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Japan risks nuclear disaster for consumer convenience

The crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant must prompt the Japanese to ask themselves whether their appetite for convenience is worth the catastrophic risks of relying on nuclear power stations situated on seismic fault lines.

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I have been warning about the possibility of catastrophic nuclear power accidents for the past 40 years. That the very nightmare I always predicted has come true makes it no less alarming to watch the ongoing Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster unfold.

Nuclear power plants are machines; machines can fail at times. Nuclear power plants are constructed and operated by people; people are not infallible — mistakes may be made. Beyond that, natural disasters are beyond our control. No matter how much we try to prevent accidents from happening, we must still be prepared for when they do occur. The essential risk of nuclear energy is that it involves imperfect machines controlling an enormous amount of naturally dangerous substances. In the event of a worst-case accident, catastrophic damage is unavoidable. Any assurances that nuclear power is “absolutely” safe are propaganda.

Worst-case scenario

I cannot predict how the present situation will turn out. In my worst-case scenario, the cooling of the reactors will fail, causing the reactor core to collapse — the so-called meltdown. And if there is water remaining at the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel containing the reactor cores, a steam blast explosion can occur. If that happens, the primary containment shell covering the reactor pressure vessels — the final radioactivity-confining barrier — can be damaged. Then a great quantity of radioactivity will be released into the environment. The workers at the Fukushima Power Station are currently fighting hard to prevent such a scenario. I hope their struggle will be successful.

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