Thursday, October 22, 2009

German media: full court press against nuclear?

Though the details are not yet clear, it seems certain that the new governing coalition will make good on its word and not continue to close down nuclear power plants in accordance with the road map specified in 2000. What surprises me, however, is how German media are reacting.

I wrote recently that a German weatherman made a completely unnecessary comment that could be construed as anti-nuclear. Last night, things got even more obvious when two consecutive shows reported at length on the trouble we are having with nuclear waste. Both focus on the fact that we do not have a final repository (one that would safely store the waste for hundreds of thousands of years) for this waste anywhere.

The shows, the first of which can be streamed here, discusses how nuclear waste has been simply dumped in the ocean (and some of the containers are already open) by all countries; how Russia is simply sinking its nuclear submarines; how medium- contaminated nuclear waste continues to be legally (!) pumped into the ocean in a four-kilometer pipeline from Le Havre, France, and elsewhere (UK); and is sent to Russia, allegedly for reprocessing, where most of it is simply left outside (apparently, only 20 percent of this waste can really be reprocessed, with the other 80 percent remaining, well, waste); how German repositories (especially Asse) are already leaking and will probably be a catastrophe; and how the Swiss are working on an alternative type of repository that looks promising. The show is 30 minutes long.

And if you thought that was enough, then you might not have been ready for the show that followed. Entitled "Foreign Journal," this show does not seem to be available as a stream at the moment, but you can see here that one of the three topics covered was nuclear waste.

Update: just click on "Strahlende Gefahr" to the right, and the show runs in a pop-up window.

Interestingly, I cannot see any major reaction to the shows. In the US, I would expect such reporting to be criticized as typical liberal propaganda. But in Germany, the public has just elected a coalition that promised to extend the service lives of nuclear plants, and the public reaction seems to be one of honest concern: "Do we really want that?"

Though the German report does not mention it, in the US spent fuel rods are "temporarily" left in pools covered by concrete ceilings on the grounds of the plant itself. We have been focusing on terrorist attacks against nuclear power plants by asking whether such structures could withstand the impact of a large commercial jet. But the pools began filling up decades ago, so we began to put these spent fuel rods in what are called "dry casks" -- essentially barrels left out in the open, protected from above by nothing. You could fly a Cessna into these babies.

As US power company Entergy approvingly puts it, this option of leaving the casks outdoors is "remarkably simple."

So some of our most toxic nuclear waste just sits outdoors in unprotected lots called "storage pads," waiting for us to come up with a safe repository for hundreds of thousands of years...

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