Sunday, May 22, 2016

That "thing" in Japan

Society and Environment
Enas AbdelRahman for Dan Tamir AIES Spring 2016
Mid-Term Assignment
That “thing” in Japan...
The environmental injustice issue that keeps growing and growing...



1) Choose a contemporary environmental issue, exemplified in a concrete case
I choose the ongoing Fukushima disaster because... it is ongoing. You can’t get much more contemporary than that.  For many people the Fukushima nuclear accident is “old news” because it began when the earthquake and tsunami hit the city in 2011 and in the five years that have passed most of the media have moved on to what they think are “sexier” subjects.  But until the reactor cores are  completely encased in concrete and the fuel rods are no longer reacting, this remains a very hot concrete case… literally “hot” since the damaged nuclear power plant is still spewing radiation into the ocean.

2) Define the systematic scope and the level of the issue and the case study (is it local? regional? global?). Explain and justify your definition: why did you define it)

The dramatic  Fukushima tragedy is a fascinating case study because it started out local, as the  sea wall surrounding the city was breached and sea water poured into the streets, crippling the electrical grid and shutting down the nuclear reactor’s backup diesel generators.  It became a regional issue as the reactor cores began to melt down, causing a huge evacuation and threatening the surrounding population for hundreds of miles with the possibility of dangerous explosions and immediate radioactive contamination.  It has turned into a global issue as the radioactive isotopes continue to accumulate in the Pacific ocean and make their way on the currents to the mainlands of  Asia and to the West Coast of the US and Canada.  The radiation is accumulating in the tissues of sea food, fisheries and wildlife populations are collapsing and consumers worldwide are experiencing the effects of the contamination (mutations and cancer).  (see for a popular summary).

3) Choose 3 of the following aspects –environmental perception, environmental justice, market failures, energy consumption and show how these are involved in your case study. Do they interact with each other

Another fascinating thing about this “ongoing Fukushima nuclear holocaust” is that it actually shows the interaction of all the aspects here.  It started out as an environmental perception and environmental justice issue:  Those who profited from nuclear energy played with public perception to suggest that it was somehow “safe” and environmentally friendly because it didn’t emit carbon dioxide or any smoke. Radiation is invisible and was mostly contained.  Only the people living near or working in the reactor were being harmed.  This is where the environmental justice issue began.  But once the reactor melted down entire populations began to be affected.  Since the rich could afford to leave and move to new houses in safer areas it has been the poor who have suffered, either having to return to contaminated homes or to live in refugee camps or low income housing elsewhere.  The disaster is mainly caused by a market failure -- to keep the costs of nuclear energy competitive, the company cut corners and used insufficient safety technologies.  The idea that they relied on diesel backup engines in a flood zone, for example,  is absurd and irresponsible.  Finally, bad energy consumption patterns explain the insistence on having a nuclear reactor in an earthquake zone by the ocean in the first place.  Had Japan invested in tidal power, wave power and solar and off and onshore wind power they would have never felt they needed the reactor in the first place -- and the irony is that a tidal wave would have actually given them MORE energy.  Now we must deal with the impending holocaust from that “thing” in Japan...

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