Friday, March 18, 2011

Hot (Fuel) Rods

It's interesting that the main threat from the Fukushima nuclear mess arises from spent fuel rods — that is to say, the waste products of power generation. The spent rods, busily boiling away their containment pools, appear to be considerably more dangerous that the reactors themselves.

Here in the United States, we've been trying to figure out what to do with spent nuclear fuel for about forty years now. Burying everything under a geologically unstable mountain out on an Indian reservation was a popular idea for a while, but moving the stuff down the interstates to Utah or wherever was a lot less popular. Right now, keeping all the waste on-site — like Fukishima — is the official solution. Communities that want the plants get to keep the waste too — forever.

The Chinese, who have been opening nuclear plants at an unbelievable rate in recent years, just put a hold on. I guess even the Communist Party recognizes the pervasive corruption of their management class, and Japan got them wondering just how many nuclear plants have been built with substandard concrete and duct tape. The US management class, one presumes, is a bit more subtle in its corruption, but Americans have plenty of opportunity to observe (from Enron through Madoff and beyond) that a quick buck often is irresistible.

Yes, Mr. President, I understand that building nuclear plants is the fastest way to reduce out carbon footprint without (heaven forbid) compromising our profligate lifestyles. Just the same, I think a little rethinking is in order.

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