May 26 2011

Riding the post-Fukushima tide

Published by under Student blog entries

10 days ago, NPR posted a story about the fortunes of nuclear programs in the post-Fukushima world.  In short, they’re not good.  Japan’s post-tsunami nuclear crisis has essentially sent the world into a frenzy of anti-nuclear sentiment, and this appears to reflect up the policy ladder.  Germany as well as Japan for obvious reasons moving away from nuclear energy.

At first, this sentiment totally surprised me.  Have people forgotten that the earthquake off Japan was a natural disaster?  It’s not as if all power plants really are just ticking time bombs, that could melt down and bathe everything in that creepy glowing-green light at any time.  In Fukushima-daichi, it had to be caused by a natural disaster.  Is it really realistic to engineer everything to be improbable-event-worthy?  It’s not as if Germany will be getting any tsunamis any time soon.  At any rate, didn’t we know all of this before the Fukushima disaster?  How does this change anything?

Eventually I realized it’s more the extent of the damage and our total inability to mitigate the damage that scares people.  We’ve taken the precautions to ensure that most nuclear facilities won’t accidentally melt down, but once they do there is very little we can do.  NPR actually published another story regarding the current state of the Fukushima reactor.  Things certainly aren’t back to normal, and they won’t be for a while.  Not only that, but the effects won’t be gone for a frighteningly long time.

In a way, the effect is pretty similar to our own Deepwater Horizons spill.  Despite the persistent bedtime story that oil rigs / nuclear reactors are impregnable fortresses of safety and energy and butterflies, they do break.  And despite all of the theoretical reasons why this extent of disaster couldn’t or wouldn’t happen,  it did.  Fukushima broke the cognitive dissonance that most of the world had been under that suggested that maybe we’d be able to tackle Chernobyl this time around.  The truth is, we can’t.  The small but fierce atom hasn’t quite been domesticated yet.  All this said, I’m still not sure if this sudden and drastic retraction is totally justified.  Nuclear power is too lucrative not to be explored in some concept, and we can’t be scared off by natural disaster.

The nice thing that NPR seeks to point out here is that the void of energy left by nuclear energy has to filled with something.  In Germany, at least, that means more of an opportunity for renewable energy to gain a foothold in Europe, as it’s already a significant amount of power in Germany.  This forms a kind of positive feedback loop; more adoption means faster innovation which means more adoption.  Even as an environmental science major I’m still trying to be an optimist.  The two aren’t mutually exclusive; not yet, anyway.

Anyway, while you’re mulling over whether the world’s ending or not, here’s some nostalgia.

Robin Skouteris – Disco Boys And Girls (Various 70s hits Mashup) by Robin Skouteris

One response so far

One Response to “Riding the post-Fukushima tide”

  1.   mespoon 04 Jun 2011 at 3:13 am

    I have to say I agree with you; we should not abandon nuclear power because of freak accidents. Letting a few bad apples ruin the bunch is not good global energy policy. Sure my ex girlfriends are all the devil, but am I going to stop dating? No. I have some details on the Fukushima incident you might find interesting. According to my professor, the engineers at the plant actually had an opportunity to minimize the meltdown early on. They could have flooded the main reactor with seawater and shut it down before it melted. Unfortunately, they tried to save the reactor (and who can blame them? Those things are expensive) and in doing so missed their chance to prevent a meltdown. They basically rolled the dice and ended up coming up snake eyes. If stricter regulations were in place, putting human safety before cost, the spread of radiation could have been smaller in magnitude. This only serves to encourage me in the safety of nuclear power.