Archive for March 16, 2011


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2011 by telescoper

I haven’t commented so far on the crisis engulfing Japan after last Friday’s devastating earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. I can assure you that it’s not because I don’t care, it’s just that it’s hard to see how simply adding to the blizzard of words can do anything to help the Japanese people meet the immense challenges ahead. I’ve also wanted to make sure that everyone I know who’s actually in Japan at the moment was safe before I felt comfortable about writing anything.

The first thing I want to do is to express deep condolences to anyone who has lost relatives or loved ones in the disaster. Catastrophes such as this, coming out of the blue, must be extraordinarily difficult to come to terms with. My thoughts are with everyone struggling to provide assistance to those still suffering in the aftermath. It’s important to express compassion and humanity at times like this, especially when so many others seem anxious to do the opposite. An even better way of distancing yourself from the revolting pondlife that lives at the bottom of the internet is to donate to the relief effort. There are various ways to do this, but a good one is via the Red Cross.

One of the thing’s that has disturbed me most about the way the media (at least here in the UK) have behaved the aftermath of the earthquake is that they have focussed almost exclusively on the state of the nuclear power station at Fukushima. I’m not saying that this isn’t newsworthy, but it’s certainly not the only thing in Japan that merits coverage. Half a million people are homeless, many of them in freezing conditions, needing food and medicine, and emergency repairs will need to be carried out over a large part of the country. I think it’s disrespectful to all those caught up in the wider catastrophe to be so fixated on Fukushima.

Moreover, much of the press coverage of the Fukushima situation has been at best ill-informed and at worst scaremongeringly hysterical. I suppose that’s the sort of stuff that sells newspapers. It hasn’t helped that accurate information has been hard to come by – speculation always follows when that’s the case. Nevertheless, not to put too fine a point on it, I think we should all be concentrating on doing whatever we can to help the victims of the earthquake, instead of jerking off over the prospect of a nuclear catastrophe.

I’ve reblogged a much calmer account written by someone who actually knows what he’s talking about, which might help calm some fears.

Situation at the Fukushima Plant, 16/3/2011

Hopefully the situation will be contained before long, but whatever eventually happens at Fukushima it’s clear that there will now be hugely increased political opposition to further investment in nuclear (fission) power around the world. Indeed, the German government has already overreacted in bizarre fashion by shutting down existing reactors. One can certainly question the Japanese decision to build reactors so close to a major fault zone, but I can’t see any justification for German panic because the events in Japan over the last few weeks can’t possibly be repeated in Germany.

I have to admit that although I don’t fear nuclear power, I’ve never thought of the fission reactor as anything other than a stop-gap. I’d personally like to see much higher investment in long-term renewable energy sources and on fusion power, and rather less on fission reactors. We also need to learn to use less fuel, especially petrol. I don’t understand it’s so unthinkable to so many people, but I’ve never had a car fetish.

The loss of capacity from its nuclear reactors is going to be a major factor for Japan for some considerable time. Before the earthquake, Japan relied on nuclear energy for almost 30% of its electricity generation. Even if there were both the political will and the financial resources available to rebuild and restart nuclear power facilities – both of which are highly unlikely – it would take many years to restore the losses. Japan is not blessed with rich fossil fuel reserves, and it is unlikely that renewable energy can make up much of the shortfall. It seems to me, therefore, that Japan has no alternative but to cut its power consumption by a significant fraction for some considerable time. It’s going to be tough to achieve that, but they have no choice; just as much of the rest of the world will have no choice when the oil and gas runs out a few decades from now.

Alongside the critical question of how Japan will power itself in the short to medium term, there is also the cost of rebuilding the infrastructure so comprehensively destroyed by the tsunami. Estimates of the cost of this are well over £100 billion. Moreover, Japan’s economy was struggling with a very high level of per capita debt even before this blow. Likely power cuts and short-time working will not make it easy to rebuild the country.

The full impact of the Japanese disaster on the rest of the world is difficult to assess, but it’s not impossible that it may precipitate another global financial crisis.

Put all this together and it’s hard not to disagree with the Emperor of Japan who is reported to be “deeply worried”. I think we all are. But worrying won’t help anyone. Crises like this have a habit of bringing out the best in certain people, and although the forthcoming months and years will severely test the resilience and resourcefulness of the Japanese people, I hope and believe that they will pull through. And teach the rest of us a few things on the way…


Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors. (via Morgsatlarge – blogorific.)

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2011 by telescoper

A voice of reason amid the nuclear hysteria…

Please click through to the new location of the post. I flagged this for a reblog some time ago, and didn’t check that the post had changed before actually posting it.

This post has moved. It is now hosted and maintained by the MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. Members of the NSE community have edited the original post and will be monitoring and posting comments, updates, and new information. The MIT website will be continually growing and evolving, so bookmark and check back regularly. Thank you everyone for your past and continuing support in our effort to empower the publi … Read More

via Morgsatlarge – blogorific.