Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Machine is in Our Heads (Part 1): Drinking the Radioactive Koolaid

Today I heard someone extolling the virtues of nuclear power.  Nuclear power is “a step in the right direction” that provides a medium for us to “forge ahead” toward “positive outcomes.”  When I asked what was meant by “positive outcomes”—positive in what way, for whom, for how long—and what we might do with the spent fuel rods that will be poisoning the environment for longer than there have been humans on the planet, I was given an answer in kW-hours and long-term return on investment, and told that there have been “great strides” in converting spent radioactive fuel into relatively harmless “products” that can be “safely stored.”  Nuclear disasters like Three-mile Island and Chernobyl and past problems with fissile material storage and disposal were results of “mismanagement and a lack of foresight.”

Products?  Sure, why not?  Consumable output is the whole point of industrial production in the first place.  It’s right there in the word product-ion.  And safely stored?  What, for a rainy day? “Hey, we’re running low on spent fuel rods; could you run down to the supply closet and grab a couple?”    

But it’s the claim that nuclear “accidents” and past failures to secure nuclear waste were a result of mismanagement and a lack of foresight that is most disturbing to me.  The unquestioned belief that tomorrow’s technology (systems of management are a technology) will be able to compensate for the defects of today’s is a malignant side-effect of the delusion of progress.  Phrases such as step in the right direction, forge ahead, make great strides, achieve positive outcomes, and of course the term progress itself, are frequent players in the rhetoric that feeds this delusion. 

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