Sgwarnog: In the Field

By sgwarnog

Risk Society

invisible threat
radioactive burden
risk society

This isn't how I'd anticipated my one hundredth blip to take shape, but sometimes the unplanned takes over.

Events at the Fukushima nuclear power station in the wake of the earthquake illustrate that despite protestations of an enhanced safety culture, generating electricity from nuclear energy carries with it the potential for catastrophic accidents. I hope that this incident doesn't develop to what what emergency planners call a 'worst-case scenario', but it is already coming close to that.

I spent four years of my young life as a research student studying emergency planning for nuclear power stations.  I looked at the geographical, sociological and psychological aspects of emergency management, exploring the themes of risk, society and technology. I studied what had happened at Windscale in 1957, Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986.  I surveyed and interviewed people living in the vicinity of nuclear plants about the risk, and what they would do 'if'. Although this was twenty years ago, much of what I learned has stayed with me, and I am seeing all of that research, and the things that all the experts said would never happen again, playing out again.

The combination of earthquake and reactor accident is an awful one for the people living in the vicinity. Even in normal circumstances dealing with the threat of a radioacative plume, assessing the advantages of evacuation versus sheltering, trying to find where your closest family members are, is an incredibly complex and unsettling state of affairs. When that is combined with the damaged infrastructure left by the earthquake, the task becomes so much more difficult.

I hope this accident doesn't reach it's most catastrophic potential.  The people of Japan have already shouldered an undue burden of the effects of radiation on people and cities. Experts will tell us that this was an extremely unlikely event, and that normally the nuclear industry is very safe.  For me nuclear power isn't, and has never been, worth the risk.

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