Capitalism’s toll mounts
for workers in Japan
BY CINDY JAQUITH
After a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and giant tsunami struck Japan March 11, the catastrophe facing workers and farmers is far-reaching. Nuclear contamination, homelessness, unemployment, and lack of power are widespread, while the government and capitalist rulers focus on protecting profits, not lives. All the while, needed information about the scope of the disaster is being hidden from working people.
The owners of the Fukushima nuclear plant deliberately delayed action to cool down reactors affected by the earthquake and tsunami because they wanted to protect their investments, the Wall Street Journal reported March 19. As of March 22 the danger of a complete meltdown at the site was subsiding, but vegetables, milk, and tap water in towns many miles from the plant were contaminated.
There are six reactors at the Fukushima site. The earthquake knocked the plant off the power grid, halting cooling of fuel rods. The tsunami that followed destroyed the plant’s backup generator.
The fuel rods at the No. 1 reactor began to heat up right away. Executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), which operates the plant, rejected the idea of cooling it down with massive amounts of seawater. Tepco “hesitated because it tried to protect its assets,” said Akira Omoto, a member of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.
While the company delayed, the rods got hotter and hotter, producing hydrogen gas, which exploded March 12 at 3:36 p.m. Prime Minister Naoto Kan at that time ordered seawater to be applied. The company began that operation at 8:20 p.m.
The cooling system failed at the No. 3 reactor March 13, the Journal reported. Tepco tried first to cool it with fresh water, but that failed. That afternoon the company began using seawater. An explosion hit the No. 3 reactor the morning of March 14, damaging the containment vessel and leaking radioactive particles into the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the No. 2 reactor’s cooling system broke down. It suffered an explosion March 15.
It was not until March 16 that the Japanese army sent significant forces in to help with spraying seawater. By that time four of the reactors had been damaged and the other two were heating up.
Asked about the Journal story, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, “We did our best during the whole process, and we aren’t at a stage where we can make any judgment on that.”
Now radioactive contamination has been found in produce in Tokyo, about 125 miles from the Fukushima site. The radioactive iodine level in spinach from the region is 27 times what is considered an acceptable amount. Fukushima milk contains radiation 17 times above the limit. Rain and dust are also affected, as is tap water.
The government has banned shipments of spinach from the four provinces near the plant, as well as milk from Fukushima Province. Japanese farmers are demanding compensation from the government for their loss of sales.
Government spokesman Edano sought again to downplay the dangers of milk and produce contamination. “Even if you eat and drink them several times it will not be a health hazard,” he said.
But World Health Organization spokesman Peter Cordingley disagreed. “Quite clearly, it is not what we thought in the early stages. It is more serious,” he said. “We have seen Japanese people in grocery stores paying close attention to where their produce is coming from, and we think this is a wise practice.”
The overall toll of the earthquake and tsunami now stands at 7,197 dead and 19,000 missing. Five workers at the Fukushima plant have died, two are missing, and 22 are injured.Some 400,000 Japanese remain homeless. Tens of thousands of factory workers are laid off. Rolling blackouts and fuel shortages still affect the whole country.
What social class can meet energy needs of billions?