Fukushima: eating my words

Paul Raven @ 13-05-2011

OK, score one for the pessimist realists among you; looks like Fukushima was a lot messier than we were told, which makes me look a bit of a fool for claiming otherwise. Mea culpa.

That said, I think my overall point still stands: the circumstances of said accident were exceptional, and the course of wisdom would surely be to view it as a cautionary lesson rather than an excuse to completely write off a technology that could be of great use in the medium-term. Yes, it’s a mess that’ll take a long time to clean up… but nuclear has still killed or injured far less people per teraWatt-hour than coal.

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4 Responses to “Fukushima: eating my words”

  1. ConfidentlyDubious says:

    “…nuclear has still killed or injured far less people per teraWatt-hour than coal.”
    The key word here is “still”. In fact, coal kills people in association to its direct use; nuclear fuel, on the other hand, remains capable to kill people for tens of thousands of years *after* its use. Does a “medium-term” solution which produces extremely long-term *and* extremely dangerous byproducts really make sense?

  2. Paul Raven says:

    False binary; this is exactly the problem I’m trying to point out. It’s not a case of “does nuclear make sense?”, it’s a case of “are there ways we can make nuclear safer?”, “do the long-term risks of nuclear outweigh the short- and medium-term gains it offers?”, “will renewable come onstream soon enough to leapfrog nuclear and get away from fossil carbons immediately?”, and countless other questions.

    It’s the media’s reduction of the issues to a reality-TV-esque “so, does nuclear get voted out of the Big Brother house this week?” personality contest that really bugs me, and makes me wonder if we actually have any hope of seeing through the next few decades as an extant civilisation.

    In a leaking boat in the middle of a vast ocean, we argue over who should get the best bailing bucket.

  3. ConfidentlyDubious says:

    I fully agree with you. By the way, I was exactly trying to point out that the answer to “do the long-term risks of nuclear outweigh the short- and medium-term gains it offers?” is, in my view, “Yes!” 🙂
    The problem is that losing time focusing our collective attention on nuclear energy is dangerous. In fact, it distracts us from what should actually be pursued: renewable energies, energy saving, and new production/consumption/transport policies at world level. The danger comes from the fact that we (humans) should be moving quickly on these grounds, while instead we are doing precious little in actual terms. I suspect that our descendants will pay dearly for these delays.
    (Of course, here I am considering nuclear fission. Workable nuclear fusion would be another thing… but I don’t think that research on “next-generation” fission reactors will actually bring much progress in that direction.)

  4. Charlie Stross says:

    Point of note: it’s interesting that the Fukushima Daiichi mess is now being seen to include a full-scale meltdown.

    Previously, the only full-scale meltdown we’d seen — which most folks used to calibrate their sense of scale for such events — was Chernobyl. Which was a horror show and a half, but the RBMK reactor design was so vastly different from any western design as to render the yardstick useless for most practical purposes.

    When fate gives you lemons, it’s time to make lemonade: now we’ve got a real meltdown of an older western reactor design we can begin to get a handle, over the coming months, on what such an event entails — and build better risk analysis models for future nuclear projects. (In other words, the previously unknown extent of a meltdown in a western style reactor gave rise to spurious fears, contaminated by the entirely justifiable public phobia of nuclear war: now we can replace the estimates with some actual understanding of what the risks are.)