A Crate Full of Questions


My son is reorganizing his garage, turning it into usable work space. He’s doing a beautiful job, designing and building shelving units and cabinets. To make room for reorganization, he needed to move some stuff to a storage shed, but first the shed needed to be emptied. So he brought me several crates full of old papers to sort through.

Thanks, kid.

Paring the mass seemed easy at first, tossing stuff I should have tossed decades ago, like notes from college courses “Appreciation of the Dance,” and “Introduction to Linguistics.”  One crate stalled my progress, however.

At first I was tempted to tip the whole thing into a dumpster. After all, the information it contains is decades out-of-date. But glancing at file folder tabs made me remember why I started collecting this info: I wanted to do something to help this planet remain a good place to live. If I knew the information, maybe I could pass it along in entertaining stories that gave teens a grasp of the issue.

Of all the issues I could have chosen, for some reason I settled on the nuclear power industry and the cumulative radioactive contamination of our planet.

Dump the crate, right?The subject’s so dry.  The newsletters and magazine articles and notes are decades old, so far out-of-date that it’s probably worthless.  But, funny thing, the same week my son dropped off the crates, I saw a small article in the newspaper:

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is applying to be re-licensed.

You remember Diablo Canyon, don’t you?  The shiny new power plant with plans that did not meet the requirements set forth by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  But nuke honchos didn’t want to slow down development of nuke power, so the NRC changed their requirements so they could approve the plans for Diablo Canyon anyway.  And then geologists discovered a previously-undetected earthquake fault under the plant’s site, but they built it anyway?

Talk about out-of-date: the Diablo Canyon Nuke Plant is no longer new.  Its cooling pipes and structures have been subjected to extreme heat and high levels of radiation for decades.  And I betcha that earthquake fault is still there, because the one good thing about that fault is it hasn’t done much moving — so far. (Talk to the folks in Napa about that.)

So when I look at that crate full of old papers now, what I see is a crate full of questions.

How many pools full of spent fuel rods are sitting at Diablo Canyon? How close is it to the ocean? Are they hauling off high-level rad waste in trains that run through populated areas, across trestles with decaying supports? Are they burying waste in dumps that have already been leaking into the groundwater for years?  (I once read that every high level rad waste dump in the U.S. had problems with leaking, and that was years ago.)  Whatever happened to the whole SuperFund thing anyway?  How many of the sites on the list ever got cleaned up?  Or did those funds get diverted into a “Shock and Awe” fiasco that was supposed to make the world safe for democracy?

Right now I’m wondering why that place was named Diablo Canyon in the first place.  Did the early settlers who named it know something we forgot a long time ago?

About Deanne E. Gwinn

Writer: screenplays, fiction, poetry
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