We dropped the atomic bomb on japan today (in 1945) and that caused a lot of changes in the world. The idea of a bomb like this was so outrageous that it was actually possible to keep the project secret even though thousands of people worked for months on it, at many different locations. In one plant where nuclear material was being enriched people were told to make up whatever they wanted when asked what they were doing, as long as they avoided saying what they were doing. This was a bit risky because they didn’t actually know, as mere cogs in a larger and incomprehensible machine, what they were in fact doing. I understand that the answer “we are putting the holes in the donuts” became the standard answer.

Today, post WW II, Post Viet Nam, Post The X Files, people would not give that answer, or if someone heard that a friend was “making donut holes” they would assume that they were working on something like the atomic bomb or a death ray or something. But in those days it was simply not a possibility. Until that day in 1945, when it became a reality.

One of the consequences of the atomic bomb was a new brand of science fiction. Several new brands, actually. The two most important forms that arose right away were the post nuclear-apocalypse style movies and the Godzilla-style movies where scientists mucking around were responsible for the re-awakening, or the mutation, or the whatever, of some monster or another that would then eat Tokyo.

Today we manage to eat Tokyo without the monster. Or Fukushima, as the case may be. You see, the truth is, The Orangutan is right.

Which Orangutan? The one in the original Planet of the Apes, which was a late form of the post atomic bomb movie. The Orangutan is the most annoying character, the dogmatic bad guy who ruins everything throughout the movie. Then …

SPOILER ALERT IF YOU DID NOT SEE THE ORIGINAL PLANET OF THE APES MOVIE WHICH IS INCONCEIVABLE BUT JUST IN CASE YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

… near the end of the movie the Orangutan, forced to let Charlton Heston and his mute-human bride go their own way, gives a little speech. And in it he, the Orangutan, explains that any scientific advances allowed to happen by any sentient being would ultimately lead to the no good, and of course you, watching the movie, think “What a dumb-ass ape that Orangutan is.” Moments later, Charlton Heston and his mute-human bride turn the corner and they see it. And Charlton Heston realizes that the Orangutan was right. And he goes crazy and throws sand around and stuff.

I’ve not seen the new Planet of the Apes movie yet but I hope to go soon. I almost went today but instead I played around of Miniature Golf with the extended family. Three of us tied for first. And I did wonder, if Charlton Heston had seen a half buried Captain’s Cove miniature golf course instead of the Statue of Liberty would the effect have been any different?

Prolly. But I digress.

Think about this for a second. So far, the world’s nuclear arsenal has cost in energy (it takes a huge amount of energy to make nuclear bombs), resources, social costs (secrecy, dealing with pesky protesters, etc.) environmental costs, and so on more than anything our species has ever done, but we’ve only dropped two bombs. The total amount of energy used to make just the two original bombs that were dropped was probably much greater than the total amount of energy required to electrocute all the people who were killed by those bombs several times over (that is an estimate, I’ve not done the calculations). Or, more appropriately, if all the energy … both in terms of power and more generally human resources and activities, as well as materials … that have been devoted to having a nuclear arsenal over the last several decades in a handful of countries had been spent on developing and implementing safe and clean energy production methods, then …. well, just think about it.

And this is of course an impossible scenario. The reason Fukushima happened (the nuclear disaster) is because of the politics of building nuclear power plants, as much as the nature of nuclear power itself. And these politics continue. Engineers working at this plant have known for days, maybe weeks, that there was a deadly dose of radiation coming from a part of the plant where there should have been almost no radiation … a bunch of radioactive material had escaped from the reactors or storage areas and gotten jammed in an exhaust system, and has been spewing out deadly doses, and the workers have been running past the spot in order to not get too radiated. And we’ve only just now found out about this, because … well, I assume because no one asked. The International Atomic Energy Agency, or the press, never thought to ask this question of TEPCO:

“TEPCO person, is there by any chance a bunch of highly radioactive material that has essentially escaped from the reactor containment or the storage pools and gotten itself jammed in some other place so that the workers have to run past that spot in order to survive? By any chance?”

And because that question was not asked, that information was not released.

What. Kind. Of. Crap. Is. That.

This is not helping the nuclear power industry’s credibility issues at all. Not at all.

So yes, the Orangutan was right. Humans can’t handle the science and technology that we have or might develop in the future. There are very few, perhaps no, examples of extensive use of science or technology by humans, outside of medicine, that have not been disasters, by and large.

Perhaps it is time for the non-human apes to take over for a few tens of thousands of years.

I gotta see the movie first, though. I might change my mind.

Comments

  1. #1 Arlene
    August 7, 2011

    The mini golf course may have been a bit less dramatic.

  2. #2 Lyle
    August 7, 2011

    We need a movie where the cockroaches inherit the earth. After all they have been around for over 60 million years in their current form, and fossils date back 300+ million years. The could live quite happily in the fukushima reactors as well with a dose limit of about 6 to 10 times ours.

  3. #3 MadScientist
    August 7, 2011

    2 bombs dropped, but many dozens tested in the air and over 2 thousand tested underground or in the sea.

    The Orangutan was only half right – all those advances also lead to a lot of good.

  4. #4 Brian
    August 7, 2011

    “There are very few, perhaps no, examples of extensive use of science or technology by humans, outside of medicine, that have not been disasters, by and large. ”

    Thank God. This, of course, means that you’re going to get the fuck off the internet, right, Greg?

  5. #5 Alan Kellogg
    August 7, 2011

    We noticed the disasters because the worrywarts fixate on the disasters. The good that happens gets ignored.

  6. #6 Drivebyposter
    August 7, 2011

    We noticed the disasters because the worrywarts fixate on the disasters. The good that happens gets ignored.

    Well when easily preventable clusterfuck accidents happen, it probably IS best to ignore them. There’s no validity in worrying over them and there’s CERTAINLY nothing to learn from them.

    Think of all of how much happier we would all be if we just talked about baby ducks and rainbows instead of crises.

  7. #7 Barbyra
    August 7, 2011

    @#2 about forty years ago there was a science fiction story with just that cockroach premise.

  8. #8 Greg laden
    August 7, 2011

    Cockroaches: Venus on the half shell by Kilgore Trout.

    regarding Teh Good … you’ll are welcome to provide examples!!

  9. #9 bks
    August 7, 2011

    The figure was the highest that TEPCO had recorded since the start of the nuclear crisis. But the operator did not know exactly how high it was because their counter went off the scale.

    TEPCO cannot deny the level was much higher than 10 sieverts (10,000 millisieverts), Ryo Shimizu, a company spokesman, said.

    Shimizu said the company was considering changing its measurement equipment to detect levels higher than 10 sieverts. …

    http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/asiapacific/news/article_1655011.php/

    Good thinking Mr. Shimizu, but why are we still dependent on TEPCO spokesdroids for the facts?

    –bks

  10. #10 daedalus2u
    August 7, 2011

    A very important thing to remember about the Manhattan Project was that it was started in 1941 and produced atomic bombs only 4 years later using 1940′s technology. This was done by people using slide rules, not knowing if it was even possible.

    The idea that there is some “secret” about how to make nuclear weapons is not correct. The idea that a country can be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons short of invasion and occupation is also not correct.

  11. #11 Crandolyn
    August 7, 2011

    What technology? Do you include fire, pointed sticks, stone tools, cordage, basketry, fishing tech, the wheel, cooked food, containers? We could still be living in paradise according to you, in dark caves being eaten by any of several large predators, but safe from technology.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    Crandolyn, what dark caves do you refer to?

  13. And I did wonder, if Charlton Heston had seen a half buried Captain’s Cove miniature golf course instead of the Statue of Liberty would the effect have been any different?

    “Aw, you blew it up. Dammit. Let’s see if the bowling alley is still open.”

  14. #14 Moopheus
    August 7, 2011

    “The idea of a bomb like this was so outrageous that it was actually possible to keep the project secret even though thousands of people worked for months on it, at many different locations.”

    Secret from Americans, anyway. Soviet spies infiltrated the program and Germany and Japan were working on their own, so clearly they didn’t find the idea all that outrageous.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2011

    That is true.

  16. #16 Pierce R. Butler
    August 7, 2011

    Moopheus @ # 14: …Germany and Japan were working on their own…

    Nope. Both had considered their own a-bomb projects, but estimated – probably correctly – that they would take too long (Germany) or consume too many urgently needed resources (Japan).

  17. #17 Freerefill
    August 9, 2011

    We can’t blame technology for how it’s used. Nuclear power has the potential to provide massive amounts of clean, usable energy to people everywhere. It also has the potential to kill all of them.

    Guns can be used to feed your family or murder your neighbor.

    No survival expert would be without a knife, and the same goes for every back-alley mugger.

    Roads and bridges can transport ambulances or tanks.

    Helicopters carry patients and munitions.

    The Orangutan was sort of half-right; scientific advances are neutral. Sentient beings are not.

  18. #18 Schenck
    August 9, 2011

    Lets not take Dr. Zaius too seriously, afterall instead of mucking about with science to create energy and labour, they just used slaves. Not really much of a model here.

  19. #19 Alan Kellogg
    August 13, 2011

    @#6

    You do have a talent for ignoring the point.