The Tragedy of Fukushima is not yet fully known, at least not in terms of the long-term effects of the radiation released today and tomorrow, perhaps for mankind’s entire “half-lifetime.”
We don’t know (meaning our best scientists don’t know) what will grow out of the hole which has been blasted in our collective consciences today. Our knowledge of atomic science, just like our understanding of all earth science, is in its infancy, yet we have chosen to build nuclear reactors in geologically risky locations. Beyond the risky siting problems, lie the earth forces of wind and water, which we only now beginning to see.
Our best minds could figure-out how to take the nuclear fire out of the oven and bring it into our neighborhoods, but they could not guarantee a fail-safe way to go about this—yet, they enthusiastically urged our leaders to dot the countryside with these nuclear pipe-bombs, euphemistically dubbed “reactors.” A “REACTOR” is an abomination, classified as “science.” Here is an untechnical description of a reactor operation:
Inside a closed metal and concrete container, a piece of uranium is ignited, like a piece of coal that is partially smothered, enough to prevent the glowing coal from bursting into open flames. The glowing uranium rod is prevented from open ignition by smothering in coolant (water under high pressure). The heat released by this partially burning rod of uranium evaporates water into steam, which flows through pipes like a modern equivalent of a steam engine. The nuclear-powered steam engine turns an electrical generator, which sends electricity flowing through the wires.
If the uranium rod is allowed to burn too hot, it creates more heat than the coolant can transfer and the core begins to melt.
If the water system shuts-down for an extended time, the fuel rods in the zirconium metal canisters continue to heat and when water is reintroduced, the ziconium releases hydrogen, which can cause the REACTOR building to explode. If the fuel rods aren’t cooled, they melt, burning through the floor of the REACTOR core.
If all goes well, none of this ever happens, but like all things made by the hands of man, every mechanical system eventually breaks down. Our best minds knew all these risks before the first reactor was ever built, yet they recommended that reactors should be built in every country on the face of the earth. Our scientists didn’t care to consider that the day might come when the earth would bite back.
The tragedy of Fukushima is a tragedy for all mankind. We do not yet see it, but this event will be remembered as a turning point in the development of humanity. From this point forward, if nothing else, Fukushima will give pause to every politician or technocrat in the future who holds up the torch of “nuclear power” as the great hope for our energy-starved planet. But the greater ramifications of the environmental impact from this event will echo down through the corridors of human time, in both subtle and more obvious ways. The first concrete way that this will impact future lives will be radiation sickness suffered by those near the site. Children of the workers and neighbors of this plant, and their children, will suffer much higher rates of extreme deformation of their future fetuses, produced after this event.
The more subtle widespread genetic damage is produced by the release of enormous amounts of highly-radioactive dust into the atmosphere, as it is carried around the planet, is something which we can only guess at from our perspective. Today, we cannot foresee the end of this tragic catastrophic event. The only thing we know for certain, is that it is all ending very badly.
Our scientists all thought that something like this would never happen, or so they said. The truth is, they played the odds and lost, or rather the Japanese people lost. Nuclear power has always been a cosmic roll of the dice, with the fate of every living being on planet earth riding on the outcome of the roll. Our great leaders fully understood that bad things might happen, yet they confidently invested your tax dollars, in order to gamble your lives that one day the radioactive wolf would not come knocking at your door. Well the wolf is outside and he is starting to howl.
Human evolution comes about when the species reaches a dead-end, requiring the species to grow (evolve) in some way, in order to go forward. Human technology follows the same pattern of growth–forward momentum reaches a point of impasse, until the impeding wall is breached, allowing forward momentum to resume.
Nuclear power has always been thought of in these terms—the technology which was built upon the discovery of the thermonuclear reaction, thinking that “nuclear power” was a great leap forward. . . . IT WAS NOT. As I have explained in my steam engine analogy, nuclear power is pseudo-science. It is the adapting of Nineteenth Century technology over the discovery of the thermonuclear reaction and calling it a “REACTOR,” claiming that it was a great leap forward for all mankind, alleviating us from our addictions to coal and oil-fired electricity. We have our need for electricity vs. unlimited energy from enriched uranium. We have not bridged the gap between them with so-called “nuclear power” (really steam power).
When we have fully understood nuclear science, we will have naturally progressed to the knowledge of converting atomic energy into electricity. Until then, we are just burning up a very limited resource, while endangering all of our lives. In our effort to understand the true science involved in the thermonuclear reaction, we will come to understand the real science of nuclear fusion. Until we learn to harness the astronomical amounts of energy being released in the fusion reaction, we will just be spinning our tires, stuck in the same old mud, with our heads still firmly in our asses.
It may be that when we finally really understand exactly what we have gotten our hands on, we will figure-out that somehow, our evolution as an intelligent species has required a radioactive environment, in order to cause specific species’ mutations that we have not even dreamed of. Who knows? The discovery of atomic energy was a natural outcome of our primitive scientific quest, just as the discovery of converting fusion energy into electrical energy must be the next step in our quest to improve the species.
Perhaps we will see this phase in our technological development for what it is, a failed experiment, so that we may absorb the lessons learned from the tragedy at Fukushima and go on. This is my great hope.
It is time to leave nuclear power behind.
Peter Chamberlin may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.