So Ryuichi Sakamoto and Kraftwerk headline an anti-nuclear power concert in Japan. Both Sakamoto and Kraftwerk are considered pioneers in the electronic music frontier, and as an avid electronic music fan myself I appreciate the music of both.
Kraftwerk Lobbies for Fossil Fuels
The interesting fact about electronic music is that by definition it requires electrons, and lots of them. One cannot play electronic music without them the way a folk musician can pick up an acoustic guitar and play folk music. Although I believe it would be intriguing to have a full acoustic orchestra play techno music, electronic music simply cannot be done without electricity, and that requires generation from fossil fuels, wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and nuclear sources. Japan is only 16% energy self-sufficient, and nuclear power provides 13% of its energy needs down from about a 24% prior to the disaster. But it hasn’t replaced nuclear power with renewables such as wind or solar. Even if it wanted to do so Japan lacks the space for solar and wind farms, so it has substituted coal, natural gas and oil.
Having an electronic music concert at night when solar power is not available to power the instruments, computers, sound boards, amplifiers, speakers, lighting effects, communications gear, air conditioning, and transportation to and from the venue to protest a form of power that such events require allows a connoisseur of irony to indulge in one of modern life’s increasingly common pleasures.
In my view the backlash against nuclear power since the Fukushima disaster is misguided. All Fukushima reactors survived one of the largest earthquakes in modern history and operated as designed. The failure was one of imagination: siting all backup power where a tsunami could destroy it. Backup systems should have been redundant and sited in several locations immune to all possible waves. The disaster presents an opportunity to learn from mistakes and make nuclear power even safer than it is today just as flight went from being one of the most dangerous ways to travel to the safest in less than a century. More people die in coal mining and solar panel manufacturing and installation every year than have died during the entire history of nuclear power generation. I’ve always believed that people fear nuclear power because of the images of the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, plus the awe-inspiring power of images of above ground atomic bomb blasts and the fact that we cannot see, taste, smell or touch radiation. The irrational fear of nuclear power makes otherwise intelligent people act stupid, and the anti-nuke movement is filled with scientists, engineers and others who should know better.
Concerts like No Nukes 2012 are more of an emotional reaction than a rational one. For environmentalists concerned about global warming, nuclear power presents unlimited carbon-free power. To avoid using nuclear power, fossil fuels must be substituted, meaning increased carbon emissions. These are not a problem for those of us who are not global warming alarmists, but it must be a terrible dilemma for those who are. Conservation can only do so much in a modern world increasingly reliant on technology, and besides, isn’t an electronic music concert held at night for thousands by European musicians flying from the other side of a planet to perform a luxury that a warming world can’t afford? It would have been much more effective to have had the concert completely online, with Kraftwerk performing from Europe during the day, using solar panels to power their instruments while Sakamoto used hydroelectric to power his portion of the broadcast – unless of course Kraftwerk, Sakamoto and the organizers of No Nukes 2012 really aren’t concerned with their carbon footprints, but they still aren’t off the hook: they should perform benefit concerts for those who die in the fossil fuel extraction business, plus the untold numbers killed by radiation, mercury, dioxins and other poisons released when fossil fuels are burned and solar panels are manufactured.