The Japanese Nuclear Scare

I noted an interesting post over at the Climate Coversation blog, about the way in which the problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were portrayed. They are very critical of the way in which the press has reported on the crisis, and the promulgation of scare stories surrounding the plant.

I will admit that I became ever more confused with the news stories that I had read. I became so confused that I gave up following the news stories (and I am not up to date now). The reason for my confusion is this; many years ago, I undertook a course in nuclear reactor engineering, which includes subjects such as reactor physics, reactor chemistry, and failure studies. Whilst the course was a long time ago, and my knowledge is now very, very rusty, I am relatively knowledgeable about pressurised water reactor principles, and the systems and safeguards that they use. However, when reading the press reports, in particular the Chernobyl comparisons, I realised that much of the commentary and reporting was entire nonsense.

As part of our reactor failure studies course, we (unsurprisingly) went through the detail of the Chernobyl accident. Whilst I would be unable to give a credible account of this so many years later, I remember enough to know that there is no real basis for comparison. It seems that the word ‘Chernobyl’ was just thrown around to add a scare factor to the story, and was based upon no reasonable comparison. It is all really rather sad that well informed journalism was abandoned to create a sensational story. I have just seen an equally misinformed discussion over at the UK Guardian’s comment section, in which the incident is just used as a hammer to beat the nuclear industry with.

None of this is to minimise the potential for harm from the accident, but spurious comparisons to create sensation are not the answer.

As a note, I am not pro-nuclear, as I am very suspicious about the economics of nuclear power, and think that nuclear power is certainly not a good solution for New Zealand (I will not elaborate on the reasons here).


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