My perception is that the reaction of the citizen on the street is much different this time than it was for TMI. For one thing, in the 30 years since TMI it has become obvious that what we said at the time – that no one was harmed in the accident or its aftermath – was true. The only harm was to the stockholders and ratepayers of the utility, GPU.
For another thing there is the Internet. The major media outlets caterwauled about the end of the world as usual but this time people had other sources for their information, including directly from places like IAEA who were in the loop.
Just like at TMI, nobody off the plant site has been harmed and it is unlikely that any of the plant workers will have been exposed enough to matter. The occupational limits are set so conservative that relaxing them for this incident left plenty of safety margin.
In short, the nuclear industry in the free world has achieved something no other human endeavor has ever achieved – safety perfection. That’s something to be mighty proud of.
A couple of days ago I read about a Fox News commissioned poll that was designed to measure the support for nuclear power in the US in the post Fukushima environment. It was heartening to see that support had only slipped about 2 points and was still in the 60% range. Vastly different from the immediate post-TMI environment.
Polls are one thing but vastly more important is for you to contact your elected representatives and the NRC and make it clear that your support for the nuclear option is as strong as ever. It’s also important to let them know that you don’t want to see the industry crippled with “Lessons Learned” modifications. Something like a third of the RegGuide 1.97 (TMI Lessons Learned) required modifications have since been rescinded as either impractical or un-necessary. That was obvious from the get-go but the utilities, er, the ratepayers had to fork over the money for the modifications nonetheless. And then fork over more money to remove them.
While you’re at it you can also lend support for the process of converting nuclear weapon plutonium into reactor fuel. This is being done on a pilot scale at the Savannah River Reservation . This so-called “MOX” or Mixed Oxide Fuel burns in a commercial power reactor almost identically to regular fuel. TVA is going to be the test bed for this fuel at its Sequoyah and Watts Bar plants.
MOX is vitally important. The fuel itself is almost free, coming, as it is, from decommissioned nuclear weapons. There’s enough weapons grade plutonium laying around in storage to fuel power reactors for decades to come. At the same time it reduces the possibility of proliferation from near-zero to zero.
This is an important turning point in the US for nuclear energy. First TMI and now Fukushima demonstrate that engineered safeguards and defense in depth, the two bedrocks that nuclear plant design is built upon really do work. The “lesson learned” from this should be that even the old design plants are very safe and that modern plants should be built in this country to reduce our dependency on off-shore energy sources.