Mankind's reach has always exceeded his
grasp, that much is well known. But sometimes in our technolicism we
forget the things that are really important. When the keel of the RMS
Titanic was laid the plans called for an adequate number of lifeboats
to be installed. The British Admiralty law however specified
the number of lifeboats required was by the tonnage of the vessel.
Since the Titanic was the largest craft ever built at the time it
created a loophole in the law but that wasn't the reason that the
Titanic failed to have enough lifeboats, it wasn't even money, it
All of those extra lifeboats ruined the graceful lines as designers rationalized they would never be needed anyway so why burden her beautiful decks with lifeboats and davits? The engineers had bought into their own grandiose technological superiority myth. Man conquers the oceans man conquers nature. What is important to remember is the loss of life, the lives needlessly cut short, the lives impaired. Fifteen hundred terrified people died in cold icy waters and thousands mourned their loss because engineers wanted clean lines.
I was sitting in a restaurant one day, the one that sells those tiny square hamburgers. As I was eating the manager was interviewing a prospective employee. "It says here that you can't work on Sunday."
"Yes," the woman in her forties answered, "I go to church on Sunday."
"Could you work Sunday afternoons or evenings or maybe every other Sunday?" the manager asked.
How quickly we will remove the coat of humanity and dance a strip tease for the coins thrown at us. Our imagination empowers us while our lack of scruples debases us and our hubris is used to protect us with the armor of "we didn't know", or "how could we have expected" or "it was for the good of the company".
I was reading an article in the Moscow Times the other day and a nurse that worked in the area around Chernobyl said, "Chernobyl isn't an event that occurred almost thirty years ago. It is an event that is still going on." The Russian government estimates the cost for a new sarcophagus to encase the crippled reactor at six to seven hundred million dollars. More importantly, people are still getting sick with cancer. The deformed children have moved on into adulthood their lives terribly and tragically altered for an experiment at the power station. Could the power station still generate electricity while shutting down? Managers could earn brownie points and maybe even move upstairs by an increase in productivity. Those who feared the experiment held their tongues, out of apprehensions for their own careers.
In the post World War two atomic age nuclear power was heralded as the answer to all of mankind's energy needs. The engineers had bought into their own grandiose technological superiority myths, man conquers the atom man conquers nature. Nay sayers were shouted down and the full corporate press was applied. The dangers were hypothetical after all. Fifty mile evacuation plans were created like lifeboats on the Titanic, they would never be expected to be used. Then the accident at Three Mile Island occurred, in reading the transcript operators had so trusted gauges and needles that they were as clueless to the actual threat as a baby playing with a loaded handgun.
Then the Chernobyl accident and now Fukushima and we lose sight as we watch the gauges and needles ourselves. Tens of thousands of people's lives have been irrevocably altered, if your house fell on you or your relatives in the Fukushima evacuation zone around the plant then you died as rescue efforts were suspended in the evacuation area. People left their homes with just what they could carry and they might never be allowed to return to their homes. Those pinned under debris were left behind to die never knowing that they were being sacrificed on the alter of greater good.
The plant operators at Chernobyl denied the problem for four days and at Fukushima international nuclear regulators have denounced the twenty kilometer evacuation zone and Tokyo Electric's erratic and spotty reporting of radiation. In dribs and drabs like pulling teeth Tokyo electric only slowly, bit by bit, releases the data on the severity of the catastrophe. Recklessly putting more people in danger as if, if they ignore the danger perhaps it will go away. Believe in our technology they proclaim; our experts have the situation under control. We've doubled the watch in the crow's nest and closed the water tight doors, full speed ahead and icebergs be damned.
How in the wake of all that has transpired since Three Mile Island can any politician in good conscience propose more nuclear power? How could anyone in their right mind recommend building any facility that requires a fifty mile evacuation plan? Promises of "we'll do it better next time" or "we've worked those problems out" only rhyme with "we didn't know" or "how could we have expected" or "it was for the good of the company." Have we as a species finally devolved to a place of no pity? No pity for the victims of our technological failures, no pity for the death and damages that they must pay for with their lives and property?
European nations have made serious progress in moving away from fossil and nuclear energy towards wind, solar and geothermal. European nations lack powerful coal and nuclear lobbies. Let the Fukushima catastrophe stand for something more than just another terrible accident. Let it be the third strike against nuclear power. All ready the nuclear industry is ginning up a response to the catastrophe blaming the Japanese for using old reactors and for not planning properly. At Three Mile Island the accident was the operators fault at Chernobyl it was said to be the Russian's fault. It is always someone else's fault with nuclear power.
Humans will design the reactors and humans will operate the plants and humans make the safety plans and we are stuck with that fact and because of that fact nuclear power will always be unsafe, incredibly toxic and incredibly expensive. Tens of millions of Americans live within a fifty mile radius of nuclear power plants. Do you know your evacuation route? Look around the room, what would you take with you if you only had one hour to evacuate? Can you take your pets? What would you do if you weren't at home? What would you do if your children were at school when the evacuation order was given?