Site of nuclear meltdown to become green hub

Radioactive: The nuclear accident in Fukushima was the world’s worst since Chernobyl. © Getty

Is disaster the only way to bring about lasting and positive change? A decade after a nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, plans are afoot to transform the area into a renewable energy hub.

Picture the scene.

Miles of tranquil coastline in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture. A calm, blue sea. Windmills turn. Lines of solar panels glint in the sunlight. Generators quietly create enough renewable energy to power half of Tokyo.

This could be the future. But it would harbour a dreadful past.

Less than a decade ago, Fukushima was a site of carnage. In March 2011, an earthquake struck off the coast, generating a 15-metre-high tsunami.

A wall of water crashed into Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing three reactor cores to melt. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated. Many still haven’t been able to return home.

And yet earlier this week, plans were unveiled to make Fukushima a renewable energy hub.

The government says that 11 solar and 10 wind farms will be built there by 2024, transforming the area into an exemplar of sustainability.

But are disasters and meltdowns the price we have to pay for progress?

Possibly. In 1917, a horrific naval explosion happened in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A local priest, Samuel Prince, studied the response to the disaster. He concluded that it led to positive changes in housing, public health and how the city looked.

Not only that – he believed these changes wouldn’t have been possible at all without the explosion.

Other thinkers have seen a similar link between destruction and progress.

The psychiatrist Frantz Fanon studied the struggle for independence in Algeria. He argued that decolonisation was only possible through violent resistance. For him, a destructive force was necessary to break old systems and create the space for new ones.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote about the concept of “creative destruction” in business. Like an earthquake or tsunami, new ideas burst into society, destroying old ones.

And there is evidence that the government thinks in the same way. Sources say that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings, has plans to make “seismic” changes to Whitehall, completely upending how it is run.

But can disaster and destruction really be the best way to achieve change?

Creative destruction

Absolutely, say some. Humans are naturally conservative. It takes a shock to force us to do things differently. If it hadn’t been for World War Two, Britain would never have created the NHS. Now, faced with environmental catastrophes such as Australia’s bushfires, disastrous change is here whether we like it or not. We must seize the opportunity to make things better.

But others insist valuable changes happen slowly. If something has been around for a long time, it is a sign that it is reliable, trustworthy and effective. If we want to improve the world, we should make small adjustments to how things already exist. Disaster and destruction cause nothing but pain and suffering. The change they bring could make things worse as well as better. It is best avoided.

You Decide

  1. Is change best achieved suddenly or slowly? Discuss in pairs and then share your opinions with the rest of the class.
  2. Disaster may always cause change, but does it always cause progress? Split into pairs and each pick a side. Debate the question.

Activities

  1. Can you think of an accident or disaster that has led to positive changes despite the damage that was caused? List some of those changes and give reasons why were they positive.
  2. “Nuclear power is a danger to humanity.” In groups, research the cases for and against nuclear energy. Come together as a class to discuss the issue.

Some People Say...

“Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.”

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), Italian politician, historian, philosopher and writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Fukushima incident was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the meltdown at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986. One person died as a result of radiation. Almost 19,000 people were killed by the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the meltdown; 160,000 were forced to leave their homes – less than a quarter of whom have returned. The local Japanese government has promised to generate 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2040, compared with 40% today.
What do we not know?
Whether the local government will see these plans through to completion. Are they a sign of real commitment to renewable energy sources, or an effort to improve the image of an area now associated with a terrible nuclear accident? In contrast to the proposals, Japan’s national government is keen to increase its use of nuclear power, bringing the energy source back into favour after the scare caused by the disaster.

Word Watch

Prefecture
An administrative area of a country.
Frantz Fanon
French West Indian psychiatrist and political philosopher (1925-1961).
Algeria
A country in North Africa. Previously a colony of France; from 1954 to 1962, it fought a war of independence. Algeria gained its independence in 1962.
Decolonisation
The process in which a colony (a country previously controlled by another country) becomes independent.
Joseph Schumpeter
Austrian economist (1883-1950).
Seismic
Of enormous effect or proportions.
Whitehall
The name of a street in London with many government offices. It is also used to refer to the British government itself.
Upending
Turning something on its end or upside down.

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