Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In the drift

The ongoing Japanese disaster (link to donate to the Red Cross) gets a person to thinking.

A few years back my buddy Dave and his family picked up stakes from South Philly and moved to the Austin, TX area for greener pastures, literally and figuratively.  He gave me some cool books and records from his personal collection to lighten the moving load, one of which was Michael Swanick's In the Drift.

Surely, as a Philadelphian who he knew darn well could name the first several actors to portray the Doctor in Doctor Who, I knew the book?  I didn't; he was stunned.

The book, only just science fiction and not a history,  was written in the '80s, and is set in a slightly alternative universe in which the Three Mile Island accident was more serious, and the natural eastward drift of contamination rendered the Philadelphia area a depopulated dead zone from which surviving irradiated residents could not leave.

Socially speaking, having lived on Two Street for a dozen years, I can say the book is also just this side of being fiction and not a documentary, with the South Philly population reverting in tribal fashion to Mummers clubs as a unit of social organization.

As it turns out, the TMI disaster was far worse than we are generally led to believe.  The federal government and Pennsylvania have been hiding and refusing to recognize the true magnitude of the radiation released and the human health toll as a result, with only careful epidemiology and related work unravelling the truth, in spots, decades later.  Never mind if many of the birds in the area died on the spot and people came home to their dead dogs and cats having puked everywhere and gone blind while doing it.  Never mind the leukemia and the infant mortality spikes.  "No one died at Three Mile Island" is the daily lie.

As the link above notes, TMI and the other nuke plants were rushed out to the general public in the '70s in a campaign - well-financed by private industry who make a killing (no pun intended) on contracts - that this "clean" technology would "reduce dependence on foreign oil," with OPEC and later the Iranian revolution as the bugaboo of the day.  The reactor that failed had been in operation only 3 months before the accident happened, and of course was - and amazingly is - still described as being "state of the art" and bearing any number of "fail safes", which kept things from getting "bad."

(As always, I wonder how "bad" things need to get for the average person/machine cog to take note that even their most narrow self-interests are threatened by a system gone mad, and take evasive action if only for self-preservation.  How much propaganda must one swallow eagerly to go down with the ship, or die from radiation poisoning as the case may be, insisting with the last puking breath that "tolerable" radiation levels - nothing more than a sunburn or a chest X-ray, really - are what's making our skin peel off?)

As Japanese government and industry have lied about the safety and stability of their monumentally-stupidly-placed reactors, so too has the multi-hundred-billion American nuke industry, and their wholly owned spokespeople in the Obama administration, lied for a few days, in preemptive fashion, at us about the safety of our nuke plants.  You get what you pay for.

"Barack, for the second quarter in a row, has surpassed the fundraising prowess of Hillary Clinton. To be sure small online donations have propelled the young senator to the top, but so too have his connections to big industry. The Obama campaign, as of late March 2007, has accepted $159,800 from executives and employees of Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear power plant operator.

The Illinois-based company also helped Obama's 2004 senatorial campaign. As Ken Silverstein reported in the November 2006 issue of Harper's, "[Exelon] is Obama's fourth largest patron, having donated a total of $74,350 to his campaigns. During debate on the 2005 energy bill, Obama helped to vote down an amendment that would have killed vast loan guarantees for power-plant operators to develop new energy projects the public will not only pay millions of dollars in loan costs but will risk losing billions of dollars if the companies default."
Exelon owns PECO incidentally. They also own my congressman, and probably yours.

Today I watched Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesbabblers dodge and duck questions as to what condition our reactors are in, if they could withstand the sort of punishment the Japanese ones have had, and how prepared the US is in the event - and when you think about it it's when and not if - the next nuke disaster gets crammed down the collective gullet. Crammed, it's worth adding, by corporate people and amoral scientists fractionally as wise and in control of the natural order as they think they are.

Most amusing were the simultaneous claims that American plants are better designed than Japanese, along with an inability to name any specific element - even one - which made the two differ, a glaring omission from any honest answer which the neutered and obedient White House press corps failed to ask any follow up questions about.  (This is one of the many times when not pressing the powerful to answer a direct question is anything other than maintaining a semblence of professional neutrality.)  This aside from the fact that CNN has at least once noted that the plant which is currently on fire and has suffered a few explosions in the past few days was designed by General Electric, surely the last time I checked an American corporation which has naturally also designed many of our own plants.

Watching the American nuke weasels back the Japanese nuke weasels out of a sense of pure preemptive self-preservation - with the federal funding necessary for their expansion plans soon up for approval - is a stunning sight.  If Satan ever needs a few one-liners to warm up the crowd at the top of The Nightly Lie Show, I'd put these guys on retainer.

The fact is that nuke plants are inherently dangerous, beginning with the fact that should one have the extreme luck to not have any serious accident for hundreds or thousands of years while the fuel is still radioactive, one is left with the known problem of how to "dispose of" (i.e. tuck away for a time) the profoundly toxic waste generated by the process in the best case scenario.

This little mindfuck is food for thought: scientists are having trouble coming up with symbols that will still warn people in 10,000 years where nuke waste is, because it will still be deadly long after anyone can understand what we're saying or doing as a civilization.

Nuke plants are dangerous enough that they can't be built without government backing, seeing as the private sector will not insure them.  (Once again I ask this question: How many right wing Americans actually believe in anything resembling a "free market" for industry..?)

Against this backdrop the Obama Administration is all hot and bothered to fund the building of 20 or more nuke plants in the US.  Note the supportive quote from an Exelon spokesperson.  Not that the hundreds of thousands of dollars they've spent on Barry to get him to this point has anything to do with anything.  No sir, those A-rabs and Iranians once again have the temerity to think that their oil belongs to them, thus for "energy independence" we must once again split our friend the atom and spin the magic radioactivity wheel, hoping for Big Dollars and No Whammies.

One wonders how much fuel we spend daily in Afghanistan and Iraq, at $400 per gallon.

There is an almost comical series of timings for Obama's energy policy shilling on behalf of the corporations which own him.  First he supports offshore drilling beyond the wildest wet dreams of the Bushies weeks before BP shat all over the Gulf of Mexico.  Then he rolls out a plan to sink big federal money into nuke plants right before Japan starts glowing.  If he weren't being such a vicious corporate tool dickwad, crapping all over the dreams of the little people who elected what they thought was an agent for change, I would almost feel sorry for him.  Almost.

Of course no one in this semi-literate 'tarded heir to the Roman Empire seems to give a hoot about the Gulf of Mexico any longer, so it's possible that Obama will be allowed to skate on both issues in 2012, by which point most Americans will have spotted a pretty color or a shiny object, and be sufficiently distracted from anything meaningful.

We can and likely will plod stupidly forward to collective doom, left in the drift.  Or we could go Carbon Free and Nuclear Free, if only someone well-versed on energy issues would only take the time to bang out a detailed plan point by point.  But what are the odds of anyone doing that?

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