We get the power but future generations get the waste

kids in Nepal

These kids had no chance to vote on whether we should use nukes, but they and their kids will have to deal with the waste. Photo: aNantaB via Flickr.

Fukushima now enters the lexicon of nuclear catastrophes alongside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

No amount of official downplaying of the current levels of radiation leaking from Fukushima can gloss over the fact that the hinterland of Fukushima will be contaminated for many years to come.  A new wasteland in which human habitation and agricultural production becomes impossible is slowly growing in the hinterland of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

And the struggle to control the stricken reactor cores and spent fuel pools of the plant will take many years, if not lifetimes, of human labor and vast amounts of financial and technological resources. The effort to contain Chernobyl’s molten reactor still goes on even now, and will go on for possibly lifetimes more.

That is the real horror of Fukushima: the future for a large part of Japan will be severely blighted for many future generations. The hubris of this generation passes on its nemesis to those yet unborn.

“All beings” includes future generations

It could be argued that, from a Buddhist point of view, or perhaps many other spiritual points of view, we should always act to avoid harming all living beings, not only those living now but especially those who will live in the future, who will be far greater in number. Nuclear energy is a uniquely risky enterprise precisely because its consequences are so long-lasting and so difficult to deal with if catastrophe ever strikes nuclear power plants.

I have been watching the media reportage concerning Fukushima intensively for days now, and I notice that the natural tendency is to concentrate on the short-term dangers and risks of radiation. But Chernobyl proves that once you open the Pandora’s box of nuclear catastrophe, you can never put it fully back in again; even now, in my home country of the UK, there are still some hill farms that are too contaminated by Chernobyl fallout to allow sheep grazing on them to be ever taken to market.

Nuclear catastrophe is such a terrible burden on the future that, for me, the inescapable conclusion is that it is simply unethical to ever take the risk of building any nuclear power stations simply because that risk is not restricted to this present generation; it is a risk that potentially afflicts far more future generations than possibly any other kind of technology. It is simply not justifiable to expose so many unborn to such a long-term risk, no matter how much we may feel we need nuclear energy to help meet our own energy needs.

Some may feel that we can live with the risk of nuclear catastrophe even despite Fukushima, but we surely have no right to expect our children and their children to live with the consequences of our risk-taking. And given that Fukushima may yet be even more devastating than Chernobyl, those consequences may haunt all the dreams Japan has for its own children.

— Andrew Durling

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  1. says

    It is becoming increasingly apparent that we have only one authentic option: learn to live with MUCH less energy. The sooner we get about this important work, the better for all of us.

    • says

      Yes, Lee, I absolutely agree. We CAN live with much less energy. Proof: we used to anyway for most of human history. And the sum total of human happiness has not increased exponentially with the exponential increase in energy consumed over the last 100 years. Indeed, I wonder if there has been any significant increase in human happiness, especially in affluent societies.

  2. Auntiegrav says

    Andrew, thank you for writing this article. I have been trying to say this to people for quite some time. (search “net usefulness” or “net creativity”). Even the conservationists don’t get it: we cannot simply be “sustainable”, we have to change direction and become useful to the future as a species or we go extinct. Consuming ‘less’ is not a solution that fits how anything else in the universe works. Things that continue to exist do so because they are useful to their own future.
    The worst part to me about the children inheriting the radiation (we ARE the children of those who started these power plants, by the way) is that the children of the future have already paid to build this technology by surrendering their health and resources, as well as being attached with huge monetary debts by wars and governments working always toward “growth” economics. A friend said it best to me when he said, “Humans are indifferent to the pollution of their success.”

    • says

      Auntiegrav, your comment – A friend said it best to me when he said, “Humans are indifferent to the pollution of their success.” – is absolutely fantastic. Perhaps we could add to it: “because humans are addicted to the success their polluting activities allow.” This success is usually defined in terms of the material benefits of economic growth, as you point out, but perhaps if humans can just be content with the success of happiness achieved within a sustainable present, then they would not only be avoiding the craving for a happiness assumed to be available in a future of economic growth but also they would be showing true generosity to future generations and thereby guaranteeing the future of the human species, and other species too.

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