This evening our state legislature spent a good portion of their debate time talking about Iowa’s energy needs. Included in the discussion was a proposal to build another nuclear power plant somewhere within our borders. I say “another” because, yes, Iowa already has one nuclear facility in Palo (west and a bit north of Cedar Rapids).
I lived in CR for more than six years during the last millenium (ok, it was the 1990s, but still…). One of the first things I remember about moving there was opening the phone book and seeing the escape routes should there be problems at Palo. Not surprisingly, I was (along with all other Cedar Rapidians) in the “drive away really fast” region.
Nuclear power has become an important topic of discussion in the last 50 days or so, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone, either. The massive earthquake and resultant tsunami in the Sendai region of Japan also served to set in motion the worst nuclear disaster since the worst nuclear disaster…which is the brief subject of Today’s History Lesson.
Of course, I’m referring to the explosion and nuclear meltdown at the Chernobyl power plant. Located near Pripyat in what used to be the Ukranian SSR, the plant blew up on April 26, 1986, spewing molten graphite chunks, pieces of control rods, and radiation all over the region.
It’s somewhat ironic that the disaster, which occurred in the wee morning hours, was actually the result of a disaster prevention test. A scheduled shutdown test somehow went haywire, and the plant’s output, normally around 3.2GW (gigawatts) of power, spiked to 33GW, and Chernobyl blew its top.
In the immediate aftermath, 30 people were killed, mostly plant workers and fireman called in to put out the fires. They were exposed to massive doses of radiation and died within weeks. But there were far greater consequences looming. Eventually, a bunch of concrete was poured over the reactor to entomb it and prevent the release of more radiation. But even that required massive manpower (250,000 or more men) because, as I understand it, the workers could only stand over the reactor area for a minute or so before they were replaced…that’s how long it took for a person to receive a lifetime’s dosage of radiation.
Of course, Pripyat, a city of 50,000 people, became a complete ghost town. And the radiation fallout was carried all over the place. There are now estimates of deaths associated with Chernobyl that approach seven figures.
Is the disaster at the Fukushima plants in Japan equivalent to Chernobyl? It doesn’t appear so, even though there’s this nuclear event scale and both disasters are rated at 7.
Will Iowa build a second nuclear facility? I’m sure there’s a ton of debate yet to be had concerning the subject. There’s no doubt to the benefits that nuclear power offers. But one need look no further than the western Ukraine to see an example of how bad things can go.