Fascinating and heartbreaking how the Japanese civilian population, once again, has been called upon to teach us a harsh lesson about nuclear energy.
In the past few decades, more details have emerged about the development and deployment of the nuclear weapons dropped on Japan during World War II. Best-selling books report about how some government officials and scientists involved with the project urged Leslie Groves and the military to drop the bomb over the ocean, just off the coast of Japan, as perhaps this measure would scare the enemy into surrendering.
Groves and other military leaders asserted that there were only three finished weapons and that if the "demonstration blast" did not produce the desired effect, the US would have squandered a rare (at that time) and expensive opportunity. Also, some believed that the dropping of the two bombs served some grim purpose as a medical experiment. What would the bomb actually do to a city, its infrastructure and its population?
Who would argue that the results of those two bombs have kept that option at bay since 1945?
In the wake of the recent Japanese nuclear disaster, Kenzaburo Oe writes in The New Yorker about Hiroshima:
What did Japan learn from the tragedy of Hiroshima? One of the great figures of contemporary Japanese thought, Shuichi Kato, who died in 2008, speaking of atomic bombs and nuclear reactors, recalled a line from "The Pillow Book," written a thousand years ago by a woman, Sei Shonagon, in which the author evokes "something that seems very far away but is, in fact, very close." Nuclear disaster seems a distant hypothesis, improbable; the prospect of it is, however, always with us. The Japanese should not be thinking of nuclear energy in terms of industrial productivity; they should not draw from the tragedy of Hiroshima a "recipe" for growth. Like earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural calamities, the experience of Hiroshima should be etched into human memory: it was even more dramatic a catastrophe than those natural disasters precisely because it was man-made. To repeat the error by exhibiting, through the construction of nuclear reactors, the same disrespect for human life is the worst possible betrayal of the memory of Hiroshima's victims.
I had written two pieces deconstructing the bizarre claims of the nuclear power industry. The incessant lie that nuclear is clean power, forever discounting the filthy and contaminating processes that mine, refine and enrich fissionable material for utility reactors. Although we must never set aside other factors such as vulnerability to terrorism and the lingering and unsolved issue of waste disposal, the Big Lie regarding "clean nuke" hype seems to trouble me most. You can't get many Americans to view a wind farm as a sign of our investment in a clean, safe energy future, but they seem to roll over and let the nuke industry do as they please, even in the wake of Fukushima.
If I told you that the chances that you would get AIDS from one act of unprotected sex with an infected partner were one in a million, would you do it? (Actually, according to a report by researchers Norman Hearst and Stephen Hulley in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the odds of a heterosexual becoming infected with AIDS after one episode of penile-vaginal intercourse with someone in a non-high-risk group without a condom are one in 5 million.) The answer is no. Because, if you took that bet and lost, you'd get AIDS.
Nukes are a similar bet. And there is no "protection" you can put on to save you. Fukushima shows us that utility companies reap all of the benefits, while we assume all of the risks.