I honestly think that it is too early to have this conversation, but alas, the conversation has been forced.
I have yet to express my opinion about the efficacy or safety of the future use of nuclear power, or any way in which that opinion may be affected by the current tragic events in Japan. I did report (link to, really) with little comment on the current failings of the Fukushima nuclear plants (very much underway at this time), and when commenters took the opportunity to explain how nuclear power is totally safe and that this was demonstrated by how nicely things are working out at the Fukushima plant, I pointed out to them that I didn’t quite buy their arguments. I also made the specific assertion, that I don’t intend to back up with evidence because it is merely an opinion I hold from personal experience (I have worked for the nuke industry and I was active in the subject during the Seabrook and Three Mile Island dramas), that I do not trust the nuclear power industry. I also don’t trust the coal industry, or any power industry, or big pharm or big ag or a lot of other major industries to be totally open and honest about what they do and what they know about the effects of what they do. Do you?
An interesting response emerged, and it is one that I was not expecting. I’m being scolded for not having a certain opinion about nuclear power. Apparently skeptics have a certain opinion about nuclear power. Rational people have this opinion. I’m not a good skeptic or a rational person if I don’t, it would seem. I am supposed to agree that most things being said which suggest that nuclear power is unsafe are falsehoods. I am being told that I’ve not understood the correct opinion held by the rest of the skeptical community that nuclear power is a technology that is safe and that disagreeing with that is nothing more than so much woo.
Yet I have not expressed an opinion. Not to anyone. I haven’t even expressed my opinion on nuclear power to my personal and political confidants. Nobody knows what I think about this. Nor is it possible that my opinion about nuclear power could possibly modulate my reaction to the tragedy unfolding in Japan. But this did not stop a handful of people from assuming that an expression of concern over nuclear power plants blowing up, experiencing “partial meltdowns” (which is a bit of a vague term) and releasing radioactive material and/or radiation is an explicit statement against nuclear power.
The funny thing is, as these comments have come in on my blog (and at JREF and other fora) specifically explaining how Greg Laden Haz It Rong!!! the news from Japan has worsened. At some point it is possible, even quite reasonable, to say “Hey, look. The Fukushima plants got all messed up and this is not good, but considering what could have happened, and considering the size of the quake and the tsunami, it went pretty well. The nuke industry has their acts pretty much together, it turns out.” Then there is a point where it is possible, possibly even vitally necessary, to say something different. Something like “The Fukushima plants met the best possible targets for safety demanded by a cautious society and was produced by outstanding engineers using the best possible resources. And this wasn’t good enough.”
Not only do I not know what that point is, a priori, but neither do you, and if you try to tell me you do I’ll call bullshit. More immediately, however, the following is simply true: Those commenters on my blog and elsewhere who felt it necessary to declare nuclear power safe because what happened at Fukushima was acceptable were wrong to do so while the crisis is still underway. Their willingness to declare an event that was (and still is) clearly not over in order to make what is essentially a political point disqualifies them from being considered as fair, rational, unbiased, skeptical discussants. Once again, the JREF forum has produced something other than thoughtful deliberation. Once again I and others are being told to shut up or worse, to say specific things and not say other things, or risk being labeled as pariah in the skeptical community.
A closely integrated subtext is the “It’s not Chernobyl stop saying that it is!!!!11!!” rant. I actually have not seen a single individual or press outlet compare the current situation to Chernobyl. But I’ve seen and heard Chernobyl mentioned dozens of times, and every time as part of some missive telling us all to stop talking about Chernobyl. Like this blog post: Know Nukes: The Japanese Earthquake & Anti-Nuclear Hysteria. While I appreciate the efforts of this pseudonymous blogger who I will presume, but can not know, is not a shill for the Nuclear Power Industry to dispel myths about what may be happening in Japan, I do not appreciate labeling people’s concern over the health and well being of those at the site, and the potential environmental effects of a half dozen nuclear accidents of varying degrees of severity happening all at once, as hysteria, and describing it as a series of absurd statements that no one has actually made. That site starts off with dispelling the idea that this is “another Chernobyl disaster” without giving a single reference to anyone saying that it might be. This and other claims are stated complete with exclamation-pointed Glenbeckesque language and breathlessness, and then summarily, even snarkily, dispelled. Not one bit of related hyperbole can be found on my blog regarding these ongoing and very serious problems yet that blogger chose to come on over and tell me to stop it.
In the mean time, we have this little item reported by James Hrynyshyn at Class:M …
Robin Grimes … says that he believes the [Fukushima] event actually proves the safety of nuclear power plants. … the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi have … largely contained their dangerous radioactive fuel. ” … it’s a success,” Grimes says, then adds: “Although do I think the general public will be able to see that? I think the answer is, sadly, no.”
Robin Grimes is an insensitive moron. In the long run he may be right. Or he may be wrong. Most likely, the pro-nuclear lobby has simply decided to declare the events at Fukushima as controlled and contained and exemplary o nuclear safety regardless of what happens there. Quite likely, we will see arguments that he was right coming from pro-nukers and arguments that he was wrong coming from anti-nukers. But right now, I’m sitting here with millions of other people still waiting to hear from loved ones and colleagues in Japan, watching the news as one reactor building after another explodes or catches fire, as new reports of radiation exposure and/or leakage, and melting of reacter components, or exposure of people at the scene to radiation come from the disaster site every six hours or so, with no sign at this time that the downward spiral of events at Fukushima is slowing, and he chooses this time to declare this ongoing tragedy over, done with, and very meaningful with respect to a post-game assessment of the safety of nuclear power. I’m sorry, Robin Grimes … you might be a great guy and all and Imma let you keep being the director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London and all … but for now, you can kiss my ass.
This disaster … and it is not hyperbole to call this a disaster … is not over, and it is not going to be over for a while. In the meantime, self-declared skeptics who come over to my crib to declare my mere pointing to news of events (including a series of running headlines intended to show the march through time of what the press says about both the reactors and the death toll) to be hyperbole and scientifically inaccurate woo can line up behind Robin. The people erecting web sites and blog posts pointing out falsehoods and fallacies that are really out there and that people are actually engaging in are being helpful, and I appreciate that. But those erecting straw men to burn with your witty snark for the main purpose of demonstrating how much nuclear power makes you cream in your jeans can line up behind the aforementioned pseudo-skeptics. And you can all … kiss my ass.
That is all.
Oh wait, no, there is one more thing … about my opinion of future use of nuclear energy.
I say, go for it.
Just solve a couple of problems first. We don’t want a risk of a major earthquake happening in a place where major earthquakes happen causing disastrous damage to nuke plants. We don’t want radioactive waste that will be hanging around in need of constant care for thousands of years. That sort of thing. It may be possible for a nuclear technology to be developed that has very low risk and reasonable efficiency. The largest problem that I have right now in knowing if this is possible, or what such technology might look like, is that the whole nuclear engineering and energy field is full of bullshit artists and accompanied by lamprey-like self described skeptics who will make up whatever they feel they need to make up to make nuclear look good. Smoke and mirrors. It is impossible to see the real potential and the real possibilities. The nuclear industry, for most of us my age who have seen most of the history of this technology for use as energy in the public realm unfold, is pretty much credibility-free. And as long as that is the case, I say no-nukes. Which is too bad, because I think it may really be possible to make this work.
Oh, and just as I finish writing this thing that I really wish I did not have to write, we have this at CNN:
…The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale — or INES — goes from Level 1, which indicates very little danger to the general population, to Level 7, a “major accident” in which there’s been a large release of radioactive material and there will be widespread health and environmental effects.
“It’s clear we are at Level 6, that’s to say we’re at a level in between what happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl,” Andre-Claude Lacoste, president of France’s nuclear safety authority, told reporters Tuesday….