Fukushima Disaster: Nuclear Power Isn’t “Green”

There is disagreement, even among environmentalists, about the place of nuclear power in our future.  Because there is no question that nuclear emits less carbon pollution than burning oil or coal, some environmentalists – including high-profile ones such as James Lovelock and George Monbiot – have become nuclear power proponents.  What the disaster in Japan highlights is that nuclear is just too risky to depend on. From a risk management perspective, as Fukushima makes clear, we can’t bet on nuclear. Canadian folk singer Bob Bossin said decades ago that building nuclear plants is like putting up an outhouse without digging a hole! Nobody yet has figured out what do to about all that spent radioactive fuel, although Atomic Energy Canada has decided they’d like to bury it in the rocks of the Canadian shield, right in my backyard.  I don’t trust that there is any technology that can guarantee that buried toxic waste isn’t going to contaminate the groundwater – our drinking water – at some point in the next 1,000 years.

What is the latest on Fukushima?  As of today, radiation levels within the 40-km radius of Fukushima NPP have exceeded safety limits, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. Radiation levels continue to rise in the ocean outside the plant as well. This isn’t surprising, as the Japanese continue to pour water on the fuel rods to limit the damage, but this water is ending up outside the plant in the ocean, and also is being carried onto land via steam and ground water. Bloomberg reports today:

Japan’s damaged nuclear plant may be in danger of emitting sudden bursts of heat and radiation, undermining efforts to cool the reactors and contain fallout.

The potential for limited, uncontrolled chain reactions, voiced yesterday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, is among the phenomena that might occur, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters in Tokyo today. The IAEA “emphasized that the nuclear reactors won’t explode,” he said.

At the same time,the death toll from the quake and tsunami continues to rise and officials say it’s likely to yet surpass 18,000 and hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless.

We are all going to be faced with difficult questions as peak oil and climate change confront our civilization with choices about how to power our homes and our industries.  I’m with Thomas Edison, who said:

I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait ’til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.

Don’t think solar power can do it?  This week, a team of MIT scientists announced the latest development in solar energy, an artificial leaf, so innovative that the lead scientist, Daniel Nocera, stated: “I’m talking about solving the energy problem with an Olympic size pool of water.”


I think the people of Fukushima would like to bet on Nocera’s solution to their energy needs, rather than extremely expensive nuclear plants that post a serious health risk to the people and the ecosystem of their region for centuries to come.  I know I would!

For a more thorough review of the Japanese situation, as well as the current situation in Ontario (and how the two are – or should be – related), go to Graham Saunder’s article, “Nuclear Decisions. Graham is the president of Environment North and a weather specialist.

More links:

Most Important News of The Decade? Artificial Leaf Announced

Fukushima Workers Threatened By Heat Bursts; Sea Radiation Rises

Don’t Worry About Radiation in Canadian Seawater

Fukushima Disaster Causes Fallout For Nuclear Industry Worldwide

Is Nuclear Power Still the Answer to Our Energy Problems?

Nature’s Might On Display in Japan: Humans Ignore It At Our Peril

Much of the world’s attention, and thoughts and prayers, are focused on the people of Japan, who are suffering from the deadly effects of last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, and are now facing a nuclear emergency. The devastation to one of the world’s most industrialized countries is unbelievable, yet it is undeniable. It is clear that the death toll will be much higher than the current official one of 2,800.  The survivors are struggling to deal with lack of food and clean water, and the loss of their shelter.

Many of us living in the industrialized world of the 21st century feel that we are we are separate from our environment. Many of us believe that “environmental” issues like water pollution, ocean acidification, and climate change are issues that we can choose to ignore without any consequence to ourselves or our families. We don’t realize that what we do to our surroundings, we also do to ourselves. We, in our hubris, have also come to feel that we are in control of nature, not the other way around. That is the only explanation for our unabated abuse of the gift of fossil fuels, and our ongoing pollution of our water and air.  If we are going to have a future without ever-increasing pictures on our t.v. screens like what we saw from Japan this weekend, and Australia in January, and Bangladesh last August, we need to all agree that what we do to our environment, we do to ourselves, and to our children and their children. Because, of course, it will eventually be us and our communities who are featured in the news headlines.

Derrick Jensen offers a different way of approaching environmental accountability, in a recent article in Orion magazine entitled “Age of Ooops”, where he proposes that environmental risks should be considered through the lens of the precautionary principle:

The solution I dreamed up to this lack of accountability is a robustly enforced legislative version of the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle suggests that if an action, or policy, has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, the burden of proof that this action is not harmful falls on those proposing to take the action. They can’t act if they can’t prove no harm will come. So, for example, instead of presuming that deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is safe, and only suspending drilling when there is proof of harm, we should presume that this action is harmful until it has been proven otherwise. The same logic should apply to the emission of greenhouse gases. In fact, there are thousands of examples of harmful actions that would be stopped by any reasonable application of the precautionary principle.

Click here to read the full article. (thanks to Curtis for sending it my way).

More links:

Japanese Disaster Teams Search For Bodies

Nuclear Plants Threatened by Earthquake

Japan Nuclear Plant Rocked By Second Blast

Japan’s Chernobyl: Fukishama Marks the End of the Nuclear Era

Fire and Ice: Melting Glaciers Trigger Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes