Monday, February 4, 2008

You've Been Warned, Maybe

Up around where I live, and dotting the countryside for a long way around these parts, there are tall poles bearing giant sirens. These are to let us know when if the nuke plant about 20 miles from here goes plooey (although science tells me that it would be somewhat louder, more like kwa-THOOM). We’ll, uh, we’ll hear these sirens, the theory goes, and then we’ll know…when…to start panicking.

Not much of a plan, if you ask me.



We’re more or less upwind of the thing, so there are no guarantees that when the plant goes we’ll be in any real danger (apart from the zombies lurching northward from the site of the blast, thirsting for the untainted blood and radiation-free brains of the living). On the other hand, the Highlands have a tendency to suck air into the valley and hang on to it (specializing in bad air with tiny particles that trigger asthma).

Either way, those sirens are there on their poles, just to let you know that you’re within 20 miles of a clean, safe time bomb energy source. Every few days (it seems) they announce a test. “We’re going to test the sirens,” they say, “so everyone listen for something unfamiliar that sounds like a warning.” There are two sirens within a mile of my house. I’ve found that I tend to cock my head to the side, maybe cup an ear. So for a few days after each announcement my neighbors and I walk around cupped and cocked—sorry, is there something you want to share with the rest of the readers? good, let’s continue—shushing people, listening for a sound we’ve never heard before.

Do this long enough and it provides your nerves with a much-needed stretch. On the downwind side of the plant, the government hands out potassium iodine pills to residents. Apparently once you hear the siren, you can pop a few of these pills and your lymph nodes will take up the potassium iodine instead of the radioactive material drifting your way, thus sparing you from that particular form of cancer. On that side of the river after a warning, they walk around cupped and cocked and nervously rattling pill bottles. At the plant, inspectors find radioactive water in little puddles. Sometimes in the control rooms there are fires.

But a few days pass, and invariably there is not a peep. Not long after we don’t hear something there’ll be a small item on page nine of the paper that says “Sirens Fail Again.” That still doesn’t mean they for-sure didn’t go off. There’s some possibility that they sounded, but that the unfamiliar warning resembled a car door slamming, or someone’s dog barking, or crows bickering over a carcass.

Shh.



12 comments:

Bill Braine said...

Read on.

wcs said...

Hey, that's sneaky, putting a link into the comments.

Here in France, many of us live within range of such a power plant. About 85% of our electrical power comes from those little atoms.

Amy H said...

Oh Bill, I'm with you on this one. And people in the next town over are given those tablets, but Restigne, just a few minutes away, isn't. When we bought our house, however, the notary had to read us a statement saying, "You confirm that you understand that the house you are buying is within a zone of nuclear hazard." Comforting.

Bill Braine said...

Something tells me that in France, the nookyular power is different—hand-crafted in family-owned reactors handed down over many generations. In France, the true connoisseur can tell which region produced his or her electricity just by switching on a light.

In the U.S., these gigantic, dangerous machines are run by private corporations for profit, and government regulation is not what it once was. It costs kind of a lot to keep something perfectly tuned and running safely, and for a corporation to spend money is inefficient. I’d rather have me two-three Fronch-style plants nearby than this one rickety old thing with the tritium leaks and the faulty warning system.

evenfurtherupstate said...

Hey Beavis, he said "cupped and cocked." Heh-heh. Heh-heh.

Antonia said...

—sorry, is there something you want to share with the rest of the readers?

No Sir, it was just a cough Sir.

Bill Braine said...

Damn straight it was.

wcs said...

I do prefer the upper Loire electricity to that produced in the lower Loire. Terroir and all.

Chacun a son goƻt...

Serious government regulation is the key, and constant upgrading of technology. And an understanding of and respect for the scientific method. And a government not controlled by petroleum interests.

And malolactic fermentation.

Suzanne said...

Oh my, you are funny...

Here in Utah, we don't only believe in nuclear testing, but we also give up our land to house toxic throw-away waste from other states' nuclear testing. Forget pills; we just all assume that we have cancer and our men -- regardless of whether they are cupped and cocked -- are unable to produce "swimmers".

Antonia said...

Awesome piece, Bill. I try not to think about that piece of crap (excuse me, "safe, clean alternative to coal") across the river. But now at least I know what the occasional sirens I'm hearing mean.

Antonia said...

Hey, someone else here has my name. Give it back!

Jjiraffe said...

Are you trying to tell us that your power plant is a local, artisan manufacturing product? That we shouldn't be scared of the local, green process? Michael Pollen would be into this agreement. Maybe.