Balance of power

Fukushima nuclear power plant, after the 2011 earthquake.

I-Hsien Porter

Recent events at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake last month, had caused many to question the safety of nuclear power.

The dangers are clear: from images of smoke or steam rising from the plant, to reports of unsafe radiation levels in food and water supplies as far away as Tokyo.

There are nonetheless dangers associated with the oil, gas and coal energy-producing industries. The past twelve months have seen coal mining accidents in Chile, New Zealand and China, oil and gas tankers caught up in piracy off Somalia, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. However, these events have led few people to question the safety of traditional sources of power.

There must therefore be more to arguments around different sources of energy than just ‘safety’. Issues of public perception, moral values and justice also play a role. In a paper in Area, Gordon Walker and Noel Cass review the relationship between the public and the mechanisms by which energy is delivered.

The widely accepted need to make major reductions in carbon emissions, in order to mitigate global climate change, is causing our reliance on fossil fuels to be rebalanced in favour of renewable energy. Walker and Cass argue for the role of geography in understanding how social values influence this rebalancing, and how society is affected by its impacts.

BBC News: reports on the earthquake and subsequent impact on the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan.

 Walker, G. and Cass, N. (2007) ‘Carbon reduction, ‘the public’ and renewable energy: engaging with socio-technical configurations. Area 39 (4): 458-469

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