Tokyo Notes

End of the Nuclear Renaissance?

Has the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant killed off the chance of a nuclear renaissance?

I caught up with Tokyo Notes blogger David McNeill today and asked him for an update on what he has been seeing and hearing. Here’s what he had to say:

‘As you know, on Saturday morning we headed northeast to Sendai, Fukushima and beyond. I got back Monday evening, hitching a ride with aid workers along the highways.

‘The routine since then has been the same: go out and research as much as I can during the day, making sure to talk to as many people as I can, then back here and write until two or three in the morning, before getting up again at 8 am. The radio has been the big nuisance – there’s constant demand for radio interviews. My phone buzzes constantly and distractingly. But I feel duty bound to answer, like a doctor on call or something.

‘My priority for now, apart from the personal safety of my partner and unborn baby, is to keep telling the story as accurately as I can, because that's the job I've chosen.  That may mean another trip up north this weekend, which is causing understandable tension with my partner. I'm very concerned, obviously, about the fate of the plant in Fukushima, and others.  With the tectonic plates crashing and churning like this, more earthquakes are a certainty, and possibly even the eruption of Mt. Fuji. I won't listen to anyone saying it can't happen, after the events of the last five days.  

‘I don't have time to be angry right now, but I will if and when all this settles down. Experts have been warning for years about the folly of building nuclear plants in one of the world's most seismically unstable countries in the world. I've been interviewing them since I came back here in 2000, especially during the Kashiwazaki crisis in 2007.

The bureaucrats and government responded that Japanese technology was superior and had overcome the design faults of its equivalent in Europe and the United States. There was a huge amount of national pride invested in this since, as we all know, this is such a resource poor country, held hostage to events in the oil-rich Middle East and very much dependent on US protection and double dealing there. Now we see the folly of that strategy.

My sense is that we are at a historic moment. I'm on the radio every day hearing nuclear experts — in many cases very measured and well informed — being ridiculed for their faith in this technology as an energy source. I can’t imagine public opinion in any democratic country anywhere allowing another plant to be built in the years to come, if ever. Fukushima will certainly kill off the so-called nuclear renaissance and makes people like Tony Blair and George Bush, who championed it, look very foolish. And I think that's a very good thing.