting the number of children people can have? More wars?

gr 7 years ago

I know a solution. Build a nuclear reactor in Lawrence. Then when an earthquake hits, it'll eliminate some energy requirements. Of course Wolf Creek may be close enough.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

"For the New Madrid fault, we are far enough away that our risk isn't that great."

Don't place bets on that - the last time the New Madrid fault slipped, in 1811-1912, it caused landslides in the Rocky Mountains.

gr 7 years ago

Perhaps I do know my history as some have informed us of that above. "Removed in 1992" means we would need to build another in order to have one.

The humbolt fault isn't anything like...? You mean, as in it hasn't yet caused major damage? But then as Ron pointed out we aren't far enough away.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

Does that mean the "just farting around" would take on a whole new meaning?

Paul R Getto 7 years ago Speaking of 'bribes.' Took place in a different country, but this is one of the reasons we deliver $400/gallon gasoline to the troops in Afghanistan

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