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Sunday, Feb. 24, 2008

THE SKY'S THE LIMIT

CLIMATOLOGIST

Mum fights nuke power


Staff writer

Yurika Ayukawa, the special adviser on climate change to the environmental organization World Wide Fund for Nature Japan (WWF Japan), believes the key to combating global warming lies in changing humans' means of generating energy.

News photo
WWF Special Adviser Yurika Ayukawa highlights global warming. PHOTO COURTESY OF YURIKA AYUKAWA

"Japan should emphasize not nuclear power but natural gas and renewable energies, and it should develop unused energy sources," she said.

Ayukawa, who became an expert on nuclear issues while working for the nonprofit organization Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, said that in light of her experience she realizes that nuclear power causes many problems.

Besides the problems of radioactive waste from nuclear reactors, which takes 24,000 years before its radioactivity reduces by half, nuclear power itself adds to global warming, she said.

Global-warming carbon dioxide

Also, she pointed out, nuclear power cannot adapt to increased demands for electricity because there is a fixed ceiling on what the plants can generate. Therefore, to cope with demand spikes, thermal power must be used in combination, Ayukawa explained — adding that coal and oil burned in such plants are prime emitters of the global-warming gas carbon dioxide.

Also, she noted, nuclear power plants require huge amounts of sea water to cool down their reactors and prevent them from reaching levels of criticality.

"The used sea water, which is very hot, returns to the ocean. There, it is damaging marine ecosystems and is also adding to global warming," Ayukawa said.

However, human life now relies on electricity. Instead of using nuclear power, Ayukawa said Japan should instead promote power generation from natural gas, which emits far less carbon dioxide and biomass energy.

"As Japan imports most of its timber, its forests have been neglected for decades without proper management. They should be well maintained and used for biomass power-generation," she said, explaining that biomass could be the most reliable of all renewable energy sources.

To illustrate her point about biomass, Ayukawa, who studied public administration at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, referred to the success in Sweden, where the government set up a system enabling organic household waste to be sent through pipes to an energy-generation plant.

Looking back, Ayukawa explained that her awareness of environmental issues developed through her experience as the mother of two children, and her concern to buy safe food for them. But then, she said, she realized in 1986 that her individual effort was useless in view of that year's nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in Ukraine in April, which led to food grown in Japan being contaminated with radiation.

"Even though I buy organic vegetables, I cannot do anything when poison from the sky pollutes them — so I thought I had to do something to help solve the problem," she said. That, she explained, was why she decided to study nuclear-power issues.



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