The other day my husband, Noramly, went back to Kuala Lumpur to give a talk on nuclear education and public information at a seminar in memory of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki nuclear bombings. He is, btw, the Chairman of the Nuclear Licensing Board for Malaysia - the regulatory body that keeps an eye on all nuclear energy applications for peaceful uses in the country - everything from x-ray machines upwards. He was at one time a Deputy-Director General of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
After the seminar during question time he was asked about what is required if Malaysia goes nuclear - which questions he answered. We didn't expect the furore that started up, particularly in the blogging world from our neighbour Singapore! Apparently it worries them to have a nuclear reactor anywhere nearby.
The most extraordinary comment was from someone who apparently decided there was some terrible symbolism at announcing Malaysia was going nuclear on Singapore's National Day!
"...do I see announcements regarding a potentially dangerous source of energy made on Singapore's birthday? Ironic, I didn't know that our neighbouring country's leader (sic) are not so smart that they dont realize the potential implications on announcing such information on certain dates. I'm not implying anything here, but to make such a controversial announcement on another neighbouring nation's birthday, think about it!"
Boy, have a news for you, my blogging friend. First of all, my husband is not exactly one of Malaysia's political leaders. Secondly, he made no such announcement. He merely answered questions along the lines of - why would Malaysia have to go nuclear and how many reactors would that entail if it did? Thirdly, he had absolutely no idea that it was Singapore's National Day, and would have thought it utterly irrelevant had he remembered. Singapore, alas, is not central to the concerns of most Malaysians. Sorry about that.
As usual, there is much emoting when it comes to nuclear issues. And very little common sense.
Do I want to live down the street from a nuclear power plant? Nope, not particularly. (I actually do live within spitting distance of a nuclear research reactor when back in KL - and have lived there for 20 years). But I would much prefer a nuclear reactor down the street than a coal-fired power plant, which kills far more people, and creates far more health problems and environmental damage. The truth is that a nuclear power reactor - one that is not designed to produce nuclear weapons - is clean and one of the least environmentally damaging forms of power that there is. The waste is easily stored and monitored, if only people would be sensible rather than emotional about it.
People, however, want to able to live in their energy hungry world and yet refuse to live with the consequences. People who live in, say, sunny California use clothes dryers, for heaven's sake. Lord, we even use leaf blowers instead of good old fashioned rakes. We use power like there was no tomorrow, continue to selfishly bring too many kids into the world already bursting at the seams, but no one wants to acknowledge the consequences - that sooner or later our present (polluting) sources of power won't be available to us. Use solar power, they say blithely, without ever having studied the difficulties and disadvantages of that; use wind power, hydro power...etc etc. Yep. Are you aware that a dam in Malaysia silts up in 20 years because of the tropical rainfall? What then? Are you aware how much land and biodiversity you drown when you build a dam? Where is your sense in all this?
Ignorant people refuse to study the problem unemotionally. Yes, I do know about Chernobyl. I was out picking raspberries with my children in the Vienna Woods the day the plume of radioactivity blew into Austria, unknown to us all at the time. But I am pragmatic and unemotional. If you want to live the way you do now, you have to take the risks that go with it. If you don't want risk, then stop using up the world's resources the way YOU do now. Weigh up risk and advantages and disadvantages and your responsibilties, and make informed decisions based on facts. Not on the idea that nuclear = bombs and is therefore bad. Not on the idea that a country like communist Russia - where they built cheapo reactors without containment, for god's sake!! - is the norm.
The future of our world depends on making decisions that are wise, and no wise decisions can be made by people using their emotion responses rather than the facts. I am not - note - saying that everyone should go nuclear. But as an environmentalist, I think it is the best option for some countries and - yes - for the world's environment. I certainly don't recommend building reactors without containment. I don't recommend throwing nuclear waste into the ocean as happened in the past. I want common sense and I want facts and responsibility. Then I'll decide.