March 27, 2011

Fear Monger


When I mention in conversation that I will be showing work in Kyoto next September, the usual response is a concern for my safety. "Japan.. radiation... are you scared?" While I am gratified by the kind consideration, I am also apprehensive about media hype that distorts our news and consequently our worldview. Three disasters played out in train in Japan: the earthquake, the tsunami, and the catastrophic failures of Japan's nuclear industry. Living in Southern California, I've had my share, from family and friends, of overblown concern for life in EQ territory. But we who live here are sanguine about this, after you've experienced the tenth temblor, you can begin to take the measure of the difference between reality and hype in contemporary culture. Unfortunately, the true tragedy is the gargantuan loss of life from the tsunami, and this has been obscured in the news by the reactor problem and now Libya. Remember too, the good news that Fukushima survived an earthquake one richter order of magnitude larger than what it was designed for. Imagine what things would have been like if it was reduced to rubble in the temblor and the debris distributed by the tsunami. Yes, there is a huge difference between scientific reality and mediated pop cultural ballyhoo and we should all know the difference. The chart above should work well as a tonic to this monumental misconception, please click to enlarge and enlighten.

I was going to sing an opera in this post with an archive of links concerning the overblown concerns about nuclear power... but then, the chart above does the job quite elegantly.

I believe that if you are serious about the environment, you will defend nuclear power. Yes, bad things have happen and they will continue to happen. But we learn with each mishap, we have built better reactors since Fukushima was built and we will build better reactors with what we will learn from Fukushima. Now, I believe in the prospect of alternate energy solutions, but all existing solutions fall far short of their capacity to provide the energy we need in terms of the fundamentals of science. The energy yield of so-called "sustainable" alternate energy (windmills, terrestrial solar, etc.) is currently pathetic compared to oil.

It might be important to include here the caveat that I am a supporter of space based solar power, usually considered too pie-in-the-sky, sci-fi for most people. I consider this solution to be linked to another seemingly pie-in-the-sky technological leap, the proposition of a space elevator, and this combination could be seen as a one-two punch to my credibility. But once we cross the technology barrier (carbon nanotubes, for example) - and we will be there very soon - there will be no limit to the area of solar collection panels that we can install in space to harvest energy that can be beamed to earth. In technological terms, it is far more credible than president Kennedy's announcement to land on the moon, many moons ago. Besides, at this historical juncture, we could use a dream come true of this kind.

Posted by Dennis at March 27, 2011 1:40 PM

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