Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Japanese Tragedy & My Nuclear Dilemma

The pictures from Japan these last 36 hours have been almost apocalyptic. The sheer force of nature has wreaked its tragic magic on the poor residents of the port city of Sendai in north eastern Japan and early indications indicate that over 10,000 people are likely to have been killed by the tsunami that enfulfed their lives after the mamouth 8.9 magnitude tremor struck off the coast.

This initial earthquake has been confirmed as the fifth strongest to occur anywhere in the world in the past 100 years. It is arguably a blessing in disguise that the death toll is not likely to be substantially greater. The recent earthquake and resulting tsunami in Sumatra in Indonesia on Boxing Day 2004 was of a similar magnitude of 9.1 on the Richter Scale and yet it resulted in the death of almost 250,000 people.

As it is, the Japanese authorities are fighting to limit the loss of death. Every minute is critical and the next 24 to 36 hours are the most important in their rescue operation.

The Nuclear Question
As well as the basic impact that this event has had on Japan's populace and on its infrastructure, there is the added question of its impact on the nuclear reactor near-by.

Only this morning, a large explosion occurred at the Fukushima-Daiichi - or Fukushima I - nuclear power plant in north-eastern Japan, close to the epicentre of Friday's earthquake. It has renewed the debate about nuclear energy and its safety.

I stand slightly apart from the majority of those in my party who are staunchly anti-nuclear energy. Indeed, in my earlier years I was also of that mind. I voted in one of my earlier Federal UK-wide conferences in an Energy debate, against a pro-nuclear ammendment. But over the years, I've become more pragmatic on the issue. We have an energy gap and we need to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and as nuclear is carbon neutral, it is at least an option that should be realistically thrown into the mix. In the meantime, we need to extend our basket of renewable alternatives which must be the future to release ourselves from our dependency on oil.

There are of course however, the safety fears.

Is it a generational thing? I'm too young to remember Chernobyl. I can't relate to the memory of seeing what befell the Ukrainian and Belarussian segments of the Soviet Union when that disaster struck on April 26th 1986. But the fears are there of course and the reality of a nuclear expolosion and its repercussions are alive to those who can remember such scenes and who live near a nuclear reactor.

Well, it must be noted that today's explosion in Japan doesn't seem to have led to the nuclear meltdown that it first seemed it might. Officials say the container housing the reactor was not damaged and radiation levels have now fallen. This of course is to be welcomed and hopefully the situation will now have stabalised.

A Nuclear Future?
But it does raise new doubts. Of course it does. The fact that Japan decided in the 1970s to fill their energy gap with the building of nuclear power stations despite sitting astride 3 teutonic plates is one it really isn't for me to question. Was it wise? In the geographic circumstances, it is questionable.

But what of the UK? It's not that I enthusiastically want nuclear energy, but a matter of pragmatics. We need to reduce our dependency on oil and nuclear at least doesn't contribute to our carbon concerns.

But am I comfortable with the idea of nuclear energy? No I'm not. It's understandable therefore that the majority of my Liberal Democrat colleagues place themselves clearly in the anti-nuclear camp.

But I however will remain open minded on this question. Certainly, despite the awful events of the last 48 hours in Japan, more open minded on it than I was 10 years ago when I opposed the nuclear option without looking at the wider, pragmatic view of asking, well, what right now, is the alternative?


  1. great post. it is a real situation of Japan. The damages were worst than anyone thought. so long

  2. On the basis of the information that's out there so far, I'd say we're underestimating the severity of the accident (there's clearly some core damage and the plant will never generate again) but, thankfully, overestimating the radiation consequences (which seem to be no worse than Three Mile Island, which didn't even breach its discharge limits!)

  3. Unlike the majority of Lib Dem members, I have never had a dilema with nuclear power. I am in favour of it, subject to various conditions.

    The public tend to have a fear of nuclear power, like they do on crime. They perceive a problem that is often not there, judging by Home Office statistics.

    I had a clerical job at AERE Harwell and then Culham Laboratory, both near Abingdon in Oxfordshire. OK, I was a pen pusher as computers were not there for us to use in those days. I worked there from 1978-82, when I then went to Portsmouth Poly.

    Of course I have reservations of nuclear energy, but as long as its being used for generating electricity and therefore peaceful purposes, it has a role to play. I am even more satisfied now that for the UK, the next generation of nuclear reactors are far safer and produce far less waste than the generation that are coming to the end of their useful life.

    Nuclear power also has the advantage of no CO2 emissions and unlike wind farms that spoil the beautiful landscape of Wales and the UK, they continue to operate when there is no wind.

    Too many political parties and politicians are BLINKERED by the view that wind turbines are the solution. In my opinion, they are a small part of the solution. Yet so many politicians are happy to destroy our landscapes with wind turbines and yet the amount of electricity they produce is fairly small and wont solve the problem even if they cluttered the land mass.

    They are not friendly to birds, either.

    Our blinkered politicians need to wake up. Within a few years, the lights will start to go out as the current power stations start to come off-line. And thats not just the nuclear power stations.

    In my opinion, to keep building gas power station is a waste of a resource that is best used for domestic and industrial use. Not to produce electriicity.

    HOWEVER, I wish to make it clear that I am horrified that a country such as Japan, with its history of earthquakes, because of where it lies, has nuclear power. The problem for Japan is that it has few natural resources, so I guess thats why it has nuclear power.

    We all know that Iran wants nuclear power to produce enriched uranium to make nuclear bombs as I wouldnt believe a word that comes from the mouth of President Ahmedinejad, any more than I could have thrown Cyril Smith, in the 1970's.

    Nuclear power in the UK would be viable as long as the sitings are geolically safe, as well as the expected security precautions were all in place. If scientists said it was safe next to me, I would be happy to live next to one. Also, the fears of dealing with the waste has to be dealt with as it currently is on the surface, in Cumbria. If the geology was safe next to me for the next 100000 years (or whatever the time scale is), I would be equally happy to have them bury it under my house as long as its all done safely using the skills that scientists at the UKAEA and from abroad, say is what is required.

    I am also pleased that the Severn Barrage scheme was dropped.

    Its time we had an adult discussion on the future of nuclear power in the UK and start to allay the fears that people have, but we learn the lessons of our current reactors and from what has happened in Japan.

    Nuclear power is safe and it is a GREEN form of energy and less damaging to the landscape, unlike politicians obsessions with wind turbines.

    If we want electricity, we will have to bite the bullet and look at ALL the options and not exclude any, either, or the lights will go out.