Count­ing the hu­man cost of nu­clear power de­vel­op­ment


THERE ARE cer­tain im­ages we come across that have a pow­er­ful im­pact. This week one such photo was mak­ing the rounds on­line. It is an im­age of a small Ja­panese child, per­haps two years of age donned in a warm win­ter jacket. A woman, pre­sum­ably his mother, stands be­hind him hold­ing his arms by the wrists spread out in the air on ei­ther side of him.

A man wear­ing a white coat, a white cap and a white mask over his mouth and nose squats in front of the boy just over a me­tre away. In his out­stretched hand he holds a metal de­vice he is point­ing di­rectly to­wards the child's chest.

It is a photo of a child who was liv­ing within the ex­po­sure area around the Fukushima Dai­ichi nu­clear plant fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake and tsunami. He was be­ing screened for po­ten­tial nu­clear ra­di­a­tion ex­po­sure and one look at his face re­veals he is ut­terly scared and con­fused.

An im­age as pow­er­ful and mov­ing as this will un­doubt­edly leave you wan­der­ing if we're on the right track when it comes to find­ing al­ter­na­tive power sources. There is a real hu­man cost in­volved with the de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear power, not since the Ch­er­nobyl disas­ter of 1986 has it been quite so ap­par­ent.

The earth­quake and tsunami were of course a nat­u­ral disas­ter against which hu­mans had no power. What we do have power over is whether or not, and in­deed where, we con­tinue to con­struct and de­velop nu­clear power plants which have proven they can be time bombs sitting idle un­til some hu­man er­ror or a de­struc­tive event from mother na­ture un­leashes it.

There is one clear ques­tion that comes of all this - is the de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear en­ergy worth the po­ten­tial hu­man cost? Are the im­mea­sur­able im­me­di­ate and longer term im­pacts on the hu­man vic­tims worth its con­tin­u­a­tion?

When does the time come to say per­haps it's time to take that in­tel­li­gence and re­ally be­gin to fo­cus on and ex­plore other op­tions? We hear enough about al­ter­na­tives like wind farm en­ergy to know that these are al­ready be­ing ex­plored and put into use.

Why then sim­ply ac­cept the fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear power as an in­evitable fact with­out ques­tion? We're all work­ing to save this planet and se­cure the fu­ture of the hu­man race and the need to cre­ate new and re­new­able sources of en­ergy is un­de­ni­able.

This week a top gov­ern­ment spokesper­son in Ja­pan re­vealed the dam­aged Fukushima Dai­ichi nu­clear plant must be scrapped and ' ab­nor­mal lev­els' of ra­di­a­tion had again been de­tected in milk and spinach taken from up to 140km from the plant.

The fi­nan­cial cost of any such disas­ter is al­ways mas­sive, and most re­cently the World Bank has put the po­ten­tial cost of the earth­quake and tsunami at $US235 bil­lion. Add to the equa­tion a nu­clear plant that has been ren­dered use­less and it only in­creases the sense that the cost both fi­nan­cially and other­wise may be get­ting too high.

With more and more coun­tries look­ing to em­brace and de­velop nu­clear power in the fu­ture, per­haps now is the time to ask these ques­tions be­fore we go one step too far.

Al­ready the United States has re­vealed they will be re­assess­ing where fu­ture nu­clear power plants are built.

That is at least a start and some­thing of an ac­knowl­edge­ment that the time has come for all coun­tries to be re­view­ing their nu­clear sit­u­a­tion.

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