By Robert Reich
Today is the fifth anniversary of the tragic meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, which has contaminated a large swath of the Pacific Ocean with radioactive material. You may recall that General Electric had marketed the Mark 1 boiling water reactor used in the plant — as well as in sixteen American nuclear plants — as a cheaper alternative to competing reactors because it used a smaller and less expensive containment structures. Yet the dangers associated with the Mark 1 reactor were already well known. In the mid-1980s, Harold Denton, an official with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, warned that Mark 1 reactors had a 90 percent probability of bursting if their fuel rods overheated and melted in an accident. A follow-up report from a study group convened by the NRC found that “Mark 1 failure within the first few hours following core melt would appear rather likely.”
So what has the NRC done since the Fukushima disaster? It set up a task force to recommend steps to safeguard U.S. nuclear plants, but then rejected or weakened all of the recommendations, and still hasn’t fully implemented any, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Why hasn’t the NRC required General Electric to improve the safety of its Mark 1 reactors? Perhaps because of General Electric’s political clout. In 2012, for example, its executives and PACs contributed almost $4 million to political campaigns (putting it sixty-third out of 20,766 companies) and it spent almost $19 million lobbying (the fifth highest lobbying tab of 4,372 companies). Moreover, 104 of its 144 lobbyists had previously held government posts.
This is what Bernie Sanders’s political revolution is all about. Until we get big money out of politics, we’re all, quite literally, endangered.