The above Japanese video – explaining the nuclear accident to children — makes a lot more sense than many of the hysterical reports we have been reading in the last few days. The figures are not out yet, but it’s likely that tens of thousands were killed by the tsunami. Yet the newspapers were all focused on the nuclear meltdown — which injured 15 people. The irony is that, when a tsunami strikes, the local nuclear power station is pretty much the safest place to be.
This is the argument advanced in the leading article for the current issue of The Spectator (subscribers, click here; non-subscribers please join us for £1 a week). Another point that we make — that the surprising thing about Japan’s rather elderly nuclear plants is how well they held out — is echoed by George Monbiot in the Guardian today.
And yet the opponents of nuclear power have seized on Fukushima to stir up fear about nuclear power. Even the European energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, took the chance to declare that "there is talk of an apocalypse," adding that the word is "particularly well chosen". Germany closed five nuclear plants. And our own energy minister, Chris Huhne, has said that, "After Three Mile Island in 1979, nuclear operators found it very hard to finance new projects. Globally, this undoubtedly casts a shadow over the renaissance of the nuclear industry. That is blindingly obvious."
I’d call all this out-and-out hysteria. And why? Three Mile Island killed no one, yet stymied American nuclear development for years. It would be a tragedy if Japan’s "nuclear boy" spooked the West into doing the same — because our politicians are making normal (oil and gas) energy a lot more expensive and the renewable energy sources are still an uneconomic scam.
It is part of human nature to fear what you can’t see (radiation) more than what you can see (mud and water), even if, in Japan’s case, the latter is the bigger killer. But energy policy should be decided on the facts alone.
P.S. This piece from Real Clear Science puts Chernobyl in perspective.