Britain’s Nuclear Knee Jerk After Japan…

As news filters through of yet more calamity at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, Britain’s Cabinet members have hastily got together in a knee jerk reaction to discuss the future of our own nuclear power policies.

Currently, the UK has ten nuclear power plants, all but one of which will be shut down by 2023. There are, however, plans to build eight new plants with construction scheduled to begin from 2018 onwards. But Members of Parliament have urged the Government to have a rethink on these plans in light of last Friday’s disaster in Japan, in which an earthquake shifted the entire country 2.5 meters towards the continent and a tsunami left thousands dead and even more without homes, power or clean water.

It also caused serious damage to the nuclear facility at Fukushima, which has now suffered a third explosion that apparently released high levels of dangerous radiation in to the air.

But should the events of the past few days really cause the UK to think about stopping building new nuclear facilities? The advantage of nuclear power is that it is clean and efficient, and nuclear energy – like air travel – has a long history of being safe and successful.

The problem with nuclear energy, just like air travel, is that when something does go wrong, it is invariably gripped by the media that, in turn, report the whole thing as a catastrophe.

Satirical news website The Register yesterday posted an opinion on why the disaster at Fukushima is actually a triumph for nuclear energy, while others cite the ongoing difficulties the engineers in Japan continue to battle with as a prime example of why we should abolish all clean energy and continue mining coal until the planet is devoid of fossil fuels.

And in an article on the BBC News website today, SNP MP Mike Weir urges the country to “pause for thought” over our nuclear policies as concern grows for the safety of nuclear energy and the ongoing threat of terrorism.

But here’s the thing: terrorists, should they choose to do so, will simply attack anyway. If they don’t have a nuclear facility to blow up, they’ll just blow something else up anyway, and as far as we’re aware none of our current facilities has been attacked. As for the environmental safety of building nuclear power plants in the UK? Well, we don’t live in an area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, do we…?

A core meltdown at a nuclear power plant would be an ecological disaster, but in the grand scheme of things it is highly unlikely to happen. What has happened in Japan is undoubtedly terrible, but equally it was completely unprecedented, and the fact that the plant didn’t simply blow up really does add weight to The Register’s views above.

Each day we put our lives at risk simply by getting in to a car, or on to a bus, or even boarding an aeroplane.

I continue to hope that the engineers at the Fukushima reactor are able to get the plant under control and get the cooling systems operational again, and I hope that the people of Japan are quickly able to rebuild their lives and their country. We are right, as a nation, to be concerned for them and for the potential danger they continue to face until this reactor is safely under control once more.

But we would also be right to remember that such a disaster would be unlikely to happen in the UK, and that redundancy systems would be built in to protect us from such danger. And, finally, we would be right to remember that The China Syndrome was a fictional story, not real life…

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