12:05 PM

On Fukushima

Please forgive the radio silence the last few days:  I've been focusing closely on what's happening on Japan, trying to update regularly on Facebook, and also to keep track of what my colleagues and associates are doing related to the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis.

If you are on Facebook, please add the group "Dr. King's Fukushima Power Plant Info Group" to your groups.  Dr. Jeff King is the head of Nuclear Science and Engineering here at CSM, and though he and I sometimes have different perspectives on some of what's happening in Japan, he is an excellent source of technical information on this topic.  He has been widely interviewed by local news sources as well.

For now, let me say that my heart goes out to everyone who is suffering, or who has family or friends suffering, in Japan.  It is heartbreaking to see so many events like these--and those that have occurred in Haiti, Christchurch, Brisbane, Pakistan--happen one after another.  It is a reminder of our common humanity, vulnerability, and strength.

As for what is happening with the nuclear crisis, please keep in mind that we have two blogs in our class devoted to nuclear power:  The Nuke Truth and The Nuclear Option.  Both have posts related to the Fukushima plants.  Columbia Journalism Review also has this piece, related to media coverage of the events.  My own sense of media coverage and science communication tracks closely with Brainard's.

I will say that there is much we don't know yet about the repercussions of what is happening in Japan, both in terms of the tsunami/earthquake recovery and in terms of what the long-term repercussions of the nuclear crisis will be.  There are a wide array of conflicting reports about the state of the reactors, with several respected nuclear sources taking a conservative view (that damage is fairly well controlled, that radiation releases will cause limited harm, etc.) and those wary of nuclear seeing this as indicative of continued over-confidence in the safety of nuclear as an energy source.  These are both ideological stances that can be supported with data, and yet the data we have for now is unclear and contested.  Data provided by the World Nuclear Society and the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, along with the American Nuclear Society, suggest things are moving in a positive direction, and remind us that this is quite a different event from Chernobyl, for a number of reasons.  The reactions of others, including the US government, some Japanese, and reporters on the ground, suggest that things are still in a complex state of uncertainty.

At this point, we will wait and see what the literal and figurative fallout will be.  I'm not sure there will be a huge pushback against nuclear, the way there was after Three Mile Island, because of the threat of global warming and rising energy needs.  But those who had been tentatively willing to give nuclear a chance because of global warming fears may be less likely to do so now.  Much depends on these next few days, and what happens at the Fukushima plants.  My hope is that there is good news.  Most likely, we will not know what really is happening for some time to come.

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