It’s not like the New York Times to leave out details, but I guess it’s all for the best today. If you don’t like near New York City, You probably don’t get to see the two other papers that New Yorkers read — The Post and The Daily News — whose headlines are something like “Prez Eats Budget” or the (in)famous “Ford To City: Go To Hell”. Those papers save ink and intentionally raise blood pressure by leaving the reader wondering why a president would do such a thing and why they can’t actually spell “president” – ever!
So imagine my surprise when the New York Times today has this as it’s headline: “Culture of Complicity Tied to Stricken Nuclear Plant” with a subtitle
The ties binding power companies, utilities, regulators and politicians underlie the nation's push to increase nuclear power at all costs.
I thought to myself, what plant had a catastrophe now? With little news about Japan's reactor lately (do we really want to know?) and the ongoing crisis there, it hadn't even occurred to me that there would be an investigation into the plant's human side for quite somme time. I thought that the people in charge there would be still worried about containing it or whatever, and that the process of finding out what happened was months off. So, if it wasn't that nuclear plant, there must be another one that's "stricken". Thank goodness I was wrong.
Or am I? While the Times article explains that they are, in fact, talking about Fukushima Daiichi , they go on to say, “What happened next was an example, critics have since said, of the collusive ties that bind the nation’s nuclear power companies, regulators and politicians”. I thought to myself, “That could never happen in America”. No one’s ever complained that the government and power companies could be in bed together here in America (huh?GE pays no corporate income tax, the Supreme Court says corporations are people?). No one’s ever said there are problems with regulators in this country (what, not enough regulators to prevent bad food from getting out? not enough regulators to prevent Wall Street from collapsing? not enough regulators to prevent drugs from coming to market?). No one’s ever thought politicians were bought off here in America (that list of sarcastic snipes is too long even for me.)
Here’s the problem (well, ok, another problem): In addition to nuclear reactors being a bad idea for all of the safety and engineering reasons that I’ve talked about before, there’s the human reasons. Greed, corruption, secrecy, industrial sabotage — these things happen every day in every other industry all over the world.This is why we have police departments and things like the FBI or Scotland Yard or Interpol exist. And they will never run out of work. There is, in fact no organization, agency, government, or company in existence that can’t be brought to it’s knees by greedy, corrupt, or mean people working there.
Even in a perfect world, I don’t think that nuclear power can work. The problem comes when we realize that we don’t live in a perfect world.
I don’t even remember at this point, but I think it was Kerr-Magee that owned Three Mile Island. But in those days, the company explained that some nuclear radiation had,in fact, gotten outside of the plant and was noticed by cameras and Geiger counters. Later they said it was dust, then they said, “oh, no. It’s not radioactive …and it’s rat droppings”. I think it was Ralph Nader that responded, “Do you really want a company that can’t tell the difference between radioactive dust and rat droppings to be in charge of your safety?
It’s one thing to “bet the farm” on something that’s a safe bet. It’s another thing to “bet the farm” on something that’s not sure but has only small consequences. It’s yet another to “bet the farm” on something that’s not sure and has large, catastrophic consequences. (That’s what I would have conceived of before recent events in Japan, but of course, that’s open to opinion). Finally, it’s the height of arrogance or greed or evil to “bet the farm” on something that could be catastrophic and make sure that it fails. That’s what apparently happened in Japan — and is likely to happen in America given the current cultural climate.
In a culture where we save money on taxes by cutting government regulators, and in a culture where profit-in-and-of-itself is considered “reasonable”, we have the “perfect storm” of human causes for a disaster. With some nukes located in rivers of major cities (Indian Point), on cliffs (Seabrook? San Onofre?) and others on fault lines in California (Diablo Canyon), we have a real set up for problems. This would be a time to limit our culpability in the destruction of the planet, rather than nearly assuring it. While I would say that the plants shouldn’t be on, the next best thing is that they not be in unsafe areas. None of this will matter if we humans — corporations, contractors, individual workers, inspectors and regulators — sabotage the plants by using shoddy construction or by skimping on some part or another, or pretending they are safe when we know they are not. The list of things that intentionally went wrong on some level is huge in Japan.
For more details, see this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/world/asia/27collusion.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines
In disaster movies, there’s always the one corporate or government official who says “that could never happen” while secretly swindling the company or selling out to special (non-believing) interests. They usually die before the end of the movie to get their just rewards. It never fixes the situation — earth is still snowbound or being hit by a meteor from outer space, but we feel better and have hope for the future by the end of the movie. Unfortunately, this is our real lives, not a movie. Even if the bad guy dies, lots of other people still have to deal with the consequences. We can’t afford, if we want to survive, to promote values that say it’s ok to cheat, lie, collude, or just plain be greedy. We have “bet the farm” on it.