- the spoken word prevails -
A eulogy, a laudation, is easier and more satisfying to give than a castigating speech. And to make matters worse, this speech is to be about a company and its management which are far away from me, and this not only in a geographical sense. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens also gave no thought to the plant producing their electricity – until March 11, 2011, when the earth quaked and set off a devastating tsunami, a deluge that destroyed the atomic power plant of Daiichi Fukushima, a facility which had been built directly on the beech, a mere 11 meters above sea level. A natural catastrophe plus an atomic MCA, the maximum credible accident. A terrible disaster, for which no one can be held responsible? Is this but a further sign that every day we use forms of energy and techniques whose horizons go beyond human imagination and the range of control we have over the processes of energy conversion and their consequences?
Not quite. The fact that the combination of an earthquake and a tsunami could lead to an nuclear disaster worse than the one in Chernobyl is also a result of the decisions made by TEPCO‚s management before and after the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima. The highly respected Japanese Sustainable Management Forum - without being polemical - labeled these decisions faulty and inappropriate. Responsible for the disaster are the chairman of the largest Japanese utility company TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Corporation) which operates the Daiichi Fukushima nuclear power plant, Tsunesiha Katsumata; the former company president Masataka Shimizu; the current president Toshio Nishizawa.
The TEPCO people have brought suffering and sorrow to hundreds of thousands of their fellow countrymen. They carry responsibility for serious radiation-induced health problems, as well as for the fact that large areas of the country will remain uninhabitable for a long time and that radioactive substances with indeterminable effects and in unknown quantity could get into the food chain. In short, the accursed TEPCO people are responsible for the largest maximum credible accident in nuclear history. This MCA didn‘t have to happen, and it shouldn‚t have happened. To call it a second Chernobyl is an understatement. Fukushima tops Chernobyl by a long-shot. These are the reasons why a censure speech is not only justified, but mandatory. What happened in Fukushima under the responsibility of TEPCO‘s managers must not be repeated.
At the beginning of November 2011 - eight months after the MCA – journalists were allowed to see the nuclear ruins for the first time. Wearing protective suits, as, according to the dosimeters, the radiation measures 300 microSievert per hour. This means that in Fukushima, one is exposed in three hours to a degree of radiation deemed the maximum tolerable dosage for a whole year. Almost three quarters of a year after the disaster, even the best rhetoricians - such as Masao Yoshida from the management of the Fukushima hulk, who TEPCO sent to the media front to reassure the public, had to admit that, „There is still danger“, and that the cleanup would last another 20 years. 20 years, despite the fact that in this nuclear wreckage 480,000 suits of protective clothing had already been used up in the past eight months. These suits had to be stored as hazardous nuclear waste on the property, because in Japan as in Germany and other countries no appropriate final repository exists. (see: International Herald Tribune, Nov. 14, 2011). And whether 20 years will be enough time to complete the clean-up is by all means questionable. Especially if we compare it with the small nuclear power plant in Rheinsberg in northern Brandenburg - 60 years have been scheduled for its decommission.
At the same time it must be emphasized that not only TEPCO‚s management carries the responsibility for the long-term contamination of large areas of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, the full effects of which we will see only in the future. The nucleocratic system includes many other „character masks“ of a brand of capitalism which refuses to be fettered by anything that would keep it from making the largest possible profits; even while the earth quakes, waters rise to great floods and nuclear fuel rods melt. TEPCO is a huge company with more than 50,000 employees, not withstanding the subcontractors. TEPCO operates 17 nuclear power plants, not only in Japan, and belongs after EDF, EON and RWE to the four largest nuclear companies in the world. The share capital is held by the city of Tokyo, large Japanese life insurance companies and banks.
The disaster, which the TEPCO managers responsible for it didn‘t prevent, could have been avoided – even if these said managers had operated solely on the principles of obstinate capitalistic economics without regard for ecological foresightedness, social responsibility, economic stability, political considerations or out of respect for nature. The company – like other companies – was trying to maximize profits. However, the resulting cost pressure did not have to lead in Fukushima to sloppy maintenance and the curtailing of operational controls. They could have stuck to the precautionary principle that became international law in 1992. The handling of uranium fuel rods is in a different category than automobile assembly. For a long time, TEPCO had been recklessly operating on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe in order to cut maintenance costs and maximize profits.
The Daiichi Fukushima plant was designed to withstand earthquakes measuring only up to 8 on the Richter scale, as stronger earthquakes had conveniently been deemed impossible and were accordingly out of TEPCO‚s range of sight and thus also not provided for in the company‘s budget. Neither was the risk of possible tsunamis taken into consideration when making the decision to build so close to the shore. After March 11, 2011 this proved to be a fatal misjudgment about which one can only shake his head. The nuclear power plant was built just a few meters above sea level directly on the shore. The cooling systems and the emergency generators were insufficient from the very beginning. Added to these structural deficiencies were sloppy operating practices and deceitful falsifications in maintenance reports sent to the inspection agencies. The „Financial Times Deutschland“ entitled an article about TEPCO: „Japan‚s fraudulent energy giant“ (March 3, 2011). Thus it was not only a „normal catastrophe“ (Sidney Perrow), that, so to speak, escalates during human interaction, when unintended consequences of intentional actions get out of control.
That‘s enough, one would think. That‚s enough, but it is not enough for TEPCO. The company‘s deceitful practices were done intentionally by the management. This cannot be masked by the fact that after the disaster the same men came running with their tails between their legs, offering apologies to the victims.
Even without a major accident, the ongoing operations of the Fukushima plant pose constant risks, especially to the „life-ware“, the term used by Robert Jungk in 1977 in his book about the „Atomic State“ to refer to „radiation fodder“ and „neutron fodder“. TEPCO has outsourced the most risky work to subcontractors and has hired homeless and destitute people to do cleaning work. Between 700 and 1000 of them have supposedly died as a result of radiation. It is not known how many are afflicted with cancer. The people at TEPCO responsible for the health of the employees have acted just as irresponsibly as the European nucleocracy. They gambled with the life and health of many people with the foremost goal to increase the profits from their nuclear investment and to preserve nucleocracy as a means of keeping political and economic power.
Nucleocracy equals an atomic arena with big utility companies, political parties, the media, obliging scientists, and this not only in Japan, but worldwide. In this respect, Robert Jungk and other critics of the atomic age were clairvoyant and farsighted: nucleocracy is a big threat to democracy, even in a country like Japan which had a devastating experience with the atom bomb in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. TEPCO is not just a company with an overextended and incompetent management that lost control, and not only a company responsible for the biggest nuclear catastrophe in history. TEPCO and the global nucleocracy represent a political time-bomb for democracy.
This time-bomb must be defused, but how? A solution could be the socialization of ownership with the control of the facility in the hands of the employees and others who are now dependent on TEPCO. These people must have the chance to be a part of the decision making that greatly effects their lives today and in the future. Above all, decisions regarding a technology whose consequences extend into millenniums to come should not be based on short-term financial yields. This, however, is not enough. The horrendous disaster of Daiichi Fukushima has underlined the urgency for the immediate exit from nuclear energy. The nuclear age, that began with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, must have found its end on March 11, 2011 in Fukushima.
However, the opposition against immediate nuclear withdrawal is substantial. We are now experiencing this in Germany. Eight months after the catastrophe in Japan, the nuclear company EON is legally fighting the exit decision and is demanding millions in damage compensation, because the decision to shut down nuclear power plants has caused the company millions in write-down losses. If the company wins its case and receives compensation, then it is absolutely necessary that the court order it to set aside sufficient funds to cover the costs of possible future disasters such as Fukushima. Up until now, no insurance company has been willing to insure the risks of nuclear meltdown and radiation. These reserves would surely be higher than the compensation claimed for foregone profits as a result of the shutdown decision of May 2011. They would mean economic ruin for the company.
Will the TEPCO management and global nucleocracy be impressed by a castigating speech and by the solid arguments of the anti-nuclear activists throughout the world? Hardly. This is why we must fight for the end of nuclear power. This works best when demands are accompanied by positive signals. We already have many examples for the use of renewable energy in the form of wind, water, photovoltaics, solar heat, biomass. These sources of energy must be further developed in order to win back energy autonomy from the TEPCOs of this world and from nucleocracy and fossocracy and to get out of the snares of nuclear economy. This has global implications, for in the world of 2011, there are 436 nuclear power plants in operation and many more are in the planning stage. The IEA, for example, anticipates the use of nuclear power throughout its whole planning period lasting until 2035. According to the IEA‚s World Energy Outlook from November 2011, when fossil fuel starts to run short and its use has to be curtailed in order to keep average temperatures from rising more than 2°C - as any further rise in temperature would really mean a climate catastrophe - , nuclear power could serve as a kind of interim solution despite Fukushima. So we see that the fossil-nuclear energy system will continue on despite all the disasters.
The atomic age began with the confirmation of the fissility of the atomic nucleus in 1938 and with the destruction of the two Japanese metropolises Hiroshima and Nagasaki by US atom bombs in 1945. In the following years, the optimistic motto of „atoms for peace“ raised hopes, even in Japan. The overcoming of energy shortage seemed within reach. At the same time, during the Cold War the nuclear threat of reciprocal annihilation among the power blocks grew at an alarming pace. „Exterminism“, the self-obliteration of humanity, was the name given to the political concept of atomic lunacy by the British historian E. P. Thompson.
At least the catastrophe in far-off Japan prompted Germany‘s nucleocratic government in March 2011 to temporarily shut down a few nuclear power plants, despite the fact that – against all reason - in September 2010 it had decided to increase the working life span of the reactors by eight to 14 years. It then later authorized the total withdrawal from nuclear energy by 2022 after considering the recommendations of an ethics committee.
This is a vacillating procession by the conservative German government; however, compared to the reactions to the Fukushima-syndrome in other countries, it is a big step forward. South Korea is still planning to export nuclear reactors to any country that is solvent. China is sticking with nuclear energy, Russia as well, even the USA is still relying on nuclear power. Therefore, we can expect that in the next decades, new plants will be added to the 436 nuclear sites currently in use.
We are now in the midst of a societal discussion of global proportion and historical consequence. Not only the withdrawal from nuclear energy is on the agenda. We must also leave the fossil fuel energy system behind us, if planet earth is have a future hospitable to human beings, if the „good life“ is to have a chance. Fossil fuels such as gas and oil and even coal are running out. In the summer of 2010 we experienced the tragic explosion of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon in the Golf of Mexico. In view of this major disaster, we can no longer look to so-called non-conventional deep-sea oil to solve energy shortage, even though throughout the world everything is being done to tap the last non-conventional fossil fuel reserves. Oil is also life-endangering, although in a different way than atomic energy - in Iraq, in Libya, and even in Sudan or in Nigeria wars are being fought over access to oil. The powers behind fossil and nuclear energy are conservative. They hold on to old organizational structures. This is their capital and it must yield the highest possible profits - the costs are carried by the customers. However, the International Energy Agency made it clear in its newest World Energy Outlook from November 2011 that the use of fossil fuels cannot be increased due to the resulting consequences for the global climate. If the effects of fossil fuel on the climate are to be contained, no new fossil fuel power plant may be connected to the grid after 2016.
At this point nucleocracy speaks up and offers nuclear power as an alternative. This shows once again to what pathological degree the nuclear and fossil fuel energy systems are intertwined. The withdrawal from nuclear energy is only a partial answer as long as no efforts are made to withdraw from the fossil fuel system as well, and vice versa. For when the dependence on and the demand for fossil fuels increase, when „Peak-oil“, „Peak-gas“ and „Peak-coal“ have run out and the necessary supply can only be expanded through the use of non-conventional extraction methods, massive environmental damages and severe - also military - conflicts will threaten our very existence. Therefore the subject at hand is not only the withdrawal from nuclear energy. We‚re talking about our future energy supply on the whole and about peace throughout the world.
Even if we do decide to immediately withdraw from nuclear energy and put an end to an atomic age lasting 80 years, we will still face the issue of nuclear waste disposal for decades to come and the matter of final storage for centuries and millenia. Nucleocracy has not yet offered any feasible and acceptable solutions for these problems. Only in the distant future will we know how much cheap nuclear-generated electricity has really cost, and what bills future generations will have to settle for the energy that we used.
But, this nuclear policy was decided on in the past, today there is little we can do. We do have, however, a few ways to make amends. We could develop a new, a solar, that is an energy system that uses the radiation of the sun, we could change our mobility, our consumer behavior, the way in which we live and work. We could expand our global perspective to a planetary-solar one. Then we would no longer meet our energy needs with the resources of planet earth, but rather through the radiation of the sun, which is in its own way a „fast breeder“ reactor, but as Hermann Scheer points out, it‘s at a safety margin of 150 million kilometers.
Fukushima is a symbol of the mistaken policies of the atomic age. We are giving the Black Planet Award to the management of the nuclear power company TEPCO because it put profits before safety and because it must be made responsible for its fraudulent practices and disastrous decisions. At the same time, we know that the management of EON or EDF is not one bit better. The nucleocratic system itself is the real deception and must be put to an end immediately. We already have the means and know-how to make the transition to renewable energy. This transition must take place - against the will of fossocracy's managers - who still hold on to the fossil fuel system despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster and despite the warnings of a climate catastrophe; and against nucleocracy, which will hold on to this monster technology as long as there are profits to be made.