Saturday, March 12, 2011

We Almost Lost... Tokyo

As of this writing Japanese authorities are trying to control a fire at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in the aftermath of a massive earthquake and tsunami. Radiation was released from the accident and thousands of people have been evacuated. It's not known how bad the situation is. While fortunately Japan has made great advances in preparing for earthquakes, this human byproduct of a natural tragedy reminds us of our complaceny in accepting the risks of nuclear power.

Gil Scott-Heron recorded "We Almost Lost Detroit" back in 1977 on his album "Bridges." The video above shows him performing the song in London in 1990. In songs and raps throughout the 1970s and 1980s Scott-Heron touched political and cultural issues like no one else: his biting commentary and social conscience stands out against the passing of time like Cassandra's very own words. In "We Almost Lost Detroit" he sings about the Fermi 1 reactor that narrowly avoided a catastrophic accident near Detroit in the late 1960s. Recorded before the more infamous Three Mile Island or Chernobyl meltdowns, he anticipated the anti-nuke movement and became one of its leading cultural spokespeople. He followed up this song in 1980 with the anthemic stomper, "Shut 'Em Down" (below).

Scott-Heron can rightfully be considered a kind of prophet. We ignore his words at our own risk. The earthquake was an unavoidable catastrophe. Any lives lost or poisoned by the Fukushima reactor are our own fault.

"Just thirty miles from Detroit
stands a giant power station.
It ticks each night as the city sleeps
seconds from annihilation.
But no one stopped to think about the people
or how they would survive,
and we almost lost Detroit
this time.
When it comes to people's safety
money wins out every time.
How would we ever get over
over losing our minds?
Cause odds are,
we gonna lose somewhere, one time."


  1. Your post reminds me of the '60's... I was a big Harry Belafonte fan and Belafonte was a big supporter of SANE. I would attend concerts and the money always went to SANE. One time my dad said, "if you keep that up, your name is going to end up on some 'pinko list'. I suppose you are too young to remember this

    I can't believe how long the struggle has gone on. I have to admit until something like this happens with a reactor, I only think of nuclear energy as bad in terms of bombs, but obviously that is not true.

  2. This is an email my daughter received from her friend in Japan:

    Thank you for your e-mail.

    As you know, we had a huge earthquake yesterday. I could not stand at that time although Tokyo is very far from the main source.
    Fortunately, my family and I are doing well.

    But Tohoku area was completely broken. Big "Tsumani" (10m) killed almost 1000 people. Some villages disappeared. No people!

    We also had big problem. Two atomic power plant was broken. One of them bursted up a hours ago.

    It is hell!!

    But, I hope everything goes well.

    Thank you for your kind e-mail.
    We are fine.


  3. i'm afraid i must for the first time disagree heartily with you, ish.

    nuclear power is an extremely safe and renewable form of energy when it is used and maintained properly. all technology has inherent risks, and nuclear power is no different.

    however, we DO have enough known isotopic reserves to power the entire electrified world for THOUSANDS of years, with only an area the size of new mexico required to contain the byproducts safely and effectively.

    of course, the situation in japan is a huge tragedy, nuclear power issues or not. for comparison, imagine what could happen if an earthquake struck the hoover dam region?

    that being said, there is no reason research can't continue to make things even safer and easier to contain. i believe a few groups at my school are working on such things.

  4. i'm afraid i must for the first time disagree heartily with you, ish.

    The NERVE!!! :)

    But if Hoover Dam breaks, no matter what the immediate tragedy, they can fix it and people can go on living in the area. Isn't the potential for permanent disaster far greater with nuclear power? It's the what ifs that scare me.

  5. Listening to the 'news' this evening reminds me of the "adult voices" from the Peanut cartoons...

    There are so many choices available for alternative energy resources, but for me the real discussion should be focused on CONSUMPTION. Americans would prefer to choke to death before they should ever have to (god forbid) alter their greedy little desires. We are like a nation of spoiled children that what everything and they want it now.

    Waste, waste, waste. Nuclear energy should be considered when all else fails, but that presumes a conservative consumption plan.

    When you have "parents" that spend $10,000 to have a birthday rock-star party for an 8 year old, that includes a two block long Hummer limo.... you have to wonder?

    Sorry I'm at the end of my rope, somewhere along the way some people forgot where they laid their brains.....

  6. Well now that's really the issue isn't it Annie. People were so open to Obama's (bare minimal) talk of fuel alternatives during the election when gas was expensive. A little foresight might be useful...and an actual long-term plan.

    It's not that I think nuclear energy is immoral or anything, I just have safety concerns. But it's not gonna get fixed, and we're not going to stop relying on oil and coal, unless somebody has the courage to take that long view: proper research and homework, safe implementation.

  7. Here's another opinion from my high school friend about her brother, Mickey and his opinion of all this technology:

    "I am watching the news and talk of what to do with nuclear power plants. Mickey used to work for Atomics International (SNAP-10), got out of it because he thought it was dangerous. Got into manned space flight, got out of that because he thought we were going too fast. His last day was the day the 3 astronauts burned up on the ground in Apollo. Then he went to unmanned....put various detectors on planets or beyond"