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Nuclear tragedy

Posted 29/03/2011 by KatieJ

With the continuing coverage of Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster, the rest of the world has also seen a major upheaval in its views about the future of nuclear energy. The environmental extremists have seized the day by claiming that the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima facility owned by Tokyo Electric Power demonstrates the folly of pursuing nuclear power as an option for combating climate change and the problem for the rest of us is that governments around the world seem to be listening.

Everywhere except France, where the population stands fully behind nuclear power - and why not? In a survey commissioned by state-owned energy company EDF carried out shortly after the Japanese disaster occurred n mid-March, 55% of respondents said they were not in favour of a proposal by the main French green party to drop nuclear power; around 42% said they supported the proposal. And 70 of those polled said they believed that a nuclear accident like that in Japan could happen in France but 62% said they trusted EDF, which runs all of France’s 58 reactors, to prevent any risk of such an accident.

The French even pressed ahead with their nuclear power programme after the accident at Chernobyl in 1986 – and why? Because they enjoy paying the resulting lower energy bills, compared with the rest of Europe, and can point to the virtually zero carbon dioxide emissions of their energy sector.

Before we watch the world’s governments follow like sheep the siren song of the environmentalists - or should they be described as Judas sheep – some sensible thought is needed.

Firstly it should be remembered that the Fukushima nuclear facility is old, dating back to the 1960s, but more to the point who allowed the facility to be built in that location in the first place? As one commentator has put it: ‘An earthquake-and-tsunami zone crowded with 127m people is an unwise place for 54 reactors.’

In one sentence, the foolhardiness is laid bare, the same foolhardiness that has placed reactors in California adjacent to the San Andreas Fault – that continuation of the Pacific’s Ring of Fire. And the US also has reactors of a similar vintage – identical or very similar to those in Japan.

But just because of foolishness in the past, there is no reason to condemn nuclear developments around the world with same argument. Certainly there should be concerns about building future reactors close to the sea, when sea levels are forecast to rise as a result of the very situation the nuclear plants are being built to ameliorate. And, yes, they shouldn’t be built immediately adjacent to highly populated regions, but that still leaves plenty of alternatives. And finally, we have learnt the lessons from these earlier designs and safety controls have been developed to make the possibility of a melt-down far smaller than before. All this is not to say that nuclear power is totally safe – nothing in this world is or ever can be – but the safety concern is more about the waste products from nuclear power generation than the actual reactors themselves. Again, however, it would be foolish not to recognise that the potential impact of a nuclear accident goes far beyond any accident in other sectors of the energy sector. Someone falling off a roof while installing a solar panel represents a tragedy for the individual but it is only a tragedy for that individual, and his or her immediate family. As we have seen in the past, the whole world can be affected by a nuclear incident. The Japanese government has already said that it will put greater emphasis in the future on solar power generation – rightly so as they have a number of the leading companies in this sector on the spot – but solar energy can only ever be part of the power generation mix, along with wind, tidal, hydroelectric, biofuels, gas and coal – and nuclear. We cannot and must not allow ourselves to be browbeaten into turning away from nuclear power – it isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one of the few technologies that may mean we can survive on the planet – unless of course there is a major accident.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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  • Anonymous said:
    22/06/2013 03:51

    HouseI agree, I'm kind of surprised the U.S. doesn't reposnd for activitely too This is horrible, but I think we are too focused on getting BP to do all the work. I think we should be more involved. After all, BP said they will pay, and we need to get this cleaned up ASAP!There are certain types of bacteria that will inject the oil effectively convert the oil into a more useful form for the ocean.

  • Anonymous said:
    21/06/2013 11:55

    I thank you humbly for shirang your wisdom JJWY

  • Anonymous said:
    24/05/2011 12:32

    What attention has been paid to the huge cost of safely storing nuclear waste from power stations, for the many thousands of years that the nuclear materials remain radioactive?

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