I once read a book, entitled “The Poverty of Memory” and one of the main theses of the book is that the Philippines is what it is today because of being guilty of one particular sin -- the sin of forgetting.
The major reason why we study history is not simply to find out about things that happened in the past, but rather, so that we can learn from them and hopefully not repeat the same mistakes. Just like the lessons from what happened on Wednesday, March 28, 1979 -- people in central Pennsylvania awoke to a disturbing bulletin: A malfunction had occurred in the reactor’s cooling system in Unit 2; Radiation (an alarming word) was reportedly leaking…
Atoms for Peace
Enrico Fermi and Leó Szilárd who both emigrated, to the United States (US) patented the idea of a nuclear reactor, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature that led to the creation of the first man-made reactor, known as Chicago Pile-1, which achieved criticality on December 2, 1942. This work became part of the Manhattan Project, which built large reactors at the Hanford Site to breed plutonium for use in the first nuclear weapons, which were used on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A parallel uranium enrichment effort also was pursued.
The Nuclear Age began in July 1945 when the US tested their first nuclear bomb near Alamogordo, New Mexico. A few years later, in 1953, President Eisenhower launched his "Atoms for Peace" Programme at the United Nations (UN), amid a wave of unbridled atomic optimism. Then in June 27, 1954, the USSR's Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant became the world's first nuclear power plant to generate electricity for a power grid, and produced around 5 megawatts of electric power.
Eisenhower's invoking of "...those same great concepts of universal peace and human dignity which are so clearly etched in..." the UN Charter, placed new emphasis upon the US's grave responsibility for its nuclear actions— past, present and future: an arbitrary framework about the use of nuclear power for peace.
Fast-forward it to the present...it’s obvious now that there is nothing "peaceful" about all things nuclear. More than half a century after Eisenhower's speech, the planet is left with the legacy of nuclear waste. This legacy is beginning to be recognised for what it truly is.
Thirty-two years ago yesterday, human errors and mechanical failures led to a partial core nuclear meltdown in Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, United States, which is considered to be the worst nuclear disaster in America.
Immediately after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the US, the construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was immediately stopped. An inquiry on the plant’s safety revealed 4,000 defects. “…Mr. Marcos and his nuclear advisers may well be long remembered for having put up the most expensive and dangerous nuclear power plant in the world, thereby saddling present and future generations of Filipinos with enormous foreign loans…,” according to former Senator Lorenzo Tanada, on August 6, 1983.
Fukushima & beyond
21 days ago: a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami hits Japan, causing damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Once again this shows us that nuclear power is inherently unsafe. Nuclear reactors are a dirty and dangerous power source, and will always be vulnerable to the potentially deadly combination of human error, design failure and natural disaster.
On the other hand, the gravity and extent of the accident is obscured by the nuclear lobby in the energy sector that are still pushing for government investments on nuclear power, by presenting it as a silver bullet solution to energy security, cheaper power rates and an alternative for coal.
When the true costs of nuclear energy are compared to the true benefits of renewable energy technologies, the choice is only too obvious. In a world on a quest for energy security and solutions to climate change, investment in nuclear power makes little sense. The real solutions to the energy security and climate change are available now. And nuclear power, the most dangerous and expensive source of electricity, is not in this equation. Instead, these real solutions are ready to be delivered by renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.
Greenpeace is calling for the phase out of reactors around the world, and an end to construction of new commercial nuclear reactors. Governments should instead invest in renewable energy resources that are not only environmentally sound but also affordable and reliable.
The call to end the Nuclear Age might be quite too ambitious for many, but given the state of our planet we really need to be ambitious because we only owe it to our children to make that possible. It may be something that can't be done overnight, but it is something that future generations demand of us. After all, all revolutions are protracted affairs that depend on dedication and conviction from people who are crazy enough to dream and work for a better world, because this is the challenge that history brings to us – to learn from our past so that we can make a better future possible.
"Big change looks impossible when you start, and inevitable when you finish." – Bob Hunter