The Nuclear Scarecrow
The events in Japan have predictably resurrected the dormant nuclear scarecrow. The usual arguments are being trotted about how nuclear power generation is an off-the-charts risky enterprise. It’s time therefore to slay the scarecrow again.
Gun ownership in the United States is a peculiar left over from the 17th century and earlier. It serves no useful purpose. Yet the number of fatalities from gun-related causes is of the order of 100 per day. The number of non-fatal injuries is clearly twice or thrice as many. Yet gun ownership prospers. And the NRA continues to peddle myths.
Thousands of coal miners die every year. Here's a list of the top 10 mining disasters. Tuberculosis deaths and malaria deaths account for some three to five million lives lost every year. Malnutrition related deaths and diarrhea account for millions more deaths every year. The environmental impacts of the oil and gas industry are too well known to bear repeating. Let's recount just two in the spirit of 'lest we forget': the BP disaster from last year and the Exxon Valdez disaster from 21 years ago. Road accidents lead to hundreds of fatalities around the world everyday. Actually, about 300 die in road accidents everyday in India.
Keeping all this in mind, it’s clear that nuclear power plants do not represent a front line clear and present danger in any logical sense. They are very much a potential danger though.
But the potential danger posed by power plants is probably greatly misunderstood. The real danger of course arises from the possibility that radioactivity may leak into the atmosphere or water bodies ultimately affecting millions of people. But nobody can show a plausible mechanism as to how this worst case scenario might actually come to pass if the already stringent safety standards are followed in designing, building and operating these nuclear power plants.
Japan faced a rare double whammy of a severe earthquake combined with a massive tsunami and yet the result so far is that we are faced with a catastrophe but still with a fighting chance to avert the worst.Continued on the next page