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I'm a novelist and playwright, traditionally and independently published.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chernobyl, Fukushima and the Ostrich Mentality

Some years ago now, I wrote a play called Wormwood, about the Chernobyl disaster. It was produced at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre to a certain amount of critical acclaim - the reviews were excellent - and later, the play was published in an anthology called Scotland Plays, by Nick Hern Books. It is still in print, still a set text for the Scottish Higher Drama course and I'm occasionally asked to speak about it in schools. Not very often though. The play was in no sense an anti-nuclear polemic. But I think that the conclusions I drew - while leaving the audience to make up its own mind - were that nuclear power might well be far too dangerous for fallible and complacency-prone human beings to cope with. And that being the case, there will be consequences for all of us.
Not surprisingly, the play has been on my mind of late! And last week, I wrote a piece about Fukushima and Chernobyl for the Scottish Review - which you can read here.
Wormwood had a talented and committed cast. It was directed by Philip Howard and was a claustrophobic and immensely moving production. The audience could regularly be seen weeping. One thing which stayed with me afterwards was the way in which the cast, and many members of the audience, had initially failed to grasp that the default position of this technology is instablity. That it does what it does, relentlessly, and will go on doing it, unless we can find some way of stopping it. And that stopping it can be almost impossible, when the very act of working with it can be fatal.
After that Traverse season, the play never received another professional production. It had a couple of student productions, one in the USA and one in Glasgow, but that was all. I was faintly surprised by this, but only faintly. It's an uncomfortable and difficult play, and perhaps people don't want to think about these things too much - unless forced to do so by real life events.
I've been following coverage of the ongoing Fukushima situation online and on television, including watching Japanese television's coverage every night. I suspect I'll want to write about it all, eventually, although probably not another play. But I'm somewhat gobsmacked by the way in which the authorities, both here and there, keep leaking information (in much the same way as the plant keeps leaking radiation). Every time something worse happens, as it does just about every day now, things that they have constantly declared 'can't happen' - our experts and theirs keep saying 'oh well, now x has happened, but the good news is...'
The latest good news from the industry is that plutonium isn't deadly. And it's a lie, of course. But even a quick search online will allow you to find a Japanese nuclear industry report stressing the need to persuade the general public of the absolute necessity of using plutonium-containing 'dirty' MOX fuel, (as at Fukushima 3) for economic reasons.
There is no good news, today. It looks as though they have at least one melt-down, possibly more, and close-up pictures from the site show an unholy, deadly, filthy mess. Perhaps we should be sending in some of our more gung-ho experts to attempt the clean-up.
So I'm thinking that now may be a good time to renew my membership of Greenpeace, and I'm still bemused at what ostriches we human beings can be. And don't tell me how many people have died in mining and chemical accidents over the years. I know they have, but it doesn't make it any better, any more than telling me that just because vast numbers of people have been killed in hand to hand combat, dropping bombs on them is somehow acceptable.

But Albert Einstein put it better than I ever could: The splitting of the atom has changed everything except our way of thinking and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.
For some of us, that time may already have come.

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