By Eugene E Ruyle
Posted on February 27, 2013 by the Communications Committee
As we approach the second anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, it is well that we remember the sordid history of nuclear energy in Japan and the world, and re-phrase Bob Dylan’s poignant question: How many times must nuclear plants fail, before they are forever banned?
At the dawn of the Nuclear Age, on witnessing the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico, Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” remembered the words of the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
From a purely technological standpoint, a nuclear power plant is one of the most remarkable devices ever built by our species, but, as some have said, a hell of a way to boil water. Its technological sophistication, however, is not matched by moral vision. The nuclear disaster at Fukushima has shown once again that nuclear power plants are, next to nuclear warheads themselves, among the most dangerous devices that our species has ever created. Along with nuclear weapons, the construction and proliferation of nuclear power is, as Patrick Moore (1976) observed over thirty years ago, “the most irresponsible, in fact the most criminal act ever to have taken place on this planet.”Nuclear power, whether it is in a nuclear power plant or nuclear bomb, is inherently deadly. It is not a question of regulating nuclear plants or putting them under the control of the workers, nor is it a question of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to irresponsible parties. Both nuclear bombs and nuclear power plants must be forever banned.
For socialists, while we condemn the irresponsibiity of the capitalist state in creating the nuclear industry, it is important to understand how this was done and how the nuclear weapons/power industriy serves capitalism and imperialism. The history of nuclear power reveals a sinister con game.
The con began with Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech in December 1953. The Eisenhower Administration had decided that the best way to counter public revulsion against the A-Bomb and nuclear testing was to aggressively market the “peaceful uses of atomic energy” and “thereby create a climate of world opinion that is more favorable to weapons development and tests." (Tanaka and Kuznick 2011)
This pubic relations campaign included Walt Disney Productions, which released a film, “Our Friend the Atom,” in 1957, describing the benefits of atomic power. Shown on the TV show Disneyland and in public school auditoriums and science classes, Disney’s film “was instrumental in creating . . . a mostly favorable attitude toward nuclear power.” (Wikipedia 2011)
By July 1955, the United States opened its first commercial nuclear power plant and by October 1956 the U.S had agreements with 37 nations to build atomic reactors. Under this cover of the “peaceful atom,” the Eisenhower Administration pursued “the most rapid and reckless nuclear escalation in history. The US arsenal went from a little more than 1,000 nuclear weapons when [Eisenhower] took office to approximately 22,000 when he left.” (Tanaka and Kuznick 2011)
Although the PR campaign was largely successful, wide public skepticism and resistance remained. After Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the global construction of nuclear power plants was nearly halted.
In the last few years, however, as public concern about global warming has increased, the con artists have brazenly begun once more to push nuclear power as a solution to global warming and other environmental problems created by fossil fuels.
But Fukushima has exposed once again the basic facts about the nuclear industry. As Dr. Helen Caldicott wrote on March 16, 2011:
The world is now paying – and will pay however severe Fukushima turns out to be – a grave price for the nuclear industry’s hubris and the arrogance and greed that fueled their drive to build more and more reactors.
What’s more, having bamboozled gullible politicians, the media, and much of the public into believing that it is a “clean and green” solution to the problem of global warming, the nuclear industry has operated facilities improperly, with little or no regard for safety regulations, and they have often done this with the connivance of government authorities.
Nuclear power is not the answer to global warming; it is not clean, it is not green; it is not safe; and it is not renewable. It is instead “a destroyer of worlds.” It is time the global community repudiated it – however economically painful in the short term that taking such a step would be. There is no other choice for the sake of future generations.
In talking about Fukushima, however, we must also talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the entire nuclear weapons complex that puts the very survival of our species in question.
Nuclear power: A Socialist Perspective
Nuclear power is different from other energy sources. The fossil fuel technologies of coal and oil—which rival nuclear power in their destructive impact on our species—grew, in a sense, out of the “normal” processes of capitalism. That is, they developed because they were profitable, so profitable that the oil industry played a key role in transforming the capitalism described by Marx in Volume 1 of Capital into the monopoly capitalism and imperialism described by Lenin in Imperialism.
By contrast, nuclear power did not develop because it was profitable. Nuclear power was made profitable so that it would develop. It is unlikely that individual capitalists, even giant corporate ones, would have made the transition to nuclear power on their own. Even today, capitalists will not invest in nuclear power without massive subsidies from the government (which, of course, they themselves control). As Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, put it:
If you were a utility CEO and looked at your world today, you would just do gas and wind. ... You would never do nuclear. The economics are overwhelming, . . . The nuclear industry is here because government supported it. . . . This notion that government is not a catalyst in this industry has no basis in fact.
This does not mean, however, that nuclear power is not a product of capitalism for, as the Manifesto stresses, capitalists have “exclusive political sway” in the modern state: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
Nuclear weapons and nuclear power are products of capitalism, but not the capitalism described by Marx in Capital. Rather nuclear power is a product of the monopoly capitalism of Lenin’s Imperialism and the wars that imperialism generates.
As the world moved towards WWII, all the rival imperialist powers began research into nuclear weapons, but only the Anglo-American Manhattan Project received the unconditional government support necessary for success. Both the German and the Japanese governments believed that, although nuclear weapons were possible in theory, they could not be developed in time to be used in WWII. This was a correct assessment, for even the Manhattan Project was successful only after the defeat of Nazi Germany and after the Japanese imperialists were already ready to surrender.
But the Americans had more grandiose schemes than simply victory in WWII. They saw nuclear weapons not just as a way to end WWII, but as the weapon to end all wars—to their own advantage. As H. Bruce Franklin notes, Americans have long lived
in a culture that bubbled with fantasies of ultimate weapons. Appearing first over a century ago as American science fiction, these fantasies helped to shape the nation’s conceptions of nuclear weapons and responses to them, decades before those weapons materialized.
American authors churned out hundreds of novels and stories imagining future wars from a peculiarly American perspective. In these fantasies, the emergent faith in American technological genius was wedded to the older faith in America’s messianic destiny, engendering visions of made-in-America superweapons that would allow the United States to defeat all evil empires, wage war to end all wars, and make the world eternally safe for democracy. (1989:18-20)
Franklin tells how President Truman was an avid advocate of this “fatal fiction,” and, on the way to Potsdam, read to a reporter lines from a poem by Tennyson which depicted the “aerial superweapons of the future” and described how the “horrors of this scientific warfare bring about universal peace and world government:”
For Americans, of course, universal peace and world government means Pax Americana. Atomic diplomacy began with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and continues to occupy a central place in U.S. military planning.
Nuclear weapons are essential for the preservation of capitalism in the face of the rising influence of communism. As Winston Churchill put it to a group of MIT students in 1949, “I must not conceal from you the truth as I see it. It is certain that Europe would have been communized some time ago but for the deterrent of the Atomic Bomb in the hands of the United States.”
Nuclear power in the Soviet Union has a somewhat different history. Research into nuclear physics began even before the Revolution, but it was not until Stalin was informed about the Manhattan Project that research on nuclear weapons began, and it was not until after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Truman’s threats to use the bomb against the Soviet Union that serious efforts to develop the bomb were made. These began in August of 1946 and resulted in the first Soviet bomb on August 9, 1949. The first H-bomb was tested in 1953, and the world’s first nuclear plant was opened near Moscow in 1954.
Thus, without the impetus provided by the threat of a U.S. nuclear attack, it is doubtful that the Soviet Union would have developed nuclear weapons on its own, nor nuclear power. Once created, however, the nuclear weapons/power complex is quite similar, as Lichterman notes (2010).
The United States brought us into the Atomic Age and therefore has a special responsibility to provide leadership in the abolition of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. No other nation can do so. Yet the United States has consistently refused to negotiate in good faith on this and other issues of vital concern to the well being and even survival of our species.
Discussions of arms negotiations usually describe it as a complex and difficult process of trying to get the five nuclear powers, the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China to agree to arms reductions. Such a view is as misleading as the idea that there can be a “peaceful atom.” The reality is that there is one nuclear power, the United States, with overwhelming military capability and a thousand military bases circling the globe, that insists on preserving its global domination. The U.S. commitment to nuclear disarmament is less than its commitment to preserving the global system of corporate capitalism that enriches the few while condemning increasing numbers of our species to poverty, ignorance, and disease.
All nuclear states seem to subscribe to the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD, but only the United States has developed Nuclear Use Theories and Strategies, or NUTS. As Daniel Ellsberg wrote in 1981:
The notion common to nearly all Americans that "no nuclear weapons have been used since Nagasaki" is mistaken. It is not the case that U.S. nuclear weapons have simply piled up over the years—we have over 30,000 of them now, after dismantling many thousands of obsolete ones—unused and unusable, save for the single function of deterring their use against us by the Soviets. Again and again, generally in secret from the American public, U.S. nuclear weapons have been used, for quite different purposes: in the precise way that a gun is used when you point it as someone's head in a direct confrontation, whether or not the trigger is pulled.
Ellsberg has later listed 25 occasions when the United States used nuclear weapons to threaten non-nuclear states, from Korea to Vietnam to the Middle East.
Telling the truth about nucler power/weapons does not mean accepting any of the myths about coal or other fossil fuels. Fossil fuels—and the profits to be made from them—have been perhaps the major cause of the destructive wars of the twentieth century. We, as a species, cannot inhabit this planet in peace until we develop a just and sustainable energy system.
The Solar Alternative
The sun is the source of all life on earth, and will continue to shine for billions of years in the future, providing some 15,000 times the amount of energy used by even our profligate bourgeois civilization. Clearly, solar and other renewables have the potential to meet humanity's clean energy needs if rationally and democratically utilized.
The sun does have one major disadvantage as an energy source for modern capitalism, however. No one owns the sun, and therefore neither PG&E, ConEd, or any other utility corporation has figured out a way to profit from sunshine. In fact, sunshine is so free, democratic, and decentralized that it threatens the profits and very existence of the energy corporations. That is why, when people began to realize the potential of solar energy in the 1970s, "the giant fossil fuel and nuclear power corporations” took action to marginalize the “already practical solar energy.” Yet, as Ralph Nader notes, “all the reasons for self-sufficiency rooted in local democratic structures and decision-making remain compelling and even more dynamic than two decades ago.” (in Berman and O’Conner 1996, p. xi)
During and since the 1970s, a variety of studies have shown the practicality of solar and other renewable energy options. Perhaps Ritch would complain that these “incline strongly toward fantasy about solutions,” so for a more authoritative statement we can look to the U.S. Department of Energy which has done studies on various aspects of solar feasibility:
In the United States, cities and residences cover about 140 million acres of land. We could supply every kilowatt-hour of our nation’s current energy requirements simply by applying PV to 7% of this area—on roofs, on parking lots, along highway walls, on the sides of buildings, and in other dual- use scenarios. We wouldn’t have to appropriate a single acre of new land to make PV our primary energy source!
What would our world look like if we used PV to produce significant amounts of electricity? The answer is that instead of our sun’s energy falling on shingles, concrete, and under-used land, it would fall on PV—providing us with clean energy while leaving our landscape largely untouched.
Of course, no one has suggested that humanity’s total energy should come from PV alone. As Scheer points out,
Constructive use of renewable energy requires a mixture of the various generation technologies—a combination not just of wind and PV, but also other sources, which nature offers in differing quantities in different locations. (2002, p. 64)
The point is, renewable energy has been a viable alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power for decades. Over thirty years ago it was recognized that
global well-being, if not the survival of humanity, dictates an immediate turning from the path of conventional industrial technology—characterized by mammoth refineries and power plants serving millions of customers each—toward a prompt and resolute emplacement of "appropriate technology" scaled for use by small communities and individual units of production (The proposed transition) begins with a determined program of energy conservation which could halve our national energy demand by the year 2000 without degrading our "standard of living." It would exact a tiny fraction of the projected cost of developing additional fossil resources, thus providing the capital to replace the fossil-based system itself with a new decentralized energy system based on solar and wind technologies. The social returns inherent in such a transition would be manifold, increasing in an exponential ratio with the distance and pace at which "hard" technologies and economic arrangements are left behind. World peace would be enhanced, for one thing, due to a curbing of the gluttonous appetite of industrial states for diminishing natural resources. Corollary payoffs include a revitalized emphasis on community life and institutions, community control over resources, permanent protection of the environment, and a long-term proliferation of “employment" opportunities based on the labor-intensive character of "soft-path" farming methods and modes of commodity production. (Reece 1979, p. 16)
Unfortunately, our nation, poised to make a transition to a solar economy in the 1970s, instead was sidetracked by the corporate elite into introducing
an aggressive new master plan tying energy policy not to human survival but to U.S. economic growth, "national security," and foreign trade considerations. Not that such items haven't always been linked in the modern corporate mind: at least since World War II, when combat production salvaged the capitalist order from a Great Depression which had kept the system on its knees for 12 years, the corporate leadership has perceived and taken advantage of a useful symbiosis between U.S. "defense" needs and the health of the corporate economy. (1979, p. 18)
Tremendous damage as been caused by our national addition to fossil fuels, war, and the nuclear complex, but it is not too late to reverse course and move toward renewals, solar, and socialism.
In the two years since Fukushima, although there have been significant areas of sanity, the world’s elite has largely refused to deal with the issues raised by nuclear catastrophe.
On Hiroshima Day, 2012, people power confronted nuclear power with global demonstrations, issuing the statement, “Occupy Nukes:”
The Occupy Movement stands in solidarity with those threatened, poisoned and murdered the globe over by the 1%’s nuclear fueled rule. . . . Nuclear weapons allow us to gauge the full extent of brutality that the 1%, which rules through exploitation, coercion and violence, is capable of committing. . . . We further recognize that nuclear weapons have a bastard twin; nuclear power. So called “safe”, “civilian” nuclear technology is used to justify the fossil-fuel intensive mining of uranium in some of the worlds most economically decimated regions, in country’s such as Romania and Niger, and on indigenous lands in South Australia and the American West (Rugh 2012).
In spite of global discontent and protests, leading nuclear nations such as the United States, France, and Russia are continuing their addiction to nuclear power. In spite of the opposition of a majority of its people, Japan still plans to restart its nuclear plants. On the positive side, Germany and Switzerland are planning to phase out nuclear and turn to solar and other renewable energy sources, while the Pacific Island nation of Tokelau, a dependent territory of New Zealand, is already 100% solar (Smithsonian.com 2013). Curiously enough, oil-rich Saudi Arabia is planning to invest over $100 billion to develop solar energy to supply one-third of its energy needs, including the city of Mecca, in thirty years (Voelcker 2012).
Closer to home, the "California Nuclear Initiative," which would keep the troubled San Onofre and Diablo Canyon nuclear plants off-line until the California Energy Commission determines that the "federal government has approved technology for permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste" (which is unlikely to happen anytime soon) was approved for signature gathering on February 6, 2013 (Clarke 2-13).
It’s time to end this madness. Nuclear weapons do not make us safe. Nor do nuclear power plants provide safe, “clean and green” energy. Nuclear power, whether it is in a nuclear power plant or nuclear bomb, is inherently deadly. It cannot be safely regulated or controlled by anyone. Like nuclear bombs, nuclear power plants must be forever banned.
As socialists in the heart of the nuclear beast, as Che Guevara might put it, we have a deep responsibiity to act in unity with the workers and oopressed peoples around the world. It is the historic mission of the working class to put an end to capitalism and lay the foundations for socialism, so that “the Earth may rise on new foundations.”
By opposing the nuclear weapons/power complex, we are striking at the very heart of the beast, for neither capitalism nor imperialism could survive without these instruments of Death.
The time has come to embrace the “radical revolution of values” called for by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967, shortly before his assassination. For socialists, this means making the transition to the next higher plane of human existance, from capitalism, war, and imperialsm to a global socialist world in which all human beings are well fed and well housed, are guarenteed a livelihood, and enjoy free access to education and health care, so that the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
Eugene Ruyle, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Long Beach, is a member of the State Central Committee of the Peace and Freedom Party of California. An earlier draft of this paper was written to support two No Nuke resolutions for Veterans for Peace in 2011. These can be found on his website, NoNukesNow.net.
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