This blog is primarily about pandemic flu, but I cannot ignore what is happening in Japan. Many of the issues associated with preparing for a high CFR pandemic also apply to the once-in-a-thousand year catastrophe currently unfolding there.
The 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami has killed tens of thousands of people directly. Many more are currently homeless and do not have access to food and water. A considerable amount of infrastructure has been destroyed. The value of personal and national preparedness have never been more obvious.
One of the issues discussed by those of interested in preparing for a high CFR pandemic in the past is the dependency of nuclear power plants on electricity to safely operate. They cannot simply be shut off, like most other sources of energy. There is a shut down procedure that requires electricity to be available. If electricity from the Grid is no longer available, backup generators supply the necessary electricity. However, as we all now know, these generators were disabled by the tsumani in Japan. Hence, several nuclear power plants in Japan lost electricity from both the Grid and backup generators.
The radioactive materials that are used in nuclear power plants must be cooled, even after the fission process is stopped. If not, they can reach incredibly high temperatures as a result of “decay heat”. If this process is not stopped, they will become so hot that the structures intended to contain them are damaged, either as a result of melting or explosions. Unfortunately, such damage appears to be occuring at several reactors in Japan. This has resulted in leakage of radiation into the environment.
Most people fear radiation. And rightly so, in my opinion. Even relatively low levels of radiation can cause cancer and mutations that will affect future generations. For the record, I am a proponent of nuclear power and have advocated its use in previous blogs, so I am not in the “anti-nuke” camp. However, any technology has risks, including nuclear power. I believe those risks are being underplayed in the current situation due to ignorance and defensiveness on the part of proponents of nuclear energy.
In my next blog, I will discuss the biological effects of exposure to radiation.