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In a Christian Science Monitor Essay, WPI Professor Reflects on the Nuclear Disaster in Japan

John Sanbonmatsu, associate professor of philosophy, says the crisis in Fukashima reminds us of "the mortal threat our civilization more generally has come to pose to the living earth itself."

March 18, 2011

In an opinion piece in the March 18, 2011, Christian Science Monitor, John Sanbonmatsu, associate professor of philosophy at WPI, reflects on the nuclear crisis unfolding in Fukashima prefecture in Japan and the larger message that the disaster may hold for the fate of the Earth.

Sanbonmatsu recounts his personal connections to Fukashima and to the risks of nuclear energy. His grandfather emigrated from Fukashima to the United States in the 19th century, he notes, and his family established itself in Plymouth, Mass., site of the Pilgrim I nuclear power plant, a light-water reactor not unlike the units at the Fukashima Daichhi plant. As a boy, living in the shadow of the plant, Sanbonmatsu came to understand the disaster that would unfold should the reactor's vital cooling water be cut off.

"It is irrational," he writes, "for a society to rely on a form of energy that has to be protected by guards armed with submachine guns because it poses a catastrophic risk to the millions of people and animals living downwind of it."

But, he argues, the outcome of a nuclear accident is just part of the larger significance of the news from Fukashima. Whether through massive oil spills or "the global meltdown of climate change," the real story is "the mortal threat our civilization more generally has come to pose to the living earth itself."