May 3, 2018
In 2011 a magnitude-9 earthquake shook northeast Japan and wracked the coast with a massive tsunami, devastating towns, destabilizing economies nationwide—and causing meltdowns in nuclear power plants. Nonfiction author William T. Vollmann joined us to share firsthand accounts of the fallout from these disasters, bringing excerpts from his newest book No Immediate Danger, whose title sardonically co-opts the reassuring mantra of official Japanese energy experts. Vollman cautioned against nuclear power, drawing parallels to other sprawling practices such as fossil fuel extraction and industrial manufacturing as contributors to climate change. He invited us to examine the ramifications of nuclear power and evaluate whether the risks it poses are outweighed by the economic demand for electrical power and the justifiable yearning of people all over the world to live in comfort.
To illustrate the realities of these risks, Vollmann recounted visits made at significant personal risk over the course of seven years to the contaminated no-go zones and ghost towns of Fukushima, Japan. Equipped first only with a dosimeter and then with a scintillation counter, he measured radiation and interviewed tsunami victims, nuclear evacuees, anti-nuclear organizers, and pro-nuclear utility workers. Vollmann shared the powerful and sobering object lesson of Fukushima—and brought us into a broader conversation on the factors and human actions that will define our relationship with the environment for generations to come.
William T. Vollmann is the author of ten novels, including Europe Central, which won the National Book Award. He has also written four collections of stories, including The Atlas, which won the PEN Center USA West Award for Fiction. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His journalism and fiction have been published in The New Yorker, Harpers, Esquire, Granta, and many other publications.
Recorded live at Greenwood Senior Center by Town Hall Seattle on Wednesday, April 18, 2018.