More Nuclear Disasters
The Lesson Unlearned
"We have contained the spread of radiation from last week's nuclear accident," Japanese authorities assured their citizens. They blame the chain reaction on improper handling of materials by low level workers. As if that explanation will sedate the Japanese public! The Japanese know all too well the long term effects of radiation on human health - thanks to their experience with atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. More recently, we have the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion in the Ukraine. Ukranian children still suffer from radiation sickness and people in the path of the fallout for thousands of miles learned the horrible lessons of a nuclear "accident." Then came the Three Mile Island miscue in the United States. Remember how authorities there swore they had contained the damage when they had not?
Last month a Hanford Washington reactor developed a scary radioactive bubble. Authorities assured the public no danger existed. Mention Marion, Ohio, Paducah, Kentucky two of many memory triggers that recall nuclear mishaps.
In the 1970s Cincinnati General Hospital doctors used a Pentagon grant to "treat" cancer patients with whole body radiation. The Pentagon wanted to find out how people would respond in nuclear battlefield conditions. From 1945-1971, the nuclear gang dumped radioactive waste in barrels into the ocean. The barrels have leaked. Recall the above ground tests at the Marshall Islands and other Pacific Atolls, causing terrible human suffering--in the name of National Security, under the façade of fighting the Cold War. The nuclear gang classified information that would have alerted the public to health dangers.
Forty odd years ago my friend Paul Jacobs went to the Nevada Test Site to investigate the claims of the Atomic Energy Commission.. Jacobs took a geigercounter to the areas the AEC had deemed safe. Jacobs' geigercounter went bonkers. The AEC's safe places registered much higher radiation than they had admitted.
Jacobs also discovered that when winds changed just before or after atomic tests, the nuclear gang didn't inform the downwinders as they called them to take their clothes to the cleaners, hose down their houses and bury their top soil. Instead, they sent lecturers and films to those communities doused with fall out and assured residents that the AEC would not allow harm to come to them. Jacobs stole a classified document from a government office that revealed that the AEC knew damned well about health dangers from low level radiation. Jacobs also exposed the lack of safety in nuclear installations bought by third world countries that couldn't afford to pay for the expensive safety features. In 1979 Paul Jacobs submitted to lung cancer. His doctors believed that Paul, who didn't smoke, had inhaled a plutonium particle at the atomic testing ground. Paul became just one of many victims of a technology that shouldn't have happened. The nuclear secret -- think of Goethe's Dr. Faust -- has put humanity at risk. How many more accidents before a global movement arises to put an end to this nuclear gang and their dangerous toy?
The Senate's Refusal to Sign the Test Ban Treaty
"The Senate refused to sign the test ban treaty, daddy, what does that mean?" my teenage daughter asked. Go back to 1945, I said. The world's leading scientists had converted Goethe's literary metaphor into ugly reality. A scientist who wanted the ultimate secret of knowledge offered his soul to the Devil for it. The scientists of 1945 rationalized. They needed the A bomb to beat Hitler - a veritable devil. But by Spring 1945 Germany surrendered. But they didn't stop the project. Some said we should provide the world with cheap, safe and clean energy. But when US planes dropped two nuclear bombs on Japanese cities, international relations and military strategy changed -- forever. The US government refused to submit its nuclear monopoly to international control as some wise people counseled. Before long our allies and the Soviets broke our nuclear monopoly. Ironically, nuclear weapons didn't intimidate our non-nuclear foes -- like the rulers of North Korea, China, Vietnam, Iran or Iraq. So, nuclear weapons became symbols of power. "I don't get it Dad. If they're only symbols, who cares if the Senate signs or not?"
Think of the danger for your generation! The collapse of the Soviet armed forces leaves Russia with only a nuclear defense. "How do you use nuclear weapons to defend a country," she asked. No one has yet explained that, I said. But our refusal to sign the treaty could lead corrupt officials to sell nuclear weapons and conduct dangerous tests with them You see, the test ban treaty held back the nuclear arms race - especially in South Asia. I said. And think ahead. 150 plus nations have signed on to it.
More than 40 countries want to acquire nuclear weapons. They haven't signed the treaty. The US senate's vote will hardly convince them to do so. Then, came the military coup in Pakistan, which raises fears of nuclear war with India - both nuclear powers.
"So, what should we do?" she asked." A treaty doesn't get rid of these weapons." No, I agreed. It's hard to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle. But without abolition of nuclear weapons, the next best step is to prevent their proliferation by restricting testing. That's why the Senate Republicans behaved so irresponsibly, as if we should test weapons and that will defend us. "The newspapers said they did it for narrow political reasons," she said. "Is that true?"
Yes, it's a paradox. The brilliant scientists invented nuclear weapons to bring peace, and safe energy. But they left that power in the hands of rather mediocre people, who can't think ahead - at least not past the 200 election "Depressing," she concluded. "I guess my generation will have to maturely control over this horrible creation."
Saul Landau is the Hugh O. LaBounty Chair of Interdisciplinary Applied Knowledge at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave. Pomona, CA 91768 tel - 909-869-3115 fax - 909-869-4751