Soothing the jitters

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Soothing the jitters

The government keeps underplaying health and safety hazards amid fears in Japan and around the globe over radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was slammed by the earthquake and tsunami two weeks ago.

The government maintains that our nuclear plants are protected by quadruple-fold safety measures and would survive any disaster. It says that there is no possibility of radioactive material reaching Korea by water or air because of the earth’s rotation and the wind’s direction.

But the public remains wary of such lazy and sanguine explanations. We have seen with the mad cow scare that public jitters, when unaddressed, can lead to major social unrest. It could cost the country its 30-year-old nuclear reactor industry.

The government should first talk straight to the public about the simplest issues: What are the chances of a mega-earthquake disrupting nuclear reactors and the safety measures against tsunamis along Korea’s coastlines?

It also should tell how much it would cost to build a reactor strong enough to withstand a 7.0-magnitude earthquake so that the public knows the cost and risks of operating nuclear reactors. The public also wants to know how safe the reactors being constructed along the Yellow Sea are.

Making up for the government’s opaqueness, nuclear reactor specialists are speaking out and making suggestions through various platforms. Some say authorities need to build concrete walls near the reactor complexes even if they are on land at an altitude of 10 meters (33 feet).

Some are demanding reinforcements to the intake structure so that sudden pressure in the pipes doesn’t damage cooling systems in the reactors. Some also advise construction of walls around nuclear reactors to protect them against tsunamis. Some suggest establishing quake detecting stations on land and sea around the East Sea coast. The government should pay heed to these ideas.

At stake is our nuclear reactor industry, which President Chun Doo Hwan decided to launch in 1986. But plummeting international coal prices during the time raised skepticism over the need for nuclear reactors. In April that year, the worst-ever nuclear crisis occurred at Chernobyl. Still, we pushed ahead with nuclear power, culminating in technology developments that led to a multibillion-dollar export deal last year.

The government must do more - and better - to assure the public.
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