Japan Disaster Looms Large for Those of Us in the 'Automation World'

March 14, 2011
As we continue to get news of the tragic events in Japan, I’m often sucked into the coverage with mentions of process control breakdowns (water cooling pump/valves) at these nuclear powers plants, and disruptions in manufacturing throughout the island nation, the world’s third largest economy.
Today, Yahoo Finance’s Caroline Valetkevitch clarified some of the far-reaching impact.  Explosions, damage and possible melting of fuel in reactor cores have thrown nuclear power industry related stocks into a tail spin—and not only in Japan. News that Japanese Nuclear Energy officials are pumping in sea water to cool rods in a last ditch effort is not reassuring to the global community or the stock market. Perhaps even more disturbing to the general public is, apparently from whatever damage the earthquake and tsunami did, Japanese officials are now unable to determine what is happening inside the core at some of these facilities. In an industry steeped in instrumentation, measurement and control, flying blind is confidence shattering.  “The Japan disaster will likely delay the development of any nuclear power plants in the United States,” says Peter Sorrentino, an investment portfolio manager. “Nuclear power probably gets extended further into the future.” A global economy that is ever opportunistic, however, sees shares of solar energy-related companies on the rise. How fickle we are. The disaster extends far beyond nuclear power as well.  Damage to Japanese ports will affect the global supply chain, and Toyota is suspending production at all Japanese car plants. Economic impact has to be practically impossible to predict. How Mother Nature can still exercise such ruthless control of our planet should be a lesson for all. I will watch with great interest as these cores are brought under control and dialogue begins about what we could do in the future to be sure we can maintain monitoring and control, even in the face of natural disaster. Or, perhaps we will never be able to offer 100% accident free nuclear energy.  Let the debate continue. More on a look into the “black box” of a nuclear energy plant.

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