Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nuclear Leaks 32: Fukushima's Media Mirror

Critics of anti-nuclear critics take to the Web: Fukushima worries are being labeled as hoaxes. Image Source: Hoax-Slayer.

When the Fukushima disaster occurred in March 2011, one of the Russian scientists who participated in the clean up at Chernobyl warned that the immediate toxic effect would come not from radioactive fallout, but from governmental and nuclear industrial lies. This blog has covered the Japanese crisis since the moment it began. Throughout, I concur with that scientist, Natalia Manzurova, in the sense that the meta-reality of Fukushima's nuclear event is even worse than the event. From my first post on Fukushima:
On 12 March, physicist Ken Bergeron stated: "we're in uncharted territory, we're in a land where probability says we shouldn't be." As the crisis unfolded, the HuffPo announced that there was no word in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's glossary for 'meltdown.' In a way, that lack of vocabulary has characterized the whole story, which is a miasma of confused information.
How does one amend an absence of information from creditable sources, without discrediting oneself? In May 2011, Vivian Norris mused at HuffPo about the terrible consequences of media silence around Fukushima:
I received the following email a few days ago from a Russian nuclear physicist friend who is an expert on the kinds of gases being released at Fukushima. Here is what he wrote:
About Japan: the problem is that the reactor uses "dirty" fuel. It is a combination of plutonium and uranium (MOX). I suspect that the old fuel rods have bean spread out due to the explosion and the surrounding area is contaminated with plutonium which means you can never return to this place again. It is like a new Tchernobyl. Personally, I am not surprised that the authority has not informed people about this.
... Why is this not on the front page of every single newspaper in the world? Why are official agencies not measuring from many places around the world and reporting on what is going on in terms of contamination every single day since this disaster happened? Radioactivity has been being released now for almost two full months! Even small amounts when released continuously, and in fact especially continuous exposure to small amounts of radioactivity, can cause all kinds of increases in cancers.
Even at the very beginning of this disaster, Norris observed the Japanese government and TEPCO (which, in 2014, is soon to change its name and undergo corporate rebranding) released information to the international media indirectly and slowly:
While foreign media have scrambled to gather information about the Fukushima Reactor, they have been denied access to the direct information provided by the government and one consequence of this is that "rumor-rife news has been broadcast overseas."
In fact, access has been limited in two ways. First, while Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio holds twice daily press conferences for representatives of the big Japanese media, registered representatives of freelance and internet media are limited to a single press conference per week. Second, in contrast to Japanese media who are briefed regularly by Edano and periodically by Prime Miniser Kan, foreign media are briefed exclusively by administrative staff.
Uesugi also notes that at TEPCO press conferences, which are now being held at company headquarters, foreign correspondents and Japanese freelancers regularly ask probing questions while mainstream journalists simply record and report company statements reiterating that the situation is basically under control and there is nothing to worry about. One reason for this, Uesugi suggests, is that TEPCO, a giant media sponsor, has an annual 20 billion yen advertising budget.
Fukushima became a disastrous test of the Web's credibility as an unconventional media source when compared to the MSM. What Fukushima shows is that Japanese and nuclear authorities did not even need to lie in order to discredit their critics. All they needed to do was release little or no information, or release it too slowly. By creating an information vacuum, they opened the door to endless speculation, which is wonderfully self-defeating, because it can all be dismissed as speculation, as hoaxes, as ignorant fear-mongering.

When guesses and speculation about what has happened at Fukushima prove to be wrong - or are declared to be simply unproven - then a false argument is constructed, whereby any truths about the dangers of the Japanese nuclear disaster can also be tossed out. Genuinely serious concerns, like the employment of homeless people in the clean up, are drowned out or dismissed on the grounds that there is 'not enough information.' And to worry about things when there is 'not enough information' is to become a crank who makes things up. It is a locked circle of anti-logic.
Fukushima showed that the Web is not the bastion of free speech and unvarnished truth which its most idealistic supporters want and need it to be. Rather, the Internet is vulnerable to competing cultures of truth, in which data-driven arguments defend findings and counter-findings. Sub-cultures sprout up to defend different hierarchies of data-believability. But how can one get to the core, or corium, of truth in all of this?

The truth around Fukushima comes in many layers. The disaster is very bad. One critic, Arnie Gundersen, says it is insoluble. Mind you, he said that during the fund-raising campaign for his anti-nuclear educational non-profit foundation, Fairewinds Energy Education. Gundersen doesn't need a conflict of interest, say, by being an investor in non-nuclear alternative energy sources (and I'm not saying he is one). There is so much at stake when it comes to the world's demand for energy that merely talking near the energy sector provides one with a livelihood.

What is indisputable is that energy is big, big business, a defining issue for governments and multinationals. It shapes the Millennial global balance of power. And since oil has proven to be troublesome strategically, and potentially limited, in the Middle East, Africa, North and South America, Russia, and other places, there is a worldwide search for a cheaper, more secure, plentiful energy source. Energy lies behind every insidious Millennial detail, such as a throwaway fact promising which Middle Eastern domino will fall next:
"On March 8, [2013,] Lockheed Training in Orlando received a $28.3 million contract through the Army's Orlando-based training-simulation agency to provide live-fire-range upgrades for Saudia Arabia's national guard."
This demand for energy points to a curious flip side to Fukushima's connection to the Internet, outside the Matrix, in the physical plane. Why is the demand for energy growing exponentially? In part, it is due to the 21st century transformation of developing countries into middle class powerhouses.

Microsoft official Datacenter tour (2011). Video Source: Youtube.

OVH advertises the 'world's largest data center' (2012). Video Source: Youtube.

Asia's Largest Tier IV Datacenter - CtrlS Mumbai (2012). Video Source: Youtube.

Google's high-security data centers; CBS exclusive (2012). Video Source: Youtube.

Apple's Data Center in North Carolina to build largest private solar arrays in USA (2012). Video Source: Youtube.

Facebook Data Center and cooling system video (2013). Video Source: Youtube.

NTT Communications Tokyo No. 6 Data Center promo (2013). Video Source: Youtube.

NSA meltdown: Utah NSA data compound suffers power surge damage (2013); the facility has a 3 million gallon water tank to manage air conditioning requirements. Video Source: Russia's RT via Youtube.

Partly, the growing demand for energy is caused by the explosion of online communications. It takes an incredible amount of power to create the virtual world. All that information has to be stored somewhere, inside real, physical machines. Giant masses of servers are extremely hot, and need constant cooling (the issue is called - 'data center cooling efficiency' - see a 2013 explanatory video here). With all the politicized uproar over global warming, the hipster carbon footprints of Facebook and Google are an inconvenient truth. From Clean Technica:
In 2011, the digital universe, or the amount of information created and replicated, reached 1.8 trillion gigabytes, and this digital universe is doubling in size every two years. Much of that digital information is housed in data centers around the world, and running these data centers requires a huge amount of electrical energy.

A 10-megawatt (MW) data center can use the energy of a small town at a cost of around $300,000 a month. Couple that with the fact that there are over 500,000 data centers in the world, according to Emerson Network Power, and we’re talking about 2% of all electrical energy used globally. So, running the internet uses upwards of 406 terawatts per year, assuming 20.3 petawatt-hours as the world’s annual electrical energy consumption.

The odd thing is that in traditional data centers, only half of the energy consumed is useful for running the digital universe: powering the servers that hold our emails, social networking profiles, and the like. The other half of the energy goes into cooling those servers, or it’s lost as heat when electricity is changed between alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC).
This is where the desperate need for energy originates. At the turn of the Millennium, before the Web exploded, observers were sanguine; but they now project that the Internet's world energy use is expected to leap to uncontrolled levels, unless we find more efficient means for storing information, which is a world of problems in and of itself. From another Clean Technica report:
“The Power of Wireless Cloud,” a recent [April 2013] white paper from the University of Melbourne’s Center for Energy Efficient Telecommunications (CEET), predicts booming wireless device use could increase the energy demands of mobile data up to 460% – from 9 million megawatt hours (MWh) in 2012 to between 32-43 million MWh by 2015. That growth represents the same carbon output as 4.9 million new cars on the road.

Image Source: CEET via Clean Technica.

In short, there are vast fortunes to be made in the energy industry. Those who can successfully advocate their own energy investment at the expense of another energy sector will become all the wealthier. Politicians are swayed by big energy interests because so much rides on this question. Anyone who has looked beyond nuclear power into the murky worlds of fossil fuels, tar sands, off-shore drilling, fracking, biofuels, hydroelectric projects and even alternative energy source research will find the same issues at stake. Competing cultures of truth reappear in each sector and the Internet becomes their arena.

Add to this the dark sense that our present production capabilities and actual resources cannot last. As if by instinct, we feel that there is something about our current path of energy consumption that spells doom. The definition of 'irony' in our times must be that Postmodern civilization depends on burning fossil fuels, the physical remains of extinct creatures which once dominated the planet. Fossil fuels depend on a symbolic, fateful loop, which hints irresistibly at humankind's arrogance and demise.

The 20th century boom in nuclear energy appeared to free us from that dead end. It seemed clean, apparently environmentally friendly, a triumph of Big Technology. Unfortunately, when things go wrong with nuclear power, it is more dangerous than any other energy source.

But to return to Fukushima, how dangerous is a failed nuclear plant? Or three failed plants and a teetering spent fuel pool? As Natalia Manzurova warned, experiences with Cherynobyl and Fukushima indicate that we do not know because no one will (or can) tell the full truth on the subject. Some of this is purely technical. For example, did one of more China Syndromes occur at Fukushima? Given the levels of Japanese fallout, many reports assume so. But no one can get close enough to the sites, due to radioactivity, to confirm that outcome.

The latest news on Fukushima includes debate on whether California's Department of Public Health should address Fukushima's impact on that US state. A report from Fukushima Minyu on 11 January 2014 stated that a 9 January sample contained "2.2 million becquerels [per liter] detected from a well near the harbor at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant." According to the blog EXSKF, this information came from a 10 January 2014 TEPCO announcement and related to "the density of all-beta [particles] including strontium-90" but not to radioactive cesium. Japan's political scene is a constant factor in how much information comes to light and how much sense is made of it. From EXSKF (2 January 2014):
Mr. Toshio Tamogami is a military commentator who was also a career military officer and the 26th Chief of Staff, Air Self-Defense Force. He hasn't declared his candidacy [for the Tokyo Governorship] officially, but hinted that he would run, on January 2 when he visited Yasukuni Shrine.

In July 2011 at a symposium held in Tokyo, Mr. Tamogami said, according to Sankei Shinbun (8/15/2011, cache):

"It is said it's dangerous, but in reality, radiation in Fukushima is not that dangerous. Has a crow flying over the [Fukushima I] nuclear plant dropped from the sky? Have you seen fish floating [and dead] in the ocean near the plant? It is gradually being proven that radiation is not dangerous."
One of EXSKF's readers responded:
"Damn this never ending queue of sacks of sh1t in suits. toshio tamagotchi is yet another fucking psychopath hell bent on making his political fortune on the backs of those bowed down under the weight of the empirical effects of Fukushima."
But the empirical effects of Fukushima are up for grabs. The other latest news comes from Fukushima's Internet wars. Since autumn 2013, a host of Fukushima debunkers and anti-Fukushima hoaxers have suddenly come online. Anti-nuclear activist bloggers accuse Fukushima debunkers of being 2013's newcomers (being a newbie, even a newbie opponent, is as low as it gets in Internet communities), trolls and nuke industry shills; their sudden collective mobilization is certainly an odd facet of Web community dynamics:
  • Snopes (March 2011) Nuclear Fallout Map
  • The Punch (13 March 2013) Stop using Fukushima for scare mongering 
  • Forbes (10 August 2013) The Fukushima Radiation Leak Is Equal To 76 Million Bananas
  • The Energy Collective (13 August 2013) Update on Fukushima Leaks: Unrepresentative Sampling Supports Fear Mongering
  • Legal Insurrection (1 September 2013) An update on Japan’s Fukushima plant and its radioactive leak
  • The Examiner (1 September 2013) Fukushima induces West Coast fish fear-mongering
  • Skeptoid (2 September 2013) Are Your Days of Eating Pacific Ocean Fish Really Over?
  • Doubtful News (4 September 2013) Stop passing these scary stories about Fukushima fish around social media! 
  • Hoax Slayer (5 September 2013) No, Radiation from Fukushima has NOT Killed Hundreds of Whales
  • Daily Paul (22 October 2013) Fukushima fear mongering is unfounded. Nuclear power is the safest, cleanest form of energy we have
  • Skeptoid (28 October 2013) More Fukushima Scaremongering Debunked 
  • Ethan Bearman (29 October 2013) Enough Of The Fukushima Radiation Scaremongering Already
  • Forbes (4 November 2013) Despite Fukushima Nuclear Power Really Is The Only Way To Beat Climate Change
  • Forbes (7 November 2013) The Fukushima Fuel Rods Will Not Explode On Contact With Air
  • Forbes (16 November 2013) Fukushima Radiation In Pacific Tuna Is Equal To One Twentieth Of A Banana
  • Skeptoid (25 November 2013) Dire Warnings and Melting Starfish: Fukushima Fearmongering
  • Forbes (2 December 2013) Greenpeace Shows That Fukushima And Chernobyl Are So Safe That We Should All Go Nuclear
  • Skeptoid (23 December 2013) Arguments to Use During Christmas Dinner
  • Skeptoid (6 January 2014) It’s Time to Play Know! Your! Sources of Crap! 
  • Boing Boing (6 January 2014) No, Fukushima is not killing off massive quantities of sea life near California
  • Peter Thomas Outdoors (9 January 2014) Is Fukushima radiation producing super-gigantic sea creatures? Only if you believe the hype
Two confirmed hoaxes have been covered, with stated caveats but nevertheless erroneously, on this blog, namely, this radiation dissemination map, and this report on mutated vegetables (ironically, I covered the latter piece because it was reported as verified by mainstream media organs such as MSN). In this blog's defense, today's larger point is made. Because the authorities have stepped back from transparency on this crisis, those who would seek to understand what has happened at Fukushima must find information online. But to do so is by rational definition, self-defeating. And sadly, that is a statement about the potential of the Web as a bastion of truth-telling. Speculation online is a culture of truth, and engaging with it is not an act of finding actual truth.

Once staid leftist eco-politics in flux: some right-wing Fukushima truthers have occupied 'Occupy Progressives,' on the environment. Image Source: Facebook.

Yet there is no escape on the other side of the skeptic's mirror. Firstly, the skeptics' claims make plain that their opinions are sometimes informed by the weird politicization of energy-and-the-environment issues. On one side, we see ranged the liberal-left acceptance of global warming which involves a support for 'green' nuclear energy; all other environmental issues must be subverted before this larger cause. And global warming - again - is surrounded by competing cultures of truth. Or, paradoxically, we might find a conservative support for the nuclear energy industry, a lesser cousin of the nuclear weapons industry. Both camps cast Fukushima as having been unfortunately and aggressively first captured online by ultra-right-wing, libertarian or left-eco-anarchist, anti-scientific, anti-progressive-progressivist conspiracy theorist nutcases.

It looks like what happened politically is this: around 2011, the progressive netroots movement crossed paths with a right-libertarian online occupation of the Occupy movement. This mess overlapped with online Fukushima fear culture and created an unwieldy left-right Web hybrid. For more on this hybrid, partly spawned from the Web's weirdest political mythologies, and increasingly recognized through 2013, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Part of this hybrid originates in generation wars and intergenerational politics. It's a Millennial shift to the hard left, with a catch: a post-recession suspicion of government.

An example of the crazier side of the Fukushima online crisis culture. A variant of this image adds the anti-Semitic element of depicting the stars on the American flag in the background as Stars of David. Image Source: D. Dees via America First Books.

On the left or right, Fukushima debunkers have a point. There is a really nasty component of the Web's Fukushima crisis culture which veers off into HAARP territory; which believes, incredibly, that the Israelis caused the Japanese earthquake with a nuclear bomb planted on the ocean floor, supposedly because the Japanese were secretly refining weapons grade plutonium at Fukushima (see more theories on this here and here) and planning to sell it (and/or uranium - reports and rumours vary) to Iran in 2010; which fears Obama's presidency with racist undertones and decries his so-called 'communist' take on the economy and his Fukushima cover-up (nicknamed 'Plume-gate') in equal measure. It isn't long before you get into false flag, Illuminati, New World Order super-crazy territory, where the ultra-left and ultra-right hold hands to demonstrate their mutual intellectual, moral and political impoverishment. Meanwhile, the dynamics of Web communications make participants in these debates think they are actually defending truth, rationality and morality. Thus, when the blogosphere finally generated an opposing critical culture in late 2013, some Fukushima crisis proponents really deserved it.

But even with all these caveats, no number of skeptics' dismissals can erase the fact that something terrible has happened and is happening in Japan. Does mobilizing this issue in the tiresome service of label-casting and evolving political rhetoric (on any side) really take us closer to Fukushima's truth? Is 'not having enough information to know the truth' a valid excuse for turning a blind eye to what is likely the worse environmental disaster of our times? And if we reject the skeptics' stance, and choose not to shrug and ignore Japan's tragedy, there must be hope for the Internet as a source of verifiable information and as a base for appropriate public response in this case. For you see, otherwise, nothing about Fukushima will ever be real again. It will just be another social media meme. And that will not bode well for how we face future disasters in our plugged-in world.

See all my posts on Nuclear Topics.

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