More power to alternative fuel sources

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March 14, 2011

11:10 PM

Last Friday the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history occurred off the coast of Honshu, resulting in major damage as well as a tsunami. The videos and images of the devastation in Japan are unreal and indescribably sad. The tsunami essentially washed entire towns off the map. Hopefully, Japan will be able to recover from this disaster, and my sympathy goes out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy. While it is hard to imagine that something that happened on the other side of the world could relate to Williamsburg, this earthquake in fact, demonstrates the risks associated with nuclear power.

The earthquake damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and triggered spikes in radiation. There have already been three blasts in the reactor buildings, and some fear radiation is leaking. Technicians are currently trying to cool the fuel rods in the nuclear plant, but Japanese officials believe that all three reactors at the plant may melt down. As new problems unfold, Japanese technicians are scrambling to resolve the situation, and 200,000 people who live in the area are currently being evacuated.

About 20 minutes away from the College, just across the James River, is the Surry Nuclear Plant. The tragedy in Japan prompts questions about the use of nuclear power and how dangerous it is. No one can control natural disasters, but we can control how we power our country. Nuclear power has its advantages and disadvantages: It doesn’t produce carbon emissions or contribute to climate change in any way, but, the resulting nuclear waste is highly radioactive and very harmful to the environment. This nuclear waste can last for 5,000 to 10,000 years; to put that into perspective, the pyramids in Egypt have been around for 5,000 years. Building nuclear power plants necessitates building storage facilities that can also last that long, which is incredibly difficult to do. So, the primary question is, should we continue to build coal-fired power plants, or should we build nuclear power plants and risk radiation leaks?

Now is the time for federal and state governments to look into funding alternative fuels and energy sources. Government funding and incentives could help push economic expansion by increasing jobs and market-driven growth. These alternative fuels would be less likely to impact the environment in a negative way. Consider this: If something were to happen at the Surry Nuclear Plant, Williamsburg and the College would be in the danger area for radiation. The plant controls its waste and reactors very well, but a natural disaster like the earthquake in Japan could put the nuclear plant at risk of a meltdown. This situation is not acceptable.

The tragedy in Japan is hard to watch, and the images coming from the country are terrifying. The damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has caused radiation leaks, and people have been exposed to this radiation. It is almost cruel that the only country to have ever experienced a nuclear weapons attack must also deal with a nuclear plant meltdown. Japan and other nations should learn from this situation and determine whether building nuclear power plants is worth the risk of another disaster. As Japanese technicians scramble to cool down the fuel rods, we can only hope that they are able to control the problem and stop further radiation leakage. This is one of the priorities for Japan in recovering from this calamity and should make us think about our own nuclear power plants.

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