Saturday, March 19, 2011

Peony Pink and the Ides of Plutonium

Peony Pink - Image c 2011 Lynda Lehmann

Spring solstice has arrived!  This tender season is usually regarded as a time to rejoice at life's beauty and renewal.  Life is precious.  It is also delicate and perishable, and not at all guaranteed.  It's a gift and a miracle, with or without a religious perspective to cast it in.  I present to you a photo of a delicate Peony as a reminder of life's fragility, as the towns on the Northeast coast of Japan and well inland, struggle for their very survival. 

I will continue to wish, hope and pray for the Japanese people to find comfort, solace and the support of the world community in their healing from this week's multiple tragedies. I also wish, hope and pray for all of us to achieve freedom from the nuclear monster. The lethal potential of isotopes with a half life of 25,000 years or more, makes nuclear energy a Pandora's box of potential for the destruction of Life.  I think the world is finally recognizing that a technology that can't be controlled or adequately addressed with solutions and fail-safes, should not be used. Plutonium and cesium can exact a high price for the privilege of turning on a hair-dryer or the central heating system.

If you're not familiar with the specifics of nuclear energy and how it's produced, and what radiation can do to all living things, you might want to read the books of Dr. Helen Caldicott, the Australian physician who researched and campaigned against the nuclear demon. She saw the contradiction of ministering to a few sick children while the nuclear monster grew in the background and cast a shadow over all of life on Earth. If you think I'm being dramatic, read "Nuclear Madness" or "Missile Envy," among others.  And read other sources if you like, as I did, to corroborate the information she presents.

Let's pray for the government of Japan to mobilize their Air Force and call on other countries for help in burying the distressed and very dangerous radiation-spewing nuclear reactors with sand and concrete, before they pour more poison into our atmosphere, to rain down on the seas that are at the base of our food chain and settle on our precious land, water, and all living beings.  

Physicist Michio Kaku suggested this solution, which was successfully used to limit further contamination after the Chernobyl disaster. Given the miserable condition of the plants, it's the only solution.  Incidentally, Dr. Kaku suggested that where alternatives are available, using nuclear energy is like selling one's soul "to the devil," as Christopher Marlowe's doomed fictional character Doctor Faustus did.

Personally I'm for going in other directions, as the feasibility of safe-use for nuclear, is doubtful, at best. It's never been more obvious that nuclear power is just too dangerous to fill our energy needs, and we need to make drastic changes to improve the technology and come up with real fail-safes.  Or we need to go in other directions.

If more funding went into R & D, even a fragment of what has gone into designing and building weapons systems, we could find alternatives. And since we in the USA use 25% of the world's energy, we need to learn to cut our use. If everyone conserved, including corporations, we could make a big dent in our usage. For example, we recently drove down a major Long Island road that is lined with the gorgeous buildings of corporate headquarters. I'm talking HUGE modern buildings with too many offices to count. In most of these buildings, the lights were left on for the overnight hours. If the cleaning staff needed to clean, they didn't need every floor and cubby illuminated bright as day, at ten at night. It's just a small example--but it's my guess that the power those buildings consumed over one night, could power a small city for basic needs during the same period of time. 

Japan has long had Mag-Lev trains; we do not. Our mass transit systems are in disarray and our roads are a mess in many places. There are SO many things we can do to make travel easier and more fuel efficient. But we are spoiled and no one really wants to feel any pain at all, to facilitate change that will help us survive in the long run. As for nuclear, it's my opinion that no amount of physical/mechanical safeguards will make the technology failsafe, until we learn how to neutralize spent fuel, etc. 

There will always be the occasional natural disaster of unprecedented proportions. As advanced and organized as Japan society is, they did not give credence to the idea that the flooding of the shoreline plants could threaten their population, and maybe the larger human family. If plutonium becomes airborne because of an explosion, those particles will land and emit radiation willy-nilly for 25,000 years. 

So how does that advance the cause of human life, world peace, and the pursuit of happiness? Experts with a wider perspective on nuclear technologies are few and far between and of course, they are not willing to create a panic now by laying out worst-case scenarios. I don't know what we're going to do, but I know that nuclear weapons and nuclear power have the potential to put an end to life on earth. No one even talks about its mutagenic qualities, and ill-advised news-persons sometimes suggest that we can "wash it off" or take potassium iodide. They don't take into account or articulate the differences between alpha, beta and gamma particles, and how they move into the body and the permanent damage they can do. To me, getting rid of nuclear materials--except for medical applications--seems like a survival imperative for our species.

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