Japanese nuclear disaster and its impact on alternate energy strategy

The March 11th earthquake and tsunami has caused an incalculable damage to the Japanese coastal towns and villages in terms of both loss of life and loss of property. However the drama unfolding now in Fukushima nuclear power plan could have a far greater impact on Japan than any physical damage of this natural disaster. If this nuclear calamity unfolds fully, it will put into question the safety of nuclear power and wreck an enormous psychological damage on the supporters of nuclear power who want it to become a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

It is well documented Japan relies heavily on nuclear energy; close to 30% of the Japanese energy needs today are met by nuclear energy, and this is expected to rise to 40% by 2017. For a nation so heavily reliant on nuclear power, safeguarding the nuclear power facilities should have been a top priority. But the experience of Fukushima shows that the measures undertaken to protect the nuclear power plants from natural disasters are not adequate. If this is the situation in Japan, a country with the world's most advanced civilian nuclear power program, I can't help but wonder what the situation must be in countries like China, India and Pakistan where resources have been lacking and some of the nuclear power facilities are known to operate under very primitive conditions!

There is hope now that the Japanese will be able to prevent the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima complex. But if this cannot be averted, this will not only cause radiation exposure damage to the exposed locals, it will also cause a huge setback to proponents of nuclear power as our alternate source of energy. Psychologically, it will be impossible to defend nuclear power as a safe source of energy and will set the strategy back by decades.

Let's hope that this is not the case, and yet let this incidence serve as a wakeup call to the policy makers looking to develop alternate energy strategies. We need to redouble our effort to look for alternate sources of energy to oil. In this, the priority should be to improve the safety of the nuclear energy, while we are working on developing solar and wind energy technology.
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