Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Nuclear Waste Leak in Japan

Occasionally I see arguments in favor of nuclear power as a climate-friendly alternative to coal for the purpose of generating electricity. While I would not reject the idea out of hand, I am somewhat dubious for its prospects, mainly because of safety concerns. All it takes is one serious incident for a major humanitarian and environmental crisis.

The recent earthquake in Japan created a scare when radioactive water leaked from a power plant.

The quake triggered a fire in an electrical transformer and also caused a leak of radioactive water at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world's largest in terms of electricity output.

The leak was not announced until late Monday, about 12 hours after the quake. That fed fresh concerns about the safety of Japan's 55 nuclear reactors, which supply 30 percent of the quake-prone country's electricity and have suffered a long string of accidents and cover-ups.

About 315 gallons of slightly radioactive water apparently spilled from a tank at one of the sprawling power complex's seven reactors and entered a pipe that flushed it into the sea, said Jun Oshima, an executive at Tokyo Electric Power Co. He said it was not clear whether the tank was damaged or the water simply spilled out.
Luckily, in this case the spill appears to be fairly minor. Officials claim that the radioactivity is well below the legal limits. However, it is a reminder of the safety problems inherent in nuclear energy.