Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan’s shocks shouldn’t be forgotten

Japan's triple-whammy, earthquake-tsunami-nuclear-power-plant terrors are making America's financial problems pale in comparison.

Every day since the Great Recession set in, Americans have had a chance to repair what ails their country and make things a little better.

Not so for Japan. It's being rocked by successive seismic aftershocks, tsunami warnings and the horrific prospect of a nuclear meltdown—or two or three.

Events there knocked revolution in Libya and protests in Wisconsin down to also-rans in the news.

Japan's cascading disasters have left it unable to do much but lurch from one crisis to another—at record speed.

The world is morbidly mesmerized by what's happening, watching hour by hour and day by day as reports of the damage pile up and the uncertainty of the status of four nuclear reactors is more uncertain with each day that passes.

The shocks are extending far beyond Japan. They are creating a worldwide crisis of confidence in nuclear energy just as many in the nuclear-resistant U.S. were getting comfortable with it again.

Watching last-ditch measures being taken to cool overheated reactors has created fissures in communities that were becoming more willing to trust the safety of nuclear power. After all, it's not just any country that's having this problem; it's Japan, which is famous for its engineering skills and technical expertise.

If the nuclear dominoes can collapse in Japan, can they fall anywhere?

With a fault line running through the Idaho National Laboratory and its collection of reactors and spent nuclear fuel storage outside Idaho Falls, Idaho has as much to be concerned about as anywhere in the world.

The prospect of nuclear disaster in Japan, last year's blowout of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and the deadly West Virginia coal mine explosion are wakeup calls for a world that takes energy so much for granted that nations and individuals behave as if it's a limitless, risk-free resource.

For most people, energy production and its risks are out of sight and out of mind. But now, it's in our faces.

Inevitably, the dead will be buried, hearings will be held, apologies will be made and changes promised—just long enough for the public's interest to wane.

But if we're a smart species that wants to survive, we won't quickly forget and behave like nothing ever happened.

We'll use this crisis and the fear it's produced to propel us to research, plan and create safe and sustainable energy.

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