Monday, May 7, 2012

Good night, Godzilla! Japan turns off nuclear energy

On May 5th, Japan has turned off its last operating nuclear plant. The nuclear monster, Godzilla, is sleeping. Is it just a nap or perhaps a long lasting hibernation? Only time will tell. 

The Japanese have always maintained an ambiguous attitude towards nuclear energy; not surprisingly after having seen some of their cities nuked during the second world war. So, at the same time as Japan was embarking in an ambitious nuclear program, in the 1950s, Godzilla appeared on the Japanese movie screens. A scaly monster somehow created by nuclear radiations, it had as main hobby that of destroying Tokyo by stomping on buildings and shooting beams of fire around.

In the Western imaginary, the ambivalent feeling about nuclear energy took the shape of the nuclear genie shown the 1957 Walt Disney movie "Our friend, the atom." In this more optimistic interpretation, the evil genie could be tricked into becoming a faithful servant. But that would not be the case for the Japanese nuclear monster. In time, Godzilla's personality and characteristics evolved and, occasionally, the ugly monster would be shown as helping humans in fighting other - even uglier - monsters. But Godzilla would always remain a tricky creature - beyond human control.

So, after the Fukushima disaster, Godzilla has been put to sleep: the last active nuclear plant in Japan was turned off on May 5th 2012. Will Godzilla sleep forever? It is impossible to say. What we can say is that if getting rid of nuclear plants means going back to fossil fuels, then the Japanese have simply replaced Godzilla with an even bigger, uglier, and infinitely more dangerous monster. While Godzilla could only destroy Tokyo, the climate change monster can destroy our whole civilization.

But that's not necessarily what the future has in store. It is possible to use renewable energy to replace fossil fuels and nuclear energy at the same time. Of course, it is a tremendously difficult challenge but Japan, with its large scientific and technological capabilities, is uniquely suited to meet it. With a lot of work and a bit of luck, the future of the world may not involve any more monsters.


See also "Godzilla vs. Global Warming" a short animation based on the idea that global warming is much worse than anything Godzilla could ever do.


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)