Japan: Let this be a call to act now

I am sure we all shared similar reactions to the earthquake-tsunami tragedy in Japan last week. First, we blinked at reports of an big earthquake. Perhaps for a moment our response was dulled by being worn down by the string of recent nearby disasters: Christchurch, the Queensland floods and cyclones. And anyway this was Japan, a rich country and probably the most earthquake-prepared country in the world.

Then came the images of the tsunami that followed. Too much like the work of some special effects wiz from Hollywood. The water seemed too powerful and entire towns and villages seemed to wash away too easily. But this time it was not special effects. It was real. Seeing is believing, they say, but it was hard to believe what we saw on our TV screeen. As was the mounting toll.

But then there was more horror as a nuclear disaster unfolded. Again Japan was a rich country and technologically one of the most advanced. Japan is the third largest nuclear power user in the world with 53 nuclear reactors that provide 34.5% of its power needs. Surely it would be prepared to deal with a nuclear disaster?

According to Biff Bradley, the director of risk assessment for the Nuclear Energy Institute, it’s almost impossible to try to rank the absolute safety risk of a plant, due to the number of variables that would be involved in any sort of direct comparison. But given that some fundamental risks are obvious and plant safety records are public, relative risks can be measured. For instance, nearly half of the 104 nuclear reactors operating in the United States are close to major fault lines, including the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre plants located near California’s San Andreas Fault. The Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York is less than two miles from the Pampano fault line, and sits within 50 miles of more than 17 million people.

All around the world, people have felt numbed with shock even as they watched the even more shocked and traumatised survivors pick helplessly at the rubble and mud that remains.

Our hearts should be with those survivors struggling to find loved ones, to clear the mess and to begin rebuilding. But just as they have had to overcome a sinking into inertia that can come with shock, we must draw our lessons and start to act:

1. Show our solidarity and respond generously through the aid appeals.

2. Play our part to end the nuclear madness by ending our mining and export of uranium. Some of the exploding nuclear plants in Japan are fueled by uranium exported from Australia – more blood-stained corporate profit. Some of our politicians rushed to promise they won’t support nuclear power stations but there are others, from Labor and the Coalition camps, who until just the week before were championing that irresponsible course.

3. The Japan disaster was not a result of climate change but if we don’t address the climate change crisis terrible catastrophes on this scale (or greater) will become more common in the future we bequeath our children. Time is running out on this – we need to shift quickly to renewable energy sources not dangerous nuclear power.

Green Left Weekly is committed to such a course of action. If you want to support our work you can make a donation online today at http://www.greenleft.org.au/donate.php.

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