Fukushima Nuclear Crisis and Capitalism


Original source: Japan Press Service

Fuwa Tetsuzo, director of the Japanese Communist Party Social Sciences Institute, said on May 10 that the nuclear accident in Fukushima has clearly illustrated two fundamental problems of capitalism. The following is Fuwa’s speech at the JCP head office:

Threat of profit-first principle

We can nowadays easily recognize the threat of the profit-first principle of capitalism by reading the newspapers.

Media question why TEPCO did not immediately inject seawater into the reactors in order to try to cool them. They blame the delay of the utility’s response for worsening the situation. Some reports say that TEPCO could not make an immediate decision since it knew that once seawater was poured into the reactors they could no longer be used. This illustrates the profit-first principle, the intention to keep using the reactors even after the serious accident occurred.

Also in Japan, why are many nuclear reactors located in the same place? Since it costs a lot of money and time to obtain land for a nuclear power plant, they want to build as many reactors as possible once the land is secured. So the answer is simple: to cut costs.

However, earthquakes frequently occur in Japan. It would be disastrous if a major quake hits in an area where nuclear reactors are concentrated. Of course nuclear plant promoters are aware of this, but they continue to build nuclear facilities even in earthquake zones just because they can save money that way.

Moreover, our nuclear reactors are very old. Out of the 54 reactors in this nation, 20 were built over 30 years ago. There is no set life span internationally recognized for nuclear plants, but of course, the longer they are in operation the more they are weakened by age.

One thing we know for sure is that property taxes levied on nuclear plants for their depreciation period of 16 years. In other words, utilities do not have to pay property taxes after the 16 years of their plants’ operation. That is why they want to continue to use their facilities for as long as they can. Although all six reactors at the Fukushima No.1 plant are old, operating since the 1970s, TEPCO still hesitated to inject seawater into them. This shows how deep seated the profit-first principle is.

‘Ruleless capitalism’ in nuclear power generation and successive gov’ts

This profit-first policy is driving the present nuclear power industry. Successive governments have also left the entire question of people’s safety up to industry, thus what we are witnessing now in the Fukushima accident is the worst-ever case of “capitalism without rules.” We need to think about whether we can afford to keep the situation as it is or not.

The LDP is now eagerly challenging the DPJ. It is true that the Kan Cabinet is guilty of unreliable politics, but who is really to blame for the present situation? When I was a Dietmember, I took up the question of nuclear power risks several times in Diet deliberations with the Miki, Ohira, Suzuki, and Obuchi cabinets. They were LDP governments. In the 2000s, JCP representative Yoshii Hidekatsu pointed out the concrete risks by predicting what disaster could occur at Fukushima’s nuclear reactors in the event of a major earthquake and tsunami. In his Diet questions, he called for certain measures to be taken, stating that the Fukushima plant is highly vulnerable to a disaster. However, all the cabinets, from LDP’s Koizumi and Abe to DPJ’s Hatoyama, ignored his warning. Although the LDP is the party that had promoted the nuclear energy policy and is to blame for the present catastrophe, it is forgetting its own role and pointing their finger at the DPJ. Of course, the DPJ is irresponsible as a governing party, but the LDP should also be held responsible for the ongoing crisis.

Withdraw from nuclear power generation and create safety-first structure to control nuclear energy

The JCP will try its best to make a success of the current major efforts to constrain the nuclear disaster and revive the stricken area by demanding that the DPJ-led government do what we think is necessary and pointing out its neglectful and irresponsible behavior.

Together with reconstruction -related issues, the Japanese people now have to consider other major questions.

That is, the Japanese people should squarely address the issues on how to address the issue of nuclear energy and what energy policy to choose, and find a reasonable solution with bright prospects for a sustainable future.

In this effort the following two points are significant.

(1) As a strategic approach, we should decide to withdraw from Japan’s present energy policy dependent on nuclear power. Of course it will take a certain period of time to achieve this change. But what we need is to implement the decision now and establish a national strategy for achieving it.

(2) As an urgent near-term approach, it is essential to establish a structure to control and inspect nuclear facilities with priority on safety by clearly breaking away from “capitalism without rules” scheme created in the nuclear energy field based on the nuclear “safety myth.” In Japan, we have plenty of nuclear scientists and engineers with no direct relations with electric power companies. We also have the Science Council of Japan, a public organization of socially-responsible scientists. In addition, some people once involved in nuclear energy projects have recognized the collapse of the “safety myth” and are beginning to raise their voices against the blind promotion of nuclear energy. Utilizing the expertise of these people, we should establish the best safety system for nuclear energy in the world to control nuclear facilities with safety truly prioritized while at the same time decommissioning the plants.

Without this system, withdrawal from nuclear power will fail to be achieved because abolishing nuclear plants involves a number of stages. After operations come to halt, spent nuclear fuel should be taken out from reactors and disposed. Since reactors without the spent fuel still give off a significant amount of radiation, this radiation should be removed. Then the reactors have to be dismantled. Measures are also needed to dispose decommissioned reactors and their nuclear waste. In addition, we should consider how to use the sites after the reactors are removed. These processes will take at least 20 years. And all the stages should be carried out under the strict control system placing priority on safety.

These two points—strategically deciding to break away from nuclear power generation and urgently creating a framework to control and regulate nuclear energy with a mandate and responsibility putting great significance on safety—should be discussed nationwide. In the national political arena, these two issues will probably become major topics of discussion. I hope you can use what I talked about tonight as useful tips in this debate.

Photo: TEPCO nuclear power plant at Fukushima after the destruction of the recent tsunami. (Derek Visser/cc by 2.0/Flickr)

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