The Pathfinders Column from the July 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
The political fall-out continues from the Fukushima plant as radiation levels continue to be revised upwards and the problems continue to cascade, with each solution itself presenting a new problem. Neighbouring states glare balefully as the Japanese now try to justify dumping 110,000 tonnes of radioactive water into the local fishpond. Meanwhile governments across the world hold Nuclear Safety Reviews in a fever to satisfy worried populations that they are not being as careless over nukes as they usually are over everything else.
Folks with long memories were probably surprised at the renaissance in recent years of the nuclear option. There was a time when the anti-nuclear lobby seemed to have won the argument, or at least the contest for public opinion. The anti-nuke brigade had always got its biggest boosts from accidents at nuclear power stations, notably at Windscale in 1957, later at Three Mile Island in 1979, and of course famously at Chernobyl in1986.
So, as the new century dawned and no new technologies were found and significantly, no new Chernobyls occurred, people began listening to the pro-nuke assurances that ‘lessons had been learned’ and ‘technology had progressed’. As old installations neared their pension dates and the question of replacement became pressing, governments talked bullishly about expanding their nuclear build, confident that the people would accept the least-worst option, with resignation if not enthusiasm.
Then Fukushima. And what it has showed is a fundamental split between what governments want and what populations want. The real problem that faces the world’s governments, and by extension the various warring parties of its ruling class, is nothing to do with the environment. It’s the ability of some countries, notably Russia but also China, Venezuela, the Gulf states and potentially even Norway and Canada, to hold the world to ransom through their ownership and control of oil and gas supplies.