Memo to President Three Wars – New Tools Other Than Hammers Needed ASAP!

March 29, 2011

President Barack “Three Wars” Obama (Nixon, Reagan and even G.W. Bush could only dream of conducting three wars at once!) was unconvincing in making his case for war in Libya last night in his speech to the country. Of course, he side-stepped the constitutional war powers question – consulting with bipartisan Congressional leadership doesn’t cut the mustard, as even he knew before becoming president, as Bob Naiman of Just Foreign Policy recounted on Huffington Post.

And, as his predecessor loved to do, he mightily slew his own Straw Man, setting up and then knocking down the argument that because the U.S. can’t intervene militarily everywhere in the world where people are being brutally suppressed, we can’t intervene anywhere. I haven’t seen opponents or skeptics of the Libya intervention making that argument.

What I have seen is the hypocrisy and inconsistency of U.S. Middle East policy being challenged, most succinctly by The Daily Show’s devastating “America’s Freedom Packages” sketch last week. Without going into a huge laundry list of inconsistencies, how about this one – protesters are being killed in Bahrain and Yemen by U.S.-allied regimes, and I’ve heard of no calls for no-fly zones or even cutting off weapons to those regimes.

Some Libya war opponents claim the humanitarian justification for the intervention are bogus, that oil or some other U.S./Western imperial interest must really be behind this. That may well be true, but I don’t know that for certain. Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies thinks access to or domination of Libya’s oil is not the main reason for U.S./NATO intervention, as we have been buying oil from the Gaddafi government since 2003.

The problem is, because of a long history of imperial wars and military and foreign policies, the U.S., even under a president thought to be more peaceful and less unilateral than his predecessor, has little credibility left when it comes to waging war, especially when it selectively preaches nonviolence to some who seek democracy while arming others.

The awe-inspiring, mostly nonviolent, secular and entirely indigenous revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, which captivated the world and inspired protest in other countries, were slow to receive support from President Three Wars and his Cabinet. As they embarrassingly fumbled for days (Vice-President Biden saying Egyptian President for Life Hosni Mubarak was not a dictator, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opining that Mubarak really did have the interests of his people at heart) to get on the side of the people and the right side of history, I almost felt sorry for them (almost but not quite!).

What could they have said? The truth, that our foreign policy in the Middle East has been morally bankrupt and cynical for decades, and that we would gladly have kept supporting and arming Mubarak (as we had for thirty years) and his son (his chosen successor) ad infinitum had it not been for the heroic Tahrir Square protesters standing up and saying, “Enough!”? I’d love to have seen that speech!

At least the Administration is consistent, though in a bad way, in being slow to support nonviolent movements. It could have supported the initial nonviolent resistance campaign in Libya, as University of San Francisco Professor (and former Peace Action Education Fund board member) Stephen Zunes noted on truthout. It didn’t, choosing instead to support the armed rebels, perhaps missing a chance to intervene non-militarily before the armed conflict escalated.

But of course U.S. foreign policy is best summed up by Mark Twain’s adage, “When your only tools are hammers, all problems look like nails.”

In a rapidly changing world, one of whose dominant features is the decline of U.S. Empire, we need new tools. Offering rhetorical and material support to nonviolent democratic forces seeking emancipation from despots (especially ones the U.S. has supported) would be a great start. A serious commitment to emphasizing diplomacy and just economic development over military strategies, in Libya, Afghanistan, Palestine and Israel and many other countries, would do wonders to lessen armed conflict.

Shutting down the U.S. arms bazaar (we are the world’s number one weapons pusher, and weapons are the country’s number one manufactured export to the world) would do wonders for global peace and stability. While we’re at it, let’s take a look at our $1.2 trillion annual “national security” budget and 900 foreign military bases and consider how that is crippling our domestic economy by hoarding resources needed for human and environmental needs programs and job creation. Creating a standing United Nations peacekeeping force, under the aegis of the Secretary-General and not subject to the Security Council veto, is long overdue, and would have much more credibility than U.S./NATO or other “great power” militaries claiming to intervene for humanitarian purposes.

As long as the U.S. thwarts those and other needed changes in policy, we appear to be doomed to more wars, many to be justified as “humanitarian” in nature. My children, ages 17 and 13, think the U.S. is always at war, and of course they would, that has been true since they were old enough to be aware of such things, and it’s been true the overwhelming majority of the time since 1776. Isn’t it well past time for new tools?

Students, veterans, families lobby Congress on 8th anniversary of Iraq War

March 24, 2011

by Jonathan Williams, Peace Action national staff

Last weekend, activists from across the country converged on Washington, DC to mark the 8th anniversary of the war in Iraq by making their voices heard in Congress.

Over 130 attendees, including students, veterans, and military families, participated in the Spring Lobby Weekend to demand an end to the war in Afghanistan, proper care for our veterans, and cuts to the Pentagon budget.

The weekend featured two days of lobbying training before a day of lobby visits. Participants learned how to effectively communicate with Congress from experienced lobbyists, Congressional staff, and even a visit from a Congressman.

Congressman Jim McGovern, a long-time Peace Action ally on the Hill, delivered the keynote address on the first day of trainings. The Congressman spoke of his worries with this Congress. He noted that as he spoke, the U.S. was dropping bombs on Libya, perhaps entangling our military in another open-ended engagement. He noted that no one was talking about Afghanistan, to the extent that he suggested many new members of Congress had never even been asked a question about Afghanistan on the campaign trail.

Representative McGovern called on us to keep the pressure on in Congress. Our calls and correspondence make a real impact. Public pressure will be what forces Congress to address Afghanistan.

Following a day of lobby visits, many participants made plans for future visits with their Congress members at their district offices. Furthermore, many set goals for writing Letters to the Editor in their local paper to keep up the pressure.

Overall, the weekend was a major success and brought forth a new generation of skilled young lobbyists eager to make their voices heard. Together, we can bring the war back into the debate.

Check out photos from the weekend on FCNL’s photo album.

Confusion over Libya War Reflects the Decline of US Empire (Which is a Good Thing!)

March 23, 2011

–by Kevin Martin, Executive Director

The U.S./British/French-led intervention in the civil war in Libya has caused confusion on many sides – in domestic public opinion, congressional opinions about the legal, moral and strategic rationales for launching yet another war (President Obama may well be lucky he is visiting Central and South America and that Congress is out of session right now), and in the international community. Here are just a few of the many unanswered questions:

What are the objectives in Libya? Regime change? The UN didn’t authorize that but Obama and others have said Col. Muammar Qaddafi must go.

Who is leading or coordinating the “coalition” of military forces attacking Libya? Not NATO (Turkey won’t allow it, good for them). Obama said the U.S. will turn over leadership of the war to someone – he didn’t specify whom – in a matter of days. France is proposing a new “steering committee” of the various countries involved. What is this, a pick-up game of war?

Who exactly, other than the amorphous “anti-Qaddafi forces,” are we supporting in Libya?

How will this war impact other countries and peoples in a region that has seen such breathtaking change in just the last couple of months? What is going on in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Iran and Iraq (an invasion – Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces into Bahrain – and mass killings and/or crackdowns against protesters, presumably because those in power think they can get away with it while the world’s attention is focused on Libya)? Do the U.S. and U.N. have any consistent standards for invoking the “responsibility to protect” justification for “humanitarian” military interventions?

I’m sure the reader could think of many more. All of this is not surprising, and it’s not just from “the fog of war.” It’s evidence of the emergence of a multi-polar, somewhat messy world order in the winter of US Empire.

I know most people get defensive hearing the U.S. called an Empire. But look at our failed, endless wars, economic and fiscal crises at the national, state and local levels (manufactured, not “real,” by our bailout of Wall Street, refusal to justly tax the rich and corporations, and the wars and gargantuan military budget equivalent to the rest of the world’s countries combined), rapacious, reckless energy consumption and destruction of the environment. Call it something other than Empire, but call it what it is – unsustainable. We have to find a better path forward for our children, our country, and the world.

Johan Galtung, considered a founder of the field of Peace and Conflict Studies, predicts the end of the Empire by 2020, but even if he is off by a few years – and he was pretty dead-on about the demise of the Soviet Union – we need to start constructing a better society now.

So the real questions are how do we minimize the destruction likely to be caused as this decline accelerates, and most importantly, how do we build something better, both internationally and domestically, in its wake? How do we empower people to take control of their lives, communities, workplaces, schools, economies, countries, and the stewardship of finite, fragile planet we all share?

Anyone claiming to have all the answers would be a fool. The “triple evils” of our society – racism, militarism and economic exploitation – decried by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967 are still powerful today. But the beginnings of that new, more just world are seen where people come together to stand against injustice and demand a better way.

The people of Egypt captivated the world with their mostly nonviolent and secular revolution against a dictator the U.S. supported for nearly thirty years. Obama, and his successor, and his successor’s successor, would gladly have kept lavishing money, weapons and political cover on Mubarak and his son (who Mubarak had anointed to replace him) ad infinitum, but the people of Egypt stood up and said, “No More!”

In Wisconsin, the illegal, audacious union-busting move by Governor Scott Walker, ironic as Wisconsin was the first state to recognize state workers’ right to collective bargaining, sparked an awe-inspiring response from working people there (and in other state capitals as well). People peacefully occupied the Capitol Building (aided by the police!) and farmers on tractors converged on Madison to join a crowd of over 100,000 two Saturdays ago. That is what solidarity looks like! And Peace Action Wisconsin activists were there, loud and proud!

Then there was U.S. Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) congressional hearing on the “radicalization” of the American Muslim community. This racist, repugnant, new McCarthyite sham was widely denounced, deservedly so, in the media and among civil liberties activists, in a show of support for our American Muslim sisters and brothers.

Progress is being made in other places as well. Illinois recently became the 16th state to repeal the death penalty, and Maryland may also do so soon; the votes are there in the legislature and the governor has said he will sign the bill into law. Maryland and other states are making progress toward legally recognizing gay marriage, and medical marijuana and decriminalization seems to have inexorable momentum in many states and municipalities.

One needn’t agree with all these moves to see what is happening – people are standing up, standing together, and demanding better solutions to our country’s challenges. It is also happening, if slowly, on health care reform, energy and food safety and sustainability (great issues for building community), ending our disastrous wars and cutting our outrageous military budget in order to reinvest in human needs.

Just as protesters in Madison drew inspiration and support from those in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, advancement domestically is linked to progress in building better structures to replace a Pax Americana (what Pax? We’re fighting three wars!).

The Libya “humanitarian intervention” should be the last of its kind. Instead of selective, pick-up wars (with who knows what unintended consequences) against selected despots, a permanent UN peacekeeping force under the direction of the Secretary-General, not the Security Council, needs to be established. Regional economic and security alliances, based on respect for human rights and democracy, need to be strengthened. And diplomacy, sustainable economic development and disarmament, rather than coercive threats, human and resource exploitation and arms races, must be the cornerstones for a more peaceful and stable international order.

The demise of the U.S. Empire will likely not be pretty, or easy, but we can help steer it to a softer landing. And we should keep our eyes on the prize that will follow, the blossoming of the U.S. Republic (as Galtung has termed it), and a more peaceful, just, stable world.

International Peace Bureau Statement on Libya

March 21, 2011

Peace Action is a longtime member of International Peace Bureau (please note that does not mean that Peace Action has officially endorsed this statement).

Libya: International Peace Bureau condemns military strikes and urges political negotiations to protect the civilian population

21 March 2011. A new historical era opened three months ago with the popular uprisings in Tunisia and then Egypt, the first of the ‘Arab spring’ season. These rebellions brought hope to millions and youthful energy to societies suffering decades of repression, injustice, inequality, especially gender inequality, and increasing economic hardship. The Libyan revolt was inspired by these largely nonviolent victories, but, as the world has witnessed with dismay, has rapidly become militarized and is now embroiled in a full-scale civil war.  


The western powers’ fateful decision to push through the UN Security Council a resolution to authorize military strikes and a no-fly zone has transformed the situation into one reminiscent of the Iraq crisis of 2003. While supporting the objective of protecting the civilian population, in Benghazi and elsewhere, IPB condemns yet more armed attacks by western powers on yet another Muslim country. Have these same powers learned nothing from their disastrous failures over the last 10 years? It is clear that non-military methods have not been utterly exhausted. Were all economic sanctions imposed and enforced? Was massive electronic jamming put into operation? Were all oil and gas sales cancelled? – and will we ever be told?


Western media fascination with the minutiae of battle tends to obscure historical memory, without which any clear assessment is impossible. Have we all forgotten who sold arms to, and struck energy deals with, Col. Gaddafi in the first place? Do the phrases ‘no-fly zone’ and ‘air strikes’ not bring back painful memories of the slide into disastrous occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan?


There is no lack of alternative courses of action. In IPB’s view, the most urgent task, and the most effective way to carry out the UN-mandated ‘Responsibility to Protect’ the civilian population, is to engage immediately both the Gaddafi regime and the rebels in serious negotiations. These should focus, first on a genuine and multi-lateral ceasefire, and then on the foundations of a political settlement based on participatory democracy. The UN already has a special representative in place in Tripoli. Cynical or not, Gaddafi has made a ceasefire gesture – which could be used as a starting point. Western states, especially the US and the former colonial powers, should keep out. The UN Secretary-General and a panel of highly respected figures from the Muslim world should be invited to take part in whatever talks can be arranged. An offer to call off the air strikes could be used as a confidence-building measure. In the medium-term, consideration should be given to a UN-authorised peacekeeping presence, preferably not composed of western military forces, with a classical peace-keeping (not peace-enforcement) mandate. Why is it that investment in mediation, diplomacy, trust-building and similar efforts is always a tiny fraction of the money spent on armed intervention?


Arab peoples have shown that they have the courage to break away from past habits and have demonstrated impressive discipline and dignity in confronting their oppressors. The western world should now respond by finding the courage to break with its own past habits, and to apply the enormous creativity of its own societies in the search for new ways of resolving conflicts. Success in Libya – or indeed elsewhere in the region – would offer tremendous inspiration to peoples locked in deadly conflict in other regions.


It is still not too late for those leading this latest military gamble to pull out of the quagmire that looms ahead. We urge the world to mobilise now against war and foreign intervention, and in favour of negotiated solutions.

What is done in the coming days and weeks will determine the possibilities for a long-term settlement. Foreign bombing only threatens a wider conflagration with unpredictable consequences.


There are all kinds of wider considerations to be explored, and important lessons that need to be assimilated. In particular, that the five permanent members of the Security Council cannot continue to police the world as if we were still in 1945; and that it is time for a global outcry against the massive expenditure devoted to the military system ($1,500 billion per annum), and in particular the international arms trade, with its accompanying corruption and double standards.

The International Peace Bureau is clear on its own priorities. We need to disarm in order to develop. The basic needs of the population must be catered for as the absolute priority, not as a by-product of ‘national security’. We appeal to the arms-producing countries and industries to urgently start converting military research and production to civilian purposes. The world will never achieve the Millennium Development Goals if it fails to abandon the military-dominated way of thinking and action. We have learned in recent years that democracy cannot be imposed, and that regime change is only a matter for the population itself. The time is now ripe to assist the people in the Middle East/North Africa region in building societies based on the vision of a culture of peace, as hoped for by peoples everywhere. Such a programme was agreed by the UN in the preparation of the International Year for a Culture of Peace in 2000 and the following Decade on a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence that has just come to an end, and that must now be energetically renewed.


The International Peace Bureau is dedicated to the vision of a World Without War. We are a Nobel Peace Laureate (1910), and over the years 13 of our officers have been recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Our 320 member organisations in 70 countries, and individual members, form a global network which brings together expertise and campaigning experience in a common cause. Our main programme centres on Sustainable Disarmament for Sustainable Development. We welcome your participation.

Current project: Global Day of Action on Military Spending, April 12, 2011:


Colin Archer, Secretary-General
International Peace Bureau
41 rue de Zurich, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland.
Tel: +41-22-731-6429, Fax: 738-9419

Proud to be a Member of Peace Action Wisconsin

March 17, 2011

We hope the peace movement in other states will follow our lead!

By Liz Klainot, Peace Action WI Program Director

This past month has been very busy for members of Peace Action Wisconsin, as well as everyone in this great state.  It has been exhilarating and inspiring and shown what can happen when everyone is unified.  The protests began on Valentine’s Day, when Scott Walker’s attack on workers was unveiled.  Despite the fact that he created Wisconsin’s budget deficit with his package of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, King Walker decided he would instead balance it on the backs of workers by not only increasing their costs for their benefits but also completely eliminating collective bargaining for public employees.

Gov. Walker thought he could push this through the legislature with no debate, but his tactics backfired and not only Wisconsinites but also the rest of the country soon scrutinized his new plan as well.

The next week was a whirlwind and filled with amazing signs of solidarity.  Tens of thousands of people came to Madison to show their solidarity, even if they had no connections with public employees and unions.  Even some Republicans joined in.  In a wonderful show of solidarity, firefighters, who were excluded from this bill, showed up to the rally anyway to demonstrate their support for the rest of the public workers.  They showed up to every protest, along with quite a few police officers, who were also excluded from the bill.  Everyone was really there to support each other.  The protesters were also all incredibly peaceful and non-confrontational.

Though peaceful, Wisconsinites have continued to stand up for their rights and refused to take this attack on workers sitting down. Inside the Capitol there was a mini-village for quite a while, complete with childcare, medical stations, educational trainings and more.  Volunteers walked around with luggage carts filled with boxes of Ian pizza, provided for free by donations from all over the country and the world.

Our Democratic Senators have been very brave and left the state to prevent the bill from being shoved through without debate.  The Democratic representatives have fought bravely for their constituents, sitting through 24+ hour debates and climbing out of their windows to hold office hours outside when their constituents were refused access into the capitol.

Local businesses have signs proclaiming their support for public workers, and everywhere you look you see signs, buttons and stickers all with messages of support for the public workers.

Peace Action Wisconsin members have played a definite role in the protests, as we see that this is an attack on everyone, not just public workers.  We also have been quick to point out that the budget deficit could be solved if some of the money spent on war was instead spent on state aid.  Our members have showed up at protests all the time, both local and in Madison, and have spread the word about protests and about buses going from Milwaukee to Madison.

Since Milwaukee is only an hour and a half from Madison, many of our members have been there every time they have a free day.  Some have even spent the night camped out in the capitol.  We have also brought signs to the protests showing the connection between war spending and the lack of money for states.

This Saturday we will hold a rally on the anniversary of the Iraq War and a big focus will be moving the money from war to human needs and state aid.

I am proud of the involvement of Peace Action Wisconsin and our members in the last month in these protests, and I am sure we will continue to be involved, despite the passing of the bill.

Many of our members have become very active in the recall efforts against Republican Senators, and we all eagerly await the day we can start collecting signatures to recall Walker.  I am proud to be a member of Peace Action Wisconsin right now, and I hope Peace Action affiliates and the peace movement in other states will follow our lead.

The Fall of the US Empire – Asserting it in our work as peace and justice organizers, especially to empower people to create something better in its wake!

March 14, 2011

–Kevin Martin, executive director, Peace Action

This is something that has been rattling around my brain for a while, but recent conversations with Phyllis Bennis, Judith LeBlanc, Joseph Gerson, Mario Galvan, and just this weekend, North Carolina Peace Action Vice-Chair Wally Myers and Chair John Heuer have helped crystallize how an umbrella message about the Fall of the US Empire might be very beneficial to our organizing.

First let me say this “frame,” if you will, owes a great deal to the writing of Johan Galtung, generally acknowledged as one of the founders of the field of Peace Studies. Here is a link  to a presentation about the fall of US Empire Wally Myers did at the Military-Industrial complex at 50 conference in North Carolina two months ago (at which Judith spoke about our burgeoning work on cutting the military budget and Moving the Money to human needs), which cites Galtung’s work (very well presented/edited/excerpted by Wally!).

But the point of this post is not analysis or characterization of the US Empire, or even its fall (which Galtung predicts for the year 2020 – i.e. pretty darn soon!). Galtung and others – Phyllis Bennis, Naomi Klein, Andrew Bacevich, William Blum, Noam Chomsky, Stephen Zunes, Chalmers Johnson, to name just a few –  have written plenty on this, especially on the military and political aspects, but also the economic and cultural aspects of the US Empire. My objective is to begin a discussion of the utility of using the Fall of US Empire  “frame” or “narrative” or umbrella, to be non-jargony, in our grassroots organizing.

First off, “Fall” is used intentionally by me, as a double entendre, meaning both decline but also autumn, as I believe the Empire is in its fall/autumn/perhaps even early winter phase of its rapidly shortening life-span.

The question is this: can we (peace and justice organizers) benefit from a non-ideological, assumptive, confident, non-threatening, perhaps even patriotic assertion (not an argument or explanation) that the US Empire is ending, and that what matters most is not that inexorable fact (though it won’t necessarily be easy or pretty or without continued war, militarism, recession/depression, coercion, etc.), but what comes next, and how we assure the blossoming of the US Republic (Galtung’s phrase) rather than a turn toward fascism, increased violence (maybe even more so domestically than internationally), repression etc. And, most importantly, how we can build our movements and organization and  empower a new (and hopefully younger and more diverse) cadre of organizers and activists  to create that new, more peaceful, just, compassionate society and Republic in place of the Empire.

Let me underscore this — my thinking is to assert that we are seeing the fall of US Empire and move on to what we do about it and what comes next. It doesn’t really matter if people agree with you about whether the US has been an empire (militarily, politically, economically, socially) or not, because it is ending, the evidence of that is overwhelmingly self-evident to anyone willing to open their eyes to the reality of the world.

If one has to or wants to argue with folks about this (and I think you can choose to not do that and just move on to people who do get it), it is easy enough to connect the dots that are in the news every day – endless wars, unsustainable military spending, loss of US prestige in the world, graveyard of empires in Afghanistan, absurdity of the “war on terror,” spread of democratic revolutions in the Middle East against thugs supported by the US, isolation of Israel despite unending, unconditional US support, budget cuts at state and local levels, attack on public sector unions as the “solution” to budget crises, unprecedented gap between rich and poor, Obama wants to cut low-income heating assistance by $2.5 billion, the cost of one week of the Afghanistan war, climate in severe crisis (actually that is probably a good litmus test, climate change deniers are not worth our time), etc.

I doubt the audience for this would, at least at first, be the general public, though there is a fair bit out there in the mainstream media about US decline, limits of US power, etc. And the word Empire does not necessarily automatically trigger charges that one who speaks it is marxist/commie/socialist/soft on terror, etc. (some will say that of course, again those folks are probably not worth the effort). Actually, some libertarians might be more open to this analysis/frame/narrative than liberal Democrats.

At least at first, the main audience would likely be peace/justice/civil liberties activists and organizers. In part it’s to counter demoralization/fatigue about the seemingly endless wars, caving in by Obama on nearly every issue progressives hold dear, etc. It could help bolster folks and give them credit and respect for the difficult struggle for peace and justice against long odds the last 11 years and point out we have had an impact and some victories and have helped turn the tide.

More importantly, this frame (maybe even a meme if we are really successful in using it, I don’t know) is meant to engage and empower people for creative solutions on what comes next, how we build a more peaceful, just, caring society in the wake of the fall of US Empire, especially as the probable alternative, a turn toward fascism, is such a frightening possibility (and evidence of movement in both directions, solidarity/democracy/justice vs. greed/fascism/oppression is the news right now, every day).

So before going any further, whaddya think? Again, this would not be some new “Campaign to Bring Down the Empire,” but more of a frame, one that can empower people and raise up what is best about our country and society – solidarity, compassion, a sense of fairness and justice, innovation, and a desire for peace –  as we see to the end of what is worst about it – war, militarism, greed, exploitation, racism, injustice.

Dangerous Situation at Japanese Nuclear Reactor

March 12, 2011

The devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan and the Pacific Rim are terrible tragedies, and my heart goes out to everyone affected. I have received word via email from a few friends and colleagues that they are okay, and hope to hear likewise from others. I have been blessed, as have other Peace Action folks, to travel to Japan as a guest of our sister peace group Gensuikin, and a number of their leaders, as well as leaders in other peace groups such as Peace Boat, Peace Depot, Gensuikyo and Nihon Hidankyo, have traveled to the US and become close friends as well as colleagues in our struggle for a more peaceful, nuclear-free world.

But another, man-made, disaster, may be unfolding at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Evidently the earthquake and tsunami combined to shut down the main and back-up power supplies to the reactor, causing the cooling system to fail. Slightly (says the Japanese government) radioactive gas was released into the atmosphere to relieve pressure that was building up inside the containment structure. It appears likely that a partial meltdown of the reactor core may have already begun; reports are that the water level in the reactor is below the fuel rods. The government and independent experts have stated that the light-water reactor cannot suffer a catastrophic meltdown or explosion, as in the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, but “not as bad as TMI or Chernobyl,” even if proven correct, must not be very re-assuring to the Japanese public (it has been reported that an evacuation of the area around the plant was carried out smoothly).

News on this situation is updated regularly. Two good sources are the websites of the Japanese television network NHK and our colleagues at Beyond Nuclear.

Japan depends on nuclear energy for about 30% of its energy supply, which has long been a concern in an earthquake prone area of the world, in addition to proliferation concerns. Let us hope this tragedy is not as bad as feared, and that it will spur momentum for the country to wean itself from nuclear power.


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