On February 5th, the Global Greens Conference 2022 was held virtually. Over 900 green activities, 147 speakers and 11 interpreters from all around the world participated in the conference. Over 32 topics were presented and discussed, ranging from science, economics, policies, energy to human rights, media and youth actions. Among all the topics, nuclear energy was one of the hottest spots of attention and discussion. There were 5 panels conducted by Greens Japan to demonstrate to the world how dangerous nuclear energy is for the environment, people, and our future. The panels were largely based on the Fukushima nuclear disaster which happened 11 years ago in 2011.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is https___cdn.cnn_.com_cnnnext_dam_assets_190919110353-fukushima-file-reactor-building-1024x576.jpg
The exposed No. 3 reactor building at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was triggered by the Tōhoku earthquake which had a magnitude of 9. The subsequent tsunami caused by the earthquake reached around 133ft (40m) and heavily damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Three reactors melted down due to the failure of emergency diesel generators and three hydrogen explosions happened shortly after, which eventually caused the radioactive cores to be exposed to the unprotected air. It was the most severe nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

Mrs. Ikuko Hebiishi who is a city councillor for Koriyama, a town in the Fukushima area 34 kilometres from the site, explained the latest situation in 2022: In total, 34,041 residents were displaced, radioactive wastes reached a volume of 505.000㎥ (131,000㎥ in 2012) and of the 136,000 people who worked in the radioactive area to mitigate the damage had 21 died. Furthermore, the Japanese government already decided in April 2021 that they will release the treated radiative water into the ocean.

The director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Japan, Mr. Tetsunari Iida, also voiced his professional concerns about nuclear power from a technical view. Firstly, nuclear power will not help to tackle the climate crisis, because the more people and governments invest in nuclear energy, the less investment would renewable energy receive. This would significantly slow down renewable technology development. Nuclear power plants themselves are also vulnerable to climate change. Secondly, nuclear energy is not as efficient and profitable as people thought. The ‘energy return on investment’ (EROI) of nuclear power is less than 1, which means it is not a profitable investment. In contrast, energies like wind and solar are always having an EROI greater than 1. Thirdly, nuclear power is not a sustainable energy source, since uranium is a limited resource. However, it is worth noticing that EROI is a complicated calculation. The range of estimates for nuclear’s EROI is very large, ranging from an estimated 40 to 60 – from the World Nuclear Association and less than 1 from other researchers.

Credit: N. Hippert

During the conference, I asked Mr. Tetsunari Iida about his view on the recent EU decision of EU taxonomy which considered nuclear energy as a sustainable investment: “For the EU taxonomy, the commission gathered a group of experts and conducted the ‘Joint Research Centre’s Report’ (JRC) in 2021. The JRC report is intended to examine the technical, social and environmental impacts of nuclear energy. The report suggested that the current technology is safe enough for the general public. The chance of a devastating event nowadays is very low. Even in the case of a devastating event, the possibility of a “worst-case” scenario is extremely low. Furthermore, the standards of environmental control needed to protect the general public are likely to be sufficient to ensure that other species and the environment are not put at risk. Do you have any comments on this?”

Mr. Tetsunari Iida: “The JRC is part of the Euratom cheerleading lobby inside the EU, their point of views are heavily influenced by people within the European nuclear industry, so I would not consider them as credible and accurate sources of information and I would not make any important decisions base on their reports.”

What we need to realize is that there are still many people working in the nuclear industry and many researchers have different opinions on nuclear energy and some of them may have personal interests in this matter. However, with better renewable energy sources in development and application, we should put our attention on more efficient, environmental friendly and sustainable energy than nuclear energy.

Bailike Ma

Bailike (Edward) is an environmental science graduate from U of T. He participated in many sustainability-related projects at the university and helped to organize a youth climate conference in China. He can speak 3 languages (Mandarin, English, German) and travelled a bit around the world by himself. He is passionate about nature, art, education and media.

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