Atomic energy has always promised to be our saviour - it’s touted as being clean and efficient and massive supplies of Uranium to fuel the reactors. Keeping in mind that there are two kinds of Nuclear/Atomic energy - that derived from breaking big atoms into smaller ones (Fission) and that from taking two smaller atoms and smashing them together until they stick (Fusion). Currently no-one has built a Fusion reactor that can create a sustained reaction to provide electricity on a mass scale. They’re working on it with the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) but 2017 seems a long way off and even if they can make it work it’s just a pilot plant and it would take decades to built lots more.
So in the meantime assume I’m not talking about Fusion (which can be clean if the right fuel is used) and that I’m talking about that 1950’s idea: Fission. Well, we’ve had 3 mile island, Chernobyl and it seems now that Fukushima is the next major disaster which is tragically unfolding even as I type this. This time it’s a disaster with a difference - this one was caused by nature and not by human error. Or perhaps, not by immediate human error. Some would argue that placing nuclear reactors in seismically active regions is questionable at best, and certainly not near a well known and active Tsunami region. Irrespective of this no matter where you put a reactor it will inevitably, someday, have a natural disaster affect it. Our planet is seismically active, weather gives us tornadoes, cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons) and floods and eventually these reactor sites will be affected. So long as humans are involved there will also be the opportunity of error leading to a disaster (like Chernobyl).
Even if these things are not considered statistically significant we also need to decide once and for all if the radioactive waste is worth it. With half-lives of multiple thousands of years for some of the nasty by-products of a perfectly functioning reactor (that’s the time it takes for the waste to lose half of its radioactivity) we then need to figure out where to store it. See previous argument for where to you find a place that is guaranteed to be stable for 100,000 years or more on this planet.
At some point people need to choose: Alternative energy sources and serious restrictions on power consuming appliances, or cheap fuel today and pay the price later with either global warming (from burning too much coal) or radioactive waste and radiation accidents (from Nuclear Fission). We have nuclear disarmament agreements and it’s time the leaders of the world agreed to stop building Fission reactors, mothball and shutdown the older ones and start looking elsewhere for safer energy sources. So long as we dabble with Nuclear Fission, we are playing with a very dangerous genie in a very fragile bottle.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this horrible crisis.