The world fears Japan has lost control of the crisis

International criticism of Japan’s handling of the nuclear crisis grows.

For the first time since the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant began, we're beginning to hear international criticism of the Japanese government. The head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, has warned that the situation is more serious than the country's officials are prepared to say.

Jaczko told Congress that Japan should impose an exclusion zone of at least 50 miles, and not just 12. Most significantly, he also warned that all the water had evaporated from the spent fuel pool in reactor 4, leaving nothing to stop the fuel rods from getting hotter. In effect, the Obama administration, which has collected its own independent data on radiation levels, has rejected the assessment provided by Japan.

The Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company have offered an unconvincing rebuttal. Hajime Motojuku, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric, said: "We can't get inside to check, but we've been carefully watching the building's environs, and there has not been any particular problem." Few, not least in Japan, will be reassured by his hesitant tone.

But it's not just the US that fears Japan has lost control of the crisis. The International Atomic Energy Agency, whose head will visit Tokyo today to assess the "very serious" situation, has warned the government that it must provide better information to its organisation. Perhaps most striking are the words of the EU's energy chief, Günther Oettinger, who told the European Parliament: "There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well chosen."

In response to these concerns, the UK government is chartering planes for British nationals unable to leave on scheduled flights – an important test of Foreign Office competence.

What one can say with some certainty is that the continuing crisis will strengthen the backlash against nuclear power across Europe. In this week's magazine, Mark Lynas offers a cool dose of realism and warns that the world cannot afford to abandon atomic energy. He writes:

If the crisis in Japan leads to a large-scale shift in attitudes against nuclear power, the outcome will be a worsening of human impact on the environment. Japan is a good example of why fixing global warming without increased use of nuclear energy is as good as impossible: the country has little resources of solar or wind power, and is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels. Coal and nuclear each meet about 25 per cent of Japanese energy needs.

Whether the world reaches the same conclusion is likely to depend on the outcome of events at Fukushima.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia