Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thoughts on Japan

Rob Verchick (Loyola) has a thoughtful editorial in the Christian Science Monitor about recovery from the recent earthquake and tsunami:

In policymaking circles, the questions are already flying. What parts of the landscape should be restored? How safe should sea walls and nuclear reactors be? How should the public participate in this debate? Looking to the recent history of disaster recovery, leaders are given two contrasting models for how to approach rebuilding: the heavy-handed approach of Kobe, Japan’s Mayor Kazutoshi Sasayama after the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995 or the hands-off approach of Mayor Ray Nagin in New Orleans after hurricane or. Should leaders favor the heavy hand or the light touch? If history’s a guide, the path will be muddy. But already it may be taking shape.

Read more here.

I'm also disturbed by a recent article in The New York Times about how the nuclear industry relies on a large temporary workforce of economically vulnerable workers who brave extreme exposure to radiation without much training or job security.  And, according to the article, this is not just a minority of low level workers, but the vast majority of the work force at plants such as Fukushima Daiichi.

Collectively, these contractors were exposed to levels of radiation about 16 times as high as the levels faced by Tokyo Electric employees last year, according to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which regulates the industry. These workers remain vital to efforts to contain the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plants.

They are emblematic of Japan’s two-tiered work force, with an elite class of highly paid employees at top companies and a subclass of laborers who work for less pay, have less job security and receive fewer benefits. Such labor practices have both endangered the health of these workers and undermined safety at Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors, critics charge.

“This is the hidden world of nuclear power,” said Yuko Fujita, a former physics professor at Keio University in Tokyo and a longtime campaigner for improved labor conditions in the nuclear industry. “Wherever there are hazardous conditions, these laborers are told to go. It is dangerous for them, and it is dangerous for nuclear safety.”

This disaster has raised serious questions about long-settled practices, in land use, disaster recovery, and energy generation. My hope is that the recovery process will teach us something about dealing effectively and humbly with the power of nature and its effect on how we order our lives.

Jamie Baker Roskie

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