Nothing Is Happening

SUBHEAD: Instead of Hello Kitty they have to think Chernobyl, and then marshal tens of thousands of 'volunteers'.  

By Steve Ludlum on 23 March 2011 in Economic Undertow - 

Image above: Hello Kitty fabricated with a Hello Kitty Biker tattoo patterned fabric. From (

The slow-motion train wreck at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors continues. Despite the happy talk from Japanese authorities, the situation appears to be deteriorating.
Since the period approximately 8 hours after the crippling tsunami -- when auxiliary battery power for emergency cooling finally failed -- operators have relied on a series of ad hoc fixes: flooding the cores with sea water pumped into the reactors with fire trucks; hosing the buildings down with more fire trucks and a concrete pump; running a long extension cord; bombing the buildings with water drops; etc.

Nothing works because the problems are out of reach of small solutions. The piecemeal approach insures that any grasp is going to fall far short of the efforts needed to force a positive outcome. One would think Botswana is battling a nuclear nightmare. Japan needs more than a handful of fire trucks and the 'Faceless Fifty'. It needs everything and everyone the nation can spare, thousands of trucks, men, lead, sand, boron, concrete, digging machines, pumps ... whatever is available and more!

 Japan also needs a reality check and someone in charge. The reactor problems aren't going to go away by themselves, they are going to keep getting worse. Instead of a full-court press, there is a contest between TEPCO and the establishment on one side - versus the public on the other - over the perception of the establishment! This does not matter.

Like America, the Japanese establishment has had decades problem with facing its energy deficit. Policy has made selling magical thinking and the application of 'stimulus' by money authorities a substitute for accepting changed conditions on the ground. The medium is no longer the message. The reactor 'fix' is the same as more credit bubbles by Bernanke.

The fifty-plus reactors in Japan are a hedge against declining fossil fuel availability accompanying rising costs. Faced with a literal blowup of the hedge, the choice made by the establishment is to reanimate it, as if the 'hedge concept' still has validity. TEPCO and the rest attempt to inflate another 'reactor bubble' by pretending the multi-reactor meltdown in Fukushima isn't as bad as it obviously is. This defective logic is fatal under current circumstances. The real contest is between Japan as a functioning entity on one hand and its crumbling nuclear infrastructure on the other.

The cost of managing the emergency appears to be outside the reach of the Japanese social economy, that is, the cost-benefit mechanism that directs a nation toward collective action. Demanding collective action would illuminate the establishment's intellectual and moral bankruptcy. Events have escaped its ability to manage the same way the Chernobyl disaster unmasked the lazily accepted authority of the USSR.

This presents a dilemma for the establishment, it must either sacrifice itself and its precious toys or the entire scheme is undone by the laws of physics. The establishment chooses to finesse the issue and send forth an endless stream of karaoke klowns to provide distractions until the reactors somehow cure themselves. The problem isn't the handful of reactors, it is all of the reactors and the system that supports them! How will the collective deal with these other reactors?

The actions of the past two decades in Japan has been to 'wither'. The Japanese have been living in a nuclear-powered dream world. Denial isn't going to work any more! If not this emergency, what? The sacrifice demanded now is to do what is necessary at any cost to rein in the out-of-control cores, and then come to terms with the 'discovered' costs of the others. Japan needs leadership and there is none.

If it costs twenty or twenty-thousand lives to neutralize these cores, this price must be paid, regardless of the effects of that payment on the industry! There is no choice as the 20 or 40, or however many more, are already in the balance as the outcome of circumstance. HELLO! The folly of the post-pop 'now' or whatever anyone wants to call it is the insistent rejection of any sense that circumstance matters.

The so-called 'safety' of these particular nuclear plants or nuclear plants in general no longer applies. For Japan the issue is to win or die, to win ugly is acceptable but pretending not to understand how to win is fatal to Japan.

If Japan rouses itself to defeat the reactors rampaging across the countryside the nuclear industry is finished because the delivered cost of its product(s) will be recalculated to reflect their true worth. Modernity is challenged: costs will render it unprofitable or the out-of-control reactors will destroy 'Modern Japan' the same way atomic bombs annihilated Hirohito's militarism.

The establishment cannot bear, the pundits err: the issue is not absolute safety costs as in lives-per-plant but rather, the perceived nature of the costs. This is the relative marginal costs of cheap base load electricity versus the anxiety cost that 'cheap' nuclear inflicts the same customers.

No power company can meter anxiety. If the cost of cheap watts is balloon-headed kids there will be no electricity at all. The tsunami was and is a massive tragedy but ten in a row would not destroy Japan. The 'Fukushima Reactor Keystone Kops Nuclear Repair Department' is a rocket sled aimed at a wall.

The public relations department would rather focus on running an extension cord and turning on some lights rather than mobilizing a nationwide blitz to put the reactors out of their misery. Maybe the extension cord will work and maybe not. Mobilize the nation and people start asking questions - who pays for the next series of reactors when these melt down?

Certainly not a bankrupt Japan, done in by its mis-investment in nuclear power. Can you see the contradictions, now? Melt they will, every single one. Reactors require constant, expensive tending for long periods even after shutdown. The fuel components need the same expensive tending for centuries and more. Without a vital, industrial economy there are insufficient returns to service the massive energy debts these reactors represent. The sunk costs of 'Reactors Inc.' do not allow returns. The reactors have become millstones around Japan's neck. Time is running out for the Keystone Kops to get a grip.

They need a plan and fast. Instead of Hello Kitty they have to think Chernobyl, and then marshal the tens of thousands of 'volunteers' to mine under the reactors to keep cores from melting into the water table, to carry lead shielding to the uppermost levels of the containment pools or to heave radioactive concrete chunks out of the way so that spent fuel ponds and pressure vessels can be stuffed with sand and boron. The four reactors are severely damaged with extremely high levels of radiation adjacent to them.

On several occasions workers have been withdrawn from the plant because of the level of radiation exposure. Without a more-or-less instant fix the increasing radiation will prohibit anyone from working at the entire site. The reactors will then melt down. Greater ineptitude is hard to imagine:
  • Authorities have not said -- and may not know -- the level of damage to the reactor cores of the three reactors containing operating fuel.
  • Authorities have not indicated -- and may not know -- the amount of damage done to spent fuel pools in the four reactors and whether fuel rods have melted down or whether fuel components have escaped from any of the pools. They do not know or have not said whether the fuel in the pools is covered with water or debris, whether they are leaking and which the fuel in the pools is 'hot' radioactively and which is not.
  • Nobody can explain the series of fires that have taken place at reactor number three. This is today's fire courtesy of NHK World in English:
Nobody knows, nobody talks: meanwhile, unknown amounts of radiation is spewing out of the four reactors. This from a Reuters article 3/23/11 (
Edwin Lyman, senior scientist at the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists Global Security Program said the levels were worrying: "The fact that radiation releases are approaching the level they did in Chernobyl is a cause for concern, a sign of the severity of the accident that's already taken place," said Lyman, especially given the way Chernobyl exploded. One has to remember that there's still no evidence that the containment structures of the damaged (Fukushima) reactors 1, 2, and 3 have been significantly breached, which is a difference from Chernobyl where the confinement structure was destroyed in the very early stages of the accident." In Vienna, the Austrian institute's Dr Gerhard Wotawa said it was difficult to make day-by-day comparisons with Chernobyl, but he added: "For cesium and iodine ... the source terms (amounts released from the two accidents) are not so different." He said iodine -- linked to cancer if found in high doses -- and cesium were both "volatile substances" which escape relatively easily when there are nuclear accidents. Only minor traces of radiation have been detected in countries outside Japan, but the U.N. nuclear watchdog this week said "high levels of contamination" have been measured around the Fukushima plant, about 250 km north of Tokyo. Japanese authorities advised parents on Wednesday not to let infants drink tap water in the capital because of raised radiation levels, and the United States became the first nation to block some food imports from Japan.
Right now it appears the primary institutional impulse is to cover up and hope the problems go away.

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