By Dr. Chuck Missler
Clean, safe nuclear power seems a bit uncertain these days, with nuclear reactors exploding in Japan while the world watches in tense anticipation. A third explosion rocked the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant early Tuesday, spewing radiation into the air. Prime Minister Naoto Kan warned people within 12 miles of the plant to evacuate and those within 19 miles to stay indoors. As fuel prices rise at the pumps, and the anniversary of the Gulf oil spill looms next month, a desire for safer ways of producing energy tops many people's minds.
In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster blew a plume of radiation across Europe. Interestingly, Chernobyl means "wormwood" in Russian, (cf. Rev 8:11). There are fears that something similar might happen in eastern Asia, but the damage caused by the Japanese reactors won't likely duplicate the Chernobyl disaster. The Japanese reactors are housed in a protective container to deter radiation leakage. However, workers are struggling to keep the fuel rods at the Dai-ichi plant covered with water, and it appears the fuel rods are melting.
The current nuclear danger in Japan has certainly bolstered the position of those who fight against using nuclear power. The construction of Taiwan's No. 4 nuclear power plant is under attack by environmentalists and the nation's main opposition party due to safety concerns. East Asia is earthquake territory, and while the recent Japanese quake was one of the largest in recorded history, it will not be the last.
Professor Shih Hsin-min, of National Taiwan University's Department of Chemical Engineering, called for Taiwan to upgrade its nuclear plants' ability to withstand earthquakes. The Green Party spokesman Pan Han-sheng, on the other hand, just wants construction on Taiwan's fourth nuclear plant to stop altogether, declaring that Taiwan would "meet its doom" if it faced a nuclear accident like the one Japan is dealing with right now.
Use of nuclear power has not caused its share of problems. A stuck valve resulted in the partial core meltdown of Unit 2 at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, PA in 1979. Up to 481 P Bq (13 million curies) of radioactive gases were released. Yet, the majority of the world's 442 nuclear reactors operate without making much noise at all. Of the world's nations, the United States produces the most nuclear power with its 104 reactors, accounting for about 19% of its energy consumption. France uses its 58 reactors to produce 80% of the energy it needs. Nuclear power is pretty darn safe, considering that the majority of Japan's 54 reactors are doing okay, despite the country's having just suffered a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.
The problem, of course, is that while nuclear power plants operate just peachy most of the time, thousands or even millions of people can be harmed when there is an "issue".
The quest for better means of energy production continues. The cost of installing a photovoltaic system has been cut in half since 2000, and the solar energy market has grown to $71.2 billion in 2010 from $2.5 billion a decade ago. As one drives across America, whether through Washington State or Texas, it is common to see dozens or hundreds of huge windmills jutting across the horizon. According to the LA Times, the wind industry is growing in sweeping leaps, from $4.5 billion in 2000 to $60.5 billion last year. Not everybody likes the windmills; they are despised as eyesores or accused of killing birds and bats, but they continue to sprout up like giant dandelions across the country. Clean energy is big business these days, with nearly one-fourth of all venture capital going into clean-technology ventures. That's a big change from 2000, when just 1% of venture capitalists dared to jump onto the "clean" wagon.
Then there's Scott Brusaw of northern Idaho, who is still working to develop his "solar roads" idea. Brusaw wants to replace the thousands of miles of blacktop roads in the United States with heavy duty roads made of solar panels. The idea is a great one, if it can work. The electricity generated by the roads would not only take care of all of America's energy needs, but would make the possibility of electric cars far more feasible since recharge stations could be set up anywhere along the roads. The roads could generate enough heat to melt heavy snow, eliminating the winter wear and tear on cars, drivers, and roads. Telephone and electric lines could be laid under the roads, eliminating the need for wires strung up on poles. Brusaw is filled with ideas.
The reality of solar roads is still a long way off, but Brusaw's got hope. In the fall of 2009, the US government gave him $100,000 to build solar panels for test driving. The government has just invited Brusaw to apply for a $750,000 contract in funding so that he can build and test a real solar parking lot.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and we need to find new and improved ways to produce energy. As we work to find an escape route from our dependence on foreign oil and look for alternatives that can keep us running smoothly, the Scott Brusaws of the world might just be our best bet.
Japan scrambles to pull nuclear plant back from brink - Reuters
Idaho inventor dreams of electric avenues across the country - KTVB.com
China Vows to Press Ahead With Nuclear Energy Plans - Voice of America
Fukushima 50 Stay Behind to Prevent Nuclear Meltdown - Fox News
Solar Roadways Offer a Possible, if Distant, Remedy for E.V. Range Anxiety - New York Times