Retirement at 40
According to Japanese law, nuclear reactors have a 40-year lifespan, though it can be extended. The recent news that the lifespan of the 40-year-old reactor currently spewing radioactive steam at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had been extended in February, just one month before the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, is sobering. Reportedly, the inspectors’ highly complex assessments of the earthquake-readiness of Reactor No. 1 were made hastily, but the repairs they called for were not.
What if the cracks in the backup generators that regulators reported in February had been repaired? Would the reactor’s cooling system have worked and contained the radiation when the tsunami hit? Perhaps. The cooling systems of younger reactors at the plant held for days, once the electricity was restored. What if the government had decided to shut down the aged reactor instead of extending its life? That dismantling process takes time to accomplish, so the effects of the tsunami might still have caused radioactive leakage. Who knows? These questions merit public reflection, because every country with a nuclear reactor must now reconsider the engineering design, maintenance and lifespan of its nuclear power plants.
The unfolding catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi makes clear the importance of tough government regulations, frequent and thorough inspections, independent nuclear watchdogs and high standards of maintenance. Until safer energy alternatives are developed and widely used, every precaution must be taken to ensure public safety. The disaster that struck Japan should also compel nations to invest without delay in safe energy alternatives.
'Take Him Out!'
The United Nations and the United States intervened in Libya to protect innocent life, fearing a triumphant Muammar el-Qaddafi would slaughter his opposition. Though the coalition bombed his personal compound and President Obama said Qaddafi must go, U.S. officials also say the coalition can achieve its goal even if he stays. Inevitably the pundits and policy makers discuss a simpler solution: Kill him.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told “Meet the Press” that killing the Libyan leader is “potentially an outcome.” But later Vice Admiral William Gortney said that Qaddafi “at this particular point” is “not on the target list.” The New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica retorted, “If we are not in Libya to take him out, we should get out.”
Assassination is ruled out by international law for moral and political reasons. Nevertheless, the U.S. government has tried several times to solve problems by killing enemy heads of state. In Vietnam the United States backed a coup in 1963 to remove President Diem. In the first weeks of the Iraq War the United States bombed a city block to kill Saddam Hussein; he wasn’t there, and the attack killed innocent people. Twenty-five years ago President Reagan bombed Tripoli to teach Qaddafi a lesson and killed 100 civilians, including Qaddafi’s adopted daughter.
Somehow the tabloid mind likes to apply the morals of crime shows to international affairs. Got a problem? “Take him out.” The law of the street becomes national policy. And America ends up with blood on its hands and a wound in its soul.
With a new Congress purportedly devoted to austerity, President Obama may have calculated that the only way he was going to shoehorn some form of stimulus into the still shaky U.S. economy in 2011 and 2012 was by back room dealmaking to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. But that decision merely continues a dangerous practice of combining tax-cutting and debt-juggling with continued epic spending on defense. The nation long ago lost momentum toward reducing the national debt begun by the Clinton administration. Washington continues disingenuous feints toward austerity focused almost exclusively on the small portion of federal discretionary spending that is committed to social services, ignoring the vast tax wealth diverted to defense, agricultural subsidies and other miscellaneous props and assists to private enterprise.
Owing to Wall Street’s rapid recovery, the number of millionaires in the United States has begun to reset near 2007 levels even as the nation achieves new highs in poverty. Almost 44 million people now live below the official poverty line. Business cannot go on as usual in Washing-ton, or that divergence will continue. The nation needs to face up to both civic and fiscal realities. It needs both to raise taxes and to deal with its debt problem responsibly. It also needs to accept the legitimate cost of social services and short-term relief for an increasingly impoverished populace. That includes finally providing health care to all. These need not be hopelessly conflicting goals in a nation that keeps the common good at the forefront of its commitments. The question is: Can the United States still be that kind of nation?