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July 4, 2011 10:05 am

Apples and Oranges – What Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Tells Us About Iran

avatar by Gabriel Latner

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The IR-40 nuclear facility in Arak, Iran.

The tragedy that has befallen Japan should make any sensible person even more wary of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. For years, Iran has attempted to alleviate the world’s fears over its nuclear program by maintaining that any nuclear technology would only be used for civilian power plants.

That’s scary enough.

The crisis in Japan highlights that while nuclear is still the cleanest form of practical energy production – it is only safe in the right hands. Japan handled this crisis as well as anyone could have hoped – they responded quickly, en masse, and the worst seems to be behind them. But Japan is one of the most sophisticated, technologically advanced countries in the world, with an infrastructure that is incredibly well developed. Iran on the other hand, is not.

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Where Japan has a basic literacy rate of 99% across the board, Iran’s literacy rate is 83.5% for men, but only an appalling 70.4% for women and girls. Japanese children have an average of 15 years of schooling, at least two more than their Iranian counterparts. Japan boasts five of the world’s 100 top universities- including #20 – Tokyo – beating out UK heavyweights UCL and Imperial, and US contender University of Michigan- Ann Arbor. No Iranian institution even makes the top 500.

Japan is also a world-leader when it comes to patents (a good indicator of a country’s technological and industrial health) – it is second only to the US in total number of in-force patents (circa 1.2 million and growing), and is rapidly gaining: according to the latest statistics it is out performing the US in its total number of applications and grants each year. Comparatively, Iran’s patent system is archaic, and so out of step with the modern international legal community that its patent approval procedure doesn’t even take into account inventions and discoveries in other countries. To put things in perspective – Iran has 4.7 patents per million persons, and Japan has 2660.82. Do a quick test – look around the room and try find a product made or designed in Japan: for me it took less than a second, I’m typing on a Toshiba. Now try the same thing for Iran.

In short, Japan has intellectual capital and resources that Iran just doesn’t possess. Because of its stellar education system and strong focus on R&D, Japan is not only able to develop tools and infrastructure to handle predictable crises – they have teams of highly skilled people who can react to those calamities that are unpredictable.

Japan has another major advantage over Iran: the Japanese government has proven time and again that it cares about its people’s wellbeing – and that it can care for them. The Iranian regime has never shown any such concern or ability. The Japanese ethos has produced world class hospitals and health coverage, a thriving free press, a strong system of civil liberties, an independent judiciary, and a democratic government. The government can’t just hush-up a disaster in Japan. None of that exists in Iran.

Even if Iran hadn’t experienced over 25 major earthquakes in the last 100 years (including one in 2003 that killed over 30,000) – there would still be ample cause for worry- human error. The last time the world saw an infrastructurally weak, under educated, under trained, frankly, under developed country in charge of running a civilian nuclear reactor – someone made a mistake and the locale known as Chernobyl ceased to exist in any inhabitable form. And the USSR was miles ahead of Iran.

But just like the USSR, Iran’s government doesn’t seem to put its subjects’ safety and well-being at the top of its ‘to do list’. Just as it is unfair to the people of Iran for the international community to support the ayatollahs and their repressive regime – it would be unfair and irresponsible for the world to allow the life of every Iranian citizen to be jeopardized by allowing Iran’s government to be in charge of a nuclear reactor’s safety precautions. We wouldn’t hand a lit stick of dynamite to a toddler – no matter how good the child’s intentions.

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  • Skeptic

    This article, whilst entertaining (particular fan of the toddler analogy) is fundamentally flawed. The error in its reasoning is unwittingly exposed in the last paragraph, where the USSR is mentioned as a comparably uncaring and uneducated regime. Indeed, if allowing Iran gain nuclear power is like handing dynamite to a toddler, the USSR’s situation, with its dozens of power plants and submarines and, more importantly, thousands of weapons, is akin to sitting him on a bonfire the size of a small village and handing him a lit match. In terms of caring for human life, Iran has had no purges, no collectivisation, and no military tactics quite so dependent on sheer numbers. And this does not even take into account the fact that nuclear risk is far better-understand today than in its infancy. In short, it is clear that the USSR presents an ‘upper limit’ test case for the danger of a nuclear-powered Iran.

    Despite this, from WWII to 1991, there were only six major nuclear disasters in a country of 250 million. Their combined direct death toll was 88. The estimated indirect death toll, overwhelmingly caused by the comedy of incompetence that was Chernobyl, is something around 4,000. An estimated 4,500 deaths in a country of 250 million over fifty years: this is beyond insignificant.

    Whilst the author’s attempt to use the leftist irrational fear – its paranoia – over nuclear power to win liberals over to opposing Iran is rather clever, it is also deeply unscientific, is a clear example of motivated reasoning, and painfully reveals the author’s ignorance on these matters.

  • Elie oren

    It is hard to fathom how Iran with a considerably more sophisticated and better educated population poses a greater risk to itself and the west than Pakistan. The latter with a fully developed nuclear infrastructure, both peaceful and military remain as close to a failed state in every way possible. Pakistan is a nation with a tolerated terrorist network where the state and its extremist elements work closely together.The author choses to ignore this reality.

  • Dear Gabriel,

    Yours is a well-written opinion and I commend you on that. However, the evidence you give to support your argument is very weak, and often irrelevant.

    Fact # 1. The Japanese government did a terrible job of handling the Fukushima disaster, which is still ongoing. The corporation owning the plant, the regulatory agencies, the politicians all conspired to hide the truth and put forth false statements.

    If you study the Fukushima event with an open mind, I think you’ll come to a more realistic conclusion about how countries like Iran could benefit from the mistakes of more technologically advanced, but hopelessly corrupt nations.

  • Winslow Wilson

    CORPORATIONS OF THE WORLD UNITE

    I COMMAND YOU TO WAKE UP

    THE REAL ENEMY IS AT THE DOOR

    How can You, all of the Giant Corporations located in Tokyo, involved in numerous other industries allow one Industry dealing with NUCLEAR POWER to take You down with It? Its been 3 months now and no end in sight.

    World Trade Organization, The Nuclear Crisis in Japan has worsened.

    SURELY YOU, THE MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATIONS of the World, of Briton, the US and Europe with investments and holdings in Tokyo have vision enough to see that You Are Allowing a Rogue Industry to jeopardize All Your Hard Work in these investments toward future earnings.

    What else but a Rogue piles up lethal spent fuel rods on their sites year after year with no way of disposing of them? Knowing all along that their Best Engineers Worldwide have No Solution for the Inevitable Meltdown.

    They Knew all along they were a threat to You. They Absolutely Knew that when the Inevitable Meltdown came You would be Collateral Damage.

    This Industry Threatens All Industries. This Industry is about to Ruin all the Industries in Tokyo.

    Care not if they supply a little extra power to your factories. The people of Japan have said in mass that they can live and work with power outages, but they don’t want the Nuclear reactors started back up.

    Three months now and The Exodus has already started. Who will run the factories in Tokyo if this thing keeps spreading?
    The same who run the factories in Chernobyl. No one.

    YOU, THE MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATIONS
    AND CORPORATIONS OF THE WORLD

    You have the power to end the expansion of this Careless Nuclear Industry which hopes You will accept the mess They have brought upon You.

    Accept None of their so called deep apologies, they are only words.
    Tell them You don’t care to hear more Spin about the lessons they have learned. BEWARE of their Bribes.

    Stand Up for Your Industry and Your Corporation. Draw a line in the sand.

    How Dare They ; to threaten Your workers health, Your stockholders, Investments, Profits, and Everything You’ve worked for.

    You are Hundreds, They are One.

    Some of you are tied to this Industry, be brave like the Germans who proved it Can Be Done, break those ties, cut off the festering gangrene.

    Put your Thinking Hats on
    and get this Thing Handled

    PRINT THIS LETTER AND SEND IT TO
    YOUR COLLEAGUES

    SPREAD THE NEWS TO ALL INDUSTRIES

    GERMANY PROVED THIS CAN BE DONE

    STRIKE WHILE THE IRON IS HOT

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