Hurricane Sandy offers an intense comparison between fusion an fission. The region’s only functional fusion plant, the Sun, handicapped by distance, stunted by late season daylight hours and limited by the sunlit area of the North Atlantic still sent massive energy into the northeast coast of the U.S. hammering the area with rain, winds and waves.
Civilization has seen fit to face the risks of such events and build right to the seashore, save investments with distribution power lines above ground in an area naturally a forest pitting biomass against wind with electricity delivery at stake, and individuals failed to heed fair warning with loss of life.
But of the 34 nuclear fission plants in hurricane Sandy’s path, 24 kept providing power, 7 were already shutdown for scheduled maintenance and 3 experienced automatic protective actions due to storm related disturbances in the grid or in supporting systems. The crews at the plants took appropriate actions and there was never any risk to the public.
Fission nuclear power won.
While cites and political jurisdictions have permitted shortsighted folks to invest and build at the water’s edge, and public policy provides a means by insurance for those risk takers to spread the risk to the rest of us, Mother Nature is far more circumspect.
Nature has long since adapted to the hurricane with sand dunes, estuaries, and specialized plant marshes and uses time as a great leveler in the energy assault and the defense. Nature knows these storms have come before and will come again.
The U.S. nuclear plant fleet, about a third in fact are in the area, have engineered in hardening against external events, and the potential to reduce the vulnerability of nuclear energy facilities to infrastructure damage that happens outside of the facility.
Sandy is no nuclear event at all – the opposite of Fukushima.
Yet the expert Chicken Little’s of “The Sky Is Falling” class found plenty of so called journalists working in the “popular” media to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt to the intellectually challenged minds where advertisers believe their goods and services will also find irrational personal disposable income. Millions of impressions were made but the power keeps on coming, steady, reliable and safe.
In a 1:1 contest fusion would conquer fission by a huge margin. But nature, human ingenuity and experience have come to bear on the matter of providing power to tens of millions of people. Fission’s record has another check in the “Good” column.
The reality isn’t fusion vs. fission, of course. It’s between well-informed vs. tabloid informed. Your humble writer suspects a large part of the human race just prefers the hype, excitement and fears of the tabloid approach to “news”. We even see it in political campaigns with negative advertising reaching new highs in volume and new lows in content. Joseph Goebbels would be astonished at the success – most people don’t even bother to distinguish between “drama news” and hard news.
It’s exasperating. The whim of the body politic is voluntarily at the mercy of the mass media.
Actually . . . in a democracy it’s quite dangerous to everyone – far more so than nuclear power.