Reasons to Stay Awake, Colltalers
North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine over the weekend has made yet more people to lose sleep over that country’s nuclear ambitions. It’s another step bringing them closer to a catastrophic mistake, and even its timing is somewhat sinister.
Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, in Ukraine, still the world’s worst. That, and Kim Jong-un’s deadly hissing, all fit into the nightmarish narrative we fear, of chain reactions in a global scale, followed by a nuclear winter.
For someone who’d have missed these three decades, North Korea’s aggressive incursions toward full capability of delivering an atomic head to the heart of arguably its biggest enemy, the U.S., could represent a rude awakening. But it’s doubtful that there are many people in such predicament. Apart from climate change, the risk of a nuclear attack remains most people’s biggest fear.
Back in 1986, however, there was growing awareness that unleashing the power of the atom had greater potential for destroying civilization rather than solving its energy needs. And what happened in Ukraine was already a second serious warning we got.
Seven years and a month earlier, almost to the day, there had been the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania, and between the two, public pressure was growing to place at least a temporary ban in this technology. Which, of course, never happened.
While the meltdown of a Three Mile Island had no human casualties, the costs for evacuation and cleanup, which lasted
until 1993, were over $1 billion. Chernobyl was considerably more serious but, thank goodness, it happened in a much more isolated area.
Still it killed 31 people and forced the removal of over a 100,000. Claims of illegal logging, of radioactive wood, no less, within its fenced perimeter have been denied by the government, which now doesn’t even have Soviet Union to assign blame.
For that tiny number of people who have been in a coma, or something, to wake up to the news that there’s still a country actively developing a nuclear weapon, while its people starve and the world considers it a pariah, is enough to wish they could go back to sleep. For everyone else, though, that’s not even the worst that has happened in 30 years, and yes, that’s an understatement.
For if Three Mile and Chernobyl were big red flags that, praise the heavens, remained mostly just that, since them the threat of small but thousands of times more lethal dirty ‘chernobyls,’ say a cellphone-size device in the hands of a maniac in the middle of Times Square, is really what’s giving us all insomnia. And turning the company that produces Ambien into a multibillion dollar enterprise.
From the slightly under five billion souls that feared for their lives in 1986, we also grew to a 7.4 billion scared bunch, with the real possibility that such maniacs are not isolated. They’re actually considered foot soldiers of an undiscriminated war that’s taking place thousands of miles from the West, or in downtown Paris, in the mountains of Afghanistan to the Big Ben’s shadow in London.
We’re caught in the middle, even if as not as stranded as entire countries under siege, like Syria, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories, with no realistic outlook for the future. Guess what’s in everyone’s minds there when they despair about being slaves of geopolitics.
It’s easier to focus, and fear, a tyrant like Kim, having grandiose dreams of world destruction. We can even laugh picturing him as Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, languishing in some luxurious dent, kicking a world-shaped balloon with his behind.
But there’s nothing jocose about the obscene growing gap between the powerful, owning almost half of all the planet’s resources, and the miserable, who is as starving now as their parents were in the 1980s. In fact, it’s downright tragic that we have now a multiple of the armed conflicts we had them, and that even countries engaged in world peace efforts are also the world’s biggest weapon makers.
The age that saw the Chernobyl tragedy as a scourge somehow reversed itself and gave rise of even more nuclear plants, all over the world. Some are not just close to major urban centers, but also in geologically vulnerable land, like those in the U.S. West Coast.
Speaking of which, what happened in Fukushima, Japan, five years ago last month, added yet another layer of disturbing aspects that come to play as far as nukes are concerned: corporate greed, lack of government accountability, and management ineptitude.
The disaster of Daiishi, officially caused by an earthquake and resulting tsunami, despite not having directly killed anyone, was another instance, a third red flag if you’d prefer, when an almost perfect storm got close, but not quite, of causing an age-disrupting event. The fact that it didn’t, despite billions in costs, may have made us more complacent, and distracted about its crucial causes too.
For official deceit, conflicting versions, poor science, and unreported, and still impossible to estimate, long-term damage are still an integral part of what we know, or don’t, about the accident. And that happened in Japan, a country rightfully proud of its awareness about natural disasters and technological prowess. Let’s not even consider if it all had happened somewhere in, say, Africa, shall we?
As usual, some of the positive results when an event of such magnitude occurs can’t possibly be predicted. In the case of Fukushima, it was Germany, of all countries, that decided to phase out its nuclear program. It’ll take decades, but it’s a start. Overall, however, after Chernobyl, the world assumed that there was nothing to be learned about it, and proceed to built more nukes. Heaven help us.
Even President Obama doesn’t seem to discard completely the nuke option, right when a fraction of the investment that was required to get the fossil fuel industry going, over a century ago, is finally finding its way to clean alternatives to energy: solar and wind.
Naturally, they too are subjected to the same ills that affect any business, specially one that relies on relatively new technology, so never mind the ones that go bankrupt in the process. For, despite billions in constant investment and notorious false advertising, the coal industry, in all its mighty, is already sinking, and solar batteries haven’t even completely taken off yet. Good riddance.
As with everything, it’ll be a combination of political will, public pressure, and granted, a good amount of good faith, what it may change the tide, if ever. It’s as hard and feasible as it’s been to reverse, or at least halt, the effects of climate change. We’re losing that score, by the way, and if the Arctic reaches a certain level of glacier melting, then there won’t be much we’ll be able to do about it.
We’re not quite there yet, though. The race is on to keep sources of carbon dioxide, and even more lethal methane gases, buried for thousands of years under the permafrost, exactly where they are. Gambling with nukes with an outdated technology we have clearly not yet mastered should be out of question. Just like fracking, it’s the kind of man-made intervention we need to live without.
A simply mishap at one of those aging nuclear plants may destroy an entire city, the same way how just a tiny amount of that fuel, in the wrong hands, can end the world. With over a billion people going hungry every night, and every single month and year registering higher temperatures than the ones before, don’t we have enough problems to keep us busy for another century? Have a great one. WC