Japan: Try, Try Again

They say a time will come when the world is ruled, not by the whims of man, but by the demands of machines. Some go so as far to say that humans will one day be enslaved by our own creations, our lives consumed with their power-hungry appetite. They say such a time is fast approaching.

I say that time has already come.

For although it may not be in the form of laser-eyed terminators and self-righteous computer programs, the dominance of machine over man, the control of technology over humanity, is a modern phenomenon that is, quite frankly, not very difficult to observe.

Whether it is the factory-made car that we drive to work, the mass-produced food that we eat or the machine-made clothes that we wear, our dependence on technology seems to be engrained into nearly every aspect of our daily lives. And as our reliance on such tools intensifies, so does the ever-pressing issue of energy demand.

This demand has proven time and time again to be a frustrating, yet powerful force throughout the course of history — reforming international and domestic policy, manufacturing the economic and political elite, starting wars and strengthening alliances. It has also proven to be our constraining Achilles heel.

For as the world continues to incorporate higher levels of technology into its character, the demand for energy has risen accordingly to a near-crippling extent. And not only has the predominant source of fuel — namely gas and oil — begun to run dry, it has also divulged itself to possess incredible destructive potential to the delicate biosphere that sustains us.

It is therefore unsurprising that the field of alternative energy has seen rapid expansion in the last few decades. The call for a cleaner, renewable energy source to feed society’s mechanical veins has never been greater. With Iraq still coping with the devastation of war, Iran under sanctions and the steady rise in gas prices, the global dependency on fossil fuels appears to have run out its doomed course.

Which is why it may be of great wonder that, amidst such conditions, Japan has recently shut down all fifty of its nuclear reactors, which combined to provide a third of the country’s energy demands, forcing the nation to turn back to traditional carbon-based energy sources.

And to be fair, under present circumstances, the move is understandable. The government has required all reactors to pass new tests that confirm their ability to withstand natural disasters, and in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi tsunami, such measures are not without good reason.

Yet these new mandates were largely in response to the anti-nuclear protests of the disconnected, urban population, whose angry rallies preached of the dangers of radiation and pushed for a nuclear-free power grid, even going so far as to say that such policies would leave the Earth a much safer place for our children.

However, this is where I disagree. For although I understand the hesitancies of a country with a tragic history of nuclear misfortune, I do hope that the scare of an unfortunate disaster does not cause Japan, among other nations, to revert back to the shackles of fossil fuel dependence.

It is true that nuclear energy is not without its risk of meltdown, security threats and problems regarding radioactive waste disposal. It is still far from becoming that reliable energy source that will answer all of the world’s needs.

Yet, as can be seen in nations like France, where nuclear energy accounts for more than seventy percent of the nation’s power, it is clear that it is indeed a valuable alternative to staving off the suffocating need for gas and oil. Perhaps in a few more years, several advancements could be made to safely dispose of the waste, to share the technology without threat of nuclear attack and to prevent another disaster-induced disaster. Or perhaps we will find another, more viable source to satisfy our dire energy cravings in the process.

The point is that we should not simply revert to old, comfortable ways merely for the sake of avoiding mistakes we may or may not encounter while pushing forward. The gloom of a haunting failure should not encourage an ill-advised digression to the past; it should rather invigorate the pursuit of a reconditioned, redesigned future. Our shortcomings may be the vital stepping-stones toward our eventual success. But it is up to us to put aside this fear, to bypass this, granted, legitimized inhibition, and begin working for a better, brighter tomorrow.

Benjamin Hong is a second-year biological sciences major. He can be reached at bshong@uci.edu.