Sunday, March 27, 2011

Radioactive times

You certainly cannot say that it's boring at the moment. Earthquakes in Burma and Japan, a devastating tsunami, nuclear catastrophe, war and riots in the Arab countries, the global economic crisis still not under control. Hard choice these days for the news editors on deciding what to put on the front page.

Here are a few personal thoughts on two current events: The war in Libya and the nuclear meltdown in Japan.
The northern African state of Libya has suffered from the dictatorship of Gaddafi for over four decades. The population had finally had enough of it and, inspired by political changes in Tunisia and Egypt, has started to fight the regime. That Gaddafi is responding to the uprising with violence and cruelty comes to no surprise. Feeling sorry for the Libyan people the NATO decided to intervene and sent fighter jets to help the rebels. Seems to make sense, doesn't it? I'm just wondering one thing: If, after last week's bomb attack in Jerusalem, Israel decided to attack Palestine again, would the NATO come to help the Palestinian people too? And if not, why not? Is it all about oil again?

Moving on to Japan, it's definitely a buzzing place to be at the moment. Today they announced that water around reactor 2 is ten million times more radioactive than normally. The situation remains totally out of control. Because of this catastrophe people all around the world, including governments, are questioning the safety of nuclear power. Is it really worth to continue with it, judging the fatal results when things go wrong?
Do we need it?
The main argument of those in favour of nuclear energy is that it's still the cheapest, cleanest and despite occasional problems the safest form of energy. 99.6 % safe I read. Now, that's indeed a high percentage. Ironically though you have a much smaller chance of winning the lottery yet people still play because they believe it's possible to win. But a 99.6 % safe reactor, well, who cares about the 0.4%? Let's rather keep the cheap energy. Isn't it fascinating how the human brain filters out everything to one's own advantage?
The problem of course with nuclear power is that if something DOES go wrong, the damage is often beyond imagination. So, is it worth the risk?
The other day I talked to a guy who said that those dangerous reactors should be far away from human civilization. With civilization he meant of course the so called developed countries. His suggestion was to put the reactors somewhere in the Sahara. Made me wonder... First, where would they get the vast amounts of water from needed to cool those bloody things, and second, why would the local Berber community have to take the risk? I don't think they care too much about electricity down there. Doesn't seem fair. So, to get that argument out of the way: if WE want cheap electricity from nuclear power stations, WE gotta be the ones taking the risk. Not others.
Regarding nuclear energy being clean, well, that depends. In the short-term, if nothing blows up, yes, it's pretty clean energy. But what about all the nuclear waste, all those used fuel rods which continue to radiate for thousands of years once they fulfilled their purpose inside the reactor? Common practice is to bury them somewhere in a big steal case. But who can guarantee that no radiation will leak over the next thousand years?
Looking at those who take these long-reaching decisions, it is noticeable that most of them are rather old – you don't become a high politician or CEO of a huge energy company when you are thirty. So these people, the decision makers, have relatively few years left to live. I'm sure they care for their families, but do they really care about the future of the planet? If they can earn a lot of money today with nuclear energy, why worrying about old fuel rods that won't cause any problems until they are long gone?
As a reaction to the events in Japan, the German governments has ordered for seven old reactors to be switched off and checked vigorously. So far so good. However, last week the German minister of economy was caught telling bosses of the big energy companies that switching off those reactors was only for tactical reasons – elections are coming up, so the public has to be told what they want to hear. How comforting having these people as leaders.
I actually think that when it comes to deciding whether to go ahead with nuclear energy or not, all people above the age of fifty or sixty shouldn't be allowed to vote. It's not their future after all, so why should they have the power to decide over it?

We are living in important times, exciting times. I really believe we have the opportunity to change and I think change is happening already. And although it is quite sad that we need wars and radioactive contamination to start thinking properly, if it means that we get our act together then at least the fighting and suffering serve a purpose.

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