Plants That Can Kill

Oh, Spring! Who does not love it? Plants are awakening and blooming tenderly. The month of April in my native Polish is called nicely Kwiecien, derived from the words kwiecie meaning blossom and kwiat meaning flower. It is a month when many plants show their spring bloom.

Yellow tulips

Plant — a living organism, other than animal, capable of photosynthesis. In Polish the word is roslina, in German, die Pflanze and in Russian, rastenie. English also has another meaning of the word plant which these languages don’t — equipment, a factory, an industrial place of mechanical operation or process — and that was always strange to me.

So a plant in English can also be a nuclear power plant.

Nuclear Power Plants
Arkansas Grand Gulf

This spring we are all deeply concerned about the fate of these kinds of plants — the nuclear power plants of Fukushima, after Japan experienced the deadly earthquake and tsunami a few weeks ago. Indeed there are serious reasons to be alarmed and fearful! A lot has been written about that already. I highly recommend reading The New Yorker March 28 issue, The Nation April 4, 2011 issue, and also the blog Redtree Times of GC Myers dated April 3, 2011.

My personal fear and immense dislike of nuclear power plants started a long time ago — in 1979 after the Three Mile Island accident. I was already living in this country and the mother of two small children. I was simply terrified because we lived in North Falmouth on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and were only 20 miles from a nuclear power plant named Pilgrim in nearby Plymouth. Till today Pilgrim is the only plant in Massachusetts, built in 1972, and therefore relatively new at that time.

My response to the Three Mile Island accident was very intense — as a mother, a biologist and a budding writer. I participated in a variety of organized protests and rallies, took nuclear awareness workshops, and read everything I could find about the Karen Silkwood case. In my personal protest I drove around the Pilgrim power plant with my children sitting at the car windows and with “No Nukes“ and “Split Wood not Atoms” slogans pasted on the bumper of our car. Finally I wrote a poem and illustrated, printed, and distributed it whenever I could.

Here is a reproduction of the original copy. If it speaks to you, please use it (with an appropriate credit).

"Stony Tulips" by Alicja Mann
Click to enlarge and/or print (PDF)

That was 1979. Then came Chernobyl in 1986. Again I was strongly affected — this time through the connection to my native Poland that borders with the Ukraine, which at that time was a republic of the Soviet Union. Some clouds of Chernobyl arrived in Poland, causing a lot of fears and anxieties because the trust in the Soviets’ abilities to deal with that magnitude of crisis was next to zero in Poland. I responded with one of my op-ed columns titled “Hiroshima and Chernobyl”. In the meantime the dispute over the nearby Pilgrim nuclear plant became again intense.

Time passed, no accident occurred at Pilgrim, and people got used to living with this deadly plant or were resigned to its dangers. Recently, Travis Andersen (The Boston Globe online. March 14, 2011) surveyed Pilgrim’s neighbors about Japan’s nuclear crisis and found that some were fearful, while others shrugged it off. For instance: “Heather Cole, who has lived near the plant for 15 years, said she would not even leave in the event of an emergency, preferring instead to ‘grab a six pack’ and dig in her heels, in part because she feels the evacuation would be ‘a nightmare’.“

Cape Cod is a peninsula stapled with two bridges to the mainland where Ms Cole lives. The evacuation of the Cape’s residents would be even harder to imagine! That reminds me of a T-shirt design that addressed the issue of evacuation from the Cape in case of nuclear disaster. A drawing of the Cape was printed on the shirt with the question, “Evacuation plan?” The answer was, “JUST SWIM!” showing small silhouettes of people jumping into the water off the Cape.

Today, in view of Japan’s tragedy, it is time to be awakened again to the dangers of the very existence of nuclear power plants. So I was excited to see The New Yorker cover with the art work of Christoph Niemann titled “Dark Spring.” It was good to see that someone else imagines nuclear reactors as “living plants.” His cherry tree blossoms and my tulips are symbols of these powerful deadly plants.

The New Yorker Magazine cover fragment, March 28, 2011

According to Christian Parenti, a contributing editor to The Nation, “We get less than 9% of our total energy needs from nuclear power, so with proper conservation, we can make up some loss. Fukushima is trying to tell us something.”

Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker ends her comment on the nuclear risk, “We’ve more or less pretended that our nuclear plants are safe, and so far we got away with it. The Japanese have not.“

Jonathan Schell in his commentary in The Nation (April 4 issue) suggests that instead of abandoning nuclear power, “Let us pause and study the matter. For how long? Plutonium, a component of nuclear waste, has a half-life of 24,000 years, meaning that half of it is transformed into other elements through radioactive decay. This suggests a time scale. We will not be precipitous if we study the matter for only half of that half-life, 12,000 years. In the interval, we can make a search for safe energy sources, among other useful endeavors.”

I could not agree more with all three statements. It is highest time to replace nuclear power plants with alternative energy sources.

Wind Farm by Alicja Mann

Let us “plant” these graceful and harmless windmills. Let them bloom in our fields!

Let us have bright and happy springs in the future.

* * *

Photos of nuclear power plants from New Yorker cover art “Dark Spring” – copyright © 2011 Christoph Niemann / The New Yorker. Text and other photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

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9 Comments on “Plants That Can Kill”

  1. Kristin Brænne Says:


  2. karen sobel Says:

    Very nice blog, Alicja. We need to consider the future of this fragile planet. Wind and solar ARE options that can be a reality for people in many areas. Cutting back on frivolous use of power need also be cut down.

    • Alicja Mann Says:

      Thank you Karen!

      Yes, wind and solar are options. I am still puzzled why our state of Arizona is not getting rich from that strong, bright sun we can feel almost every day of the year here. And, yes, conservation – not enough efforts to promote it is a big problem!

      Karen, we are definitely “on the same page” concerning these important environmental issues.

  3. Marina Says:

    I agree, Alicja. Thank you for addressing this most miserable issue.
    I love what you have pulled together here. As always, your creativity, smarts, and depth shine in every piece that you do.

  4. Pam Says:

    Yes, I remember that poem, and I’m still concerned about those stony tulips.

  5. […] Alicja Mann Waves Notes on events, ideas & places « Plants That Can Kill […]

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