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We are all on shaky ground now
So, yet another extraordinary disaster shakes the western world to its core, and again caught on camera, the stock market dropping like the Pacific Ocean plate to cause that terrifying but hypnotic wave to bite into Japan, its frothy saliva claiming 27,000 lives so far, third world problems having the audacity to come to the west, north Japan looking like Hiroshima once again, but one million people killed in the last ten years alone in Pakistan and China by similar earthquakes. We don't deal with disaster very well in the west and the rolling media enjoy pumping that fear, the previously unseen terror of those events now captured on a million camera phones, and everyone in Japan has a camera, of course, their urge to take pictures as strong as the will to survive in this terrifying tragedy. We are now seeing with our own eyes what has always happened on this imperfect globe and it is something to marvel and fear in equal measure. Unfortunately there's a lot more people in the way now, 12% of the human beings that have lived on Earth still alive today, a flick of Gods hand in his mighty oceans a warning to treat our only home better than we are. But it wasn't the 27,000 dead we worried about but that unseen nuclear danger, radiation gathering like the grim Reapers deadly cloak, ready to be flung over the oceans like a black cloud of death. Well, almost.
There are so many ironies in this dramatic news story. A Japanese nuclear power station wrecked by a wall of seawater is now in need of another wall of sea water to stop the reactors melting down, many of the people who fled that region now taking sanctuary in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oh did they wish for one of their Manga superhero's to sweep down out of the Rising Sun sky and scoop up the glowing fuel rods and dump them out to sea. I can see the comic book now. In fact I can hear them writing it. But those devastating quake and tsunami images become 'samey' after a while and we soon tired of it, only emerging footage of the wave keeping us interested in a possible Red Cross appeal to come. Unless there is a perceived threat to the rest of the world we are a pretty selfish bunch, soon losing interest in these tragedies. But then came the unfolding drama of the nuclear plant, a far more terrifying event, the narrative the media needed to kick start the drama, even Homer Simpson unable to avert this nuclear power station crisis, none of the Fukushima operators having time for Duff Beer and doughnuts!
Early on the Japanese played down the obvious radiation threat, presumably for crowd control reasons, but the worlds media having none of it, making the Fukushima plant the narrative to stretch the disasters news potential and keep people watching avidly, big money to be made from commercials and product placement, even the BBC team plugging North Face outdoor clothing at every chance. Ted Turner made his once smalltime CNN new station into an empire off the back of innovative 24/7 coverage of Gulf War One, rolling news stories like Japan huge earners for media groups, Libya the next in line to be cashed in on, always making the threat worse than it is. It is in their interest to hype to maximize revenue and boy did the world big players do that in Japan. The Japanese, on the other hand, knew that more people would die in a panic to flee any radiation threat than the actual radiation contamination and so it became a game between the international media and the Japanese government to control the story.
So just how dangerous is radiation?
According to a BBC World Service report on their webpage it has been estimated that 17m people were exposed to significant radiation after Chernobyl, but just 2,000 people having since developed thyroid cancer having consumed contaminated food and milk as children. Children are at most immediate risk and the failure for the Russian authorities to hand out iodine tablets at the right time cost most of those lives, the pills able to disperse the radioactive fluids that bottleneck at that thyroid gland. 2000 dead from 17 million is nowhere near as scary a number as we expected as we watched that haunting and demonic Russian plant burn as the brave Russians battled the killer gamma rays on the suicide mission, what Japanese technicians are going through right now, again huge admiration going out from the world. But how about this for a fact. Of the 87,000 who survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blast, only 696 are believed to have died from radiation effects some 65 years on. Did you know that taking just one CAT scan is the same as standing just 1.5 miles from the Hiroshima ground zero on the day after the blast? Believe it or not but it's estimated some 29,000 Americans WILL develop cancer from a CAT scan this year. We fear the unseen threat most because we can't repel or know how to flee it, and when we see the evil nuclear power stations breathing fire and steaming like a radioactive dragon we are terrified, films like the China Syndrome our educators on nuclear accidents. In contrast, few in the West of England seem concerned at the natural radiation they are exposed to from the earth in the form of Radon Gas, even though it is estimated to lead to more than 1,000 cancer deaths a year in this country, people living on radon hotspots at the same risk as people near the eventual exclusion zone in Japan. There is a website that shows the radon hotspots in Britain. I advise you NOT to look at it. But we were distracted by the unknown threat of the radiation, myths hyped as part of the old Cold War, forgetting just how many people died from the wave and quake. We have to put this in context guys when we look to build more nuclear stations. How many people die from 17 million car journeys a day? How many people will die in Libya as the west reshapes the Middle East to meet our new oil needs? The west maybe smug over their UN backed oil grab in West Africa, the no fly zone led by the 4 European countries that have the biggest oil concerns there, but unless nuclear power and renewable fuels are fully embraced it's another world war looming over those dwindling reserves. By 2050 it's agreed that on current usage China, India and America will be using half of all known supplies, a scary thought.
------Quote of the week-------
Libya? - "In a nutshell? We are shelling a nut!"
(Jimmy Carr, 2011)
On the subject of Libya we have to link it in to the nuclear disaster, the pressure ever increasing on the worlds energy tectonic plates as industrial countries chase increasingly fewer and fewer natural resources. We can't stop people having babies around the globe so we have to take more and more risks to get at the planets remaining natural resources, resources that are not going to be allocated fairly, the BP oil spill another example of that ever frantic pace being kept. The US enjoyed ranting at BP but it's their greedy car use that really caused that spill, 40% of the world's car fuel consumed by Americas gas guzzlers, and its Japans old Empires insatiable need for energy that drove them to nuclear power in the first place, unable to be energy efficient as they failed to secure enough territories to feed their empire in World War 2, their energy tentacles severed once and for all in 1945, ironically by American nuclear weapons. What goes around comes around. So shamed by the war the Japanese disbanded their military for 60 years since and so can't defend any oil or gas supplies abroad.
So are the stations safe? Well few infrastructures can repel the words sixth biggest earthquake and second tidal wave since records began, the latter peaking at 76ft in some places. But nuclear power stations have to be clamped neat to the coast lines of the western world because they need lots of water to cool those reactors, as you well know, and so only as strong as their weakest point, here being the back up diesel generators, apparently swamped by the retreating wave so their power lines destroyed. But it's becoming clear, as with most manmade disasters, health & safety had been cut back on to save money, short of firing essential workers the only way to save money in these plants to keep the share price high and pensions tolerable. Maybe they had bothered to actually test the back up system then the worst wouldn't have happened. Tsunami is a Japanese word and they knew this day was coming. There really are no excuses with the non nuclear bits.
I'm sure we are all proficient on how reactors work by now and so need no lectures but the main reason Japan had to expose their nuclear power plants to the tsunami threat along the east coast is because the world's third biggest economy is so hilly and mountainous, the coast the only place left to build, most of its 112 million people with a sea view.
Like most nuclear stations around the world the reactors affected were the oldest ones, built in the 1960s and 70s, the technology relatively new in nuclear energy terms, and American built, General Electric no less.. Proponents of nuclear power would say the fact only five people have died so far is reason enough to stick with it. And it's also fair to say that the new generation of reactors will be much safer by learning from those mistakes. The method of venting pressure has been spectacularly bad, blowing the roof of the reactors not a good sign, now seemingly releasing that same threat into the sea, now that the pumps are working. Better under there than in the air seems to be the plan.
The alternatives to nuclear are far more expensive in this part of the world, Japan a long way from 70% of the world's oil, and I'm sure there are just as many nimbi's out there to moan about having to live near wind turbines and those nuclear power plants. In neighboring China some 23,000 coal miners a year die chasing the alternatives to cesium and plutonium, putting the five deaths at the plant so far in context. In fact the most dangerous job in the western world, aside from prostitution, is actually an off-license clerk!
Nuclear power, like everywhere in the world, is heavily subsidized, but so are those renewable's like wind, wave and bio fuels, costing £186,000 of your tax a year just to run just one offshore turbine in Britain. We are not wasting that money for fun but because the world is turning its back on coal and there is going to come a day in the near future where there is just not enough oil to go around, why we are interfering in the Middle East more and more to squeeze every drop out of that region. London gets most of its electrical power from French nuclear power stations, believe it or not, the diversification that global. But the anti nuclear lobby is all too keen to run down the cleanest and safest energy alterative we have to carbon fuel and this disaster in Japan has done for future plant builds what 911 did for penthouse sales in New York on September 12th. The greens soon forget that 300,000 people died in Iraq to free up oil for the west. Where do these hippies think the power is going to come from? We build wind turbines out to sea at great expense because we are that selfish on this issue, people not wanting them spoil their view, especially for the second home in the country.
The solution, of course, is to save the energy we have, but people just too lazy to do that, only big bills the incentive to turn stuff off these days. We are clearly being conned by a rigged gas and electricity market and so rightfully antagonized by that, wholesale prices of gas decreasing by 40% when at the same time we have access to 25% more gas on those same markets, which on my basic economics means the price should be tumbling. But because Mrs. Thatcher sold off most of the gas storage space in the UK we have only two weeks reserves and so slave to buying gas 18 months down the line form international markets. I suspect it's the same in Japan. Nothing is stored anymore and straight to the consumer, why the stock markets bomb when there is a cut off in supply of oil and gas. At least with nuclear it's a plentiful and endless supply of energy, its big attraction. Of course the nuclear negatives are huge, as we have seen in Japan, the billions of subsidies to clean up the spent fuel why private energy companies are keener on oil and coal still. But there are few alternatives and the detractors need to tell us what a realistic alternative is or shut up.
Politics were also in the seawater mix being pumped around those reactors, adding to the building toxins and cloudy emissions, the Japanese Prime Minister facing an election this summer, not wanting to look weak, possibly even hyping up the threat to show how tough he was dealing with an Armageddon that never was, the more that reactor leaks the less he has to deal with other domestic issues. I bet lot of bad news has been buried over the last two weeks in Japan. We have certainly had mixed messages on the nuclear threat when the various western scientists and boffins are dragged from their pristine labs and dusty offices to explain the situation on the news.
Across the Pacific and Obama was looking weak over Libya, so making some comments that the situation was 'out of control' in Japan to shift attention from his dithering over the Middle East, comments that effected world markets, the more negative comments The Whitehouse made on Japans handling of the Fukishima plant the worse Japans stock market got, cruel if you consider the multiple disasters Japan is going through. Clearly Japan will lose business over this, if just for the fact that the labor force is displaced, the country is short of energy and the ports destroyed, those nuclear stations once providing one third of their power now running at 50% nationally. Maybe those cars, stereos and satnav's can be made elsewhere as the clean up gets underway, Japanese factories in America taking on more workers, possibly? This is politics and we know with the Toyota recall America will do what they have to do to protect American car workers jobs.