Start planning now for the end of the nuclear age
I came up with the idea for this blog after having lived in Japan during the spring of 2011. Before this experience I had been gradually coming around to the belief that nuclear energy was the least bad energy alternative that we have to accept - that is, if I thought about it all. I knew the arguments that coal and oil extraction kill more people each year than radiation. I agreed with the pro-nuclear side that it was a matter of risk assessment and trade-offs. One cannot just advocate that everything dangerous should be abolished. However, I now say that it is my rational risk assessment that makes me conclude that the nuclear age has to end.
As I watched the nuclear disaster unfold in Japan, I began to learn a great deal about the nuclear age, in terms of physics, biology, history and politics. I may be an amateur, but I will educate myself and claim my right to have a voice in this issue. I had to conclude, from both study and the personal experience of living among the irradiated, that there is something qualitatively different about the hazards of nuclear energy compared with the hazards of coal, oil and other forms of energy.
The hazards of other forms of energy can at least be sensed and comprehended by a person who lacks a formal education in physics. We all know to run from a fire. We can react to, and control and contain other disasters. But nuclear energy is intangible while it has a greater potential for harm than any of the dangers that we have evolved to have natural fear of.
Although we have so far managed to avoid nuclear war, we are still slowly irradiating the planet. It seems certain that we will continue to have nuclear "accidents" caused by unforeseen natural disasters and the dysfunction and bankruptcy of political and economic institutions. We have to plan for the end of the nuclear age now to ensure the survival of our species. We will either find the elusive solution to our energy "needs" or we will socially devolve back into agrarian societies, but we won't last for long if we continue to have a Chernobyl or a Fukushima once every 25 years.
The nuclear age cannot be ended on short notice. We need to decommission nuclear reactors and weapons, and create the safest possible storage for all the nuclear waste we have created. No one in power now will sign an agreement with deadlines in the near future because we need time to fix the mess we have made. This is why we need to set a long-term target now - one that is pragmatic but also meaningful and worthwhile. The fast approaching hundredth anniversary of the first nuclear bomb explosion (July 16, 1945) seems like a deadline that is both pragmatic and significant enough for the world to rally around.