So here we are. The Japanese are running out of options to cool down these out-of-control nuclear reactors. They’ve been pumping sea water, probably using fire trucks in tandem to get enough pressure to pump the water onto the fuel rods, or replace the evaporating water from the pools storing spent rods still generating radioactive materials and heat, but they’re running out of fuel to keep the fire engines running. Worse, they’ve just this morning had to allow the skeleton crew (no pun intended) of 50 workers or so to take a break because the radiation levels were getting too high even for these sacrificial lambs. Meantime, the temperature in these reactors keeps rising inexorably. 2500 degrees. 3000 degrees. It’s hell on earth.
Herein lies the crux of the matter. Nuclear fission creates heat. So does just the normal process of radioactive decay of the materials that are used in the fuel rods (i.e. even after the reactor is shut down). The geniuses who designed this technology figured that all they’d have to do was keep the process cool with water. Keep circulating water to cool the fuel rods and all would be fine. But all isn’t fine. Electricity to pump the water fails. Generators to replace the electricity are stored in the basement and a tsunami floods the basement and disables the generators. Then sea water gets pumped in, but that also has its limits. Helicopters are called in to dump sea water into the blown-apart reactors (the explosion caused by the steam created by water on hot rods, and the release of hydrogen which blows up), but the radiation gets too high for the helicopter pilots to fly over the reactors. In short, the breakdown and remedial measures amount to a chain reaction that mimics the chain reaction that creates nuclear energy (and bombs) in the first place.
This hellish, impossible-to-control technology is the reason that governments, like the Obama administration, have to guarantee the loans needed to build these reactors. Investors on Wall Street want no part of this stuff. Banks won’t take the risk on their own. And why? Because the whole process is too hazardous, too fraught with potential disasters: Three Mile Island; Chernobyl; and now Fukushima. So whose money is going to fill the gap? Why, yours and mine, courtesy of the United States government, which pledges that if anything goes wrong (and how could it not go wrong eventually?), the federal government will pay off whatever loans or costs have accrued. And they are huge. Because though it seems “free,” this is expensive technology. And the only entity willing to take the risk by subsidizing it is the government. Reminds us of that other huge risk the government provides welfare checks for: war, the insanely expensive machines of war.
But will the world backtrack from its insane nuclear gamble? Hell no. We need war; we need energy. And so we get Joe Barton, that dimwit who considers global warming natural,
I believe that Earth’s climate is changing, but I think it’s changing for natural reasons. And I think mankind has been adopting, or adapting, to climate as long as man has walked the Earth…Adaptation is the practical, affordable, utterly natural reflex response to nature when the planet is heating or cooling, as it always is.
Global warming? Just adapt, says Joe. Nuclear meltdowns? Just adapt. And the Obama administration, in the face of pressure from the likes of Barton, has to demonstrate its courage even in the face of planetary disaster. It’s what we elect these big boys for, after all: Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead.
Addendum, Mar. 24: Listening to an interview this morning on KPFA with Dr. Jeanette Sherman, consulting editor for the recent book, Chernobyl: Consequences for People and the Environment, I heard something I hadn't heard before (there are apparently lots of these little nuggets being kept under wraps). When asked what was the most important little-known aspect of the Chernobyl accident, Dr. Sherman said: "Its adverse effects on all life." She then pointed out that scientists have now studied not just the meltdown's effects on people, but on "domestic and wild animals, birds, fish, trees, mushrooms, bacteria and viruses." They found damage to them all. They found birth defects, damage to heart and brain, in short, "adverse findings in all systems tested."
This, of course, makes sense. Radiation affects life at its most basic, genetic level, and at that level, all life shares a common inheritance and structure. So the technology we have unleashed, and which its cheerleaders keep assuring us is perfectly safe, if and when it gets hit by the unforeseen accident, attacks not just humans and their cells, but the cells of all living things. Like global warming, the deleterious effects spread out to damage the entire planet. It's something to keep in mind, and, if you're writing your representative, something to point out.