Kumi Naidoo and Nuclear Campaigner Yannick Rousselet protest the passage of a train carrying nuclear waste. Image: Pierre Gleizes
Two months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones, those who face an uncertain future and those who are still unable to return home because of the deadly contamination from the still leaking and still precarious nuclear complex at Fukushima.
The ongoing Fukushima nuclear catastrophe stands as a stark warning to those who live in the shadow of other nuclear reactors around the world. It stands also as a reminder of the inherent risk of nuclear power: a technology so complex and so dangerous that it will always be prone to the impact of natural disaster, technical failure and human error.
Nuclear power is a technology that comes complete with its own disaster scale: the International Nuclear Events Scale or INES. Fukushima having suffered the twin onslaught of earthquake and tsunami registered seven on that scale, the highest possible, yet it is not the worst case scenario. It can’t be. There is still much more radioactivity held inside the wrecked reactors than has been leaked into the environment. There is still no guarantee that the reactors have been brought under control. The future for those living in the area remains fraught with danger, uncertainty and risk.
One thing is certain, though! No one would build a reactor in a high risk earthquake zone on a coast now. Not after Fukushima. Would they? No one would take the risk?
Regulators would not approve it. Citizens would fiercely oppose it. Banks and markets would not be prepared to take the risk; they would not be prepared to pay for it. Would they? Apparently, yes! Two of the world’s biggest banks, HSBC and BNP Paribas, are doing just that, they are involved in funding a massive nuclear development at Jaitapur on India’s earthquake prone coast in Maharastra State. If completed according to plan, it will be the world’s biggest nuclear power facility.
Long before the Fukushima disaster, local people expressed their opposition, they have protested the construction and pointed out the inherent dangers and technical threats posed by the planned French European Pressurised Reactors. They pointed out that nowhere in the world has the problem of how to isolate deadly nuclear waste from the environment been solved. Jaitapur is no exception - there is no plan, period. Nor is there any money being set aside to pay for radioactive waste management. Thousands of people have been unjustly arrested in protest. More than 2,400 families will lose their livelihoods if the plans continue, yet only 154 have so far accepted compensation.
Despite this and in the face of Fukushima the Indian government is determined to continue, to let the French company Areva build the reactors. It will not listen to reason nor pay attention to the reality of earthquakes in the region: in the last two decades alone it has suffered three earthquakes above 5 points on the Richter scale. In 1993 the region suffered a quake measuring 6.3 which left some 9,000 people dead.
I have witnessed first hand the legacy of the nuclear industry. Last month I travelled to Chernobyl and met with local people who – 25 years later - still live with that nuclear disaster every day. I have had the honour of standing alongside the people of the Wendland in Germany who continue to lead a mass movement against a planned nuclear waste storage site that threatens their livelihoods and homes. And along with the rest of the world I have witnessed the most extreme cost of nuclear energy - the disaster at Fukushima and the heart-wrenching consequences for the people affected.
Today, I have written to the heads of BNP Paribas and HSBC reminding them of the need to act responsibly and reminding them of the reality surrounding these already questionable nuclear investments. I am urging people everywhere to take a stand against future Fukushima’s and join me in warning these banks against the risks of investing in nuclear power. Instead we need banks like HSBC and BNP Paribas to invest in clean and safe renewable energy sources rather than bank on the next Fukushima. No money, no reactors, no danger.