Do we really need all this energy, at whatever cost? Do we really have no other choice but keeping up with such rhythms of production (only slightly tempered on the global scale by the past semesters’ recession)? Couldn’t we live at slightly lower levels of industrial output? Are all these goods what really makes us happy, and ultimately safe? Or rather, shouldn’t we admit that we are just caught in the midst of an uncontrollable fever that only makes us walk on, like brainless, endlessly repeating robots, or puppets hypnotized into producing more, owning more, wanting more, and more, and more all the time?
The immense tragedy that Japan is enduring these days is a double disaster: a horrible, unprecedented natural one, that fills us all with grief, but that in the end we can do nothing but submit to and accept; and a manmade one, with a situation that seems to grow worse and worse as hours go by at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Something way beyond expectations happened, many keep saying. The reactors were perfectly able to cope with a magnitude 9.0 quake, and got immediately switched off, according to the emergency plans. But then, the tsunami set in motion an unprecedented chain of subsequent accidents that have put all the cooling systems to a halt. Something way beyond expectations – you’re perfectly right. But the truth we should all give in to, at the end of the day, can only be one: we are simply not able, not ready, to handle something like this.
In one of the chapters composing Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, a woman, her two little children, and two men wander through multicolored clouds of caesium-137, strontium-90, and plutonium-239 (the exact same isotopes we are reading about in the news these days), after an eruption on Mount Fuji and an earthquake destroyed several reactors in the nearby nuclear plant. “They told us the nuclear plants were safe!”, the woman screams, while trapped between the radioactive clouds and the cliff overlooking the ocean. “Human accident is the danger, not the nuclear plant itself! No accident, no danger. That’s what they told us!” The disaster told of in the scene goes even beyond what is happening today in Japan, but the questions raised are the same, as Kurosawa’s vision takes today all its meaning, leaving us with true shivers.
I’m not (at all) against technological progress. I’m not either among those who are exploiting the headlines’ momentum to politically question the opportunity of preserving nuclear power in our industrialized countries. And yet, a question, that goes beyond politics, with no polemic intent whatsoever, naturally raises: wouldn’t people in Tokyo right now be willing to give up some of their material comfort in exchange for the safety of their lives and their health, as well as of those of their families and friends, and of their environment? Wouldn’t we all be willing to give up even just a little part of this vain comfort in order to spare some of their lives? I don’t know about you – I certainly would.
Having said this, I hope, with all my heart, that the news reports from Japan can give us in the next few hours some reasons to feel a bit more optimistic, so that we – and even more so, the Japanese people – can go back to entirely focus on the rescue operations and on the thousands of lives lost and unaccounted for throughout the coast of the Sendai-Tōhoku region.