Capitalist quest for profit endangers public safety, environment

On Aug. 19, workers at the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan discovered puddles of water around a storage tank for contaminated water located near the damaged nuclear reactor. They have since discovered that 300 tons of highly radioactive water has leaked from the tank and could contaminate the Pacific Ocean. The cleanup of the plant has been run by its owner, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the same capitalists whose criminal negligence led to a nuclear meltdown after an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. On Aug. 22, the Japanese Nuclear Radiation Authority, which usually functions to whitewash the threat of nuclear energy, described the leaking water as a “worst-case scenario” and the Fukushima Plant as a “house of horrors.”

TEPCO has a long history of duplicity about its safety practices. The company, with the cooperation of the Japanese government, grossly under-reported the amount of radiation released from the original explosion. It has since been revealed that the company knew the power plant was vulnerable to a tsunami but declined to make changes to its design that may have avoided a meltdown in order to cut costs.

Just prior to the revelation about the leaking tank, TEPCO admitted that 300 tons of less-contaminated, but still dangerous, water is seeping from the plant into the Pacific Ocean each day. The company had previously denied that the leaks were occurring. The radiation seeping into the ocean won’t be fully diluted until sometime between 2017 and 2020. Pockets of water with concentrated radiation levels will reach the U.S. West Coast by 2016 at levels not much less radioactive than they are now. Ocean winds will blow radioactive dust particles onto the west coasts of the United States and Canada, which could increase cases of thyroid cancer.

Pacific seafood has already been affected, with high levels of radioactive cesium having been found in fish. Tests in British Colombia and Washington state have turned up Fukushima contamination in migrating salmon. Marine mammals in the Pacific have been demonstrating fur loss and skin sores since the disaster, which could be caused by exposure to radiation in the water.

After the power plant was damaged, TEPCO started pouring water into the reactors in order to stop nuclear meltdowns that would have released huge amounts of deadly radiation into the air, killing thousands of Japanese civilians and radiating the land and ocean. But this “solution” created thousands of tons of contaminated water, which TEPCO has dangerously stored in tanks around the plant, at least one of which is now leaking. There have been four smaller leaks in similar tanks in the past year. This “solution” is clearly faulty. Water will have to be poured on the reactors to cool them for years to come, and TEPCO is already running out of room for more tanks in which to store the radiated water. Worse, TEPCO sealed the tanks with rubber that was not able to withstand radiation. The 1,000 tanks are monitored by only two TEPCO employees.

French and Russian nuclear specialists have pointed out that TEPCO could have employed more expensive but safer and more affective means to cool the damaged reactors, such as the use of absorbents and air cooling. TEPCO officials were aware of these options but instead pursued the less expensive water-cooling method.

If there is another earthquake in the area, which would not be unusual, the tanks could be completely destroyed, unleashing a deadly, radioactive flood that would not only endanger Japanese civilians but reach the Pacific Ocean via drain gutters. The water is radioactive enough to induce radiation sickness to those exposed to it within 12 hours. If the spent fuel rods in the reactors explode for any reason, a poison gas cloud could envelope the northern island of Japan, requiring the evacuation of the entire island, if not the entire country.

The Japanese Communist Party has called on the government to declare a state of emergency and for the state to take over the task of stopping the contaminated water from leaking. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to refuse to crack down on TEPCO and is trying to get the country’s wildly unpopular nuclear energy program restarted.

Only in a system as chaotic and absurd as capitalism would the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant even exist. Japan sits atop one of the most active fault lines in the world. Powerful earthquakes and tsunamis have always plagued the island nation. The Fukushima plant was also built near the ocean and over a diverted river, guaranteeing that if there was ever a meltdown it would maximally affect the Pacific Ocean.

Socialist countries such as the Soviet Union were forced to embrace nuclear technology in order to keep up with the technological development of the imperialist aggressors. But under socialist planning, nuclear power plants were located in under-populated areas with low probability for natural disasters and a safe distance from precious natural resources. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster, caused by human error and a willful disregard for socialist law, led to a great deal of death and suffering, but its effects were minimized due to socialist planning. Under capitalism, no priority outweighs the ability of corporations like TEPCO to maximize profits, not even that of the habitability of the Earth.


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