Japan's Double Jeopardy
I can’t think of a worse situation than the one Japan finds itself in. They have suffered a terrible natural catastrophe, killing thousands and wiping out local infrastructure. Then, with the country already reeling, a nuclear meltdown is ticking away – a race against time to avert another disaster.
I’ve never been a big fan of nuclear energy. While for some it is an issue of political identity or moral certainties, for me it is the practicalities – cost, the long term sustainability of a finite and rare fuel, the safe storage of waste for millenia, the risk of theft of radioactive material by malignant tendencies, and, most of all, the risk that it all goes horribly wrong. We can do all the risk assessments we like, but every so often a series of circumstances coincides and we witness a major accident, whether we’re talking about Chernobyl, Hurricane Katrina or the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The whole point of being ‘benign by design’ is to remove potential hazards at the drawing board. If you don’t have hazardous material in the system in the first place, then little or nothing can go wrong. This applies at the organisational level as well as international incidents. If you don’t have hazardous material on site, then it doesn’t matter how unlucky you are, the impacts of any incident are much diminished.
In the meantime, like everyone, my thoughts are with the people of Japan, hoping that the brave engineers can quickly shut down the at-risk nuclear reactors, leaving the country free to concentrate on rescuing the dispossessed, rebuilding what it has lost and taking time to mourn those who perished.