Is Nuclear Power State-Sponsored Terrorism?

Posted on 29/03/2011 by



The situation in Japan is terrible, and it is only getting worse. Despite the attempts of the Japanese government to spin a happy cartoon about the matter, the Fukushima nuclear disaster is infinitely more serious than a case of bad gas. Japan is facing not one, but at least four separate potential Chernobyls, with the possibility that one is already in full melt-down. This is turning into an unprecedented nuclear disaster, unless drastic and rapid measures are taken to entomb the out-of-control reactors.

Without a doubt, the situation is creating fear, and a justified fear on the part of the Japanese people who are in the path of vast amounts of radiation. For example, in two weeks the destroyed Fukushima reactors have already pumped out 1/10th the amount of radiation released by Chernobyl. Wind patterns in Japan are forecasted to shift in the coming week, bringing the radioactivity toward Tokyo, home to millions of people.

In an interview with Nicole Foss, (aka Stoneleigh of the Automatic Earth,) Max Keiser asked a very cogent question: are the Fukushima reactors a “dirty bomb”?

(A dirty bomb, as an aside, is a conventional, non-nuclear explosive device, such as a package of plastic explosive, infused with radioactive material. The bomb, when exploding, does not create a nuclear explosion, but instead spreads the radioactive material over a large area. Hence, dirty bomb: the explosion itself is very small compared to the area contaminated by radioactivity.)

The answer which Foss and Keiser arrived at was “no”: Fukushima is not a dirty bomb, because it isn’t going to be an explosion similar to the one seen from conventional explosives. This is a very reasonable conclusion, but I am disappointed that Foss and Keiser did not continue in this line of thinking.

Taking this as a launching point, I propose a more penetrating question: is nuclear energy state-sponsored terrorism? Terrorism, simply put, is events designed to create a pervasive and constant state of fear in a large group of people. Clearly Fukushima has successfully put the entire country of Japan in a pervasive and constant state of fear, and indeed the disaster is creating a pervasive and constant atmosphere of acute concern in other parts of the world, including where I live on the North American Pacific Coast.

So, in effect, one could argue that Fukushima, at least, is an act of state-sponsored terrorism against Japan, and really the entire world, considering that radiation is now being detected across said entire world. The reactors were unarguably state-supported, and the Japanese government approved the complex for operating beyond its design lifespan. If reactors had been shut down in February as they were supposed to have been, the disaster would have been far less destructive. It therefore is logically defensible to say Fukushima is state-sponsored terrorism: it is a facility which was 1) supported by the state, and 2) due to its inherent nature has created an pervasive atmosphere of fear.

But is the entire nuclear power industry itself state-sponsored terrorism?

All nuclear power is, of course, state-sponsored. The potential disasters are obviously quite extreme, and no investor would ever put money into a project with such huge potential liabilities. All governments which allow nuclear power have taken on the liability; any privately-owned nuclear reactors operate on the classic adage of “private profit, public liabilities”.

It is the terrorism accusation, obviously, which needs greater analysis.

One think which is common with all nuclear reactors, is that no one wants to live next to them. They are surrounded by a vast sector of emptiness, typically; if not, the neighbours are probably a bit nervous, to say the least. There is a pervasive and constant state of fear around nuclear reactors when one is in eye-sight of them; even photographs do not inspire great confidence, because there is the arational understanding that these reactors could become very unfriendly.

The arguments of the industry — which has quite a bit of money riding on their industry staying in business — are generally centred around the irrationality of fear of nuclear power. People need to be educated into seeing how safe and wonderful nuclear power really is, because it’s such a safe and reliable source of clean, green energy. I make the fearless prediction that this sort of ‘education’ is not going to be nearly as effective in the future as it has been pre-Fukushima. Indeed, I’ll go further and say this is the beginning of the end for all nuclear power.

That is beside the point, however. These arguments, in my opinion, are spurious, given the terrifying safety record of the industry in, for example, the United States and Japan. This is not an industry which is interested in safety at all costs; it is an industry interesting in slumming its equipment just at the point where — barring a problematic concatenation of events they didn’t plan for — the reactors are not in immediate danger of going critical. Profit motives come first; an excellent case study in the USA is the Vermont Yankee reactor.

The nuclear power industry is an industry which habitually lies, and gambles with the lives of millions on a daily basis. Any one nuclear plant in the world is one accident away from a Fukushima-style catastrophe, especially older nuclear reactors which are operated over capacity and beyond its designed lifespan. Vermont Yankee is not atypical, but rather archetypical for the US nuclear power industry; Fukushima’s lax regulation is indicative that this is an industry-wide problem.

Problems are so glaring in the nuclear power industry that even government regulators must be aware of them. Being aware of potentially disasterous safety failings in nuclear reactors, and doing nothing to correct the problem, makes the regulators complicit in the violations. In essence, they are covering up for the owners of the nuclear reactors, be they private corporations or a different branch of the government.

Regulations knowing, and nothing correcting, these problems means that the safety problems are systemic, endemic, and a threat to us all. Considering governments have regulatory power over nuclear reactors — and indeed in many cases own them outright — then it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that governments are comfortable with the situation in the industry as a whole.

Therefore, I posit, any ‘accidents’ which arise from nuclear reactors — like Fukushima — arise from a situation which has the full knowledge and blessings of the regulating government. Like at Fukushima, governments have the power to prevent such disasters from happening, but obviously they do not exercise that power, to catastrophic results. In this light, I don’t think there is any question that nuclear power is state-sponsored terrorism; because it arises out of ignorance, greed, and incompetence does not make it any less an act of terror against the people of the world.

Because of the pervasive corruption in the nuclear industry, as exemplified by Vermont Yankee and Fukushima, I sadly expect there will be more nuclear disasters in the future. The entire industry needs to be spun down as quickly as possible, and the fissile material — ‘spent’ or not, it does not matter — dealt with in such a manner as to have it permanently sequestered, doing the least amount of damage possible. I do not expect this to happen, because of institutional inertia, profit motives, and simple ignorance: governments and nuclear power advocates cannot accept the failure of the industry, simply because they do not understand how it can fail.

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