Online chatter goes nuclear
While Japan 2011 will be remembered for the tragic earthquake and tsunami that swept a destructive path through coastal communities, it will also go down in history as a date with destiny on the nuclear energy debate following the fallout from the Fukushima reactor emergency.
Fears surrounding the ongoing crisis at the Japanese nuclear plant have seen it described as the “New Chernobyl”.
The immediate scale of the disaster may not be as dire as Chernobyl but, like the Ukrainian accident, its potential to set back for years the proliferation of nuclear energy as an alternative to carbon-based sources of power is equally as significant.
Although a radiation cloud is unlikely to reach Australia, the shock waves from the Fukushima emergency have tipped the balance of public opinion away from a nuclear energy future in our own backyard.
This trend has been particularly noticeable in online news forums.
Nick of Brisbane, commenting on News.com.au, was one of those who was prepared to admit he had changed his mind on the issue. “I was all for nuclear energy in Australia but I certainly don’t support it any longer. It’s time that we looked really hard (and spent loads of money) at developing a new renewable and readily accessible energy source for all of mankind. It should also be free.”
Tractorboy of Adelaide, in a post to AdelaideNow, echoed a question no doubt many Australians were pondering. “Despite the benefits of nuclear power, do we really want this in Australia? Power stations exploding is not a good look for the nuclear industry, despite the inevitable spin that the spruikers of nuclear power will put on this.”
And yes, there were those who remained stoically unconvinced of the warning the Fukushima disaster posed.
One of the best known proponents of nuclear power, Ziggy Switkowski, admitted last week that the crisis in Japan would make Australians apprehensive about adopting the energy source in the immediate aftermath, but had no doubts Australia would go down that track in the future.
A number of commenters, such as Jerome on ABC Online, even blamed the media for exaggerating the situation in Japan. “There is more fear and more hype coming from the media than the actual reality of the situation … It seems very unlikely we will see a catastrophic failure like Chernobyl. The scale of destruction that has affected Japan is beyond anything the world has ever seen in recorded history and, although very badly damaged, the reactors have only released small amounts of radiation. So far this is a testament to how safe these reactors can be.”
James of Mulgrave, posting on the Herald Sun, argued newer reactors than the ones at Fukushima offered a higher level of safety. “While what is happening in Japan with the reactors is not good, it must be kept in mind that the reactors are 40 years old, and as anybody knows, when you buy something you usually can’t ‘upgrade’ it to the latest model easily ... Any reactors built these days would meet new standards, and be immeasurably better than what they have in Japan.”
Others, such as Jonathan on ABC Online, believed because Australia was not prone to earthquakes like Japan the risk of a nuclear disaster was lower. “I’m not opposed to nuclear energy per se. I wouldn’t object to a reactor in Australia, for example. But having them in earthquake-prone areas such as Japan has always seemed to me to be tempting fate.”
However, as Angela of Sydney pointed out on SBS Online, accidents can happen anywhere. “Nuclear reactors are never totally safe due to the possibility of mechanical breakdown and human error. When you add natural disasters it is a recipe for potential disaster. Describing nuclear power as ‘clean’ energy is ludicrous. Apart from radiation discharges, leaks and accidents there is no solution in the world to deal with the long-term, extremely dirty nuclear waste which no one understandably wants.”
Taking into account the risks of nuclear power, the push to reduce our consumption of carbon-based resources and the lower yield from renewable sources, it seems our energy options remain limited.
Henry, writing on AdelaideNow, considered these consequences and offered a possible solution. “Burn coal and you pollute the atmosphere. Go nuclear and you risk disaster. Go solar and you pollute in manufacture and eventual disposal of relatively inefficient technology. Nothing in life it seems is free. Maybe we just need to learn to use less more efficiently.”
In any case, with the debate over a proposed carbon tax hotting up, consideration of the nuclear alternative is sure to be never too far away.
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