April 29, 2012
On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 MMS earthquake occurred off the Pacific coast of the Japanese town of Tohoku, the largest Japanese quake on record. The tsunami triggered by this earthquake, along with the earthquake itself, cost the Japanese people hundreds of trillions of Yen in damage and tens of thousands of lives. On top of this wanton destruction, the quake sent a tremor through the globe’s nuclear energy industry: the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the earthquake and tsunami has created a new wave of fear of nuclear energy. As the panic spread, many world governments have considered or enacted policies to slow the introduction of new nuclear energy facilities, cease their production, or even take existing reactors offline.
As the prices of fossil fuels rise along with global temperatures and sea levels, environmentalism and sustainability become more important to the functioning of our global society. Dependence on fossil fuels, paired with the low cost-efficiency of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power, hamstrings most global attempts to pursue sustainable energy generation. And yet, there is a powerful, important, and underutilized candidate for electricity production technology that can be implemented in the near-term and serve as a bridge to (and possible element of) a renewable energy future: nuclear fission. If current-generation and near-future fission technologies are not taken advantage of, our global community will miss out on a great opportunity to invest in a future of safe and sustainable energy production.
Freak accidents like the recent meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant have given the nuclear industry a bad reputation for being unsafe and prone to dangerous catastrophic failure; this reputation is largely unearned and generally exaggerated. . . .
The decisions by world governments to delay or cancel nuclear reactor deployment and even decommission existing installations is dangerous and short-sighted. These decisions will require us to either be increasingly dependent on fossil fuels, thus accelerating our ever-worsening environmental problems, or to attempt a large-scale transition to new renewable energy technology which cannot meet our current needs in an efficient way. The MIT Energy Initiative gives this harsh assessment, “The sober warning is that if more is not done, nuclear power will diminish as a practical and timely option for deployment at a scale that would constitute a material contribution to climate change risk mitigation” (Deutch).
While nuclear energy is a viable alternative to fossil fuels right now, significant delay in replacing contemporary fossil fuel-based power plants with nuclear fission systems would sacrifice the possibility of decreasing the risks of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In this way, the irresponsible decisions of world governments to delay or decommission nuclear reactors risks causing irreparable harm to our environment when there is a safe and efficient alternative.
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