Saturday, March 19, 2011

Using Nuclear Fear

It was Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day, at 6:00 p.m. There was boiling water on the stove and I was starting to prepare supper. But as I pulled the green spaghetti (green from spinach, rather than cabbage) out of the box to put in the pot, I paused. The spaghetti was cylindrical in shape, and its lengthwise movement as I pulled it out of the box reminded me of the movement of nuclear fuel rods.

If anything like this has happened to you this week, it’s a sign that the nuclear accident in Japan is getting inside your head. Different people are having different reactions to the news. Some are succeeding in blocking it out of their awareness, even forgetting what country it is happening in. Others are immobilized by the suspense of the situation, heartsick, losing sleep, obsessively watching the news, reading every report, and imagining the best- and worst-case scenarios for what might happen. And then there are a lot of people in between, somewhat bothered by the problem and maybe not realizing how distracted we are.

First of all, it’s important to recognize that it’s not weird to be affected by something happening elsewhere in the world. It is one world, after all. The earthquake that started everything was so powerful that seismologists tell us the ground shook detectably everywhere in the world. Nuclear power is almost everywhere in the industrial world. Everyone knows someone who knows someone in Japan. We are all part of what’s going on. It’s also true that the fear associated with an unfolding disaster doesn’t have to be harmful. You can make constructive use of the fear.

For anyone who is immobilized or continually worried about the nuclear situation, I can recommend a new meditation by Rooted in the Infinite author Rebbie Straubing. It’s a simple meditation alignment exercise that can help keep a nuclear meltdown from turning into an emotional meltdown:

“Energy Antidote to Fear Prompted by Watching the News about Japan’s Nuclear Disaster”

If anyone’s worries are focused more on the tsunami than the nuclear accident, Rebbie has a meditation exercise for that too:

“Energy Antidote to Fear Prompted by Watching Videos of Japan’s Tsunami”

If you are basically just bugged by the nuclear accident, recognize that part of this is the frustration of not being able to do anything to fix the broken reactors. Not being able to do anything about a situation will tend to make you feel helpless and weak. You can make yourself feel more powerful by taking action in connection with the problem. The important thing to realize is that the action doesn’t have to be so directly connected to the crux of the problem. It works just as well to take action where the problem connects to your own life. And chances are, there is a lot you can do. These are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Plot your evacuation route. Find the three nuclear reactors closest to your location, and select a driving route away from each one. Pick a route that doesn’t lead you straight through a city from which large numbers of people would also be evacuating. If you live within 20 kilometers of a nuclear power station, find your officially recommended evacuation route.
  • Reconsider your energy use. Nuclear power provides one tenth of the electricity in large industrial countries partly because we use so much electricity, and even more of other forms of energy that may be interchangeable with electricity. Nuclear power plants can operate under less pressure, or they can be replaced faster, if we find ways to use less energy in our daily lives. I’m talking about steps like replacing CRT video displays, e-mailing documents instead of printing them, planning and consolidating errands, public transportation, walking, and so on all the way up to eating less meat, high-efficiency LED lighting, home energy audits, and electric cars. There are many capable blogs that cover just this one issue.
  • Study geography. Where is Japan, anyway? Where is Fukushima? Where do the winds blow after they cross Japan? How wide is the Pacific Ocean? Where are the active fault lines along the Ring of Fire that circles the Pacific?
  • Connect to the world. If you have to keep reading about the nuclear accident, read reports and reactions from many different countries. Use online language tools to translate some of them. You may be surprised to find the same four or five points of view represented in almost every country and language.
  • Clean house. If you came in contact with radioactive particles, the most important thing you could do to protect yourself is remove the particles. This is done with ordinary cleaning techniques. If you’ve been postponing the tasks of dusting and vacuuming, tell yourself that you’re practicing for a nuclear event as you get all the dust and lint out of the house. Wear a dust mask if you have one. Clean the bottoms of your shoes. Then take a shower and wash your clothes.
  • Go swimming. The most abundant material in nuclear power is plain, ordinary water. The problems with the reactors at Fukushima will ultimately be solved with water. Go swimming and notice the physical properties of the water as you splash around.

The only way it can seem there is nothing you can do is if you are looking very narrowly at a particular problem. Take a slightly broader view, and there are a million things you can do. By putting yourself into action, you’ll feel better about yourself and you’ll have a more constructive view of the problem that’s bugging you.