Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sun Sets on an Obsolete Solution

Nuclear power is once again on the table for discussion now that we've experienced another incident on par with Chernobyl, with impacts on society and ecosystems that make the 3-Mile Island incident (1979) that triggered worldwide protest look tame. This recent calamity, in the "land of the rising sun", Japan's Fukushima reactor illuminates the extreme risks and costs of nuclear, the result of the 9.0 quake on March 11. It's now evident that four of the six reactors experienced meltdowns, which is why so much radioactive material has been pumped into the atmosphere and the ocean, impacting other countries globally.

It's not just the radiation risks of this extreme and unsustainable technology. Nuclear power uses tremendous amounts of water, its Achilles' heel. It's far more effective to use local strategies to move water and power in ways that work in concert with natural systems. In California, this is an especially sensitive issue, because water sources are already scarce, and the statewide aquifers are being overdrawn, which collapses the ground and destroys water quality. We cannot support nuclear capacity in the West for this reason.

And in a very cogent analysis of the industry, William A. Collins emphasizes the very high cost and the dangers of building power sources that not only create immense risks, but are the most expensive and highly subsidized power sources in existence. It's an obsolete solution to a problem that must be met with local sources of sustainable power and a reduction in demand using innovative technologies. The nuclear industry, like the oil industry, is protecting old and outdated methodologies which stifles the creative and innovative approaches that could result in better infrastructure that can be maintained by smaller entities. These big projects never seem to get the funding necessary to keep them working safely, which is attributable to human nature and a perpetual underfunding of maintenance and operation sectors - the inevitable result of inflation. We need to recognize these issues and plan for sustainable infrastructure, not the old brute-force engineering solutions which require high maintenance at high cost.

When the sun rises, the energy should flow. It's that simple.

Update: Germany has decided to follow Italy and shut down all nuclear power generation by 2022. The cost of the risks is not worth it. This is demonstrated by the problems plaguing Edison International's nuclear power plant at San Onofre, California.