Monday, August 26, 2013

Fukushima: more radioactive water, more uninhabitable land

The market at work: The Sunday stroll of the future?
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The “vibrant” private sector seems to be failing yet again in Japan where it appears the state will be forced to take over the clean up of the private sector’s huge disaster at the Fukushima nuclear facility.  We need to remind ourselves that when corporations leave a community leaving their polluted properties, land, water and such, it is generally the public sector that is faced with the clean up and the bill not to mention the effect on public health.

Three hundred tons of contaminated water leaked from one of the hundreds of storage tanks used to cool the damaged or broken reactors and Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been repeatedly criticized for incompetence and a failure to produce a long-term plan.  The most incompetent decision was made long ago mind you when it was decided to build nuclear rectors on an earthquake fault in a part of the world referred to as the “ring of fire” due to its seismic activity.  In addition, the plant sits next to the ocean in a land whose language gave us the word “Tsunami”. Good decision making?

Calls for the government to take over are mounting as last week’s leak was the most serious accident at the plant since the meltdown and there are more tanks that are suspect.  It’s impossible to gauge the level of environmental damage as more and more contaminated water leaks in to the ocean amid concerns that there are “growing -- volumes of radioactive water at the site.” according to AFP.

"The leak of contaminated water from the tank was extremely regrettable," Yoshihide Suga Japan’s Cabinet Secretary stated at a news conference adding that, "Failing to manage tanks properly is a big problem."  Japanese government inspectors have stated publicly that the water storage at the plant was “sloppy”.

TEPCO has been accused of hiding the extent of the problems at the disaster site where the clean up is expected to take 4O years.  But like all these disasters, Fukushima, the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico that also killed eleven workers and the West Texas fertilizer plant that blew up the town, the cause is not some mystical or elusive incident. They are not “accidents” as we define an accident, an event beyond our control perhaps, or “acts of god” as some people call them. These disasters are market-induced disasters; the decisions that led to them are made by individuals or groups of individuals with certain economic interests, with class interests. It is most likely that none of the people who made the decision to put the Fukushima reactors on an earthquake fault lived near them.

I am anything but an expert on nuclear power or the effects of radioactive waste on the world’s water bodies but I am convinced that both the BP spill and the Fukushima disaster and all such environmental catastrophes, have short-term but also long-term consequences.  Blue Fin Tuna spawn in the Gulf of Mexico for example; we won’t be fully aware what genetic damage millions of gallons of crude oil has done to these fish or other marine life until it manifests itself in their offspring and even longer than that. There must surely be tons of oil at the bottom of the ocean floor. We are always told that the level of radiation is safe, or the oil has been all but cleaned up but even if the culprits were telling the truth which they rarely are, these chemicals infiltrate everything. Then in the case of oil removal there is the chemical they use to remove it, that is also poisonous.

Scientists have stated that with regard to Fukushima, whole areas will likely be off limits, abandoned for human habitation.  This is just the beginning and the pace of this activity will speed up.  Here in the US recently, there have been numerous incidents of sink-holes opening up and swallowing whole houses, parts of small towns and just this week a cluster of trees disappeared.  This is most often due to mining activity. I remember flying back to Britain once and as we flew over the mountains heading north in to Canada, there were whole bare patches atop the mountains where logging had denuded it.  Imagine if we could see the scars and potholes in the earth, the product of unplanned and profit driven industrial activity.

As the Japanese taxpayer intervenes to bail out the Tokyo Electric Power Co. and pay for its failures, it is important to remind ourselves that capitalism cannot stop the impending environmental catastrophe that looms ahead. If the system is not changed and a democratic socialist plan of production introduced that determines society’s needs based on rational planning, collective ownership and in harmony with nature, there really is a possibility life as we know it will cease to be. It will not be isolated areas that will be uninhabitable but the entire planet. 

To recognize that we must change this situation is not utopian; it is a matter of necessity and the survival of life on this planet as we know it.

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