From the Gonzo

. . . somewhere near the event horizon.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A story about nuclear safety

Once upon a time . . ., just kidding. Once, working for an unnamed publication I was assigned a story which consisted of coverage of a political debate. I gladly accepted the assignment, my interest in politics being what it is. And since it has a passing connection to nuclear safety I will relate it here.

The debate pitted candidates for the 70th District State
Representatitives seat against one another. Incumbent, appointee Robert Pritchard squared off against the comparitively meek but good intentioned Bob Brown. The race went off last fall amidst the pomp and pageantry of the presidential election. The stage was set, the media was in place along with the script of token questions about cliche issues. The Battle of the Bobs was about to begin.

The night wore on. The men bantered back and forth about medical malpractice insurance rates and how they chased doctors from Illinois. They argued about campaign financing and who took what money from which alcohol and tobacco distributors. A perfectly "legal" business Pritchard reminded the crowd. It became boring after, about, the second question.

Finally, the debate ended. Audience members stretched their legs, probably more out of boredom than anything, the debate hadn't lasted more than 45 minutes but it had seemed like an eternity to me and, apparantly, most of the crowd gathered to watch these two men talk to each other. Both candidates stayed for awhile after they finished debating and mingled with the audience and the media.

Time for some questions, I thought.

I figured I could get two or three with each candidate and Pritchard's press liason had assured me some time to ask questions. While the incumbent mingled with random attendees (maybe, maybe not so random), I hunted down challenger Bob Brown.

Brown is an amiable fellow. He bought me a Pepsi at the DeKalb County Democrats Election Day party, which I also covered for the unnamed publication.

I asked him a question about malpractice, he stumbled through his prepared answer rapidly. Then I hit him with my off-the-wall question of the night, one I came up with the previous day.
It went something like this:

"Considering that Illinois is home to more nuclear power reactors than any other state, how well do you think the state has focused attention and funding on nuclear security, post 9-11?"

Brown kind of looked at me strangely and answered. His answer was clearly unfocused and off the cuff. He kept saying that it was obviously something that needed to be looked at very closely. I don't think he knew what to say, so I left in search of the representative himself.

Pritchard was across the room from Brown, fully engrossed in a conversation with someone, a tall man. I walked up and his press secretary noticed me. After making me wait about 2 or 3 minutes Pritchard ended his conversation and turned his attention toward me. This was not the first time we had met nor was it the last time we would. He greeted me with a politician's smile and shook my hand with a politician's handshake. I obliged.

My questions ready, I fired away. The first, again, related to the malpractice issue they had discussed during the debate. He gave me the same talking points-riddled answer I expected, much of the same jargon he had orated while debating Brown.

Then I gave him my nuclear safety in Illinois bit.

He gave me a look similar to that Brown had given me, but I didn't falter I just waited. Then he looked at me and said:

"Well, you obviously know a lot more about it than I do . . . "

I almost burst out laughing. Oh, that's great, I thought. He then proceeded to ramble his way through a perfectly PR answer that neither made sense nor made me feel any safer about who represented DeKalb in the General Assembly. It was after that I knew, if there had been any doubts, who was going to win that election.

So, I guess all that means is what Bob Pritchard knows about nuclear safety can be summed in less than one sentence.

Photo1: Byron Nuclear Station, near Rockford.


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