Nuclear Energy is Not Safe

A Japanese woman who lived in Fukushima province near the nuclear plant told the audience, via a translator, that she had spoken with members of the US Congress the day before, urging them to learn lessons from the horrors she and her compatriots have endured.  When the Congress members replied that they would work to assure safe nuclear energy here, including regulations to evacuate a large radius in the event of a nuclear power plant disaster, she told them that was not the lesson she wanted them to learn.  She wants them to close all nuclear facilities and outlaw nuclear energy completely.  There was thunderous applause.

Fukushima Power Plant emitting radioactive materials.

Lucille and I were in that audience at the Ethical Culture Society at the event organized by Gary Null where his film Knocking on The Devil’s Door: Our Deadly Nuclear Legacy was screened and a panel of experts shared their insights.  This Japanese survivor and anti-nuclear advocate asked her two children to talk to us as well.  A daughter in middle school and a son in high school told us about being uprooted by having to evacuate.  The daughter had been in a class this year with other girls her age, whereas in elementary school she was the only girl in her class.  She was enjoying the friendship, so necessary at that stage of development, with other girls.  She has been separated from them and misses them very much.  Now she is having to adjust to another school in another area.  Her brother volunteered at a day care center in Fukushima and also raised chickens for eggs and meat at home.  Now he can’t do that volunteer work, nor have the contact with animals that he enjoyed.  He, too, is far from his friends and cannot easily visit them.

These disruptions of their young lives, to say nothing of their endangerment from high levels of radiation, were entirely avoidable.  And as Tepco and the Japanese government are slowly revealing the truth about the disaster, this family is realizing that they may never go home again.  The soil and water may be dangerous for years and lifetimes to come.

There was also talk about hot spots as far away as Tokyo where radiation is dangerously high.  There, no one has been evacuated, not even pregnant women and very young children who are the most susceptible.

Kuniko Tanioka, a member of the Japanese parliament who holds a doctorate from the University of Toronto, has been in the forefront of the effort to get the truth about the disaster to the public.  She is concerned about the water, for if the aquafers are polluted with nuclear wastes, that will be a disaster of unimaginable dimensions.  We know that there are possible leaks from the storage tanks which could be affecting ground water as well as sea water.

Kuniko Tanioka.jpg  Kuniko Tanioka

She told a poignant story that brings the urgency of the threat from nuclear power plants to mind.  She said that last year, at another event about nuclear energy, she had spoken with someone who was present at this event about the hazards of nuclear accidents, especially given the carelessness of the corporations that run them both in Japan and the US and the position of both governments that favors the corporations not the safety of the people of their countries.  She remembered that conversation now, a year later, as she is living through the worst nuclear power disaster in history.

She reminded us that the full extent of the disaster has still not been revealed.  She also reminded us that there are no plans to evacuate New York in the event of an accident at Indian Point, which is not fifty miles.  One of the other panelists who lives on Long Island had mentioned the traffic on a normal week night going out there from the city.  She asked us to contemplate trying to evacuate the entire city.  Since four of the five boroughs of New York are on islands, getting across a bridge or through a tunnel to get away would indeed be nightmarish–the escape from New Orleans before Katrina magnified several times.

There are no plans of any kind for the people of this area (nor probably for any of the areas near one of the 104 nuclear power plants in the US) in the event of a nuclear accident.

Greg Palast.jpg Greg Palast

Greg Palast, who was an investigator of corporate fraud and racketeering before becoming an investigative journalist, brought evidence of massive fraud by the nuclear industry.  He said that no claims by the industry about safety are to be trusted, that there are here, as there were in Japan, massive lies about inspections and safety regulations, that in fact there are none, that US plants are old and not safe, never were safe even when new.

Harvey Wasserman.jpg Harvey Wasserman

Harvey Wasserman, who like Palast has been responsible for writing and activism campaigns that have prevented some nuclear plants from being built, spoke about the completely developed solar, wind, water, and other renewable energy technology.  He said the US has created it, but does not use it, unlike other countries in the world.  He says that it is possible right now to create all the energy needed for the US and the world with renewal energy sources.  The only thing that is needed is the will to do it.  He announced an action at Indian Point nuclear power plant later this month.  He also said that what would work would be complete commitment to stopping it–civil disobedience, whatever it takes. In his view, the end of nuclear power would expedite renewable energy.

Karl Grossman.jpg  Karl Grossman

Professor Karl Grossman spoke about democracy as the antidote to what he calls “nuclear hegemony.”  He traced the development of the nuclear establishment in the US, which after WWII needed to keep its government funding.  The development of non military uses of nuclear energy were the result.  There never has been public information about the dangers of this kind of energy and there never has been much private financing of it either.  For that reason, the public financing of the nuclear industry is what keeps it afloat, and it gets lots of tax money.  When the democratic process works to stop it, it ends.

He adduced the case of the German company Siemans which is ending production of nuclear equipment, now that Germany’s democratic government has decided to shut down all nuclear power plants.  Professor calls for the US democracy to do likewise.

My personal concern in this case is the absence of democracy in the US.  The people of this country do not control the government.  Perhaps Palast and Wasserman are right and massive citizen action will prevail.

I do know that our lives are at risk and that what Kuniko Tanioka said is true. The possibility of a nuclear disaster is real, it is very real.  I have just lived through hurricane Irene in New York.  There were orders from the mayor for people in certain low lying areas of the city to evacuate, but there were no evacuation plans, no provision at all for getting people out of those areas.  The order just allowed the city to be able to say in the event of death and destruction that the people who could not get out were at fault.  The US is no more prepared to deal with a nuclear, or indeed much of any kind disaster, or indeed much of any kind of disaster, than Japan was. Less actually, because I believe that the Japanese government did actually provide transportation and help to people in the disaster stricken area to leave.  Neither in New Orleans nor in New York was there help for people to get out of the way of the storm.  In New Orleans there was considerable death and destruction.  We in New York were lucky this time.

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