It was terrible what happened about a week ago in Japan, far beyond what I might be able to write in these pages. But the awesome and terrible destruction of the earthquake and tsunami has been eclipsed by the events at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
At this point, accounts vary as to the actual status there. Some reports suggest that the situation is very nearly under control. But most of the news reports are vague and ominous. We’re hearing from the US government how terrible things are: how would they know from 7000 miles away?
So I ask myself: what would I do if I lived in Tokyo?
At this point, from what I can tell, life in Tokyo has mostly returned to normal: the lights are on, the trains are running, and most people have managed to clean up their respective messes left by the earthquake. The only problem is that background radiation is several times normal, as a result of the problems at the nuclear plant.
Do I stay or do I go?
Maybe, as a foreigner there, I might have had a bellyful of the place and want to leave. I can’t blame the foreigners in Japan who decide to leave as a result of what happened, nor their respective governments for advising their citizens to leave. And if I were there as a visitor, unless I had a really compelling reason to stay, I might leave too.
But what if I were Japanese, having spent much of my life in Tokyo, as, in real life, I’ve spent most of my life in New York City?
Some conservative commentators have noted that small amounts of radiation are not as damaging as the regulations might suggest. For my part, I note that there are parts of the world where background radioactivity is 50-70 times higher than in most of the rest of the world. (Tokyo is still far below this level.) People live there, have children, and go about their lives, with no apparent ill effects.
So while I believe I’d be nervous, and following what was happening closely, I think I’d stay put.
Meanwhile, back on our side of the world, our new governor has called for the closing of the Indian Point nuclear power plant a short distance north of New York City. It’s a charming thought, except for one minor detail: we barely have enough power plants to carry the load, and Indian Point generates about 20% of the electricity used in New York State. If we close it, what will replace it?
And what would I do, as a New York City resident, if Indian Point experienced the same kinds of problems as Fukushima Dai-ichi?
Well, the city is far enough from Indian Point that there probably wouldn’t be a mandatory evacuation here. But, on further consideration, it isn’t the radiation that would really worry me.
The response of my fellow New Yorkers is far more frightening.