Sunday, June 5, 2011

Today is World Environment Day

As Japan continues to reel in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, this World Environment Day, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the issue of nuclear energy.

We all know about nuclear energy, where it comes from and what are the risks. In the short-run, nuclear energy is not polluting, at least not as much as conventional sources of energy. In the long-run however, nuclear energy leaves behind a mound of dangerous substances that significantly raise the stakes. So the question is, where do we draw the line?

In the wake of Fukushima, we have seen two contradictory situations: in Germany, Angela Merkel's coalition has decided to shut down reactors in the country; in India, the Government is making a strong pitch for nuclear energy. Can we have a middle path? Yes, we can. In a situation where coal-fired thermal power plants are threatening to bring down civilization as we know it, how can we ignore a source of energy that does have promise?

The events that led up to Fukushima would be hard to repeat, but the fact of the matter is that without a strict, transparent regulatory framework, it can happen. What we do not need is an absolute abolition of nuclear energy, but a framework under which nuclear energy is controlled and safety technology is shared. At the same time, we need to concentrate on non-conventional sources of energy. For India, that means solar and wind energy.

This year, another Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC will be held in Durban and it will fail presumably, as did the ones in Cancun and Copenhagen before it (and the ones before that too). The clear message is that this battle to save the environment, as much as it should be done on a multilateral basis, will have to be taken up by each country on its own.

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