The nuclear emergency in Japan should be a wake up call for us all

March 21st, 2011 by Anne Sandwith

The nuclear emergency in Japan should be a wake up call for us all.

As a member of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth since the mid-1980s I’ve taken part in several peaceful protests and vigils at the Flamanville nuclear power plant, the Cap de la Hague reprocessing plant and also in Cherbourg against the shipment of high level nuclear waste between France and Japan.

Greenpeace and other environmental organisations have consistently warned of the dangers of building nuclear power plants in earthquake prone areas like Japan.

We’ve always been told that they are designed to withstand ‘worst case scenarios’ and that we are being alarmist. We’ve also questioned the possibility of terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants and planes crashing accidentally or being crashed deliberately on them, ships carrying high level radioactive waste being attacked or suffering an accident, fire or collision at sea.

Again, we’ve been assured that these types of ‘worst case scenarios’ have been factored into the design of the plant or the ship. Peaceful protestors have been marginalised and dismissed as the lunatic fringe, harassed by the authorities, arrested and some have had their phones tapped and treated like dangerous terrorists themselves.

Of course, a disastrous earthquake and tsunami on the Japanese scale is unthinkable around our shores, but what of the other scenarios I’ve mentioned? Can anyone ever rule out human error, terrorism or the extremes of nature, and guarantee that all eventualities are covered? Can it ever be worth the risk?

Of course we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, but to my mind replacing fossil fuel with nuclear power isn’t a green, clean alternative in any shape or form. Nuclear power has so many dangerous and environmental down sides throughout its cycle.

Uranium mining is hazardous to human health and the environment, the generating and reprocessing plants are high risk as we’re presently seeing and the disposal and storage of the radioactive waste is yet another environmental and health hazard that has yet to be solved.

We should have started seriously planning for renewable energy generation decades ago instead of continuing to subsidise nuclear and fossil fuel generation because it benefitted large multi-national corporations. We could have done so much more in the energy efficiency and energy conservation line but this wasn’t in the interests of major utility companies.

We can’t shut down all the nuclear power plants right away and we have to go on using some nuclear power until the alternatives are in place. Governments have to lead the way with incentives, but all of us must also play our part.

Guernsey is ideally placed to lead the way.


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