Media Disinformation & Nuclear Power

Since the widespread and significant destruction caused in Japan by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake just over two weeks ago, a few things have stood out. One is a rather substantial amount of attention raised towards charity and rebuilding efforts, which of course is a Very Good Thing. Another is the attention raised towards the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plants. Unfortunately, this has once again raised that rather poor reputation that nuclear power has for lack of safety – which I believe, based on the statistics, to be inaccurate and grossly exaggerated.

I have commented on nuclear power in the past, and my research has led me to consider it a useful and perhaps imperative source of energy in the near future as a replacement for fossil fuels. A large portion of the media disagree. However, it seems to me that several of the more outspoken critics of nuclear power in the media haven’t done their research, and base their criticisms solely on the conspicuous failures of nuclear power, whether they apply to the scenario in Fukushima or not. As such, I’d just like to make a few brief comments.

Comparing the scenario at Fukushima to Chernobyl is not accurate or helpful. Chernobyl, as anybody who has heard about it knows, was the single-most devastating disaster in the history of nuclear power, and represented the nadir of Soviet engineering. The disaster led to thousands of deaths and intensely damaged the reputation of nuclear power. Yet, as I’ve noted in the past, comparing modern nuclear power plants, or even the elderly Generation II power plants which the reactors at Fukushima represent, to Chernobyl is dubious at best.

The fact is that the Chernobyl power plant was (and still is) composed of crude, unsafe RBMK reactors designed for the production of weapons-grade plutonium, with any power production strictly being a useful side effect. There was no sort of concrete shielding around the reactor core, unlike all designs produced after and most contemporary designs, and safety systems were distinctly sub-par. Unlike the Fukushima scenario, the Chernobyl disaster was created by gross human negligence rather than an extraordinary natural disaster. The two can’t be compared directly if you’re looking for any sort of credence.

There were more pressing, more important issues to be addressing. I don’t think it escaped everybody’s attention that several thousands lay dead or missing in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, along with tens of thousands more displaced from their homes. Given that this was happening there and then, I think it was more important to report than a nuclear power plant for which experts believed that the reactor core shielding had stayed intact, and therefore, based on precedent, was unlikely to cause any widespread damage. Yet, because of the nuclear connection, we got a lot of information on the nuclear power plant and not enough on the rather more devastating effects of the natural disaster. Way to set out your priorities, reporters!

The lack of objective fact being reported didn’t help. It seemed to me that this was just one of those perfect opportunities for anti-nuclear campaigners to try to dismantle the development of nuclear power again, despite the fact that their campaigns in the past hadn’t helped things and perhaps had slowed down the development of newer, safer power plants than the Generation II reactors at Fukushima. Where objective fact was reported, it was limited and lacked detail. Hardly what I’d call a fair look at the situation.

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