It’s been said that hindsight is always 20/20. Considering what has happened in Japan, however, the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that literally moved the Japan’s coastline 8 feet eastward and the ensuing tsunami that wreaked utter devastation, few could have predicted such a disaster while even fewer could have been properly prepared for one.
With the death toll rising above 9,000 and with nearly 13,000 people still missing, the dire situation overseas is truly beyond our comprehension, and the rules of hindsight simply do not apply.
There are, conversely, a great many lessons to be learned from this nightmare. First and foremost, the gripping humanitarian situation should be resonating in all of us. Though the Associated Press is reporting signs of slow recovery, Japan is still many years from resuming the place it held before March 11. With the death toll on the rise, the estimated insured property damage at a high of $35 billion, the lack of resources to meet basic human needs and, of course, the nuclear crisis surmounting everything, we should all feel a connection to the people reeling from this terrifying state of affairs.
In the midst of all of the chaos, though, it is always astonishing how Americans and our national media shift focus from real need to speculation about what might happen to us here from a disaster far from us. Although the natural disaster happened just a couple of weeks ago, the attention has already shifted from Japan to our own shores, with the focus on the possibility of nuclear drift from the damaged reactors traveling thousands of miles across the ocean to our coast. Though emergency response services and medical professionals have stated over and over that there is no threat for Westerners, potassium iodide, which can protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine, is flying off the shelves.
In the meantime, as we are stirring up a panic about the very slim chance of nuclear fallout from Japan, we are glossing over our own nuclear predicament as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. files its applications to renew its permits for reactors at Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County. Southern California Edison, operator of the nuclear power plant at San Onofre, south of San Clemente, is also expected to apply for renewal of its permits. Last time PG&E’s permits were renewed, the fact that it didn’t have an emergency response plan worked out for an earthquake of more than 7.5 magnitude seemed of little consequence. Despite the fact the U.S. Geological Service reported in 2008 the discovery of a previously unknown “significant” fault line directly beneath Diablo Canyon, a new plan has yet to be created. Why PG&E needs to get approval of its nuclear power permits now when its current permits don’t expire until 2022 seems odd, to say the least. Unfortunately, the California Energy Commission hasn’t required nuclear plant operators to create new seismic studies. At this point, it is only a request.
Even if the Big One isn’t as disastrous as what Japan has had to endure, we need to be proactive about our concerns regarding nuclear energy in California and in our country. The U.S. currently has almost 72,000 tons of spent nuclear waste — a proverbial ticking time bomb — with no permanent place to store it. And we continue to approve new and renew power plant permits.
While there is no easy solution to meeting our energy needs, sticking to the status quo isn’t good enough. We need to push our legislators to move toward clean, green, renewable energy. Should we face anything similar to what is currently happening in Japan, no amount of potassium iodide will protect us from the possible nuclear disaster we continue to overlook.