Oops, I'll clean that up!

Of course the levels of radiation are not high enough to affect human beings and there is “no danger of Chernobyl-style catastrophe”. But the news could just as easily be that a deadly cloud of radiation is spewing out across Japan killing people by the thousands just like it did at Chernobyl. The radiation is not dangerous until it is and if or when that happens it will be too late.

The situation in Japan reminds me of “On the Beach” a film about people awaiting their end following a nuclear “incident.” Their death will be slow and painful caused by the radioactive fallout. These people were not belligerents in the conflict but radiation is undiscriminating and everyone will die. Someone somewhere was responsible for the end of humankind but there was little point in apportioning blame – extinction was inevitable no matter who was at fault.

The tsunami is a spectacular example of the fallibility of the plans of mice and men. The companies running the nuclear power stations might be the finest examples of corporate responsibility and their staff may be upstanding, morally commendable and diligent. But if it wasn’t this earthquake, it could have been the next volcano or a cyclone or any other force of nature strong enough to shake the foundations of their buildings.

Nuclear power is an example of man playing with forces beyond his control. If a hydroelectric dam burst, it could in some locations kill hundreds of thousands people. Such is a scenario is highly unlikely, the effects of a dam burst, of the collapse of a skyscraper or the failure of any other device man has wrought would be limited geographically in the extent to which it can cause damage.

We have enough proof of nuclear power’s ability to decimate both people and the earth. There cannot be an “oops, I’ll clean that up” when things go wrong.

And finally I believe that if all the resources – the intelligentsia, the finance, the time – that have gone into nuclear power over the last sixty years had been spent on finding new energy sources and green technology we would have achieved much more by now. 

Photograph: D Sagoli Reuters

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