Atomic Garden State
The recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan, which damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant, has people the world over worrying about possible radioactive material being spread across the globe by getting caught in jet stream winds. Prior to this tragedy, when the Japanese leaked radioactive material, we ended up with your run-of-the-mill Godzilla. But here in real life, radiation is extremely dangerous. Aside from the immediate effect of exposure, such as burns, hair loss and the general liquefaction of your insides, heightened radiation can lead to spikes in cancer rates for years and can render the entire affected area inhabitable for decades, even centuries. The Soviet Union unfortunately demonstrated this to the world in 1986 with the Chernobyl disaster.
Thanks to the incredibly brave and selfless acts of the Japanese emergency crews, top sources insist that the radiation that leaked from the damaged Fukushima reactors will not spread. However, because of the inherent danger of the spread of radioactive material, many U.S. citizens, especially on the west coast, have begun to take precautions. Perhaps, unlike us here in New Jersey, people in other states are uneasy when it comes to the possible irradiation of their state. I think we, as New Jersey citizens, are pretty damn well used to it. After all, we’ve had enough nuclear energy pumping through our state in the past fifty years to turn this planet into a smoking heap of ash.
Our gentle state first began our nuclear ventures in 1954 with the installations of several Nike Missile Bases strategically placed throughout the state. During the height of the Cold War, Uncle Sam saw a Soviet strike against major east coast cities as a very possible threat. New York and Philadelphia were considered likely targets. Taking a cue from many of the gangster flicks at the time, the government turned to New Jersey for some hired muscle to protect both cities. Instead of six guidos from Bayonne in track suits, the military went with the MIM-14 Nike Hercules Missile. Not only was this projectile designed to intercept incoming enemy missiles and aircraft, it also had the capability to carry a 20 kiloton nuclear warhead, which would make decimating a city look eerily similar to microwaving a marshmallow.
So, after building these missiles and seeing the insane power they behold, I can only assume the state legislature took one look and said, “Oh hell yes,” and decided to build 15 of these launch sites. Towns such as Franklin Lakes, Summit, and Middletown played a part in the New York defense, while Pitman, Swedesboro, and Berlin in South Jersey helped fill out the Philadelphia defense. These bases remained in action for 20 years, with the bases being deactivated in 1974.
But where weaponized radiation left off, the utilities companies picked up. By the 1970’s nuclear reactors became the cool new way to power towns. The Salem Nuclear Powerplant on the fired up its firs reactor in 1977. Now, we know the plant hasn’t triggered any nuclear emergencies in the past 30 years. (Which was tough to do when Bruce Willis worked there as a security guard before his acting career. Face it, trouble follows that guy. Did you not see any of the Die Hards?) The plant did, however have a few initial safety concerns, mostly including unreliable controls and a LEAKING FREAKING GENERATOR. However, the leaks were not serious. The reactors were even shut down for two years in the 90’s. Since then the plant has reopened and cleaned up its act, and in a 2004 report found the only possible problem was low worker morale, and the plant was deemed safety compliant. Because there’s no way a depressed work population operating a controlled nuclear reaction could ever go wrong, right?
As for the Atlantic side of our state, we also have Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant in Lacey Township, and can be viewed as the Oscar Madison to Salem’s Felix Unger. (Yeah, it’s an Odd Couple reference; Google it…) While Salem posed several initial environmental concerns, Oyster creek has been proactive. The parent company Exelon funds statewide environmental projects, such as the “Sport Fish Fund,” which is a reef-building fund to rebuild 46-acres of new reef inside Barnegat Light Reef.
So while people in states like California are rushing to the pharmacy to buy Iodine pills, be comfortable knowing that by living in New Jersey you’ve most likely built up a tolerance to the trace amounts of radiation, and besides, most of the cooler superheroes started out with radiation exposure anyway. What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger, and Jersey might just be the strongest.
By Dan Ferrara
Check out this video from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Bruce Willis repping the 609 and talking about Bruce working at the Salem power plant…Bruce Willis Daily Show 7/26/2007