Straight Talk

Much to my shock and amazement this week, the regularly viewing schedule of trash hype television, Entertainment Tonight and Extra, was unceremoniously interrupted by an hour long “town hall” discussion of PA security presided by the reluctant governor of my fine state, Mark Shweiker. I say reluctant because ever since Tom Ridge became the head of the Office of Homeland Security, the former Lieutenant Governor Shweiker has made public statements to the effect that he has absolutely no intention of running for reelection at the end of his term. Just what we need in these troubling times—uninspired politicians. That’s sarcasm folks, but at least he’s honest.

And nonetheless, there he was amidst a group of PA state citizens, talking and receiving questions from phone and email about the state of Pennsylvania, boasting of a readiness platform designed to thwart off any potential threats. I must admit to picking up on what could only be described as a disinclined tone in his voice. Or maybe I was having a paranoid daydream.

The moment that struck me the most occurred when an older gentlemen took the microphone to ask a question about nuclear safety. Specifically, the inquiry had to do with Three Mile Island, a topic the anchor/host admitted was probably the largest subject of concern among the audience. The man, a retired engineer, asked the Governor what steps were being taken to make sure that the nuclear facilities in PA (a home to five such facilities) were living up to public safety standards in light of the September 11 attacks. He wanted to know what steps officials were taking beyond the interim measure of stepping up engineering structures conceived decades ago.

While admitting, “I’m not an engineer” the Governor replied that he was satisfied with certain “information” he has received regarding the “very unlikely” circumstance of something terrible happening, specifically to TMI. But I don’t think PA residents will so easily trust those answers, nor should we. We live next to the first nuclear facility on earth to undergo a nearly catastrophic accident. The vague and contradictory answers regarding public safety given by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during those similarly anxious times in the 1970’s are easily recallable.

I’m glad the Governor was taking the time to give us “straight talk.” I applaud it. But I don’t expect anyone in Central Pennsylvania to be breathing a sigh of relief just yet—not when the only information given to us regarding the public safety of these sitting-duck liabilities is vague or at best hearsay from invisible public officials.