Nuclear energy: disasters waiting to happen and human intentionality

24.03.2011 - Tokyo - Silvia Swinden

Since the first hominids did something that other animals did not: to walk towards fire instead of running away from it, the human being has been doing this peculiar thing over and over again. Countless burnt houses, ships and cities later we are still learning to dominate fire but we can see everywhere evidence of the benefits brought about by the process of learning to increase the temperature of fire to produce first ceramics, and then to manipulate metals, which are the basis of our technology both for peace, health and well-being, and for a war and destruction.

This function of human intentionality, to construe different interpretations of the same object or situation coupled with our need to dominate and make use of anything available to us in spite of the risks is driven by the need to overcome pain and suffering. This can help us understand how on earth Japan, the only victim of a limited nuclear holocaust, decided to build a large number of nuclear power stations in the centre of an earthquake and tsunami prone area. Lacking in other natural resources to produce energy the memory of the blast that had obliterated hundreds of thousands of people in two cities shifted from the horror of death and destruction to the admiration of the amount of energy generated. Going nuclear has served well the economic development of Japan but the illusory bubble of technological savvy and precision with which they sold cars to the world and nuclear energy to their own people has burst.

An article by Justin Mc Curry for the Guardian entitled *“Japan nuclear firm admits missing safety checks at disaster-hit plant”* 22 March 2011 [www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/22/japan-nuclear-power-plant-checks-missed](www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/22/japan-nuclear-power-plant-checks-missed) gives details about the Fukushima plant which *“contained far more spent fuel rods than it was designed to store, while its technicians repeatedly failed to carry out mandatory safety checks … According to documents from Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the company repeatedly missed safety checks over a 10-year period up to two weeks before the 11 March disaster, and allowed uranium fuel rods to pile up inside the 40-year-old facility…When the plant was struck by a huge earthquake and tsunami, its reactors contained the equivalent of almost six years of highly radioactive uranium fuel produced by the facility…The revelations will add to pressure on Tepco to explain why, under its cost-cutting chief executive Masataka Shimizu, it opted to save money by storing the spent fuel on site rather than invest in safer storage options…Critics of Japan’s nuclear power programme say the industry’s patchy safety record and close ties to regulating authorities will have to change if it is to regain public trust…Reports said safety lapses at the plant continued up to two weeks before the tsunami disabled cooling systems in its reactors and sparked the biggest nuclear power emergency the world has seen since Chernobyl in 1986…One month before the tsunami, government regulators approved a Tepco request to prolong the life of one of its six reactors by another decade, despite warnings that its backup power generator contained stress cracks, making them more vulnerable to water damage. Weeks later, Tepco admitted it had failed to inspect 33 pieces of equipment inside the plant’s cooling systems, including water pumps, according to the nuclear safety agency’s website…When disaster struck earlier this month, the plant contained almost 4,000 uranium fuel assemblies kept in pools of circulating water – the equivalent of more than three times the amount of radioactive material usually kept in the active cores of the plant’s reactors….”*

*“A knife is neither good nor bad but the person who holds it by the blade is wrong”* said René Daumal, and this has been true for every piece of technology, every tool and every gadget from the flint arrow to the iPad 2. Will nuclear energy ever be safe? The problem is that in this market driven, money-as-the- measure-of-all-things globalised society we must add the risk factor of *”greed”*, *”competition”* and corruption to the list of possible accidents, terrorist attacks and earth driven disasters that can unleash another Chernobyl or worse. The question here, apart from how many people will die of cancer or suffer illness due to Fukushima, is: would you like to live near a nuclear power station? Or even better, would I like to live near a nuclear power station?

A few hours after Japan was struck by the worst natural disaster in its history the markets around the world began to speculate in the shares of different companies, would they go up or down with the disaster? Would the reconstruction increase the value of the yen? Would it be profitable to invest in construction companies? The body count was rising, the refugees from flattened cities were bereaved, damp, cold and hungry but the stock markets were going into overdrive. This small vignette about the dehumanisation we experience in every day life shows its true monstrous dimension when confronted with events such as the ones taking place in Japan and should be a warning light not only to stop building nuclear power stations and decommissioning existing ones until all the safety and environmental issues are resolved, but also to urgently review the values of the system we live in and to put once and for all human life before money.

Categories: Asia, International, Opinions, Politics

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