Matters of Opinion

Can you smell the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant?

odorOn almost any given week there’s a demonstration protesting the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant. Or should I say, yet another demonstration protesting the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant? It’s not that I’ve got anything particularly exciting lined up as an alternative. There’s a Red Sox game but they’re already on the slide. And, the lawn to mow. It’s not that I don’t know how dangerous Pilgrim is. Over-capacity storage of nuclear waste. The same age and model as Fukushima. A sitting duck in the path of a hurricane with no escape route.

Listen Now.

smellsSo why does an afternoon of weeding seem preferable to expressing my outrage about a real and present danger? Some call it disaster fatigue, so many things, the Marathon bombing, genocide in Syria, hit us everyday so that we can’t possibly focus.  Psychologists posit that our brains constantly protect us from the dangers that surround us.” Or as T.S. Eliot put it, “humankind cannot bear too much reality.”

The only thing I can come up with is that the dangers of Pilgrim aren’t real. That is, they’re not in my face. Pilgrim doesn’t look like a disaster waiting to happen, it looks like an old warehouse. It may be leaking lethal radiation but I can’t see it, I can’t smell it, or hear it; so it’s very simple to dismiss.

Which got me to thinking about propane, you know, the gas that fuels grills that really stinks. Except that it doesn’t.

Propane is actually an odorless but deadly gas to which a chemical is added to give it that noxious smell. The additive is called skunk gas, and it’s there so if you smell it you know something’s wrong and you have to act fast.

Without the skunk gas, propane is a lot like radiation, and the Pilgrim plant itself, inconspicuous and deadly. But maybe it shouldn’t be. I’m not in the law-making business, but it would seem to me that a nuclear power plant is at least as dangerous as a front-end loader, and OSHA requires them to make that horrible beeping noise when backing up. It’s called a “reverse signal alarm” and the more danger you’re in, the louder it gets. So why not power plants?

Obviously the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not interested in closing them, so why can’t some other part of the government require them to smell, or sound, or look as dangerous as they are? What if the more dangerous Pilgrim became, say, the more radiation it was leaking, the more it had to emit a noxious smell.

Decaying carcasses and rotten eggs are the model for skunk gas but everyone has their own stink limits. For my own part I suggest the cheap perfume they spray on you in department stores. Liz Claiborne Curve Crush. Or Chloe Chloe. I’m already starting to gag. Tell me that if the air you breathe started to smell like Calvin Klein Eternity you would not put on your gas mask, pick up a picket sign, and get over the bridge to protest. Immediately.

And what if there was a sound tied to the amount of stored nuclear waste, a law that spent fuel rods had to emit a signal alarm, and the more spent fuel rods the louder it got. Last year researchers in England published a list of the ten sounds deemed most unpleasant to the human brain. Noises like an electric drill, a baby crying, finger nails on a black board, squealing bicycle brakes. I have no idea how OSHA came up with the back-up beep, but you get the picture.

For me it would be an endless loop of Paul McCartney singing Wonderful Christmas Time. I don’t know if that song has actually caused holiday suicides but I do know that if played loud enough and long enough it would get me to a protest rally.

What would illustrate a nuclear disaster? The black smoke that pours out of coal-fired power plants makes air pollution look very evident but what would visually represent the danger at Pilgrim? We’ve all seen the coverage of Fukushima. But the more we see it, the more we tune it out.

I was thinking about the bat signal that the Gotham City police Department beamed into the sky when they needed help from Batman? I think I’d replace it with that painting by Edvart Moonk, The Scream, and broadcast all across the Cape Cod sky. Because that’s just what we’ll be doing if, and when, finally Pilgrim blows.

I don’t know what would push your buttons. All I do know is that, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Frederick Douglass said that a century and a half ago. He was talking about slavery, but it could just as well have been a potential meltdown at Pilgrim.

I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.