Americans who have been watching with trepidation the nuclear tragedy in Japan can't help but look at their own backyard. And with good reason. There have been three global nuclear disasters in three decades. I'd wager that few Americans could name the nearest nuclear site from their home.
The U.S. government has pegged the danger zone around the Fukushima plant in Japan at 50 miles. That number "is certainly going to raise questions about the safety of those who live more than 10 miles from the plants in the U.S.," Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear expert Edwin Lyman told Mother Jones in a good rundown on nuclear plants and their proximity to our major urban areas. The site has a handy table of nuclear sites and nearby populated areas, so check that out.
The nuclear spot that has been getting the most press is Indian Point, merely 35 miles from Manhattan. The New York Times reports that Indian Point officials will be revisiting their safety standards:
"I have no doubt there will be changes we make in response to this event," said John McCann, vice president of nuclear safety and licensing for Entergy. But, he said, he was "in no position" to say what they would be.
Mr. McCann reassured the legislators that Indian Point had been designed to withstand an earthquake much stronger than any on record in the region, though not one as powerful as the quake that rocked Japan. He said repeatedly that the greater threat to public safety in Japan had come not from the earthquake, but from the tsunami.
It was the tsunami, he said, that washed away the tanks of fuel for the emergency generators and left the Japanese unable to keep the plant's rectors cooled. Indian Point has several sources of power and water that should preclude a similar situation there, he said.
Meanwhile, the political fallout is still up in the air, so to speak. Here's Rep. Ed Markey telling it like it is:
By the way, I couldn't pass this up. Ultra-right commentator Ann Coulter offered this piece of reassurance on Fox News shortly after the disaster in Japan: "There is a growing body of evidence that radiation in excess of what the government says are the minimum amounts you should be exposed to are actually good for you and reduce cases of cancer."
If that's a talking point that nuclear supporters are going to roll with, then by all means!
-- Brian Foley