Well, that's just it. Who said anything, anywhere, is invulnerable to disaster? At 9.0, this was Japan's biggest earthquake and could be the fourth largest ever recorded (it was even detected in Pennsylvania). Perhaps the standard shouldn't be whether Japan's reactor was "invulnerable" but whether it succeeded by taking such a beating without threatening much human life?
The damaged reactors are ruined, but so what? Cars are designed to be ruined after a major accident too. We routinely, and wisely, trade salvageability for survivability. Few skyscrapers in the United States can withstand a 9.0 earthquake; should we stop making tall buildings?
More to the point, much of the discussion about what this means for American nuclear energy leaves out that even the Japanese reactors are 30 years out of date compared with new designs. So-called Generation III plants have passive cooling systems that do not depend on the electricity grid. Hence any moratorium on new nuclear construction -- as being discussed in Congress -- would prevent building plants that have leapfrogged the problems we see in Japan.
And yet, many in the industry fear that the unscientific hysteria over the Japanese reactor will deal a mortal blow to nuclear power. You would at least think that climate change activists, who want fossil-free energy (and to bolster the reputation of scientists) would be throwing coolant on the public meltdown. After all, a major backlash against nuclear will be a boon not for wind and solar -- still profoundly inadequate to our energy needs -- but for coal and natural gas.
Of course the situation is grave. And who knows what the lessons of this tragedy will be? But rather than worry about letting this crisis go to waste, this strikes me as a great moment to simply cope.
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