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Nuclear regulation in Japan 'amiable fiction'

You would think that of all countries, Japan would be cautious about nuclear power. But no, this is capitalism, stupid! Nothing must be permitted to stand in the way of profits, not even the threat of a catastrophic meltdown.

The consequences of the disaster at the Fukushima plant following the earthquake and tsunami are just coming to light. Radioactive iodine twice the safe level for babies has been found in Tokyo’s water supply, and there are bans on milk and food from a growing contaminated area round the stricken plants.

Three workers are in hospital after being exposed to excess radioactivity when a plume of radioactive steam rose from the plant on Wednesday. Many firefighters are wondering if they have a future at all, in light of what happened to those who fought the fire at Chernobyl. Japan’s farming industry is being devastated as countries including the US, Australia and South Korea, ban imports.

Japan’s prime minister was overheard accusing the plant’s operators Tokyo Electricity and Power Company (TEPCO) of even now not telling the truth about what is happening. TEPCO have a long history of lies and cover-ups, according to Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), Japan's largest anti-nuclear organisation.

In 2002, TEPCO’s president and four other executives resigned, admitting “dishonest practices”, after covering up the failure of a crucial piece of equipment in all its 17 reactors. In 2007 a TEPCO plant in West Japan was damaged by an earthquake and burned for two hours; hundreds of gallons of radioactive water leaked into the sea. The company claimed there had been just a small fire and covered up the water leak.

The Japanese state is more concerned with marketing TEPCO’s ageing nuclear technology abroad than with regulation. As Philip White, English language spokesman for CNIC, puts it: "There's no true regulation of the Japanese nuclear industry. It's just an amiable fiction."

Writing in the Guardian this week, George Monbiot explained how the Fukushima accident has, bizzarely, converted him to the joys of nuclear power. If old and inadequate reactors can withstand the biggest-ever earthquake with only a low level of leaking radiation, then nuclear power is OK by him, provided certain conditions are met:

1. Its total emissions – from mine to dump – are taken into account, and demonstrate that it is a genuinely low-carbon option 2. We know exactly how and where the waste is to be buried. 3. We know how much this will cost and who will pay 4. There is a legal guarantee that no civil nuclear materials will be diverted for military purposes.

Clearly, this particular nuclear power development is going to take place on Planet Dreamland. Unfortunately here on planet earth, the nuclear future is in the hands of profit-driven corporations, who have always lied about risks, accidents, costs and waste disposal, and governments who either don’t have the guts to stand up to them, or are actually in cahoots with them.

But Monbiot is not alone. Fuelling capitalist business as usual with nuclear power is proposed by an increasing number of otherwise serious green campaigners. This counsel of despair suggests that human society has no other option than to allow capitalism to go on raping and pillaging the planet, and that our role is to propose new ways for it to fuel its activities.

It suggests that the climate crisis – which is certainly caused by fossil fuel burning – exists in isolation from the existential crisis affecting the survival of the whole eco-system for a multiplicity of reasons arising from the capitalist form of production.

Their problem is liberal scepticism about the potential for change, which A World to Win does not share. Human beings have the potential to replace the current corporate-led governments with a global network of People’s Assemblies.

With democratic control of production, we can establish a rational relationship with nature, where production for need using renewable energy sources, replaces the present obscene multiplication of commodities. It can be done and it must be done.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
24 March 2011

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Your Say

Tim says:

I read the Monbiot piece and too was disappointed. Monbiot has written some great articles over recent years. What amazed me about Monbiot was that his piece was based on the premise that Fukushima is all done and dusted whereas it seems to me it is just beginning. The Big Event is not Libya - although important - but the melting down of Japan's nuclear reactors. Yet the mainstream media seem to have decided, like Monbiot, that it is all over! I agree with Penny. The problem at Fukushima was not the earthquake or the tsunami but corporate and government corruption. How did these reactors pass the SQ (seismic qualification) test? And how was it that the EDG (emergency diesel generators) failed to work because of waterlogging? In a plant built by the sea in a tsunami prone area? The answers will not be found in any technological investigation. The person that can answer these questions, the CEO of TEPCO, is currently languishing in a hosptial bed with high blood pressure - unsurprisingly!

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