Power Plant
The Fukushima nuclear energy complex was damaged by the recent earthquake in Japan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Fukushima nuclear power plant has experienced two explosions after the devastation in Japan from an earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The 8.9 magnitude quake damaged three of the reactors at the Fukushima complex, two of which have had minor explosions. Analysts fear that the incident signals a possible end of the nuclear power industry.

Three reactors damaged at Fukushima reactor complex

The Fukushima nuclear energy complex was heavily damaged by the earthquake that struck Japan on Friday, March 11. The Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex is a six reactor site about 155 miles north of Tokyo, according to The Telegraph. Three of the reactors were offline during the 8.9 magnitude quake, but the three operating reactors and their cooling systems were damaged. The backup coolant systems on Fukushima Number One failed on Saturday, March12, leading to a hydrogen explosion that did not damage the outer shell that contains the reactor, despite efforts to pump in seawater to cool the fuel rods, according to the Christian Science Monitor. A similar explosion occurred on Monday, March 14, at a second reactor, and Fukushima officials confirmed that the third reactor was leaking seawater that had been pumped in as emergency coolant.

Possible end to the nuclear power industry

Analysts say an explosion similar to the 1986 incident in Chernobyl is extremely unlikely. However, the two explosions and a spotty safety record for the nuclear industry in Japan do not bode well for the global nuclear industry. Incidents such as these usually lead to contractions in the nuclear industry. Jim Cramer of CNBC believes Japan is likely to switch to natural gas, as natural gas is not radioactive and emits less carbon than coal, though Japan will have to become a major importer of natural gas if that happens. The Russian government has already confirmed natural gas shipments are under way to help ease power outages. There are 54 operating nuclear reactors in Japan, 11 of which have been knocked offline by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Japan has lost about 30 percent of its electricity as a result.

Small incidents can have vast effects

Nuclear power is regarded by the public with a certain amount of fear because of past and potential catastrophes. The 1979 Three Mile Island incident in which a partial core meltdown occurred resulted in no deaths or illnesses, but the incident brought the U.S. nuclear industry to a standstill, according to ABC. The only power plants that have come online since were already being built when the incident occurred. Nuclear power plants emit drastically less carbon than coal or natural gas, according to CNN, and the new generation of breeder reactors can generate their own fuel, leading to incredibly low cost electricity. Nuclear plants require far less acreage than wind turbine or solar panel farms and don’t depend on weather conditions to operate. However, incredibly high start up costs and public fear have kept the nuclear industry from growing over the past three decades.

Sources

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/8380718/Japan-nuclear-plant-meltdown-fears-after-explosion.html

Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2011/0313/Japan-now-assumes-possibility-of-a-meltdown-at-troubled-reactors

CNBC: http://money.msn.com/top-stocks/post.aspx?post=822a35c9-e8b8-4a9f-8d8c-1f83458ab7bf

ABC: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/japans-fukushima-nuclear-plant-health-risks-meltdown/story?id=13124657&page=1

CNN: http://money.cnn.com/2011/03/13/news/economy/nuclear_power_plants/index.htm

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