March 14th, 2011
06:09 PM ET

Letters to the President: #784 'What we don't know about nukes'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: Japan is scrambling as I write this to contain problems within several nuclear reactors.

Dear Mr. President,

You live your life, you think you’ve learned a few things, and then, lo and behold, some event comes along that suggests maybe you know nothing. That’s a bit how I am feeling amid all this reporting about Japan’s nuclear reactors.

Related: Blast, cooling system breakdown spread fears of nuclear radiation

I have done plenty of stories over the years about nuclear facilities, and I’ve read about their redundant safety systems - how they are designed to withstand every calamity ranging from a natural disaster to a terrorist attack. And I must say that it has all looked rather convincing.

If you approach the question of whether nuclear power is safe from a purely non-partisan, non-ideological point of view, I can see how you might conclude that it is a reasonable alternative (or addition) to all our other energy sources, once you calculate the risk/benefit ratio. But then something like the Japan quake and tsunami occurs and it feels as if all the calculations go out the window. As I understand it, there were at least three separate systems in place to prevent a meltdown, and all of them have either outright failed or been rendered less than fully effective by the combination of events there, and now it is not clear what is going to happen.

Producer's Notebook: On the road to Sendai
What once were people’s homes is now just a pile of rubble. We found clothes, dolls, wedding albums and countless cars as far as we could see. (Photo Credit: Ismael Estrada/CNN)
March 14th, 2011
12:00 PM ET

Producer's Notebook: On the road to Sendai

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer
@IshEstradaCNN on Twitter

Editor’s note: AC360° Producer Ismael Estrada is traveling in Japan with Anderson Cooper and CNN photojournalist Neil Hallsworth. Tune in to AC360° beginning at 10pm ET to get the latest from Japan.

(CNN) - On our way up to Sendai, Japan, we passed dozens upon dozens of vehicles lining village streets. People were lining up for blocks waiting for fuel from gas stations that were selling what little they had remaining. Hundreds of residents were lining up waiting for grocery stores to open - stores that were sold out of water and many necessary food items.

Once we made our way into the seaside city of Sendai the wreckage left in the wake of the tsunami was overwhelming. Vehicles were tossed all over mud-filled streets. Some cars were inside buildings that only a few days ago were open for business.

As we drove closer to residential areas we couldn’t believe the destruction in front of us. Anderson, photojournalist Neil Hallsworth and I made our way into the wreckage - what once were people’s homes is now just a pile of rubble. We found clothes, dolls, wedding albums and countless cars as far as we could see. Homes were literally ripped apart and tossed aside.

As we were in the middle of all the rubble it was hard to imagine that, at one time, this was a place people here called home.

Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • AC361° • Ismael Estrada
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