Thursday, March 24, 2011

More on Nuclear Energy & the Japanese Disaster

This post by anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, brought to my attention by Farnum Street, expresses my concerns about nuclear energy. I don't think that we, as a society, really grasp the risks that we run, as this author suggests. We still have a very flawed financial system, and we don't know how to deal with nuclear disasters because we can't predict them very well. On the other hand, nuclear energy is very tempting because it comes as a low carbon price.

Let me hearken back to an earlier post & exchange with follow blogger Frank Robinson. Mr. Robinson gave a very succinct account of the liability issues associated with nuclear energy, including an acknowledgment of the possible application of the principles of strict liability to the nuclear industry. I disagree with him in that I believe that the nuclear energy industry should be subject to strict liability, while he does not. However, I believe that all of this begs a much greater issue: whether born by the public or a private company, can we afford, or are willing willing to afford, the losses that we risk. Let me provide a historic example. Fire, the Promethean gift, has burned down many, many great cities: Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo, London, to name just a few that pop to mind. These societies bore these losses and recovered. We now have control of fires, at least in our cities, such that we don't think that huge swaths of cities will fall in a fire. But what if we suffered a nuclear accident, if, for instance, Fukushima went even further out of control? What level of destruction--although it may prove silent and virtually invisible--are we willing to suffer? If the potential loss is too great for any one company or insurance scheme, should we as a society allow this risk? I'm not sure where we draw the line, but I don't know if these questions are being asked widely enough. That's one reason I enjoyed the cited post.

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