Earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear accidents in Japan: capitalism is a horror show

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"Fear the worst!" That's the message now splashed across newspaper front pages, in all the media, and on the lips of the world's leaders too. But it can't get any worse! Because from the earthquake, to the tsunami and then the nuclear accidents, and it's not finished there, it means the current predicament of the Japanese population is horrific. And because now there are millions of people on the planet living under the Sword of Damocles of the nuclear cloud released by the reactors at Fukushima. This time round, it is not a poor country like Haiti and Indonesia that is being hit hard but the heart of one of the most industrialised countries of the world, one that specialises in cutting-edge technologies.
It's a country that has first-hand experience of the devastating effects of nuclear energy, having suffered the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Capitalism makes humanity more vulnerable to natural disasters

Once again, the madness of capitalism and irresponsibility of the bourgeoisie has become front page news. Only now is the world finding out that millions of people have been crammed into wooden houses, along coastal shores, permanently threatened by the risk of earthquakes and giant waves that can consume all before them. And this in a country that's the world's third largest economic power!
As if this were not enough, they have also built nuclear power stations, which are all real time bombs, at the mercy of the earthquakes and the tsunamis. Most of Japan's nuclear power plants were built 40 years ago, not only in densely populated areas but also near the coast. They are therefore particularly vulnerable to flooding. Thus, of the 55 Japanese reactors spread over 17 sites, 11 have been affected by the disaster. As a direct consequence, the population is already exposed to radiation levels that have officially[1] risen to more than 40 times the norm as far away as in Tokyo, 250 km from Fukushima, a radiation level which the Japanese government nonetheless declared to be of “no risk”! And it’s not only nuclear power stations that have been hit but also petrochemical plants built by the coast, and some of these have set on fire, which will only make the disaster worse and add to the existing ecological catastrophe.

The bourgeoisie is still trying to make us believe that it is all the fault of nature, that we cannot predict the power of earthquakes and the magnitude of tsunamis. This is true. But what is most striking is how capitalism, after two hundred years in which it has produced phenomenal scientific knowledge and technical know-how that could be used to prevent this kind of disaster constantly increases the monstrous danger to humanity. The capitalist world of today has enormous technological machinery but is not able to use it to benefit humanity, as it is only concerned with the profits of capital... to the detriment of our livelihoods.
Since the Kobe earthquake disaster in 1995, the Japanese government has, for example, developed a policy of constructing earthquake resistant buildings that have withstood the quake, but which are intended to house the very rich or to serve as city office blocks.
 

The bourgeoisie tells big lies

Today, comparisons abound with previous major nuclear accidents, especially with the melt-down of the reactor at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979. Officially no-one died in that one. In comparison, all the political leaders are saying that the current disaster is not "for now" as serious an incident as the explosion of the Chernobyl power plant in 1986. Should we be reassured by these outrageously optimistic remarks? How do we assess the real danger to the populations of Japan, Asia, Russia, the Americas… and the world? The answer leaves us in no doubt: the consequences will be dramatic in every sense. There is already major nuclear pollution in Japan and the TEPCO officials who operate the Japanese nuclear plants can only deal with the risk of an explosion by fiddling with the problem day by day and shamelessly exposing hundreds of employees and fire-fighters to fatal levels of radiation. Here we see the fundamentaldifference between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. On the one hand there is a ruling class that has no hesitation in sending ‘its’ people to their deaths and, more generally still, endangering the lives of tens of millions of people in the name of its sacrosanct profits. On the other hand, there are workers ready to sacrifice their lives and to suffer the slow and unbearable agony of exposure to radiation on humanity's behalf.Today, the impotence of the bourgeoisie is such that after a week of desperate attempts to cool the damaged reactor, its specialists are forced to play the sorcerer's apprentice, trying to reconnect the different systems for cooling the reactor's core onto the electricity network. Nobody knows if this will work: either the pumps work properly and succeed in cooling the reactor, or the cables and equipment are damaged which could create short-circuits, fires and... explosions! The only solution then will be to cover the core of the reactor with sand and concrete, like... Chernobyl.[2] Faced with such atrocities now and in the future, our exploiters will always respond in the same way: with lies!

In 1979, Washington lied about the radioactive effects of the meltdown of the core of the reactor, while still evacuating 140,000 people; if no actual deaths were reported, the cancers still multiplied one hundredfold in the population, something which the U.S. government never wanted to acknowledge.

With regard to Chernobyl, when the problems mounted with the plant and its maintenance, the Russian government hid the urgency of the situation for weeks. Only after the reactor exploded and an immense nuclear cloud was dispersed miles up in the air and thousands of miles around did the world come to see the magnitude of the disaster. But this kind of behaviour is not just peculiar to Stalinism. The western officials behaved exactly the same. At the time, the French government excelled itself with a whopping great lie about this cloud coming to a full stop right at the western border of France! Another interesting fact, even today, is that the WHO (World Health Organisation), no doubt colluding with the IAEA (International Agency for Atomic Energy), produced a derisory and even laughable review of the Chernobyl explosion: 50 people dead, 9 children deaths from cancer, and a possible 4,000 more cancer fatalities! In fact, according to a study by the New York Science Academy, 985,000 people perished due to this nuclear accident.[3] And today these very same agencies are responsible for producing a run-down on the situation at Fukushima and informing us of the risks! How, after that, are they at all believable? For example, what is going to become of those they call "the liquidators" (those who are now dealing with the emergency) at Fukushima when we know that at Chernobyl "of the 830,000 liquidators brought onto the site after the event, between 112,000 and 125,000 are dead."[4] Even today, the bourgeoisie tries to hide the fact that this reactor is still highly dangerous as there is still an urgent necessity to continue enclosing the reactor core under more and more new layers of concrete, just as it hides the fact that there have been no less than 200 incidents at the Fukushima power stations during the past ten years!

All countries lie about the dangers from nuclear power! The French State expresses unerring confidence that the 58 nuclear reactors of L'Hexagone, the company in charge, are perfectly safe, when most of these power stations are either in seismic zones, or in coastal areas, or on rivers vulnerable to flooding. During the stormy weather of 1999, when gales inflicted serious damage across France and left 88 dead in Europe, the power station at Blaye, near Bordeaux, was flooded and this nearly caused the melt-down of a reactor. Few people knew about it. And then there's the power station at Fessenheim that was so obsolescent that it had to close-down for a few years. But by using replacement parts (many of which aren't the approved standard), it is somehow still in operation, and no doubt the maintenance staff will suffer the consequences of exposure to the radiation. That’s what they mean by "being in control" and “transparency”!

From the beginning of the earthquake in Japan, on Friday, March 11th, the media advisedly reassured us that the Japanese nuclear power stations were among the "safest" in the world. Two days later it contradicted itself and recalled that the company, TEPCO, which manages the power stations in Japan, had already hidden incidents of nuclear radiation leaks. How can it be that the power stations in France, where "in the space of ten years, the number of minor incidents and faults at nuclear sites has doubled"[5], like they have elsewhere in the world, "are any "safer"? In no way at all. "Around 20% of the 440 commercial reactors in operation worldwide are located in areas of ‘significant seismic activity’, according to the WNA, World Nuclear Association, a grouping of industrialists. Some of the 62 reactors under construction are also in areas of seismic risk, just like many of the 500 other projects especially in countries with emerging economies. Several nuclear power stations - including the four reactors at Fukushima damaged by the tsunami on March 11th - are on or near the ‘Ring of Fire’, a 40,000 km arc of tectonic faults around the Pacific."[6]

Thus, reliable information "suggests that radioactive elements are more and more around us. For example, while plutonium did not exist naturally before 1945, we are now finding it in the milk teeth of British children."[7], and this despite the fact that Britain has ended its commercial nuclear programme.

Capitalism is pushing mankind towards more and more disasters

And Japan is not just suffering from the nuclear catastrophe but from another humanitarian disaster too. Thus, the world's third largest economic power has been plunged into crisis, unprecedented since the Second World War, in the space of a few hours. The same terrifying ingredients are present: massive destruction, tens of thousands dead and to top it off, radiation, like that from the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Millions of people in north-eastern Japan are having to live without electricity, without drinking water, with diminishing supplies of food, supplies which may already be contaminated. 600,000 people have been uprooted by the tsunami that has devastated entire towns close to the Pacific Ocean, and have been left destitute, out in the cold and the snow. Contrary to what the Japanese government says – it has continued to downplay the seriousness of the situation, and the numbers affected, providing small details of the increase in people dead, day after day - we can already, without hesitation, begin to count the deaths in the tens of thousands for the country as a whole. The sea is continually depositing dead bodies along the shores. This against a backdrop of massive destruction of homes, buildings, infrastructure, hospitals, schools, etc.

Villages, buildings, trains and even entire towns were swept away by the power of the tsunami that struck the north-eastern coast of Japan. For some towns, located in what are usually narrow valleys like at Minamisanriku, at least half the 17,000 people were swept away and perished. With the warning given by the government of only 30 minutes, the roads were quickly congested, putting the "laggards" at the mercy of the waves.

The population has been saluted by all the Western media for its "exemplary courage" and "discipline", and has been called on by the Japanese Prime Minister to "rebuild the country from scratch", i.e. in plain language, the working class of this country must now expect fresh hardship, increased exploitation and worsening poverty. Admittedly, all this fits in nicely with the propaganda abouta servile population that exercises with the company boss in the mornings, who are silent and submissive, and who remain quite stoical and carry on as normal while the buildings are crashing down on top of them. For sure, the Japanese population is extraordinarily courageous, but the reality is completely at odds with the "stoicism" described in the papers. Apart from the hundreds of thousands who packed into gyms and other communal areas, and whose anger rose to a fever pitch and rightly so, hundreds of thousands of others tried to flee, including a growing number of the around 38 million people in Tokyo and its suburbs. And those who remained, did not do it to brave the dangers but because they had no choice. With no money, where can you go? And who's going to take you in? In every sense, being an ‘environmental refugee’ isn't acceptable in the eyes of the bourgeoisie. About 50 million people are forced to migrate every year for reasons connected to the environment but they have no status under the UN Convention, even if they are victims of a disaster, be it "nuclear" or whatever. Clearly, the Japanese with no money who wants to try to escape the nuclear disaster, or simply to relocate elsewhere in the world, is going to be denied the ‘right of asylum’ all round the world.

This insane system of exploitation is moribund and shows itself to be more barbaric with every passing day. Although immense knowledge and enormous technological power has been acquired by mankind, the bourgeoisie is incapable of putting it to work for the good of humanity, to protect us all against natural disasters. Instead of this, capitalism is a destructive force, not just here and there, but all over the world.

"We have no other choice, faced with this capitalist hell: it's Socialism or Barbarism. We must fight it or die"[8].

Mulan 19/3/11


[1]And experience shows that we can't give much credit to the official figures in general and to those concerned with nuclear especially: lies, manipulation, under-estimation of the dangers are here the golden rule for every country.

[2]As Le Canard Enchaîné reported on March 16th 2011, the current disaster was even predicted: “the eight German engineers from Areva who worked on site at the Fukushima nuclear power station 1, weren't mad (…) surprised by the earthquake 'when the number 4 reactor block was fully operational' on Friday evening (March 11th), they were sent awa to safety 40 miles from the nuclear power station” and then “taken to Frankfurt on Sunday March 13th”.

 

[3] Source: ‘Troublante discrétion de l’Organisation mondiale de la santé’, Le Monde, 19 March.

[8] The remarks made by someone in one of our forums in France during the discussion of this disaster:http://fr.internationalism.org/forum/312/tibo/4593/seisme-au-japon