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News Ponderings

Foresight

The Associated Press has looked into the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants. Good.

Quake risk to reactors greater than thought

Okay, not so good.

The nation’s nuclear regulator believes a quarter of America’s reactors may need modifications to make them safer.

Fabulous!

I’m not particularly surprised, though. Humans are not forward-thinking. We have trouble with the big picture; it’s easier to live day to day. I’ve seen this repeatedly in my own life, in my reluctance to take chances even when they aren’t that big a risk and will almost certainly improve my situation. We’re creatures of habit. We get comfortable and we don’t want to break out of that zone. Or we do, but we feel trapped because we’re afraid. We’re more afraid of the change than of the danger of not changing.

Someday our complacency may well spell our doom.

Sometimes we fix things. Here’s a cool article from National Geographic (with wonderful NatGeo writing style) about the removal of some superfluous dams that endanger an ecosystem:

Largest U.S. Dam Removal to Restore Salmon Runs

In Washington State‘s Olympic Peninsula, members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe still tell stories of a time when the Elwha River was so full of salmon that a person could cross from one bank to the other by walking atop the thrashing bodies of fish struggling to move upstream.

No one has attempted such a feat since two dams were built, near the mouth of the river, in the early 20th century, blocking salmon runs.

But on September 15, officials in Olympic National Park will begin the long process of dismantling the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River.

The article points out that the dams weren’t built in a forward-thinking way, and it was the residents’ “fear of change” that kept them in place for four decades after it was first proposed they be removed. I’m glad it’s finally being done…but this is a far more forgiving situation than, say, nuclear power plant problems. With disasters like Fukushima, I hardly think we have 40 years to correct our mistakes.

Up until recently I was a staunch supporter of nuclear power. Even in the days and weeks after Fukushima I was an apologist. But as time passed and more and more problems surfaced, my enthusiasm faded. I still believe that nuclear power is, in theory, a good option for cleaner energy. But I’m not so sure I trust humanity to be the custodians of that power just yet. Given our tendency to let things go, to maintain the status quo, to only improve when we’re forced to, I’m not sure nuclear power is worth the risk. Knowing how humanity is likely to take care of–or not take care of, to be perfectly honest–its nuclear power plants, supporting the continuance of nuclear power is essentially rubber-stamping future deaths due to accidents like Fukushima.

I guess the question is, how many deaths, and what kinds of death, are most acceptable? It’s not like coal doesn’t kill, after all. Perhaps coal is easier to swallow because those deaths are more…containable? (I still wonder whether or not we actually comprehend all the dangers of radiation.)

How do you make these decisions, when you know that pretty much no matter what, someone’s going to die as a result of your choice?