Frontline post-Fukushima documentary "Nuclear Aftershocks" airs tonight

[Video Link]

"Nuclear Aftershocks," the PBS Frontline documentary which Maggie described in a Boing Boing review as "brilliant," airs tonight online and on local PBS stations at 10pm. I've seen an advance copy, and I agree that it's excellent—though I'm admittedly biased, since I love everything Miles O'Brien does, and collaborate with him creatively from time to time. A preview of the documentary is above. They have some cool web extras up at the Frontline site, including a map of how much nuclear power each US state relies on.


  1. Gotta say I found it interesting, but somewhat lacking without any real discussion on alternatives to shutting down so many nuclear plants in the coming years. “No nukes” is fine and well, but from what I can read the alternatives are more deaths from pollution if you  replace the electricity with coal, or a lot of dark houses on still nights if you use wind/solar.

    I found the German fear of nuclear power (and corresponding faith in renewables) somewhat puzzling. Seems to me that if Germans were to consider strictly lives lost, then after last year’s events maybe there would be no more nuclear reactors in Germany, but surely they would have scorched the earth on all German organic farms by now as well…..

    1. I find the American fear of renewables (and corresponding faith in nuclear power) somewhat puzzling.

      1. Solar and wind can’t give you power when the sun and down and the wind isn’t blowing. There just aren’t enough batteries for those renewables to provide baseline power. I don’t fear still nights, but I acknowledge them.

        1. Yes they can, by energy storage. Norway plans to add massive amounts of pumped storage capacity in the near future. Energy-to-gas has just entered the German mass market.

    2. What is wrong with dark houses at night? we have enough solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro, in the US alone, to supply the whole world with electricity! 

      1. You’re kidding, right? Are you really saying that there’s nothing wrong with cutting power to residences whenever the sun goes down?

  2. Just watched it online. One thing that jumped out at me: about 2/3 of the way in, an MIT? Harvard? nuclear engineering professor says he doesn’t see any way to supply future energy “needs” (my quotation marks) without nuclear energy. He says he’ll be dead, and the interviewer will be dead, before renewables can step up. Then — and this is the problem part — that he’s “biased.”

    “Biased” is a loaded word adopted by climate change skeptics to challenge virtually any science-based support for climate change. In this case, the nuclear engineering professor is NOT biased. He has nothing to gain from wider adoption of nuclear technology, especially at this stage of his career. He does know enough about the technology to have an informed opinion. There’s nothing wrong with his sharing his opinion, and there’s nothing wrong with viewers’ accepting or rejecting his opinion, while respecting and valuing it.

  3. I caught the second half of it and found it quite interesting, especially the footage from Japan (Xeni, is any of this footage the stuff you were involved with?)

    I agree with the previous comments, though – the way the argument was handled (Miles O’Brien surely is pro-nuclear, as am I) was a little weak. Appropriate for PBS Frontline, perhaps, but given the interviews that were included I think a stronger argument could have been made that while there are risks, the immense positives outweigh the risks.

    Which is what I think they were trying to say, but the pro-nuclear arguments were not presented as strongly as the cautions because of the way the pro-nuclear interviewees responded.

    BTW the Columbia geologist they interviewed is well-known in the geology community (legendary even), which is why I found his almost fear-mongering concern a bit surprising. I agree that the Indian Point plant is worth being concerned about, but the solution is to up its defenses – as they did at the VA plant that was also discussed – not to shut it down.

  4. i do not believe in nuclear energy…at this time.  we aren’t smart enough yet to deal with the “what ifs,” and the waste.  seems that we, as often times do, jumped into something without knowing entirely what we were getting into…

    i would like to see this country heavily invest in R & D towards energy for the current and coming century.  i think its going to get real medieval soon enough when things start getting dodgy with fuel and energy.

    i’m sure there are energy sources we haven’t realized yet, and i’ve always been fascinated by the thought of wave energy as the ocean is always on…

    it saddens me to think that our “leaders,” don’t see the value of a heavy, focused investment in clean, renewable energy.  new technologies, jobs, better environment, power.  and i’m not talking corrupt, politico pork projects.  getting rid of that is probably the first hurdle before real energy solutions are found, so, nothing will probably change in this country until it’s too late…

  5. Given the massive taxpayer support nuclear power has required over the past 60 years, it should be considered a socialist energy supply system. The Navy has proved it can operate reactors safely, but then the Navy doesn’t have bean-counters saying, “We don’t have to build the tsunami wall THAT high.”
    Cost comparisons with other energy sources cannot honestly be made until a final solution to the long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste is determined.
    The most disturbing portion of “Nuclear Aftershocks” to me was the class of smart, young engineers. I wonder where energy efficiency, renewables and the smart grid would be today if our best and brightest engineers has been working on sustainable energy systems for the past 60 years. Instead, they’ve worked in a very expensive nuclear rat hole.

  6. Given his background, why doesn’t Miles O’Brien recommend matter/antimatter annihilation regulated by dilithium crystals?

  7. It is my hope that they show the REAL nuclear waste. Not the fuel, not the spent rods, but every glove, boot, paper towel, screwdriver… every bit of concrete and steel used in the containment, every turban and even the land itself will be “hot” for the next few million years… this is the real waste that nuclear power produces and it’s a lot!!! sooner or later they will be reprocessing all those materials into the recycling streem. So some day your bed frame may be made out of recycled steel from a nuclear plant? nothing is safe… no were to run as they keep lowering standards to make money…

  8. Sadly, I wasn’t able to catch the documentary (I just saw this post today). I do really like the map in one of the linked articles, though.

    I am proud of the fact that my state gets nearly 50% of it’s power from nuclear plants. While I’m a big proponent of renewables as well, they are not today the solution to every problem. In my state, the only practical renewable is wind and it doesn’t get much more inconstant than that. In my state, the only real alternative to nuclear is coal until we make huge progress in energy storage. I would very much, though, like to see more money spent on the transmission grid upgrades that would enable wider access to renewables where they are abundant.

    Another perk with nuclear energy in the US that is seldom mentioned is it’s ties to nuclear disarmament. A very substantial amount of nuclear fuel comes from dismantled Cold War era nuclear weapons and that acts as a definite pressure to dismantle more of them.

    1. I am proud of the fact that my state gets nearly 50% of it’s power from nuclear plants.
      Congratulations. The nuclear lobby did an excellent job then.

      Another perk with nuclear energy in the US that is seldom mentioned is it’s ties to nuclear disarmament.
      So US reactors are pacifist while Iran’s are belligerent? I heard the US will spend  700bnUSD on nukes during the next 10 years.

  9. “…I think a stronger argument could have been made that while there are risks, the immense positives outweigh the risks.”

    This is an immoral argument that can only be based on misinformation or ignorance.  The poor of Northeast Japan must be poisoned because they cannot leave contaminated environments, but a lot of other people sleep just fine at night.

    Misinformation about radiation poisoning is a concerted effort centered around the IAEA, whose job is to promote nuclear, although it is erroneously labeled in the press as a “watchdog.”  Their reports are suspect and deliberately undercount casualties, as in the case of Chernobyl where as many as a million people may have perished as a result of poisoned environments and internal exposure to radiation.  The World Health Organization 1995 study of Chernobyl was squashed and never published because of IAEA interference.

    Nuclear is an immoral industry that risks the health and safety of millions of other people’s children and is fundamentally immoral and indefensible.

    Geothermal heat mining can provide all the energy needed, but it is not being funded in accordance with its potential benefits, even as nuclear plants are getting desperately needed subsidies due to direct corruption of the political system.

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