With the announcement that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will likely approve the restart of two of Japan's nuclear reactors, I admit that I don't buy any of the reasons for doing so.
I've heard many excuses for the nuclear accident that happened as a result of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, followed by reasons why we should return to nuclear power.
1. "We were unprepared for March 11."
Um, who is ever prepared for a natural disaster? Even the Boy Scouts would have had a hard time preparing for an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident happening at the same time. Besides, have you ever heard of a disaster that went extremely well because everyone was prepared? Hey, we had only 10,000 fatalities rather than 15,000 because we were so prepared! And 5,000 of those deaths were actually pets. And of those pets, most of them were goldfish. So overall, it was a very successful disaster! It's like being relieved that a small plane crashed killing only 50 people rather than a Boeing 747 that crashed killing 350. Who can quantify life?
2. Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan acknowledged there was "poor communication and coordination among nuclear regulators, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and his government." In addition, he said they had uncovered "inadequate safety guidelines" that need to be overhauled.
How can we be sure that communications will improve or that an overhaul of safety guidelines will make us safer? Even a complete overhaul of the system does not eliminate human error. While we can try to prevent it, we cannot avoid it. There is no guarantee that the "authorities" or anyone else will do the right thing the next time around. Give people safe alternative energy, and all we'll need to worry about is a massive blackout rather than decades of nuclear contamination.
3. "Since nuclear power accounted for about 30 percent of Japan's total energy supply before the March 11 earthquake, the only way to avoid energy shortages this summer is to restart the reactors."
Fifty-four nuclear reactors to power just 30 percent! Wow, is it really worth it? Why are we so afraid of running out of electricity anyway? We have this dependency on electricity as if it were a drug. Makes you wonder what people would do if there was a food shortage. You don't need air conditioning, lights or TVs to survive. You do need food.
We have a problem distinguishing between wants and needs. Needs are food, clothing and shelter. Wants are iPods, Lady Gaga and nuclear energy. Honestly, we could all do with a good scolding from Mother Nature.
When I lived in Indonesia, rolling blackouts were the norm. You just get used to them. Most people had a generator as a backup. You soon realize that power outages aren't so bad. OMG -- we'll have to take a coffee break! You learn that inconvenience is actually sometimes "in convenience." And from my observations of the Japanese work place, I'd say most businesses would have higher worker productivity if they thought the electricity was going to go out for a spell.
To save energy, grocery stores, department stores and public transportation will continue to keep their air conditioners at minimum temperatures rather than freezing the heck out of their customers. People will come home and turn on the fan rather than the air conditioner. And maybe they'll discover they can sleep with the windows open rather than with the fan on. What's wrong with that? In the meantime, we can save energy for hospitals, factories and other facilities that rely on it.
Rather than turning on the air conditioner to deal with intense summer heat, we should tear up all the unnecessary concrete in this country and instead use materials that breathe and absorb the heat. Amid Japan's economic miracle, they removed trees, gardens and grass and replaced them with easy-to care for concrete sidewalks, plazas and parks (yes, pure concrete parks!), all of which reflect heat. Whereas houses used to be built to breathe and cool themselves, these days, they are made for air conditioning. We should be striving to live in a balance of nature and technology, not a separation of the two.
4. "Nuclear power is cheap."
Really? After the cost of Japan's nuclear disaster, I don't think anyone should be calling nuclear power cheap. Tepco is raising its rates to cover this previously "cheap" energy. At least with increased rates, people use less energy. But why not spend that extra money (that they are going to charge us anyway) on alternative energy?
Kansai Electric Power Co. has already made changes such as offering bigger discounts to corporate customers who operate on weekends instead of weekdays (shifting their usage to when electricity demand is lower). They plan on raising the electricity rates in the late afternoon, lowering them at night and adding incentives for households who save energy. This should have happened a long time ago. More options offer more opportunities for companies (many already on the brink) to be more efficient. And employees benefit too. Flex days? Bring 'em on! Electricity should be seen as a commodity.
I also propose that TEPCO lower the rates in winter, when people "need" energy most, and raise the rates in summer when people "want" it most.
5. "Moving away from nuclear power will take away from research and development in this area."
In addition, by continuing R&D on nuclear power, we take away from R&D in alternative energy. I'd like to see more development of not just thermal, wind and hydro power, but also tidal power. Japan's Seto Inland Sea, with over 250 inhabited islands, has some incredible power to be harnessed via a constantly rising and falling four-meter tide, and the resulting swift currents that flow back and forth through the islands and out into the Pacific Ocean.
Japanese writer Genichiro Takahashi, referring to now being the first time since 1966 that Japan has been without atomic power, said, "It is a good opportunity for us to think about what kind of world we should and want to create." And maybe it's time to learn how to appreciate something we don't have: nuclear power.