While Japan struggles to avert a nuclear catastrophe caused by the recent earthquake and tsunamis, the White House says that the Obama Administration is still committed to nuclear energy. Has the disaster in Japan changed the way you feel about nuclear power?
"We view nuclear energy as a very important component to the overall portfolio we're trying to build for a clean-energy future," Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman told reporters at the White House on Monday, adding that the administration believes nuclear power plants in the United States are safe.
Last year, President Barack Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to build a new nuclear power plant in the U.S.-the first new plant in 30 years. Increasing nuclear power production is part of his plan to lower U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But after watching the radiation rates rise in Japan, public perception of nuclear energy being a safe and clean alternative to oil and coal may have been shaken.
After word spread of a fire in a fourth reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, "Now we are talking about [radiation] levels that can damage human health." He also urged people living within 30 kilometers (19 miles) of the complex to stay indoors. "Please do not go outside," he said. "Please stay indoors. Please close windows and make your homes airtight. Don't turn on ventilators. Please hang on your laundry indoors." In a televised news conference yesterday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, "The level seems very high, and there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out." (See the video, below.)
Around the world, people are reconsidering nuclear power. Germany has suspended an agreement to extend the life of its nuclear power stations, Reuters reported, Switzerland is holding off on some approvals for nuclear power plants, and Taiwan said it was looking at ways to cut nuclear power output.
There are 104 nuclear reactors in the United States. According to MNN.com, 52 of them are 30 to 39 years old. (There are 36 smaller reactors at research facilities around the country.) Though only a handful of them are situated in earthquake-prone zones, 53 percent of women and 29 percent of men disapproved of nuclear power plants in a March 2009 Gallup poll, and 42 percent said they don't think nuclear plants are safe.
"I don't want to stop the building of nuclear power plants, but I think we've got to kind of quietly, quickly put the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming online," Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Not everyone is chanting "No nukes," though. At Babble, Katie Allison Granju writes that she still believes nuclear power could be better than other energy sources. "I live in the Tennessee Valley, a coal burning area of the country with dirty air and epidemic rates of lung diseases, like asthma, she writes. "The more I've learned over time about just how dirty coal-fired energy production is, the more interested I became in the potential for nuclear power to provide a less environmentally damaging alternative."
"Of course, what I would really like to see is a 'race to the moon' type American effort to create and implement truly green power sources-such as large scale solar or geothermal-within the next 10-20 years," she adds. "However, until the day comes when we have these green power sources fully deployed within our own energy grid, I believe that nuclear power has an important transitional role to play."
Coal-fired energy production is, indeed, dirty. The EPA announced today the first ever national nercury and air toxic standards, intended to reduce the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and acid gasses released into the atmosphere. "Currently, there are no national standards limiting these pollutants," EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said in a press conference today.
So Shine readers, please weigh in: Has what's happened in Japan changed your point of view on nuclear energy? Why or why not?
Also on Shine:
- The facts about radiation poisoning
- The 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami: Were you affected? Also: How you can help
- Massive earthquake hits Japan, triggering tsunami (video)
- Save power, save money: 6 easy tips to reduce your electricity usage and bills
- 10 ways you can help Japan's disaster victims right now