Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Open Letter to My Congressman, Brian Bilbray, California District 50

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.  — Buckminster Fuller

Dear Mr. Bilbray,

As a father and grandfather, you take pride in the responsibility of protecting your children and grandchildren from harm.  I assume you would never do anything to put your loved ones at unnecessary risk.  By the same token, as a U.S. Congressman, you take pride in protecting your constituents from harm.  I trust you would never knowingly do anything that would put us at risk.

I also trust, therefore, you want to be aware of the consequences of ignoring threats to the lives and health of your constituents.  You would not wish to mislead us with regard to facts that may put us at risk, knowing that the best protection is prevention.  Thus, I am sure you, as a guardian of our security, would want to be aware of any realities that might concern our health and safety.  Certainly, you would never dismiss such concerns with foolish bravado.

In your response to my concerns regarding nuclear power, however, you said the following about the San Onofre nuclear power plant: “...the seawall created to repel tsunamis in San Onofre measures 30 feet high compared to the one protecting the power plant in Japan that was only 10 feet high.”  Mr. Bilbray, with all due respect, that statement is just plain wrong. First, Japan’s seawalls were 10 meters high, not feet; that’s almost 33 feet for Japan’s seawalls; yet such seawalls were not high enough to withstand the tsunami that hit Japan, which was estimated by some at approximately 23 meters—76 feet high.*

Furthermore, according to Gil Alexander, a spokesman for the San Onofre plant's operator, Southern California Edison, the seawall at San Onofre is 25 feet —not 30 feet**, as you stated in your response— and so, clearly, it is an inadequate barrier, given the reality of tsunami science.  You also did not mention that the San Onofre plant was designed to withstand a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, while the quake that hit Japan was a 9.0 quake. Nor did you mention that the plant in San Onofre was built 42 years ago, or that the geological fault most likely to directly threaten San Onofre lies about 5 miles offshore.





Sir, given the facts of Japan’s nuclear disaster —including the underestimation by nuclear engineers of the hazards and potential for catastrophe, as well as the deadly pollution of plutonium, radioactive iodine and cesium now contaminating Japan itself— and given the scientific facts, from the toxic pollution of uranium mining to that of spent fuel storage, your statement, “Nuclear power is an essential part of our domestic, clean energy mix” seems breathtakingly blind to reality.  Nuclear power cannot in any way be rationalized as a part of a “clean energy mix.”  There is nothing clean about it. To think otherwise is simply to ignore scientific fact:

“...What's to be done with 52,000 tons (47,174 metric tons) of dangerously radioactive spent fuel from commercial and defense nuclear reactors? With 91 million gallons (344.5 million liters) of high-level waste left over from plutonium processing, scores of tons of plutonium, more than half a million tons (453,592 metric tons) of depleted uranium, millions of cubic feet of contaminated tools, metal scraps, clothing, oils, solvents, and other waste? And with some 265 million tons (240 million metric tons) of tailings from milling uranium ore—less than half stabilized—littering landscapes?”

You also said, “Nuclear generated electricity avoids almost 650 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year in the United States.” This is may be true; however, the argument is a red herring—the proper comparison is between nuclear energy and green, 21st century, renewable energy, such as solar and wind technologies. These technologies will avoid both the deadly pollution of dirty nuclear and dirty coal. 

Clearly, what we need to do, if we are to survive and progress as a species, is to do as Buckminster Fuller advised—leave 19th and 20th century energy technologies behind, and move forward toward 21st century energy technologies.

You said, “I believe that believe that science, not fear should drive our energy policy and our environmental policy.”  I would respectfully suggest that “science” can be used to promote most any position one cares to support; to assume that the opposition to nuclear power is not based on science is plainly incorrect.  Fear, as well, can be used as a motivator, as we have seen with regard to the “war on terrorism;” even though the threat to human life and security posed by nuclear power is every bit as real as the threat of Al Queda, it is downplayed. This begs a serious and valid question—who is more irrationally fearful, the citzen who objects to living near a nuclear power plant with the potential to render an entire city uninhabitable for hundreds, if not thousands, of years; or powerful entities who fear the consequence of losing profit should nuclear power be phased out?

In summing up, your response said, “I look forward to the full report on the Fukushima Daiichi Plant disaster so that we can ensure that all current and future nuclear power plants are as safe as possible.”

Mr. Bilbray, if what we already know about the disaster in Japan is not enough to begin phasing out nuclear power —specifically in your district, the San Onofre plant, which was built long ago near two earthquake faults— no further information, no disaster will ever be enough for you.

I cannot fathom why you would want to mislead your constituents on this serious issue, but the fact remains: Your response to my concerns was false and misleading. 

Please take seriously your responsibility as a guardian of our environmental and energy security and do the right thing—act now to remove the threat of nuclear energy.  It is neither safe, nor clean, nor economically viable into the 21st century.

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