Nuclear energy is no alternative when profits always trump safety

by Jamala Rogers

Fukushima-033011-by-TEPCO, Nuclear energy is no alternative when profits always trump safety, World News & Views The Japanese people got hit with a double whammy of somewhat natural origins. I say somewhat natural because I believe these catastrophes are directly linked to global warming. As Japan is reeling from an earthquake and tsunami, it and the rest of the world are bracing for a more directly man-made calamity, a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Currently, Japanese officials estimate at least 21,000 people are dead or missing from the March 11 earthquake-tsunami tragedy. Damages are estimated at $250 billion, making the disaster the most costly ever. It will take years to rebuild the physical structures and much longer to heal the people’s spirit.

I have found it inconceivable that the Japanese people would ever entertain the idea of nuclear power – even as an alternative energy source. The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the epicenter of the atomic bomb dropped in 1945 by the U.S. The horrific vaporization of people and the vast destruction that followed are not ancient world history. The remnants of radiation poisoning are still prevalent and reparations to victims and their families are no real consolation.

The question in the public domain seems to focus on how we can make the nuclear plants in this country safer in the wake of the Fukushima. I think that it is absolutely the wrong question. It’s like asking how we can make playing with fire in a dynamite boat safer.

Much of the nuclear industry is too greedy and too insensitive to human life to be given control over nuclear power. They are too irresponsible to hold the planet in their hands and deal with something as deadly as nuclear energy. To maintain maximum profits, safety protocols and regulations are circumvented or totally ignored. We have every right to fear for our lives and for our future. And we have every right to stop the proliferation of these plants.

A number of the lethal accidents in the energy arena are preventable if companies would invest in maintenance instead of lining their deep pockets and if the regulatory bodies were more vigilant in their enforcement of regulations and laws. The world has witnessed the tragic deaths of workers as well as ecological destruction of entire communities, whether it’s drilling for oil or mining for coal.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. The group just released a report that was already in the works long before the recent problems at Fukushima. The report likened the actions of plant owners to playing “nuclear roulette.” The report cited 14 near-misses in 2010 that should have been avoided had those companies corrected the known problems in a timely way.

As always, I ask readers to follow the money. Weakening the various regulatory commissions are the legislators who get contributions from the very people they are supposed to be regulating.

Jamala-Rogers, Nuclear energy is no alternative when profits always trump safety, World News & Views A potent example of this kind of obscene relationship is the reign of Pietro “Pete” Domenici, who managed to get himself at the head of two powerful Senate committees with direct control over budgets and regulations of the energy bosses. From 1979-2008 – the longest term ever served in the state of New Mexico’s history – Domenici was showered with monies from energy corporations for doing their bidding. In 1998, after the companies complained to him about how regulations were hampering their ability to do business, Domenici threatened to slash the budget of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by 40 percent unless they bowed down to the nuclear industry – which they did.

Informed observers of the energy arena are now openly reminiscing about the accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. The Japanese government is frantically doing what it can to prevent a Chernobyl-like meltdown, but no one can predict how the nuclear reactors at Fukushima will respond to trial-and-error methods of containment – reminding one of BP’s actions after the spill in the Gulf Coast. We also don’t have fail-safe methods of storing radioactive waste.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, there are 104 nuclear plants in the U.S. that provide about 20 percent of our electricity. Several of them are in need of serious repair due to age; others continue to operate despite known safety risks.

My recommendation is to halt all new licenses as well as all renewals and begin a systematic shutdown of all nuclear plants in this country. Government and independent entities should be seriously exploring and implementing safe, alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar. Forget about improved evacuation plans or safer plants; the industry has shown us that they are grossly incapable of handling nuclear energy. Editorial Board member Jamala Rogers is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer. This story first appeared at