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, April 28, 2012

Nuclear Leaks 18: Fukushima's Imperial Majesty and Hungry Water Spirits

Image Source: Facebook.

As a nuclear crisis hangs in the balance in Japan, symbolism and mythology surrounding the environmental threat gain significance. The slip into an atmosphere of uncertainty begins with strange gekokujō (下剋上) moments, with challenges to conventional, contemporary officials and moral appeals to traditional authority. An illustration comes from the Emperor of Japan's annual spring garden party in the Akasaka Imperial Garden in Tokyo. At the party, the Emperor politely asked Governor Murai of Miyagi Prefecture what workers were doing, exactly, with radioactive debris.  Were they disposing of it carefully?

Hard to say.  In Minamisōma, Fukushima Prefecture, in February and March 2012, there was talk of mysterious black dust everywhere, which had never before been seen. On 27 April 2012, it was officially confirmed that the dust contained plutonium 238, 239, 240, 241 and strontium 89 and 90. It also has huge levels of radioactive cesium 134 and 137. One concerned city official remarks that all the black dust has "blown away." You can see his video of local dust storms, here, and his blog here.

Then there is this little piece, about Kindergarten children who were engaged to wipe down low level hot spots, namely mailboxes, in Ryozen-machi district of Date City in Fukushima Prefecture, 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the ruined Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. Radiation rates are about 1 to 3 microsieverts per hour, with higher doses here and there, which occasioned previous recommendations that the city's children stay inside.

For reference, in May 2011, the Japanese legal radiation level under which under-18s were allowed to work outside was 0.6 microsieverts per hour.  You can see a discussion about safe levels of radiation in Japan, including the comments section which has many links, here. On the other hand, a comment from the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons provides an opposing view, and dismisses the dangers of low dose radiation, here. The polishing of mailboxes was done on 20 April 2012 to commemorate Japan's postal service.

New ways of dealing with fallout in Fukushima Prefecture, 21 April 2012. Image Source: Fukushima Minyu via EXSKF.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Nuclear Leaks 17: American Radiation Risks

Image Source: GoogleMaps via Common Dreams.

Common Dreams has a piece on the Natural Resources Defense Council's assessment of potential areas of fallout risk in North America around American nuclear power plants. The NRDC allows users to enter their zip code (here) to call up a Fukushima-like projection around their nearest plant.

It is the kind of thing that frightens people, but then again, the news out of the nuclear power industry is not very encouraging these days. Alarmist Preppers claim that North America is being hit with vast amounts of fallout, which they insist is being covered up by the government and mainstream media.  On the other hand, they confront the remarkable counter-factual logic of those who still think that nuclear energy will reduce humanity's carbon footprint. On 20 March 2012, Olivia Fermi argued for the Vancouver Observer that, "Nuclear energy [is] still looking good for climate change reduction post-Fukushima." One commenter thanked Olivia for championing, "clean nuclear energy."

That is not the line taken by Common Dreams, whose author focuses on conditions at American plants:
In the one year since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began, the Nuclear Regulator[y] Commission (NRC) has failed to enact any safety mandate for U.S. reactors, an oversight the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says is making 120 million Americans at an increased risk of radioactive impacts. The group's new U.S. nuclear fallout map shows the risk factors associated with the nation's plants and the radioactive plumes that would have occurred had an area been hit with a Fukushima-like disaster.
The NRC is criticized for its domestic nuclear management. This is the Website of the branch of the US Environmental Protection Agency that deals with nuclear emergency responses and radiation data testing. According to the NRDC, the following American nuclear plants had emergency shutdowns in 2011:
I have an earlier post, here, about a leak at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Plant in Mississippi in 2011. There were further problems at Grand Gulf in February 2012. The NRC recently penalized Fort Calhoun, Turkey Point, Florida and Catawba, South Carolina plants for violations. In March 2012, the NRC granted construction approval for two new nuclear plants in South Carolina. And on 10 April 2012, a report circulated on the Web that the US Military was stocking up on Potassium Iodide tablets to protect troops from radioactive fallout.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Nuclear Leaks 16: Chernobyl Anniversary - Wormwood Will Fall from the Sky

Control room in Chernobyl's Reactor #4. Image © (2005) Gerd Ludwig via Boston Globe.

Today is the 26th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Alla Yaroshinskaya, former Deputy to the USSR Supreme Soviet summed up the outcome: "The most dangerous element that came out of the Chernobyl reactor wasn't Cesium or Plutonium, but lies. The lie of '86, that's what I call it, a lie that was propagated like the radioactivity throughout the whole country and the entire world." Above, the control room of Chernobyl's Reactor #4 mirrrors worries about Fukushima's Reactor #4 (a number considered to be bad luck in Asia).

In 1986 and 1987, 240,000 liquidators and support workers passed through Chernobyl to contain the crisis. They were called biorobots. Ultimately, 600,000 people were recognized for their clean-up work; and according to the IAEA, there were 100,000 more who went unrecognized. Greenpeace claims that there was a total of 800,000 liquidators. National Geographic has some photographs of these workers here. The IAEA sees no direct correlation between their radiation exposure and their later cancer rates. Perhaps 40,000 are dead now, and some 100,000, now in their forties, are disabled and suffer from unending health problems, with about 4,000 dying every yearTheir children exhibited a seven-fold increase in genetic mutations. Their predicament has not been systematically studied or fully acknowledged. The debate on the number of deaths caused by the accident is inconclusive to say the least: Chernobyl's total number of deaths lies somewhere between 43 people and 1 million people.

The liquidators' efforts cannot be underestimated; they prevented a second explosion and China Syndrome at Chernobyl, which could have rendered Europe uninhabitable. The sheer size of the workforce, the speed at which they had to work, the resources they needed, and the costs involved to contain the fallout at Chernobyl all make Fukushima's smaller, valiant total workforce at the one year point of around 18,000 extremely worrying. Chernobyl is widely considered to be one of the key factors which brought down the Soviet Union.

The main medal (here) given by Soviet authorities to liquidators features a drop of blood irradiated with alpha and beta particles and gamma rays. First responders additionally received a medal with Lenin on it. There are various other medals for special workers, such as firefighters, and anniversary medals (see also here). One commemorative medal features a pregnant woman on one side and a Chernobyl clock on the other. According to Wiki, liquidator medals have been available for sale since the 1990s in Belarussian, Ukrainian and Russian markets. As their recipients died, some medals were sold by surviving family members. They are also sold on the Internet by antique dealers.

Mythology, water spirits and radiation: Chornobyl (Artemisia vulgaris) roots were traditionally used to banish Slavonic water nymphs, or rusalkyThis is: Renée Fleming singing Song of the Moon in Dvořák's Rusalka in a NY Met production. In folk medicine, overdosing on Chornobyl roots led to memory loss.

The Chernobyl disaster (described in this excellent documentary) has not just engendered lies. It has also become interwoven with popular culture and Biblical, Renaissance and Millennial eschatologies. It is, in fact, an object lesson in how engineering and scientific failures can easily and rapidly enter the realm of myth, symbols, superstitions and religious dreams. With Chernobyl, it happened almost immediately, starting with a July 1986 article in the New York Times, which associated the name of the exploded nuclear reactor with the Wormwood Star in the Bible's Book of Revelation. In this post, I trace a winding, very strange road to follow how the religious and linguistic etymology of the word 'Wormwood' contributed to the mythologizing of this nuclear event.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Look Skyward: The Lyrids

The Lyrids return. Image Source: Behind Astrography.

Tonight and especially tomorrow night (the night of 21-22 April) mark the peak of the Lyrids meteor shower. The meteors are visible from April 16 to 26, with their radiant in the constellation of Lyra, easy to view because the star Vega is located in it. Vega is the fifth brightest star in the whole night sky and the second brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere. As a relatively close star, Vega has long been studied and is widely considered by astronomers to be the most important star in the sky after the Sun.

Wiki comments that the "source of the meteor shower is the periodic Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher." The shower was first recorded almost 700 years before the birth of Christ by a Chinese astronomer, and was noted in one of the earliest works of Chinese history, the Zuo Zhuan, which states: "On day xīn-mǎo of month 4 in the summer (of year 7 of King Zhuang of Lu), at night, fixed stars are invisible, at midnight, stars dropped down like rain. (夏四月辛卯 夜 恆星不見 夜中 星隕如雨)"

The best-viewing time listed in this pictorial is for the UK in 2011. Image Source: behindastrography.

While this is not a storm noted for many meteors at its peak, this is the first annual shower in 15 months where the moon has not been blocking the view.  The Lyrids are also known to have sudden bursts of meteors. To see them, look at this chart for viewing directions worldwide. In the Northeastern United States, Ontario, and Quebec, look Northeast from 11:30 p.m. and then East up to 4:30 a.m. EST. In the UK, look at the skies earlier in the evening.

Viewing later in the evening: look East. Image Source: Astronomy via Blogster.

The constellation of Lyra is the shower's radiant, between Hercules and Cygnus the Swan. Image Source: Living Moon Astrology.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nuclear Leaks 15: Fukushima - Media Blackouts and Media Nightmares

Tape on Fukushima's leaky pipes. Image Source: AP via HuffPo.

Caption for the above photograph: "In this photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), a section of a hose, top, from which tons of highly radioactive water appears to have leaked into the ocean, is seen covered with vinyl tape at the tsunami-hit Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, Thursday, April 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)"

Hello darkness, my old friend. Fukushima (福島) means 'Island of Bliss,' or 'Island of Good Fortune,' but every new headline contradicts the name of the prefecture and its crippled Daiichi power plants. 'Shima' means island, and ironically the homonym 'fuku' (拭く) means '(to) wipe or mop (up).'  Because Fukushima's enemy is invisible, there is a lot of leeway for interpretation about what is happening. Journalists and bloggers complain of an international media blackout, possibly requested for diplomatic reasons by the Japanese government. At the same time, officials are reluctant to explain what is happening and cause panic among citizens. They likely fear that anything they say now could inadvertently confirm later liabilities. Adam Broinowski comments:
Stories of tragedy, heroism, resilience and recovery filled the daily news ... [after the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami] ... [o]ne local from the area responded in poetry: The stars were amazingly beautiful, but I saw fire burning red beneath the black sky in the east. It was silent, but we could hear explosions somewhere, and the smell of burning was in the air. The Fukushima meltdowns have long been in gestation and were finally born from a movement of ocean and earth. Not so much an historical caesura as its ‘3/11' naming suggests, Fukushima is a re-telling of an old story, only in capitals.
Since 1971, Fukushima Daiichi's weaknesses have grown out of hubris and complacency, which persisted despite decades of international warnings (see here, here and here). Considering the noise against the nuclear industry and nuclear weapons in the 1970s and 1980s, the silence from the media now is deafening. The world's greatest ever environmental disaster is unfolding. Where are political environmental talkers, like Al Gore, who was all over the press a few years ago about global warming and melting ice caps? Why isn't a documentary film-maker political activist like Michael Moore getting to the bottom of corporate secrets in the nuclear industry in America? Silence, like a cancer, grows. Our words like silent raindrops fall, and echo in wells of silence.

MSM silence around Fukushima is a real problem. Local media and wire services are reporting events at the plants, but MSM news programs do not give the information high profile coverage. This silence is creating an information vacuum, increasingly filled by Internet chatter, and the latter exhibits troubling signs.

Hence, Fukushima is becoming a prime example of how the Internet is shaping Millennial consciousness. The Internet is now a strategic - possibly a decisive - factor in any unfolding disaster, because it can alter the generally perceived context of a crisis in the blink of an eye. In a similar way, the power of the Internet was initially demonstrated after 9/11, when online communications allowed 9/11 to become the subject of malevolent second-guessing of governmental, political and social authorities; Cyberspace, which was supposed to become the ultimate source of renewed democratic freedoms, enabled toxic reinterpretations of an increasingly frayed reality.

The first decade of the 2000s confirm that the media lessons of 9/11 were not lost on politicians and power-brokers, nor equally on little people, who realized that social networking and online media tools allowed them to craft the cachet of micro-fame. In this atmosphere, fake or ignorant online sincerity about a disaster looks more authentic than that of unplugged-in people, like the workers at Fukushima, who struggle to contain the actual disaster, and who may die trying to protect us.

Why would cyber-citizens trust their friendly neighbourhood online conspiracy theorist more than the representatives they elected to office? The very act of questioning authority on the Internet now bequeaths automatic, unsubstantiated and false credibility to any cyber-personality who bothers to engage that trope. And while some commentators are sincere and trying to engage in the world around them for the common good, others have agendas; and still others are wolves in sheep's clothing.