With the recent earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last month and the subsequent crisis at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant I've been pondering nuclear power's place in our world. Not continuously or obsessively but much more frequently than in the recent past.
Foregoing the merits of fledgling alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and the like, the energy debate is the same as it's always been:
We can't rely on fossil fuels forever, for obvious environmental and availability reasons. Nor can we run the risks of an entirely nuclear power structure due to the instant calamities when things don't go as planned (Fukushima, Chernobyl) coupled with the generations-long (centuries-long is more like it) danger of containing the spent radioactive materials once they've been sucked of all their usefulness to us. Those spent materials may be useless for producing energy but they sure can mess things up if they're not properly contained.
I'm well aware that this is painfully simplified and I support all efforts for alternative energy production. This dichotomy is only being used to set up the crux of this post. So, please, if you happen upon this backwater of the internet and have a gazillion ideas on 'sustainable, renewable, etc., etc.' energy - that's great. Just exhibit some reserve in demonstrating how ignorant I am on the subject. I'm already well aware of that.
That being said, it seems there was a time when I was much more enlightened on the subject of nuclear power. In fact, I've already penned a document on it.
It wasn't published in a newspaper, magazine, or science periodical. It wasn't even published on the Internet. To be fair, the Internet barely existed when it was written.
This document was written when the backbone of the modern Internet was still three years away, "Ordinary People" won the Oscar for best picture, and "Sailing" by Christopher Cross was both song and record of the year. This document was written when I was ten years old.
There was a program in my elementary school called 'Dimensions'. It was, as much as I can remember, an extra-academic program for select students to enhance their educational experience. One of the projects we worked on was to have the students create newspaper-like editorials on important current events of the time. Or, at least, the events remembered from the previous decade by those who were just a decade old.
I don't recall whether we were assigned our topics or chose them ourselves, perhaps from some predetermined list. Regardless, my current event topic was the 1979 nuclear meltdown of Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
Created and written some time in 1980, here is the project's introduction and my contribution:
Right before the beginning of 1980, we started to do a lot about things that happened in the "Seventies." We finally decided to make a book. So, we picked some of the biggest events of the "Seventies" and put them together to make this book. Each person in the program wrote one article. We all agreed that one of the biggest events of the "Seventies" was the taking of hostages in Iran. So, we would like to dedicate this book to the fifty Americans held hostage in Iran.
We hope you enjoy our book!
Three Mile Island
In the dead of night, the hulks of four 372-X cooling towers and two high-domed nuclear reactor container buildings were scarcely discernable (sic) above the gentle waters of the Susquehanna River, eleven miles southeast of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Inside the brightly lit control room of Metropolitan Edsion's (sic) unit 2, technicians on the lobster shift, April 4, faced a tranquil, even boring watch. Suddenly at 4 A.M., alarm lights blinked red on their instrument panels. A siren whooped a warning.
In the understated jargon of the nuclear power industry, an "event" had occured (sic). In plain English, it was the beginning of the worst accident in the history of the U.S. nuclear power production, and of a long, often confused nightmare that threw the future of the nuclear industry into question.
The problem was solved that a huge turbine engine which generates electricity had "tripped." At first, the technicians thought that it would be easy to fix. However, they were wrong.
Radioactive steam and gas filled the air around the plant for the next several days. The Governor, Richard Thornburgh, suggested that women and preschool children leave the area.
Engineering tried to cool down the "core." If they couldn't cool it down, a "melt-down" would occur, where gases would escape and eat through the concrete walls. Luckily this did not happen, although it did get people angry enough. However, the fight still goes on....... NO NUKES!!!!!!.........
A bit disjointed with some lack of continuity and obvious spelling and grammatical errors for sure. But we were still using mimeograph... and I was ten. Cut me a break, eh?
What I find interesting about this piece is two-fold:
The first and most obvious is that not much has changed in the 30 years hence regarding the safety and security of nuclear energy. It is still an amazing way for us to meet the growing energy demands of an ever-growing world population. Many nuclear power plants across the globe are silently, albeit dangerously, producing power for millions of people. But how safe is it? We can't rely on it forever, for sure. At some point our comeuppance is due. Are we really prepared for that day? We've been relatively lucky up to this point. Relatively being the operative word.
We may understand how to harness the Dragon for its power... but do we really know how to control that Dragon when it breaks our reins?
The second interesting point I've taken from this long, almost lost* document is - at least I know my affinity for ellipses, excessive commas, and "quotation" marks has been a long and deep-seeded affectation of my writing style for just about my entire life. At least since I've been able to put somewhat coherent thoughts and sentences together in writing. Although, I'll let you be the judge on the coherency bit.
Franklin Public Schools taught me well - but one of my English teachers could've pointed out at least one of these foibles. On second thought, they probably did... I just never listened.
*Thanks to my long-time, childhood and still good friend M.T. for preserving this document for all these years. He produced it at a Poker Night we had a few years ago and let me borrow it for reminiscing. It is now 31 years old and is filled with the writings and ramblings of many pre-teens and their recollections of the 1970s - the decade of our youth. I'm thinking of transcribing the entire "book," either here on this blog or in its own space.
If you're interested in reading more or were a part of this project back at Oak Street Elementary School in Franklin, MA in 1980 please let me know.
p.s. As a note of pride and a nod to my ten year old self, I have to say I quite like the tone-setting sentence "A siren whooped a warning." that ended the opening paragraph. Thank you, Miss Modess (I hope that's the correct spelling) - I'm sure you helped me with that one!