News / Asia

Analysts Debate the Safety of Nuclear Power Plants

The Fukushima nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan (2008 file photo)
The Fukushima nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan (2008 file photo)

Authorities in Japan have evacuated the area around a nuclear power plant after its reactor's cooling system failed following Friday's massive earthquake. Pressure began building overnight at the Fukushima Daiichi plant north of Tokyo, prompting officials to consider venting radioactive vapor on Saturday. The situation has prompted analysts to debate whether nuclear power is safe to use in earthquake-prone regions.

Japan has 55 nuclear power plants that produce nearly one-third of the country’s electrical output. Its also lies in one of the most seismically active zones in the world, known as the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Nuclear waste specialist Kevin Kamps at nuclear watchdog Beyond Nuclear says these two factors put Japan at a big risk. "An earthquake that damages multiple levels of the safety systems can lead to a troubled situation very quickly."

Kamps said the worst case scenario for the Fukushima Daiichi plant would be what happened at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986, when the radioactivity escaped to the outside environment, causing environmental and health hazards across portions of Europe. He said Japan should consider other energy options.

"There are much safer sources of electricity; renewables, like wind and solar, could not suffer catastrophic disasters like this that endanger entire regions with hazardous radioactive releases."

Analyst Jeremy Gordon with the World Nuclear Association, however, said overall the situation is not one in which Japan would need to abandon this major source of electricity. He said Japan's nuclear plants are built with multiple safety layers and earthquakes in mind.

"The engineering standard goes so far beyond what you would ever expect, and the regulations go far beyond what you would ever expect. The end result is that the power plants are extremely robust."

Gordon said a powerful earthquake that struck the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in 2007 is an example of the effectiveness of nuclear power plant safety measures.

"They were hit really hard and there was damage within the plant and it took a long time to repair everything. But the safety system stayed in place and there was no nuclear risk from that earthquake."

Kamps said the Fukushima Daiichi situation, though, should be a wake-up call to the Japanese government and the world about the dangers of nuclear power plants. This can include radiological contamination of the environment and genetic damage, cancer and a wide spectrum of disease within people.

"A nuclear disaster anywhere is a nuclear disaster everywhere. We saw that at Chernobyl with significant nuclear fallout blanketing Europe in all directions for many hundreds of miles. We even saw fallout here in the United States," said Kamps.

But Gordon believes Japan has no other sustainable energy options. "It's been using nuclear power since 1966 and its main reason for doing that is because it doesn’t have any energy resources of its own at home. It doesn't have coal. It doesn't have gas. So it needs a sustainable and controllable domestic source of energy."

Greenpeace nuclear policy analyst Jim Riccio says the consequences of nuclear power need to be considered. "I think it's a good reminder, we've been focusing a lot lately on the downsides of nuclear in terms of its finances, there are other downsides beside the financial downside, potential for a meltdown and I think it should give people pause before they pursue new reactors here in the United States and around the world."

The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that 20 percent of the world's nuclear reactors are in areas of significant seismic activity.

You May Like

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs