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Frankewicz/My Turn: Nuclear dreams, realities

I enjoyed reading Tim Blagg’s thoughtful column about the history of our efforts, in exactly my 68-year lifetime, to embrace the “peaceful atom.”

It is interesting, the symmetry his piece demonstrates with our desire to find a nondestructive use for another technology of war, the chemicals that made conventional bombs and then got sold as fertilizer, pesticides, etc. In both cases, one might observe that the attempts to move these destructive materials to life-serving purposes have  resulted in mixed results at best. It is becoming evident that the cancer we dread is actually the price we pay for this attempt to glean something from the earth from next to nothing, along with the massive burning of the earth’s stored carbon.

 I have friends and co-religionists who have shared your hope that nuclear power would allow us to continue to indulge our insatiable hungers — for electricity to run our techno-toys, to air conditioning our larger and larger houses, to illuminate our obscene malls full of items we know deep down we could live well without. Because they are my friends, they are the kind of men who take things seriously — safety, high standards, well-thought-out strategies — in the dear hope that we can make the atom do our bidding without paying an unconscionable price. They share your deep disappointment in how things have gone in the nuclear power arena.

Sadly, one thing I have noticed over the years is that, just as in war, the first victim of the nuclear power industry was the truth. As a personal example, my brother worked briefly in the 1980s for the Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Connecticut and reported that he spent all six months shredding documents in advance of an upcoming NRC inspection. Other examples of cover-ups and distortions by the industry abound.

Yet, Tim, as a student of history, you have to know the price humanity pays, has always paid, for hubris, for trying to get around the laws of nature (and of human nature.) And by that I do not wish to suggest  that  progress is to be avoided or be suspect. It is just that we engage in magical thinking that avoids looking at the very possible consequences of any bold action.

The men who designed the atom bomb were ultimately horrified by what they had wrought. Highly radioactive water flows into the Pacific as we speak; the people of Japan watch with horror as again the atomic dream becomes their nightmare. We have to face what is real not what we wish were real. That is what it means to be an adult, capable of participating in a democratic society. Nuclear is just too dangerous to be embraced.

Luddites, whom you disdain, were reacting to something they did not think would increase their ultimate quality of life, industrialization. Skilled artisans smashed machines out of a reasonable and realized fear of losing their livelihoods. I’m not thinking we’d all be better off in a subsistence economy but today we have farmers in the Midwest so dependent on huge machines, chemical fertilizers and massive bank loans, which they cannot hope to repay that they can no longer cope. They declare bankruptcy, fall into depression, lash out at their loved ones in domestic violence (acts of misplaced rage) and their kids join the military for a regular paycheck and a chance to vent their own rage in a socially sanctioned venue.

The organic and sustainably grown meat and produce we enjoy here in West County follow from the ancient laws of feeding the land so it can feed us. Some people saw history and got the lesson. Some wise ones understood it all along and refused to buy into the factory farm. I don’t call them Luddites. I would call them blessed.

What else needs to be called back from the past in order to give us a chance for a future?

Sue Fraser Frankewicz lives in Shelburne Falls.

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