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Of Oil Rigs and Nukes

By       Message Bill Willers     Permalink
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Of Oil Rigs and Nukes

"To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we'll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It's that simple."

President Barack Obama, February 16, 2010

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"It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced."

President Barack Obama, April 2, 2010

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Barack Obama, lawyer and politician, knows little or nothing about oil drilling and nuclear technologies. Nevertheless, just as he takes money from Wall Street, and hence economic advisement from the likes of Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, he gets both cash and direction from the energy sector, so that, using his gift for rhetoric, he pushes for more drilling, more nuclear power plants, and the fiction of "clean coal".
As this is being written, frantic efforts by profit-before-all corporate America to find an adequate "Plan B" in the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill have failed, so that thousands of barrels of crude continue to gush daily into Gulf waters, ultimately to poison vast stretches of coastal shores and shallows. But any oil spill ever seen, or likely to be seen, is as a pinprick next to a gunshot wound when compared to a nuclear "event" that would make an area as large as Pennsylvania uninhabitable forever.
The ramifications of a major nuclear accident are so immense that the insurance industry refuses to cover the possibility. Even volcanoes pale in biological significance beside a major radioactive release. Note how quickly life in the Mount Saint Helens area rebounded, and then consider that Plutonium, the most toxic substance on the planet, has a 24,400-year half life, and that genetic deformities pass to subsequent generations.
To get an idea of some of the implications of high radiation exposure, peruse photos of Iraqi children born into this era of depleted uranium warfare. Better, simply google "radiation deformities". There's plenty to see. Now, mentally extrapolate to a nuclear equivalent of the Gulf Oil Spill.
Unlike oil, which allows for stark visuals of slicks and coated wildlife that make for attention-getting news, radioactivity is invisible, odorless and tasteless, so that vast populations could be exposed to a lethal radioactive air mass without knowing of their contamination and the ruin it guarantees. Would the government inform us, or would it prefer to avoid the chaos of a mass evacuation of millions of terrified citizens? Does the government ever lie to us?
Consider that in the decades following WWII officials at Nevada test sites, while assuring the public there was no danger from fallout, kept their own families out of harms way. Meanwhile, "Downwinders" hit with heavy fallout faced high rates of childhood leukemia, melanoma, lymphoma and cancers of breast, colon, brain, thyroid, stomach and bone.
In 1969, when a fire at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado sent a plutonium-laced cloud toward Denver, the official statement from the government and Dow Chemical Co., which operated the plant, was "No offsite contamination resulted from the fire". Only when independent scientists began analyzing soil samples were government and Dow forced to concede that significant amounts of plutonium had been released.
And what of the cover up of cancer rates at the Hanford Reservation in Washington? What of the nightmarish "plutonium experiments" following WWII performed by our government on hundreds of human guinea pigs?
America's worst nuclear "accident" to date, as far as is known, was in 1979 at the Three Mile Island Plant in Pennsylvania (TMI). According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the incident "ended without a major release of dangerous forms of radiation."
There is every reason to consider this a bald-faced lie and no good reason to consider it the truth.
Harvey Wasserman, an investigative journalist who focuses on the nuclear industry, has chronicled in a succinct 2009 essay some of the history of TMI -- the high rate of cancers and birth defects in both humans and animals, the governmental suppression of information, a rising death toll, and the fact that, to this day, the government really has no idea how much radiation was released, although the amount was certainly greater than claimed.
Wasserman is to be believed, government is not. It is fair to state that official governmental pronouncements regarding nuclear energy, which statements parallel those of industry, are designed simply to advance the nuclear course and to mollify the public.
The accidents at TMI and Chernobyl in the Ukraine are now old news and out of the public mind, but their effects, governmental silence notwithstanding, will be ongoing well into the future. That said, we have not yet seen "the Big One". But if it were to occur with government and industry unable to effect a cover up, their response would be predictable, because we now see the scenario playing out before our eyes with regard to the Gulf Oil Spill: telegenic spokesperson explaining the breakdown of "fail safe" devices and attempts to mitigate; congressional hearing filled with conspicuous but futile displays of outrage from camera-savvy legislators; representatives from various aspects of the industry blaming one another, so that the catastrophe is seen as "a failure of the system" in which "everyone is to blame" translates to "nobody is to blame". History suggests that in the case of a nuclear situation we would just see the same play with a different set of actors.
In the end, though, theatrics wouldn't matter. There are no booms to stop wind-borne radiation or mats to sponge it up. A nuclear "Big One" would be worse than the Gulf Oil Spill by orders of magnitude.


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Bill Willers is emeritus professor of biology, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh now living in Middleton, WI. He is founder of Superior Wilderness Action Network (SWAN) and editor of Learning to Listen to the Land and Unmanaged Landscapes, both from (more...)

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