A world united against nukes

June 20, 2011

Peter Rugh reports from New York City on a day of action against nuclear power.

FORTY LIFE-sized origami cranes stood in New York City's Tompkins Square in the drizzling rain on June 11. Tilted on one wing or the other, each bore a spray-painted nuclear fallout shelter emblem.

The cranes were folded together by some of the hundred or so demonstrators who gathered to mark three months of the ongoing nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant that began March 11. The rally was held in conjunction with anti-nuke rallies held around the world. Tens of thousands of people in Japan took to the streets to call for an end to nuclear power.

Jo Nakajima said he attended the No Nukes Rally in New York because for 50 years, the Japanese government and energy companies invested in nuclear power, saying it was safe and clean, while ignoring criticism. "Now we see the result," Nakajima said. "Fukushima's devastation has to change policy."

Word of the rally was put out by Todos Somos Japan (We Are All Japan, or TSJ), a newly formed worldwide network of activists standing in solidarity with the people of Japan and dedicated to fighting against what they describes as "atomic capitalism" in the "post-3-11 world."

Protesters at an international day of action against nuclear power on June 11
Protesters at an international day of action against nuclear power on June 11

Yuko Tonohira spoke on behalf of TSJ. Her voice choked with emotion as she described how the mothers of Fukushima Prefecture were being marketed radioactive milk, eggs and vegetables and told that their families must patriotically consume them in order to convince the world that everything is okay.

Tonohira explained that the only way for the people of Japan and the world not to live in the shadow of nuclear terror is to end the use of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. "Germany shut down its nuclear reactors because people took to the streets," said Tonohira. "We need to build a strong movement to stand up to the nuclear industry."

Members of Shut Down Indian Point Now, who are working to build such a movement were out in full force for the rally.

In the 1930s and '40s, Indian Point was a park with ball fields and amusement rides, a dance pavilion and verdant cherry trees. Today, the site is home to what many consider America's most dangerous nuclear plant, housing enough radioactive material to equal 1,000 Hiroshima bombs and located on two earthquake fault-lines.

Entergy, the plant's operator, has committed numerous safety violations for which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted them generous exemptions.

Activists have fought for decades to shut down the plant, but the catastrophe in Japan has shed new light on the struggle. New Yorkers don't want a Fukushima in their backyard, especially when Homeland Security says there would be no possible evacuation for the 20 million people living in the surrounding area.

Fukushima has alerted the globe to the threat of atomic energy. But nuclear power is not only dangerous, but unnecessary. A May United Nations study found that renewable energies such as solar, wind and hydropower could supply almost 80 percent of world demand by 2050.

Indian Point only provides 4 to 6 percent of New York City's power--the rest is sold to the grid. Windmills could easily make up the difference if Indian Point shut down.

AT THE June 11 protest, anti-nuke demonstrators lifted their cranes in the air and hit the streets of the East Village. The sky began to pour rain, but they continued marching uptown on Broadway toward General Electric (GE) headquarters.

GE isn't just a multinational corporation that made over $14 billion in profits last year and received a $3.2 billion tax return from the U.S. government--they also make nuclear reactors.

Forty years ago, GE designed the boiling water reactors at the Fukushima plant. The U.S. government's Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, a precursor of the NRC) raised concerns at the time that the reactor's lack of containment capability would lead to a hydrogen explosion.

That's exactly what happened at Fukushima. The March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the cooling systems at the nuclear plant and caused hydrogen explosions and meltdown of three reactors. Doubts of the design's safety were ignored by GE, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operates the Fukushima plant, and the Japanese government--and buried under paper by the AEC.

GE didn't manufacture Indian Point's reactors. But don't exhale, New Yorkers--the Westinghouse reactors are similar in design.

People around the world are calling on their respective governments to put a halt to nuclear energy and invest in safe sources of power. But GE is seeking to build new reactors in China, which plans to construct 10 new reactors a year for the next decade, and India, which is planning to add dozens more. With the Indian government prepared to spend $150 billion for its nuclear vamp-up, GE is licking its lips and putting profits before people, as it has in the past.

At Rockefeller Center, the mega-corporation projects its towering presence to the world. GE security personnel were flabbergasted when 100 people showed up hollering "No Nukes!" in front of the building. When they asked the crowd to pick up the flock of soggy origami cranes placed at their doorstep, the demonstrators told them that it was GE's mess, and they'd have to clean it up.

Meanwhile, Japan continues to struggle to contain the radiation at Fukushima. Extreme radioactivity at Chernobyl levels has been detected in densely populated areas far beyond the 12-mile evacuation zone.

Former nuclear executive, Arnold Gundersen, told Al Jazeera this week, "Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind." Gundersen explained, "Fukushima has three nuclear reactors exposed and four fuel cores exposed. You probably have the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactor cores because of the fuel cores, and they are all in desperate need of being cooled, and there is no means to cool them effectively."

At the beginning of the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote that class struggle results "in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." The cruelty of that possible "common ruin" is nowhere more evident than at Fukushima. Companies such as GE and TEPCO illustrate that the energy industry will again and again put profits over people.

It will take a mass grassroots movement in the U.S. and abroad, harnessing people power, to combat nuclear power.

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