Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Japanese Catastrophe, Nuclear Energy and the Global Economy

The earthquake: a magnitude of 9.0 is among the most powerful in history (others include: 1960 - Valdivia Chile (9.5), 1954 - Prince William Sound Alaska (9.2), 2004 - Sumatra Indonesia (9.1), and 1952 - Kamchatka Russia (9.0). Its geologic effects included creating massive tsunamis, shifting the Earth's axis by about 4 inches and moving parts of Japan's eastern coast about 12 feet closer to North America. In addition to significant loss of life and destruction in the country's northern region, the damage to several nuclear reactors in the area is still unknown. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there was a "significant chance" that radioactive fuel rods had partially melted in two reactors at the Fukushima Daiich nuclear power facility. While Hidehiko Nishiyama, a senior official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said the core of one of the reactors had undergone some melting. Note: documents from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plants, suggest that their facilities were tested to withstand up to a magnitude 7.9 earthquake.

MY TAKE: This catastrophe reminds us of the fragility of life and the harsh results that the forces of nature can deliver. Additionally, the global nuclear power debate will intensify. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered safety checks of the country's 17 nuclear power stations, while 60,000 anti-nuclear protestors gathered in Stuttgart. At the same time, Chinese Vice Minister of Environmental Protection Zhang Lijun said, "Some lessons we learn from Japan will be considered in the making of China's nuclear power plans ... but China will not change its determination and plan for developing nuclear power." Bottom line - recent events in Japan and other areas around the world have increased the level of uncertainty for the global economy.

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