- A second Hiroshima is happening with the partial meltdowns
at Fukushima 1 nuclear reactors. We can only hope the eventual toll in
lives comes nowhere near close to that of the world's first atomic catastrophe.
- The international community is now asking: Where will
be the next Nagasaki? In the US with its 23 aging reactors of identical
design as Fukushima's GE Mark 1 reactors, along with another dozen more
of slightly modified design? In France, the world's most nuclear-dependent
country? Probably not in Germany or Venezuela, which are cutting back their
nuclear programs, nor Britain, the world leader in conversion to offshore
wind power. Or even China, a solar-energy paragon now scaling back plans
for new nuclear plants.
- Many people are also wondering: How can the only nation
that ever experienced atomic bombings become so trusting in nuclear energy?
The answer is both simple and complicated. In the modern economy, the energy
to run machines is intertwined with national security, foreign policy and
- Uranium-based Progress
- World War II was in essence a contest for fossil fuel.
An energy-hungry Japan invaded China for its coal and Indonesia for oil
reserves. Nazi Germany's blitzkriegs were aimed at oil fields in Romania,
Libya and the Caspian Sea region. The United States and Britain fought
the Axis Powers to retain their control over the world's fossil fuel, and
they're still doing the same in conflicts with OPEC nations and to control
Central Asia and East Asia's continental shelf.
- To prevent the recurrence of another Pacific War, Washington
tried to ween postwar Japan from its dependence on coal and oil. As Japanese
industry revived by the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the US pushed
Japan to adopt the "safe and clean" energy of the future - nuclear
power. General Electric and Westinghouse were soon given charge of installing
a network of nuclear power plants across the island nation, while Tokyo
was inducted into the US-launched International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
and the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
- Unlike older fuel resources, nuclear power was the sole
proprietary right of the US, which not only dominated uranium mining but
also production of boron, the neutron absorbing mineral needed for controlled
nuclear reactions.American labs including Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore
and Oakridge are the graduate schools for the world's nuclear physicists.
- In the same period of heady infatuation with technology,
the New York World's Fair of 1964-65 was a debutante ball for a brighter
"universal" future based on atom-splitting. The General Electric
pavilion was called "Progressland" with a multimedia show featuring
a "plasma explosion" of plutonium fusion for awe-struck visitors.
Japan served as the model of international citizenship and cooperation
under the American aegis of atomic power.The Fukushima nuclear plant designed
by GE was commissioned in 1971.
- The modern myth of safe nuclear power was alternatively
resisted and grudgingly accepted by the Japanese public. In more recent
years, once negative perceptions toward nuclear provider Tokyo Electric
Power company have shifted. A young computer-graphics designer in Tokyo
told me that his generation grew up thinking "TEPCO has a god-like
aura of infallibility and power greater than the government." My experience
as an editor inside the Japanese press reveals how its corporate image
was cunningly promoted with "greenwash" commercials falsely claiming
environmental-friendliness and hefty ad revenues for television and print
- Atomic Energy in the Cold War
- Japan was no stranger to atomic energy. During the Second
World War, the Allies and the Axis competed for an exotic new energy source
-uranium. While the Manhattan Project was secretly crafting the atomic
bomb in New Mexico, Japan opened uranium mines in Konan, North Korea, which
now are the source of Pyongyang's nuclear energy program.
- Following the Allied victory, the Soviet Union aimed
to break the American nuclear monopoly by establishing a protectorate called
the Republic of East Turkestan in China's northwest province of Xinjiang.
The rich uranium deposits near Burjin, in the foothills of the Altai mountains,
provided the fissionable material for development of Soviet nuclear capability.
The hastily dug Soviet mines left behind the curse of radiation disease
for the predominantly Uyghur and ethnic Kazakh inhabitants as well as to
downstream communities in eastern Kazakhstan. Kazakh and Chinese scientists
have since run soil remediation projects, using isotope-gathering trees
to cleanse the irradiated land.
- To prevent the Soviets from amassing a nuclear arsenal,
the Truman administration initiated a top-secret program to control the
world's entire uranium supply. Operation Murray Hill focused on sabotaging
the Altai mining operations. Douglas MacKiernan, operating under the cover
of US vice consul in Urumchi, organized a covert team of anticommunist
Russians and Kazakh guerrillas to bomb the Soviet mining facilities. Forced
to flee toward Lhasa, MacKiernan was shot dead in case of mistaken identity
by a Tibetan border guard and is honored as the CIA's first agent killed
- The covert global operations of Operation Murray Hill
are carried on today by the CIA's counter-proliferation bureau. A glimpse
into its clandestine operations is provided in "Fair Game", the
book and movie about Valerie Plame, the agent exposed under the Bush administration.
Battles open and covert against nuclear foes have been fought as far afield
as Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, Argentina, Indonesia, Myanmar and Iraq as well
as against usual suspects Iran and North Korea.
- Threat to the American Public
- The partial meltdowns at Fukushima 1 are putting Washington
into a quandary. Had these radiation releases occurred in North Korea or
Iran, Washington could have summoned UN Security Council sessions, demanded
IAEA inspections and imposed tough sanctions and possibly military intervention.
The meltdowns, however, are from American-designed reactors operating under
protocols created by the US.
- The Obama administration has, therefore, downplayed the
seriousness of the current nuclear drama shaking its security ally Japan.
In an unconvincing defensive tone, the American president has backed nuclear
energy as part of "the energy mix" supporting the US economy.
His pro-nuclear stance is irrational and irresponsible, when smaller allied
countries including Britain, the Netherlands and Germany are making massive
investments in offshore wind farms in the North Sea to end their dependency
on nuclear and fossil fuels.
- The international community is well aware of the double
standard in policy. The US quietly applauded Israeli air strikes against
Saddam Hussein's Osirak nuclear-energy plant in 1981 and has since demanded
ever-stricter sanctions against Tehran and Pyongyang. Yet Washington refuses
to lead by example, shrugging off the anti-nuclear movement's pleas to
stop plans for new reactors and shunning calls from the citizens of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki for total nuclear disarmament. America's campaign for an atomic
monopoly, or at least nuclear dominance, is driving smaller powers toward
obtaining a deterrence capability. These nations aren't some "axis
of evil"; they're just playing the survival game by the rules - not
the words - set by Washington.
- In the days and months ahead, America's own citizens
will be cringing from the dreaded arrival of radioactive fallout. Terrorism
is now practically forgotten when a much wider threat may soon blanket
American skies from "sea to shining sea." Unless Washington moves
rapidly toward repudiation of its own nuclear addiction, the specter of
another Nagasaki will overshadow the land of the free and home of the brave.