Readers in Council,
The Japan Times, 5-4,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-023
In the debate about continued use of nuclear energy in Japan, I do not understand demands to abandon nuclear energy unless industry and government can “prove to us that they are 100 percent confident that the plants are safe and that accidents such as those that occurred at Fukushima after March 11 will never happen again” as Kristin Newton writes in her June 16 letter “Proving one’s nuclear confidence.” If one refuses life choices without a foolproof guarantee of safety, then how can one live? Life is risky, all the time, and eventually every one of us will die.
Failing a reliable safety guarantee, the next option is to define and pursue a reasonable degree of safety. That definition and pursuit ought to frame the debate, not a mawkish appeal to our or our children’s safety.
Demanding 100% safety is a fetish of the petulant and disgruntled who want to press their point in a time of crisis. It contravenes the definition of right reason. Sometimes they have a good point, and sometimes they don’t. But the demand doesn’t get us anywhere. Getting out of bed in the morning is dangerous. You start your day and you don’t know how it will end. Accidents happen. That’s why they’re called that. For the record, the nuclear industry is statistically safer than any other kind of commercial power production. We don’t need accidents like Fukushima, Chernobyl, or Three Mile Island to tell us that nuclear is dangerous. We know it’s dangerous, and that excessive safety claims are mere rhetoric to help us life with ourselves. Driving a car or flying in a commercial carrier are more dangerous (they kill or maim more people) than the nuclear industry, but we do not abandon them every time there is a highway accident or airline incident.
But I could be wrong.
Published on Sunday, June 19, 2011 as “Impossible to live without risks.”
Today the Readers in Council page printed eight letters, a high number. They were all on aspects of the nuclear crisis issue, showing how the Fukushima nuclear power plant situation is dominating the news. Some letters discussed the merits of pursuing a nuclear moratorium a la Germany. Others commented on a June 15 story that reported children in Fukushima being given dosimeters to helps measure the radiation threat.
I like using the phrase“Accidents happen. That’s why they’re called that.” I’ve used it many times before in writing and in speech. It is a quotation from the TV sitcom character Jennifer Marlowe from the show “WKRP in Cincinnati” (1978-1982) played by American actress Loni Anderson. My disposition towards the phrase “That’s why they call it that” identifies me as a philosophical nominalist, meaning that I identify the name of something with the reality and essential nature of it. Things are what they are called.
The letter was published almost unchanged. The greatest editorial changes were in the paragraphing. After re-reading it several times I still feel that the paragraph changes chosen by the editorial staff made the letter less fluid. I don’t understand the choices.
I certainly think that government and industry must strive for maximum safety in the nuclear industry. But the wisdom of nuclear energy and the safety of the nuclear industry were not the point of my letter so much as I wanted to critique the invention of daily impediments to life. At some point obsessing over safety becomes more a hindrance than a help.