From out of darkness has to come the dawn
One side effect of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Northern Japan on the 11th March causing an explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power station is that the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster is much more a news item than I suspect it might have been.
The nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Russia occurred on the 26th April, 1986, twenty-five years ago today. One major difference between the two disasters was, of course, how they were reported.
Here’s a small extract from a fuller article in The Financial Times published on the 19th April written by Tony Barber who was in Russia those 25 years ago.
Twenty-five years after the explosion at the Ukrainian facility, I vividly recall every detail of those terrible days of April 1986. I was a 26-year-old foreign correspondent working in Moscow for Reuters news agency. On Friday, April 25, I flew to Kiev to spend a couple of days with Rhona, an ebullient Scottish friend who was teaching at the city’s university under a British Council programme. I was the only western journalist in Kiev that weekend.
While we caroused the night away, extraordinary events were unfolding 130km to the north. Technicians were conducting experiments that involved the disabling of automatic shutdown mechanisms at the plant’s fourth reactor. After a tremendous power surge, the reactor blew up at 1.23am on Saturday, April 26.
Except for high-ranking Communist party officials, the KGB and a number of scientists, doctors and fire-fighters, no one in the Soviet Union, let alone the wider world, knew anything about this. Soviet habits of secrecy and deception kept millions of people in the dark even as radiation spread across Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and beyond.
Certainly the disaster in Japan was widely broadcast across the world without any delays or restraints. But the thrust of this Post today is to point out what, in the end, will have to be understood by the majority of the world’s peoples and their representatives in power. That is that our dependence, our love affair, with cheap carbon-based energy has to come to an end, and soon.
On the 26th March, The Economist published a briefing on nuclear power entitled, When the steam clears. As with so many of this newspaper’s essays, it was very well written [I am a subscriber to The Economist; have been for years.] Here’s a taste of the article,
When last year a volcano closed the skies over Europe and a blown-out oil-rig turned the Gulf of Mexico black, there was no widespread enthusiasm for giving up oil or air travel. But nuclear power is much less fundamental to the workings of the world than petrol or aeroplanes. Nuclear reactors generate only 14% of the world’s electricity, and with a median age of about 27 years (see chart) and a typical design life of 40 a lot are nearing retirement. Although the world is eager to fly and thirsts for oil, it has had little appetite for new nuclear power for the past quarter of a century.
And towards the end of the article, this,
Distressing though it is, the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi is not in itself a reason for the world to change energy policy. The public-health effects seem likely, in the long run, to be small. Coal, with its emissions of sulphur, mercury and soot, will continue to kill far more people per kilowatt hour than nuclear does. But as an opportunity to reflect it may be welcome. [my italics]
Power of hope
We need a continued growing awareness of the craziness of using coal and oil as primary sources of energy, and from that awareness a growing political pressure for change. Change that recognises that mankind’s present energy strategies of continuing to pump carbon-based gases into the atmosphere are insane; pure and simple.
We need more of these examples:
University of Minnesota researchers are a key step closer to making renewable petroleum fuels using bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide.
As the world continues to grapple with energy-related pollution and poverty, can innovation help?
The clock is ticking, as I wrote here a few days ago.