Friday, March 30, 2012

Fukushima Daiichi Blues

Within 2 months of the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan, and resulting damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, nuclear apologists began defending nuclear as "safe". They claimed this accident was a one-off, and the result of poor design and location.

Part of their argument that nuclear was the clear energy preference of the future was their belief that there were simply no viable alternatives to nuclear as fossil fuels abate to oblivion. In particular, emerging technologies such as solar and wind energy, they argue, are impractical and nowhere near cost effective. Another claim was that even with the toxins released from the damaged plant in Japan, it was far less dangerous to specific individuals than the continuous, collective emissions from all the coal and oil fired plants around the world.

Two things struck me about their position. First, they argued at the time in a frame that assumed the incident was over, the full extent of the resulting impact was known, and the reactors were contained and under control.

Yet here we are over a year later, and we're still getting new updates on how the situation is far from over, the "event" is far from contained, and the extent of the impact is still largely unknown. The point is that mistakes/accidents happen, however, our ability to control such a deadly technology is quite limited. And an accident can threaten the whole globe.

The second thing I found curious about the opinion was that it assumed technology for alternative and renewable energy sources was frozen forever in time, never to advance beyond its current state. It brought to mind my experience in the telecom biz in the 80s. I knew IMTS engineers/operators at the time who dismissed the emerging new-fangled "cellular" technology, giving 4 or 5 good, sound technical reasons why it would never be practical and affordable.

I wonder how that turned out..... Never bet against technology when there is a strong market demand.

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