Many once opposed to nuclear energy have been convinced by looming Peak Oil and the volatility of the Middle East that it can be a bridge technology to our we’ll-figure-out-something energy future. Along with those who work in the nuclear energy industry (and the congressmen who love them) they urge us to avoid over-reacting to the Japanese nuclear crisis and becoming carried away by the hysteria of sensationalistic headlines. Such as this one:

Japan Faces Potential Nuclear Disaster as Radiation Levels Rise

Oh wait, that’s the New York Times, which reports:

Readings reported on Tuesday showed . . . radiation levels [to which even] 7 minutes of exposure . . . will reach the maximum annual dose that a worker at an American nuclear plant is allowed. And exposure for 75 minutes would likely lead to acute radiation sickness. . . . “We are on the brink. We are now facing the worst-case scenario,” said Hiroaki Koide, a senior reactor engineering specialist at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University.

Does he mean a meltdown? Possibly worse, as the Times reports in its latest article:

Even as workers race to prevent the radioactive cores . . . from melting down, concerns are growing that nearby pools holding spent fuel rods could pose an even greater danger. [They] have lost their cooling systems and the Japanese have been unable to take emergency steps because of the multiplying crises. . . . If any of the spent fuel rods in the pools do indeed catch fire, nuclear experts say, the high heat would loft the radiation in clouds that would spread the radioactivity.

Which would be

“. . . worse than a meltdown,” said David A. Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

At this point, those advising against over-reaction are whistling in the dark. Whatever the outcome, the Times reports, the plants will never be used again. Bear in mind that nuclear plants are not, out of the box, a money-making proposition. They require a huge outlay in federal funds to get them off the ground.

As an analyst on MSNBC (can’t remember who) commented last night, a problem with nuclear reactors is that just when you need them most, they not only fail, but add a whole new dimension of problems to whatever (in this case a natural disaster) caused them to fail. If an electricity generating plant fails during a hurricane, however daunting a challenge bringing it back online may be, it’s mercifully free of side effects. You know, messy inconveniences like — oh, I don’t know — making the surrounding countryside uninhabitable. Just be careful not to over-react!

It’s nuclear reactors, in fact, that are the drama queens of energy sources.

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