Sometimes chaos comes along as a wake-up call to humanity. Japan’s double-whammy earthquake-tsunami is overwhelmingly tragic. Being at the mercy of the total chaotic effect of the elements—able to be wiped out by a wave of water from the sea–is an insult to the arrogance of modern humanity that thinks it can insulate and protect itself with technological know-how from the calamities visited upon our earth by Mother Nature.
It’s ironic this catastrophe took place in earthquake-plagued Japan, where scientists and engineers took strong precautions against this seventh largest earthquake in recorded history.
Japan spent billions on new infrastructure–building homes, offices, and factories on rubber shock absorbers and reinforced pillars that didn’t collapse. This was despite the enormous force from the renting of the earth–a force so powerful it moved Japan 17 feet eastward and caused the axis of the earth to shift. Yet even the careful, methodical Japanese couldn’t anticipate the power of the tsunami that followed.
The ocean’s surge overcame their best efforts to protect Japanese nuclear power plants from disasters like this. They couldn’t maintain the electricity essential to keep a constant stream of cool water flowing to cover the radioactive fuel in the reactors and spent-fuel storage pools. They couldn’t prevent this foolhardy technology from “‘melting down”‘ and spewing its lethal radiation across the land–and eventually perhaps across the planet.
Tens of thousands of people near nuclear reactors in Fukushima were evacuated. Many people have been contaminated with radioactivity on their skin and clothing that escaped from the damaged reactors.
The government is distributing potassium iodide tablets to prevent these people from getting thyroid cancer. But those tablets won’t stave off other forms of cancer and leukemia that may exponentially increase. We now know that U.S. sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, sent from our military base in Okinawa to the vicinity of the accident, have been contaminated by airborne radioactivity.
Meanwhile, nuclear industry spokespeople assure us that American reactors are much safer. Grimly, they comfort us that Chernobyl only had 50 immediate deaths. But Russian scientists recently reported that close to 1 million people have died from cancer since the dreadful accident in 1986 spewed lethal radiation over a broad swath of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Radioactive dust later traveled to many other countries in the Northern Hemisphere.
Let this chaos be a wake-up call for a time-out on new nuclear energy construction projects. This includes the 62 reactors around the world now under construction and the additional 158 slated to go forward. And like the massive mobilization gathering strength in Japan, with emergency workers coming from all over the world to help rescue and recover the tens of thousands of people trapped in their villages, let us make a massive global effort to put a solar panel on every roof, a geothermal pump in every building, windmills on every windswept plain, and tidal energy pumps in our rivers and seas to harness the clean safe energy of our Mother Earth.
Alice Slater is the New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. www.wagingpeace.org