Rationalizing the Japanese Nuclear Crisis?
Posted on 03/28/2011 @ 05:24 PM
Sometimes a crisis ignites a deep seeded sense of conviction, morality and emotion that can motivate us to change the way we think and act. Yet more commonly we as humans have a unique ability to rationalize an event to the point where we convince ourselves to endure the status quo. The ability to rationalize allows us to remove ourselves or differentiate from the original deterministic explanation, of the behavior, event, or action in question. This mechanism can be very useful in avoiding uncomfortable situations or true explanations, but it also creates subconscious barriers against feelings of guilt, inaction, or needed change.
The idea of ‘rationalizing’ was on my mind this week as I thought about the nuclear crisis in Japan and the response from US officials. What I’ve seen and heard is a lack of acknowledgment for the safety risks poised by nuclear power in the United States. Even as the Japanese struggle to regain control of three nuclear reactors, and deal with increased levels of radiation in water and food, many in this country seem less than concerned about the 104 operating nuclear power plants in the US.
My guess is that they rationalized the crisis somewhat along these lines. Japan is on the other side of the world. Natural disasters of large magnitude are infrequent. There have been relatively few nuclear disasters in history. Nuclear energy is considered ‘clean energy’, accounts for roughly 20% of our electricity generation, and is a key piece for reducing global warming.
What is disconcerting is that this process of rationalization perpetuates the idea that nuclear power is safe and necessary, or at least that the status quo posses minimal risks. But as we have seen that is not the case. Unlikely events do occur and nuclear power plants are ill equipped to handle them. We can rationalize an event until it fits into our preconceived notions and beliefs, but that will not prevent similar events from happening. In doing so we just prolong the possibility of what we hope will not happen.
Nuclear energy generation is fraught with serious problems. Most, if not all nuclear power plants cannot withstand a massive natural disaster like that seen in Japan. Storage pools for spent fuel rods are over capacity, ill protected, and vulnerable to acts of terrorism. No solution exists for permanent storage of nuclear waste, which has the half-life to outlast any civilization. And lastly the damage inflicted by a nuclear melt-down can last generations. These are only some of the reasons why this country should be taking a very careful look at the risks poised by nuclear power.
It’s easy to distance ourselves from a crisis, believe we are insulated from risk, and rationalize all the reasons why we should not be so concerned. But, this is not the time to shy away from the questions that need to be asked and the actions that need to be taken. How many nuclear accidents need to happen before we come around?