Thursday, June 2, 2011

Germany's Nuclear Plans

This is my first attempt at blogging. I am dismayed at Germany's politically motivated decision to shut down all its nuclear power plants. I am a elementary particle physicist who did research in Germany for five years a long time ago. My forefathers were partially German and my father was born in Central Texas in a town called Fredericksburg where the paper was printed in Gothic style letters and many people spoke German. It is hard for most people to appreciate the change in German mentality caused by the second world war. There is a powerful feeling of mistrust of self, particularly as regards controversial social change. It is hard for today's German to support an exposed position of their government in military matters and, in this case, in an area closely associated with military weapons.

The Fukushima Daiichi powerplant breakdown has killed no one and is not clear that it has harmed anyone. The presence of multiple core meltdowns in a populated area is both unproductive and inconvenient, but that is a commercial problem, not one of health. Low-level radiation has little or no connection to cancer, regardless of the inaccurate portrayals of Hiroshima, 3 mile Island, and Chernobyl as health disasters, not including the effects of the actual bomb explosion in Hiroshima.

All things considered, nuclear power is preferred over all others from various points of view. The first is the availability of fuel. There is enough uranium in sea water to power the world for about 50,000 years. Second is the lack of pollution during normal operation and the ease of clean up in the case of an accident. Third is the uniform availability of the fuel which deemphasizes the importance of small countries like Saudi Arabia from a global security perspective.

I can only assume that Angela Merkel who is a nuclear physicist herself is acceding to the demands of the German environmentalists and Green party in order to expose their naivete' before the rest of the nuclear fuel economies of the world. Every source of power generates its own risk. But we have to be clear headed when we evaluate the amount of risk, which means not reading a newspaper or magazine written by an uneducated journalist trying to sell papers. The risk involved with nuclear reactors is very small, when seen from a global perspective. The waste problem is another red herring generated by peoples fear of nuclear weapons and the medias misunderstanding of nuclear waste material. “The solution to pollution is dilution.”

Radioactive material comes from the earth and it can be put back in the earth without problem. Of course, there are scientific considerations as to how to do that, but it's not a political question. The problem is much simpler than how to dispose on the material from the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

Radioactive materials and radioactivity are natural, and all the mishaps at nuclear plants pale in consideration with the natural background radiation due to cosmic rays from the cosmos. Please keep your eyes on the real risk of radiation. How many people have actually died? How many cases of cancer are directly tied to radiation? On the other hand, how many people die in gasoline fires? Relieve yourselves of nuclear anxiety. Inform yourselves by talking to a scientist. But don't listen to groups of scientists who gather for political purposes. The science is clear, you don't have to form a group to understand it.

I hope that the future includes further sources of nuclear energy involving the fusion as well as fission, but for now nuclear reactors, continuously upgraded, offer the best solution to our energy problems.

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