Of course, nuclear power is on everyone’s mind because of the ongoing tragedy in Japan.
It was not comforting to find out that my state (Illinois) is home to more nuclear power plants than any other state in the U.S. Of course, this was stated in a Chicago newspaper as being perfectly okay, because the chance of Illinois having both an earthquake and a tsunami in quick succession are virtually nil. As if that made everything okay* (see P.S. below).
I’d like to offer a bit of a correction: while our chances of a tsunami are very, very low (Lake Michigan has seiches pretty regularly, but people not on the water are not affected by them), it’s still not totally impossible. But that’s not the point. The point is that when the first nuke plants were built, Illinois was thought to be part of the most stable land on Earth.
Then the little earthquakes started. Well, actually they didn’t start — we’d been having them all along. They are more pest tremblors than anything threatening, but we do have them, and I seem to remember reading a few years back that northern IL is littered with tiny faults, and at least one of them moves almost every day. Stable this land is not.
The giant New Madrid fault in extreme southern Illinois comes to mind as the biggest threat, but whether it really is or not is a matter of debate. Even the scientists can’t figure it out, so I’ll be damned if I can. The latest guess is that any and all earthquakes Illinois suffers in modern times are aftershocks of the huge New Madrid tremblors that occured in 1811 and 1812, which were powerful enough to be felt at all the way at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia, “so strong that everyone ran out of doors.” (Read that quote in a biography of Jefferson; be darned if I remember which one it was.) I believe one quake changed the course of the Mississippi River and submerged a town; that may have been the one that Jefferson’s household felt. Its intensity can only be estimated, but the high estimate is 8.1.
Then again, nearly every time we can feel Chicago shiver a bit — roughly once every 5 to 10 years — they tell us that the cause was not the New Madrid fault, but instead a mining incident, a construction incident, or a “just because” from a new fault in the middle of someone’s corn field. I vaguely remember one scientist saying that even if the New Madrid slipped again (and it has now been virtually silent for nearly 200 years, to the point where until recently, scientists thought it was extinct), Chicago would barely be affected. Then again, other scientists say that Chicago would shake like Jello. Put it all together, and a layman has no chance of understanding anything.
What I’m getting to, however, is that even without the earthquakes and tsunamis, nuclear power is not safe. Furthermore, it is expensive and it is not necessary. We in Illinois have some of the highest electric bills in the country. As previously mentioned, we also have more nuclear power plants than any other state in the country. Every time we have a rate hike, the power company (Exelon) cites “nuclear power plant maintenance” as a reason. Not to see a connection is to work in the P.R. department of the power company.
We have other options, and they’re not just coal and natural gas. In an age where we are slowly being trained to make do with less, perhaps it’s high time those options were explored fully even if they are less powerful. If we are not willing to do this, or if Exelon won’t let us (and they will undoubtedly do everything in their power to stall any change), then we have to ask if unlimited electrical power is worth dying for. I daresay it is not.
*P.S. — Have to mention that Illinois is one of the more-active states in the country in terms of tornadoes and floods. A flood can do as much damage as a tsunami because the mechanism that causes the damage is exactly the same, even if it may move much more slowly. And the other fact is no one knows for certain how to construct a building that is guaranteed to survive an EF5 tornado. Just a thought.
Filed under: caffeinated squirrels, lost marbles, porch lights out | Tagged: earthquake, Exelon, Illinois, media, nuclear power plant, power plants, seiche, tsunami | Comments Off on Nuclear power plants are not safe or economical. Period.