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Instead of Nuke Meltdown, Think Dam Rupture


A 9.0 earthquake--the fifth worst on record--has devastated many communities in Japan and compromised countless health and commercial enterprises. We are seeing alarming coverage of the danger of nuclear plant damage. Nonetheless, every time the reporters get below the surface of the story they find that--so far--the actual nuclear contamination is small and limited. For one thing, since the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine in 1986, new nuclear plants (especially in Japan) have included elaborate containment and other safety provisions. Damage to nuclear power in Japan is likely to prove very expensive as a result of the quake and tsunami, but--relative to the rest of the quake and tsunami aftermath--not in lives lost.

Even in Chernobyl early predictions of thousands of deaths were soon discounted to 50, according the to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and most of those were from workers who went too close to the plant without adequate protection or, apparently, adequate knowledge.

So, yes, let us all agree that a 9.0 earthquake, even in a relatively well-prepared country like Japan, will yield many tragic stories and a horrendous cost.

However, if you think the Japan quake and tsunami spell warnings against nuclear power, ask yourself these questions: How much better would gas plants or oil plants or coal plants have fared? How about hydroelectric dams in a 9.0 quake? How about solar panels and windmills in a 9.0 quake and after a tsunami with 25 feet water surge?

The truth is, natural disasters are dangerous, even if one is prepared. The real lesson for America is to reconsider the building codes and emergency preparedness plans of our West Coast and other threatened areas. We are not in nearly as good shape on those scores as Japan was. But giving up on nuclear energy is not a sound conclusion to draw.

You can email brucechapman@discovery.org


I do not understand why you would underestimate the longterm health calamities that are associated with radiation. Killer solar panels? I guess.

You are so right. if a coal power or gas power plant was destroyed i am certain we would see the same fallout we are seeing from nuclear. And your point on solar is also dead on. i can just see those solar panels being picked up in high winds and being propelled across the pacific toward downtown LA. instead of seeing a run on iodine tablets, retailers would be unable to keep helmets on the shelf. as far as disposing of the nuclear waste - no problem i'll be dead in 30 years why should i care. keep up the good thinking you're a credit to future of humanity.

My total respect and admirations to the people in Japan for their calm and collected attitude. Godspeed.

Just for the sake of editorial accuracy, the image of a dam breaking is NOT the St. Francis Dam. There are no images of the dam in the process of collapsing or flooding as it happened in the dark of the night.

St. Francis Dam looks only slightly similar to the one you're showing. Both are concrete gravity-arch dams with a stairstep face, but that's where the resemblance ends.

Good catch, Mr. Horton. Thanks. It's been corrected.

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