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Fukushima: A Possible Global Catastrophe is Unfolding

By Dennis Loo (6/3/12)

I am reposting an urgent appeal that I just received from Avaaz about the Fukushima nuclear disaster. After their letter I have added a commentary.

Dear friends,


Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactor is not safe, and without urgent attention the crumbling site could spark an unprecedented global disaster. With no action from local government, nuclear experts are now saying international intervention is critical, but only a massive global call can push the UN to help. Sign the urgent petition and forward to everyone:


I’m writing with a personal plea for help from Japan. A nuclear inspector just said that the fate of my country and much of the world depends on Fukushima's Nuclear Reactor Number 4. If this damaged structure collapses, the spread of radiation would go way beyond Japan's borders and be truly catastrophic.

Since last year's tragic earthquake and tsunami, a pool of highly dangerous spent nuclear fuel is being held in reactor 4’s crumbling structure. Experts say another strong tremor would cause the pool to collapse and emit such high radiation that my family and the 35 million people in Tokyo would be forced to evacuate. It would also contaminate the skies across the Pacific and into Asia. The area around the toxic pool is vulnerable to regular seismic shocks, but, amazingly, my government is denying the risks, likely desperate not to cause panic. 

The best way to curb this lethal threat is a global wave of public pressure on my government to agree to an emergency plan with UN experts. A US Senator and tens of thousands of people across Japan are raising the alarm. But it's going to take a global citizen chain reaction to prevent a nuclear meltdown, with each of us asking ten friends to ask their friends to join the call for action. Click below to call on the UN and Japanese PM Noda, then forward to everyone:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_japans_nuclear_meltdown_global_c/?vl

The reactor 4 pool has no walls or roof and there are thousands of spent fuel rods inside containing ten times the amount of radioactive material than was released in the Chernobyl nuclear accident. This material, Cesium 137, is one of the most hazardous materials on the planet -- it gives off radiation that can remain dangerous for hundreds of years. To avoid spontaneous fire due to radioactivity alone, the dilapidated pool must be constantly cooled. If it collapsed and a fire ensued, reactor 4 is just 50 meters from the other reactors that contain thousands more spent fuel rods. The scope of disaster is nearly unfathomable!

Nuclear scientists say the spent fuel must be removed from the storage pool as fast as possible to a dry and safe facility. But so far the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Japan's embattled nuclear energy giant responsible for the clean up, insists they have reinforced the structure and is relying on the vulnerable pool storage system. People across Japan distrust TEPCO and do not understand why my government is leaving it up to this agency when they were already caught lying about the safety of Fukushima reactors before last year's disaster.

The Japanese people should not have to live on the brink of nuclear disaster. And fears that an accident would have global impact led one Japanese politician to call the risk, ‘the ultimate catastrophe for the world’. Global experts are now raising their voices and US Senator Wyden, who just visited the site, has publicly called for action and offered US help. I appeal to you to help get the UN's attention now to force my government to welcome an international team of nuclear experts to clean up Reactor 4 and remove this risk forever. Sign the urgent petition then forward this to everyone:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_japans_nuclear_meltdown_global_c/?vl

The people across my country are still reeling from last year's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe, but together, Avaaz members here have helped make Japan the first developed nation on earth to go nuclear free. Now let's together remove this last remaining lethal threat before it is too late.

With hope and determination,

Michiharu, for the whole Avaaz team

***

In Globalization and the Demolition of Society, particularly in Chapter Three (“Courting Catastrophe and Sabotaging Everyday Security: Neoliberalism’s Dangerous Dance”), I argue that neoliberal policies that dictate that market forces should rule all things personal and public are a sure fire recipe for unprecedented disasters for the planet and its denizens. Fukushima is one example of this:

Using market forces and individualism as the organizers for economic and political affairs is a recipe for ever-expanding inequities and the shredding of the social fabric, leading inevitably to myriad disasters on the individual, regional, and global level. (p. xi)

Those who are in charge of our collective fates combine a specific constellation of attributes and attitudes that together add up to making them the most dangerous movement in human history.

First, they exercise an extraordinary and unprecedented level of economic, political and military power. The major parties in nearly every single country are united around a neoliberal program (the Republican and Democratic Parties in the U.S., for example, are both neoliberal) and these parties and the transnational and multinational corporations that outsize most of the countries in the world (with more than half of the largest economic entities in the world being corporations, not nations) concentrate in their hands unparalleled levels of technical and economic might.

Second, they adhere to an extremist philosophy that regards objective reality as not something that they need to take into account. Instead, they believe that through their sheer might they can create their own preferred realities.

When BP executives decided that failure was impossible and proceeded (like the geniuses behind the Titanic) to drive a giant stake to unprecedented depths and pressures into the heart of the Gulf of Mexico, causing the worst human-caused environmental disaster in at least American history, is their incredible hubris evidence of their fitness? As Naomi Klein explained in June 2010:

A year ago, [BP CEO] Hayward told a group of graduate students at Stanford University that he has a plaque on his desk that reads: “If you knew you could not fail, what would you try?” Far from being a benign inspirational slogan, this was actually an accurate description of how BP and its competitors behaved in the real world. In recent hearings on Capitol Hill, congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts grilled representatives from the top oil and gas companies on the revealing ways in which they had allocated resources. Over three years, they had spent “$39bn to explore for new oil and gas. Yet, the average investment in research and development for safety, accident prevention and spill response was a paltry $20m a year.”

These priorities go a long way towards explaining why the initial exploration plan that BP submitted to the federal government for the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon well reads like a Greek tragedy about human hubris. The phrase “little risk” appears five times. Even if there is a spill, BP confidently predicts that, thanks to “proven equipment and technology”, adverse affects will be minimal. (p. 338)

Third, neoliberals worship at the alter of profits and regard it as the sole criterion by which value is determined, overriding the needs of human beings and that of the environment.

The subordination of public safety and the public welfare to the dictates of profit guarantee two outcomes: huge profits for big capital and periodic disasters for the people. It is in the very nature of neoliberal policies that these two consequences will continue. (p. 165)

Fourth, they sit at the top of a bureaucracy that runs the modern world. As such, it is subject to both the advantages and the dramatic disadvantages of those bureaucracies and the bureaucratic attitude:

[As DoD analyst Nathan Freier points out:] “The likeliest and most dangerous future shocks will be unconventional. They will not emerge from thunderbolt advances in an opponent’s military capabilities. Rather, they will manifest themselves in ways far outside established defense convention. Most will be nonmilitary in origin and character, and not, by definition, defense-specific events conducive to the conventional employment of the DoD enterprise.

“They will rise from an analytical no man’s land separating well-considered, stock and trade defense contingencies and pure defense speculation. . . .”

9/11 was a strategic shock. Freier warns of future such “hostile design” shocks. But what is even more dangerous, as he puts it, is the prospect of “threats of context” that arise from the very workings of the existing systems. In other words, disasters await without anyone even trying to bring them about.

Threats of context arise, according to Freier, out of “the unguided forces of globalization, toxic populism, identity politics, underdevelopment, human/natural disaster, and disease. In the end, shocks emerging from contextual threats might challenge core U.S. interests more fundamentally than any number of prospective purposeful shocks.” He goes on to say that these forces “are in- or undervulnerable to traditional instruments of U.S. power applied in predictable combinations.”

What does it tell us about the nature of the contemporary and near term future world that disasters that arise out of the very context of our collective lives are a) certain, b) unlikely to be properly foreseen, c) extremely unlikely to be adequately prepared for, and d) more dangerous than any planned hostile actions?

It tells us at least two things.

First, the system we live in – global capitalism – is inherently unstable and dangerous whether you look at it from a local, national or international perspective. The spheres of the local, national and international are so intertwined that they cannot sensibly be separated as though events in one sphere do not impact the others.

Second, stability and security are more things of the past than of the present and, especially, the future. Massive dislocations and dramatic, startling changes to the status quo are not the stuff of science fiction but that which the DOD itself now finds it must take seriously. Granted, Frier’s document is not a policy document but a think tank document. But his evaluation of the situation compels serious reflection.

Several factors stand in the way of properly grasping the reality that we face. These factors include – not necessarily in order of importance:

• Bureaucratic practice and thinking, which by definition involves the routinization of ways of doing and seeing things based on what has previously happened and not what hasn’t yet happened, thus, narrowing down and aggressively anti-imaginative approaches trump their opposite. Bureaucracies, we should note, run things in the modern world. They are, in core respects, the modern world;

• Neoliberal policies – politics in service to globalization – dominate (both the GOP and the Democrats are Friedmanites) and therefore aggressive globalization which continues creating and deepening the bases for disasters and hamstringing human responses to disasters are not going to be modified or stemmed;

• Preparing for the future and hedging against unanticipated disasters are diametrically opposed to neoliberal policies of allocating resources most sparingly and cheaply for profit-making – e.g., allowing more hospital bedspace for a disaster is considered inefficient and unprofitable, devoting resources to developing flu vaccines is less profitable than drugs that require daily doses and are therefore neglected leaving us extraordinarily vulnerable to a flu epidemic.

To paraphrase (and modify) FDR, what we have to fear is the system itself proceeding along as it is. The economic crisis and the implacable wars are the most obvious conditions we confront today. But the matters which are being ruled off the table by public officials are the most perilous of all: a) re-establishing the rule of law through prosecution of its violators and b) the very logic and operations of globalization and its exacerbating of the existing economic and political inequalities and manifest threats to the planet.[i]

The different dimensions to this – they are multiple and include, for example, their handling of the “War on Terror,” “natural” disasters such as Katrina and their despoiling and threats to our very food supply – I analyze at length in the book. Fukushima is the latest instance of the grave catastrophe that neoliberal philosophy and policies pose for humanity and planet Earth. The stakes here are as immense as one can imagine.


[i] Dennis Loo, “The Water Line: Morality, the Rule of Law, and Leadership,” StateofNature.org, Winter 2009, http://www.stateofnature.org/theWaterLine.html, accessed January 2, 2010.

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