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What Government Must Learn From Disasters

| Monday May 2nd, 2011 | 2 Comments

By the year 2050, 9.2 billion people with robust personal and communal energy needs will inhabit the globe.  Such extreme population growth demands an honest conversation on energy consumption and sustainability.  Nuclear energy will inevitably remain at the forefront of the debate.  However, the scourge of recent natural disasters, particularly the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, also call for not just an increase in alternative energy production but an evaluation of each method’s safety.  The American government simply cannot allow the lessons of Japan and Fukushima to drift away as it has the ramifications of the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion recently passed, without much pomp or reflection outside of the Gulf South. Congress has taken no major permanent action concerning oil drilling safety or policy since the explosion. The moratorium on offshore drilling was largely unsupported, and eventually lifted, without a permanent policy to take its place.  If history is any indication, it took Congress well over a year to enact legislation after Exxon Valdez. However, with the superior scientific and environmental knowledge of today, political change deserves swifter and bolder action.

As gas prices continue to rise, the desire to drill oil for immediate price-relief stifles the push for reform.  Some politicians are even pushing to accelerate oil drilling without any significant reform legislation in place.  The increasing polarization of government could further facilitate such failures. “Big oil’ seems to have an enormous influence on the legislative process, derailing the necessary reforms of future energy supply and consumption policies.

And as we slowly push to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, the conversation we should be having on energy consumption should involve more rather than less nuclear energy.  Nuclear energy plants could sustain large portions of the expanding population, and when operated safely and without interference from environmental forces, are extremely safe.  However, in the wake of the tsunami in Japan and subsequent crises at Fukushima, our awareness of the dangers inherent in nuclear energy production is heightened, and our reliance on fossil fuels threatens to continue unabated.

Fukushima has now been classified as a “level seven” accident on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), placing it nearly on the same accident level as Chernobyl. The event has taken an enormous humanitarian, environmental, and economic toll on Japan.  In recognition of the magnitude of this disaster, any discussion of alternative energy sources must essentially include improvements to safety.  A combination of changes to construction standards, waste removal policies, safety policies, and reactor location sites is only a start. Responsible sustainable energy calls for identifying systemic failures, updating and better-enforcing regulations, and thinking carefully about nuclear development for the growing energy needs of the world.

Yet despite our best-laid plans, the power of Mother Nature supersedes all.  And the human and environmental tolls from natural disasters are enormous.  The American government, and all governments, must not let the Fukushima lesson pass as we let the lessons of the BP oil spill pass.  Continuing old practices because of political entrenchment and lack of planning will prove to be the biggest disaster of all.

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Daniel Volkosh is pursuing his J.D. at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  ”Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” – Voltaire


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shel-Horowitz/536574918 Shel Horowitz

    I totally disagree– the future must not be nuclear! The nuclear industry has repeatedly, for 50 years, shown itself incapable of addressing ongoing safety concerns, not to mention long-term safe storage of wastes for longer than recorded history. Add in the very real economic costs and very dubious benefits and it is clear that nuclear is not only an extremely dangerous solution” but one with few real benefits. One study I saw when researching my book on nuclear power even claimed that the industry–counting all the steps starting with mining uranium–actually *consumed* far more power than it was generating. Also, when you count all these processes, it is clear that nuclear is not a solution to greenhouse gas emissions.

    I wrote two articles about the dangers of nuclear plants near fault lines all the way back in 1979 or 1980. Yet Japan sited numerous n-plants along not just fault lines, but fault lines known to have some of the most powerful earthquakes on record. and that is only one of a dozen or so very powerful reasons not to go nuclear. You’ll find a few of the others in my recent blog post: http://greenandprofitable.com/nuke-problems-in-japan-make-it-clear-no-more-nukes-elsewhere/

  • Matt Schnackenberg

    The Nuclear industry need to push to generation 4, 5, and beyond reactors that use Thorium as their base. That is the only way nuclear will be a major provider in the future.

    Sign my petition on this subject. I used Care 2 for my petition because many petitions have been successful when using the site.

    http://apps.facebook.com/petitions/1/congressepa-lets-advance-our-nuclear-to-thorium/