Tag Archives: Germany

Fallout Fears (Part 2)

A pair of reactors in Belgium, near Gent. (Photo credit: Koert Michiels)

This post is the second installment in a two-part post on nuclear worries. If you’re a little lost, read part 1 here! Thanks.

First, radiation has a long history of very negative popular perception (only natural, considering the 20th-century’s long romance with nuclear weapons). Particularly to those who grew up during Cold War times, radiation is a symbol of fear and uncertainty, and it carried with it the threat of foreign aggression. Even now, when nuclear proliferation isn’t quite as much of an issue (though don’t get me wrong, it’s still a concern), at least to the younger generation, nuclear danger is still portrayed as a supreme threat in all kinds of media, even video games. Simply put, radiation is still seen as a grave danger to society by people of nearly all ages and cultures.

Second, radiation is invisible. This may sound like an incredibly stupid point to make, but bear with me here! The fact that radiation can’t be seen, especially at dangerous levels, makes it seem like a dangerous and unpredictable killer, and one which we simply cannot do much to stop. Now, while this is true to a certain extent, the fact is that the amounts of radiation typically produced by nuclear power plants are nowhere near enough to be harmful to our health. In fact, it’s been found that coal ash is frequently more radioactive than NPP emissions.

Third, radiation spreads, and fast. To add to that, there’s almost nothing we can do to stop that spread, or keep it from affecting people, apart from relocating entire populations, which almost anyone would be understandably hesitant to do. Unlike landslides, forest fires, or even tsunamis, there’s almost nothing we can do to halt the advance of radiation’s spreading. We may be able to predict it, but like a hurricane or tornado, there’s nothing we can do to control or avert it. Fires can be dowsed or at least contained, and floods can be dammed, but radiation spreads no matter what.

Finally, radiation has an unpleasant habit of overstaying its welcome, often for a very, very long time. Like a dictator who won’t give up power or a lingering and unwanted dinner guest, radiation is an insidious presence that refuses to be rooted out, at least not without a fight. The greatest damage that radiation inflicts is done over the long term, as it causes long-term cancers and seeps into soil and water supplies. This damage is hard to keep track of or measure, so it has an aspect of nameless dread to it.

So it’s easy to see why people fear radiation so much. It’s invisible, it’s silent, it’s trackless, and there’s almost nothing we can really do to stand in its way once it becomes a problem. But if you really look at the numbers, you’ll find that, danger-wise, nuclear has nothing on coal.

It’s not an easy thing to say that we need nuclear in the midst of the crisis in Japan, and it’s certainly not the most popular stance in the world for me to take. But unfortunately, our energy needs (and our need for cleaner energy) are simply too great to give up on nuclear power. What really must be done is a tightening of safety regulations on nuclear power plants, and further expansion on research into what must be done to keep plants safe. We can’t prepare for all contingencies, but the events at Fukushima Daiichi have showed the world that we must have well-thought-out plans for emergencies.

But the harsh reality is that almost no form of energy is truly 100% safe, no matter what precautions we take. And to move toward a more sustainable energy future, as well as a safer one, we must continue to stand by nuclear energy.

Author’s Note: This post was slightly modified on April 2nd, after its initial publication on March 29th.

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Fallout Fears (Part 1)

A nuclear power plant (NPP), an example of a key source of energy for much of the world. (Source: picture-newsletter.com, photographer unknown)

As I write this post, Japan is still reeling and recovering from a devastating trifecta of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear threat. The country has suffered a terrible three-headed beast of a disaster, and it’s taking a toll, not only on the country, people, and economy of Japan, but on the world’s mindset on nuclear energy.

For years and years, nuclear power has been viewed as a viable and clean source of alternative energy in much of the developed and developing world. But after the shocking triple tragedy in Japan, there has been growing fear and apprehension towards nuclear power plants and  nuclear energy, as the safety of this source is being called into question.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Germany, where seven reactor facilities are being temporarily shut down for safety testing, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has, for what many think is a mix of political and safety reasons, called into question the entire country’s nuclear power supply.

This kind of thinking has taken root all across the European Union and in many other parts of the world, including the United States. But is this anything more than hasty reactionary thought sparked by the ongoing crisis in Japan? There was little outcry or objection to nuclear energy sources before the disaster, but since the radiation dangers in Japan have caught international attention, leaders and thinkers have begun to reconsider whether nuclear energy is a safe option.

Now, it’s of course natural to look into one’s own energy systems’ safety precautions, especially right after a disaster such as the one in Japan. But the kind of panicked shut-downs and alarm seen in places like Germany in response to the crisis are, in my opinion, blown far out of proportion, and have potential to greatly damage popular perception of nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy has given us the opportunity to create quite substantial amounts of energy at little cost to the environment, especially when compared to other sources such as “clean” coal. A 2008 study that examined the relative emissions of a nuclear power plant and a fossil fuel plant found that the fossil fuel plant had emitted around 11 million tons of waste in a year, while the NPP emitted a mere 26 tons. There’s really no arguing that this is one of the cleanest energy sources available to us.

Besides that, the dangers of NPPs really do not exceed those of other energy sources, especially coal. It’s estimated that two to three thousand workers die in coal mining accidents every year in China, and explosions and collapses still kill dozens of workers every year in the United States. So why is it that people are so afraid of nukes?

Because this post is becoming rather lengthy, I’ve decided to split it into two parts. Check back soon for part two!

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