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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Radiation Escape in Japan

I have been following closely the results of the huge 8.9 earthquake that popped loose a few days ago, with its epicenter just off the northeastern coast of Japan's main island, Honshu.   As if the quake wasn't bad enough, it has been followed by deadly tsunamis and most threatening of all, in the short and the long run, the possibilities of meltdowns in several nuclear power plants at a place called Fukushima.

As it weirdly happens, Japan is the only foreign country that I am somewhat familiar with, that is, the Japan of 50 or so years ago and not at all as it exists today.   This is because it is also the only foreign country where I have ever been.   (To me Canada is far less of a foreign country than are Mississippi, Texas, or, in recent times, Arizona.)   And I was in Japan, counting Okinawa, not once but three times, the first time in 1959 while in the Air Force, the second while on a college fellowship in 1959, and the third time with my wife in 1966.  And during that third trip we checked out the northernmost of what the Japanese call their "Three Scenic Wonders," the wooded islands at Matsushima, far north of Tokyo, and that is close, by U.S. standards, to Fukushima, still farther up the coast.

Knowing how easily and how often big disasters can happen, I had always wondered at the wisdom of the Japanese, who normally are so savvy, in putting so many nuclear power plants all over the place, which is not that big a place.  As is well known, sitting right there on the rim of the Pacific volcanic cauldron, they have earthquakes all the time, with the worst one till now having been in 1923, which just about took down the whole city of Tokyo.   But I suppose that, in economics more than in any other wise, they couldn't have gotten as far as they have without those plants, and that really puts them between a rock and a hard place, where they always have to keep their fingers crossed while appearing to look inscrutable.

Knowing what could happen if Fukushima becomes as bad as Chernobyl, or worse, this catastrophe is opening wide all sorts of crucial questions not only for Japan but also for the rest of the world, given all the other countries that have likewise  invested so heavily in nuclear power generation.

This is why we should never dismiss so airily the worst things that can happen.   The worst ones are so bad that, unless we are all stark raving mad, they only have to happen once in anybody's ordinary lifetime.


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