Walls of water swallowed coastal towns.
Massive structures built to withstand major earthquakes swayed as thousands of fleeing Japanese took to the streets with their hands covering their heads.
Images of panic-stricken mothers and sobbing children saturated the Internet.
There is no doubt that Japan’s most recent earthquake will prove to be one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history. But there’s also no doubt that the effect it will have on Japan’s nuclear industry will be devastating…
I’ve never made my feelings about nuclear energy a secret.
While nuclear power generation does not carry with it the same carbon burden that weighs on coal-fired power generation, it is by no means clean or inexpensive. And this will continue to be the case until we can rectify the waste issues and figure out how to make it work without screwing the taxpayer with burdensome subsidies.
Of course, our energy future is not dictated by my opinion; nor is it typically dictated by common sense.
No — our energy future is dictated by the special interests that feed the bureaucratic beast. And whether we like it or not, as investors, we can’t ignore this reality.
That being said, we must also not ignore the reality of public backlash.
Now I’m no nuclear expert, and I’m sure someone’s going to leave an angry comment following this article about how wonderful, clean, and cheap nuclear power is. But one thing I do know is that following the Three Mile Island incident back in 1979, there was a major backlash against new nuclear power generation.
This backlash lasted for nearly three decades, and really only in the past few years have we seen any renewed public support for nuclear.
But following this incident in Japan, I suspect we may see a return to the public turning its back on nuclear once again…
Only a fool trusts his government
Debates over nuclear often revolve around the “what if” factor — in other words, worst-case scenarios that would invalidate nuclear as a safe and clean form of power generation.
Of course, “what ifs” won’t get you very far, because a “what if” is only an illusion. It doesn’t exist.
And until the “what if” factor becomes reality, that argument often falls on deaf ears. If this wasn’t the case, BP’s Deep Water Horizon never would’ve happened.
But with this recent incident in Japan, that “what if” factor could soon turn into a “what now?”
This past weekend, close to 200,000 people located within 12 miles of the Fukushima plant were evacuated, with some being given potassium iodide to help prevent absorption from fallout.
And this morning — shortly after a third explosion at a reactor just 150 miles north of Tokyo — the Tokyo Electric Power company said that fuel rods inside the core of another reactor were almost fully exposed.
Now no one knows if it’s going to get any worse, and many are hopeful it won’t. But even while Japanese officials and nuclear industry reps tell reporters that the accident is “now under control,” I don’t suspect those announcements are going to create a sudden atmosphere of confidence…
After all, industry advocates and bureaucratic spin doctors aren’t known for being honest about risk assessments in these kinds of situations.
Whether it’s Obama swimming in the Gulf after the BP disaster, George Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” blunder, or the tobacco industry questioning the science that proves second-hand smoke can be linked to thousands of deaths every year… there isn’t a single reason to trust a government mouthpiece or an industry shill.
What’s Mandarin for nuclear?
Of course, I know there are still plenty of nuclear supporters who read these pages.
And let’s face it: Here in the United States, we are not exposed to the same kind of earthquake risks as Japan. In other words, comparing nuclear infrastructure threats between the two countries would not allow for an accurate comparison.
I also know that there a lot of folks who continue to believe there’s plenty of money to be made in the nuclear game. But if you’re banking on the United States for that action, I wouldn’t hold your breath. In fact, I don’t think you’re going to find many countries supporting much in the way of new nuclear expansion now.
So if you still want a piece of the nuclear game, China and South Korea are likely to be your ports of destination.
With 14 new nuclear power plants in the queue (and little chance of this crisis in Japan deterring that), South Korea intends to have a total of 35 new nuclear power plants operating by 2024.
And China — in an effort to reduce its dependence on coal and cut carbon emissions — is building close to 30 nuclear reactors. This is on top of the 10.8 gigawatts of nuclear already in operation.
Of course, with this latest crisis in Japan, there’s no doubt that all of this will only add further support to the rush on renewables in Europe and North America.
Because no matter how you slice it, when the proverbial poop hits the fan… You’ll never have to evacuate your family if a solar panel or wind turbine malfunctions.
To a new way of life, and a new generation of wealth…
Editor, Energy and Capital