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Roundtable: Save the Humans


Engineers at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, The New York Times, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, via Jiji Press, via AFP-GettyLucinda: I’ve been following what’s happening in Japan as much as I can, which means I read a little here and there. It’s frightening and heartbreaking to hear from elderly Japanese people who lived through air raids during World War II that the situation in northeast Japan is much, much worse than that was. I’m also worried about the havoc the tsunami has wreaked on Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and struck by the sacrifice the workers who have remained at the power station have made and continue to make to avert a nuclear meltdown.

Like a lot of other Americans, I’m wondering what this means for us. I was shocked to learn that we have over 100 nuclear power plants in the U.S., and 16 non-operational plants. Someone said to me yesterday that nuclear energy is “clean” and the only reason the power station in Japan is having an issue is because they didn’t have strong enough “security.” Now, this person is not an engineer and knows as little about nuclear power stations as I do, but there doesn’t seem to be anything “clean” about damaged nuclear reactors spewing radioactive material into the atmosphere or radioactive waste from these reactors, which has to be safely stored (for thousands of years) until the radioactivity diminishes. And there is no way we can plan for every contingency. Just look at what’s happening in Japan. The answer isn’t to make better nuclear power plants.

I get it: we need energy, and a lot of it. We are energy junkies. I turn my lights on in the morning, use hot water for a shower, charge my smartphone, go online and do hundreds of things each day that require energy. I just wish we were investing in finding viable energy sources that don’t endanger us all.

Someone please save the humans from themselves.

Sheryl: Unfortunately, I am not at all sure the United States will play any significant role in ensuring the end of nuclear power as an energy option or the development of renewable energy sources. You would think the near-meltdown in Japan would prompt an immediate review of our nuclear energy policy, at the very least. As of Friday, President Obama continued to point to nuclear power as a part of his energy plan, while the Republicans cautioned against taking any hasty action based on what is occurring in Japan. It looks like we will have to look to the heads of state in other countries that rely on nuclear energy to lead the way in an assessment of the danger.

In spite of President Obama’s support of nuclear energy during the campaign, I hoped his election would bring greater progress on the issue of viable renewable energy sources and reduction of carbon emissions. The administration is making an effort to move us forward by reducing our reliance on coal, and during the first two years of the Obama presidency, the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to limit carbon emissions was strengthened. Despite these efforts, it still seems the country is moving backwards. A recent Gallup poll shows the percentage of Americans concerned about global warming has declined by fifteen points since 2008 and that nearly half of the people surveyed believe claims about global warming are exaggerated. It does not help that the Republican-controlled Congress is doing everything in its power to gut the EPA's ability to curb greenhouse gas emissions and funnel more money toward the oil and nuclear industries.

I hope the damage from the Japanese nuclear disaster does not become as great as has been feared. It is regrettable that the United States has not taken a greater position of leadership to ensure that someone save the humans from themselves

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