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March 28, 2011

We Said It Before Chernobyl

by Dario and Jacopo Fo*

Tell me how many human lives you’re willing to risk, and I’ll tell you what kind of person you are.

Since the first atomic power plant in the world was constructed, we have continued to protest, fearful of the colossal risks that this technology involves. For decades the supporters of nuclear energy have continued to repeat that we are panic-stricken, emotional, non-scientific retrogrades. They say that we worry for nothing: “Our scientists are the best in the world, we have used every system possible to guarantee the safety of this plant! Stop being extremist and thick-headed ecological maniacs. Read my lips: there is no nuclear danger!!!” Then the technology regularly jams. In recent decades, there have been more than 150 accidents in nuclear power plants with emissions of dangerous radiation. In some areas surrounding the plants, a rise in the number of tumors and malformations in newborns has been found.

Then the terrifying Chernobyl disaster occurred … the calculation of deaths caused by the emission of radioactivity is difficult and controversial … Some say 200,000 dead and 200,000 more at risk. After Chernobyl, they went back to telling us to be calm: “That plant exploded because it was the old type, outdated technology. Today our nuclear reactors are, on the other hand, brand new, super-high-technological, there is no risk!!! Stop being hysterical!” Even the day after the earthquake, Saturday March 12, the headline in the Messaggero was exemplary: “Safe nuclear power, here’s the proof!” an article by poor Oscar Giannino: “When we still had only the first reports of the tremendous quake that hit the northeast coast of Japan, the Italian websites and news agencies started spreading warnings about a nuclear alarm, yet, as of now the first thing to say is that the great intensity of the phenomenon that struck Japan confirms once again the fact that nuclear plants, as far as their safety goes, have made great strides forward in the last few decades, enough to stand up to the reality of the situation without creating dangers for the environment or the population, because the events that occurred were off-the-scale and beyond the scope of the standard regulations under which the nuclear power plants are built today .” Talk about famous last words…

These days, we are seeing how things really are, seeing past the reticence of the Japanese government and that, even worse, of the company that manages the plants. We are discovering that the information given in recent days was mostly false; we are discovering that there were explosions, contaminations and that the situation is extremely serious, enough to impose a 20-kilometer evacuation area and cause panic in Tokyo and an exodus from the city. This is a frightening situation, horrifying for this people who were devastated by the seaquake, devastated by the pain for the deaths of their loved ones, homeless, cold, out in the snow, with little food and a radioactive cloud over their heads, praying that at least the wind will be kind and take the radioactive plague away. Unimaginable pain.

Of course, the Japanese had done a great deal to contrast the earth’s follies, the earthquake per se caused few victims, even though it was enormously stronger than the one in L’Aquila. But there was no stopping the tsunami… And now the fusion of the radioactive rods risks provoking a carnage even more colossal. An immeasurable horror. But then, if nature can be so unpredictable and so destructive and devastate an entire people who are vigilant about safety measures, wouldn’t it be prudent not to risk ever again adding more risk to what we cannot in any way avoid? It’s already hard to accept our precariousness, accept that a meteorite can land on your head and no helmet will protect you… Not to mention volcanoes… But why build hundreds of cathedrals (nuclear and chemical) where a meteorite might land causing the end of the world? In the famous Kurosawa film Dreams a nuclear plant explodes and spreads radioactive gas which generates instant mutations in the few survivors in a land incredibly similar to the post-tsunami one. A man yells at the nuclear manager, accusing him of the devastation around them: “You didn’t think this could happen?

But they didn’t. They didn’t think… Someone, like environmental minister Prestigiacomo, poor unhappy thing, still continues to repeat that this disaster will not stop nuclear power in Italy… They say that this Japanese plant exploded because it was the old type, not like the ultramodern French ones that we’re buying. The same old slogans? Again? Don’t they listen to themselves when they talk? Incredible. And they accuse those who have always fought to stop the nuclear madness of looting: “You should be ashamed to take advantage of the Japanese grief to promote your own far-out ideas…” We said it before Chernobyl, we said it after Chernobyl and we will continue to say it until the last nuclear plant is closed. Only then will we shut up. And facing this enormous atomic disaster we understand that there’s a great difference in the value that is given to human life. In our opinion, no risk is acceptable. For the nuclearists there is a level of acceptable risk. They always think it will apply to others.

Ps: In recent days the government has canceled all funding for renewable energy sources. They say they will replace them but they’ll be drastically cut and limited. It seems like the perfect time to crush all development of renewable energy sources in Italy.

Il Fatto Quotidiano, March 19, 2011

*playwright Dario Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. This translation is unauthorized.

March 20, 2011

Bad Moon Rising

There’s a big bad moon shining right into my study, right up to the legs of my chair, right now reaching like a ghost to infect my blood with dread, with the fear for what I’ll wake up to tomorrow and even the fear that I won’t wake up tomorrow, unreasonable but instinctive.

My grandfather, in our numerous discussions over the chessboard, shared his hope for a future world governed by world law and a world police force to enforce basic principles, agreed to by all countries—the dream of the League of Nations and the United Nations and whatever better, stronger organization might come later. A great dream.

Today we’re sitting around wondering what’s really happening down in Libya, what somebody might do about it, and suddenly it’s WAR. Madman Gheddafi says he’s gonna bomb the hell out of Sicily like he’s doing to his own cities, so everyone’s on edge. And the echoes of Iraq-Afghanistan-Vietnam-Korea are haunting. And ethics shouldn’t change with vicinity, yet it’s war on our door. We wait, impotent, to see how this risky adventure turns out. No one knows now. Obama doesn’t know. It could all fall apart and crash like the Towering Inferno of Babel. Or innocent lives saved. When the cops confront a suicidal psychopath they know that ‘kill or be killed’ is a likely outcome. But can we just turn away? (As a man who has slept in his car and volunteered at the soup kitchen to get a square meal himself, I do trust Obama not to engage in military action for personal gain, though there are oil wells involved. At least that's different from Iraq.)

I’ve been watching NHK Japanese TV in English for a week. We’re finally getting the news about the people, not just the science or the politics or the economics. They now show crying. They no longer say that everything will be okay. People are dying for lack of medicine, heat, clean water, etc. People are running scared with no destination in mind. I’m sick of constructed scenes of self-control, sick of forced calm, I’m sick of lies told to avoid panic. "Situation normalizing" my ass. Pain, immense crushing pain, unbearable suffering, shock, radiation notwithstanding, that’s all there is. Go ahead, cry. Cry for a year if you want. It shouldn’t be easy to live when everything but life is gone. Hiroshima/Nagasaki revisited. Break down, collapse in a heap, we would all do that. No one can expect the Japanese to care for themselves without help. “Stiff upper lip, look on the bright side, the show must go on” is bull.

Then there’s the embarrassing local squalor. Berlusconi and his prostitutes, his prostitute girls and his prostitute political cronies, his prostitute laws to abolish The Law, to abolish public schools, hospitals, social services, environmental controls, the parliament, the courts, the constitution and fair and free elections. It’s hard even to imagine his ideal world, his mondo porno, would we all be forced to do the striptease? Would anything work? Would trucks still come to haul away the trash? Would he allow us a bowl of gruel if we’re good worker ants in his factories? He said once that he doesn’t ever expect to die, but if he does, who does he think will carry on his folly? The answer is in a book by George Orwell called 1984. This is Italy 1984, now and always.

So, after a week of scirocco winds, we’re blinded by the sand storm of lies, false information, idiotic expert hypotheses, propaganda, conflicting scenarios, threats, insults, loud rumbling sounds, muffled cries for help, invisible death particles of unknown potency, and we stumble around lost when all we want is to find the eye of the storm. The ‘I’ of the storm. But it keeps moving, dodging us. Trickster never sleeps.

Happy trials, Martin

Bad Moon Rising – John Fogerty

I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin'.
I see bad times today.

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

I hear hurricanes ablowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers over flowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.

Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.

March 16, 2011

Is it better to be wrong?

In 1977 I was organizing and participating in the No Nukes movement. We believed that those power plants were bombs, and that bombs eventually explode, killing people. The experts said they were absolutely safe, and we called them liars.

At the under-construction Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant in San Luis Obispo, we young activists got into trouble. Busted, detained, tried, convicted, sentenced. We all got two year sentences for trespassing, reduced to 15 days plus probation and fines. Those who refused the fines did the whole two years, reduced to 6 months for good behavior. Hard prison time for a hypothetical.

I started my statement in court by saying: I’m a school teacher so I’m particularly concerned with the well-being of children and their future. Though built smack on top of the San Andreas Fault, you say the DC power plant is safe today, but I ask will it be safe decades from now? Would you put your children and grandchildren at risk? (They did.)

As far as I know, Diablo Canyon, notwithstanding our Abalone Alliance movement activities, is still running strong 34 years later. Am I glad that I was wrong? Am I still waiting for a disaster to prove me right?

After our protests, and after they were squelched by the County Court-Electric Company Alliance, the Three Mile Island accident occurred (79). Then Brown’s Ferry (84-5), then Pilgrim (86). And then Chernobyl (86), more later. THTR-300 (86), Peach Bottom (87), Niagara Mohawk (87), Calvert Cliff (89), Greifswald (95), Millstone (96), Crystal River (96), Tokaimura (99), Davis-Besse (02), Mihama (04), and now the name that will live forever FUKUSHIMA (11).

Let’s not forget the film The China Syndrome (79), Silkwood (83), the No Nukes album (79). New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone (87), Italy renounces nuclear power by referendum (87) [now the fools want to reinstate], Germany Nuclear Exit Law for permanent shutdown by 2020, and many states, regions, localities declaring their territories nuke-free. Millions of people joined protest movements worldwide.

Currently, 31 countries operate nuclear energy plants. Does that scare you? If they're far away they can't hurt you, right? Are you one of the faithful? Technology is flawless and officials always tell the truth, and you will bet your life on it. And all your offspring's lives for millenia. You will?

I need to go out this morning to get our recent blood test results. We had the usual battery plus thyroid. Why? Because many, many of our friends are discovering thyroid problems. Several have had operations, all take medicine. Sicily is thousands of miles from the Ukraine and 25 years from Chernobyl, yet they now tell us that the toxic cloud arrived here and this is the result. We’re all slowly getting sick when we shouldn’t. The long-term fallout from Fukushima can only be worse.

Nukes are fine, just so you don’t eat plants or animals, drink water or breathe.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: The invention of the coffee percolator gave us grounds for celebration.
Jeff: You said it pal, and the inventor of rubber gloves thought they came in very handy.
Mutt: The inventor of the auto muffler said it was exhausting work.
Jeff: The inventor of the recliner got a chair of the profits.
Mutt: The man who invented the football got a kick out of it.
Jeff: The inventor of the relief map got a raise.
Mutt: The inventor of the rocket went out to launch.
Jeff: Yeah with the inventor of the lighthouse, and they celebrated the occasion with beacon and eggs.
Mutt: I feel queasy.
Jeff: Likewise.

March 15, 2011

A Pleasant Sunday Drive

We awoke saying we wanted to go back to sleep. The Sunday expression: Let’s not get up all day. Then a phone call, a death in the family, the elderly aunt must go to say goodbye to her sister, who lived near Rome. She’s in her eighties, frail and confused, could she take the train? Could someone accompany her? No.

It was her sister. We got ready in a flash and jumped in the car for what could be an 8-hour drive … each way. We work Monday and can’t get out of it.

Off to Adventureland. We drove to the ferry dock, and they closed the gate as we drove up. A 40-minute wait for the next run before we even got going. It’s 10 am., no it’s 10:40. Bad luck seems appropriate when there’s a death in the family.

We got to Calabria driving in the rain. It rained hard or soft all the way. Violent scirocco winds. It seemed to take forever. We stopped for gas and snacks, coffee a couple times, and got to Lazio about 5 pm. But this little village in the hills was a challenge to find. We got stuck on a dirt road full of mudholes when the navigator took a shortcut. Turn back, turn here, turn up there. Finally arrival 6:30 pm.

Half an hour to share grief, leave auntie, back on country roads trying to get out of the village (in pitch dark), back on the trip. Jovanotti on the music player for energy. They had advised us a new route that, though longer, would get us back on the freeway easier. Probably lost an hour following that suggestion.

Can you make it? Too tired? I’m fine. (Lie.) Lazio, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria: curvy high mountains, rain and fog, plenty of roadwork with one lane open, behind a slow truck. Dark, cold and lonely, driving, driving. There had been an advisory on the ferry that between 10 pm and 4 am they would not leave from the usual Villa San Giovanni but from Reggio Calabria, half an hour further south.

We got there at long last ready for our crossing. Closed. Back to Villa too stunned to get angry. Ticket, ferry, wait in line, crossing on rough seas, heads and stomachs swaying worse than the boat. We land on Sicily, home up on the hill. In bed, still swaying, alarms set for two hours later. Can’t sleep.

There’s no punchline to this story. We drove almost twenty hours in one long stretch. That’s what we did on Sunday. It wasn’t fun, it was dangerous. But also, therefore, fun. I met a guy once at a party who’d just driven from Denver to San Jose, about 20 hours straight through. I thought he was heroic, and stupid.

But it had to be done. It was her sister.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Did you hear about the pregnant bedbug?
Jeff: Yeah. She had her baby in the spring.
Mutt: Okay, what is the difference between a knight and Santa's reindeer?
Jeff: Go on.
Mutt: One slays the dragon and the other drags the sleigh.
Jeff: A man recently invented a knife that cuts four loaves of bread simultaneously. He calls his invention a four-loaf cleaver.
Mutt: My sister was engaged to a boy with a wooden leg, but broke it off.
Jeff: Aren’t you tired?
Mutt: Now that you mention it.