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Japan & nuclear - April 3

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From Far Labs, a Vivid Picture Emerges of Japan Crisis

William J. Broad, New York Times
For the clearest picture of what is happening at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, talk to scientists thousands of miles away.

Thanks to the unfamiliar but sophisticated art of atomic forensics, experts around the world have been able to document the situation vividly. Over decades, they have become very good at illuminating the hidden workings of nuclear power plants from afar, turning scraps of information into detailed analyses.

For example, an analysis by a French energy company revealed far more about the condition of the plant’s reactors than the Japanese have ever described: water levels at the reactor cores dropping by as much as three-quarters, and temperatures in those cores soaring to nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit ...

... These portraits of the Japanese disaster tend to be proprietary and confidential, and in some cases secret. One reason the assessments are enormously sensitive for industry and government is the relative lack of precedent: The atomic age has seen the construction of nearly 600 civilian power plants, but according to the World Nuclear Association, only three have undergone serious accidents in which their fuel cores melted down.

Now, as a result of the crisis in Japan, the atomic simulations suggest that the number of serious accidents has suddenly doubled, with three of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi complex in some stage of meltdown. Even so, the public authorities have sought to avoid grim technical details that might trigger alarm or even panic.
(2 April 2011)



Nuclear's green cheerleaders forget Chernobyl at our peril

John Vidal, Guardian/UK
Every day there are more setbacks to solving the Japanese nuclear crisis and it's pretty clear that the industry and governments are telling us little; have no idea how long it will take to control; or what the real risk of cumulative contamination may be.

The authorities reassure us by saying there is no immediate danger and a few absolutist environmentalists obsessed with nuclear power because of the urgency to limit emissions repeat the industry mantra that only a few people died at Chernobyl – the worst nuclear accident in history. Those who disagree are smeared and put in the same camp as climate change deniers.

I prefer the words of Alexey Yablokov, member of the Russian academy of sciences, and adviser to President Gorbachev at the time of Chernobyl: "When you hear 'no immediate danger' [from nuclear radiation] then you should run away as far and as fast as you can."

Five years ago I visited the still highly contaminated areas of Ukraine and the Belarus border where much of the radioactive plume from Chernobyl descended on 26 April 1986. I challenge chief scientist John Beddington and environmentalists like George Monbiot or any of the pundits now downplaying the risks of radiation to talk to the doctors, the scientists, the mothers, children and villagers who have been left with the consequences of a major nuclear accident.
(1 April 2011)



Naoto Kan and the End of 'Japan Inc.'

Tim Shorrock, The Nation
... even as Japan was reeling from the disaster’s death toll—which is expected to surpass 20,000—and growing increasingly frightened by the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s nuclear reactor complex, there was growing unease at the lack of straight information from both the government and Tepco, a utility with a troubled history of lies, cover-ups and obfuscation dating back to the late 1960s.

... much of the criticism poured on Japan has obscured the many ways its political system has shifted since a 2009 political earthquake, when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was swept out of power for the first time in fifty years. The changes, particularly to people who remember the government’s pathetic response to the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, which killed nearly 6,500, have been striking.

... Kan, who rose to fame as an opponent of Japan’s turgid bureaucracy, has been far more decisive. After a few days of delay and confusion—not surprising, given the magnitude 9.0 quake, the largest in Japanese history—his government moved swiftly on many fronts. Military relief helicopters and ships were dispatched to the worst-hit areas. A US Navy armada was welcomed to the coastal areas hit by the tsunami (although the ships have since moved far away to avoid fallout from the radiation). Foreign offers of resources, including medical and relief teams, were welcomed and teams dispatched within days. Kan’s spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, has constantly been on the air, briefing reporters and the public (including on Twitter). Kan himself flew by helicopter to view the stricken reactors and took personal charge of the nuclear crisis.

As the situation at the reactors deteriorated and Tepco’s explanations became increasingly opaque, Kan quickly lost patience. “What the hell is going on?” he was overheard asking on the phone to Tepco after one frustrating briefing.

... some of the US criticism of Kan seems to stem from nostalgia for the years when the LDP ruled supreme through a system in which—in the Times reporters’ words—“political leaders left much of the nation’s foreign policy to the United States and domestic affairs to powerful bureaucrats.”

That is extremely misleading. Beginning in the early 1950s, the LDP was financed heavily by the CIA as a bulwark against the once-powerful Japanese left, and successive LDP governments acted as a junior partner to the United States in the cold war. While Washington provided the weapons (and the soldiers) to fight communism, the Japanese elite provided military bases and profited by funneling economic aid and investments to US allies in South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere.

At home, the LDP and its corporate backers fought ferociously to suppress labor unions and civic groups that organized to protect workers, human rights and the environment. The end result was an LDP-created “Japan Inc.”—an undemocratic, corporatist state in which bureaucrats blessed and promoted nuclear power and other industries they were supposed to regulate, and then received lucrative jobs in those industries upon retirement—a system known as amakudari.
(30 March 2011)

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