A week after the “Nuclear Reaction” party ended at University of Chicago, and the dusty fallout from the artsy multi-colored mushroom cloud simulation settled to the Earth, producer Libbe
HaLevy’s Nuclear Hotseat show took the University to task for its infomercial promoting nuclear power:
To observe the 75th anniversary of the Nuclear Age on Dec. 2, University of Chicago brought in such energy luminaries as former DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz and Exelon CEO Chris Crane ostensibly to acknowledge the great scientific achievement of the splitting of the atom. What was presented sounded more like an advertisement for more nuclear, new nuclear, and forget about any of those dark consequences – like Chornobyl and Fukushima, the Rio Puerco uranium tailings spill, Mayak, and of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki
NEIS also made plans to observe this anniversary, and used it to proclaim, “The Nuclear Age is over. We are now entering the Age of Decommissioning, where responsible adults recognize we now have to clean up the nuclear messes of the past 75 years,” according to NEIS’ director, Dave Kraft. NEIS planned a week of events to provide a counterpoint to the over-congratulatory mood of the University of Chicago events.
To balance the University’s anticipated nuclear-kumbaya messaging NEIS conducted programs throughout the week with nuclear
engineer and former nuclear power vice-president Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education of Vermont; Dr. Norma Field, professor emeritus at University of Chicago Dept. of East Asian Studies; and Dr. Yuki Miyamoto, professor of ethics at DePaul University Dept. of Religious Studies, and second-generation Hiroshima survivor. And to make sure the events and messages were not lost, NEIS brought in Libbe HaLevy, producer of Nuclear Hotseat, and a Three Mile Island survivor.
The main speaking event took place at DePaul University on Dec. 2, the actual 75th anniversary day. Throughout the week Gundersen and Dr. Field were taped at the studios of CAN-TV, Chicago’s cable access TV station, on the topic of “Where are the People? – A look at the human toll of the Nuclear Age from Fermi to Fukushima.” Both were also interviewed by Jerome McDonnell of WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s “WorldView” show, speaking on “The End of the Nuclear Age: Where are the People?” Gundersen did a final presentation on why NOT nuclear power in a climate disrupted world on Sunday, Dec. 3rd at the 3rd Unitarian Church of Chicago, which was taped by four radio outlets.
The University’s first Nuclear Reaction panel of the day: “The Role of Nuclear Energy in a Climate Constrained World,” included Exelon CEO Chris Crain and University economics professor Michael Greenstone, and was moderated by former WBEZ Odyssey show host Gretchen Helfrich. Regrettably, the moderator never had the participants describe what a “climate constrained world” was and what it would look like, let alone question whether nuclear power could function in it, before allowing the panelists to assert their pre-determined conclusion without sufficient evidence that nuclear power was essential in some form moving forward. While both conceded new nuclear power was too exorbitantly expensive to be a significant player in any kind of future world, let alone a climate disrupted one, both argued for the continuation of present nuclear plants even if running at financial loss.
These and other assertions were challenged during the brief question and answer period by NEIS/Sierra Club member Steven Sondheim, and NEIS Board President Gail Snyder. Snyder’s question was perhaps the blockbuster that addressed the nuclear Emperor’s most significant wardrobe problem:
“Mr. Crain you had mentioned merging economic and environmental policy, and Mr. Greenstone, you had mentioned the challenge of how to compensate people, and for some people to ‘take the hit’ for technology. I haven’t heard either of you address nuclear accidents. I haven’t heard Fukushima being brought up, or Chernobyl, or the impacts of uranium mining on American Indian communities. So, I’d like to know where the negative impact of nuclear power fits into the calculus of how energy should be chosen?…It really is being excluded from this argument of carbon, and one can’t talk about energy being clean, and base it only on carbon without talking about these extremely negative impacts when nuclear goes wrong.”
The day’s second panel, “The Role of Nuclear Weapons in the Modern World,” left Drs. Norma Field and Yuki Miyamoto aghast. Coupled with the gayly colored mushroom cloud unleashed over the University the next day on Saturday, Dec 2 – the actual 75th
anniversary day – Dr. Field commented in frustration, “I’m stricken with the thought that we educators have failed in getting out the word that it is truly inadequate to keep looking at these clouds from the side–what happened underneath?!”
It was later learned that a die-in protest had actually taken place during this art event, and that the University had somehow repressed it. Students lay motionless on the ground in front of the world famous Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang as his colored mushroom cloud was detonated above the crowd. Said India Weston, a transmedia performance artist and protest organizer: “A lot of the [University’s] events have been contradictory to one another and primarily frame things in more of a positive light than not,…and yet, there’s no sort of threshold of acceptable nuclear energy exposure.”
She continued, “The University website claims that the cloud would dissipate harmlessly after about a minute, but that’s just not how radiation works,” Weston added. “It’s a geo-trauma that affects us all and will for generations and generations. So I was hoping to make more visible the all-too-invisible effects of radiation on the human body.”
The following day on Saturday, Dec. 2nd, NEIS co-sponsored an event with Dr. Yuki Miyamoto and the Department of Religious Study at DePaul University titled, “Where are the People? – A look at the human toll of the Nuclear Age from Fermi to Fukushima.” Guest speakers Arnie Gundersen and Dr. Field spoke and answered questions for over 2-1/2 hours on the regularly absent question of the negative effects of the Nuclear Age on people across the globe.
[NOTE: This program at DePaul, and a second in-studio TV interview with Gundersen and Dr. Field were both taped by Chicago’s premiere community public television station, CAN-TV. Both will be posted online within the next week. The URLs will be posted on the NEIS website. We thank CAN-TV for its exceptional dedication to true community access television service. – NEIS].
In wrapping up her coverage of the week’s events, Libbe HaLevy asked NEIS director Dave Kraft for his impression of the University of Chicago’s Nuclear Reaction events (which she later described as a “bubble-babble”):
“It’s probably one of the most intellectually dishonest symposiums I’ve ever seen at an institution of higher learning. It was nothing but a propaganda statement for the nuclear industry, which is desperately trying to stay alive, and is marshaling all its allies in academia, government and the military to put across this false notion that, somehow, nuclear power is going to make our grid more reliable, where the evidence points to the contrary.”
And so, as the Nuclear Age ends as it began – in secrecy, selective truth and memory, and unrealistic expectations — the Age of Decommissioning is born. ■