Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan's triple whammy

As if the devastation wrought by Friday's magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the resultant tsunami wasn't bad enough, Japan has a growing nuclear crisis to deal with.

Now we are the first to admit that we don't know a heck of a lot about how nuclear powerplants work (although we have been educated quite a bit since Friday!), and that's why we haven't commented on this aspect of Japan's catastrophe to date. But the news ticker on Sky News got our attention a few moments ago when it reported that a US Navy ship 125km away from the damaged Fukushima Diiachi plant was recording low-level radiation.

So we did some thinking; if we were to draw a circle with Wanganui in the centre, what's within 125km? To the west, there's Stratford and Hawera; to the north Raetihi, Ohakune and Taihape; heading east there's Palmerston North, Feilding, Marton, Dannevirke and Pahiatua, and to the south is Foxton, Levin and Otaki, with the Kapiti Coast right on the border. By our rough estimates, around 250,000 people live in that radius, even though much of the area is rural and/or isolated.

Japan is roughly 30 times more populous than New Zealand, in roughly the same area. Multiply our estimate by 30, and the numbers get horrific. If there has indeed been widespread radiation contamination in this area, it is going to add exponentially to Japan's woes, and the effects are going to be felt for many years to come.

The added problem for the recovery effort is that a large part of Japan's capacity to generate electricity has been lost with the damage of varying degrees to three nuclear power plants. Howver, when a radiation cloud is spreading over the countryside, that's the least of the country's problems. "Catastrophic" seems a pretty good description of this human tragedy.

15 comments:

robertguyton said...

Nuclear power plants have always been the secret and not-so-secret desire of National Party MPs and supporters.
Look back over some of the threads on the topic at your funny friend Farrar's blog and see them clamouring for nukes Inv2. At least, they were.

Inventory2 said...

Point taken Rob; whilst there might be an argument for nuclear power plants in geologically stable areas, events in the last few days have suggested that building them around the Ring of Fire is not a great idea.

Inventory2 said...

That then raises the question; where SHOULD our power come from? I'm a fan of wind generation; I travel over to Palmerston North a lot, and the sight of the wind turbines atop the Ruahine and Tararua ranges is impressive. And let's face it; wind is one of our most prolific natural resources! And yet self-appointed "environmental activists" such as Anton Oliver and Graeme Sydney don't want wind turbines in their back yard in Central Otago; how do we resolve that dilemma?

PM of NZ said...

'triple whammy'?

What about the now active volcano in the South?

I would suggest that modern naval ships have extremely good monitoring equipment and can detect low level changes as part of their defence systems. Radiation was noted, but easily decontaminated.

As for nuke powerplants on unstable platforms, hell, they successfully send nuke powerplants to sea. Even the USS Ronald Regan.

robertguyton said...

What kind of environmental activists are there other than self appointed? They do it because they passionately believe in the cause, not because they are voted on.
Surely you respect their right to freedom of expression and the protectiveness the feel for their own back yards :-)

robertguyton said...

It's been noted ...that should there be a contamination cloud and should it drift across to North America, there will Hiroshimaians and Nagasakians who will see the fateful irony.

PM of NZ said...

"I'm a fan of wind generation"

Hang on a minute, I'll have a look a your favoured turbines 30km from here. Yes, I can see them every day on a good day. Fat lot of good wind generation is on a calm still day, like today.

Apart from slicing and dicing bird life, annoying the crap out of locals, wind generation is expensive per kWh, small load and the generators employ rare earth magnets that are manufactured using highly toxic and environmentally damaging processes. A greenie wankfest at best.

PM of NZ said...

rg,

As for ironic downward drift, I suspect that did happen in WWII. After all the Jap firebomb balloons also got to their target.

Inventory2 said...

@ Rob - Absolutely I understand their NIMBYism, but you haven't answered my question; if we're not going to harness wind power, we will we meet our future electricty requirements from? Serious question ...

James Stephenson said...

I wish JK and BE would hurry up and get those Solid Energy shares floated. The only thing this Nuclear shemozzle in Japan means is that the demand for coal is going up, up, up.

robertguyton said...

Inv2 - I didn't say I shared their view and certainly don't think we 'atren't going to harness windpower'. My household is gearing up to install a turbine of our own (Adam's own) making. There are turbines not too far away, adding their bit to the grid and I find them attractive enough to look at.
As for feeding our energy hasbit - me use far too much - we need to power down (we're going to have to any way so let's get prepared - is your sewerage system reliant on electricity? :-)

robertguyton said...

James is into it, though where he calls it a 'nuclear shemozzle', he should also call 'coal shemozzle'.

pdm said...

Exactly JS.

James Stephenson said...

If it wasn't for the large amounts of coal in Northern England then the industrial revolution would have happened somewhere else and my ancestors George and Robert would never have been famous.

robertguyton said...

Gearge and Robert might have made their name in some 'green' technologies James.
We just can't know.