“WE are on the brink. We are now facing the worst-case scenario.”
The words are those of Hiroaki Koide, a Japanese expert on the nuclear power industry. He was talking, of course, about Fukushima, a place as little known to the world until last Friday as, say, Sizewell or Bradwell.
As I write this (Tuesday morning), Fukushima is already the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 – though a case could also be made for Windscale 1957.
That worst-case scenario remains open. By the time you read this, the worst may have been averted. Or it may not.
Whichever it turns out to have been, remember that the other outcome was highly possible.
Yet just a few hours before Fukushima experienced its third, potentially catastrophic, explosion, supposed experts were still issuing calming banalities.
One, by an American professor, was headed: “Why I’m not worried…”
The Japanese, he explained, are used to things like earthquakes. They know how to build things to withstand natural disasters.
Are you worried now, prof? You should be, because it seems your credibility – among a few other more important things – just blew up.
Another thing that has been damaged is the credibility of the whole nuclear programme. And of all those who keep telling us that it is both necessary and safe.
It’s neither of those things.
And if Fukushima causes the world to wake up to that, some good might just come out of it after all.
That, of course, will be scant consolation to all those thousands of people who have lost families, homes, livelihoods to the tsunami that triggered the Fukushima incident.
I have seldom seen anything more chilling than some of the home-video footage that has emerged of the relentlessly rising waters sweeping through ordinary streets, carrying away ordinary homes.
Footage taken by people watching their towns disintegrate before their eyes. People who cannot but have wondered, even as they pointed their cameras, whether they themselves would survive.
Those grim scenes made me feel pity, horror – but not anger. Not like the continuing flow of soothing words about the supposed safety of nuclear power. That makes me angry.
As I write, with devastated north-east Japan teetering on another brink, the exclusion zone around Fukushima stands at 20km.
If Fukushima were Sizewell, that would put Halesworth, Southwold, Aldeburgh, Leiston, Framlingham, Saxmundham, Wickham Market and half of Woodbridge in the evacuation area. Kesgrave, Martlesham and half of Ipswich would be in the stay-indoors zone.
And if the wind changed? Or if the experts had maybe made yet another tiny error in their calculations? How safe would you feel?
But it’s not really like that, is it? Japan’s a long way away. We’re not in an earthquake zone here, are we?
Well, no. But.
The floods of 1953 should tell us that you never know quite what the natural environment is going to throw at you.
And that’s before you try to estimate, inevitably imprecisely, what the effects of global warming and polar meltdown will be.
And what if there was a major quake or eruption in the Canary Islands, or Iceland?
Either could cause a tsunami capable of hitting nuclear power-stations on our west coast as hard as last week's Pacific rumble hit Fukushima.
Let’s hope it never comes to that. Probably it won’t. Not in our lifetimes.
But isn’t it sensible to hope for the best and prepare for the worst?
SOMETHING astonishing happened this week.
Nick Clegg actually stood up and said ‘No’ to something David Cameron wanted to do.
Without LibDem support, the Tories can’t withdraw Britain from the European convention on human rights.
Thank goodness – and Clegg – for that.
Let’s hope Clegg enjoyed the sensation of power so much he’s prepared to wield it again. And stop a few more of the insane plans of his ultra-reactionary coalition partners.
Cuts in public expenditure are, we’re told, inevitable. Well, it’s arguable, I suppose. Especially the questions of where and how hard the axe should fall.
But the Tories aren’t planning to make savings on the NHS. Their wrecking plans don’t even have that excuse.
Their so-called “reforms” aren’t actually about making the service better, either. They’re about crippling something that mostly works quite well, probably better than it ever has.
They’re about handing power – and huge wads of our cash – to private companies.
GPs, who would end up holding the pursestrings, don’t want the changes. Hospital staff certainly don’t. Patients, if they know what’s good for them, don’t.
Andrew Lansley is the health secretary pushing these unwanted changes through. A man whose personal office was reported last year by The Daily Telegraph – a paper not known for Tory-bashing – to be funded by a private healthcare provider.
If there’s anything the LibDems should stand up and say ‘No’ to, the threatened NHS “reform” is it.