Does George Monbiot live in Sector 7G, Fantasy Island?


From New Left Review:

The reactions to Fukushima from the nuclear industry’s shills have been predictable—if still scarcely believable—sallies into cognitive dissonance. Thus Paddy Reagan, professor of Nuclear Physics at the University of Surrey: ‘We had a doomsday earthquake in a country with 55 nuclear power stations and they all shut down perfectly, although three have had problems since. This was a huge earthquake, and as a test of the resilience and robustness of nuclear plants it seems they have withstood the effects very well.’

Also jumping on the bandwagon are prominent greens like George Monbiot, who has seized the opportunity of one of the worst disasters in the ‘peacetime’ history of nuclear power to announce his endorsement of atomic energy in the Guardian:

You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology. A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

Does Monbiot live on Fantasy Island? ‘Sound as the roots of the anti-nuclear movement are, we cannot allow historical sentiment to shield us from the bigger picture’, he writes. ‘Even when nuclear power plants go horribly wrong, they do less damage to the planet than coal-burning stations . . . The Chernobyl meltdown was hideous and traumatic. The official death toll so far appears to be 43–28 workers in the initial few months then a further 15 civilians by 2005.’ 

The 1986 explosion in the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl power station in the Ukraine does indeed remain the benchmark catastrophe amid peacetime nuclear disasters. Denial that Chernobyl actually killed—and is killing—hundreds of thousands of people is crucial to the efforts of the nuclear lobby.

Pro-nuclear greens like Monbiot prattle on about ‘better safeguards’. Can they not get it into their heads that nuclear power’s entire history has been the methodical breaching of supposedly reliable safeguards? There are 40-foot sea walls around a lot of Japan’s coastline. The recent tsunami went through them like a wavelet through a child’s sandcastle.

Monbiot writes as though the nuclear-industrial-academic complex—one of the most powerful lobbies in the world, in continuous operation for seventy years—did not exist. Yet its real-world effects are plain enough. President Obama, for example, took plenty of nuclear-industry money, specifically from the Exelon Corporation, for his presidential campaign. In his State of the Union address last January Obama reaffirmed his commitment to ‘clean, safe’ nuclear power, as insane a statement as pledging commitment to a nice, clean form of syphilis. Post-Japanese earthquake, Obama’s press spokesman confirmed that nuclear energy ‘remains a part of the President’s overall energy plan’. Even as Fukushima Daiichi threatened meltdown on March 16, Obama found time to record a TV interview for a news programme in southwestern New Mexico on his 2010 proposal for nuclear-warhead development. The centrepiece of this plan is funding for a sprawling $6bn factory to produce explosive triggers for thermo-nuclear weapons at the Los Alamos nuclear compound, 50 miles from Santa Fe. Why choose the moment of Fukushima’s collapse to address New Mexico? As the TV interviewer made clear, it is home to powerful potential donors of campaign funds: Lockheed Martin (which manages the Sandia National Laboratory), Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox and the URS Corporation (which, along with the University of California, collectively administer Los Alamos).

In Germany and in France there have been huge turnouts against atomic energy in the wake of Fukushima. In the US only a handful of Greens have spoken out. Why have we not seen furious demonstrations outside every one of America’s 104 nuclear plants? One reason: major environmental organizations long ago made a devil’s pact with the nuclear industry, which since the early 1970s has worked to frame carbon dioxide as the real environmental problem and nuclear power as its only solution. Fixated by speculative and increasingly discredited models of anthropogenic global warming, mainstream greens took the nuclear option. We are talking here about the Natural Resources Defense Council, the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club—which forced out David Brower when he opposed Diablo Canyon—and people like Obama’s White House advisor John Holdren, along with supposedly progressive outfits like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the Union of Concerned Scientists. There has been no upsurge against nuclear power here because American progressives still mostly cram in under the toxic umbrella of Obama’s energy plan. When the House of Representatives (though not the US Senate) voted for a climate bill in 2009, a ‘clean energy bank’ to provide financial backing for new energy production, including nuclear, was part of the bargain.

In political terms, nuclear power has always been a war on the people, starting with the Japanese in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, going on to the Marshall Islanders, ranchers and kindred inhabitants of test sites across the West, Native Americans, poor Latinos and African Americans (the usual involuntary neighbours of waste dumps), people in the path of ‘accidents’ or deliberate secret experiments, and most recently Fukushima. Not the executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company. They are in Tokyo or heading further south. It is ‘worker heroes’—who know perfectly well they are doomed. It is the Board of Tepco that should be sent to the front lines.

The Fukushima 50, turtle5001tw

“In Fukushima’s Wake”, Alexander Cockburn, New Left Review