Tuesday, April 26, 2011

can japan get off the nuclear pipe?

Counterpunch | To stabilize not just Fukushima, but Japan itself, the disastrous and irresponsible decisions taken by governments over the past half-century to pursue nuclear energy as a sacrosanct national project, have to be reversed. The immediate priority must attach to close the Fukushima and Hamaoka (and other extreme high-risk sites including Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in Niigata prefecture, the world’s largest nuclear generation complex);5 to secure, stabilize, and remediate the Fukushima sites, resettling and compensation the refugee population and rebuilding shattered infrastructure; to cancel all planned and under construction reactor works (including Hamaoka Number 6 and Kaminoseki in Yamaguchi prefecture); to suspend all existing and experimental projects for uranium enrichment, plutonium accumulation, use, and fast-breeding; to stop the planned export of nuclear plants to countries such as Vietnam (personally promoted by Prime Minister Kan as late as October 2010); and to adjust public and private investment priorities to a completely different vision of energy production and consumption.

What is called for, in short, is the reversal of a half century of core national policies.6 Such a strategic decision, turning the present disaster into the opportunity to confront the key challenge of contemporary civilization, amounts to a revolutionary agenda, one only possible under the pressure of a mobilized and determined national citizenry. At this crucial juncture, how Japan goes, the world is likely follow. The challenge is fundamentally political: can Japan’s civil society accomplish the sovereignty guaranteed it under the constitution and wrest control over the levers of state from the irresponsible bureaucratic and political forces that have driven it into the present crisis?

On such a trajectory, instead of a subordinate and secondary role in the current (now stalled) global “nuclear renaissance,” and the continuing feeble presence on the world political and diplomatic stage as a US “client state,” Japan could become a world leader. It is the sort of challenge to which Japan’s best and brightest might rise, and around which its people might unite.

March 2011 is set to mark a caesura in Japanese history comparable to August 1945: the end of a particular model of state, economy and society, both marked by nuclear catastrophes that shook the world (even if the present one seems likely to be slightly muted and the meltdown kept to partial, the regional consequences may be broader, the number of people disastrously affected greater). Where the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki signalled the end-point of the path chosen by the young officers of the Kwantung Army in the 1930s, the chaos and apocalyptic apprehension of post-quake and tsunami Fukushima in 2011 is the end-point of the path chosen by senior state bureaucrats and their corporate and political collaborators in the 1950s and steadily, incrementally, reinforced ever since then. Their legacy is today’s nuclear state Japan. 1945 was a purely human-caused disaster. 2011 differs in that it was occasioned by natural disaster, but human factors hugely exacerbated it.

Japan’s “Hiroshima syndrome” of fear and loathing for all things nuclear meant that cooperation with US nuclear war-fighting strategy had to be kept secret, in mitsuyaku or “secret treaties,” especially in the 1960s and 1970s that have only become public in the past two years. The nuclear energy commitment, also pressed by the US, had likewise to be concealed, never submitted to electoral scrutiny, and continually subject of manipulation (extensive advertising campaigns), cover-up (especially of successive incidents), and deception (as to risk and safety levels). The extent of that too is now laid bare.

The way forward out of the current disaster remains unclear. The debate over Japan’s energy and technology future will be long and hard, but what is now clear is that Japanese democracy has to rethink the frame within which this elite was able to overrun all opposition and push the country to its present brink. The crisis is not just one of radiation, failed energy supply, possible meltdown, the death of tens of thousands, health and environmental hazard, but of governability, of democracy. Civic democracy has to find a way to seize control over the great irresponsible centers of fused state-capital monopoly and open a new path towards sustainability and responsibility. A new mode of energy generation and of socio-economic organization has to be sought. Ultimately it has to be a new vision for a sustainable society.