The Half-Life of Half-Truths: San Onofre, Memento Mori!

I would not presume to review the science or even explain the specifics of the regulatory tar baby that, thankfully, seems to have caught up So Cal Edison in its lies and obfuscations, stubborn insistence on the viability of SONGS. Read Nick Schou and other OC Weekly reporters for that. Mine is a political and, well, poetical response, a chance to consider the place of those two "units" in the life of the mind, psyche, not to mention physical experience of the Bibliofella.

Last Friday, when the decommissioning of San Onofre was announced, reminded me of my phone call to the late Jeanie Bernstein upon the arrest in London of the war criminal Pinochet of Chile some years back. I needed someone with whom to gloat, weep in joy, rant, holler and laugh. Alas, Jeanie, a co-founder of the anti-nuke organization Alliance for Survival, did not live to see last Friday. So I will share with you my gloating and weeping, since most coverage of and commentary on this life-saving decision has mostly focused on the presumed "cost" of non-nuclear energy instead of celebrating what is a huge victory for consumers, environmentalists, citizens, not to mention posterity.

The late David Brower, Sierra Club leader and founder of so many enviro groups, famously offered his "CPR" for our otherwise doomed planet: conservation, preservation and--the one easiest to forget and perhaps hardest to imagine--restoration. For me just now, restoration means restoring some kind of loud truth to the discussion, as it were, of a dangerous technology, so big, to mess with Goebbels' famous quote about the big lie, that the bigger it becomes, the more people believe it. Or, worse, come to live with it, those big concrete containment domes, warning sirens, messed-up ocean environment and low-level radiation leakage.

Dan at SONGS
Dan at SONGS

One part of the lie, the crack, the leak that's been revealed, and the resulting escape of some truth must surely be the most exciting, scary, hopeful section of the narrative just now. Friends, nuke plants can be shut down. In all kinds of ways, and with the help of the usually lax Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the intervention of a liberal US Senator. So, yes, I am feeling both comforted and sustained by ghosts, affirmed by prophets, and happy to celebrate with Dan Hirsch, of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, who has been fighting SONGS since before it went online. Imagine that. Dear Dan Hirsch: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Signed, The Future.

Indeed, many hundreds, perhaps thousands, have watched him, joined him, stood outside the plant with our signs, rallied at the nearby parks and beaches, spoken to city councils and state agencies, tried to talk back to the industry and the NRC for decades. More personally, almost physiologically, we have made the tumorous growth stuck on our formerly Edenic coastline parts of our own bodies, trying to excise, remove, and disturb it out of existence. Driving by it, surfing Old Man's, worrying about it in dreams, answering people's question about "What are those weird domes?"

I am this morning thinking of others, including activist and film maker Paul Jacobs, who died of cancer while making his groundbreaking documentary, Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang. Wow, I am really feeling some serious solidarity for the dead this morning. Memento mori. Ask not for whom the blog tolls. I saw that award-winning documentary, made by Saul Landau and shot by Haskell Wexler, a very long time ago. I was young! I went to Survival Sunday rallies and on marches. Stood in vigils outside the plant. Read and heard Helen Caldicott herself, and followed the analysis of activist-

scientist nun Rosalie Bertell. Shook hands with the hibakusha, survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who visited Southern California, and walked with the orange-clad Japanese monks chanting and beating their drums, and the priests and old people and hippies and punks and students and Jeanie Bernstein and her late companion, Dr. Peter Carr of Cal State Long Beach.

All of which is to say that the closure, the eventual decommissioning of just one stupid old nuke is maybe not worth a hill of radioactive beans in this crazy old world. There are lots more to go, and by that I mean go already. But I will take the good news, and happily. And share it with you. No nukes, already! David Brower saw a future where we could reclaim and restore and recreate the despoiled, poisoned, nuked landscape of our world. Maybe replant and repurpose. Re-imagining is hard, and requires concentration and a very long game plan. That means we have plenty of time to learn, to read.

"Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang" (DVD), Jack Willis and Saul Landau, distributed by Round World Productions, 1980.

The Wildness Within: Remembering David Brower, Kenneth Brower, Heyday, 320 pgs, $20,00 Half Lives and Half Truths: Confronting the Radioactive Legacies of the Cold War, School for Advanced Research Press, 336 pgs., $25.00 No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth, Rosalie Bertell, Book Pub Co, 438 pgs., Out of print. Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy, Philip L. Fradkin, Johnson Books, 336 pgs., $17.50 Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Shadow of Rocky Flats, Kisten Iversen, Crown, 416 pgs., $25

Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.

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