Sunday, March 11, 2012

One Year On

Another one for Garry
A year ago this morning I was on Sapphire in the Bay of Islands Marina standing in the cockpit drinking my morning plunger coffee.. I had only just returned from working in Australia  and it was another month before I would start writing this Blog .I had slept well and it was a typical lazy Saturday morning, warm and sunny autumn, I felt good and I was excited to be back on board and preparing the boat for the journey east, to Tubuai.. Eventually my day dreaming was penetrated by the realization that the tide was flowing in past the boat at a remarkable speed, silent brown and swift. “Strange” I thought to myself, “why hadn’t I noticed that before?”  Sapphire, and indeed all the yachts nearby were jostling about restlessly and  being pushed forward into their berths, but then, as I watched, finishing my coffee it all slowed down and stopped. “Weird” I thought and went below to wash out the cup.

What I had just witnessed was the first surge arriving in the Bay of Islands from the horrendous catastrophe, the Tsunami that had just devastated the north eastern coast of Japan only a few hours before. I discovered this a little later when, back on deck I noticed the brown water was surging in the opposite direction, and then at intervals throughout the morning, back and forth it went, silent, benign, relentless, giving no real hint of its violent and monstrous origins on the other side of the Pacific. “Whats going on?” I had asked of  a man on the jetty as we stared at the water “Oh, its the Tsunami” he replied and wandered off.

Having now watched those mesmerizing videos of that tsunami, seen that wall of water and ships and houses and cars and debris sweeping all before it, surging inland across fields and roads and villages, the tiny vans and cars racing away to try to escape, and seen the photos of the destruction left behind, I shudder when I think what was happening in Japan at that very moment as I sipped my coffee in the morning sun.

The media are of course reminding us of this anniversary. I watched a sad documentary about its effect on a few surviving children from a school where, when all the warnings were sounding, teachers gathered everyone outside and argued amongst themselves about moving them to an even higher refuge. It seemed impossible to imagine that the sea could ever reach the school, but it did just as they had realized they should flee, but it was too late. I also listened to a discussion on the radio about how the Media became obsessed with the unfolding drama at Fukushima, a potential nuclear holocaust which in fact didn’t eventuate –  no lives were lost then or since at Fukushima – and , meanwhile the actual disaster and massive loss of human life elsewhere was somewhat forgotten about.

And then I read this article in the online NZ Herald by William Pesek– whoever he is – “A year after the nuclear disaster, let's see somebody being held accountable”    A year after an earthquake in Japan touched off the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, here's the question on my mind: Who's going to jail?            

My first thought was “God”

His point seemed to be that if the Nuclear Power Plant wasn’t made sufficiently strong to withstand a massive earthquake and then a devastating tsunami, someone from what he labeled the Nuclear Mob must be accountable and should be in jail. It worried me a little that he was particularly concerned about the effect evacuation of Tokyo would have had on the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Stoxx Europe 600 Index. Others argue (read comments) that surprisingly little radioactive material was leaked, any contamination can be identified and removed, and not a single life was lost, thereby providing an illustration of how, even in an almost worst case scenario, a Nuclear Power Station built 40 years ago will not create a nuclear holocaust.. No one was arguing there aren’t lots of lessons to be learned or that its  not going to be massively costly to clean up the mess.

A "Must Read"

My own view about the “Nuclear Option” has started to change in recent times. In New Zealand we have always been suspicious of Nuclear Power and most of us have been proud of the Official “Anti Nuclear” stance adopted  by our Government in relation originally to French Atmospheric Nuclear tests in French Polynesia in the 1970’s and then against visiting nuclear armed and powered US warships.  The challenge to my own thinking in regard to this has been my reading about global warming and the need for clean energy. For many, Clean Energy and Nuclear Power is an oxymoron, and in the shadow of Fukushima almost  impossible to contemplate. However Global Warming is such a very real threat to the future of the Planet that I no longer believe the “Nuclear Option” should be automatically discounted.  In fact, having seen those surges in the Bay of Islands within hours of the earthquake in Japan I have a dark and unnerving feeling for how massive and overwhelming were the forces released by that quake and Tsunami, and so a kind of respect for the fact that the Nuclear Reactor withstood it, that nuclear holocaust did not follow, and that no one was directly harmed as a result of the damage it did sustain. I am not discounting the personal losses of home and community of the inhabitants of the surrounding contaminated countryside, but I am starting to wonder if the problems of nuclear safety and of being clean are not impossible to solve. Andrew Charltons view of what is impossible is meeting the emissions targets that will restrict warming to survivable limits using "renewables" like wind and solar power alone. His view is that for an all "Green" solution to work from where we are right now the economy would have to be focussed on roll out of windmills and solar panels and the like as if it was a war, indeed as it was done in The War, when every available resource was focussed on one common goal. That clearly is not happening, though even China is  mobilising a huge resource against carbon emissions. However, if the predictions are right, time is running out, which is why the nuclear option has to be reconsidered. It would be ironic if  catstrophic warming occurred - and millions of lives lost - if "Fukushima" had been part of the reason that nuclear power wasnt used to try to save the planet.