MOST PEOPLE do not think nuclear power is a problem until something goes wrong – then the threat of radiation or an explosion suddenly becomes real. One Japanese worker told the BBC of his fear “going to work 150 miles away from three nuclear reactors in near meltdown”.
Japan has become increasingly reliant on nuclear power since the 1970s. Today it has 53 nuclear reactors which provide 34 per cent of the countries electrical power, substantially more than renewable sources.
Despite well known safety fears, the nuclear industry is shrouded in secrecy. The Japanese government tried to cover up the severity of the recent crisis, just as the Soviet Union did in 1986 when Chernobyl went critical causing the worst ever nuclear disaster.
Many remember the outrage caused by Japan’s 1995 accident at the Monju nuclear power plant which was covered up by the government with false documents, edited video tapes and gagging orders on employees.
Built on fautlines
Not just in Japan but around the world, many nuclear power stations are built in areas that are at risk of earthquakes and tsunamis. For instance in the US four large reactors are positioned near the California coast. One at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant sits virtually on the San Andreas Faultline and is only built to resist a force 7 quake.
An earthquake like this year’s of 8.9 and a tsunami could badly damage or destroy the plant, irradiating large parts of the US west coast.
Although the Japanese government has invested money in new technologies for buildings to withstand some of the worst affects of earthquakes, there is no known technology that can always prevent a nuclear reactor from suffering damage in very serious quakes registering 7 or more on the Richter scale.
Serious incidents
Even operating under normal conditions nuclear power plans can still suffer serious incidents. The Three Mile Island nuclear facility in the US had a level five incident in 1979. In 1959 there was a fire at the Windscale site in Cumbria. There was controversy surrounding the site for years with concerns over radioactive leaks.
The real problem is the secrecy of the nuclear industry internationally which has fought hard to suppress negative publicity and cover up accidents. Business and official secrecy means it is impossible to really hold the governments and companies to account.
Nuclear power cannot be safe under capitalism. There should be a moratorium on all new plants being built and independent workers’ and scientists’ inspections of active plants. The argument that this cannot happen because of business, government or military secrecy just shows how unaccountable the whole industry is, an alarming fact when we realise the lethal potential for destruction that these nuclear reactors represent.