Friday, April 15, 2011

Radiating Ignorance in the Legislature

As a failed candidate for political office, I know that the only thing that's really needed to get a job in politics is the conviction of the voting public that you're the right one for the office - though just as God fights on the side with the strongest artillery, that conviction tends to correlate closely with the weight of dollars tossed onto the campaign bus. This is one reason why advisors and lobbyists are so common in political circumstances; frequently enough, politicians simply lack understanding of the underlying facts, and so rely on other people to interpret it for them. This can be seen, for example, in the conduct thus far of hizzoner Rob Ford in Toronto, particularly with regard to surface-running light rail and the relative merit of subways - but that is neither here nor there.

Again, it's coming back to nuclear power: the inscrutable black magic of the modern age, brought to the public eye again by the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan. I think it's a fair thing to say that the average politician probably doesn't understand nuclear power all that well, because the average person doesn't understand it all that well either, and familiarity with nuclear power generation is not a prerequisite for political office in this or, to my knowledge, any other country.

Nevertheless, I think I like political systems more when its participants don't make such a show about how much they don't know. Case in point: Ontario, where Premier Dalton McGuinty - who, incidentally, is facing an election this October, and I'm sure that little fact has nothing to do with this whatsoever - has come under attack from the opposition New Democratic Party over "failing to tell the public about elevated levels of radiation detected" as a result of the events in Japan.

Because, you know, radiation is some unfathomable curse that has settled over the land, and things like half-lives don't exist.

Amazingly enough, not glowing green!

"This government totally dropped the ball," said NDP leader Andrea Horwath, as quoted in the Globe and Mail on Wednesday. To what I say - what the fuck? Look, I know that the security of the public is the central responsibility of a government, but this is ridiculous. That slightly elevated radiation levels are detectable in Ontario as a result of Fukushima speaks to the quality of Ontario's radiation detectors, not the severity of the threat. Because there isn't one. Not in North America. Remember, iodine-131 has an eight-day half-life; air takes time to cross the Pacific, and even longer to cross the continent.

Let me break this down here. Health Canada's observations indicate that on April 12, the date this story broke, the average dose of radiation per day in Toronto was 0.28 microsieverts. Put another way - the average dose of radiation was almost as much as a person would get from eating three bananas, which are slightly radioactive due to their potassium content - and even though their radiation doesn't linger in the body, it's still a worthwhile benchmark.

Meanwhile, on the same day, Vancouver's average radiation dose was - are you ready for this - 0.44 microsieverts! Twice as much! But do you see people dying of radiation poisoning on Granville Street? No! Do you see the British Columbia opposition making noise about this? No! Why? Perhaps because they're overwhelmingly concerned with the political hay they can make out of the HST, but also perhaps because they're not morons.

Going over the situation, I can arrive at only two circumstances. Either:
  • Andrea Horwath and those Ontario NDP members in the legislature who are pursuing this have seized upon this as an opportunity to attack McGuinty and don't care that they're spreading further cause for atomic fear among the population of Ontario, in which case they are opportunistic bastards; or
  • They honestly think this is a real problem, in which case they're monumental dumbasses.
Either way, it doesn't augur well. It's been sixteen years since the New Democratic Party was turfed out of power in Ontario - if this is representative of their knowledge and capabilities, better to keep them in opposition, where they can only yammer.

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