Fear. The operative word this week, fear has driven people to buy potassium iodide, to stock up on food and water, and to access online news sources at work. We watch in horror as explosions and fire ravages the Fukushima plants and snow settles on the debris piles in northern Japan. And in another part of the globe, revolutions continue in a dozen countries, some leading to bloodshed and the specter of ethnic cleansing.
It is good to worry about peoples’ safety. It is healthy to fear the effects world events will have on our environment. It will be difficult for lawmakers to cut the budgets of our own nuclear plant inspectors, or inspectors who ensure that fish and other products we import from Japan arrive free of contamination. Fear either motivates us to take action, or to curl up in a ball on the floor and sob. What will be our response? If we examine the source of the radiation and change our nuclear system, if we are motivated to prepare for natural disaster by stockpiling supplies, if involving our military in efforts to quell the wholesale killing of citizens in North Africa saves lives, then feeling fear has been a good thing.
The world community too often has stood by as civilians were murdered in the street or in their homes by oppressive governments. We wring our hands and endlessly discuss as it happens; we vow to do something sooner next time as a way to salve our consciences. Next time is here, and the cleansing is of poor and oppressed people everywhere. What has not been the focus of the discussions about intervening in Libya, however, is that the push to remove Gadhafi has come from France and Great Britain, countries that depend heavily on oil imported from Libya. Citizens are dying in greater numbers in Yemen, citizens are beginning to be killed by Saudi troops in Bahrain, citizens continue to die in Iraq despite a decade of U.S. military presence, American drones continue to kill citizens in Pakistan almost daily, and Palestinian citizens continue to suffer what can only be called ethnic cleansing at the hands of Israel, yet Libya is the only country that deserves a military intervention? Are we letting our fear once again lead to an oil war?
Nearly ¼ (23) of the nuclear plants in America today are the same model of reactor running amok at Fukushima. What has not yet become the focus of the nuclear safety conversation is that much of the radiation released to date has come from the spent fuel holding tanks, not the reactors themselves. We are told that the methods used to store fuel rods at American plants, touted as temporary when first installed decades ago, are better than those used in Japan. Yet who are we to trust in these esoteric and deadly scientific matters? How do we know that our storage system would not have similar radioactive release problems should power be lost for days or weeks at a time? Whether you believe that the new generation of nuclear power reactors have resolved the issues of safety and containment or not, placing all the focus of the discussion on the plants themselves and none on the waste handling is shortsighted and potentially tragic.
Let our fear motivate us to question the roots of our problems, not paralyze us into inaction or, worse still, a refusal to question business-as-usual. Ask, “What am I afraid of?” and listen with an open heart. We already know the best answer to our fear: love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Acknowledge that and the path becomes crystal-clear.