The Common Good

In the Wake of Japan Disaster, Must We Accept Nuclear Power?

The U.S. Navy reported today that it had detected low levels of airborne radiation at the Yokosuka and Atsugi bases, about 200 miles to the north of the Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactors. They are moving ships out of range.

"While there was no danger to the public, Commander, Naval Forces Japan recommended limited precautionary measures for personnel and their families on Fleet Activities Yokosuka and Naval Air Facility Atsugi, including limiting outdoor activities and securing external ventilation systems as much as practical," a statement said. "These measures are strictly precautionary in nature. We do not expect that any United States Federal radiation exposure limits will be exceeded even if no precautionary measures are taken," it added.

News reports, scientists, nuclear energy corporate officials, and government spokespersons are reiterating that the nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, is not like Chernobyl. It's more like Three Mile Island. Apparently, this is supposed to allay public concern.

For anyone who lived down-wind of the Three Mile Island reactor when the radioactive core was breached on March 28, 1979, this news is anything but comforting. (Read "In the Valley of the Shadow: Ten Years after the Accident at Three Mile Island" by Joyce Hollyday.)

The arguments made by the nuclear industry today are that huge improvements have been made in the safety and efficiency of nuclear energy production -- much of which is true. But the nuclear corporations still have no answer to radioactive waste or the multi-generational devastation to all living creatures when the unforeseeable occurs -- as has happened in Japan.

Below, Sojourners is reprinting a commentary by Vince Books written at the time of the Three Mile Island disaster. Vince actually worked on the construction crew of the plant and eventually became a committed advocate against nuclear power:

The Metropolitan Edison Company (Met-Ed) is proud. Proud of progress on that island. Proud to be helping to solve America's energy problems. And proud to be splitting atoms, heating water, forcing steam, turning generators, and producing electricity. It is, however, Met-Ed's other contributions that will long be remembered. These include iodine 131, cesium 137, strontium 90, and plutonium, to be followed perhaps by an assortment of cancers and birth defects. Met-Ed is leaving more than footprints on the sands of time.

The residents of central Pennsylvania are sleeping. Or at least they were when something went terribly wrong out there on Three Mile Island. It was 4 a.m. March 28, 1979. There was a mal-function in the secondary cooling system of Unit 2. More malfunctions followed, and the trouble was compounded by what appeared to be human error. Inside the four-foot thick concrete walls of the containment building the Unit 2 reactor was heating up and beginning to destroy its fuel. A plume of radioactive gas was released. The wind was blowing north.

A leisurely three hours later state and local officials were notified, but it hardly mattered. No one was prepared. It would be days before evacuation plans were ready. Meanwhile Met-Ed continued to share its radioactive offerings with the surrounding , population, and radiation monitors were clicking all over the Susquehanna Valley with readings far above normal background radiation. Nuclear power critics warned of possible harm to the young and unborn.

Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh refuted such alarmist statements. Later he reversed his words and advised young children and pregnant women to leave the immediate area. While officials fretted about evacuating as many as a million area residents, prudent Pennsylvanians were putting many miles between themselves and Three Mile Island. Among those remaining were the poor, the old, the sick, and the imprisoned.

The experts had said that a major nuclear catastrophe was as likely as a direct hit by a meteor. They told us not to worry. They have back-up systems for back-up systems. They said they had planned for virtually every conceivable eventuality. But the experts had not planned for what happened out there on Three Mile Island.

They told us there would never be significant radiation leakage; they were wrong. When radiation was detected they said the levels were not dangerous; we will see. They told us the young and unborn were in no danger; they changed their minds. They said there would be no meltdown; so far we have been lucky. They said not to worry about radioactive iodine in the milk because the cows were not yet grazing; when the iodine showed up later they said not to worry as recent fallout from a Chinese bomb test had produced higher levels.

How far the experts will go to soothe our nerves no one knows. Perhaps if confronted with a meltdown and large areas of uninhabitable land around Harrisburg they would congratulate themselves for saving Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Listen closely to the experts and you will catch their bottom line: If you want life as currently defined, you must learn to live with the risks of nuclear power.

In Scripture we read that one day long ago Satan stood on a high mountain. Jesus Christ was by his side. Before them stretched all the kingdoms of the world. Satan promised them all to Jesus in return for worship. Such worship would have been a damning compromise of Jesus' mission. Such worship implied destruction and the sword as the only means for conquering the nations. It appeared to be the only choice, but Jesus refused. He had alternatives.

Today the experts are more insistent than ever. They tell us we have no choice but to accept nuclear power. Like nuclear weapons it is a grim necessity. That remains a lie. God's truth is never a grim necessity. It does not chain us to a nuclear economy or any other form of enslavement. When it comes to nuclear power we may be damned if we do, but despite what the experts may think, we won't be damned if we don't. We have alternatives.

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