Nuclear Energy Dangers in A Post-Fukushima Age

After the IAEA agreed to implement a new nuclear safety plan, Director General Yukiya Amano referred to the world as “living in the post-Fukushima age.” If Fukushima has taught the international community anything, it should be that nuclear safety is not a 100% guarantee; rather, every nuclear facility has the potential, however small, for a meltdown. Since the continued use of nuclear technology means the continued risk of nuclear catastrophe, the U.S. should use Fukushima as the basis for a new, greener energy policy.

Currently, the U.S. is engaged in a game of Russian roulette: Instead of a revolver, there are 102 nuclear reactors which provide roughly 20% of the U.S.’s total energy. Nuclear energy is essential for sustaining economic development and the American lifestyle as we know it. However, the recent flooding and wildfires near two U.S. nuclear facilities — one in Kansas, and another in Los Alamos — shows that the U.S. is no exception to the dangers posed by continued reliance on nuclear energy. While both situations are now contained, the possibility of environmentally induced nuclear disaster should be impetus enough for a new energy policy.

To be fair, nuclear energy does have its benefits. For example, it emits less CO2 than natural gas and coal technology (almost none), and therefore does not contribute significantly to global climate change. Additionally, nuclear technology is already refined and reproducible to meet demand. However, both of these benefits can be achieved through currently existing alternative energy sources that do not carry the risk of working with nuclear materials.

If the U.S. is looking to build an energy policy suitable for the “post-Fukushima age,” it needs to reduce the demand for nuclear energy by incentivizing passive or positive energy housing while simultaneously increasing sustainable energy alternatives, such as wind, solar, and hydropower. Luckily, a paradigm for sustainable living already exists and can be replicated in new housing projects. Positive energy houses like the Solar Settlement of Freiburg, Germany sell back surplus solar energy, earning a yearly profit of roughly 5,000 euro per household. Completed in 2005, this housing project shows a consciousness of both environmental preservation and human safety by eliminating any dependence on non-renewable resources.

I hope the “post-Fukushima age” is characterized by more than increased skepticism and tighter regulations on nuclear energy. I hope it marks the beginning of a radically new way of thinking about energy consumption and environmentalism. We cannot afford to have Fukushima repeat itself.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

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Joshua Smeltzer

Joshua Smeltzer is interested in the intersection of violence, politics and geography. He is a senior at Colgate University, where he is majoring in Peace in Conflict Studies. In 2010, Joshua was a researcher for Colgate's Institute of Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and spent the summer interviewing veterans throughout the United States for a project on military culture. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Joshua enjoys trail running and spending time outdoors.

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