Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

Song of the Week: "Great Atomic Power," for San Onofre

Are you, are you ready, for that great atomic power?
Are you, are you ready, for that great atomic power? David McNew/Getty Images

Clearly the song of the week is for the ammonia spill at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. But picking a song that gestures at risk assessment and nuclear power is harder than you might think.

Nuclear power tends to be referenced in protest songs, and protest songs tend to suck. David Hajdu, the music critic for The New Republic, blogged about nuclear songs, songs about war and nuclear power, after Fukushima. For his favorite he picked Gil Scott-Heron (which, I like me some Gil Scott-Heron, but there's a terrible about 2 minutes you have to get through on the youtube video appended to Hajdu's blog where you wonder when you got onto the S.S. No-nuke's cruise ship lounge). 

I like the Louvin Brothers' classic, "Great Atomic Power." I got introduced to it by Uncle Tupelo in the nineties. Remember when Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar were in the same band? No, nobody does, but it happened.

Are you, are you ready for that great atomic power

Will you rise and meet your savior in the air

Will you shout or will you cry when the fire rains from on high

Are you ready for that great atomic power

I like that the song asks if you're ready. Louvins are speaking spiritually, but KPCC Associate Editor Julie Westfall and I have been working actively on our go-bags lately (as a commenter on this blog recommended earlier this week, actually). 

I picked the 2007 version, by Charlie (the surviving) Louvin with Jeff Tweedy. The children in the chorus coupled with Tweedy's weird love of dissonant electronic sounds threaten to annoy, but there's something about the cheerful, upbeat tempo that keeps the song appealing and only a bit menacing.

Do you fear this man's invention that they call atomic power

Are we all in great confusion do we know the time or hour

When a terrible explosion may rain down upon our land

Leaving horrible destruction blotting out the works of man

I find it fascinating how much confusion we're still in, even with all the information now available to us. Earlier this week, I wondered whether more information helps us assess risk better. Upon reflection, I have to believe it does, else I'm out of a job. But there's got to be something in the way we tell ourselves the story that matters. Fear doesn't always work, nor do facts. But what does help us assess our environmental risks well? 

Listen to the Songs of the Week

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