Seamans: Disaster In Japan

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(HOST)  Commentator Bill Seamans has been watching events unfold in Japan, and wondering what long-distance impact they may have here at home.

(SEAMANS) The New York Times headlined that Japan faces a potential nuclear catastrophe after another explosion at the Fukushima Power station.  Flooding the reactors apparently is failing as radiation levels rise and the Times reports industry executives as saying that – and I quote – "in fact the situation has spiraled out of control."

As the ravages of the earthquake and tsunami became known our reaction went beyond belief, beyond imagination, and even beyond the ability to accept reality when we saw the video and photos of scenes that earlier word descriptions by reporters and survivors could hardly convey.  We became aware again of how the force of angry nature unbound can reduce us humans to puny helpless creatures despite all the efforts we have made to protect our existence.

One of the reactions that emerges from the disaster is the conduct of ordinary Japanese people acting virtually on their own until a national effort is organized to help them.  Even as New England-like winter weather moves in on stricken northern Japan, we see photos of survivors lining up on their own in an orderly manner in long lines leading to emergency handouts.  No shoving, queue jumping, hysteria – a model of how people should act in an emergency – with the patient  courtesy that we have learned is the core of the Japanese character.

And now it is inevitable that we the people are expressing a renewed concern over the safety of our 104 nuclear reactors in 31 states here at home.  In our own area Vermont Yankee’s General Electric mark number "1" reactors are of the same design and vintage as those of the stricken Fukushima reactors.

Already there is speculation over how the disaster in Japan will affect the planned expansion of our own nuclear industry.  The least we can expect is a delay in new projects and that the public will express increasing personal and political skepticism about assuming more risks, about the enormous expense of building new nuclear plants, and about the disposal of nuclear waste.

President Obama and powerful politicians in Washington are calling for more nuclear plants to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  Those who don’t agree argue that there is no perfect nuclear machine and, however well-trained and experienced, there is no perfect human technician monitoring the controls so that the risk of disaster is always present.

Finally, we all are bound to ask, despite all the assurances, could it really happen to us and what should we do about it?  How much of a political question might that be in the 2012 Presidential campaign?

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