Thursday, March 31, 2011

Save Iman al-Obeida

Last Saturday, a young woman lawyer named Iman al-Obeidi burst into a Tripoli hotel and pleaded with foreign journalists for help, showing bruises and crying that she had just been gang-raped by 15 of Qaddafi's men. She screamed as she was dragged away by Libyan agents and has not been seen since.

Words cannot express the courage Iman showed in speaking out -- and we can only imagine the terror she must be facing right now in the hands of Qaddafi's infamous thugs. Her life is in danger, but we can help, if we act fast.

Qaddafi will ignore most international outrage, but he listened to the Turkish government when they asked him to release foreign journalists. Let's urgently raise a massive global call to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to help save Iman -- sign the petition and forward this email to everyone - it will be hand-delivered to the Turkish consulate in Benghazi, and through ads in Turkey, as soon as we reach 500,000 signatures: 

Iman said she was stopped at a Tripoli checkpoint and detained for two days, enduring rape and beatings by 15 state security men before managing to escape. She said other women were still being held by the regime thugs.

The men who raped Iman probably thought she would never dare to openly challenge Qaddafi's terror-apparatus, or endure the shame of publicly admitting rape in a conservative society where all too often the woman is blamed for such crimes. But she has dared to break the silence that surrounds so many victims of Qaddafi's brutality and of sexual violence everywhere.

The regime has called her a prostitute and promised to charge her with defaming government forces. But Libyans have demonstrated on the streets in force to stand with Iman and support her, and Turkish influence with Qaddafi could still be enough to free her. Let's stand with Iman al-Obeidi, who dared to stand up to her tormentors and cry out for truth and justice – sign below to call on Turkey's Prime Minister to act, and forward this email widely:

Right now a brave young woman has risked everything for the values we all share, and is facing terrifying consequences. Let's do all we can to save her.

With hope and determination,

Stephanie, Pascal, Alice, Rewan, Mohammad, Ricken and the rest of the Avaaz team

Woman's rape claim opens rare window into regime (including Video of the incident), The Independent

Turkey helps free Guardian journalist in Libya, Guardian

Turkey saves New York Times journalists in Libya, Todays Zaman

Libyan woman who alleged rape still missing, Al Jazeera

Libyan government offered money to appease Iman al-Obaidi, woman in rape-claim case, mother says, Washington Post

Fight as Libyan woman dragged from press by Gaddafi forces, Telegraph

Thorough investigation urged over Libya rape case, Amnesty International

Libya: Immediately Release Woman Who Alleged Rape, Human Rights Watch

Support the Avaaz community! We're entirely funded by donations and receive no money from governments or corporations. Our dedicated team ensures even the smallest contributions go a long way

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How mean can you get? West Sussex Conservative County Council gets very mean.

The weakest and most vulnerable are at risk in West Sussex as cuts are made to care provision to adults with moderate needs. The Conservative-controlled council plans to focus on those with substantial and critical needs, affecting about 4,500 residents. They aim to raise the eligibility level from April 1st.

The local Don't Cut Us Out campaign has attracted wide support locally and is now seeking a judicial review of the decision, which will have a devastating affect on the quality of life for the adults and their carers.
"By cutting money to the vulnerable and the charities that support them, West Sussex County Council  is removing the glue that holds the third sector and its volunteer network together."

However only today we had a Tory baroness calling for greater community involvement. Is this another example of Cameron's Big Society? If rich and can afford the private sector  then fine, if poor and dependant your problem. The vulnerable and weak are paying the real price for the crises caused by the bankers and his mates in the City. Con Dems look after their own and do not give a fig for the rest of us. They wonder why people get angry, throw paint and occupy a few buildings. The real harm and violence is caused by these savage cuts not a few peaceful demonstrators at Fortnum and Masons .

Whilst Prince Harry joins 6 disabled ex soldiers raising funds for charity by walking in the Arctic, the Government cuts disability allowances for the many. Perhaps he would have been better off walking with us on the March for the alternative on Saturday in London but too busy preparing his best man's speech instead.
Oh where are his priorities now? Charity acts look good but will not even scratch the surface.

Now if Vodafone etc paid up their taxes then that would make a difference. However that is not the Big Society way for profiteers is it? Do not worry, there is always the royal wedding to divert us all from the realities of the situation. Plus ofcourse we need the money for foreign wars, bombs and missiles. Or do we?

Monday, March 28, 2011

UK Uncut and mass arrests

Cuts protesters claim police tricked them into mass arrests.

Is this how the Gov't saves on the police bill? UK Uncut supporters allegedly appear to have been tricked into mass arrests by the police, having been told allegedly by a top police officer on the scene that events on the 26th March at Fortnum and Masons were peaceful and they had no intention of arresting anyone there.  Here is what UK Uncut says:

UK Uncut It was the greed and recklessness of the banks that caused the economic crisis, yet the government is making ordinary people pay the price in the form of unprecedented cuts to public services.

There are alternatives to the cuts, for example, making the banks pay for a crisis they created and stopping tax dodging by corporations and the rich. But the instead government has chosen to cut vital public services.
Under the banner of UK Uncut, people from around the country have transformed banks and tax-dodging stores into schools, leisure centres and libraries to show that it’s society that’s too big to fail, not our broken banking system.

Setting the record straight: Occupying for the Alternative (full length version of Guardian piece)

Posted on Mon 28th Mar 2011, 11:30am
This is a full length version - with the correct title! - of this Guardian piece.
On Saturday hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of London to protest against the cuts. The turnout was enormous – much bigger than expected and the message was clear that people in this country are totally opposed to the Government's choice to prioritise the needs of bankers and big business over the needs of ordinary citizens.
Hundreds of thousands marched for the alternative, in a stunning display of unity. Hundreds of people marched as UK Uncut and instead of attending the main rally, went to  Oxford Street – the heart of London's shopping district - to occupy for the alternative. A diverse mass movement of people willing to take action against the governments vicious cuts has been born.
The UK Uncut actions that were organised for 2pm on Saturday included people dressing as doctors to transform tax avoiders Boots into an NHS hospital, in protest of the £20billion cuts to the NHS. BHS on Oxford Street (part of Philip Green's empire) was closed as actors and musicians gathered outside to protest against arts cuts with Sam and Timothy West performing a high street staging of an extract from The Voysey Inheritance by Granville Barker.
In nearby Soho square an open air comedy venue was created, where comedians Josie Long and Mark Thomas performed to an audience of nearly a thousand. These actions continued in the vein of creative, fun, inclusive action that UK Uncut has become known for, highlighting the tax-gap and injustice of bailing out the banks that caused the financial crisis and awarding their bosses with grotesque bonuses.
The UK Uncut actions were fun and friendly and organised to work in tandem with the 'TUC March for the alternative' in order to make space for people wanting to engage in civil disobedience as their way of expressing opposition to the cuts. It was positive. It was in solidarity. We celebrate the hard work of all involved, the unions, their branches and all the individuals who built the TUC march into the huge success that it was. We were not in anyway seeking to grab headlines; we did what we always do, creative sit-down protest. We are all in this together.
At 3.30pm we gathered on Oxford Street and moved toward a new tax-dodging target: Fortnum and Mason, to stage a occupation there. Fortnum and Mason is owned by Wittington Investments Ltd, which also owns a majority stake in Associated British Foods. Wittington run a devious tax dodging scheme, stuffing money in Luxembourg and avoiding £10 million a year in tax. This money could pay the salaries of 500 nurses.
Over the last six months, UK Uncut have creatively occupied shops owned by various tax dodgers. Yesterday was no different. When inside Fortnum and Mason about 150 people sang songs, held banners, listened to music (including the bagpipes!) and many of us sat down to read books. This is what a UK Uncut action: creative civil disobedience against the cuts. We had many of the Fortnum and Mason staff engaging with us and wanting to know more, people in the cafe carried on eating their crumpets quite happily.
Balloons and beachballs were the only things being thrown in the air. A basket of chocolates was accidentally knocked over so we picked them back up and at the end our hazard tape and flags were tidied away by those who had carried them in. We weren't even asked to leave.
There has been tremendous confusion in the media and on Twitter about what UK Uncut had organised on #march26 – so this is us setting the record straight. We urge everyone to send in their mobile phone footage and pictures and accounts of our creative occupations on
Oxford Street and inside Fortnum and Masons so we can build a true picture of UK Uncut's activities on the day.
Some people on the march felt like it was overshadowed by events elsewhere in London. Indeed our own inspirational occupations were overlooked or distorted by a lazy news media, hungry for sensational pictures of damage in central London. To all those who attended the march, we marched with you and occupied in solidarity with you.
There has been anger directed at us as a consequence of some media outlets deliberately and incorrectly using our name for actions we did not organise, giving every action the name UK Uncut. But is clear from spending two minutes on our website who we are, what we are about and what our plans were. More sensible, accurate and grassroots reporting is emerging that tells the true story of Occupy for the Alternative.
UK Uncut will continue to take creative civil disobedience against the cuts, to ensure government and big business do not get away with making ordinary people pay for a crisis they did not cause.


The People's Petition for a Million Climate Jobs

The People's Petition for a Million Climate Jobs was launched on 26 March, the day of the huge TUC march for the alternative to cuts and redundancies. It offers a real alternative to rising unemployment and the growing threat of global warming by calling on the Government to give serious consideration to the proposals in the One Million Climate Jobs report endorsed by four national trade unions.

The petition calls for government investment and job creation, not cuts. £18 billion a year for 20 years would allow the UK to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% by 2030. This is a tiny proportion of government spending.

Please support the petition and the Climate Jobs campaign by doing the following:

Ask your campaign group, trade union branch, MP, or local councillor to endorse the petition. Send their names, contact details, and positions (where relevant) to

Publicise the petition and the report in your organisation's newsletters and mail-outs

Put a link on your website or blog to the petition website at

Download paper petitions and order copies of the Climate Jobs report from for use in campaign activities

Invite speakers to your meetings by e-mailing us at

The petition is already supported by a number of MP's and prominent individuals. Help us add to this list and make it powerful weapon in the fight for jobs and an ecologically sustainable future.

Ken Montague
for Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group

30 billion reasons to end the war in Afghanistan and scrap Trident

Stop the War Coalition
25 March 2011

Stop the War opposes the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya because they are unjustified and will bring only death and destruction to the countries attacked by the US and its allies, not least the ever subservient British government.
We would oppose these wars even if there was no financial cost.
Winner of competition for best one-minute anti-cuts video
But the government is spending huge sums on wars that the majority of the British public oppose at the same time it is cutting £95 billion from public expenditure, insisting it's the only way to reduce the national debt.
The government's cuts will mean a million workers losing their jobs, the majority of them women, who predominate in public sector employment.
It will mean the closure of local ameneties, from public libraries to youth services, from day centres for the disabled to support services for the elderly.
It will mean huge cuts in housing benefit, which will drive thousands of families from their homes, many of them into homelessness.
It will deny young people access to college education by ending the education maintenance allowance (EMA), which enables students from poorer backgrounds to attend.
It will cut the allowance for thousands of people with disabilities.
There is no area of public life that will not be affected, and the poorest and most vulnerable in society are going to be hit the hardest.
But there will be no cuts in the cost of waging war in foreign lands. Since 2001,Britain has spent over £20 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Between now and the likely date of the next general election, the government will spend close to £5 billion a year continuing to fight the futile war in Afghanistan -- in total at least £20 billion.
Add to this the mainenance of the Trident nuclear missile system, which serves no military purpose, but costs £2.2 billion a year to keep operational. This amounts to a total of around £10 billion by the time of the next election.
The combined cost of the Afghan war and maintaining Trident over the next four years will be at least £30 billion -- in other words, one third of the cuts the government will make in public services over the same period.
And now we have the new war in Libya. David Cameron's warmongering mania will mean that Britain is taking a leading role in the foreign intervention. And the costs in the context of the slash and burn destruction of public services are an outrage.
The government says Libya will cost tens of millions, rather than hundreds of millions. But this is hard to believe, looking at the staggering cost to Britain in just the first three days of the attack on Libya:
  • Salvoes of Tomahawk missiles (cost £500,000 each) and Storm Shadow missiles(cost £800,000 each) were fired;
  • Four Tornado jets flew eight-hour round trip flights from Britain at a cost of £35,000 an hour each;
  • Ten Typhoon jets made four-hour trips from Italy at a cost of £70,000 an hour each;
  • Two navy frigates were deployed at running costs of around £90,000 a day each;
  • The submarine HMS Triumph, which fired cruise missiles into Libya, costs around £200,000 a day to maintain;
  • Also deployed were re-fuelling planes (cost £35,000 an hour), ground surveillance planes (cost £25,000 an hour), radar planes (£33,000 an hour), and probably C-17 transporters (£40,000 an hour) and Hercules aircraft (£12,000 an hour);
  • A hefty bill from the Italians is expected for the use of their airfields.
We have now had nearly ten years of Britain fighting unjustified wars in other people's countries. As well as stopping the mass slaughter and devastation, ending these wars and scrapping Trident would go a long way to making the cuts in public expenditure unnecessary.

_ ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Public meeting - Worthing Against War thursday 13th April 7.30 p.m.
Speaker-Lindsey German-Stop The War Coalition
Downview Pub, West Worthing,(opposite West Worthing Station)
Open discussion-all welcomed.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March for the alternative

Over 300,000 marched.They came from every where.From hospitals, schools, colleges, ambulance and fire station crews, care workers, industrial workers. Young and old all saying the same thing, " No cuts, defend public services, out with the Con Dems and more importantly start the fight back against austerity measures".

Young and old, workers, students, youth, carers, parents, famillies all refusing to take the blame for the crises caused by the bankers, the City and their mates in Government. People before profits, public services not privatisation, tax the rich, welfare not warfare. These and many other demands were echoed across London yesterday.

Ofcourse when youth unemployment is high, education cuts increased, EMA abolished, student fees raised and politicians do not listen, then others feel frustrated by those in power. Eventually this frustration is bound to erupt. When Vodafone, Greene and others pay their taxes fully then others may listen.

Cuts are not inevitable. The case is unproven and the crises was not caused by workers and their famillies.  Now there is a need for greater unity to fightback and resist these attacks on our living standards. Poverty, unemployment and a lack of hope leads to desperation and frustration. There is an alternative to this international crises of capitalism. March 2th was a great start at local, regional and national level. 

Friday, March 25, 2011



+ Open discussion:

·       Is the No Fly Zone a humanitarian act or a means of putting a break on revolution in the Middle East?
·       How do we best support the struggles in the region?
·       Welfare not warfare – who is really paying for all this?
·       What about the humanitarian needs in the Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Gaza. 

These and many other relevant issues will be discussed.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Statement by the Fourth International on Libya

Down with the Gaddafi regime!
Stop the imperialist intervention now!
Support the Libyan revolution!

The intervention of the western powers in Libya constitutes a turning point in the situation in the Arab region. Since the beginning of the social and political shock wave which covers almost all the countries of the Arab region, the Fourth International has stood on the side of the democratic and social interests of the Arab people against their tyrants. This has led us to full support for the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions alongside the revolutionary socialist militants of these countries. This is why we supported all the democratic demands - right to free expression, trade-union and political organization, pluralism, freedom of the press; and social ones such as job creation, wage increases, fight against high cost of living - of these popular mobilizations, supported the overthrowing of the dictatorships, and the demand for a real break with the former regimes in a democratic and socialist perspective.
In Libya, this policy led us, from the beginning, to support the mobilizations and then the popular insurrection to overthrow the Gaddafi dictatorship. In Libya, solidarity with the popular mobilizations means doing everything to help the people against Gaddafi: total embargo on arms sales to the dictatorship, freezing the assets of the Libyan regime abroad, organization of medical, food and humane aid for the hundreds of thousands of Libyans persecuted by the regime Supporting the Libyan people and protecting the civilians, means giving them the means to defend themselves against the massacres by Gaddafi’s mercenaries freeing themselves from the dictatorship. The Arab peoples and armies, starting with the Tunisians and Egyptians, can play a decisive part in this military aid.

The French, English and American bombardments do not aim to protect the civil populations”, as is claimed in the UN Resolution Security Council 1973 establishing a « no-fly zone » on Libya. As the hours and the days pass, the goals of this UN resolution of appear more and more vague”. Is it really a question of protecting the civil populations? Then why risk bombarding other civilians? Is it rather a question of finishing with Gaddafi or of imposing an agreement on his regime, even a partition of Libya? The risk of escalation that could lead to one or more ground interventions cannot be ignored, contrary to what the resolution says. In fact, for the imperialist coalition it is a question of re-establishing itself in the area, trying to confiscate the revolutionary process in progress by installing governments in its pay, or by putting pressure on the processes underway. And their strategic oil interests should not be forgotten. Lastly, how can anyone believe these hypocritical governments, who are occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and say they want to protect the civil populations but leave the populations, in Bahrain, in Yemen, in Syria or in Gaza to be massacred.

Support for the Libyan revolution and overthrowing the Gaddafi dictatorship means today humanitarian and military aid to the insurrectionists and an end to the imperialist intervention. The Libyan people are not alone. Their fight is part of the current revolutionary rise that is shaking the Arab world. It is more than ever for the Arab peoples to take control over their destiny without neocolonialist intervention by the western powers.

Secretariat of the Fourth International Bureau
March 23rd, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why nuclear power stations are not safe, whether it be in Japan or elsewhere.

To some extent, the authorities may have stabilised things as not much has changed recently .... but it could just suddenly go bang L unexpectedly. 
What’s happened?
Amid the chaos and disaster caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, something disturbing has happened to its nuclear plants. Several such plants, notably at Fukushima, have been shaken by the earthquake and (presumably) washed over by the tsunami. One after another, the reactors at these plants have begun to show sinister symptoms.

Many socialists have long warned about the dangers of nuclear power, although some would argue that it cannot be avoided given the overwhelming demand for power today. However I always felt that we must replace fossil fuel energy with renewables and go for an international strategy, under worker’s control, for economy and replacement of gas-guzzling processes with efficient, communal solutions, instead of nuclear power.

This warning about nuclear power have suddenly been given light by the massive disaster now unfolding; indeed what I have written keeps going out of date, given the speed of developments. We should use the following Q and A as a guide when discussing it with our colleagues, comrades and friends, but update it as we find out more.

How do they work?
All nuclear reactors rely on fission. This is when very large atomic nuclei such as Uranium 235 and Plutonium 239 break apart. When this happens, smaller nuclei are formed, typically Caesium, Strontium and Iodine, in radioactive form. Each breaking nucleus also shoots out neutrons. These sub-atomic particles can hit other similar nuclei, causing them to  break apart in the same way. In this way, a chain reaction occurs when the neutrons, flying around within the material of the nuclear core, trigger more and more successive breakups. If the material is sufficiently concentrated, a cataclysmic explosion results. This is the principle behind the fission (atom) bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, in more diluted form, the heat produced can be used to make steam and drive generators.  

The fission also produces another kind of dangerous radiation, gamma rays, which are highly penetrative (like exceptionally powerful x-rays) and require thick containment to stop them from escaping.

What is in them?
There are two nuclear fuels in common use, Uranium 235, and Plutonium 239. According to the BBC, Fukushima 1, the oldest and the one which exploded first, contains just U235; Fukushima 3, newer, contains both. Both are highly toxic. These are not used in pure form, but are mixed with other chemicals to moderate the intensity of the reaction to the point where it can be controlled.

Both Uranium and Plutonium are radioactive in their own right. Uranium “decays” by ejecting an Alpha particle. Plutonium decays much faster, also emitting alpha particles.

How are they controlled?
Each reactor consists of fuel rods, which contain a mix of chemicals including the fissile material. The reactor is designed to have holes into which rods of a material that absorbs neutrons can be inserted. These are called Control Rods. Inserting and withdrawing these rods controls the intensity of the reaction and the heat produced. Dropping the control rods fully into the reactor reduces fission to a very low level and essentially the reaction stops.

How is heat produced from them?
The Japanese reactors are boiling water reactors. The water circulates through the reactor using more holes, and boils and produces steam (there are other designs, but I won’t go into these here).

What are the reactors contained in?
The immediate container seems to be a very strong steel box called a Reactor Pressure Vessel. The operators are claiming that these remain intact. There is an outer containment building, designed to stop any radiation from escaping into the atmosphere, which is what seems to have blown apart in the explosion in Fukushima 1.

What is dangerous about them?
This sounds a silly question, but it’s worth understanding the risks in more detail.

The Uranium and Plutonium contained in these plants are themselves highly radioactive and (less well known) exceedingly toxic. The fission products  are various radioactive versions (the technical word is Isotopes) of elements like Caesium, Strontium and Iodine. These are known to accumulate in the bodies of people, especially children, and animals and food-stuffs, because they behave chemically like common chemicals that make up bones and bodily organs like the thyroid gland. In time, these can cause cancer and other genetic diseases, as the radioactivity damages the genome.

The direct radiation (mostly gamma rays) from an exposed fission reaction can also cause potentially deadly radiation burns and genetic damage in people and other living matter. This is what happened to the workers at Chernobyl, and caused the death of vegetation around that reactor.

Why is Plutonium more dangerous?
It’s more radioactive,  chemically active and is particularly toxic. It is also more energetic when involved in nuclear fission.

What happened during the quake?
There is some guesswork here, but essentially, the operators will have dropped all the control rods into the reactors to stop the fission, and they tried to flood them with coolant (water) to cool them down. The quake itself may have damaged the reactors and loss of power seems to have stopped the coolant pumps. They were probably wrecked internally by the shaking of the earthquake and also the tsunami (while probably not damaging the reactors themselves), seems to have damaged the pumps that circulate the coolant.

We are hearing as I write that another reactor near Fukushima, Onagawa, is also possibly in trouble as radiation has been detected outside the plant. There have also been problems with a coolant at another plant at Tokai.

What went wrong afterwards?
Again, more guesswork, but several things could have happened. Damage to the reactors in the quake could have caused the control rods to jam part way in or not work at all, allowing the reaction to continue (the Japanese authorities and power company seem to be denying this). The BBC says also that the pumps that circulate the water also failed, so that cooling would have stopped. Either way, either through residual heat or continuing reaction, the reactors appeared to continue to heat up.

So what seems to have happened next?
The reactors could have reached a temperature where the nuclear material and other components would melt – a Meltdown.  Things clearly started to go more seriously wrong as radiation has been detected in the atmosphere, and the authorities started a mass evacuation. It now seems likely that all three of the reactors have melted at least partially.

What are the operators doing to try and stop this?
They are pumping sea water into the reactors to try and cool things down until the reaction slows of its own accord. This could take a long time – possibly months or years, during which time the reactors will be too dangerous to approach. They are also venting steam (which has been irradiated and is probably radioactive itself) to reduce the pressure inside the reactor.

There is a problem with using water though. The water molecules act as a moderator. This sounds good, but actually what is happening is that the neutrons flying around inside the core of the reactor are being slowed down, which makes them MORE likely to meet up with a Uranium/Plutonium nucleus. This could have restarted the fission process. Nuclear advisors say that Boron should be added as well, but this may not be happening as the operators frantically try to cool things down. However, the latest statement from the operators is that Boric Acid is being added as well.

What caused the explosions?
This isn’t entirely clear. It could be a steam explosion caused by water coming into something very hot. But it’s more likely that hydrogen was involved. What the experts seem to think is that,  in the intense heat of the reaction, components of the reactor such as Zirconium, will have reacted with water producing Hydrogen. Inside the containment building, this mixed with oxygen and sooner or later with a spark or other source of ignition, it exploded violently.

This is a big problem because it is almost certain that some radioactive material will have been blown into the atmosphere by this. Furthermore, it may have impacted the reactor itself by damaging the pressure containment vessel, but currently the operators seem to be saying that it hasn’t.

What could happen next?
We are in the realms of speculation here because we don’t really know to what extent the reactions have been stopped, or what the damage really is. In the worst scenario, a meltdown could eventually melt its way through the containment and get into the ground. Gigantic steam explosions could happen if the hot material comes into contact with ground water. Without the containment, these would throw large quantities of radioactive materials (see above) into the environment. Aquifers, rivers and the sea could also be contaminated. Some of the radioactive material could get into the atmosphere and be carried around the world as happened at Chernobyl. This is called Fallout and consists mostly of tiny radioactive fragments of nuclear fuel,  fission products and possibly highly irradiated bits of the reactor structure itself, as well as some radioactive gas.

At the time of writing, Fukushima 3 has now exploded. It looks to have been far more violent. 2 is now in trouble, and the rods have been fully exposed to the air several times. My guess is that it may explode as well. The explosion of F3  is particularly worrying because of the Plutonium.

I should hasten to add that this worst case scenario may not happen.  However, the Japanese authorities are warning their people of the likelihood of more explosions and other unpleasant events. The opinion of most experts is that the reactors were better designed than Chernobyl and the scale of this accident should be smaller. But this may be over-optimism or downright misinformation.

What about the consequences?
Immediately, as the news is telling us, the Japanese authorities are moving hundreds of thousands of people away from the plant. If significant radiation escapes in the form of fallout, this may mean that, like with Chernobyl, people in Japan and neighbouring countries like Korea, Russia and China may be told to avoid rain (which carries fallout out of the atmosphere) and stay indoors as much as possible. More long-term effects are to agriculture as fallout can get into crops and be eaten by farm animals and fish, and general effects on the environment such as  wildlife being damaged. Right now, the BBC reports that radioactive Caesium has been detected in the atmosphere. If true, this is bad news, because it means that the reactor core itself has come into contact with the atmosphere, and the containment hasn’t been 100%.

One area where the authorities seem to be less than candid is what is happening to the seawater being pumped through the reactors now. It has certainly been in contact with the fuel rods and must therefore have dissolved some of the fuel and fission products. It must then be going into the environment but it is not clear then what is being done with it. I suspect it is either going back into the sea or into the ground. The contamination would then be extensive. In a country with little agricultural land and reliant on fishing for a lot of its food, this is serious.

At the time of writing, US warships have been moved away from the area because, 160km out to sea, they have detected radiation. It must be much worse close to the plant.

Japan has started imposing rolling power cuts on the population. This may be partly because of the general destruction to the infrastructure of power transmission and generation, but is almost certainly due to loss of nuclear power. Japan generates about 30-40% of its power through nuclear energy as it has almost no fossil fuel reserves of its own. I heard on a news item (not confirmed) that Japan has started importing power through an interconnector cable from Russia.

Politically this event is highly significant.  Nuclear power has been seen increasingly as a non-global-warming way of producing power and governments (particularly ours) have been trying to get private capital to fund construction of new plants. This is bound to be hit by the Fukushima event, for two reasons. One is that NP will now seen to be less politically and socially acceptable, just as memories of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Windscale start to fade. Investors will look at schemes far more sceptically as a result, as will some governments. Costs, e.g. of stronger containment, propaganda etc will increase. The other is more subtle. All large projects like nuclear development, as well as things like bridges, tunnels, buildings etc are underwritten by insurance against risk, partly of repairing damage caused, but particularly what is known as Third Party Risk – that of harm to “the general public” and other “assets” such as agriculture, housing, industry and so-on. But if the insurers don’t like the look of something, they will either raise premiums hugely or will just walk away. This is a major factor that slowed nuclear development after previous accidents.

What other lessons could be drawn from this?
One thing is clear. Siting a nuclear power station on a tectonic plate boundary is shear madness, especially on the coast and vulnerable to tsunamis. Japan’s people are now faced with a double crisis, with the awful destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami being compounded by the evacuation needed from the area of the power plants.

The smooth reassurances of the authorities about the power plants immediately after the quake are now replaced by barely concealed panic as the plant literally blew its top. The latest we have from a nuclear expert here is:

“A former adviser on radiation to the UK government, Dr Christopher Busby, has told the BBC the situation at the nuclear plants is extremely serious. "Particularly concerning is the [Fukushima] number three reactor which I understand is in trouble now, because... it runs on a different sort of fuel; it doesn't run on uranium, it runs on a mixed uranium plutonium fuel, and plutonium is an extremely serious hazard so if this stuff comes out then it's going to make what's happened so far, in terms of the tsunami damage, look a little bit like an entrĂ©e to the real course."
Given the size of the tsunami damage, that sounds pretty chilling! 

Busby also points out in an interview for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that this accident could have happened anywhere and the process is intrinsically dangerous. He suggests that the releases are significant and agrees with me that the water pumped through the plant will be contaminating the environment. He also points out that the Geiger counters being used only measure the gamma radiation from the reactor. They don’t measure the short-range radiation (alpha particles) emitted by Uranium and Plutonium, or what is given off by the breakdown products, and they cannot judge the toxicity of these in the environment.

Why do we oppose nuclear power?
It’s important to understand what is different about it from other methods of power generation:
·         The fuel is highly concentrated and there are lots of fears, some justified, of it falling into the wrong hands. This means that the authorities set up a special repressive apparatus (special police, secret agents, military units etc) to guard the process. It also reduces the ability of the working class to grasp control of the process of power generation.
·         A by-product of the nuclear cycle can be to produce more fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. The way in which this is done is too complicated to explain here in detail and the internet is suspiciously silent about this. However, in principle, it is done by exposing the non-fissile isotope of Uranium, U238, to the neutrons from a reactor. This can make Plutonium, which is highly fissile and is relatively easy to make a bomb from.  ( I say relatively, because in reality making nuclear weapons is not easy without the huge resources of the state or the world’s largest corporations. We should debunk stories about terrorists making nuclear weapons).
·         The danger of accident, such as this one, although small,  is potentially devastating to the mass of the people and the environment.
·         Nuclear knowledge is overwhelmingly with huge corporations and governments.
·         The state has been notorious for hiding nuclear, plans, as well as knowledge and the true impact of disasters
·         Nuclear sites, for the reasons above, have often been imposed on the populace effectively by force, whether via subterfuge, judicial decision or direct imposition.
·         It is not renewable, although the fuel can be reprocessed to extract by-product Plutonium which can be used again (or be used to make bombs)
·         Disposal of nuclear waste is a huge, very long term and intractable problem, which would be passed to any future Socialist society, as well as imposing risks to the people and environment now, and huge financial costs which will be passed to the state if nuclear power is privatised. Attempts to set up reprocessing plants (such as Thorp) and find storage facilities have been notoriously unsuccessful.
·         Another by-product, Depleted Uranium (U238), is used in munitions such as anti-tank weapons and is both highly toxic and long-lived (millions of years) in the environment.

Politically, the workers movement and socialist organisations, apart from a few that represent nuclear workers, has always been against nuclear power and correctly makes the link between it and weapons. The history of lies about nuclear power, bribery and force being used to impose it is well known.

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