Despite its recent absence from the news, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan has been moving from bad to worse. After more than two months of befuddling and dodging, the Japanese government finally admitted the Fukushima plant suffered meltdowns in three of its reactors, releasing more than double its previous estimate of radiation since the March earthquake. (Moreover, government objection to independent testing around the site means these estimates are unconfirmed and probably understate the real amount — (London Telegraph, 6/10).
On June 4, robots entering Reactor 1 reported the highest levels of radiation since the crisis began: 40,000 tons of irradiated water remains in the plant’s lower levels that might or might not be sealed and an unknown amount has leaked into the ocean and surrounding area. (USA Today, 6/4) And questions remain regarding how much radiation has entered the nearby Tokyo water supply. (NY Times, 3/23) Now the Japanese government has admitted that melted fuel might have broken through the containment vessels in Reactors 1-3 which, if true, represents a significant escalation of the disaster. (Bloomberg News, 6/6)
Hundreds of workers in Japan have accepted virtual death sentences by entering the plant to try to contain the meltdown, and 270 retirees and older workers have volunteered to go to Fukushima to help with the containment. One stated, “I will be dead before the cancer gets me.” (Reuters, 6/6) These workers’ sacrifice represents the finest qualities of the working class.
The capitalist class has performed in its usual cowardly way, pushing workers into the plant while hiding safely in Tokyo trying to cover up the scope of the disaster. In a particularly crass move, the Tepco top brass (operators of Fukushima) has to cut workers’ wages 25% to pay for the disaster. (Bloomberg, 4/26) Futhermore, the government refused to expand the evacuation zone “to avoid compensation payments to still more evacuees.” (NYT, 8/9). Under capitalism, workers pay for disasters with both their wages and their lives.
Nuclear Power A Continuing Disaster under Capitalism
The Fukushima disaster cannot be overstated. The meltdown is currently rated as a level 7 nuclear disaster (the highest possible rating), matching the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, which, by some estimates, may have caused one million deaths. (ENS, 4/26) This is significant since the Chernobyl disaster occurred in a less populated area and was contained far more quickly than the currently unfolding Fukushima disaster.
But nuclear plants don’t have to melt down to become deadly. A 2004 U.S. study found Strontium-90 — a radioactive byproduct of nuclear fission — in baby teeth. The concentrations of children with this radioactive byproduct were extremely high in communities located within 40 miles of nuclear power plants. (USA Today, 1/2/04) Furthermore, U.S. nuclear power plants have not received thorough and regular inspections, leading companies to continue operating them despite serious problems in safety equipment, in order to maintain high profits. (USA Today, 11/6/03; Democracy Now, 3/27/09; 3/14/11)
Nuclear Power: A Cover for War
The bosses love nuclear power for a variety of reasons. The heavy subsidizing of the nuclear industry (true in all countries) represents huge profits for private firms. Current promised nuclear subsidies in the U.S. represent the transfer of $36 billion from the working class (who pays almost all taxes) to private industry. (MSNBC, 2/16/10)
But the real reason for the growing emphasis on nuclear power is war. The increasing imperialist competition and war for control of energy-producing regions, most notably Central Asia and the Middle East, has led to increasing domestic development of nuclear power in imperialist countries. U.S., Japanese and European capitalists have all placed a heavy emphasis on developing nuclear power to offset their growing dependence on foreign sources of oil and natural gas.
Furthermore, ruling-class support of nuclear power provides a convenient cover for the ongoing development of nuclear weapons. Nuclear power plants are required to produce the various fuel components for nuclear weapons. As capitalists increase their commitment to imperialist war — while public support for these wars wavers — nuclear weapons are seen as important “force multipliers” on the battlefield. A recent report has confirmed that the various nuclear powers, rather than reducing their arsenals, are in fact updating and improving their nuclear weapons systems. (Agency France Press, 6/6)
Nuclear power has been sold to the working class under the lie that it is environmentally “sound,” but the promise of the atom in the hands of capitalists remains today, as it did in 1945: war, death and terror. As a Party we should show our respect and admiration for the brave workers currently battling the Fukushima disaster by building a movement that can crush the murderous capitalist system that created the disaster in the first place.