ON NUCLEAR POWER STATIONS

In the light of the on-going nuclear disaster in Japan, triggered by the recent earthquake and tsunami, it is proper for all of us to investigate and ponder over whether it is wise for governments to approve the construction of nuclear power stations for the production of energy and electricity for members of society. We must be aware that the development and construction of nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes was a direct outgrowth of the development and construction of nuclear bombs for war purposes.

To get a proper understanding of this matter, we must go back to the 19th century. The competition of capitalist companies, backed by their governments, for natural resources, labour, and markets throughout the world, resulted in heightened tension in international relations, which exploded into wars between national States, and in massacres of people in what today we call the Third World. The key phrase in the latter 19th century was “imperialist politics”, leading to the capture of colonies by the big capitalist powers, and to wars against colonialism in India, China, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Africa. The Berlin Conference, at which the big European powers met to decide which part of Africa was to go to which power, defined the new age. By the time the 20th century began, it became clear that the world was entering the period of world wars. Any intelligent person could see that wars would soon move from the peripheries to the very centre of capitalist civilization. Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Japan, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the United States of America began seriously to sharpen their tools of war.

It was then that science, and scientific research, the prized possession of Humankind, were now bent to serve, first and foremost, the needs of the capitalist economy and the needs of war. World War 1 exploded in 1914, in which over 10 million Europeans perished. In 1917 a new enemy of capitalist civilization emerged, Soviet Russia, whose development was based on highly accelerated scientific research. In 1939 World War 2 exploded, in which over 25 million Europeans perished. It was in the 1930s and 40s that highly accelerated scientific research was conducted by the Big Powers at loggerheads towards discovering and manufacturing the `ultimate’ weapon. The scientists of Nazi Germany were among leaders in this `arms race’, as well as the scientists of the USA, the Soviet Union, and Britain. Out of this competition, conflicts and wars, emerged the Atom Bomb. The government of the USA was the first to reach the early perfection of this terrible bomb, and it made the controversial decision to explode this bomb in Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, right at the end of World War 2. The Soviet Union perfected its own Atom Bomb in 1949; Britain followed in the early 1950s; and later, France, Israel, China, India, even White-ruled South Africa followed, each one with its own “nuclear capability.” It was clear from the very beginning, and the conviction has strengthened ever since, that nuclear weapons are a threat to entire human civilization and to the entire Earth itself, besides being an extraordinary waste of human and economic resources.

Side by side with the emergence of this terrible threat to human civilization emerged the Peace Movement –those in civil societies mobilizing public opinion for the control and abolition of nuclear weapons. Out of this Peace Movement at the centres of capitalist civilization, and in Japan, pressure developed from civil society to governments, urging the development of nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes.” The Soviet Union also took a lead in this direction. The climax in this development has been the construction of “nuclear reactor stations” for the production of electricity and energy for the needs of society.

These nuclear reactor stations are actually nothing but nuclear bombs in another form, which, under certain circumstances, can explode and threaten the lives of masses of human beings, plants and animals, as we saw in 1986 in the Soviet Union, as we see now in Japan. Until modern science has successfully solved the problem of disarming these nuclear bombs, and eliminated the possibility of lethal radio-active radiation, the construction of nuclear reactor stations for `peaceful purposes’ must be stopped, and the existing ones disabled and abolished. Can Chernobyl and the Japan nuclear disaster occur in any of the countries with nuclear power stations? Of course yes. The opinion of hired scientists on paper is one thing, reality is another matter. In a recent New York Times article of 28 March, we read: “American nuclear safety regulators, using a complex mathematical technique, determined that the simultaneous failure of both emergency shutdown systems that are designed to prevent a core meltdown was so unlikely that it would happen once every 17,000 years. But 20 years ago, it happened twice in four days at a pair of nuclear reactors in southern New Jersey…`We can never say that that that could never happen here, said Anthony R. Pietrangelo, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute”.

Without the powerful impulse for expansion and war, generated in modern history by the competition for natural resources, labour, and markets around the world, scientific research into the production of energy and power could have taken different roads, for example, into exploring the possibilities of solar energy, or wind energy, instead of finding ways for making more lethal weapons. US President Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address to the nation, issued a warning against what he called the “Military-Industrial Complex” –i. e., the marriage between military interests and private economic profit interests. The great German scholar, Max Weber, wrote that specific interests can act like the “switchmen” who changed the direction of the trains, before the automation of the system: “Not ideas, but material and ideal interests, directly govern men’s conduct. Yet very frequently the `world images’ that have been created by `idea’ have, like switchmen, determined the tracks along which action has been pushed by the dynamic of interest.”  Yes, from the arms race and wars, which produced nuclear bombs, we got to nuclear reactor stations for the production of energy for `peaceful purposes’. These are nothing but contained nuclear bombs which shall explode one day.

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About Professor Herbert W. Vilakazi

Professor Herbert Vilakazi was born at Nongoma, KwaZulu/Natal, South Africa. He received his tertiary education at Columbia University, and at the New School For Social Research, both in New York City, USA. He has taught sociology and other social sciences at various tertiary institutions in and around New York City (City College of City University, Essex County College in Newark, Livingstone College, and State University of New York). He has also taught at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University), University of the Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town, and University of Zululand. He served as Deputy-Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission from 1998 to 2004. He has also served as Special Advisor to the Premier of KwaZulu/Natal (2005-2007). He is Chairperson of Vilakazi Development Strategies.
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