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Are ‘enviros’ evil,or trying to protect property + reassert control over behemoths? New Zealand Navy + Petrobras vs. Maori fishermen

April 27th, 2011 No comments

A quick show of hands:

  • How many of you think that the recent protests by New Zealand “greens” and Maori fishermen against Government-licensed oil exploration activities by PetroBras is evidence of a blind envirofascist hatred of mankind?
  • How many of you cheer on the “capitalist” exploration and development of government-owned resources by big and state-entanged corporations, over the quaint claims to “fishing rights” by locals?
  • How many of you think that PetroBras and its shareholders are the real victims of these protests?
  • How many think it’s a sign of how government “ownership” of public resources leads to zero-sum politicization of decisions, and of decisions that are tilted toward activities that provide revenues to government, while shifting risks to local communities and individuals?
  • Does anybody see any parallels with BP and the Gulf?  With the crony capitalism supporting Tokyo Electric, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plants?

I posted a few tweets on this topic, which I copy below in chronological order:

 TokyoTom

NZ Navy intervention in oil protest “disgusting” – Maori MPs |     
 TokyoTom 

Maori Sovereignty? “Maori feel the pollution risk to the water+fish stocks is too great”   
 TokyoTom 

Maori skipper detained by Navy warship for defending ancestral fishing waters from Oil Drilling  
 TokyoTom 

Maori fisherman: “We are defending tribal waters+our rights from reckless Govt policies”   
 TokyoTom 

“opening up natl parks+our coastline to transnationl corps shows contempt+will face fierce+sustained local resistance”
 TokyoTom 

Petrobras protest+Maritime Rules  |clear frm+ tht Gov ‘ownership’ leads to poor risk mgt+theft frm communities
 TokyoTom 

“Gov has awakened some sort of taniwha.We’re all virgins at doing this.We never fight”   
 TokyoTom 

“April 11: NZ Navy ships+Air Force planes begin monitoring the protest along with police”   
 TokyoTom 

“after the licence was given-in what way is that consultation? It isn’t, not even close”    
 TokyoTom 

Te Karere Ipurangi » Blog Archive » Oil surveys damage sea creatures organs – ECO    
 TokyoTom 

MP says it is a disgrace…wrong for NZ citizen to be threatened by Defense for opposing a deal btwn gov+foreign oil co
 TokyoTom 

NZ Gov happy w discretion to act unilaterally 2increase Gov revenues+to ignore locals  
 TokyoTom 

In NZ as in ,locals trying to exercise community crtl treated as ‘terrorists’    
 TokyoTom 

Rikirangi Gage to  “We are defending tribal waters+our rights frm reckless Gov policies”  
 TokyoTom 

AUDIO:Rikirangi Gage of te Whānau-ā-Apanui vessel radios captain of  oil survey ship  

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WSJ article makes clear that dealing with nuclear power plants in crisis mode is very much experimental

April 23rd, 2011 No comments

I ran across an interesting WSJ piece today that I Tweeted as follows:

=EXPERIMENT: Tepco Let  Pressure Soar to Twice Design Limit Before Venting that then Exploded WSJ

Here are some excerpts of the WSJ article,”Reactor Team Let Pressure Soar

The operator of Japan’s stricken nuclear plant let pressure in one reactor climb far beyond the level the facility was designed to withstand, a decision that may have worsened the world’s most serious nuclear accident in a quarter century.

Japanese nuclear-power companies are so leery of releasing radiation into the atmosphere that their rules call for waiting much longer and obtaining many more sign-offs than U.S. counterparts before venting the potentially dangerous steam that builds up as reactors overheat, a Wall Street Journal inquiry found.

Japan’s venting policy got its first real-world test in the chaotic hours after March 11’s earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power complex. By the first hours of March 12, an emergency was brewing inside the plant’s No. 1 reactor.

By around 2:30 a.m., the pressure inside the vessel that forms a protective bulb around the reactor’s core reached twice the level it was designed to withstand. Amid delays and technical difficulties, it was another 12 hours before workers finished releasing radioactive steam from this containment vessel, via reinforced pipes, to the air beyond the reactor building.

About an hour later, the reactor building itself exploded—a blast that Japanese and U.S. regulators have since said spread highly radioactive debris beyond the plant. The explosion, along with others amid overheating at reactors 2, 3 and 4, contributed to radiation levels that led to mandatory evacuations around the plant and the government’s admission that the Fukushima Daiichi disaster ranks alongside Chernobyl at the top of the nuclear-disaster scale.

Experts in the U.S. and Japan believe the venting delay may have helped create conditions that led to the blast. In one possible scenario, pressure built so high that it damaged gaskets and other parts of the venting system, through which highly explosive hydrogen gas leaked from the core into the reactor building. It was Japan’s cautious approach to venting, an outgrowth of its profound concern over nuclear contamination, that may well have made the accident worse, they say.

Containment vessels can withstand higher pressures, some studies have indicated. Among these are studies conducted in the 1990s by Japanese operators and equipment manufacturers, in preparation for Japan’s first set of severe-accident protocols, that say such vessels can withstand twice the design pressure. Many Japanese operators have adopted this as their benchmark for releasing contaminated air.

Tepco spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai confirmed that if there is a risk of releasing radiation, the company doesn’t vent until pressure hits roughly twice the design limit. “Venting is a last resort,” Mr. Nagai said.

General Electric Co., the designer of the vessel at Fukushima Daiichi, said it is unaware of any such Japanese studies or venting protocols.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said it doesn’t have specific guidelines on venting and doesn’t comment on the appropriateness of actions taken in member countries.

U.S. protocols on handling accidents at similar reactors call for venting before pressure exceeds the design level. The same protocol is followed by plant operators using similar types of reactors in Korea and Taiwan, industry experts in those countries say.

I am reminded of the article by Bill Keisling on the Three-Mile Island that I cross-posted earlier; here’s a relevant excerpt for those of you who missed it:

Rule 1: Commercial atomic energy technology is a pseudo-science and is not based on proper scientific experimentation.

As we recently witnessed during the multiple nuclear accidents at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, a damaged reactor (or reactors) often has broken controls, computers systems, and gauges that make monitoring a runaway nuclear reaction difficult, if not impossible.

Confusion and fright in the control room(s) at the time of emergency create what can almost be called A Fog of War. Indeed, war it is. They’re at war with a runaway nuclear reactor.

At Fukushima, as on Three Mile Island, operators wished they could simply peer into the containment building with their own eyes and dispense with the broken alarms, computers and gauges that tell them nothing, and often mislead them.


‘The nuclear power industry naturally doesn’t think very much of troublesome nitwits like Galileo, Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Isaac Newton, and their ridiculous, old-fashioned ideas about experimentation, reproducible results, and scientific method.’


But that’s only a small part of the problem. Truth is, no one really understands the behavior of tons of melted nuclear fuel in a reactor.

For a variety of reasons, the commercial nuclear power industry and its government regulators never conducted a single experimental meltdown of a full-size nuclear reactor.

So, until one melts, no one knows how a runaway reactor will behave.

As most of us remember from high school, scientific knowledge has advanced over the centuries because of what’s called the Scientific Method.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Scientific Method as “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

In simple words, real-world experiments must be designed to test a hypothesis, and results must be reproducible.

As we know, cars and planes are rigorously tested and crashed all the time, in all manner of ways, in all sorts of conditions. That’s how designers and regulators learn how these complicated machines behave in real-world accidents, and whether they’re safe.

Not so nuclear reactors. For a variety of reasons, including half a century of financial and political considerations, regulators in the United States side-stepped or outright ignored the issue of full-scale reactor safety testing, and continue to ignore it to this day.

This inescapable and troubling fact is entwined with the history of atomic power regulation in the United States. 

Perhaps it’s time for us to try the experiment of ending all government support for nuclear power, “public” utility monopolies, and corporations in general (which could not exist in their present form without state grants of limited liability to shareholders)? Maybe then – when investors and power companies are faced with a greater share of the actual risks generated by their businesses – we will see a more responsible and prudent form of capitalism, one that generates true wealth, and noty simply moral hazard and risk-shifting, plus profits for a few?

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A guest post by investigative reporter & Three-Mile Island gadfly Bill Keisling on "The Fukushima Experiment"

April 7th, 2011 No comments

I’ve run across a very interesting post on problems with nuclear power and the “crony capitalist” nuclear power industry and government interface, by a veteran freelance Pennsylvania journalist/gadfly who started writing about ConEd’s Three-Mile Island facility well before it experienced its famous melt-down.

Bill Keisling is a dogged hunter of local corruption, a prolific author, blogger (at his website Yardbird.com) and videomaker (see, for example, his expose on how Pennsyvania college students were housed on a former Department if Defense nuclear watse sie).

Bill kindly gave me permission to cross-post his piece below, which I copy in its entirety.from his website, which I encourage readers to visit. I think his views provide very useful context.

  

 big wave at fukushima by mr. ok cola

The Fukushima Experiment

A nuclear meltdown survival guide

Japan’s Tepco utility executives and government officials are alternately accused of covering-up, withholding information, or downplaying the severity of their nuclear accident.

Truth is, as many of us nuclear meltdown veterans know, those utility executives and officials are as much in the dark as the rest of us.

If you live within two hundred miles of a nuclear power plant, consider this: If the plant suffers a meltdown, no one on earth will be able to tell you what to expect.

Welcome, then, to the Fukushima Experiment …

 

by Bill Keisling

 

Posted March 28, 2011 — The nuclear meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant reignited deeply personal memories for many of us in central Pennsylvania who lived through 1979’s Three Mile Island incident.

Some argue that the technological or natural causes of these two nuclear accidents differ greatly. Yet aspects of both are stunningly similar: both events caused world-wide hysteria and panic, followed by general condemnation of utility executives and government officials for their supposed mishandling or misunderstanding of the crisis.

 


The nuclear accident on Three Mile Island was a life-changing experience for me, and many others. In 1979 I was a young editor of a community magazine. I was actually the first writer/journalist to arrive at the gates of Three Mile Island the morning of the accident, on March 28, 1979. That morning I had both personal and professional reasons for being there.

The community newspaper I edited, Harrisburg Magazine, had, in the months leading up to the Three Mile Island accident, uncovered myriad problems at the nuclear power plant. We’d documented the willingness of state and federal regulators to look the other way so that the substandard and unsafe power plant could operate.

In August 1978 we even published a cover story detailing a possible disaster scenario involving these unresolved problems at the power plant titled, “Meltdown: Tomorrow’s Disaster at Three Mile Island.”

The owner of the power plant, Metropolitan Edison, was not amused. The electric utility responded by seeking a congressional investigation of our small magazine. Met-Ed almost ran us out of business.

Several months later, early on the morning of the accident, I got a call from a friend telling me that there was some sort of leak at the power plant and that a nuclear site emergency had been declared. I threw my camera and tape recorder into the car and drove the dozen or so miles to the gates of Three Mile Island.

There wasn’t much to see. To the naked eye, the two reactors and the four cooling towers sat placidly as ever on the island. From the gate nothing seemed particularly wrong, or out of place. A small amount of stream rose from two of the massive cooling towers.

The guards at the gate did their best to ignore me. I asked a guard what was going on but he brusquely refused to answer any questions. I pointed to a radiation monitor he wore on his jacket — a dosimeter — and asked what the instrument read.

“It doesn’t matter now,” he told me with a nervous break in his voice.

Shortly thereafter I was standing at the gate when scared nuclear workers began evacuating the plant. The guards hurriedly passed hand-held Geiger counters over each employee’s car, checking for radiation.

This, it turns out, wouldn’t be that much different from events at the gates of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011. An American software engineer working at Fukushima witnessed terrified Japanese nuclear workers trying to escape by climbing over the nuclear plant’s fence following the earthquake.

As for myself, back in 1979, at the gates of Three Mile Island, my first impulse was to run. I later wrote about the moment in my novel, The Meltdown:

It made you think this wasn’t such a good place to hang out.

The main gate opened, the cars streamed out. They came one after another to the highway and turned right, wasting no time, tires spinning in the gravel. I heard one of the drivers say to another, ‘We’re all supposed to go to the substation down the road to be tested for contamination.’

Forty or fifty cars streamed from the plant, stopped momentarily to be swept by Geiger counters at the gate, then barreled up the road out of sight. All the while the cooling towers hung in the background.

Some sort of wild frightening premonition swept over me.

The idea came to me to put five hundred miles between me and this place. I turned and started back to my car. I only took two or three steps, then I stopped. Maybe I should call some friends, I thought. Let them know the reactor’s about to melt. It would be a kind, a thoughtful thing to do, a kindness I’d appreciate from a friend. But I wouldn’t be able to reach most of the people I knew.

At that moment I made a fateful decision that, for me, was life changing. I’d realized there was no place in the world to run from a nuclear accident. I couldn’t possibly warn all my friends and family. My life would be destroyed with the people and the town that I knew.

So sorry: American and Japanese utility executives employ different approaches to breaking bad nuclear news. Met-Ed’s Jack Herbein wagged his finger and told us to Talk to the Hand in 1979; Tepco execs offered deep bows (bottom). Herbein photo by Bill Keisling.


I turned to face the power plant, and planted my foot firmly in its path. I decided at that moment to understand what was happening, and to try to understand why it happened.

In the ensuing minutes, hours, and days, I saw it all, much of it first hand.

I followed the procession of cars evacuating the power plant gates to a nearby observation center. There I listened, watched, and interviewed scared workers. Things I saw that morning forever burn my memory.

One middle-aged nuclear worker sat nervously inside the touristy observation center waiting to be screened for radiation contamination. His hands shook violently and uncontrollably. He held his hands out in front of himself and watched them shake. He stared at his own shaking hands as if they were someone else’s hands, and not his own.

It was bedlam all around us at the observation center. Rad-suited crews swept the grounds for radiation leaks. One hyper worker knocked through the pandemonium gasping, “There’s been a mix up somewhere here!”

Helicopters carrying out-of-town newsmen and cameramen spun down from the sky. By the minute, before my eyes, it grew into an international incident.

Before long a helicopter carrying a utility executive landed on the lawn of the observation center. Jack Herbein, Met-Ed’s vice president for generation, convened an impromptu news conference on the back lawn.

Jack Herbein was normally a polished and controlled utility executive. That day he memorably told the television cameras that everything was “under control.”

“There’s nothing to worry about,” Herbein told us. “Just a little water spilt on the floor.”

We followed Herbein inside the observation center. I yelled over the din at him, inquiring whether this was a nuclear core meltdown.

Herbein looked straight at me, but didn’t answer. His eyes betrayed shock, and fright. He turned and hurried back to his helicopter and choppered away.

Within days, Met-Ed’s Jack Herbein would find himself at ground zero of an international uproar.

The accident just wouldn’t go away. Utility executives and government officials tried their best to play things down. Then, a few hours later, more wrenching bad news would leak from the power plant.

The reactor’s 150-plus tons of nuclear fuel might be melting. The governor ordered an evacuation of children and pregnant women. A potentially explosive hydrogen bubble was detected in the reactor. Things clearly weren’t “under control.”

TMI Jack Herbein by Bill Keisling

Met-Ed’s Jack Herbein stands on milk box to scold world press: ‘I don’t know why we need to tell you every little thing that we do!’ Tepco execs in 2011 offer still more apologetic deep bows to evacuees. Jack Herbein photo by Bill Keisling. Click photo or here to enlarge.


Four days after the initial accident on Three Mile Island, on Saturday, March 31, 1979, at a press conference in nearby Middletown, wearing the same rumpled suit he’d been in for days, an exhausted Jack Herbein of Med-Ed stood on a milk carton to boost himself above a mountain of microphones to bray at the immense polyglot mob of the world’s news media, “I don’t know why we need to tell you each and every little thing that we do!”

That one moment of frustrated pique cost Met-Ed, and Jack Herbein, all public sympathy.

But was Jack Herbein covering up, or was he simply as much in the dark as the rest of us?

 

More than three decades later it’s deja vu all over again, but this time fighting the dark are executives with the Tokyo Electric Power Co., operators of Japan’s runaway nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Tepco utility executives are alternately accused of covering-up, withholding information, or downplaying the severity of their nuclear accident.

Truth is, as many of us nuclear accident veterans know, those utility executives are as much in the dark as the rest of us.

Lessons from Three Mile Island in 1979 go a long way to explain what’s happening in 2011 in Japan.

In the years following the Three Mile Island accident much was learned about what the utility did, and did not know at the time of the 1979 reactor meltdown in Pennsylvania.

It became painfully obvious that the control room operators, the utility executives, and the government overseers of Three Mile Island simply did not know at the time what was happening inside their damaged nuclear reactor core.

Why they did not know is really the heart of the matter, and the thing we should consider.

In the event of a runaway nuclear reactor (politely called a “power excursion” by the industry), Tepco executives in Japan, like their counterparts in Pennsylvania, don’t have the foggiest idea what may happen when their reactors melt.

If you live within two hundred miles of a nuclear power plant, consider this: If the plant suffers a meltdown, no one on earth will be able to tell you what to expect.

Having spent decades looking into all this, I thought I might save those interested in researching the Fukushima nuclear disaster valuable time and trouble by providing a short list of the most important points I’ve learned about nuclear power accidents.

Decades of research can be boiled down to a few key observations or rules that until now I’ve kept in the back of my head.

I here offer my list as a time-saving primer to others:

Rule 1:

Commercial atomic energy technology is a pseudo-science and is not based on proper scientific experimentation.

As we recently witnessed during the multiple nuclear accidents at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, a damaged reactor (or reactors) often has broken controls, computers systems, and gauges that make monitoring a runaway nuclear reaction difficult, if not impossible.

Confusion and fright in the control room(s) at the time of emergency create what can almost be called A Fog of War. Indeed, war it is. They’re at war with a runaway nuclear reactor.

At Fukushima, as on Three Mile Island, operators wished they could simply peer into the containment building with their own eyes and dispense with the broken alarms, computers and gauges that tell them nothing, and often mislead them.


‘The nuclear power industry naturally doesn’t think very much of troublesome nitwits like Galileo, Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Isaac Newton, and their ridiculous, old-fashioned ideas about experimentation, reproducible results, and scientific method.’


But that’s only a small part of the problem. Truth is, no one really understands the behavior of tons of melted nuclear fuel in a reactor.

For a variety of reasons, the commercial nuclear power industry and its government regulators never conducted a single experimental meltdown of a full-size nuclear reactor.

So, until one melts, no one knows how a runaway reactor will behave.

As most of us remember from high school, scientific knowledge has advanced over the centuries because of what’s called the Scientific Method.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Scientific Method as “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

In simple words, real-world experiments must be designed to test a hypothesis, and results must be reproducible.

As we know, cars and planes are rigorously tested and crashed all the time, in all manner of ways, in all sorts of conditions. That’s how designers and regulators learn how these complicated machines behave in real-world accidents, and whether they’re safe.

Not so nuclear reactors. For a variety of reasons, including half a century of financial and political considerations, regulators in the United States side-stepped or outright ignored the issue of full-scale reactor safety testing, and continue to ignore it to this day.

This inescapable and troubling fact is entwined with the history of atomic power regulation in the United States. In brief, here’s the story, with footnotes and references for those who want to follow along at home:

After the war with Japan ended in 1945 with the dropping of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US found itself the world’s sole possessor of the secrets of atomic energy.

To take these secrets from the hands of the military and deliver them to the civilian population, the United States Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. This legislation forbade any entity but the US Government from creating atomic energy, and disallowed international cooperation involving any atomic secrets. To oversee the peacetime atom, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was created, and Harry Truman appointed five commissioners. A statute of Congress created the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy on August 2, 1946. This joint committee would police the AEC, and authorize all appropriations to the commission. 1

The EBR-I experimental reactor in Idaho was the scene of both the first atomic generation of electric power and an early reactor meltdown.


History was made almost five years later. Four, 200-watt light bulbs began to glow when 12 control rods were lifted away at the Experimental Breeder Reactor Number One (EBR-I) in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Sixteen technicians signed their names on a wall there, beneath this notation: “Electricity Was First Generated Here From Atomic Energy on December 20, 1951.” EBR-I seemed all the more remarkable because it was a breeder reactor and, it was said, could safely produce more fuel than it burned. 2

Mamie Eisenhower christened the Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered submarine, on January 21, 1954. The public loved it. Still, many Americans were anxious to give private industry an opportunity to split atoms. The Atomic Energy Commission was seen as an island of socialism in the sea of free enterprise.

Dwight Eisenhower signed the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 on August 30 of that year. The “Atoms for Peace” program was launched. Private enterprise could now exploit nuclear power, the AEC would begin to award contracts to businesses, and the poor nations of the world were promised atomic power. 3

The bubble burst in November of 1955. The tiny EBR-I reactor had been experiencing power fluctuations and, while trying to discover the cause of the problem, technicians attempted to bring the core to within a few degrees of melting temperature. At half power, fuel rods holding the Uranium-235 fuel began to bow inward, increasing the core’s reactivity. A “power excursion” occurred, and the reactor began to run away, its gauges climbing off scale. With a split second to spare, a technician commanded a “blanket” of U-238 bricks surrounding the fuel rods to drop away, stopping the power excursion.

An explosion was barely avoided, but the core, capable of producing 1.4 megawatts of heat output, had melted. 4


‘Lloyds of London would not write a policy protecting a nuclear power plant’


Insurance companies, which had been trying to assess the feasibility of insuring commercial reactors, were more squeamish than ever. Utilities considering building nuclear power stations discovered their investments could not be insured. Lloyds of London, known for taking risks on just about anything, would not write a policy protecting a nuclear power plant. Insurance companies throughout America began writing nuclear exclusion clauses into homeowners’ policies, preventing insurance payments for any nuclear related loss. The entire insurance industry pooled together would provide no more than $65 million worth of coverage for a nuclear power plant. 5

Hoping to win the insurance industry’s confidence, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy authorized the AEC and the Brookhaven National Laboratory to prepare a study on the effects of a major accident at a 100- to 200-megawatt electrical output reactor.

In March 1957, the study, entitled “Theoretical Possibilities and Consequences of Major Accidents in Large Nuclear Power Plants,” Or WASH-740, was released. WASH-740 did not make the insurers rest easier. The Brookhaven laboratory estimated that in the event of a worst possible accident, 3,400 people would die, 43,000 would be injured and seven billion dollars worth of damage would be done. Commercial nuclear power production was now at a standstill. 6

Because the private insurance wasn’t enough, the utilities now settled for a bit of socialism. Senator Clinton Anderson and Congressman Melvin Price introduced legislation that provided for $495 million worth of government coverage — an arbitrarily arrived at amount — in addition to the $65 million private insurance pool. The Price-Anderson Amendment to the 1954 Atomic Energy Act became law in September 1957. The last hurdle apparently out of the way, private industry was, again, off and running to create fission energy. 7

In Pennsylvania, Metropolitan Edison and its fellow utilities of the General Public Utilities Corporation, along with the Pennsylvania State University and Rutgers University, created the Saxton Nuclear Experimental Corporation. The AEC approved a construction permit for a 20-megawatt thermally rated reactor in Saxton, Pennsylvania, in 1959. 8

The SL-1 experimental reactor being lifted from its containment building following its deadly 1961 accident.


But tragedy visited another experimental reactor on January 3, 1961. At about nine in the evening, three technicians were performing a maintenance operation on the SL-1 reactor in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The SL-1 was one of 17 test reactors scattered across 892 square miles of Idaho desert at the AEC’s National Reactor Testing Station. The tiny SL-1 was meant to produce electricity for about a dozen homes in arctic military bases. For some time the reactor’s nine control rods had been acting up, as had other reactor functions.

The SL-1 had been shutdown for about a week in expectation of major repair work, its control rods pushed firmly down and disconnected from the mechanical control rod drive. The number nine control rod was the most important. It was the only rod that could start the chain reaction when lifted away. To ensure that the cadmium control rods would not stick or jam, technicians had been “exercising” them, lifting them a few inches, then returning them. That night three technicians were standing on top of the reactor, reconnecting the control rods to the mechanical drive. The number nine control rod had to be lifted four inches by hand to be connected to the machinery.

During this operation the rod was lifted too far. In a fraction of a second the reactor became critical, a power excursion followed, and an estimated 1,500,000,000,000,000,000 atoms split.

By the time help arrived, one man was found dead. A second technician was rushed outside, but was so radiated that he had to be examined by a doctor wearing protective clothing. The second man quickly died. The third technician was found dead on the ceiling of the reactor building. A piece of control rod was jammed through his groin, pinning his corpse to the ceiling at the shoulder.

For twenty days, the bodies were packed in water, alcohol and ice, while scientists tried to cleanse the dead tissues of uranium. Finally the men were buried, but their heads and hands had to be removed and buried with other nuclear wastes. 9


‘A third technician was found on the ceiling of the reactor building. A piece of control rod was jammed through his groin, pinning his corpse to the ceiling at the shoulder.’


The Atomic Energy Commission reached another crossroad in 1964, when construction permits for the first big, pressurized and boiling water reactors were granted. A utility could make an appreciable profit on its investment when smaller reactor designs were made larger, taking advantage of economies of scale. Pressurized water reactors rated at thousands of megawatts of heat output would soon be operating.

To estimate the damage of a serious accident at a large commercial reactor, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy authorized the AEC and the Brookhaven laboratory to update the 1957 WASH-740. The results were shocking.

Instead of 3,400 deaths, there would be 27,000; instead of 43,000 injuries, there would be 73,000; instead of $7 billion worth of damage, a “worst possible accident” at a new pressurized or boiling water reactor would cause $17 billion in damages. To make matters much worse, Brookhaven statisticians determined that an evacuation would make no appreciable difference in the number of people killed.

The study indicated that a landmass the size of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania could be rendered uninhabitable; that is, if the reactor were to be built, say, in central Pennsylvania.

Fearing this updated WASH-740 report would create an outcry at a very sensitive time, the AEC withheld this report from the public. 10

A draft of the updated WASH-740 report would not be released until June 1973, after both the Three Mile Island and Fukushima nuclear power plants were designed, considered for licensing, or built.

About the same time the WASH-740 update was being prepared, an “internal report” of the National Reactor Testing Station was also being drafted. This report called for a six-year minimum, intensive testing program to be conducted with the large reactors.

The NRTS report recommended that full-scale destructive testing be included in these reactor tests. The 1964-65 report was not released to the public until 1974; its findings too were ignored by the AEC.

The BORAX-1 experimental reactor seen undergoing a power excursion. When it finally blew up, scientists pointed out ‘uncertainties of extrapolation.’


Power excursion testing previously had been conducted inside tiny reactors. The BORAX-1 test reactor was only 1/500th the size of the larger, commercial reactors approved after 1964. By pulling the control rods of the BORAX-1, power excursions were created, and water was vigorously expelled from the coolant system, causing the reactor to shut down. But when an excursion test designed to melt the core was conducted in 1954, a “somewhat unexpected” steam explosion occurred, destroying the reactor and tossing a one-ton piece of equipment 30 feet into the air. 11

The Argonne National Laboratory reports that BORAX-1 “was deliberately destroyed in July 1954. Fuel plate fragments were scattered for a distance of 200-300 feet… The final test revealed that the predictions of total energy and fuel plate temperatures had been considerably too low. Instead of the melting of a few fuel plates, the test melted a major fraction of the entire core. The discrepancy was attributed to the uncertainties of extrapolation. The results of this energy liberation in the way of peak pressures and explosive violence lie in a region where there had been no previous experimental data.”

In other words, you can’t predict how a big reactor may behave from experiments conducted with much less fuel in a smaller reactor.


‘The National Reactor Testing Station report recommended that full-scale destructive testing be included in reactor tests.

The 1964-65 report was not released to the public until 1974; its findings were ignored by the AEC.’


Additional power excursion tests were conducted in the early 1960s on the Special Power Excursion Reactor Test, or SPERT-1 test reactor. In his book Nuclear Power: Both Sides, physicist Michio Kaku writes, “In some of the experiments we ran on the SPERT reactor we deliberately withdrew the control rods rapidly from the core. Without the control rods to absorb and regulate the neutrons from the fission process, the chain reaction would spin quickly out of control, and power levels would rise from zero to 30,000 megawatts (30 billion watts) in less than one-hundreth of a second. The cooling water would boil furiously, causing a steam explosion. On one occasion in 1962 I had the dubious distinction of deliberately blowing up the SPERT-1 reactor.” 12

The AEC officially reported that the SPERT-1’s core failed to explode during the “severest test that could be performed,” but the AEC did not mention that the SPERT-1 had faulty fuel rods, which terminated the power excursion by expelling fuel powder and coolant. No SPERT-1 power excursion test was then conducted with corrected fuel rods.

Both the BORAX-1 and the SPERT-1 test reactors, moreover, had several design differences from the larger, commercial reactors. When test reactors were built with a similar design to the larger reactors, power excursion experiments that could damage the fuel were deliberately avoided.

Instead, the AEC relied on calculations. “Design basis accidents,” and “worse possible accidents” were computed, but never verified by proper, scientific experimentation.

The AEC assumed sophisticated, though unverified, reactor theory to be fact. One reason for relying on these unproven calculations was that it was much less expensive over the short-run to do so than destroying a commercial size reactor, which could cost hundreds of million dollars, if not more.

Another reason for this unorthodox “un-scientific method” was that power excursion testing with reactors containing 100 tons or more of uranium could have serious environmental consequences.

So the nuclear industry continued to bank on the unproven hypothesis that a large, commercial reactor could be operated with little or no danger of explosion. 13

This deliberate blunder was one of the great scientific errors of twentieth century technology.

In contrast, Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity, the foundation of modern atomic science, continue to be subjected to painstaking experimentation. 14

Still, a good bit of the scientific laziness, lack of curiosity, and outright intellectual dishonesty of the nuclear regulators simply was a ruse to protect the finances of the nuclear industry.

As we see, the illusion of reactor safety and nuclear finances go hand-in-hand. Real-world experimental data which undermines the perceived safety of nuclear power plants is a threat to the insurability, and thus the financial viability, of the power plants. So over the decades real-world experiments that would impeach the safety of nuclear plants simply were never performed, were suppressed, or were played down by nuclear regulators.

Some blamed the problem on the mission and culture of the Atomic Energy Commission to both regulate and promote atomic energy.

Supposedly addressing this problem, Congress passed the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, which abolished the Atomic Energy Commission. The AEC was replaced by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). The NRC now would supposedly only regulate, while ERDA would promote nuclear energy, especially reactor development.

Yet, in the decades ahead, the NRC would continue to avoid full-scale experimental reactor meltdown tests in favor of costly computer models, fantasy reports, and ivory tower academic studies. There would be Bull Shit, More bull Shit, and bullshit Piled Higher and Deeper (in scientific and academic parlance, BS, MS, and PhD).

Nuclear reactor safety study became a colossal thought experiment. Reactor safely would exist only in the minds of their creators, and not in the real world, supported by reliable, controlled and reproducible scientific data.

Heaven and earth: Inside Fukushima’s Unit 2 control room in late March 2011, where events dismissed by the nuclear industry as ‘highly unlikely’ are an every day real-world nightmare for struggling operators and citizens.


Over the decades (and to this day) the NRC and the nuclear industry continued to cook up their own imaginary projections, involving narrowly defined “likely scenarios” and “analyses” devised by industry cheerleaders wearing tin-foil hats. These fairy tales are then supposedly bolstered with equally imaginary computer models.

In the 1970s, the NRC commissioned, for example, the infamous Rasmussen Report, or WASH-1400, as a follow-up to the discredited and suppressed WASH-740 reports.

The Rasmussen Report, also called “The Reactor Safety Study,” was soon also widely discredited within the scientific community. A subsequent review by the NRC conducted by Professor Harold Lewis of the University of California concluded that, “the uncertainties in WASH-1400’s estimates of the probabilities of severe accidents were in general, greatly understated.”

This led to other imaginary and sugar-coated Candyland reactor safety “studies,” including 1982’s CRAC-II, and 1991’s NUREG-1150.

“CRAC-II is both a computer code (titled Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences) and the 1982 report of the simulation results performed by Sandia National Laboratories for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The report is sometimes referred to as the CRAC-II report because it is the computer program used in the calculations,” Wikipedia relates.

“The CRAC-II simulations calculated the possible consequences of a worst-case accident under worst-case conditions (a so-called “class-9 accident”) for a number of different U.S. nuclear power plants. In the Sandia Siting Study, the Indian Point (NY) Energy Center was calculated to have the largest possible consequences for an SST1 (spectrum of source terms) release, with estimated maximum possible casualty numbers of around 50,000 deaths, 150,000 injuries, and property damage of $274 Billion to $314 Billion (based on figures at the time of the report in 1982)…. CRAC-II has been declared to be obsolete and will be replaced by the State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses study.”

The NRC itself would later discredit and issue a disclaimer of both the CRAC and NUREG “studies.” The NRC disclaimer of CRAC-II and NUREG-1150 reads as follows:

‘The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has devoted considerable research resources, both in the past and currently, to evaluating accidents and the possible public consequences of severe reactor accidents. The NRC’s most recent studies have confirmed that early research into the topic led to extremely conservative consequence analyses that generate invalid results for attempting to quantify the possible effects of very unlikely severe accidents. In particular, these previous studies did not reflect current plant design, operation, accident management strategies or security enhancements. They often used unnecessarily conservative estimates or assumptions concerning possible damage to the reactor core, the possible radioactive contamination that could be released, and possible failures of the reactor vessel and containment buildings. These previous studies also failed to realistically model the effect of emergency preparedness. The NRC staff is currently pursuing a new, state-of-the-art assessment of possible severe accidents and their consequences.”

In other words, after spending tens of millions of dollars in wasted resources to produce sham results, the NRC bureaucracy naturally resolved to spend tens of millions of more dollars to produce even more imaginary and far-fetched sham results. How reliable are these computer models?

In a timely article in the March 28, 2011 New York Times, John H. Broder, Matthew Walk and Tom Zeller point out, “American nuclear safety regulators, using a complex mathematical technique, determined that the simultaneous failure of both emergency shutdown systems to prevent a core meltdown was so unlikely that it would happen once every 17,000 years. It happened twice in four days at a pair of nuclear reactors in southern New Jersey.”

One imagines such a computer model in 2005 also setting the odds as “slim to none” of a black politician with a middle name of “Hussein” being elected president of the United States. The point is, the history of the world is filled with long shots with slim chances of overturning established norms. That in fact is what history is all about.

The NRC’s ‘State-Of-The-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses,’ or SOARCA, doesn’t even consider the consequences of accidents involving spent nuclear fuel pools, like those presumed to be now burning in Fukushima.


As mentioned, the NRC’s current search for a “state-of-the-art” study is called, appropriately enough, “State-Of-The-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses,” or SOARCA. (Not to be confused, gentle reader, with SCROTUM, which, in nuclear parlance, refers to the biological equipment by which operators are held by runaway reactors.)

NRC’s SOARCA website proclaims, “The project uses computer models and simulation tools to conduct in-depth analysis of two operating nuclear power plants, a boiling-water reactor and a pressurized-water reactor,” the types found in Fukushima and on Three Mile Island, respectively.

The SOARCA study further claims to consider “the highly unlikely event of a severe reactor accident.”

But, as Hamlet tells Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

SOARCA, it should go without saying, does not contemplate actual severe, real-world environmental catastrophes like the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami which unexpectedly destroyed multiple reactors and spent fuel pools at Fukushima, or myriad other events which the NRC considers “highly unlikely.”

The NRC’s SOARCA website further explains that the study does not take into account such events as “terrorist acts.” Nor, it goes without saying, does SOARCA consider what happens in the event of war, when one or more of the world’s 400-plus atomic reactors is damaged by combatants, leaving undisciplined Third World operators struggling to control a runaway reactor(s) and spent fuel pools.

Moreover, the SOARCA “study” doesn’t even consider the consequences of accidents involving spent nuclear fuel rod pools, like those now burning in Fukushima.

The NRC’s SOARCA FAQ page states:

Are accidents at spent fuel pools considered in this study?

No. The project focuses on evaluating the very unlikely severe accident scenarios that may occur at operating power reactors and, as such, it does not consider spent fuel pools.

Of course, on the real planet earth, and not the fantasy Game Boy simulations of the nuclear industry, if you are unlucky enough to work as a nuclear control room operator when a fire breaks out in one or more spent fuel pools, as it did in Fukushima, spewing highly radioactive smoke and throwing explosive debris several hundred feet into the air, thus preventing you from controlling your already damaged nuclear reactor(s), you’ve got a problem on your hands not considered by SOARCA. Then again, in the “highly unlikely” event that your reactor(s) blow up, spewing highly radioactive steam and throwing explosive debris several hundred feet into the air, thus preventing you from putting out a fire in your spent fuel pool(s), you’ve got an altogether different “highly unlikely” event(s) on your hands, Pilgrim.

What, me worry? NRC inspectors reported that ‘At times during various shifts, in particular the 11:00 pm to 7:00 am shift, one or more of the Peach Bottom (Pennsylvania) operations control room staff (including licensed operators, senior licensed operators and shift supervision) have for at least the past few months periodically slept or have been otherwise inattentive to licensed duties.’


That’s when, as we see in Fukushima, your SCROTUM is in serious danger, and, like those eminently professional and enlightened nuclear workers seen scaling the fence to escape Fukushima, you better, in nuclear terminology, SCRAM the reactor(s).

If, however, you cannot SCRAM fast enough, you should then consider the time-honored emergency inventory and communications procedure known in nuclear circles as KYSAG, or Kiss Your Sweet Ass Goodbye.

(I realize these terms are complicated and technical to the lay reader, but obtuse technical jargon is important to the nuclear industry.)

Or, if you’d prefer, like the supremely calm, collected, and laid-back control room operators at various American nuclear power plants, you can avoid much of the unnecessary stress of these “highly unlikely” events by simply going to sleep in the control room every night.

One man’s nuclear nightmare, after all, is just another man’s sweet dream, baby.

Which brings us to the next rule.

Rule 2:

Commercial atomic energy is based on voodoo economics.

With the vexing realities of nuclear industry finances, insurance, and what to do with thousands of tons of highly radioactive spent fuel rods, atomic reactor pseudo-science merrily intersects with the voodoo economics of the nuclear industry.

Because spent nuclear fuel must be safety stored for tens of thousands of years, no one can agree where to put it, or how to pay for the storage, and so the spent reactor fuel piles up at nuclear power plants in the U.S. and around the world.

The NRC and the nuclear industry wisely choose to simply ignore this nettlesome problem. Hey, if you can’t solve it, why talk about it?

 

Call it “highly unlikely,” and move on.

Also in the category of nuclear voodoo economics are the shrewd nuclear industry investors who wisely refuse to themselves finance or insure new nuke plants, and instead insist that taxpayers pick up the tab. President Barack Obama, in fact, has promised the nuclear industry $36 billion for this very purpose in 2011.

These nuclear industry subsidies have been harshly criticized for decades. The bottom line is this: if it came down to risking their own money, nuclear investors would have nothing to do with nuclear reactor technology.

At Three Mile Island Unit One’s licensing hearing way back in November 7, 1973, for instance, Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Herbert Denenberg testified about the $560 million ceiling on insurance payments as mandated by the Price-Anderson Act.

“The plant owners will undoubtedly deny that this capping of benefits and liability represents any real material value to them, or conversely, any real cost to the public,” he said.

“They will point proudly to the fact that no member of the public — as opposed to workers in or associated with the activity of the industry — has been killed, and no catastrophic accidents have occurred, in 17 years of experience with nuclear reactors.

“And they will assert that on the basis of this safety record and their continuing zeal to make reactors uncommonly safe, the public would be foolish to worry about the financial consequences of an accident costing more than $560 million or, for that matter, any major accident at all.


‘If pressed, they will admit that a catastrophic accident is both conceivable and possible.

It will be the general public who must bear the cost.’


“All these arguments by the utilities are irrelevant, of course. The utilities do not take their own assurances about safety seriously enough to place their corporate necks on the line by renouncing their exemption from liability for a catastrophic accident, and in fact, they insist on the continuance of this exemption as a condition of their operating nuclear plants.

“If pressed, they will admit that a catastrophic accident is both conceivable and possible. And if such an accident occurs, the fact is that it will be the general public — and not the utilities and the reactor manufacturers — who must bear the cost.”

So let’s all learn a valuable lesson from the shrewd nuclear investor, and let’s be realistic here: endangering millions of lives; permanently polluting hundreds of square miles with uranium fission by-products; squandering billions of dollars of good money after bad: honestly, what else is government for?

These shrewd investors know that the true life-cycle costs of nuclear plants make them economically unviable.

Which brings us to Rule 3.

Rule 3:         

Be thankful the nuclear power industry is doing its level best to destroy the nuclear power industry. These guys are pros at it.

If nuclear industry executives are not scientists, and if they are not economists, what exactly are they?

Would I lie to you, sugar?


They are public relations and lobbying professionals, bullshit artists and bologna merchants, and, thankfully, highly incompetent ones at that.

Rest assured, the nuclear power industry is doing its level best to destroy the commercial nuclear power industry, and nobody does this better than they do.

Over the decades, the nuclear power industry has built a proven track record for ceaselessly working to destroy itself, without the help of a single anti-nuclear activist.

Rule 4:        

You are the experiment: In the event of a nuclear meltdown, use the opportunity to point out that this catastrophe once again proves the inherent safety of atomic energy.

As I’ve previously noted, the nuclear power industry naturally doesn’t think very much of troublesome nitwits like Galileo, Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Isaac Newton, and their ridiculous, old-fashioned ideas about experimentation, reproducible results, and scientific method.

Which is not to say that scientific data from real-world, full-scale nuclear meltdowns are not being collected.

Mountains of data — some useful, much of it not — have been, and will continue to be, amassed from the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and, now, Fukushima.

The Three Mile Island Experiment: graphic of Unit 2 reactor core damage.


Some five years after the meltdown on Three Mile Island, the damaged Unit 2 reactor was finally cool and clean enough to be popped open, like a festive foie gras in a dead Christmas goose.

Giddy industry representatives got to peer inside, like kids who can’t wait for Christmas, and who wonder what Santa brought.

Much to the surprise and delight of the nuclear industry, half the 150-ton core at Three Mile Island was found to have melted before solidifying into radioactive rubble at the bottom the reactor vessel.

And you probably thought that 150 tons of 5,000 degree F. molten uranium might melt through the stainless steel reactor vessel, burn through the concrete floor of the containment building, and give someone a hot foot on the other side of the planet, didn’t you? (This does however beg the question of whether, in China, the uninformed talk about The Pittsburgh Syndrome.)

The well-paid nuclear industry spin doctors wasted no time, of course, pointing out that this embarrassing melted pile of rubble inside TMI’s Unit 2 reactor was “proof” that nuclear plants are safe.

The scientific problem with using data from these real-world accidents — aside from the ethical problem of using uninformed humans in their homes as guinea pigs — is that these “results” are irreproducible, and therefore unscientific.

We’ll never know, for example, precisely how much coolant water was dumped on the damaged Fukushima reactors and spent fuel pools, and in what controlled circumstances, before and after the terrified reactor operators ran for their lives, and tried to jump over the fence, and so on.

In other words, more bad science.

Perhaps we can one day prove conclusively that large, commercial nuclear reactors will not melt down, but merely fizzle and pop for an extended period of time, as did Unit Two on Three Mile Island. Nevertheless, this is not the sort of knowledge we should acquire from experiments conducted with innocent victims in their backyards.

Speaking of ignorant fools, we now come to Rule 5.

Rule 5:

They’re building a better model fool every year.

The ancient Greeks had a single word for all this. It’s a word for what they believed was the greatest of all human follies: hubris.

Hubris, as we use the word today, implies mere arrogance or pride. But to ancient Greeks, hubris was a legal term and, some say, the greatest single crime one could commit in the ancient Greek world, not unlike our own treason or, in religious societies, blasphemy.

In Greek tragedy, a protagonist who acted with hubris foolishly ignored human limitations and challenged the gods and their rules, inviting ruin and retribution at the hands of vengeful gods like Nemesis.

Agamemnon, for one example, was tempted by ruin with the suggestion that he walk on a divine tapestry.

In other words, as the ancients and Charlie Murphy warn us, keep your dirty feet off God’s white leather sofa, unless you want to get your ass kicked.

That it’s sinkable is unthinkable: Like the White Star Line’s Titanic, the Zeppelin company’s promotions prominently boasted that no passenger had ever been injured on one of their airships.


The oceans and junk yards of the world are littered with Titanics, Hindenburgs, Unit 2 reactors, and the scrap of other infallible machines that their creators boasted could not sink, melt, fall from the sky, or otherwise fail.

To get around this historical fact, nuclear engineers are fond of saying that their machines, in fact, are perfect: it’s the human element, the foolish human operator, they’ll tell you, that’s at fault.

The nuclear industry today boasts that it can, in fact, without any proper scientific experimentation at all, produce a fool-proof machine!

Trouble is, those fools are so damned crafty.

And, as one nuclear regulator worrisomely intimated to me recently, “They’re building a better model fool every year.”

Whether the nuclear industry can successfully build a better fool-proof machine to keep up with this year’s better model fool is any fool’s guess.

Fools have been around a long time, and I’m betting on the fool. Hell, in the United States of America fools control not just one, but two political parties, both houses of Congress, and the judiciary.

So let’s be brutally realistic here. You can’t underestimate the fool.

Even the smart money’s betting on the fool. Why do you think nuclear investors don’t want to risk their own damn money? They’re not fools.

I defer to that celebrated nuclear combat veteran, philosopher, action figure, and low-fat hamburger grill marketer, Mr. T:

I pity the fool.

But it would be foolish of us to blame everything on the fool in the nuclear control room.

Contrary to nuclear industry spin, foolish control room operators were not at fault for the Three Mile Island meltdown. Foolish regulators cooperated with foolish utility executives to operate a foolishly complex, leaking nuclear reactor with faulty components and miscalibrated controls that badly confused the already foolish control room operators.

Which brings us to Rule 6.

Rule 6:

People don’t like or understand atomic energy:
E=MC2 is not a recipe for comfort food

More than 30 years later, my thoughts keep returning to the nuclear worker from Three Mile Island whose hands I watched shake uncontrollably on the morning of the meltdown.

Make no mistake, those control operators were scared. But the nuclear worker I watched that day wasn’t scared for the future of the atomic power industry, his job, or even for his life, as far as I could see.

He trembled with the instinctive fear of having encountered an unknown monster, in an unknown country. His was the fear of the Lilliputian running for his life when Gulliver finally wakes up.

D’oh! Fear of over-sized unknown monsters is the oldest story of the western world. It’s Homer, not just Homer Simpson.


It’s Ray Harryhausen’s 7th Voyage of Sinbad meeting the Cyclops. It’s the oldest story of the western world: The Iliad and The Odyssey. It’s Homer, not just Homer Simpson.

These operators were scared, as people always are, by the unknown, and the unpredictability of the unknown they don’t control.

E=mc2, contrary to popular belief, is not a free lunch. It’s a conversion formula, describing the equivalence of energy to mass, and the resulting enormous energies released from the interaction of very small, invisible particles. Enormous also, in commensurate scale, are the consequences, and our responsibilities.

It’s hard for human beings to grasp Einstein’s dreadful formula on any human scale.

Some nuclear industry proponents foolishly compare atomic energy to garden variety chemical reactions, like fire.

But we humans evolved with fire. The taming and handling of fire, it’s believed, helped to make us human. The use of fire, we’re told, began long ago with our evolutionary ancestors, before we humans even emerged as a species.

Writing in Science magazine in 2009, Professor David Bowman and his collaborators tell us, “The spread of highly flammable savannas, where hominids originated, likely contributed to their eventual mastery of fire. The hominid fossil record suggests that cooked food may have appeared as early as 1.9 (million years ago), although reliable evidence for controlled fire use does not appear in the archaeological record until after 400,000 years ago.”

Think about it. Our use and understanding of fire sets us apart from every other animal on the planet. Every other species on earth naturally fears fire. In a forest fire, animals instinctively run or burrow for their lives. We, on the other hand, jump into forest fires from airplanes.

Imagine the horrible cries of our hairy ape ancestors swinging in the trees when the first one of us picked up a burning stick, and felt its warmth, and watched it burn, and brought it home.

Of course, some of our ancestors burned themselves to a crisp playing with fire, as we still do. As the authors of the above paper caution, “the evolution of adaptations to fire remains a difficult topic to explore because traits that increase the rate of occurrence of fire, or of recovery following burning, are not unambiguously the result of natural selection.”

In other words, I suppose, burning yourself and your home to a crisp may decrease your chance of finding a soul mate.

Still, even to this day, what more could one want for one’s man cave than fire, flame-broiled meat, fire-brewed beer, and a fiery, large-screen tv?

Can the same ever be comfortably said for nuclear fission? Will splitting atoms ever match the gentlemanly art of grilling meat or shooting defenseless animals with a fire stick? I sincerely doubt it.

That’s not to say that some of us haven’t tried to jump the evolutionary gulf by constructing our very own backyard nuclear reactor.

Columbus of the Atom: Dave Hahn, The Radioactive Boy Scout, in police mugshot.


Lest we forget that modern day Columbus of the Atom, Dave Hahn, of suburban Detroit, Michigan, better known as the Radioactive Boy Scout. In the late 1980s Mr. Hahn famously sought an Eagle Scout Badge by building an atomic breeder reactor from tin foil and salvaged radium paint in his mom’s backyard garden shed.

Mr. Hahn’s misadventure reads like the American nuclear industry’s answer to Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward.

Mr. Hahn, posing as a high school science teacher, phoned up the nuclear industry and the NRC, who were only to glad and happy to offer him invaluable advice on achieving an atomic chain reaction in his own backyard. (Refer again to Rule 5: A better model fool, and Rule 3: The nuclear industry needs no help taking care of its own fools.)

Mr. Hahn’s homemade backyard nuclear reactor indeed started to heat up, and soon badly radiated his neighborhood. His face was left permanently pocked with radiation burns.

In the end, Dave Hahn was forced to tear down his backyard nuclear reactor before it went critical, lest he create His Own Private Fukushima. Unfortunately for the evolutionary progress of mankind, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was neither very amused nor supportive, and designated Mr. Hahn’s mom’s backyard a Superfund Cleanup Site.

The point is, and Mr. Hahn’s experiments notwithstanding, we’ve had millennia and more to understand and adjust to fire. Our natural affinity for quotidian chemical reactions like fire has been hard-wired into us by hundreds of thousands of years of evolution.

Not so nuclear energy. Nuclear reactions are largely immune from standard human observations and inhabit a counter-intuitive realm outside our understanding of time and our other natural senses.

Splitting atoms will always be the work of a stranger in a strange land. Our best nuclear physicists understand this, and even use the language of explorers and mystics to announce their mysterious doings.

Enrico Fermi sustained the first atomic chain reaction in 1942. To announce his successful criticality experiment (conducted with Fermi’s trademark meticulous scientific procedure, by the way) one of Fermi’s lieutenants sent a coded message to the chairman of the U.S. National Defense Research Committee:

“The Italian navigator has landed in the New World.”

“How were the natives?” Fermi’s man was asked.

“Very friendly,” came the reply.

We now know that “the natives” simply were pretending to be friendly. In reality, the unstable uranium atoms and their by-products were killing Enrico Fermi.

Fermi died at age 53 of stomach cancer. He developed cancer from radiation poisoning while constructing his large “pile” reactor built from heavy graphite bricks and uranium beneath Stagg Field, the football stadium at the University of Chicago. Several of his assistants would also die of cancer.

Which brings us to Rules 7 and 8:

 

Rule 7:

There are no ‘safe’ levels of radiation.

The best current thinking about the risks of radiation exposure are expressed by what’s called the linear no-threshold model, first expressed decades ago by the late Dr. John Gofman, and later endorsed by groups as varied as the National Academy of Sciences and the United Nations Committee of the Effects of Atomic Radiation, the latter of which reports:

“the Committee believes that an increase in the risk of tumour induction proportionate to the radiation dose is consistent with developing knowledge and that it remains, accordingly, the most scientifically defensible approximation of low-dose response.”

In simple words, no amount of radiation is good for you. This includes natural background radiation.

This makes lots of intuitive sense. We now realize, for example, that tumors and melanomas can be produced from too much exposure to sunshine, and that a breakdown in the earth’s ozone layer can increase this risk.

So the idea that additional man-made radiation is safe is scientifically unsupportable.

So forget about that favorite ploy of the nuclear industry, comparing doses from nuclear meltdowns to dental or chest x-rays, or MRIs. None of it’s good for you.

Take, for another example, the lessons learned from Rule 8:

 

Rule 8:

Theoretical physicists live to a ripe old age, experimental physicists die of radiation poisoning. Ergo, stay away from nuclear accidents.

Albert Einstein checks for coated tongue: Hysteria = e = mc2


Students of history and nuclear physics know that theoretical physicists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, who work with mathematical calculations and who seldom venture near radioactive isotopes, live to ripe old ages.

Experimental physicists, like Marie Curie and Enrico Fermi, on the other hand, who work with the isotopes, have a tendency to die of radiation poisoning and cancer.

The same applies for journalists and landscape oil painters.

Therefore, Sanjay and Anderson, resist the urge to visit the vicinity of a nuclear power plant meltdown. Take it from me: you may get a by-line and a nice story exposing the apparent lies and confusion of the nuclear industry, but you’ll spend years worrying that you may have caused your body real harm.

Is a by-line, a story, or a book worth the risk? No.

 

The bottom line:
What can we predict from the Fukushima Experiment?

Less than three years after Enrico Fermi succeeded in building a nuclear reactor, physicists working on the first atomic bomb detonation in Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, placed wagers among themselves about whether the first nuclear explosion, aptly code-named Trinity, might ignite the earth’s atmosphere or otherwise destroy our planet.

Gambling for their clothes and risking a lethal dose: Alamogordo A-bomb test.


J. Robert Oppenheimer, witnessing the awesome horror we mortals brought in the desert that night, famously quoted the ancient Bhagavad-Gita: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

And so we humans dare play with the fire of stars, and attempt to calculate inscrutable quantum probabilities, while the great mass of us can’t comprehend the simple 2 + 2 addition of balancing a household, or a national budget.

For me, the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, permitted me to revisit and re-examine the wild, rollercoaster ride of emotions and perceptions I experienced during my own hometown’s nuclear disaster in 1979. I was able to see that my own response and impressions to a nuclear meltdown are universal and natural, and not held by myself alone, or other immediate victims.

Some of the similarities of both nuclear accidents are obvious: the utility executives who seem clueless about what’s going on inside the reactor and who seem unable to provide reliable information to the public or to speak truthfully about it; the government officials who seem equally clueless about what’s going on in the reactor and who send equally mixed signals; and the spectrum of equally posturing talking heads in the media who alternatively predict Armageddon, and then offer the incident as proof that nuclear energy is safe and friendly.

As we see with the ongoing Fukushima incident, a nuclear accident causes the whole planet to go wild with hysteria, not unlike our ancestors must’ve screeched from the trees when one of us first stepped up to a burning stick to curiously stare and wonder at the warmth of its blaze.

It seems to me that all humanity is in the same uneasy predicament I found myself contemplating on the morning of the Three Mile Island accident, when I had to decide in a split second whether to run, or to turn back to face an unknown monster. In so turning, I suppose, we not only confront our feeble humanity, we’re charting our destiny by the stars.

We have no choice but to turn and plant our foot firmly in the path of the horrible thing, and resolve to carefully try to understand it, and truthfully try to explain it to others.

That’s what made us, and makes us, human beings.

A simple uneasy truth remains: when a nuclear reactor melts, we find ourselves in the same unknown country of Fermi, Oppenheimer, and their associates, and the horrified control room operators at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants.

There is one haunting fact that is as accurate today as it was on July 16, 1945, when scientists lay in the sand of Alamogordo, New Mexico, protecting their eyes, awaiting the results of the first nuclear bomb test.

No one knows what will happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Keisling is the author of two books on the Three Mile Island accident, and one book on solar energy. He covered the Three Mile Island accident for Rolling Stone, The Progressive, and Harrisburg magazines.

 


 

Additional notes and references:

1. The Atomic Energy Commission, by Corbin Allardice and Edward Trapnell, Praeger Publishers, 1974, page 32 and pages 163-168.

2. We Almost Lost Detroit, by John Fuller, Reader’s Digest Press, 1975, page 9.

3. The Atomic Energy Commission, by Corbin Allardice and Edward Trapnell, Praeger Publishers, 1974, page 32 and pages 44-77.

4. The Accident Hazards of Nuclear Power Plants, by Richard Webb, The University of Massachusetts Press, 1976, pages 187-189.

5. Nuclear Power: The Bargain We Can’t Afford, by Richard Morgan, Environmental Action Foundation, 1977, Chapter 5, Hidden Costs.

6. We Almost Lost Detroit, by John Fuller, Reader’s Digest Press, 1975, pages 57-61.

7. Nuclear Power: The Bargain We Can’t Afford, by Richard Morgan, Environmental Action Foundation, 1977, page 38.

8. The Blair Press, Blair, Pennsylvania, April 25, 1979, page 13.

9. We Almost Lost Detroit, by John Fuller, Reader’s Digest Press, 1975, pages 104-115.

10. We Almost Lost Detroit, by John Fuller, Reader’s Digest Press, 1975, pages 159-164.

11. The Accident Hazards of Nuclear Power Plants, by Richard Webb, The University of Massachusetts Press, 1976, pages 66-73.

12. Nuclear Power: Both Sides, the best arguments for and against the most controversial technology, by Michio Kaku and Jennifer Trainer, W.W. Norton & Co., 1982, page 21.

13. The Accident Hazards of Nuclear Power Plants, by Richard Webb, The University of Massachusetts Press, 1976, pages 66-73.

14. Einstein: Profile of the Man, by Peter Michelmore, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1962, pages 8-11; see also, Einstein, by Hilaire Cuny, Paul S. Eriksson, Inc., 1962, pages 81-84.

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Jerry Taylor/Cato at Forbes: "Nuclear power quite simply doesn’t make economic sense."

April 7th, 2011 No comments

I’m a fan of Jerry Taylor, an even-handed, level-headed guy working out of the Cato Institute who sometimes almost (but not quite) comes across as a radical envirofascist. (My earlier posts referencing him are here.)

Jerry’s Cato bio says he “is among the most widely cited and influential critics of federal energy and environmental policy in the nation … a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal and National Review and appears regularly on CNBC, NPR, Bloomberg Radio, the BBC, and Fox News. His op-eds on public policy have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and most other major dailies.’

Jerry and his collegaue Peter Van Doren have a new piece out at Forbes.com and Cato Institute on nuclear power; Jerry has kindly given me permission to cross-post it in its entirety here.

[Just added: Allow me to I note that Taylor has really only scratched the surface of the problems relating to nuclear power. For example, far from governments simply shifting the risks of nuclear power cost over-runs to ratepayers and taxpayers, this incentive structure actually compounds financial risks, as the contractors do not have to bear the amount of cost over-runs, and the utilities can put their hands into the pockets of others.

[Taylor also does not address the further subsidies provided in the form of Federal liability caps and by “limited liability” state corporation laws that leave shareholders without ANY liability for damages that nuclear accidents may cause others – as has now materialized in Japan. Just as we have seen in our financial sector, the result of these government interventions is a loss of personal “skin in the game”, a concomitant reduction in critical oversight, unleashed moral hazard, poor decision-making and then hand-wringing and blame-shifting when the “black swans” come home to roost. 

[Nuclear crony capitalism is just the tip of the iceberg of the vast, rotten and still metastasizing crony-capitalist mess that limited liability corporation laws have engendered: Beyond ‘Nuclear Crony Capitalism’: Does state-created corporations mean we are stuck with a wonderfully confused ‘capitalist’ mess of socialized risk?]

This is how the Taylor and Van Doren piece appears at Cato (emphasis added)

Nuclear Power in the Dock

by Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren

This article appeared on Forbes.com on April 5, 2011.  [TT: Here’s the Forbes link.]

The unfolding nuclear emergency in Japan has prompted a reconsideration of nuclear power here in the United States. Surprisingly, the political faith in nuclear power appears to be relatively unshaken at the moment, with opinion leaders on both the left and right cautioning against overreaction and politicians in both parties swearing continued fealty to the federal campaign to jump-start new construction orders.

This is unfortunate — not necessarily because nuclear power plants are a catastrophic meltdown waiting to happen — but because nuclear power makes no sense from an economic perspective and the political campaign to ram these plants down the market’s throat threatens catastrophic harm to both taxpayers and ratepayers.

The fact that nuclear power can’t come within light-years of passing a market test is painfully obvious to all who wish to see. Consider the feds are presently telling banks that if they loan money to a utility company to build a nuclear power plant and the loan subsequently goes bad, the U.S. Treasury (that is, you) will compensate the bank for up to 90% of its losses. And yet the banks still refuse to loan. For principled supporters of a free market, that should be information enough about the merits of this commercial enterprise.

There are all sorts of reasons why banks are saying “no” to nuclear. Two in particular, however, stand out.

First, nuclear energy is not even remotely competitive in power markets with gas-fired or coal-fired electricity now or in the foreseeable future. Even the more optimistic projections of new nuclear power plant costs — such as those forwarded by MIT — find that nuclear’s production costs over the lifetime of a new facility are about 30% above those for coal or natural gas-fired generators. So while we can only speculate about new plant construction costs (we haven’t tried building one for more than 30 years) and estimates vary a great deal, all parties agree on one thing: Nuclear is substantially more expensive than conventional alternatives at present.

That’s particularly the case when one figures in the revolution in natural gas extraction, which has significantly lowered the cost of gas-fired power. Exelon CEO John Rowe recently told the press that natural gas would have to cost more than $9 per million BTUs before nuclear power plants could compete — about double its current price and far north of the $5.3 per million BTU price over the next 5 to 10 years that forecasters predict for the future. MIT’s nuclear energy study, by comparison, projects a $7 per million BTU natural gas price (which makes nuclear energy seem more competitive than it actually is), but of course, the MIT study was based on 2007 data that failed to fully reflect the revolutionary advances in hydraulic fracking.

It’s worth noting, moreover, that nuclear’s hefty price tag would be even heftier if government subsidies were to fall by the wayside. One economist calculates that existing nuclear subsidies are equal to one-third or more of the value of the power produced. Tufts economist Gilbert Metcalf estimates that nuclear power plant operators face a negative 49% tax rate. Hence, banks betting on nuclear power are also betting on the longevity of such breathtaking taxpayer largesse — a risky bet indeed.

Second, the risk of cost overruns and, thus, defaulted loans are higher than the politicians would have us believe. Most of the nuclear power plants built in this country have cost three times as much to build as utilities initially advertised at the onset of construction.

While the industry swears that this is a thing of the past, new power plants being built in Finland and France by Teollisuuden Voima and Electricite de France, respectively — the only nuclear power plants being built right now in free-market energy economies — are already coming far above their advertised cost. The Finnish plant — which was supposed to cost only 3 billion euros — is already 2.7 billion euros above cost and is four years behind schedule. The French plant fairing a bit better, only 1 billion euros over budget and two years behind schedule.

The fact that both of these projects deploy state-of-the-art reactors built by French nuclear giant Areva — arguably the most experienced nuclear power company in the world — speaks volumes. Accordingly, both the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office expect about 50% of any future U.S. loans to default.

So why are utilities trying to build these things in the first place? Well, most aren’t. Those few utilities that are interested in going ahead do business in states where construction costs are automatically plugged into the rate base. So in theory at least, risks would be transferred from the utility to the ratepayer with utilities at least guaranteed to break even. Even so, the increasing cost gap between nuclear and gas-fired power makes it unclear whether any of these generators will actually get built.

As Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and former chair of the New York and Maine utility regulatory commissions, puts it, “In truth, the nuclear renaissance has always consisted of the number of plants that government was willing to build.” Regardless, federal attempts to jump-start the industry — as Herculean as they have been — haven’t come even close to closing the competitive gap with gas-fired generation. Events unfolding in Japan are unlikely to change that. And for that, at least, we can all be thankful.

Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren are senior fellows at the Cato Institute.

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A guest blogger on 'black swans' and Japan: tsunamis of bad news and ill winds for the US?

April 6th, 2011 No comments

Via an email from “OathKeepers”, I’ve just come across an interesting essay by one Brandon Smith (blogging as “Giordano Bruno”). Smith is the head writer and co-founder of neithercorp.us, a website which “specializes in alternative macroeconomic analysis as well as studies in mainstream media disinformation.” His articles are featured regularly at Infowars.com, Oathkeepers.org, Zerohedge.com, survivalblog.com, and G. Edward Griffin’s realityzone.com. Smith describes himself as :

a staunch Constitutionalist, free market champion, and proponent of sound money. In 2011, he is launching his new Alternative Market program in tandem with Stewart Rhodes of Oathkeepers with the aim of building gold, silver, and barter based systems in towns and cities across the country that will allow average Americans to finally take a lead role in the movement against globalism, providing for themselves what the current corrupt fiat system does not.

Supporting true, tangible community, enacting State sovereignty legislation, and promoting solid, decentralized local economies will be Brandon Smith’s primary focus in the foreseeable future

Here is the first part of a fairly long essay which I excerpt because of its connection to Japan; the rest of the essay is here. (The emphasis added is mine.). I note that while I find the content interesting, this cross-posting is not an endorsement.

Migration Of The Black Swans

By Giordano Bruno

Neithercorp Press – 3/31/2011

The phrase “Black Swan” is really making the rounds these last few months. Uttering the term a year ago would have earned you a collection of confused looks and a general attitude of disinterest. Now, people behave as if they had learned about economic shockwave events and the global domino effect when they were in kindergarten. The problem is that when this kind of terminology hits the mainstream, in most cases it comes prepackaged with dumbed down and diluted definitions which promote an inadequate, cartoonish understanding of the circumstances.

To be sure, most Americans are well aware that the world’s political and economic foundations are about as stable as fresh pudding under a heat lamp. The problem is that they are now being conditioned by the mainstream media to view the idea of collapse as “cinematic”; a kind of live action fantasy in which we all get to play the part of the audience, watching safely from the dark in our cushy theater seats with a bag of overpriced popcorn, Dolby surround sound, and a hot date to keep us company during the boring parts. Three years ago, even mentioning the idea of a breakdown in society or a financial catastrophe beyond a minor recession earned you the label of “doom monger”; a rather inept and naïve attempt on the part of the MSM to silence any economic analysis that stepped outside the establishment Keynesian framework. Today, I turn around to look at a magazine stand at the airport and right in front of me is Newsweek openly declaring “Apocalypse Now”!

Is the mainstream finally catching up to the alternative media? No. The MSM is merely adopting pieces of our common language and twisting them to fit a more globalist friendly viewpoint. Because our readership is growing exponentially, and our traffic is skyrocketing while corporatized news sources are floundering, the MSM is losing its ability to obscure our fact based journalism with their over funded and highly sterilized adaptation of reality. So instead, they attempt to co-opt our particular vocabulary, and our news focus, while adding their own subtle spin and sensationalism. When people not familiar with the alternative media and the more in-depth information we provide talk about a “Black Swan event”, a depression, hyperinflation, etc., their concept of the implications of such disasters is far different than ours. They are living in the Disney version of financial and social Armageddon.

Of course, when the curtains raise, the previews are over, and the show begins, none of us will be lounging comfortably outside these calamities to simply watch. We will all be inexorably involved, whether we like it or not. So, carry on with the media war we must. Educating the masses on the ENTIRE story behind international events and their consequences continues to stand as a top priority, until that final straw caves the camel’s back and disseminating the truth becomes a needless exercise in pointing out the horrifyingly obvious.

First, let’s examine the veiled reverberations of recent “Black Swan” events, the wider view of the chain that ties them together, as well as what we should expect in the near future in the wake of their aftermath…

Fukushima Mon Amour

If I could choose only one tragedy to be categorized as a textbook example of a Black Swan, it is the earthquake and subsequent tsunami off the coast of northern Japan which led to the current and precarious meltdown of the nuclear reactors at Fukushima. Now, the immediate concerns of Western nations, especially citizens of the U.S., have automatically turned to the threat of radioactive fallout traveling across the Pacific. Unfortunately, radioactivity is the least of our troubles in the face of Japanese nuclear core exposure. Again, Japan is currently the number three economy in the world, and the effects of the Fukushima incident have contributed to the possibility of a full spectrum crisis.

First, we must always keep in mind that incidents in areas like Japan or the Middle East are NOT the direct cause of global economic or social turmoil; they are only trigger points for an avalanche that has been building for the past three to four years. If Fukushima had occurred in 2007, international markets would have easily absorbed the blow, but today, economies everywhere have been so weakened by the implosion of the banker created derivatives bubble and the inflationary fiat measures of private organizations like the Federal Reserve that they no longer have the capacity to shield themselves from unexpected catastrophes. Big banks have been playing a massive game of Jenga with the global economy, pulling one support after another until the whole construct begins to sway and tremble. One gust of wind, one tremor, one wrong move, and the whole thing comes crashing down. If you want to place blame for the chaos we are about to see in the aftermath of Fukushima, be sure to place it where it belongs; on the doorstep of corporate monstrosities like the Fed, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, HSBC, etc.

Second, Japan’s official debt to GDP ratio now stands at 225%, way above the limit usually attributed to a country on the verge of complete debt destruction. The cost of rebuilding the areas damaged by the tsunami alone is estimated at around $300 billion. My primary concern in light of Japanese instability, though, is the severe weakening of their export markets. Japan is almost entirely reliant on its export capacity to support its ailing economy, meaning they are dependent on other countries to continually purchase their goods. However, in 2008, Japanese exports were pummeled, and have not improved anywhere near levels reached previous to the credit collapse, at least according to initial numbers for 2010:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-24/japan-export-growth-slows-more-than-forecast-as-economy-loses-trade-boost.html

The earthquake and nuclear meltdown of 2011 have sealed Japan’s fate. It could take ten, twenty, even thirty years for them to recuperate from this setback. Manufacturing in the Asian nation has already deteriorated at the fastest pace in nearly a decade:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-30/japan-manufacturing-shrinks-most-since-2009-in-first-sign-of-quake-impact.html

Japanese food exports are being shunned by international markets for fear of radioactive contamination. Prime Minister Naoto Khan [ed. : should be “Kan”] is now pleading with the WTO to urge its members to avoid curbing imports of Japanese goods, claiming that the government is on top of the Fukushima situation:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/30/us-japan-quake-idUSTRE72A0SS20110330

This hardly appears to be the case though. Reports of radioactive iodine 10,000 times safe levels in the water table below Fukushima have surfaced; reports which the Tokyo Electric Power Company is now vaguely stating “may be incorrect”:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-31/japan-reviewing-water-tests-showing-iodine-at-10-000-times-limit.html

The secrecy surrounding Japan’s nuclear meltdown is highly disconcerting and reminiscent of the Chernobyl incident in 1986, which the Soviet Union also refused to report honestly. Nearby cities were completely uninformed as to the true danger of the meltdown, and the international community was without a clue as to the extent of the radiation until Sweden, nearly seven hundred miles away, discovered radioactive particulates in its atmosphere. The problem with a containment breach in a nuclear plant is that it releases a steady stream of radioactive materials into the environment until the plant is finally buried under tons of concrete, lead, boric acid, and sand, as opposed to a nuclear weapon, which detonates, irradiating surrounding particles, which then dissipate after around two weeks. Fukushima, if left uncontained, could spew radioactivity for decades. The Japanese government does not seem to be providing forthright information about the real jeopardy involved.

Of course, if they were forthright, there would certainly be alarm amongst the citizenry, but even more so, a flight of investment dollars from Japanese industry and stocks. The only equity in Japan which seems to be attracting investment is the Yen itself, which skyrocketed against the U.S. dollar at the onset of the crisis:

http://www.rttnews.com/ArticleView.aspx?Id=1577203

The Yen has climbed steadily against the dollar since the early 1970’s, from 300 yen per dollar, to only 80 yen per dollar after Fukushima. I find it interesting that now, during times of financial uncertainty, global investors would rather pour their savings into the currency of a country that is about to be radioactive, rather than put their savings into the U.S. Greenback! What does that tell you about the level of trust the world currently has in our currency?

Being that Japan is a dedicated export economy, the higher the Yen goes, the more strenuous the exchange rate, and the less other countries will buy from them. G7 nations have since attempted to artificially knock down the rise of the Yen, but their efforts have yielded little success. The Yen still stands at around 83 per dollar. Hardly an improvement that will make Japanese exports more viable.

So, where is this all leading…? High speed deflationary depression for Japan. But that’s not all! The ASEAN trading bloc, led by China and fueled by the rising Yuan, has been pushing Japan to join the fold for years. Japan has been less than receptive to the proposition for numerous cultural, political, and financial reasons. But now, with the complete downfall of the country underway, and their export capability crumbling, Japan may go begging to join ASEAN. Already, ASEAN is beginning to offer help in Japan’s rebuilding process:

http://ph.news.yahoo.com/asean-benefit-japan-reconstruction-20110329-054529-485.html

What does this mean for the U.S.? It means the Japanese will likely begin a progressive dump of their vast reserves of U.S. Treasuries and dollars, replacing them with Yuan bonds. Its means a severe devaluation of the dollar in the near future along with the possible end to its World Reserve Currency status. It means hyperinflation in America. This is the true nature of a Black Swan event. It is not a single incident, but a chain reaction that spreads like cancer through an economic system, leading to broader misfortune than anyone dared imagine.

Once Upon A Time In The Middle East

The effects of the revolutionary fervor in the land of OPEC are a bit more obvious than those caused by Japan, at least, for the most part. Crude oil is now climbing towards $107 per barrel at the publishing of this piece. World markets are swinging wildly like a cheap carnival ride. Political alliances (especially between the U.S. and its primary oil suppliers) are becoming strained. The dollar’s peg to oil is now under threat. But this is really no surprise. As we have discussed in past articles, it is exactly what happened to the British Empire in the early 1950’s when it attempted to strong arm Middle Eastern governments and maintain the oil trade under the Pound Sterling. Eventually, the British became embroiled in Arab conflicts and revolts they could not possibly untangle, and their main debt holders (one of which was the United States) threatened to dump British Treasuries and the pound sterling as the world reserve currency. Sound familiar….?

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For the disastrous failure of ‘Disaster Memory’ at Fukushima, we must thank – surprise! – nuclear crony capitalism

April 5th, 2011 No comments

Science reporter Andrew Revkin, writing at NYT’s Dot Earth blog, can’t seem to get his head around the complete failure of Tokyo Electric, its suppliers (GE, Westinghouse, Hitachi etc.) and the Japanese government to consider the possibility that large tsunamis might hit the Fukushima coast  history: (emphasis added).

‘Disaster Memory’ and the Flooding of Fukushima

Over the weekend, I mused on a question that’s bothered me since I read Roger Bilham’s report on the great earthquake and tsunami of March 11: Given the history of devastating tsunamis not far away, how could it have taken until 2006 for the word “tsunami” to show up in government guidelines related to the  Fukushima nuclear complex? (For instance, in 1933 a tsunami more than 90 feet high  erased coastal villages along part of the same stretch of  Honshu coast devastated on March 11.)

Revkin quotes from geologist Roger Bilham:

In hindsight it appears impossible to believe that nuclear power stations were located on a shoreline without recognizing the engineering difficulties attending prolonged immersion by a large tsunami. In 1896 a 33-meter high tsunami drowned the Sanriku coastline 200 kilometers to the north of Fukushima. A 23-meter wave surged on the same coast in 1933, and in 1993 a 30-meters wave swept over Okushira Island.

But to me, the puzzlement itself seems puzzling. I sent Andy the following tweet (emphasis added)

[email protected] Andy,as I emailed b4,there was so little ‘Disaster Memory’ at simply bc Govt absolved all from personal responsibility

Which I followed with this comment to his blog post: (emphasis added)

Andy,

This really is not so hard. The problems at Fukushima are just the latest manifestation of poor decision-making, resulting from pervasive, institutionalized risk-shifting, brought to us by LEAVE IT TO US, WE’LL HELP YOU! governments. The snowballing rot started with the creation by government of that form of human association known as ‘corporations’, whose shareholders are freed from any liability for the harm that corporate acts may cause others. That lack of personal liability eliminated a need to closely monitor risks, managers and employees.

Injured citizens have insisted that governments step into the breach, but bureaucrats and politicians are oddly susceptible to influence from those firms whose profits and competitive advantages may depend on government regulation.

Beyond ‘Nuclear Crony Capitalism’: Does state-created corporations mean we are stuck with a wonderfully confused ‘capitalist’ mess of socialized risk? – TT’s Lost in Tokyo http://bit.ly/gFfDlQ

“Rational Optimist” Matt Ridley blasts Japan’s “Nuclear Crony Capitalism,” fails to examine limited liability corps http://bit.ly/eCBbvW

Institutionalized moral hazard: Fun with Nuclear Power in Japan, or, prepare for a glowing twilight, with scattered fallout in the morning – TT’s Lost in Tokyo http://bit.ly/hvvWHU

Risk-Shifting,BP +now #Fukushima:Cliff Notes version of my stilted envirofascist view of corps+govt -TT’s Lost in Tokyo http://bit.ly/9oBkC7

Tom


http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/default.aspx
http://twitter.com/Tokyo_Tom
https://www.google.com/profiles/TokyoTomSr

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman

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Interview with Takashi Uesugi, truth-telling former NYT journalist now hated and frozen out by TEPCO, Japanese government and MSM

April 3rd, 2011 No comments

With permission from the bilingual online journal Time Out Tokyo, I bring to you in its entirety an interview by their reporter James Hadfield with Japanese freelance journalist Takahashi Uesugi, a critic of the Japanese news reporting establishment who now is lancing some of the lies and half-truths coming from TEPCO and the Japanese government with respect to the Fukushima nuclear reactors. (The bolding is mine.)

Uesugi tweets at @uesugitakashi; his home page is uesugitakashi.com

Takashi Uesugi: The Interview; Time Out meets the journalist who TEPCO love to hate

 

In the immediate aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese media stayed remarkably calm. While overseas news outlets fretted about nuclear meltdown and terrified expats stranded in a ‘City of Ghosts’, their Japanese counterparts generally hewed closer to the official line: stay calm, go about your business as usual. And, yes, you can still drink the tap water.

But that was only part of the picture. While the mainstream media presented a reasonably united front, a group of freelance and internet journalists were openly dissatisfied with the explanations being given at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s seemingly endless stream of press conferences. Why wasn’t the company mentioning levels of plutonium around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant? What had happened to TEPCO’s president, Masataka Shimizu – last seen on March 13?

One of the most influential members of this group of dissenters is Takashi Uesugi, a former New York Times journalist and, in an earlier incarnation, aide to Liberal Democratic Party bigwig Kunio Hatoyama. The author of books including The Collapse of Journalism [TT: in Japanese; an English discussion is here. Uesugi lists his books here], Uesugi is a vociferous critic of Japan’s ‘Kisha Club’ system – a network of exclusive press clubs that, he says, nurtures excessively close relationships between reporters and the organisations they are supposed to cover.

Gadfly to some, hero to others, Uesugi is a much-sought commentator. He makes weekly appearances on Tokyo FM and Asahi Newstar, and is a regular contributor to the Diamond Weekly business website, along with various weekly tabloids. However, he’s most prolific on his own website and via Twitter, where he commands a following of 177,000 and counting. One place place he won’t be appearing any more is TBS Radio, who booted Uesugi from his regular weekly guest slot this month (more on that later).

Time Out caught up with Uesugi last Monday, during a brief lull between press conferences at the TEPCO head office in Shimbashi. We’d gone expecting to have a nice chat about tweets and microsieverts, but smalltalk apparently wasn’t an option. What followed was a eye-opening, if occasionally paranoid tirade against TEPCO, the government and the mass media, delivered in rapid-fire Japanese.

Obviously a lot has happened over the past couple of weeks, but what are the main things you’ve learned?

Basically, something that I knew from the beginning, but has become more blatant yesterday and today [March 27-28], is this terrible situation where the government and TEPCO are suppressing information. To be more specific, I thought it was strange that there was nothing written about plutonium when the data about reactor 3 was given out at the TEPCO press conference on the 27th, so I asked them if it was true that no plutonium had been detected in reactor 3, and for how long it had not been detected. TEPCO answered: ‘Plutonium hasn’t been detected.’ To confirm what they were saying I asked if perhaps it wasn’t that none had been detected, but that they hadn’t actually taken any measurements. They were alarmed, and it turned out that it wasn’t even that they hadn’t taken any measurements, but that they didn’t have the instruments to do so in the first place.

That’s one example. Another is the question of where exactly has the TEPCO company president gone? There was a rumour doing the rounds a while ago that he had been hospitalised, when actually he had been away because of fatigue. This time they’re using the pretence of hospitalisation for the same situation. All of it’s lies. It’s emblematic, isn’t it? [Note: TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu was hospitalised on March 29, and subsequently resigned.]

Two weeks ago I told someone in the government that TEPCO was lying. I called a friend from back when I was a governmental aide directly on their mobile phone and said that the government was being deceived, but I didn’t get any response at all. On top of that, even though I was able to attend the Chief Cabinet Secretary’s press conferences before the earthquake, after the quake, all the freelance journalists, foreign media and Internet reporters were kicked out. So I took on the role of representative for those media outlets, and tried to negotiate by constantly badgering the official residence – like a stalker – saying, ‘If you don’t let in the foreign media too, there won’t be any way for information to be conveyed abroad, will there?’

Ever since the [nuclear] trouble started, I’ve been saying again and again via the different media and radio programs that I appear on that TEPCO are concealing things about the accident, that they’re lying, and that the government is being fooled. I’ve been saying that TEPCO is a client of the media and the press clubs, being one of their biggest advertisers – so the press won’t be able to say certain things, and will be holding back, won’t they? But then, at the end of one of the programs, the producer came to me and asked me to stop doing the show at the end of the month, and I was dropped. When I criticized TEPCO on a different program, they also wanted to get rid of me. But the producer of that particular program is a strong person, and actually went ahead and did it without a sponsor.

TEPCO are such an important advertiser that the television and newspapers are completely silent. Even now, they’re running TEPCO commercials on the television, aren’t they? This week, there are also full-page advertisements in the newspaper. Despite the fact that they’ve caused such a scandal, TEPCO are still putting ads in the newspaper. If they have such enormous sums of money, they should send it to the areas hit by the disaster.

It’s like the false announcements made by the Imperial General Headquarters 70 years ago [during World War II] are happening all over again. I’m shocked that something I’ve seen in history textbooks, and had thought was completely implausible, is happening right before my eyes. I never thought that I’d become a party to anything like this. [Laughs]

 

Have you been following reports in the foreign media, then?

Yes, all the time.

Would you say that they’ve been overdoing it?

No, I wouldn’t, because the foreign media was just reporting what was possible. I think the correct way to report about the events at the nuclear power plant is to assume the worst case and write about it, and then also add what the current situation is in relation to that. Newspapers and television shouldn’t say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s safe. You don’t need to run away,’ like Japan’s have. There’s absolutely no problem with the way the foreign media has covered this news. It’s not fanning people’s fears if we report by saying it’s possible for things to reach such and such a point, but at the moment the situation is like this, so you don’t need to worry. There’s also nothing wrong with the foreign media referring to the examples of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. After clarifying the source, I have also talked about those kinds of things in my email newsletter and in my regular reports for websites, as well as on radio shows and satellite TV programs where I’m a regular guest. Except recently, the more I talk about those topics, the more complaints I get after the program has finished – in incredible numbers. People say things like, ‘Don’t lie!’ or ‘It’s safe!’ But they’ve got no grounds to say that. Japanese people want to believe that it’s safe, don’t they? They just don’t want to look at how things really are. It’s like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

We’ve read a lot of opinions from scientists recently, and the majority of them seem to fall in line with what the government’s saying: that this isn’t another Chernobyl, and Tokyo isn’t at risk from radiation…

That’s because at the moment, any scientists who say that the current situation is dangerous are being removed from the mass media. Ultimately, the most dangerous situation is one where the only information available is what suits the government and TEPCO. From the outset, the mass media haven’t been using the people who are reporting that the worst possible outcome could happen. And yet the evacuation area was changed from 2km to 3km, and then to 10km, and to 20km, and finally to 30km. America has specified a 50 mile (80km) evacuation zone, but Japanese people still say that things are OK as they are…

Then the next week I said [to Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano], ‘You were wrong, weren’t you? Radioactive material has been found in the area outside the 30km line, and even though you said radioactive material would never reach Tokyo, it has, hasn’t it? The government is responsible for the consequences of what it says so you should make a proper apology. Correct your mistakes.’ He replied, ‘That is not the case.’ When I said that, far from being within the 30km radius, radioactive material was found 40km away, and that he should correct the mistake, he told me to ‘Submit that properly in writing.’ I asked a question in the middle of a press conference, and he actually told me to put it on paper. [Laughs] At that point I just couldn’t believe it any more. It’s the first time that has ever happened to me – to be asked to submit a question in writing in the middle of actually asking it. Basically, it’s hopeless, isn’t it? Something in the minds of the government has burst.

When The New Yorker interviewed you recently, you talked about how the Japanese public were ‘brainwashed’ by the media. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

From a young age Japanese people become convinced that newspapers and the television are correct, and that magazines and the Internet are full of lies. But the information in the newspapers and on the television is just what the government is giving out through the press clubs. Even if it’s different from the information and data that reporters have gathered themselves, they just accept what the government announces. So the people here who think that the newspapers and television are right always believe the information given to them, and it’s why the same kind of brainwashing is happening now too. But one thing that’s a little different from how things have been up until now is that people, mostly the younger generation, are starting to realise what’s going on, and using the Internet to say, ‘Hang on, there’s something that’s not right, isn’t there?’ Even my Twitter timeline has been incredible since this morning, with messages like, ‘What the newspapers and television are saying is not the truth!’ It’s just like Egypt and Tunisia. That’s where we can clearly see changes happening.

Interview by James Hadfield
Translated by Virginia Okno

上杉隆
1968年福岡県生まれ。都留文科大学卒業。テレビ局・衆議院公設秘書・「ニューヨークタイムズ」東京支局取材記者などを経て、フリージャーナリストに。政治・メディア・ゴルフなどをテーマに活躍中。自由報道協会(仮)暫定代表。最新の著書は2011年3月に発売された『ウィキリークス以後の日本 – 自由報道協会(仮)とメディア革命 – 』(光文社新書)

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Beyond ‘Nuclear Crony Capitalism’: Does state-created corporations mean we are stuck with a wonderfully confused ‘capitalist’ mess of socialized risk?

March 31st, 2011 No comments

Last night I was Sleepless in Tokyo because Matt Ridley and one of his commenters rewarded, with nice words and questions, a comment I left there on his “Nuclear Crony Capitalism” post.

So naturally I wrote more.

Here’s the relevant comment thread, plus my excited scribblings at the bottom (now up; thanks, Matt!). Skip to the bottom if you’re in a rush:

Posted by, TokyoTom (not verified)

Matt, great post — but I think you’ve only barely scratched the surface on the ‘crony capitalism’ institutionalization of risk.

I’ve spent a bit of time delving into this at my blog that Ludwig von Mises Inst kindly hosts:

– Sorry, but I can’t resist asking: Feel Sorry for Tokyo Electric Power Co?, http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/2011/03/27/39-resist-feel-tokyo-electric-power/, a tribute to Lew Rockwell’s ‘Feel Sorry for BP?’)

– Institutionalized moral hazard: Fun with Nuclear Power in Japan, or, prepare for a glowing twilight, with scattered fallout in the morning:  http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/2011/03/26/institutionalized-moral-hazard-fun-nuclear-power-japan-prepare-glowing-twilight-scattered-fallout-morning/

– My posts exploring the ramifications of the state grant of ‘limited liability’ corporation status: http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/?s=limited+liability

 – The case of BP: http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/?s=BP+gulf

 – Not surprisingly, similar issues arise with respect to the rest of the Govt-licensed energy sector and climate: http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/?s=climate+liability

 Thus small things contribute to the Road to Serfdom: http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/2011/03/27/rot-core-prophetic-words-hayek-grim-threat-posed-erosion-quot-market-morals-quot/ and http://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/?s=prophetic+words+from+hayek+grim+threat

I hope you’ll take your concern for nuclear crony capitalism even further.

TT

Wednesday 30th March 2011 – 04:39am

 

Posted by, Matt Ridley

Tom,

very interesting. Thanks. will follow up.

Matt

Wednesday 30th March 2011 – 04:54am

 

Posted by, Robin Guenier (not verified)

Matt:

This is an intriguing post …. If one agrees (and I do) that the moral hazard enjoyed by financial institutions is deplorable, then logically it’s impossible not to take the same view of crony capitalism and nuclear power. And, as j ferguson and Tom have pointed out, it doesn’t end there. For example, I’ve been involved with the UK defence industry and recently with the appalling NHS computer system – in both cases, I’ve seen huge overruns and vast sums wasted. Classic examples, I suggest, of “government and capitalists colluding against the market”: neither the government nor its suppliers are penalised; all the pain is passed onto the public. And, if that is unacceptable – and surely it is – it’s hard to dispute Tom’s conclusion that the state grant of limited liability may be the problem: “one of the key roots of snowballing corporate statism”.

And yet … and yet: the industrial revolution and the huge benefits it has provided to society were built on the foundation of limited liability. Moreover, many major projects that would not have been implemented without an alliance between capitalists and government have turned out to be widely beneficial despite seemingly inevitable delays and cost overruns.

Is there a distinction to be drawn and, if so, where?

Robin

Wednesday 30th March 2011 – 07:32am

 

Posted by, Matt Ridley

Robin,

Yes. I agree with both points you make and see what you mean about limited liability’s role and the importance of govt-driven infrastructure. Compulsory purchase for railways and canals springs to mind: easier in Birtain than in France.

Not quite on the same lines, but sometimes I get criticised for being too hard on government and I reply that if Carnegie and Rockefeller and Maxwell were bad, then they weren’t half as bad as Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot.

I hope to get time to dig further into this issue.

Matt

Wednesday 30th March 2011 – 10:59am

My follow-up thoughts (readers may be disappointed that I haven’t loaded this down to cross-references to relevant posts from this blog):

Robin, your statement that “the industrial revolution and the huge benefits it has provided to society were built on the foundation of limited liablity” is a statement of fact – not one necessarily of causation – but so has been our financial house of cards: banks are corporations, shareholders have limited liability (and megabanks are public cos in which shareholders are even further removed from oversight), and depositors are insured by Uncle Same. As a result, depositors don’t bother to check out what a crapload of risk that traders and execs are piling on in order to get bonuses, and Uncle Sam and his legions of wizards set up regulations that the smart boys at Goldman and lawyers figure out how to finesse to load up ever more risk at the lowest possible capital – BANG! And all thanks to the wonders of institutionalized misincentives!

Sure, we got wonderful things from complex organizations, all of which remain in check somewhat by competitions. But there’s been a lot of abuse, alot of risk-shifting, alot of Superfund sites, alot of barriers to entry raised by the very regulations whose purported intent is to rein in the bad behavior, massive statism, and a ball and chain of costly and intrusive IP legislation and enforcement.

I’ve given a very short summary of the dynamics at this post but it’s a fairly obvious and understandable game of whack-a-mole, where government and the big boys – with their unlimited lives, purposes, facelessness, deep pockets and revolving doors – always seems to benefit while ordinary citizens and smaller firms and potential rivals get whacked.

It is very clear that limited liability of shareholders is a gift from government at the expense of un-consenting creditors (‘victims’ IOW), and thus is a subsidy from the public as a whole to the wealthier classes who owned corporations and still by and large are the shareholder class.

Corporations used to be very rare – the grants have a very dubious history, typically one of false justifications of offering a ‘public good’ in exchange for monopoly rights. The owners of very limited life, limited purpose firms somehow always managed to get the special deal extended. So we got bigger firms and more corruption, and labor unions and then regulations and workers and citizens finally started to get fed up.

The widespread statism and government-provided social welfarism – now falling into cynical kleptocracy and fuelling a breakdown in initiative, integrity and other virtues Hayek saw are necessary for market-based wealth generation to works to work – we now see are part of the price we’ve paid. The other part of course is damage to peoples’ lives, property, communities and to whatever public or community property that corporations can get their hands on and strip, without have an owner’s incentive to balance possible revenues over the long run.

Is this kit and caboodle a necessary part of “capitalism”? I don’t think so. Wall street banks and investment firms were private partnership for most of their lives, Amex was a listed corporation who owners had UNLIMITED liability, and Lloyds of London itself was not a firm but a private MARKET of names who all had unlimited liability. Many firms used to have only partially paid-in shares, so that managers had a call in case more capital was needed for new projects or to pay off debt.

Just because we’ve democratized corporate formation by opening the floodgates of socializing risk to anyone doesn’t mean ways can’t be found to put an end to institutionalized moral hazard. Eliminating unlimited liability would shift risk and responsibility for oversight back to a conveniently truant shareholder class from government and the public at large. It would of course mean that people not in a position to evaluate risks would be less likely to invest, making firms work harder to earn trust and get capital. Credit evaluation, rating agencies and insurers would all compete to step into the breach and to lower and spread risk.

Better-managed firms are more profitable than the big Frankensteins we have lumbering around these days; while reform would not happen overnight, it is not only desirable but possible. Firms whose shareholders bear the risk that they may be held liable for damages can be expected to be more cautious and thus could be exempted from the regulations that have been found needed for the Frankensteins. Thus both risks and barriers to entry could be lowered, and consumers and could determine what works best. Other initial steps could be to encourage firms whose shareholders have only fractionally paid-in shares. In the US, at least, corporations are creatures on state law, so just one state is needed to start such an experiment (which would be possible and protectable under the Constitution).

Well I’ve run on quite a bit in my excitement. My sincere apologies! Let me toddle off for a wee bit of sleep.

Tom

 

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Matt Ridley, the "Rational Optimist," blasts Japan’s "Nuclear Crony Capitalism" but fails to examine limited liability corporations

March 30th, 2011 No comments

Matt Ridley, British author of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, and populat TED presenter “When Ideas Have Sex“), has a couple of blog posts out in response to Japan’s troubled post-earthquake and post-tsunami nuclear reactors owned by TEPCO.

In a somewhat ironic post, “Nuclear Crony Capitalism“, Ridley first notes that the troubles at TEPCO’s Fukushima plants have caused environmentalist George Monbiot to change his mind about nuclear power  — and to SUPPORT it, as demonstrating the low risks of nuclear power. (I find this perverse by both Monbiot and Ridley, as radiation releases from four of the reactors have already done substantial damage to people, property and livelihoods in the Fukushima region, as well as to cause grave concerns in Tokyo and indeed, globally. Moreover, the situation is not yet stabilized, strong earthquakes continue, and strong radiation in the vicinity of the plants is seriosuly hampering efforts to regain control over the plants and ope-air spent fuel rod pools.)

Yet despite his views on the safety of nuclear power (he noted a few days ago in the WSJ that much safer designs may be available, and that the TEPCO designs are a product of the Cold War and nuclear bomb production designs), Ridley castigates Japan’s government and nuclear power industry.(emphasis added) [readers, html is a pain. If the quote isn’t here, it’s the italicized text that wants to be at the bottom.]

What worries me is the economics of an electricity generating industry that requires massive capital projects, whose costs usually over-run and whose costs per kilowatt hour are roughly double those of the newest gas turbines. … But a perceptive article by Shikha Dalmia explains where nuclear’s flaws come from — its symbiotic relationship with government. Nuclear power requires, demands and gets subsidies of many different kinds.

That’s exactly the problem with crony capitalism, whether in finance or energy or anything else. The `market’ and `capitalists’ are not on the same side and against `government’. No, its government and capitalists colluding against the market, which is on the side of the people. The `financial market’ proved to be no such thing; it was a casino for favoured clients run by central banks. The `energy market’ is no such thing. It is a scheme run by governments for favoured clients in the nuclear, renewable and environmental-pressure group industries.

As Adam Smith so astutely observed,

The proposal of any new law or regulation which comes from [businessmen], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.

 

Nice to see Ridley both recognizing the corrupt and skewing dynamics, AND taking not merely government but the industry itself to task, TEPCO and its finaciers are, after all, real people who have moral responsibility for their own actions – right? – whether they are aware of such responsibility or not.

Unfortunately, Ridley, like Dalmia, fails to extend his analysis to the state-created corporate structure itself, which systematically shifts risks from shareholders and managers to the public at large, particularly via the grant of limited liability to shareholders, which reduces incentives for shareholders to care about risks to others and exacerbates the “agency problem” which leaves managers as essentially unsupervised actors who typically do not bear liability for so-called “corporate torts” – thus leaving the “corporation” as a legal fiction without a clear locus of responsibility or liability.

The grant of limited liability is of course the driving feature for choosing the main corporate form over other alternatives (Amex was long a coproaton whose shareholders had unlimited liability), and why corporations establish subsidiaries (US nuclear plants are virtually all held by different legal entities), and why traditional partnerhips have pushed for LLC and LLP entity forms that retain partnership-like tax treatment but no personal liability.

One hopes that some day our leading lights will devote a little time to exploring the obvious perverse incentives and massive negative consequences generated by the state-created corporate form. What we have instead is a sympathy for faceless corporate “victims” of a faceless state, and a beside-the-point defense of the poor existing, irresponsible shareholders, which didn’t bargain for a downside risk. Shall libertarians forever defensd this Heads I Win, Tails You Lose mentality? Do they have so little faith that, if limited shareholder liability was NOT granted by the state, that shareholders would not increase their diligence, or engage insurers to mitigate risks?

I note that I pointed out the issue of the corporate form itself to Matt Ridley, he responded with a “very interesting”. Stay tuned!

 

 

Posted by, TokyoTom [follow link to cross-post here]

Matt, great post — but I think you’ve only barely scratched the surface on the ‘crony capitalism’ institutionalization of risk.

I’ve spent a bit of time delving into this at my blog that Ludwig von Mises Inst kindly hosts:

– Sorry, but I can’t resist asking: Feel Sorry for Tokyo Electric Power Co?, http://bit.ly/emZo3E ‘a tribute to Lew Rockwell’s ‘Feel Sorry for BP?’)

– Institutionalized moral hazard: Fun with Nuclear Power in Japan, or, prepare for a glowing twilight, with scattered fallout in the morning, http://bit.ly/hvvWHU

– My posts exploring the ramifications of the state grant of ‘limited liability’ corporation status:http://bit.ly/f7awsx

– The case of BP: http://bit.ly/hHeu1N

– Not surprisingly, similar issues arise with respect to the rest of the Govt-licensed energy sector and climate: http://bit.ly/fRyqtw

Thus small things contribute to the Road to Serfdom: http://bit.ly/gsLXe3 http://bit.ly/9oBkC7

I hope you’ll take your concern for nuclear crony capitalism even further.

TT

Wednesday 30th March 2011 – 04:39am

 

Posted by, Matt Ridley

Tom,

very interesting. Thanks. will follow up.

Matt

Wednesday 30th March 2011 – 04:54am
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Shikha Dalmia of Reason Foundation doesn't feel sorry for TEPCO

March 30th, 2011 No comments

Shikha Dalmia, senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation, had a perceptive essay out last week that draws attention to the perverse role of government-provided incentives in Japan’s nuclear power industry. (Dalmia is columnist at Forbes, writes regularly for Reason magazine, and was co-winner of the first 2009 Bastiat Prize for Online Journalism.)

The article appeard in The Daily on March 24, and at Reason Online on March 29. I excerpt beloe parts of the article as it first appeared: Glowing endorsement Japan has pushed nuclear energy hard — at the expense of safety. (e,phasis added):

Nuclear advocates are dismayed that radiation fears over Japan’s Fukushima plant might kill an industry that has a better safety record than virtually any other. But the public in Japan and elsewhere has every right to question the safety of nuclear power that everywhere receives government support. The Japanese government, in particular, has aggressively pushed nuclear in its quest for energy independence, perverting with political considerations the market’s natural ability to take safety issues into account.

And judged purely by deaths per terawatt hours, nuclear is 10 times safer than solar and a thousand times safer than coal or oil. 

But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to worry about with nuclear. Its potential for catastrophe is orders of magnitude greater than any other technology. Hence, only when investors are willing to foot the entire bill for its construction and liability can we believe that nuclear is truly safe.

That, however, is not the case anywhere — least of all in Japan.

Nuclear meets about a third of Japan’s energy needs (compared to 20 percent in America) not because it is more competitive than the alternatives; it is not. Nuclear’s exorbitant upfront capital costs and long — and uncertain — lead times make it every bit as unattractive to investors in Japan as elsewhere, especially compared to other fuels.

But nuclear appeals to Japan’s mercantilist rulers, who, since the mid-’60s, have regarded the country’s lack of indigenous energy resources as a major strategic vulnerability that must be corrected at all cost. They have committed themselves to increasing Japan’s energy independence ratio from the current 35 percent to 70 percent by 2030. …

Such thinking has prompted Japanese lawmakers to push nuclear more aggressively than street vendors hawking broken Mao watches in Tiananmen Square. From 1990 to 2000, nuclear’s share of Japan’s energy mix has gone from 9 percent to 32 percent.

To get there, Japan has poured lavish subsidies into nuclear, starting with research. Around 65 percent of Japan’s energy research budget goes toward nuclear — the highest of any country — with the industry spending $250 million, well below 10 percent of what the government spends. Even France, which gets 80 percent of its energy from nuclear, spends three-and-half times less than Japan.

Beyond research, the government offers the nuclear energy industry loans that are a full percentage point below commercial levels. And for four decades, Japan has taxed the utility bills of electricity consumers, distributing the proceeds to communities willing to house nuclear plants. In essence, nuclear’s competitors are being forced to act against their own interest to bribe local communities to accept a risk against the communities’ interest. 

But the mother of all subsidies is the liability cap that nuclear enjoys. In the event of an accident, the industry is on the hook for only $1.2 billion in damages, with the government covering everything beyond that. Japan’s cap is generous even by American standards, which require the industry to cover $12.6 billion before Uncle Sam kicks in. ,,,

The liability cap effectively privatizes the profits of nuclear and socializes the risk. It uses taxpayer money to diminish the industry’s concern with safety — which government regulations can’t restore. In 2008, Tokyo actually started offering bigger subsidies to communities that agreed to fewer inspections. The problem of regulatory capture is particularly endemic in Japan given that regulators seek industry jobs upon retirement, and hence often cozy up to companies they are supposed to oversee.

Nuclear’s advocates argue that, if anything, Fukushima testifies to just how safe nuclear is given that the reactor reportedly shut down as designed in the face of a 9-magnitude earthquake even though it was built for only 7.5-magnitude. Had a freak tsunami not knocked out the backup generator needed to cool down the fuel rods, none of this would have happened.

Perhaps. But had the industry been underwritten by private companies that risk getting wiped out by lax procedures instead of a government that risks nothing, might they not have refused to insure a reactor in an earthquake-prone zone or demanded better seismological studies than those available or ensured that backup generators were built to withstand a tsunami?

Only when the nuclear industry fully internalizes safety costs will we know that it is actually safe. Until then, we can only regard Fukushima as an avoidable tragedy.

I believe that Dalmia has left out the rate guarantees that utilities typically receive. In addition, she has ignored the “limited liablity” corporation structure that eliminates any risk of personal liability for all shareholders. These aspect of course also affect the degree to which shaeholders pay attention to the risks that nuclear power plants pose to others or otherwise to diligently oversee management, and rate guarantees are a hidden tax on consumers and a subsidy to nuclear power.

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