Nuclear Power: The End?

On 11th March 2011 the incredible, and disastrous, happened. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the east coast of Japan. This was accompanied by a tsunami approximately 14 meters high and was followed by approximately 900 aftershocks, more than 60 of which were above a 6.0 magnitude. This original earthquake was one of the most powerful to have occurred since recording began. There was an extraordinary loss of life and and a terrible impact on infrastructure, farming, homes and workplaces. It was a natural disaster in the most complete sense.

Since the 1970’s Japan has had a determined and energetic focus on nuclear energy. They, like many other countries, had a dependence on foreign energy that did not sit well politically, economically or nationally. The benefits of nuclear energy were enormous and so they built 55 of them. So it was almost inevitable that at least one of these power plants would be affected. The TEPCO run plants at Fukushima were badly struck, and their difficulty and after effects continue today.

Internationally there were two news stories that caught me interest. Two events which were spurred on due to the Fukushima meltdowns. The first is specific to Germany. At the end of May a decision was made to end the life of all nuclear power plants in Germany by 2022. The second came from a G8 summit, also at the end of May, where they decided to review the safety of all nuclear power plants. Both of these decisions display a complete lack of confidence in nuclear power at any level, and I suspect will be just one of the nails in the coffin of nuclear energy in the future.

But let’s think about what happened in an overall general sense. One of the biggest earthquakes in recorded history, followed by an absolutely staggering amount of aftershocks, (and lets not forget the tsunami) shook and smacked into a nuclear power plant. One which was built in a country that needs to have excellent earthquake resistant buildings due the frequency of such events in that part of the world. And yes it was earthquake resistant, and yes they were warned that a +7.0 magnitude earthquake could be a problem. But we can all only be prepared to a point. If we were prepared for every eventuality then there would be no war, no famine, no drought…. That doesn’t sound very realistic to me. And the preparation for a largely unpredictable event can only go so far. Sure we can prepare for the weather just by looking outside the window, but that’s not something we can do with an earthquake or tsunami. So it took a natural disaster of incredible amounts of force and power to break these reactors. The Earth had to shake itself around to cause the trouble at Fukushima. It took something unpredictable to cause all this.

So how are they doing over there now? There’s a nice table at Wikipedia that lays it all out. The answer is not great, and not awful. They’re handling it. As fast and as they can, and as efficiently as they can. But it’s all too little too late. As far as the political world and tree hugging sect are concerned the only safe reactor is a closed down reactor. Sure if they built walls a hundred miles high and ten miles deep around a reactor then maybe that might be okay, but that would be ugly. And there’s a whole other group of activists that wouldn’t want that.

Going back to Germany for just a moment. It is highly unlikely that Germany will ever experience the level of natural disaster as has occurred in Japan. Sure they’ll have the occasional earthquake, but nothing to even come close to their frequency or power in Japan. So why were they the ones to stand up and say NO to nuclear power? Politics? Activism? Money? They’ve got politicians that bow to easily to activists and maybe, just maybe there’s a little financial incentive there too. But where is that from?

I’m not one for conspiracy theories. In general I think if you’re seeing conspiracies and lies in everything that goes on in the world then you need to work on getting out a little more. But something about this tickles me. Fossil fuels are perhaps the most damaging thing to our environment and health that we use today. From locating and extracting them, to processing them and using them, all the way up to the emissions at each stage, there is not one step that is not dangerous, poisonous and harmful. But that’s where the money is. It’s made rich people even more wealthy, and greed can be a great motivator. Oil, coal and gas. By their nature they burn and explode. That’s why we use them. Because we can use things that burn and explode. When that happens we get energy, not nearly as much as we can get from nuclear power, but enough to make rich people happy.

But what about fossil fuel disasters? Well here’s a list of Oil Rig Disasters. And mining? Well two nice pages of information, one at Wikipedia, and one from the US government. Natural Gas is a little more difficult to pin down, the list here, is incomplete and only refers to natural gas pipelines. But it is an impressively long list. And natural gas is apparently the future of energy after oil. Sure there’s renewable energy sources, but wind farms are enormous and ugly, and no one wants one in their back yard.

It has taken a long time to get the safety right, or at least close to right, on every form of energy project. Yet for some reason nuclear power isn’t being given the time. They were given a chance to get it right, and do it quick, or just don’t do it at all. As I said I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but when you compare the lists in the paragraph above with this list something isn’t right, especially considering the nuclear and radiation list accounts for simple power errors and non reactor accidents also. I would imagine that somewhere exists an invisible money/power trail and it leads to someone that sleeps on a mattress full of fossil fuel cash.

So that’s it for nuclear energy. It’s clean. It’s power yield is enormous. It’s generally safe. The waste is small. But it’s got a giant target on it’s back, and the arrow is ready to fly.

I’ve always been a fan of nuclear energy. In a world where fossil fuels are killing us all one way or another, and the destroying the planet on which we live, we need an alternative, and it needs to be big. Renewable energy is great, but it’s just not enough for a world of nearly 7 billion people. I believe the alternative now should be the Hydrogen Fuel Cell. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, about 75% of the chemical mass of the universe in Hydrogen, and well, the universe is big. Real big. Until recently the US Government agreed that Hydrogen was the way forward, but have decided that there are better ways to more immediately obtain an energy boost. Research continues, but at a much slower pace. I could suggest a conspiracy here too, but the truth is where energy is concerned there are many voices, of many opinions, and all of them are shouting. All it takes is someone persuasive to lead you up the garden path, lets just hope it’s not a path gilded with the gold of oil barons. So, for the time being, it seems that I’m backing the wrong horse again.

Maybe one day we’ll get it right.

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