Ongoing Contamination

If you read the news at all, you’ve likely seem many stories about the 20th anniversary (somehow doesn’t seem like the right word) since the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union (now territory of Ukraine). I’d urge everyone to follow this link to an excellent photo essay at PixelPress on the subject, or more specifically on the human impact that continues today. Some of the pictures really did make me cry. It mentions in passing other less publicised accidents, and neclear testing done by the military. All leave a human and environmental trail of destruction that could take up to a millenium to clear.

This touches close to home for me. 15 minutes drive from where I live is a nuclear power station, the only one built in the former Yugoslavia. Sure, some locals have spoken out against it, but for the most part there is a resignation to having it around. It is touted as being built to the highest standards, bla bla. But I think we are kidding ourselves into thinking that such an accident can’t happen again, at any nuclear facility. And the issue of waste, what do we do … dig a big whole, cover it over and forget about it. With the current global energy crisis and efforts to wean ourselves off fossils and oil, nuclear is coming back into fashion. That’s worrying. Surely with all our collective knowedge we can come up with better. Wind and Solar power are a good start, but we need to be researching other clean alternatives.

I lived in Dublin most of my life. Ireland is a nuclear free state, and proudly wears that fact on its sleeve. But even there, the issue is unavoidable, as the east coast is directly down wind from Sellafield (a large waste leakage happened as recently as 2005) and other plants in Britain and France. It’s a small world after all. Everywhere is down wind from somewhere. Why should you care? Why shouldn’t you?

One Response to “Ongoing Contamination”

  1. Eric McErlain 8-May-2006 at 21:47 #

    I work for the nuclear power industry here in the U.S. and wanted to share some thoughts:

    1) Chernobyl was a horrible disaster, but we need to remember why it happened, namely, that the operators disabled the safety systems at the plant.

    2) While no one can ever guarantee that there will never be an accident at any nuclear plant, design differences between Western and Russian designed reactors of that era make a repeat of Chernobyl impossible. For more from my industry, see the following document:

    http://www.nei.org/index.asp?catnum=3&catid=296

    3) Much of the waste at Sellafield is not from commercial power generation, rather, it is the result of atomic weapons production. Currently in the U.S., used nuclear fuel is stored safely on-site in dry casks until we open a deep geological repository at Yucca Mountain.

    The situation we face is this: Global demand for electricity is going to increase so quickly, that we will need to harness every source of generation in order to meet future requirements. Renewables can’t do it alone, and relying solely on coal is a non-starter due to the fact that future carbon emissions are likely to be severely restrained.

    Patch in the fact that India and China need to rapidly industrialize in order to bring prosperity to hundreds of millions of people mired in poverty, and nuclear energy simply needs to be part of the mix in new generation.

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