Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Nuclear Policy Contradiction: Nuclear Drones in the Era of Fukushima

Nick Fielding, writing for The Guardian (4/2/12):

American scientists have drawn up plans for a new generation of nuclear-powered drones capable of flying over remote regions of the world for months on end without refuelling.

The blueprints for the new drones, which have been developed by Sandia National Laboratories – the US government's principal nuclear research and development agency – and defence contractor Northrop Grumman, were designed to increase flying time "from days to months" while making more power available for operating equipment, according to a project summary published by Sandia.
Luckily, for humanity:

A halt has been called to the work for now, due to worries that public opinion will not accept the idea of such a potentially hazardous technology, with the inherent dangers of either a crash – in effect turning the drone into a so-called dirty bomb – or of its nuclear propulsion system falling into the hands of terrorists or unfriendly powers.
 Meanwhile, elsewhere on planet Earth (The Economic Times - 4/3/12):

Scientists have found radioactive material from the crippled Fukushima nuclear reactor in tiny sea creatures and ocean water some 600 km off the coast of Japan, revealing the extent of the release and the direction pollutants might take in a future environmental disaster.  

Buesseler said the marine radiation levels are comparable to those seen after past accidents, such as Chernobyl accident in 1986.  
Are the leaders of the developed nations mad? Yes, Sandia Labs and Northrop Grumman have halted the project, which we are told was only a conceptual exercise.

Nonetheless, why are taxpayer dollars being spent on such a project? The U.S. is in serious economic distress. Fielding doesn't report on how much this conceptual exercise cost. Nonetheless, a look back at the huge budgets and huge cost overruns with past defense industry projects suggests to me that considerable resources were probably spent on this "conceptual exercise."

The whole project seems so risky and so potentially dangerous that it seems absurd to imagine that intelligent engineers and scientists were willing to spend more than a few seconds on this project.

Have they not been paying attention to the news from Fukushima? Including reports that Reactor 4 of the complex still poses a major meltdown threat. Or the blog chatter reporting on Japanese citizens who have been recording and documenting extraordinarily high levels of radiation in major cities. The world hasn't fully accounted for the fall-out (literal and metaphorical) from the Fukushima disaster. Despite the fact that it still poses a major environmental and health risk to a large chunk of the globe, it's rarely a major topic of discussion in the U.S. mainstream media as of April 2012. The disaster will have a major effect on Japan for decades.

Let's hope that Western leaders learn from the Fukushima disaster and rethink Western nuclear policy, with an emphasis on safety and long-term security.

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