Since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear incident in March, 2011, nuclear energy has gotten a black eye. While honest mistakes were certainly made during the crisis, an independent inquiry released this month by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission places the blame for the disaster on the deeply rooted government-industry collusion in Japan. The commission’s chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa said in the introduction to the report, “It was a profoundly man-made disaster — that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.”
While the report does not call for prosecution of Tepco management, it did blame the tepid response to the disaster on collusion between the company, the government and regulators, saying that Tepco “manipulated its cozy relationship with regulators to take the teeth out of regulations.”
This is not the first, nor will it be the last time that the nuclear industry is accused of circumventing regulations and responsibility by utilizing its influence with politicians. The unfortunate result of this reputation is that nuclear plants in Japan and around the world are threatened with closure even though there is no evidence that they are in any way faulty or present any kind of imminent danger.
It has cost the industry billions, true, but the more troubling concern for this writer, at least, is what that means for the energy mix. Living in Ontario, Canada, where nuclear power counts for nearly 50% of the electricity consumed in the province, I can’t help but wonder where we would be without it. Nuclear power is often judged not on its objective merits. Instead, fear and misconceptions hold it back.
Angela Merkel is probably the master at the “which way does the wind blow” game. Back in May, 2011, her coalition endorsed a blueprint to shut Germany’s nuclear-power plants by 2022, repealing a law that she had pushed to extend the life of the reactors.
Of course, nuclear energy isn’t the only power source that gets people riled up. Last year, the Liberal re-election campaign decided to to scrap a Mississauga gas-fired power plant, costing the taxpayers $180 million (CAD). This was because a group of people in the city beside Toronto didn’t want the plant “in their back yard.”
It goes on and on around the world. Nuclear’s good, coal is bad. No, wait, nuclear’s bad, coal is, well, okay, as long as we regulate the operators into bankruptcy. Gas is good, no, it’s bad because some of our constituents object to fracking. Ethanol is good, no, it’s bad, voters are saying it’s a farm subsidy. In all of the posturing and placating, one thing is often forgotten. What is the most efficient method of generation for the particular geographical area?
You know how church and state are supposed to be separate here in North America? Wonder if we could do that with power and politics.