Fukushima – two years on.

The lights are on, but no one is home. The Mayor of Namie, one of the towns in the Fukishima Prefecture evacuated during the nuclear disaster two years ago, has invited Google to film the town as it is. The Streetview cameras allow us all to wander the haunting, empty streets of the town, and see for ourselves the mostly undamaged but empty streets that will remain vacant for decades to come while decontamination is carried out. The sight of abandoned bicycles, still colourful but unused vending machines, streetlights still controlling non-existent traffic, and children’s swings that will never be played on again tells a memorable and poignant story about the pitfalls of nuclear power. When it works, it works really well, but when it goes wrong, the people who pay the price are not the investors or energy companies, but the unfortunate 300,000 displaced people still living in limbo, and the Japanese taxpayer who never expected to have to pick up this particular bill.

Compare those views to this one of Bridgewater, the nearest town to Hinckley Point, where EDF plan a new nuclear plant. A similar suburb to Namie, Fukushima, in many respects, similar sized homes, relatively quiet streets, a not very rich suburb, it isn’t much of a stretch to visualise these streets deserted, empty, displaced. Are we prepared to foot this particular bill?

I understand all the arguments for nuclear, but I also understand that big businesses and governments like nuclear for one reason, it only takes one decision to get it going, and once running it stays going for a long time. In a democracy such as ours, where decisions can take a long time to make and are subject to so many checks and balances, nuclear presents a big result for relatively little effort. A windfarm can take a lot of effort, but produces relatively small results compared to a nuclear power station. It’s only one inquiry, one debate, one construction contract. The fact that it is a mammoth contract is less relevant to politicians. Others will deal with the small print, They can say that they have ‘kept the lights on’.

The lights are still on in Namie, Fukushima, but there is no-one there to see them.

 

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2 thoughts on “Fukushima – two years on.

  1. Indeed, Rory,it is a warning, although Hinkley Point is not on an earthquake fault line like Fukushima. It is generally accepted that the location of Fukushima was very badly chosen for being so vulnerable to such a natural disaster. There’s no doubt we will have to choose these locations very, very carefully. The debate at Ecobuild on this subject, ‘Is there a future for nuclear?,’ was extremey interesting with session panelist Mark Lynas taking the Stewart Brand line that if we want power and the lifestyle that we more or less have now then the figures will only stack up on a macro scale if we develop nuclear power and innovate this technology (accepting that it has hazards) to fill the time gap until we have developed other technologies further. There is no easy answer- the coal alternative is responsible not only for huge carbon emissions, unlike nuclear, but also for many other disease inducing pollutants that are the cause for many, many deaths and much suffering every year. We now know that, unless some game changing innovation occurs, carbon capture for coal will require vast storage reserves for the by-product waste carbon dioxide (unlike nuclear waste in relative terms) and is extortionately expensive. Personally I’m not an advocate of nuclear – just a realist. However, another of the panelists, Oliver Tickell , made a strong case for taking up the energy slack and ditching nuclear in favour of a massive expansion of renewables. This seemed possible from his arguments – and I wish that it were true. But it would need such a volte-face from governments across the World and we can already see the challenges for the renewables we are already trying to install in the press all the time. The German nuclear ban ‘experiment’ will be interesting to watch although word from those that know says that they will be relying on the French and their spare energy capacity (from nuclear) to keeps all their lights on. (Other participants listed here: http://www.ecobuild.co.uk/conference/programme/24/thursday-07-march.html#is-there-a-future-for-nuclear)

    • Thanks Paul, I don’t disagree with any of this, but I feel that to some degree our future is in our own hands, and a decision to invest in local renewables will be better for us in the long term, giving us clean energy and local jobs, rather than paying a French company to do it for us with a risky technology.

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