Monday, March 14, 2011

Will Japan’s nuclear power disaster mean more solar power in Rochester region?


One has to wonder if the one-in-a-million disaster scenario occurring in Japan with their nuclear plants and the major earthquake will wake up area communities to the dangers of nuclear power.

Second Explosion at Reactor as Technicians Try to Contain Damage - TOKYO — A second explosion rocked a troubled nuclear power plant Monday, blowing the roof off a containment building but not harming the reactor inside, while cooling systems failed at a third reactor, Japanese officials said. (March 14, 2011) The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

Though we here don’t have a major earthquake fault running through Rochester, we are not immune to the other environmental and health issues which are always a concern with nuclear power. Nuclear power, which to many people may seem like a real solution to our energy needs and curbing greenhouse gases, is not benign or cheap. Our media fails to focus on the real and present danger nuclear power presents.

Environmental Thoughts - Rochester, NY: No nuclear problems in the local media: When you watch the local news everyday as I do, a curious fact surfaces. Despite all the news about hydrofracking and the turbulence of wind power in our area, one rarely hears a peep about nuclear energy. I can understand why a lot of groups would want to suppress news about local nuclear power issues (because it becomes a convenient default energy source when they fight renewable energy and say they care about Climate Change), but I don’t understand why our local press doesn’t monitor what is going on with nuclear power more closely. Maybe, they are afraid they’ll sound like Chicken Little by raising the specter of Chernobyl at even the mentioning of a nuclear problem—I don’t really know the reason.

At present there is no great rush to get solar power going in our area. (This is not a non sequitur to the Japan nuclear disaster.) These incidents are related because when we don’t encourage safe renewable energy, we must use dangerous and polluting energy. As far as I know, there are little financial incentives to employ solar power in our region. But we should be asking: What incentives or barriers do we put on the safest energy source possible? Here’s an example of what other communities practice on encouraging safe energy:

Permit fees for solar panels vary across San Luis Obispo County - Local - Sierra Club, which conducted the survey, wants local governments to charge only enough to cover costs | A survey of local governments in San Luis Obispo County by the Sierra Club shows a wide variation in permit fees charged to businesses to install solar power. Volunteers with the club surveyed all seven municipalities as well as the county to determine how much the fees would be to install 131 kilowatts of photovoltaic panels on the roof of a business. They determined that the fee would range from $273 in Atascadero to $31,548 in Morro Bay.  (March 8, 2011)  San Luis Obispo County News, Sports, Weather, Business News | The Tribune

We may feel secure that our nuclear plants are not threatened by what’s going in Japan. But how many warnings must we get that the nuclear power leaves no margin of human error, no mercy for the unexpected forces of Nature, a business that tends not be as forthcoming about all the problems if faces as it should, and a media disinclined to pro-actively check to see if our local nuclear power is as safe as we assume?

NRC sees no radiation danger here from Japanese nuclear plants WASHINGTON DC - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is coordinating with the Department of Energy and other federal agencies in providing whatever assistance the Japanese government requests as they respond to conditions at several nuclear power plant sites following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The NRC has sent two boiling-water reactor experts to Japan as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development team. March 14, 2011) New York State News on the Net!

Before we settle down and become satisfied that nothing like what is going on in Japan could happen here, check out some of my past essays on regional nuclear power issues that have not been well covered locally:

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