Sunday, 20 March 2011

"Doing the right thing" - what now for nuclear power?

I like David Cameron's adopted phrase "doing the right thing". And as we think about our country's energy demands, and how we should provide power in the next 30 years, how does nuclear power fit in?

I attended a very moving event yesterday at Slackspace, where the local arts community had put on a day long event to raise cash for the Red Cross in Japan, and awareness about events beyond the clips on "You Tube". The Japanese Society from the University of Essex were there, sharing reports from their homeland, and their leader made a very moving speech about how the Japanese retain hope amidst all the destruction, and that the support from all round the world has helped.

As he spoke he became more impassioned, with talk about "we will never surrender" and "never give up", the overload of images and cultural references frazzled my brain, and the multi-connected synapses sought something more familiar, with a hybrid of Ian Paisley and Galaxy Quest popping up in my mind.

Fred Slattern did a bit of spoken word busking in town, and a set at Slackspace to a mainly rock and roll audience of about 150, which went OK. I think the one about Caravan Man Steve Ball was the best received...

Anyway, back to nuclear power. My first reaction to the failure of the power station at Fukushima was "how could this happen?". Yes, it was a very big earthquake and tsunami, but surely foreseeable within the life of the power station, and to be designed for. It looked like major contamination was inevitable, but at the time of writing this, it looks like the worst case scenario has been avoided.

So how do we respond in the UK to this latest example of the nuclear power industry to appear unable to deal with the monster under its guard? After all, this was a Japanese plant, with the benefit of their wealth, advanced technology, attention to detail and manufacturing skills, and surely designed to deal with the conditions expected in their country? And talking about "doing the right thing", our thoughts were with the devoted nuclear industry employees and retired workers  who were battling with the reactors, in their attempts to regain stability at  the plant. My view is that if the Japanese can't manage nuclear power, then nobody can.

So we need to produce more energy in the UK? Will it be coal fired, or nuclear, or "green"? If the government is to make a tough decision and "do the right thing", can we countenance more nuclear power? Or do we accept the environmental downside and expense of coal fired or green schemes? Looking at the legacy we pass on to the next generations, I've never been happy with nuclear power.

But it's too easy for us, the public, to leave the decision to the government, expecting "them" to "do the right thing". What will WE do? And there's the rub - we don't need the extra power stations, if we, the public, were prepared to reduce our demand. It's not just about us having to live in cooler homes, and wear more baggy pullovers (like wot I do). Our lifestyles and consumerism are built around excessive energy demands (yes, including mine), and our society does not seem prepared to rein it in.

Back to last night's event. After the report from the Japanese Society, we were all invited to step forward and join in a sing-along led by the Japanese. It was "sukiyaki", a tune I recognised; and to help us with the singing they had the Japanese words, in anglicised spelling, rolling through on a screen. Very moving, and a rather bizarre taste of Japan for someone whose only direct experience of Japan was a few meals at the Tokyo Diner round the back of Leicester Square. I may never have been further east than Helsinki, but I have watched Leyton Orient a few times.


  1. Interesting points about our ability V Japan's to manage risk and attention to detail etc.

    thought provoking stuff Swifty.

  2. It didn't get much comment on the blogspot, but there was a flurry on Facebook:

    Jess Jephcott Having a father who fought the Japs during the war I have problems with your comments.

    Rowena Macaulay Jess, that's just straightforwardly offensive

    Andrew Stanley Budd Jess, I can't comment as I don't know what particular problems you have with my observations. I am aware that many older people still hold onto the Japanese's treatment of POWs, and will never forget or forgive, nor am I asking them to, but in my opinion we cannot judge the current Japanese by the actions of earlier generations from over 65 years ago.

    Jess Jephcott Quite right on both accounts. It is my problem.

    Polly Alderton If you feel strongly enough to comment in the first place that you have a problem seems quite curious that you won't back it up with anything constructive?

    Jess Jephcott I was reading Andrew's excellent blog. The present day view of the Japanese as being such gentle people is so different to how my father spoke of them. I have no personal animosity but my old dad went through hell for nearly 4 years in Burma. It has affected my view of stuff that is going on now, especially when I see footage of older Japanese men. I ride Honda and Yamaha motorcycles BTW.

    Andrew Stanley Budd Here's a link to what we were part of on Saturday

    Andrew Stanley Budd I knew an old guy who would never buy a Japanese car because of the WW2, but he capitulated in the end after a string of British rust buckets that were always breaking down!

    Jess Jephcott We have to move on. But some of us have a loyalty to our family. I know that I do.



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