Last night I read, in one riveted sitting, Lauren Redniss's Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, a spellbinding book about the wonders and mysteries of radioactive materials that captures the lives of two amazing scientists and shares the story of what their discoveries lead to, including atomic bombs, the Nevada test site, and the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl Disasters.
This morning I woke to the news that a Japanese nuclear power plant is "teetering on a nuclear meltdown." As I type this, it might already be melting down. Either way, released radioactive material is already being carried by wind to who knows where.
In Radiation, Redniss explains how disasters are "created by multiple, unanticipated failures in a system--a collection of small, simultaneous mishaps that lead to one massive catastrophe" (102), and this is precisely what is going on at the Fukushima plant right now.
The tsunami cut the electrical power off at the plant, and without electricity the coils can't keep the core cool. There's a back-up generator, but guess what? The batteries last only 8 hours. Yes, 8 hours.
As I type this, I am not sure if scientists have stepped in to save the day. Or are in the process of saving the day, the night, the afternoon, the millions of people who live just 240 km from this plant, to everyone of us, because this cloud of radiation will circle the globe.
Take a close look at those pictures of Chernobyl. Look at the children. Then think about the costs and benefits of nuclear power.
Pictured above: a page from Radiation, by Lauren Redniss, the Three Mile Island Explosion, Japanese health official testing children for radiation exposure near the location of the Fukishima Nuclear Power Plant.