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Nuclear Power Cannot Be Made Safe: It’s Just a Clean Way to Die

  • \JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

It was a relatively cool afternoon on the central coast of California.  The fog settled quietly over the hills like a white heron.  And despite the worst drought in our state’s history, the sky was a deep blue, the color of autumn, the sun shimmered brightly on the bay, a few crows shouted above the field where my two Labradors were happily chasing a squirrel to no avail—just another ordinary day – until suddenly PG&E’s Diablo Nuclear Power Plant’s siren went off.  I forgot that they were running a routine test that day.

There are four rotating speakers that roar an alarming sound: EMERGENCY!  It is so loud that PG&E warn residents a week in advance so that you can protect your hearing and your pets’ ears from the blaring sirens.  My dogs freaked out—and so did I.  We ran as fast as we could back to the house.

Central coast residents have grown accustomed to these routine tests.  But that day—for a moment, I thought it was the real thing.  It feels as if you’re in a war zone and that you had better take cover as quickly as possible.  Problem is—there is no real “escape plan” if the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant became a Fukushima meltdown catastrophe.

And that’s the ultimate irony about the routine siren tests: it’s an exercise in futility.

The only thing that the emergency siren accomplishes is a warning that you’ve just been nuked.  Radiation is everywhere.  You can’t see it.  You can’t feel it.  You can’t smell it. A nuclear radiation meltdown is an invisible Hiroshima. Radiation can melt the strongest steel in a matter of seconds.  Radiation is a hundred thousand times hotter than an entire forest going up in flames. The intensity of heat is off the charts, it can’t even be measured – and worst of all: it can’t be stopped. Radiation exposure can last for thousands of years.  The siren is a warning at best that your life is over as you knew it. Get ready to die.  Get ready for cancer.  And while you’re at it: think of the entire central coast of California, from Carmel, Monterey to Santa Barbara and beyond those counties, including the largest agricultural-food supplier in the U.S., as “exclusion zones” known in Japan and Chernobyl as “toxic ghost towns.”

As EcoWatch founder and journalist, Harvey Wasserman, explained, “At Fukushima, Tokyo Electric Power now admits that far more radiation is spewing into the Pacific than previously admitted. The thyroid cancer death rate among children in the area is 40 times normal.  So is the still-rising childhood thyroid abnormality rate, a terrifying re-run of downwind Soviet Ukraine’s Chernobyl, April 26, 1986, the worst-ever nuclear power plant disaster in history—until Fukushima.  Since Japan’s March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the six-reactor Fukushima Daichi power plant has plunged into lethal chaos from three, possibly four radioactive explosive meltdowns.”

At the blockade camp on our ranch: “As if Survival Mattered”. (Photo: Jacqueline Marcus)In 1981, we offered 40 acres of our ranchland to the blockaders for their encampment and training.  I was a philosophy major at the University of California, Santa Barbara, at the time.  I skipped my classes to join the protest instead. I think Socrates would have done the same.  It was an extraordinary demonstration of civil disobedience against the nuclear industry. Abalone Alliance and Mothers for Peace organized the non-violent training classes. Thousands of families, grandparents, children, professors, doctors, students, actors, singers, and activists all participated in this peaceful demonstration, demanding that they convert Diablo into a solar facility. Talk about being ahead of our time!

At the end of the ten-day action, an engineer discovered that the seismic blueprints were, (get this) reversed!  The plant was actually being built from blueprints that were backwards, upside down! PG&E was forced to spend $3 billion and three additional years of repairs before reopening.

Police stand by to arrest blockaders. (Photo: Jacqueline Marcus)On September 10, 1981, the Abalone Alliance occupied the site of the Diablo Nuclear Power facility, leading to 1,960 arrests. Nearly 40,000 people showed up in support.

If the 310,000 protesters that marched for clean energy on September 21st, 2014 need reassurance that people power works, here it is: the Diablo Blockade stopped construction of all nuclear power plants in the United States from 1981 until 2011. Shockingly, President Obama announced that “nuclear power is safe” on the catastrophic day that Japan’s nuclear power plants at Fukushima were exploding into meltdowns. He was the first president in thirty years to approve construction of nuclear power plants in the U.S. again.  Oblivious to Chernobyl and Fukushima, this is a president that ignores the lessons from bad decisions, and that includes quadrupling deep-water offshore oil drilling after BP’s catastrophic Deep Horizon explosion that killed eleven workers and left the Gulf of Mexico a “dead zone,” according to marine biologists and to those in the fishing industry at the loss of billions of dollars.

There’s always the good, bad and the ugly that goes with Obama; the good is that he approved billions of start-up subsidies for solar and wind companies, and he recently preserved 490,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, roughly three times the size of California, for the largest marine preserve in the world, putting the waters off-limits to drilling and most fishing that protects fragile underwater life.  For that one—this critic would like to give the president a big bear hug!

But unfortunately President Obama believes that we “can do it all: fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable,” and that’s a little like going on a weight loss diet of fruit and chocolate cake.  Bianca Jagger is right: “We cannot rely upon the leaders of the world. It’s up to us—to continue a mass movement, a revolution, if we want to save our earth. Nuclear power must be rejected as an alternative energy source to fossil fuels.”

Fukushima’s nuclear plants were designed by General Electric.  GE was warned by their own engineers that the “Mark 1 reactor is so flawed that it could lead to a devastating accident if the reactor lost cooling power.”

They were right.

The Diablo Nuclear Power Plant is a carbon copy of Fukushima located off the sea cliffs of Avila Beach.  Given climate change disasters, rising sea levels, and a warming earth, which have the potential of producing more tsunamis and cataclysmic Richter-9.0 earthquakes that nobody could have predicted at the time Diablo was built, there should be no question about shutting it down.  But the ‘powers that be’ are going to push hard for nuclear power. Environmentalists must not give in.  In fact, after Fukushima, it’s insane to accept nuclear power as a “clean and safe” alternative to fossil fuels.

Wasserman reported that “Diablo Canyon’s twin reactors sit eight miles west of San Luis Obispo, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, surrounded by earthquake faults.

The Hosgri, three miles offshore, was found as the reactors were being built. Design specifications were never fully altered to account for it. Nor have they been upgraded for the newly-found Los Osos, San Luis Bay and Shoreline faults.  The Shoreline lies just 650 yards from Diablo’s radioactive cores.

The massive San Andreas Fault is only 45 miles away, about half as far as was the March 11, 2011, Richter-9.0 epicenter from Fukushima.”

It’s disconcerting to learn that some environmentalists, business leaders, politicians and journalists, are characterizing nuclear power and natural gas (fracking) as “clean energy” sources.

Are they willing to invest in Fukushima? Are they willing to strike a match to their faucet water and watch it blow up from the methane?

In Jeff Goodell’s recent Rolling Stone article, “China & Global Warming”, Goodell suggested that Obama’s investment in “cheap natural gas” instead of coal is a good thing. Goodell failed to mention that people living near fracking wells are more than twice as likely to report health issues.

Worse, if you’re living next to a nuclear power plant, the threat of fracking is extremely alarming because the science has shown that fracking is linked to earthquakes in addition to water contamination.   Also, the released methane from fracking is heavily contributing to heat-trapping gasses.

Right now, Santa Barbara residents are facing an uphill battle as they get ready to vote up or down for fracking. The fossil fuel companies are paying millions of dollars for misleading TV and radio ads.  Meanwhile, California is running out of water from a global warming drought.  The last thing we need is to have our limited fresh water contaminated by fracking.

Regarding China’s investments in nuclear power, Jeff Goodell implied that nuclear power is “clean energy” worth applauding: “In 2013, nearly 60 percent of new-power generation was renewable.  China is also constructing 28 new nuclear plants, more than any other country.”  Goodell deliberately drew a parallel between renewable and nuclear as if nuclear power plants were the same as solar and wind energy.

No doubt, China’s global threat of pollution is shocking beyond belief: If a picture is worth a thousand words, these 34 photos speak volumes.  When Republicans call for eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency or government regulation of pollution, this is what deregulation looks like: an endless purgatory of oil spills, garbage, and hazardous waste.

Nevertheless, nuclear power is not the answer. Because of the media censorship of Fukushima, the public labors under the delusion that the crisis is over.  To the contrary: there is still no solution in sight on how to stop the perpetual releases of radiation.  It’s an emergency crisis that’s been hushed up.

As the radiation continues to spread through ocean and wind currents, are we supposed to accept the fate that it will contaminate our air, oceans and land—forever?

In 2013, it was reported that over 40 fish species from the immediate area are considered unsafe for consumption.  Clearly, the radioactive currents are spreading, and fish don’t stay in one spot. The radiation level in tuna off the Oregon coast tripled after the Fukushima disaster.  How long can Japan continue to contaminate the Pacific with tons of radioactive water?  Shouldn’t the most qualified engineers in the world be working on resolving this crisis instead of finding new ways to extract oil?  Perhaps Japan’s leaders and TEPCO (owners of the Fukushima Nuclear Facility) should offer a $20 million dollar prize to international engineers who can end this crisis. Then, finally, it will be taken seriously, since money seems to be the primary motive for doing anything these days. Like the Diablo Blockade sign said: “As if survival mattered.”

It’s unconscionably wrong to equate nuclear power and natural gas to clean renewable energy.  Five years after the Diablo Blockade Protest, a huge warning to the world, Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant exploded.  If Fukushima isn’t the definitive warning to stop nuclear power, then what is?

As businesses and universities begin to divest and invest in clean energy, which is great news, we have to make it categorically clear that clean energy also means safe energy: wind and solar power are capable of generating enough energy to light up the world.  Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland are all moving forward to replacing fossil fuels with safe, renewable energy.  And we have to give credit to Vermont right here at home. Burlington, Vermont’s biggest city, gets all of its energy from renewable sources.

We are at the crossroads.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that nuclear power and natural gas are clean energy sources.  Nuclear power and natural gas are neither clean nor safe. And anybody who implies that they are renewable energy sources – is presumably getting paid off by the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.

Jacqueline Marcus is the editor of ForPoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com and author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her e-book, Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone: Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us, is available at Kindle Books. She taught philosophy at Cuesta College. Her essay, “The Beauty of Sadness: An Essential Human Emotion Exiled in a War Society” appeared at the North American Review blog.

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