Leaking radioactive sludge
Corine Lesnes

WASHINGTON - Radioactive sludge has long been leaking from a nuclear site less than 10 kilometers from one of the West Coast's biggest rivers, and no one seems to care.

According to Tom Carpenter, director of environmentalist organization Hanford Challenge, this virtual media blackout should come as no surprise. The consequences of the leak will only be visible on the long term: “It will be a burden for the future generations,” he says.

The Hanford nuclear site is well known to environmentalists: it is one of the oldest such facilities in the U.S., and was one of the two World War II Manhattan Project plants (with Oak Ridge, Tennessee) where the plutonium used for the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs was manufactured.

Hanford is a massive site that spreads over 1,500 square kilometers, 250 kilometers southeast of Seattle, Washington. “It is the most contaminated site in the whole country,” says Carpenter.

“Two-thirds of the U.S.’s nuclear waste is stored here,” says Carpenter. Since the plant was shut down in 1987, Hanford has become the symbol of the difficulties in the treatment of nuclear waste on the long term, especially at a time of budget cuts.

After the plant was decommissioned, the federal government and the state of Washington both agreed to clean up the site but encountered many problems. On Feb. 22, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, announced that at least six underground tanks containing highly radioactive matter had started leaking. Earlier statements by the Energy Secretary Steven Chu only mentioned one defective tank.

“The secretary (Chu) is very clear that there is no imminent public health threat with these leaks,” Inslee was quick to tell reporters.

Tom Carpenter doesn't disagree – in the short term. No contamination has been detected in the Colombia River. But on the long term, he says, it's a different matter – plutonium has a half-life of 250,000 years.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, as it is called, was built in the 1940s with not much thought to contamination. Out of 177 tanks containing 200,000 cubic meters of highly radioactive sludge, 149 are single-shelled and a third have already experienced leaks, according to Carpenter: “378 million liters have already leaked from the tanks, a record for the U.S.”

A dirty bomb

Since it was decommissioned, the former military facility has been the subject of the largest environmental cleanup operation the country ever seen. To prevent plutonium from leaking into the ground, scientists recommend immediate decontamination but the new High-Level Waste Facility that will be used to “vitrify” the radioactive waste into big cylinders that will be buried, won't be operational until 2019.

In the meantime, neither local nor federal authorities want to invest in a temporary solution. Even though, “there is still time to collect the toxic sludge leaking from the tanks,” says Carpenter.

One of the problems is the political context on nuclear regulation. The Energy Department is dragging its feet to the point that the Washington State decision makers are finding it very difficult to obtain any information on what is really happening at Hanford. “The Energy Department owns this site and sets its own rules. They simply don't want to spend any money,” says Carpenter.

As for Congress, “It hasn't paid any attention to the Hanford situation in ten years and has never asked for a hearing.” Ron Wyden, the new senator of the neighboring state of Oregon wants to change the situation. After visiting the Hanford site, he announced that he would ask for an audit at the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

While the announcement of new leaks did not make the front pages, local inhabitants are growing only more upset. “If a terrorist had dropped the dirty-bomb equivalent of this much radioactive material onto a major city, the entire country would be mobilized,” wrote a Seattle Times reader.

Another wrote: “Al Qaeda should save its time and money and forget about us. We’re going to kill ourselves before they do. No one seems to know what’s really going on at Hanford or how to handle the mess.”

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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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