Nuclear unkowns

I spent the first three years of school in Anchorage on an Air Force base. During that time in the early 60s and being so close to the Soviet Union, we would practice what to do in case of a nuclear attack. With what we now know about a nuclear attack and radiation, how futile our drills were to crawl under our desks.  I was reminded this week of the drills following the horrific tsunami that has devastated Japan and severely damaged Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.   The government told the roughly 140,000 people who live within 18 miles of the plant to stay indoors. The problem is no one knows how bad it is going to be, and everyone seems ill-equipped to protect from a complete meltdown which would release huge amounts of radiation.   This is the third major catastrophe at nuclear reactors since they have been built: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now this. All three have faced the seemingly impossible task of protecting people from radiation once the accident started.   Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents both had more than enough human error that elevated the problems. The Japan reactor problems were caused by last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami that caused power outages across northern Japan — including at the Daiichi plant, which comprises six separate reactors.   That in turn caused a failure of the reactors’ cooling systems, which are needed to keep the nuclear fuel from overheating and melting down and/or triggering an explosion, releasing poisonous radiation into the atmosphere.   Unlike Chernobyl, Three Mile Island had limited direct immediate loss of life. There is no way to know what the long-term damage to people exposed to radiation was, as no one knows what will be the outcome of the latest accident.   You have to feel awful for the Japanese people who have lived there for generations and are now subjected to this dangerous situation.   The one thing all three incidents have in common is an orchestrated attempt by each government to calm the fears of people who lived near the plants. To put it into perspective, this would be like a possible nuclear accident happening in Belfield and the government telling us in Dickinson to just stay indoors and keep the windows shut.   I know it would be hard to sit and wait it out if there was any place to go.   The Japan countryside has been so destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami that evacuating is probably next to impossible. Japan, like a lot of other places in the world, depends on nuclear energy, but describing it as a clean alternative energy source is extremely difficult each time there is a nuclear accident.

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