Nature has unexpected sensors. Students are always astonished to learn that litmus, the simplest of acid-base indicators, is extracted from lichens. Lichens, which have no roots but a thallus, also bioconcentrate SO2 pollution and radioactive fallout from the air. The thallus is the non reproductive part of the lichen that, depending on the genus, can have a variety of appearances as shown below.
(3) More recently, the concentration of cesium isotopes (134Cs and 137Cs ) in lichen within a 30 km radius of Fukushima were more than 3 times the acceptable limit.
The Fukushima disaster is a dim reminder of the dire consequences that nuclear energy can have, even when it’s used “peacefully”. A 20-kilometre zone around the reactors had to be evacuated. Food was contaminated and six years later, 97 000 people have still not returned to the area. This includes people who still have to be barred from the region, not just those who opted to live elsewhere. Although it seemed initially that the tidal wave was the primary cause of the nuclear accident, there was in fact serious damage to piping in at least one of the reactors before the tsunami hit them. In the 2015 film Fukushima-a-nuclear-story former Prime Minister Naoto Kan reveals that Tokyo and all of Japan was saved from a much greater catastrophe by chance when a faulty gate caused water to accidentally flow and cool the top of a reactor.
Largely in response to the Fukushima disaster, Switzerland almost voted in favour of a strict timetable for a nuclear power phaseout. And a long-term plan to shift to renewables does exist in a country which presently derives 45% of its electricity from nuclear energy.
Even though nuclear energy is hailed as being carbon-free, I have long held my reservations about the technology. Here’s why.
Here’s a list of countries that do not use fission reactions to boil water to turn turbines —who, as I once heard an activist say, “don’t burn the house down to make toast.”
- Costa Rica
- New Zealand