Greenpeace photographer Greg McNevin has created a beautiful series of photographs based on walking around areas formerly contaminated by the ongoing Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters with an LED stick connected to a geiger counter. It’s unfortunate that most people won’t be able to see the art past the politics, but I think it has value in both spheres.
Even if ground-based nuclear power was economically viable in the USA (which it it isn’t, despite massive subsidies) I don’t think our socio-economic system is set up to handle nuclear power. It seems unlikely to me that an adequate level of quality technical administration can be maintained in the post-Reagan business environment; our corporations will inevitably cut costs and staffing until an accident occurs. And that kind of feedback loop does not match up well with pollutants that have lethal doses measured in parts per million and half-life measured in thousands of years.
Fermentation products, particularly methane (aka “Natural Gas”) and alcohols from cellulose (currently not in large-scale production, but China’s already building out the infrastructure) are a far better choice than nuclear. We’ve already got the infrastructure and distribution media for it, and it’s infinitely sustainable and carbon-neutral. Scientifically, it’s a no-brainer; it even leads theoretically to future global temperature management schemes based on vegetative sequestration and release of carbon.
Nuclear power generation works great in space, and we should use it there. On earth we already have clean methane burning appliances available in the Home Depot and Sears, and we already have containment technology that works and restricts accidents to manageable proportions. The biggest real obstacle is that sustainable fuels displace profits from the currently dominant political and economic powers, namely the Texas Oil Barons and their dirty energy lobby. If you build a giant algae vat in Death Valley that generates clean methane or alcohol from waste agricultural products incredibly cheaply, you will directly take income from Esso and Texaco. If you build a nuke plant, there’s no problem, because the dirty energy lobby also owns the means of nuclear power plant construction and operation, and I’m sure they’d much prefer walled nuke plants patrolled by Erik Prince’s armed goons to huge empty plains spotted with oil derricks.
Three years ago Japan’s Fukushima nuclear fission reactor complex was damaged by a tsunami.
At no time, between then and today, has the ongoing ecological catastrophe at the Fukushima site ever been under control. The operator, TEPCO, has occasionally claimed otherwise, but each time subsequent events have proven TEPCO wrong.
Today, and every day of the last three years, powerful and long lasting poisons have been leaking into the soil, water and air we humans share with every other living thing on this planet.
Something many people don’t realize is that nuclear fission reactors are not commercially viable without the sponsorship of governments. This is a simple and incontrovertible fact – no fission reactor has ever turned a profit except through the redirection of tax dollars. Not ever! Furthermore, safe operation of nuclear fission reactors is incompatible with Western commercial values – our socio-economic system is designed to ensure the lowest cost by pitting separate businesses against each other, each cutting corners until a failure occurs, so that the business that runs “leanest” survives to dominate the market and those that cut too far go bankrupt. Unfortunately, the failures that come from cutting corners in nuclear fission plant operation last for generations, and never stop incurring costs during that time. The total costs for remediating a single Chernobyl or Fukushima far outstrip any profits that could have been made by a dozen tax-sponsored “successful” plants.
Perhaps overtly socialist countries like France and Sweden, with their completely different systems of regulation and operation, can have safe nuclear fission. I tend to doubt it; at the timescale these reactions occur, human perfidy is a given. But maybe it can be done, and I admire those countries’ attempts to do it right.
Here in the USA, as in Japan, nuclear fission is an obsolete and foolish technology, incompatible with our needs and vision.