Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nuclear Roulette



The new president of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) came through Atlanta recently, speaking at the Unitarian Universalist Church (some would dispute whether UU, as it is called, is a real church since belief plays little or no role – the “great undecided” some chide). The lecture was in honor of the late Ed Arnold, former Executive Director of PSR/Atlanta and a long-time, much loved Atlanta activist. PSR concerns itself with multiple issues: Climate Change, POPs (persistent organic pollutants), Gun Safety and, if that is not depressing or Quixotic enough, Nuclear Warheads, Proliferation and Energy. The latter was the focus of President Ira Heflin’s remarks.

Doctor Heflin would have us know that there is NO… repeat, NO… ZERO safe level of radiation, that ALL radiation causes cancer (not to mention stroke, heart disease and lowered IQ) and that radiation is leaked into the environment, the life system upon which we depend, at every stage of the nuclear process. Obviously nuclear bombs release radioactivity which was done with devious abandon and false assurances of safety, during open-air testing in the 40s and 50s. But long before we reach that stage we have uranium mining (frequently on indigenous land of course) and transportation, both actual and potential release opportunities. The normal function of nuclear plants involves the routine release of more radiation and of course accidents add to the toxic mix. Can you say Chernobyl? Three-mile Island? Fukushima? And many lesser or unknown “events”. This applies to reactors and weapons projects which the powers that be and industry would have us believe are as different as apples and oranges. Well, there are differences – one is for energy, one is for, well, what are nuclear weapons for? Intimidation (um, seems to fit some definitions of terrorism, as for example the U.S. Army’s)? Mass suicide? In any event this difference is mitigated by the fact that the first, energy, was originally a cover for the second, a screen behind which the horrors of Dr. Strangelove could be developed. Energy still serves this function, the “peaceful atom” as they like to call it, but it has also grown into a lobbyist-heavy industry which, like the poor ego, desires to grow and perpetuate itself. Maybe the cancer cell is a more apt analogy since it, when successful, eventually kills its host.

But before we move on we might mention one final source of radiation: nuclear waste. The entire nuclear plant is essentially radioactive at the end of its “useful” life, along with irradiated fuel rods and plutonium all of which is toxic, highly dangerous, for, oh say, a million years, a lot longer than recorded history. After over 60 years of fooling with this sexy technology no one has any idea what to do with its persistent un-sexy leftovers for the duration necessary. It is said that dysfunctional persons care little about the consequences of their behavior, developing convincing, at least to themselves, rationalizations to justify whatever it is they want to do. Could that possibly apply to this topic? Just as weapons development was slipped in behind the “peaceful atom”, another little scheme of the sociopaths is to “recycle” plutonium. Now doesn’t that sound nice? Recycle. This will get rid of, it is implied, our plutonium problem but look closer, behind the veil, and we find not all the plutonium “recycled” by burning as fuel in nuclear reactors would be used, or can be used, and the process of separating out the plutonium, called reprocessing before they switched over to recycling to capitalize on the prestige of that word, is an extremely “dirty” business involving highly toxic chemicals which must also be disposed/contained for long periods. The French thought this one up since they are highly addicted to nuclear power, having foolishly invested in it to the tune of 60 plants in that relatively tiny country. Why would they do such a thing? Why would Japan build nearly the same number on an earthquake fault? The sociopaths claw their way to power whenever they can, where they can then pursue their projects without the pesty obstacles of conscience, or concern for consequences.

So long as there are nuclear plants producing the key ingredient for nuclear weapons, plutonium (Pu), there is the threat of proliferation. Of course what Pu already exists will take 250,000 years! to decay into a harmless substance so you can see we have a long-term problem here. We should note that plutonium did not exist until we (they) created it in reactors, sort of a pandora’s box kind of pathology. How do we keep this stuff safely stored and out of the hands of terrorists for those kind of time-frames? Hell, how can we even be assured that the stuff won’t be completely forgotten, like some Mayan ruin waiting to be discovered? You probably intuit the answer, we don’t frikkin know!

Given these facts, would persons wanting to create more of this deadly material be considered sane? On top of this ambiguity is the instability of accidents, if they can be called that, and of course the targeting of these convenient sites by those who, though they lack the expertise, materials and funding to build first rate nukes themselves, do possess the fanaticism necessary to want to use them. They might settle for blowing up, setting fire to or crashing airplanes into nuclear plants that, with great precision, can be called pre-positioned nuclear devices. Continuing the tradition of the Berrigan Brothers, a group of church activists recently infiltrated a nuclear site, easily reaching the most sensitive areas undetected, eventually searching out security personnel to surrender to. Who should be charged here, the infiltrators or the security personnel? Or perhaps those responsible for the greater decision to build these mad cauldrons, whether you think of them as sociopaths or not.

Speaking of craziness: the arsenals of the U.S. and Russia remain on hair-trigger alert, launch-on-warning, despite the cold war having ended nearly 20 years ago. Dr. Heflin was asked at his talk what rationale is used to justify this insanity in the higher reaches of our government and he suggested that, to know that, we must go there and ask.

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that the U.S. Senate, in its great wisdom, has refused to ratify, and that M’sseurs Bush-Cheney pronounced not in U.S. interests (and which Obama apparently has no time for outside of speeches), was crafted to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by extracting promises to not develop them by those who haven’t yet, in exchange for promises from those who do have them that they (we) will get rid of them. Since a nuclear war, even a small one, stands a very good chance of creating nuclear winter and ending our great experiment with civilization, how is preventing the spread of nukes not in U.S. interests? Dr. Heflin would probably urge us to take this question to our representatives up there in the higher reaches of our democratically, sort-of, elected government. Leading local groups working to help deliver this message are Nuclear Watch South - nonukesyall.org, Women's Action for New Directions (WAND) gawand.org and stopplantvogtle.com.

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  1. Actually I'm told Ira is a member but not president of PSR... sorry.

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