Grappling with the nuclear question

  An explosion at the Fukushima I nuclear power plant complex in Fukushima, Japan, which was a result of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the area on March 11has led to the most serious nuclear incident the world has seen since the 1986 Chernobyl incident. As of this writing, cleanup crews are still working feverishly to keep the reactors cool enough to avoid further environmental damage. There’s still a chance Japan could avert a complete reactor meltdown. However, even if they are unable to do so, this should not dissuade any nation from utilizing and researching nuclear power going forward. Certainly, this incident is an blemish on the safety record for nuclear power plants whether or not it escalates; the fact remains that nuclear power is a safe and relatively clean source of power that will be incredibly important as conventional fuel sources continue to dry up. Those calling for an end to the use of nuclear power citing safety concerns do not have a strong case. Since 1952, only three documented nuclear power plant accidents have released harmful radiation into the environment, and the only one with lasting effects was the aforementioned Chernobyl catastrophe. Furthermore, nuclear power does not contribute to greenhouse gas pollution, so its carbon footprint is relatively minimal. While this Fukushima I incident could eventually lead to Chernobyl-like circumstances for the surrounding area, it is important to remember that it wasn’t even caused by any kind of malfunction or malpractice. Natural disasters happen, and just because this tsunami is has caused these issues does not mean we should be halting the development of more nuclear power plants. Yet, this is just what is happening in nearby China, where plans for the construction of more than 20 reactors have been halted, at least temporarily, in light of the Fukushima I situation. I think Russian President Dmitri Medvedev put it as well as anyone in saying that “nuclear power [is] safe provided power stations [are] built in the right place and designed and managed properly.” If any action is to be taken in regards to future nuclear power endeavors, Japan should be the only one worried. While I do grant that they need to think carefully about where they rebuild these plants and how they plan to further “tsunami-proof” them, I don’t believe that any other nuclear country has much cause for concern. After all, you needn’t look far to realize how important nuclear power can be to so many people. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant provides close to three-quarters of the state’s electrical generating capacity, according to the Burlington Free Press as well as 35 percent of the overall energy requirements of the state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Rather than shying away or cutting back nuclear power efforts, I think this is a good opportunity to move forward with enhanced care and consideration to make progress in light of a tragic situation.