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Environment & Science

Song of the Week: "You can't see it, and you can't smell it," for nuclear generating stations

Anti-nuclear power protests in Kouenji, Tokyo, Japan, April 2011.
Anti-nuclear power protests in Kouenji, Tokyo, Japan, April 2011.

If there's one rule about the Song of the Week, it's that it can't be a protest song. Protest music, generally, is where melody, good lyrics, and humor go to die. But rules are made to be broken.

It's a year after the 9.0 Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Power plant in Japan. I don't know that anyone is yet reporting on what that accident reveals about our sense of risk from that sort of harm. It does seem like we're still piecing together what happened; we're not yet thinking about what we might pay in the future if we're still trying to count the cost--and it seems we are. I recommend you find, read, and listen to everything at FUEL an energy journal, and the formidable Alex Chadwick's reporting on energy issues, including nuclear power, and including Fukushima.

Last summer I started getting interested in music coming out of Japan after the incident. Some of my friends had started putting it on Facebook; when I was in law school, I had worked overseas with Japanese people who had wicked senses of humor. (Apparently it was featured in The Atlantic too.)

A lot of this music is just insane; some is reworked lyrically in Japanese from American original rock songs, as with this cover of "Summertime Blues." Often it helps to have the YouTube to look at, since translation and context helps. But even with your eyes closed, it's not hard to imagine what Coma-Chi is singing. (She's a rapper.) The song, as you might guess, is "Say NO!" and, while there are several remixes available, I'll take the original: 

My enduring favorite, though, is by Rankin' Taxi, and this is our song of the week. It's called "You can't see it, and you can't smell it."  If you don't speak Japanese, you can sort of catch the word Fukushima flying by your ear at the beginning. The translation tells the rest of us the story. 

Just one accident will cause total panic, like the Titanic just before it sank 
Chernobyl is now a ghost town, innocent kids with thyroid cancer 
Hello, so you're the famous Plutonium!
The myth of 'safety' died at Fukushima 
No more farm produce... how far will the contamination go, and for how long? 

Radiation is strong, Radiation is powerful, it doesn't discriminate, and you can't beat it 
Radiation is strong, Radiation is powerful, it doesn't discriminate, and you can't beat it 

Nuclear power - safe even with a leak of the primary cooling water! 
Nuclear power - preserving world peace 24 hours a day! 
A populace that will forgive anything short of a catastrophe 
Idiotic slip-ups that occur even with vigilance 
Well orchestrated PR campaigns, a subliminally transmitted innocuous image 
Big money buying full-page newspaper ads 
Everyone's taken in till the wind starts blowing 

Without endorsing Rankin' Taxi's point of view, the song also seems appropriate since this week we're reminded of nuclear risk in Southern California. As various reporters and KPCC folk have told you, SONGS (the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) has been having problems with its generator tubes. Seven of them, now, and most recently they've been having problems with tubes that are relatively new. As the AP reports, "A tube rupture is really the concern," says Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Lara Uselding. The facility's under pressure to get reactors back up and running in advance of peak energy demand; a spokeswoman for the state's wholesale energy authority said if that doesn't happen, Los Angeles and San Diego could see summer blackouts. 

Die from a dose of radiation? No way! 
Did you say an unstoppable leak? No way! 
Do I want to be an object of hate for unborn children? No way! 
Do I want to lead a life of unhealthy luxury? No way! 
Can radiation deepen love? Can radiation make us wiser? 
Can radiation stop wars? Can radiation bring a smile? 

Listen to the Songs of the Week for 2012.