Reports are now flooding in that malfunctions have occurred in two different nuclear reactors at the Fukushima power plant following Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. The AP has reported that Japanese officials are assuming at least one of the reactors has seen a partial meltdown.
Now, it’s still very difficult to gauge how dangerous this could be — if the containment structure around the reactor cores don’t fail, a nuclear disaster in the most vivid sense of the word could be avoided. In other words, Fukushima could be a Three Mile Island instead of Chernobyl. (For continuous updates on the situation, Mother Jones’ Kate Shepperd’s coverage is among the best and most comprehensive) But even if the containment barriers are kept intact, and the worst is eluded, the event will still make for a powerful reminder of the vast dangers posed by nuclear power. If those barriers fail, we’ll likely see a global call to arms for more safe, renewable energy.
And rightfully so. The events at Fukushima reveal that as careful as we are with nuclear power, there’s always inherent risk. The plant was designed to be able to withstand a 7.9 earthquake — as you’re likely aware, the one that triggered the tsunami was a staggering 9.0. Bad luck that the quake hit so close, sure — but that’s the point: mother nature has a way of stymieing the best-laid plans. Ornery fault lines, bumbling human error, and so on; these factors continue to pose a real threat, however small-seeming, to the safe operation of nuclear power plants. And that’s why the safest, most reliable energy sources we’ve yet uncovered are renewable ones: primarily solar and wind.
In the midst of the BP spill, a funny web meme spread across the web: a satirical headline read “BREAKING: Large Air Spill at Wind Farm — No threats reported. Some claim to enjoy the breeze” along with the image featured above. And the gist of that message is true regarding the events of today, too — there’s never a threat of meltdown with a solar array.
But that’s all pie-in-the-sky, the conventional counter-argument goes: it’s not feasible. Sure, we’d all love to live in a world powered by renewable energy, but solar is too expensive. Or we could never build enough wind turbines. Well, it’s true that it would be a monumental effort to deploy enough renewable energy to replace the dirty, dangerous kind (coal power has to go too, of course) — but we could do it. In fact, two researchers at Stanford put together an outline for how the world could run on 100% renewable energy by 2030, using technologies that exist today. It’s more a matter of finding the political will to ramp up renewables on a large scale than anything.
Solar and wind still have their problems — solar panels are still relatively inefficient to produce, and there are, for instance, questions regarding wind farms’ impacts on migratory birds. But these are such colossally minor detriments compared with energy sources like coal and nuclear that are, respectively, the primary contributor to global climate change and a persistent risk of meltdown from a natural curve balls like massive earthquakes.
And that’s why it’s clearer now than ever that the energy of the future for the safer, more prudent society, will come from renewable energy. It’s not worth the risks — not to the communities downwind of nuclear reactors, not to the global climate system — to bank on the status quo.
Image: An explosion occurs at the Fukushima nuclear power plant