What is going on with the Japanese nuclear reactors is, without question, a terrible event
that can possibly add more hardship onto an already unspeakable tragedy. The explosions and the threat of a radiation leak are troubling, and Japanese engineers and scientists are doing everything humanly possible to contain the situation. Yes, there is a threat of a nuclear meltdown-- but there is also a chance that an asteroid will slam into the Earth on December 12, 2012, or that the next time you cross the street a semi will hit you. Opponents of nuclear energy in the United States ought not to politicize this horrible tragedy in their attempts to stop the spread of the cleanest and most efficient, environmentally-friendly source of energy that we have.
The media is comparing the threat to Chernobyl and some politicians
are calling for a complete moratorium on the spread of nuclear energy. This is nothing more than sensationalist fearmongering. The Chernobyl disaster was caused by the absurd inefficiencies of the Soviets and massive flaws in the power plant's design. The primary problematic power plant in Japan has safeguard after safeguard installed, including a special container around the reactor built specifically for this kind of disaster situation. Should the container be breached, the Japanese government already has things in place to pour concrete over it as was done to contain Chernobyl.
It is worth noting that the facility itself was fairly aged--forty years, I read in one article--and that newer designs have even more safeguards and redundancies to prevent this type of thing. It is also worth noting that this facility withstood one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history, and a subsequent tsunami-- and yet, despite this, the disaster is unfolding very, very slowly, meaning that the safeguards were mostly doing their job and that the Japanese are doing a good job at attempting to avert this disaster. These types of disasters do not happen frequently; seeking a nuclear moratorium because of this event is no different than refusing to step on a plane because they crash or get taken over occasionally.
Disasters happen, and we are usually well-prepared for them. Some are more severe than we can possibly imagine, and they test and endanger us. Rather than living in fear that such disasters will happen all the time, we should focus on--once this crisis is over--learning about what went wrong and what went right with these reactors in Japan, and working to address or implement whatever is discovered. We need to take this opportunity to make nuclear power better, more efficient, and more safe than it already is for these once-in-a-lifetime natural disasters. And this problem is just that: one caused by a severe natural disaster, not the incompetence of engineers or operators. As our country continues the debate over nuclear power, we should keep that fact in mind; it's a problem, yeah, but it is a rare one-- and one that we are getting much better at preparing for and addressing. There are real fears and concerns over nuclear energy, and what Japan is facing right now is a horrible situation on top of a heartbreaking tragedy that I hope they can overcome, but we should take the opportunity to learn how to make this clean and efficient power better and safer for our use-- not retreat into sensationalism and ban even the thought of pursuing nuclear energy.