Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Star Wars Can Teach Us About Nuclear Energy

Ask epic filmmaker George Lucas where he got his inspiration for the Star Wars Trilogy and he will tell you tell you about Akira Kurosawa. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Kurosawa films, fear not. I too just recently learned of the award-winning Japanese director and already find myself totally inspired by his ability to capture the human spirit on film.

Now I have to warn you: upon netflixing a Kurosawa film don’t expect to see any futuristic Endor space battles or Darth Vader cameos. Think more along the lines of Yoda’s timeless wisdom meets traditional Japanese culture. Recently here at the NAPF office I was shown a clip from one of Kurosawa’s later films called “Dreams,” which seemed eerily predictive of the Fukushima tragedy.

Yes Kurosawa was a brilliant director, but I don’t think psychic medium was part of his forte. And that’s the whole point; it doesn’t take a nuclear scientist, foretelling prophet, or award winning director to see how dangerous nuclear energy is. Kurosawa’s dream or should I say nightmare, portrays a nuclear meltdown following the eruption of Mount Fuji. And as horrifying and chaotic as the scene is, the few survivors can’t help but discuss the fact that it was all preventable.

The most groundbreaking part of the dream is captured by the mother of two young children when she cries, “they told us that nuclear plants were safe.” She goes on to say, “human accident is the danger, not the nuclear plant itself.” And that, my friends, is the big picture. Supporters of nuclear energy stand by the technology through and through, but the technology is not the problem; human error is the problem. There is no contesting that nuclear reactors’ safety precautions are better than 30 years ago, but no matter how careful or meticulous we are, accidents will always happen because they are part of human nature.

Ok, maybe we should give nuclear plant employees the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that human error doesn’t occur, but a natural disaster does. While Fukushima was a prime example of this, it doesn’t take a 9.0 earthquake to cause a nuclear catastrophe. Right now in Nebraska, the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant is at a severe risk due to the flooding of the Missouri River. Fires have already temporarily knocked out one of the plant’s cooling systems and the FAA closed down the airspace within a two mile radius. Oddly enough, the nuclear industry insists that the airspace restriction is due to flooding, not the billowing plumes of potentially radioactive smoke emitted from the fires. Hmmm, it doesn’t take a Jedi mind trick to figure that one out.

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