Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

The terrible and tragic earthquake and subsequent tsunami that rocked Japan on Friday the 11th of March immediately shut down eleven of Japan’s nuclear reactors. The latest news from Japan on that is that six of the nuclear plants appear to be stabilizing, following efforts from engineers and firefighters to cool the reactors. Despite progress, however, it appears that this nuclear crisis is far from over.

The issue has sparked a new round of nuclear of protests and reinvigorated the debate as to whether we should rely on nuclear power at all, and the focus is on safety. After the disaster, protests have been taking place around the world, including France, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere. Even in the United States, where there are 104 operating nuclear reactors (many of which are almost as old as the Japanese reactors that failed). Vermont’s Senate has recently voted to close their Yankee nuclear plant, an unusual move in itself, but one that recognizes the inherent dangers of old nuclear plants.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Abu Dhabi is building one of the largest nuclear power plants in the world. The UAE, a tiny, oil-rich country, feels that this $20bn project is essential for their long-term development. While the last link clearly details some legitimate reasons for UAE to desire more sources of energy, why must it be nuclear? For a country that has a more-than-reasonable amount of open desert, and a lot of sunshine, why isn’t solar energy being more seriously considered as a source of energy? How do other Arab countries feel about having a brand new nuclear power plant in their backyard?

It’s worth remembering that assurances about safety are always made. No nuclear power plant has ever been built without the owners assuring the public that the plant is 100% safe. And yet we’ve seen accidents before. And having a nuclear meltdown is not like falling off your bike. It’s much, much more serious. From an excellent article on Al Jazeera English:

 

At least 99 nuclear accidents meeting this definition, totaling more than $20.5 billion in damages, occurred worldwide from 1952 to 2009 – or more than one incident and $330 million in damage every year, on average, for the past three decades. And, of course, this average does not include the Fukushima catastrophe.

Indeed, when compared to other energy sources, nuclear power ranks higher than oil, coal, and natural gas systems in terms of fatalities, second only to hydroelectric dams. There have been 57 accidents since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. While only a few involved fatalities, those that did collectively killed more people than have died in commercial US airline accidents since 1982.

Another index of nuclear-power accidents – this one including costs beyond death and property damage, such as injured or irradiated workers and malfunctions that did not result in shutdowns or leaks – documented 956 incidents from 1942 to 2007. And yet another documented more than 30,000 mishaps at US nuclear-power plants alone, many with the potential to have caused serious meltdowns, between the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and 2009.

 

In this day and age, when technologies for the production of safe and clean energy exist, is there any justification for persisting with dangerous sources of energy, like nuclear? Is it worth the risk?

Advertisements