Saturday, October 4, 2008

Our National Chernobyl

Power, by its nature, is a curious thing, a thing which reacts within itself to grow ever more powerful. It can be likened to a nuclear reactor, with its prerequisite control systems. Like a reactor, that power is dangerous, and can even be deadly when improperly applied.

Power, under the US constitution, has numerous control systems. From the separation of powers (control rods) to the oversight (failsafes) and backup systems (safeties). There are cooling systems for the reactor, as well, the public opinion, which can heat up or cool down the reaction, and drives the power.

But what happens when, one after another, the control rods are withdrawn, and the power of the legislative branch mixes with that of the executive? As the control rods move out, the system increases in power, exponentially. Eventually, it reaches a point of criticality, at which point the reaction flashes out of control.

Those separations are vital in the constitution, as in the government. If we are not to suffer a meltdown, we must have the safeguards against it.

We have numerous automatic systems, control nodes that are supposed to cut out and quench the reaction when it grows too intense. One of those is the power of the people, and the voice of the vote, to replace the fuel rods within the reactor (senators, representatives, and the President). Another of those is the power of impeachment, between the representatives, the senate, and the president. A third is the power of the Supreme Court to interpret what the contract of the Constitution actually was.

But what happens when the system breaks down? What happens, say, when one section of the reactor grows too powerful? If we take fuel from the congress, and add it to the pile of the executive, do we not add disproportionate power to that section of the reaction? Does it not negate the use of that control rod that quelches the reactions between those powers?

Let us take the separation between the two houses, the representative house, and the senate. The senate represents the states, the house of representatives, the people. The will of the people drives the reactor, in theory, and the senate recognizes the needs of the state, to moderate the will of the people. By slowing down the reactive force, the senate actually prevents the House of Representatives from growing too hot, and initiating further reactions in the President.

But what happens when you remove the control rods of separation between the two houses, and the constitutional rules that require a majority for any business? Each control rod reduces the control of the system. When they are removed, as well, the reaction runs more feircely.

That is when the automatic systems should engage.. but what if they are cut out? What if, in the reaction, the executive branch chooses to lift the control rods beyond their safety limit? While the people boil, the system gains more and more power within the fuel, and the interaction between the three grows incredibly more powerful, exponentially with each moment of reaction.

What happens, however, when the control systems are attempted to be reapplied? Well, in the case of a reactor, good engineering design takes over. In the case of a government? That's questionable. The government tends to swell to fill the gaps. The control rods have to be forced into the remaining gaps, and can no longer do the job they were intended to do. The automatic systems should kick in at this point, moving the fuel apart. If they were disabled, and the oversight of the people disabled so the coolant can no longer circulate (the government no longer respects the people) the coolant continues to grow hotter, and hotter. The reaction intensifies still more, granting more power to the system than it is capable of handling.

Eventually, in a reactor, the system melts down, often explosively as the coolant boils off, then the system reaches full criticality, and the runaway reaction devestates the reactor chamber (the country) and scatters radioactive particles all over the area, and anything surrounding it.

In the government, it's far more subtle.. the people grow more and more afraid of the government, the stacks of fuel are stacked more and more into one section of the government, as the control rods separating them cease to matter. The automatic systems in this case cannot cope, as they were not designed for a system where the stacks of fuel were all in the hands of the executive. The executive begins to radiate power at a faster and faster rate, pulling in the fuel from the other systems, which become less and less effectual at resisting it.

Eventually the fuel begins to radiate so hot, that the power production peaks, and a criticality event occurs. This is the declaration of a state of emergency, and the removal of the constitutional safeguards for the coolant. The coolant (people) no longer cool the reaction of the government, and the power continues to build until the original framework can no longer handle the pressure... and the reaction runs away, destroying the equipment, burning away the people, and the foundation of government crumbles under the assault.

It is human nature to wish more power... it is wisdom to moderate it. It is human nature to believe that we know the right things for mankind, and thus, it would not hurt to pull the control rods a bit further. After all, we're in control, right?

This is exactly what was thought at Chernobyl. The head engineer felt that he knew the system, and disregarded the requirements of the test that was being done. He closed down the reactor, then when he brought it back up, it was not operating as he thought it should. Due to the introduction of xenon (a neutron-blocking material) the system could not generate the power. Nothing occurred when he pulled the control rods, so the manuals were pulled, necessetating the lockout of the control computer. As the power increased, slowly, with the rods fully out, eventually it overcame the moderation potential of the xenon, and then the reaction became instantly more powerful. As the control rods were reinserted, something else odd happened.. the tips of the rods displaced the coolant, and provided better neutron paths for reaction, causing the system to seize, and there was no stopping it.

Perhaps we should stop our governmental chernobyl before it irradiates the countryside, and costs lives, livelihoods, and poisons our lands for centuries to come.

Let us return the safeguards, and safeties to the people. Do we not owe that to future generations?

Chernobyl is silent now.. a monument to a grave mistake. Let us not make the same mistakes in our government, or the generations to come will not forgive us, either.

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