“President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended the use of nuclear energy despite the calamity in Japan where a nuclear power plant leaked radiation in the wake of a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

“The president told Pittsburgh television station KDKA that all energy sources have their downsides but that the U.S. — which gets 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power — needs to look at the full array of them.

“The president said facilities in the U.S. are closely monitored and built to withstand earthquakes, even though nothing’s failsafe. Proponents of nuclear power fear their efforts to win over the public to the safety of their industry have been dealt a tremendous blow by the disaster in Japan.”

“Let us be clear. Compared to the real disaster at hand, the hypothetical threat from the nuclear stations is zero. The reactors in question were all shut down four days ago. The control rods have been inserted, and the cores have been salted with boron. It is physically impossible for them to sustain a fission reaction of any kind at this point, let alone cause another Chernobyl. Only the fission-byproduct decay heat remains, and it is fading fast as the short half-life material (which accounts for most of the radioactivity) performs its decay reactions and ceases to exist. At this point, the total heating power in the reactors is only about 0.3 percent of what it was when the reactors were operating. That means that a system previously capable of generating 1,300 megawatts of heat would now yield 4 megawatts thermal — about the same as that emitted by a dozen 100-horsepower automobile engines. The Japanese engineers can certainly deal with that with water cooling. And even if they were to stop, there just isn’t enough heating power in the system anymore to generate a dangerous plume of radioactive materials, which is doubly impossible at this point since all the more active short half-life stuff is already gone.

“No, the threat does not come from the power plant, but from panic spread by press misinformation. After Three Mile Island, the press spread hysteria as well, but at least there conditions in the rest of society were normal, and so the only victim of the press campaign was the nuclear industry.”

“The stories in this small, central Pennsylvania town, population just under 10,000, are not hard to come by – almost everybody remembers where they were on March 28, 1979, when the nuclear reactor appeared on the verge of catastrophe. But if the memories are sharp, their fears are not.

“Interviews with many of the town’s residents reveal that most of them rarely give the plant – whose silos and plumes of steam are visible on the horizon – a second thought, even in the wake of the nuclear crisis in Japan. Terri Herr, 43, a waitress at a local diner, was in fifth grade in March 1979. Her words summed up the feelings of many: ‘I was scared then, but it doesn’t scare me anymore.'”

“One can argue that the location chosen for these plants in earthquake-prone areas was faulty. One cannot argue that the world would be cleaner and safer without nuclear power. Between 1995 and 2005, U.S. nuclear generation avoided the emission of 41 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 16.9 million tons of nitrogen oxide and 7.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

“According to the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, nuclear power plants were responsible for 36% of the total voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions reported by U.S. companies in 2005. If we had built all the nuclear power plants planned in 1979 when the non-event at Three Mile Island occurred, it’s likely we’d be both energy independent and Kyoto-compliant today

“Even if you count the increased risk of cancer in the aftermath of a reactor mishap — and Fukushima is not even close to Chernobyl — consider that the OECD’s 2008 Environmental Outlook calculates that fine-particle outdoor air pollution caused nearly 1 million premature deaths in the year 2000, and 30% of them were energy-related. That was just one year.”

“Angela Merkel’s U-turn on nuclear energy became even more gear-crunching on Tuesday when she announced the temporary closure of seven of Germany’s nuclear power stations.

“The chancellor said that reactors built before 1980 would be taken offline while an urgent review of their safety was carried out…

“This latest announcement came just a day after Germany’s coalition government announced a three-month delay in its decision to extend the lifespan of Germany’s 17 elderly nuclear power stations.”

“Speaking on radio station 550 KFYI, McCain said that although he’s not ready to ‘abandon’ nuclear power, he’s open to reviewing how and where it’s used in the United States, once the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan is resolved.

“‘I’m not prepared by the way to say that we should abandon nuclear power because I think it’s a major contributor [to] our energy needs but I am prepared, once this is over, to make an evaluation as to whether our nuclear power plans can continue,’ McCain said.”