Mar 19, 2012
The nuclear disaster in Japan exposed the decades-long, criminal negligence of Japanese nuclear industry executives and government officials. But Japan is certainly not alone. In the U.S., for example, the NRC, the government agency that regulates nuclear energy, has been granting aging nuclear plants license extensions. Today, 60 of the 104 commercial nuclear reactors in use in the U.S. have been operating for more than 30 years – the life span they were designed for. And 23 of them are “Mark 1” reactors like those at Fukushima – which experts condemned as unsafe already in 1972!
The NRC has had a long-standing policy of easing safety standards in order to approve nuclear power plants that are clearly unsafe. One day before the Japanese earthquake last year, for example, the NRC granted a 20-year renewal to Entergy’s Vermont Yankee plant, which was known to leak radioactive materials into the groundwater. Nuclear industry officials have admitted that, probably, one third of the reactors in the U.S. have such leaks.
And to be sure, the U.S. has had its own share of nuclear “accidents.” Those that were reported already make a very long list, including several reactor core meltdowns – such as at Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Lab near Los Angeles in 1959, at the Fermi plant near Detroit in 1966, and at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania in 1979. Each time, officials of the companies running the plants – and their accomplices, government officials – tried to hide from the public the extent of the contamination and public risk resulting from these meltdowns.
Just like many other technologies, nuclear energy is risky – because it is under the control of reckless, profit-hungry companies, and the “oversight” of a pro-capitalist government. Coal-burning power plants, which produce almost half the electricity in the U.S., cause enough air pollution to kill 30,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to a 2008 study. Add to that the thousands of mine workers killed in coal-mining “accidents,” and the thousands upon thousands of miners who suffer and die from black lung disease. Just as in the nuclear industry, coal bosses violate all kinds of mine safety and air pollution standards for more profit, and government regulators allow them to get away with it.
We need electricity, and we need safe, healthy methods to produce it. We need to reduce the risks and hazards associated with the way power plants are operated. Any rational society would use all its resources, and put its best scientists to work, toward this goal.
But that, exactly, will not happen – no matter what method or energy source is used – so long as energy production remains in the hands of private companies, concerned with one thing only: profit.