Douglas Perkins, Yurihonjo, Japan, column: Just ask Japan: Stay away from nuclear power
By Douglas Perkins YURIHONJO, Japan -- I'm from Grand Forks, and right now I live in northern Japan, about 155 miles from the disaster last year at the Fukushima Power Plant. When the earthquake struck, the only things that happened to me were a ...
By Douglas Perkins
YURIHONJO, Japan -- I'm from Grand Forks, and right now I live in northern Japan, about 155 miles from the disaster last year at the Fukushima Power Plant. When the earthquake struck, the only things that happened to me were a few days without power, a few weeks without gasoline and a few months without some vegetables the grocery stores usually stock.
But some of my coworkers' friends and families -- people who lived within 19 miles of the plant -- saw their lives get shattered. They had to leave their homes, and while they may be able to return some years from now, there still is no official timetable for cleaning up the radiation or restoring evacuated communities.
The power company, TEPCO, said the earthquake and tsunami together caused the power plant to break down, and that nobody could have predicted it. But some scientists did predict it, and TEPCO's own experts had heard and ignored these concerns for years.
There also is evidence to suggest that the earthquake alone caused the damage, meaning the safety standards for the entire country could be lax, and all nuclear power plants in Japan may be at risk.
Nuclear power was thought to be cheap and safe, but reality has shown us the opposite is true. If you include the cleanup costs of Fukushima (largely paid for by the government through tax dollars, and now through a 15 percent TEPCO energy price hike), nuclear power in Japan now is more expensive than wind and thermal, and by current projections, solar will be cheaper within a decade.
There is now no place in Japan that would accept a new nuclear power plant. But despite this happening across the Pacific, recent Herald stories and editorials tout the benefits of nuclear power in the Red River Valley. Of course, as energy consumption rises and old power plants close, new power has to come from somewhere. But why are we discussing nuclear without first discussing wind and solar?
North Dakota has amazing potential for wind power, and the price of producing it is dropping.
Though the nuclear power industry is quick to claim how cheap nuclear power is, this is misleading, because the nuclear industry is good at pushing hidden costs back on taxpayers. According to 2010 Department of Energy estimates, the actual cost per kilowatt hour is higher for nuclear than for wind. Plus, when wind power plants fail, entire regions aren't destroyed.
Nuclear-power advocate Duane Sand says the valley is a safe location, but aren't there ways a nuclear power plant in North Dakota could fail? Earthquakes may be unlikely, but there are other dangers: operator error, mismanagement or any number of natural disasters.
Endorsing nuclear while ignoring wind is looking at the difficult and dangerous option while ignoring the sensible, proven and safe alternative.
Why would any region stake its livelihood on a power plant never breaking down, especially if it had a better option? We shouldn't, because we do.
Perkins teaches English with the JET or Japan Exchange and Teaching Program in Japan.