As we dance round the pit of nuclear disaster

By Alexandre Lesto
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 18, 2011
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In a single day, you and I are victims, witnesses or culprits in countless acts of selfishness. They may only scratch the surface of our consciousness before being dismissed, but they are there.

Some are trivial: rushing to a vacant seat before other commuters have time to blink; closing the elevator doors as quickly as possible, lest someone else delay us; stealing another's cab. Others are unforgivable: not assisting someone in critical need of help; believing that another's loss will always be our gain.

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This pandemic, almost instinctual trait is often twisted into blithe indifference and occasionally even into sadistic pleasure. And yet, as has often been observed in the pages of history, it is in times of extreme adversity and trauma that we find ourselves the benefactor, witness or beneficiary to staggering, dramatic acts of selflessness.

One of these moments has been unfolding before the world's eyes over the past few days in Japan, where the country was consecutively hit by an earthquake, a tsunami and finally a radioactive leak the like of which has not been seen since the events of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Fifty volunteers, Japanese workers whose names have remained confidential, have descended into the toxic abyss of the Fukushima nuclear power station, to allay or delay the advent of a catastrophe that seems to deepen with each new echo the world receives.

Conflicting reports abound, and while Japanese officials of Tokyo Electric have done their best to assuage the panic and rising hysteria, the government's hazy rhetoric, along with the increasingly desperate measures employed, do nothing to suppress an atmosphere of tense apprehension.

The United State has been a lot more vocal in their warnings. Through the voices of senior officials, they have made clear they think the risks of radioactive contamination are far greater than those announced in Japan, advising Americans to stay outside a 50 mile radius from the Fukushima plant. The State Department has already proceeded with what it labeled as "voluntary" evacuation of American citizens in the north-eastern parts of Japan, including Tokyo.

In the midst of all this uncertainty and mixed signals, in the confusion of a country in crisis wishing to reassure the world, fifty men and women have not asked any questions. Fifty men and women are now crawling and straining in white, thin jumpsuits, breathing air that may or may not be safe, as the world once more prays, trembles and sways at the edge of the dark pit of nuclear disaster.

It is for them we should pray, and it is to them we owe thanks today, for upholding and reminding us the values, too often dormant, that surge through when the few attempt to save the many: courage and sacrifice.

The author is a French-American, currently living and working in Beijing.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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