Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nuclear normality

For no apparent reason, breakfasts have long been a symbol of normality for me. It is a time of day when all the craziness of the night gives way to ontological security. Some shade grown Mexican coffee, Special-K cereals, and that Pura package which reminds me of distant Australian milk bars.

However, for the last days, not even these simple signs of familiarity have been enough to shake a deep uneasiness about the events that are unfolding in Japan. The headlines speak of nuclear meltdowns and a death toll close to 15 000 people.

Talking to my class today about the accidents at Fukushima, I realized how little people know about even the most basic principles of nuclear power. I do not say this to make fun of my students but rather as a reminder of how far we actually are from democratically guiding the technological civilization that we have created. It will clearly take a Herculean educational effort to provide people with the tools necessary to make informed decisions about many of the questions that will confront us in the 21st century and beyond.

As others have pointed out, this is not the time to politicize the suffering that Japan is going through. But yes, I have always been sceptical about nuclear power, yet at the same time a strong supporter of further nuclear research. It is cheap to say that the events at Fukushima and other plants have vindicated scepticism about nuclear power. However, I fear that many greens will make exactly that connection and that it will be very difficult to avoid more general resentment about advanced nuclear technologies.

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