Friday, 18 March 2011

Every Radioactive Cloud Has A Green Lining

It's terrible what's happened to Japan. What seems more terrible to me at the moment as I browse the news is how the human crisis seems to have been completely overshadowed by the nuclear crisis. Now, okay, the nuclear crisis affects the human crisis, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of information on how everything's being dealt with outside the nuclear plant(s).

On the plus side (and there is always a plus side to any tragedy, whether it's initially obvious or not) the current news items are drawing our attention to what can go wrong in the nuclear power industry, especially when nature plays its part. It's only this last year that the British government have been telling us what a wonderful alternative to burning coal and gas this safe, green nuclear power is. Oh yes, when compared to the possibility of football field sized solar generation plants, wind farms and wave farms which are ugly and spoil the pretty countryside, nuclear power is a safe and green, cost effective alternative that's far removed from the technologies that brought us Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

My arse.

The only way nuclear power is at all green is that you may glow that colour in the dark if you're near it. Regardless of your feelings on nuclear proliferation in the post Cold War world, the reality is that generating power with nuclear energy is never going to be green or safe for the simple fact that it's the human race in charge of it. I mean, who seriously builds a nuclear power station where there's even the slightest risk of a catastrophe being caused naturally? I bet America doesn't have (m)any in their Tornado Alley, and probably not in their own earthquake problem areas either. As far as I can tell, the Fukushima plant was thought up with the same insight and logic as the Titanic.

We're okay here in the UK though aren't we? We don't get earthquakes, tornadoes and tsunamis. Well we do, but not anything like you'd notice. When we do, it's a last-placed and often comedic item on the news, usually accompanied by some mobile phone footage you've already seen on YouTube, such is the curiosity when such events occur. Look at the funny wind thing... Oh, it's gone. Ooh, some slates have fallen off some rooves and a cat got scared. What strange times these are.

But we're not okay. Because if technology has taught us one thing, it's that while it is never infallible, human beings are even more fallible. A tsunami or earthquake can do damage, but so can scary people with wild ideas about how the world should work according to their ridiculous notions of God and Destiny. If we can be complacent enough to build nuclear plants on dangerously unstable ground, we can be complacent enough to assume everything's going to be okay on the UK coastline. Which is alright until something actually happens.

No, I think when all's said and done I would rather see our hillsides and moorland dotted with big grey three-armed monsters than have even the slightest chance of what we're seeing in Japan become a reality here. Nuclear power is not, never has been, and never will be a green technology, and even suggesting it is compared to existing coal and gas generation is like saying driving under the influence of a litre of vodka is the safer alternative to driving with a litre of whiskey inside you. Because whether you really care about saving the planet (saving ourselves we mean - the planet will be better off without us) or not, we're going to keep on breeding, keep up the greed, keep building on croplands, and we're actually more likely to run out of food before we run out of air, fuel, ice or drinking water.

I wonder how many safe green nuclear power plants Japan will be (re)building once this sorry story's over?