By Ray Acheson
Today marks ten years since a massive earthquake struck the northeast of Japan, causing a tsunami of immense devastation and leading to the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station. The loss of life, livelihoods, homes, and communities was catastrophic, and is ongoing.
As WILPF has long argued, nuclear power contains the inherent potential for catastrophe. There is no such thing as a safe nuclear reactor. All aspects of the nuclear fuel chain, from mining uranium ore to dropping an atomic bomb to storing radioactive waste, are devastating for the Earth and all species living upon it.
Six months after the Fukushima disaster, WILPF’s disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will published an anthology of reports and essays from activists and academics around the world about the costs, myths, and risks of nuclear power. It included views from people living in countries involved in all aspects of the nuclear fuel chain and relied on critical research and studies produced around the world. The bottom line: nuclear power must go.
Yet even ten years on from this disaster, the nuclear industry purports nuclear power to be cheap, efficient, and an alternative to fossil fuels. It is now trying to sell “small modular reactors” as a solution to climate change and as a way to provide electricity to remote areas. Even some in the climate activist community have endorsed nuclear power as a way to reduce emissions. But this is a fallacy.
Nuclear power is not carbon-free, especially once the whole life-cycle of production is taken into consideration. Nuclear power is not cheap—it is a heavily subsidised industry, and renewable energy is actually much cheaper, as the cost of solar and wind energy have fallen dramatically in the last decade. Nuclear power is not safe—as we have seen with Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and elsewhere. And nuclear power leads to nuclear proliferation—the same ingredients and technologies used to produce electricity can also be used to produce bombs.
“Nuclear power plants, which were supposed to be efficient,” said Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami in 2011, “instead offer us a vision of hell.” He argued that the flawed logic proclaimed by those promoting nuclear power is based on the quest for convenience and profit.
Indeed, the primary motive of the nuclear power industry is profit. This means under-calculating risk; it means refusing to honestly explore alternative sources of energy that might necessitate initial investments, or that might not be eligible for the same taxpayer-funded subsidies. Scientists and activists alike have noted that nuclear power, which produces energy “in large, expensive, centralized facilities” is not useful “for solving the energy needs of the vast majority of [the world’s] population.” And corporations are not only interested in the profit margins of producing nuclear power—they are also interested in how to make money from managing nuclear disasters.
In a sense, nuclear power plants are a kind of “capitalism bomb,” said US political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal in a statement in solidarity with those affected by the Fukushima disaster in 2011. “These structures are often built by government grants for private profits and then, when they fail, they destroy everything within miles, even at a molecular level.”
Ten years after the disaster at Fukushima, WILPF stands with the affected communities, and with those calling for the abolition of nuclear power and all elements of the nuclear fuel chain. We must invest instead in renewable, nuclear-free, carbon-free sources of energy, and we must pursue a political economy that promotes equitable and postcolonial policies that scale back our use of energy, in order to protect our planet and all life within it.
If you’re interested in learning more about the impacts of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and building a nuclear-free future, join activists in Japan today at an online Global Conference for a Nuclear Free, Renewable Energy Future.