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The Global Threat of Fukushima

2013/10/31 5 comments

A Global Response is Needed

by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

CounterPunch Weekend Edition (October 25 to 27 2013)

The story of Fukushima should be on the front pages of every newspaper. Instead, it is rarely mentioned. The problems at Fukushima are unprecedented in human experience and involve a high risk of radiation events larger than any that the global community has ever experienced. It is going to take the best engineering minds in the world to solve these problems and to diminish their global impact.

When we researched the realities of Fukushima in preparation for this article, words like apocalyptic, cataclysmic and Earth-threatening came to mind. But, when we say such things, people react as if we were the little red hen screaming “the sky is falling” and the reports are ignored. So, we’re going to present what is known in this article and you can decide whether we are facing a potentially cataclysmic event.

Either way, it is clear that the problems at Fukushima demand that the world’s best nuclear engineers and other experts advise and assist in the efforts to solve them. Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds.org {1} and an international team of scientists created a fifteen-point plan {2} to address the crises at Fukushima.

A subcommittee of the Green Shadow Cabinet {3} (of which we are members), which includes long-time nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman {4}, is circulating a sign-on letter and a petition {5} calling on the United Nations and Japanese government to put in place the Gundersen et al plan and to provide 24-hour media access to information about the crises at Fukushima. There is also a call for international days of action on the weekend of November 9 and 10. The letter and petitions will be delivered to the UN on November 11 which is both Armistice Day and the 32nd month anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Problems of Fukushima

There are three major problems at Fukushima: (1) Three reactor cores are missing; (2) Radiated water has been leaking from the plant in mass quantities for 2.5 years; and (3) Eleven thousand spent nuclear fuel rods, perhaps the most dangerous things ever created by humans, are stored at the plant and need to be removed, 1,533 of those are in a very precarious and dangerous position. Each of these three could result in dramatic radiation events, unlike any radiation exposure humans have ever experienced. We’ll discuss them in order, saving the most dangerous for last.

Missing reactor cores: Since the accident at Fukushima on March 11 2011, three reactor cores have gone missing. There was an unprecedented three reactor ‘melt-down’. These melted cores {6}, called corium lavas, are thought to have passed through the basements of Reactor buildings One, Two, and Three, and to be somewhere in the ground underneath.

Harvey Wasserman, who has been working on nuclear energy issues for over forty years, tells us {7} that during those four decades no one ever talked about the possibility of a multiple meltdown, but that is what occurred at Fukushima.

It is an unprecedented situation to not know where these cores are. Tepco is pouring water where they think the cores are, but they are not sure. There are occasional steam eruptions {8} coming from the grounds of the reactors, so the cores are thought to still be hot.

The concern is that the corium lavas will enter or may have already entered the aquifer below the plant. That would contaminate a much larger area with radioactive elements. Some suggest that it would require the area surrounding Tokyo, forty million people {9}, to be evacuated. Another concern is that if the corium lavas enter the aquifer, they could create {10} a “super-heated pressurized steam reaction beneath a layer of caprock causing a major ‘hydrovolcanic’ explosion”.

A further concern is that a large reserve of groundwater {11} which is coming in contact with the corium lavas is migrating towards the ocean at the rate of four meters per month. This could release greater amounts {12} of radiation than were released in the early days of the disaster.

Radioactive water leaking into the Pacific Ocean: Tepco did not admit that leaks of radioactive water {13} were occurring until July of this year. Shunichi Tanaka, the head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, finally told reporters {14} this July that radioactive water has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean since the disaster hit over two years ago. This is the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed {15} according to a report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety {16}. The Japanese government finally admitted that the situation was urgent this September – an emergency they did not acknowledge until 2.5 years after the water problem began.

How much radioactive water is leaking into the ocean? An estimated 300 tons (71,895 gallons, 272,152 liters) of contaminated water is flowing into the ocean every day. The first radioactive ocean plume released by the Fukushima nuclear power plant {17} disaster will take three years to reach the shores of the United States. This means, according to a new study from the University of New South Wales {18}, the United States will experience the first radioactive water coming to its shores sometime in early 2014.

One month after Fukushima, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it was going to stop testing fish in the Pacific Ocean for radiation {19}. But, independent research is showing that every bluefin tuna tested in the waters off California has been contaminated {20} with radiation that originated in Fukushima. Daniel Madigan, the marine ecologist who led the Stanford University study from May of 2012 was quoted in the Wall Street Journal {21} saying,

The tuna packaged it up (the radiation) and brought it across the world’s largest ocean. We were definitely surprised to see it at all and even more surprised to see it in every one we measured.

Marine biologist Nicholas Fisher of Stony Brook University in New York State, another member of the study group, said:

We found that absolutely every one of them had comparable concentrations of cesium 134 and cesium 137.

In addition, Science reports {22} that fish near Fukushima are being found to have high levels of the radioactive isotope, cesium-134. The levels found in these fish are not decreasing, which indicates that radiation-polluted water continues to leak into the ocean. At least 42 fish species from the area around the plant are considered unsafe. South Korea has banned Japanese fish {23} as a result of the ongoing leaks.

The half-life (time it takes for half of the element to decay) of cesium 134 is two years. For cesium 137, the half-life is thirty years. Cesium does not sink to the ocean floor, so fish swim through it. What are the human impacts of cesium? {24}

When contact with radioactive cesium occurs, which is highly unlikely, a person can experience cell damage due to radiation of the cesium particles. Due to this, effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding may occur. When the exposure lasts a long time, people may even lose consciousness. Coma or even death may then follow. How serious the effects are depends upon the resistance of individual persons and the duration of exposure and the concentration a person is exposed to, experts say.

There is no end in sight from the leakage of radioactive water into the Pacific from Fukushima. Harvey Wasserman is questioning whether fishing in the Pacific Ocean will be safe after years of leakage from Fukushima. The World Health Organization (WHO) is claiming {25} that this will have limited effect on human health, with concentrations predicted to be below WHO safety levels. However, experts seriously question {26} the WHO’s claims.

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation is in the process of writing a report {27} to assess the radiation doses and associated effects on health and environment. When finalized, it will be the most comprehensive scientific analysis of the information available to date examining how much radioactive material was released, how it was dispersed over land and water, how Fukushima compares to previous accidents, what the impact is on the environment and food, and what the impact is on human health and the environment.

Wasserman warns that “dilution is no solution”. The fact that the Pacific Ocean is large does not change the fact that these radioactive elements have long half-lives. Radiation in water is taken up by vegetation, then smaller fish eat the vegetation, larger fish eat the smaller fish and at the top of the food chain we will find fish like tuna, dolphin and whales with concentrated levels of radiation. Humans at the top of the food chain could be eating these contaminated fish.

As bad as the ongoing leakage of radioactive water is into the Pacific, that is not the largest part of the water problem. The Asia-Pacific Journal reported last month {28} that Tepco has 330,000 tons of water stored in 1,000 above-ground tanks and an undetermined amount in underground storage tanks. Every day, 400 tons of water comes to the site from the mountains, 300 tons of that is the source for the contaminated water leaking into the Pacific daily. It is not clear where the rest of this water goes.

Each day Tepco injects 400 tons of water into the destroyed facilities to keep them cool; about half is recycled, and the rest goes into the above-ground tanks. They are constantly building new storage tanks for this radioactive water. The tanks being used for storage were put together rapidly and are already leaking. They expect to have 800,000 tons of radioactive water stored on the site by 2016. Harvey Wasserman warns that these unstable tanks are at risk of rupture if there is another earthquake or storm that hits Fukushima. The Asia-Pacific Journal concludes: “So at present there is no real solution to the water problem”.

The most recent news on the water problem at Fukushima adds to the concerns. On October 11 2013, Tepco disclosed that the radioactivity level spiked 6,500 times {29} at a Fukushima well.

Tepco said the findings show that radioactive substances like strontium have reached the groundwater. High levels of tritium, which transfers much easier in water than strontium, had already been detected.

Spent Fuel Rods: As bad as the problems of radioactive water and missing cores are, the biggest problem at Fukushima comes from the spent fuel rods. The plant has been in operation for forty years. As a result, they are storing eleven thousand spent fuel rods on the grounds of the Fukushima plant. These fuel rods are composed of highly radioactive materials such as plutonium and uranium. They are about the width of a thumb and about fifteen feet (five meters) long.

The biggest and most immediate challenge is the 1,533 spent fuel rods {30} packed tightly in a pool four floors above Reactor Four. Before the storm hit, those rods had been removed for routine maintenance of the reactor. But, now they are stored 100 feet (thirty meters) in the air in damaged racks. They weigh a total of 400 tons and contain radiation equivalent to 14,000 times {31} the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

The building in which these rods are stored has been damaged. Tepco reinforced it with a steel frame, but the building itself is buckling and sagging, vulnerable to collapse if another earthquake or storm hits the area. Additionally, the ground under and around the building is becoming saturated with water, which further undermines the integrity of the structure and could cause it to tilt.

How dangerous are these fuel rods? Harvey Wasserman explains that the fuel rods are clad in zirconium which can ignite if they lose coolant {32}. They could also ignite or explode if rods break or hit each other. Wasserman reports that some say this could result in a fission explosion like an atomic bomb, others say that is not what would happen, but agree it would be “a reaction like we have never seen before, a nuclear fire releasing incredible amounts of radiation”, says Wasserman.

These are not the only spent fuel rods at the plant, they are just the most precarious. There are 11,000 fuel rods scattered around the plant, 6,000 in a cooling pool less than fifty meters {33} from the sagging Reactor Four. If a fire erupts in the spent fuel pool at Reactor Four, it could ignite the rods in the cooling pool and lead to an even greater release of radiation. It could set off a chain reaction that could not be stopped.

What would happen? Wasserman reports that the plant would have to be evacuated. The workers who are essential to preventing damage at the plant would leave, and we will have lost a critical safeguard. In addition, the computers will not work because of the intense radiation. As a result we would be blind – the world would have to sit and wait to see what happened. You might have to not only evacuate Fukushima but all of the population in and around Tokyo, reports Wasserman.

There is no question that the 1,533 spent fuel rods need to be removed. But Arnie Gundersen, a veteran nuclear engineer and director of Fairewinds Energy Education {34}, who used to build fuel assemblies, told Reuters {35} “They are going to have difficulty in removing a significant number of the rods”. He described the problem {36} in a radio interview:

If you think of a nuclear fuel rack as a pack of cigarettes, if you pull a cigarette straight up it will come out – but these racks have been distorted. Now when they go to pull the cigarette straight out, it’s going to likely break and release radioactive cesium and other gases, xenon and krypton, into the air. I suspect come November, December, January we’re going to hear that the building’s been evacuated, they’ve broke a fuel rod, the fuel rod is off-gassing.

Wasserman builds on the analogy, telling us it is “worse than pulling cigarettes out of a crumbled cigarette pack”. It is likely they used salt water as a coolant out of desperation, which would cause corrosion because the rods were never meant to be in salt water. The condition of the rods is unknown. There is debris in the coolant, so there has been some crumbling from somewhere. Gundersen adds {37}, “The roof has fallen in, which further distorted the racks”, noting that if a fuel rod snaps, it will release radioactive gas which will require at a minimum evacuation of the plant. They will release those gases into the atmosphere and try again.

The Japan Times writes {38}:

The consequences could be far more severe than any nuclear accident the world has ever seen. If a fuel rod is dropped, breaks or becomes entangled while being removed, possible worst case scenarios include a big explosion, a meltdown in the pool, or a large fire. Any of these situations could lead to massive releases of deadly radionuclides into the atmosphere, putting much of Japan – including Tokyo and Yokohama – and even neighboring countries at serious risk.

This is not the usual moving of fuel rods. Tepco has been saying this is routine, but in fact it is unique – a feat of engineering never done before. As Gundersen says:

Tokyo Electric is portraying this as easy. In a normal nuclear reactor, all of this is done with computers. Everything gets pulled perfectly vertically. Well nothing is vertical anymore, the fuel racks are distorted, it’s all going to have to be done manually. The net effect is it’s a really difficult job. It wouldn’t surprise me if they snapped some of the fuel and they can’t remove it.

Gregory Jaczko, Former Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission concurs {39} with Gundersen describing the removal of the spent fuel rods as “a very significant activity, and … very, very unprecedented”.

Wasserman sums the challenge up:

We are doing something never done before – bent, crumbling, brittle fuel rods being removed from a pool that is compromised, in a building that is sinking, sagging and buckling, and it all must done under manual control, not with computers.

And the potential damage from failure would affect hundreds of millions of people.

The Solutions

The three major problems at Fukushima are all unprecedented, each unique in their own way and each has the potential for major damage to humans and the environment. There are no clear solutions but there are steps that need to be taken urgently to get the Fukushima clean-up and de-commissioning on track and minimize the risks.

The first thing that is needed is to end the media blackout. The global public needs to be informed about the issues the world faces from Fukushima. The impacts of Fukushima could affect almost everyone on the planet, so we all have a stake in the outcome. If the public is informed about this problem, the political will to resolve it will rapidly develop.

The nuclear industry, which wants to continue to expand, fears Fukushima being widely discussed because it undermines their already weak economic potential. But, the profits of the nuclear industry are of minor concern compared to the risks of the triple Fukushima challenges.

The second thing that must be faced is the incompetence of Tepco. They are not capable of handling this triple complex crisis. Tepco “is already {40} Japan’s most distrusted firm” and has been exposed as “dangerously incompetent”. A poll found {41} that 91 percent of the Japanese public wants the government to intervene at Fukushima.

Tepco’s management of the stricken power plant has been described as a comedy of errors {42}. The constant stream of mistakes has been made worse by constant false denials and efforts to minimize major problems. Indeed the entire Fukushima catastrophe could have been avoided:

Tepco at first blamed the accident on ‘an unforeseen massive tsunami’ triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11 2011. Then it admitted it had in fact foreseen just such a scenario but hadn’t done anything about it.

The reality is Fukushima was plagued by human error from the outset. An official Japanese government investigation concluded that the Fukushima accident was a “man-made” disaster, caused by “collusion” between government and Tepco and bad reactor design {43}. On this point, Tepco is not alone, this is an industry-wide problem. Many US nuclear plants have serious problems, are being operated beyond their life span, have the same design problems and are near earthquake faults. Regulatory officials in both the US and Japan are too corruptly tied to the industry.

Then, the meltdown itself was denied for months, with Tepco claiming it had not been confirmed. Japan Times reports {44} that “in December 2011, the government announced that the plant had reached ‘a state of cold shutdown’. Normally, that means radiation releases are under control and the temperature of its nuclear fuel is consistently below boiling point.” Unfortunately, the statement was false – the reactors continue to need water to keep them cool, the fuel rods need to be kept cool – there has been no cold shutdown.

Tepco has done a terrible job of cleaning up the plant. Japan Times describes some of the problems:

The plant is being run on makeshift equipment and breakdowns are endemic. Among nearly a dozen serious problems since April this year there have been successive power outages, leaks of highly radioactive water from underground water pools – and a rat that chewed enough wires to short-circuit a switchboard, causing a power outage that interrupted cooling for nearly thirty hours. Later, the cooling system for a fuel-storage pool had to be switched off for safety checks when two dead rats were found in a transformer box.

Tepco has been constantly cutting financial corners {45} and not spending enough to solve the challenges of the Fukushima disaster resulting in shoddy practices {46} that cause environmental damage. Washington’s Blog reports that the Japanese government is spreading radioactivity throughout Japan – and other countries – by burning radioactive waste {47} in incinerators not built to handle such toxic substances. Workers have expressed concerns {48} and even apologized for following orders regarding the ‘clean-up’.

Indeed, the workers are another serious concern. The Guardian reported {49} in October 2013 the plummeting morale of workers, problems of alcohol abuse, anxiety, loneliness, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. Tepco cut the pay of its workers by twenty percent in 2011 to save money even though these workers are doing very difficult work and face constant problems. Outside of work, many were traumatized by being forced to evacuate their homes after the Tsunami; and they have no idea how exposed to radiation they have been and what health consequences they will suffer. Contractors are hired based on the lowest bid, resulting in low wages for workers. According to the Guardian, Japan’s top nuclear regulator, Shunichi Tanaka, told reporters:

Mistakes are often linked to morale. People usually don’t make silly, careless mistakes when they’re motivated and working in a positive environment. The lack of it, I think, may be related to the recent problems.

The history of Tepco shows we cannot trust this company and its mistreated workforce to handle the complex challenges faced at Fukushima. The crisis at Fukushima is a global one, requiring a global solution.

In an open letter to the United Nations {50}, sixteen top nuclear experts urged the government of Japan to transfer responsibility for the Fukushima reactor site to a worldwide engineering group overseen by a civil society panel and an international group of nuclear experts independent from Tepco and the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA). They urge that the stabilization, clean-up and de-commissioning of the plant be well-funded. They make this request with “urgency” because the situation at the Fukushima plant is “progressively deteriorating, not stabilizing”.

Beyond the clean-up, they are also critical of the estimates by the World Health Organization and IAEA of the health and environmental damage caused by the Fukushima disaster and they recommend more accurate methods of accounting, as well as the gathering of data to ensure more accurate estimates. They also want to see the people displaced by Fukushima treated in better ways; and they urge that the views of indigenous people who never wanted the uranium removed from their lands be respected in the future as their views would have prevented this disaster.

Facing Reality

The problems at Fukushima are in large part about facing reality – seeing the challenges, risks and potential harms from the incident. It is about Tepco and Japan facing the reality that they are not equipped to handle the challenges of Fukushima and need the world to join the effort.

Facing reality is a common problem throughout the nuclear industry and those who continue to push for nuclear energy. Indeed, it is a problem with many energy issues. We must face the reality of the long-term damage being done to the planet and the people by the carbon- and nuclear-based energy economy.

Another reality the nuclear industry must face is that the United States is turning away from nuclear energy and the world will do the same. As Gregory Jaczko {51}, who chaired the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the time of the Fukushima incident says

I’ve never seen a movie that’s set 200 years in the future and the planet is being powered by fission reactors – that’s nobody’s vision of the future. This is not a future technology.

He sees US nuclear reactors as aging, many in operation beyond their original lifespan. The economics of nuclear energy are increasingly difficult {52} as it is a very expensive source of energy. Further, there is no money or desire to finance new nuclear plants. “The industry is going away”, he said bluntly.

Ralph Nader describes {53} nuclear energy as “unnecessary, uneconomic, uninsurable, unevacuable and, most importantly, unsafe”. He argues it only continues to exist because the nuclear lobby pushes politicians to protect it. The point made by Nader about the inability to evacuate if there is a nuclear accident is worth underlining. Wasserman points out that there are nuclear plants in the US that are near earthquake faults, among them are plants near Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, DC. And, Fukushima was based on a design by General Electric, which was also used to build 23 reactors in the US.

If we faced reality, public officials would be organizing evacuation drills in those cities. If we did so, Americans would quickly learn that if there is a serious nuclear accident, US cities could not be evacuated. Activists making the reasonable demand for evacuation drills may be a very good strategy to end nuclear power.

Wasserman emphasizes that as bad as Fukushima is, it is not the worst case scenario for a nuclear disaster. Fukushima was 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the center of the earthquake. If that had been twenty kilometers (twelve miles), the plant would have been reduced to rubble and caused an immediate nuclear catastrophe.

Another reality we need to face is a very positive one, Wasserman points out “All of our world’s energy needs could be met by solar, wind, thermal, ocean technology”. His point is repeated by many top energy experts, in fact a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy is not only possible, it is inevitable {54}. The only question is how long it will take for us to get there, and how much damage will be done before we end the “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that emphasizes carbon and nuclear energy sources.

Naoto Kan, prime minister of Japan when the disaster began, recently told an audience {55} that he had been a supporter of nuclear power, but after the Fukushima accident, “I changed my thinking 180-degrees, completely”. He realized that “no other accident or disaster” other than a nuclear plant disaster can “affect fifty million people … no other accident could cause such a tragedy”. He pointed out that all 54 nuclear plants in Japan have now been closed and expressed confidently that “without nuclear power plants we can absolutely provide the energy to meet our demands”. In fact, since the disaster Japan has tripled its use of solar energy, to the equivalent of three nuclear plants. He believes: “If humanity really would work together … we could generate all our energy through renewable energy”.

Links:

{1} http://fairewinds.org/

{2} http://www.nirs.org/fukushima/expert-ltr-bankimoon-09-2013.pdf

{3} http://greenshadowcabinet.us/

{4} http://greenshadowcabinet.us/member-profile/7546

{5} http://www.popularresistance.org/fukushima-a-global-solution-to-a-global-threat/

{6} http://enenews.com/fukushima-reactor-cores-melt-china-syndrome-gone-earth-1500-pounds-plutonium

{7} http://clearingthefogradio.org/monday-fukushima-a-global-threat-that-requires-a-global-response/

{8} http://enenews.com/nuclear-expert-could-be-pockets-corium-molten-state-fukushima-steaming-reactor-building-indication-super-hot-material-quite-understands-whats-going-audio

{9} http://rt.com/news/fukushima-apocalypse-fuel-removal-598/

{10} http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/09/03/1236012/-Fukushima-Update-9-3-13

{11} http://enenews.com/ap-experts-fear-giant-underground-reservoir-of-extremely-contaminated-water-is-on-verge-of-entering-pacific-at-fukushima-plant-just-about-to-reach-coast-a-race-against-the-clock-no

{12} http://enenews.com/new-york-times-ultimate-worst-case-scenario-underway-at-fukushima-experts-suspect-extreme-contamination-flowing-from-below-melted-reactors-and-into-pacific-would-surpass-even-the-worst-radia

{13} http://ecowatch.com/2013/10/09/fukushima-radiation-safe-to-eat-fish/

{14} http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/11/world/asia/japanese-nuclear-plant-may-have-been-leaking-for-two-years.html?_r=1http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/08/130807-fukushima-radioactive-water-leak/

{16} http://www.irsn.fr/FR/Actualites_presse/Actualites/Documents/IRSN-NI-Impact_accident_Fukushima_sur_milieu_marin_26102011.pdf

{17} http://ecowatch.com/2013/fukushima-continues-to-wreck-havoc/

{18} http://www.climatescience.org.au/content/336-fukushima-radioactive-plume-reach-us-three-years

{19} http://www.adn.com/2011/04/16/1813982/fda-claims-no-need-to-test-pacific.html

{20} http://samuel-warde.com/2013/08/radioactive-bluefin-tuna-caught-off-california-coast/

{21} http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303395604577432452114613564.html

{22} http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6106/480.summary

{23} http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-06/south-korea-bans-imports-of-japanese-fish-over-radiation-concern.html

{24} http://www.lenntech.com/periodic/elements/cs.htm

{25} http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/pub_meet/fukushima_risk_assessment_2013/en/index.html

{26} http://www.nirs.org/fukushima/expert-ltr-bankimoon-09-2013.pdf

{27} http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/fukushima.html

{28} http://www.japanfocus.org/site/view/3991

{29} http://rt.com/news/fukushima-high-radioactivity-well-335/

{30} http://www.japanfocus.org/site/view/3991

{31} http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/14/us-japan-fukushima-insight-idUSBRE97D00M20130814

{32} http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11263

{33} http://progressive.org/Fukushima-disaster-japan

{34} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/08/if-a-doctor-killed-patients-doing-routine-surgery-and-then-tried-to-cover-it-up-would-you-let-him-do-brain-surgery-on-a-vip.html

{35} http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/08/14/us-japan-fukushima-insight-idUKBRE97D00M20130814

{36} http://archive.org/details/KNEWEcoshock130908

{37} http://www.nuclearhotseat.com/nuclear-hotseat-117-gundersen-charge-fukushima-vision/

{38} http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/08/29/commentary/government-must-take-over-fukushima-nuclear-cleanup/

{39} http://enenews.com/chairman-nuclear-regulatory-commission-upcoming-attempt-remove-unit-4s-spent-fuel-very-very-unprecedented-pool-sustained-significant-structural-damage-video

{40} http://www.japanfocus.org/site/view/3991

{41} http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20130826p2a00m0na004000c.html

{42} http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/08/31/national/japans-nuclear-comedy-just-goes-on-and-on/

{43} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/04/fukushima-falling-apart-because-plant-operator-has-no-incentive-to-spend-money-to-fix-it.html

{44} http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/08/31/national/japans-nuclear-comedy-just-goes-on-and-on/

{45} http://no-border.asia/archives/9257

{46} http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201301040058

{47} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/04/japan-is-poisoning-other-countries-by-burning-highly-radioactive-debris.html

{48} http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201301040073

{49} http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/15/fukushima-nuclear-power-plant-cleanup

{50} http://www.nirs.org/fukushima/expert-ltr-bankimoon-09-2013.pdf

{51} http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/energy/nuclear/former-nrc-chairman-says-us-nuclear-industry-is-going-away

{52} http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/09/oswego_county_nuclear_plants_struggle_to_avoid_financial_meltdown.html?appSession=046415157504991

{53} http://www.popularresistance.org/nader-is-this-the-best-way-to-boil-water/

{54} http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/18134-carbon-free-nuclear-free-energy-economy-is-inevitable

{55} http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/10/09-7

_____

Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD co-host ClearingtheFOGRadio.org on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC and on Economic Democracy Media (http://ustream.tv/itsoureconomy), co-direct It’s Our Economy (http://itsoureconomy.us/) and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC (http://october2011.org/). Their twitters are @KBZeese and @MFlowers8.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/10/25/the-global-threat-of-fukushima

Categories: Uncategorized

Fukushima Fraud and Corruption

Japanese Organized Crime Involved in Recruitment of “Specialized Personnel”

by Professor Michel Chossudovsky

Global Research (October 25 2013)

What prevails is a well organized camouflage. The public health disaster in Japan, the contamination of water, agricultural land and the food chain, not to mention the broader economic and social implications, have neither been fully acknowledged nor addressed in a comprehensive and meaningful fashion by the Japanese authorities.

The crisis in Japan has been described as “a nuclear war without a war”. In the words of renowned novelist Haruki Murakami:

This time no one dropped a bomb on us … We set the stage, we committed the crime with our own hands, we are destroying our own lands, and we are destroying our own lives.

Several Global Research reports and background articles have outlined the dangers of Worldwide radiation resulting from the Fukushima disaster.

This disaster is now being sustained and aggravated by the incompetence of  Tepco as well as political camouflage by the Abe government.

Fukushima and the Yakuza

There is another dimension: The coordination of the multibillion dollar Fukushima decontamination operation relies on Japan’s organized crime, the Yakusa, which is actively involved in the recruitment of “specialized” personnel for dangerous tasks.

The complexity of Fukushima contracts and the shortage of workers have played into the hands of the yakuza, Japan’s organized crime syndicates, which have run labor rackets for generations”. (Reuters, October 25 2013)

The Yakuza labor practices at Fukushima are based on a corrupt system of subcontracting, which does not favor the hiring of competent specialized personnel. It creates an environment of fraud and incompetence, which in the case of Fukushima could have devastating consequences. The subcontracting with organized crime syndicates is a means for major corporations involved in the clean-up to significantly reduce their labor costs.

Fukushima in the wake of the Tsunami (March 2011): http://www.globalresearch.ca/articlePictures/fukushimafire.bmp

This role of Japanese organized  crime also pertains to the removal of the fuel rods from Reactor Number Four. As documented in several Global Research articles, this undertaking – if mishandled – by careless workers under the lax supervision of corrupt subcontractors (linked to the Yakusa) creates an environment which could potentially lead to a massive radioactive fallout:

An operation with potentially “apocalyptic” consequences is expected to begin in a little over two weeks from now – “as early as November 8” – at Fukushima’s damaged and sinking Reactor Four, when plant operator Tepco will attempt to remove over 1300 spent fuel rods holding the radiation equivalent of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs from a spent fuel storage tank perched on the reactor’s upper floor.

While the Reactor Four building itself did not suffer a meltdown, it did suffer a hydrogen explosion, is now tipping and sinking and has zero ability to withstand another seismic event.

To remove the rods, Tepco has erected a 273-ton mobile crane above the building that will be operated remotely from a separate room …

A recent Reuters report documents in detail the role of Japan’s Yakuza and its insidious relationship to both Tepco as well as agencies of the Japanese government including the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare:

Nearly fifty gangs with 1,050 members operate in Fukushima prefecture dominated by three major syndicates – Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai, police say.

Ministries, the companies involved in the decontamination and decommissioning work, and police have set up a task force to eradicate organized crime from the nuclear clean-up project. Police investigators say they cannot crack down on the gang members they track without receiving a complaint. They also rely on major contractors for information.

In a rare prosecution involving a yakuza executive, Yoshinori Arai, a boss in a gang affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai, was convicted of labor law violations. Arai admitted pocketing around $60,000 over two years by skimming a third of wages paid to workers in the disaster zone. In March a judge gave him an eight-month suspended sentence because Arai said he had resigned from the gang and regretted his actions.

Arai was convicted of supplying workers to a site managed by Obayashi, one of Japan’s leading contractors, in Date, a town northwest of the Fukushima plant. Date was in the path of the most concentrated plume of radiation after the disaster.

A police official with knowledge of the investigation said Arai’s case was just “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of organized crime involvement in the clean-up.

A spokesman for Obayashi said the company “did not notice” that one of its subcontractors was getting workers from a gangster.

“In contracts with our subcontractors we have clauses on not cooperating with organized crime”, the spokesman said, adding the company was working with the police and its subcontractors to ensure this sort of violation does not happen again.

In April, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare sanctioned three companies for illegally dispatching workers to Fukushima. One of those, a Nagasaki-based company called Yamato Engineering, sent 510 workers to lay pipe at the nuclear plant in violation of labor laws banning brokers. All three companies were ordered by labor regulators to improve business practices, records show.

In 2009, Yamato Engineering was banned from public works projects because of a police determination that it was “effectively under the control of organized crime”, according to a public notice by the Nagasaki-branch of the land and transport ministry. Yamato Engineering had no immediate comment.

In towns and villages around the plant in Fukushima, thousands of workers wielding industrial hoses, operating mechanical diggers and wearing dosimeters to measure radiation have been deployed to scrub houses and roads, dig up topsoil and strip trees of leaves in an effort to reduce background radiation so that refugees can return home.

Hundreds of small companies have been given contracts for this decontamination work. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed in the first half of 2013 had broken labor regulations, according to a labor ministry report in July. The ministry’s Fukushima office had received 567 complaints related to working conditions in the decontamination effort in the year to March. It issued 10 warnings. No firm was penalized.

One of the firms that has faced complaints is Denko Keibi, which before the disaster used to supply security guards for construction sites.

(Special Report: Help wanted in Fukushima: Low pay, high risks and gangsters, by Antoni Slodkowski and Mari Saito, Reuters, October 25 2013)

To Read Reuters article click:
http://ca.reuters.com/article/idCABRE99O04320131025?sp=true

In the face of ceaseless media disinformation pertaining to the dangers of global nuclear radiation, our objective at Global Research has been to break the media vacuum and raise public awareness, while also pointing to the complicity of  the governments, the media and the nuclear industry.

We call upon our readers to spread the word.

_____

Michel Chossudovsky is an award-winning author, Professor of Economics (emeritus) at the University of Ottawa, Founder and Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), Montreal and Editor of the globalresearch.ca website. He is the author of The Globalization of Poverty and The New World Order (2003) and America’s War on Terrorism (2005). His most recent book is entitled Towards a World War Three Scenario: The Dangers of Nuclear War (2011). He is also a contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. His writings have been published in more than twenty languages. He can be reached at crgeditor@yahoo.com

Copyright (c) 2013 Global Research

http://www.globalresearch.ca/japanese-organized-crime-involved-in-recruitment-at-fukushima/5355540

Categories: Uncategorized

Three Fukushima reactor cores melted …

… into earth during accident, still missing – fourth could explode

by Gaius Publius

http://americablog.com (October 28 2013)

As the world approaches the day when the Tepco-controlled cleanup of more than 1500 fuel rods at the ruined Fukushima Reactor 5 is started, we learn even more about the disaster that lays in wait for us. (Read our write-up here {1}; it will get you fully oriented.)

Now there’s an excellent new summary {2} from Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers at Truthout which contains these crucial points, one of which is news to me (my emphasis and reparagraphing):

 

The Problems of Fukushima


Fukushima Reactor 4 after earthquake and tsunami severely damaged it

There are three major problems at Fukushima:

(1) Three reactor cores are missing;

(2) Radiated water has been leaking from the plant in mass quantities for 2.5 years; and

(3) Eleven thousand spent nuclear fuel rods, perhaps the most dangerous things ever created by humans, are stored at the plant and need to be removed, 1,533 of those are in a very precarious and dangerous position.

Each of these three could result in dramatic radiation events, unlike any radiation exposure humans have ever experienced.  We’ll discuss them in order, saving the most dangerous for last.

 

The 1533 fuel rods in item (3) are stored in the severely damaged (and perhaps crumbling) Reactor Four building, sitting high off the ground in racks that have been distorted. The 11,000 (or so) fuel rods mentioned in the same paragraph are the total number of fuel rods at the site.

Your bottom line – None, some, or all could go up. What does “go up” mean? They could burn (spewing nuclear debris). They could explode (spewing lots of nuclear debris). They could go critical (atom-bomb style).

The rest of this summary article {3} is excellent; a great look at where-we-are-now. Please do click through {4}. Each of the points above is expanded and fully explained.

Your solution – Sign the petition here {5}. It has a bunch of big names behind it. Please.

Should Tepco be allowed to control the cleanup?

I know it’s the neoliberal way that private enterprise should trump government when government wants to regulate. But can the world afford to coddle neoliberal ideology and allow Tepco to run this?

Should Japan take control of Tepco? Or better, can Japan be trusted? After all, it’s because of the relationship with the Japanese government that this happened in the first place. Should the world have a veto in what happens here?

Here’s the authors above on Tepco and the Japanese government:

Tepco “is already {6} Japan’s most distrusted firm” and has been exposed as “dangerously incompetent”.  A poll found {7} that 91 percent of the Japanese public wants the government to intervene at Fukushima.

 

Tepco’s management of the stricken power plant has been described as a comedy of errors {8}. The constant stream of mistakes has been made worse by constant false denials and efforts to minimize major problems. Indeed the entire Fukushima catastrophe could have been avoided:

“Tepco at first blamed the accident on ‘an unforeseen massive tsunami’ triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Then it admitted it had in fact foreseen just such a scenario but hadn’t done anything about it.”

The reality is Fukushima was plagued by human error from the outset.  An official Japanese government investigation concluded that the Fukushima accident was a “man-made” disaster, caused by “collusion” between government and Tepco and bad reactor design {9} …

[T]he meltdown itself was denied for months, with Tepco claiming it had not been confirmed.  Japan Times reports {10} that “in December 2011, the government announced that the plant had reached ‘a state of cold shutdown’. Normally, that means radiation releases are under control and the temperature of its nuclear fuel is consistently below boiling point”.  Unfortunately, the statement was false – the reactors continue to need water to keep them cool, the fuel rods need to be kept cool – there has been no cold shutdown …

 

Of course there’s more. Please do read {11}.

What to do …

The authors have identified a widely approved (by international experts) three-point plan to get us (hopefully) through this crisis intact. These points are:

1. End the media blackout on Fukushima, the risks, and the coddling of Tepco. Have you heard David Gregory dance on about this? Or anyone? Me neither.

2. Recognize Tepco’s incompetence and coverups.

3. In the words of the authors, “transfer responsibility for the Fukushima reactor site to a worldwide engineering group overseen by a civil society panel and an international group of nuclear experts independent from Tepco and the International Atomic Energy Administration, IAEA.

Yes, even the UN is complicit with the coddled nuclear industry.

Remember, this Tepco-controlled “cleanup” starts in November and will last for years. That’s years of exposure to earthquake, tsunami, accident, arrogance and incompetence. The time to interfere is now.

Your solution – Sign the petition here {12}. It has a bunch of big names behind it. Please.

About those three reactor cores

I mentioned above that one item in the list of three problems (above) was new to me – the melted reactor cores. Apparently the three reactor cores from Reactors One, Two, and Three have melted through the floor and are somewhere deep in the earth.

Here more on that {13} from the same source:

 

Since the accident at Fukushima on March 11 2011, three reactor cores have gone missing.  There was an unprecedented three reactor ‘melt-down’. These melted cores {14}, called corium lavas, are thought to have passed through the basements of reactor buildings One, Two, and Three, and to be somewhere in the ground underneath. …

It is an unprecedented situation to not know where these cores are. Tepco is pouring water where they think the cores are, but they are not sure. There are occasional steam eruptions {15} coming from the grounds of the reactors, so the cores are thought to still be hot. The concern is that the corium lavas will enter or may have already entered the aquifer below the plant …

 

Jeez. Do we have to make the largest metropolitan area in the world a nuclear dump site for the world to wake up? What’s the price for coddling private profit?

Your solution – Sign the petition here {16}. It has a bunch of big names behind it. Please.

And thanks!

GP

To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Links:

{1} http://americablog.com/2013/09/risky-repair-fukushima-spill-15000x-radiation-hiroshima-85x-chernobyl.html

{2} http://truth-out.org/news/item/19547-fukushima-a-global-threat-that-requires-a-global-response

{3} http://truth-out.org/news/item/19547-fukushima-a-global-threat-that-requires-a-global-response

{4} http://truth-out.org/news/item/19547-fukushima-a-global-threat-that-requires-a-global-response

{5} http://www.popularresistance.org/fukushima-a-global-solution-to-a-global-threat/

{6} http://www.japanfocus.org/site/view/3991

{7} http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20130826p2a00m0na004000c.html

{8} http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/08/31/national/japans-nuclear-comedy-just-goes-on-and-on/

{9} http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/04/fukushima-falling-apart-because-plant-operator-has-no-incentive-to-spend-money-to-fix-it.html

{10} http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/08/31/national/japans-nuclear-comedy-just-goes-on-and-on/

{11} http://truth-out.org/news/item/19547-fukushima-a-global-threat-that-requires-a-global-response

{12} http://www.popularresistance.org/fukushima-a-global-solution-to-a-global-threat/

{13} http://truth-out.org/news/item/19547-fukushima-a-global-threat-that-requires-a-global-response

{14} http://enenews.com/fukushima-reactor-cores-melt-china-syndrome-gone-earth-1500-pounds-plutonium

{15} http://enenews.com/nuclear-expert-could-be-pockets-corium-molten-state-fukushima-steaming-reactor-building-indication-super-hot-material-quite-understands-whats-going-audio

{16} http://www.popularresistance.org/fukushima-a-global-solution-to-a-global-threat/

_____

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

http://americablog.com/2013/10/fukushima-update-three-reactor-cores-melted-earth-accident-tepco-still-charge.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Fuel Removal From Fukushima’s Reactor Four …

… Threatens ‘Apocalyptic’ Scenario

In November, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) is set to begin to remove fuel rods whose radiation matches the fallout of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs

by Andrea Germanos, staff writer

CommonDreams.org (October 24 2013)

An operation with potentially “apocalyptic” consequences is expected to begin in a little over two weeks from now {1} – “as early as November 8” – at Fukushima’s damaged and sinking {2} Reactor Four, when plant operator Tepco will attempt to remove over 1300 spent fuel rods holding the radiation equivalent of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs from a spent fuel storage tank perched on the reactor’s upper floor.

While the Reactor Four building itself did not suffer a meltdown, it did suffer a hydrogen explosion, is now tipping and sinking and has zero ability to withstand another seismic event {3}.

The Japan Times explained {4}:

To remove the rods, Tepco has erected a 273-ton mobile crane above the building that will be operated remotely from a separate room.

… spent fuel rods will be pulled from the racks they are stored in and inserted one by one into a heavy steel chamber while the assemblies are still under water. Once the chamber is removed from the pool and lowered to the ground, it will be transported to another pool in an undamaged building on the site for storage.

Under normal circumstances, such an operation would take little more than three months, but Tepco is hoping to complete the complicated task within fiscal 2014.

A chorus of voices has been sounding alarm over the never-been-done-at-this-scale plan to manually remove {5} the 400 tons of spent fuel by Tepco, who so far has been responsible for mishap after mishap in the ongoing crisis at the crippled nuclear plant.

Arnie Gundersen, a veteran US nuclear engineer and director of Fairewinds Energy Education, warned this summer {6} that “They are going to have difficulty in removing a significant number of the rods”, and said that “To jump to the conclusion that it is going to work just fine is quite a leap of logic”.  Paul Gunter, MD, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project with Takoma Park, Maryland based Beyond Nuclear {7}, also sounded alarm on Thursday, telling Common Dreams in a statement that “Given the uncertainties of the condition and array of the hundreds of tons of nuclear  fuel assemblies, it will be a risky round of highly radioactive pickup sticks”.  Gundersen offered {8} this analogy of the challenging process of removing the spent fuel rods:

If you think of a nuclear fuel rack as a pack of cigarettes, if you pull a cigarette straight up it will come out – but these racks have been distorted. Now when they go to pull the cigarette straight out, it’s going to likely break and release radioactive cesium and other gases, xenon and krypton, into the air. I suspect come November, December, January we’re going to hear that the building’s been evacuated, they’ve broke a fuel rod, the fuel rod is off-gassing …

I suspect we’ll have more airborne releases as they try to pull the fuel out. If they pull too hard, they’ll snap the fuel. I think the racks have been distorted, the fuel has overheated – the pool boiled – and the net effect is that it’s likely some of the fuel will be stuck in there for a long, long time.

The Japan Times adds:

Removing the fuel rods is a task usually assisted by computers that know their exact location down to the nearest millimeter. Working virtually blind in a highly radioactive environment, there is a risk the crane could drop or damage one of the rods – an accident that would heap even more misery onto the Tohoku region.

As long-time anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman explained {9}, the

Spent fuel rods must be kept cool at all times. If exposed to air, their zirconium alloy cladding will ignite, the rods will burn and huge quantities of radiation will be emitted. Should the rods touch each other, or should they crumble into a big enough pile, an explosion is possible.

“In the worst-case scenario”, RT adds {10},

the pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and cause an explosion many times worse than in March 2011.

Wasserman says that the plan is so risky it requires a global take-over {11}, an urging Gunter also shared, stating that the “dangerous task should not be left to Tepco but quickly involve the oversight and management of independent international experts”.

Wasserman told Common Dreams that

The bring-down of the fuel rods from Fukushima Unit Four may be the most dangerous engineering task ever undertaken.  Every indication is that Tepco is completely incapable of doing it safely, or of reliably informing the global community as to what’s actually happening.  There is no reason to believe the Japanese government could do much better.  This is a job that should only be undertaken by a dedicated team of the world’s very best scientists and engineers, with access to all the funding that could be needed.

The potential radiation releases in this situation can only be described as apocalyptic.  The cesium alone would match the fallout of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs.  If the job is botched, radiation releases could force the evacuation of all humans from the site, and could cause electronic equipment to fail.  Humankind would be forced to stand helplessly by as billions of curies of deadly radiation pour into the air and the ocean.

As dire as Wasserman’s warning sounds, it is echoed by fallout researcher Christina Consolo, who told RT {12} that the worst case scenario could be “a true apocalypse”. Gunter’s warning was dire as well.

“Time is of the essence as we remain concerned that another earthquake could still topple the damaged reactor building and the nuclear waste storage pond up in its attic”, he continued. “This could literally re-ignite the nuclear accident in the open atmosphere and inflame it into hemispheric proportions”, said Gunter.

Wasserman says that given the gravity of the situation, the eyes of the world should be upon Fukushima:

This is a question that transcends being anti-nuclear.  The fate of the earth is at stake here and the whole world must be watching every move at that site from now on.  With 11,000 fuel rods scattered around the place, as a ceaseless flow of contaminated water poisoning our oceans, our very survival is on the line.

Links:

{1} http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/10/23/national/tepco-eyes-fuel-removal-from-fukushima-reactor-4-pool-in-early-november/#.Umk9xySoHUU

{2} http://www.ringoffireradio.com/2013/09/risky-repair-fukushima-spill-15000x-radiation-hiroshima-world-intervene/

{3} http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2012/05/04-0

{4} http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/10/19/national/fukushima-2020-will-japan-be-able-to-keep-the-nuclear-situation-under-control/#.UmlQgySoHUU

{5} http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/A-Mistake-Now-Could-Release-14000-Times-More-Radiation-than-Hiroshima.html

{6} http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/08/14-6

{7} http://beyondnuclear.org/

{8} http://enenews.com/gundersen-spent-fuel-rods-break-during-removal-process-fukushima-unit-4-racks-distorted-fuel-overheated-pool-boiled-suspects-will-be-stuck-long-long-time-audio

{9} http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/10/01-4

{10} http://rt.com/news/fukushima-operation-spent-fuel-618/

{11} http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/09/20-1

{12} http://rt.com/news/fukushima-apocalypse-fuel-removal-598/
_____

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/10/24-3

Categories: Uncategorized

Fukushima nuclear plant operators prepare …

… for dangerous procedure

Hundreds of radioactive rods must be removed at Fukushima without exposing them to air

by Julian Ryall in Tokyo

South China Morning Post (October 27 2013)

The operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant is making final preparations before starting the most delicate and dangerous procedure attempted at the plant since three reactors were wrecked in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Engineers from Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) need to remove 1,533 rods of highly irradiated spent fuel from the damaged storage pool alongside the Number Four reactor without exposing them to the air. The rods must then be carefully transported to a safer location for longer-term storage.

The eighteen-month project is due to start in early November.

Nothing remotely similar has been attempted before and while everyone – nuclear experts, government officials, environmental groups and the public – agrees that the rods must be moved to more secure storage, it is feared that any error of judgment could lead to a massive release of radiation into the atmosphere.

Tepco says the building surrounding the reactor has been reinforced and a crane has been constructed that will be used to lift the rods from the pool – which is thirty metres above the ground – and lower them to the ground.

Unit Four at the plant contains an alarming ten times as much caesium-137 as was at Chernobyl, experts say.

“We have taken a number of security measures before starting the procedure, including strengthening the tolerance of the storage pool by reinforcing the bottom, monitoring the building to make sure that it is not tilting, conducting visual checks for any hazards and carrying out inspections of the integrity of the building four times a year”, a spokesman for Tepco said.

He admitted, however, that it was not clear whether any of the rods were damaged or if debris in the pool would complicate the recovery effort. But the company was taking every measure to ensure safety, he said.

That promise cuts little ice with Aileen Mioko Smith, of Kyoto-based Green Action Japan, who points out that Tepco has presided over a catalogue of errors, miscalculations and failures since the disaster.

And that is without looking into the shoddy safety and operational procedures at the plant before March 2011.

“They’re incompetent”, she said. “For example, how could they not realise that a typhoon was going to bring rain that was going to flood the areas around the storage tanks for radioactive water? A child could have comprehended that.”

Mioko Smith has a number of fears about the recovery process, the biggest of which is that another major earthquake brings down the building or causes the storage pool to fall, exposing the rods to the air and triggering a release of radiation that could be catastrophic and extremely difficult to remedy.

Others have made even more strident warnings, including Charles Perrow, a professor emeritus at Yale University.

“Conditions in the Unit Four pool, 100 feet from the ground, are perilous, and if any two of the rods touch it could cause a nuclear reaction that would be uncontrollable”, said Perrow.

“The radiation emitted from all these rods, if they are not continually cool and kept separate, would require the evacuation of surrounding areas including Tokyo”, he said. “Because of the radiation at the site the 6,375 rods in the common storage pool could not be continuously cooled; they would fission and all of humanity will be threatened, for thousands of years”.

As well as the technical and engineering problems that Tepco is facing, it has been suggested that corporate pride is preventing the company from accepting meaningful outside advice and assistance.

“I would prefer to have had some US companies that are experts on spent fuel decommissioning brought in to assist”, said a nuclear energy expert who has been monitoring Tepco’s handling of the crisis.

The problem of 400 tonnes of radioactive water leaking from the site every day could be fixed in a matter of days if the company would listen to external experts, he said.

“The issues are not primarily technological, they are political”, he added.

When asked for giving advice to anyone living in Tokyo should the worst happen at the Fukushima plant, he said the winds were unlikely to blow most of the radiation towards the capital.

But the winds can be fickle and some of the contamination would undoubtedly reach Tokyo, he said.

“If so, go up to a very high floor”, he said. “Radioactive particles are heavy, so keep out of basements”.

More on this:

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant evacuated after tsunami warning
http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1340400/japans-fukushima-nuclear-plant-evacuated-after-tsunami-warning

http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1340687/fukushima-nuclear-plant-operators-prepare-dangerous-procedure

Categories: Uncategorized

A Simple Reform Could Save America …

… from Wall Street and Boost the Economy

What’s Washington Waiting For?

by Lynn Stuart Parramore

Alternet (October 14 2013)

It’s a simple tweak that would reign in an out-of-control financial sector, stimulate jobs, generate billions of revenue, and possibly prevent another heart-wrenching crisis. Nobel Prize-winning economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman want it. Billionaires like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates want it. Polls show the majority of Americans want it. Even the Pope wants it.

We’re talking about a financial transaction tax  –  a tiny tax of, say, less than half a percent: maybe three cents per $100   –  on Wall Street trading. It’s simple, more than fair, widely supported by the public, and long overdue.

Over the last weeks, Americans have been kept from going to work {1} and the fragile economy has been strained as members of Congress wrangled over another phony budget crisis, even as the deficit is shrinking {2}. Meanwhile, Wall Street has been raking in billions of dollars in profits from financial transactions. And they pay not a penny in taxes on most of them.

Instead of talking about nickel-and-diming seniors by cutting their Social Security and Medicare, letting our infrastructure crumble, and forcing our children to go without proper education or medicine, we could be returning sanity and balance to our financial system. The financial transaction tax would put the breaks on the sort of reckless, breakneck-speed computer gambling that helped tank the American economy five years ago. It could raise hundreds of billions annually. Did you hear that, deficit hawks? We’d have enough to close the funding gaps in states that had their budgets destroyed by Wall Street’s risky behavior and predation. We’d even have enough to invest in new jobs.

As Jeremy Scott of Forbes put it {3}: “What is important is that the financial sector, which bears a disproportionate share of the blame for the deep recession that is still affecting employment and growth, share in the costs of insuring against future bailouts and be forced to restructure itself to better insulate the rest of the economy from excessive risk”.

Once upon a time, we had a financial transaction tax in America, and it served us well from 1914 to 1966. Wall Street leaders at the time complained bitterly that the tax would be ruinous, but if you stop and think about those years, you notice that the American economy was actually much healthier than it is today. Income inequality was much lower, and jobs were more secure. After the Wall Street crash of 1987, major politicians, including Senate Majority leader Bob Dole and President H W Bush, called for a return of the financial transaction tax. Since the Wall Street-driven crash of 2008, renewed support for the tax has surged from every direction  –  except, of course, from Wall Street and the politicians who rely on their donations.

Because of their outlandish size and undue influence, financial firms have wriggled out of just about every attempt to introduce sane rules of the road since 2008, and they’re more dangerous and concentrated today than they before the crisis. Bankers and financiers left millions of Americans to suffer, and if something is not done soon, they will almost certainly do it again. It’s merely a question of when.

One of the biggest arguments against the financial transaction tax is that it will somehow hurt the economy by discouraging Wall Street activity. Of course, what it would actually do is protect Wall Street from itself by reducing the wild volatility of the market and the speculation fever which have prompted ordinary investors to run scared and caused jitters in the overall economy. Over the last decade, speculative activity has skyrocketed 400 percent  –  and only a miniscule fraction of that actually does anything to build the real economy in goods and services. The vast majority of it is just arbitrage, high-speed trading, casino gambling, and siphoning more money from ordinary people to the super-rich.

Another argument you hear is that regular folks would be hurt when they do things like make transactions on their 401(k)s or use a debit card. But this is nonsense. The tax would not apply to normal consumer activities, and traders could also be legally blocked from dumping costs onto consumers. The financial transaction tax is about giant banks and investment firms  –  behemoth companies like Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan, and Goldman Sachs. Not you and me. Some huff that high-frequency traders will simply leave the country if we slow them down. Here’s an idea: can we help you pack? Seriously, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Many industrial nations already have some form of financial transaction tax, including Hong Kong and Singapore. Some members of the European Union have tried to push ahead with an financial transaction tax, but it has gotten caught in the complicated web of the European legal framework. Naturally, the big financial firms have lobbied relentlessly to block it and convince the media (much of which relies on advertising dollars from Big Finance) that it’s a bad idea. They’ve succeeded in getting the tax’s effective date pushed into the middle of 2014.

Over on this side of the Atlantic, you may have heard that bank CEOs having been meeting with the president {4} during the shutdown. It’s not hard to imagine what they had to say: Just carve another pound of flesh from the American populace in the form of cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and leave us to make our billions at their expense. Protect Big Finance at any cost. So far, Obama has done pretty much just that. He has surrounded himself with economic advisors, like Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers who have played Santa Claus to bankers and oppose the financial transaction tax. Current Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is against the tax and gives us the official White House position {5}: “The administration has consistently opposed a financial transaction tax on the grounds that it would be vulnerable to evasion, create incentives for financial re-engineering and burden retail investors”. Which is all a big pile of baloney.

So is there any hope? Much of Congress, attentive only to the drumbeat from Wall Street, has turned a deaf ear to the idea, despite a recent proposal from Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Peter DeFazio. The bottom line is that we need people in Washington willing to challenge banks. You could take Elizabeth Warren’s election to the Senate as a sign that we might finally be getting somewhere. She is a very popular politician, and if she were to get behind the financial transaction tax, there could actually be a chance of getting it passed.

In the meantime, we really need to mob our representatives with messages of support for the financial transaction tax.  Flood them with letters, emails, and phone calls. Make noise. Tell them that if they are not willing to champion the public good, they will not get your vote.

And if the President dares to move forward with cuts to social programs, public services, Medicare, and Social Security while such a strong, sane idea as the financial transaction tax is supported by the population, well, maybe it’s time to take to the streets.

Links:

{1} http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-shutdown-worker-impact-20131012,0,699148.story

{2} http://www.alternet.org/economy/did-you-know-deficit-shrinking-most-americans-dont-thanks-shameless-deficit-hawk-propaganda

{3} http://www.forbes.com/sites/taxanalysts/2013/09/19/the-faltering-financial-transaction-tax-and-the-future-of-wall-street/%20http://www.forbes.com/sites/taxanalysts/2013/09/19/the-faltering-financial-transaction-tax-and-the-future-of-wall-street/

{4} http://money.cnn.com/2013/10/02/news/economy/obama-wall-street-ceo/

{5} http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/07/02/delamaide-columnist-financial-transaction-tax/2482435/

_____

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture (2008). She received her PhD in English and Cultural Theory from New York University, where she has taught essay writing and semiotics. She is the Director of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

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If Memory Swerves

by Thomas Frank

Harper’s Magazine Easy Chair (September 2013)

September 15 will mark five years since the beginning of the economic slump that defines the world we live in. Disaster was in the air already by that day in 2008: real-estate values had been falling for some time, Bear Stearns and several big commercial banks had failed, and the government had taken over the mortgage insurers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the previous week. But that Monday morning in September was when the larger economy went over a cliff – after Lehman Brothers, the nation’s fourth largest investment bank, finally succumbed to the effects of the noxious securities on which it had gorged itself for years.

Later that day, in a climate of almost complete panic, Merrill Lynch – the nation’s third largest investment bank, which had fed at the same trough – managed to find shelter in the arms of Bank of America. By the next day, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department announced that they were saving AIG, the mammoth insurance company that had transformed itself into a stealth hedge fund. As for actual hedge funds, more than 700 of them collapsed in the subsequent four months. And Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the last two investment-banking leviathans, desperately registered themselves as “bank holding companies” and threw themselves upon the mercy of the all-forgiving Fed.

It was the unavoidable explosion after decades of deregulation and willful blindness. A kind of waste product had been deliberately moved through the bowels of a hundred shady mortgage outfits. It was then gilded by delusional ratings agencies and sold to the world by the most respected names in finance. Bribery and deceit and crazy incentives had been the laxatives that pushed this product down the pipe; money and bonhomie and reassuring economic theory had been the sedatives that put the regulators to sleep.

The industry would supervise itself, we were told – and we believed it. Instead our economic order turned out to be wobbly, even rotten. The great banks looked insolvent. The great capitalists looked like criminals.

Then came a second outrage to rival the first. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who had been effectively promoted to king by a frantic George W Bush, demanded and received $700 billion from Congress to resuscitate the banks run by his former colleagues on Wall Street. There was a class of businesses, we learned, that could not be allowed to fail, no matter what kinds of suicide missions they undertook; and there was a class of people who could not be held responsible for their deeds, no matter how they beggared the world or deceived their marks. That this class’s chosen public persona was one of churlish, sniggering contempt for the non-crooks who were now required to rescue them only compounded the shock.

For the people who were left to cry over cratered investments and pay for the bailouts and endure the downturn, the 2008 collapse may well be the central economic episode of their lives. The consequences for them were sharp and immediate. The Dow Jones Industrial Average began its toboggan ride to 6,550, while gold bounded up toward $1,900 an ounce. Unemployment eventually idled around ten percent of the working population. Barack Obama became president, Glenn Beck became the media figure of the moment, and the spicy culture-war morsels on which we had chewed for thirty years suddenly seemed bland and tasteless. Meanwhile, the collapse reverberated around the world. The British, the Germans, the Italians, and everyone else, it now seemed, had been snacking on American-made toxins.

The events of those days haunt us still. I mean this not only in the sense that unemployment is still high and that Greece is still in ruins, but that a fresh scandal seems to surface every week or so. A few months ago, the website of the Irish Independent posted recordings of telephone calls made by Anglo Irish Bank executives in September 2008. That’s when Anglo Irish, which had spent the preceding decade investing in real estate – if “invest” is the word for the kind of insane bets the bank made – crashed in spectacular fashion and approached the Irish government for a bailout.

In the recordings, two executives note that the bank tricked the government by saying it required only seven billion euros to regain solvency. Once that was gone, the executives speculated, the government would be forced to shoulder the entire burden of Anglo Irish’s worthless loans. Which is precisely what happened, to the tune of some thirty billion euros, an amount roughly equivalent to eighteen percent of Ireland’s GDP. In this way, the bank’s private folly was transformed into what one Irish journalist later called a “public noose … that has all but choked the life out of this country”.

And how did the solemn Anglo Irish execs speak of their nation-strangling enterprise on that awful day five years ago? It should surprise nobody that they laughed like hyenas. Or that one of them told the other that he pulled the seven billion euros figure “out of my arse”. Or that this same proctological prestidigitator reasoned that if the government “saw the enormity of it up front, they might decide they have a choice”.

In the United States, we have had time to reflect, and have come up with a slightly different interpretation of the 2008 disaster: it was government’s fault from start to finish. Oh, without a doubt. The financial industry, as New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg assured us a few years ago, might be fun to blame, but it was essentially an innocent bystander. Government’s role in ruining the nation was, as the mayor declared, “plain and simple”.

Plain and simple it is, for people who choose to understand deeply disturbing reality as a form of moral caricature. For them the catastrophe is a tidy lesson about what happens when government’s best intentions go awry – in this case, its supposed desire to put poor people into houses they couldn’t afford and didn’t in the least deserve.

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of how utterly unremarkable this fictional version of 2008 has become. During an NPR segment about interest rates on college loans, the microphone went to a blogger named Keli Goff, who opined that tuition increases were attributable to the availability of federal loans. Big-government policies were screwing things up, she announced, “just like we saw in the housing market. The government should not be in the student-loan business.” This meddling approach was “distorting the market”, Goff continued. The other commentator, a former speechwriter for George H W Bush, did not disagree.

It’s easy enough to understand how an opinion like this has become so widespread. Despite all the investigations and hearings and indignant newspaper stories and editorials that have appeared since September 15 2008, Wall Street still has a vast corps of dedicated and well-compensated defenders. Government has very few.

Its most prominent advocate, President Obama, has always been ambivalent about this part of his job. The one occasion on which he took a forthright stand for the usefulness of government – his famous “You didn’t build that” speech in 2012 – was followed by an immediate retreat under fire. And while Obama won the White House in large part thanks to the events of September 2008, he has said relatively little about who caused the crash itself. It is true that he often speaks of the financial industry’s “reckless” doings during the Bush years. But the idea that society must set rules for the conduct of private business is not a case he is eager to make. His appointees, as well as top Democrats in Congress, have likewise taken pains to mute their denunciations, out of fear of stifling the recovery, or losing out on plutocrat campaign contributions, or both.

Democratic bosses have also steered clear of the kind of populist effort that would have made household phrases out of “one shitty deal” and “IBG YBG” [I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone] – and inevitably led to prosecutions. Those bankers were campaign donors, after all. And look, Democrats won the election in 2008, and passed their feeble regulatory bill in 2010, and returned Obama to the Oval Office just last year. What’s the problem?

The problem is that we had to blame somebody, and so our fury after September 2008 naturally gravitated back to the familiar pattern of government-hating. To be sure, Americans were already cynical about Washington by the time Lehman Brothers failed. But the X-Files-style cynicism of the Nineties – and even the Rambo-style cynicism of the Eighties – look like the happy dreams of youth after the terrible knowledge of 2008. I’m talking about the lesson of the bailouts, which was impossible to dodge: that government was essentially the servant and protector of crooks.

Ignoring public cynicism is the easy way forward. You don’t have to vilify or punish anyone, you don’t have to investigate or explain anything. But ignoring it will have terrible consequences, and not just because the Democrats have traditionally been the party of government and will suffer all the more if our epidemic federalphobia is not addressed. The bigger problem is this: the economy has to have rules, and government is how we make those rules. If vigilant financial regulation is missing or suppressed or underfunded, disasters like the crash of 2008 are unavoidable.

But a society that believes good government to be an impossibility is unlikely to do what is necessary to keep industry honest. Instead, its regulators will come to see the regulated, rather than the public, as their main clients. They will imagine that industry can police itself. They will party with their private-sector pals and spin happily through the revolving door. And the rest of us will resign ourselves to scandal after scandal, as a new generation of looters rises up to claim positions at the trough when the old looters retire. Indeed – to repurpose an immortal statement by a certain Bush Administration economist – given what we now think we know about the system, it would be irrational for them not to loot.

One of the very few healthy effects of September 2008 was that it momentarily disrupted Washington’s consensus of permissible opinion. For years, correctness in the capital had been determined by how deftly a given idea could triangulate between the two parties. The more closely it approached the dead center of the political spectrum, the righter it was. Financial deregulation, as an agreed-upon tenet of both parties, was holy writ, something questioned only by cranks. The social beneficence of Wall Street was equally self-evident.

And then suddenly this modern-day scholasticism, so sensitive to the city’s subtle shades of orthodoxy, seemed as futile as phrenology. The Washington world was shaken to its very foundations as the events of September 2008 momentarily revealed that its pet ideas about Wall Street were nothing but an illusion projected by people whose main object was to stuff their pockets. Could it be that the cranks had been right all along, with their apocalyptic moaning about predatory lending and the repeal of Glass-Steagall?

Not to worry, reader. The walls soon stopped shaking, the planets snapped back into their ageless orbits, and the birds resumed their songs. During the Great Depression, the structure of society and the economy were permanently changed – but this time around, life for the well-situated quickly recovered its delights. Today, the banks are bigger than before, given the wave of emergency mergers and buyouts that followed the crisis. The march of inequality slowed briefly during the disaster, but has since continued its robust progress toward the social arrangements we remember so fondly from the days of the McKinley Administration. As the historian Robert McElvaine recently pointed out to me, a talented hedge-fund manager contrived to make $2 billion in 2012. If you do the math, figuring that he worked eight-hour days and took two weeks of vacation, you will discover that this fine fellow earned more than $1 million an hour.

Yes, the center holds – per the title of Jonathan Alter’s new book about the Obama Administration and the election of 2012. And what a triumph that is. The center came close to ruining us with decades of blind economic consensus, but now it has won an election, and in Washington that is all that matters.

There is one way, however, in which the changes brought about by 2008 have been permanent – one way in which the center will probably never hold again. We are a society that watched as those who obeyed the rules got played by Wall Street and Washington. And it has not only hardened us, made us more blase about corruption; it has corrupted us. We beheld our powerlessness at the hands of the mighty, and we decided that the thing to do was to make Wall Street even stronger. We accepted our powerlessness and then magnified it. Today we all know that another bubble will soon inflate and burst, but we have chosen to live with that – five years from the last, five years to the next! Just grab your cash and hang on.

(c) 2012 Harper’s Magazine

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