Fukushima: The Death Knell for Nuclear Energy? – review
Fukushima: The Death Knell for Nuclear Energy?, by Sean McDonagh, July 2012. Columba Press, 166 pages, ISBN 978-1-8560-7784-2. RRP £10.99
This is a clear exposition of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, its antecedents and its continuing aftermath. McDonagh compares the nuclear craze to the ancient myth of Poseidon stealing fire from the gods. Nuclear energy was first discovered by the French physicist Henri Becquerel in 1896. But the real history of the development of nuclear energy and power is in the 20th century, including in the 1930s and beyond the quest for military uses culminating in the Nagasaki and Hiroshima disasters, but still continuing as deterrence, as in Israel and North Korea, and the UK.
The hubritic arrogance of mid-century scientism was well expressed in 1954 by Lewis Strauss, chair of the US Atomic Energy Commission, ‘Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter … will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds.’
McDonagh documents the horrendous dangers of nuclear power, including the near impossibility to decommission plants safely, store spent fuels and to avoid accidents from natural disasters such as occurred at Fukushima. Almost immediately after the catastrophe radiation was found in air, soil and water and fish within a large radius. The US government recommended its citizens ‘avoid a 50 mile zone’. Shockingly in April 2011 the Japanese government released 11,500 tons of contaminated water into the seas. Like Chernobyl, Fukushima is now within the deep earth endangering earth life including humans.
McDonagh notes that spent uranium and other saturated materials must be segregated and stored for 200,000 years, a span roughly comparable to the years since our species first appears in Africa. McDonagh has done impressive research, including the writings of Dr Helen Caldecott, New Economics Foundation, NGOs, and contemporary journals, including The Guardian and New Scientist. McDonagh chronicles disasters such as Windscale, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl, as well as Fukushima, and warnings about other potential, and even beginning disasters such as Sellafield, Hinkley Point, Hartlepool and Dungerness. In all accidents and credible warnings there is a subsequent cover up by the nuclear lobby including industry, government, and media. McDonagh also describes developing countries keen to risk their biosphere with nuclear plants including Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya and North Korea. According to McDonagh Catholic Bishops in these and other countries have warned about the dangers of nuclear, and promoted genuine alternative energies including wind, solar, and ocean power. Fukushima alerted even the cautious Vatican. In McDonagh’s words. ‘In response to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, it seems that the Holy See has now changed its policy on promoting nuclear energy. Nuclear power is neither safe nor cheap’.
To return to Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humans. Zeus was so angry he sent the lady god Pandora who opened a box releasing all evils such as disease and death which plague humans. Hubris brought nemesis. The Christian response to nuclearism, along with religions such as Shinto and Buddhism, was well described by the Japanese bishops after Fukushima. ‘In order to protect life, which is so precious, we must not focus on economic growth by privatizing profitability and efficiency, but decide at once to abolish nuclear plants.’ Governments, including that of Japan, would be well advised to heed the Japanese bishops.
Dr Edward P. Echlin