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?

0 thoughts on “Fukushima Disaster: Nuclear Power Isn’t “Green””

  1. Not all nuclear reactors are created equal – there are old nuclear reactors, and new nuclear reactors. There are bad designs and good designs.

    Chernobyl was a reactor design which never should have been built – the reactor core had no containment chamber at all. It never has been built, outside the Soviet Union.
    Fukushima is an old GE design – better than Chernobyl (it has at least a decent containment chamber), but still with built-in flaws, especially with regard to the emergency cooling system.

    People who want to participate intelligently with comments on a nuclear power debate should spend a little time getting informed on the historic flaws, and the current and future possibilities for good nuclear installations.

    Excellent information on the rush to build reactors in the 50’s and 60’s can be found in this Adam Curtis BBC documentary – A is for Atom. American and Russian interviews and history. Insight into the “shortcuts” of the day.
    Fukushima was one of these reactors – A GE BWR built in late 60’s and brought online in early 70’s. As George Monbiot says, in spite of that, the Fukushima reactor has hung pretty much together through an unbelievable natural disaster, and the situation has had quite a limited effect on the general public health and safety.

    From the beginning, there were other safer options available for nuclear power generation. Check this video on the Integral Fast Reactor history. Unfortunately, the safer reactor designs were less well adapted to the provision of material for building bombs – so the bomb-builders were what got built in the old days.

    There is no such thing as perfectly safe energy supply.

    Is oil safe? Consider Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon, for starters. Consider the extensive despoilation/damage in Africa where oil is being pumped – Big Oil is not required by laws to be clean there! Consider the devastation in Alberta at the tar sands!

    At Chiba, after the earthquake, a major oil refinery blew up, and caught fire. The initial explosion killed about a dozen people. It burned for 10 days, spewing out massive pollution. We hardly heard about it. So far, the death toll for oil far exceeds nuclear in the current Japanese situation.

    Is coal safe? Consider all the miners who die in it’s production. Consider also the health effects – the UN estimates 2,000,000 (yes, two million) people die prematurely each year from the pollution of coal-fired power plants, and millions more suffer health effects during their lifetime. Again, consider also the damage done by the waste heaps from both mining and burning of coal. And the fact that coal burning plants in operation emit more radiation than nuclear plants.

    Is nuclear safe? Well, if you actually do some realistic research, nuclear power to date has provided the cleanest and safest power overall. Here is a study on the subject and an interesting graphic.

    We can’t live without some risk.
    We haven’t stopped flying, although occasionally a plane crashes, usually killing all on board.
    We haven’t stopped driving, although WHO estimates 1.2 million people die worldwide in car accidents each year (over 43,000 deaths in the USA) annually.
    We haven’t stopped walking, although people occasionally step in front of a bus.

    Given –
    – the risks associated with the burning of fossil fuels (climate disruption, biosphere and ocean destruction), which may well lead to large-scale disaster for our civilization if continued;
    – the simple fact that one day we must run out of fossil fuel – more likely sooner than later;
    – the growing population in our already over-populated world;
    we simply must find an alternative energy source, soon (like 20 or 30 years ago, preferably).

    Renewables may be a part of the answer, but not likely the whole solution.

    New nuclear (newclear?) power will probably have to be part of the mix.

    Gen III+ and Gen IV reactors can be built. These units have passive safety features ( no need for all those tons of water being pumped in at Fukushima), and will actually clean up the long-lived radioactive waste that is presently accumulating from the old-style reactors.
    More sober consideration of Newclear options can be found here:
    Brave New Climate is an excellent blog providing discussion and in-depth information on the subject of newclear power.
    An object lesson in a 2 minute vido .
    Interesting interview with Tom Blees on the possibilities of the IFR.

    Thorium reactor possibilities – a Google Tech Talk

  2. The whole debate of nuclear power vs. fossil fuels is completely unnecessary. Yes, nuclear power is unsafe, and humans can’t be trusted to run it properly, as this horrible accident shows. But there is a better way out.

    If we simply put a high enough tax on fossil fuel use, we could very quickly achieve energy independence. The free market would then lead us to whatever the optimal combination of conservation and technological innovation was, for us to maximize our quality of life while minimizing our carbon footprint.

    This tax has the added benefit of raising revenue, which could then be used to either close the huge budget deficits in government in the U.S. and many other countries right now, or it could be used to offset other taxes like income tax or value-added-taxes like sales tax. These taxes are taxes on wealth creation, whereas a tax on carbon output or fossil fuel use would be a tax on consumption. This change in taxation would have sweeping benefits across society, as it would create strong incentives for creation and preservation of wealth and resources, rather than our current system which provides disincentives for wealth creation (income+sales tax) but freely allows (no tax), and even glorifies consumption (tax deductions).

    Why can’t we agree on this ASAP?

    • I agree!
      Have you read this document, Alex? “Building a Green Economy: The Economics of pricing carbon and the transition to clean, renewable fuels” Here’s the link:

      Citizens Climate Lobby is a group I’ve been involved with for the past several months. They are amazing.


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