When the earthquake and tsunami hammered the Fukushima nuclear plant two years ago, I remember thinking something like well, at least this happened in Japan -- they are a lot better at earthquake engineering than we are … As it turned out, though I still think that is true in some respects, Fukushima showed that a commercial power provider cannot be trusted to make nuclear power safe. The incentives are all wrong. Skimping on safety leads to higher profits now. Catastrophic events are rare. Probably the individuals who make the decision to skimp will have cashed out and moved on by the time problems are revealed. So corporations and their regulators will often cut corners. After all, in the long run, we're all going to be dead.
Christoph Neidhart, a Swiss writer and journalist based in Tokyo, summed up the shock of the Fukushima meltdowns.
If the Japanese can't build and run these things safely, don't ask me to think U.S. companies can do it. I'm just not that credulous. This is too bad. Nuclear does look like a better alternative than coal -- but at the price of occasionally making large swathes of land uninhabitable for generations? Not to mention, nobody seems to have figured out what to do with the nuclear waste they generate except to make bombs out of it.
According to Elaine Kurtenbach and Mari Yamaguchi, writing for the Associated Press, the clean up is not going so smoothly either.
Well that is straightforward: when the criminals in the boardrooms make a mess, hand it over to a mafia to clear it up. The hell with the workers ... This episode is only one of many instances of untrained and underpaid workers unwittingly carrying the risks of the clean-up.
It's hard to believe there is any such thing as safe nuclear power when there are greedy humans involved -- and I don't know how we accomplish an ethical shift to change that. The nukes may be okay, but we're not ready for them.