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The Japan nuclear crisis should certainly be an urgent reminder of the need for nuclear accident preparedness, on both community and individual family level. I’ve written in this blog twice before about the generally sad and inadequate state of nuclear accident readiness prevalent in our country.

Here’s an article about a recent country-wide exercise in Sweden:

And here’s an article about what a family or individual can do to prepare and in the immediate aftermath of such a nuclear plant disaster, particularly if they live in the countryside:

A Sunday morning TV program today highlighted the continuing lack of spending and preparation for national disasters, on this 5th anniversary of Katrina. One study shows that disaster preparation costs 1/15th as much as disaster response, and that politicians who opt for spending on disaster readiness get no incremental votes, while those who spend on disaster response get a bump in voter support.

Yes, preparedness is boring, hard work, while disaster response is adrenaline-boosting, visceral, and I suppose, instantly gratifying.

If we realized how little preparedness there is in place for nuclear disaster, civilian accident or attack, we would be paranoid. Natural disaster planning, training and resource pre-placement is tokenism and minimal is most cases. I was a contingency planner in the Army years ago, and can attest to how marginally prepared we were then. Most of the planning was on paper, emergency supplies were out of date or missing, training was almost non-existent, staffing was embarrassingly minimal. As a young lieutenant, when I called these short-falls to the attention of superiors, they seemed shamed by having the subject raised, and only then allocated some new training and resources, and probably only for a short time.

Then there was the oil leak in the Gulf, demonstrating how an industry spent billions on technological development for deep-water oil drilling and again almost nothing on managing the potential for negative consequences of their exploitation of natural resources for private profit.

I suppose this tendency to bury our heads in the sand is related to the same psychology that results in lack of personal savings in our society, the greed of those who don’t look back at the consequences of their self-enrichment, and perhaps a decline in the very fiber of civilization that holds humanity together. What to do about it? How to turn these high risk trends around?

Take more personal responsibility for protecting our natural environment, protecting our built environment, supporting the social systems that are working or can be made to work to maintain social vitality. Reform government, beginning with term limits to encourage citizen politicians. Put a couple bucks in the bank for a rainy day, and keep some survival supplies in your home and car, and help your community prepare for the unthinkable, too.

Thinking about the unthinkable consequences of life on earth is the best way to preserve the quality of that life!

We (and Congress) find it incredible that BP and the copycat oil industry have vapid, empty crisis plans, and therefore they weren’t at all prepared for the Gulf spill at one mile down. Obviously, neither was our government, at any level, prepared. Well, just how prepared do you think government at all levels, or private industry, is to come to grips with a nuclear disaster, whether it is an accident or caused? I guess, not very ready, at all.

Are there practical plans for protecting people and things from needless contamination? Are there realistic plans to deal with social and business disruption, hungry and injured people and animals, financial stability, communications coordination, government continuity, command and control, and timely, passionate reparations? Are our institutions investing in nuclear safety to protect our society at a level commensurate with our production of nuclear weapons and use of current or future nuclear energy resources? No way.

Two small, but perhaps illustrative examples from my experience as an Army staff officer in the late 60s, when the country was perhaps more top-of-mind than now on nuclear threats (from nuclear energy plant accidents, nuclear material movements, and nuclear attack):

1) As an operations officer at the HQ for the Army War College, where students — mostly colonels designated as general officer candidates — held contingency positions as alternates for Department of Defense officials, I was assigned to overview nuclear survival contingencies for their families and other staff, if the alternates had to go underground to run the military. I found the shelters for these family members and others who could not dive into the hardened nuclear command shelters, were not well maintained, did not have the requisite up-to-date food, water, medical supplies, geiger counters, etc., needed to provide a modicum of survivability. How anxious would all those colonels be to abandon their families to an unprepared fate? When I made a fuss about it with my higher ups, they ordered the supplies and sent me to training to manage that survival plan.
2) The Army then sent me to special training at a classified location in Arizona to become a Public Affairs Officer for a military nuclear emergency team, one that would be prepared to respond to nuclear accidents or threats in the NE of the U.S. It was a good course, maybe a week or so of learning procedures, practices and simulations of responding to such an emergency. Our job would be to be the military liaison for dealing with public and press relations in such a disaster. But let me be honest, could a first lieutenant (however good I was) with a week’s special liaison training hardly be expected to be qualified and prepared to deal with the enormity of a BP-level public affairs disaster across a sixth of the country?

While I’ve read that some communities have practical and tested contingency plans for nuclear recovery, and I’m sure the federal government and states, and nuclear power companies do as well, as does the military, do you think they’d be any more effective than our governments and BP has been in managing the repercussions in the Gulf to date? It is a scary prospect.

Maybe it’s time to take all our contingency planning for major risks and disasters, at all levels, a lot more seriously than we have up to now, and stop copying old documents that might have been actionable at some time in the past. If the BP crisis motivates us to do that, we’ll gain something from this mess.

August 2022

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