What If Indian Point Melted Down?

The Atomic Genie is out of the bottle…What Now?

A Valuable Lesson from Japan

As Japan teeters on the brink of an unspeakable nuclear disaster, most Americans are going about their business and paying but scant attention. Even among those who are watching the tragic spectacle on TV few are saying “There but for the grace of God go I!”  Yet there but for the grace of the Gods go we.  Alas we have several nuclear plants which are vulnerable; virtual accidents waiting to happen. And none is more dangerous than the nuclear reactor at Indian Point, just 35 miles up the Hudson River from New York City.

I base my assessment of the danger posed by Indian Point on two incontestable facts: It is the oldest operating nuclear plant in the nation, and it is built above a geological fault that can produce an earthquake. of th  And it can happen at a moment’s notice!  This will no doubt come as a surprise to most New Yorkers, who believe we are on solid ground. Yet  a little shift in the Tectonic plates of the earth’s crust  and Indian Point can come melting down.  If that happened it would be necessary to evacuate New York City – and by some estimates it would be 8,000 years before we could return!

However the more immediate problem for New Yorkers would be surviving the evacuation.  Given what New York is – a highly populated urban area filled with strangers divided by class, race and ethnic antagonisms – and what Americans are – gun totin narcissistic individualist programmed to look out for number one, and cavalier or contemptuous of the public interests – it would be hard to imagine a greater nightmare.  Here is where we can learn the greatest lesson from the Japanese in their time of trial.  It is a representative anecdote that enlightens us about the Japanese concept of community.

The whole world marvels at the decorum of the Japanese people in the face of the multi-faceted disaster that has beset them.  Several days into this crisis there has been no sign of the kinds of anti-social dog eat dog  behavior which, I believe, would be commonplace elsewhere in the world; not the least of all here in New York City.

If we suddenly experienced an earthquake, and while still in a daze from the earth dancing under our feet as buildings crumble around us, we were told that the plant at Indian Point was in danger of melting down, I believe something akin to chaos will ensue. The Japanese are facing all of this, plus five newly reported outbreaks of Swine Flu, yet they are handling it stoically.

Grace in the Face Of Death

What, one wonders, is the source of the marvelous calm and respect for order displayed by the citizens of Japan?  From whence come the many displays of altruism and magnanimity we see?  It is summed up in a single word – Akatsuki which symbolizes a combination of intestinal fortitude, altruism and honor. This concept is drilled into Japanese citizens from the earliest age; it is a fundamental part of the socialization process.

It also accounts for their valor as soldiers and their excellence in the industrial arts. It is this idea that inspires a commitment to the defense of the nation that finds it’s highest expression in the Samurai and the Kamikaze. We are witnessing the deeply rooted values embodied in the word at work now; it is manifested in the disciplined way the Japanese people are calmly going about their lives, helping each other while remaining unfailingly courteous.  It is wondrous to watch; the essence of what I think of as civilization.  And we would do well to emulate it.



Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

March 17, 2011

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