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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lessons from Japan

We haven't seen the total death numbers yet, we don't know the long term economic impacts and we don't know the true story about Japan's nuclear reactors but we can already make a few observations about these disasters and how they relates to us.

1. Nuclear power will never be 100% safe. Sure you can engineer things to the nth degree but humans can't make any building that nature can't take apart be it by erosion, earthquakes, volcanoes or tsunami. We are also incapable of building reactors which can withstand human malice, stupidity and error, it simply cannot be done. Ontario for example has a pile of reactors many of which have had small leaks over the years as the tritium levels in lake Ontario prove. None of our reactors are built to withstand a direct airplane strike, none have adequate on the ground security and none could withstand a real attack by motivated terrorists.

We have never devised a way to store nuclear waste that will keep it safe for the 1000s of years required and no one ever includes these long term commitments in the final price tag when building these monstrosities

Today in Ontario both Liberals and the Conservatives support the construction of new nuclear reactors. Considering what's happening in Japan its very likely that nuclear will be taken off the table at least until the election is over but be assured both of these parties will scurry back to this unsafe and costly idea once the story has died down. Only the Green Party of Ontario has been consistent and clear in their opposition to more reactors, if what's happening in Japan is scary consider it happening at Pickering or Darlington.

2. Within close proximity to an earthquake there is very little you can do to prepare for, or escape from a Tsunami. Even with advanced warning you can only save lives not stop the massive property damage.
Has enough been done in BC to strengthen building codes and retrofit old buildings? How good are our emergency warning systems? Are we ready for a total collapse of the insurance industry when it gets brought down by the increasing number of natural disasters?

Additionally, recent articles claim that global warming will cause more earthquakes as the weight of shifting ice and fresh melted water redistribute pressure on the planets crust. Old faults frozen by the massive weight of ice will begin to move again and we can expect higher levels of geological movement in the north Atlantic especially as the crust around Iceland and Greenland begin to rebound after the ice melts. We also need to realize as seas rise more of the worlds coast become susceptible to tsunami damage all thanks to man made climate change, we need to move on this issue now.

3. A friend tweeted last night that his family in Japan was safe but that the supply network had collapsed and there was no food in the grocery stores. This is the result of the just in time delivery supply chain prevalent in all western nations. We need to realize that our supply network is just as fragile as Japan's and any breakdown that disrupts roads, fuel supplies, electrical power etc means the average grocery store has no more than 3 days supplies, if it can even be opened without power. In the third world, even many of the poorest people don't need to shop daily, they get a bag of rice, one of beans, a can of cooking oil and make it last as long as they can. In our affluent west we believe the stores never close. We believe we can go buy what ever we want whenever we want. We believe our overly complex and largely invisible supply lines can never be cut. We are wrong!

Complex systems are only as robust as their weakest link, no fuel, no hydro, or shredded roads and our ability to feed ourselves disappears.

The Japanese disasters shows us we need to invest in emergency preparedness but not necessarily in just big helicopters, warning systems and DART units but making our communities more robust and more resilient. We need safe, renewable and widely distributed power production and distribution systems, we need better local food systems including more local food storage, more local food production and a local distribution systems. We need to get off our asses and be ready to take care of ourselves in our own communities because from Haiti, to Japan, to New Orleans its obvious that governments can't or won't do the job alone.

How many of you have built your government recommended 72 hour emergency kit? How many of you have the food, water and medicine you need in the house at all times?

I don't claim that our situation is the same as Japan's but there are always risks of some kind and our society is not ready for them. Analyzing the risks and discussing how to mitigate them should be our focus rather than wallowing in CNN's 24 hour disaster porn marathon.Recommend this Post