After the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, it was easy to know how to feel about nuclear power. Now I'm not so sure.
In the last decade, I became concerned about global warming. Many environmentalists are in favour of using nuclear power to meet increasing demands for electricity. In the U.S. President Obama has said that nuclear power must be part of the energy plan. China is also looking at nuclear power to meet its energy needs.
It's easy to understand the case for nuclear power. The waste from one person using nuclear power during their lifetime would fill one bottle of Coca-Cola. Just one bottle. If the same person used power generated from coal, the waste would fill box car after box car.
It is a persuasive case. But what about the waste in the bottle? How do you dispose of it? And if the odds of an accident are one in a million, why have there been accidents?
Extraordinary care must be taken in the building of a nuclear power plant. Maybe nuclear plants are too expensive. Cutting corners to bring down costs can have the most dire consequences imaginable.
While I worry about the current nuclear crisis in Japan, I can't forget the other recent energy-related disasters. The ruptured BP oil rig spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The miners trapped deep in the earth, and certainly killed in an explosion, if not first by poisonous gases.
We need to learn how to conserve energy. At what human cost, so I can use a laptop and drive a car?
New Zealand is a nuclear free nation. After nuclear testing by the French in the Pacific (Mururoa), New Zealand became the first Western-allied nation to legislate towards a nuclear-free zone. This means that U.S. nuclear-propelled warships cannot dock in New Zealand ports. We are proud of this stance. It's part of our national psyche.
Nothing in the New Zealand legislation prevents the building of nuclear plants. But New Zealand is one of the few developed countries not using nuclear power. Most New Zealanders are against it.
New Zealand generates about 30% of its power from coal and gas. The remainder is primarily from hydro-electro power. In a worst case scenario, dams could rupture. But that disaster wouldn't be like a radioactive fallout.
If there was a nuclear accident in New Zealand, which is a small, remote country, what would it do to waterways and agriculture? Tourism would be affected. New Zealand exports to world markets would be halted.
New Zealand can't continue to depend on coal and gas. Even with other sustainable options (such as wind), rising demands for electricity will force New Zealand to consider nuclear power.