Everyone has their own thoughts on politics. Most express these views after a few in the local. But for some there is only one way to tell the world their feelings; these artists pick up their microphones, guitars, synths and more. In this regular feature, I will look at the creations of these musical campaigners, their meaning and the political landscapes that created them.
Gil Scott-Heron blessed our airwaves with soft beats and well-constructed poetry for over 40 years. Over his career he used his talent to tackle some of the biggest issues of his time in America, from the Watergate scandal to race relations. However, I have chosen to focus on one of my favourite songs by Gil, recorded whilst working with Brian Jackson, ‘We almost lost Detroit’.
Behind its light percussion is the harrowing story of a meltdown at the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generation station, 30 miles outside Detroit in Monroe County. Based on a successful book of the same name, this chilling tale almost became reality in 1966 when a zirconium plate inside the reactor became loose and restricted the flow of coolant causing several fuel rods to begin to melt. Operators successfully managed to shutdown the reactor before any serious incident occurred but naturally this scare brought the dangers of nuclear power to light in America. This was one of the first accidents of its type, over 10 years before the famous Three Mile Island accident.
In the song Gil Scott uses his powerful lyrics to express concerns about the nuclear power industry and if the citizens’ safety was taken seriously. Most notably alleging ‘no one stopped to think about the people, or how they would survive.’ Although extremely strong wording, it speaks for the huge concerns everyday citizens had over how private companies treated the running of this sensitive industry. This distrust for operators was stressed again by Gil Scott later with, ‘what would Karen Silkwood say?’. Karen was somewhat of a heroin for Nuclear power activism following her in-depth allegations made towards the Kerr-McGee Nuclear facility, where she was a technician. Her allegations included lack of sufficient training for staff and poor monitoring, leading to several cases of exposure including herself. Her story gained cult fame after her mysterious death in November 1974, on her way to show her findings to reporter David Burnham.
The safety of nuclear power and it’s continued use is still a hot topic to this day, particularly since the Fukushima disaster in 2011. As well as highlighting a more general safety concern of how unpredictable natural disasters can cause such effects, the incident again raised concerns of negligence by electricity companies. The final report on the disaster finding that the operator, TEPCO, failed to meet safety guidelines and also ignored a 2008 in-house study highlighting better protection was needed against tsunamis.
The disaster and following report had a huge effect on how many developed nations viewed the future of nuclear power, most notably with Germany promising to end their use of nuclear power by 2022. On the other hand many marched on with their nuclear programs and it appears private firms continue to invest in the industry especially since the recent agreement between the UK, EDF Energy and CGN to construct Hinkley Point C. Nevertheless with renewables becoming more and more cost effective, the debate will only get hotter.