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Fukushima: A Disaster Manufactured in the Imperial Boardrooms of Capitalism

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  • Romi Elnagar
    Fukushima: A Disaster Manufactured in the Imperial Boardrooms of Capital by Chris Williams / July 11th, 2012 They may not live in castles anymore, but the
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 9, 2012
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      Fukushima: A Disaster Manufactured in the Imperial Boardrooms of Capital
      by Chris Williams / July 11th, 2012
      They may not live in castles anymore, but the glass-plated
      skyscrapers that tower over the great cities of the world, in faceless
      anonymity, still signify the imperious domain of the ruling elite.  It
      is from these places, not the featureless depths of the earth’s roiling
      crust, which were the decisive cause of the triple nuclear meltdowns at
      the Fukushima-Daiichi plant on March 11, 2011.
      An independent report by the
      Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), the first independent investigation committee authorized by the
      Japanese Diet (parliament) in its 66 year history, was released to both
      houses of the Diet on July 5.  The chairman of the report begins with
      zero equivocation as to the ultimate cause of the nuclear meltdowns,
      which are still preventing tens of thousands of people from returning to their homes; returns that for many, are likely never to come:
      The earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although
      triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the
      Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural
      disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should
      have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been
      mitigated by a more effective human response.
      How could such a “profoundly manmade disaster” have come to pass?  A
      multitude of errors, “willful negligence”, and a “reluctance to question authority” led to nuclear power becoming “an unstoppable force, immune
      to scrutiny by civil society. Its regulation was entrusted to the same
      government bureaucracy responsible for its promotion.”  It sounds all
      too eerily familiar to anyone who has spent time investigating the US
      nuclear regulatory body, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the
      collusion between the NRC and US nuclear corporations.
      In a line that must indubitably stoke the anger and sorrow of all
      those made homeless, all those who have lost their livelihoods and all
      those tens of thousands more who now are left to agonize over
      radioactive contamination for themselves and their children for decades
      to come, the report states, “The direct causes of the accident were all
      foreseeable prior to March 11, 2011.”
      In other words, contrary to all the talk about “an unforeseeable
      event” from governments around the world and nuclear apologists of the
      left and right, the nuclear meltdowns, with all their untold and
      long-term consequences for the physical and mental health of the people
      of the region, were entirely preventable if the corporation which
      operated the plants, TEPCO, or the government bodies charged with
      regulating the nuclear industry, NISA and METI, had taken the
      appropriate safety precautions:
      The operator (TEPCO), the regulatory bodies (NISA and
      NSC) and the government body promoting the nuclear power industry
      (METI), all failed to correctly develop the most basic safety
      requirements—such as assessing the probability of damage, preparing for
      containing collateral damage from such a disaster, and developing
      evacuation plans for the public in the case of a serious radiation
      The report notes that these organizations had known of the inability
      of the reactors to withstand such an earthquake and tsunami since 2006.  It recommends across the board substantive reforms to all aspects of
      nuclear regulation, the operation of the plants, the legal framework
      within which they operate and the emergency response, evacuation and
      disaster preparedness plans, all of which were found wanting.
      It warns that these must not be cosmetic name changes or simply
      shifts of personnel but a root and branch reordering of priorities and
      fundamental reforms as government regulators and the corporation as organizations all failed to protect the public, as is their legal duty:
      There were many opportunities for NISA, NSC and TEPCO to
      take measures that would have prevented the accident, but they did not
      do so. They either intentionally postponed putting safety measures in
      place, or made decisions based on their organization’s self interest—
      not in the interest of public safety.
      In an echo of the BP Gulf oil spill of 2010, where it was found that
      BP had no viable emergency response plan, “TEPCO’s manual for emergency
      response to a severe accident was completely ineffective, and the
      measures it specified did not function.”  In yet another similarity with the BP disaster, where US government regulators were found to be having sex and drug parties with BP officials, the report speaks of “a cozy
      relationship between the operators, the regulators and academic scholars that can only be described as totally inappropriate.”
      However, fundamental reform to the nuclear industry, and TEPCO in
      particular, is looking less likely without a further outpouring of
      national protest the like of which Japan has not seen in decades.  This
      is because TEPCO is a giant corporation with a stranglehold on electricity production and much else through various related companies.
      Thanks to a virtual monopoly and a murky electricity
      pricing system, it has become one of the biggest sources of loosely
      regulated cash for politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, who have
      repaid Tepco with unquestioning support and with the type of lax
      oversight that contributed to the nuclear crisis.
      TEPCO had net income (i.e. profits) of $1.7 billion in 2009 through
      its corporate affiliates and ownership of 192 electricity plants that
      produce up to one third of the electricity in Japan.  Overall, Japanese
      people pay twice as much for electricity as do those in the US.  TEPCO
      is, therefore, in the current neoliberal jargon, justifying yet more
      daylight robbery through ongoing bank bailouts, apparently another
      corporation “too big to fail”.  Amazingly, TEPCO is pushing to restart
      some of its own reactors despite the widely held belief, now well
      documented in the government’s independent report, that the corporation
      was largely to blame.  Meanwhile, TEPCO, in its own report on the
      accident, exonerated itself, citing instead the size of the tsunami and government blunders as the causes of the meltdowns.
      Conversely, not to mention much more believably, the authors of the
      NAIIC report conclude that the accident was “manmade”: “The TEPCO
      Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion
      between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of
      governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the
      accident was clearly “manmade.”
      Some people, a lot of people, should be going to jail.  Betrayal of
      the people and their right to be free of radioactive contamination,
      particularly a people that has already suffered the horror of atomic
      weapons used against its civilian population, is unconscionable.  What
      could have driven these decisions taken by so many people in all these
      different organizations?  Led them to behave in such a criminally
      irresponsible manner?
      Ultimately, we get to the heart of the matter: “As the nuclear power
      business became less profitable over the years, TEPCO’s management began to put more emphasis on cost cutting and increasing Japan’s reliance on nuclear power.”
      Put another way, the decisions taken were dictated by the prime
      directive of capitalism: make profit at all costs, grow by any means
      necessary.  Cut whatever corners you need to, bribe and cajole whoever
      is necessary, denigrate and belittle those who oppose you; there is no
      higher power to which you will answer other than the God of Profit. 
      This is the iron law of capital accumulation.
      The consequences of those decisions, taken in the faraway, plush
      boardrooms of the nuclear corporations, and the lack of credible
      government information since the disaster, have now created the fear of the people, the disbanding of families, and the destruction of their livelihoods in Fukushima prefecture:
      They continue to face grave concerns, including the
      health effects of radiation exposure, displacement, the dissolution of
      families, disruption of their lives and lifestyles and the contamination of vast areas of the environment. There is no foreseeable end to the
      decontamination and restoration activities that are essential for
      rebuilding communities.
      What an utterly appalling way to make electricity.  No foreseeable
      end to decontamination and restoration activities.  Even without
      considering the issue of nuclear waste, the staggering cost of building
      and operating nuclear plants, or the umbilical cord that indelibly
      connects the nuclear power industry to the nuclear weapons and defense
      industry, can anyone honestly say that as a highly technological
      society, we have no better alternatives to generating electricity than
      operating nuclear power stations?
      The response by the people of Japan has been tremendous and inspiring.  Tens of thousands have regularly picketed government and corporate offices to prevent the restart of reactors, 7.5 million people have signed a petition against
      the restarting of any of the 54 idled reactors which have been kept
      shuttered due to this massive and unprecedented outpouring of activism,
      organizing and anger.  A new anti-nuclear movement is being born from
      below.  As of May, the people of Japan celebrated the shut-down of the
      last of the 54 Japanese reactors, even as there were no power cuts.  Our power defeated the nuclear power!  People’s joy was short-lived,
      however.  Despite the “setback” of the Fukushima nuclear disaster –
      which should now surely be described at the very least as a
      disaster-waiting-to-happen, nuclear corporations are not throwing in the towel and admitting that nuclear power has got to go.
      Through a carefully orchestrated media campaign of fear-mongering
      based on the threat of power cuts and government announcements about the dangers a lack of electricity pose to Japan’s fragile economy, they
      have managed to  successfully argue for the restart of reactors in the
      western industrial region around Osaka.  In a rare televised appeal to the Japanese public, the new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who is
      entirely pro-nuclear, made the case for the necessary restarts.
      However, in another new piece of evidence that should halt all talk
      all restarts, the NAIIC report notes that it cannot say whether the
      earthquake itself – not the tsunami – was partly responsible for the
      reactor meltdowns.  This finding invalidates the “stress tests” that the nuclear plants have undergone to prove that they are safe to operate
      because those tests were based on the assumption that it was only the
      tsunami, not the earthquake, which caused the structural problems and
      loss of power at the plant.
      Meanwhile, a separate government panel of experts has declared that,
      based on what happened with the tsunami from the March 11th earthquake,
      34m, or 112 feet high tsunamis are possible along the Pacific coast.  Every single one of the 54 Japanese nuclear reactors is situated along the coast!
      The tsunami that overwhelmed the Fukushima-Daiichi plant, and swept
      away entire villages in the area, causing 19,000 deaths, was 14m (45
      feet) high, less than half what is predicted as now possible.  A 2003
      report had put the maximum that had to be planned for at 20m (60 feet)
      but clearly a 14m wave can overwhelm coastal defenses and inundate
      nuclear plants such as at Fukushima-Daiichi, which had only anticipated
      and prepared for a 6m (20 foot) high wave – especially if they have
      already been compromised by the preceding earthquake.  The only rational answer is to permanently shut down all the reactors, break apart and
      dismantle the nuclear corporations as threats to public health, take
      further measures to conserve electricity and speed up the program of
      building the infrastructure necessary for a clean energy economy.
      However, there are a few broader conclusions to draw from this report and the litany of similar cases of accidents such as the BP spill where the corporate drive for profit is like an unstoppable tsunami
      rationalizing all manner of health and safety evasions and cutbacks.
      Firstly, this is not about a few bad apples or irresponsible, corrupt people.  This is about how capitalism operates.  How else does one
      explain the need for every single area of capital accumulation – from
      the nuclear industry, to oil and gas, to pharmaceuticals to food
      production – to have independent regulators preventing the corporations
      from doing what they are primed to do: make profit at all costs?  If the regulators are in the pockets of the corporations that bestride the
      planet as unaccountable behemoths with their colossal economies, often
      larger than most individual states, all hell breaks loose.
      Second, whatever those deluded environmentalists who are pro-nuclear
      think, there is no scenario in which a sane person can be pro-nuclear
      when the nuke plants are operating within a social system that has no
      ethical, social, ecological or moral concerns and drives the individuals who run the system into immoral actions.  The only thing crazier than
      boiling water by splitting atoms is boiling water by splitting atoms in a social system driven by profit.
      Five years ago the great leftist social and ecological thinker and activist Barry Commoner was asked in a New York Times interview whether the environmentalists who have now turned to nuclear power as
      an answer to global warming had a point.  To which he answered:
      No. This is a good example of shortsighted
      environmentalism. It superficially makes sense to say, “Here’s a way of
      producing energy without carbon dioxide.” But every activity that
      increases the amount of radioactivity to which we are exposed is
      idiotic. There has to be a life-and-death reason to do it. I mean, we
      haven’t solved the problem of waste yet. We still have used fuel sitting all over the place. I think the fact that some people who have
      established a reputation as environmentalists have adopted this is
      Third, within capitalism, there are certain essential economic
      activities which need to be thought of as they were before the
      acceleration of capitalist orthodoxy of deregulation and privatization
      that occurred with the birth of neo-liberalism 30 years ago. Before the
      drive for privatization that necessitated the evisceration of the
      organized power of the working class, as the balance of class forces
      were forcibly tilted toward the corporations and away from us.
      Activities where we are not seen as customers for a commodity that we buy from a for-profit corporation, but rather as citizens, with a right to a service from the government that we elect to represent our interests.
      Examples of such essential services are the provision of education,
      access to water, health care, a pension, public transportation – the
      most basic attributes for a productive and healthy life and a
      functioning society.  But this idea must also extend to the provision of electricity.  Not just because it is fundamental to the way we live,
      but, just as importantly, for ecological reasons.
      We need to conserve electricity and energy use in general and set up
      systems to ensure that there is a nationally organized program to do
      so.  However, that will never happen with electricity
      production when the utilities are privately owned.  Private electric
      utilities make more money the more electricity they sell us.  So having
      consumers use less would be counter-productive and irrational from a
      corporate perspective.  If they’re regulated and offered incentives to
      sell us less, they just charge more for each individual unit and pass
      the costs on.  Furthermore, corporations are always going to spend as
      little as they can get away with on infrastructure, safety and
      maintenance, as illustrated to a horrific extent by the nuclear
      catastrophe in Japan.
      Electricity should be a service that is publically provided, not a
      commodity to be bought.  In other words, we need to re-nationalize the
      electricity grid and see it as an opportunity to build a new energy
      infrastructure, one that is efficient and has at its heart energy
      conservation based around alternative sources of energy.  Not outdated,
      dirty, and dangerous 19th and 20th century technologies such as coal,
      oil, gas or uranium but clean, renewable – and safe – wind, solar and
      geothermal sources.  Energy sources that Japan and United States have in great abundance.
      It’s crystal clear, however, that without an organized mass movement
      from below that unites social and ecological issues together into a
      single movement for jobs, sustainability and justice, one that tilts the balance of social power back in our favor, as the Japanese people are
      attempting right now, those changes will not happen. Absent the building of such a movement, we will eventually be left living on an irradiated
      cinder of a planet where they sell us hazmat suits at inflated prices
      from the safety of their glittering corporate towers.
      In India, there is a titanic struggle going on between people
      organized under the banner of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear
      Energy (PMANE) and the Indian government.  The Indian state is
      determined, despite Fukushima, to increase its reliance on nuclear power tenfold, so that it represents 25% of electricity production.  This in a country where almost half the population, 400 million people, lack access to electricity and decades old Indian wind turbines produce twice as much electricity as current Indian nuclear plants that have
      already received billions of dollars in funding.  If these wind turbines alone were upgraded, let along building more modern ones or taking
      advantage of the plentiful solar energy that India basks in, they could
      supply a much larger segment of electricity and obviate the need for the nuclear plants.
      Due to the growth and persistence of the Indian activists struggle,
      the state is becoming increasingly violent, dispatching thousands of
      troops to put down protests.  Theresponse by PMANE and the anti-nuclear activists to state violence and intimidation as they fight to protect themselves
      from the calamity of building more nuclear plants deserves to be quoted
      at some length:
      The day after the Tamil Nadu state by-elections last
      March… Chief Minister Selvi J. Jayalalithaa suddenly reversed her
      earlier decision to support the protesters, dispatching at least 6,000
      police and paramilitary to the region. For three days, the government
      prevented essential supplies — including tankers of water and milk —
      from reaching the PMANE base in Idinthikarai, a coastal village about
      two kilometers from the Koodankulam reactors. But nearby fishing
      communities sympathized with the protesters at Idinthikarai and sent in
      boats of supplies for them. In an unprecedented display of solidarity,
      traditional local women also took to boats to reach the village.
      Residents blocked roads en masse, preventing police from arresting the
      movement’s coordinators.
      This is the kind of heroic solidarity actions and mass movement we
      need to build in the United States and in every part of the globe.
      But, finally, if the system really is pathological in its operation,
      as I would argue it is, then the only solution is to uproot it in its
      entirety and replace it with something that we can jointly and
      collectively create; a social and economic system that places people and the planet before profit.
      Ultimately, a system where there is no profit, where we cooperate to
      democratically plan out what we need to produce and how we’re going to
      produce it with, to use Marx’s words, the “least possible expenditure of energy”.  The stepping stones along the path to that fundamental
      transformation require the building of a mass social and ecological
      justice movement that fights for real reforms as outlined above,
      beginning with the abandonment of the destructive and costly insanity of nuclear power and the eradication of fossil fuel derived energy that is destabilizing global climate.  But a movement that simultaneously aims
      for a revolutionary reordering of power.
      Power to the People, not the Corporations!
      Chris Williams is a long-time environmental
      activist and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist
      Ecological Crisis. His writings have appeared in International Socialist Review, The Indypendent, Truthout, and ZNet. He is a chemistry and
      physics professor at Pace University and chair of the Packer Collegiate
      Institute science department. His website is www.ecologyandsocialism.org and he can be contacted at ecologyandsocialism@.... Read other articles by Chris, or visit Chris's website.


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