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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 After Chernobyl, they went back to telling us to be calm: “That plant exploded because it was the old type, outdated technology.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.

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