• Should nations destroy their nuclear weapons?
• Should nations stop producing nuclear energy?
The answer to both questions is yes. But the reality is that those twin evils are unlikely to be eradicated.
A nuclear apocalypse is unthinkable. The resultant nuclear winter would make the “winner” of any nuclear war a loser too.
The dangers of nuclear power were abundantly clear long before the catastrophe in Japan. Recall Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
Let’s elaborate first on question No. 1.
Jonathan Schell asked in The Nation a year ago: “What is the purpose of the nuclear bomb, that brooding presence that has haunted the nuclear age?”
His answer: “No quarrel between two nations would justify use of even a single nuclear weapon.”
But nuclear powers feel they must have nuclear weapons as a deterence. Not one of the nine nuclear powers will be the first to yield its weapons of mass destruction. Like Alphonse and Gaston, each nation choruses: “you first.”
President Obama expressed the idealistic view at Prague in 2009 when he said America is committed “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
President Truman authorized the dropping on Hiroshima of the first A-bomb, ostensibly to end the World War II even though the Japanese were already signaling surrender. Then he authorized the second A-bombing, a totally unwarranted death-dealing, disease-causing devastation of Nagasaki.
Truman came to his senses in 1946. He sent his adviser Bernard Baruch on an around-the-world mission to beseech nations to choose between “the quick and the dead.”
Idealists ever since have urged a world free of nuclear arms. The world, however, has refused to listen.
Jonathan Schell concludes that “adoption of a no first-use policy by all nuclear powers would be highly valued as a way toward abolition.” That way: zero tolerance.
While nuclear power has been successful in some countries, the answer to question No. 2 is also no. One reason is because capitalist doctrine prevails: cheaper is better, that money matters not lives.
British Petroleum failed to adequately supervise Halliburton’s work in the Gulf oil spill. Massey refused to spend the money to assure coal mine safety.
Robert Reich notes that the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan were used because they were smaller and cheaper to build and had a “less expensive containment structure.”
“Yet American safety officials have long thought the smaller design more vulnerable to explosion and rupture in emergencies than competing designs,” Reich pointed out.
Three years ago the International Atomic Energy Association warned that Japan’s nuclear safety guidelines were dangerously out of date. But fixing them would be “too costly.”
Reactors used at Fukushima have long been known to have weak containment systems. But fixing them would be “too costly.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows nuclear plants to ignore or delay repairs to leaky pipes and electrical failures. The NRC is what Princeton physicist Frank von Hippel calls “regulatory capture,” the industry gaining control of the agency that is supposed to regulate it.
Then there’s the enormous radiation problem. The disaster in Japan contaminated food and drinking water. The disaster in Chernobyl required resettlement of 300,000 people and caused cancer and other diseases.
The waste problem has proved intractable. Nevada has fought a valiant battle to keep nuclear waste out of Yucca Mountain, an effort that cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.
Nevertheless, the nuclear-industrial-congressional complex will continue to push nuclear power even though the industry is hard put to justify its existence with huge construction costs, absurd cost overruns and abandoned projects.
Several of the 104 U.S. nuclear plants are built near fault lines. Diablo Canyon nuclear plant on California’s central coast near San Luis Obispo is in an earthquake-prone area. Indian Point nuclear plant, just 38 miles from New York City, is less than a mile from a fault line.
It’s easy to see why no new nuclear plant has been built in America since 1974.
Columnist Eugene Robinson writes that nuclear power is “beginning to look like a bargain with the devil.” And Ralph Nader rightly declares that nuclear power is both uneconomical and unnecessary.
The answer to world energy needs is renewable energy like wind and solar power. The nuclear genie must be stuffed back into the bottle forever as a weapon and as an energy source.
Jake Highton teaches at the University of Nevada, Reno. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.