AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

The wolf is at the door

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 27, 2012

IT was almost the Aesop’s Fable in reverse: Officials have for so long been so little forthcoming with real information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, some people wouldn’t believe them even if they were to tell the truth that the shepherd boy is warning about a fictitious wolf.

Other people, for reasons that are not clear, seem determined to create a situation which will manifest that wolf and bring him to the doorstep.

Most of the 30 (or 40, or 50, depending on the account) people who showed up for a good, old-time sit-in on Tuesday in the city of Kitakyushu were expressing honest, albeit uninformed, concerns. They came to block six trucks hauling 80 tons of debris created by last year’s disaster from Ishinomaki, Miyagi, for a trial incineration at the Hiagari facility. The demonstrators plopped down in front of the gates to prevent the trucks from entering, which they successfully did for more than eight hours. One even crawled under a truck. The police finally dispersed them, arresting two in the process. That cleared the way for another 21 trucks to arrive later that evening.

Officials said the first burning of the debris over three days at two locations in the city went ahead as scheduled. It was packed in 140 plastic bags each measuring two meters in diameter. The announced radiation count was less than 100 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. The health ministry’s lowest acceptable limit for radioactive cesium is 200 becquerels per kilogram of drinking water and 500 for vegetables.

The debris was mixed in a one-to-nine ratio with ordinary municipal refuse and incinerated in a method the city claims will remove more than 99.9% of the toxic material, even that contaminated by radioactive cesium. The city will then measure the radioactivity of the trucks and the equipment after the work is completed, and decide by mid-June whether to allow full-scale incineration to continue. If they agree, they will be the first municipality in western Japan to do so.

The small number of demonstrators is significant for two reasons. First, Kitakyushu was once a heavily industrialized city with serious pollution problems, but has won international recognition for converting itself into an “environmental city”. As a result, most residents do indeed trust them in matters of this sort. One 34-year-old woman griped about the demonstrators: “These people have a narrow viewpoint and think only of their immediate surroundings.” The city admitted, however, that they were negligent in promptly explaining the procedure to citizens’ groups and focusing on agriculture and fishery groups instead.

The low number is also significant because the Japan Revolutionary Communist League, AKA Chukakuha, wasn’t able to round up any more than that for the demo. Chukakuha is a revolutionary/terrorist outfit that arose in the late 60s/early 70s, when that sort of thing was in vogue. More than a hundred of its members have been arrested for murder (sometimes of themselves), assault, and homemade bomb production. They’re still around, though less active and with less coverage than before. One member fired a mortar at the guest house for heads of state at the 1986 Tokyo summit, and others set fire to the homes of public sector employees in Chiba in 2002/3. Here’s the JRCL English-language website, which gives you an insight into their avocation. Japanese-language ability is required to read one member’s report boasting of how they held up the incineration, however.

It’s said to be an “open secret” that Chukakuha were behind last year’s Energy Shift Study Conference, attended by then-Prime Minister Kan Naoto. Mr. Kan is no dupe, by the way; he’s hung out with people of this sort since his own days as a student demonstrator, and has spoken more than once of his sympathy for Zenkyoto’s “cultural revolution”.  Another fellow traveler is one of Japan’s leading punitive leftists, the head of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, Fukushima Mizuho. She and her unofficial husband have given legal advice to Chukakuha members, spoken at conferences organized by their members, supported some of their activities, and were (jointly) named as one of the most 100 influential people of the world last year by Time magazine for their anti-nuclear energy crusade. What, you hadn’t heard?

The news readers in this clip don’t offer any more information than you already know, but it’s worth watching to see how things went down. Where else in the world do policemen dressed in freshly pressed white shirts and neckties drag off demonstrators to the pig box?

Whistling for the wolf

While a certain amount of public hysteria about a nuclear power plant accident is to be expected, professor/author/alphablogger Ikeda Nobuo charges that the mass media in general and the Asahi group in particular are deliberately provoking it and making it worse. The Asahi group operates both a newspaper and a television network, and their political/social views are roughly similar to those of the New York Times in the U.S. and The Guardian in Britain.

Prof. Ikeda is scathing in his criticism of the Asahi, not for their general philosophy, but for their readiness to reverse their positions to enflame public opinion and benefit in the form of higher circulation/ratings. Once a strong editorial supporter of nuclear energy in the 1970s, the newspaper has shifted its stance over time and became a nuclear-free advocate after the Fukushima accident. He asserts that the newspaper’s approach is typical of behavior stretching back decades, and is reminiscent of their editorials and articles written to whip up martial spirit during the war. He quotes from an Asahi editorial written on 14 August 1945.

“There is no question that the atomic bomb has considerable power. Nonetheless, while all new weapons have power in the beginning, historical fact bears out that their power suddenly wanes when measures are eventually established against them….the opportunity for revenge on the enemy’s atrocities will arrive when first, the belief of the people burning within their breasts becomes a ball of fire that quietly hardens and bursts at once into flame.”

Note that the editorial was published after the two atomic bombings and Japan had already agreed to surrender unconditionally, but the newspaper was still talking about “revenge on the enemy’s atrocities”.

After Japan’s surrender the following day, the Asahi wrote an editorial saying that the country must establish “a nation of peace”. Since then, they have trumpeted the necessity to “defend the Peace Constitution”.

Prof. Ikeda then presents for comparison an editorial written by the newspaper’s Ono Hirohito calling for a nuclear power-free society that reverses their pro-nuclear stance:

“Isn’t declaring that we should examine whether or not to give up nuclear energy the same as saying the accident of 11 March didn’t occur? We should first make up our minds whether or not we should give up nuclear energy, and then confront the subsequent challenge of whether or not we are able to give it up. The Fukushima accident compels us to change our thinking in that way.”

Says the professor:

“It is eerie how closely this resembles the editorial of 14 August 1945. What they have in common is the approach of proclaiming a hardline policy based on an ideal without considering whether or not it is possible. During the war, they pandered to Imperial Headquarters, and after the defeat they reversed themselves and pandered to the GHQ. During the period of rapid growth, they pandered to the power companies and supported nuclear energy, and after the accident they reversed themselves and support a nuclear-free Japan. For the Asahi Shimbun, the Fukushima accident was the second defeat in the war.”

He deals with the behavior of the television network in a separate blog post:

“It is a simple matter to cast off a sense of shame, pander to fools, and boost ratings, as Asahi TV has done. It is the same as the Asahi Shimbun boosting its circulation during the war by writing of the “explosion of the ball of fire that is the people” to enflame public opinion.

“This is the fateful dilemma of mass society. Democracy is based on the premise that the people are wise, but in fact the people are emotional and short-sighted. In a national referendum, they would likely vote to give up nuclear energy and reduce taxes to zero. The people who believe that is true democracy have the intellectual facilities of a junior high school student.

“A consensus can be created by emotion, but results cannot be changed by emotion. The losses incurred by stopping nuclear power generation have exceeded JPY six trillion, which is already more than the damage from the accident at Fukushima reactor #1. Any large power blackouts that occur will likely cause immense human damage far greater than that of Fukushima. When that happens, one wonders if Asahi TV will align itself with the victims and strike the anti-establishment pose.”

The Asahi isn’t the only Japanese newspaper responsible for spreading paranoia. The EXSKF site (which enjoys a bit of paranoia itself) demonstrates how the Yomiuri Shimbun’s mishandling of technical information — beyond the comprehension of the average journo — has created the false impression that the Fukushima nuclear contamination is four times worse than that at Chernobyl. It isn’t, and the poster at the site provides and explains the correct calculations:

Cesium-137 released from Fukushima: 400,000 terabecquerels

Cesium-137 released from Chernobyl: 3,400,000 terabecquerels

Kansai Electric’s Oi nuclear reactors

Media wolf whistling is bad enough, but downright despicable is the use of nuclear energy as an issue by politicians and their associates who already enjoy broad public support. It is difficult to see how they can benefit from pandering. Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru has galvanized attention as the symbol of serious, bottom-up government reform in Japan, and his rise has ignited a renaissance of dynamic criticism and debate, particularly among those under the age of 50. Yet he has chosen over the past few months to detour into a call for a nuclear-free Japan with emotional appeals characterized by the absence of proposals for replacing the lost energy source. In particular, he is speaking out against resuming operations at the Oi nuclear power plant in his neck of the woods. Here’s an example of his rhetoric:

“If you say you’re putting peoples’ lives first (the slogan of the ruling Democratic Party), putting the peoples’ lives in danger by restarting the nuclear plants would not be possible.”

Kansai Electric Power, facing the worst potential power shortfalls of the country’s utilities if the plants are not restarted, has warned that it will have to raise rates otherwise. Osaka Prefecture Gov. Matsui Ichiro, Mr. Hashimoto’s primary political ally, retorted by threatening wolf-like behavior to oppose a rate hike:

“Mayor Hashimoto Toru and I can only resort to holding a sit-in in front of their offices in opposition.”

Kansai Electric says their thermal power fuel costs (oil, coal) were JPY 500 billion higher than last year (to compensate for the shutdown of the nuclear plants), and will amount to another JPY 400 billion this year. Their total fuel costs are double those of 2010, and they are warning of insolvency.

The City of Osaka is the largest single stockholder of Kansai Electric. Thus, the man who represents that ownership stake is behaving as if he would bankrupt the company. Ah, but one of his advisors has a solution. That would be “energy scientist” Iida Tetsunari, a member of various institutes, recipient of various government appointments, founder of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, and a promoter of the idea that Japan can go 100% renewable energy by 2050:

“At this rate, Kansai Electric will go bankrupt next year. The government should offset the fuel expenditures. That way they won’t have to raise rates.”

Save the facepalm — It gets worse. Former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry high-flyer Koga Shigeaki, a University of Tokyo graduate, former principal administrator for OECD, radical reformer of the bureaucracy, and another key Hashimoto advisor has started dancing with the wolves.

Not so long ago, he knew better. Last year, he said that the biggest problem with nuclear energy was how to dispose of the fuel. Now he too wants to shut all the reactors down.

He attended a recent meeting of the Municipal Energy Strategy Council in Osaka and started an argument with a representative of the national Agency for Natural Resources, who was there to advocate restarting the nuclear plants.

Koga: “Just what is the reason you are thinking of restarting the reactors?

NRA rep: “At the minimum, we have confirmed their safety is such the reactor core would not be damaged to the extent of that which occurred during the Fukushima accident.”

Koga: “Don’t you understand any situations other than Fukushima?

And:

Koga: “METI’s ties with the power company are too close, so they are lenient. Your whole argument is based on the assumption that they will be restarted.”

NRA rep: “It’s harassment when you talk about close ties.”

Then they got emotional.

Still not time for a facepalm — That’s not the half of it. Here’s what Mr. Koga told the viewers of the Morning Bird TV program on the Asahi network on 17 May:

“I can only think that (Kansai Electric) will create a state of “power outage terrorism”. They’ll intentionally cause an accident at the thermal power plant, or stop operating it if an accident does occur, to create a panic due to a large power shortage. They’ll say their only choice is to restart the nuclear power plants.”

Over-the-top rhetoric in Osaka must be contagious. Another Hashimoto aide, former Finance Ministry official Takahashi Yoichi, also plays with fire in this excerpt from a column in Gendai Business Online:

“It has gotten difficult for the DPJ government after Mayor Hashimoto’s declaration that he and One Osaka will bring them down. The best chance for cutting him down to size, regional devolution, is already beyond their capability. In the end, the concern would be, though it is difficult to imagine, Kansai Electric suicide terrorism by creating an insufficient power supply during the peak period of summer use. What crosses the mind is the response of the Social Insurance Agency during the Abe administration when the subject of their privatization was broached. The agency released a stream of information that was fatal to the Abe administration (loss of pension records that occurred a decade before). The falsehoods of the “suicide bombing” of the Social Insurance Agency circulated at the time.

“Kansai Electric is a private sector company, and the company would collapse if they really did something like that. I don’t think it’s possible, but it is a fact they can control the supply of power, and there is a touch of uncertainty that rolling blackouts are not out of the question. That subject already has arisen. If the situation continues in which they have no measures for dealing with peak load (they probably can’t), then it is perhaps possible they might consider a little shock therapy, though I really don’t want to think about it.”

What some people really don’t want to think about is that these people are creating a wolf from a figment of their imaginations. Try this from Bloomberg:

“The highest reading reported on the health ministry’s website so far has come from a sample of spinach collected on March 18 from Hitachi city, 97 kilometers (60 miles) south of the plant. The spinach, which didn’t enter the food chain, contained 27 times the safe limit of radiation for I-131, according to the health ministry.

“The spinach contained 54,100 Bq/kg of I-131 and 1,931 Bq/kg of cesium. That means consuming 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of fresh spinach would yield a radiation exposure of 1.2 millisieverts, or half the average annual natural exposure from soil and cosmic rays, based on Bloomberg calculations using a formula posted on the website of Japan’s Food Safety Commission.”

Some of the wolf whistlers would probably accuse them of hiding something. Maybe a UN scientific committee is hiding something too. From Nature magazine:

“Few people will develop cancer as a consequence of being exposed to the radioactive material that spewed from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last year — and those who do will never know for sure what caused their disease. These conclusions are based on two comprehensive, independent assessments of the radiation doses received by Japanese citizens, as well as by the thousands of workers who battled to bring the shattered nuclear reactors under control.

“The first report, seen exclusively by Nature, was produced by a subcommittee of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) in Vienna, and covers a wide swathe of issues related to all aspects of the accident. The second, a draft of which has been seen by Nature, comes from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and estimates doses received by the general public in the first year after the accident. Both reports will be discussed at UNSCEAR’s annual meeting in Vienna this week.

“The UNSCEAR committee’s analyses show that 167 workers at the plant received radiation doses that slightly raise their risk of developing cancer. The general public was largely protected by being promptly evacuated, although the WHO report does find that some civilians’ exposure exceeded the government’s guidelines. “If there’s a health risk, it’s with the highly exposed workers,” says Wolfgang Weiss, the chair of UNSCEAR. Even for these workers, future cancers may never be directly tied to the accident, owing to the small number of people involved and the high background rates of cancer in developed countries such as Japan.”

Or even MIT:

“A new study from MIT scientists suggests that the guidelines governments use to determine when to evacuate people following a nuclear accident may be too conservative.

“The study, led by Bevin Engelward and Jacquelyn Yanch and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that when mice were exposed to radiation doses about 400 times greater than background levels for five weeks, no DNA damage could be detected.

““Clearly these studies had to be done in animals rather than people, but many studies show that mice and humans share similar responses to radiation. This work therefore provides a framework for additional research and careful evaluation of our current guidelines,” Engelward says.

“It is interesting that, despite the evacuation of roughly 100,000 residents, the Japanese government was criticized for not imposing evacuations for even more people. From our studies, we would predict that the population that was left behind would not show excess DNA damage — this is something we can test using technologies recently developed in our laboratory,” she adds.”

Apart from the temporary inconvenience and discomfort in Japan’s ultra-sultry midsummer heat, keeping the nuclear power plants idle would also lead to the creation of an economic wasteland resembling the remains of the Fukushima facility — all due to the popular delusion of crowds encouraged by the self-aggrandizing behavior of wolverine media outlets and politicians disguised in Granny’s clothes.

It will take six weeks to get the Oi nuclear power plants running again in the Kansai area, where the shortage will be the most critical. That means it’s very close to being too late. Rather than find a secret air-conditioned room to hole up in, the editorialists and the politicians will more likely put on a show of making a virtue out of hardship. They did that in 1945, too.

*****

Got to watch out for those wolves. They sure can be sneaky.

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