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Monthly Archives: March 2011

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Japan’s nuclear problem and panic as policy

First, take a look at ABC News’ coverage of the nuclear problem in Japan. I don’t know about you, but it seems tinged with emotional sensationalism to me. That’s not to say the problem isn’t obviously serious, but it has that emotional element to it that, well, isn’t very objective. It also implies that the result is likely to be from a doomsday scenario.

 

Now watch this segment:

 

What you see here is the rush to judgment. The first thing that happens is politicians, seeing this as fertile ground for image polishing (seeming to take seriously what has been trumped as serious and seeming to take action to address a perceived problem) jump in front of a camera to make the case for protecting the public by implying that we’re in the same boat as the Japanese and they’re the only ones who can save us.

Do you remember the map of the US in which the similar nuke sites to those in Japan flashed up?  Remember the map I showed you about significant earthquakes in the US for the past 200 years?  Theirs was up there quickly, and I may have missed it, but few if any of those plants fell in the real earthquake prone areas.  So to me, getting in front of a camera and pretending we’re in the same situation as that of the Japanese is simply scare mongering and irresponsible.  And that applies to both the politicians and news media types doing this.

It brings me to an Abe Greenwald piece in Commentary’s Contentions.  It is entitled “Panic as a Policy”.  He sets the stage by noting that Germany has gone absolutely bats over the Japanese crisis to the point that Angela Merkel, in the a political campaign, has decided to dump one of her most important policies of her second term – the extension of nuclear reactor lifetimes by an average of 12 years beyond their original scheduled phase-out date of 2012.  48 hours after the Japanese crisis, she ordered a three month moratorium on the extension.  7 of the oldest power stations will now be shut down immediately pending a 3 month safety review.

Says Greenwald:

Hysteria on the largest scale possible has become the default official response to all crises. A lay public furnished with near-instantaneous media coverage can be counted on to demand immediate and absolute measures so that the crisis can be scrubbed from consciousness, however crudely or illogically. And over-monitored leaders will be sure to comply. Today a politician can lose his job if he doesn’t swiftly change historical precedent to fit the frenzied misinterpretation of a still-breaking news story. This will continue to yield atrocious consequences.

I cannot agree more.  We have become, in many cases, victims of manufactured hysteria.  We get a fire hose effect of media stories, most of them pushed out in a way to grab attention and many incomplete or simply wrong. 

Did you note, for instance, the people ABC chose to interview for the 2nd piece?  The “GE 3”.  Labeled as “whistleblowers”, they layer the gloom and doom predictions with the supposed veneer of righteousness.  But again, these reactors have been operating safely for 40 years and it has taken a 9.0 earthquake, 33 foot tsunami and a total lack of power to get them in this position.  Also sort of blown by are the “safety upgrades” they’ve made since the reactors were built.   Anyone who thinks that these reactors didn’t receive many, many upgrades over their lifetimes really doesn’t understand the industry.  Finally, not a dissenting voice was sought out or if they were, their opinion wasn’t aired.  So you’re left with the impression that a fatally flawed product was allowed to be produced by an evil corporation in cahoots with various power companies, etc.

And, of course, you’re left with the impression that something must be done.  Which brings us to Greewald’s second point:

We have become accustomed to seeing collective shock elevated to the realm of policy. In fact, it’s what we expect of responsible leadership. There’s an oil spill? Ban drilling. A shooting? Forbid even speaking in martial metaphors. A nuclear accident? Kill nuclear energy. This crude emotionalism is actually liberalism at warp speed. It demands that governments alleviate the immediate discomfort of the onlooker without regard for accuracy or consequence. It will produce many more historic disasters than it can manage.

Again, I could not agree more.  I’ve called it “panic legislation” for years and it never turns out well.  The unfortunate fall-out of this (no pun intended) is probably the death knell of the nuclear power industry.  And, ironically, the fallback will be fossil fuel, most likely natural gas.  It is the cheapest and most efficient way to go, frankly and I have no problem with that, however, nuclear energy is still a clean, emissions free and powerful energy source that should be exploited in my humble opinion.  I know President Obama has reiterated his support of nuclear energy here, but let’s be honest, that doesn’t mean much.  If you think he’s going to get out in front of something panic driven polls say he should avoid, then I have some beachfront land in Nevada you might be interested in.

Greenwald’s points are important ones.  While we have access to 24/7 media and the media, in my opinion, often acts irresponsibly in their reporting, we have the responsibility to fill in the voids and gather the information that paints a more complete picture of what is happening.  One of the reasons for the rise of online media and blogging is a real need and desire by many to do that.  And the two reports by ABC only emphasize that point.

Panic legislation based on biased reporting and hysterical public reaction are no way to run a government.  One of the reasons I often don’t jump on a story right away is I’ve found the first bit of reporting is usually wrong and/or incomplete. Much of it is overly sensational.  I prefer to sit back and let it develop a bit, and gather as much information as I can before offering a view or opinion.  Unfortunately, that is not the media culture we have today, and for the most part we are ill served by it.  We are also ill served by self-serving politicians who deem every crisis an opportunity to advance their careers by pushing more government on us (the Rahm Emanuel rule – “never let a crisis go to waste”).

I’m not sure how we break this cycle, but as Greenwald says continuing it may “produce many more historic disasters than [government] can manage.” I’m not saying what is happening in Japan isn’t critical, dangerous or important. I’m saying instead that the rush to judgment isn’t taking into context what put the Japanese in that situation (quake,tsunami,power outage). If it was we’d understand that the likelihood of such a disaster visiting our nuclear plants is probably about the same as an asteroid of devastating size hitting the earth.

Panic at this time isn’t rational and the hysteria that seems to be building is unwarranted given the context in which the situation developed. Unfortunately I don’t think that is going to stop the panic legislation that will result and, as usual, we’ll all end up being the poorer for it.

~McQ


The leaderless presidency

Anne-Marie Slaughter has a piece entitled “Fiddling While Libya Burns” in the NYT.  She opens with this:

PRESIDENT Obama says the noose is tightening around Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. In fact, it is tightening around the Libyan rebels, as Colonel Qaddafi makes the most of the world’s dithering and steadily retakes rebel-held towns. The United States and Europe are temporizing on a no-flight zone while the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Gulf Cooperation Council and now the Arab League have all called on the United Nations Security Council to authorize one. Opponents of a no-flight zone have put forth five main arguments, none of which, on close examination, hold up.

The Libyan rebels aren’t particularly happy with the rest of the world at all.  As Gadhafi’s forces close in on Benghazi, the rebel commander has said the world has failed them.

Speaking of the world:

Foreign Ministers from the Group of Eight nations failed to agree yesterday on imposing a no-fly zone. In Paris, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe of France, which along with the U.K. has pressed for aggressive action against Qaddafi, said he couldn’t persuade Russia to agree to a no-fly zone as other allies, including Germany, raised objections to military intervention.

So since Russia can’t be persuaded and Germany raised objections, no go on the NFZ.  Notice who is not at all mentioned in that paragraph.  Oh, too busy filling out the NCAA brackets?  Got it.

"President Obama opened up with a plea for bracket participants to keep the people of Japan front of mind, saying, ‘One thing I wanted to make sure that viewers who are filling out their brackets — this is a great tradition, we have fun every year doing it — but while you’re doing it, if you’re on your laptop, et cetera, go to usaid.gov and that’s going to list a whole range of charities where you can potentially contribute to help the people who have been devastated in Japan. I think that would be a great gesture as you’re filling out your brackets.’

There that’s covered – anyone for golf?

Oh wait, Lybia Libya.  Morning Defense (from POLITICO) says:

Here’s your readout from Tuesday evening: "At today’s meeting, the President and his national security team reviewed the situation in Libya and options to increase pressure on Qadhafi. In particular, the conversation focused on efforts at the United Nations and potential UN Security Council actions, as well as ongoing consultations with Arab and European partners. The President instructed his team to continue to fully engage in the discussions at the United Nations, NATO and with partners and organizations in the region."

Well the great gab fest is underway, or at least planned to be under way.  Oh, what was it President Obama said on March 3rd?

With respect to our willingness to engage militarily, … I’ve instructed the Department of Defense … to examine a full range of options. I don’t want us hamstrung. … Going forward, we will continue to send a clear message: The violence must stop. Muammar Gaddafi has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave.”

Uh huh.  So there is a reason for the rebels in Libya to at least feel a little let down, isn’t there.  There’s a reason they’re saying things like:

“These politicians are liars. They just talk and talk, but they do nothing.”

Yes sir, now there’s a group that obviously thinks much more highly of America since Obama took office.  Or:

Iman Bugaighis, a professor who has become a spokeswoman for the rebels, lost her composure as she spoke about the recent death of a friend’s son, who died in battle last week. Her friend’s other son, a doctor, was still missing. Western nations, she said, had “lost any credibility.”

“I am not crying out of weakness,” she said. “I’ll stay here until the end. Libyans are brave. We will stand for what we believe in. But we will never forget the people who stood with us and the people who betrayed us.”

Fear not Ms. Bugaighis, the UN is on the job:

The United Nations Security Council was discussing a resolution that would authorize a no-flight zone to protect civilians, but its prospects were uncertain at best, diplomats said.

I think an episode that best typifies what is going on in the Obama administration (and is being mirrored around the world) is to be found in the British comedy “Yes, Prime Minister”.  If this isn’t what we’re seeing, I don’t know what typifies it better (via Da Tech Guy).  Pay particular attention (around the 8 minute mark) to the “4 stage strategy”.  It is what is happening in spades:

 

 

In case you missed it, weren’t able to view the vid for whatever reason or just need a recap, here’s the 4 Stage Strategy:

Dick: “In stage 1 we say ‘Nothing is going to Happen’”

Sir Humphrey: “In stage 2 we say ‘Something may be going to happen but we should do nothing about it’”

Dick: “In stage 3 we say “maybe we should do something about it but there’s nothing we can do.’”

Sir Humphrey: “In stage 4 we say ‘Maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now’”

Folks, there it is in a nutshell.  The Obama variation, aka the “Obama Doctrine” as outlined by Conn Carroll is this:

It assumes that big problems can be solved with big words while the messy details take care of themselves. It places far too much confidence in international entities, disregards for the importance of American independence, and fails to emphasize American exceptionalism.

And gets absolutely nothing accomplished.

Oh, about that golf game …

[ASIDE] This is not a plea for a No Fly Zone in Libya. It is an assessment of the way this administration has approached almost every crisis it has been faced with. Back to my point about this president trying to defer everything that requires any sort of difficult decision to others. This is just another in a long line of examples of that and his refusal to anything more than talk and give the impression of relevant action without any really being done.

~McQ


The fight to subdue the nuclear reactors continues in Japan (Update: video)

This is almost like some of the disaster movies Hollywood has become so fond of the past few years and certainly akin to the “China Syndrome” as it plays out.

But this is real world stuff with real people heroically risking their lives to tame this problem.  There are a lot of unknowns at the moment, and the fight couldn’t be taking place under more adverse conditions.

To give you an idea of how powerful the quake was that caused all the damage that has contributed to the problems confronted by those fighting the nuclear problems, scientists have said that it was powerful enough to shorten the day (by a blink) on which it happened and, get this, move the earth’s axis by up to 25 cm (6.5 inches).

It has already been reported that a Japanese island shifted eight feet, but the earthquake had more of a worldwide impact. The Earth’s 24-hour day was shortened by 1.8 microseconds, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, reports Voice of America. The temblor shifted how Earth’s mass is distributed.

It was originally estimated to be 1.6 microseconds but NASA’s geophysicist Richard Gross revised the time to 1.8 microseconds – a microsecond is one millionth of a second.

“By changing the distribution of the Earth’s mass, the Japanese earthquake should have caused the Earth to rotate a bit faster, shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds,” said Gross in an interview with Space.com.

That’s power.  As for the shift:

Last week’s natural disaster didn’t just cost us a microsecond, but it also was able to shift the planet’s axis by 6 ½ inches, or 17 centimeters – although other estimates suggest approximately 10 inches (25 centimeters), reports the Metro UK.

“This shift in the position of the figure axis will cause the Earth to wobble a bit differently as it rotates, but will not cause a shift of the Earth’s axis in space – only external forces like the gravitational attraction of the sun, moon, and planets can do that,” said Gross.

Amazing.  That gives you an idea of reason for the problems faced by those fighting a nuclear meltdown.  Add to that fact that the huge number of aftershocks – up to 15 an hour – and their power – most over 5 – and you begin to understand the challenges they’re facing.

To the problems themselves, I’m sure most of you are following this closely.  For background on what causes a meltdown, here’s a good graphic that explains it rather well.   Scientific American has a number of articles you may find useful for background as well.

One of the better articles I’ve found is in the Wall Street Journal.  It goes into some detail as to what has happened and where they are now in their fight to prevent a meltdown.  Something that isn’t getting the coverage it deserves, or perhaps is just being lost in the volume of news is the fact that not all their problems are found in the reactor cores.  Some of them are also cropping up in the storage area for spent nuclear fuel:

On Tuesday, a fire broke out in the same reactor’s fuel storage pond — an area where used nuclear fuel is kept cool — causing radioactivity to be released into the atmosphere. Tokyo Electric Power said the new blaze erupted because the initial fire had not been fully extinguished.

The problem there, of course, is the storage areas don’t have the containment infrastructure that the reactors do. 

Make no mistake, the problems are very serious.  Tokyo Power and Electric is reporting that up to 70% of the fuel rods in one reactor have been damaged and up to 33% in a second one. 

Radiation levels have risen and dropped all through the crisis.  Winds are presently blowing to the south toward Tokyo, but forecasts have them shifting to the east, which would put any radiation release over open ocean, which means the cloud would eventually dissipate causing little damage.  Right now everything I’m seeing says the 400mSv rate is the average rate for the radiation surges although there is one report saying that one spike went to the 11,000 mSv level for a very short time.  Remember though, the key to radiation exposure is not only the amount of radiation but the duration of exposure.  Obviously 11k doesn’t require much exposure duration at all to be damaging or even fatal.  But as mentioned, the radiation has mostly been in dose rates of up to 400mSv and it surges to that level and then falls away.

Key to getting this all under control?  

Water:

Ironically water–or lack of it–has been the real story at Fukushima for the past four days. The nuclear cores need water to cool them down, and the tsunami swamped Fukushima and initially cut off electricity powering the cooling systems. Then various backups failed, which forced plant operators to pump sea water into the reactors to try to cool them down. The Times initially reported that helicopters might be used to drop water on the pools of spent fuel that are too hot. (Later the idea was discounted.) In short: follow the water.

One of their problem to this point has been the ability to get enough water on the fuel rods to cool them.  They’ve been exposed and so are super hot.  When the water is injected it quickly boils away, faster than they’ve been able to replace it.  There are most likely leaks to contend with as well.   The use of sea water has always been theoretical as a “last ditch” measure if all else fails.  They’re now injecting sea water for real.  Also key to this is Boric acid which aids in the cooling process.  Getting the right mix in such a volatile atmosphere as that found in the reactors must be a nightmare.

So?  So, that’s a bit of an update on where they are in a very rapidly changing situation.  Most “experts” are saying regardless of what happens this should not be another Chernobyl.  That’s primarily because the Chernobyl reactor had no containment facility when it melted down.  And I’ve read any number of experts saying the containment vessels at the Fukushima Daiichi plant are doing their job.  However, there should be concern over the storage areas for spent fuel rods since they have no containment facility.

UPDATE: A couple of interesting vids of Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute talking about the Japanese disaster (more available at the link):

 

 

 

I tend to agree with him given what I’ve read about 3 Mile Island. My new concern though, as stated, is the storage pools for the spent fuel rods. We’ll see what sort of coverage that gets.

~McQ


Nancy Pelosi: Your alternate reality moment for the day

Seriously, I don’t know the planet on which this woman spends most of her time, but it isn’t this one. Here are 4 plus minutes designed to get your blood pressure up:

 

Passing resolutions to run the government week by week is no way to run a government? Uh, yeah, that’s absolutely right. And why are the reduced to passing such resolutions? Because Ms. Pelosi, when Speaker of the House of the 111th Congress failed to pass a budget for the year. In fact, never brought one to the floor.

And really – “Democrats have long fought for fiscal responsibility…”?  In what universe?

As Nice Deb says, “Next thing you know, some idiot will try to claim that Pelosi will go down in history as one of the finest Speakers of the House in history”.

~McQ


Meanwhile in the Middle East–Saudi/US strains appear (Update–Bahrain declares martial law)

Yes it’s another fine mess.  Of course the Japanese tragedy and struggles with their nuclear power plants has sucked all the air out of news elsewhere, there is, in fact much news elsewhere.  And not the least of it is coming out of the Middle East where Saudi troops, as a part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), moved into Bahrain ostensibly to “guard government facilities”. 

The GCC is composed of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.   It was created in 1991 (think Iraq invasion of Kuwait), the 6 members share common borders and are committed by their charter to help each other in times of need.  

The action by the GCC, as you might imagine, is in direct conflict with how the White House has indicated it would prefer the situation in Bahrain be resolved.  Obviously that’s not carried much weight with the GCC.

The move created another quandary for the Obama administration, which obliquely criticized the Saudi action without explicitly condemning the kingdom, its most important Arab ally. The criticism was another sign of strains in the historically close relationship with Riyadh, as the United States pushes the country to make greater reforms to avert unrest.

Other symptoms of stress seem to be cropping up everywhere.

Saudi officials have made no secret of their deep displeasure with how President Obama handled the ouster of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, charging Washington with abandoning a longtime ally. They show little patience with American messages about embracing what Mr. Obama calls “universal values,” including peaceful protests.

The GCC move has caused both Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense and Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, to cancel upcoming visits to Saudi Arabia.

Again, the apparent genesis of these tensions appear to be related to the way the US handled Egypt.  It has caused the Saudis and other GCC nations to trust the US less than before:

The latest tensions between Washington and Riyadh began early in the crisis when King Abdullah told President Obama that it was vital for the United States to support Mr. Mubarak, even if he began shooting protesters. Mr. Obama ignored that counsel. “They’ve taken it personally,” said one senior American familiar with the conversations, “because they question what we’d do if they are next.”

Since then, the American message to the Saudis, the official said, is that “no one can be immune,” and that the glacial pace of reforms that Saudi Arabia has been engaged in since 2003 must speed up.

Obviously the Saudi’s have their own ideas of how to handle this and apparently aren’t taking kindly to the US attempting to dictate how it should handle it’s internal affairs.  And, given the treatment of Mubarak, the Saudi rulers can’t help but feel that they’re just as likely to be thrown under the bus if protests were to escalate as was Mubarak.

Consequently, they’ve decided to go their own way and handle it with force within the GCC  while throwing money at the problem within the Saudi Kingdom.  Speaking of the latter:

One of President Obama’s top advisers described the moves as more in a series of “safety valves” the Saudis open when pressure builds; another called the subsidies “stimulus funds motivated by self-preservation.”

Saudi officials, who declined to comment for this article to avoid fueling talk of divisions between the allies, said that the tensions had been exaggerated and that Americans who criticized the pace of reforms did not fully appreciate the challenges of working in the kingdom’s ultraconservative society.

Of course the difference between their “stimulus funds” and ours is they actually have the money.   But it is ironic to see the adviser describe “stimulus funds” in those terms isn’t it?  The actual point here should be evident though.  The GCC has rejected the “Bahrain model” as the desired method of addressing the unrest.  As you recall that was the “regime alteration” model, v. the regime change model.

So where does that leave us?

Demonstrating to Iran that the Saudi-American alliance remains strong has emerged as a critical objective of the Obama administration. King Abdullah, who was widely quoted in the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks as warning that the United States had to “cut off the head of the snake” in Iran, has led the effort to contain Iran’s ambitions to become a major regional power. In the view of White House officials, any weakness or chaos inside Saudi Arabia would be exploited by Iran.

For that reason, several current and former senior American intelligence and regional experts warned that in the months ahead, the administration must proceed delicately when confronting the Saudis about social and political reforms.

”Over the years, the U.S.-Saudi relationship has been fraught with periods of tension over the strategic partnership,” said Ellen Laipson, president of the Stimson Center, a public policy organization. “Post-September 11 was one period, and the departure of Mubarak may be another, when they question whether we are fair-weather friends.”

That phone keeps ringing at 3am, doesn’t it? 

Questions: given the “critical objective” as outlined above, is it smart to cancel visits by SecDef and SecState?  Doesn’t that possibly signal lack of support for the Saudis and play into the perception the US is a fair-weather friend?  Doesn’t that promise the possibility of more actions the Saudi’s might take that will be contra to the US’s advice?   Isn’t now the time to be going in there and making the case with top leaders and showing support while trying to twist a few arms to ramp down the situation instead of canceling?

UPDATE: Bahrain declares a “state of emergency”.  2 protesters killed 200 wounded. 1 Saudi soldier reported to have been killed.

Here’s a little insight into the Iranian connection mentioned above:

The entrance of foreign forces, including Saudi troops and those from other Gulf nations, threatened to escalate a local political conflict into a regional showdown; on Tuesday, Tehran, which has long claimed that Bahrain is historically part of Iran, branded the move “unacceptable.”

[…]

“The presence of foreign forces and interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs is unacceptable and will further complicate the issue,” Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a news conference in Tehran, according to state-run media.

Even as predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran pursues a determined crackdown against dissent at home, Tehran has supported the protests led by the Shiite majority in Bahrain.

“People have some legitimate demands, and they are expressing them peacefully,” Mr. Memanparast said. “It should not be responded to violently.”

He added, “We expect their demands be fulfilled through correct means.”

You have to love their chutzpah.  A little analysis:

The Gulf Cooperation Council was clearly alarmed at the prospect of a Shiite political victory in Bahrain, fearing that it would inspire restive Shiite populations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to protest as well. The majority of the population in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern provinces is Shiite, and there have already been small protests there.

“If the opposition in Bahrain wins, then Saudi loses,” said Mustafa el-Labbad, director of Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “In this regional context, the decision to move troops into Bahrain is not to help the monarchy of Bahrain, but to help Saudi Arabia itself .”

So that’s the lens by which much of what happens should be viewed – two regional rivals, each aligned with a different sect of Islam as well as different ethnic groups (Arab v. Persian) attempting to take advantage of a situation in the case of Iran, or trying to prevent change that would favor Iran in the case of Saudi Arabia.

The possible result?

An adviser to the United States government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media, agreed. “Iran’s preference was not to get engaged because the flow of events was in their direction,” he said. “If the Saudi intervention changes the calculus, they will be more aggressive.”

Of course they have their own problems at home, but Iran may very well, at least covertly, try to support the opposition in Bahrain.

The primary reason that Bahrain has ended up asking the GCC in is because the recommended way to resolve the crisis, negotiate with the oppositions, was rejected by the opposition. As I mentioned in an earlier post about regime realignment, the entire process hinged on the opposition being willing to engage in honest negotiations with the government.  It appears the Bahranian royal family at least made an attempt to do the things necessary as advised by the US:

The royal family allowed thousands of demonstrators to camp at Pearl Square. It freed some political prisoners, allowed an exiled opposition leader to return and reshuffled the cabinet. And it called for a national dialogue.

But the concessions — after the killings — seemed to embolden a movement that went from calling for a true constitutional monarchy to demanding the downfall of the monarchy. The monarchy has said it will consider instituting a fairly elected Parliament, but it insisted that the first step would be opening a national dialogue — a position the opposition has rejected, though it was unclear whether the protesters were speaking with one voice.

Indeed.  But it doesn’t matter now, does it.  The likelihood of this simmering down to the point that such negotiations and dialogue could occur seem remote – especially with Iran in the background keeping this all stirred up.

We live in interesting times.

~McQ


Japan’s nuclear plant problems and what they mean – a little context

Right now we’re seeing all sorts of reports come out of Japan as to what is happening at the Fukushima nuclear plants.   All of them are tinged with sensationalism, and many of them contain no context to enable the reader to understand what is being reported in terms of the severity of the problem.  For instance:

Readings reported on Tuesday showed a spike of radioactivity around the plant that made the leakage categorically worse than in had been, with radiation levels measured at one point as high as 400 millisieverts an hour. Even 7 minutes of exposure at that level will reach the maximum annual dose that a worker at an American nuclear plant is allowed. And exposure for 75 minutes would likely lead to acute radiation sickness.

Yes, but what does that mean outside the plant?  And, how many millisieverts an hour do we naturally absorb just going about our daily lives.  Both of those answers would help the reader assess the real danger of such radiation levels.

What you’ll find is that if you take an airplane and fly from say Atlanta to Chicago at 39,000 feet, you can expect to absorb 2 millirems of radiation.

So how does that convert to millisieverts?  You math whiz types can figure it out here with these conversion factors:

  • 1 rem = 10-2 sievert (Sv)
  • 1 millirem (mrem) = 10-5 sievert (Sv)
  • 1 millisievert (mSv) = 10-3 sievert (Sv)
  • 1 millisievert (mSv) = 0.1 rem

To help others, 1 millisieverts equals 100 millirems.  And 1 Sievert equals 1000 millisieverts.  To give you an idea of what the number above means in millisieverts (mSv), we typically absorb 6.2 mSv per year in the US.

Now that number has some context and you can relate it to the danger outlined above.

As to the effect.   Here’s a good table outlining the effects of different levels of absorption:

  • 0–0.25 Sv: None
  • 0.25–1 Sv: Some people feel nausea and loss of appetite; bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen damaged.
  • 1–3 Sv: Mild to severe nausea, loss of appetite, infection; more severe bone marrow, lymph node, spleen damage; recovery probable, not assured.
  • 3–6 Sv: Severe nausea, loss of appetite; hemorrhaging, infection, diarrhea, skin peels, sterility; death if untreated.
  • 6–10 Sv: Above symptoms plus central nervous system impairment; death expected.
  • Above 10 Sv: Incapacitation and death.

So given the information above, 3 hours at 400 mSv is equivalent to 1.2 Sv.    It’s recoverable but with damage.

As for exposure outside the plant – the levels of radiation drop sharply away from the plant.   So those in the most danger, obviously, are those within the plant trying to contain the problem.  Reports say that most of the plant workers have been evacuated and about 50 continue to battle the problems in the reactors.  Where the problem for the public may occur is if there is a release of radioactive clouds of steam, or through explosions that eject material (think dirty bomb).  And naturally much of the impact would be determined by wind direction.   If it is blowing directly east over the ocean, the cloud would do much less harm than if it blew west over  populated areas of Japan.  Additionally, the materials effect would dissipate as the cloud expanded and traveled.  The possibility of any significant amount of radiation reaching the US, for instance, is not particularly high.

Finally, this article by the NYT is actually a good one for background about the problems the Japanese face and the possible outcomes.   For once, they attempt to keep the reporting less sensational and more focused on relating facts.

~McQ


The inevitable call by the energy unfriendly left to shut down nuclear power

Of course anyone who is a student of politics knew this was coming. The anti-nuclear crowd, mostly found on the left, couldn’t wait to politicize the earthquake disaster in Japan and call for a moratorium on nuclear power plant construction.

Not that we’ve had a single nuclear power plant constructed here in the US for decades. But this is a call to kill any nascent plans for building any new plants. Right on schedule the expected reaction attempts to build public opinion against nuclear power by invoking "scare" rhetoric. The culprit is Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA):

“I am shocked by the devastation that has already been caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It is heart-breaking to see the destruction that has already taken place, and to hear of so many people being killed or injured,” said Rep. Markey. “As a result of this disaster, the world is now facing the looming threat of a possible nuclear meltdown at one of the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors. I hope and pray that Japanese experts can successfully bring these reactors under control and avert a Chernobyl-style disaster that could release large amounts of radioactive materials into the environment.”

“I am also struck by the fact that the tragic events now unfolding in Japan could very easily occur in the United States. What is happening in Japan right now shows that a severe accident at a nuclear power plant can happen here," said Rep. Markey.

No Rep. Markey, they couldn’t "very easily … happen here". And while it is obvious the 8.9 quake that hit Japan has severely damaged the Japanese nuclear power plants, it isn’t at all clear that they won’t be able to contain the damage or that a similar accident is bound to happen here.

The Heritage Foundation lays out a few of the salient facts

* The low levels of radiation currently being released will likely have no biological or environmental impact. Humans are constantly exposed to background radiation that likely exceeds that being released.

* The Chernobyl disaster was caused by an inherent design problem and communist operator error that is not present at any of the nuclear plants in Japan.

* There were no health impacts from any of the radiation exposure at Three Mile Island.

* The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not need to regulate more in response to this. It already regulates enough.

* The plant in trouble in Japan is over 40 years old. Today’s designs are far more advanced. * No one has ever been injured, much less killed, as a result of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.

Obviously those represent the facts at this time when talking about the Japanese reactors and could change. However the other facts stand.  Chernobyl was the nuclear industry’s Deep Horizon.  A one-off occurrence that the Chicken Little’s of this world, coupled with other anti-nuclear groups, have used for years to oppose the expansion of nuclear generated power.  And they plan on trying to add Japan’s troubles to the litany of opposition.

As you might expect, Markey has proposed – wait for it – a moratorium on siting “new nuclear reactors in seismically active areas”.    Any guess who will get to define “seismically active area”?  We have earthquakes everywhere in this country with most of them being so minor they’re not even felt.  Does that qualify for a “seismically active area”?

Let’s not forget that this earthquake Japan suffered along with the resultant tsunami was massive and extremely rare. In fact, it is the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history.  The largest earthquake recorded in American history occurred in 1964 off Prince William sound in Alaska coming in at 9.2.   Below, on the map, are the top 15 earthquakes recorded in the US since 1872 (7.3 or above).  The year they occurred is by the marker.  As you can see they’re mostly centered in California with a few here and there in other areas of the US.  South Carolina, for instance, hasn’t see a quake of that size since 1886 – over 100 years.  Missouri not since 1812:

 

earthquake

 

Let’s also not forget that Japan has suffered 275 aftershocks of 5 point or greater.  In fact, since the quake, Japan is averaging 12 to 15 aftershocks per hour.  That too hampers rescue and recovery efforts as well as the efforts to contain the damage at the nuclear sites.

To give you an appreciation of the magnitude of difference between the numbers on the Richter scale measurement of an earthquake, a “5” equals about 474 metric tons of TNT exploding.  A “6” is 15 kilotons.  A “7” is 474 kilotons.   An “8” equals 15 megatons.  And an 8.9 is approximately 356 megatons.  The “Tsar Bomba”, the largest thermonuclear weapon ever tested,  was a 50 megaton device coming in at 8.35 on the Richter scale.

That gives you an idea of the power of the Japanese quake.

Does anyone anticipate that in the vast majority of the continental US?  Of course not.  Is there a history of those sorts of quakes.  Again, for the vast majority of the country, the answer is “no.”  For Japan the answer is quite different.  The islands lay on the “Pacific rim of fire”, one of the most earthquake and volcano prone areas in the world.

But that won’t stop the scare mongers from trying to gin up a movement to not just place a moratorium on “seismically active areas”, but eventually to all areas of the country. 

“Seismically safe” will become the new watchword for the anti-nuke crowd.  And I predict that regardless of the design, they’ll find all of them to be wanting. 

“The unfolding disaster in Japan must produce a seismic shift in how we address nuclear safety here in America,” said Rep. Markey.

No, it shouldn’t.  And we shouldn’t let alarmists like Markey steal a step on nuclear energy.  We have the means and the technology to provide safe nuclear power generation.  It should proceed with an obvious eye on the safety of such plants.   But we do not need to let the scare mongers use this lifeboat incident, this outlier scenario, as a means of slowing or stopping our move to more nuclear powered energy.

We ought to be saying, “split, baby, split”.  Split here and split now.

~McQ


Today’s dose of comedy: Twitter will save Democrats in 2012, says speaker at DNC

I can’t do much better than to quote the first paragraph of this article in its entirety:

Democrats are hoping they’ve found a secret weapon for winning back the House in 2012: Twitter.

To quote a famous faux-professor, stop laughing. It get’s better:

“We know that we’re up against a team of about 43 think tanks on the other side. … But when you engage them in a good debate, they’re shallow."

As opposed to the 140 character sound bites in Twitter? You’re going to make a sophisticated argumentative reponse tht snds lik its a txt msg bcuz u haf 2 cmprss n2 140 chars? ROFL!

Why, the event was so successful, one delegate created a Twitter account! Right there at the event! Really!

A Democratic leadership aide described the event as a “nice hands-on training” for Members less familiar with social media, and it even led to one Member signing up for Twitter on the spot:
@DelegateDonna (Democratic Del. Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands).

Just think – a DNC delegate managed to do something so complicated that thousands of teenagers do it unassisted every day! What a triumph! 2012 is in the bag, man!

Yep, social media is going to save the Democrats. It will finally, finally get their elegant, persuasive message out.

They’ve had such tremendous obstacles, after all. Why, they’ve had to rely on such limited resources up to now. They’ve only had a bunch of their own think tanks, three broadcast news networks, one cable news channel that openly supports them and another that keeps a fig leaf of pretense that they don’t, every remaining non-bankrupt major city paper except the Wall Street Journal, a slew of pretentious magazines, and a government-funded national radio network that has come right out and admitted where they stand. On the Internet, they’ve had to rely on such a thin guard of sites: Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Media Matters, DogLakeOnFire (or whatever it is, I forget), TPM, etc. etc. I mean, just how far can Soros’ billions go? Those stupid rubes must need some serious educating to realize the wonder and magnificence that is collectivism. The work just never ends!

Hey, at least they’ve stopped explaining that Obama just needs to make more speeches. He seems to have taken that to heart. In the midst of some of the biggest foreign policy happenings of the decade, Obama has decided the best place he can spend time is the golf course. I’d like to disagree with him, but given what he would probably do if he actually did anything, I really can’t.

They’ve got a president who would rather be a dictator, but the problem is their message.

They were given control of all branches of the federal government, and the result was an economy in the dumper, unprecedented and unsupportable debt, one foreign policy blunder after another, a healthcare bill so hated that it help them suffer an historic election loss in 2010… but their real problem is getting their message out.

As in 2010, I hope this delusion continues. Please, please let them keep getting their message out. The union protesters in Madison, for example, are doing great work in this area.

They have clearly communicated the Democratic Party  message. It’s this: You intend to keep on sucking every possible bit of money while telling the rest of us exactly what sort of lives we’re allowed to lead.

That’s your message in a nutshell. Good news: it will fit in a post on Twitter.


China’s effrontery knows no bounds

You are all familiar with the killer earthquake that occurred in New Zealand recently.  During that disaster, 70 international students at the King’s English Language School, along with 10 staff, lost their lives.  Among the dead were 7 Chinese students.

You’ll never guess why China is now demanding increased compensation for its dead students:

Chinese officials have requested extra compensation for the families of Chinese students killed by the Christchurch earthquake. They say China’s one-child policy means the families will face long-term economic hardship.

In a Radio New Zealand interview this morning, Cheng Lee, head of the Chinese Embassy’s disaster relief efforts, explained that China’s situation was very unusual due to the fact that, under Chinese law, families could only have one child per couple.

Mr Cheng believes the Chinese families deserve special consideration and should be given economic assistance above what’s available under New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) payments. Mr Cheng said: "There is a very notable difference in terms of the family situation between the Chinese family members and other foreign family members. You can expect how lonely, how desperate they are, not only from losing loved ones, but losing almost entirely their source of economic assistance after retirement."

So here’s a summary of the thinking as presented by Mr. Cheng – Since China unilaterally and by force restricted its population to one child per family and subsequently since in the case of the disaster in NZ, some of those children were killed, creating a hardship for the families, it is the responsibility of the government of New Zealand to up its compensation to the Chinese families (over and above what it pays others) because of the consequences of the Chinese law.

A pretty absurd claim wouldn’t you say?  And the claim also implies that the Chinese student’s lives were more valuable than those of the others that were killed  – again, the supposed value based in a law which restricted parents to one child.

Mr Joyce said that with all the investigations currently underway it was too soon to say if special compensation might be available for any of the victims’ families.

Really?  The fact that NZ is even entertaining the idea for the reasons given are astounding.  If China believes what it is claiming – i.e. that because of the policy of one child per family, the families effected have a particularly tough road ahead of them financially – then it should be compensating the parents for the consequences of its policy, not New Zealand.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 13 Mar 11

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Japanese earthquake and the implications for US nuclear policy, and Pres Obaba’s leadership style.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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