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"Two Kinds of NIMBY"

     For many years a group of us New Mexicans opposed the
opening in Carlsbad of WIPP, the depository for the nuclear waste
generated by the manufacture of the United States' arsenal of
nuclear weapons.  We protested in many ways, including marching 
and attending DOE hearings and testifying -- all for nothing.  Some 
DOE officials, and many commentators, dismissed our protest as 
simply NIMBY:  "Not In My Back Yard."
     The whole process is starting up again, as the U.S.
government, in blatant violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty, begins to plan to build a new generation of plutonium-
triggered hydrogen bombs, as many as 20,000 of them.  The U.S.
invaded Iraq recently, because of the possibility that he had "a
few," but no one has ever pretended that he had, or even wanted,
20,000 of them.  What for?  To do what with?  If any one of them
ever goes off, deliberately or accidentally, it will be a major
disaster for all of humanity, like Chernobyl.  
     The local discussion seems to be limited mostly to the
question of where to put the factory -- in Carlsbad, already
polluted by WIPP, or in Los Alamos, already polluted vastly
worse, by 60 years of arrogant carelessness and denial in the
process of inventing and "improving" nuclear weapons.  Our
protest against this fresh madness will be dismissed again as
     But it isn't exactly NIMBY.  Our view of it was, and still
is, "This shouldn't be in anybody's back yard!"  And the simple
facts of the case are that WIPP, for example, is in everybody's
back yard.  No one thinks you can make an effective barrier out
of wet salt.  So, the plutonium will escape.  No baseline studies
were allowed before WIPP opened, making the escape harder to
monitor, but it is inevitable.  And there is time -- plutonium is
lethal for 250,000 years.  So, it will be in Salt Lake behind
Carlsbad, eventually.  From there it will migrate to the Pecos
River, then to the Rio Grande, then to the Gulf of Mexico, then
into the Gulf Stream, then to the coasts of Ireland and Iceland,
and finally into the Arctic Ocean.  That's a lot of people's
     We have a Senator who is no help.  He thinks of atomic
weapons as so much pork, bringing federal dollars to New Mexico. 
He loves our arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.  He refers
to those of us who object to its very existence as "pathetic." 
And he loves atomic power plants.  He still believes the slogan
of the 50s -- "Atoms for Peace!"  He has recently prepared
legislation for the building of a new generation of atomic
reactors, for the purpose of making electricity, granting huge
federal hand-outs to private corporations who will build and run
the reactors.  And he has no idea, any more now than ever, about
what to do with the lethal radioactive waste which will result.  
     We wonder whose backyards these new reactors will be in. 
Meanwhile, we think the senator should disclose to the rest of us
the secret treatment which makes him and his family immune to
radioactivity.  Anything other than universal protection for all 
is the worst of elitism.
     And now another case of NIMBY has come to light.  A 
developer of alternative energy sources has proposed, based on
studies of wind patterns in New England, that an array of wind
turbines be placed out in the middle of Nantucket Sound.  They
could produce electricity for all of New England.  They would be
silent; they would produce no pollution of air or water; they
would require no fuel at all.  One might think that there could
be no real objection, but there is.
     The three-armed windmills have been labeled "ugly" by some
aesthetes, and a powerful group, including people named Kennedy
and Cronkite, is objecting.  "We'll be able to see them!" they
cry.  "I believe in alternative sources of energy, but -- Not In
My Back Yard!"  NIMBY!
     A writer in THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, which comes out
of Boston, joined the debate:  "I'd rather look at an array of
windmills than at flag-draped caskets coming home from the
Persian Gulf after another war fought to protect the flow of
foreign oil."
     Someone else noted that global warming threatens the Cape
Cod area more than many other backyards.  If we don't make
electricity in a way which does not pollute the atmosphere, the
whole thing will be under water.
     NIMBY has a twin brother, NIML -- "Not In My Lifetime."  The
lethality of plutonium is too slow and too random for people to
take seriously.  And even global warming is coming on too slowly
for superficial observers to care about.  We still have a
president who denies that it is happening at all.

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Copyright © 2003 Harry Willson

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