Sunday, July 11, 2010

Iranian Regime's Nuclear Heel

As Iranian authorities run the last tests on Bushehr nuclear power plant, and as the authorities slash oil prices so as to find international customers, we feel it is necessary to re-state some positions expressed before regarding nuclear energy in Iran.

Their Nuclear Heel
The Iranian people have a right to demand accountability for a whole host of issues involved with the production of nuclear energy in Iran: Where are the records of seismological surveys carried out to determine how near/far major fault lines lie from the Bushehr power plant? What are the safety regulations put in place? What about the environmental-impact studies for the 'best-case' scenarios (where to store the nuclear waste, and how)? Has any thinking gone into plans for a worst-case scenario, for the necessary evacuations, for containment of the radiation contamination, and on and on? But most importantly, do the people in Iran have an oversight right over any of the nuclear activities? In other words: Is there a reliable infrastructure available to help rebuild lives in a worst-case scenario, or is Bushehr as a city, much like Chernobyl, considered an expendable city? Or, are the gentlemen in Tehran - as well as in the western capitals - dependent merely on luck and divine protection?

And what about evacuation procedures, should the worst happen? Iran's roads are not exactly extensive or kept in decent repair. We know from the 2005 New Orleans experience with Hurricane Katrina, that even in a country with extensive highway systems, evacuating large populations can take a long time and is a very hazardous task at best, and at worst a murderous ordeal. A nuclear accident, by contrast, is capable of precipitating an extremely poisonous atmospheric and environmental set of conditions in less than an hour.

Iran sits on many large and active fault lines; you can see a seismicity map of Iran at: (Seismic Hazard Assessment of Iran; by B. Tavakoli and M. Ghafory-Ashtiany).

Of the major earthquakes that do occur in Iran, a good many are stronger than magnitude 6 on the Richter scale, from which point on major damage and destruction increase exponentially. Here are some casualty figures from recent major earthquakes in Iran, since 1972:

· Dec. 26, 2003: Southeastern Iran, Bam, magnitude 6.5; 26,000 killed.
· June 22, 2002: Northwestern Iran in the Qazvin province, magnitude 6; at least 500 killed.
· May 10, 1997: Northern Iran near Afghanistan, magnitude 7.1; 1,500 died.
· June 21, 1990: Northwest Iran around Tabas, magnitude 7.3-7.7; 50,000 killed.
· Sept. 16, 1978: Northeast Iran, magnitude 7.7; 25,000 killed.
· April 10, 1972: Southern Iran near Ghir Karzin, magnitude 7.1; 5,374 killed.

These casualty figures are very high as it is. In each case, additional thousands if not tens of thousands more suffered months and years of dislocation and loss of livelihoods, for which they were never compensated, nor were they helped in rebuilding their lives. Now, imagine the additional casualties and the displaced if any of these earthquakes had been accompanied by the melt down of a nuclear reactor.

It should be pointed out that the deaths occurring as a result of these earthquakes are far larger than they should have been, mostly because of lax building codes in Iran. Ours are completely inadequate compared to some of the world's highest standards for earthquake-proofing available in, say, Japan; yet even there serious accidents have occurred due to lack of preparedness for earthquake strengths that did actually occur, which exceeded earthquake levels the construction specifications had required. We can state that not even a shade of such standards are enforced or followed in Iran. The building codes that do exist are regularly ignored and violated by contractors, developers and even individual home-builders more inclined to bribe an official than bear the larger costs of better safety.

We would therefore be right to wonder about the building codes implemented in the construction of Bushehr's nuclear power plant. Likewise, we should be troubled about the maximum quake strengths the plant is supposed to be able to withstand, and even more anxious about safety and rescue procedures foreseen for a worst-case scenario.

When it comes to nuclear power, transparency in accountability is without doubt essential. IAEA inspections are all fine and good for people living all the way on the other side of the globe. Inside Iran, however, what the people really need is a guaranteed right of citizens' groups - comprising independent scientists, activists, and citizens' direct representatives - to carry out on-demand inspections of nuclear facilities, the right to review their books, regulations, safety measures, evacuation plans, and on and on. Transparency and open accountability in all details is an absolutely legitimate demand of any citizenry in such matters, especially as regards governmental activities that can cause harm to potentially hundreds of thousands of people.

In Iran, however, there is no accountability for anything the government does. Just for one example, and directly related to this topic, there is no accountability for the fact that in an oil-rich and oil-exporting country, almost half of the refined petroleum products for daily consumption of the people are imported. Refining oil is not exactly new science. This industry is more than 150 years old. Surely if the regime's military-industrialists can build Shahab missiles and experiment with highly advanced nuclear warhead technology, they can build new refineries. The real reason they don't has very little to do with sanctions or lack of know-how. The real reason is that there is more mercantilist profits to be made from importing the needed refined fuel.

In Iran, it would be impossible to bring to justice any government official who plays with peoples' lives and livelihoods on a daily basis, even while there are thousands upon thousands who would have to be tried in any real legal system. Alas, there's the rub! We do not have the most rudimentary legal structures in place guaranteeing the citizens' right of oversight over anything the governmental does.

As any Iranian could tell you, in Iran there is only one branch of government, the Executive; the other two (legislature and judiciary) are merely decorative stems adorning the state. As enshrined into the theocratic constitution, the legislature, if it is anything but a rubber stamp, can easily be overturned by at least two other bodies standing above it, before the Supreme Leader gets the final say. The same goes for the judiciary, which has historically been a mere enforcer of the executive's will, rather than an adjudicator of the 'laws of the land'.

This situation clearly does not allow for a system wherein the citizens keep a vigilant eye on the government's handling of nuclear-powered energy production. Further, should any disasters occur (which is to say, when a disaster does occur), the government is guaranteed to act in the least responsive manner possible, to cover up maximally, and to shirk as many responsibilities as it can, leaving the citizens to bear the lethal costs of a nuclear disaster on their own.

It is therefore the duty of any democratically inclined person, and more so the duty of any leftist activist, thinker or organizer, environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists everywhere, especially among the western left, to stand on the side of the well being of the Iranian people and unambiguously oppose any nuclear energy development in Iran carried out by the current unaccountable government. 

Those who, like the Islamic regime in Iran, insist that pursuing nuclear power is an automatic right, must also be prepared to bear the responsibility, and be ready to be fully accountable, for any outcome of the activities involved in handling of nuclear materials. Particularly if the nuclear facilities are built near densely populated areas; and most definitely if those densely populated areas and the reactors are sitting on top of active tectonic plates; as is the case with the Bushehr reactor.

Lacking transparent accountability for the preparations that have occurred so far, as well as for the future full operations of Bushehr's nuclear power plant, people have a legitimate right to demand a halt to all activities that could easily lead to the enormous health threats of radioactive poisoning potentially lasting thousands of years, causing mutations and deformations in the genetic pool of all living organisms in the area for far longer, and destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. Nobody has an automatic right to bring about such a scenario.

Too late for hard work?
The western left has, for the most part, acted with utter confusion and lack of principles in its approach to the Islamic regime in Iran, and consequently in its approach to solidarity-building with the people of Iran.

Instead of building real alliances and solidarity between the peoples of the Middle East, including the Iranian people, and the working people of the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, etc., these false friends, feeling magnanimous with our lives, ask the Iranian people to follow their example and push for no demands from the Iranian state, to ask not for their right to assemble in public spaces that belong to them, demand not their right to speak freely, to form free associations, to not be jailed, tortured and raped for expressing critical thoughts regarding an infernal regime so steeped in murder and corruption that there is no wonder it panicked so hard at the sight of millions of people in the streets demanding accountability.

The argument for an unconditional defense of the Islamic regime's nuclear program, however, is fallacious on many levels.

First, their argument has an overtone of wishful thinking, imagining that a nuclear weapon-capable Iran is the only guarantee of a 'détente' that leaves the Iranian people free from imperialist harassment (while leaving the people completely open to rape, torture and imprisonment-by-lottery by the local regime). In effect, this argument advocates a nuclear arms race, as this is presented to be the only deterrent capable of stopping an imperialist invasion; therefore, this view cheers for an increasing amount of the social resources of global south to be sucked up by a mad proposition.

Also, this logic does not explain the case of Pakistan, a nuclear weapons-capable nation, which is a virtual slave to the designs of the imperialists. Pakistan, currently run by a sycophantic regime inseparable from imperialists, is not safe from the insults thrown at it by the U.S. ruling elites and their representatives every so often reminding the Pakistani regime of how much of a slave they are in the eyes of the U.S. ruling classes.

Third, this argument is anti-environmentalist and (fourth) it disregards hard physical facts of geology in Iran, particularly southern Iran. Any leftist, who should be standing with people's health and wellbeing, and who must present a reality-based analysis, yet fails to take basic geological facts into account, is not only an ignorant leftist but also an irresponsible advocate.

Fourth, given that most western leftists recognize the dangers and highly probable harms a nuclear plant can bring to their own environment, we can only assume that racism may have something to do with their blindness regarding the same concerns Iranians may have. They must suppose that either our environment is not worth keeping clean or that Iranians have not 'developed' enough to be worried about such supposedly higher-order concerns such as a clean environment.

Instead of leading a spirited tactical (yet strategically-oriented) fight against the nuclear industry in the U.S. and against the use of depleted uranium in munitions used in Iraq and Afghanistan __ an act by the U.S. armed forces and weapons manufacturers that constitutes a crime against humanity, a war crime, and is actionable in an international tribunal, and which should be used to call for legal mass mutinies by the armed forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan __ in short, instead of strategically joining other international forces calling for a Nuclear-Free World, these false leftists would instead have us Iranians and people around the world read the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty very carefully, wherein we can find the particular clauses pinpointing the guaranteed right of signatory nations to master the enrichment cycle.

Our Argument
A halt to all nuclear activities in Iran is a reasonable demand due to the dangerous convergence of three factors, which are simultaneously and structurally operative:

1. Nuclear energy production, per se, has inevitable, extremely harmful waste-products, including a poisonous radioactive waste (depleted uranium) that cannot be destroyed, and has a radioactive lifespan of 4 billion years. A threat that, through leakage and the resulting contamination, can lead to environmental disasters on a large scale lasting not just decades, but thousands of years, producing genetic mutations among all living beings, leading to fatal deformities affecting all species, capable of contaminating water, air and soil.

2. Geological facts indicate that the region housing Bushehr's nuclear power plant in the southern coast of Iran, on Persian Gulf, will experience numerous earthquakes in the lifespan of the power plant; earthquakes of varying magnitudes, historically as strong as magnitude 7.6, with the high likelihood of stronger earthquakes in the future.

3. Iranian government is thoroughly endemically corrupt, which dictates a complete and total lack of transparency and lack of people's right of oversight over the government's handling of any and all procedures involved in the production of nuclear energy.

The current regime is socially incompetent; therefore, (or is it, because?) maximally secretive, and dangerous to our people. There will be no recourse to justice in Iran should any nuclear accidents happen, nor will there be any meaningful relief.

Further, Iran has access to vast and endless alternative sources of power: solar and wind energy. The right engineers can do the rightful calculations, but cultivating solar panel farms, or windmill farms, can match the energy produced by wasteful and radioactive-waste-producing nuclear power plants.

It is time for the left in the west to reorient itself toward solidarity with the people of Iran and think and act independently of the power calculations of the ruling classes in the west as well as the ruling class in Iran. It is time to stand in solidarity with the people of Iran in an unambiguous way. A major point of intervention can be the nuclear issue. To redefine the issue, to bring to it the social dimensions that are deliberately kept out, that is one of the major tasks of building solidarity with the Iranian people. It is time to approach the nuclear issue from a principled stance, and to refuse to accept the terms of the debate presented to us by world powers or the militarist theocrats that have taken complete control of the Iranian state apparatuses and holding the Iranian people hostage.