Fukushima and Nuclear Power: An Answer to Dave Walters
I completely agree with David Walters’ assertion that the working class in power must eliminate want and develop productive forces in the formerly/or semi-colonialized world, and that we do not seek an immediate return to “some sort of pastoral green” pre-industrial utopia, nice as that sounds (“Fukushima: The End of Nuclear Power?” by Dave Walters, Socialist Viewpoint, Vol. 11, No. 4, July/August 2011). However, what interest the working class has in promoting, as Walters does, a specific and very dangerous capitalist-developed industry—nuclear power—is beyond me.
While analyzing what happened at Fukushima, Walters never mentions the explosion of one reactor that sent radioactive fuel bits flying, the total fuel meltdowns in three of the reactors, and the massive, ongoing releases of radiation into the atmosphere and ocean, all of which were covered up and lied about by industry and government. Furthermore, while acknowledging “there are flaws in the entire system that warrant some serious revisions,” Walters is light on details. He doesn’t even mention the spent fuel problem, which is radioactive for half-a-million years, and which no one has a solution for. The one specific he does mention is improving tsunami defenses for all seaside reactors. OK, but what about future ravages such as sea-level rise, which could require whole plants to be moved?
And Walters’ conclusion, that new thorium-based and fast breeder reactors “provide the material basis for eliminating all fossil fuels and for a future society without want, wars or exploitation; that is a socialist one?” It sounds (except for the “socialist” add-on) as though he borrowed a page from the “atoms-for-peace” propaganda book.
Walters’ faith in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)’s attention to detail (“the ‘safety culture,’ was simply too great for me to want to deal with”) is enough to make me gag. Are you joining power plant owners in demanding LESS safety regulation as a condition for working in a nuclear plant, Dave? I’m glad that U.S. nuclear workers are more safety conscious than you are, apparently, but a recent National Regulatory Commission report makes a disturbing point: the NRC regulates for anticipated accidents, but doesn’t deal with “beyond design basis,” i.e., more serious, unanticipated dangers—the kind we have to worry about most (“U.S. Nuclear Plants Not Fully Equipped to Handle Extreme Events,” Climate Wire, July 13 2011, www.eenews.net).
Furthermore, the NRC is totally delinquent on monitoring radiation exposure of the population, which is another area in which Walters also wears blinders. This was shown by his immediate denunciation of Janette D. Sherman, MD, and Joseph Mangano’s piece, “A 35 percent Spike in Infant Mortality in Northwest Cities Since Meltdown,” which appeared in the same issue of Socialist Viewpoint as Walters’ article. In email, Walters crowed about a brief Scientific American blog post (“Are Babies Dying in the U.S. Northwest Since Fukushima? A Reply,” by Michael Moyer, June 21, 2011, www.scientificamerican.com/blog), which questioned Sherman and Mangano’s statistics. But Sherman/Mangano are upheld and then some by a Counter Punch piece, featuring the investigations of Pierre Sprey, a former statistical consultant with the EPA, in which it is seen that in some cities, the increase in infant mortality was over 40 percent (“The Fukushima Disaster and Infant Deaths in the U.S.A,” www.counterpunch.org, July 1-31, 2011). What’s the rush to cover up the dangers of this industry, Dave?
Walters’ article completely overlooks the long-term effects of nuclear power. It has been proven by scientists both that nuclear power plants in their normal operation emit dangerous radiation, which effects people long-term, and that radiation plumes from accidents effect people worldwide for decades. In contradiction to the ignorant statement by journalist George Monbiot on Democracy Now!, that only 45 people died as a result of Chernobyl, it has been shown that up to a million have died worldwide. And the story goes on. Thorium is mostly still in research and development, but thorium is radioactive, and thorium based plants as well as fast breeder reactors also produce weapons grade materials.
The introduction by Stuart King to Walters’ piece says that the older nuclear plants, such as the Fukushima reactors, “need to be phased out.” But King neglects to mention that this includes most of the existing U.S. nuclear power plants, which, like the Fukushima reactors, were only supposed to operate for 40 years. By that time, the heat and radiation have caused dangerous deterioration. Naturally, that is not stopping the owners of plants such as Indian Point (right next to New York City), Diablo Canyon in California or Vermont Yankee, among others, from seeking to extend their licenses. Are King/Walters opposing these extensions on safety grounds, I hope?
Assuming, as I do, that Trotskyists should be against extending the life of old, outmoded and dangerous reactors, then we are already well into the territory of transforming the energy industry, U.S. and worldwide. What is to replace these decommissioned plants? Do we go forward, toward a clean, renewable energy future, or do we try to prop up a dangerous technology which was developed under capitalism more to promote nuclear weapons than to provide electric power?
“The figures don’t add up,” according to Stuart King. “Building offshore windfarms, renewing the grid to use them, developing wave power etc., will take years if not a decade or more...” Hello? What “figures” is King talking about? It could take many decades to replace the outmoded nuclear plants with new ones worldwide. (Capitalist India, one of the leaders in thorium research, only projects 30 percent of its electricity from thorium reactors by 2050.) But why go that route? Why not use this time, under a revolutionary government, to remake the energy superstructure: wind, solar, wave, geothermal and new grid? Even capitalist thinkers such as nuclear scientist Arjun Makhijani, say that something like this is possible (Carbon Free and Nuclear Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, IEER Press, 2007). But while scientists such as this rely on the largesse of the capitalist class to achieve their goals, we can rely on the ability of the working class to take over, abolish capitalism, and radically transform society in a planned way in a relatively short time. Let’s think big!
The way forward for communists in power is to not just take over the industries of capitalism, but to completely transform or change them, under workers councils and state planning, to serve the real needs of all humanity. Capitalist industries are warped and deformed by the profit motive into monstrous attacks on the working class, on humanity, and on nature itself, thus breaking the bond between labor and nature of which Marx and Engels spoke in numerous instances. With its threat of irradiation of the world hanging over the future, the nuclear weapons/power industry is one of the worst violators of the relationship between man and nature. This is what we Trotskyists are here to change, and to replace with industries that serve the real interests of humanity. Compromise on this is not acceptable.
That some Trotskyists tend to ignore or trivialize the Transitional Program is, I think, the worst aspect of discussions like this. The Transitional Program is much more than just the 1938 founding-document of the Fourth International. It is a living, breathing program that goes back to Marx, to Lenin, and forward into our time. It relates the current state of the class struggle to the need for anti-capitalist, working-class revolution. What, for instance, is the meaning of “public works?” Is it just a quote, or does it have meaning for today? True Trotskyism says that “public works” means transforming society to serve the current needs of the working class and humanity. And some of the most urgent needs are transformation of the energy and transportation sectors to eliminate CO2 emissions, build free public transportation based on electric trains and buses, and build safe, renewable energy to empower the world. Nuclear energy? Not wanted, not needed.
To Dave Walters I say this: communists must stand for the future of humanity. Capitalism has already inflicted the future with major compromises, such as the existence of radioactive plutonium for 160,000 years and more—way longer than homo sapiens has existed as a species! Do you want people living 160,000 years from now to view the socialists of the 21st Century as supporters of a dead industry, identified with dead capitalism, that left this radioactive mess that these future people must continually deal with? Your choice.