- (march 2011)
No country was as prepared as Japan for an earthquake and no country was
as prepared as Japan for a nuclear emergency.
The fact that this Chernobyl-style disaster took place in Japan is therefore
The dilemma that countries like Japan face is not as trivial and the
anti-nuclear crowd makes it sound.
Nuclear power allowed Japan to achieve a high standard of living that
presumably has allowed its people to live longer and healthier.
Better economic conditions usually result in longer lives.
Without the energy produced by its nuclear power plants millions of Japanese
may have lived worse lives and died younger.
When one judges all the people who will be "killed" by the radiations, one
is not being fair: if dying younger qualifies as "being killed", then
poor economic conditions "kill" too. Nuclear power makes a lot of countries
richer than they would otherwise be. The trade-off is not trivial. You can
go back and live like they used to live in 1900, but then you would also
have the same life expectancy (less than 40).
The fact that a nuclear disaster kills people is widely reported all over
the world. However,
car accidents kill about one million people worldwide every year. Cars
are arguably a lot less indispensable than energy. Still, we never
thought of banning cars.
Coal mines kill a lot of miners. The numbers of miners killed in
accident is known, but the real killing cannot be quantified: the
average life expectancy for a coal miner is very low. This is similar
to what would happen if there were nuclear radiation in populated
areas. The difference is that the victims of coal are the workers
themselves, not the users of the energy. Somehow society has decided
that the slow death of a worker is tolerable whereas the slow death of
a user of energy is not tolerable.
One nuclear power plant is equivalent to several giant dams. If Japan
had built dams instead of power plants (assuming that this would be
possible in a country that doesn't have great rivers), the
earthquake would have damaged the dams and perhaps killed a lot of people.
The demand for energy will be increasing dramatically as developing
countries continue to expand their economy. Thanks to those nuclear power
plants those countries will become richer and their people will live longer
lives. The choice is between
returning to a world of widespread poverty and a world of nuclear power
plants. There will be incidents, and there will be deaths. Whether the benefits
offset the costs or not is a very subjective affair.
The anti-nuclear crowd is right about one thing though: this is a decision
that affects everybody. When a country decides to mine coal, it is causing
pollution and deaths only on its own territory. When a country decides to
build a nuclear power plant, it becomes a potential health hazard for all
its neighbors (if not for the entire planet). At some point the United
Nations will have to regulate the industry of nuclear power.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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