Monday, March 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Tragedies

The horrifying images coming out of Japan have assumed a surreal quality. Is this what apocalypse looks like? Is this what the future holds for us, this chain reaction of earthquake to tsunami to nuclear meltdown to indescribable human suffering? We pray for the victims, collect donations for them, visit local Japanese centers to hold candlelight vigils, yet our efforts seem so minuscule! No matter how hard we try to use our empathy-deepened imagination, we cannot fathom the pain of survivors still searching for their loved ones beneath debris and along windswept shore.

Concern about the safety of nuclear energy is now on everyone's mind. Is nuclear energy worth it? If we abandon it, won't our dependence on fossil fuel increase even more? We have not figured out a way to dispose of the deadly radioactive waste materials and spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors. The United States currently has 70,000 tons of it, and nowhere to put it!

Nuclear energy will never be 100% safe. If you believe exponents of nuclear energy claiming so, I have a bridge I would like to sell to you. Germany has already decided to phase away its reactorss but it is unlikely that other countries will, or can, follow suit. There is too much at stake here, political and economic. Nuclear energy is economically not competitive. A nuclear plant can cost $5 billion or more and the price of producing nuclear energy is about 30 percent higher than that of coal or gas.

Japan will learn from its experience and recover but unless we curb our voracious appetite for energy, we have to be prepared to suffer the consequences of a nuclear disaster next time a tsunami invades a coastal city.

While Japan copes with its monumental tragedy, another one is unfolding in Libya. The tyrant Gadhafi has been holding Libyans hostage for decades. When the people finally rose in revolt, he began slaughtering them with his tanks, artillery, planes and foreign mercenaries. Now that the United States, France and Britain have begun bombarding Gadhafi's forces - and not a moment too soon - the rebels have regained their hope and are counter-attacking. They will ultimately prevail but Libya is likely to go through a long period of civil unrest and bitter in-fighting. Many more Libyans will die but that seems to be the price people pay when a cruel and sociopathic dictator like Gadhafi, who made the world unsafe for democracy, falls.

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