Talk by Tim Hall at the July 17, 2011 meeting
of the Detroit Workers' Voice Discussion Group
I am giving today's Detroit Workers' Voice Discussion Group talk on the
Fukushima, Japan, nuclear disaster.
First I will give a brief summary of what has happened, then discuss
several important elements of the situation.
On March 11, 2011, a very strong earthquake, rated near the top of the
scale of earthquake measurements at 9.0, struck Japan. The powerful
quake itself did a lot of damage, but to make matters far worse, 47
minutes later a gigantic tsunami crashed ashore, killing tens of
thousands of people and cutting off electricity to the cooling
mechanisms of the six nuclear reactors and destroying their back-up
generators at Fukushima, 128 miles from Tokyo on Japan's northeastern
shoreline. Within a short period of time three reactors melted down,
hydrogen explosions took place and massive amounts of radiation and
radioactive pieces of spent fuel rods were scattered across the area,
released into the atmosphere and into the ocean. This radiation
contaminated large parts of Japan and some of it was swept around the
globe by the winds. Radiation is still being released now, five months
TEPCO, the utility company which owns and runs the reactors, is
criminally responsible for this disaster. TEPCO claims that the disaster
was unforeseeable and was due to natural disasters that could not have
been predicted, but this is a contemptible lie. TEPCO had deliberately
built the reactors unsafely, it had no emergency plan, sabotaged the
emergency measures needed and lied to the public about the seriousness
of the situation. Large numbers of Japanese workers have been exposed to
dangerous levels of radioactivity, large areas of Japan have been
rendered uninhabitable, crops have been contaminated and thousands of
ordinary people have been exposed to unknown amounts of radioactivity.
Over 80,000 refugees have been created, who have lost everything.
Children of the area are already developing symptoms of radiation
The Japanese government, itself in bed with the TEPCO utility
capitalists, has downplayed the dangers to the public and allowed TEPCO
to blunder in its handling of the emergency.
The Fukushima disaster has stimulated world opposition to nuclear
power, but the Obama administration, subservient to General Electric and
other capitalists who want nuclear power, has servilely remained
committed to continuing to run the existing nuke plants in the US and to
building still more, as an alleged solution to the environmental crisis.
In Japan, where large-scale demonstrations of protest have not been seen
since the Zengakuren student demos in the 60s and other anti-militarist
actions, recently large mass meetings have been held questioning nuclear
power and huge and vigorous marches and demos have taken place. Around
the world, there have been massive protest demonstrations, notably in
Germany, Switzerland and Taiwan.
The tsunami itself
I want to talk briefly about the tsunami, even though this meeting is
mainly about the nuclear disaster. But to be familiar with the tsunami
itself will show even more clearly how criminal the TEPCO capitalists
were in their ignoring of the dangers of earthquakes and tsunamis. The
island country of Japan is surrounded by what is called "the ring of
fire," that is, tectonic faults or cracks in the earth's surface which
generate frequent earthquakes. This is a well-known fact, so the idea
that the earthquake itself was unforeseeable is a vicious lie. To build
nuke plants on such risky grounds, and Japan has about 70 of them, is
itself a crime against humanity. And after the massive tsunami in
Indonesia in 2004 it is also criminal to claim that huge tsunamis are
unforeseeable. Of course, no one can tell when one might occur, but
sooner or later, they are inevitable.
Briefly, let's see how a tsunami works. Not every earthquake causes a
tsunami. Some earthquakes merely shake the ground severely, which of
course can cause immense damage. For a tsunami to take place requires
what is called a subduction, that is, the earthquake must cause one
plate of the earth's surface to slide under another, forcing the other
upward. When this takes place under the ocean, gigantic quantities of
water are forced to run sideways, toward the shore in this case. This is
a tsunami. It is quite different from ordinary, wind-caused waves, which
are sort of ripples in the surface of the water blown by the wind. These
can wreak some havoc, but each wave is short-lived and retreats quickly.
A tsunami, however, is the mass of ocean water moving rapidly towards
and onto the shore. This is the source of its immense fury, the reason
that it runs and runs massively inland, destroying everything in its
path. It is the ocean coming ashore. So the height of the tsunami wave
is only a small part of its power.
The March 11, 2011, tsunami arrived on the northeast shoreline of Japan
at the Fukushima nuclear plant 47 minutes after the earthquake, giving
people very little time to escape, even though there were tsunami
warnings. 23,000 people were killed. Now, the height of this tsunami
wave was 49 feet. Picture if the Detroit River was capable of rising up
to the height of, oh, maybe the top of the People Mover. And suppose it
had enough water behind it, rushing at you with the speed of a
full-throttle freight train, to carry itself as far inland in Detroit as
the I-94 freeway and maybe further in the lower areas. This was the
tsunami of March 11.
Many people were well aware that earthquakes spawn such tsunamis. It
was no secret. But how had TEPCO prepared for a 49-foot tsunami wave?
With a 19-foot seawall! Incredible! And then TEPCO, against the advice
of Japanese experts, had placed the reserve diesel generators, meant to
power the flow of cooling water to the reactors if the main power from
the grid and from the reactors themselves was shut off, where? In the
basements of the reactors, at their lowest levels!! Again, unbelievable
criminality. Oh, except the reserve generators for two of the reactors
were built on higher ground, but their switching stations were back down
on the lower level, so the tsunami knocked them out along with all the
diesel generators in the basements.
Such was TEPCO's tsunami preparation.
Further criminal lack of preparation
for natural disasters
and how TEPCO gets away with it
TEPCO failed to prepare for natural disasters all along the line. It
has a long record of safety violations at its dozen or so nuke plants.
It did not have a well-planned emergency response for disasters. One was
not required by the Japanese government. It did not even have sufficient
radiation badges for its workers, which are necessary to count the
amount of radiation a worker had been exposed to and thus allow control
of the amount of exposure.
The list of TEPCO's criminality is long and has been listed further by
many people, but I want to explain how the TEPCO capitalists get away
with it. You would think, in a rational world, that anything as
potentially deadly as the creation of massive radioactivity would be
outright banned or at least face very close governmental control. After
all, one Japanese professor has estimated that a single Fukushima
reactor, over its life since it was built in the 60s, has created 120
million times the amount of radioactivity as was released the atomic
bomb dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima in 1945. But no, no care is taken
to protect the Japanese people in the face of such danger! There is a
phenomenon called "regulator capture." "Regulator capture" is not at all
unique to Japan. In fact, this criminal behavior has evolved in parallel
fashion in all capitalist countries -- here in the U.S. in Japan, in
fact in all countries in the world.
Here's how "regulator capture" works. The government regulator aspires
to a good job in the nuclear industry after he retires or is ousted from
his government regulator job. So he makes sure that he treats the
nuclear power companies very nicely so that they like him and will hire
him when he is out of the government. In the U.S we are very familiar
with government bureaucrats getting lucrative jobs as lobbyists for the
industry they used to -- ha ha! -- "regulate." They call this in Japan,
"Ascent to Heaven." And it sure is, for these fat cats, but it results
in a descent into literal Hell for the workers and ordinary masses in
Japan today, who will suffer cancers and birth defects for decades,
uprooted from their homes and lives. Because these "captured regulators"
consistently ignored safety problems and the criminally risky
construction of the Fukushima plants and other such nuke plants
throughout Japan. TEPCO had committed many safety violations over the
years, with little response from regulators. And in one area local
people have been fighting another nuke plant and its owning company for
28 years, to no avail. Profits come first under capitalism, poor people
can just go die, painfully, as far as these capitalists and government
bureaucrats are concerned.
Let's look at some examples of "regulatory capture" in the U.S.
Recently it has been revealed that the government here has allowed
American regulation of defects in American nuke plants to be steadily
loosened as these plants get older and older and physically degenerate.
What's a few busted pipes when there is real money to be made?
Three-quarters of American nuclear plants, most of them located near
populated areas, have been found to be leaking radioactive water. I
guess our regulators have been "captured" too! And right up to the Big
Regulator himself, the man in the White House. "Regulator" is a misnomer
here, as he has proven that he will not really regulate anything
environmental. What, BP has a massive oil spill in the Gulf? Damn the
torpedoes! Let offshore drilling go ahead! What, the coal companies are
blasting the tops off of hundreds of mountains in West Virginia? Tough!
Let ‘em! What, the natural gas capitalists want to poison the rivers and
water tables with fracking? That's green of them! Full speed ahead! And
as for the nuclear industry, what, it had a little problem in Japan? So
what? It's the green future! General Electric knows how to build those
plants! It designed Fukushima and most of the ones here! And it gives a
lot of cash to my campaign! These protesters will have nowhere to turn
but to me when I run against these Republican idiots in 2012, they'll
have to come to me!
It is even the case that the Obama administration is pushing to have
the allowable levels of radiation exposure for the American public
officially raised many, many times, so as to cover for the inevitable
radiation releases from the old degenerating nuke plants and from the
new ones Obama would allow to build. Since science shows that any
significant increase in radiation exposure brings a concomitant increase
in cancer and deaths, Obama is just trading people's lives for the
profits of his buddies at General Electric and Duke Energy, who pay for
his campaigns and get their execs positions in his administration!
Criminal mistreatment of the workers in Japan
As I mentioned, TEPCO has criminally mistreated its workers during this
disaster. Lack of radiation badges, etc. Two workers were even allowed
to wade in highly radioactive water without boots on or radiation
badges. At least nine workers have been reported to have suffered severe
exposure and it is hard to believe that the number is not much higher.
It is quite possible that this number only represents the exposure of
members of TEPCO's stable, full-time workforce, because in Japan there
exists a phenomenon called the "nuclear gypsies." All over the world the
greedy capitalists are trying to eliminate stable workforces and turn to
temporaries, often hired by subcontractors, to do the work cheaper and
then be thrown away like discarded orange peels when no longer needed by
the rich fatcats. Such are the "nuclear gypsies." "Nuclear gypsies" are
roaming workers from impoverished areas who hire themselves out for
short periods to the nuclear utility companies and are used to do many
dangerous jobs, after which they are let go to wander and find further
employment for themselves at other nuke facilities. They take their
lives in their hands every day that they work. No one keeps track of
them and monitors their long-term exposure to radiation. To the
capitalists they are disposable mules. Often they have no families and
no future. But they are people, workers criminally abused to the extreme
by the capitalist system and the nuclear power industry that runs on
capitalist principles. Japan's labor union leaderships are very much
under the thumbs of the capitalists, so I am sure that they are not
making any efforts to organize the "nuclear gypsies," these literal dead
men walking, slowly being murdered by TEPCO and other utilities capitalists.
The mass protest movement
Now I want to bring up the matter of protests against this disaster and
nuclear power generally since March 11. The question of nukes, both the
bombs and the power plants, is a very deeply affecting question. It was
one of the first things that alienated me towards our existing society.
I had learned, in the 1950s, in great detail, the horrifying story of
the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs and their destruction of life in Japan.
I greatly feared nuclear war between the superpowers and used to fall
asleep on our back porch in the summer looking towards Cleveland 20
miles away and waiting for the flash. And some years later, when Kennedy
and Khruschev nearly set off a nuclear world war during the Cuban
missile crisis of 1963, I again felt the nuclear threat created by our
During the continuing Fukushima nuclear crisis, the capitalist mass
media has consistently presented a false impression of the reaction of
the Japanese people to this deep threat to their very existence.
According to the media the Japanese are very passive, do not question
their government, and are accepting this disaster stoically and quietly.
This is another in a long list of Fukushima lies. According to the
limited material I have been able to find, mass demonstrations have been
held in Japan in mid-April, May 8, June 3 and the largest were held on
June 11. The main slogans were "No Nukes" also stated as "Immediately
stop all use of nuclear power and shut down the plants!" I would say
that this is fairly clear and bold! And in July, concerned mothers of
children threatened by radiation traveled nationwide through the country
organizing rallies demanding protection from Fukushima radiation.
There is a Pakistani web site that carries videos of some of the
Japanese demos. They may also be available on Youtube. I watched several
of a large march in Koenji April 10 and of the even larger Tokyo march
of 60,000 June 11. These marches totally belie the media stereotype. In
fact, they are so spirited, so filled with an undertone of mass motion
and anger that one might think that some very radical actions are not
far in the future. The marchers appear to be students and young workers.
Drums and music and systematic chants, raps and call-and- response
speeches kept the protesters moving, often dancing as they marched,
often raising their fists. Many had costumes but they weren't stopping
to put on skits, they were marching with determination. Everywhere were
homemade signs, an indication of real mass initiative. These were not
routine, dull, bureaucratic marches, they were restive, seething, filled
with seething purpose, not quite yet fixed on their goals like the
masses in Egypt in Tahrir Square, but moving forward. They were
harbingers of the struggle to come.
And around the world masses were marching as well, but I will leave
that to the discussion after my talk.
Nuclear power and nuclear weaponry
should be completely banned!
The Fukushima disaster should make conclusive what many activists have
been saying for a long time: all nuclear power and weaponry should be
First, no nuclear site can be completely made safe from natural
disasters. The idiocy of building nuke plants on earthquake faults is
brought home by the Fukushima disaster. But many nuke plants, including
some in the US, are built on earthquake faults. But even avoiding faults
is not a solution. In recent weeks the federal weapons lab in Los
Alamos, New Mexico, which contains reactors and large quantities of
dangerous nuclear waste, was threatened very closely by an
out-of-control wildfire. That bullet was dodged, fortunately. And during
the same period of time, two reactors on the Missouri river, the Cooper
and Ft. Calhoun, came very close to being inundated by the river's
rising floodwaters. That bullet, too, was dodged, but these close calls
only indicate that no amount of preparation can guarantee the integrity
of a nuclear plant.
The destruction of a nuclear plant allows release of immense amounts of
radiation. There is not only the release that takes place before a nuke
plant can be sealed, but large areas, as in Chernobyl, can become so
contaminated with radiation that they become uninhabitable for
centuries, as the decay of some kinds of radioactive materials takes an
immense period of time. Thus the consequences of such disasters are so
high that the risk is prohibitive.
And that is not even to take into account the dangers created by the
huge amounts of nuclear waste created by the process of nuclear energy
production. Radioactive materials that are no longer useful in the
generation of electricity still continue to generate radioactivity and
will do so for centuries, even thousands of years. All over the US,
indeed all over the countries with nuke plants, these materials lie in
water-cooling pools, potentially poisoning the environment on a large
scale and often already doing so through leaks. Humanity has no solution
for this problem.
Taken together, nuke plants and their waste render nuclear power and
nuclear weaponry criminal undertakings and should be eliminated and
This will take immense mass movements and, most likely, the actual
overthrow of the profit-driven capitalist system, presently represented
by the Obamacrats and Republicans in the US and by the capitalist
political parties throughout the world. It will take the creation of an
entirely new system of economics, politics and culture, a system run by
the workers, the system known as socialism, actual socialism, not the
false parody of it which was created in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba,
etc. But that is another story and I will stop here and say:
Down with nuclear power and nuclear weapons!
Build the mass movement against nukes!
No Nukes! <>