Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Postcards from the Nuclear Apocalypse

I've been absorbed in work, writing an article on how to start a worker coop, and fleeing the radiation cloud. Yes, I fled the initial plume of radiation from Japan that hit California on March 18th for a week and a half.

I used to work as a nuclear policy analyst in the state legislature, with a nonprofit, and with the US Department of Energy on "safer" nuclear waste storage, then in nuclear news analysis for an international energy thinktank.

I can tell you that there is a media blackout of the radiation impact. What little media there is downplays the risk and makes ridiculous comparisons between chest x-rays, flights from SF to NY, and the serious risk we face by inhaling and ingesting radioactive particles that could easily lodge in our tissues and radiate us for the rest of our lives giving us all different kinds of serious cancers (in the case of cesium and other isotopes) and give us thyroid cancer in the case of iodine (particularly in children).

Think about it. Nuclear is being touted as a solution to climate change. Many nuclear power plants around the world and US are up for renewal and new ones want to be built. This is a multi-billion dollar industry highly subsidized by the government. If there was one bad accident, then would the public allow new plants to be built? Wouldn't the industry/government minimize the risk of radiation from that accident especially if the consequences wouldn't be clear for a decade or two?

First Japan/TEPCO said there was no risk outside the evacuation area, then there was no risk to Tokyo, then the ocean. There was no breach of the containment vessel at reactor 3 with MOX plutonium fuel. Then the workers got high radiation from leaking water. Then there was plutonium found in the soil outside the plant But not to worry, there were only small amounts of plutonium - only the most toxic and longest living radioisotope known to man. President Obama said radioactive fallout will not reach the US. Then it was here in small amounts. Now it's in the water, drinking water and food.

When I worked in this field I was exposed to cover-up after cover-up of the nuclear industry and the government's own data. The nuclear industry had bought off most the higher level government officials and it owns most of the mainstream media.

Then there were many who were conveniently just ignorant. My housemate was a nuclear fuel engineer. He said he opted out of a health physicist class when he was doing his nuclear program. He admitted he didn't really know the dangers of radiation even though he designed nuclear fuel.

That is not to say that I know we are being exposed to significant levels of radiation but it is quite clear that we do not know we are not (although we can assume there will be no immediate acute radiation poisoning health impacts in the US- the impacts will be long-term if any). Certainly the risk after Chernobyl was drastically downplayed. Only hundreds of people would get cancer according to mainstream sources, now decades later the numbers reach beyond a million extra cancers. The EPA (which is not a beacon for truth telling on issues of environmental health- I worked in that field for another 4 years) took down many of its radiation monitors the week the radioactive plume arrived for "repair". They are also considering raising the safe levels of radiation standards.

According to Physicians for Social Responsibility and NIRS and there is no safe threshold for radiation, especially for internal radiation. Every added dose creates a greater likelihood of cancer and other significant health problems. Even the harmless xrays the media throws in for comparison are not harmless. Mammograms increase breast cancer risk and CT scans can cause brain cancer. Though there are no controlled scientific studies that I am aware of that subject people to ingested radiation so we don't know how much radiation it takes for a person to get cancer. It probably depends a lot on the person- age, sex, immune system, life style, other carcinogenic exposures, etc.

We do know that there is now radioactive iodine and cesium in the rainwater and some kinds of foods and radioactive iodine in the drinking water from UC Berkeley's Nuclear Engineering Department There was an article about this posted on BBC, which disappeared. It is most certainly censored in the US as it is a prime worry on many people's minds, yet no news???

It is one thing to not want to be afraid, it is another thing to turn a blind eye to potential danger. At least admitting the potential danger we can take basic precautions and we can start working towards a nuclear free future.

What does this have to do with alternative economics? EVERYTHING. As I drove through the deserts of Utah, I reevaluated my life. Have I acted with the utmost care and urgency that the care of our Earth and ourselves need now? NO. I keep participating in the system that feeds nuclear power. I still pay taxes, though not much and only because they take it out of my tiny check each month, which goes towards nuclear power subsidies from the government. I still use power from the grid that is partially derived from nuclear energy. I still to some degree put my energy into an economic system that feeds corporations that consume and pollute our sacred mother Earth. Though I am urgently trying to create a new economic system that takes energy away from the bad and feeds it into the things that we value and care about.

I saw a movie a couple nights ago called Living Without Money. The old woman in the film felt such intense urgency about not participating in this destructive system that she has tried to drop out and hasn't used money for the last 14 years. This reminded me of a meeting of community members in West Texas where a nuclear waste dump was going to be built nearby over the largest aquifer in the country. They said "Let's never use their energy again, let's burn our energy bills and build wind power plants." Today they are making that happen.

When will you feel the urgency to take drastic action? Do your kids have to get cancer? Do all the fish have to be gone first? As the Cree Indian prophecy says, "Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money." Derek Jensen advocates blowing up dams and destroying other property that is implicated in irreversible environmental destruction. Maybe this isn't the best way to deal with things although I appreciate his sense of urgency. Franklin Lopez who produced a film about him said one thing we can do is rebuild our local economy and local government. It's the only scale where we can have significant impact given the corruption, lack of transparency, and accountability at higher levels of government and in big corporations. And if we withdraw our energy from the corporations and Feds we might just have a chance at winning this battle.

What can you do today? Will you just go back to work tomorrow, come home and watch the news until it depresses you enough to turn it off?

Drop out of the dominant economic system as much as possible and tune in to help us build new healthier local economies. Invest locally and directly your time, energy, resources and money into making the transition to a sane economy. An economy that cares for the foundation of our existence- the Earth. One that cares for everyone - we are all interconnected. One where you move towards your true happiness and those around you. Join a transition town group and begin nonrenewable energy descent in your area. Start a timebank or local currency. Grow more food locally. Use human powered energy. Join Slow Money and your local credit union.

Each day of your life you make a choice to go along and watch the disasters unfold on the news or to stop now, stand up, and build the world we all wish we lived in.

No comments:

Post a Comment