We are sitting in front of a large flat-screen watching video footage of the Japanese earthquake disaster. Jianhua is perched on the end of the bed, wearing the metallic fabric smock she wanted to protect her pregnant midriff. She is worried about fetal effects of EM from televisions, laptop computers, and cell-phones. Those effects are uncertain, and there is no scientific consensus, but her worries trump any science journal article. The gray smock was my gift.
We watch as video of another Fukushima reactor exploding screens on the BBC news. Even at a distance and with no sound, the force of the hydrogen explosion is apparent. A plume arches skywards. Earlier we watched a US nuclear industry spin doctor praise the reactor containment design for maintaining integrity even under severest test. Bullshit, my mind registers. Reactors are popping like popcorn and this Nuclear Candide is proclaiming that this is the best of all possible worlds. He’s not even a convincing whore.
A thought occurs to me. Jianhua wants to go to Dalian for the last trimester of her pregnancy. A quick online check: it’s about 1600km from Dalian to Sendai. In terms of radioactive release, this is not nearly as bad yet as Chernobyl and who knows the real extent of that event’s widespread harm? I mention to Jianhua that we need to watch developments and consider our summer plans, recalling what happened the last time there was a nuclear meltdown crisis.
If the tragic scenes of tsunami devastation and scattered human bodies have a biblical apocalyptic sense, the radiation fears invoke the 1950s, Strontium 90 spreading through the upper atmosphere, and mother’s milk becoming too radioactive to transport across US state lines except for its container. Social fear spreads along with the Fukushima explosions video. We do not want to be late additions to the victim toll. We do not want radiation-damaged children.
The nuclear power industry and its political allies have been successful in reshaping the industry’s image since the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and 1980s. In the US, anti-nuclear groups such as the Clamshell Alliance, Abalone Alliance, Crabshell Alliance, and Shad Alliance were replaced by happy-faced nuclear power lobbyists proclaiming it to be the new ‘green energy.’ Once a huge deaths-head figure in Peter Schumann’s Bread & Puppet marches, the industry promoted itself as the best answer to global warming.
Now Japan and many other countries face the consequences of anti-environmentalism marketing itself as environmental responsibility and economic inevitability. Nuclear power is the most expensive known form of energy – energy for which we never cease paying, either financially or in terms of biological toxicity. In the United States, even as the Fukushima reactors were in meltdown, the Obama administration and major US congressional figures were reiterating their support for nuclear power.
In the rhetoric of nuclearism, accidents and disasters first prove that the system safeguards work. Later, when public memory diminishes, past disasters prove how much the technology’s safety has improved since the last disaster. This is a circle of false proofs. It argues that self-perpetuating problems prove their own claimed solutions. Nothing could be more perverse. Instead of pushing for an end to the building of nuclear plants, more of them — “new and improved” – are trumpeted as the solution to a deadly technology. Logic goes into meltdown too.
A pessimistic view is that it will take the equivalent of a Chernobyl-style forbidden zone to convince the United States that nuclear power is a dangerous technology. If Arizona real estate prices seem depressed today, consider what would happen to the Phoenix-area housing market value if the aging Palo Verde nuclear plant were to be the next site of major failure. One way or another, the failures of nuclear technology will tumble social complacency and create its undoing.
The Fukushima meltdowns are only one stop along this way. In the meantime, none of us can buy anti-radiation smocks sufficient for self-protection.