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Nuclear energy viable but potentially dangerous for Jamaica

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dear Editor,

The consideration of nuclear energy as an alternative source of energy for Jamaica has been the subject of serious debate. We all need to look at nuclear energy from all angles. Nuclear energy has the potential to rid the nation of the expense of oil as an energy source. While this may be true, nuclear energy is a viable and ingenious option for energy, but potentially dangerous.

Jamaica is located in a vulnerable zone. According to the Earthquake Unit at the University of the West Indies, about 200 earthquakes are located in and around Jamaica per year, most of which are minor, having magnitudes less than 4.0.


In the diagram in the link, delineated by the Earthquake Unit, Jamaica is associated with geological faults, especially the Gonave microplate, which is demarcated with other plates. The red dots on the Jamaican map are past epicentres. It can also be seen on the diagram that Jamaica lies on two plates: The Caribbean plate and the Gonave plate. It is also known that tectonic plates in the earth's crust move every year. It would be unwise to pursue nuclear energy in Jamaica, especially with the 5.0 magnitude earthquake felt on March 10, 2012.

If nuclear energy is to be implemented in the future, drastic precautionary measures would have to be taken to ensure safety for the population. If nuclear energy is to be implemented in the long term, we all have to worry whether the nuclear plants can withstand seismic activity. Although there are claims that a nuclear plant would be made to withstand seismic activity, who knows if or when a severe earthquake will occur? At which locations would nuclear plants be built in Jamaica?

The health care sector would be affected if radiation or radioactive waste were to escape from the nuclear plants. We would need to develop a futuristic advanced health care system to specialise in radiation treatment if a major earthquake should hit Jamaica, or in the event of a radiation leakage. An example is the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant in Japan which was severely damaged by an earthquake one year ago, causing many Japanese to be exposed to radiation, and the Japanese Government had to give many families compensation, and countless people died or were hospitalised.

Let us not forget the Ukrainian Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, which caused mutation in human beings, and also a significant number of deaths in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Studies have also claimed to demonstrate increased risk of various diseases, especially cancers, among people who live near nuclear facilities. Can the government afford to pay money in compensation to those who would be potentially affected?

Another factor we should ponder on is waste disposal. Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean Sea. Where could we possibly dispose of the radioactive waste produced by nuclear plants? Although trained personnel would be working in the nuclear facilities, the element of human error will always exist. There could be a flaw in the designing of the nuclear plant, which would lead to problems in its operation. Let us make a supposition that a radioactive spillage occurred during waste transportation on land due to human error. The agricultural sector would also be severely affected. Who would buy our exported crops?

Jamaica simply cannot afford nuclear energy. We are geologically unsuitable and geographically deficient to consider that option. Nuclear plants would take a significant amount of money to maintain. We are a developing nation, and simply cannot afford to do it alone.

One does not wish to put down the notion of nuclear energy, but are we willing to face the repercussions if radiation is leaked? Do we have a safety net and preparations for this possibility? Hydro power, solar electricity and wind power are safer alternatives that should be expanded upon with nuclear energy as the last alternative to consider. Nuclear energy is a viable option, but it could be potentially disastrous for Jamaica if we do not plan effectively and do stringent safety practices to ensure the well-being of the Jamaican population.

AG Lewis

Williamsfield, Manchester