Plugging into alternative power
After the March 11 earthquake in Japan that damaged and caused a radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Koo Wai-muk – a campaigner for Greenpeace – was suddenly beset by questions concerning the environmental impact of the disaster. The 26-year-old journalism graduate from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has visited Ukraine and Japan – two sites of major nuclear accidents – and became determined to persuade the world to give up nuclear power and look for other ways to satisfy the rising demand for electricity.
Why did you decide to join Greenpeace?
Working for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) is part of my career plan. After graduating from CUHK in 2007, majoring in journalism and communication, I worked as a reporter and in advertising. Before I joined Greenpeace, I was not much of an environmentalist. I chose to be a part of this organisation because it is outspoken and it gets things done. I am currently on my third year with the organisation.
How did you get involved in nuclear issues?
In 2010, I was watching the World Cup on television and all of a sudden a report about an accident in the Daya Bay nuclear power plant was broadcast. That was my first encounter with the issue of nuclear hazards. It was shocking that such a high-risk business operates with so little transparency.
It was the media that broke the story and the Hong Kong government didn’t have much idea what was going on. That event affected me deeply and I felt I had to find out more about nuclear power. I wanted to get myself and others out of the dark.
To make things worse, the government proposed to increase use of nuclear power in September last year. I don’t think the government knows clearly what is the deal with nuclear power and my job is to find the truth to warn the government and society of the consequences.
What have you done to prepare yourself for an anti-nuclear power campaign?
Last year, I went to The Netherlands to take up a radionuclide course at the Delft University of Technology. After finishing the programme, I stayed with the Netherlands Greenpeace office to work on anti-radioactive campaign for two months. I also visited Chernobyl and Fukushima earlier this year to research on their impact on the environment.
What did you see in Chernobyl and Fukushima?
Up to this day, 25 years after the Chernobyl disaster, nuclear pollution still affects its residents. The plants in that area are still exposed to radiation that is way above the safety limit, but the people have no choice but to eat local food while the polluted environment leads to all sorts of health problems.
I went to Fukushima in May, and did some research on the ocean where a huge amount of nuclear waste was being dumped. As expected, a higher radiation level in fish, shellfish, sea cucumber and many other ocean creatures was recorded. Experts claim that the ocean is able to dilute radiation, but let’s not forget nature works in its own mysterious ways. How can experts ensure that radiation will not end up in beach sand or accumulate in the food chain like heavy metal in coral fish?
The Japanese government and the world have no solution for such disasters and yet they are not willing to give up nuclear energy.
What inspired you to be a Greenpeace campaigner?
I went to Germany and saw a village that was built on a nuclear waste dumping ground. Activists live there to prove a point. If things like that were to happen in Hong Kong, people will do whatever they could to get away from the dumping area, but that’s not the case in Germany. The people living there are certainly putting their health at risk but they want to let the world understand the dire consequences of nuclear power. Their action touched me deeply.
What does the public need to know about nuclear energy?
Nuclear power is in no way efficient from an economic standpoint. The generation of the electricity may seem efficient, but the huge amount of money spent on handling the radioactive waste is often overlooked. Since Chernobyl, there has been little progress in handling nuclear waste despite the huge sums spent for this purpose. The so-called improvement in nuclear plant design involves a thicker protection case. No scientist, expert or researcher has an answer for nuclear waste. The cold hard fact is if there is a nuclear disaster, there is no way for mankind to escape or resolve it. Mankind is trying to control something that it doesn’t have control at all. Too much is at risk.
What is your long-term goal?
I would like to persuade the government not to use nuclear power. It should provide a feasible alternative solution to demands for electricity. I am trying to raise people’s awareness of the harm that nuclear power brings. It is a risky business and human technology is not advanced enough to handle nuclear accidents. My responsibility is to tell the public the truth.