Nearly five years ago, an accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station occurred in Japan. The disaster involved a trio of reactor cores in meltdown and massive loss of power. There were large pools of deadly spent fuel that were at risk of boiling dry and the radiations threatened large portions of the Japanese nation, Tokyo included; one of the worlds largest metropolitan cities and even some parts of the United States (Hindmarsh, 2013). The chilling images of nuclear reactors buildings up in explosions, the countless efforts to try and save the reactor plant, the harrowing accounts of families displaced from their homes and areas rendered unfit for human habitation were just some of the situations that characterized this disaster. The story of Fukushima is a larger tale of the saga of a type of technology that was carefully promoted through a careful nurturing of an assumption, that of safety. The weakness of the nuclear power energy was exposed as an energy choice that gambled with disaster. The incidents that took place in the Fukushima tragedy revealed the shortcomings of the design of the nuclear reactor plant and the flaws that had prevailed for a long time concerning the plants operations and the regulatory oversight.
Despite the fact that Japan as a country bore the share of the blame, the nuclear incident was not only confined for the Japanese but was a lesson whose intrigues only happened to take place in Japan. Such a disaster could as well occurred in any other areas in which the nuclear reactors are situated. Although the incident was seen largely as a failure on the part of technology, the most troubling issue was that of the role played by the worldwide establishment of nuclear projects (Lochbaum, n.d.). It involves a culture that is close-knit and has in most cases championed for nuclear energy in the social and political, economic spheres while failing to acknowledge and drafting ways to reduce the risks that usually accompany its operations. The warning signs had been overlooked for a long time, and any thought of the occurrence of a calamity had been refuted. Though vital lessons are still drawn from The Fukushima tragedy, the exact happenings of what went wrong at the nuclear reactor plant remain unknown. Some of the crucial details that may help in connecting the dots may never be made public. The extent of the long-term effects of the radiations released during the period on the environment, the health of humans and the impact on the economy remain unclear.
The Fukushima Daiichi incident also provided the world as a whole a chance to experience a nuclear disaster roll out in real time and full glare. The unending excuses flew almost from an outset as no one had predicted an earthquake of such magnitude and the massive tsunami that would the low-lying coastal nuclear plant and compromise the safety of the region. The indefinite loss of power and the loss of multiple reactors had never been envisioned. Either case, all these happened within a matter of hours despite the constant reassurances of nuclear safety that later turned out to be a mere fallacy. Countries such as the United States still push hard to defend their status quo and stick to the belief that there is an unlikelihood of the occurrence of severe accidents and as such there is not much need for an advanced plan to be put in place (Weightman, 2012. Those people in Japan whose lives were radically altered differ with this view, and their dissent has resulted in them being shut out of the public policy debate over the nuclear power. The other methods that can be considered for generating energy still bear risks that include the environmental costs as well as impacts of safety and human health.
Before the 2011 Fukushima disaster, nuclear power played a crucial role in Japans energy mix. It accounted for twenty-five to thirty percent of the electricity supply. During this period, many analysts considered nuclear power a relatively cheap, safe and domestic source of energy. The turn of events during the tragedy, however, forced many Japanese and other activists to call for a phase-out of the nuclear projects. The public was strongly opposed to the continued use of nuclear energy, and they pushed for the adoption of renewable energy (Kuo, n.d.). The government announced a plethora of the wind and solar projects after the plant was shut down. According to Goldman Sachs, a total of four hundred and eighty-seven million U.S dollars would be invested in Nanotechnology projects such as the Japanese fuel cell, and other alternative renewable sources such as solar, wind and biomass efforts. By the fall of the year 2030, the governments projected targets range between a percentage of twenty-five to thirty-five of the total power to be generated and an estimated $700 billion invested in other forms of renewable energy.
The Japanese government still has an inclination to the nuclear power as the primary energy provider despite the developments in renewable energy. There are varying responses towards the Fukushima disaster among different nations. In the United States, for example, the government has called for more stringent safety precautions but failed to make any significant political effort to reverse its commitment to nuclear power. The Germans, however, had shown reluctance when it came to issues dealing with nuclear energy. The plans by the Japanese government to revive the nuclear plants in future raises questions as to whether there are certain circumstances where it would be acceptable to continue with the option of nuclear energy as an energy option. This concern borders on ethics and offers a context for making decisions and on the circumstantial issues that may determine the future of nuclear power. In countries like Germany, it has become an exclusive component of the drafting of policies. The choice of whether to go nuclear or not is simply, but the practicality of the normative and political reasons brings about individual variants. On one hand, there is the option of immediate and complete shutdown either on temporary or permanent basis while the other option is to continue without interruptions.
The practicality of either of the extremes has not occurred except in the case of Japan where all the reactors were shut down following the wake of the disaster that forced a shutdown of the remaining reactors for purposes of maintenance and reassessment of safety. For other countries that undertook nuclear projects, their choices lay between the two alternatives. One of the options was that of phasing out or scaling down the nuclear programs that existed at the time. The other option was to undertake a review of nuclear safety in the wake of the disaster and to ensure that adjustments on technicality and safety were incorporated into the plants that were already in existence and that it was also applied to new designs. Some countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and Germany opted for a phase-out. Italy voted against the reintroduction of nuclear power, and a significant reduction of the massive nuclear program was effected in France. Hasegawa (2012) noted that the Fukushima incident derailed the resurgence of the nuclear program in the US. Stringent measures were imposed on Japan if it ever considered re-opening its reactors and nuclear policies were put in place for the future of melting pots.
Some other countries have opted to continue with the nuclear projects. Examples are China and India that have undertaken the safety and regulatory reviews. The Fukushima effect seems to have slowed down the nuclear programs and offered ample time to reflect before taking a decision on ether to phase out or continue with business. The varying responses in part are a pragmatic reaction to the anxiety by the public. There had been a much hyped public support for nuclear programs before Fukushima Daiichi. In 2009 for instance, a massive 59% of the American people were for nuclear power. Roughly 46% of people were of the opinion that nuclear energy was necessary while 48% of the population thought that the dangers were extreme according to Brooklyn polls that were taken after the disaster. After Fukushima Daiichi, the BBC poll in twenty-three countries showed a drop in public support with 22% favoring the nuclear expansion, 71% for replacements by other alternatives, 39% supporting the use of existing reactors while 30% was advocating for a total shutdown. The eight countries surveyed showed strong opposition to new nuclear power with 90% of Germans against, 83% Russia, France 83% and Japan 84%. Only the United Kingdom dodged the downward trend with a 4% rise in nuclear support in 2011, up from 33% in 2005. The United States support, however, remained stable at 40%, a percentage similar to that of China and Pakistan (BBC 2011). All these percentages reveal a Fukushima factor in the decline in nuclear support like that which occurred in the aftermath of the Chernobyl.
The Fukushima Daiichi was by far a cataclysmic event that created a widespread displacement of population, devastation of the ecology, social disruptions, economic catastrophe and psychological trauma. The impacts may persist into the near future bringing about the issue on morals. While an ethical analysis may not yield a definitive solution, it enables us to reevaluate why the nuclear energy programs should or should not continue in light of Fukushima Daiichi.
HASEGAWA, K. (2012). Facing Nuclear Risks: Lessons from the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. International Journal Of Japanese Sociology, 21(1), 84-91. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6781.2012.01164.x
Hindmarsh, R. (2013). Nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi. New York: Routledge.
Kuo, W. Critical reflections on nuclear and renewable energy.
Lochbaum, D. Fukushima. The U.S. government response to the nuclear power plant incident in Japan. (2011). Washington.
U.S. Nuclear Policy After Fukushima: Trust But Modify. (2011). The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 5 April 2016, from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/05/us-nuclear-policy-after-fukushima-trust-but-modify
Weightman, M. (2012). Lessons from Fukushima. Physics World, 25(03), 19-20. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/2058-7058/25/03/26
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