The worst-case scenario is being redefined.
Engineers and emergency responders are attempting to avert massive radiation releases from reactors in Japan that were crippled by a massive earthquake and tsunami. Already the threat of partial meltdowns of uranium fuel rods in three reactors have forced engineers to try unproven tactics to prevent an atomic reaction.
As of now, the 1986 meltdown of a Ukrainian reactor in Chernobyl has been the worst nuclear power accident. The Japanese crisis may top that one.
Policymakers in the United States will have a new reference point in the debate over whether to build nuclear power plants. In the United States 104 nuclear power reactors provide about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. The majority are on coastlines and on or near earthquake faults.
President Barack Obama has been campaigning to make nuclear power a significant piece of the nation’s push toward energy independence. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is weighing applications to add 20 reactors in the next 15 to 20 years.
America must learn from this tragedy. This disaster serves to highlight both the fragility of nuclear power plants and the potential consequences associated with earthquakes. We must not rush to build nuclear power plants until we find out if reactions can be contained in the event of a major earthquake.