Fukushima: nuclear power is not safe under capitalism

Fukushima: nuclear power is not safe under capitalism

May 31st, 2013
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[the following is from 3/17/2011]

The Japanese nuclear disaster at Fukushima has reignited the debate over nuclear power. World opinion could haughtily dismiss Chernobyl as having taken place in a backward, corrupt country, but now a catastrophe is playing out in prosperous Japan. The problem with most of the narratives in this debate is that they treat the question as purely technological — either nuclear power is safe, or it is not — when in reality the problem is social. Nuclear power may be possible to generate safely, but under capitalism that will never happen. Profit comes first.

Take Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, the parent company of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. It has admitted that from the 1980s through the early 1990s it doctored records concerning reactor shrouds, and that it falsified the results of 1991-1992 tests on the containment vessel of the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima. In 2003, it shut down all of its nuclear reactors for inspections, acknowledging the systematic cover-up of data showing cracks in reactors.

Tepco has lied, cheated, and put the public at risk to make money. But we could expect as much from a corporation. What about the regulators that are supposed to keep them honest?

The Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA),  boasts a “double-check” system. Japan nonetheless has a history of nuclear accidents. In 1999 an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction at a uranium-reprocessing plant killed two employees and released radiation. Government officials later said safety equipment at the plant was missing and the people involved lacked training. In 2007, an earthquake heavily damaged Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. The plant released radiation and spilled radioactive water into the Sea of Japan.

The fact is that NISA, which is part of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), are the governmental allies of the capitalists at Tepco. In August 2010, Masayuki Naoshima, then chief of METI, even led a delegation to Vietnam to promote the sale of nuclear power plants. And the close relationship between NISA and the Japanese industry is no anomaly. In the USA, nuclear energy interests spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions during the last election cycle. The largest of them, the Nuclear Energy Institute, spent $3.76 million lobbying and $323,000 through its political action committee on a bipartisan congressional slate.

The whole system is rotten. That is why the debate about nuclear regulation is pointless. And not just nuclear regulation, all environmental and safety regulation. Fukushima is just another version of the BP Gulf disaster — there too an industry-bought regulatory environment, which had been approved by both the Bush and Obama administrations, allowed for dangerous practices which resulted in a catastrophe.

It is senseless to rely on regulators in a money-bought capitalist democracy to protect the public from the same interests that they represent!

Until we replace capitalism with a higher form of social organization, it will be the same old story of private profit and greed, and public suffering and loss. The problem with nuclear power is not technological, it is social. Corporations hold all the power in society. Their ethos of avarice is our guiding value. One day we may be willing to hold ourselves to high safety and environmental standards and to spend resources and effort installing backups and fail-safes, but that day will never come under capitalism.




This entry was posted on Friday, May 31st, 2013 at 2:18 pm and is filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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