Sunday, January 1, 2017

Nuclear Utilities are Risk Externalizing Machines: We the People are Increasingly Homo Sacer

TEPCO has been saved from bankruptcy by the Japanese government, which assumed most of the utility's liabilities associated with the Fukushima disaster.

In the final days of 2016, as the Fukushima region was jarred by another significant earthquake (see here), TEPCO proposed its first bond sale since the 2011 disaster:

Exclusive: Tepco, investors discussing first bond sale since Fukushima – sources. December 27, 2016. Channel News Asia,

TOKYO: Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) is gauging demand for its first bond offering since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear calamity, with some market participants expecting a sale as early as February, people familiar with the plans said.

Once-sceptical investors are now more comfortable with the utility's outlook after government moves to reassess decommissioning and compensation costs, bankers and investors who asked not to be identified told Thomson Reuters DealWatch.

Tepco is likely to have to pay investors a 1 percentage point premium above Japanese government bonds, considered a rich yield pick-up, as potential buyers see an implicit government guarantee for the basically nationalized company, the people said.
TEPCO's ambitious plan to issue bonds is only possible because the company  has essentially EXTERNALIZED most of the costs associated with the Fukushima disaster, despite its poor risk and crisis management, which together produced the disaster and exacerbated fallout exposure, according to a special report issued by the Japanese Diet (here).

In my book, Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk, I discuss the process whereby risks and costs are shifted from the agents who produced them to the sphere of everyday life as citizens are forced to pay higher taxes and energy rates while simultaneously being subjected to increased risks of health and reproductive problems.

Following work by Jacob Hacker (here), I describe this process of externalizing risks to the sphere of everyday life as "privatization," as private citizens are left encumbered. Here is an excerpt from my book:

Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk makes that argument that risk has been shifted to citizens - privatized - by contexualizing the Fukushima disaster historically and in relation to the scientific and medical developments in our understandings of the health risks of ionizing radiation. It examines how risk has been privatized as Japanese citizens impacted by the disaster have been encouraged to return to areas that were highly contaminated by the disaster. It also examines efforts by government agencies and corporations to shift the externalities of the disaster to citizens through limited evacuations, bailouts, taxes and other nuclear polices that transfer costs to citizens. In discussing these risk shifts this project raises concern about the privatization of risk in the wake of truly catastrophic events like the Fukushima disaster.

As observed by Graciela Chichilnisky, Chair of Columbia’s Center for Risk Management: ‘We need better forms of social organization to face catastrophic risks’ today, particularly when the risks have been assumed by privatize citizens who lack the resources of most bureaucracies and corporations.’[i]

In the wake of the disaster, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) assumed power in December 2012 elections. The LDP embraces nuclear power in Japan despite seismic analyses that have found active faults under many plants. Why has nuclear power been pursued relentless despite the risks demonstrated by Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, among other nuclear disasters? The answer lies in the intimate connection between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

Nuclear reactors not only afford energy for domestic consumption, but also provide nations with supplies and facilities necessary for production of nuclear weapons. In September of 2012, Japan Japan's Defense Chief Satoshi Morimoto asserted publicly that nuclear power plants pose a ‘deterrent’ against foreign attacks.[ii] The LDP subscribes strongly to this position.

Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk also explores the close historical coupling between nuclear weapons development and nuclear power in order to investigate a less-examined reason for the Japanese government’s reluctance to halt all nuclear power despite post 3-11 findings that nuclear plants in Japan may reside on active faults. Rising tensions in Asia between Japan and China, particularly over territorial disputes, signals the potential for a new cold war rising.[iii]

Global and regional political tensions may play an under-recognized role in shaping the Japanese government’s reluctance to close nuclear energy production in the nation, particularly at plants known to reside on active faults. In that respect, Japan’s close relationship to the U.S. presently, and in the post-World War period, also offers insight into the origins and management of the Fukushima crisis given several of the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi were designed by General Electric and the earliest units were built by a US contractor. In many ways, the story of the evolution of the Fukushima disaster is also a story of the close nuclear-industrial relationships between the US and Japan in the post-World War II era.

The book is organized into three separate parts, each of which can be read independently. Chapter One introduces the project and establishes its global environmental significance. Chapter Two explains the development of the industrial-military nuclear complex in Japan and provides background on the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Chapter Three addresses the Fukushima disaster and the crisis management efforts of the Japanese and US governments. It also examines the empirical evidence of fallout and bio-contamination. Chapter Four contextualizes the significance of the disaster in relation to the harmful effects of ionizing radiation. This chapter explores the politics inherent in the concept of a ‘permissible dose’ and the historical and contemporary debates about measurement of biological effects. The significance of the Fukushima disaster is contextualized within new understandings of the biological effects of radiation on human health generally and the human genome more specifically. Chapter Five concludes the project. [END]

Ultimately, citizens and those stripped of states' shrinking protections, increasingly stand naked before power.

The struggle for transcendental rights, including the right to happiness and well-being has failed.

We are becoming homo sacer, as revealed by domestic and international nuclear policy priorities, as well by the more obvious atrocities deriving from the war on terror (see here).


[i] G. Chichilnisky (7 June 2006) ‘Catastrophic Risks: The Need for New Tools, Financial Instruments and Institutions’, The Privatization of Risk,, date accessed 7 November 2012.

[ii] ‘Japan Sees Nuclear Power Plants as Powerful ‘Deterrent’ Against Foreign Attacks’ (6 September 2012), Newstrack India,, date accessed 9 February 2013.

[iii] See M. Klare (6 December 2011) ‘Tomgram: A New Cold War in Asia?’ Tomdispatch,, date accessed 12 December 2011.

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