The nuclear industry needs to understand that confidence building following the crisis in Japan is a global challenge
The IAEA preliminary report on the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power station in Japan is just the first of what will turn out to be a series of reviews of what went wrong and what needs to be done in the future. IAEA Team Leader Mike Weightman said in a statement, "You can make nuclear plants safe against natural events, but you have to understand these events."
It is clear that Germany does not understand that the real tragedy in Japan is the death of over 25,000 people from the combination of the earthquake and tsunami. Yet, only four people have died at the Fukushima reactor site, and none from exposure to radiation.
For more on this point see an excellent editorial in the Washington Post.
“Instead of providing a model for greening a post-industrial economy, Germany’s overreaching greens are showing the rest of the world just how difficult it is to contemplate big cuts in carbon emissions without keeping nuclear power on the table.
Panicked overreaction isn’t the right response to the partial meltdowns in Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex. Instead, countries aiming to provide their citizens with reliable, low-carbon electricity should ask how to minimize inevitable, if small, risks — making their nuclear facilities safer, more reliable and more efficient.”
In the U.S. anti-nuclear groups are seeking to capitalize on Germany's precipitous decision to permanently close it seven oldest reactors and the rest by 2022. And they are getting lots of help from the mainstream news media (MSM) despite editorials like the one cited here.
Gaps between perception and reality
1. Are there common root causes of frequent gaps between what the MSM reports and what we know to be the technical truth of a situation?
2. What accounts for the thin rolodexes of MSM in terms of who they go to for comments on nuclear incidents? Why is it the UCS and other anti-nuclear groups like Beyond Nuclear are on speed dial and pro-nuclear experts are not?
3. How do we as nuclear professionals develop ways to get technical nuances across to the MSM without descending into "geek speak?" A good example is the definition of a "meltdown." Are we talking about deformed fuel bundles, melted uranium oxide, or all of the above?
4. How do we get across the concepts of comparative risk? For example, 25,000 people died in Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, but fewer than six have died at the reactor site and none from exposure to radiation.
5. What is it about "nuclear exceptionalism" that drives an unhealthy focus on radiation even in numbers well under the safety thresholds? How can we get clarity in MSM reporting about the health effects of various levels of radiation exposure? How do we better communicate the nuances of health effects, e.g., acute v. long-term effects and cancer risks?
6. Why are the concepts of energy security and carbon emissions given a brush off when it comes to nuclear energy, but promoted without question for natural gas?
7. Why has Germany essentially committed energy suicide and put itself in the grip of the Russians for energy? The Russians will increase their supply of politically tagged gas and likely win the bid for Temelin. NATO can forget about worrying the Russians will invade Germany. They already have it. Why hasn't Germany's MSN or ours given this issue more attention?
8. What does Japan really have to do to get its nuclear energy program back on track? The IAEA report released June 1 is an exercise in documenting the obvious and at best a diplomatic tap dance. Whether the global nuclear industry likes it or not, confidence building about Japan's nuclear future, with real change, is needed to bolster its standing elsewhere.
As I see it the nuclear energy field is getting pounded like a cheap cut of bottom round by the anti-nukes, especially over Fukushima, and then served up as hamburger to the MSM which thinks it is getting steak.
If this isn't excellent marketing then I'll eat my hat.
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