Radioactive Creatures from Nuclear Irresponsibility

This article was published by Newsletter, issue #25, .

In the annals of monster movies, 1954 proved to be a pivotal year, for that was when Godzilla made his first appearance on the silver screen, in the film Gojira, produced by Toho Film Company Ltd., of Tokyo. In the imaginative tale spun by the pioneering filmmakers at Toho, Godzilla is an enormous prehistoric creature — an unholy amalgamation of what were probably some of the most lethal dinosaurs that ever shook the ground. Dormant for eons until disturbed by mankind's nuclear testing on remote islands in the South Pacific, Godzilla definitely wakes up on the wrong side of the bed — standing 150 feet tall, exhaling enormous columns of fire, laying waste to acres of jungle, and killing any other monster foolish enough to stand up to his fury.

At the same time that he terrorized young viewers, the "King of Lizards" also reminded adults of the real world terrors first seen when the United States vaporized the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, just nine years prior to the movie's debut. In that light, Godzilla can be considered a symbol of the humongous destructive potential of nuclear weapons, mirroring the terror shared by citizens worldwide as the United States and the Soviet Union faced off during the nuclear arms buildup of the Cold War, which peaked in 1953 at the end of the Berlin blockade and airlift. Godzilla is an avenging angel, returning to destroy the cities and homes of the only species clever and crazy enough to create its own means of self-destruction.

Even though Godzilla is not the result of radiation-induced genetic mutation, the parallels are all too clear. A half century after Godzilla's introduction, humans continue to pollute the oceans from which he emerged. We clearcut far more acres of rain forest than he ever crashed through. We allow portable thermonuclear weapons to fall into the hands of the highest bidders. Perhaps most frightening of all, we dump varieties of radioactive waste that have half-lives greater than half a million years, stored in containers that will certainly not last that long.

Some apologists for nuclear weapons may dismiss these dangers as merely a technical problem to be solved by future generations (assuming there are any). They might assert that the problems will not be encountered until a much distant tomorrow.

Well, when it comes to environmental degradation caused by human pollution, tomorrow is today.

On 11 October 2006, Reuters reported that radioactive snails have been discovered at the sight of a nuclear weapons accident 40 years earlier. In 1966, in southeastern Spain, near the fishing village of Palomares, a US bomber collided with a refueling craft, killing seven of 11 crewmen, and dropping three hydrogen bombs near the village. The bombs did not detonate, naturally, because they had not been armed. (Will we be as lucky next time?) However, the high explosive igniters of two of the bombs, detonated upon impact, spreading plutonium-contaminated dust onto nearby fields. In response, hundreds of tons of radioactive soil had to be removed from the site, and were shipped to the United States.

That cleanup effort may turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg, because Spanish officials admit to detecting elevated levels of radiation in snails and other animals at the accident site, indicating the possibility of dangerous amounts of plutonium and uranium below the surface. CIEMAT, Spain's energy research agency, is conducting an investigation with the US Department of Energy. Juan Antonio Rubio, director general of CIEMAT, noted that "We don't know what's down there." Spanish authorities state that there is currently no danger from surface radiation, but that children living in the area should not work in the fields at the accident site, nor eat any of the resident snails, which are considered a delicacy.

While it is doubtful that the nuclear contamination near Palomares will awaken an angry monster — a modern-day "Rey de Lagartos" — it would be sad and shameful for humanity if this incident were to prove to be a precursor of an unfolding nuclear nightmare as mankind's arrogant experimentations with the Earth's ecology, come back to haunt us. In their song "Godzilla", the rock group Blue Oyster Cult reminds us: "History shows again and again how nature points up the folly of men."

Copyright © 2006 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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