Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “earthquake”

San Onofre Nuclear Shutdown – A Medium-Sized Victory – Tom Rossi

It was announced this week that the nuclear power plant at San Onofre, California (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, or SONGS) would be permanently shut down. Finally. But this was not really a victory for what I’ll call the “anti-really-obviously-stupid-nuclear” movement. And I’ll tell you why.

SONGS should never have been built. Its first reactor came on line in 1968. It wasn’t known, at the time of its construction, that the site was almost directly atop a fault line, but what was known? It was well known that California was the home of thousands of fault lines, even if some of those are fairly short.

What’s important is that geologists knew that they didn’t know about all of California’s faults. They knew that it was likely that many more than were known at that time would be discovered in the coming decades. They were right.

San Onofre, like pretty much anywhere in California, was an idiotically dangerous place to build a nuclear power plant. But that wasn’t the only issue.

Nuclear power plants have limited lifespans. This is due to both the inevitable seepage of radiation (and its effects) into various parts of the mechanisms of the plant, and to the fact that tiny flaws due to vibration (as was the case in San Onofre) make the first problem worse and also cause general deterioration that is incredibly difficult and expensive to fix. Mainly because of these problems, the risk of a radioactive leak or release increases with time.

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So, nuclear power plants typically are only in operation for around 40 years anyway. As a whole, SONGS had outlived that, even though its second and third reactors had only been on line for about 30 years.

And, in fact, each of the reactors at SONGS had problems. Activists are claiming victory, and I wish it were so, but SONGS has succumbed not to political pressure nearly as much as decay and economics. And the victory gets even more hollow…

The news coverage of the closing of SONGS has been sparse and, as usual, somewhat dominated by the nuclear industry’s PR messages. And while some anti-nuclear activists are celebrating, continued industry control over the media may tell us which way the wind still blows.

Today, almost every story on SONGS is about how many jobs will be lost and how much it will cost to decommission the plant. That’s how dirty businesses are defended, now – they provide jobs. I guess we never should have shut down asbestos production. Think of all the jobs we could have saved!

And the cost of decommissioning any nuclear power plant is almost completely predictable and has to be figured into the total cost-benefit analysis of a nuclear power plant project. Decommissioning cost is part of the reason that nuclear power is an economic failure (a predictable one) as well as a hazard to both human and ecological health.

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I pay close attention to corporate influence on the media. It’s visible pretty much everywhere, but often, so is the backlash. Other people who pay attention make lots of noise and usually get some media attention themselves when the media show bias toward war profiteers or oil companies, for example. But the nuclear industry dominates the media much more thoroughly. They act pre-emptively in planting their messages on networks like PBS (on the completely pro-energy-industy program “Need to Know” for example) and the other “mainstream” channels.

It doesn’t bother me so much that some people are pro-nuclear. Some of them are actually real environmentalists that have been convinced that nuclear is a solution to carbon emission and, therefore, climate change. But in the media, there is no debate. That’s because the anti-nuclear side has no money with which to sponsor television programming. The grass-roots movement is still very strong, but the nuclear industry fights top-down.

These days, I always hear about new reactor designs that will be the greatest things since sliced bread – with much less radioactive waste and so forth. I asked famously converted “climate skeptic” and physicist at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore Labs, Richard Muller (who is a really nice guy, by the way) what he thought about these new reactor designs, and he said, “Well, they look good on paper.” Interesting response.

One thing I’m sure of is that the crop of older nuclear plants that are still in operation need to be shut down. Any old excuse will do just fine, but shut them down, soon. They are all old and the risk of an accident is increasing, as are stockpiles of radioactive waste.

The closing of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is certainly something to celebrate. But don’t sound the victory gong just yet. We have a long and difficult battle ahead if we want to slow down the energy-addiction-justified poisoning of our planet… and ourselves.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Nuclear Power – Really?

So there I was, having drinks with some friends, and telling them about my recent blog posts regarding Germany’s decision to stop using nuclear power and the role of Chancellor Angela Merkel. I threw out the comment: “how many nuclear power disasters will it take until we give it up as an energy source?”

A friend’s boyfriend turned round and remarked: “And how many earthquakes do you need before you move your family out of the Bay Area?”

Cutting. Incisive. And I was just about to offer to buy him a drink.

1989 Bay Bridge split by earthquake

Now, the validity of his point notwithstanding, I think there is a huge difference between natural and man-made disasters. In my radical teenage years, my friends and I planned to disrupt the movement of nuclear waste through the English countryside. I remember one woman asking how we would feel if we did something that created a radioactive leakage right there in the village where the demonstration was planned? I probably wouldn’t have bought her a drink either, even if I was underage back then.

The LA Times recently published the transcripts of a Q&A with Elmer E. Lewis, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University. Professor Lewis has authored two textbooks on nuclear power, answered questions regarding the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the damage and consequences on the environment. He has conducted considerable research on the physics, safety and reliability of nuclear systems.

Professor Lewis

“The combination of an earthquake of unprecedented intensity followed immediately by a tsunami of historical proportions in Japan has resulted in the most serious nuclear reactor accidents in decades,” Professor Lewis said. “Understandably, the uncertainty associated with the further progression of the partial melting of the reactor cores has engendered a great deal of psychological trauma as well as media attention.

“However, it appears that loss of life to the public — if any — caused by the radiation releases from these accidents will be minuscule when compared to the thousands of deaths caused by the earthquake and tsunami.”

You can click on the LA Times link to read the entire transcript. While I don’t want to take Professor Lewis out of context – he is an academic researcher, not an emotional, frustrated blogger – I am mystified enough to write a few posts about nuclear power. I do plan to move from there to alternative sources because I don’t subscribe to the naysayers when they do not provide alternative solutions.

As I read the transcript, I became increasingly lost in the technical side of it. But then one caller’s comment (identified as Morgan) stood out. “From the beginning of this disaster the Japanese government and the plant operators have been quoted as saying there is little risk of the situation becoming more critical, and yet that’s what has been happening with each passing day. It makes it difficult to trust anything they say, as it seems they’re not being up front with the public about the present situation. These kinds of events call for complete transparency. This is part of the reason for the rising public distrust over nuclear power.”

Too cool not to use!

I also have no intention of leaving the Bay Area despite the reality that at some point in my lifetime I will probably have to deal with an earthquake. I just hope we know where the ‘off” switch is at the nuclear plants when the earth moves.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

When Leaders Become Human

On Friday I wrote about the decision by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government to rescind a recent decision to develop their nuclear power policy and instead to wean their country from such a dangerous source of energy. This U-turn was made in the wake of Japan’s crippling nuclear crises following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

My blog post soon went on to talk about the issue of nuclear power, but lost in there was the recognition of a leader who, upon seeing factors that would change her decision, decided to come out and admit that her previous decision was wrong.

I want to applaud such action and suggest that, far from suggesting that this illustrates weakness, such a leader shows credibility and a clear desire to put the welfare of her country above all.

My wife tells of how she hardly knew anything of President Clinton prior to his election victory (she was living overseas). She watched a press conference on his first day. When asked about a specific issue of foreign policy, he turned to the reporter and admitted that he didn’t know enough on the issue to discuss it. He promised to prep and have an answer ready.

You don't need to know everything if you can play the sax!

The right-wing press enjoyed using this to suggest that he wasn’t prepared to be President. My wife, on the other hand, tells how she was impressed by his honesty.

A leader doesn’t have to get it right all the time. S/he should be able to assess  new factors and change direction just as a ship’s captain changes his route when the weather conditions dictate. Most impressive is that extra ounce of courage needed to admit it to the public and expose yourself to the media sharks.

A tip of the hat to you, Chancellor Merkel.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Don’t Let The Extremists Control The Agenda

I recently shared my optimism that with the various demonstrations and upheavals in the Middle East, and specifically in Gaza and the West Bank, we were nearing a stage whereby the moderate Palestinians and Israelis were moving closer towards a shared agenda of a sustainable peace treaty.

Tragically, terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Itamar, multiple launches of bombs from Gaza towards populated areas of Israel and the anticipated military response of Israel, suddenly makes my blog post look, at best, wildly optimistic.

Anti-missile protection deployed for the city of Beersheva

But this is where we need to step back and gain perspective. Why did Palestinian extremists decide to up the ante now? Did they think the world wasn’t distracted enough by the upheaval in the Middle East, or the natural and nuclear catastrophe in Japan? Hardly makes any sense.

Perhaps they actually felt threatened by the peaceful demonstrations in their own backyard? Faced with the possibility that the majority of people, Palestinian and Israeli, were calling for a diplomatic solution, these extremists decided that the best way to prevent such progress was to blow it up in their faces – literally. They could count on cooperation from the Israeli right, who would immediately demand revenge and retribution.

It is easier to destroy than build bridges of peace and trust. It takes a single spark to ignite the powder keg that is the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Many say that when there is violence, we should be strong and not talk peace. I admit that I have felt this way in the past. But however painful it is when we see the pictures of victims, this is precisely the time to understand that there can only be one sustainable solution to the conflict. This must be the assertion of the moderates on both sides – that they will not tolerate their leaders straying from paths that will bring us closer to a permanent peace.

Egypt & Israel sign a peace treaty

Now more than ever, we need to be out in the streets, banging the drums of peace.

IT CAN BE ACHIEVED!

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

72 Hours

Every year when I am volunteering in New Orleans, I vow to prepare my family for a disaster scenario. Living in California, we are threatened by earthquakes, and now superstorms.

72hours.org is a no nonsense guide to prepare your family in the eventuality of a natural disaster. I don’t really have much to add other than … well, read it now because we might not have the Internet after it happens.

Are you prepared for the big one?

Or for those aliens from outer space?


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

 

 

Potential Natural Disaster in California

More than a hundred scientists joined their research together to bring us the news that California might be facing the threat of a massive “superstorm” that could destroy one-quarter of the state’s housing. Now I wouldn’t usually pay this much attention, except that when I heard about it, I was in New Orleans helping to rebuild a community center in the Lower Ninth Ward, the parish that had been particularly damaged by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the ineffective levees.

It makes you think.

When we are volunteering on the Gulf, every year someone asks why would these people want to move back after what happened to them might happen again? I reflect on who are we to talk – coming from the land of the earthquake and now the super flood! As the video below show – it has happened before.

A second reason why I feel a need to bring it to your attention are the amazing photos of similar such storms.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

Last Year, Same Story

At this time last year, I shared with you a passage from the 2nd chapter of Unwanted Heroes. Twelve months later, I am back in New Orleans with a new group of students, and I continue to be astonished by the connection between San Francisco and New Orleans. It is not surprising that so many people gravitate between the two cities. Each have their own unique architecture, music, culture, food…

And yet when I talk with people here there is something familiar, something connecting. I wonder whether the wound on the urban psyche inflicted by the Hurricane on the Gulf Coast, and the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco has anything to do with it? The knowledge that while we build and rebuild, everything is fragile. New Orleans and San Francisco share the knowledge that everything we hold dear in our fair cities could be destroyed…again.

New Orleans will rebuild and regenerate. San Francisco will continue to help, sending groups like our students and other means of help. We do it because of who we are, because of all we share. We do it because of the counter culture, the passion and the mystique. We don’t do it because we think one day we might need the help reciprocated. We do it because while so much is different, what binds us is even stronger.

The Fog Rolls In – takes place in a coffee shop in the financial district of San Francisco. It is told by a young and empathetic barista.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

California Dreaming.

I’m here in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Every year a student asks: “Why would the residents return home under the threat that the Katrina episode could get repeated.

Last year, one of the staff (from the East Coast) responded by asking how can we live in San Francisco under threat of an earthquake. Fair point. But now we have more to worry about.

Superstorm predicted in California.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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