01 December 2010

Propaganda, Nuclear Energy, and Pop Culture


I enjoy listening to the radio on the way to the office of Jews for Jesus in the mornings. And usually I'm tuned to FM103.2 in Sydney, listening to Aaron and Dan. Today was no exception and their comments about nuclear energy spawned this blog. I had already heard Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson talk about the proposal by some in the ALP to put nuclear energy on their conversational docket in their 2011 caucus.

The Brisbane Courier Mail reports this morning, "Prime Minister [Julia Gillard] is under pressure to put the divisive issue [nuclear energy] on next year's ALP national conference agenda with MPs claiming voters care more about rising power bills than gay marriage."

Several people are cited including WA former frontbencher Mark Bishop, MP Chris Hayes, and Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson who said "those advocating nuclear power had as much right to have the issue debated at the showcase event as those backing changes to gay marriage laws."

But back to Aaron and Dan. When they reported this news item, they immediately knocked back the idea of nuclear energy. Both readily admitted to being unaware of all the information and that they were not sure of all the issues. That said, they repeated what the media and pop culture had taught them. Aaron remembered Silkwood, the movie from 1983 starring Meryl Streep. (Info and photo below) and the associated nuclear problems there. And of course Chernobyl was brought up.

Then, and more significantly, the boys mentioned and dwelt on the Simpsons rendering of the problem of nuclear energy. Dan said he updated his Facebook page at that moment on the show with something about nuclear energy...three-eyed fish.

For those who don't know, for the last twenty years, millions of young people (and not-so-young) have daily watched how Homer Simpson, with a low IQ of 55 due to his hereditary "Simpson Gene”, his alcohol problem, repetitive cranial trauma, and a crayon lodged in the frontal lobe of his brain, performs his tasks in the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. This includes sleeping and snoring in front of a T-437 Safety Command Console. Homer is the Safety Inspector at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, where, even though we can see luminous rats, the disposal of waste in a children's playground, plutonium used as a paperweight, cracked cooling towers (fixed in one episode using a piece of chewing gum), skeletons in the basement, the creation of a mutant subspecies of three-eyed fish and even a giant spider, no severe accident has ever occurred.

Look, the debate is mammoth and deserves to take place, even on Australian soil, not from Hollywood and the propaganda machine there. (See my blog on Fair Game, the movie)
There are advantages in nuclear production. Nuclear power generation does emit relatively low amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2). The emissions of green house gases and therefore the contribution of nuclear power plants to global warming is therefore relatively little.
This technology is readily available, it does not have to be developed first.
It is possible to generate a high amount of electrical energy in one single plant.

That said, there are disadvantages abundant in nuclear energy production. The problem of radioactive waste is still an unsolved one. The waste from nuclear energy is dangerous and has to be carefully looked after for 10,000 years according to United States Environmental Protection Agency standards. (OK, this seems big)
Despite a generally high-security standard, accidents can still happen. It is technically impossible to build a plant with 100% security. (And yet we still produce cars and airplanes which continue to see accidents as well.)
Nuclear power plants as well as nuclear waste could be preferred targets for terrorist attacks. (But that hasn’t stopped us from building skyscrapers, nor should it)
Radioactive waste is produced, which in turn can be used for the production of nuclear weapons. (And yet, people, not guns, kill people)
The energy source for nuclear energy is Uranium. Uranium is a scarce resource, its supply is estimated to last only for the next 30 to 60 years depending on the actual demand.
To build a nuclear power plant takes 20 years. (OK, if we had built one in 1990 we could be using it now)

You see, there are arguments and counterarguments.

This site is useful. Library website

Currently nuclear energy provides 16% of the world's electricity.

What I find fascinating though is the power of pop culture to enter and almost outweigh the real debaters before the debate occurs. Let's honestly discuss matters. Let's put cartoons and cartoonists into proper perspective.

Mr Ferguson said, "Healthy and constructive debate on a range of policy issues has always been good for the party." I believe it's good for the country and for the world to enter into serious debate about this, and not let propaganda outstrip sense and sensibility.





For more information:
In 1983, a movie came out starring Meryl Streep. The name: Silkwood. IMDb reports "Fairly accurate recounting of the story of Karen Silkwood, the Oklahoma nuclear-plant worker who blew the whistle on dangerous practices at the Kerr-McGee plant and who died under circumstances which are still under debate.... On November 13, 1974, Karen Silkwood, an employee of a nuclear facility, left to meet with a reporter from the New York Times. She never got there."

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