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Vol. 75/No. 12      March 28, 2011

Capitalist disaster devastates Japan
(front page)
March 16—Workers and farmers in Japan confront a mounting social disaster in the wake of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake, followed by a tsunami with 30-foot-high waves, which struck March 11. Explosions and fires erupted at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where the energy monopoly Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has long disregarded safety in a reckless drive for profit.

The National Police announced today that since the tsunami hit, 4,164 people are dead and 7,843 missing. The actual toll is undoubtedly higher. The majority are residents of farming and fishing villages on Japan’s northeast coast, many of them elderly, who received scant protection from inadequate seawalls once the tsunami hit. At least 430,000 people are in shelters.

Patrick Fuller of the Red Cross’s International Federation told the London Telegraph that people are searching through debris to find food and “sleeping on strips of cardboards in temperatures of minus five [Celsius, 23F].”

Bloomberg News reported that the Fukushima plant is the second-oldest in the country. It was scheduled to be decommissioned this year until the government gave it another 10 years of operation. Big business relies heavily on nuclear power because Japan lacks coal and oil. Fifty-four nuclear plants provide 30 percent of the country’s power.

The companies running Japan’s nuclear industry have a history of unsafe operations. An accident at a fuel processing plant in 1999 killed two workers. Five workers died in 2004 when a pipe burst at another nuclear reactor. An investigation showed the pipe had never been inspected in the 28 years the plant had been in operation. In 2007 the government shut down all 17 of Tepco’s reactors after it was found to have falsified safety reports for two decades.

The Fukushima plant uses the controversial Mark I containment vessel for fuel rods, marketed by General Electric “as cheaper and easier to build,” according to the New York Times. But “the warnings were stark and issued repeatedly as far back as 1972: If the cooling systems ever failed at a Mark 1 nuclear reactor, the primary containment vessel surrounding the reactor would probably burst as the fuel rods inside overheated. Dangerous radiation would spew into the environment.”

In the midst of the nuclear crisis and destruction from the tsunami and earthquake, Japan’s central bank announced it was putting the equivalent of $423 billion into the banking system to assure stability of stock markets.

But Matsumo Ito, a volunteer at an evacuation center in the city of Sendai, told the press the government rescue teams “haven’t even brought us anything yet. And this is in Sendai, the biggest city in the region.” Many rice, fruit, and vegetable farmers have lost their crops and possibly sustained long-term damage to the soil. Gasoline, critical for travel in rural regions, is in short supply. The town of Yamamoto, home to apple and strawberry farmers, has no gas stations open and a shortage of kerosene for heat.

Thousands of factory workers are laid off. All 12 Japanese auto companies suspended production March 14, as did the auto parts, electrical, electronics, petrochemical, and steel industries.
Related articles:
Social impact of flood in Australia far from over
Workers pay the price for capitalism’s disasters  
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