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7 March 2018

Japan - toxic legacy of the Fukushima disaster

James Clement, Coventry West Socialist Party

The magnitude 9 Tohoku earthquake of March 2011 was powerful enough to move the largest island of Japan 2.4 metres east. The tsunami which followed sparked the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. 15,000 lives were lost.

Today, there are still almost 55,000 displaced evacuees in Fukushima prefecture, forced to abandon everything. The radiation exposure there still continues to claim lives, with 50 people having died since March 2016.

On top of this, across the three prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi - all affected by the disaster - 155 survivors committed suicide between 2011 and 2015.

Some may see this as a freak natural occurrence; Japan sits on the Pacific 'ring of fire' meaning it will always be highly prone to earthquakes. However, the Fukushima disaster highlighted how the interests of big business will always take precedence over human life.

As far back as 2002, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which runs the Fukushima plant, refused a request by the now-defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (Nisa) to carry out a simulation at the plant after a report highlighted the likelihood of a major tsunami hitting the region within 30 years to be 20%.

And in 2008, although a Tepco simulation showed that a 15.7 metre-high tsunami could hit the Fukushima plant, nothing was done to improve safety measures.

In September last year, a court ruling forced Tepco to pay measly additional compensation of 376 million yen (2.5 million) to 42 evacuees - on top of the 500 million yen (3.3 million) that a court had already ordered both the state and Tepco to pay out to the victims in compensation, due to the failure of both to enforce or implement safety measures.

The failure of the state to look after working class people is also shown in the disgraceful decision to increase the rent for 70% of survivors of the earthquake living in government-run housing, which will affect 16,000 households across Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.

After the disaster, also amid the huge movement against nuclear power that developed, nuclear power plants across Japan were forced to close down operations. But the major energy corporations running them will not tolerate a loss of profits in a highly competitive market for long.

Despite massive opposition to nuclear power, plants in Fukui prefecture - which houses more reactors than any of Japan's 47 prefectures - have seen multiple reactors owned by the Kansai Electric Power Company (Kepco) resume operation.

The anti-nuclear movement has already drawn huge numbers from across many sections of society; from young people, to trade unions, and citizens' groups. For the class struggle in Japan, the need to link the anti-nuclear power movement to the need to break with capitalism will be vital.

Clearly, under capitalism the threat to peoples' lives from irresponsible, profit-hungry companies will never disappear. Instead, we need a socialist plan for the economy, putting people's needs before profit.




http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/27003