LaborTalk for September 2, 2011

Is the U.S. Safe from Nuclear Disaster,
After an Earthquake and a Hurricane?

By Harry Kelber

Japan had the reputation of having the most sophisticated nuclear technology in the world. Yet, the combination of an earthquake and a tsunami knocked out its nuclear reactors and caused enormous damage in terms of lives and property.

Fukushima is now considered by some Japanese experts as the worst nuclear disaster in human history, far surpassing Chernobyl, which happened in the Ukraine 25 years ago. The amount of Cesium-137 released at Fukushima this year is said to be equivalent to 168 Hiroshima atomic bombs..

After concealing the extent of the radiation damage in order to calm the Japanese people, the authorities are finally admitting that the amount of radioactive Cesium -137 that has been released is far higher than initially reported.

Should the American people feel safe from Japanese nuclear radiation? Not so. We have plenty to worry about. According to a French map of Cesium-137 on radiation from Fukushima, there was more contamination in the United States than in Western Japan.

The French simulation map (CEREA), covering the Pacific area, reveals that the U.S. West Coast, particularly California, may be more contaminated with radioactive Cesium than the western half of Japan or Hokkaido.

Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years, meaning that it will continue to represent a potential danger for a long time.

How Safe Are the Nation's 104 Nuclear Reactors?

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's reports on safety conditions at the nation's 104 nuclear reactors have found U.S. plants to be unprepared to prevent a meltdown in situations similar to Fukushima's.

A major independent investigation of nuclear reactors focused on the safety conditions at TVA's Watts Bar facility, the last nuclear plant to be licensed in the United States.

Located in Spring City, Tenn., Watts Bar took 23 years and $8 billion to build. After a flood of criticism (one investigative group documented 5,018 "concerns"), Watts Bar was shut down for a period of years.

The nuclear disaster at Fukushima occurred at five reactors: two in partial meltdown and three in total meltdown. They've all been burning uncontrollably since March 11, 2011, the day the nuclear explosion took place.

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The worst scenario is that the amount and intensity of the radioactive fallout will kill millions of people worldwide over time. Living at the epicenter of the nuclear tragedy, the Japanese people are among the first to be victimized.

If the U.S. had been hit by both an earthquake and a hurricane, with greater force, couldn't we see a potential parallel with what happened in Japan?

It seems surprising that, given the nuclear disaster in Japan and its dreadful consequences, there is so little debate among Americans as to whether we should rely on nuclear plants for our future energy needs.

It is worth noting that Germany, the strongest economic power in Europe, was already enacting a plan to slowly phase out nuclear energy by 2023, and rely on other forms of energy production.

Should we follow the German example? Or keep our reliance on nuclear reactors and hope that we won't become another Fukushima?

LaborTalk will be posted here on September 6, 2011 and on our two web sites www.laboreducator.org and on www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.

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