Once again we start the year with concerns over nuclear power; this time, the worry is whether or not the Iranians are doing something naughty with their nuclear program. A fresh new batch of economic sanctions on Iran have been imposed, and tensions are rising. Again. People are getting blown up. Threats are being made. Again. There is a a chance the United States may take military action against Iran. Again.
The dangers of nuclear power, as a source of energy, or as a weapon, have haunted us since man found out how to induce nuclear fission. Whether or not the benefits of atomic energy outweigh the dangers have been the subject of endless debate. Most think the majority of the opposition died down in the 80’s. It hasn’t. It never died down. It just got less press coverage as several generations grew up without the constant threat of nuclear war. Even growing up during the final days of the Cold War, it didn’t seem like something real that could really happen. It was movie stuff.
However, as has been demonstrated recently, we’re still scared to death of nuclear power, and who has it. We have good reason to be. It is a thing mankind has created that it cannot overcome.
We have some degree of control; over the reaction itself and those who can use it. It is far from complete, though. The incident at Fukashima last year was a good example of just how powerless we are to stop something from going horrible wrong. The accident started in March. The reactor wasn’t brought under control until October. It wasn’t declared stable until December.
Now, Japan just has to contend with the radiation in the water, and the ground, which pretty much lasts forever, as far as humans are concerned.
Does this sound like something we have control over?
Yes, the whole thing was caused by a natural disaster, and mechanical failures that shouldn’t have happened. However, I think we should have learned by now, as a species, things that shouldn’t happen, happen with alarming frequency. Especially as forgetful and flippant as we tend to get. So, perhaps our control over atomic power is tenuous, at best, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
Even when things go smoothly, nuclear energy thwarts our attempts to control it. We’ve found ways to deal with some of the waste, but most bi-products of nuclear fission are extremely dangerous, and they will never go away. They’re here forever. Literally. The best (and only) plan we’ve come up with for dealing with these bi-products is to stockpile it, and forget it is there.
As if this stuff wasn’t scary enough, we decided to make nuclear weapons. Weapons that could unmake the world, or at least render it uninhabitable. “The Bomb” is ultimate power. It cannot be overpowered. It cannot be bargained with. It cannot be out-smarted. It cannot be escaped. It is the only thing that ultimately matters. Everything we’ve accomplished as a species is rendered null and void against the power of the atom. Those who control it might as well be God.
So naturally, we end up in situations like we are now, deciding what to do with a country that might, at some time, develop the ability to play God. The nations already in the “God Club” have a hard enough time being scared of each other. They definitely don’t want anybody else, especially somebody who seems a little unstable, joining the party. Yeah, we have to deny them the same nuclear energy we all use to power our own nations. It might require a little “military action”. But that is a small price to pay for the uneasy feeling of security we get by knowing there is one less nuclear power out there.
At least until one more accident, or the next guy starts developing nuclear power, or one of our allies in the “God Club” starts to act funny. I guess what I am trying to say is, we really do not have control over nuclear power. It has control over us. Every single one of us.
Just something to think about.