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“Project Censored shines a spotlight on news that an informed public must have . . . a vital contribution to our democratic process.” —Rhoda H. Karpatkin, president, Consumer’s Union
“Project Censored continues to be an invaluable resource in exposing and highlighting shocking stories that are routinely minimized or ignored by the corporate media. The vital nature of this work is underscored by this year’s NSA leaks. The world needs more brave whistle blowers and independent journalists in the service of reclaiming democracy and challenging the abuse of power. Project Censored stands out for its commitment to such work.” —Deepa Kumar, author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire and associate professor of Media Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University
“[Censored] offers devastating evidence of the dumbing-down of main-stream news in America. . . . Required reading for broadcasters, journalists, and well-informed citizens.” —Los Angeles Times
“The staff of Project Censored presents their annual compilation of the previous year’s 25 stories most overlooked by the mainstream media along with essays about censorship and its consequences. The stories include an 813% rise in hate and anti-government groups since 2008, human rights violations by the US Border Patrol, and Israeli doctors injecting Ethiopian immigrants with birth control without their consent. Other stories focus on the environment, like the effects of fracking and Monsantos GMO seeds. The writers point out misinformation and outright deception in the media, including CNN relegating factual accounts to the “opinion” section and the whitewashing of Margaret Thatcher’s career following her death in 2013, unlike Hugo Chavez, who was routinely disparaged in the coverage following his death. One essay deals with the proliferation of “Junk Food News,” in which “CNN and Fox News devoted more time to ‘Gangnam Style’ than the renewal of Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ law.” Another explains common media manipulation tactics and outlines practices to becoming a more engaged, free-thinking news consumer or even citizen journalist. Rob Williams remarks on Hollywood’s “deep and abiding role as a popular propaganda provider” via Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. An expose on working conditions in Chinese Apple factories is brutal yet essential reading. This book is evident of Project Censored’s profoundly important work in educating readers on current events and the skills needed to be a critical thinker.” -Publisher’s Weekly said about Censored 2014 (Oct.)
“[Censored] should be affixed to the bulletin boards in every newsroom in America. And, perhaps read aloud to a few publishers and television executives.” —Ralph Nader
“Project Censored brings to light some of the most important stories of the year that you never saw or heard about. This is your chance to find out what got buried.” –Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System.
“Censored 2014 is a clarion call for truth telling. Not only does this volume highlight fearless speech in fateful times, it connect the dots between the key issues we face, lauds our whistleblowers and amplifies their voices, and shines light in the dark places of our government that most need exposure.” –Daniel Ellsberg, The Pentagon Papers
“Project Censored is one of the organizations that we should listen to, to be assured that our newspapers and our broadcasting outlets are practicing thorough and ethical journalism.” —Walter Cronkite
“Hot news, cold truths, utterly uncensored.” —Greg Palast
“Activist groups like Project Censored . . . are helping to build the media democracy movement. We have to challenge the powers that be and rebuild media from the bottom up.” —Amy Goodman
“In another home run for Project Censored, Censored 2013 shows how the American public has been bamboozled, snookered, and dumbed down by the corporate media. It is chock-full of ‘ah-ha’ moments where we understand just how we’ve been fleeced by banksters, stripped of our civil liberties, and blindly led down a path of never-ending war.” –Medea Benjamin, author of Drone Warfare, cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK.
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“Most journalists in the United States believe the press here is free. That grand illusion only helps obscure the fact that, by and large, the US corporate press does not report what’s really going on, while tuning out, or laughing off, all those who try to do just that. Americans–now more than ever–need those outlets that do labor to report some truth. Project Censored is not just among the bravest, smartest, and most rigorous of those outlets, but the only one that’s wholly focused on those stories that the corporate press ignores, downplays, and/or distorts. This latest book is therefore a must read for anyone who cares about this country, its tottering economy, and–most important– what’s now left of its democracy.” –Mark Crispin Miller, author, professor of media ecology, New York University.
“For ages, I’ve dreamed of a United States where Project Censored isn’t necessary, where these crucial stories and defining issues are on the front page of the New York Times, the cover of Time, and in heavy rotation on CNN. That world still doesn’t exist, but we always have Project Censored’s yearly book to pull together the most important things the corporate media ignored, missed, or botched.” –Russ Kick, author of You Are Being Lied To, Everything You Know Is Wrong, and the New York Times bestselling series The Graphic Canon.
“Project Censored interrogates the present in the same way that Oliver Stone and I tried to interrogate the past in our Untold History of the United States. It not only shines a penetrating light on the American Empire and all its deadly, destructive, and deceitful actions, it does so at a time when the Obama administration is mounting a fierce effort to silence truth-tellers and whistleblowers. Project Censored provides the kind of fearless and honest journalism we so desperately need in these dangerous times.” —Peter Kuznick, professor of history, American University, and coauthor, with Oliver Stone, of The Untold History of the United States
“At a time when the need for independent journalism and for media outlets unaffiliated with and untainted by the government and corporate sponsors is greater than ever, Project Censored has created a context for reporting the complete truths in all matters that matter. . . . It is therefore left to us to find sources for information we can trust. . . . It is in this task that we are fortunate to have an ally like Project Cen-sored.” —Dahr Jamail
Buy it, read it, act on it. Our future depends on the knowledge this col-lection of suppressed stories allows us.” —San Diego Review

Fukushima: An Update from Japan

by Brian Covert

When International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials praised the authorities in Japan in October 2011 for their “efficient” handling of the Fukushima nuclear accident seven months after it occurred, perhaps the organization was speaking a little too soon or thinking too wishfully.

Or perhaps it had something to do with the head of the IAEA at the time, Yukiya Amano, being a career bureaucrat from Japan who was just doing what he was hired to do. Or perhaps the IAEA itself was just doing the job it was created to do back in 1957 by the United Nations of supporting and promoting the “peaceful use” of nuclear energy worldwide.

Or maybe it was just a simple matter of laying the first foundation of The Official Story: that the Fukushima nuclear disaster was basically, as Japanese authorities have insisted, sotei-gai — beyond expectations — that it was totally unforeseen and could not possibly have been predicted, but not to worry: Everything would soon be under control and back to business as usual.

Despite the best efforts of a “poodle press” in Japan, snuggled comfortably in the elite laps of power, to repeat such reassuring words to an anxious public, some of the truth did manage to come out about what is arguably the worst nuclear accident in human history.

Looking back decades from now, however, 2013 may well be remembered as the year when the iron lid finally came down over the truth and The Official Story concerning Fukushima was set firmly in place.

It was this year that the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima plant, admitted that, among other problems, 300 tons of radioactive groundwater could not be stopped from leaking every day from the Fukushima plant into the nearby Pacific Ocean. It was highly contaminated water, of course, but it was not officially expected to harm sea life or human beings in any way. Not to worry.

Then there was the announcement in September 2013 that Tokyo — a city located less than 320 kilometers (200 miles) from the ongoing nuclear crisis at Fukushima — was chosen to be the site of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

A month later, as if to bolster Japan’s good news, a United Nations scientific committee, in a report to be submitted to the UN General Assembly, downplayed all the public worry over Fukushima. The UN committee placed the levels of radiation as being “very low,” stating: “No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants.” This prompted a strong rebuke from citizens groups and others in Japan who saw this as an attempted whitewash of major proportions by the UN.

But there was one more step to be taken before The Official Story could be called airtight: In November and December 2013, the Japanese government — with the blessing of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and despite strong public opposition at home in Japan — proceeded to ram a bill through its parliament that, upon becoming law, would make whistleblowing a crime of state that could result in a prison term of up to 10 years.
This “state secrets protection bill” was supposedly intended to protect Japanese government and military secrets from possible terrorist actions (and, no doubt, from an Edward Snowden-type of situation) at a time when Japan’s military-industrial complex was expanding in lock-step with that of the U.S. But it could also be considered no mere coincidence that this state secrets bill was being pushed through to law at a time when TEPCO was just starting a yearlong operation in decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear plant that was unprecedented both in scale and in the potentially devastating consequences that could result if the slightest thing — forces of nature, mechanical failure, human error — went wrong in the course of that year.

This operation involves removing some 1,500 fuel rods from a Fukushima reactor, one by one, and placing them in a more secure area, something that has never been attempted before anywhere. Radiation levels said to be many thousands of times those of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima could be emitted from the Fukushima nuclear plant if any unforeseen problems occur along the way.

Now that Japan’s state secrets bill has become law, leaking sensitive information concerning Fukushima could technically be considered a crime, both for the whistleblower who leaks it and for any journalist who reports it. The extended “war on terror” has now joined hands with “atoms for peace,” with truth becoming the first casualty.

As of the end of 2013, nearly three years after the crisis began at Fukushima, there are an estimated 150,000-plus Japanese residents evacuated from the Fukushima area, many living in temporary housing. Some of that housing is reportedly now in substandard condition, with residents essentially being left to fend for themselves.

Confirmed cases of thyroid cancer are now appearing in some children from the Fukushima area, and the numbers of such cases are certain to rise in the future. Reports of increased levels of radiation, of varying degrees, have also come up throughout Japan and beyond its borders.

Meanwhile, TEPCO and two government ministries are busy arguing about which one of the three parties is responsible for cleaning up the contaminated water that is seeping into the ground and into the nearby sea. And yet, in spite of these and many other problems along the way, the IAEA has wavered little in its praise for Japan’s handling of the Fukushima accident and the quote-unquote “good progress” that has resulted.

The Official Story surrounding Fukushima is one of an unexpected disaster being dealt with swiftly and safely by honest, open authorities facing unlucky circumstances — and being duly investigated by an independent-minded news media that is diligently doing its job. But like all official stories, this story has a long and sordid history behind it. It is a history that people need to know about if they are to understand how and why Fukushima happened in the first place, and which direction the crisis is likely to take in the future.

Here, then, is the story behind the story of Fukushima.

This research was originally published as chapter 14 in Censored 2013: Dispatches From the Media Revolution, eds. Mickey Huff, Andy Lee Roth, and Project Censored (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012).

On the Road to Fukushima: The Unreported Story behind Japan’s Nuclear-Media-Industrial Complex


The most powerful earthquake to ever hit the islands of Japan struck on the afternoon of March 11, 2011. The magnitude 9 quake, centered about 70 kilometers (43 miles) off the Pacific coast, sent oceanic shock waves racing toward Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region. Located squarely on the tsunami’s course were coastal areas that are also home to several nuclear power plants, such as in Fukushima Prefecture, which is situated about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from Tokyo, the most populated metropolis on the planet. As it became clear that something had gone seriously wrong and, due to the tsunami, Japan now had a nuclear catastrophe on its hands at Fukushima, all eyes turned to the Japanese press.

But the Japanese press was nowhere to be found. In the immediate aftermath of reactor meltdowns and the release of radioactivity at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, when evacuations and press restrictions had not yet been set by Japan’s government, the major Japanese news companies did not have a single reporter on the ground in the area.1 Such media companies in Japan usually spare no expense in having their reporters or photographers camp for days at a time outside the homes of suspects in sensationalized crime cases or when stalking scandal-tainted celebrities. But when it comes to pursuing real news stories of public concern, investigating the nation’s political or corporate centers of power, and exercising the freedom of press as enshrined in the Japanese constitution, the news media of Japan can be strangely submissive or even silent. Nowhere has that been more on display than in the reporting of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

How is it that one of the most technologically advanced, democratic societies in the world finds itself with a press that serves more as a lapdog to the powerful than as a watchdog for the public? How does Japan’s nuclear power industry in particular fare in the news media? And more importantly, how is censorship fostered in such an environment and how did it get this way?

The answers to such questions can be found by taking a look back on the road to Fukushima that Japan has traveled since the Second World War. It is the story that most of the mainstream media in Japan are failing to report or to piece together in the wake of Fukushima, perhaps because, in many ways, the media itself is the story.
It is the story of how of the Japanese press has risen to become a global media power unto itself,2 and how Japan’s corporate-dominated news industry grew hand-in-glove with the nation’s development of atomic energy and other major industries following the war. It is the story of a Japanese war crimes suspect imprisoned by US occupation forces, of Japan’s preeminent media tycoon, of the godfather of Japanese nuclear power development, and of the father of Japanese professional baseball—all of whom happen to be the same man, the powerful Japanese predecessor of today’s Rupert Murdoch.
It is the story of the power wielded by right-wing forces in Japan and, at the fringes, of the Japanese mafia. It is a story that also closely involves the United States of America as benefactor: the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Congress, and the US media establishment. It is the story of America’s Cold War geopolitical priorities over the long-term security and environmental safety of the planet.

It is the story, in the end, of Japan’s rise as a modern nuclear-media-industrial power from the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 up to Fukushima more than sixty-five years later. This report attempts to connect the dots of Japan’s atomic past and present, providing the much bigger picture behind the individual acts of censorship surrounding Fukushima and, in doing so, will hopefully offer lessons for the future of a democratic, responsible press in Japan.

The Shoriki Factor

If there is one person who has stood at the nexus of nuclear power, media conglomeration, politics, and industrial development in postwar Japan, it would be Matsutaro Shoriki.

Shoriki, in the early 1920s, was a high-ranking official of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, and in previous years had reportedly been involved in every major incident of police repression of social unrest.3 That included the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1923, Japan’s deadliest natural disaster up to then, in which more than 100,000 people died and tens of thousands of others went missing.4

After the earthquake’s ensuing panic and confusion and the Japanese government’s declaration of martial law, the police took the opportunity to round up ethnic Koreans living in Japan, along with leading Japanese socialists, anarchists, labor activists, and other leftist dissidents of the day—some of whom were later reported killed.5 This all happened on Shoriki’s watch, and a month after the quake he was promoted to a department head position within the Tokyo police hierarchy.6 Shoriki’s law enforcement career came to a halt a couple months later, however, when a young Communist Party supporter attempted to shoot Hirohito, the emperor-to-be, in public. Shoriki was among those dismissed from their police posts for the lapse in security surrounding the assassination attempt.

It was the end of Shoriki’s days as a hard-line police official, but just the beginning of his career as a central figure in the Japanese media world.

One month after his firing from the Tokyo metropolitan police, Shoriki—with no past media experience whatsoever—found himself serving as president of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, then a fledgling 50,000-circulation Japanese metropolitan daily paper in Tokyo.7 He had bought out a controlling stake in the newspaper through a huge personal loan from a cabinet minister then serving in the Japanese government. A rebellion immediately arose among the editorial staff of the paper, but the new owner had no regrets. “Instead of committing hara-kiri” (ritual disembowelment) over the police firing, “I bought a newspaper,” Shoriki would boast.8

The openly pro-capitalistic, anticommunistic Shoriki quickly showed himself as having a finger on the public pulse, understanding well the links between three key areas: mass entertainment, mass mobilization, and massive profits.9

His Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper company sponsored tours in Japan of major league baseball players from the US—first in 1931, then again in 1934, when the Yomiuri paid for US baseball legends Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and others to come and play in Japan. The next year, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper created its own baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants, in the exact image of the famed Giants baseball team of New York (later of San Francisco). In 1936, Japan’s first professional baseball league was started, with Shoriki going on to serve as owner of the Yomiuri Giants pro team and as the first commissioner of the Nippon Professional Baseball league years later.

By the late 1930s and early 1940s, the winds of war were blowing in Japan. All of the Japanese press was expected by the military-dominated government to support Japan’s war of aggression throughout East Asia and the Pacific, and the major news publications—from liberal to conservative—toed the line, either under government pressure or out of a sense of patriotism. Two days after the Japanese military attack on the US-occupied Pacific island of Hawaii in December 1941, the major newspapers in Japan sponsored a public rally in Tokyo denouncing the US and Britain. Shoriki, representing the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, was reportedly one of the main speakers.10

In the fifteen years since Shoriki had taken over the paper, the Yomiuri had gone from being a fairly liberal Tokyo metro daily paper to being an unashamedly conservative national daily newspaper—the third-largest daily paper in Japan, in fact—with a circulation of 1.2 million.11 The Yomiuri became the most nationalistic of Japan’s mainstream news media during World War II. For his efforts, Shoriki, like other press executives in Japan, was appointed to several key government propaganda organizations during the war, including as cabinet-level advisor in the government.12

Behind Prison Walls

Following the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed more than 200,000 people in August 1945, and Japan’s formal surrender a month later, the occupation forces under General Douglas MacArthur wasted no time in sniffing out suspected war criminals as part of victor’s justice, Yankee-style.

The top ranking of war criminals, “Class A,” applied to persons in the highest decision-making bodies in Japan who were believed to have taken part in the starting and/or waging of war against the Allied powers. Among those who were openly demanding that the Americans include Shoriki, the Yomiuri newspaper president, in that Class-A category were Shoriki’s longtime enemies on the Japanese political left and, incredibly, some of the newspaper magnate’s own editorial staff at the Yomiuri Shimbun.13 Long considered to be something of a “dictator” within his paper,14 Shoriki was now facing a serious mutiny by his crew at a very sensitive time in Japanese history. In December 1945, he was ordered by the US occupation forces to report to Japan’s notorious Sugamo Prison in central Tokyo as an inmate.

The dozens of initial suspects of Class-A war crimes at the prison made up a virtual “who’s who” of the most elite of Japanese political, military, and business circles. Shoriki was placed in cellblock 2-B of the prison, directly across from a prominent industrialist who had once been head of the mighty Nissan group of corporations.15 As a media baron, Shoriki commanded respect even behind bars. The Buddhist priest in charge of counseling the accused war criminals at the prison recalled: “Mr. Shoriki, former president of the ‘Yomiuri Newspaper,’ I had met two or three times at banquets given by the Chief Priest, whose advisors in various matters we both had been. He [Shoriki] was still as vigorous as ever. . . .”16

George Herman Ruth, one of the US baseball idols invited by Shoriki to play for Japanese audiences back in the 1930s, had little sympathy for his former patron. “That bum [Shoriki] seemed like a pretty nice fellow,” Babe Ruth, now retired from baseball, said on hearing the news of Shoriki’s imprisonment in Tokyo. “I guess he was too nice, come to think of it. All any of them guys did was bow to us, and even then they must have had a knife in their kimona [sic].”17 Ruth even complained that the American ballplayers had been cheated during their tour of Japan a decade before: “Shoriki didn’t pay us what he promised to pay. Most of us spent more money in Japan than we made.”18
As Shoriki and the others languished in prison not knowing their fate, the US, at least in the early stages, proceeded with its plan of “reforming” Japan, putting a high priority on strengthening democratic institutions and the rights of the individual.

But a funny thing happened on the way to democracy: on a parallel track, the government of the United States, under the umbrella of the Truman Doctrine of President Harry Truman, was also proceeding on a “reverse course” in Japan. From 1947–48 onward, the US priority began shifting away from promoting democracy to fighting communism. General MacArthur’s occupation forces in Tokyo now sought to “strengthen, not punish” right-wing Japanese leaders so as to secure Japan as a key ally especially against the regional influence of Communist China.19

The Cold War was starting and, almost overnight, the US had gone from purging its sworn wartime enemies on the political right in Japan to purging those on the left. Japanese ultra-rightist organizations and even the yakuza, Japan’s mafia syndicates, were becoming useful tools for the US occupation authorities in suppressing the growing social movement of organized labor and liberal political dissent, including in the Japanese news media.20

And so it was that right-wing media mogul Matsutaro Shoriki walked out of the Tokyo prison gates on September 1, 1947—twenty-one months of prison time served and no war-crime charges filed against him.21 Shoriki and many of his fellow Japanese war-criminal suspects were looking much more useful to the United States beyond—rather than behind—prison walls.

Television and “Atoms for Peace”

In summer 1951, with the official end of the American occupation of Japan just around the corner, Shoriki and other released Japanese war criminal suspects were finally removed from General MacArthur’s war-criminal “purge list” and were now free to resume their former public lives. Shoriki received his pardon on August 6, the sixth anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. The very next day, he went to work on his next big project: establishing Japan’s first commercial television network.22

In this venture, Shoriki had warm support from conservative members of the US Congress, who, like their right-wing counterparts in Japan, apparently saw the mass media not as a way to inform or educate the poverty-stricken Japanese masses but rather as a means to essentially feed the Japanese public a steady stream of pro-American messages of progress and development in the postwar period.

Shoriki’s key ally in the US Congress for this was Karl Mundt, a Republican senator from South Dakota. Through the mid-1940s, Mundt had served as an active member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that was investigating suspected Communist infiltration throughout US society. During that same period, Mundt pushed a bill through Congress in 1948 that became law, creating the Voice of America short-wave radio propaganda program.23 But Mundt had an even bigger dream: using the rising medium of television to carry VOA broadcasts throughout the world, including in Japan, as a way to counter the growing global “red” menace. Mundt called his grand plan “Vision of America.”24

It was Hidetoshi Shibata, then a popular conservative, America-friendly radio commentator on Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster) and a former Yomiuri newspaper reporter under Shoriki, who eventually hooked up Mundt and Shoriki.25 On August 14, only a week after Shoriki’s pardon as a US-branded war crimes suspect, Mundt, at a press conference in Washington DC accompanied by a member of Japan’s parliament, announced plans for a team of three American “experts” to fly to Japan the following week to firm up the plans for this new Japanese TV broadcasting network.26 Another week later, the Japanese and American sides met in Tokyo and worked out the details: it was agreed that instead of making this new TV station a part of Mundt’s worldwide “Vision of America” scheme, it would be a wholly Japanese-owned and Japanese-run network financed in part by airing Voice of America radio broadcasts within Japan.27

Shoriki had meanwhile regained his old position as the largest shareholder of the Yomiuri paper, and now persuaded the heads of his archrival daily newspapers, the liberal Asahi and Mainichi, to join the conservative Yomiuri in putting up joint capital of about ¥2 billion ($25 million) for the TV station. Shoriki also used his highly placed connections in Japanese government and financial institutions to further strengthen support for the new station, promoting the TV network as potentially attracting three million Japanese viewers within five years.28

In July 1952, just three months after the US occupation bureaucracy had packed its bags and gone home, the new Nippon Television Network (NTV) was granted its broadcasting license by Japanese media regulators. Shoriki became the first president of NTV in October 1952, and in August 1953, the station went on the air with black-and-white television programs. Now it was just a matter of getting the message out to the masses.

“Kilowatts, not killing”

At the United Nations in December 1953, US President Dwight Eisenhower announced the start of his “Atoms for Peace” program. Several months later in September 1954, US atomic energy commissioner Thomas Murray stood before a convention of American steelworkers at Atlantic City, New Jersey, and called for a nuclear power plant to be built in Japan with US know-how and manpower as “a dramatic and Christian gesture which would lift all of us far above the recollection of the carnage” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nine years before.29 An editorial in the Washington Post immediately and enthusiastically supported this “brilliant idea,” stating: “How better, indeed, to dispel the impression in Asia that the United States regards Orientals merely as nuclear cannon fodder!”30

A few months after that in early 1955, Representative Sidney Yates, a Democrat from Illinois, took it even further when he stood on the floor of the US Congress and called for that proposed first nuclear power plant in Japan to be constructed, of all places, in the atomic-bombed city of Hiroshima. He was then sponsoring a bill in Congress for a 60,000-kilowatt nuclear power generating plant to be built in Hiroshima as part of Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace”—a power plant, Yates said, that would “make the atom an instrument for kilowatts rather than killing.”31 (Plans for the Hiroshima nuclear plant eventually fizzled out.)

Back in Japan around that same time, Matsutaro Shoriki, while still president of NTV, campaigned in February 1955 for a seat in his own country’s House of Representatives and won. He was appointed to the cabinet-level position of minister of state. Everything now seemed to be in place. For the better part of 1955, Eisenhower’s newly established United States Information Service (USIS), with its mission of overseas “public diplomacy” (read: propaganda) and Shoriki’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, which now had a colossal circulation of more than two million readers,32 worked closely together on plans to bring America’s atomic-age vision to the Japanese people.33

The Atom Returns to Japan

On November 1, 1955, the USIS and Shoriki’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper kicked off the opening of a futuristic, traveling “Atoms for Peace” exhibition at an event hall in downtown Tokyo, not far from the Imperial Palace.

The fifteen sections of the exhibition, touted as the first of its kind in Far East Asia, explained “how the boundless wealth of the atom has been unlocked, and now it is already being used in many ways for man’s benefit in medicine and industry.” The exhibition was to be shown in Tokyo for a month and a half, then rotated on to seven other major Japanese cities.34 The exhibition included profiles of ten pioneering nuclear scientists; a small demonstration nuclear reactor; a movie about the peaceful uses of nuclear energy; panel displays; and an introduction to the medical, agricultural, and industrial uses of atomic isotopes.35 On New Year’s Day of 1956, while the exhibition was still touring Japan, state minister Shoriki was appointed the first chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, a move praised by US atomic energy commissioner Lewis Strauss as “an important contribution to international peace.”36

The “Atoms for Peace” exhibition finally arrived in Hiroshima in May 1956 and was shown for three weeks at the recently opened Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, located within the city’s Peace Memorial Park commemorating the victims of the 1945 US atomic bombing. An estimated 110,000 Japanese visitors came to see the “Atoms for Peace” exhibition in Hiroshima, and a reported 2.5 million people had seen the exhibition nationwide.37 At the end of it all, notwithstanding some public and press criticism that arose, the “Atoms for Peace” exhibition in Japan was considered a resounding success, primarily due to the positive spin given to it by the Japanese media, especially the Yomiuri newspaper and NTV network headed by Shoriki.38

Code Name: PODAM

Tetsuo Arima, a professor of media studies at the elite Waseda University in Tokyo, goes where the Japanese mainstream press fears to tread in researching and making public the CIA’s past connections to the media and nuclear power in Japan, having published several books on the subject in recent years. He has visited the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington DC and obtained almost 500 pages of once-secret documents detailing the introduction of atomic energy technology to Japan.39

“Relations with PODAM have now progressed to the stage where outright cooperation can be initiated,” Arima quotes one of those CIA documents as reading, concerning political maneuvering against the Japan Communist Party back in the 1950s.40 Another document approves “PODAM” as being used to gain information about political developments and trends in Japan, along with information on persons working in Japanese newspapers and media. PODAM, the code name of a CIA asset, was none other than Japanese media tycoon Matsutaro Shoriki.41

Indeed, a cursory check of the NARA website ( reveals Matsutaro Shoriki as being listed under the cryptonym PODAM as well as “POJACKPOT-1.”42 Equally revealing is Shoriki’s TV station, Nippon Television, being listed in the archive’s CIA file index as part of a project called “KMCASHIER.”43 Project KMCASHIER, as Arima notes, was a failed 1953 US plan to construct a massive microwave communications network covering four Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines) as part of a larger international microwave communications network. Japan’s role in KMCASHIER was listed under the CIA code name of “POHIKE.”44 “POBULK” is listed in the archive index as the CIA code name for the Yomiuri, Shoriki’s newspaper.

Arima found also that Shibata, the popular NHK radio newscaster who initially put Shoriki in touch with US senator Mundt of VOA fame, had contacted and met in Tokyo with persons connected with the CIA (presumably on Shoriki’s behalf), both before and after Shoriki obtained the broadcast license for NTV.45 The professor also came across a document dated May 5, 1955—placing it around the time of joint preparations by the USIS and Shoriki’s Yomiuri newspaper for the “Atoms for Peace” exhibition—in which a “provisional” security clearance was sought for Shoriki as an “unwitting cutout.”46 This indicates that Shoriki would have been considered a trusted intermediary for passing along highly sensitive information, yet not necessarily aware of the details of that information or exactly how he was being used for such intelligence purposes.

According to one CIA document that Arima uncovered, Shoriki as atomic energy commissioner was so impatient to get nuclear power online in Japan following the 1955–56 “Atoms For Peace” exhibition that he seriously considered buying a small reactor to power his own home as a public show of atomic energy’s benefits.47 And what was PODAM’s urgent motivation? To help reach his political aspiration of becoming the prime minister of Japan.

The Deep Ties that Bind

Japanese nuclear power, industrial production (especially in electronics), and the news media grew side by side in the critical Cold War years that would see Japan elevated to the status of “economic miracle.” Without doubt, from the end of the Second World War onward, the media industry has been a crucial part of that whole corporate synergy in Japan—not an objective, neutral force standing outside it.48

That is still the situation today for the most part. The electric power companies in Japan advertise widely in the major print and broadcast media companies. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)—operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant and two others—alone spent about ¥27 billion ($330 million) on public relations and other events promoting nuclear energy in 2010, ranking tenth highest among all Japanese corporations in the amount of money spent on such expenses that year.49 Of that amount, TEPCO spent ¥9 billion ($110 million) directly on advertisements placed in the media.50

So what effect does this kind of relationship between nuclear energy and media in Japan have on news coverage? According to author and independent journalist Osamu Aoki, a former reporter for Japan’s Kyodo News wire service, “Newspapers, TV, magazines—it makes no difference: because they receive these huge advertising monies, it’s hard for them to criticize the power companies, especially with nuclear power. It’s a taboo that’s been going on for some time.”51

Where Japan differs from the US and other developed countries is in the sheer breadth and depth of external press controls and media self-censorship in the form of the “kisha club” (reporters’ club) system.52

The kisha clubs are press clubs attached to various Japanese government agencies (from the highest levels of government down to local government agencies), political parties, major corporations, consumer organizations . . . and electric power companies. At last count there were an estimated 800 to 1,000 kisha clubs nationwide. Membership in such clubs is mostly restricted to the big Japanese newspaper and broadcasting companies, with smaller Japanese media and the foreign press normally not allowed in. One important rule: kisha club reporters are not usually allowed to “scoop” fellow club members on any given story, even if they are reporters for rival Japanese news companies. In most cases a kisha club is based on the premises of the institution that the reporters are covering, with the operating expenses of the club paid by that institution. The kisha club rooms generally are off-limits to the average Japanese citizen, even when located inside of public buildings.

TEPCO, like other power companies around Japan, has its own in-house kisha club. And what was the chairman of TEPCO doing at the time of the March 11 quake/tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear plant disaster? He was hosting Japanese journalists on a press junket in China, courtesy of the power company.53

According to an independent journalist attending a press conference hosted by TEPCO soon after the accident on March 11, 2011, not one of the power company’s kisha club reporters got around to asking the TEPCO chairman at press conferences about the possibility of plutonium leaks from the Fukushima plant until the independent journalist himself raised the critical question two weeks after the accident. Another independent Japanese reporter working for Internet media was shouted down by the TEPCO kisha club reporters when he tried to ask the TEPCO chairman a question at the same press conference. These are not uncommon occurrences at kisha clubs in Japan.54

How did all of this translate in terms of Japanese versus overseas reporting on Fukushima soon after the accident? There were often major gaps between the two. On the morning of March 12, the day after the accident, for example, Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK television, was telling evacuees from Fukushima to calmly “walk instead of drive to an evacuation area” while also repeating Japanese government assurances that there was “no immediate danger.”55 That same morning, the tone of reports carried on BBC News, as just one foreign news media source, was one of skepticism of such Japanese government assurances rather than blind acceptance.56 That kind of gap between Japanese and overseas coverage would widen considerably as the Fukushima crisis went on, with the Japanese public increasingly voicing distrust of their government and suspicious that Japan’s media were not reporting the whole story.

That is certainly true for one related issue that has been underreported in Japan for years: the so-called “nuclear gypsies”—the thousands of day laborers, many unskilled and homeless, that make up a large part of the workforce at Japan’s fifty-four nuclear power plants nationwide—and the yakuza (organized crime) syndicates as suppliers of such temporary workers to the industry.57 The underside of Japan’s economic miracle in the postwar era was the existence of pools of cheap, “disposable” labor from the slums of the big cities, such as the Sanya district in Tokyo and Kamagasaki district in Osaka, working in the vast construction industry with which the yakuza have long been aligned. But the electric power companies today also use such day laborers, doing highly dangerous work with little or no job security, and many of these nuclear workers are financially exploited by the yakuza and other labor agents as well.

It has been left mainly to independent journalists in Japan to uncover and expose these facts. One of them, photographer Kenji Higuchi, had worked for decades before Fukushima, trying to tell an indifferent Japanese media and public the stories of these exploited, intimidated nuclear power plant workers and the illnesses that afflicted them after they had worked at the plants. Higuchi’s efforts to get at the truth are the focus of a short documentary film, Nuclear Ginza, broadcasted in 1995 on Britain’s Channel 4 television.58 More recently, another Japanese independent journalist, Tomohiko Suzuki, went undercover as a day laborer at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the March 2011 accident and found that the yakuza were still recruiting day laborers to work there, with top management at the Fukushima plant—like most construction companies in Japan—not necessarily knowing (or caring) how these workers got hired there in the first place.59

The Selling of a “Miracle Man”

To be fair, the Japanese people are not the only ones who have been sold a bill of goods about nuclear power and been shielded from seeing its dark side by the media. Americans have too, and the US media role over the years is one that has to be acknowledged in this post-Fukushima age. This is most clearly seen in the US media treatment of Matsutaro Shoriki and the vital role he played in bringing US-sponsored atomic energy to Japan during the Cold War years.

In 1946, six months after the American occupation of Japan had begun, the US progressive magazine the Nation correctly noted how “Shoriki’s yellow journalism, combined with the scandalously low wages he paid his newsmen and printers, brought him rich profits, and his fervent support of aggression [in the Pacific War] won him a seat in the House of Peers and a position as Cabinet adviser.”60

Compare that with the glowing coverage a few years later by US mainstream media: Shoriki as “bitterly anti-Communist” ally to the US and Japan’s “most successful publisher,” known “among Western newsmen as the [William Randolph] ‘Hearst of Japan’” (Time magazine, 1954);61 Shoriki as “father of professional baseball in Japan” who nobly sent then–US president Eisenhower an ancient suit of Japanese armor as a show of goodwill (Washington Post, 1954);62 Shoriki as “Japan’s Mr. Atom,” a man who “has made a brilliant success of nearly everything he has tried” and who, “‘if he lives long enough . . . will make Japan one of the leading atomic powers of the world’” (New York Times Magazine, 1957);63 and Shoriki as pioneering TV network president aiming to make Japan the first country in the world to have color television (Time, 1959).64

Then there was the 1963 Time tribute to Shoriki as art connoisseur, head of his Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper’s own symphony orchestra, architect of the “Yomuiri Land” amusement park in Tokyo named for his newspaper, and all-around Man for the Millennium. The article quoted Bob Considine, a well-known columnist for the Hearst media empire in the US, who sounded almost shocked with awe: “[W]henever editors speak of the great press lords of our age, they often mention Hearst and sometimes [Canadian-British tycoon Lord] Beaverbrook. But they always mention Shoriki.”65

Just a few years earlier, this same Hearst underling and ghostwriter, Considine, had written the foreword to the American publishing industry’s own nod to Japan’s premier media baron in a 200-page book titled Shoriki: Miracle Man of Japan—A Biography. The book was published in 1957 by Exposition Press, back then a leading publisher of so-called “vanity books” that are essentially paid for by the person who is the subject of the biography—which, in this case, would have been Shoriki himself. The book was coauthored by the publishing company’s president, Edward Uhlan. A New York Times obituary would later list Shoriki: Miracle Man of Japan as one of the late Uhlan’s most noteworthy accomplishments.66

All in all, Shoriki: Miracle Man of Japan stands out as a cleverly crafted work of disinformation. It covers up Shoriki’s infamous reputation as a police bureaucrat before the Second World War, plays down his wartime role in anti-US propaganda and war-criminal imprisonment by the US after the war, and plays up his subsequent achievements in baseball, news media, and atomic energy in Japan—with a strong line of anticommunist sentiment running throughout. Newspaper, magazine, and book publishing media in the US had now weighed in with Shoriki and his crusade for a pro-America, pro-nuclear Japan, and on the whole found him to be on the right side of the cause.

Epilogue: The Road from Fukushima

When Matsutaro Shoriki died in 1969 at age eighty-four while in office as a representative of Japan’s parliament (and while still NTV network president), his obituary in the Washington Post was surprisingly sparse. Nowhere did the Post mention that Shoriki, as Japan’s first atomic energy commissioner, had been Washington’s point man on nuclear energy development after the war—indeed, he had led Japan to embrace atomic power as a prime energy resource ten years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Also missing was Shoriki’s tainted past as a former police official and as a prisoner during the US occupation of Japan. And of course, there was no mention at all of the CIA’s interest in Shoriki as an asset of the agency.67

Just a few years later in 1976, however, the late Shoriki’s name surfaced in connection with the “Lockheed scandal,” a major political scandal in Japan involving bribe money paid by the US aerospace corporation Lockheed to a former Japanese prime minister. The conservative Yomiuri newspaper denied allegations of Shoriki, its ex-president, having been a past “recipient of CIA favors” and spoke of suing for libel the American publications that carried the stories.68

If most Japanese people know or remember anything at all about the late press lord today, it is probably the “Matsutaro Shoriki Award” bestowed in Shoriki’s name every year with great fanfare to some outstanding Japanese baseball figure by NTV network and Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper—whose circulation of thirteen million readers today makes it reputedly the largest daily newspaper in the world.69 The majority of Americans know even less about Shoriki, including the fact that the prestigious Museum of Fine Arts in Boston today has a respectable chair position named after him.70 And for their part, few if any Japanese mainstream media companies in their news reporting are linking Shoriki to nuclear energy and the Fukushima accident of March 11, 2011—even though it was his influence and vision of a fully atomic-powered Japan, with firm support by the US, that had led Japan as a nation to that place.

Demands have arisen in the wake of Fukushima for Japanese government nuclear regulators and politicians to be more independent of the nuclear power industry that they are supposed to be keeping an eye on.71 But looking to the future, there is one more party that equally needs to be separated from Japan’s nuclear power establishment (or “nuclear power village,” as it’s called), and that is the Japanese press. The media in Japan, like the government regulators, have been intimate with the nation’s atomic energy club from the very start. Until the day when the Japanese news media are finally weaned off the nation’s nuclear power village, the whole truth about nuclear energy—and the corruption and great public dangers surrounding it—will continue to be mostly unseen and unknown in this country. Disengaging the Japanese press from the nuclear powers-that-be will not be easy, but it must be done.

One place to start would be to begin dismantling the Japanese kisha club system. This too will be no easy task, given the deep historical and institutional roots of the system. But if the toothless Japanese lapdog press of today is to regain the public credibility at home and abroad that it lost in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster—and if it is to earn the respect that it would deserve as a true watchdog of the people over Japan’s centers of power in the future—then it is the Japanese news media that must now take the first steps in that direction on this long and uncertain road away from Fukushima.


BRIAN COVERT is an independent journalist and author based in Kawanishi, western Japan. He has worked for United Press International news service in Japan, as staff reporter for three of Japan’s English-language daily newspapers, and as contributor to Japanese and overseas newspapers and magazines. He is currently a lecturer in the Department of Media, Journalism, and Communications at Doshisha University in Kyoto.


1. David McNeill, “Fukushima Lays Bare Japanese Media’s Ties to Top,” Japan Times, January 8, 2012,
2. Five of the world’s top ten daily newspapers with the highest circulations are based in Japan. See Jochen Legewie, Japan’s Media: Inside and Outside Powerbrokers, Communications & Network Consulting Japan K.K. (Tokyo, March 2010), 3,
3. Simon Partner, Assembled in Japan: Electrical Goods and the Making of the Japanese Consumer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 74.
4. August Kengelbacher, “Great Kanto Earthquake 1923,”
5. Sonia Ryang, “The Tongue That Divided Life and Death: The 1923 Tokyo Earthquake and the Massacre of Koreans,” Japan Focus, September 3, 2007, For similar accounts, see also Mikiso Hane, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), esp. 171, 176, 191–92; and Asahi Shimbun newspaper, “Murder of an Anarchist Recalled: Suppression of News in the Wake of the 1923 Tokyo Earthquake,” Japan Focus, November 5, 2007,
6. Shinichi Sano, Kyokaiden: Shoriki Matsutaro to Kagemusha-tachi no Isseiki (ge) [Biography of Matsutaro Shoriki, vol. 2] (Tokyo: Bungeishunju, 2011), 442.
7. Sano, Kyokaiden: Shoriki Matsutaro to Kagemusha-tachi no Isseiki (jo) [Biography of Matsutaro Shoriki, vol. 1] (Tokyo: Bungeishunju, 2011), 217.
8. “The Press: Lord High Publisher,” Time, August 16, 1954, 74.
9. Partner, Assembled in Japan, 172.
10. Ben-Ami Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 99.
11. Sano, Kyokaiden [vol. 2], 446.
12. Partner, Assembled in Japan, 76; see also Shillony, Politics and Culture, 105.
13. “1,000 Ask Trial for Publisher,” New York Times, October 30, 1945; see also Sano, Kyokaiden [vol. 1], 438–44.
14. “Yomiuri Chairman Defends Actions in Internal Feud,” Asahi Shimbun, November 29, 2011,
15. Shinsho Hanayama, The Way of Deliverance: Three Years with the Condemned Japanese War Criminals (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950), 4; see also Partner, Assembled in Japan, 73–74.
16. Hanayama, The Way of Deliverance, 5.
17. “Ruth’s Ex-Pal Held as Jap [sic] War Criminal,” Washington Post, December 6, 1945, 15.
18. Ibid.
19. United States Department of State, “Milestones 1945–1952: Korean War and Japan’s Recovery,”
20. David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro, Yakuza—The Explosive Account of Japan’s Criminal Underworld (London: Futura Publications, 1987), esp. 69–71, 75–78.
21. Edward Uhlan and Dana L. Thomas, Shoriki: Miracle Man of Japan—A Biography (New York: Exposition Press, 1957), 181–82.
22. Partner, Assembled in Japan, 83.
23. Ibid., 78–79.
24. Ibid., 84.
25. Ibid., 78.
26. Ibid., 83–84.
27. Sano, Kyokaiden [vol. 2], 449; see also Partner, Assembled in Japan, 84.
28. Partner, Assembled in Japan, 84–86.
29. Edward F. Ryan, untitled article from Washington Post archives, September 22, 1954, 2.
30. “A Reactor for Japan,” Washington Post, September 23, 1954, 18.
31. “Belgium and Japan Seek 1st ‘A-for-Peace’ Power,” Washington Post, February 15, 1955, 5.
32. Sano, Kyokaiden [vol. 2], 450.
33. Ran Zwigenberg, “‘The Coming of a Second Sun’: The 1956 Atoms for Peace Exhibit in Hiroshima and Japan’s Embrace of Nuclear Power,” Japan Focus, February 6, 2012, http://japanfocus
34. Robert Trumbull, “Japan Welcomes Peace Atom Show,” New York Times, November 1, 1955, 14.
35. Tetsuo Arima, Genpatsu—Shoriki—CIA [Nuclear power—Shoriki—The CIA] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2011), 119.
36. Japan Atomic Energy Commission, text of letter from US ambassador in Japan John M. Allison to Matsutaro Shoriki, January 13, 1956,
37. Yuki Tanaka and Peter Kuznick, “Japan, the Atomic Bomb, and the ‘Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Power,’” Japan Focus, May 2, 2011, See also Zwigenberg, “‘The Coming of a Second Sun,’” Japan Focus.
38. Ran Zwigenberg, “‘The Coming of a Second Sun.’”
39. Tetsuo Arima, Nippon Terebi to CIA—Hakkutsu-sareta “Shoriki Fairu” [NTV and the CIA—The uncovered “Shoriki files”] (Tokyo: Takarajima-sha, 2011), 30.
40. Arima, Genpatsu—Shoriki—CIA, 113; see also “From Hiroshima to Fukushima: The Political Background to the Nuclear Disaster in Japan,” World Socialist Web Site, June 23, 2011, Quotation is retranslated into English from the Japanese original.
41. Arima, Genpatsu—Shoriki—CIA, 112.
42. National Archives and Records Administration, “Cryptonyms and Terms in Declassified CIA Files—Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Disclosure Acts,” dated June 2007, Accessed on March 13, 2012.
43. Ibid.
44. Arima, Nippon Terebi to CIA, 63; see also Partner, Assembled in Japan, 86–87.
45. Arima, Genpatsu—Shoriki—CIA, 58.
46. Arima, Nippon Terebi to CIA. A copy of the document is partially displayed on the book’s front cover.
47. Arima, Genpatsu—Shoriki—CIA, 110; see also “Tsunami: Japan’s Post-Fukushima Future,” Foreign Policy, 2011, 198,
48. Partner, Assembled in Japan, 228.
49. “Advertising Expenditure of Leading Corporations (FY 2010),” Nikkei Advertising Research Institute,
50. “Toden Kokoku-hi 90-oku en no Hamon” [Ripple effect of Tokyo Electric’s nine billion yen advertising expenses], Tokyo Shimbun, May 17, 2011, 26–27. The figure of nine billion yen is for 2009.
51. Translated commentary by Osamu Aoki on Asahi Newstar cable TV program Nyusu no Me [Eyes of the news], April 7, 2011,
52. For an overview of how the “kisha club” system works and other related issues, see Tomoomi Mori, “Japan’s News Media,” in Censored 2007: The Top 25 Censored Stories, eds. Peter Phillips and Project Censored (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006), 367–82.
53. Kanako Takahara, “Tight-lipped Tepco Lays Bare Exclusivity of Press Clubs,” Japan Times, May 3, 2011,
54. Ibid.
55. Days Japan magazine, “Genpatsu Jiko Hodo no Kensho Shiryo” [Verified documentation of nuclear accident reporting], February 2012, 41.
56. Kenichi Asano, “BBC ni yoru Jiko Hodo” [Accident reporting by the BBC], Days Japan, February 2012, 60–61; see also “Japan Earthquake: Concerns over Nuclear Power Stations,” BBC News, March 11, 2011,
57. “Japan’s Desperate Nuclear Gypsies,” Al Jazeera English, June 30, 2011,
58. Nuclear Ginza, Small World Productions, Cardiff, England, 1995, A Japanese subtitled version of the film can be viewed at
59. Tomohiko Suzuki, press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Tokyo, December 15, 2011, Suzuki goes into more detail in his book Yakuza to Genpatsu [The yakuza and nuclear power] (Tokyo: Bungeishunju, 2011).
60. Andrew Roth, “Japan’s Press Revolution,” Nation, March 16, 1946, 315.
61. “The Press: Lord High Publisher,” Time, 1954, 76.
62. Herb Heft, “Baseball Men Cite Good-Will Created on Trip by Giants,” Washington Post, February 7, 1954:C2.
63. Foster Hailey, “Japan’s Mr. Atom,” New York Times Magazine, November 17, 1957, SM50.
64. “Show Business: Television Abroad—Come-On in Color,” Time, August 3, 1959, 57.
65. “The Press: Publishers—Bigger & Better than Anyone,” Time, May 24, 1963, 57–58. Emphasis in the original.
66. Edwin McDowell, “Obituaries: Edward Uhlan, 76, Founder and Leader Of Vanity Publisher,” New York Times, October 26, 1988,
67. “Matsutaro Shoriki, 84, Dies; Publisher of Japanese Daily,” Washington Post, October 9, 1969, M10.
68. Richard Halloran, “Premier Miki Vows Lockheed Inquiry,” New York Times, April 4, 1976, 2.
69. Legewie, Japan’s Media: Inside and Outside Powerbrokers, 3.
70., “Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Announces New Chair of Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa,” September 20, 2008,
71. Norimitsu Onishi and Ken Belson, “Culture of Complicity Tied to Stricken Nuclear Plant,” New York Times, April 26, 2011,

  • Mitchel Cohen December 15, 2013

    I wrote the following article in April 2011, which I published on my blog and in pamphlet form.


    ” In the generation of nuclear energy, man made hazards seem unavoidable, but bank­ruptcy strikes us as a needless risk.”

    – Barron’s Weekly (the business magazine), summing up the experience of the near meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, March 21, 1981

    “O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
    That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!”
    – William Shakespeare
    Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1

    THE MASSIVE EARTHQUAKES THAT ROCKED JAPAN beginning on March 11th caused a huge tsunami 15 meters tall at impact, sending waters cascading over the 10 meter-high barrier walls.1 Low-lying towns that had ignored 600-year-old stone markers in which were carved “Do not build any homes below this point” were wiped out, while many who heeded the markers, such as the hamlet of Aneyoshi, were spared.2 More than twelve thousand people were swept away, and 15,500 more are missing.

    The heart­rending tragedy quickly became a global nightmare as the earthquakes ripped open the fault-lines on top of which a number of nuclear power plants had been built, imperiously overlooking the rushing waters and towns awaiting annihilation. Some “inexplicably” contained deadly plutonium used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons and roof pools of radioactive fuel rods. But Mary Olson, the director of the Southeast Office of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), noted that photographs showed “the fuel pool in reactor No. 3 is gone. … There is no fuel there. The reactor fuel pool in No. 3 is gone. Where did it go?” According to law professor Francis Boyle, Japan may have been constructing a secret nuclear bomb infrastructure under the guise of their nuclear industry, and was storing 500 pounds of weapons-grade MOX/Plutonium at Fukushima 3 for the purpose of making bombs.3 Was it swept away and into the ocean? Or did the government grab it, unnoticed amidst the chaos?

    Thousands of people wisely thought it best to flee for their lives in those moments before the inev­i­table depletion of coolant and consequent explosions propelled tons of extremely dangerous radioactive gases and water into the atmosphere and oceans.4 This, despite the initial broadcasts by government officials who told them not to evacuate but to return to their homes and shut the windows and doors,5 eerily paralleling the reckless directions by officials at the World Trade Center in New York City on that horrible September morning a decade ago. As with people responding in New York on 9/11, so too in Japan on 3/11 — many acted heroically to save others from the deadly radioactive contamination, sacrificing themselves in a desperate effort to staunch the ruptures. The world’s population watched helplessly on TV as the catastrophe unfolded (and unfolds still).

    Turning off the TV provides no respite. The radioactive clouds and waters from Japan have no regard for borders or national boundaries. They drift with the winds, in recent weeks mostly to the northeast, but also 140 miles south to Tokyo, and then to Singapore, Indonesia and Australia, as if mocking those early confident assurances that the unthinkable could not happen. In an irony perhaps unparalleled in history, the city of Hiroshima in southwest Japan is now seen by many as a refuge for those seeking to escape from the radiation released in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear nightmare.

    Soon, winds were to spread the radioactive material to Hawaii and to the western Hemisphere. In fact, after 9 or 10 days independently established monitors picked up increases in radiation along the west coast of the United States and in Idaho, Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Massachusetts.6

    Media, government and corporate officials at first denied that the radiation would drift overseas – but their assurances following the “accidents” (in quotes not because they were desired but because they were predictable – and indeed, predicted7) turned out to not be worth the paper they’re printed on. And now the story has dropped off the front page altogether.

    For several critical days officials in Japan squandered opportunities to control the leakage, which some experts say would have been possible only by immediately entombing the nukes8 but thereby sacrificing any chance of ever using them again. Instead of taking emergency measures to avoid what has now come to pass, and instead of evacuating the population immediately from the affected areas, officials’ first thoughts were – again, just as they were following 9/11 – to salvage the investments of the corporations involved and the interests of the insurance companies, therein damning the planet to Hell.

    “There was and will not be any significant release of radioactivity from the damaged Japanese reactors,” swore Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Dr. Jos­eph Oehmen, in a widely circulated business article. “By ‘significant’ I mean a level of radiation of more than what you would receive on – say – a long distance flight, or drinking a glass of beer that comes from certain areas with high levels of natural background radiation.”9

    Such is the arrogance with which techno-apologists for the nuclear industry approach the apocalyptic situation. Published four days after the earthquake struck in Japan, the barrage of “don’t worry, be happy” propaganda had by then already proved false. Journalist Keith Harmon Snow commented on the smug assurances: “Properly understood for what it is – a childish, myopic, arrogant attempt to belittle the truth and influence public opinion – the article provides an apt example of the rampant industry disinformation that is sweeping aside rational, compassionate and precautionary assessments with irrational jingoism, simplistic emotional appeals, and wrong-headed thinking.”10


    By early April, 2011 – around 3 weeks after the explosions in Japan – Radioactive Cesium-137 from Fukushima was found in strawberries and mushrooms in northern California. Cesium-137 fixes to materials and soil and so must be separated and quickly removed, before it begins to accumulate in living organisms. A few days earlier, from March 22-25, each of 12 samples taken by the EPA at 10 sites in the U.S. showed 20 times the allowable levels of radioactive Iodine-131 (a cause of thyroid cancer).11 Radioactive isotopes were found in drinking water and milk in cities ac­ross the U.S. at the beginning of April and shortly thereafter in broad-leaf plants like spinach. Summarizing the data, Natural News writes that “as of April 10, 2011 23 US water supplies have tested positive for radioactive Iodine-131,12 13 and milk samples from at least three US locations have tested positive for Iodine-131 at levels exceeding EPA maximum containment levels (MCL).”14

    Across Europe agencies are advising pregnant women and children to beware of consuming fresh milk, creamy cheeses and vegetables with large leaves.15 One agency reports that even Uranium 234 has been detected in Hawaii and the U.S. west coast.16 But the EPA announced that levels were “below public health concern”17 – although there shouldn’t be any radioactive isotopes there at all.

    Faster than you can say “Nuclear Armageddon? Arm-a-geddin-outa-here,” U.S. officials switched gears. No longer able to convince the public that the radiation would never reach the Western hemisphere they retreated to their fall-back position. The increased levels of radiation rec­orded in some states was insignificant, they claimed. “We’ll take a tiny ‘hit’ but it will be minuscule, nothing to worry about and it will soon pass.”18 But even that “lone hit theory” turned out to be disinformation; radioactive clouds, which are not visible to the eye, are being refueled daily by the ongoing disaster and this may continue for weeks or even months, fed again and again by the venting and leakage of radioactive gases and water from Fukushima – as was the case with the 9/11 toxic plume and the false assurances as to its safety.19 Twenty-five years ago Chernobyl proved the extreme danger in such “magical thinking”. Researchers now estimate that the explosions and fire that exposed the reactor core at Chernobyl propelled as much as 10 billion curies of radioactive material into the environment – 200 times greater than the projected estimate, and hundreds of times larger than the fallout from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first indication of the catastrophe caused by such massive releases of radiation was, as so often is the case, a mass die-off of young birds.20


    Figure 1. Concentration of Iodine-131 in fresh farm milk following Chernobyl, May-June 1986, in the NY metropolitan area. (Recorded by the Environmental Measurement Laboratory of the Department of Energy)

    Dr. Ernest Sternglass was one of the first scientists to publish research showing that radiation emitted by Chernobyl caused over the next 4-6 weeks dramatic increases in infant mortality and pulmonary diseases around the globe and a spike in “excess” cancers over the longer term. To date, some scientists estimate that one million people throughout the world died from cancers due to radiation released from Chernobyl,21 with 40,000 Chernobyl-related deaths occurring in the months immediately following the explosion there.22 And when all is said and done, Fukushima will likely be worse.

    Nevertheless, the corporate media in the U.S. ignored the dangerous parallels to U.S. nuclear reactors. They posited a sort of “American exceptionalism” argument (“it can’t happen here, we do things differently, our reactors are different, we’re exempt”). They got away with portraying Chernobyl as due to faulty Soviet construction23 by suppressing accurate information. Reports concerning Chernobyl to this day wrongly insist that the reactor had “no containment housing,” even though one of the five commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, James Asselstine, testified before a Congressional subcommittee chaired by Rep. Edward Mar­key (D, Mass.) that the containment structure surrounding the reactors at Chernobyl was in fact rated ‘stronger’ than those surrounding some U.S. reactors.24 Fukushima-Daiichi’s reactors, on the other hand, are Boiling Water Reactors (BWR). Five of the six reactors have Mark-1 containments designed by General El­ectric, whose 23 similarly antiquated Mark-1 models are sputtering along here in the U.S. At least one Atomic Energy Commission official back in 1972 said the Mark-1 reactors should never have been allowed to be built.25

    Thirty-five years ago, Dale G. Bridenbaugh, Gregory C Minor and Richard B. Hubbard resigned from their jobs at General Electric “after becoming increasingly convinced that the nuclear reactor design they were reviewing – the Mark-1 – was so flawed it could lead to a devastating accident,” writes Matthew Mosk for ABC World News:

    “Questions persisted for decades about the ability of the Mark-1 to handle the immense pressures that would result if the reactor lost cooling power, and today that design is being put to the ultimate test in Japan. Five of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which has been wracked since Friday’s earthquake with explosions and radiation leaks, are Mark-1s.

    ”The problems we identified in 1975 were that, in doing the design of the containment, they did not take into account the dynamic loads that could be experienced with a loss of coolant,” Bridenbaugh told ABC News in an interview. ”The impact loads the containment would receive by this very rapid release of energy could tear the containment apart and create an uncontrolled release.”26

    Unfortunately, some of that information – as well as the horrible accident at Fukushima itself – is being used by proponents of nuclear power as propaganda for “the need to build new and safer” nuclear power plants, as opposed to getting rid of them altogether! The false claims about Fukushima, like Cherno­byl, serve a dastardly ideological purpose27 – coraling an anxious but helpless public behind reassurances that enable ongoing government subsidies to the nuclear industry.

    So on April 20th, 2011 the advocacy group Beyond Nuclear submitted an ”emergency enforcement petition” to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission urging the suspension of 21 General Electric Boiling Water Mark-1 Reactor operating licenses in the wake of the catastrophic failure of identical containment systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. In addition, Beyond Nuclear petitioned that a total of 24 GE BWR Mark-1 storage pools for high-level radioactive waste in the U.S. be required to install backup power supplies for running cooling water circulation systems in the event of a loss of the primary electrical grid, something they now lack despite their location outside of a primary containment structure.28

    In the mass media over the years, only the TV cartoon “The Simpsons” got it right – and that show was not launched until 3½ years after Chernobyl. Week after week, it spoofs Homer Simpson’s job at the Springfield nuclear power plant owned by the odious capitalist Mr. Burns. In reality, the corporate media parroted the reassurances of the U.S. and Japanese governments, twisting every which way to avoid the obvious implications with regard to the nuclear industry. But thousands of kids who have grown up watching “The Simpsons” are now aware of the insanity of nuclear power and ridicule the lies justifying it.

    After all, nuclear power is a crazy way to essentially boil water, fraught with potentially catastrophic dangers. There are currently 439 nuclear fission reactors operating worldwide (104 of them in the U.S.). They generate 14 percent of global electric power. In a report issued in 1985 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledged that over a 20-year period, the likelihood of at least one severe core meltdown was basically 50-50.29 Less than a year later, Chernobyl exploded. As journalist Karl Grossman sums it up, “They’ve known all along that disaster could come, and there’s a good likelihood of it coming, and they’ve known the consequences.”30 And yet they persist in calling what happened in Fuku­shima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, “accidents” – as though by minimizing the results of their own studies they could legitimately discount the risks of something going wrong, or that meltdowns and radiation “leakage” are natural ca­lamities over which they have no control.

    Nuclear power is an inherently holocaustic technology. An accident, as we’re now seeing (again) threatens the health and safety of the entire planet. To make matters worse, many of those risks are exacerbated because reactor owners, and often the NRC in the U.S., tolerated known safety problems.31 In the past year alone, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission documented 14 “near misses” at U.S. nuclear power plants. And those do not even include many incidents at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, NY, such as an explosion in early November 2010, which prompted officials in the four surrounding counties to open emergency response centers in case a regional evacuation was necessary.32 Indian Point is just 24 miles up the Hudson River from New York City and the NRC considers it the reactor at the highest risk of earthquake damage in the country.33 A 2010 review of Nuclear Regulatory Commission data by the Union of Concerned Scientists reports that the liner of a refueling cavity at Unit 2 has been leaking since at least 1993, without repair. By allowing this reactor to continue operating with equipment that cannot perform its safety function, the NRC is putting people in the NYC metropolitan area at elevated and undue risk.34

    The Indian Point reactors are owned by Entergy, Inc., which also owns the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. On April 19, 2011 Entergy filed a lawsuit ag­ainst the State of Vermont, in its attempt to continue to operate past its closure date of March 2012, despite having agreed to abide by all legislative as well as PSB decisions when it bought the nuke in 2002. The Citizen’s Awareness Network asks, “What changed?” The answer: The corporation didn’t get its way.35

    The conservative Brookings Institute elaborates on the dangers of poor oversight by the NRC, and of government allowing the nuclear industry to get its way:

    “The NRC’s Office of the Inspector General uncovered 24 instances in which nuclear plants failed to report defects in equipment that could pose safety risks. In the last eight years, the regulator has not imposed any penalties on plant operators for such infractions.

    “For 15 years, the NRC allowed a water containment system to leak in New York despite the problem being documented. In South Carolina, a plant operator had to shut down reactors twice in six months. One of the shutdowns was caused by a power shortage in an electrical cable that had been installed in 1986 and was not up to standard. In New Jersey, a nuclear plant was relicensed in 2009 even though it lacked a reactor containment shell that could withstand a jet crash. Within seven days of its relicensing, an ongoing leak of radioactive tritium-polluted water was uncovered. …

    “The US regulatory system faces a particular challenge regarding the handling of the vast amounts of spent fuel. At the beginning of 2010, nearly 65,000 metric tons of spent fuel was being stored at U.S. nuclear power plants. The NRC does not have limits on the amount of time fuel can remain in spent fuel pools and has not mandated, for instance, the transfer of spent fuel to dry casks, which are located away from reactors. Currently, nearly 10 times as much fuel is located in spent fuel pools than in the reactors. This is worrying as the pools are not protected by containment shells as the reactor cores are.”36

    It is sobering to realize what almost happened: In 1962 New York City’s electric utility, Con Ed, had planned to build the world’s largest nuclear plant, “with a capacity of a thousand megawatts, more power than all the other atomic plants in the United States put together.” And where did those geniuses think to situate it? Why, in Queens, right smack on the eastern bank of the East River and less than two miles as the radiation flies from Times Square, the heart of New York City!

    In 1963, opponents of the plan – known as “Ravenswood” – marched on City Hall. Their concerns were similar to those raised today, and included the effects of radiation in causing genetic mutation.

    The head of Con Ed at the time, Harland C. Forbes, dismissed such concerns before a Congressional committee as “rather silly”.

    Shortly thereafter, the NY City Council considering a resolution to ban nukes outright from NY City. The Times picks up the story from there:

    “A city utility commissioner called [the ban] “repressive and shortsighted.” The chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Glenn T. Seaborg, questioned the measure’s legality. A state senator from Queens, Seymour R. Thaler, told the Council, “The mind of man has not yet invented an accident-proof piece of mechanical equipment.”

    “All told, 29 people testified against the ban; 30 testified in favor. Out in City Hall Plaza, the growing crowd of picketers now had a name: Canpop, the Committee Against a Nuclear Power Plant in New York City.

    “In Washington, the Atomic Energy Commission harbored doubts. In August, it sent Con Ed a list of safety questions about the plant. The commission’s 1962 siting guidelines were deliberately ambiguous. On one hand, they called for a one-mile unpopulated zone around a nuclear plant, and low population density within a 16-mile radius. (More than five million people lived or worked within five miles of the Ravenswood site.) But the guidelines also noted that applicants were “free — and indeed encouraged” to argue for exceptions.

    “Con Ed had boasted that the shielding for its pressurized water reactor, featuring a concrete igloo 167 feet high and 7 feet thick, encased in another shell of thick concrete, could withstand a complete meltdown or a jetliner crash.

    “The plant’s neighbors remained unimpressed. “We think one of the threats is a decline in property values, and that is a factor,” Irving Katz, a founder of Canpop and a biochemist, told The Times in an October 1963 article. “But really it comes down to this — when we look out of our windows and see those two stacks up there, we are frightened. And our women are frightened.” [!] … Con Edison told the commission it would modify its plans to include “additional engineering safeguards.””37

    However in early 1964, Con Ed – under growing public pressure – withdrew its Ravenswood application. “It said it had made arrangements to buy hydroelectric power from Canada instead, a move that ‘had absolutely nothing to do with the public opposition to the proposal.’ The cost of building transmission lines was suddenly not a factor.”38

    Also weighing in significantly against Con Ed’s Rav­enswood plan was David E. Lilienthal, the first chair of the Atomic Energy Commission. He testified before Congress that he “would not dream of living in Queens” if such a plant were built there.39 However,

    “Con Ed was not done trying to build a nuclear plant in the city, though. In 1968, it floated a plan to build an underground reactor — “because it would provide the nth degree of safety” — beneath an abandoned hospital site at the south end of Welfare Island, now Roosevelt Island, a few hundred feet from the Ravens­wood plants and that much closer to the East Side of Manhattan. It went nowhere.

    “In 1970, the utility proposed nuclear plants on man-made islands several miles off Coney Island and Staten Island, built of solid waste and each crowned with four thousand-megawatt reactors.”40

    In tandem with the push for nuclear power, in 1957 Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act, which minimized corporate liability in the case of an accident and guaranteed public subsidies to the nuclear industry. The Price-Anderson Act

    “artificially limits the amount of primary insurance that nuclear operators must carry. … This distorts electricity markets by masking nuclear power’s unique safety and security risks, granting nuclear power an unfair and undesirable competitive advantage over safer energy alternatives. Second, Price-Anderson caps the liability of nuclear operators in the event of a serious accident or attack, leaving taxpayers on the hook for most of the damages. This makes capital investment in the nuclear industry more attractive to investors because their risk is minimized and fixed. … Since corporations under Price-Anderson are only responsible for around two percent of the estimated cost of a serious accident, nuclear power corporations can largely ignore (from a financial perspective) the dangers that reactors impose on American communities.”41

    As CUNY Professor of Theoretical Physics Michio Kaku puts it, “the Price-Anderson Act … mandates [that] the U.S. government, the taxpayers, will underwrite the insurance, because nuclear power stations are not insurable. … Nobody will sell an insurance policy for a nuclear power plant, because who can afford a $200 billion accident?”42

    It was the Price-Anderson Act that permitted, for example, Pacific Gas & Electric to build the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor right atop the Hosgri Fault in San Luis Obispo, California, and adjacent to a later-discovered offshore fault a mile out to sea – an area prone to quakes. PG&E bragged that the reactor was built to withstand a 6.5 magnitude earthquake. However, the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 occurred along one of those fault lines and measured 7.1 on the Richter scale. In response to many large protests, the utility has now been forced to postpone relicensing of the plant.43 Some environmental groups believe this to be a victory for sanity, but it appears that this may be a diversion allowing PG&E added time to keep the plant running, while conducting more unnecessary seismic studies as the pretext.

    At least three times since the year 2000 have deadly radioactive fuel rods disappeared from U.S. nuclear power plants, including rods “lost” at the Humboldt Bay Power Station run by PG&E in Eureka, California.44 Its 2nd reactor complex at Humboldt Bay was dubbed “the dirtiest nuclear reactor in the U.S.” and was shut down in the late 70’s when traces of plutonium triggered Geiger counter alerts in a children’s playground a mile away.45

    Nor are false assurances and outright lying limited to the United States. Officials overseeing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex have a sordid history of falsifying records. In 2002, a scandal over this rocked Japan and led to the departure of a number of senior executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) as well as to disclosures of previously unreported problems at the plant.46 TEPCO officials admitted they had falsified safety records at Fukushima Daiichi. As a result of the scandal and a fuel leak at Fukushima, the company had to temporarily shut down all of its 17 nuclear reactors.47 Fukushima state governor Yuhei Sato condemned TEPCO and METI (the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Jap­an’s nuclear regulatory agency), saying, “Some of the pundits have said, ‘This is an accident beyond all expectations. It is a natural disaster,’ but do not be fooled. This accident was doomed to happen. In other words, it is a man-made disaster.” He pledged that he “will never allow Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to re-open the reactors there.”48

    Of course, that assumes that the current governor does not reverse his statements – after all, he’s the one who in August, 2010 signed off on the plutonium-generating plan – and remains in office long enough to keep the nuclear industry at bay, not a likely scenario. The last governor, Sato Eisaku, even more forcefully fought the nuclear regulatory agency, and he was soon deposed and brought to trial on corruption charges. Still, Sato Eisaku sounds the warning: “During my ten­ure as governor of Fukushima prefecture, I fought hard against METI, demanding a transparency guarantee on accident information and working to secure the state government’s rights with regard to where nuclear plants are built. METI is supposed to supervise and instruct TEPCO so as to prevent TEPCO’s repeated tampering with and concealing of information, but instead, the two organizations have been working hand-in-hand. … Government must accept responsibility for defrauding the people.’”49

    Nevertheless, just a month before the powerful 2011 earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, government regulators approved a 10-year extension for the oldest of the six reactors at the power station, ignoring warnings about its safety.

    “Several weeks after a 10-year extension was granted for the Fukushima Daiichi plant, its operator admitted that it had failed to inspect 33 pieces of equipment related to the plant’s cooling systems, … including water pumps and diesel generators, at the power station’s six reactors, according to findings published on the agency’s Web site shortly before the earthquake.”50

    Less than two weeks later, the earthquake and tsunami set off the crisis at the power station.


    The nuclear nightmare is entirely man-made and profit driven. There is nothing “natural” about it. It is the result not just of technology gone “inexplicably” haywire but, predictably, of a certain kind of technology – a centralized, metered and capitalist technology,51 very expensive and made economically profitable only by a boatload of government subsidies to the nuclear industry.52

    And yet, even amidst the current catastrophe, and even as the government of Venezuela halts its nuclear program in response to public requests to reconsider the direction for society in light of Fukushima,53 the U.S. government is dead-set on shoring up the industry and constructing new nuclear power plants. Along with Wall Street brokerage house Goldman Sachs, nuclear reactor operator Exelon Inc. – one of the largest employers in Illinois where Obama was Senator (a state that gets approximately half of its electricity from nuclear power, more than any other state) – was a top contributor to Barack Obama’s campaigns, officially donating over $269,000.

    The company currently operates 10 reactors at six sites. The Quad-cities Nuclear Power Plant, located on the banks of the Mississippi River, is a GE Mark-1 plant, with the identical design and nearly the same age as the Fukushima reactors. Exelon barely averted disaster at its Braidwood nuke in Joliet, IL last year, caused by several problems that the company had refused to correct — including a poor design that led to repeated floods in buildings housing safety equipment. The company allowed vented steam to rip metal siding off containment walls and used undersized electrical fuses for vital safety equipment, according to the NRC.54

    As candidate for president, Obama knew about the deadly dangers of nuclear power. “I start off with the premise that nuclear energy is not optimal and so I am not a nuclear energy proponent,” Obama said at a campaign stop in Newton, Iowa on December 30, 2007. “My general view is that until we can make certain that nuclear power plants are safe. … I don’t think that’s the best option. I am much more interested in solar and wind and bio-diesel and strategies [for] alternative fuels.”55

    As he told the editorial board of the Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire on November 25, 2007: “I don’t think there’s anything that we inevitably dislike about nuclear power. We just dislike the fact that it might blow up …and irradiate us … and kill us. That’s the problem.” But as president, he hired a nuclear power proponent out of the national nuclear laboratory system, Steven Chu, as his energy secretary. Chu, who had been director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, minimizes the impacts of radioactivity, as do many of the atomic physicists in the national laboratory system. Obama’s two top White House aides, meanwhile, had been deeply involved with Exelon — the utility operating more nuclear power plants than any other in the U.S. Rahm Em­an­u­el, his former chief of staff, was an investment banker central to the $8.2 billion corporate merger in 1999 that produced Exelon. David Axelrod, senior advisor and Obama’s chief political strategist, was an Exelon PR consultant. Frank M. Clark, who runs ComEd, helped advise Obama before he ran for President and is one of Obama’s largest fundraisers. Candidate Obama received sizable contributions from Exel­on president and CEO John Rowe, who in 2007 also became chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry’s main trade group. As Forbes magazine wrote, “Ties are tight between Exelon and the Obama administration,” noting Exelon’s political contributions and Emanuel’s and Axelrod’s Exelon links.56 Upon becoming President, Obama appointed Rowe to his Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Energy Future.

    The revolving door between government and industry rotates just as fast in Japan as it does in the U.S. In fact, the former director general of METI left the agency and joined TEPCO as a senior adviser. Another METI board member became executive vice president at TEPCO.57

    Not surprisingly, given who funded his campaigns, as president Obama betrayed his campaign statements and began promoting “safe, clean nuclear power.” He pushed for multi-billion dollar taxpayer subsidies for the construction of new nuclear plants, and made them a central part of his energy policy. He now proposes allocating $36 billion in federal loan guarantees to jump-start the construction of new nuclear reactors.

    Unfortunately, he has maneuvered some who have argued fervently for the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce or reverse global warming, such as NASA scientist James Hansen, into supporting his pro-nuclear policies by falsely posing coal mining and sequestration, mountaintop removal, deep sea oil drilling, and hydro-fracking for natural gas as the options to nuclear power – all of which the Obama administration is aggressively promoting. Opponents of nuclear power, in contrast, vigorously oppose every one of those Obama proposals and argue instead for funding for development of decentralized sustainable energy alternatives like solar and wind power. Contrary to the claims of nuclear supporters, anti-nuke activists also strongly oppose expansion of oil and coal-burning power plants and support phasing them out, as they are rightly seen as prime contributors to air pollution, asthma and greenhouse gases involved in global climate change. But nuclear power is not the answer.

    John Rowe’s Nuclear Energy Institute praises legislation that would facilitate the development of smaller, scalable nuclear reactors. The legislation, sponsored by Democrats as well as Republicans,

    “was introduced March 8 in the U.S. Senate. The Nuclear Power 2021 Act (S. 512) was introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), along with Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). The legislation directs the Secretary of Energy to implement programs to develop and demonstrate two reactor designs, one fewer than 300 megawatts of electric generating capacity and the other fewer than 50 mega­watts. This public-private, cost-shared program would facilitate the design certification by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of two small reactor designs by the end of 2017 and the licensing of the reactors by the end of 2020.”58

    Even as the nuclear nightmare plays out in Japan, the President, the nuclear industry and its proponents in Congress bull ahead, disregarding the potential for causing global catastrophic events. Just as former President George W. Bush increased allowable arsenic in drinking water when that water was found to have higher arsenic levels than expected, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Obama is preparing to dramatically increase permissible radioactive releases in water, food and soil, in preparation for what they are calling ‘radiological incidents.’59

    This is taking place entirely behind closed doors, warns the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Because this plan is considered ‘guidance’ it does not require public notice as a normal regulation would. The radiation guides (called Protective Action Guides or PAGs) “are protocols for responding to radiological events ranging from nuclear power-plant accidents to ‘dirty’ bombs.” Under the new guides, nuclear energy plants would be allowed to vent much higher levels of radioactive isotopes into the water supply and expose many more people to higher doses of radiation, including

    – A nearly 1000-fold increase in strontium-90;

    – A 3000 to 100,000-fold hike for iodine-131; and

    – An almost 25,000 rise for nickel-63.

    The new radiation guidelines would also allow long-term cleanup standards thousands of times more lax than anything EPA has ever before accepted, permitting doses to the public that EPA itself estimates would cause cancer in as many as every fourth person exposed.60 These relaxations of radiation protection requirements are favored by the nuclear industry and allies in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Energy Department.

    Fortunately, there are some in the regulatory agencies resisting the proposed increase in allowable radiation guides. The idea that there could be any “acceptable level” of radiation – let alone these drastically “enhanced” levels – is being vigorously opposed by public health professionals inside EPA where a critical debate is now taking place, according to documents PEER obtained by suing the EPA under the Freedom of Information Act. Even Exelon CEO John Rowe said lawmakers shouldn’t expand U.S. guarantees for loans for new reactors, and that he is reassessing a $3.65-billion plan to boost output by upgrading Exelon’s existing reactors61 – not for any newfound moral, environmental or health-related concern but as a smokescreen for reducing corporate expenditures. The EPA’s documents show that such higher-ups as Charles Openchowski of EPA’s Office of General Counsel, on the other hand, is truly appalled at the proposed allowable radiation guides and wrote:

    “[T]his guidance would allow cleanup levels that exceed MCLs [Maximum Contamination Limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances 7 million and there is nothing to prevent those levels from being the final cleanup achieved (i.e., it’s not confined to immediate response of emergency phase).”62

    It is worth noting that measurements in seawater near the Fukushima Daiichi reactors currently found radio­active Iodine-131 levels at 7.5 million times the legal limit. Those readings were recorded just before Tokyo Electric began releasing an additional 11,000 tons of radioactive water into the sea, poisoning whales, dolphins, sea turtles and fish.63 (Why measure it at all if they’re just going to dump it in the ocean, regardless of what the measurements show?) The radioactive water being discharged into the Pacific has prompted experts to sound the alarm, as radioactive cesium, which has a much longer half-life than iodine, is expected to concentrate in the upper food chain.

    After a month had passed, the Japanese government raised the level of the accident at Fukushima from 5 to 7, the most severe of accidents, on par with Chernobyl and which would put into motion em­ergency measures that, criminally, were not yet in effect. The anti-nuclear environmental organization Greenpeace – among others – had already calculated three weeks before that the accident at Fukushima was scale 7. Thomas Breuer, the head of the Climate & Energy Unit for Greenpeace Germany, is part of a field team of radiation monitors in Japan. He questioned why the government of Japan waited so long to raise the accident level, noting that Japan “wasted three weeks of not informing the public about the real risks of this accident.”
    Fukushima “is not equal to Chernobyl, it is way worse, because we are facing three reactors totally, or partly, destroyed,” Breuer said. “A fourth reactor has a problem with the spent fuel, which had a huge explosion. … Each of these reactors could be rated as an INES scale 7 accident, because the INES scale does not even consider a multiple accident.”

    Another point, Breuer emphasizes, is that the Chernobyl reactor was situated more or less in a rural area. “But Fukushima is in a densely populated area, so millions of people are living around it,” making it even worse than Chernobyl and more difficult to manage.

    “[Greenpeace] warned the government that there are a lot of cities and villages outside the 20-kilometer evacuation zone where the radiation levels are so high that people need urgently to be evacuated, especially children and pregnant women, because they are the most vulnerable part of the population to radiation.”

    Fukushima “is a city of 340,000 inhabitants, and we found very high levels of radiation in the city.”64 But, TEPCO did not even notify the relevant government institutions until more than three desperate hours into the catastrophe.65 Timely notification of the people living near the plant could have meant the difference between living and dying.

    And yet amidst the ongoing desperation, despair and heroic attempts by so many people to contain the current crisis and keep it from becoming even worse, Japan’s Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, ridiculed those calling for an end to nuclear reactors, saying that they “exaggerat[ed] the danger.”66 Unbelievably, he declared that produce from the region around the Fukushima plant was safe to eat despite farmers’ own misgivings over the radiation on their crops. “From now on, people should not fall into an extreme self-restraint mood, and they should live life as normal,” he said. Impersonating George W. Bush, Naoto Kan called on Japan’s people to go out of their way “to consume products from the areas that have been affected. … We should enjoy the use of such products and support the areas that have been affected. I ask you to do this.” Oh my God, did he really say that? Who can forget U.S. president Bush’s advice following 9/11: “Go shopping. Travel. Live your life as usual. Don’t let the terrorists win.” Today we have: “Eat your spinach. Don’t let the radiation win!” Yikes!

    The truth is, the “terrorists” are those who are holding the entire world hostage to their insatiable drive for expanded energy production and profits at any cost. Unfortunately for the rest of us, there is no “Planet B”. Fukushima highlights once again the stark reality of the choice facing us: The Capitalist system vs. the Immune system. President Obama has made his choice – one of solidarity, not with the suffering people of Japan but with the corporations that own the world’s nuclear power plants. But, regardless, it will be our resistance that will be decisive, just as it was in the late 1970s and early 80s when the huge antinuclear movement in the U.S. prevented any new reactors from being built.

    Back in the 1980s, Dr. Ernest Sternglass (together with Jens Scheer) correlated fluctuations in infectious diseases – and significantly, those associated with the then-emerging AIDS epidemic and other immune compromising conditions – with releases of radiation into the atmosphere from nuclear weapons testing. He expanded that work to examine the results of radiation exposure following Chernobyl. Sternglass also ascertained that illnesses occurred not only as a result of nuclear weapons tests and extreme nuclear power plant accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, but in proportion to people’s proximity to nuclear power plants in the course of their “normal” operations. Sternglass concluded that the everyday low-level radiation generated by nuclear power plants plays havoc with people’s immune system as well as with the surrounding environment.67

    The inhabitants of Maharashtra in India are fiercely protesting the plan to build the world’s largest nuclear complex.68 Anti-nuke protesters are marching in Japan as well as throughout Europe. In Germany, the Green Party – due to its longstanding militant opposition to nuclear power – won unprecedented pluralities in the recent election and numerous seats in the legislature.

    We in the U.S. must seize this moment, become far more visible and move quickly to force the government to:

    shut down all nuclear power plants;

    vastly increase subsidies to decentralized sustainable alternatives like wind and solar power;

    conserve nature and energy by forcing a reduction in unnecessary and wasteful production69; and,

    end the “revolving door” between government regulators and industry by forbidding regulators from joining the private corporations they had been monitoring.

    Whether global capitalism can accommodate itself to these needs or whether the demands will serve as part of a program of a movement for a non-nuclear and sustainable socialist society remains to be seen. That transition is now on us. What we do is all important. We want our kids to inherit a world worth living in, and so must put an end to nuclear power immediately. The world hangs in the balance.

    Mitchel Cohen organizes with the Brooklyn Greens / Green Party and NY State Against Genetic Engineering (NYSAGE), and coordinates the No Spray Coalition against pesticides. He is a founding member of the Red Balloon Collective (1969) at SUNY Stony Brook, hosts a weekly radio show “Steal This Radio” on, and is the former Chair of the WBAI Radio (99.5 FM) Local Station Board (2008-2012).

  • Elisa December 16, 2013
  • Mark E. Smith December 16, 2013

    No wonder Japan has passed a State Secrets Act. They have a lot of embarrassing history to cover up. I hope Brian Covert isn’t arrested and doesn’t lose his job for this article. I’ve often wondered how Japan could have accepted nuclear power after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I’m grateful for this essential history of how it was sold.

  • Generalfeldmarschall on Hindenburg January 26, 2014

    It’s been said that thanks to Japan’s extensive nuclear power infrastructure, the Japanese could put together a powerful nuclear weapons arsenal quickly. Is it any surprise then that a staunch Japanese fascist/todo-ha type would be pushing so hard to give Japan this capability in the wake of WW2?