Japan nuclear crisis: Seven reasons why we should abandon nuclear power

The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan underscores – yet again – the need to abandon nuclear power as a panacea for energy independence. Experts may never determine what caused all of the emergency cooling safety systems at Daiichi to fail completely. But they have learned that they are nearly powerless to bring the smoldering units under control. In the meantime, significant amounts of radioactive gas have vented, and partial meltdowns of at least two reactors have occurred. Indeed, nuclear power will never live up to industry promises. As a whole it is ultimately unsafe, an accident waiting to happen, and far more expensive than proponents admit.

Colby College professor Paul Josephson gives seven reasons why we should abandon nuclear power and instead turn to solar, wind, and other forms of energy production that won’t experience such catastrophic accidents.

1. Accidents and population centers

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Japan's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that followed have severely damaged its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, pictured here in an aerial shot on March 14, 2011.

Worldwide standard operating procedures at nuclear power plants offer little margin for safety errors, and the industry is scrambling to check safety at each station. But can it reliably prevent another accident? Accidents are difficult to predict and have immediate far-reaching consequences, compounded by the fact that most nuclear reactors are located near major population centers – Moscow, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Budapest, Kiev. It is nearly impossible to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people in a timely fashion, even with advance warning of several days – as hurricane Katrina demonstrated in New Orleans.

Officials at the Japanese nuclear plant did not think to have closed-circuit cameras inside the buildings to chart an accident for which they never fully planned. But we can be certain of the following. Officials belatedly warned surrounding residents of the danger to their lives, belatedly began to issue potassium iodide tablets to protect them, and belatedly expanded the evacuation zone around the station. Now at least 100,000 people have had to leave the area, and at least 100,000 more have been forced to live inside of sealed houses. At Chernobyl, as well, the authorities only ordered evacuation after a shocking delay.

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