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.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Nuclear Leaks 19: Fukushima's Fallout, Industrial, Political and Generational

Fukushima Daiichi Reactor #4 is supposedly ready to withstand a large earthquake (5 July 2012). Its rectangular spent fuel pool is now covered with metal plates, in the photo's foreground. Image Source: Kyodo News and Enformable via ENE News.

In Japan, finger-pointing and mass protests continue over the Fukushima nuclear crisis. In late June and early July 2012, Internet eco-chatter dubbed popular protests against the reopening of nuclear plants, the 'Hydrangea Revolution.' On 11 June 2012, 1,324 Fukushima residents lodged a criminal complaint against TEPCO and government officials for their responsibility in the disaster.

How can officials be held responsible for the outcome of a devastating earthquake and tsunami? On 5 July 2012, a parliamentary committee inquiring into the crisis decided that TEPCO had neglected safety measures at the plant for decades. The 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami were natural disasters, but the damage they helped cause at the Fukushima Daiichi site could have been completely avoided:
A Japanese parliament-appointed panel investigating the Fukushima plant disaster released a report the same day saying the calamity could have been prevented if regulators and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. had taken appropriate safety steps, calling it "clearly a man-made disaster."
Heads are rolling, although the people providing accusations and counter-accusations may have good reason to cover their own tracks and expose someone else's. If it weren't so tragic and horrible, it would have all the makings of a big budget cinematic thriller. By laying blame at TEPCO's feet, the ruling weirdly exonerates the nuclear industry in general. The message is: nuclear power plants are safe, as long as they are run according to high standards.

It's amazing how Millennial double-think and disinformation can contradict reality. On 27 June 2012, TEPCO announced that its workers sent a robot into Reactor #1 (see the robot's grim video, with radiation-speckled feed, here) and found record levels of radiation at the surface of coolant water, and levels thousands of times higher in the sediment in the containment vessel. From the Jarkarta Post:
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it detected 10,300 millisieverts [10 Sv] of radiation per hour in the basement of a building housing the No. 1 reactor of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the highest radiation recorded in the plant's reactor buildings.

According to the utility's announcement Wednesday, it would take about 20 seconds for a worker exposed to this level of radiation to reach the government-set, annual cumulative dose limit of 50 millisieverts. Acute symptoms of radiation exposure such as vomiting would develop in about six minutes.

TEPCO said it needs to identify and repair spots where radiation-contaminated water is leaking in the building as it moves toward decommissioning the No. 1 reactor. The power company said such work will be difficult, as the high radiation makes it necessary to use robots instead of human workers.
According to former nuclear industry engineer-turned-nuclear-critic, Arnie Gundersen, these radiation levels indicate that Reactor #1's containment vessel has been breached. In other words, he believes that the China Syndrome occurred in Reactor #1. In March 2012, the New York Times reported (via the Star Tribune) that China Syndromes took place at Reactors #1, #2 and #3:
Fukushima Daiichi's vital cooling systems were knocked out in the early stages of the crisis last year. The uranium cores at three of the plant's six reactors quickly melted down, breaching their containment vessels and triggering a massive radiation leak.
That NYT report also noted a radiation level of 72 Sv inside the containment vessel of Reactor #2. It is extraordinary that the world's media are not digging deeper into this story on a day-to-day basis. Three China Syndromes? Why are blogs, obscure little TV programmesfringe Web sites, ENE and Russia Today still the only regular sources on this story? Is the Fourth Estate really so impoverished? This is a lesson on how Old School journalism still rules as far as shaping conventionally-accepted truths is concerned. If 'viable,' established professional journalists do not report on a phenomenon, it need not be worried about, or even be seriously considered to exist. Pro-nuclear industry supporters can merely point to a wild-eyed vlog and disdainfully dismiss any such source of criticism. But in a mad world, madmen speak the truth, and might be sane.

Media silence arises because, despite Fukushima's dismal case, international corporate and government interests remain optimistic about further nuclear plant developments. A glance at the trade reports reveals that nuclear power is at a crossroads.

Ageing plants must be decomissioned, and so the industry is thriving, rushing to build new plants to fill the generational energy gaps in a flurry of high-powered horse-trading and bidding wars over big construction contracts. This is happening domestically in developed countries. These countries are also exporting their tech to developing countries, while striving to retain control of the nuclear science behind nuclear power plants (a futile exercise in this time of globalized graduate education). Indeed, the nuclear power industry is tied to the nuclear weapons industry. In other words, plutonium fallout or no plutonium fallout, it is business as usual (except for, or maybe including, Iran). Instead of taking Fukushima as an ominous warning to rethink our approach to fossil fuel alternatives, industry leaders are ignoring the crisis and its terrible impact. Who says colonialism is dead or that America is the only post-colonial, neo-imperial power? Rubbish. Imperialism is alive and well, enjoying a financial renaissance, evident in business buzz across the Internet.

For example, the Russians look to expand nuclear power systems at home and abroad. The Russians, incidentally, own 20 per cent of surplus American uranium on US territory; they are currently mining uranium in Wyoming. The head of Rosatom, Sergey Kirienko, insists that advanced Russian technology makes nuclear energy systems perfectly safe and environmentally friendly, promising "post-Fukushima solutions for new nuclear power plants." Stidently offering total transparency, he acknowledges that nuclear weapons industries are intimately connected to nuclear power interests, and so the state will always retain control over the entire industry.

In Canada in November 2011, the paper version of the National Post ran an 8-page insert from Mediaplanet confidently proclaiming the stellar opportunities in the nuclear power industry. "Now Is The Time," one ad headline runs, "To Move Forward With New CANDU Reactors." Kivalliq Energy Corporation dominates a high-quality uranian project in the Arctic's Nunavut Territory. The President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Dr. Michael Binder, smiles benignly, in an article which promises that the "uranium mining and milling industry" is a "safely regulated resource" precisely because it is "the only mining industry in Canada that is licensed, regulated and monitored by the federal government." A panel of experts - Joseph Zwetolitz (Westinghouse), Denise Carpenter (Canadian Nuclear Association), Mark Morabito (Crosshair Energy Corporation), and Dr. Richard Spencer (U308 Corporation) - all trumpet Canada's virtues as an "energy superpower" (Zwetolitz); nuclear challenges as "opportunities" (Carpenter); reactors becoming defunct at age 40 means that this is the best time to build new ones (Morabito); and "Canadian explorers are ... advancing significant discoveries in emerging markets such as South America that are viewed as the next frontier for uranium development" (Spencer). Among other industry promises to find "A New Use For Old Nukes," Jeremy Whitlock of the Canadian Nuclear Society debunks "Radiation Fears and Myths." In June 2012, Prime Minister Harper struck a total of $3 billion in Canadian contracts to service China's energy sector.

In the United States, the Obama administration supports nuclear power. And the Republicans support it too. There are labour disputes at the older American nuclear plants, including the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts - the very birthplace of the country! There are also contracts coming up to support ageing plants and keep them running - one example is Vermont Yankee. New plants have been greenlit, a pair each in South Carolina and Georgia. Uranium mining remains hopeful, expecting American nuclear power to increase 10 per cent by 2035Politicians advise investors in Florida to support the nuclear industry because it is a source of so-called "green jobs." Even so, there are bumps in the road. There are real fears that Fukushima fallout has poisoned much of the western United States and Canada, and perhaps more of North America. On 8 June 2012, the US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could not license or re-licence any nuclear power plants until environmental and safety issues had been thoroughly researched. This ruling arose in response to petitioners from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

In the United Kingdom, Chinese companies are bidding to build new nuclear power plants, along with the French company Areva and Russia's Rosatom. The Canadians are advising the Brits on building 6 CANDU nuclear plants which recycle fissile material stocks by burning (potentially deadly) MOX fuel. The Birmingham Policy Commission, released 2 July 2012, advised that the government must help carry the costs of building a new generation of nuclear power plants and also shoulder the burdens if anything goes wrong: "The fact is that the financial risks associated with building new nuclear power stations are beyond the balance sheets of many utility companies and therefore need to be shared between the public and private sectors." Ah, the cross-pollination of public and private, the new watchword of post-Recession hybridized economies. The Birmingham Policy Commission warned against the Brits' "drift" away from nuclear power and strongly advised the government must rebuild "the UK as a suitably qualified nuclear nation." The Commission drily stated that the after-effects of the earthquake and tsunami stood as: "testament to nuclear power’s credentials."

On 3 July 2012, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault promised the "government's commitment to reduce France's reliance on nuclear power for electricity production." But French nuclear companies are moving ahead - along with American, Chinese, Russian and other multinational firms - bidding to build nuclear plants in the UK (Areva and EDF); the Czech Republic (Areva); the UAE (Areva, EDF, GDF Suez SA, Total SA); South Africa (EDF); Finland (Framatome ANP/Areva); and India (Areva). Due to political troubles, French firms like Framatome, NPI and Areva lost bids to Chinese companies for contracts in Turkey.

There are other nuclear players offering or seeking contracts: ArgentinaSweden, South Korea, Taiwan, Lithuania, Mexico, Saudi Arabia (!), Vietnam and Malaysia, the Philippines, to name a few. Germany, Switzerland (although not quite yet), and Belgium are among the countries which have decided to phase out nuclear energy and search for classic alternatives as well as other technologies and options, giving rise to non-nuclear energy contracts. Win or lose, it's all about big money.

Fukushima was a man-made disaster, Democracy Now report (6 July 2012); with comment on which American nuclear plants are identical to General Electric's faulty Fukushima Daiichi design. Video Source: Youtube.

With all this activity, you would scarcely remember that little thing about the three China Syndromes. Former Japanese government officials began talking about China Syndromes to the media in April, May and June of 2012. Aside from officials in the previous administration, there are also investigators, who claim that the China Syndrome took place and there was a cover-up to prevent panic (see reports here, here, here and here).

On 22 June 2012, ENE News covered an interview with Mr. Matsuda, policy secretary of former Prime Minister Naoto Kan (see below); Matsuda admitted that the China Syndrome had taken place, and that it sounded like rhythmic explosions underground as it occurred. The interview was partly translated and paraphrased by Fukushima Diary:
In the night of 3/14/2011, underground rumblings were heard in Fukushima plant area, which was caused by melted fuel underground. (He described the sound as “doon doon”.)

This is when Yoshida, the former chief of Fukushima stated “I might die here.”, reported to Tepco’s head office that they were going to evacuate all the nuclear workers except for selected members. Reported head office of Tepco proposed former Prime minister, Kan to evacuate nuclear workers from Fukushima plants on 3/15/2011. This was after the explosion of reactor3 (11:01 3/14/2011)[.]
Matsuda also remarked (see here) that an elephant's foot of molten corium formed at Reactor #4 (?!) and on 14 March 2011, the Japanese government planned to drop coolant on the plants from above with the help of the US Army. This plan was not implemented because it would have required the staff to abandon the reactors. It's hard to know whether to believe this interview or not. Matsuda looks like he was stressed and overwrought when he gave it.

Matsuda mentions the China Syndrome at 1:20. Video Source: Youtube.

If it is true that three China Syndromes occurred at Fukushima, the impact on Japan's society, land and entire economy would be catastrophic. The impact is likely to be felt worldwide, and no amount of muted press coverage will conceal that point.

Click image to enlarge. Image Source: Fukushima Diary.

Given allegations of continual cover-ups, the computer hackers who support the increasingly-slick-looking Anonymous group hacked the International Atomic Energy Agency's computers and leaked IAEA documents online on 5 July 2012 (Hat tip: Fukushima Diary). The leaked documents cover nuclear power plant development in Vietnam. The documents also include IAEA correspondence with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the Fukushima disaster. Anonymous has additionally hacked several local Japanese government sites, and the computers of Japan's Supreme Court. The documents mainly deal with nuclear plant safety provisions and assess whether or not they need to be revised. You can access the Anonymous leak (at the time of posting this piece) here.

As of 7 July 2012, the hackers joined the so-called Hydrangea Revolution protests in the streets of Tokyo, wearing the Guy Fawkes mask popularized in Alan Moore's and David Lloyd's 1980s DC comic book, V for Vendetta (see my posts on Alan Moore here).  The hackers are protesting Japan's new copyright law, which - they assert - is being used to enforce a media blackout (it also prohibits them from downloading copyrighted media). Youtubers who post videos about Fukushima have found their videos removed due to copyright violations claims; they insist that this is part of the suppression of the anti-nuclear media. NHK:
About 50 Japanese members of an international hacker group held an unusual protest against Japan's new copyright protection law.

Members of the "Anonymous" collective wore the group's signature masks and silently picked up trash near Shibuya station on Saturday.

The group opposes a new law that allows for stronger penalties on people who illegally download music or movie files. The law will take effect in October.

The organizer of Saturday's event said it was designed to send a peaceful message of protest.

The group says its members carried out cyber-attacks late last month on the websites of central and local Japanese governments, and the Supreme Court.
Then there is Reactor #4. Not everyone is convinced that Fukushima Reactor #4's spent fuel pool (pictured at the top of this post) is dangerous. See a debate here. On the other hand, Australia's ABC reports (below) that the spent fuel pool is a serious threat.

Video Source: Youtube (Hat tip: ENE News).

Whether the press and governments acknowledge it or not, Fukushima is destroying the Japanese economy, just as Chernobyl ruined the USSRTEPCO reported a $7.4 billion quarterly loss in August 2011. In response to vast public expenses (TEPCO was just nationalized) and a poor employment outlook, the government is injecting a bizarre generational angle into this nightmare. According to EX-SKF on 7 July 2012, the Japanese Prime Minister has proposed to lower the retirement age from 60 to 40 in order to 'increase the birth rate'; another aspect of this possible measure is that it would remove all job security from people 40 and above. There is no word on whether there would be an upper cap on who would be affected by this new measure (would Baby Boomers and their pensions be shielded from this new measure?).

This would mean that anyone who is forced to 'retire' at age 40 and up will henceforth only be eligible for short term contract work, and not for permanent positions. This would effectively disenfranchise Japan's entire Generation X cohort and its younger Boomers, and leave them unsupported and destabilized in society. In addition, after an initial pay-out of 1 or 2 years of full pay, these people would not be eligible for govenment retirement pensions. This move would presumably free up their earmarked pension money to help cover Fukushima's enormous costs over the coming decades:
Nikkei Shinbun says the government committee on national strategy (chaired by Prime Minister Noda) has compiled the report on the government's long-term strategy called "Frontier Plan". What's in the "Frontier"? Japan is indeed going where no one has gone before. Noda and his people want to make the retirement age at 40, with the retirement money of 1 to 2 years worth of salary. Why? To make employment more mobile, to compete with developing nations. They want to eliminate the distinction between contract workers and full-time employees - i.e. cutting the benefits for full-time employees. In their mind, this somehow will translate into (hold your breath).... birthrate increase. How will an extremely insecure employment with the developing country-level wage lead to the increased birthrate? It won't, except in Noda and his experts' minds it will.
Not only does this weaken the generation of people currently most capable of mounting a substantial critique and effort to deal with Fukushima's real and political fallout. It also curries favour with a younger Gen Y Japanese - those angry, alienated, anti-nuclear protesting students who are under the age of 35. In short, it will buy them off with full time jobs and social privileges stolen from their middle-aged predecessors. Given Japan's poor birth rate, is this proposal simply pushing Japan's resources toward those capable of future child-bearing? One blogger fears that Noda has seen the estimates on post-Fukushima life expectancy, and he is merely moving policy to align with a future Japan whose citizens will die at a much younger age. In other words, Gen Y will see itself supported, but not understand the horrific underlying expectation behind that unfair support: that they are not expected to live past middle age. See another report on this nasty idea here.

In this generational case, one could see the worst of two worlds: firstly, Boomers' fateful support of nuclear power; plus secondly, their tinkering with retirement ages and rewriting of employment regulations, which turn permanent jobs into contract labour to secure their own current positions at the expense of their successors.

The Japanese PM (born 1957) is unwise to turn Fukushima into a generational issue. In so doing, he might rebuild relations with younger people (see my posts on tensions between Japanese Gen Y and Boomers here and here). A normally deferential society, Japan has a rare tradition of younger people rising up if their elders fail them. By avoiding that problem, Noda will undoubtedly win new enemies among Gen Xers. It is an ominous sign of a hardening of attitudes, a closing down of options, and a rise in dog-eat-dog opinions. My earlier posts about Baby Boomers and the Fukushima disaster previously revealed a broader range of responses - from an astonishing view of Fukushima as an opportunity for spiritual redesign and eco-friendly nuclear green power against global warming - to Japanese Boomers' generational sacrifice.

If only these problems were confined to Japan. Independent academic studies of fallout in North America are due out shortly, and these reports may receive more media coverage. But in an American election year with a dragging economy, especially in fault-lined, nuclear-powered California, no politician has a vested interest in revealing the full scale of the impact of radioactive fallout on the western coast of North America.

See all my posts on Nuclear topics.


  1. Holy smoke. This is so well written and researched, like all your posts. I'm just stunned by the stuff about Japan's over-40. Your analysis of this is so spot-on. I think a lot about why people don't talk more about things like this - why we navigate more readily to sites that offer funny pictures or entertaining stories. I think we all feel helpless to do anything. Of course, that's not an excuse to bury your head in the sand and be all about your own rice bowl.

    The part about Imperialism - true, also. Very frightening. And, of course politicians will not talk about this stuff - even in a non-election year. What a waste of clay most of them turn out to be. Also, I did not know "Chernobyl ruined the USSR."

    I want to be the first to say -- there's going to be a movie. And, it's going to be called "Hydrangea Revolution." I can't believe this has happened to Japan. Did you know that a year or so ago they announced a blogger program? My friend Andi and I were thinking of applying. It was designed to generate tourism interest b/c the industry has suffered so much since the accident. They announced that in April 2012 they would begin a recruiting/competition for 100 or so bloggers to gain free airfare to Japan. In exchange, we'd blog about the country. We're all in denial.

  2. @Anon - thank you!

    @Jen - Thanks very much for your comments. I think Fukushima is one of the most dramatic instances of the renegging of intergenerational responsibility, of a broken social contract. The finding that the disaster was due to human failure and neglect of the safety codes underscores this. The life of the plant exactly coincides, rather notoriously, with the past 40 years (Daiichi was commissioned in 1971).

    As for free airfare there, and traveling there, hmm. They changed their minds about a similar offer to bump up tourism? Was this part of the same program?

    At any rate, until they track down where those three coriums are, the somewhat healthier option might be for you to blog about what Gen X thinks of Fukushima fallout in the USA. There are also a lot of worries about aging nuclear plants and new nuclear plant construction not just in North America (San Onofre comes to mind: http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2012/06/earthquake_big_one_power_outage_california.php) but across South America, Europe, Russia, Asia and now in developing countries. Nuclear energy - and energy in general - is one of the biggest generational problems Gen X faces. It is our generational duty to contend with that fact.

    In that regard, I don't think we are helpless at all. These problems have to be openly researched and discussed, and the Internet enables this. We must do what we can to try to resolve this terrible mess.

    And yet, I think Fukushima is a lesson in what we *can't* do (a real anathema to the heady 'we can do anything with science and tech' mentality) - it's an example of how we have been outstripped by our own technology.

    A commenter on the ENE site said: "We do not have the technology at present time to clean up this mess, that technology is far in the future, could be thousands of years." (http://enenews.com/gundersen-latest-probe-unit-1-indicates-nuclear-fuel-left-containment-audio) We feel caught between present and future every day (daily personal time management is probably the most obvious aspect of this problem) but in this case that shortfall is deadly.

    The fact that so many people are oblivious to what is happening in Japan, or are burying their heads in the sand, and the media are not talking about three core meltdowns and constant fallout - is amazing. But it could be because we have gotten in over our heads and TPTB do not know what to do. We're in a holding pattern of media-supported ignorance and silence.


  3. ...
    That silence is especially amazing when one considers that nuclear power is tied to nuclear weaponry, the energy crisis, the Middle East conflict and the global financial crisis. What if no one significant is talking about Fukushima because the disaster has actually proven two things and dealing with those two things is unthinkable? --> (1) that nuclear energy is not viable because, while it can work for a few decades without trouble, if / when something goes wrong in an aging plant with lax staff, the meltdown(s) and clean-up **will wipe out the economy of any minor country or major world power using this technology**? (as it did with the USSR (Gorbachev said this) and as it has with Japan?) and -->(2) what if Fukushima has effectively ruined the entire Japanese economy and society, and the media blackout is merely concealing the total destruction of a G8 country? Would not the ensuing global imbalance portend wars and conflict in Asia, due to the ensuing geopolitical strategic imbalance? Knock a major player like Japan out of the game, and serious trouble will follow.


    Sometimes I get the impression that Fukushima is the sideshow to the sideshow, the problem no one is following too closely, where the whole house of cards could come down. That's not a certainty. But it is possible, and much depends on whether they have another big earthquake there.

    Regarding Gen X and other generational groups facing this nightmare: I am not suggesting that we all become anti-nuke activists. But we can change how we think about energy problems in terms of strategy, power, exploitation, control, competition and irresponsibility. I don't think it is helpful to retreat into formulaic political arguments about energy concerns. There has to be an acknowledgement of the interrelatedness of the problem of energy.


  4. ...
    We are all in this together and the entire Post WWII nightmare demands a sea change in how we think about the world and how we power the science and tech - and arts - which we value so highly. Again, no matter what policy makers say, we are all in this together. For example: Fukushima fallout will pollute family gardens and parks in the western and midwestern United States. It has affected and will affect rain water and well water and crops across the USA and Canada, and further afield. It is already in California produce.

    Pro-nuclear commentators claim that such fears are overstated. To me, the worst sign that there is something really wrong here and something to worry about regarding fallout is that there is no high profile coverage of it in the media. If there is nothing to worry about, where are the centralized government Websites with regular local atmospheric fallout readings and Fukushima fallout test results for American and Canadian produce locally available in stores, such as almonds, soft fruits, mushrooms, Pacific fish, milk, etc. etc.? I realize that testing takes a lot of money and effort, and in a recession, things happen slowly.

    Nonetheless, Fukushima did not happen yesterday. Is there somewhere online where we can go easily and quickly to check fallout effects on the food we eat and be reassured (or not)? The answer is no. It is a fair question to ask why not. And anyway in Japan, where there are monitoring systems for food, the government altered acceptable levels of radiation in food to include *plutonium* at 'acceptable levels.' That is staggering; here is an American Gen Xer who has been living in Japan and posting videos on Fukushima: