Japans Disaster – Beyond Nuclear Energy

Mary Claire Birdsong


The main story is well established. At 14:46 local time on 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck off Japan's north-east coast.

Visiting a college in Tennessee, I was poised to complete a week of speeches at a national forensics event on the U.S. urgent need to pursue more advanced nuclear energy options. I was stuck – needing to change the tone and tenor of my speech – without the benefit of the details yet to unfold. Ultimately, it was a lesson in patience and reliance on facts. In science, as in life, “facts are friends.” I finished the week successfully, but sobered, along with the world, at the utter devastation from the natural disaster.

In the days that followed, it became apparent that Fox News and other media outlets could not be trusted for reliable news stories on the state of the four Fukushima reactors. I heard the phrase “nuclear meltdown” several times an hour, despite the lack of facts to back that up or clear explanations on real dangers posed, versus hypotheticals and science fiction. I realized in such a palpable way that widespread nuclear energy ignorance was making our citizenry a prime target for political agendas, lies, and manipulation. At a certain point, the imagery and the fear – laced headlines hit critical mass. This is when people ceased to be interested in reason. Many people expressed, perhaps due to this fear overload, a discomfort with learning or trusting facts. Waiting for facts to emerge in a society accustomed to instant news has the unpleasant side effect – the jump to erroneous conclusions.

Is there such a thing as “my side” or “your facts” and “my facts?” No! Legitimate science cannot permit such indulgence. I hope – as I continue to learn and work through the subject of nuclear energy – that I can encourage other young people to take on the task of becoming more informed and more literate in the area of nuclear energy. To me, this is not an academic exercise, to provide a scholarly “feel good” moment. But – to think beyond our natural individual interests and ambitions – we become informed and better able to take the lead as the next generation. We refuse to let the media, or anyone else, tell us what is true or false on complex subjects. As young people, we have a gift: the “I can’t fail” fantasy often called the ignorance of youth. It can come across as arrogance. It can come across as immature. But, channeled properly, it can be the gift it was intended to be.

I refer to one of my mentors, Dr. Ted Rockwell, who kept his head level and his ideas profoundly reasoned in the midst of the Fukushima crisis. He reminded us, “…it’s not about radiation (or meltdowns) … it’s about tsunamis.” Please read the follow-on article from Dr. Rockwell that dispels many of the myths swirling around this disaster.

I would like to close this entry with a prayer for the Japanese people, excerpted from well-known pastor, John Piper:

The power of moving water is greater than most of us can imagine. Nothing stands before it. In a moment—in the twinkling of an eye—we too could be swept away. We are not more deserving of firm ground than our fellowmen in Japan. We too are flesh. We have bodies and homes and cars and family and precious places. We know that if we were treated according to our sins, who could stand?

Please save the people of Japan.


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