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Don’t let nuclear lessons fade over time

The process will continue for 40 years at a minimum and cost trillions of baht, and it is anyone’s guess when, if ever, the surrounding area will be habitable again. And the risks from contamination are not confined to the general area. The biggest concern is that radioactive substances are leaching into the sea, where they will be dispersed around the world and be concentrated in the food chain….

Published: 10 Mar 2013

Bangkok Post

Tomorrow marks the two-year anniversary of the earthquake and resulting tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan, wiping out whole towns and thousands of lives in just minutes. The Japanese resolutely began rebuilding immediately after this natural tragedy of biblical proportions, and although the personal losses will never be forgotten, the material damage has largely been repaired. The exception, of course, is the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and surrounding vicinity.

The totally unexpected magnitude of the radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear accident, the largest since Chernobyl, has dealt a strong blow to an industry that was poised for resurgence as the best alternative to the fossil-fuel derived energy that is changing the weather of the planet. But unless there is a serious global commitment to developing truly clean alternatives, how long will it be before governments begin jumping back on the nuclear bandwagon?

As reported in several articles ahead of the fateful anniversary, including a report in today’s Spectrum, progress in the clean-up, decontamination and decommissioning of the reactors knocked out by the tsunami has been taking baby steps. The process will continue for 40 years at a minimum and cost trillions of baht, and it is anyone’s guess when, if ever, the surrounding area will be habitable again. And the risks from contamination are not confined to the general area. The biggest concern is that radioactive substances are leaching into the sea, where they will be dispersed around the world and be concentrated in the food chain. Back in December 2011 the Fukushima Daiichi operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said it was running out of space to store contaminated water and was considering dumping it into the sea. This brought howls of protest from local fishermen and environmental groups worldwide and the plan was apparently shelved. Yet levels of contaminated water continue to rise and the problem of storing it will only get worse. Now, Fukushima Daiichi’s operator is building a wall going down instead of up to keep contaminated groundwater from entering the ocean.

Proponents of nuclear energy say that that the industry’s track record is remarkably safe, and that’s true at least as far as major accidents go. But there is another big problem with nuclear energy _ how do you store wastes generated by nuclear fission that will be highly radioactive for thousands of years? In a way the ongoing problems at Fukushima are just a dramatic illustration of the fact that the nuclear power industry has yet to come up with a solution to the fundamental problem of waste storage. In fact this problem may be insurmountable.

But again, what are the alternatives? In order to maintain our modern way of life we need energy, lots of it and more every year. We can continue on with fossil fuels, depending more on highly polluting varieties such as coal and shale oil and environmentally risky practices such as fracking and deep-sea drilling. Perhaps nuclear energy would be a better way to go, even with the waste storage problem, providing power plants are strictly regulated and not built in earthquake or tsunami prone areas. After all, they don’t emit greenhouse gases.

This still leaves another big problem with nuclear energy: It is incredibly expensive. The industry could not survive without massive government subsidies. Wouldn’t it be better to subsidise truly clean energies such as solar, wind, tide and geothermal? For these energy sources to truly replace fossil fuels, societies would have to rely much more on mass transit and electric vehicles, but the same is true for nuclear energy.

The assistance that is now given to the fledgling clean energy technologies is insignificant compared to the direct and indirect subsidies going to multinational oil companies and the cost to taxpayers for proposed nuclear power plants.

The way we produce our energy is one of the most, if not the most, important issues facing the human race. Many people say that the quest for renewable and clean energy is an unattainable dream, but this ignores the considerable progress that has already been made by a relative few working with relatively limited resources. A global effort to support innovation and think outside the box is needed. Otherwise we’re doomed to sticking with default technologies that are already wreaking havoc on the planet.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/339668/don-t-let-nuclear-lessons-fade-over-time

March 9, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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