Category Archives: Japan

Japan’s ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan on how Fukushima changed his mind about nuclear power

It is little more than three years since the Tōhoku earthquake devastated the northeast of Japan in 2011. The most powerful earthquake Japan has ever experienced (fifth biggest in the world since records began) triggered a massive tsunami which caused widespread destruction of nearby houses and infrastructure as well as the immediate deaths of more than 15,000 people. The tsunami also resulted in the nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi plant with meltdown of three of its six reactors and a number of explosions – the largest in the Reactor 3 building blowing off the roof and producing a huge radioactive plume. Fukushima is a disaster that, although rarely making it into the news, is ongoing.

To mark this third anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima disaster, on Tuesday last week [March 11th] Democracy Now! devoted the full show to an exclusive interview with Naoto Kan, Japan’s Prime Minister at the time, who says Fukushima “was definitely the largest, most severe of all nuclear disasters, including going above Chernobyl”, but that in the worst-case scenario it could have been a hundred times more serious:

[A]t the Daiichi plant, there are six reactors and seven spent fuel pools. And then, 12 kilometers from there, at the Daini, the second Fukushima nuclear power plant, there are four additional reactors and four spent fuel pools, meaning that when you combine both Daiichi and Daini together, there’s 10 reactors and 11 spent fuel pools altogether. And if we were to lose control of all of this, it would mean that the accident, the disaster, could be on a scale of many tens or even hundred times more radioactive materials being released than what happened at Chernobyl. And so, thinking about this made me also think about the risk of the possibility that maybe even areas including Tokyo might need to be evacuated. […]

And within this scenario, it said that the worst case could mean having to evacuate up to a 250-kilometer radius of the area… [and] that would involve 40 percent of the population of the whole country of Japan.

This greater crisis has so far been averted, but meanwhile the damaged reactors continue to leak, polluting the air and the ocean, whilst the threat of a worse disaster will persist until the spent fuel rods can be safely removed. This is itself an extraordinarily complex and hazardous procedure involving novel technical challenges.

A small army of engineers and volunteers – including, most deplorably, many recruited from the ranks of Japan’s homeless population (see this article from The Independent) – are also there to help with decontamination of the site. While, and for obvious reasons, the surviving reactors at Fukushima need to be decommissioned too. The operation, not of saving, but merely ameliorating the level of radioactive pollution still being released by the crippled plant, as well as maintaining today’s precarious though stable conditions means extraordinary costs not only in economic terms, but human terms as well. Sustained efforts which will have to go on indefinitely.

Advocates of nuclear power sometimes claim that since the disaster at Fukushima was a result of an almost unprecedented natural disaster, we should not be too alarmed by nuclear plants closer to home. The reactors were old, they point out, and poorly maintained. In the days after the disaster, one prominent environmentalist, whose name does not need repeating here, went so far as to inform the world that the limited failure of the Daiichi plant had led to his own road to Damascus conversion: immediately after the disaster, he wrote, “The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.” It is perhaps worth noting that the person in question resides in Wales not Japan.

There are a number of points here. The most glaring being that many of the reactors still in operation around the world are equivalently old-fashioned – and very likely no better maintained than those at Daiichi. At the time of the disaster, the reactors at Fukushima were between thirty and forty years old. As you can see from the chart below (based on the latest information from the IAEA), more than fifty of the world’s 435 reactors are now forty or more years old with over half constructed more than thirty years ago:

But it is also important to understand why the reactors at Fukushima failed at all. All had survived the earthquake intact and were then successfully shutdown, however at Daiichi the core temperature inside the reactors continued to rise when the cooling systems stopped working. It was this breakdown of the cooling systems, in turn due to an electrical blackout and loss of backup generators, that caused the meltdowns. So, the disaster at Fukushima shows how reactors – including ones located in areas less prone to natural disasters – might become vulnerable in the event of a major and long-lasting power outage. Click here to read more on this in a report published by the Huffington Post entitled “Long Blackouts Pose Risk to U.S. Nuclear Reactors”.

Perhaps of still greater concern is the staggering fact that there are many nuclear plants throughout the world – including a further six in Japan – also built very close to active geological fault-lines. In the case of the Tsuruga plant in Fukui Prefecture, an active fault runs directly beneath one of its reactors.

Prior to the disaster, Naoto Kan had also been strongly in favour of nuclear power. Shortly afterwards, and whilst holding the office of Prime Minister (he later resigned in August), Kan altered his opinion:

Before March 11 and the disaster, I was holding the position that if the safety could be ensured, then we should continue to utilize nuclear power, nuclear power plants. But, as you [interviewer Amy Goodman] said, this position changed. The Fukushima disaster brought us on the verge of having to evacuate 50 million people, and we were only just one small step away from perhaps facing this kind of situation… the one way to prevent this from happening, to prevent the risk, to get rid of the risk of having to evacuate such huge amounts of people, 50 million people, and for the purpose, for the benefit of the lives of our people, and even the economy of Japan, I came to change [my] position, that the only way to do this, what was necessary to do this, was to totally get rid of the nuclear power plants.

In the second half of the interview, Naoto Kan was also asked to account for his own actions in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. For instance, why had he ordered the TEPCO employees to remain on the site? This was his response:

Well, the first thing which happened at 3:00 a.m. on March the 15th, the minister for the economy came to my office, came to me, and he said that the TEPCO headquarters had requested to him for the workers from the Daiichi site to be withdrawn from their positions. However, then considering what would happen on the site if all of TEPCO’s technicians from on site were withdrawn, considering the fact that there were six reactors and four spent fuel pools at the Daiichi site itself, this would mean the potential of being—losing control completely of this whole site. Even if the Self-Defense Forces, for example, were sent into the location, sent into the site, of course, they are not trained to deal with nuclear operations.

So, with no TEPCO staff, no TEPCO technicians on site, this would, in effect, mean actually abandoning all of these six reactors and seven pools on the Daiichi site, which would mean in turn that the worst-case scenario could actually become reality. And so, despite the, of course, huge risk that was there, I decided that it was very important to keep the technicians and the TEPCO workers on site for as long as possible to try and deal with the situation.

And why such a slow response from the Japanese authorities, with his government only prepared to evacuate those who lived in the immediate vicinity of the plant? Again, Kan’s response:

[U]pon hearing reports of the fact that the cooling functions at the plant had stopped, the first thing that we did was to evacuate those within the five-kilometer radius of the plant, and then, from here, expanding to the 10, 15, 20 and 30 kilometers, giving instructions for people to remain indoors. And this was done straightaway on the days of March 11 and March 12.

And so, upon the advice and recommendations of experts as we were thinking how to set these evacuation zones, and when and how, one of the considerations was that if the broader evacuation zone had been set right from the beginning, then those who were living closest to the plant, because of transportation and congestion, may not actually be able to leave the area. And so the decision was made to first evacuate those closest to the plant, so within the five-kilometer zone. And then, from there, we gradually expanded to 10, 15, 20 and so on.

At the time, I had been hearing also and we were aware of the instructions which had been given, for example, by the United States embassy and the embassies of other countries for their citizens within, for example, 50 miles to evacuate. However, in the case, of course, from the position of the Japanese government, there are so many citizens living within this area, so to move this number of people all at once was something we had to really consider how this could be feasible.

Finally, Naoto Kan was asked if he felt that the reason nuclear power is still being pushed, even after Fukushima, has to do with nuclear weapons and the production of plutonium? He replied:

In regards to considering countries which are considering or wanting to build new nuclear power plants, I believe that there are two main reasons for this. One is in the situation particularly of countries which are, for example, at the moment reliant on buying natural gas from Russia, wanting to be not controlled or not having to completely follow Russia for this, but to be energy-independent. And so, for example, the country of Estonia, which did actually decide not to build its nuclear power plant, but is perhaps one example of this. And the next major reason, I believe, is also because, of course, if nuclear power plants are built, this also does lead to creation of plutonium. And so, this leads to the latent capability to create nuclear weapons. And so, having this is also one reason that I believe some countries consider building or having nuclear power, so keeping the future possibility of this. And this is a reason which I think cannot be denied.

Adding:

I personally believe that it is important to abolish both of these, both nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. Of course, in the case of Japan, we do not possess nuclear weapons, so we’re working now here in Japan to prevent or to get rid of nuclear power plants.

This is one of the most interesting and illuminating political interviews I have watched in many years and I would recommend it, but especially to those who remain on the fence about this issue. As Japan tries to take stock of the scale of the Fukushima tragedy, the polluted spectre of its defunct remains ought to serve as both a stark and urgent warning to other nations committing themselves already or else contemplating any future reliant upon nuclear power.

Click here to read a full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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Update:

One of the video clips embedded above has since been removed from youtube. It was a CNN news report explaining some of the difficulties involved in removing spent fuel rods from the site. Here instead is another report from NHK World:

Two of the original posts of the interview were also later removed, so here is another upload of the Democracy Now! interview with Naoto Kan – now in two parts:

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is history about to repeat itself at Fukushima?

At primary school we had a daily assembly, singing hymns and mumbling prayers (my school having been Church of England affiliated), and listening to short stories that served the purpose of a moral lesson by providing our thought for the day. Parables from the Gospels mixed in with tales drawn from Greek myths or Aesop’s fables.

I have long since forgotten most of these stories, aside from the more famous tales of Icarus and Midas, and except, that is, for one story which also lodged much deeper in my memory. It concerned a crisis that came to a small city in Japan where the people and animals had suddenly started going mad and dying. Increasingly numbers falling victim to a mysterious plague, which, due to the strange symptoms, the locals had called “dancing cat fever”.

Minamata, the place of this disaster, now bears the name of its disease. If you type “Minamata” into google you will discover indeed that “Minamata disease” is listed at the top of the search; references to the disease ranking above almost all the other links to general descriptions of the city itself. You will also learn – if you didn’t know already – that the cause of this fatal disease was industrial poisoning; heavy metals, and specifically an organomercury compound called methylmercury, which had been released into the bay by a chemical factory called Chisso Corporation over a period of many decades. A deadly neurotoxin which then bioaccumulated in the fish and shellfish caught and eaten by the local community.

Hearing about the dying cats and the birds falling out of the air and all the people suffering made this one of the saddest stories I had ever heard. Sad not only because it was true, but almost unbearably sad because so much of the suffering (which still continues) was completely avoidable.

For many years, there had been clear and irrefutable evidence that the disease was being caused by effluent released from the local chemical plant, and throughout this time, Chisso were also fully aware of their own responsibility in the poisoning. Instead of cleaning up their operation, however, the management at Chisso took the decision to disguise the facts. Diverting their poisons away from the main outlet into the harbour and then discharging the same effluent more covertly into the nearby Minamata River. Actions that exacerbated the environmental damage whilst deliberately prolonging the agony of the people.

It was this part of the story which carried the important moral lesson, leaving the deepest impression on my still very innocent mind. Such callous deliberation causing me to wonder how people can behave so monstrously to one another.

So now I hear another story coming from Japan. One part of this new story available, for instance, in this Guardian report from yesterday:

The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said on Thursday another tank holding highly contaminated water overflowed, probably sending the liquid into the Pacific Ocean, in the second such breach in less than two months. […]

The latest leaks show Tepco’s efforts to improve its handling of the contaminated water are not sufficient, Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters on Thursday. The government will take steps to deal with the water, he said, adding that he thought the situation was under control.1

Click here to read the full Guardian article.

With disturbing echoes of a potentially looming disaster reminiscent of what happened at Minamata having been reported a week earlier:

Local fishermen in Fukushima Prefecture on Wednesday restarted operations suspended late last month after heavy amounts of contaminated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was found leaking into the ocean. […]

On Tuesday, the federation decided to resume trial fishing after a string of radiation tests by member co-ops did not find any readings above the government’s 100 becquerels per kilogram safety limit for food products.

Of the 100 fish and seafood products tested, 95 were clear of radioactive material, with the other five containing less than 1/10 of the limit, the federation said. […]

The federation said Tuesday that it would put the catches on sale after confirming that radiation readings for the catch is below 50 becquerels per kilogram — less than half the mandatory limit.2

Click here to read the full report in The Japan Times.

Back in the coastal waters off Minamata, mercury still permeates the sediments and fishing remains prohibited. The city itself has never recovered from the disaster and its dwindling population continue to be divided over attitudes towards the Chisso Corporation and their own victimhood:

Indeed, the environmental disaster that struck Minamata has never really stopped. Though much of the mercury has been dredged from the bay overlooking the Shiranui Sea, the fishing grounds are still dangerously polluted and the fishermen, who numbered heavily among the victims, are gone.

Minamata’s population has declined by a third, to fewer than 35,000, and most of those who are left are elderly. Young people who flee for the cities after graduating from high school say they go to great lengths to conceal their origins because elsewhere in Japan Minamata’s residents are often regarded as “polluted,” even if they do not suffer from Minamata disease.

“You simply cannot get a position in a company if people know you are from Minamata,” said Tsuginori Hamamoto, a leader of one of the many victims’ groups, who is himself confined to a wheelchair because of mercury-tainted fish he ate. “For young people, it is almost impossible to find a marriage partner.” Bitter Divisions

Moreover, the town itself is bitterly divided. Mr. Hamamoto and other victims are constantly pressing for memorials and commemorative museums that they say would restore some dignity to the victims; many other residents want all reminders of the disease swept away in hopes that Chisso, whose factory still dominates the town, will invest further here.3

Click here to read the full article published in The New York Times.

And the latest official message is that it’s safe again to eat the fish from Fukushima. The contamination being within acceptable limits, the authorities say, trying very hard to persuade the world that this horrendous disaster is mostly behind us:

“Let me assure you, the situation is under control,” Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said during lobbying for the 2020 Olympics. “There are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future.”

But why would anyone believe them…? Here is part of a report from the Georgia Straight:

About 800 people worldwide will get cancer from radiation due to Fukushima in fish eaten to date, according to Georgia Straight calculations. The Straight results relied on a widely used cancer-risk formula developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as radiation levels in 33,000 fish tested by the Japanese Fisheries Agency.

Half the cancers will be fatal. About 500 will be in Japan; 75 will be due to Japanese fish exports to other countries; and 225 will be from fishing in the Pacific by nations other than Japan.

And that’s likely only a small part of the actual long-term cancer impacts from eating the fish. Two nuclear experts who saw the Straight’s figures said the real cancer toll could be 100 times higher—or 80,000 cancers.

“The potential numbers could be two orders of magnitude [100 times] higher than your numbers,” Daniel Hirsch, a nuclear-policy lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said in a phone interview. “Hundreds of cancers are nothing to sneeze at, and it is a fraction of what I suspect the total will be.” […]

The Straight also sent its cancer calculations to Eiichiro Ochiai, a retired chemistry professor in Vancouver who taught at UBC and the University of Tokyo and has written a book titled Hiroshima to Fukushima: Biohazards of Radiation (to be released on October 31).

In a phone interview, Ochiai agreed the calculations were done correctly and that the actual cancer toll will likely be higher. He said cancer-risk formulas used by governments underestimate the true cancer impact, especially those cases that arise from eating contaminated food.

“The official data is all denial,” Ochiai said. “The nuclear industry tries to suppress the truth.”4

Truth is that there is no genuinely “safe level” for radiation, just as there is no safe level for inhaling asbestos fibres or tobacco smoke. Nor is there any safe level for consuming heavy metals like uranium. So it seems that perhaps the hardest lesson to be learnt from Minamata (or countless other environmental disasters) is the most straightforward one: that those in authority rarely, if ever, actually care about what happens to you. Instead they lie. First to make money, and then, afterwards, to avoid prosecution and save face. Surely we aren’t so innocent as to believe differently.

1 From an article entitled “Second breach at Fukushima nuclear plant leaks toxic water into sea”, from Reuters, published in the Guardian on October 3, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/03/fukushima-nuclear-plant-leak-japan

2 From an article entitled “Trial fishing resumes of Fukushima after radiation tests” published by The Japan Times on September 25, 2013. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/09/25/national/trial-fishing-resumes-off-fukushima-after-radiation-tests/#.Uk7eDFOwd9Q

3 From an article entitled “Japan and the Mercury-Poisoned Sea: A Reckoning That Won’t Go Away”, written by David E. Sanger, published by The New York Times on January 16, 1991. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/16/world/japan-and-the-mercury-poisoned-sea-a-reckoning-that-won-t-go-away.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

4 From an article entitled “Fish data belie Japan’s claims on Fukushima”, written by Alex Roslin, published in the Georgia Straight on October 2, 2013. http://www.straight.com/life/497646/fish-data-belie-japans-claims-fukushima

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Greenpeace and Arne Gundersen blow the whistle on Fukushima

Arnold Gundersen holds a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and is a former nuclear industry senior vice president. He coordinated projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, but later became an industry whistle-blower1, also serving as an expert witness for the investigation into the accident at Three Mile Island.2 He is currently the chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates, as well as co-author of the latest Greenpeace report, “Lessons from Fukushima”.

The report’s conclusions begin as follows:

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster has proven that the nuclear industry’s theory of nuclear safety is false. Historical evidence – Fukushima Daiichi, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island – shows a major nuclear accident has occurred somewhere in the world about once every decade. The regular occurrence of reactor accidents contradicts the nuclear industry’s claim that such events would occur only once in 250 years.

CCTV Host Margaret Harrington speaks here with Maggie and Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds about Arne’s recent trip to Japan and their report for Greenpeace about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. The closing section of the video also features Gundersen’s own theory on why Fukushima failed so catastrophically, and what this means for other nuclear reactors of similar design:

One year on from the Fukushima disaster, and both the British government and the Obama administration continue to call for an expansion of the nuclear power industry. On yesterday’s Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed Gundersen, who again spoke candidly about the long term legacy of Fukushima, the design failures of the Mark I type nuclear reactors used at Fukushima and also in operation elsewhere, and more generally, about how the economics of nuclear energy is distorted.

Here are a few extracts taken from what he had to say:

Well, I think the first—the first lesson is that this is a technology that can destroy a nation. I was reading Mikhail Gorbachev’s memoirs, and he claims that it was Chernobyl, not perestroika, that destroyed the Soviet Union. And as you look at the transcripts coming out of Japan, we see that the Fukushima accident was on the verge of causing the evacuation of Tokyo. And had the wind been blowing the other way, across the island instead of out to sea, Japan would have been cut in half and destroyed as a functional country. So, this is a technology where perhaps accidents don’t happen every day, but when they do, they can destroy a country.

The other things are the cost is astronomical. To fix this is going to be something on the order of half-a-trillion dollars. All of the money that Japan saved on oil over the 40 years that they’ve had nuclear plants just got thrown away in the half-a-trillion-dollar recovery effort.

And the other piece is the human issues. The health impacts to the Japanese will begin to be felt in several years and out to 30 or 40 years from cancers. And I believe we’re going to see as many as a million cancers over the next 30 years because of the Fukushima incident in Japan.

You know, left to Wall Street druthers—we subsidize their insurance, and we subsidize them on the front end, as far as their ability to build these plants. If it were up to Wall Street and this was a real capitalistic country, we wouldn’t be building nuclear. We’ve basically socialized the risks, but any profits flow to the corporations. […]

I’m on record as saying that we should close the 23 reactors with the Mark I design. Just three weeks before Fukushima, my wife and I were talking, and she said, “Where is the next accident going to occur?” I said, “I don’t know where, but I know it’s going to be in a Mark I design.” These containment vents prove to fail three times out of three. And the NRC’s response is, “Well, let’s make those vents better.” Well, if they just failed three times out of three, it’s hard to imagine how to make something like that better.

In addition, the fuel is stored on the roof, essentially, in unshielded, unprotected areas. And there’s more nuclear caesium-137 in the fuel pool at the plant in Pilgrim, Massachusetts, than was ever released by every nuclear bomb ever exploded in the atmosphere. So we have an enormous inventory of nuclear material way up on the roofs of these buildings, and I think it’s time to close these Mark 1s down, because of those two design features.

Click here to watch the interview and read the full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

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Greenpeace commissioned Dr. David Boilley, a nuclear physicist with the French independent radiation laboratory ACRO; Dr. David McNeill, Japan correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications; and Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Associates, to write “Lessons from Fukushima”. The report, peer reviewed by Dr. Helmut Hirsch, an expert in nuclear safety, reaches three important insights:

1) Japanese authorities and the operators of the Fukushima plant were entirely wrong in their assumptions about the risks of a serious accident. The real risks were known but downplayed and ignored.

2) Even though Japan is considered one of the best-prepared countries in the world for handling major disasters the reality of a large nuclear disaster proved to be far worse than what was planned for. Nuclear emergency and evacuation plans utterly failed to protect people.

3) Hundreds of thousands of people have been deeply affected by evacuations to escape radioactive contamination. They cannot rebuild their lives due to a lack of support and financial compensation. Japan is one of only three countries with a law making a nuclear operator liable for the full costs of a disaster. Yet, the liability law and compensation schemes are inadequate in Japan. Even a year after the disaster began, impacted people are essentially left on their own and Japanese taxpayers will end up paying much of the costs.

Taken from the official Greenpeace press release of February 28th which accompanied the publication of their report: “Lessons from Fukushima”.

Click here to read the Greenpeace report.

1 The following extracts are from a New York Times report about Arnold Gundersen published on February 12th,1995:

“FOR three years, Arnold Gundersen was awakened by harassing phone calls in the middle of the night. He became so concerned about his family’s safety that he bought a large dog for protection. The problem? He was a whistle-blower, one of those who take on the dismally unpopular role of exposing what they find to be unsafe or unlawful practices in the workplace, especially the nuclear workplace.” […]

“Mr. Gundersen, who lives in Warren, told of the day in 1990 when he discovered radioactive material in an accounting safe at Nuclear Energy Services in Danbury, the consulting firm where he held a $120,000-a-year job as senior vice president. Three weeks after he notified the company president of what he believed to be radiation safety violations, Mr. Gundersen said, he was fired.”

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/12/nyregion/paying-the-price-for-blowing-the-whistle.html

2 Click here to see Arnold Gundersen presenting evidence for what he calls “the three myths of Three Mile Island” and here to read Gundersen’s report on the Three Mile Island accident.

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“austerity” is too good for the bankers: their punishment should fit their crimes

Ever since I began writing this blog and long before that, one thing has been at the forefront of the political agenda:– “Austerity measures”. The quotation marks are ugly but essential. Those annoying little curly tadpoles hopefully raising the question: what does this phrase actually mean and what is it hiding? Perhaps a dictionary might help us:

Austere: grave, sober, or serious; self-disciplined, abstemious, or ascetic; severely simple or plain. Austerity is then, more often than not, considered ennobling; the word even carries implicitly wholesome religious connotations. The life of a monk is austere. The saints too practiced austerity. And Christ himself is said to have led an austere life. The religious justification is that obsessing about material comforts misses the bigger spiritual picture, but I am not intending to argue either for or against that opinion. My contention here being simply that the meaning of “austerity measures” relies heavily although unconsciously on these traditional ideals. In more purely secular terms, tightening the belt being very often regarded as a good thing.

There is, of course, a constantly expanding menagerie of euphemisms and doublespeak. Civilian casualties in war are now simply “collateral damage”; war itself becoming “kinetic action”; “enemy combatant” meaning a prisoner of war denied their rights; “theater” the war zone; whilst kidnap and torture have been reduced to “extraordinary rendition”. All of these are designed to hide the indefensible truth. But “austerity measures” achieves more again. It doesn’t merely hide the truth, but almost reverses it.

First, let me translate “austerity measures” into useful Standard English: “austerity measures” means enforced poverty. There are no ugly tadpoles required here, because this is quite literally the meaning of the phrase. With the proper words in place, the spell is undone and the truth becomes unavoidable and as clear as day. “Austerity” means being pushed down. Being forced to submit. In short, there is nothing edifying nor ennobling about stripping ordinary people of their very basic and essential public services and economic rights.

“Austerity measures” — what are they good for? Absolutely nothing! You cannot rescue any economy during a depression by impoverishing the people of that country. We can understand this through applying basic economics, or we can find the empirical proof in so many cases where the IMF and the World Bank have applied such “measures” in the past. By making people poorer, personal debt increases as does government debt. As people stop spending, others are forced out of work. The economy shrinks and tax revenues are driven down. Eventually the debt repayments become impossible to maintain. It is a downward death spiral, as the latest report from Greece on Democracy Now! shows all too clearly:

Click here to watch the video or read a full transcript of the same report [from Feb 14th] on the Democracy Now! website.

Greece has now been brought to its knees by imposed “austerity”, and so long as its main political parties continue taking the same course, the situation will quickly worsen. Society is already breaking down and sooner or later the whole political system will surely follow. A revolution in Greece of one kind or another is coming. We can only pray that it’s a good one.

Wherever severe “austerity” moves to next, whether it is Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Italy or here in Britain, the same results must be expected. Oh, and if you think that Greece has a more serious debt problem than anywhere else, then it’s time to think again. Japan has a far higher level of public debt than Greece (see here), and if you also include business and bank debts, then the picture looks very different again. This graphic, published on zerohedge.com [from November 2011] shows very clearly which nation is currently leading in the global debt race to the bottom (and it’s not Greece – not by a long chalk):

Owe your banker £1000 and you are at his mercy; owe him £1 million and the position is reversed. The economist John Maynard Keynes called this ‘the old saying’. So old that it seems to have been long since forgotten. These days, as Keynes would no doubt be surprised to learn, there are some banks deemed simply ‘too big to fail’. Which is, of course, precisely how we got into this mess in the first place, as well as the reason we remain stuck in it.

The ‘megabanks’ have failed, trading poorly, making bad investments and decisions, whilst influencing economic policies in ways that are now proven to be destructive and against the interests of most on the planet, and all the time conducting their operations way beyond their actual means. They are all bankrupt, having “invested” in a load of completely worthless paper which they prefer to call “toxic assets”. And here it is important to understand that in the topsy-turvy world of finance, all debts held are considered to be ‘assets’, even if those debts cannot be repaid, in which case they are regarded as ‘toxic’, whilst remaining as ‘assets’ nonetheless!

The question now being asked is will the latest 130 billion euro bailout save the Greek economy, and the answer to that question is a resounding no. It will no more save the Greek economy than the 110 billion euro bailout did less than two years ago, back in May 2010. Greece will default eventually. Meanwhile the Greek people will have received no benefit from any of these huge bailouts, since the money is only ever used to pay off the bankers’ losses. And yet, when we trace back those losses, what we discover is that they were a product of unquestionably criminal practices. William Black, a highly respected former financial regulator, has explained more than once how the whole financial system became a Ponzi Scheme — and Black is far from a lone voice. Click here to read an earlier post on William Black.

Yet the bankers have so far remained immune from any prosecution. Instead of prison they are receiving continued bailouts, whilst also picking up private perks in the form of bonuses. So how do they get away with it? Simple – they run the show. And evidence of this banker occupation is all around. Goldman Sacks, for instance, are everywhere.

They have not only ‘conquered Europe’, as an extraordinary article in the Independent put it, but long since embedded themselves in other positions of power and influence including, perhaps most significantly, the White House. More recently, they have openly installed unelected puppets to run Greece and Italy. Which is how the Ponzi Scheme that Black and others have uncovered remains officially unchallenged, unhampered and unabated. The bailouts keeping the crooked casino afloat a little longer, whilst the debt contagion spreads far and wide, generating renewed opportunity for asset-stripping along the way. The Greeks are the scapegoats, and also the first victims.

Two years ago, speaking on Al Jazeera, Max Keiser pointed out [7:30 minutes in] that Goldman Sacks had illegally colluded with the Greek government in order to hide debts in their bid for entry into the Eurozone:

The same collusion was more recently picked over in this detailed BBC report from Nick Dunbar, author of “The Devil’s Derivatives”. According to Dunbar’s version of events, however, the secret deal that had been fraudulently cooked up to conceal the true level of Greek government debt was “perfectly legal”:

In his latest book Vultures’ Picnic, investigative journalist, Greg Palast, also delves into Goldman Sacks chicanery. Hidden within documents that he took great pains to authenticate, he discovers evidence that the dodgy deal was a deliberate plan to force the Greek nation into bankruptcy and a fire-sale:

Greece’s economy blew apart because a bunch of olive-spitting, ouzo-guzzling, lazy-ass Greeks refuse to put in a full day’s work, retire while they’re still teenagers, pocket pensions fit for a pasha; and they’ve gone on a social-services spending spree using borrowed money. Now that the bill has come due and the Greeks have to pay with higher taxes and cuts in their big fat welfare state, they run riot, screaming in the streets, busting windows and burning banks.

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it because of the document in my hand marked, “RESTRICTED DISTRIBUTION.”

I’ll cut to the indictment: Greece is a crime scene. The people are victims of a fraud, a scam, a hustle and a flim-flam. And––cover the children’s ears when I say this––a bank named Goldman Sachs is holding the smoking gun.

You can read a little more about Palast’s investigation, and what it reveals about the Greek crisis here and also on page 27 of chapter one.

There has been a loud call (one that I have also joined in) for the bankers to pay their way in the form of Toban Taxes and so forth, but frankly this is not enough. “Austerity” is too good for bankers. Nothing short of a full criminal investigation is actually needed, with a debt moratorium imposed for as long as that investigation takes. A cancellation of all odious debts should then follow.

Until that time, and as the people of Greece and elsewhere continue to suffer, we would be wise to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. They are the unfortunate recent victims in an ever-expanding and increasingly merciless financial war. For “bailouts” read “more debt”, whilst “austerity measures” means nothing other than economic “shock and awe”.

On the positive side, even parts of the mainstream media are finally beginning to awaken to the crisis now taking hold in Greece and elsewhere. Here, for instance, is Paul Mason, the economics editor for BBC‘s Newsnight, taking a break from his usual duties to speak on Democracy Now! (and to plug his book, obviously) last Wednesday [Feb 22nd]:

Paul Mason appears to be under the unfortunate delusion that only he and Glenn Beck (of all people) are making the connection between the deepening financial crisis and the rise of popular movements across Europe, North Africa and America. If only Mason had figured out how to navigate the internet, he’d be so much better informed.

Click here to watch the video or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

Additional:

As for the truth about just how lazy the Greek’s really are, here’s a BBC news article from Feb 26th:

But the statistics suggest the country has not lost its way due to laziness. If you look at the average annual hours worked by each worker, the Greeks seem very hard-working.

Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that the average Greek worker toils away for 2,017 hours per year which is more than any other European country.

Out of the 34 members of the OECD, that is just two places behind the board leaders, South Korea.

On the other hand, the average German worker – normally thought of as the very epitome of industriousness – only manages 1,408 hours a year. Germany is 33rd out of 34 on the OECD list (or 24th out of 25 looking at the European countries alone).

Europe’s top 10 and bottom 10

Most hours worked Most productive Least hours worked Least productive
1 Greece Luxembourg Netherlands Poland
2 Hungary Norway Germany Hungary
3 Poland Ireland Norway Turkey
4 Estonia Belgium France Estonia
5 Turkey Netherlands Denmark Czech Rep
6 Czech Rep France Ireland Portugal
7 Italy Germany Belgium Slovakia
8 Slovakia Denmark Austria Greece
9 Portugal Sweden Luxembourg Slovenia
10 Iceland Austria Sweden Iceland

Looking though the table above, you might notice a negative correlation between long working hours and increased productivity. This exposes another pernicious myth, as we can clearly see that it’s far better to work clever than to work hard.

Click here to read the full article which is entitled “Are Greeks the hardest workers in Europe”, written by Charlotte McDonald.

*

Click here to add your signature to the statement of solidarity with the people of Greece backed by trade union leaders, members of Parliament and campaigners published in the Guardian.

The people of Greece face an unprecedented economic and political crisis. They are being driven to poverty and mass unemployment by the demands of the so-called Troika – the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund which has imposed Lucas Papademos, formerly of Vice-President of the ECB, as Prime Minister.

Hospitals in Greece are running out of basic medicines, nearly half of all young people are unemployed, workers in some sectors have not been paid for months, and many are forced to resort to soup kitchens or scavenge from rubbish dumps.

Now the Troika demands a cut of 23% to the minimum wage, the sacking of tens of thousands of public sector workers and the decimation of pensions which have already lost nearly 50% of their value. International capital is asset stripping an entire country and ripping apart its social fabric.

Greece is at the cutting edge of the austerity measures that are being introduced across Europe. All the evidence shows that while these measures may protect the interests of the rich, they just make matters worse for the majority of the population. What happens in Greece today we will see in Portugal tomorrow and in Ireland the day after. In Britain, the Coalition government is pursuing similar measures which will see workers earnings cut, working longer for a smaller pension, and the dismantling of the NHS along with other public services.

Mikis Theodorakis, famous Greek composer of Zorba’s Dance, and Manolis Glezos, veteran resistance fighter against the Nazi occupation who took down the swastika from the Acropolis during the 2nd World War and replaced it with the Greek flag, have issued a statement calling for a European Front to defend the people of Greece and all those facing austerity.

The Coalition of Resistance and the People’s Charter have decided to support this call and agreed to work with trades unions, campaigns and parties across Europe to establish a European Solidarity Campaign to defend the people of Greece. The campaign aims to organise solidarity and raise practical support for the people of Greece; they cannot be made to pay for a crisis for which they are not responsible.

 

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ACTA is a treaty drawn up by pirates and for pirates

With SOPA and PIPA kicked into the long grass, another attempt to close down free speech on the internet is now coming under scrutiny. ACTA, the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, is yet another draft of legislation that is ostensibly for the purpose of enforcing intellectual property rights, although unlike SOPA and PIPA, ACTA is an international treaty. (And apologies for such an obfuscation of acronyms — I presume that’s the correct collective noun).

ACTA, which establishes its own governing body outside existing international institutions such as the WTO, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or even the United Nations, was originally signed by countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States back on October 1st 2011.

When, last Thursday [Jan 26th], twenty-two of the European Union member states including the UK also signed the agreement, French Member of the European Parliament, Kader Arif, was so angered by “manoeuvres” used to get the bill approved, that he immediately resigned in protest from his position as rapporteur:

Negotiations over a controversial anti-piracy agreement have been described as a “masquerade” by a key Euro MP.

Kader Arif, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), resigned over the issue on Friday.

He said he had witnessed “never-before-seen manoeuvres” by officials preparing the treaty.1

And Kader Arif made the following statement:

“I condemn the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: no consultation of the civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, reject of Parliament’s recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly.”

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

In Poland, tens of thousands of demonstrators also voiced opposition to their own government’s signature to the ACTA agreement:

Crowds of mostly young people held banners with slogans such as “no to censorship” and “a free internet”.

Earlier in the week, hackers attacked several Polish government websites, including that of Prime Minister Donald Tusk.2

Russia Today reported that the Anonymous group had earlier sent out ‘a stern warning’ to the Polish authorities, issuing what was little short of a blackmail note:

“Polish government – we are more powerful than you. We have a lot of your files and personal information. We warn you to exercise caution” which was published on pastebin.com.

The scope of ACTA is more expansive than SOPA and PIPA, not merely geographically, but because it aims to establish and enforce global standards in many other areas. Here’s analysis of how the new legislation will affect the lives of people across the world, published in Forbes:

Worse, it appears to go much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world.

Despite ACTA’s secrecy, criticism of the agreement has been widespread. Countries like India and Brazil have been vocal opponents of the agreement, claiming that it will do a great deal of harm to emerging economies.

I’ll have more on the agreement as it emerges. But to briefly sum up, according to critics of the agreement:

  • ACTA contains global IP provisions as restrictive or worse than anything contained in SOPA and PIPA.
  • ACTA spans virtually all of the developed world, threatening the freedom of the internet as well as access to medication and food. The threat is every bit as real for those countries not involved in the process as the signatories themselves.
  • ACTA has already been signed by many countries including the US, but requires ratification in the EU parliament.
  • ACTA was written and hammered out behind closed doors. While some of the provisions have been taken out of the final US draft, plenty of unknowns still exist. It’s not nearly clear enough how the agreement will affect US laws.3

Click here to read more details in Forbes.

With regards to the internet, the tightening of control on websites will automatically lead to the closer scrutiny of all internet users:

Under ACTA, internet service providers are virtually obliged to monitor all user activity for possible copyright violations. It also gives trademark owners and officers of the law great authority to violate privacy while investigating suspected infringements.4

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, told Russia Today that the ACTA copyright protection treaty is an “excellent example of abuse of power by the corporate industry”:

“This legislation about putting people in jail was negotiated by corporations and the lawmakers just got it in their lap,” he explained. “That is not how a democratic society should work, quite regardless of what this law says.”

Click here to read the full Russia Today article.

Jonathan Swift famously said that “laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” ACTA is a perfect example of Swift’s observation, drawn up in order to serve the interests of the biggest pirates of our economies. The pirates at the helm of the megabanks who continue to force whole nations to surrender their wealth to bail them out on the basis of threats from their pirate buddies at the credit rating agencies. And the multinational corporate pirates who refuse to pay up their modest contribution in taxes, preferring to bury their treasures in offshore havens.

We already have laws to bring many of the major pirates to justice, but these laws are rarely used for such purposes. Regulations that haven’t so far been axed are increasingly being ignored. Meanwhile, bills like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA have been drawn up to further choke opposition, opening the way for greater corporate control over our lives. All of this so-called ‘anti-piracy’ legislation is nothing but humbug, and poisonous humbug at that. The signing of ACTA, which is clearly designed to squeeze out the little guy and stifle the independent voice, represents just another miserable step towards a globalised corporate tyranny. In short, ACTA was written by the pirates and for the pirates.

1 From an article entitled “European Parliament rapporteur quits in Acta protest” written by Dave Lee, published by BBC news on January 27, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16757142

2 From an article entitled “ACTA action: Poland signs up to ‘censorship’ as 20,000 rage”, published by Russia Today on January 26, 2012. http://rt.com/news/acta-poland-internet-government-745/

3 From an article entitled “If You Thought SOPA Was Bad, Just Wait Until You Meet ACTA”, written by E.D. Kain, published by Forbes on January 23, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/01/23/if-you-thought-sopa-was-bad-just-wait-until-you-meet-acta/

4  http://rt.com/news/acta-poland-internet-government-745/

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is Fukushima ‘under control’ at last?

The BBC news reported today that “Japan PM says Fukushima nuclear site finally stabilised”:

The crippled nuclear reactors at Japan’s Fukushima power plant have finally been stabilised, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has announced.

The article continues:

“The nuclear reactors have reached a state of cold shutdown and therefore we can now confirm that we have come to the end of the accident phase of the actual reactors,” Mr Noda told a news conference. […]

This [cold shutdown] is where water that cools nuclear fuel rods remains below boiling point, meaning that the fuel cannot reheat.

Tepco has also defined it as bringing the release of radioactive materials under control and reducing public radiation exposure to a level that does not exceed 1mSv/year at the site boundary.

The same BBC article cautions however:

But some nuclear experts have said that the repairs made to the plant after the accident are makeshift and could break down without warning.

On December 8th, Japanese Broadcasting Corporation NHK also reported on the efforts being made to establish ‘cold shutdown’ at Fukushima by the end of the year. Focusing on the situation with reactor number 1, where all of the nuclear fuel has melted, the report says that much of that fuel has since leaked into the containment vessel and eroded the concrete at the bottom.

According to Junichi Matsumoto, spokesman for the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), as the fuel in the reactors has cooled, this concrete container has finally stopped eroding. However, many experts remain concerned, pointing out that this latest release of information is probably unreliable. Noriyuki Mizuno, NHK Senior Science Commentator, gave his own assessment (through a translator):

The most important data is the temperature of melted fuel, but there’s no thermometer there, so there’s no way of knowing it first-hand. The government says that the two conditions that must be met to declare the state of ‘cold shutdown’: one is that the temperatures at the bottom of the reactor are kept under 100 degrees Celsius; and [two that] the release of radioactive material has been substantially reduced. But if much of the fuel has already melted through the reactor, the temperatures at the bottom of the reactor may not have much meaning.

Tepco says the air temperature in the containment vessel is 40 degrees Celsius, so the fuel must be cool enough. But I don’t know if such a statement can assure the people of Fukushima. After all, the ‘cold shutdown’ is the state of a healthy nuclear power plant being kept under 100 degrees Celsius, not the crippled plant like Fukushima Daiichi. Tepco and the government should explain the status inside the reactor more in detail by releasing such data as the gas concentration rates in the containment vessels.

Melted fuel is emitting very high levels of radiation, so it must be taken out from the reactor with remotely-controlled robot arms. But if fuel actually melts into the concrete shield of the containment vessel, Tepco would need to develop new technology to remove the concrete around the fuel. Experts estimate it [will] take 15 years to remove the fuel and another 15 years to decommission one unit of the reactor – total of 30 years. Or it may take longer.

Click here to watch the NHK report.

To follow the latest developments on the rescue operation at Fukushima, I also recommend fukushimaupdate.com

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nuclear waste can help save the planet says Monbiot — but what do the experts think?

Are you worried about saving the planet? Having difficulty deciding on the best policy for our future? Then why not consolidate in one safe and easy step? Just ask for new and improved “fourth-generation” fast-neutron, fast-breeder nuclear technology and you need worry no more, as George Monbiot explains in his latest article “A waste of waste”1:

In his book Prescription for the Planet, the environmentalist Tom Blees explains the remarkable potential of integral fast reactors (IFRs). These are nuclear power stations which can run on what old nuclear plants have left behind.

Conventional nuclear power uses just 0.6% of the energy contained in the uranium that fuels it. Integral fast reactors can use almost all the rest. There is already enough nuclear waste on earth to meet the world’s energy needs for several hundred years, with scarcely any carbon emissions. IFRs need be loaded with fissile material just once. From then on they can keep recycling it, extracting ever more of its energy, until a small fraction of the waste remains. Its components have half-lives of tens rather than millions of years.

Which means that we finally get shot of all that deadly and long-term environmental waste we’ve been wondering what to do with and even make a profit, apparently. And if you are still unsure, then listen to some of the other advantages of this ‘alternative’ nuclear energy as outlined by Monbiot:

The material being reprocessed never leaves the site: it remains within a sealed and remotely-operated recycling plant. Anyone trying to remove it would quickly die. By ensuring the fissile products are unusable, the IFR process reduces the risk of weapons proliferation. The plant operates at scarcely more than atmospheric pressure, so it can’t blow its top. Better still, it could melt down only by breaking the laws of physics. If the fuel pins begin to overheat, their expansion stops the fission reaction. If, like the Fukushima plant, an IFR loses its power supply, it simply shuts down, without human agency. Running on waste, with fewer pumps and valves than conventional plants, they are also likely to be a good deal cheaper.

Clean, safe, and better than free, here is nuclear power that “ticks all the green boxes: reduce, reuse, recycle.” And don’t be put off, says Monbiot, by the nay-saying environmentalists and anti-nuclear campaigners, who “have generated as much mumbo-jumbo as creationists, anti-vaccine scaremongers, homeopaths and climate change deniers” with “views on nuclear power [that] have been shaped by weapons-grade woo.”

We are surely fortunate then, that last week, GE Hitachi (GEH) made the British government an offer it could hardly refuse:

 “[to] build a fast reactor within five years to use up the waste plutonium at Sellafield, and if it doesn’t work, the UK won’t have to pay.”2

A curious offer, perhaps, but not to worry, because, and even if “at present there are no Integral Fast Reactors in commercial operation,”3 of course it will work, and of course it will be safe. After all, and as Monbiot points out, “a fast reactor has been running in Russia for 30 years.” He is referring to the BN-600 reactor, and helpfully Monbiot provides a footnote to a wikipedia entry where you will find the following:

There have been incidents involving sodium/water interactions from tube breaks in the steam generators, a sodium fire from a leak in an auxiliary system, and a sodium fire from a leak in a secondary coolant loop while shut down.

Incidents? – but no accidents, thankfully…

All these incidents were classified at the lowest level on the International Nuclear Event Scale, and none of the events prevented restarting operation of the facility after repairs.

Though there is also the case of the Monju Nuclear Power Plant in Japan where:

An accident in December 1995, in which a sodium leak caused a major fire, forced a shutdown. A subsequent scandal involving a cover-up of the scope of the accident delayed its restart until May 6, 2010, with renewed criticality reached on May 8, 2010. In August 2010 another accident, involving dropped machinery, shut down the reactor again. As of June 2011, the reactor has only generated electricity for one hour since its first testing two decades prior.4

Here’s the New York Times report on Monju from earlier this year:

Three hundred miles southwest of Fukushima, at a nuclear reactor perched on the slopes of this rustic peninsula, engineers are engaged in another precarious struggle.

The Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor — a long-troubled national project — has been in a precarious state of shutdown since a 3.3-ton device crashed into the reactor’s inner vessel, cutting off access to the plutonium and uranium fuel rods at its core.

Engineers have tried repeatedly since the accident last August to recover the device, which appears to have gotten stuck. They will make another attempt as early as next week.

But critics warn that the recovery process is fraught with dangers because the plant uses large quantities of liquid sodium, a highly flammable substance, to cool the nuclear fuel.5

That’s how the fast reactors work, by the way. Unable to use water as a coolant because water would slow the neutrons (which is necessary in older generation reactors), all fast-neutron reactors to date have used sodium as a coolant. It carries the advantage that the reactor operates below the boiling point of liquid sodium (883 C) and therefore at low pressure, which is why “it can’t blow its top”, although the disadvantage is that we are unfortunately dealing with the delicate problem of containing liquid sodium…

“Sodium’s major disadvantage [as a coolant] is that it reacts violently with water and burns if exposed to air. The steam-generators, in which molten-sodium and high-pressure water are separated by thin metal, have proved to be one of the most troublesome features of breeder reactors. Any leak results in a reaction that can rupture the tubes and lead to a major sodium-water fire.”

Which was taken from a somewhat less enthusiastic appraisal of the latest in nuclear technology, written not by “environmentalist Tom Blees”, but taken from a research report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) 6 that was published February of last year.

The IPFM report continues:

As the country studies [in the report] detail, a large fraction of the liquid-sodium-cooled reactors that have been built have been shut down for long periods by sodium fires. Russia’s BN-350 had a huge sodium fire. The follow-on BN-600 reactor [the Russian reactor Monbiot refers to] was designed with its steam generators in separate bunkers to contain sodium-water fires and with an extra steam generator so a fire-damaged steam generator can be repaired while the reactor continues to operate using the extra steam generator. Between 1980 and 1997, the BN-600 had 27 sodium leaks, 14 of which resulted in sodium fires.

The bold highlight is mine – it’s for emphasis: 27 leaks and 14 fires from a single reactor deserves emphasis.

The report then goes on to sodium-air fires, drawing on examples from fast reactors around the world:

Leaks from pipes into the air have also resulted in serious fires. In 1995, Japan’s prototype fast-breeder, Monju, experienced a major sodium air fire. Restart has been repeated delayed, and, as of the end of 2009, the reactor was still shut down. France’s Rapsodie, Phénix and Superphénix breeder reactors [all now shut down] and the UK’s Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR) and Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) [also shut down] all suffered sodium leaks, some of which resulted in serious fires.”

Monbiot entirely fails to mention the problems with using liquid sodium, and says nothing of worrying occurrence of leaks and fires, and although he does point out that meltdown is impossible, he also fails to mention that:

“Finally, light-water-cooled reactors have the critical safety characteristic that, if the water moderator is lost, the chain-reaction stops… By contrast, in a fast-neutron reactor, the concentration of plutonium is high enough that it can sustain a chain-reaction even in the event of coolant loss. Indeed, except in special core configurations, the reactivity will increase if the coolant is lost. Furthermore, if the core heats up to the point of collapse, it can assume a more critical configuration and blow itself apart in a small nuclear explosion. Whether such an explosive core disassembly could release enough energy to rupture a reactor containment and cause a Chernobyl-scale release of radioactivity into the environment is a major cause of concern and subject of debate.”7

Back in Japan, about three hundred miles away from Fukushima, and the struggle to save the Monju reactor may have finally been called off:

The Japanese government will consider scrapping the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor as one of its options in reviewing the trouble-plagued nuclear facility’s operation, nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono said Saturday [Nov 26th].8

It is far from being the first fast reactor to have been abandoned. Indeed, and even after five decades of research (since this is actually far from new technology), fast reactors have a rather disappointing track record around the world, whilst the basic claims that they might be used to eliminate stockpiles of nuclear waste and reduce the chances of nuclear arms proliferation, are far from guaranteed.

To help form your own judgment, I thoroughly recommend listening to an audio presentation of the IPFM report mentioned above, which is followed by a very interesting question and answer session. The same link also offers a useful summary of the report with a list of key findings.

Or click here to read the full IPFM report.

Back to Monbiot’s article, which is mostly a hotch-potch of underhand attacks on opponents and half-truths about the wonderful new reactors, although he saves his strongest card till last:

So we environmentalists have a choice. We can’t wish the waste away. Either it is stored and then buried. Or it is turned into mox fuels. Or it is used to power IFRs. The decision is being made at the moment, and we should determine where we stand. I suggest we take the radical step of using science, not superstition, as our guide.

Science should indeed be a guide, although not the guide. You cannot make decisions of this kind purely on the basis of science, since nuclear power is a political issue, involving social and economic considerations, as well as scientific ones. The first-generation of nuclear reactors were sold to us as a source of cheap, safe and almost infinitely abundant power, and have proved to be nothing of the kind. It was a deliberate lie, in fact, perpetuated by governments intent on arming themselves with nuclear warheads. Besides the weaponry, our nuclear plants also created near eternal heaps of deadly waste that we have no idea how to dispose of safely. This is supposed to be the solution to that problem, and perhaps some future technology can indeed convert nuclear waste harmlessly into electricity, although unfortunately, at least if scientists at IPFM are to be believed, that promise is nowhere close to being fulfilled:

Hopes that the “fast breeder”– a plutonium-fueled nuclear reactor designed to produce more fuel than it consumed — might serve as a major part of the long-term nuclear waste disposal solution are not merited by the dismal track record to date of such sodium-cooled reactors in France, India, Japan, the Soviet Union/Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, according to a major new study from the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM).

Titled “Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status,” the IPFM report concludes: “The problems (with fast breeder reactors) … make it hard to dispute Admiral Hyman Rickover’s summation in 1956, based on his experience with a sodium-cooled reactor developed to power an early U.S. nuclear submarine, that such reactors are ‘expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.'”9

According to the scientists then, the latest offer from GE Hitachi really is too good to be true.

*

To get some idea of General Electric‘s past record in nuclear power, I also refer readers again to this article by investigative reporter Greg Palast.

1http://www.monbiot.com/2011/12/05/a-waste-of-waste/

An article also published as “We need to talk about Sellafield, and a nuclear solution that ticks all our boxes”, written by George Monbiot, published by the Guardian on December 5, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/05/sellafield-nuclear-energy-solution

2According to Monbiot’s footnote: “This pledge was made during a meeting between GEH and UK government officials and advisers on 30th November 2011.”

5“The plant, a $12 billion project, has a history of safety lapses. It was shuttered for 14 years after a devastating fire in 1995, one of Japan’s most serious nuclear accidents before this year’s crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Prefecture and city officials found that the operator had tampered with video images of the fire to hide the scale of the disaster. A top manager at the plant recently committed suicide, on the day that Japan’s atomic energy agency announced that efforts to recover the device would cost almost $21.9 million. And, like several other reactors, Monju lies on an active fault.”

From an article entitled “Japan Strains to Fix a Reactor Damaged before Quake”, written by Hiroko Tabuchi, published on June 17, 2011 in the The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/18/world/asia/18japan.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

7 “Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status” written by Thomas B. Cochran, Harold A. Feiveson, Walt Patterson, Gennadi Pshakin, M.V. Ramana, Mycle Schneider, Tatsujiro Suzuki, Frank von Hippel, published in February 2010. http://www.fissilematerials.org/blog/rr08.pdf

8From an article entitled “Gov’t to consider scrapping of Monju reactor as option: Hosono”, published in the Mainichi Daily News on November 28, 2011. http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20111128p2g00m0dm010000c.html

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Berlusconi was just for starters, it’s time for the full Monti

With the sudden departure of Silvio Berlusconi you might have supposed that almost any change in Italy must be for the better, however given the background of his replacement Mario Monti, it’s time to think again. Certainly, the years of Berlusconi have been an especially unsightly boil on the face of Western European democracy, and there’s really nothing to be said in his favour except that by being such a high-class buffoon – a burlesque parody… of a plastic imitation… of Danny DeVito playing Mussolini – no-one outside of Italy has ever taken him remotely seriously. Of course, Berlusconi does have a serious side, and when he’s not busy getting it on with somebody’s great-granddaughter, you’d probably be most likely to find him “helping police with their inquiries”: the courtroom having nicely substituted for Berlusconi’s second home.

And faced with endless charges of crimes ranging from false accounting and mere bribery, to collusion with the Mafia, whenever Berlusconi really started to feel the heat, he always had the perfect answer – yes, it was time to rewrite the country’s statute of limitations. Yet it seems that almost nothing could dent the Italian public’s twisted love affair with Berlusconi. No amount of hanky-panky with barely post-pubescent girls, and no amount of financial sleaze. Not even the disclosure of his membership to the notorious Propaganda Due (or P2) masonic lodge, with its neofascist agenda and documented involvement in the clandestine “strategy of tension”; the “Years of Lead” (Anni di piombo), a period of destabilisation lasting from the late 1960s to early 1980s, which involved assassinations and a wave of terrorist attacks, having been in part orchestrated by P2 under a CIA led programme known as Operation Gladio. And though Berlusconi is not directly implicated in the crimes of Gladio and the P2 lodge, he was most decidedly in with the in-crowd.

Here is what Licio Gelli, the Venerable Master of P2, told La Repubblica in 2003 with regards to Berlusconi’s implementation of the P2 “democratic rebirth plan”:

Every morning I speak to my conscience and the dialogue calms me down. I look at the country, read the newspaper, and think: “All is becoming a reality little by little, piece by piece. To be truthful, I should have had the copyright to it. Justice, TV, public order. I wrote about this thirty years ago… Berlusconi is an extraordinary man, a man of action. This is what Italy needs: not a man of words, but a man of action.1

The Italians have had plenty of opportunity to give Berlusconi the boot, but for whatever reason, they preferred the devil they knew, and elected him to office three times – and the fact that he owned most of the nation’s TV channels through Gruppo Mediaset, not to mention the biggest football club in a nation of football obsessives, must to some extent account for his longevity. With the fall of Berlusconi, however, democracy itself is now being undone, since Berlusconi was, at least to some extent, accountable to the Italian people, whereas his replacement, the unelected economist and former EU commissioner (first appointed to EU by Berlusconi, back in 1995), Mario Monti, and his newly gathered cabinet of ‘technocrats’, are accountable only to ‘the markets’. There is not a single elected representative in sight:

Mr Monti took on the economy and finance portfolio himself.

Corrado Passera, CEO of the Intesa Sanpaolo banking group, was named to head the new ministry of development, infrastructure and transport.

Another key appointment was that of Antonio Catricala, head of the anti-trust authority, who was made under-secretary to the prime minister’s office.

Despite reports that Mr Monti had sought to include politicians in his cabinet, there are none.

“The absence of political personalities in the government will help rather than hinder a solid base of support for the government in parliament and in the political parties because it will remove one ground for disagreement,” he said.2

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

Some in the mainstream media have already started bigging up Mr Monti, calling him ‘Super’ Mario, which is ironic given that looney-toon Silvio failed to receive any such cartoonish moniker. In any case, so far as I can discern there is really just one outstanding thing about Monti – one reason for such premature acclamation – which is that ‘Super’ Mario Monti is super connected. This comes from Reuters:

A convinced free marketeer with close connections to the European and global policy-making elite, Monti has always backed a more closely integrated euro zone and has written a series of articles in recent months lambasting the Berlusconi government’s policy failures.

He is chairman of the European branch of the Trilateral Commission, a body that brings together the power elites of the United States, Europe and Japan and is also a member of the secretive Bilderberg Group of business leaders and other “leading citizens”.3

I have already posted articles about the murky goings on at Bilderberg meetings, and the Trilateral Commission for those who’ve never heard of it, is simply another branch of the same secretive globalist network.

Founded in 1973 by none other than David Rockefeller, apparently for reasons of dissatisfaction with Bilderberg (which he’d also helped to found two decades earlier), and wishing to expand its influence beyond Europe and North America, he along with the then National Security Advisor (under Carter), Zbigniew Brzezinski, jointly held the reins at the Trilateral Commission.

Unlike the Bilderberg Group, it may be said of the Trilateral Commission that they have only ever been semi-secretive, and that once in a blue moon they even released a publication. Indeed, their first major report, which was entitled “The Crisis of Democracy”, gives a fair warning of how the Trilateralists would prefer to be running our lives (and in the second part of this post I include a brief overview and analysis of the report – the recommendations it makes being timely ones).

Back to Monti, and we see one more outstanding part to his CV. Perhaps you’ve already heard, or perhaps you can guess. Well, here’s an article from yesterday’s the Independent that makes it clear; it’s entitled “What price the new democracy? Goldman Sachs conquers Europe”4:

[And] By putting a senior adviser at Goldman Sachs in charge of a Western nation, it has taken to new heights the political power of an investment bank that you might have thought was prohibitively politically toxic.

This is the most remarkable thing of all: a giant leap forward for, or perhaps even the successful culmination of, the Goldman Sachs Project.

The Goldman Sachs what…?!!!

This is The Goldman Sachs Project. Put simply, it is to hug governments close. Every business wants to advance its interests with the regulators that can stymie them and the politicians who can give them a tax break, but this is no mere lobbying effort. Goldman is there to provide advice for governments and to provide financing, to send its people into public service and to dangle lucrative jobs in front of people coming out of government. The Project is to create such a deep exchange of people and ideas and money that it is impossible to tell the difference between the public interest and the Goldman Sachs interest.

Apparently, and as if we didn’t know it already, tentacles of “the Vampire Squid” (I’m just quoting from Foley’s article!) have already penetrated into every political nook and cranny:

It is not just Mr Monti. The European Central Bank, another crucial player in the sovereign debt drama, is under ex-Goldman management, and the investment bank’s alumni hold sway in the corridors of power in almost every European nation, as they have done in the US throughout the financial crisis. Until Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund’s European division was also run by a Goldman man, Antonio Borges, who just resigned for personal reasons.

So here’s an intriguing article, although one that fails to do “the Vampire Squid” full justice. The problem being that Foley seems to believe not only that the vampire might somehow be resurrected, but that this would be a good thing:

The grave danger [no pun intended presumably] is that, if Italy stops paying its debts, creditor banks could be made insolvent. Goldman Sachs, which has written over $2trn of insurance, including an undisclosed amount on eurozone countries’ debt, would not escape unharmed, especially if some of the $2trn of insurance it has purchased on that insurance turns out to be with a bank that has gone under.

In reality, however, Goldman Sachs is irredeemably vampiric. It maintains its life only by feasting upon the life-blood of others, because it is already undead – or ‘insolvent’, if you prefer.

This is the rationale for the bailouts and the austerity, the reason we are getting more Goldman, not less.

says Foley, and here he is half right again. It is indeed ‘the rationale’ for sucking us dry, but it certainly not the reason ‘we are getting more Goldman’. Goldman Sachs would already be burned by now, if it weren’t for the fact that their tentacles have been allowed to extend so far. Foley simply turns the blatant truth on its head.

So let’s be clear, the appointment of Monti, and other cronies like him, is not ‘the alternative’ to ‘a second financial collapse’, as Foley also seems to believe – the ‘second collapse’ is already here, and it’s cause is no different from the first – no, if we are to rescue ourselves then Goldman Sachs must be properly dispatched. There’s no use negotiating with vampires: it’s us or them.

According to tradition, of course, just bringing vampires into the light can sometimes be enough to destroy them, and so perhaps Foley’s article helps a little in that way. Ultimately, however, the way to rid any really bad infestation of vampires is not by ‘recapitalisation’, but by decapitation. Mario Monti needs to get the chop. Let’s pray that the Italians are up to the task.

*

The Crisis of Democracy5 (1975) was the first major report published by the Trilateral Commission. Like most reports, it’s hardly an interesting read, but turgid and soporific from its beginning, through to its middle and end. Unfortunately, however, such rambling tediousness doesn’t undo its significance.

People in the democratic world are disaffected, the book explains at great length, disillusioned by political institutions, disinterested in ideology, they are also now turning their collective backs to the various religious institutions.6 In consequence, there has arisen a widespread and growing distrust of authority, with all forms of authority now under scrutiny:

“In the past, institutions which have played the major role in the indoctrination of the young in their rights and obligations as members of society have been the family, the church, the school, and the army. The effectiveness of all these institutions as a means of socialization has declined severely.”7

Indoctrination still has its uses, but stress is nowadays placed all too heavily on the rights, interests and needs of individuals, often at the expense of community, and so on and so forth:

“The success of the existing structures of authority in incorporating large elements of the population into the middle class, paradoxically strengthens precisely those groups which are disposed to challenge the existing structures of authority.”8

It follows that (rather obviously), a more docile and wholly apathetic population would be preferable, especially within the ranks of trouble-making educated middle-classes. Japan serving as a most excellent example of how a more servile society can function, with its “reservoir of traditional acquiescence among the people to support its [government] authority.” Although even in Japan, we learn that: “the reservoir of acquiescence is more and more draining down.”9

Noam Chomsky said of the report: “The Trilateral recommendations for the capitalist democracies are an application at home of the theories of “order” developed for subject societies of the Third World.”10 Chomsky points out that the report is rather openly advocating a systematic campaign of demoralisation for any of us lucky enough to be living in a Western democracy. Nurturing our apathy to avoid what might otherwise become our “excess of democracy”:

“The report argues that what is needed in the industrial democracies “is a greater degree of moderation in democracy” to overcome the “excess of democracy” of the past decade. “The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.”11

One solution then, and perhaps the best solution, would be the complete and total eradication of the intellectual middle class… no, no, calm down, I was just seeing if you are still paying attention… the actual recommended solution is merely to re-establish a sense of “common purpose” amongst us:

“In this situation, the machinery of democracy continues to operate, but the ability of the individuals operating that machinery to make decisions tends to deteriorate. Without common purpose, there is no basis for common priorities, and without priorities, there are no grounds for distinguishing among competing private interests and claims. Conflicting goals and specialized interests crowd in upon one another, with executives, cabinets, parliaments, and bureaucrats lacking the criteria to discriminate among them. The system becomes one of anomic democracy, in which democratic politics becomes more an arena for the assertion of conflicting interests than a process for the building of common purposes.”12

Which is precisely on the button, for any aspiring oligarchs, whilst long-winded enough for most of the rest of us to ignore. Allow me rephrase it and put it more succinctly: we need our democracies to be reconstructed in order to avoid such unnecessary hindrance as “conflicting goals” and “competing private interests”… which means less, ahhh… what’s the word… oh, yes, that’s it: less democracy.

Now if any of that sounded like it might become the least little bit tyrannical then please be assured that it is quite diametrically the reverse. It is in fact a protection against an otherwise near unstoppable descent into tyranny. Here’s a few lines drawn from the introduction of the report to make the agenda clearer:

“At the present time, a significant challenge comes from the intellectuals and related groups who assert their disgust with the corruption, materialism, and inefficiency of democracy and with the subservience of democratic government to “monopoly capitalism.” The development of an “adversary culture” among intellectuals has affected students, scholars, and the media. Intellectuals are, as Schumpeter put it, “people who wield the power of the spoken and the written word, and one of the touches that distinguish them from other people who do the same is the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs,” In some measure, the advanced industrial societies have spawned a stratum of value-oriented intellectuals who often devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority, and the unmasking and delegitimation of established institutions, their behavior contrasting with that of the also increasing numbers of technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals. In an age of widespread secondary school and university education, the pervasiveness of the mass media, and the displacement of manual labor by clerical and professional employees, this development constitutes a challenge to democratic government which is, potentially at least, as serious as those posed in the past by the aristocratic cliques, fascist movements, and communist parties.”

Yes, dissent against authority, whether amongst intellectuals or the media challenges not only the status quo, but “democratic government” as such. “Serious” dangers that are in some way comparable to the rise of fascism. But this is only the beginning:

“In addition to the emergence of the adversary intellectuals and their culture, a parallel and possibly related trend affecting the viability of democracy concerns broader changes in social values. In all three Trilateral regions, a shift in values is taking place away from the materialistic work-oriented, public-spirited values toward those which stress private satisfaction, leisure, and the need for “belonging and intellectual and esthetic self-fulfillment.” These values are, of course, most notable in the younger generation. They often coexist with greater skepticism towards political leaders and institutions and with greater alienation from the political processes. They tend to be privatistic in their impact and import. The rise of this syndrome of values, is presumably related to the relative affluence in which most groups in the Trilateral societies came to share during the economic expansion of the 1960s. The new values may not survive recession and resource shortages. But if they do, they pose an additional new problem for democratic government in terms of its ability to mobilize its citizens for the achievement of social and political goals and to impose discipline and sacrifice upon its citizens in order to achieve those goals.”13

So it’s the fault of the sixties, basically, and those bloody baby-boomers, transmitting skepticism, nay cynicism, to our later generations. As a result, a rising tide of individualism is posing a threat, especially should any “democratic government” attempt “to mobilize its citizens for the achievement of social and political goals and to impose discipline and sacrifice upon its citizens in order to achieve those goals.”

And yes, I repeat this final section again, so that you, the reader, might reflect on it a moment. Such an unintentional yet refreshingly candid admission from our would-be rulers. Notice how it talks of the state “mobilizing its citizens” and of “impos[ing] discipline and sacrifice upon its citizens” to achieve “social and political goals”.

The citizens evidently have no role to play in deciding what these goals might be. Rather they are owned by their “democratic government” and expected merely to obey regardless to policy decisions taken. But in any case, and with luck, some kind of recession or resource shortages will straighten us out, and make it easier “to impose discipline and sacrifice upon its citizens.” Yes, I’ve repeated it again. It needs repeating, especially given the justifications, about the dangers of fascism and so on. Fascism may of course return under many guises, but one thing that it will most definitely impose is “discipline and sacrifice upon its citizens”. This is always at the heart of fascism. Impositions of this sort are in no ways democratic, they are fascistic.

1“Tutte le mattine parlo con le voci della mia coscienza, ed è un dialogo che mi quieta. Guardo il Paese, leggo i giornali e penso: ecco qua che tutto si realizza poco a poco, pezzo a pezzo. Forse sì, dovrei avere i diritti d’autore. La giustizia, la tv, l’ordine pubblico. Ho scritto tutto trent’anni fa.” […]

“Può darsi. Berlusconi è un uomo fuori dal comune. Ricordo bene che già allora, ai tempi dei nostri primi incontri, aveva questa caratteristica: sapeva realizzare i suoi progetti. Un uomo del fare. Di questo c’è bisogno in Italia: non di parole, di azioni.”

Taken from “Giustizia, tv, ordine pubblico è finita proprio come dicevo io” (“Justice, TV, public order it’s over just like I said”, written by Concita De Gregorio, published in la Repubblica on September 28, 2003. http://www.repubblica.it/2003/i/sezioni/politica/gelli/gelli/gelli.html

2From an article entitled “Monti unveils technocratic cabinet for Italy”, published by BBC news on November 16, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15751179

3From an article entitled “’Italian Prussian’ Monti enters political storm” written by James Mackenzie, published by Reuters on November 13, 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/14/italy-monti-idUSL5E7MD0DO20111114

4 From an article entitled “What price the new democracy? Goldman Sachs conquers Europe”, written by Stephen Foley, published in the Independent on November 18, 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/what-price-the-new-democracy-goldman-sachs-conquers-europe-6264091.html

5 “The Crisis of Democracy”, Task Force Report #8 published by Trilateral Commission © 1975, New York University Press, written by Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki. ISBN: 0-8147-1305-3

6“The lack of confidence in democratic institutions is clearly exceeded by the lack of enthusiasm for any alternative set of institutions. What is in short supply in democratic societies today is thus not consensus on the rules of the game. In the past, people have found their purposes in religion, in nationalism, and in ideology. But neither church, nor state, nor class now command’s people’s loyalties… In a nondemocratic political system, the top leadership can select a single purpose or closely related set of goals and, in some measure, induce or coerce political and social forces to shape their behavior in terms of priorities dictated by these goals… World war, economic reconstruction, and the cold war gave coherence to public purposes and imposed a set of priorities for ordering government policies and programs. Now, however, these purposes have lost their salience and even come under challenge; the imperatives of national security are no longer obvious, the desirability of economic growth is no longer unquestioned.” Ibid. Chapter V pp 159-160.

7Ibid. [Crisis of demo] p.162

8Ibid [Crisis of demo] p. 162

9Ibid. [Crisis of demo] p.170

10 “The Carter Administration: Myth and Reality” by Noam Chomsky, from “Radical Priorities”, 1981 http://www.chomsky.info/books/priorities01.htm

11“This recommendation recalls the analysis of Third World problems put forth by other political thinkers of the same persuasion, for example, Ithiel Pool (then chairman of the Department of Political Science at MIT), who explained some years ago that in Vietnam, the Congo, and the Dominican Republic, “order depends on somehow compelling newly mobilized strata to return to a measure of passivity and defeatism… At least temporarily the maintenance of order requires a lowering of newly acquired aspirations and levels of political activity.”” taken from “The Carter Administration: Myth and Reality” by Noam Chomsky, from “Radical Priorities”, 1981

12Ibid [Crisis of demo] p. 161

13Ibid [Crisis of demo] p.6-7

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Filed under Italy, Japan, Noam Chomsky, Uncategorized

British government involved in cover-up of Fukushima

Nuclear experts have thrown doubt on the accuracy of official information issued about the Fukushima nuclear accident, saying that it followed a pattern of secrecy and cover-ups employed in other nuclear accidents. “It’s impossible to get any radiation readings,” said John Large, an independent nuclear engineer who has worked for the UK government and been commissioned to report on the accident for Greenpeace International.

“The actions of the Japanese government are completely contrary to their words. They have evacuated 180,000 people but say there is no radiation. They are certain to have readings but we are being told nothing.” He said a radiation release was suspected “but at the moment it is impossible to know. It was the same at Chernobyl, where they said there was a bit of a problem and only later did the full extent emerge.” 1

This is the opening to a Guardian article from March 14th, written just three days after the tsunami which caused such widespread devastation and triggered the failures at the Fukushima plant. The same article concludes:

“What we are seeing follows a clear pattern of secrecy and denial,” said Paul Dorfman, co-secretary to the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters, a UK government advisory committee disbanded in 2004.

“The Japanese government has always tended to underplay accidents. At the moment the Japanese claims of safety are not to be believed by anyone. The health effects of what has happened so far are imponderable. The reality is we just do not know. There is profound uncertainty about the impact of the accident.”

The Japanese authorities and nuclear companies have been implicated in a series of cover-ups. In 1995, reports of a sodium leak and fire at Japan’s Monju fast breeder reactor were suppressed and employees were gagged. In 2002, the chairman and four executives of Tepco, the company which owns the stricken Fukushima plant, resigned after reports that safety records were falsified.

Then, last Thursday, the Guardian published this follow-up article based on the evidence of internal emails which show that the British government was also involved in covering up the dangers of nuclear power in the immediate wake of Fukushima:

British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a co-ordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and before the extent of the radiation leak was known.

Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companies EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.

“This has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally,” wrote one official at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), whose name has been redacted. “We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear.”2

The article continues:

The business department emailed the nuclear firms and their representative body, the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), on 13 March, two days after the disaster knocked out nuclear plants and their backup safety systems at Fukushima. The department argued it was not as bad as the “dramatic” TV pictures made it look, even though the consequences of the accident were still unfolding and two major explosions at reactors on the site were yet to happen.

“Radiation released has been controlled – the reactor has been protected,” said the BIS official, whose name has been blacked out. “It is all part of the safety systems to control and manage a situation like this.”

The official suggested that if companies sent in their comments, they could be incorporated into briefs to ministers and government statements. “We need to all be working from the same material to get the message through to the media and the public.”

Do we get the message then? The message being very loud and clear, and a profound cause for concern. As Tom Burke, a former government environmental adviser and visiting professor at Imperial College London, said to The Guardian:

“[The British government] are too close to industry, concealing problems, rather than revealing and dealing with them.”

Or you may prefer to infer from all of this, as George Monbiot did in a follow-up piece for the Guardian on Monday 4th July, that this is simply business as usual, which no doubt it is:

“Nuclear operators worldwide have been repeatedly exposed as a bunch of arm-twisting, corner-cutting scumbags.

In this respect they are, of course, distinguished from the rest of the energy industry, which is run by collectives of self-abnegating monks whose only purpose is to spread a little happiness. How they ended up sharing the names and addresses of some of the nuclear companies is a mystery that defies explanation.”3

With this much agreed, Monbiot then goes further, perpetuating the industry line that radiation leaks from Fukushima, which we ought to remind ourselves is still very much an on-going disaster, and with no foreseeable end in sight, have caused no serious harm to the people of Japan:

[Even] the Daiichi meltdown, the same energy agency report tells us, has caused no medical harm. While the evacuation it necessitated is profoundly traumatic and disruptive, “to date no confirmed health effects have been detected in any person as a result of radiation exposure” from the accident. Compare this to the 100,000 deaths caused by air pollution from coal plants every year, and you begin to see that we’ve been fretting about the wrong risks.

Whenever I read excuses like this my immediate thought is tobacco, asbestos, depleted uranium… So why does Monbiot continue to parrot such blatant disinformation? As a journalist and an environmentalist isn’t he supposed to be demanding answers from this industry, which he concedes is corrupt absolutely, rather than playing forward defensive to their cause.

What the industry insiders in Britain either didn’t know, or didn’t care about, as they lobbied the government to play the incident down, was that reactors 1 and 3 were already in meltdown, and that the meltdown in reactor 2 was imminent:

The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., admitted last month that nuclear fuel rods in reactors 2 and 3 probably melted during the first week of the nuclear crisis.

It had already said fuel rods at the heart of reactor No. 1 melted almost completely in the first 16 hours after the disaster struck. The remnants of that core are now sitting in the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel at the heart of the unit and that vessel is now believed to be leaking.

A “major part” of the fuel rods in reactor No. 2 may have melted and fallen to the bottom of the pressure vessel 101 hours after the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the plant, Tokyo Electric said May 24.

The same thing happened within the first 60 hours at reactor No. 3, the company said, in what it called its worst-case scenario analysis, saying the fuel would be sitting at the bottom of the pressure vessel in each reactor building.4

Click here to read more details from the same CNN article

A few newspapers had reported the meltdown of reactors almost from the onset of the disaster, but there had then been a full two months delay before any official confirmation was received either from Tokyo Electric Power Co. or the Japanese government. Meanwhile, the British nuclear industry, in cahoots with British government, were already spinning a line to mutually protect themselves from the inevitable public backlash.

In defence of these deceptions, the emails having been exposed, both sides will plead ignorance of course, as if not knowing the true extent of the disaster justified their efforts to play the risks down. But with the proper role of journalism being, as it is, to expose lies and force truth to the surface, Monbiot really ought to be looking into whether or not this plea of insider ignorance can be sustained, whilst highlighting the irresponsibility, criminal or otherwise, of such mendacious collusion between government and industry. Yet he shows no interest in doing either.

John Vidal, also writing in the Guardian (Friday 1st July) gets closer to the heart of the matter:

What the emails shows is a weak government, captured by a powerful industry colluding to at least misinform and very probably lie to the public and the media. When the emails were sent, no one, least of all the industry and its friends in and out of government, had any idea how serious the situation at Fukushima was or might become.

For the business department to then argue that “we really need to show the safety of nuclear” and that “it’s not as bad as it looks”, is shameless. But to argue that the radiation was being released deliberately and was “all part of the safety systems to control and manage a situation” is Orwellian.5

So Orwellian, in fact, that on page 50 of the 136 page file released by the Guardian, one line of a letter to government reads:

“The explosion whilst visually dramatic is part of the safety system, the building protected the reactor”

The explosion was part of the safety system… such an explanation really demands more than mere technical ignorance, involving us also in a wish to remain in ignorance. To accept whatever nonsense we are told and make believe it is true. For IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, as George Orwell, a journalist with courage, integrity and a deep understanding of politics, knew only too well (if ironically).

Just about catching up with last week’s disinformation, the news rolls ever onward. Fresh lies are continuing to downplay the unprecedented and long-term impact of the crisis at Fukushima, whilst the plight of those unfortunate enough to live in the shadow of Fukushima is slowly forgotten. And a radioactive plume that is growing day by day and month by month, goes almost unnoticed by most people outside of Japan. Uncovering the true scale of the disaster at Fukushima is therefore a matter of great urgency. It might yet save millions of lives.

1 From an article entitled “Japan radiation leaks feared as nuclear experts point to possible cover-up” written by John Vidal and Damian Carrington published in the Guardian on Monday 14th March.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/14/japan-radiation-leak-cover-up

2 From an article entitled “Revealed: British government’s plan to play down Fukushima” by Rob Edwards published in the Guardian on Thursday 30th June.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/30/british-government-plan-play-down-fukushima

3 From an article entitled “The nuclear industry stinks. But that is not a reason to ditch nuclear power” by George Monbiot published in the Guardian on Monday 4th July.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/04/nuclear-industry-stinks-cleaner-energy?intcmp=239

4 From an article entitled “3 nuclear reactors melted down after quake, Japan confirms” from CCN published 7th June.

5 From an article entitled “Fukushima spin was Orwellian” by John Vidal published in the Guardian on Friday 1st July.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/01/fukushima-emails-government-nuclear-industry?intcmp=239

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Filed under Britain, Japan, nuclear power, Uncategorized

cellphones are mostly harmless, probably

As an undergraduate studying in London about twenty years ago, I can still recall a few details of a guest lecture given on hertzian dipole emission, which sounds complicated and is, but bear with me… When radio waves are produced by an antenna, the lecturer explained, those waves radiate away with a characteristic directionality. They spread out into an expanding doughnut, with most of the power transmitted directly away from the centre of the aerial. Then, and to illustrate this point, he told us about an increasing health problem that police officers were suffering from as a result of using their walkie-talkies. Apparently, the design was leading to a higher incidence of eye tumours – the centre of the aerials being located close to eye-level.

Now, I have just searched the internet for evidence of a connection between eye tumours and walkie-talkies but I can find none at all, so why did the guest lecturer ever make such a claim? It’s not that he was talking about health and safety in the first case, but merely trying to support the established electromagnetic theory of hertzian dipole emission by providing a little supporting evidence – he told us, in other words, because he thought it was interesting and relevant. So he was simply misinformed, presumably.

Nowadays, of course, many of us carry the state of the art equivalent to walkie-talkies, pressing them to our ears on a daily, if not hourly, basis. About 40 per cent of the microwave energy produced being absorbed directly into our heads. So should we be worried?

Well the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), having just completed an extensive review of a range of existing studies, has concluded that cellphones are indeed “possibly carcinogenic’’, recategorising them as a potential threat to human health alongside certain dry cleaning chemicals and pesticides:

The finding, from the agency’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, adds to concerns among a small but growing group of experts about the health effects of low levels of radiation emitted by cellphones. The panel, which consisted of 31 scientists from 14 countries, was led by Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Southern California and a member of President Obama’s National Cancer Advisory Board.1

The New York Times article continues:

The W.H.O. panel ruled only that cellphones be classified as Category 2B, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans, a designation the panel has given to 240 other agents, including the pesticide DDT, engine exhaust, lead and various industrial chemicals. Also on the list are two familiar foods, pickled vegetables and coffee, which the cellphone industry was quick to point out.

“This I.A.R.C. classification does not mean cellphones cause cancer,’’ John Walls, vice president for public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry group, said in a statement. Mr. Walls noted that both the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have concluded that the weight of the scientific evidence does not link cellphones with cancer or other health problems.

Click here to read the full article.

The Japanese Broadcasting Corporation NHK decided that the new IARC report was significant enough to run as its headline:

Cancer experts at the World Health Organization have for the first time found evidence that the heavy use of mobile phones may increase the risk of developing brain tumors. The announcement was made on Tuesday during a meeting of scientists at WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France…

The researchers advised that cellphones be placed in the third highest cancer-risk category on the agency’s 5-scale classification system. That category also includes lead and chloroform.

The scientists said research indicates that the risk for developing brain cancer increases by 40 percent among people who use mobile phones for 30 minutes a day for at least 10 years. They added that more research should be conducted. One scientist advised taking practical measures to reduce exposure, such as using hands-free devices or texting.

It was the first time WHO has reported that electromagnetic waves emitted by mobile phones pose a cancer risk.2

Click here to read the full text.

But the mobile phone industry is hanging tough of course. Like the asbestos industry, the tobacco companies and the nuclear lobby, it is demanding further proof, whilst reminding us that there is still no established mechanism that links microwave radiation to cancer, which is perfectly correct. Basically, we’ll just have to wait and see, because as Professor Lawrie Challis, an expert in the field and Chairman of the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR), told The Times in an interview back in 2007:

 “You can look at almost any cancer where you know what the cause was. You find absolutely nothing for ten years,” he says. The groundbreaking study proving the link between lung cancer and smoking showed a similar delay, he says. “You look at what happened after the atomic bomb. Nagasaki, Hiroshima. You find again a long delay, nothing for ten years. The same for asbestos disease.” So although the many existing studies into mobile phone safety have shown no dangers does not deter him. “The people who’ve done these studies have been cautious. They say, ‘We can’t rule out the possibility’. But I want to know whether it’s there.”3

Click here to read full article.

As NHK reports, this is the first time WHO has warned that mobile phones pose any risk of cancer, and it may very well be that the dismal data needed to make their judgement conclusive will arrive in future years, just as it did with atomic radiation, asbestos, and smoking. Or perhaps the men from the industry were right for a change, and so who knows, regularly microwaving the brain might not cause cancer, or a whole range of other suspected neurological disorders. Maybe instead it will turn out to boost intelligence, promote feelings of well-being and happiness, and generally increase life expectancy. Crazier discoveries have been made, probably.

What we can be sure, is that if and when cellphone users begin suing for damages, the industry will fight any claims to the bitter end. Their defence, as usual, will depend upon plausible deniability. Meanwhile, with the release of this week’s report, WHO have put themselves in the clear. They’re not taking any chances. And though their announcement might well be too little, too late, at least you can’t say they didn’t warn you.

From a New York Times article entitled “Cellphone Radiation May Cause Cancer, Advisory Panel says”, by Tara Parker-Pope and Felicity Barringer, published Tuesday 31st May. well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/cellphone-radiation-may-cause-cancer-advisory-panel-says/

2  From NHK World news headlines “WHO panel warns cellphones may cause cancer” published Wednesday 1st June. www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/01_35.html

3  From an article entitled “Could these be the cigarettes of the 21st century?… ‘Absolutely’” by Alice Miles and Helen Rumbelow, published in The Times on 20th January 2007. www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1294717.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1

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