Sixty-seven hundred miles from Long Island, the biggest story on Earth plays out, always worse, always scarier than what anyone was told. Slowly, the truth has trickled out to the world, eating through the lies, the deceptions, the incompetence and the bungling.
Last week, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) acknowledged that all the fuel rods in Fukushima Reactor 3 melted down, not the 63 percent they had been saying for nearly three years. But they haven’t melted all the way through the containment vessel, maybe, they say for now.
Earlier this year, TEPCO waited five months to tell regulators that it had detected record-high readings of Strontium-90 in Fukushima groundwater. A few months before that, TEPCO admitted that the cheap safety equipment they’d been using could only measure up to 100 millisieverts an hour, so that’s what they reported as the level of emissions from leaking radioactive water. Now we know the real level was 18 times higher than that. About the same time, we learned that TEPCO was contracting with organized crime to round up homeless people to do radiation clean-up at the minimum wage.
If coverage in the American media seems almost nonexistent, it’s more than they’re hearing in Japan. The nationalist, pro-nuclear power government of Japan has cancelled democracy. It pushed through a state secrets law that threatens whistleblowers and investigative journalists with long prison terms for divulging what the government unilaterally determines is “sensitive” information about the three wrecked, leaking reactor cores or the controversial, untried containment solution TEPCO is undertaking.
The $37-billion containment scheme is financed by Japanese taxpayers, who bailed out TEPCO after the 2011 disaster. In April, TEPCO booked a $4.3-billion net profit for 2013.
Sixty-two hundred miles closer to Long Island, Duke Energy, which allowed 39,000 tons of coal slurry infused with heavy metals to gush into the Dan River in North Carolina last February, has cleaned up 3,000 tons and walked away. Done. We just learned that the chemicals that Freedom Industries spewed into the Elk River in January, contaminating the drinking water of 300,000 people in and around Charleston, was far more toxic than originally announced. The company was allowed to declare bankruptcy and has also taken a walk.
Let’s play Jeopardy! The answer: $17 billion, $4.5 billion, $7 billion, $1.27 billion. The question: What are some of this summer’s settlement amounts that will allow huge banks to gloss over fraud, manipulation and misrepresentation. One of those banks just booked $6 billion in net profits for the second quarter of 2014. We’re just learning details of how several of the largest investment banks are running unregulated “dark pool” private stock exchanges handling hundreds of billions each in unreported transactions.
For the first half of the existence of the United States, virtually all corporations had an expiration date. In New York, corporations went out of existence after 40 years, allowing the state to review their performance and their usefulness not just to stockholders, but also to the public. The idea that corporations’ only fiduciary or moral responsibility was to make money dates only to the 1890s “Guilded Age.” Later progressive reformers were never able to reinstate requirements that corporations be good citizens or die.
Permanent corporations accumulating vast wealth over generations, and with it political power and protection, ran contrary to popular American concepts of liberty, which had a strong flavor of individualism.
“The great corporations which we have grown…are the creatures of the State, and the State not only has the right to control them, but it is duty-bound to control them wherever the need of such control is shown,” said President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902.
New York is the center of the corporate universe, with a special responsibility to find ways of imposing social responsibility on these creatures.
Michael Miller has worked in state and local government. Email: email@example.com