Wednesday, March 16, 2011

悪魔は細部にある。








or The Devil is in the Details.

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)

There's no reason why, technologically, we can't employ nuclear energy in a safe and effective way. Japan does it and France does it, and it doesn't have greenhouse gas emissions, so it would be stupid for us not to do that in a much more effective way. - President Barack Obama, October 2009

It's Japan's curse, perhaps a fated one, to be dogged every once in a while by radiation. First Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then Godzilla, now the earthquake and tsunami that's caused havoc in the northeast side of Japan. President Obama's own curse? Sitcom timing regarding his inevitably ruinous energy policies.

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, built by General Electric in the early 70's, has been verging near catastrophe. 50 to 100 Japanese power plant workers, or what makes up a skeleton crew at the plant on a slow day, are valiantly battling the intermittently exposed core trying to prevent a full-blown meltdown as we saw at Chernobyl almost exactly 25 years ago. Uniting them is a solidarity and brotherhood only understood by other reactor workers and seen among policemen, firefighters and soldiers. Typically, neither the Japanese government nor the Tokyo Electric Power Company that owns the nuclear plant hardly even acknowledge the life-endangering toil of these brave workers on which Japan's well-being rests.

We saw much the same callous disregard for human life in the Ukraine. The Soviet government refused to even admit that Reactor 4 at Chernobyl had melted down and was spewing radioactive dust all over that part of the world. It wasn't corporate profits that were at stake but the upcoming May Day celebrations and Soviet pride and prestige that were on the line.

While much of eastern Europe and Scandinavia (and, yes, eventually Japan) were getting poisoned by radioactive fallout, the government of Mikhail Gorbachev silently but frantically sent hundreds of local and surrounding firefighters into the burning inferno without adequate briefings of the danger nor personal protective equipment (PPE) and the casualties began to mount immediately. Those who had rushed into the reactor and, later, the Russian helicopter pilots who'd built the sarcophagus that still more or less encases Reactor 4 to this day, soon died.

600,000 "liquidators", as they were called, were soon rushed to the scene to purge the Ukraine and surrounding areas of radioactive contamination. This included merely burying farm equipment, euthanized livestock as well as shooting dogs and cats (so they wouldn't escape the 40 km Zone of Exclusion). Even on the periphery of the epicenter, many of these liquidators fell ill because of radiation sickness. Their children were born with genetic defects now common in Chernobyl, Pripyat and the surrounding area such as thyroid cancer and atrial septal defects (a hole in the heart).

There was a stunning lack of concern for human life, even given the Soviet Union's historically hideous human rights track record, and it was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. Within 5 1/2 years, the Politburo voted to shut down the USSR and start a new government.

"Chill the fuck out. I've got this."


Fast forward 25 years later. A new Russia, a new American President. Yet the only constants from the bad old days are the 40 year-old reactors in Japan and the insistence that nuclear power is still safe despite glaring evidence to the contrary from the Land of the Rising Sun. As with the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and subsequent oil spill almost a year ago, President Barack Obama is telling us there's nothing to worry about, nothing to see here, let's continue conducting business as usual. After a brief moratorium on offshore oil drilling, the Interior Department's MMS continued handing out leases with minimal to no safety standards being met.

To make his point, Obama, while defending his plan to aggressively expand our nuclear power plant footprint, even had the obligatory Japanese person in the background as window dressing to remind us that there was nothing to worry about, because there's nothing at all synonymous with Japan and nuclear catastrophe.

Somewhat in his defense, this president has been dogged with horrendous timing. Mere weeks before the Deepwater Horizon exploded (on Earth Day, at that) and spilled tens of millions of gallons of crude oil onto the Gulf Coast, the president embraced the Republican/Palinesque mantra of "Drill, baby, drill!" and announced we were opening even more of the Gulf Coast to offshore oil drilling.

Then, right in the middle of the president's plan to revamp our energy policy, a 9.0 earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan resulted in a 23 foot tsunami that pushed four of Japan's reactors into crisis mode, setting several on fire and risking a meltdown that could theoretically be 10 times worse than Chernobyl. Now, once again uniting with racist Republicans that are bound and determined to see him fall next year no matter what he does to appease them, Obama is telling us to "Calm down. I've got this. Nothing to see here, folks."

Jacqueline Marcus of Buzzflash also reminds us (emphasis mine),
European leaders stand as a direct contrast to President Obama's sense of confidence. Germany, Switzerland, Britain and others have decided to suspend nuclear power plans and they're also considering shutting down current plants for safety examinations, especially older plants that were built in the 1970s.

Another problem: The 45 year-old idiocy of planning to build nuclear reactors in an earthquake-prone area such as the Pacific Rim is, unfortunately, not restricted to Japan.

As Marcus reminds us, the Diablo nuclear power plant in California was built, with an idiocy rivaled only by the Japanese, not only directly on the San Andreas Fault but near three others. To give you an idea of the sheer level of stupidity that went behind Diablo, it took a newbie engineer aged 25 to discover that the plant's seismic blueprints had been reversed, thereby compromising overall integrity of the vulnerable twin towers.

During storms, water intake from both its primary and secondary cooling systems are scaled back by 80% to prevent kelp from clogging the intake valves. Cutting back on the cooling system is what brought us the Chernobyl disaster in the first place and lack of water through failed pumps is what's exposing Japan's reactor cores to this day.

As the Watergate-era maxim goes, "Follow the money" and if you follow this money trail long enough, it's not hard to see where Obama's real allegiance is. The CEO of General Electric, which designed and built the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, remained on Obama's Economic Recovery team, even after it was revealed early in the administration's history that GE had pulled an Enron and used sleazy accounting tricks to mislead its shareholders and investors by inflating its profits. Jeffrey Immelt, a so-called tree-hugger, is no longer on that council because he got promoted last January as the head of Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

That's why one has to laugh when, days after the president's inauguration, Immelt wrote to the shareholders to whom he was lying about company profits, "The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner."

Obama has hardly been a regulator of any industry or individual company, especially GE. What Obama wants, GE wants. What Obama says, GE says. Or maybe it's the other way around. Either way, we're not getting a single indication that Obama is interested in being a regulator as much as "an industry policy champion", especially if that policy benefits Obama's closest corporate chums. In fact, GE was Obama's 18th most generous contributor to his presidential campaign (Goldman Sachs, if you're curious, was #2 at almost a million bucks and Citigroup was #6.)

The Devil, or el Diablo as it were, is in the details and one need not be a detective/journalist on a par with Greg Palast, who's forced to ply his trade with the less cajone-endowed American MSM, to see where Obama's true allegiances lie.

As Marcus says while flinging her gauntlet to the ground,
Given the fact that there have been major earthquakes around the world, I'd like to see President Obama stand in front of the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant when an earthquake hits and announce: "I'm confident everyone! I'm confident!"

But the president will never do that, perhaps because he's aware of his own rotten timing regarding energy policy. And it would be fitting, if not inevitable, for such a press conference to host a major earthquake along the San Andreas Fault to show America the true face of el Diablo and Hell.

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