Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the people of Japan as they struggle in the aftermath of last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. The escalating crisis at the failing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors is exacerbating what is already a tragedy of epic proportions. Adding to this distress are the irresponsible comments made earlier this week on the Senate floor by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), “We don’t abandon highway systems because bridges and overpasses collapse during earthquakes. The 1.6 million of us who fly daily would not stop flying after a tragic airplane crash.”
It is reprehensible that apologists for the nuclear power industry are using their positions of power to downplay and mislead the American public about the catastrophic events occurring in Japan. Likening the Japanese nuclear crisis to a bridge collapse or plane crash is wholly incorrect. Though both tragic, neither comparison has the far-reaching and likely long-term implications of the Japanese nuclear disaster. A plane crash, for instance, does not release radiation over great distances. Only those involved or in close proximity are affected, unless the airplane is somehow carrying massive amounts of radioactive material–a highly unlikely scenario.
U.S. Sen. Alexander’s misleading comments completely underestimate the significance of the events happening in Japan. The nuclear industry lobby and their apologists must tread lightly and be careful about misrepresenting the continuing crisis. Reported radiation levels have put the health of the heroic remaining workers at severe risk and have seriously hampered crucial emergency measures. It has been reported that several workers have died from the quake and subsequent accident, some were missing, and nearly two dozen have been injured, some from radiation exposure and others from multiple explosions onsite.
Sen. Alexander also commended the “level-headed response” to the crisis – but his statement failed to acknowledge the lack of credible or timely information being shared by Tokyo Electric Power Company and the government with the overwhelmed Japanese people and the broader global community. For instance, contrary to Sen. Alexander’s statement, U.S. NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko urged Americans within 50 miles (80km) of the plant to evacuate due to fears of contamination and sickness from the spreading plume. Commissioner Jaczko’s recommendation differs significantly from the 12 mile (20km) zone that the Japanese government prescribed for evacuations.
Sen. Alexander closed by stating, “Nuclear power is a demanding but manageable technology. As we move forward, let us learn the proper lessons from this Japanese experience to make sure that in the United States and in the world, we are even better prepared for the unexpected events of the future.”
The Japanese nuclear disaster, which is still ongoing, proves that there are times when nuclear power is not a manageable technology; rather, it can be inherently unforgiving. And in order to learn the proper lessons going forward, the nuclear industry and its apologists need to first acknowledge the severity of what is happening and be open and honest with the American public. The new reality is that the industry’s and nuclear proponents’ decades-long reliance on supposedly fail-safe technology redundancies has now spectacularly failed.