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.
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.
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?