Nukes, No More?
For only the second time since the world’s worst nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi after a devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, Japan has gone completely nuclear energy free. On Sept. 16 the nation’s last operating reactor was shut down for an inspection. Public hostility to the return of nuclear power could mean that the reactor at the Oi nuclear facility in the western prefecture of Fukui, like 49 other reactors around the country, may never be restarted.
Just days before, thousands protested in Tokyo at an antinuclear energy rally organized by Kenzaburo Oe, a Nobel laureate in literature. “We want to keep telling what is happening at Fukushima even though everybody is talking about the Olympics,” which Tokyo will host in 2020, Mr. Oe told the crowd. “Let’s hand down an environment in which children can live without fear.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a supporter of a return to the widespread use of nuclear energy, has assured the Japanese public that the situation is “under control.”
They are correct to be suspicious. The scale of the meltdown at Fukushima and the ongoing threat are without precedent. Tokyo Power’s improvised response suggests there is no credible, comprehensive plan of action, even as more radioactive water leaches into the soil and migrates into the surf around the stricken facility. The runoff will poison the surrounding land and ocean for uncountable generations. It has been propelling a radioactive plume across the Pacific to American shores that likewise poses an incalculable threat. Those who propose a renaissance of nuclear power in the United States, or anywhere else, should look upon Fukushima and shudder.
It has been a difficult few years for organized labor. In 2012 two states passed “right to work” laws, which allow individual workers who are represented by a union to opt out of paying dues. One of those states was Michigan, home to the “big three” automobile manufacturers and a traditionally strong union state. There are now “right to work” laws in 24 states, raising questions about the strength and viability of organized labor.
The future of labor was debated vigorously at the recent meeting of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in Los Angeles. The convention delegates considered an initiative that would have allowed progressive, nonlabor groups like the Sierra Club and the National Organization for Women to affiliate with the A.F.L.-C.I.O. This partnership could help to strengthen labor and prove to be an influential force in the Democratic Party. Yet the delegates ultimately voted to limit partnerships like this, in part because they prefer the A.F.L.-C.I.O. to remain singularly focused on their needs.
Labor needs allies, but the A.F.L.-C.I.O. was wise to look beyond traditional progressive organizations. As Clayton Sinyai noted on America’s blog In All Things on Sept. 12, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is “a critical ally in defense of the right to organize,” and an alliance between the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and NOW, for example, would have put the bishops in a difficult position. In the end, the delegates endorsed a proposal that recognizes that labor needs to reach out to both parties. The resolution calls on the A.F.L.-C.I.O. to “take practical steps…to cultivate and nurture relationships with members of all parties who are willing to put partisan politics aside and work to advance the interests of our members.” For the sake of working families, let us hope that this statement of good will is met in kind.
Winning Isn’t Enough
With damaged brains, rape trials and the Oklahoma State University scandal over payments to players as high as $20,000, the latter featured in Sports Illustrated (9/15), college football’s image has suffered. But now Time magazine (9/16) suggests that football “stars” are suffering unjustly under N.C.A.A. rules intended to keep college sports honest. To the critics these rules, which bar student-athletes from getting paid or marketing their reputations, are considered inconsistent with capitalism. One former Oklahoma State player said, “The better the job you do, the more money you make.”
But why do colleges sponsor sports? Ideally, to enrich the academic experience. Student-athletes can benefit from the exercise, teamwork and competition. True, football and basketball have taken on enlarged roles that, under control, can please alumni and boost the institution’s reputation. But when a university compromises its intellectual mission to field winning teams, it has sacrificed its integrity.
In fact, while other students go into debt, some athletes in major conferences are compensated with an estimated $50,000 to $125,000 a year, writes Jeffrey Dorfman in Forbes (8/29), if one takes into account not just tuition and living expenses but also the coaching, fitness training, physical therapy and exercise equipment not available to paying students. Unfortunately, when athletes have been guided into the easiest majors and courses, their college education becomes a sham. To put athletes on salary would only further diminish what it means to be a student-athlete.