Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Nuke Club

Nine years ago next month, I organized an event in a little country town about eighty miles north of Los Angeles.

The plan was to celebrate National Poetry Month and Nuclear Non-Proliferation, and the goal was to change the name to National Poetry/Non-Proliferation Month. Inspiration came from another poet who often visited Ojai, Allen Ginsberg, whose concern about nuclear annihilation along with that of Gregory Corso's "Bomb" inspired a whole generation to do more than hide under their desks, but turn instead to activism.

Not long after those poets warned about nuclear annihilation, another young president, John F. Kennedy, joined them, and pledged to work for "complete, and total disarmament."

The Local Hero isn't there anymore, and neither is John F. Kennedy, but the need for public awareness of the perils of nuclear power has never been greater.

There is, of course, a difference between what happened at Hiroshima, and what is happening in Japan now. Radiation leaking from a reactor pales by comparison to radiation from the explosion of a nuclear bomb. When a reactor in a nuclear power plant explodes and emits radioactivity, it does a fraction of the damage of the explosion of a nuclear bomb, but surely that distinction is lost on those, in Japan, who must now relive the nightmare that was Hiroshima. What is even more agonizing is that the nightmare of nuclear war, and uncontained radiation from a nuclear reactor are both preventable.

Those who argue that there is an egregious difference between the use of wartime nuclear power, and the need for peacetime uranium enrichment as an alternative to electricity seem to have forgotten the look on the face of a child whose parent has perished as a result of a nuclear disaster.

While Japan's nuclear plants account for roughly 30% of its energy, the cost of the devastation doesn't make up for the pain thousands are suffering, and will suffer for years to come, as a result of this disaster.

Are we to believe that any substance that can be an agent of mass devastation not just in the immediate future, but for generations to come, can be justified? And, by extension, are we to accept that the uranium enrichment programs of the Japanese are somehow more tolerable than those of Iran and North Korea?

More to the point, when confronted by the real prospect of nuclear holocaust, does the phrase "uranium enrichment" itself not emit a heinous irony?

In light of what just happened in Northern Japan, and what is now the second largest nuclear disaster in world history, it's time to consider how this planet can rationalize the development, and storage of any chemical compound that has the capacity to destroy the earth many times over for any reason, as well as whether it's okay for India, for instance, to pursue nuclear entitlement with impunity while Pakistan must be held in check.

Similarly, the international community must come to terms with the fact that it allows countries like the U.S., Russia, and Israel to proliferate while condemning others like Iran.

Disaster in Japan or not, the Obama administration is planning to spend another $56 billion in loans for nuclear reactors all over the U.S. As Greg Palast reports, Tokyo Electric, yes, Tokyo Electric will be to U.S. reactors what G.E. was to Japanese reactors.

There are already 104 nuclear plants in 31 states in this country, but they reportedly only provide about a fifth of the nation's electricity.

Is 20% of our electricity worth risking the kind of radiation poisoning that our friends in Japan currently face? And, in the final analysis, are we really looking for alternative energy, or way to grow corporate profit?

When, as Salon reports, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with more than a decade of experience regulating nuclear power plants, who is now an executive at the Shaw Group, the construction contractor responsible for building nearly all of U.S. reactors, has now signed on to do public relations for the "pro-nuclear lobby," something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

It doesn't take an expert at connecting the dots to figure out that when there's a buck to be made, whether it be in the manufacture of full-body X-ray scanners or in the building of nuclear power plants, somebody in Washington is going to be standing there with their hand out, and no shortage of apologies later.

Just as Congress has taken it upon itself to investigate the Transportation Security Administration while it re-tests full-body X-ray scanners after miscalculations were found, somebody better keep their eye on the NRC. That a regulator with the NRC is now in bed with the number one construction contractor of nuclear power plants in the country is not only incestuous, but downright frightening.

Maybe someday there will be a club for all the former regulators and elected representatives who sold their services to one lobby or another. At least 60% of it will be comprised of former defense department officials.

The only thing more frightening is the thought of an administration that just approved nearly $60 billion in loans, to Tokyo Electric?, to keep the fat cats happy for years while cutting school lunches, Planned Parenthood, and National Public Radio.

The profit margin now poses a far risk to national security, and the survival of the planet than any terrorist group, or military conflict.

So, as I sit here today looking out at a dark gray sky, like many in California, and wondering if any of that radiation is heading my way, I don't want to see any more footage of children whose parent will have died not to pursue an alternative source of energy, but to bolster the bottom line of some nuclear plant construction company.

Non-proliferation of nuclear power in any capacity seems like the only sane solution for an already challenged planet.