The Great Debate UK
By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.
As the nuclear threat in Japan steps up a gear, global politicians have pre-empted a wave of anti-atomic feeling from their public and spoken out against nuclear reactors, which threatens its future as a viable alternative to oil.
As Japan has found out with devastating consequences when things go wrong with atomic energy the effect is both devastating and immediate. Unlike carbon fuels, which have a lagged detrimental effect on the atmosphere, a nuclear accident doesn’t get worse in increments – once radioactive material is released into the atmosphere the damage to the surrounding areas is done.
In contrast carbon-based fuels are more of an incipient threat. Increased rates of asthma, holes in the ozone layer and deterioration in air quality take many years take of oil-burning to come about, which makes it hard to pinpoint who the real culprit actually is. But if a radioactive cloud suddenly appears you know exactly where it has come from.
The outlook for nuclear energy is not good at this juncture. The relative infrequency with which nuclear disasters happen (there have only been three notable accidents in the past decade including the events in Northern Japan) seems to only increase their negative impact on public opinion. In contrast, individual oil companies can have multiple spillages over the same time frame and demand for crude will continue to rise.