Saturday, August 06, 2011

Hiroshima does not equal Fukushima

Today is the 66th anniversary of the atom bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. In Hiroshima today, a speech by prime minister Naoto Kan, a 'peace declaration' by the mayor, and comments from bystanders all sketched a similarity and connection between the 1945 atom bomb attack and the nuclear accident at Fukushima in March.
A very regrettable and inaccurate conflation for many reasons. But also a very revealing one.
Conflating the bombing of Hiroshima with the nuclear power accident in Fukushima is like blaming iron mining for gun deaths because guns are made of iron. You may as well accuse the Beatles of murder because Charles Manson liked 'Helter Skelter'. Hey, some people do. But in reality, there is no connection between the peaceful use of atomic power and nuclear warfare except that they happen to use some of the same material. Uranium. Of course, the processes used in the production of energy from nuclear power and the chain reaction used for a nuclear explosion are very different. And if you compare the body count of the Hiroshima bombing to the Fukushima accident (140,000 to zero), you get a snapshot of the absurdity of the comparison.
Nevertheless the fact that the comparison is being made is revealing; for in the public mind atom bombs are connected to nuclear power. Fallout is the same as radiation release; a nuclear reaction is like an atomic bomb; and the unspoken message is that nuclear power can kill us all just like nuclear war can, leave us all in a radioactive Biohazard desert fighting zombies and giving birth to mutant babies with 3 heads and 7 eyes.
Don't laugh this is the secret that lies behind the public's distrust of nuclear power. It explains why it is so hated and feared, and why despite its obvious advantages it is not the main source of energy for human society.
It's also the unspoken rationale for otherwise environmentally sound political groups (like Australia's Greens) who oppose the peaceful use of nuclear power. The older membership of the Greens are veterans of the anti-nuclear protests of the 70's. They can't see the science: in their eyes nuclear power equals the danger of nuclear war. This is a genuine tragedy, for a movement that otherwise has many progressive and life-affirming policies is trapped by this anti-science and irrational fear of the only truly green energy source that can deliver the vast amounts of energy that the world craves.


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