Category Archives: Japan

Japanese stocks plunge amid global financial turmoil

By Andre Damon 
14 June 2013
The Japanese stock market plunged 6.4 percent Thursday. The sell-off—part of a 21 percent fall over the past three weeks—was only the most visible sign of the growing volatility in global stock, bond, and currency markets, rooted in fears that any letup in asset purchases by the US Federal Reserve could trigger a global financial collapse.
On May 22, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in congressional testimony that the US central bank could consider scaling back their $85 billion a month asset purchase program “in the next few meetings” if there is a significant improvement in the economy. This remark added to investors’ growing fears of an end to global central banks’ unprecedented money-printing operations.
Bernanke’s remarks served as a catalyst for a sell-off in bond markets. Last week, research firm EPFR Global said that investors pulled $12.53 billion out of global bonds over the preceding week, the largest bond sell-off on records dating back to 2001. Since the end of April, the interest rate on US 30-year Treasury notes has shot up from 2.8 to 3.37 percent.
Fears that the Federal Reserve would draw down its “quantitative easing” program has also caused emerging market currencies to plunge in value. Over the past three months, the Brazilian real has fallen 8 percent against the dollar, the Indian rupee has fallen 6.8 percent, and the Australian dollar has fallen 7.7 percent.
Credit in emerging markets has likewise tightened significantly. Over the past month, JPMorgan’s emerging market EMBI bond index has risen by one percentage point, to 5.5 percent.
The sell-offs in these currencies have been so substantial that governments have moved to stem the process. India’s central bank intervened to try to halt the slide in the rupee Tuesday.
That same day, Bank Indonesia announced that it would raise its main interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point, to 6 percent.
The Brazilian government announced that it would eliminate the one percent tax on financial transactions in the country, seeking to halt the slide of the real, which hit its lowest level against the dollar in four years.
These actions come as the world economy continues to deteriorate. China’s economy grew at a rate of 7.7 percent last year, the slowest rate in 13 years, and indicators of economic growth are trending downward.
On Thursday the World Bank cut its growth estimate for the Chinese economy in 2013 to 7.7 percent, down from 8.4 percent, and warned of the potential for a “sharp” slowdown of the Chinese economy.
The report noted the “possibility that high investment rates prove unsustainable, provoking a disorderly unwinding and sharp economic slowdown.”
Earlier this month, HSBC said that its index of manufacturing activity in China fell to 49.2 in May, the lowest level in eight months, and significantly lower than the reading of 50 that indicates the point between contraction and expansion.
The sell-off in Japan came as investors voiced their dissatisfaction with the Abe government for not attacking working-class living standards aggressively enough. As the Wall Street Journal put it, Abe’s latest set of economic restructuring proposals “was missing a few key policy items that markets and the business sector were hoping to see, including a reduction in the corporate tax rate and deregulation of employment rules to aid corporate restructuring.”
In the global sell-off of bonds there may well be a similar warning to the Federal Reserve: any move to restrict the vast quantities of cash flowing into global markets will be met with a calamitous sell-off.
But the element of panic is likely even more pervasive. US stocks have been rising for four years and have more than doubled since their low point in early 2009. Yet since 2010, the US economy has created an average of only 162,000 jobs per month, lower even than the 166,000 average monthly growth rate of the US working-age population.
The only thing sustaining the dizzying rise in stock values, amid a disastrous real economic situation, is the vast infusion of cash into financial markets by central banks, coupled with global austerity programs that have drastically slashed wages and swelled corporate profits.
But there are growing fears that the entire global economic setup created on the basis of the Federal Reserve’s asset-purchasing program is on the verge of collapse.
“The tectonic plates of the world economy are shifting,” the Wall Street Journal noted in an alarmed article on its front page Wednesday. “For the past few years, the global economy, struggling to recover from a financial crisis, has relied on a few constants: The US would print plenty of money and keep interest rates very low. China would provide a lot of demand and vacuum up commodities from around the world.”
But the reversal of these trends could be a “harbinger of more volatility in financial markets…that yields an unwelcome increase in market interest rates before the US economy achieves what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke once called ‘escape velocity.’”
The global panic over the prospect of a “tapering” of bond buying by the Federal Reserve is ultimately an expression of the phony character of the economic “recovery.” Asset values, having swelled from the vast infusions of Federal Reserve cash, are totally out of proportion with the slowing global economy and threaten to plunge at any moment.
Last month, Gillian Tett wrote in the Financial Times, “While the flood of central bank liquidity is enabling the system to absorb small shocks, it is also masking a host of internal contradictions and fragilities that could surface if a shock hits. Or… precisely because central banks are trying to pursue stability at all costs, the potential for a future violent instability is rising apace; ‘tail risk,’ as statisticians say, is growing.”
Put more plainly, Tett is warning that even as the vast expansion of credit by central banks has partially masked the deepening economic contradictions in the global financial system, it has paved the way for a financial collapse on or exceeding the scale of the 2008 crash.

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America’s Secret Fukushima Poisoning the Bread Basket of the World

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese
June 05, 2013 “Information Clearing House – Early in the morning of July 16, 1979, a 20-foot section of the earthen dam blocking the waste pool for the Church Rock Uranium Mill in New Mexico caved in and released 95 million gallons of highly acidic fluid containing 1,100 tons of radioactive material. The fluid and waste flowed into the nearby Puerco River, traveling 80 miles downstream, leaving toxic puddles and backing up local sewers along the way.
Although this release of radiation, thought to be the largest in US history, occurred less than four months after the Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown, the Church Rock spill received little media attention. In contrast, the Three Mile Island accident made the headlines. And when the residents of Church Rock asked their governor to declare their community a disaster area so they could get recovery assistance, he refused.
What was the difference between the Church Rock spill and the Three Mile Island partial meltdown? Church Rock is situated in the Navajo Nation, one of the areas in the US sacrificed to supply uranium for the Cold War and for nuclear power plants. That area and many others in the Navajo Nation are contaminated to this day. Another sacrifice area is the Great Sioux Nation, a region in the western part of the country comprising parts of 5 states, where thousands of open uranium mine pits continue to release radiation and heavy metals into the air, land and water.
This poisoning of the people in the Navajo and Great Sioux Nations has been going on for decades and has had serious effects on their health. Even today, it is unknown what the full effects are and what the impact is on the rest of the nation and world because the contaminated air and water are not limited by borders.
Most Americans are unaware of the story of uranium mining on tribal lands because it is a difficult story to accept. It is a story that includes the long history of human rights abuses by the United States against native indians and recognition of the full costs of nuclear energy – two stories the government and big energy have suppressed.
Many people think of nuclear power as a clean source of energy. It has been promoted as part of the transition from fossil fuels. But the reality is that nuclear power comes at a heavy price to the health of people and the planet. Like other forms of extractive energy such as coal, oil and gas, uranium needs to stay in the ground. Radiation and heavy metal poisonings are a hidden environmental catastrophe that is ongoing and must be addressed. But rather than studying the health effects and cleaning up the environment, private corporations are pushing once again to lift the ban on uranium mining.
Is Uranium Mining Poisoning the Bread Basket of America?
Thousands of open uranium mines first excavated in the 1950s continue to release radiation today. There have been inadequate assessments of the extent of contamination, but limited measurements done to date show ongoing leaks many times larger than the leakage from Fukushima. How did we get here?
After WWII, the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was created so that the United States could obtain uranium for weapons production domestically. The AEC guaranteed that it would purchase all uranium that was mined. A uranium boom ensued.
It is estimated that 60 to 80 percent of uranium in the United States is located on tribal land, particularly in the lands of the Navajo and Great Sioux Nations. Private corporations jumped in to mine these areas and, in parts of South Dakota, individuals started mining for uranium on their private lands unaware of the dangers.
Private corporations have set up thousands of underground and open pit uranium mines on tribal lands and hired local native Indians at low wages. Other than jobs, the uranium mines brought little benefit to these nations because the lands were given to non-Indian companies such as Kerr-McGee, Atlantic Richfield, Exxon and Mobil. Native Indians had little control over what took place.
Two Acts in the 19th century took the rights of self-determination away from the native population. The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 allocated money to move Native Indians onto reservations, ostensibly to protect them from white settlers but more likely to give settlers access to natural resources. The reservations are also known as prisoner of war camps. In fact, the reservation in Pine Ridge, SD is registered as POW Camp 344.
A second Indian Appropriations Act in 1871 changed the legal status of Native Indians to wards of the Federal government, stripping them of recognition as sovereign nations and the right to make treaties. In order to make contracts for uranium mining on tribal lands, the Bureau of Indian Affairs created Tribal Councils to conduct negotiations. But the resulting contracts were not made in the best interests of the tribes.
The Native Indians who worked in these mines were not protected from exposure to radiation, nor were they adequately warned aboutthe dangers. Though it was clear that radiation exposure was linked to cancer in the early 1950s, around the same time that the US Public Health Service also started studying the health of uranium miners, it was not until 1959 that lung cancer was mentioned as a risk in pamphlets given to the workers. In an unpublished doctoral dissertation, A.B. Hungate writes that the reasons for this are: “The government had two interests. First, it needed a steady supply of domestic uranium, and it felt that warning the workers of the hazards would result in the loss of the workforce. Secondly, it wanted an epidemiological testing program to study the long-term health effects of radiation.”
Don Yellowman, president of the Forgotten Navajo People, described the extent of exposure to radiation and toxic metals. Native Indian miners would drink radioactive water that contained heavy metals dripping off of the walls deep in the mines. Some of the miners had to travel long distances to the mines, so their families would come with them. Children would play in the area around the mine, and family members would prepare and eat meals there. Other reports state that workers, primarily nonwhites, were ordered into the mines shortly after explosions were set off to gather up rocks and bring them out for processing. Also, miners would go home at night covered in toxic radioactive dust, exposing their families to health risks.
Uranium mining started in South Dakota on land included in the original treaties with the Great Sioux Nation in the 1960 and ’70s. TheSioux were not included in negotiations for the mining and are still refusing to settle with the US government over land in the Black Hills that was mined. During the boom, the land was mined without regard for contamination as “large mining companies [were literally] pushing off the tops of bluffs and buttes.”
A few decades after uranium mining began in the Navajo Nation, increased numbers of cancer cases, lung cancer in particular, began to show up in the miners. A 2008 literature review in New Mexico found that the “Risk of lung cancer among male Navajo uranium miners was 28 times higher than in Navajo men who never mined, and two-thirds of all new lung cancer cases in Navajo men between 1969 and 1993 was attributable to a single exposure – underground uranium mining. Through 1990, death rates among Navajo uranium miners were 3.3 times greater than the US average for lung cancer and 2.5 times greater for pneumoconioses and silicosis.”
Though the health effects of radiation exposure were known, it took decades before steps were taken to protect workers. The mines were operated under lax laws established in the 1872 Mining Act. Health and safety regulations for the mines, such as requirements for ventilation, were not passed in Congress until the late 1960s. But even once they were law, the regulations were not enforced.
Beginning in the 1970s, miners and their families began to pursue legal solutions through the courts and Congress so they could be compensated for the effects of their radiation exposure. Many court cases failed, and Native Indians were excluded from hearings in Congress on miner safety. Finally, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) passed Congress in 1990.
RECA is desperately inadequate and restrictive. Until 2000, RECA only covered miners, not mill workers, and it does not cover families and others who lived near the mines. It also requires a very strict application process that is impossible for some to complete. A summary of RECA by academics Brugge and Goble states: “We believe that it is not possible to simultaneously apologize, set highly stringent criteria and place the burden of proof on the victims, as did the 1990 RECA.”
Uranium Mine Pits Continue to Leak Radiation Today
Radiation and heavy metals from uranium mines continue to pollute the land, air and water today and very little action is being taken to stop it.
In the upper great plain states of Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas, there are 2,885 abandoned uranium mines that are all open pits within territory that is supposed to be for the absolute use of the Great Sioux Nation under the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty with the United States. These open mines continue to emit radiation and pollutants that are poisoning the local communities.
According to a report by Earthworks, “Mining not only exposes uranium to the atmosphere, where it becomes reactive, but releases other radioactive elements such as thorium and radium and toxic heavy metals including arsenic, selenium, mercury and cadmium. Exposure to these radioactive elements can cause lung cancer, skin cancer, bone cancer, leukemia, kidney damage and birth defects.”
There are currently 1200 abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo Nation and 500 of them require reclamation. The greatest amount of radioactive contamination on Navajo land comes from solid waste called “tailings,” which sits in large open piles, some as tall as 70 feet high, and was incorporated into materials used to build homes. Dust from these piles of waste blows throughout the land causing widespread contamination.
A 2008 study found that “mills and tailings disposal sites caused extensive groundwater contamination by radium, uranium, various trace metals and dissolved solids. One estimate is that 1.2 million acre-feet of groundwater (or enough to fill Elephant Butte Reservoir more than twice) have been contaminated in the Ambrosia Lake-Milan area from historic mine and mill discharges, and less than two-tenths of 1 percent has been treated to reduce contaminant levels.” It is estimated that 30 percent of people living in the Navajo Nation lack access to uncontaminated water.
Charmaine White Face of Defenders of the Black Hills describes the situation in the Great Sioux Nation as “America’s Chernobyl.” She says, “A private abandoned, open-pit uranium mine about 200 meters from an elementary school in Ludlow, SD, emits 1170 microRems per hour, more than 4 times as much as is being emitted from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. ” In addition, “Studies by the USFS show that one mine alone has 1,400 millirems per hour (mR/hr) of exposed radiation, a level of radiation that is 120,000 times higher than normal background of 100 millirems per year (mR/yr)!” Cancer rates in Pine Ridge, SD, are the highest in the nation.
This contamination escapes into the air which blows to the East and South and seeps into the water, reaching the Cheyenne and Missouri Rivers. It poisons grain grown in these areas that is fed to cattle that provide milk and beef for the rest of the nation. As White Face explains, “In an area of the USA that has been called ‘the Bread Basket of the World,’ more than 40 years of mining have released radioactive polluted dust and water runoff from the hundreds of abandoned open pit uranium mines, processing sites, underground nuclear power stations and waste dumps. Our grain supplies and our livestock production in this area have used the water and have been exposed to the remainders of this mining. We may be seeing global affects, not just localized affects, to the years of uranium mining.”
Uranium also contaminates coal that is mined in Wyoming for power plants in the East. Defenders of the Black Hills report that “Radioactive dust and particles are released into the air at the coal fired power plants and often set off the warning systems at nuclear power plants.”
People in the Navajo and Great Sioux Nations have been fighting for decades for the US government to perform studies on the extent of contamination and to clean up both current contamination and prevent future contamination. As wards of the federal government, the United States is responsible for the health and safety of native Indians.
The Forgotten Navajo People have put forth a resolution that states “that all people have the inalienable right to clean air, clean water and the preservation of sacred lands and that immediate action must be taken to fund the ongoing need for remediation of radioactive contamination in our air, water, and homelands to ensure our survival and that the named parties will support the People’s Uranium Radiation Activity Data Collection Network.” The resolution also asks that the United States uphold the ban on further uranium mines. The resolution also seeks equipment that would allow residents to measure radiation on their reservations as people in Japan are able to do, a simple request that has not been acted on.
Defenders of the Black Hills have written legislation, the Uranium Exploration and Mining Accountability Act, calling for study and remediation, but according to White Face, no members of Congress are yet willing to sponsor the bill. She explains that state and federal legislators want to hide the fact that this ongoing contamination exists because it will hurt the states economically. Just 40 miles south of Mount Rushmore, there are 169 abandoned open mines. And there are mines in the areas of national parks such as Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. These mines likely contaminate water and air in those areas visited by thousands of tourists.
The Chain of Environmental Damage from Nuclear Energy Begins with Excavation
During the energy crisis of the 1970s, President Nixon called for the US to become more energy independent and to pursue renewable sources of energy through Project Independence 1980. This included increasing the use of nuclear power and resulted in the building of nuclear power plants throughout the nation. Some of those power plants, 23 currently in operation, were built using the same flawed plan as Reactor One (designed by General Electric) which failed at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. And many of them are reaching their 40-year lifespans and are applying for renewed permits to continue operation.
In addition, because of the reduced availability of fossil fuels and the climate crisis, nuclear power is back on the table as part of President Obama’s “All of the Above” energy strategy. Obama has been well-funded throughout his career by Exelon Energy, owner of the largest number of nuclear reactors in the United States and third largest in the world. Earthworks reports that “According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are currently 26 proposals to start, expand or restart in situ projects in the states regulated by the commission (Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, New Mexico). Of these, nine will be new operations.”
In situ uranium mining is being promoted as a safer method of extracting uranium. In this type of mining process, deep holes are drilled into the Earth’s surface and fluids are injected into them to dissolve the uranium so that it can be collected. This method of mining is certainly less destructive to the surface of the Earth than open pit mining, but the report also states that “Any in situ operation risks spreading uranium and its hazardous byproducts outside the mine, potentially contaminating nearby aquifers and drinking water sources. This has been a major problem with almost all in situ projects in the US.”
Current uranium mines have a history of noncompliance with regulations. There continue to be spills. Mining corporations do not clean up areas that they are required to clean up. They do not pay fines. And they influence local governments to loosen requirements once they receive a mining permit.
In addition to contamination of land, air and water, uranium mining, particularly in situ mining, requires large amounts of water. In the current environment, with extended droughts and reduced aquifers, in situ mining places a greater strain on the water crisis.
Nuclear power is another form of extractive energy that is not only extremely unsafe, but is also more expensive than safer forms of energy. Beyond the human and environmental costs, the cost of building new nuclear reactors has quadrupled since 2000 to an average of $13 to 15 billion each. Physicians for Social Responsibility report that “new reactors are estimated to cost homeowners and businesses between 12 cents and 20 cents per kilowatt hour on electric bills – more than cleaner, safer alternatives.”
The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War passed a resolution in 2010 calling for a ban on all uranium mining worldwide, which states that, “As well as the direct health effects from contamination of the water, the immense water consumption in mining regions is environmentally and economically damaging – and in turn detrimental for human health. The extraction of water leads to a reduction of the groundwater table and thereby to desertification; plants and animals die, the traditional subsistence of the inhabitants is eliminated, the existence of whole cultures are threatened.”
Expose the Truth and Create a Carbon Free Nuclear Free Energy Economy
Uranium mining in the United States and worldwide is a hidden environmental catastrophe that must be exposed. It is not acceptable to ignore the ongoing poisoning of communities, particularly of indigenous communities. Three-fourths of all uranium mining worldwide is on indigenous land.
Yellowman speaks of the practice of uranium mining as a form of structural violence. Structural violence occurs when a social structure or institution harms people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. There is no doubt that widespread contamination of the air, land and water from 70 years of uranium mining has violated the basic rights of indigenous peoples to clean air and water and to live healthy lives.
It is not known at present to what extent the ongoing contamination is affecting the health of our nation. Despite the obvious need, there have not been, to date, any comprehensive studies of radiation and heavy metal contamination in the United States. Uranium that is ingested by cattle and other livestock through water and feed concentrates in muscle. We do not know how safe our air, water and food are. And it is likely that the government and the nuclear industry do not want us to know.
It is becoming clearer that nuclear power is another dirty extractive source of energy that has high costs to human and environmental health. We must see through the energy industry propaganda and realize that there are clean and safer alternatives that are less costly.
It is time to move quickly to a carbon and nuclear-free energy economy. First steps would be to end massive energy waste through investment in energy efficiency and conservation. Other steps are to end the secret Fukushima by cleaning up the mines, providing testing equipment to Native Indians and conducting studies on the extent of contamination and effects of radiation and other toxins on the soil, air and water.
Then, it is time to move quickly to a carbon and nuclear free energy economy, which includes changing the American way of life by putting in place land use planning, 21st century mass transit and dispersed energy, so every home and business can become an energy producer. The call of native Indians to restore the Earth, for the right to clean water and air, should be a rally cry taken on by all of us.
You can find “The Toxic Effects of Uranium Mining on Tribal Lands with Don Yellowman and Charmaine White Face” on Clearing the FOG.
Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD co-host on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC and on Economic Democracy Media, co-direct It’s Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC. Their twitters are @KBZeese and @MFlowers8.
This article was originally published at Truthout

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Japan’s monetary boost to escalate currency wars

13 April 2013

Last week’s decision by the Bank of Japan to double the country’s money supply over the next two years through massive purchases of long-term government bonds will both fuel the deepening global economic crisis and stimulate further attacks on the Japanese working class.
Japan has not only joined the program of “quantitative easing” being carried out by other major central banks, it has done so at twice the rate being undertaken by the US Federal Reserve Board.
It is a measure of the depth of the crisis of the global economy that the policies now being initiated—shovelling unlimited amounts of money into the coffers of the banks—which only a few years ago would have been dismissed as being too risky, have now become standard operating procedure.
While the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has insisted that its unprecedented actions are solely aimed at stimulating the domestic economy, the massive injection of money will have far-reaching global consequences. It will tend to push down the value of the Japanese currency, thereby providing a boost to Japanese corporations in the increasingly desperate fight for global markets.
Major trading countries, including China, South Korea, Brazil and Australia, as well as countries throughout South-East Asia, whose currency values will be boosted by the decision, are directly in the firing line.
Economists in China, who advise the country’s central bank, are reported to be “livid” over the decision, criticising the BoJ’s actions as starting a currency war. They have called on the Peoples Bank of China (PBoC) to respond by taking action to push down the value of the yuan.
ANZ Bank economist Liu Ligang described the BoJ decision as “monetary blackmail.” Tsinghua University professor, Li Daokui, a former advisor to the PBoC, warned that it “could spell doom” for other economies in the region.
Among the countries to be hardest hit is South Korea, where export income comprises almost 60 percent of gross domestic product. Japan and South Korea compete head-to-head in seven out of ten of their largest exports.
Beside the direct impact of a fall in the value of the yen, one of the consequences of the BoJ decision will be to increase the so-called yen carry trade. This involves finance houses borrowing money in Japan, where interest rates are lower, to invest in countries where they are higher. This pushes up the value of the currencies of those countries, with severe consequences for their exports and internal domestic markets.
Brazil and Australia are likely to be impacted. Brazil has already imposed capital controls to try to contain the inflow of such “hot money.” In Australia, the inflow of finance in search of higher rates has seen the dollar reach near record highs, with devastating consequences for key industries, especially manufacturing.
This week, following the announcement of 500 sackings by General Motors, Jac Nasser, the head of Ford from 1998 to 2001, warned that the high Australian dollar, coupled with increased international competition, meant there was no future for car manufacturing in the country. The impact on other key sections of manufacturing is equally severe.
As is always the case, economic warfare on the international front is being accompanied by deepening attacks on the working class at home. There are increasing calls from business and financial circles in Japan for measures to reduce the public debt, now at around 240 percent of gross domestic product, and for a “restructuring” of the country’s economy.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has already signed off on measures to lower standard welfare benefits by around 6.5 percent, starting in August, with the cuts extending over a three-year period. The new measures will also affect other levels of public assistance, such as subsidies for school expenses, as these are related to the standard welfare payment.
The government has justified the cuts by saying welfare benefits should be reduced in line with the deflation of Japanese prices. But the stated aim of the BoJ is to generate inflation, so that welfare payments will be reduced even as prices start to rise. Furthermore, the weakening of the yen will increase prices on all imports coming into Japan, raising the cost of living.
Far-reaching changes are also taking place in the workforce. The days of so-called lifetime employment in Japan have long gone. About 14.1 million workers, comprising more than 25 percent of the workforce, are now on fixed term contracts. In some companies new hires are being placed on six-month contracts, with no prospects of renewal.
Legislation was passed last year to double the national consumption tax to 10 percent by late 2015. Further increases or new taxes may be introduced in the future. The ostensible reason for the consumption tax rise, introduced by the former Democratic Party of Japan government before it lost office in last December’s election, was that it was needed to finance the social security system. But on that basis, it has been calculated that the tax would need to rise to 30 percent.
Last month, Prime Minister Abe announced that Japan would take part in the US-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. A report published by the US think tank, the Brookings Institution, said TPP participation would provide a “focal point for the deregulation and competitiveness that Japan’s economy sorely needs” and help realise the “single most important component of Prime Minister Abe’s economic strategy: structural reform.”
As in every country, these are code phrases for the launching of major attacks on jobs, wages, working conditions and social benefits. These will accelerate after the elections for the Japanese upper house scheduled for July.
The economic and political agenda being advanced by key sections of the Japanese ruling elites was spelled out in an interview with former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, head of the opposition Japan Restoration Party, published in the Ashahi Shimbun on April 4.
Ishihara said the fundamentals of the country had to be changed, as the current system based on “high standards of welfare with [a] low tax burden no longer worked.”
The connection between the domestic agenda and the rise of nationalism and militarism was underscored by Ishihara’s insistence that the constitution should be revised to remove the so-called pacifist clause.
“Japan should become a strong military power,” he said, as a “nation’s voice can be backed by military power and the economy. A defence industry can best contribute to revitalising a nation’s economy. To discuss possible nuclear armament is an option for Japan’s future.”
While Ishihara is an outspoken rightwinger, he voices the views of broader layers of the Japanese political establishment, including inside the government. As his comments make clear, Japan’s policy of “quantitative easing” is part of a broader agenda of aggressive economic nationalism that is leading to conflict and war.
Nick Beams

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North eastern Japan still a disaster zone

By Peter Symonds 
11 March 2013
Two years ago today, northern Japan was hit by a devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake, triggering a tsunami that flattened dozens of coastal towns and a crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Nearly 19,000 people were killed or went missing, presumed dead, according to official figures.
The north eastern region, known as Tohoku, remains a disaster zone, with reconstruction barely begun in many areas. A third of a million evacuees are still living in temporary accommodation, which was meant to be for two years only, and have no immediate prospect of resettlement. The exclusion zones around the nuclear plant are likely to remain in place for many years. The decommissioning of the crippled Daiichi plant is now expected to take up to 40 years.
The fate of the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake is an indictment of capitalism. Japan is a technologically-sophisticated economy, the world’s third largest, but reconstruction is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Only 8 trillion yen of the 25 trillion yen ($268 billion) in planned reconstruction funds has been allocated. Of that, only half has been spent, in some cases on projects unrelated to the disaster.
Media reports published in the lead up to the second anniversary provide snapshots of the bleak situation facing survivors. Even before the earthquake, Tohoku was an economically depressed region.
Associated Press reported on the coastal town of Rikuzentakata. About three quarters of its 8,000 homes, along with businesses and infrastructure, were flattened by the 13-metre tsunami that swept over the area. Nothing permanent has been rebuilt. In late February, work finally began on the first public housing project. Few businesses have restarted in the town, which relied previously on oyster farming, fish processing and tourism. Mayor Futoshi Toba said: “If 10 years from now we only have 2,000 people living here, that won’t do.”
An Independent Online article explained that nearly 40 percent of the population of the coastal city of Ishinomaki, or 74,000 people, were still living in temporary accommodation. Older survivors were relying on volunteers and charity for food. Alcoholism and depression were on the rise. Many young people had moved away as there was no future in the city.
In the Fukushima area, the situation is worse. According to Asahi Shimbun, some 54,000 people, or about 60 percent of the evacuees from the exclusion zone, will not be able to return to their homes for at least another four years due to ongoing nuclear contamination. These include the towns of Okuma and Futaba, near the nuclear plant, as well as Namie and Tomioka.
In an interview with Die Welt, Greenpeace nuclear expert Heinz Smital said the official assessments of de-contamination were too optimistic. He expressed “grave concerns” about former residents moving back to highly contaminated areas, saying that it was more likely that they would never be allowed to return.
The Japan Times spoke to evacuees from the town of Namie living in temporary housing, all of whom indicated that they did not want to return because of concerns about the radiation levels. However, government authorities are continuing to plan for the town’s re-establishment and provide no assistance to those who want to move out.
Nor has compensation from the owner of the nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), been finalised, leaving the victims in limbo. Last year the corporation threatened to halve its monthly hardship payments of 100,000 yen to Namie evacuees, but was forced to back off after a protest campaign.
From the outset, Tepco sought to cover up the extent of the disaster, which involved partial meltdowns in three of the six nuclear reactors. Power was cut off to the plant after the earthquake and the tsunami swamped emergency back-up generators that were inadequately protected. Temperatures in the reactor cores quickly spiked. Hydrogen explosions damaged the reactor buildings and exposed a used fuel rod cooling pond. A far worse catastrophe was only narrowly averted by establishing makeshift cooling systems.
Two years later, the clean-up and decommissioning of the plant have only just begun. Plant manager Takeshi Takahashi told journalists recently: “What we need to do is isolate and store the damaged and broken nuclear fuel safely. This work will take 30 to 40 years to complete.”
The Japanese government announced in December 2011 that the three damaged reactors had reached the state of “cold shutdown”. However, before the damaged nuclear fuel can be removed, it has to be located—a major task given the partial meltdown of the reactor cores. The conditions inside the three reactor buildings are too dangerous for workers to enter. In the case of reactor 3, the operation is further complicated by the use of highly toxic MOX (a mixture of plutonium and uranium) as nuclear fuel. Remotely-controlled robotic systems must be used.
Another major problem is posed by the huge quantities of water pumped into the reactor cores to keep them cool. In normal operation, the water used to cool the reactor is recycled with a closed system. But the damage to the reactors meant that water had to be supplied continuously as it leaked out. Tepco now has 260,000 tonnes of highly contaminated water stored in tanks, the capacity for about 60,000 tonnes more, and no functioning system for processing and disposing of the water. Its storage capacity will be reached within months.
Given the length of the decommissioning process, there are also concerns about another catastrophe if the plant were hit again by an earthquake. A nuclear engineer at the plant told the Australian: “What remained intact after the disaster is completely fragile and when the next one [quake or tsunami] comes it’s going to collapse. It [the plant] remains very vulnerable.”
Despite the many questions that remain about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the newly elected government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing to restart more of Japan’s reactors, all of which were shut down amid widespread fears over nuclear safety. The crisis exposed Tepco’s long record of safety breaches and cover-ups as well as the cosy relations between energy companies with nuclear regulators.
The previous prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, provoked large protests when he restarted two of the country’s 54 nuclear reactors. Abe declared in the Japanese parliament on February 28 that reactors which pass new safety guidelines could restart within a year. While he declared there would be “no compromise” on safety, the safety changes are limited. Abe’s right-wing Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan for most of the past 60 years, is responsible for the lax nuclear safety regulation that led to the Fukushima disaster.

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Japanese premier signals military buildup during US visit

By Alex Lantier 
26 February 2013
In a February 21-22 visit to Washington, newly-elected Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo pledged to escalate Japanese military collaboration with US imperialism and participate in Washington’s planned Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade zone project. This is a commitment to deep attacks on the working class and a global escalation of imperialist war and intrigue.
Abe, a right-wing nationalist politician who took office in December, told theWashington Post in an interview before his trip that he aimed to restore “trust and confidence between Japan and the United States.” He stressed both the US-Japan security alliance and the role of US-Japanese trade to revive Japan’s economy. In particular, Abe cited the crisis over the strategically-located Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands in Chinese), which Japan administers but China claims.
Far-right Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro deliberately inflamed the dispute over the islands last year. While visiting the right-wing Heritage Foundation in the US, he called for Japan to buy them from private Japanese citizens. The conflict has escalated into a dangerous military standoff, amid reactionary chauvinist appeals from Chinese and Japanese officials and the deployment of maritime vessels and warplanes from both countries to the islands.
US officials have indicated that under the terms of the US-Japan alliance, the US would intervene to support Japan, should fighting break out over the islands.
Abe’s visit included an interview with US President Barack Obama, followed by a short joint photo-op, and then a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The CSIS, an influential Washington think-tank on military issues, issued a report last August demanding a closer US-Japanese military cooperation. Without that, it said, Japan would cease to be a “Tier-One” nation.
After their talks, Abe and Obama issued a statement announcing that Japan would “participate in the TPP negotiations.” The statement also recognized “bilateral trade sensitivities, such as certain agricultural products for Japan and certain manufactured products for the United States.” That concession is aimed at placating opposition to the TPP from Japan’s farm lobby, which is a major political base of Abe’s right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Obama declined to address relations with China, however. Abe briefly remarked that, after the death of 10 Japanese citizens last month in the Amenas hostage standoff in Algeria, Japan was more committed to participating in the US “war on terror.”
At the CSIS, Abe laid out his US-aligned foreign policy in greater detail. Explicitly referring to the 2012 CSIS report on the US-Japanese alliance, he promised: “Japan is not, and will never be, a Tier-Two country. I should repeat it by saying, I am back, and so shall Japan be.”
Abe pledged that Japan would promote “rules” like patent and labor rights, help the US military secure “the global commons” (a euphemism for control of shipping lanes, international air space, and other strategic assets), and be a more “robust partner” in the US “war on terror.”
Abe emphasised that “Japan must stay strong” and noted Japan’s defence budget had been increased “to do just that.” In fact, the Abe government has authorised the first increase in military spending in more than a decade and is moving to revise the country’s so-called pacifist constitution to allow the Japanese and US militaries to collaborate more closely in Asia and around the world.
Abe provocatively claimed that the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands were Japanese sovereign territory. “We simply cannot tolerate any challenge now or in the future. No nation should make any miscalculation about [the] firmness of our resolve,” he warned.
The prime minister also briefly outlined his right-wing economic policy, dubbed “Abe-onomics” by the financial press. It combines aggressive government spending and money-printing—seeking to drive down the value of the yen and make Japanese exports more competitive—with “structural reforms.” Though he did not raise it in Washington, these include deeply unpopular plans, supported by the entire Japanese political elite, to cut pensions and social spending for Japan’s aging population.
Washington supports the TPP and Abe’s reactionary, anti-working class social policies, and it has consistently sought to promote Japanese militarism—especially as a part of a broad Asian alliance, including India and Australia, aimed at containing China. It is somewhat divided, however, over how aggressively to support Abe’s entire agenda for ensuring Japanese imperialism remains a “Tier One country.”
Commenting on Abe’s trip, the Wall Street Journal noted that Abe “was unable to draw from Mr. Obama as strong a public commitment as Japanese officials had sought that the US would defend Japan if the continuing tussles over [the Senkaku Islands] turn violent.” The Journal speculated that this might reflect “reluctance to cozy up to yet another Japanese premier, who may not survive more than a year of the country’s notorious political instability.”
Abe’s broader policies have provoked opposition from other imperialist powers. His call to drive down the value of the yen has stoked fears of a global currency war, in which each country would try to make its exports competitive at others’ expense, by lowering the value of its currency.
The bourgeois press has also raised concerns that US support for a hardline Japanese position on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands could embolden Japan into provoking war with China, which could draw in the US, escalating into World War III (see: “The danger of war in Asia”). Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman compared the situation in the Asia-Pacific to that in 1914, at the beginning of World War I.
Even if it does not produce all-out war, however, Japan’s policy alienates South Korea, a former Japanese colony that is a key US ally in the region. South Korea also has a territorial dispute with Japan, over the Takeshima Islands (Dokdo Islands in Korea). At the CSIS, Abe received one question specifically on how he would maintain good relations with South Korea and its incoming right-wing president, Park Geun-hye.
Abe ducked the question, claiming he would handle the differences and maintain good personal relations with Park. She is the daughter of Park Cheung-hee, the US-backed dictator of South Korea from 1961 until his assassination in 1979, who was a good friend of Abe’s grandfather, Japanese Prime Minister Kishi Nobosuke. Kishi, a top official in Japanese-occupied China in the 1930s who was briefly held by American occupation troops on war crimes charges after World War II, became a key architect of the LDP’s dominance in post-war Japanese politics and of the unpopular US-Japan security treaty of 1960.
Despite Washington’s differences with Abe, however, in the final analysis Abe’s visit testifies primarily to the rottenness and bankruptcy of US imperialist policy in the region, as well as its right-wing allies in Tokyo and Seoul.
While Obama shies away from fully endorsing Abe’s aggressive confrontation with China, this confrontation is the logical consequence of his administration’s “pivot to Asia.” A key part of Washington’s policy has been to encourage Japan to play a greater role in Asian security—that is, to promote Japanese rearmament and competition with China.
This is the policy of a ruling class that has entirely lost its head. As the bourgeois press is compelled to admit, it inevitably leads in the direction of warfare between the major powers in Asia and worldwide. Nevertheless, the imperialist ruling elites on both sides of the Pacific are rushing headlong in this direction. In encouraging Japanese imperialism to extend its operations, including to the Middle East and to policing operations on the world’s sea lanes, Washington is simply sowing the seeds of wider and more devastating conflicts.

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New right wing Japanese government installed

By Peter Symonds 
27 December 2012
The Japanese parliament yesterday formally installed Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Shinzo Abe as prime minister following the landslide defeat of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) at the December 16 poll.
The LDP won 294 seats in the 480-seat lower house and, together with its coalition partner New Komeito, commands the two-thirds majority needed to override an upper house veto. The LDP is looking to secure a majority in upper house elections due next year.
Abe has not chosen known rightwing nationalists for the posts of foreign minister and defence minister. Fumio Kishida, who was state minister in charge of issues related to Okinawa, is the new foreign minister. Itsunori Onodera, who was senior vice-minister for foreign affairs, becomes the new defence minister.
Moreover, Abe has announced his intention to dispatch LDP vice-president Masahiko Komura as a special envoy to China to improve relations. Last Saturday Abe said that the Japan-China relationship was “one of [the country’s] extremely important bilateral ties”. Since the election, he has played down, but not ruled out, stationing Japanese officials on the disputed islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Abe has not resiled, however, from the aggressive nationalist policies that he promoted during the election campaign. He has already indicated that closer ties with the US will be central to his government’s policies and again declared on Wednesday that he would protect “the people’s lives, Japanese territory and its beautiful seas.”
The reference to the defence of Japan’s seas reflects the LDP’s tough stance in the course of the election campaign. Abe was critical of the DPJ for failing to prevent Chinese maritime vessels from entering waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. The LDP has not only called for building permanent structures on the uninhabited islets, but for boosting the country’s coast guard that patrols the area.
The previous DPJ government had aligned itself with the Obama administration’s so-called pivot to Asia—an aggressive diplomatic and strategic push designed to counter Chinese influence throughout the region. It provided what was in effect military aid to several countries to strengthen their coast guards, including the Philippines which has its own dispute with China over territory in the South China Sea.
Abe will extend these policies and also pursue his longstanding ambition to modify Japan’s post-war constitution, which currently impedes the formation of military alliances and joint military action. Japan has a large military, known as the Self Defence Forces, that has already been deployed to support the US-led occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
As education minister, Abe has installed Hakubun Shimomura, who shares Abe’s views that Japan’s school history books have to be rewritten to remove references to the horrific war crimes carried out by the Japanese military in the 1930s and 1940s. Public Security Commission chairman Keiji Furuyu and administrative reform minister Tomomi Inada are also known for right wing nationalist outlooks.
Nobutera Ishihara, who has been appointed the new environment minister, is the son of former Tokyo governor, Shintaro Ishihara, who quit the LDP earlier this year and is currently head of the right wing Japan Restoration Party. Shintaro Ishihara, an advocate of Japanese militarism, has suggested that the country should acquire nuclear weapons.
The government’s immediate focus is on the Japanese economy, which is officially in recession after two consecutive quarters of negative growth. During the election campaign, Abe insisted that the Bank of Japan had to implement a policy of open-ended quantitative easing—in effect, printing money—to end deflation, weaken the yen and boost exports. Abe has hinted that his government might legislate to end the central bank’s independence if it fails to follow the LDP’s prescriptions, including an inflation target of 2 percent.
Abe has appointed Shigeru Ishiba, his rival for party leader in September, as LDP Secretary General, the party’s no. 2 position. Last Friday Ishiba indicated that he thought an appropriate range for the yen would be 85-90 to the US dollar. On Sunday Abe declared that 90 yen to the $US would support Japanese exporters. The currency has already significantly weakened since November on the expectation that Abe would win the election.
As finance minister, Abe has installed former prime minister Taro Aso, who led the LDP to defeat in the 2009 election. Aso, who implemented stimulus measures following the eruption of the 2008 global economic crisis, has been tasked with drawing up a new stimulus package to try to boost economic growth. Financial analysts are expecting a supplementary budget, including public works projects, of about $118 billion in late January.
The stimulus package will only exacerbate Japan’s massive public debt, which currently stands at more than 220 percent of gross domestic product. Aso has declared that the new government will not adhere to the limit on public borrowing for this financial year put in place by the DPJ. Ultimately these huge debts will be imposed on working people. The LDP has already supported legislation passed by the previous government to double the country’s deeply unpopular sales tax.
Big business has generally been supportive of the new government. However, Keidanren, the biggest corporate lobby group, has urged the government to take part in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership. During the campaign, the LDP was reluctant to commit to the new free trade grouping as it would inevitably hit the heavily-subsidised agricultural section, and thus the party’s rural base, hard.
The new government’s foreign and domestic policies are closely linked. Two decades of economic stagnation have generated deep frustration in Japanese ruling circles that was compounded last year when China overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy. The Abe government represents layers of the ruling elite that are pressing for a more aggressive diplomatic and military stance in a bid to offset the country’s economic slide.
The continuing standoff between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands underscores the danger that tensions between the world’s second and third largest economies could rapidly worsen, leading to a devastating conflict.

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New Japanese government marks dangerous turn to militarism

19 December 2012
The return of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power in last Sunday’s election in Japan marks a sea change not only in Japanese, but also in international politics. The nationalism and militarism that pervaded the election campaign signal the determination of the Japanese ruling class to reassert its interests in Asia and globally by every means, including military force.
LDP leader Shinzo Abe, who will be installed next week as prime minister, has already signalled a hard line response in the territorial dispute with Beijing over the islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Speaking to Japan’s national broadcaster NHK, Abe declared that the Senkakus were part of “Japan’s inherent territory” and warned that “our objective is to stop the challenge” from China.
During the election campaign, the LDP advocated the building of permanent structures on the uninhabited islands—a move that would dramatically worsen relations with China. A tense situation already exists in the East China Sea after the present Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government “nationalised” the islets in September. Last week, the Japanese military scrambled fighter jets to intercept a Chinese maritime surveillance plane that entered the airspace around the islands.
The governments in both Japan and China have resorted to whipping up nationalism as the global economic crisis has increasingly impacted their economies, fuelling widespread public disaffection and anger over deteriorating living standards. Beijing responded to the “nationalisation” of the Senkakus by giving the green light for anti-Japanese protests that had an openly racist character.
The Japanese economy has now slumped into recession for the fifth time in 15 years. Japanese exports have been hit by the high yen and contracting markets in the US, Europe and China. After two decades of economic stagnation, there is intense frustration in ruling circles over the country’s protracted slide, epitomised last year when China eclipsed Japan as the world’s second largest economy.
In economic as in foreign policy, the new government is determined to reverse the decline at the expense of Japan’s rivals and the Japanese working class. Abe has announced an aggressive monetary policy, similar to that of the US Federal Reserve, to induce inflation and lower the value of the yen—steps that will only compound the emerging international currency wars. The LDP also advocates steep rises in the sales tax to shift the burden of Japan’s massive public debt onto working people.
Abe embodies the aggressive agenda of what he has termed the “new LDP.” He is a scion of the LDP establishment. His maternal grandfather, Nobushuke Kishi, was imprisoned but never charged for war crimes under the US post-war occupation. He later became prime minister and pressed for the abolition of the so-called pacifist clause in the country’s constitution. Like his grandfather, Abe is seeking constitutional change to “normalise” and strengthen the Japanese military and end what he terms the country’s “self-torturing history”—that is, any acknowledgement of Japan’s wartime crimes.
The present situation bears an eerie resemblance to the 1930s. Japan, hit hard by the slump in world trade, plunged into deep economic and political crisis. The desperate militarist regime in Tokyo sought to overcome Japan’s economic malaise through wars for markets and raw materials—invading Manchuria in 1931 and China as a whole in 1937. The military occupation of China greatly exacerbated tensions with US imperialism, which had pursued its own predatory interests in China by demanding an “open door” policy that favoured its position. The competing interests erupted in the Pacific War in 1941.
Japanese militarism was accompanied by the ruthless suppression of the working class at home and the most brutal methods to reinforce its occupation of China, and later South East Asia, as well as its existing colonial rule over Korea and Formosa (Taiwan). Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the notorious Nanjing Massacre in which Japanese occupying troops slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and soldiers. The attitude that is rife in Japanese ruling circles was openly expressed earlier this year by the former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, who now heads the right-wing Japan Restoration Party. He baldly denied that the rape of Nanjing ever took place.
The world has, of course, changed dramatically since the US ended the Pacific War in 1945 with the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US is seeking to maintain its post-war dominance in Asia through President Obama’s so-called pivot to the Asia Pacific. As part of this aggressive campaign to undermine Chinese influence, Obama has encouraged Japan to strengthen its military and take a tougher stance against China—a policy that will only be accelerated under Abe.
The most far-reaching changes have taken place in China’s position in the world. Over the past 30 years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has junked the economic and social gains of the 1949 revolution, restored capitalist property relations and transformed China into the world’s largest cheap-labour platform. The nationalism promoted by the CCP as the basis for shoring up its rule represents the class interests of an aspiring bourgeoisie, deeply frustrated that its ambitions are being thwarted by the present imperialist order dominated by the US. The CCP denounces Japan’s wartime atrocities only to justify its own drive to end China’s “national humiliation” by the major powers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and carve out its own sphere of influence.
The working class throughout Asia and internationally confronts great dangers as the deepening global economic crisis reopens the fault lines that led to war in the Pacific. Once again the competing capitalist classes are plunging recklessly towards a new and even more catastrophic conflict.
The only way to prevent this drive to war is to put an end to capitalism and its outmoded division of the world into nation states. Workers in China, Japan and internationally must reject the poison of nationalism and militarism and unify their struggles to abolish the profit system and establish a rationally-planned, world socialist economy. That is the program for which the International Committee of the Fourth International alone fights.
Peter Symonds

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Japan’s election dominated by right-wing nationalism

By Peter Symonds
24 November 2012

Japan’s elections to take place on December 16 mark a sharp turning point. As the country slides into recession and social tensions rise, parties across the political establishment have shifted to the right, whipping up nationalist sentiment especially over the dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.
The opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has set the benchmark with an election program released on Wednesday that calls for the strengthening of the military and the stationing of government officials on the uninhabited disputed islands. It also emphatically rejects criticism of Japan’s war crimes in the 1930s and 1940s.
The LDP platform calls for the transformation of Japan’s self-defence forces into a regular military, as well as the revision of the defence guidelines and an increase in both the number of troops and the defence budget. It also proposes to allow Japan to engage in “collective self-defence”—that is, to join military pacts and engage in joint military operations with other powers.
These measures would require changes to the Japanese constitution, which prohibits war or the use of force as a “means of settling international disputes.” Over the past two decades, successive Japanese government have stretched this so-called pacifist clause to the point of meaninglessness, including through the widely unpopular dispatch of Japanese military engineers to support the US occupation of Iraq.
The LDP is now proposing a new constitution based on “Japanese pride and Japanese-ness.” This would allow Japanese imperialism free rein to engage in aggressive military operations, either on its own or as part of a broader alliance, to defend its interests.
The danger of conflict is underlined by the present tensions over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, provoked by the decision of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to “nationalise” the islets by buying them from their private Japanese owner in September. Since then, Japanese coast guard ships and Chinese civilian maritime vessels have been playing a dangerous cat-and-mouse game in the disputed waters.
Noda claimed that he made the decision to sideline steps by right-wing Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara to raise funds to buy the islands and build facilities on them. In reality, Noda was seeking to ensure the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) remained in step with the nationalist campaign whipped up by Ishihara.
Ishihara has since split from the LDP and formed his own party, which merged last weekend with the Japan Restoration Party (JRP) led by the right-wing populist Toru Hashimoto, currently the Osaka mayor. Ishihara, who became the JRP’s president, has pledged to change the country’s “ugly” constitution, to take a tougher stand against China. He has previously said Japan should consider building a nuclear weapon.
The election campaign is rapidly becoming a contest in which each of the parties seek to outbid each other as proponents of Japanese nationalism and militarism. The LDP’s plan to station government officials on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands is in part aimed at ensuring that it is not outdone by Ishihara and the JRP.
Shintaro Abe, who became LDP leader in September, was previously prime minister for a year in 2006-07 when he transformed the self-defence agency into a full ministry. Known for his nationalist views, he has visited the notorious Yasukuni Shrine to Japan’s war dead—a move calculated to inflame tensions with China.
The LDP program, reflecting Abe’s views, calls for a wholesale revision of the “unjust” perception of Japan’s wartime history through the establishment of a research institute to counter criticism. Abe, for instance, has denied that so-called comfort women were coerced into sex slavery by the Japanese military—an issue that has provoked an angry reaction by South Korea and China.
The promotion of Japanese nationalism goes hand in hand with a turn to socially regressive policies designed to place new burdens on the working class. The latest economic data revealed a 3.5 percent annualised contraction. As big business presses for austerity measures to control Japan’s mountain of public debt, the LDP joined with the Noda government to pass legislation to double the country’s sales tax.
The LDP program proposes a 10 percent reduction of welfare benefits under the livelihood protection program. At the same time, it calls for a series of pro-business measures, including the lowering of corporate taxes. For its part, the DPJ advocates signing up to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership—a trade deal that requires the wholesale removal of tariffs that would mean a savage restructuring of Japanese industries. The LDP has not unequivocally supported the move, as it would devastate Japanese agriculture and the party’s rural base.
The latest opinion polls indicate that the LDP is likely to win the election. This is a damning indictment of the DPJ, which came to power in 2009 after half a century of virtually unbroken LDP rule. Support for the DPJ quickly slumped after it broke its limited promises to increase social spending and instead began to implement an austerity program. Noda, who was only installed as leader in August last year, is deeply unpopular, not least for giving the green light to restarting the country’s nuclear plants following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
There is, however, a deep-seated alienation and hostility to all of the major parties. While polling fluctuates, this week’s figures from the Kyodo News survey put support for the LDP at just 23 percent, ahead of the DPJ at 10.8 percent and a total of 7.8 percent of the Hashimoto and Ishihara parties, prior to their amalgamation. Trailing behind are the LDP’s ally, New Komeito on 4 percent, the minor Your Party at 2 percent, and the Japanese Communist Party on 1.9 percent.
In other words, over half of all voters do not feel their interests are served by any of these parties. Asked what they considered the most important issues, 29.2 percent cited social security, including pensions and health care, with the next highest being employment and economic issues at 28.4 percent. The concerns of ordinary voters stand in stark contrast to the nationalist campaign being whipped up by all parties.
The lack of support for the Stalinist Japanese Communist Party (JCP) amid a deepening social crisis is particularly telling. The JCP is an integral part of the Japanese political establishment, as is demonstrated by its stance on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. The party insists that Japan’s claims to the islands are legitimate and criticises LDP and DJP governments alike for not forcefully enough arguing the case for Japanese possession. The JCP calls for “a calm and persuasive diplomatic effort” to convince the Chinese people of Japan’s rights—a recipe for further inflaming tensions between the two countries.
It is likely that the election will leave no party with a clear parliamentary majority. This situation underscores the ongoing breakup of post-war Japanese politics, which were dominated by a ruling LDP and a loyal opposition comprising the now virtually defunct Japanese Socialist Party and the JCP.

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Fukushima: A disaster produced by capitalism

10 July 2012
A damning report by an independent parliamentary commission has catalogued the lack of safety measures that produced last year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. While the natural forces unleashed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami were uncontrollable, their devastating impact was foreseeable, and could have been greatly minimised.
The giant Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operated Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, did not reinforce its reactors to meet the required earthquake resistance standards. The regulatory body, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), took no action to enforce the quake code. The company and the regulatory bodies were aware that the plant was vulnerable to tsunamis, but took no action. Disaster planning was inadequate or absent at every level—at the plant, TEPCO headquarters, NISA and the prime minister’s office.
The result was chaos when the earthquake and tsunami struck. The plant lost all power and its backup supplies failed. Engineers and workers, who had not been trained to deal with a disaster of this scope, struggled to bring the situation under control with inadequate equipment and manuals. A series of hydrogen explosions badly damaged reactor buildings. Units 1, 2 and 3 underwent partial meltdowns, and high levels of radioactivity leaked into the sea and air. It took months to bring the reactors under control, and the full extent of the damage remains unknown. To dismantle the plant and clean up the surrounding region will take decades.
The lack of a planned response by government, NISA and TEPCO compounded the disaster, threatening what the report circumspectly described as “an even more frightening scenario”. The evacuation of local residents was disorganised: tens of thousands of people were not adequately informed and were repeatedly moved, including into zones of high radioactivity, as the evacuation zone was successively expanded. The long-term impact of the disaster on people’s health and the environment is unknown.
The nuclear catastrophe—the worst since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine—was the product of decades of collusion by governments, nuclear regulators and the nuclear power industry. The report used the term “regulatory capture” to describe the relations between NISA, the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) and the nuclear power industry. In other words, the NISA and NSC functioned to protect the interests of companies like TEPCO, not public safety.
The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) report, released last week, was unusually forthright. It was clearly aimed at trying to dispel the widespread public suspicion, distrust and opposition to the nuclear industry. While the commission concluded that the disaster was “man-made”—that is, the product of the negligence and deliberate flouting of basic safety standards—it held no-one accountable. It proposed no legal action against individuals or entities, including TEPCO, and limited its recommendations to general proposals for regulatory reform.
NAIIC chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa sought to deflect responsibility for the catastrophe onto Japanese people in general. In the report’s introduction, he declared: “Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devolution to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.”
These comments involve a gross distortion of reality. Experts in Japan have for years warned of the dangers of nuclear reactors sited in areas prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, and highlighted the incestuous relationship between regulators and the power industry. They have had to confront a powerful and well-financed nuclear lobby intent on protecting profits. Within TEPCO and other power companies, it was not “groupism” that silenced workers, but a management culture of bullying and threats.
Responsibility for the Fukushima disaster does not rest with ordinary Japanese people, but with the ruling class that has put the profits of the giant power companies ahead of public safety. The expansion of the nuclear industry has also been a strategic issue for Japanese imperialism—not only reducing its dependence on imported gas and oil, but providing a path to the rapid production of nuclear weapons if required.
Collusion between big business, government and industry is hardly restricted to Japan. In every country, the health and safety of working people in their workplaces and their communities are routinely subordinated to the dictates of profit. Moreover, the past three decades of market restructuring have led to the systematic erosion of the limited regulations that previously existed. In many instances, regulatory bodies have been cut back or replaced by corporate “self-regulation”.
Fukushima is just one of the major disasters that have exposed the criminal character of capitalism. One year earlier, an explosion at the BP-run Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and created the worst environmental catastrophe in US history. The Bush and Obama administrations fast-tracked the project, which proceeded without an environmental impact study, despite public concern and opposition. In the wake of the oil spill, the Obama administration acted as a virtual attorney for BP, assisting the energy giant to minimise the economic and political fallout. From the outset, the White House made clear that the disaster would not impede further offshore oil projects—including by BP.
The Japanese government, first under Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and now Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, has performed a similar service for TEPCO—providing a huge bailout for the company and limiting the payouts to small businesses and individuals whose lives have been devastated. Last month Noda gave the go-ahead for restarting one of Japan’s nuclear reactors—without any but the most limited safety checks. On the same day that the NAICC report was released, the No 3 reactor at the Oi nuclear plant commenced operations, in a location highly prone to earthquakes.
The real lesson that should be drawn from the report’s revelations is the incompatibility between capitalism and even the most elementary needs of humanity for a healthy and secure environment. The only way of preventing tragedies such as the Fukushima disaster is through the abolition of the profit system by the international working class and the establishment of a world planned socialist economy.
Peter Symonds

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FUKUSHIMA: Pacific Ocean Will Not Dilute Dumped Radioactive Water

According to Previously-Secret 1955 Government Report:

Global Research, June 1, 2012
The operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant has been dumping something like a thousand tons per day of radioactive water into the Pacific ocean.
Remember, the reactors are “riddled with meltdown holes”, building 4 – with more radiation than all nuclear bombs ever dropped or tested – is missing entire walls, and building 3 is a pile of rubble.
The whole complex is leaking like a sieve, and the rivers of water pumped into the reactors every day are just pouring into the ocean (with only a slight delay).
Most people assume that the ocean will dilute the radiation from Fukushima enough that any radiation reaching the West Coast of the U.S. will be low.
For example, the Congressional Research Service wrote in April:
Scientists have stated that radiation in the ocean very quickly becomes diluted and would not be a problem beyond the coast of Japan.
U.S. fisheries are unlikely to be affected because radioactive material that enters the marine environment would be greatly diluted before reaching U.S. fishing grounds.
And a Woods Hole oceanographer said:
“The Kuroshio current is considered like the Gulf Stream of the Pacific, a very large current that can rapidly carry the radioactivity into the interior” of the ocean, Buesseler said.
“But it also dilutes along the way, causing a lot of mixing and decreasing radioactivity as it moves offshore.”
But – just as we noted 2 days after the earthquake hit that the jet stream might carry radiation to the U.S. by wind – we are now warning that ocean currents might carry more radiation to the at least some portions of the West Coast of North America than is assumed.
Specifically, we noted more than a year ago:
The ocean currents head from Japan to the West Coast of the U.S.
As AP notes:
The floating debris will likely be carried by currents off of Japan toward Washington, Oregon and California before turning toward Hawaii and back again toward Asia, circulating in what is known as the North Pacific gyre, said Curt Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle oceanographer who has spent decades tracking flotsam.
“All this debris will find a way to reach the West coast or stop in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a swirling mass of concentrated marine litter in the Pacific Ocean, said Luca Centurioni, a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.
Here is what the North Pacific Gyre looks like:
NPR reports:
CNN said that “the Hawaiian islands may get a new and unwelcome addition in coming months — a giant new island of debris floating in from Japan.” It relied in part on work done by the University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center, which predicts that:
“In three years, the [debris] plume will reach the U.S. West Coast, dumping debris on Californian beaches and the beaches of British Columbia, Alaska, and Baja California. The debris will then drift into the famous North Pacific Garbage Patch, where it will wander around and break into smaller and smaller pieces. In five years, Hawaii shores can expect to see another barrage of debris that is stronger and longer lastingthan the first one. Much of the debris leaving the North Pacific Garbage Patch ends up on Hawaii’s reefs and beaches.”
Indeed, CNN notes:
The debris mass, which appears as an island from the air, contains cars, trucks, tractors, boats and entire houses floating in the current heading toward the U.S. and Canada, according to ABC News.
The bulk of the debris will likely not be radioactive, as it was presumably washed out to sea during the initial tsunami – before much radioactivity had leaked. But this shows the power of the currents from Japan to the West Coast.
An animated graphic from the University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center shows the projected dispersion of debris from Japan:
Indeed, an island of Japanese debris the size of California is hitting the West Coast of North America … and some of it is radioactive.
In addition to radioactive debris, MIT says that seawater which is itself radioactive may begin hitting the West Coast within 5 years. Given that the debris is hitting faster than predicted, it is possible that the radioactive seawater will as well.
And the Congressional Research Service admitted:
However, there remains the slight potential for a relatively narrow corridor of highly contaminated water leading away from Japan …
Transport by ocean currents is much slower, and additional radiation from this source might eventually also be detected in North Pacific waters under U.S. jurisdiction, even months after its release. Regardless of slow ocean transport, the long half-life of radioactive cesium isotopes means that radioactive contaminants could remain a valid concern for
Indeed, nuclear expert Robert Alvarez – senior policy adviser to the Energy Department’s secretary and deputy assistant secretary for national security and the environment from 1993 to 1999 – wrote yesterday:
According to a previously secret 1955 memo from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission regarding concerns of the British government over contaminated tuna, “dissipation of radioactive fall-out in ocean waters is not a gradual spreading out of the activity from the region with the highest concentration to uncontaminated regions, but that in all probability the process results in scattered pockets and streams of higher radioactive materials in the Pacific. We can speculate that tuna which now show radioactivity from ingested materials [this is in 1955, not today] have been living, in or have passed through, such pockets; or have been feeding on plant and animal life which has been exposed in those areas.”
Because of the huge amounts of radioactive water Tepco is dumping into the Pacific Ocean, and the fact that the current pushes waters from Japan to the West Coast of North America, at least some of these radioactive “streams” or “hot spots” will likely end up impacting the West Coast.
 Global Research Articles by Washington’s Blog

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Nuclear power back from the grave

By Victor Kotsev 

A year after one of the worst industrial disasters in history – the triple reactor meltdown and spent fuel fires at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – we still don’t have a very clear idea about the full ecological, health and economic consequences facing Japan and the world. 

Yet, while staggering amounts of radiation were released into the environment (the danger of new discharges lurks: even the plant director acknowledges that the reactors are “still rather fragile”), the global nuclear industry seems unfazed. 

Its executives have good reasons to be cheerful, despite the gloom that had started to spread among them last year. The human lust for power – in the forms of cheap energy and nuclear weapons – is unquenchable, and seems stronger even than the fear of death and collective destruction. Meanwhile, alternative sources of such power beyond carbon fuels and nuclear energy, despite decades of efforts, are still underdeveloped. 

Citing data that 60 countries were looking to jump on the nuclear bandwagon in 2011 and that four Asian countries (Vietnam, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey) are expected to start building their first reactors this year, on Thursday Japan Today ran the headline “Future of nuclear power brighter than ever, despite Fukushima.” [1] 

To be fair, modern societies need energy, and some of the alternatives to nuclear power are hardly better for the environment or for our own health. The dilemma policymakers are facing was aptly captured in the title of a panel discussion that took place at New York University last November: “Global Warming or Nuclear Meltdown?” 

In an essay published by Foreign Policy, Robert Dujarric argues that “we cannot expect renewables to ‘solve’ the energy question in the foreseeable future. … Thus, though they seldom mention it, those who seek to abandon nuclear power are arguing in favor of greater reliance on fossil fuels.” [2] 

For many developing countries that import fossil fuels, much like for Japan until last year, nuclear power holds the promise of energy independence and prosperity. Others depend on their aging and unsafe reactors so much that in practice it is proving impossible to shut them down (such is the case, for example, of Armenia, which is home to one of the world’s most dangerous nuclear power plants). [3] 

On the other hand, however, lurks the danger of nuclear catastrophe. A report published by the International Journal of Health Services, for example, claims that about 14,000 deaths “in excess of the expected” in the United States in the first 14 weeks after the disaster at Fukushima may be linked to the radioactive fallout from it. [4] It was not possible to obtain similar statistics about Japan or any other country in the region, but given that the West Coast of the US, which is closest to Japan, is over 5,000 miles away, the conclusions should raise concerns. 

According to the latest figures provided by the Japanese government, the combined death doll of the March 11, 2011 disaster is 15,853, with 3,283 missing. Most of these people, however, were killed by the magnitude 9 earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that triggered off the meltdown. 

Both the government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), have often been accused of covering up the magnitude of the disaster over the past year. TEPCO announced in December that its workers had managed to achieve “cold shutdown” status of the inflicted reactors, meaning that the temperature of the cores had dropped below 100 degrees Centigrade. However, the cleanup of the site will take decades – up to 40 years, according to the current estimates. Tons of radioactive waste were reportedly bulldozed there. 

Meanwhile, the danger of further contamination is not gone. “The biggest problem for the immediate future is the possibility of a severe aftershock earthquake,” said Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior executive, in a recent internet broadcast. “Tokyo Electric has calculated that if a severe earthquake hits, all of the jury-rigged piping that is in place will fail again, and within 40 hours we will be back to a meltdown. Now that is hardly stable.” [5] 

Even when a reactor has been turned off, the spent fuel continues to produce heat, and if the cooling system fails, a fire can start. Such fires can be as dangerous as nuclear meltdowns; this was demonstrated by the fire at reactor number 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which had been shut down prior to the tsunami, but the spent fuel caught fire several days into the crisis. Given that there were large amounts of spent fuel at all the reactors at the plant, we can expect Fukushima to remain a significant danger for decades. 

A cleanup effort is underway in the towns and agricultural lands nearby (and much of the beach near the plant will be cemented over), but even the government has acknowledged that some areas remain permanently uninhabitable. [6] Meanwhile, comprehensive data about the contamination of either the atmosphere or the Pacific Ocean are not available, but most estimates indicate that Fukushima surpassed considerably a similar disaster at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine in 1986. 

For example, a study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology shows that Fukushima polluted the ocean with a lot more radioactive chemicals than did Chernobyl. The peak releases occurred about a month after the accident, and at one point, on April 6, 2011, the levels of radioactive cesium near the plant were almost 50 million times higher than the normal background levels. [7] 

At present, all but two of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors are offline, and the others are expected to shut down within a few weeks. Given Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy (about 30% of the country’s electricity came from the nuclear power plants prior to the disaster), many experts expect at least some of the reactors to be restarted soon, after safety tests and improvements. 

However, public opinion in the country has turned against nuclear power, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who tried to advocate the above path, is facing considerable resistance; in fact, he has also called for a gradual phasing out of nuclear power over several decades. 

In a move fraught with symbolism, even the man who years ago convinced the former US president Ronald Reagan to allow Japan to process spent nuclear fuel into plutonium, feeding speculations that he was seeking a nuclear weapons capability, former Japanese prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, recanted after the disaster. “I want to make Japan into a solar power nation by skillfully using solar energy,” he told a solar energy conference, quoted by the newspaper Asahi Weekly. 

“That statement by the 93-year-old who had long pushed nuclear energy as a national policy was an expression of a drastic change in energy policy even before any such move was even being considered by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party that he once led,” the article concludes. [8] 

However, Japan and several other developed countries that are moving away from nuclear power – most notably Germany – seem rather isolated in this endeavor. As mentioned above, most often the primary reason for this is the lack of good sustainable alternatives for the peaceful generation of electricity; however, in some cases the motivation is darker. 

Consider for a moment the advice that a Chinese scholar, in his own account speaking to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, gave to the Iranian ambassador in Beijing: 

“I suggested taking Japan’s route. Japan is a nuclear power. It has nuclear reactors and immense amounts of stockpiled plutonium and enriched uranium, but it has decided not to build nuclear weapons. Of course, it has the option to do so. If Japan wants to, it can build nuclear weapons within a very short time.” [9] 

Estimates vary, but according to the Asahi Weekly article cited above, Japan has stockpiles of plutonium sufficient to build 1,250 nuclear bombs. Indeed, Japan’s fuel recycling program, while never quite successful in recycling the fuel for energy purposes, has been the object of envy of several Asian countries for its potential military applications. 

In an insightful analysis in Foreign Policy magazine, Henry Sokolski argues that the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Japan is also a moment of opportunity for initiatives against nuclear proliferation:

The weapons potential of this plutonium is an unspoken driver behind South Korea’s interest in getting into plutonium recycling, too. Seoul has long sought to keep up with every aspect of Japanese technology, including the most questionable and dangerous nuclear- and missile-related activities. If Tokyo were to terminate its fast-breeder and commercial plutonium reprocessing efforts, it would go a long way toward depriving Seoul of its argument. [10]

We can assume that Iran is following the developments closely, as is North Korea along with a number of other countries in the region. Sokolski’s punchline, however, comes toward the end of the article, with the information that the Barack Obama administration itself is lobbying against legislation designed to impose better controls on exports of nuclear technology:

Despite all the high-minded rhetoric about the importance of nonproliferation, it appears the White House attaches higher priority to nuclear sales in developing countries. Just last week, word leaked out that the administration is renewing talks to conclude a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia – even though Riyadh’s royals recently declared that Saudi Arabia was committed to acquiring nuclear weapons if Iran did. [11]

Given that a nuclear arms race seems to have already started in the Middle East (and other parts of Asia), one has to wonder whether the US is entirely serious in its anti-proliferation efforts on the continent. 

One of the broader lessons is, perhaps, that until disaster is brought intimately close to us – people in general – we seem unable to learn from it. It is true that the reactors where serious incidents have occurred have all been old and flawed; new designs are supposedly much safer and produce much less waste (even so, the thought of Bill Gates manufacturing “smaller, cheaper and safer” nuclear reactors might be a bit shocking). 

However, in the long term, our reliance on a technology that is so harmful to us and to the environment will invariably carry risks that are too high to justify. This is, of course, assuming responsible use, which is hardly a very safe assumption

1. Future of nuclear power brighter than ever, despite Fukushima,Japan Today, March 8, 2012. 
2. Robert Dujarric: Why a Nukes-Free Future is a False Dream [excerpt], Foreign Policy, June 29, 2011. 
3. Is Armenia’s Nuclear Plant the World’s Most Dangerous? , National Geographic, April 11, 2011. 
5. TEPCO Believes Mission Accomplished & Regulators Allow Radioactive Dumping in Tokyo Bay, Fairewinds, December 29, 2011. 
6. Areas near nuclear plant may be unlivable forever, gov’t says, Japan Today, February 25, 2012. 
7. Impacts of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants on Marine Radioactivity, Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, 2011. 
8. NUCLEAR LEVERAGE: Long an advocate of nuclear energy, Nakasone now says Japan should go solar, Asahi Weekly, July 22, 2011. 
9. ‘China will not stop Israel if it decides to attack Iran’, Ha’aretz, September 22, 2011. 
10. The Post-Fukushima Arms Race?, Foreign Policy, July 29, 2012. 
11. A Window Into the Nuclear Future, The Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2012. 

Victor Kotsev is a journalist and political analyst. 

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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