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Sunday, 25 August 2013

Fukushima in the News Again!

Fukushima hit the news headlines during the week, this time as a result of a leak of highly toxic and radioactive water stored on site after being used for cooling the reactors, following the melt down in 2011. So, once again we have a demonstration that, when it comes to nuclear, the risks cannot be managed!

Fukushima, in case you did not know, was the first ever, triple reactor core meltdown, which resulted in the contamination of tens of square kilometres of surrounding countryside with Strontium 90. What you probably are not aware of is that, here in the UK, the original incident demonstrated well the cavalier attitude of engineers and scientists. The following is what some senior engineers and scientists in the UK said:

“People have an irrational fear of radiation.”
“No one died (from exposure to radiation).”
“... in terms of a nuclear accident it showed what people can do in very trying circumstances ...”
“All the press focused on ... was a reactor puffing steam.”
“the material that has been emitted from Fukushima is not going to create long-term damage.”
“... there is nothing that happened there which should stop us having a nuclear ambition in Britain.”
"The Chinese are fortunate in having an authoritarian government—they can just build their reactors without having to be concerned about opposition."
Fukushima changes nothing.”
Germany's decision (to phase-out nuclear energy) was influenced by public opinion ... (not evidence and facts).”
“(Fukushima) was not another Chernobyl.”
“Our reactors are different …we have designed in features which means we would not be able to have the same event as happened in Japan.”
“Ratings of nuclear disasters that place Fukushima on a par with Chernobyl are misleading.”

Welcome to the lunatic asylum that is the modern world of science, technology and engineering! But why the collective denial of actual events? Why the attempt to downplay what was, without doubt, one of the most important events for the future of society in the 21st century? Why do scientists and engineers want people to believe that the Fukushima disaster was not really a significant event? Why the contempt for democratic process and public opinion? Why this authoritarian, experts know best approach? Why the … it can’t happen here mindset? Does the answer lie in an alignment of science and engineering with powerful economic vested interests? Is this evidence of lack of fitness for purpose? These matters are explored further in my short story, Encounter with a Wise Man and in my forthcoming first major novel called Moments in Time.

Readers should note that Fukushima was only the second civilian nuclear accident to warrant the highest possible rating of 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The scale judges the severity of nuclear events by their impact on people and the environment. The only other accident to be given this rating was Chernobyl (so much for reactors puffing stream!). For an explanation of what happened at Fukushima, the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, read the IEEE's blow-by-blow account: 24 Hours at Fukushima.

The question is not whether there will be another accident on the scale of Chernobly or Fukushima, but when and where it will occur. If you can reach an understanding of the reasons underlying this statement then you will have taken the first steps towards gaining insights into the core of what is wrong with modern science and engineering. 

Fukushima well demonstrates that the risks (associated with nuclear power) cannot be managed. Yet scientists and engineers continue with the delusion that the risks can be managed. But, the risk analysis is also incomplete, for with risks go consequences; when these are factored in, then the arguments for nuclear is lost. The risks are often declared to be low, but with nuclear the consequences are, as Fukushima demonstrates, unacceptable. There are only three reasons to support nuclear power – folly, delusion, and vested interest, and often the three can be found together.

The overriding message is that, here in the UK, there is a need to for an ethical transformation among scientists and engineers. Self-evidently at a global level, we also now need to start to develop a different approach to science, engineering and technology, founded on different values to those that currently shape the behaviour of people in these occupations. This is something that I am beginning to explore in my writings, so there will be more about this in future books, on my web site and in this blog. And if you think that a different approach is not possible, that there is only one best way to undertake science, engineering, and technology development – then you may have fallen into the mental trap of social Darwinism.

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