No Free Lunch
I haven’t had much to say about the Japanese Tsunami and the nuclear mess there, but here’s the short and to the point.
First: the reactors in question were not properly built and tested. It is very clear now that the Japanese nuclear industry, as with the American, has been cutting corners to save money. Let this be a warning, there is no free lunch. If you skimp on such features, it will inevitably come back to haunt you. If you want to stop this sort of thing, start sending executives to jail for negligent homicide, otherwise expect it to continue.
Second: this is going to lead to a huge round of the stupids. Contrary to what many on the left think, widescale solar is still not feasible, the production of large solar panels produces huge amounts of toxic byproducts. So if Japan wants to go off nukes, they would most likely go off them to coal, and if you replace all those nukes with that much coal, it’s a complete environmental and health disaster, and a massive downshift in standard of living, to boot.
Third: Japan poured a pile of concrete in the last couple decades, including in the last 2 years. They could have poured concrete over the backup generators in plants like this, instead of making roads to nowhere, but they didn’t. Japan’s technocrats are, fundamentally, incompetent. Perhaps not as incompetent as America’s, but in the same general boat, as are all the developed world’s technocrats.
The choice is being made, today, to deny, deny, deny reality. The reality is that the energy bottleneck has to be dealt with. And the reality is that the only technology ready right now, which can be scaled, which could tide us over the 20 years we need, is probably nuclear. But the plants we have were designed not as civilian plants, but as dual use plants able to produce material for nuclear weapons. They were deliberately designed to not be particularly safe and even the safety features they theoretically have, as with the Gulf disaster, have had corners cut so severely that they aren’t safe.
Nuclear power might be relatively safe, but not built by us, not by this society. But the other options are disastrous as well. As a practical matter, we are going to be moving more and move to coal, shale oil and tar sands oil. And that economy is ugly as hell, and an environmental disaster.
I know a lot of my readers aren’t going to like this, and the anti-nukers are going to freak out in the comments thread, but this is where we are.