power – strom und macht

Fukushima as Manufactured Disaster


Susanne Gerber


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 11th March 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

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,

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 release.“

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

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

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
ower-of-tepco.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1>  with a stranglehold on electricity
production and much else through various related companies which allow the

„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

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
onerates-itself-in-report.html?_r=2&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y> , 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

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
lth-fears> , 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

The response by the people of Japan has been tremendous and inspiring. Tens
of thousands
tm_content=FullStory#s365125&title=Japan_Anti_Nuclear>  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
estart-of-2-nuclear-reactors.html?hpw>  to the Japanese public, the new
Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who is entirely pro-nuclear, made the case
for the necessary restarts.
Description: Description: Description:

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
isk> 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

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

„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 appalling.“

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 neoliberalism 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, healthcare, 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. The response 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

„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 professor in the Dept of Chemistry & Physical Science,
Pace University and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist
Ecological Crisis
(Haymarket Books, 2010)

see also


Filed under: Fukushima, Politics, Reflection, Resistance

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