Japan's Nuclear Power Hara Kari
Any discussion of Japan and nuclear power is complicated by that country's history as the only nation ever to suffer a nuclear attack. That event continues to haunt the venerable Pacific nation. This is an immutable truth that one must accept regardless of which side one is on concerning the legitimacy of the US attack 67 years ago.
That said, the Japanese nation nevertheless staked much of its economic destiny on nuclear power. Beginning more than four decades ago, Japan deployed over 50 nuclear power plants to feed the energy needs of its densely packed population. Very limited in domestic fossil fuel sources and running one of the world's leading economies, the country's reliance on substantial nuclear power facilities made eminent sense.
And for over 40 years, this decision redounded to the benefit of the nation and its people. But alas, nuclear tragedy struck again in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The reactor at Fukushima was damaged and a partial meltdown ensued. People died, land areas became contaminated and the safety of the country's nuclear power plants was called into question.
Japan instituted a series of rigorous tests that all of its plants would have to pass (to ensure that they could withstand quakes and tsunamis) before they would be allowed to continue operating. One by one, reactors have been halted to perform the tests. Not one has been restarted, and recently the last operational reactor was taken offline. There isn't a single nuclear power plant operating in Japan today; and it is unclear when, if ever, any will start back up.
Here are some important points to keep in mind:
- The overwhelming percentage of the casualties last spring resulted from the quake and the tsunami, not the reactor meltdown.
- Clearly, the Fukushima plant was not subjected to the most rigorous safety tests that could have been applied. But there is no evidence that any other Japanese plant was in danger of a serious malfunction. Moreover, none of Japan's numerous, previous earthquakes had caused a problem for any of their plants.
- Many nations around the world continue to rely on nuclear power. France gets more than 75% of its electricity from it. At its height, Japan got 30%.
- Non-nuclear forms of energy are dangerous too; see: Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon, Bhopal and all the eagles that are getting sliced and diced by wind turbines.
The anti-nuclear activists have seemingly won the day in Japan. The result will be a country trapped in the misery of imported energy, drastically increased fuel costs, a diminished economy and a commensurate loss of independence. (We in the US know about such things.) Japan had come to a modus vivendi in which it has been able to harness the type of energy that had previously been used against it. The result was a peaceful, economic and efficient use of nuclear power. Could it have been done with better safety and controls? Absolutely. But by allowing the tsunami tragedy to enable the anti-nuke activists to subvert the industry, the Japanese are punishing themselves in a misbegotten attempt to expunge modern and past demons.