It might be unfair, or unseemly, to describe anything involving a nuclear accident as "fortuitous," even to those who oppose nuclear power, but some coincidences are hard to ignore.
And no, I'm not just referring to last week's announcement by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it planned to extend Vermont Yankee's operating license for another 20 years — a decision made just one day before a massive earthquake and tsunami brought multiple reactors in Japan to the brink of catastrophe and sent the world's nuclear industry into a full-blown economic and public-relations meltdown.
Thirty-two years ago, there was also the fateful timing of the release of The China Syndrome, starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas. The film, about a near-meltdown and industry coverup at a nuclear power plant, was released on March 16, 1979, just 12 days before a partial core meltdown occurred at Three-Mile Island in Pennsylvania. Film buffs of a certain age may recall an eerie line from that movie, in which a nuclear physicist predicts that a China Syndrome-type core breach would render "an area the size of Pennsylvania" uninhabitable for decades, of not centuries.
Similarly, promoters of an event scheduled for tonight in Montpelier couldn't possibly have predicted how spot-on their timing would be. The Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance and the Sierra Club of the Upper Valley are holding an opening reception for an exhibit titled, "Chernobyl: Life on the Edge, a Photographic Exposé by Gabriela Bulisova."
The reception, which runs from 6-8 PM at Montpelier City Hall, features the work of Bulisova, an award-winning photographer who documented the chilling aftermath of the world's worst nuclear disaster and its tragic human toll. Bulisova writes:
"The stigma of 'Chernobyl victim' is profoundly prevalent. Personal medical and family problems are rarely discussed and are often hidden away in shame. Medical data is frequently unreliable and incomplete; governments and the nuclear industry repeatedly refuse to make links between medical consequences and radiation; contaminated food is being grown, consumed, and distributed nationally; people are falling ill. Shocking morphological mutations exist but so do slow-ticking genetic changes caused by poisons that will radiate for decades, centuries, even thousands of years. We don't know what those genetic changes may bring. The future of these countries, based as it is on the genetic pools of its populations, is uncertain.
"An excruciating war waged by Chernobyl's 'atoms for peace gone wrong' has been emitting its long lasting poisonous legacy for almost 25 years, but will continue to do so for centuries into the future. According to the UN, 7 to 9 million people were affected. 4.5 million children and adults live on contaminated land. Over 800,000 children are at risk of cancer. 400,000 people became environmental refugees. One has to focus on individuals."
Tonight's reception will also feature a talk by Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, who specializes in high-level nuclear waste management and transportation; new and existing reactors and decommissioning.
The exhibit will be on display from March 17 until April 22. For more info, contact the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance at (802) 476-3154.