Thursday, March 31, 2011

out-of-synch hatred

What's behind the intensified attacks on Islam in America recently, from New York to Oklahoma to Wyoming and even Alaska? There's been no extremist violence in the U.S., and pro-democracy movements in the Middle East are encouraging, and nobody's trying to "enact Sharia law" in America, so why the high level of bigotry and scapegoating?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fukushima Update: Some Highlights

Contamination is high in the seawater near the nuclear pant.

DemFromCT at Daily Kos says the disaster in Fukushima is unlikely to affect the nature and use of nuclear power.
...there's no nuclear renaissance in this country. We were unlikely to accept a lot of nuclear reactor construction before Fukushima, and nothing unfolding in Japan right now is likely to change that. Still, some folks in Congress like the idea of "clean energy" and figure the spent fule issue can be kicked down the road, so the debate won't disappear. As if the nuclear lobby would let it.
Meanwhile, the plant is hot. Very hot.
Engineers at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant were evacuated from one reactor after three men suffered radiation burns, the second retreat from the location in as many days.
Have no fear--they'll develop a drug: From Voice of America News
The serious radiation leaks at Japan's damaged Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant have reawakened public fears about radiation sickness. But what if there were a drug that could not only protect people from dangerous levels of radiation exposure but also heal those actually exposed to damaging nuclear radiation?
Researchers say they are developing such a drug - one that can both prevent and repair human cell damage from all types of radiation exposure.
Such a healing medication has the potential to lessen panic and fear generated by catastrophic reactor accidents. Plant workers trying to make repairs near a crippled reactor's radioactive core might be less fearful if they could take a pill to repair their own radiation-damaged cells.
And, from Andrew Revkin at the Dot Earth blog of the New York Times: If we're going to keep nuclear, we need some big changes--changes we don't have the regulatory courage to implement.

Finally, regardless of nuclear industry spin, half of Americans now oppose building new nuclear plants--anywhere.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Yemeni troops on streets, the people are not backing down

Yemeni troops on streets, two party members quit Reuters: "'Tanks don't scare us. They have killed dozens of us and hundreds were wounded. And we are not leaving until Ali Abdullah Saleh leaves,' said Abdullah Saif, one of the protesters."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Japan update--containers can't contain and spinners can't spin

...or contain & spin forever, at least. Both are happening now, but the long-term outlook is that this will continue to be a crisis that upends a number of assumptions the public has been fed about nuclear power--and the energy economy in general.

Right now it's all about getting water into the reactors--and Japanese technicians appear to be having a hard time doing that. Ever since the pool containing spent fuel rods ran dry on Wednesday, all pretense of this being a containable crisis has been lifted. A few minutes ago, Japan's nuclear agency raised the threat to a "5," where "7" is the highest level. "Fuel rods in three of the six reactors are thought to have partially melted, while spent fuel rods in cooling pools that have ceased to function also posed urgent problems." "The move," Reuters reports, "puts it on the same level as the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US, and two levels below the Chernobyl meltdown." American and Japanese politicians, and the nuclear wonks upon which politicians currently rely are at odds.
US officials say there is a potentially dire problem in the cooling pool for spent nuclear rods in the No. 4 reactor, despite the fact that Japanese officials insist that No. 3 is the more urgent problem, according to the The Los Angeles Times. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the reactor pool has a significant hole or crack, allowing water to drain out of the pool, reports the Times. Leaving the spent rods uncovered allows them to overheat causing them catch on fire and release significant amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. Such a problem would be extremely difficult to solve.
Differences between American and Japanese assessments of the disaster have raised talk of a rift between the two nations' governments. More likely, there is merely a rift in transparency, as the U.S. warns its own citizens in Japan to stay further away from the site than Japanese officials are advising. U.S. officials, of course, have no reason not to be transparent about other countries' disasters.

For those who want to wrap their head around the unpleasant comparisons to Chernobyl, this piece at lays out the reasons why, even though the fire at Chernobyl burned for ten days, Fukushima has a much higher combined power output, making the stakes in the current containment effort even higher than many suppose.
In other crappy news, food prices are going to rise as a result of contaminated beef and rice.

Perhaps the big global conversation should now be about how to handle international radioactive fallout, but that's not the conversation that's happening. Rather, nations' mainstream media are arguing about whether this is the end of "the nuclear power revival." The Indian government presents a paradigm case of stubbornness: They're building a nuclear plant on an earthquake fault zone, and have no plans to reconsider the project--only to re-evaluate safety issues, a gesture which in most contexts means very little. Japan battles to contain a crisis at its nuclear reactors, opposition parties in India have asked the government to review its ambitious plans to increase the use of nuclear energy. Anti-nuclear activists are calling for a freeze on further expansion pointing to potential risks from an accident.

The Indian government says it will not reconsider plans to expand nuclear power generation. It says it will, however, re-evaluate safety issues.

"There are lessons be learned,” said V. Raghuraman, a former energy adviser to the Confederation of India Industry. “That is what India will do. The question now will be one of re-examination and see whether the path on which we have been going ahead is providing the necessary safeguards and safety procedures are being incorporated, so they will be re-evaluated. So there may be some postponement, but no derailing of the process."

In particular, there is expected to be greater focus on potential safety hazards at a nuclear reactor to be built at Jaitapur, in western Maharashtra, by France. Billed as the world’s biggest reactor, it will generate about 10,000 megawatts of electricity. But some concerns have been raised because the site stands on an earthquake-prone zone.
The most discouraging part of this conversation is the constant reminder that the absence of nuclear energy automatically entails an increase in the carbon-based energy--and an accompanying increase in CO2 emissions. Germany's decision to pause its nuclear program for three months, a reasonable pause for a safety overhaul, has dire consequences for the fight against carbon emissions.

The three-month German moratorium alone would, according to a calculation by energy analysts, add eight megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
Climate-change scientists and activists are now contemplating the effects of a middle to long-term shift away from nuclear.
''I despise and fear the nuclear industry as much as any other green,'' wrote influential British climate commentator George Monbiot in his Guardian blog this week. ''[But] even when nuclear power plants go horribly wrong, they do less damage to the planet and its people than coal-burning stations operating normally.''
Ruling out nuclear, ''a low-carbon source of energy, which could help us tackle the gravest threat the world now faces … does neither the people nor the places of the world any favours''. Back in the 1970s, it was expected that nuclear energy would soon become the world's dominant generator of electrical power. Nations such as France determinedly invested in the technology after the oil-price shock.
Wall Street Journal financial blogger Alen Mattich is a nuclear power expert now. Seriously, Murdoch can do things like that for you. Mattich must certainly have no incentive to write off renewables in the midst of this crisis. But he has a tough time stopping himself from at least laying the groundwork for self-refutation when he writes:
But looking to renewables as a source of electricity generation is a forlorn hope. Sure, Brazil gets nearly all of its electricity from renewables, while Canada, Switzerland, Sweden Pakistan, Armenia, Romania and Finland get from a third to two thirds of their needs from renewables.

But these countries are blessed with plenty of water running downhill. Strip out hydroelectric generation, and other renewables largely make up less than 10% of electricity generation (in countries with nuclear plants). At most it’s around 13% in Russia, Spain and Slovakia.

To be sure, great efforts are being made towards developing non-hydro renewables, and generation has boomed during the past few years. But it is hard to see how it could fully replace nuclear power for at least a generation, and possibly longer.
Note that the WSJ financial, newly appointed nuclear power expert lists "water running downhill" as a prerequisite for transition readiness. But if you accept at face value the claim that "we're just not ready" for a transition to post-carbon, and non-nuclear, energy, you are only getting half the story. And the other half of that story is not coming from tree-hugging nonscientist hippies, and the blueprints for an economic and structural transition are not being written by Stalinists. Maybe some weekend reading on renewable energy will lift your spirits, increase your political resolve, make you both more optimistic about humanity and more determined to make that optimism show through in politics itself--politics that we control in so far as we can reclaim the public square, and the commons.

In the long run, it's more economically and environmentally viable. In the short run, we're closer than we might suspect in some ways, even if formidable structural barriers exist elsewhere. In the Latin American context:
Industrializing countries need efficient, affordable power, and power demand in Latin America will surge over the next decade. Though renewable power is still seen as uneconomic in many parts of the region, we need only look at recent events to see that fossil fuel prices are unpredictable. Additionally, oil spills, coal mine and natural gas accidents, and perhaps too nuclear plant accidents will continue to have untold environmental and economic costs. But the sun, the sea, rivers, wind, these are unchanging. And thanks to the rapid development of a renewable industry in Europe and China, costs are coming down. Indeed, investors prior to the crisis saw double digit returns in the wind sector in numerous parts of the world, and solar power could be cost-competitive in as little as two years.

With the right regulatory signals, renewable energy could prove an important complement to base load power in Latin America in the next decade. The time to act is now.
Why, I wonder, do economic reporters feel compelled to reassure us that the "green buying binge won't last" in the wake of the Japan crisis? Over the past year, Americans have seen a domestic coal diaster that killed 29 people in a non-union coal mine in West Virginia, an offshore oil rig explosion which, after killing 11 people, proceded to kill an entire section of the Gulf of Mexico, and now a disaster in Japan that casts into doubt the "cleanliness" of the nuclear alternative. But Americans and our global allies seeking a transition to renewable energy are fighting tremendous odds. Any inclination on the part of the Obama administration for such a transition died when Koch Bros-funded Americans for Prosperity engineered the ouster of green energy advocate Van Jones from the White House. Since then, Obama has marched to the orders of big oil and big nuke, and corporate media is eager to march along. The corporate communists once known as the GOP not only supports the principle of nuclear energy, but is prepared to manifest this support by violating free market principles and directly funding them. Keep that in mind as you hear financial experts say that we can't achieve a renewables transition without government funding (along with the conditional normative assumption that we shouldn't, for some reason, be massively funding a scientifically feasible transition to safe and clean energy).

Listening to the financial scribes--their language in shaping, through description, their financial universes--is an study in the rhetoric of economic correctness. Although solar shares rose, the crisis won't be (won't be?) enough to "quickly boost demand" for power.  "The real winners," says one insufficiently enthusiastic clean energy investment manager, "will be natural gas and energy efficiency." Well duh, but the double digit gains for solar panels and other renewables implements --including climbs of 77% for Germany's Conergy AG and 54% for Solon SE, suggest that there's life in the renewables sector that will get a significant shot in the arm even if government commitment climbs only incrementally in the next few years. A major commitment by any big government could change the renewable energy game. And sooner or later, one of those governments will blink. Armed with that possibility, advocates of clean and safe energy can battle back the perception that nuclear power is inevitable, the only post-carbon game in town. That assumption is reinforced in the business sections of all mainstream media outlets, including in the form of personal advice to investors. A public counteroffensive on renewable energy could prove both timely and effective.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Saint Patrick Battalion

Saint Patrick Battalion by David Rovics:

My name is John Riley
I'll have your ear only a while
I left my dear home in Ireland
It was death, starvation or exile
And when I got to America
It was my duty to go
Enter the Army and slog across Texas
To join in the war against Mexico

It was there in the pueblos and hillsides
That I saw the mistake I had made
Part of a conquering army
With the morals of a bayonet blade
So in the midst of these poor, dying Catholics
Screaming children, the burning stench of it all
Myself and two hundred Irishmen
Decided to rise to the call

From Dublin City to San Diego
We witnessed freedom denied
So we formed the Saint Patrick Battalion
And we fought on the Mexican side

We marched 'neath the green flag of Saint Patrick
Emblazoned with "Erin Go Bragh"
Bright with the harp and the shamrock
And "Libertad para la Republica"
Just fifty years after Wolftone
Five thousand miles away
The Yanks called us a Legion of Strangers
And they can talk as they may

We fought them in Matamoros
While their volunteers were raping the nuns
In Monterey and Cerro Gordo
We fought on as Ireland's sons
We were the red-headed fighters for freedom
Amidst these brown-skinned women and men
Side by side we fought against tyranny
And I daresay we'd do it again
We fought them in five major battles
Churobusco was the last
Overwhelmed by the cannons from Boston
We fell after each mortar blast
Most of us died on that hillside
In the service of the Mexican state
So far from our occupied homeland
We were heroes and victims of fate

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

upon hearing that Rush had made fun of Japanese disaster victims, I thought, once again...

Nobody's conservative friend listens to Rush, or reads Ann Coulter. Their conservative friends don't either. So they're loved by millions, 'fessed up to by none.

Nuclear Disaster Review

Whatever the controversies of where and how far the radioactivity will spread, and however impossible and overwhelming this all sounds (is there anyone not lying to the public? any hope for transparency in the future? and if not, then what's left to do?), the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi has reached international crisis level; authorities have been forced to spend more time fixing and managing the disaster than effectively covering it up. Mainstream and corporate media are finally admitting what only "fringe" media (and a number of scientists) had been saying a few days ago. A lot of people are going to die because of corporate greed, government complacency, and the socially constructed desire for an energy panacea.

According to Stratfor, the admission by Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of a meltdown of the reactor core is especially significant, because is the government agency that reports to the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy within the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. NISA works in conjunction with the Atomic Energy Commission. Its role is to provide oversight to the industry and is responsible for signing off construction of new plants, among other things. It has been criticized for approving nuclear plants on geological fault lines and for an alleged conflict of interest in regulating the nuclear sector. It was NISA that issued the order for the opening of the valve to release pressure — and thus allegedly some radiation — from the Fukushima power plant.
NISA has also overseen the entire government response to the nuclear reactor problems following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It is difficult to determine at this point whether the NISA statement is accurate, as the Nikkei report has not been corroborated by others. It is also not clear from the context whether NISA is stating the conclusions of an official assessment or simply making a statement. However, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, also said that although it had relieved pressure, nevertheless some nuclear fuel had melted and further action was necessary to contain the pressure.

Yesterday, a friend reminded me to keep in mind the experiences of the emergency technicians working at Fukushima now. This engineering student's blog, a very well-written, busy blog which more people should subscribe to, has a very effective post that explains the human factor from an technician's perspective.
As the fires at Unit 4 and other sources increase the radiation levels, the dose rates get so high that workers can only spend short times on the site without getting radiation sickness. Moreover, after a worker does a shift in an extreme radiation area--it might be only 30 minutes or less--and receives a large does, he must allow his body to heal before being re-exposed to radiation. I don't know how long, but think in terms of how long it takes to recover from a burn, so several days to a couple of weeks. This creates a manpower problem very quickly. . . Assuming things continue apace, access will get more and more difficult and it is entirely credible the site will have to be essentially abandoned to run its course for several weeks.
They will literally run out of bodies.
From Justin Elliott at Salon, "What the media missed about the nuclear lobby:"

The Nuclear Energy Institute is a Washington-based trade group that has been widely quoted in the press -- including Salon -- in recent days as representing the American nuclear industry. What media reports haven't mentioned is that NEI is actually an international organization that serves several Japanese member corporations, including the very company whose reactors are at the center of the crisis: Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).
According to the trade group's 2010 "governance roster," TEPCO is one of about 350 member organizations, along with the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, and other Japanese energy interests....NEI has at times given overly sunny takes on what is happening. Early on in the crisis, for example, NEI distributed to reporters a document from the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (an NEI member) that claimed there was "no danger of the nuclear fuel being exposed" at Fukushima Daiichi plant. That turned out not to be true. An NEI spokesman also argued on Sunday that Americans should be "reassured" by what is happening because lessons will be learned in Japan.
Friends of the Earth has compiled a list of experts to contact about the disaster, and their news is not good for the nuclear industry--or, more accurately, the industry's future victims, in America. Just for starters, the fox is guarding the henhouse and writing the PR about it:
The U.S. makes widespread use of the same aging reactors that are in crisis in Japan. Five of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi 1 site are General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactors, including Unit 1, which suffered an explosion that destroyed part of its containment building on Saturday, and Unit 3, which uses plutonium-based MOX fuel and has been the subject of major efforts to cool the reactor.
Michael Mariotte, executive director and the chief spokesperson for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said: “Nearly one out of five -- 23 – of the operating reactors in the U.S. use the GE Mark I design. All but two of these began commercial operation between 1971 and 1976. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved 20-year license extensions for 18 of these aging GE Mark I reactors. Two applications are currently under review; three reactors have not filed for license renewal. When the reactor designs are the same, and the reactor’s ages are the same, comparisons seem more than appropriate -- indeed, it would be irresponsible not to understand what lessons may be learned from the Japanese experience that would apply to so many aging U.S. reactors that are still in use.” has republished an article by Debora MacKenzie at New Scientist describing the health effects of crisis-level nuclear radiation levels. Radiation poisoning isn't pretty--survivable or not.
Radiation damages DNA, especially as it assembles in dividing cells. That means tissues which contain many dividing cells, such as the gut lining, skin and bone marrow, are most at risk of damage. High enough doses also damage brain cells and such doses are invariably fatal. Less severe damage can be treated, however. Gut damage disturbs fluid balance and can lead to blood infection; marrow damage means no blood cells are produced for clotting and fighting infection. If those problems can be managed, people can be kept alive long enough for gut and marrow to regenerate. A cloned human hormone that boosts white blood cell production sometimes helps; there is little else.
The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. However, so far it seems more likely to resemble the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 which, like Fukushima, lost coolant and had a partial meltdown.
So far, the release of radioactivity at Fukushima appears to be closer to what happened at TMI than at Chernobyl. The huge plume of smoke from Chernobyl spread radiation over most of Europe and forced evacuation within a 30-kilometre radius. The gases that escaped TMI, in contrast, might have travelled as far as New York state, but most stayed within 15 kilometres of the plant.
...So, either Chernobyl or TMI. Those are the choices we currently face. It's time to change the range.

Some information for Twitter users:
Standing out from the crowd is Twitter user @shioyama, and the rest of the the outstanding Global Voices team. They have set up a Japan earthquake hub and post updates frequently. Time Out Tokyo, besides posting frequent updates to Twitter (@TimeOutTokyo), has a number of live reports, safety information and photographs on their website.
Blogger Michael Gakuran (@gakuranman) is posting updates on his blog ( ), including links to blackout schedules and other essential notifications. Similarly, Marcy Sensei (@marcysensei) is updating her feed with translations. Roy Berman (aka @mutantfroginc) has a good stream of updates, as well as amazingly informative information on his blog, including an explanation of who can and cannot give blood in Japan.
Individuals who speak languages other than English or Japanese can visit where you can monitor Twitter updates in a wide range of languages including Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and many more.
There is also a bot collating information from government sources (@earthquake_jp), which we all pray soon remains forever silent.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

stark raving loony

Comment I left at at blog of a friend who called me "occasionally crazy" :
I resent the implication that I am only occasionally crazy. To designate one as even partially sane in contemporary society is to paint them as complicit. I am stark raving mad. For example, I don't like the taste of peanut butter, I think the souls of aborted babies get another chance, and the voices of seemingly chaste, pure-hearted female Christian and Mormon pop singers make me feel quite randy.
Too much information? Almost certainly.

not-so-undercover in Libya

From what little I could gather in this article (which, to be fair, is from the state-run media of the nation most likely to lie about bthe event in question), it doesn't sound like the clandestine (not very effectively clandestine) British forces captured by Libyan rebels are in any danger, or that their detainers are being hostile to them. They were found behaving suspiciously and had weapons on them. The rebels are concerned about Gaddafi bringing in mercenaries from other countries (which he apparently has--and which the U.S. is apparently supporting) to help put down the rebellion. A charitable interpretation is that the Brits were there either to observe events or to assist in rounding up British citizens and getting them the heck out of Libya. Of course, the Ministry of Defence is silent.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Read my editorial on Saudi Arabia and the global oil economy

Check it out over at The conclusion: "We’re willing to let the Saudi Kingdom arrest, torture, and execute human beings in order to maintain our current lifestyle. Moreover, we’re being prodded into this morally bankrupt position knowing full well that the ruling classes in America, and the rest of the world, will do okay for themselves even if the rest of us starve to death. Our willingness to tolerate that brutality only buys us a little time. We’re not even selling out our Saudi brothers and sisters for anything lasting or substantive. The proper answer, both morally and pragmatically, is to support democratic revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, and to start one here."