In 1957, a book entitled On The Beach was published. Set in futuristic 1963, it told an apocalyptic tale of a world contaminated by radioactivity. The sole remaining inhabitants of the planet were in Australia, waiting for the deadly cloud to claim them, too.
In March 1979, a movie was released that brought another horrible potentiality to the screen. In The China Syndrome, a fictional power plant’s defect leads to near-disaster. Fortunately, Jack Lemmon was there to single-handedly save Los Angeles from a complete meltdown and annihilation.
(The entire film is available from several online sources for those wishing to view it.)
Less than two weeks before the movie opened, Three Mile Island nuclear power plant came as close as the United States has known to an actual China Syndrome occurring: a sequence of events leading to a nuclear reactor’s core melting through its containment and into the Earth.
Fast forward to another March – only this time, a little more than two years ago. The Fukushima / Daichi nuclear power plant sustained the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck the region, but then succumbed to a tsunami caused by the quake. Flooded by seawater and with main and back-up pumps knocked off line, technicians were unable to properly cool the fuel rods.
There have been sustained efforts to contain and decommission the plant, but it recently became generally known that leaks had contributed to 300-400 tons (depending on who you ask) of contaminated water being released into the ocean. These effects are wide-spread as shown in this NOAA image:
Numerous news articles have appeared citing increases in thyroid issues in children born on the West Coast, of several mammalian species presenting sores and hair loss, and a critical reduction in the number of sockeye salmon. Unacceptably higher levels of radiation are routinely detected in Pacific-dwelling fish off the coast of Japan.
Worse, it may not be over yet, as Japanese officials announced a “fresh leak” that constitutes a Level 3 “serious incident”. They say they need help now to “lower the risk of these accidents…becoming fatal.”
Some scientists have suggested that Reactor 1 may have already had melted fuel burn through the containment vessel and into the ground. Reactors 2 and 3 are still being cooled by an unstable system that may prove unfit to to contend with demand. A steam explosion from either or both of those is possible. A China Syndrome scenario would set up a release radioactive steam should the core contact ground water.
So, to recap: for the sake of cheap electricity, people defied nature and built potentially uncontrollable behemoths. The failure of just one has made a city unlivable, contaminated an entire ocean and impacted untold numbers of species.
Give us wind and solar any day.
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