Jill Stein is the Green Party candidate for US president, and has the support of some American leftists, but her apologies for Putin has angered Greens in Russia, who’ve sent her this Open Letter:
Dear Dr. Stein,
We are writing to you in the spirit of green values and principles, which include fighting for a sustainable future, defending the environment and human rights, and engaging in international solidarity. We are also writing to you as eco-activists, women and mothers.
In November of this year, you will face an important challenge which will have an impact all over the world, even far away from US borders. As Russian eco-activists, we are following the US presidential election with curiosity and fear. Curiosity for your democratic system and fear for the impact that the result of this election could have on our lives and the lives of our children.
As environmentalists and human rights defenders, we often support Green candidates all over the world when they run for local, national or continental election. However, we are asking ourselves if we can support your candidature for the Presidency of the United States of America. We have carefully read your program and your website and we have to admit that we are deeply shocked by the position you expressed during your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Mr. Vladimir Putin.
During the last few years, Russian authorities have continued the destruction of the rich and unique Russian environment. The Kremlin is heavily contributing to global climate change and the destruction of global biodiversity by over-using Russian natural resources and promoting unsafe nuclear energy. Corruption and anti-democratic behavior of the current Russian government has also led to negative impacts on Russia’s unique forests and natural heritage. Russian eco-activists and human rights defenders are also facing an increasingly repressive system which was constructed under Putin’s regime. The list of the victims of this system is unfortunately becoming longer and longer. Russian environmentalist Yevgeniy Vitishko spent 22 months in prison for a non-violent action. Journalist Mikhail Beketov was violently attacked in 2008, suffered serious injuries, and died in 2013. Our personal cases are also symbolic: because of our activism, and in order to protect our children, we were both forced to leave Russia and to seek political asylum in the European Union.
After your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Vladimir Putin you said that “the world deserve[s] a new commitment to collaborative dialogue between our governments to avert disastrous wars for geopolitical domination, destruction of the climate, and cascading injustices that promote violence and terrorism.” We agree with you. But how can this new “collaborative dialogue” be possible when Mr. Putin has deliberately built a system based on corruption, injustice, falsification of elections, and violation of human rights and international law? How is it possible to have a discussion with Mr. Putin and not mention, not even once, the fate of Russian political prisoners, or the attacks against Russian journalists, artists, and environmentalists? Is it fair to speak with him about “geopolitics” and not mention new Russian laws against freedom of speech, restrictions on NGOs and activists, or the shameful law that forbids “homosexual propaganda”?
By silencing Putin’s crimes you are silencing our struggle. By shaking his hand and failing to criticize his regime you are becoming his accomplice. By forgetting what international solidarity means you are insulting the Russian environmental movement.
Dr. Stein, you still have several weeks before the elections in order to clarify your position on the anti-democratic and anti-environmental elements of Putin’s regime. We sincerely hope that our voices will be heard and that our questions will not go unanswered
H/t: Roland Dodds at That Place
Eric Lee reports (28/07/2016) from Philadelpia. Republished from Eric’s blog:
A few years after the second world war, a strange book was published in New York City. It was called The Russian Menace to Europe and judging by the title, one would imagine it was one of many books which focussed public attention on the threat posed by the emerging Soviet superpower.
The book’s authors, however, were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
It was a collection of essays, mostly newspaper articles, written by Marx and Engels in the 19th century. The Russia they were concerned about was not the Soviet Union, but the tsarist empire.
And yet there were very strong parallels between the two periods, a point Marx himself made (without knowing the future) when he described the unchanging character of Russian foreign policy.
Marx was especially concerned with the way Russia manipulated Western leaders, especially certain British politicians such as Lord Palmerston. Palmerston’s actions during the Crimean War seemed to benefit Russia so often that Marx was convinced he was the tsar’s agent.
The idea back in the 1950s that Communist Russia and tsarist Russia had so much in common was quite daring. Today, the idea that Putin’s Russia continues historic patterns stretching back centuries seems less controversial.
Putin’s foreign policy is simply a 21st century version of traditional Russian imperialism, constantly poking and probing its neighbors for weakness.
In 2008, he brazenly launched a war on Georgia, an independent country to Russia’s south. He continues to occupy two Georgian provinces with Russian troops. A few years later, his soldiers seized control of Crimea from Ukraine. And then they triggered a civil war in eastern Ukraine, causing thousands of deaths.
Putin’s 21st century Russian imperialism has its foreign policy too and just like the tsars and the Communists, it seeks to influence Western politicians and public opinion.
In the American elections, the Russians are playing both sides with a considerable measure of success. The relationship between Putin and Trump is an increasingly transparent one. Trump has long expressed his admiration for Putin. And yesterday, he stunned the political world in America by publicly calling on the Russians to release some 30,000 deleted emails from Hillary Clinton’s server which they may have hacked.
But it is not only the far-right Republicans that Putin seeks to influence and control. For several years now, Putin’s satellite TV news channel Russia Today has tried to influence public opinion in the West by pretending to offer an alternative view of the world. It is has had a certain limited success.
I spent yesterday not at the Democratic National Convention but at alternative events hosted by both democratic socialist groups and the far Left here in Philadelphia. Green Party presidential candidate Dr Jill Stein spoke at one of them. In a packed, airless and extremely hot hall, I saw a number of participants wearing “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts. It seemed to strike no one as odd that Donald Trump’s slogan had a place at a left-wing meeting.
I imagine that most of the people in the room would broadly accept the world-view espoused by Russia Today — that the United States is the cause of global instability, that Russia threatens no one, and so on. These views are certainly reflected in the platform of the Green Party.
So we find in America a century and a half after Marx and Engels wrote their essays that on both political fringes, right and left, the influence of the Russian state is clearly felt. Obviously it is Donald Trump, and not Jill Stein, who needs to worry us. But both are part of the same broad current who distrust American foreign policy, demonize Hillary Clinton, and have no problem with the autocrat in the Kremlin.
Those groups and individuals, whether they support the Tea Party or are self-styled Communists, are the members of Putin’s Party.
Above: Seumas getting all excited
The ‘Popular Front’ (ie what used to be called “class collaboration”) is alive and well in the fevered imagination and wet dreams of the Graun‘s tame public school Stalinist:
“[T]he prospect of a Labour-led parliamentary alliance – including, say, Lib Dems, the SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP and Respect – taking Britain in a more progressive direction wouldn’t be so scary for most voters, to judge by opinion polls. It would risk being unstable and be bitterly opposed by some Labour leaders. Anything of the kind would depend on the numbers, of course, and may well be overtaken by the campaign in the weeks ahead. But it could also offer the kind of government that a large part of the population would actually want.”
The Green party has been getting a lot of publicity recently, for promoting the so-called Citizen’s Income. This ill-thought-out idea came a cropper when the incoherent and ill-prepared Natalie Bennett was interviewed by Andrew Neil (the so-called “car crash” interview): I’m sorry, it’s not nice, but I can’t resist:
Anyway, here’s a considered and well-argued Marxist (or semi-Marxist) critique of the Citizen’s Income, from the left wing Scottish blog Mair nor a roch wind:
Against the Citizen’s Income
The idea of a “Citizen’s Income”, or “Basic Minimum Income”, or whatever else it gets called, has been rattling around the left for ages, but has been thrust into the limelight by the recent failure of the “surging” Green Party to successfully advocate it more publicly. It’s already popular amongst the autonomist and eurocommunist elements of the left, but the slew of coverage it has had recently means it’s worth briefly setting out the case against it from a more class-oriented position:
The best argument, as far as I’m aware, for the Citizen’s Income says that it would lessen workers’ dependency on the labour market, allowing them to refuse work and thus removing the ability of the ruling class to force down wages by threatening to replace you with someone cheaper. This would help us transition away from a low-wage economy and force the automisation or eradication of what David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”, and would give the working class breathing room to fight for socialism. This seems to be the essence of Paul Mason’s recent defence of the policy in the Guardian.
This seems pretty fatally flawed on a number of levels. First up, let’s assume that the Citizen’s Income wouldn’t necessarily achieve these things. A variant of it was proposed ages ago by the neoliberal economist Milton Friedman in the form of the “Negative Income Tax”, and Richard Nixon gave it very serious consideration in the early 1970s. It’s not hard to imagine why the right might support it: under a government controlled by capital, a guaranteed minimum income would essentially be a huge public subsidy for low private wages. In the case of Freedman and right-wing ‘libertarians’ this was also a mechanism to dismantle ‘dependency’ on the state through replacing the public ownership and provision of services with a single cash payment. Indeed, it’s not far away from Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit, or Blair and Brown’s tax credits.
So we need to assume that every government in control of the Citizen’s Income will use it to empower the working class, particularly the government that actually implements it. But a worker’s government is just that – a worker’s government. In fact this is the only kind of government that could plausibly put it into practice. As Mason argues, the policy would demand a great deal of restructuring for business, with huge additional investment required to transition from low-wage to high-wage industry. Only in the depths of Fabian fantasy would the ruling class put up with this without a fight. At the very least, they would try to seize control of the policy and transform it into something far more beneficial to them, as US businesses did with various New Deal programmes in the postwar era. So if we’re proposing that a ‘progressive’ Citizen’s Income could actually be implemented and sustained, we’re assuming that there is already a very powerful working class, with a well-organised, radical party at its head, that can win power and impose its will upon the rich and their allies.
But a powerful working class doesn’t need legislation to get high wages – that’s what trade unions are for, and when they’re strong they do a perfectly good job of raising wages without legislative help. So in order to have a ‘progressive’ Citizen’s Income, you would need certain radical conditions to be in place – but creating these conditions is the goal of the policy! For the left, it’s an idea that can only survive by eating itself, forever consigned to a kind of resigned utopianism where working class power is the rhetorical ends, but is completely abandoned as means.The Citizen’s Income is only confirmation that any perspective of wielding political power through working class mobilisation and organisation has been abandoned by large sections of the left in favour of the hopefully benign actions of the state. This was evident in the hopes that many placed on the hopefully more “democratic” government that would be provided by an independent Scotland and is also clear in the Green Party’s aspiration for a state funded political party system, removing both big business and organised labour from direct influence on political parties.
For all that, let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s still possible. A Citizen’s Income by itself could just as easily be reactionary as progressive – for it to be the latter, we’re really talking about it being just one element in a broad programme of radical structural change in the economy that would ultimately require the permanent domination of the propertied class by the working class.
We’re talking, in short, about socialism. And if we assume socialism to be a process of transferring power and wealth from the few to the many, what function does the Citizen’s Income serve in that? We’ve already established that strong trade unions can do a perfectly good job themselves of guaranteeing better wages, but now we’re suggesting that that power be given to the state. And once you can rely on the state to guarantee you a decent income, why join a trade union? All of sudden we’ve got a supposedly progressive policy kicking the legs out from under working class organisations and boosting the abstract, supposedly classless power of the state. The Citizen’s Income doesn’t build working class power; on the contrary, it is parasitic upon it.
Fundamentally, it’s a nationalist policy. It doesn’t begin from questions of class and power but from an imagined community ultimately embodied in the state, in which everybody’s interests are equally considered and represented, and struggle is procedural, between vague strategic coalitions organised around ideas, rather than warlike, between the classes in which very real material interests are concentrated and combined. It’s hardly surprising that those peace-loving Greens are so enthusiastic about it.
Rory Scothorne (@shirkerism)
Exciting, isn’t it?
While Alex Salmond demands the right of an independent Scotland to retain the pound, stay in the EU, remain in Nato and keep the monarchy, the Greens (or, at least, their member Adam Ramsay) have entered the fray with a persuasive statement of why the rest of us should support independence. A comrade, perhaps rather cruelly, provides a précis:
12 Reasons Why England Can’t Ignore Scotland’s #Indyref
1) It’s exciting
2) It’s really exciting isn’t it?
3) It’s got people talking
4) It’s big, a biggie, a big deal
5) It’s practically revolutionary – Smash the State!
6) Scotland will be rich without England, honest
7) Scotland will be an anti-racist country
8) You’re no the boss o’ me, Cameron!
9) We will dump all those right wing Labour MPs etc (somehow) – and replace them with nicer people
10) We’ll tak’ the high road …
However, another comrade (a Scot, as it happens) added a further comment: “I think you’re all being very unkind to the Green chap. His Twelve Reasons are the most succinct and intellectually rigorous statement of the case for an independent Scotland that I have ever come across.”
It’s almost a pity that he will forever be remembered for one particular role:
No question, of course, of which party the well-meaning, but deluded and self-righteous middle class prat Tom Good would have been founder-member.
(Guest post from Pink Prosecco)
The Green Party held out against the whole concept of leadership until 2008, when Caroline Lucas was elected with an overwhelming majority, but seems now to have adjusted to the idea, as four candidates have put themselves forward for the recently vacated post: Natalie Bennett, Pippa Bartolotti, Peter Cranie and Romayne Phoenix.
Natalie Bennett sets out aspects of her agenda here – she wants to build on the party’s first green shoots of electoral success.
In the comments she talks with obvious passion about her vision – which she is anxious to communicate in detail otherwise ‘we’re just sounding like a slightly nicer Labour Party – when we in fact have a radically different vision of the future Britain.’
Now – I have a weakness for this kind of rhetoric, and in fact, when I did a questionnaire to find out what party I should vote for (I’m good at finding ways of putting off work) I learnt that I really ought to consider going Green.
One reason for ignoring this suggestion can be summed up in two words: Pippa Bartolotti. She represents the least attractive side of Green politics in the UK. On her website she grumbles that ‘It is fairly typical to be accused of anti-semitism when suggesting that the policies of the Likud government are less than perfect.’ (Oddly, I’ve never experienced that problem myself.)
You can read more about Bartolotti over on Greens Engage.
Her Liberal Conspiracy post (all the candidates were offered one) was pretty bonkers.
By contrast, Peter Cranie sets out his vision in a clear and pragmatic way, confronting the fact that the electorate does not place green issues high on its agenda, and thus needs to be engaged by the party’s policies on housing and jobs.
You can read more about Cranie’s views here.
Rather tellingly, the longest answer is to a question on Israel/Palestine. Cranie, it should be noted, though clearly no Likud supporter, takes antisemitism seriously, and seconded a motion (which failed) to get these guidelines accepted by the party.
As Sunny Hundal notes in the comments to Cranie’s Lib Con piece, he is a candidate who seems well fitted to engage with potential as well as present supporters of the party.
Romayne Phoenix has a varied background in activism and is Chair of Coalition of Resistance. Her Lib Con post asserted her difference from the other candidates but failed to demonstrate where this difference lay. (And is ‘difference’ the best way of securing votes from party members?)
The election will take place in September.
“Anti-nuclear campaigners have generated as much mumbo jumbo as creationists, anti-vaccine scaremongers, homeopaths and climate change deniers. In all cases, the scientific process has been thrown into reverse: people have begun with their conclusions, then frantically sought evidence to support them” – George Monbiot, The Guardian 6 Dec 20112
The outspoken environmentalist George Monbiot, in his regular Graun columns and elsewhere, has for some time now, been writing a lot of sense about nuclear power. Unlike most Greens (including the British Green Party and its overrated leader Ms Lucas) he is willing to examine the evidence and not fall back upon anti-nuclear superstition. In fact, he starts his column today with a startling admission:
“It’s a devastating admission to have to make, especially during the climate talks in Durban. But there would be no point in writing this column if I were not prepared to confront harsh truths. This year, the environmental movement to which I belong has done more harm to the planet’s living systems than climate change deniers have ever achieved.
“As a result of shutting down its nuclear programme in response to green demands, Germany will produce an extra 300m tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. That’s almost as much as all the European savings resulting from the energy efficiency directive. Other countries are now heading the same way. These decisions are the result of an almost medievel misrepresentation of science and technology. For while the greens are right about most things, our views on nuclear power have been shaped by weapons-grade woo.”
His comments about the potential of integral fast reactors (IFRs) are particularly important and must be taken very seriously by all rational people.
Read the full article here ; The ignorant, hysterical comments that follow on CiF and Monbiot’s replies are also most instructive.
Another voice of reason: Les Hearn at Workers Liberty.
“The founding fathers built a constitution of checks and balances believing reasonable men would agree.; how could they have foreseen Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman or Glenn Beck?” – Polly Toynbee in today’s Graun
Following Obama’s humiliating capitulation to the right-wing loons of the Tea Party, the Graun‘s Polly Toynbee (not one of our usual favourites here at Shiraz) speculates on the likelihood of such a movement arising in the UK and is generally fairly optimistic with regard to mainstream politics:
“Whatever you think of the Tory party, it is not shot through with US craziness,
not on stem cell research and gay marriage, or even really on abortion – though
they will toughen its conditions. Steve
Hilton’s cunning plan to abolish all consumer, employment and maternity
rights got a dusty answer, while his green passions are at least tolerated. Most
Tories are driven by Thatcherism, with its shrink-the-state, on-your-bike thirst
for deregulation. But although Oliver Letwin‘s
parents were Ayn Rand disciples, the American right’s call of the wild is no
closer to Tory core sentiment than is Labour’s ritualistic singing of the Red
Flag once a year. Britain is more rightwing than mainstream Europe, our media
more strident, but we haven’t crossed the Atlantic – yet.”
I think Toynbee’s right about British politics – UKIP and the Tax Payers’ Alliance remain thankfully marginal forces with little popular support and well-deserved reputations for wackiness. That could change, of couirse, but for now I agree with Toynbee that the main arena for irrational, paranoid and reactionary populism in Britain at the moment is science – or, to be precise, anti-science.
Professor Steve Jones’ recent report on BBC coverage of scientific matters showed how even the good ol’ Beeb’s much-vaunted “impartiality” in practice has played into the hands of irrational nutters, flat-earthers and fanatics, by giving their nonsense equal coverage to the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion.
Jones cites the examples of climate-change, the MMR/autism row and GM crops, as exaqmples of the BBC giving “false balance” between fringe fanatics (or, in the case of climate-change deniers, paid lobbyists) and the overwhelming weight of international scientific opinion. I would add the Green Party’s and CND’s irrational objection to nuclear power to that list.
But the recent story about threats to scientists working on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is, perhaps the most dramatic recent example of at least some people’s paranoid consumerist hostility to rationalism and objectivity in science:
British researchers looking at the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome have received death threats from protesters angry at their focus on possible mental triggers, a report said Friday.
Several scientists researching the condition, which is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), say they are being subjected to a campaign of harassment and abuse, the BBC reported.
Professor Simon Wessely, a scientist based at King’s College London, told BBC Radio that he now scans his mail for suspect devices after receiving “maliciously unfair” threats of violence.
“It’s direct intimidation in the sense of letters, emails, occasional phone calls and threats,” Wessely said, adding that those behind the abuse were also making official complaints to British medical bodies.
“I think sadly some of the motivation here comes from people who really do believe that any connection with psychiatry is tantamout to saying there is nothing wrong with you, you are making this up… That is profoundly misguided.”
A doctor representing sufferers in Britain said there was anger about the way the condition was being probed.
Charles Shepherd, medical adviser to the ME Association, said threats to scientists were “completely unacceptable” but called on the British government to support more research into the possible biological causes.
“I think you need to put this into the context of the fact that we have about 250,000 people with this illness (in Britain). A very, very tiny minority of these people are involved in this sort of behaviour,” he said.
A major US study in 2009 claimed that a mouse virus was the cause but researchers later said its findings were wrong and likely based on contaminated lab samples.
Toynbee closes her piece with a quote from Chief scientist John Beddington, arguing that society must become “Grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and scientific method”. That’s the best – in fact, the only – defence we have against Tea Party thinking, whether from UKIP, the Greens or climate-change deniers.
“Closer to home the energy secretary Chris Huhne is mulling over the collapse of the ‘couldn’t happen here’ argument. It may have washed with Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine but will not survive if the worst-case scenario plays out in high-tech Japan. That may still not happen, and if even the mix of an 9.0 magnitude earthquake, an accompanying tsunami and a hydrogen explosion does not cause lethal melt-down, then the balance of the rational argument could conceivably be more in favour of nuclear in a month’s time than it is today.” – Guardian editorial 15/03/2011
“All over the world, from China to Germany, governments are halting their nuclear power station programmes because of Fukushima.. But what is that supposed to ‘put right’? Whatever went wrong in Japan must have something to do with laying a chain of obsolete reactors precisely along a famous tectonic fault. But the German reactors at Unterweser or Neckarwestheim are nowhere near an earthquake zone, so why has chancellor Merkel shut them down for three months? It’s about as rational as the grand Chinese salt panic: hoarders have snatched it off every shelf in China, after a rumour that Fukushima had turned the salt of all the oceans radioactive.” – Neal Ascherson in The Observer 20/03/2011
Today may not seem an auspicious date upon which to suggest a favourable re-assessment of nuclear power. Twenty five years ago the world’s worst ever civil nuclear accident happened, and the people of Chernobyl are still suffering the effects. Children are still being born with genetic abnormalities and dying of thyroid cancer due to exposure to radioactive iodine contained in contaminated milk. As we discuss nuclear power, we must never forget this: it’s the single strongest argument against.
And now, of course, there’s Fukushima, which appears to have given the Greens and other anti-nuclear power campaigners another powerful argument. But has it? Just as the obsolete Soviet-era design and lax (to the point of non-existent) safety factors at Chernobyl make that disaster something that simply could not happen in an advanced capitalist democracy, so the poor design and siting (in an earthquake zone) of the TEPCO Fukushima plant is n ot something that would happen in Western Europe.
As the Guardian editorial (above) speculated a month ago, “if even the mix of an 9.0 magnitude earthquake, an accompanying tsunami and a hydrogen explosion does not cause lethal melt-down“…then maybe the Japanese earthquake, far from destroying the case for nuclear power, has actually vindicated it.
Certainly, a number of environmentalists and green-leftists seem to be coming round to that viewpoint, including George Monbiot, in a brave article that enraged a number of his erstwhile friends in the green movement. And Les Hearn, in a recent edition of the AWL’s newspaper Solidarity argued that we should…
Get nuclear power’s risks in perspective
The terrible events recently in Japan have resulted in at least 15,000 deaths, of which those attributable to the overheating cores and hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant amount to… zero.
However, the situation at the power plant is potentially more serious if it is not controlled. What has been happening?
Some time ago, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) decided to build nuclear power plants in an earthquake zone. They judged that their design was robust enough to withstand a powerful earthquake. They judged that safety measures were adequate in the case of interruption of the electricity supply to the coolant pumps. They hadn’t considered the possibility of a large tsunami.
The plants are Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) — sort of giant nuclear kettles. The core contains fuel rods of uranium-235 (235U) and plutonium-239 (239Pu) which undergo fission (atom-splitting) reactions, releasing neutrons, radiation, heat and fission products. The neutrons are fed back into the fuel rods in carefully controlled amounts to sustain a chain reaction, releasing heat which is continuously removed by superheated water under 70 times atmospheric pressure. This is allowed to boil, high pressure steam being used to drive electricity generators.
The radiation is absorbed by the core and cannot escape. It eventually contributes to the heat of the core.
The fission products are smaller atoms, usually radioactive. Most dangerous are caesium-137 (137Cs) and iodine-131 (131I). They are contained within the fuel rods, paradoxically making these more radioactive for a while than the original U or Pu.
So what are the safety features of the Japanese BWRs? If the electricity to the pumps cuts out, the chain reaction must be stopped to prevent the release of more heat. This is done by inserting boron control rods into the core. These absorb neutrons so that new fissions cannot occur. Then residual heat must be removed from the rods. The fact that the coolant water is at about 300 ºC shows that the core heat is considerable. If current is cut to the electric pumps, back-up diesel pumps come into operation. If these fail, batteries operate the pumps electrically. Before these run out, TEPCO assumes the main or diesel pumps will be working again.
What actually happened on 11 March and after was as follows. The buildings withstood one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history and the control rods were automatically inserted into the core. However, the electrically powered pumps were disabled when the earthquake felled power lines. Diesel pumps kicked in but were then swamped by an unexpectedly large tsunami. Then the shed-load of batteries took over for a few hours but, when they ran down, neither had the electricity had been restored nor the diesel pumps restarted. The core started to overheat.
This risked damage to the fuel rods, resulting in emission of caesium-137 and iodine-131. The risk of damage was increased as the heat of the core made it difficult to cool it with the seawater that the plant workers and emergency services were trying to dump on the reactors. The water was instantly boiling and being driven off as steam. The danger of the fuel rods melting and emitting even more radioactive substances was growing. It is not clear that this would lead to a more catastrophic breach of the steel containment: this would require temperatures exceeding 1500 ºC. But it would increase the danger to the workers of excessive radiation, and risk spreading radioactive caesium and iodine in the surroundings.
The problem of these substances is two-fold. Caesium compounds are very soluble and chemically similar to compounds of sodium and potassium. Caesium rapidly spreads through the environment and is absorbed by plants and animals which may be part of the human diet. Its half-life is about 30 years, meaning that it takes about 100 years to decay to 10% of its original level. However, except locally, it is unlikely to be particularly hazardous. Iodine is more problematic. It is absorbed easily and passed on to humans in food. The body then concentrates it in the thyroid gland, converting a low general dose of radiation to a much higher specific dose to one tissue. It has a half-life of eight days, making it more radioactive atom for atom than caesium-137 but dropping to less than 1% in two months. Preventative measures can easily be taken, minimising the risks.
It is not clear whether the reactors will be brought under control without substantial emission of radiation. It is clear that TEPCO should have sited the back-up pumps higher to avoid inundation by tsunamis. It is less clear but arguable that an earthquake zone was not a wise choice.
Nevertheless, the minimal injuries and absence of deaths compared with the effect of the earthquake and tsunami should help to put nuclear power’s risks in perspective. And we’re not talking about another Chernobyl.