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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 33 New Delhi August 6, 2016

The three stages of truth

Wednesday 10 August 2016, by S G Vombatkere

On my grandfather’s sixtieth birthday on July 16th, 1945, the atomic bomb was tested in the USA’s Nevada desert, and the world lost its nuclear innocence. Twentyone days later, on August 6th, the experiment was live-tested on Japanese people when the USA dropped a 15-kiloton Uranium-235 fission bomb on Hiroshima. The experiment was immediately hailed in The New York Times in an article titled, “Day of Atomic Energy Hailed by President, Revealing Weapon”, in which US President Truman said: “What has been done is the greatest achievement of organised science in history.” A second live-test was conducted three days later by dropping a 21-kiloton Plutonium-core bomb on Nagasaki. The NYT also reported on the hitherto secret July 16th test, writing: “... a group of eminent scientists gathered, frankly fearful to witness the results of the invention, which might turn out to be either the salvation or the Frankenstein’s monster of the world”.

The Frankenstein monster released on the “Day of atomic energy” lives and prospers in the intimate relationship between bombs and nuclear power, because weapons-grade Uranium-235 and Plutonium are products or by-products of the nuclear cycle vital for the operation of the nuclear power plants (NPPs). The NYT report provides justification to shift the discussion from experiments with bombs on people to the NPPs, which are essentially controlled nuclear experiments, though the nuclear industry has self-certified it as proven technology.

In experiments, things can and do go wrong. In NPPs, whatever the triggering factor for accidents, the real effects on public health and safety are hidden from the public by the secretive, government-protected nuclear industry. The Frankenstein monster bared its fearsome visage when the world witnessed accidents that could not be hidden from the public, at Windscale (UK), Three Mile Island (USA), Chernobyl (USSR) and Fukushima (Japan). When nuclear accidents cannot be hidden, the nuclear industry downplays their effects with outright falsehoods, equivocating statements and technical-political verbiage. All this even while nuclear power continues to be promoted as the best combination of safe-clean-cheap-reliable (SCCR) energy, with the additional advantage of carbon-emission reduction to mitigate global warming.

Nations with nuclear capability have enacted laws to provide a secrecy-screen to the nuclear industry, because of the legislators’ blind trust in esoteric science and technology. The secrecy-screen is required precisely because of the intimate link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. It makes the plans, projects and expenditures of the nuclear industry opaque to the public and law-makers alike. Thus the legislative body which legitimises nuclear secrecy effectively scores a self-goal. However, the nuclear industry selectively puts out information for public consumption, spends phenomenal funds on propaganda to advertise its SCCR-energy operations, and as part of the military-industrial complex, secretly builds nuclear weapons.

The truth of the matter

In 1948, US General Omar Bradley warned: “We live in a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants, in a world that has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. We have solved the mystery of the atom and forgotten the lessons of the Sermon on The Mount. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about dying than we know about living.”

But opposition to nuclear bombs and nuclear power has been expressed right from 1946 onwards, and the arguments have become more comprehensive, cogent and forceful with the passing years. This has developed into a school of thought and peaceful action which the ruling political class, under thrall of the nuclear industry, pejoratively dubs “anti-nuclear”. However, those who oppose nuclear bombs and nuclear power are primarily concerned with the problems of life, livelihood, health and safety of the present and future generations of human and non-human life, and thus are pro-life rather than anti-nuclear.

The impossibility of keeping the present and future generations safe from nuclear pollution (contamination) created in the past and continuing with increased vigour in the present, is a truth which the nuclear industry has consistently denied and ridiculed. The denial and ridicule is changing, especially in recent times, into violent opposition by the nuclear industry to those who articulate these truths and call for shutdown of the NPPs. This is happening worldwide and exemplified in India by violence in support of the nuclear industry, by the Tamil Nadu Police against peaceful opponents of the Kudankulam NPP by lathi-force, bullet-force, jailing protestors, and charging protestors with sedition and waging-war-against-the-state.

This brings to mind Arthur Schopenhauer’s words: “Any truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Clearly, the truth about the undesirability of nuclear power is in its second stage. Transition of the nuclear industry into the third stage of this truth may happen when the questionable economic viability of nuclear power and the hollowness of the SCCR claim become apparent to the next generation of proponents of nuclear power. Sooner rather than later, the public is sure to recognise the awful reality of the nuclear Frankenstein. As the world touches the 71st anniversary of the nuclear bomb and protests against the nuclear industry multiply, Nicholas Walter’s words are apt: “No one can tell when protest might become effective, and the present might suddenly turn into the future.”

Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired in 1996 as the Additional DG, Discipline and Vigilance in the Army HQ AG’s Branch. He is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). With over 490 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his current area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.