Update: As soon as I posted this entry Reuters reported an explosion at one of Japan's earthquake damaged power plants and published the above picture with the story.
Nuclear Power, Tumors, Oblivion
As radiation continues to escape from power plants in Japan damaged by yesterday's earthquake, as tumors and other kinds of cancers begin to fester in the bodies of people exposed to the escaping radiation, we are once again reminded of the utter, inexplicable stupidity of nuclear power, and of anything having to do with tumor causing, cancer causing, birth defect causing nuclear radiation.
As everyone knows, but conveniently chooses to forget about, the nuclear material that humans refine to use in power plants and in other commercial applications will remain radiative forever, for all practical purposes.
This is not the raw uranium that occurs naturally in the earth, but the highly refined material that, in the case of nuclear power plants, is used simply to heat water and turn it into steam to drive turbines hooked to electricity generators.
Each kind of radioactive material has a rating called a "half life," which is the time it takes for that type of nuclear material to decay to half its current potency. The half life of various nuclear materials ranges from a few weeks in the case of the material used in X-Ray machines to millions, and even billions of years, which is ten times longer than the human species has existed and hundreds of thousands of times more than what we refer to as civilization has existed, which is a mere 10,000-20,000 years. In other words, forever.
Another way of looking at the half life of a given material is that if, today, you have to be within twenty feet of a speck of the material for it to cause a tumor to start growing inside of you, that speck will "decay" until it decreases in potency to the point that a half million years from now you will have to get within ten feet of it for it to cause a tumor to start growing inside of you.
In other words, it won't be safe at all, even after a half million years. It will still be extremely deadly. In a million years it will still be deadly. Some of it will still be causing tumors more than a billion years from now. This so we can light a light bulb for a few hours.
And the radioactivity that is emits will still be, like it is today, invisible, and odorless, and tasteless and able to penetrate walls and just about anything else. If, for example, something happened, like a shipment got mislabeled, as has happened, or if a piece of the stuff got mislabeled and got tossed in the trash or if a piece of it fell out of a container and rolled behind a filing cabinet, it would be emitting tumor causing, birth defect causing rays from now until forever almost and you wouldn't even know it. If you don't happen to carry a Geiger counter with you 24 hours a day for your entire life, you can walk past it and be exposed and not know anything was amiss until the tumor starts eating you alive from the inside or until your child is born with no arms and legs.
Proponents of nuclear power assure us that this kind of thing won't happen, that somehow human error will cease to occur for the remainder of our species' reign on earth, and that we can store this material safely forever. And if you've noticed, the "authorities" always try to blame any kind of disaster they possibly can on human error, and divert attention from flaws in their systems. This not only diverts attention from authorities themselves, but from the fact that all systems are designed by error prone humans, and are not just implemented by error prone humans.
After a big release of nuclear material such as happened at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania (which, they always forget to mention, is in the middle of the Susquehanna River) or at Chernobyl in The Ukraine (when it was part of the USSR) you don't hear from proponents for radioactivity for awhile, but eventually they're back, and assure us again that there is no danger that can't be managed and start putting up cheerful green billboards and hope we forget about the tumors and birth defects and cancer. Like President Obama, who is promoting nuclear power, they expect us to imagine that nothing will happen to the "containment", that is, the containers that are supposed to block the radiation from escaping. Lead, which is highly toxic on its own, is the most often cited containment material, and they expect that we won't know that this lead, and whatever else kind of container they put the stuff is, is all the time absorbing radioactivity itself, and so it is also becoming radioactive, and another source of tumors and other kinds of cancers.
But someone will be here to take care of that, too, they expect us to imagine. Meanwhile, every so often archeologists discover a new civilization they never knew existed. Someone will be digging somewhere and discover an entire civilization, either buried under the desert sands or that sunk into a jungle somewhere. And in each of those civilizations, there was the equivalent of today's radioactivity promoters assuring the people that someone would be always be there to take care of things. Because our civilization, they said, will be here forever.
The so-called "spent" fuel rods they remove from nuclear power plants contain a mix of highly radioactive materials, including "substantial" amounts of plutonium, which is extremely radioactive and therefore decays quickly, that is, has a half life of only 69-90 years, and uranium 235, which has a half life of 700 million to 12 billion years.
The fuel rods have to be removed after a time because they start to absorb radioactive materials from the fission they make happen in the reactor, which causes the reactions to cease and the reactor to stop working. There is currently no place to store these deadly spent fuel rods. A few years ago, the government was promoting a scheme to hide them under a mountain in Nevada, until too many people pointed out that the mountain sat on a fault line. That scheme was put on hold and the spent fuel rods are being stored at the nuclear power plants themselves, in big tubs of water that absorb the tremendous amount of heat the rods emit and which must be constantly replenished with cool water. And even though there is no place to store spent fuel rods, new fuel rods are being shoved into the reactors all the time.
The government and the profiteers cheering nuclear power on claim its cost is competitive with other sources of power. The environmental movement has always put out figures showing that iy costs twice what electricity typically costs, but neither set of figures include the cost, or account for the danger, of storing radioactive fuel rods for thousands and thousands of years.
But it doesn't matter what it costs. Cost is not even an issue. It wouldn't matter if it was free.
Proponents promise that one day they will be able to convert nuclear waste into something harmless, but so far they only thing they have come up with is to use it to cause more death and destruction, that is to use "depleted uranium" in an alloy that makes super strong shell casings, that now litter the landscape of Iraq causing high rates of cancers and birth defects among the people we liberated from a uranium free landscape.
Despite the idiocy of nuclear power, the total lack of logic behind its use, it continues to be peddled as some kind of a solution to our energy woes, by politicians and others tied to the powerful interests that look to profit from it, such as the major stockholders of giant defense contractor General Electric, which builds and manages nuclear power plants, and makes the fuel, turbines and generators used in them.
It doesn't matter where fuel rods are stored. The nuclear radiation will leak out someday, and radiation will start spewing into the air, and into the ground, and into the water supply: into the groundwater, into the rivers, into the lakes, and into the oceans. The earth not long afterward will become a huge graveyard. For a few years life might stagger on in various, hideously mutated, tumor laden, cancer ridden states, but after that grotesque life form dies off, nothing will be able to live at all.
Thus will be our end, even if there is never a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant, or any kind of human error anywhere on earth, even if there are no more tsunamis or hurricanes or tornadoes, or earthquakes like the one in Japan that has caused reactors we were assured were earthquake proof to begin spewing tumor causing, cancer causing radioactivity into the atmosphere of Japan, rather, into the atmosphere of Japan first, because soon it will be carried by the winds and the rains and will be distributed over the whole earth.
The problem in Japan is that there is no electricity to pump water to cool the fuel rods. As the Los Angeles Times puts it:
"If they can't get adequate cooling to the core, it could be a Three Mile Island or worse," said nuclear physicist Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which is working to improve the safety of nuclear power. The loss of coolant at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania for only 30 minutes led to a 50% meltdown of the core in that 1979 accident.
The pumps normally obtain electricity from the grid. But the Fukushima prefecture's grid was badly damaged by the tsunami, cutting power needed to cool the fuel rods. Though reactors have diesel emergency generators to provide backup electricity, those at Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 also were apparently damaged by the tsunami.
The reactors have backup batteries, and operators used them to restore the flow of coolant at the No. 1 plant. But those batteries have a life of no more than about eight hours, experts said.
We may not notice the effects right away. But even tiny amounts of radioactivity will cause people who are already disposed to get cancer -- by all the chemicals and pollutants already in our environment -- to be more likely to get cancer.
The radiation being released from the earthquake proof reactors in Japan will float around the earth and get into our environment and join the radiation already there and eventually be joined by radiation from the next leak, and the next and the next. The end of life on earth will come either that way, slowly, or suddenly, when one catastrophic leak ends it all at once.
And the dead earth will continue to spin through the universe like a huge, dark, radioactive tumor, a somber monument, to anyone who might pass by here from anywhere else in the universe, to our shortsightedness, to our greed, to our egoism, to our inexplicable stupidity.