Monday, July 16, 2012


Private Enterprise endangers Public Safety
A report from a Japanese investigation, just out, reminds us how dangerous privately owned nuclear power plants are and how private industry corrupts government supervision.
Here are bits and pieces of the story: the Fukushima nuclear plant was owned and run by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Many Japanese had good reasons for being distrustful of the company. In 2002, the company was caught falsifying records of nuclear power plant inspections. After a 2007 earthquake damaged a TEPCO nuclear generating plant, it emerged that the company was totally unprepared for earthquakes, even though Japan is of all countries the most prone to serious quakes.
The plant was built by General Electric and serviced by one of its divisions. One of their engineers who inspected the power plant found many safety violations. When he reported his observations, General Electric terminated him. The American company was as careless with public safety as its Japanese customer. The Japanese government did nothing; the power generation was allowed to continue in spite of serious threats to the integrity of the plant.
As in the US, Japanese government officials have a cozy relationships to private industry. When government officials retire they are often rewarded with employment in private companies. The regulators of the nuclear industry are hand in glove with the industry they are supposed to regulate. When the falsification of inspection records came to light, the government reacted limply and failed to take appropriate action to make sure that the nuclear power company would take safety measures more seriously.
The public in Japan, and all over the world, was put in danger in order to save money for the stockholders of TEPCO and to preserve the cushy jobs of government officials. In short, the regulatory mechanism failed completely.
Contrary to prevailing conservative opinion, private enterprise did not benefit the public. More importantly, and more seriously, private enterprise corrupted the governmental mechanisms supposed to step in where private enterprise fails to benefit everyone and to keep everyone safe. Not only did the privately owned nuclear power company put their own profit ahead of public safety but they managed to undercut government regulation to ensure that nuclear power plants would be safe as possible.
Once again, private industry shows itself more powerful than popularly elected governments. Private industry has no difficulties using government for its own purposes to the detriment of the public at large. Its no longer government "for the people" but for the large corporations.