Fukushima 5 years later: nuclear energy and its cost

On March 11, 2011 a powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, causing a devastating system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. After five years, Japan – and the world – is still grappling with how to accommodate energy, safety and sustainability needs while still developing nuclear power. Hirokazu Miyazaki, professor of anthropology, and Rebecca Slayton, assistant professor of science & technology studies, comment on the hidden costs of nuclear energy.

Miyazaki says:

“The cost of nuclear energy is a highly complicated issue. One of many things that the Fukushima disaster has confirmed is that nuclear energy is not cheap, especially if its social cost is taken into account.

“This is not only due to ever-expanding compensation claims for economic, psychological and social damage – both known and not yet known – but also due to all the small and big effort invested in managing life after the disaster.

“There are many ongoing efforts in Japan to help compensation claimants articulate irreplaceable loss or not-yet-known damage in legal terms. There are also numerous efforts to document Fukushima evacuees and other actors’ daily struggles following the disaster. These efforts will help appreciate the full extent of the damage inflicted by the disaster.

“The social cost of nuclear energy is often invisible, unknown and long-term. This makes the rational evaluation of this energy choice markedly challenging.”

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Slayton says:

“The disaster at Fukushima underscores the need for better governance of energy production and consumption, even as it raises questions about whether that is possible.

“Perhaps the biggest shortcoming in most economic assessments of energy production is that they fail to track who bears the costs and risks, and who enjoys the savings, from using cheap sources of electricity rather than renewable energy sources. Government subsidies mean that many apparently cheap sources of electricity, including both nuclear power and fossil fuels, come at hidden costs to taxpayers.

“The uranium industry has not historically protected the health and safety of workers, and economic analyses do not generally consider how the costs of nuclear power would change if safety standards were raised. Many costs of nuclear power are extremely difficult to quantify, such as the loss of local communities that must be evacuated in the event of disaster, or global interdependencies intrinsic in a global system of uranium production and consumption.

“However, in my view, the only way to nurture better governance is to make visible the hidden social, cultural, and environmental costs of relying on nuclear power – as well as what is likely a worse alternative: fossil fuels.”

For interviews contact:
Rebecca Valli
O: 607-255-7701
M: 607-793-1025
rv234@cornell.edu

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.

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