Japan's Nuclear Meltdown, the Economic Meltdown, and the Gulf Oil Meltdown All Happened for the SAME REASON
Apologists for the nuclear power industry pretend there are no better
alternatives, so we just have to suck it up and suffer through the
Japanese nuclear crisis.
But this is wholly illogical. The truth
is that we can store spent fuel rods in dry cask storage, which is much
safer than the spent fuel rod pools used in Fukushima and many American
As the Nation pointed out:
of closing plants, there is a fairly reliable solution to the problem
of spent fuel rods. It is called “dry cask storage.” Germany adopted it
twenty-five years ago. Instead of storing huge amounts of spent fuel
in pools with only roofs over them, small amounts of spent fuel rods
are surrounded with inert gas inside large steel casks. These casks are
quite stable and secure. At Vermont Yankee one of them was mistakenly
dropped a yard or more when a crane malfunctioned—and the cask was
But there is a problem with dry cask storage: it costs
money. The track record of the atomic energy industry in the United
States—less so in Japan—is to spend as little money as possible and
extend the life of old plants for as long as possible, no matter the
We could build a new, safer generation
of nuclear power plants which have inherently safer designs, such as
low-temperature reactors and thorium reactors.
But the owners of the
nuclear plants can make more money with the ridiculous designs and
cost-cutting measures used at Fukushima and elsewhere.
As the Christian Science Monitor notes:
as the BP oil spill one year ago heaped scrutiny on the United State's
Minerals Management Service, harshly criticized for lax drilling
oversight and cozy ties with the oil industry, the nuclear crisis in
Japan is shining a light on that nation's safety practices.
nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev, who as director of the
Soviet Spetsatom clean-up agency helped in the efforts 25 years ago to
clean up Chernobyl ... said the sequence of events at Japan's Fukushima I
suggested that the plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company
(TEPCO), may have put profit before safety. The fire that broke out
Tuesday in reactor No. 4's fuel storage pond may have been caused by a
desire to conserve space and money, he suggested.
"The Japanese were
very greedy and they used every square inch of the space. But when you
have a dense placing of spent fuel in the basin you have a high
possibility of fire if the water is removed from the basin," Andreev
TEPCO has come under fire in the past for falsifying safety records at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. In 2002, according to The Wall Street Journal,
TEPCO admitted to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency that it had
falsified the results of safety tests on the No. 1 reactor.
was only one in a string of scandals and coverups to mar the Asia's
biggest utility company. In 2007, the company initially said there was
no release of radiation after an earthquake damaged its
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, but later admitted that radioactive water
spilled into the Sea of Japan.
And less than a year ago, on June 17, a reactor at Fukushima I lost electricity and saw a dangerous drop in cooling water, Bloomberg reported.
TEPCO's president failed to adequately investigate to prevent the
current crisis, said Iwaki City council member Kazuyoshi Sato ...
And this is not limited to Tepco. As one commentator writes:
in the late 80’s, when I was working for an environmental firm in New
Jersey, one of the temps who came through said he’d just come from
working at a nuclear plant. He said that his design, as delivered, had
sufficient margin and backups to take care of whatever could possibly
The owners thanked him for his work, then sent it to
other engineers who cheapened down the whole design. Thinner walls in
the pipes, fewer fasteners in the connections, less mass in the
building walls, the whole bit. Saving money on the build to pay for
higher profits, higher interest to the backers, and generally
harvesting the value that should have been spread over the plant’s
lifetime. He just shook his head.
nuclear accident was largely caused because of Tepco's penny-pinching,
just as the Gulf oil spill was caused by the fact that BP cut every
corner in the book ( see this, this, this, this, and this).
just like BP captured the agencies which were supposed to regulate it,
nuclear agencies have been wholly captured by the nuclear power
companies. For example, as the above-quoted Christian Science Monitor
Andreev, the Russian scientist, has also accused the IAEA of being too close with corporations. "This is only a fake organization
because every organization which depends on the nuclear industry – and
the IAEA depends on the nuclear industry – cannot perform properly."
And the same is true of the economic crisis. As I've extensively documented,
the crisis was caused by big banks and other financial players taking
irresponsible and speculative gambles, committing fraud and fudging the
numbers, using too much leverage, and other dangerous behavior. See this and this.
And - just as with the nuclear and oil industries - the government
"regulators" have all be captured by the big companies they are supposed
to police, helped the bank robbers pull off the heist, and then helped cover it up afterwards.
Stiglitz Speaks Truth to Power
Nobel prize winning economist Jospeph Stiglitz has been speaking out on this same theme this week.
As Linda Keenan and Janine R. Wedel note:
Stiglitz describes well the intertwining of state and private power [quoting Stiglitz]:
personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually
all U.S. senators, and most...[House] representatives...are members of
the top 1 percent....are kept in office by money from the top 1
percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will
be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large,
the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also
come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a
trillion-dollar gift--through legislation prohibiting the
government...from bargaining over price--it should not come as cause
for wonder....Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you
would expect the system to work.
out that a system gamed to benefit only that 1 percent is destined to
sink us all, eventually, because it means America is squandering its
productivity, efficiency, and much-needed infrastructure dollars. We
would go a step further and say that this system, of, by, and for the 1
percent, is what paved the way for some of the greatest disasters of
the new century. The BP-Transocean Oil Spill and the Wall Street
collapse might never have happened without the promotion by shadow
lobbyists of loose regulation and/or weak enforcement that benefited
themselves and their elite brethen. Japan might not be facing a nuclear
crisis, were it not for the fact that the very old reactors at the
Fukushima Daiichi plant got an extension to keep operating despite
safety concerns. That decision was a byproduct, critics say, of Japan's
own gamed system known as amakudari, or "descent from heaven",
a longstanding, widespread practice in which Japanese senior
bureaucrats retire to high-profile positions in the private and public
A string of smaller, but still terrible disasters can be
traced to weak regulation and/or spotty enforcement: the half-billion
eggs that had to be recalled last year; a 2009 plane crash that killed
50 people, which Frontline traced back to the "cozy"
relationship between the FAA and carriers, allowing some of them to
operate flights despite safety violations; and several mine disasters
that have killed dozens in recent years. A Washington Post
analysis found that more than 200 former congressional staffers,
regulators and retired lawmakers work for the mining industry as
lobbyists, senior executives, or consultants. Those last two roles make
it possible for top power brokers to shadow lobby - they go
unregistered simply by evading formal registration and refusing the
accept the title of lobbyist, even if lobbying is essentially what they
A signature feature of the shadow
lobbyist era is not just a manipulation of public policy, but also an
embrace of "failing upward". No matter the track record, the elite 1
percent seek more of the same. Transocean executives thought they
deserved rich bonuses, as did their unabashed, deeply entitled peers on
Wall Street, despite their staggering failures.
The CEO of mine
operator Massey, who retired a few months back, is due to get a
reported 12 million dollars, a year after Massey's Upper Big Branch
mine exploded, killing dozens. And then there's egg producer Jack
DeCoster, who's been called "Teflon Chicken Don." For years DeCoster
has fought various workplace safety and environmental violations. Yet
here's what one lawyer who sued DeCoster's company said about him, to Tribune reporter Andrew Zajac: "He gets fined and things happen to him, but he comes back. He always bounces back."
The insulation from failure is galling, to be sure, but it's much more than that. It is both an outrage and
a clear and present danger. If executives and stealth power brokers
face no repercussions for making risky bets or pushing the limits on
safety to save a buck or working the system to their advantage no matter
the consequences, what incentive do they have to act more responsibly
in the future?
As Stiglitz wrote Wednesday:
entire financial sector was rife with agency problems and
externalities. Ratings agencies had incentives to give good ratings to
the high-risk securities produced by the investment banks that were
paying them. Mortgage originators bore no consequences for their
irresponsibility, and even those who engaged in predatory lending or
created and marketed securities that were designed to lose did so in
ways that insulated them from civil and criminal prosecution.
brings us to the next question: are there other "black swan" events
waiting to happen? Unfortunately, some of the really big risks that we
face today are most likely not even rare events. The good news is that
such risks can be controlled at little or no cost. The bad news is that
doing so faces strong political opposition - for there are people who profit from the status quo.
have seen two of the big risks in recent years, but have done little
to bring them under control. By some accounts, how the last crisis was
managed may have increased the risk of a future financial meltdown.
fail banks, and the markets in which they participate, now know that
they can expect to be bailed out if they get into trouble. As a result
of this "moral hazard", these banks can borrow on favourable terms,
giving them a competitive advantage based not on superior performance
but on political strength. While some of the excesses in risk-taking
have been curbed, predatory lending and unregulated trading in obscure
over-the-counter derivatives continue. Incentive structures that
encourage excess risk-taking remain virtually unchanged.
while Germany has shut down its older nuclear reactors, in the US and
elsewhere, even plants that have the same flawed design as Fukushima
continue to operate. The nuclear industry’s very existence is dependent
on hidden public subsidies - costs borne by society in the event of
nuclear disaster, as well as the costs of the still-unmanaged disposal
of nuclear waste. So much for unfettered capitalism!
end, those gambling in Las Vegas lose more than they gain. As a
society, we are gambling – with our big banks, with our nuclear power
facilities, with our planet. As in Las Vegas, the lucky few - the
bankers that put our economy at risk and the owners of energy companies that put our planet at risk - may walk off with a mint. But on average and almost certainly, we as a society, like all gamblers, will lose.
That, unfortunately, is a lesson of Japan’s disaster that we continue to ignore at our peril.
bottom line is that if we continue to let the top 1% - who are never
satisfied, but always want more, more, more - run the show without
challenge from the other 99% of people in the world, we will have more
Fukushimas, more Gulf oil spills and more financial meltdowns.
As one commentator passionately put it:
no mistake. Nuclear power can be safe... if designed by honest and
prudent people. Make no mistake. The economies of nations and planets
can function well, and life can continuously improve... if only real,
physical goods (including gold and silver) are exchanged in
Make no mistake. Life can be good. Life can be
efficient. Life can be benevolent. Life can continuously improve as
years go by, and as humans learn more about the nature of reality. The
reason everything is getting worse can all be traced back to the
predators-that-be, the predator-class, and their endless dishonesty.
Honesty => life, health, happiness, success.
Dishonesty => death, disease, misery, failure.
The dishonest [...] the predators must go.
Note: This is not a question of
left-versus-right. The war between liberals and conservatives is a
false divide-and-conquer dog-and-pony show created by the powers that
be to keep the American people divided and distracted. See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this.
Instead, it is a question of the powers-that-be waging war on the freedom and wealth of the American people. ... and the people of the entire world.
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