Japan and the Fate of Nuclear Power
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
Nuclear power might well be a competent civilization’s solution to its theoretical carbon-dioxide problem. Now if only humans had a competent civilization.
Japan’s government, in its latest solution for the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, will do what it likes doing anyway: spend money on extravagant public works projects. A network of supercooled pipes will freeze the ground around the plant. This presumably will stop groundwater from flowing through the partially melted-down reactors and draining into the Pacific. Water from coolant operations, which are preventing a more serious meltdown, would also remain contained on-site.
Even so, contaminated water would continue to accumulate in rickety tanks. A necessary solution will be emptying this water into the Pacific, after filtering out as many radioactive particles as possible. Unfortunately, not only does Japan’s fishing lobby, which like just about any lobby in Japan is entitled to paralyze action, refuse to countenance such a step. It won’t even let the plant operator use an existing system to route non-contaminated groundwater past the plant into the sea. Thereby hangs a stalemate that may doom any hope of a nuclear revival in our world.
As long as Fukushima wastewater contains radioactive elements, particles would end up in fish, causing some number of hypothetical human malignancies according to the questionable theory that radiation is dangerous in direct proportion to dose.
In fact, a considerable body of research holds that increased cancer risk becomes statistically perceptible only at a dose level of 100 millisieverts. This is five times the standard Japan used to order local evacuations, and in many evacuated areas the practical exposure risk was far less than the standard—just a fraction above natural background radiation.
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