The natural forces unleashed on March 11, 2011 were uncontrollable, but the impact of the disaster was greatly magnified by the inadequacy of the safety and emergency procedures, the government’s chaotic response and the lack of money for relief and reconstruction. The terrible consequences are an indictment of capitalism, especially as Japan is a sophisticated industrial economy, the world’s third largest.
The subordination of the social needs of ordinary people to corporate profit was most graphically exposed in the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Despite the warnings of scientists, emergency planning by the Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO) failed to take into account a massive tsunami. The wave swamped the plant and cut its electricity supplies, triggering a chain of events that led to a partial meltdown in three of the six reactors.
TEPCO downplayed the extent of the disaster to minimise the impact on its share prices and profits. Despite its record of safety breaches and cover-up, the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan left the corporation in charge. A recently released report revealed that Kan and his top officials were forced to consider a worst-case scenario that involved a “demonic chain reaction” of nuclear plant meltdowns, necessitating the evacuation of 30 million people from Greater Tokyo. Yet the public was deliberately kept in the dark.
At every stage, the government put the interests of TEPCO ahead of working people.