Japan: Anti-nuclear power protest on May Day

Two months after the beginning of the Fukushima disaster, the anger in Japan is growing

We publish here the English translation of a leaflet on the issue written and distributed by Kokusai Rentai, the CWI in Japan. It was enthusiastically received on a 2,000 strong Nakanoshima Mayday march in Osaka. You can find the Japanese version here or find more information in Japanese on the CWI Japan site.


Nuclear crisis – who pays?

It is still too early to say what will be the full cost of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear power plant run by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company). 70,000 people have been forced to leave their homes. They cannot even return home to collect possessions when they want. Another 170,000 in the 30 kilometre zone have been told to stay indoors. Residents in areas beyond the government’s 20 kilometre limit have now been told they may face evacuation too. With the stabilisation of the reactors still months away, there is not yet any indication of when they will be able to return. The possibility exists that part of the area at least will be left uninhabitable for years after the incident.

The disaster has left the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and fishermen in ruins, with many facing bans on the sale of their products or facing reduced sales due to consumer reluctance to buy produce from any of the areas affected by radiation leaks. While the "experts" argue about the long-term health effects of the disaster, even the more conservative methods of calculating the health risk of radiation indicate that over the next decades several thousand people will die of cancers as a direct result of the accident. If researchers more critical of the nuclear industry are correct, then there could be tens or hundreds of thousands.

Act of God?

We have been told by TEPCO and the the apologists for the nuclear power industry, including those in the government, that this is a natural disaster that could not possibly have been foreseen. A tsunami higher than 5 metres, like the one that damaged the Fukushima plant, was a fluke – nothing like it seen for a thousand years. This is a lie pure and simple.

Japanese seismologists have been pointing to the possibility of such a disaster for years. Both the 1896 Meiji Sanriku earthquake and the 1933 Showa Sanriku earthquake in the Tohoku area were accompanied by tidal waves over 20 metres high. As the Asahi Shinbun reported on 24 April, a team of researchers from TEPCO itself presented a report in 2006 at a conference in the US where they estimated that the chances of the Fukushima number one plant being hit by a tsunami higher than the planned for 5.7 metres was around 10% over 50 years.


So how do we account for the present corporate amnesia? TEPCO’s executives, major shareholders and insurers are hoping that the government will invoke the 1961 Nuclear Damage Act which gives the the operator an indemnity from compensation where damage to reactors results from a grave natural disaster or an insurrection. So far, it is not clear whether the government will classify the incident as such. Kokusai Rentai is completely opposed to such an indemnity. TEPCO executives and major shareholders should be held fully liable for damages resulting from the incident. We also call for the abolition of the actual 1961 Act. Local residents farming and fishing families should receive full compensation for their losses arising from the nuclear disaster.

Corporate cost cutters

Shimizu Masataka, was brought in as President of TEPCO in 2008. The express aim was to restore profitability following the losses which resulted from the shut-down of its Kashiwazaki plant after the 2007 Chuetsu earthquake. His agenda is clearly shown by the companies 2010 financial report. As the report puts it, "The TEPCO Group devoted all of its powers to reducing costs". It goes on to outline how this was achieved: "For example, we reduced the cost of inspections not by postponing them, but by reducing their frequency through detailed analysis of the appropriate interval between inspections for individual pieces of equipment". The report does not mention that their innovative cost cutting measures also included delayed and/or missed inspections of equipment as vital as back-up generators at the Fukushima and two other plants. This only came out in their report submitted to the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan on February 28th, 2011.

Their priority was not to examine the lessons of Kashiwazaki and spend money on additional safeguards against the threat posed by earthquakes, that their own research indicated was necessary, but to restore dividend payments to share-holders. The operation was successful and in 2010 they paid ¥60 per share in dividends to their shareholders. It was alleged widely in the press that after the earthquake, TEPCO delayed using sea water to cool the reactors because they wanted to save their reactors from corrosion. In other words they risked the health of millions in a vain attempt to protect their profits. We cannot allow the safety of millions to be entrusted to these people whose priority is not safety, but to maximise the profit to their shareholders.

Government responsibility

While TEPCO bears primary responsibility for the accident, successive right-wing pro-business governments of both the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party also bear major responsibility. They have starved the alternatives such as solar power of funds for development while devoting the bulk of resources to nuclear power. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which has been responsible for the promotion of nuclear power, is also responsible for overseeing the safety of the plants. TEPCO could not have got away with what it has done already without the complicity of the bureaucrats at METI.

What is the point of having even the weak government guidelines that exist, stating that the power companies should plan even for "unlikely" contingencies such as a large tsunami, if they are going to be disregarded. The collusive nature of the relationship between METI and TEPCO is shown by the fact that officials such as Toru Ishida, the former head of the resources agency under METI, can take up well paid posts with TEPCO on retirement from the ministry.

Who pays?

It is quite clear that the policies of the government and the major pro-business parties will be to attempt to preserve TEPCO as a private monopoly and the future dividends of its investors, by passing the cost of the crisis and the compensation onto the working people of Japan. While the press have praised the heroism of the workers struggling under horrendous conditions to contain the disaster, TEPCO are already calling for their workers to take a 20% pay cut. It is not TEPCO’s workers that are responsible for the disaster but their management and the people that put them there, the major shareholders.

It now appears that the Kan government wishes to use tax-payers’ money to keep TEPCO afloat, probably in the form of interest-free loans. It is possible that other power companies will also be asked to contribute to some kind of fund to bail out TEPCO. Since the utility companies are legal monopolies, it is likely that they will just pass on the cost to the consumer. They will continue to use the money from their monopoly to push nuclear power, including pro-nuclear adverts in the media. While the faces in management may change, the same pressures to cut costs to restore profitability will be present..

Kokusai Rentai believes that not only TEPCO, but all of the 10 regional electricity companies need be taken into public ownership with minimum compensation based only on proven need. Not to be run by ministry bureaucrats in the interests of big business, but under democratic workers’ control and management. This is the only way that the interests of safety and of the consumers can be assured.

A state-owned energy industry would allow for the phasing out of the nuclear power plants and their safe and open decommissioning with the inspection of workers’ organisations and citizens’ groups. It would allow for a massive programme of investment in renewable energy sources such as solar power, wind and geothermal energy as well as an energy conservation programme. It would also allow for the development of a truly national grid that would, unlike the present system, allow for the transfer of electricity between West and East Japan.

We cannot expect the right-wing, pro-business parties to support such a programme. The present crisis shows the need for fighting workers’ organisations, independent of management, and for a new party of working people committed to fighting for an end to the rule of the monopolies and a democratic socialist Japan.

  • No indemnity from damages for TEPCO under the 1961 Nuclear Damage Act.
  • Full compensation for residents forced to move and farmers and fisherfolk.
  • Labour movement and citizens’ groups to launch own inquiry into both the causes of the disaster and the health effects.
  • For fighting unions, independent of management, in the electricity and other industries.
  • Nationalise all of the power companies under workers’ control and management with minimum compensation.
  • End the collusion with bureaucrats- for workers’ control and management.
  • Cancel the plan to build more nuclear power plants.
  • Decommission the present nuclear power plants or convert them to run with other forms of fuel.
  • For a massive programme of investment in renewable energy such as solar, wind, wave and geothermal power.
  • For an end to the domination of big business.
  • For a new party of working people committed to a socialist programme to change Japan.

Kokusai Rentai (International Solidarity) is produced by the Committee for a Workers’ International, Japan.

website: http://cwij.org, e-mail: kokusairentai@cwij.org

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May 2011