2014/04/04

Count the Joules, Not the Yen

To understand the deception in Japan's nuclear propaganda, you have to count the costs in energy units, not yen

I’ve written before about the dubious claim that Japan’s economy is doomed without nuclear energy. The government has promoted this narrative strongly, and the media have gone along for the ride. Most reports misleadingly label the electric utilities’ fossil fuel purchases as the country’s total fossil fuel imports, and they wrongly interpret rising fuel cost as rising fuel volume. The statistics presented below, showing fossil fuel imports in units of energy (1 Btu=1055 Joules), cast doubt on the myth, as they reveal that the 2011 crisis has had a fairly small impact on overall fossil fuel consumption. Discussion follows after the listing of the statistics.
___________
Energy Statistics for Japan

1. Petroleum Consumption (quadrillion Btu)
2010: 8.976
2012: 9.532
6% increase from 2010-2012

2. Natural Gas Consumption (quadrillion Btu)
2010: 4.063 
2012: 4.876
20% increase from 2010 to 2012

3. Coal Consumption (quadrillion Btu)
2010: 4.827
2012: 4.770
1% decrease from 2010 to 2012

4. Total Energy Consumption, Petroleum+Natural Gas+Coal (quadrillion Btu)
2010: 17.866
2012: 19.178
7.3% increase

5. Electricity Generation (billion kilowatt-hours)
2010: 1,044.596
2012: 963.032
8% decrease from 2010 to 2012

Value of Japanese currency (per $US)
January 2011: 82 yen
April 2014: 103 yen
25% decrease in value
___________

The Japanese government reports its trade deficit and energy costs in yen. The cost of importing fossil fuel has been influenced by changing world prices and by the Japanese government’s choice to decrease the value of the yen by 25%. Thus, the crisis is mostly one of cost, not of volume of fossil fuel consumed. Bloomberg Business Week reported recently:

Japan spent 27.4 trillion yen on fossil fuels in 2013, up 50 percent from 18.1 trillion yen in 2010, the year before the Fukushima disaster, according to Trade Ministry data.

Because of the yen devaluation of 25%, we know that the figure of 50% would have been only a 25% increase if the yen had kept its value. The Bloomberg report doesn’t tell us how much global energy costs have changed since 2010, nor does it tell us about the volume imported. However, number 4 in the list above shows the total fossil fuel consumption increased by 7.3% between 2010 and 2012, which indicates that the remainder of the cost difference, that which is not explained by currency depreciation, must be happening because of changes in the world market price. 
From this analysis, it can be seen that the loss of nuclear power in 2011 did not lead to a dramatic increase in fossil fuel consumption. The increase in natural gas imports seems to have been offset by energy efficiency, and declines in the consumption of electricity, trends which were already underway before the 2011 disaster.
The extra fossil fuel required in the absence of nuclear power doesn’t appear significant in the statistics listed above because it is a small fraction of total fossil fuel consumption for all uses (transportation, industry, heating, cooking and electricity generation). In 2012, petroleum accounted for 9.532 quadrillion Btu, while natural gas and coal accounted for about the same, 9.646 quadrillion Btu. Petroleum accounts for very little electricity generation, but coal and gas are used primarily for electricity generation, so we can see that only about half of fossil fuel imports are used to make electricity. This is a distinction that the Japanese government and the media have either deliberately or negligently refused to make. Almost all reporting on the fossil fuel import problem has framed it as if electricity generation consumed all fossil fuel imports, as if the 30% loss of generating capacity (caused by the nuclear shutdown) would lead directly to a 30% increase in fossil fuel imports. There has indeed been an import shock to the economy, but it is much more of a shock to the electric utilities. There is something remarkable in the fact that they confuse their extra purchases of fossil fuel with the whole nation’s purchases of fuel. It shows how much they have developed a l’├ętat c’est moi attitude.
It is said that nuclear energy used to generate 30% of Japan’s electricity, but it has become well understood since 2011 that this capacity will never be reached again (another issue which is discussed in the Bloomberg report). So even if it were true that fossil fuel imports are destroying the economy, nuclear wouldn’t provide much of a solution. An awful lot of money is being spent now to upgrade nuclear facilities in the hope that restarts will be approved, but much of this spending will end up being in vain. Nuclear, if restarts happen and no accidents ensue, will never again generate the 30% share. Under the stricter rules for operating nuclear power plants, many will never be started again. It is either impossible to make them safe, or not economically viable to make them safe. Many of them are too old to continue operating under the stricter rules, Fukushima Dai-ichi and Dai-ni are out of the picture forever, and there is little chance that any old reactors will be replaced by new ones.
And all this is being done just to get back to the status of 2011--to eliminate that 7.3% extra in fossil fuel imports. Yet if most of the nuclear capacity can never be restored, then the best hope is to reduce this figure to 4% or 5%--something which could be done by continuing with conservation, renewable development and efficiency gains. Not mentioned at all in any of the plans are the costs of operating and regulating nuclear plants, and importing uranium. The Japanese government talks as if Cameco and Areva just mine, process and ship their product for free.
Japan has deliberately favored making exports cheaper with its yen devaluation, and thus created a false balance-of-trade crisis by making its energy imports 25% more expensive than they need to be. The solution is to export more, but for many reasons unrelated to nuclear energy, this is not happening. The trade deficit was destined to arise with or without the nuclear crisis.
This raises the question of whether the propaganda campaign about the balance of trade/energy problem is a deliberate smokescreen behind which the nuclear village is being resurrected. The LDP government wants to promote the export of Japanese nuclear technology and keep a vast portion of the nation’s revenue siphoned off to a parasitic class of rent-seekers. Everyone who has earned a living in nuclear now sees the money flow as an entitlement program, like it is right and fair that taxpayers and ratepayers should continue to support them as if they were deserving pensioners. It doesn’t matter that the nuclear industry serves no purpose and inflicts great harm and risk on society. For them, the only consideration is the continuation of the established flow of money.

2014/04/01

2010 Interview with Rosalie Bertell (updated)

2010 Interview with Rosalie Bertell (revised and improved)

The nun, scientist and activist Rosalie Bertell passed away in 2012, and she left a valuable legacy of books, interviews and articles about her work for environmental justice, especially in the anti-nuclear movement.

A brief overview of her career can be found in this obituary. The text below is a transcript of a 2010 interview. I’m republishing it here because the transcript I found on another site contained several obvious errors. It seems to have been done by someone working for Planetary Movement for Planet Earth, a German organization. A few phrases and obscure words were transcribed in ways that made it obvious that they were not easy for a non-native speaker of English to recognize. For example, the words “They are same key-leading agents” were, I think, supposed to be “There are some chelating agents.” There were several problems like this in the transcript. 

After editing the document, I sent my suggested revisions to the site, but I received no reply. Global Research in Canada republished the transcript, but no one there seems to have bothered to fix it up properly, even though they have the expertise to publish professional quality research documents in English. They could have given some indication that they actually read the document carefully before publishing it.

So this is my way of saying thanks to Rosalie. I learned just today that she led a campaign to get the federal and provincial governments to clean up an illegal radioactive waste spill that was discovered in my hometown in 1980. Thanks, Rosie, for looking out for the kids in Scarborough, Ontario who were living around the Malvern Remedial Project on McClure Crescent. It’s just one example of the many battles she fought.

Interview with Rosalie Bertell (at age 81):

Rosalie Bertell and The Future of Planet Earth

I think you did a lot of research about radiation, even when it is a question of low radiation where it is usually said: “Don’t worry, no problem at all”. What have you found out about the effects of low-level radiation in the long run?

Well, my background is as a researcher. And I started by studying the effects of medical diagnostics x-rays, dental x-rays and chest x-rays. We had a huge population that was followed over three years. So we had about 64 million person-years in the study, which is very big. If you have a big population like that and you have measurable x-ray exposures, you can see what happens in the population. I am coming from looking at medical x-rays, and then seeing environmental pollution as bigger.

Many other researchers studied the atomic bomb and they go down to these low levels and said: Oh it’s not anything! So a lot depends on your perspective. When they looked at a large population and started asking what happened when it was exposed to radiation, I think generally the question was wrong. People ask: How many cancers does it cost? I don’t think that is the issue. Because if you look at life in general, the most obvious thing is we grow old. And we grow old in a kind of systematic way and even cancers are old-age diseases. So what I did was to change the question. And I asked: How much medical x-ray would you need to be exposed to so that you get the equivalent of one year of natural aging. That is a very different research question. In order to measure natural aging, I use non-lymphatic leukemia. The rate goes up in a large population like compound interest. From age 15, every year there is a 3% to 4 % increase in the rate of the non-lymphatic leukemia. It is just like when you have money in the bank. Interest is not very big when you are 16 or 20 years old, but by the time you get to 60 it is a large amount of money. Likewise, the rate of this cancer at age 60 is also very high. That is why cancers come in old age.

So I used that as my measuring stick and asked: how much medical x-ray would be the equivalent? I actually measured the aging effect of having dental x-rays or chest x-rays. What was surprising to me was that it was the same amount as you would get as background radiation in a year. So it didn’t make any difference if you got that radiation exposure very fast, because you got a chest x-ray, or whether you had it slowly over a year. You were still, in terms of vulnerability, aged. What that means then practically is if you are in your 20s or 30s and you have an accident and need extensive x-rays, probably you won’t feel much in terms of the difference. However if you are vulnerable, like 60 or 70 years old, you will experience more vulnerability from the x-rays because as a percentage there is a higher rate of incidence. So you are more vulnerable as you get older.

And so I started looking at young people who got leukemia, by which I mean the cases under 45 years of age. And I found within certain groups they are something like six times as likely to get leukemia in that younger age group. And if you have young people with things like diabetes and arthritis, often we associate these ailments with old age too. These conditions are 12 times as likely to be in a young group that has leukemia. So there are some signals to us that a person is prematurely aged, and those people are more vulnerable to radiation exposure.

It’s like they have already moved further on the list. And it’s not exactly medical x-rays, because for example with people who have heart-disease, some are treated more aggressively with respect to x-rays. Some people with heart-disease are x-rayed every year. Others have an x-ray maybe every five or six years and it was the ones who had the x-rays more frequently that developed leukemia. So I started moving people at the age line according to their own personal record of medical diagnostic x-rays. And it explains very many biological phenomena. There seem to be a whole lot of aging processes connected with this.

One of the most remarkable things is very often in radiation studies men’s and women’s radiation measurements are different. I put them on the exposure age which was your ordinary age plus your medical exposure. When I did them with exposure age, many women were the same, and I found that it had much to do with the cultural difference in the use of x-rays. Many young men had x-rays because of sports. They had all these sport injuries. Women don’t start to get x-rays until they are pregnant. And then it is mostly dental. And then you get to the midlife crisis. So there is a difference in the way we treat men and women and boys and girls with x-rays.

Could this relate also to this kind of radioactive radiation which we have through atomic testing or Chernobyl?

When we get into the nuclear industry, whether it is uranium mining or milling, or the reactors, or use of weapons, or even the radioactive waste, you are into particular radiation which we can either breathe in or take in in water and food. It can stay in the body and differentially expose some organs and not other organs. So, you get these small amounts of radiation operating in the body, and you get what I would call “differential aging”. So many of the problems we see come from how long this material stays in the body and where it goes.

So these general reactions of the governments that say, when there is any accident, that there is no danger for the citizens – would you say that this is basically wrong?

It is basically wrong. It is basically wrong because these particles release energy. The DNA carries all your genetic material - or the RNA, which are the messenger molecules which run our body, which make our body work. So we have to ask: how much energy will it take to break them? It only takes 6 to 10 electron-volts of energy to break these big molecules. If you take something like uranium, which is not considered very radioactive, just one atom and one event releasing an alpha-particle is over 4 million electron volts
. You cannot release that in tissue that is living and not do damage. So when you talk probabilities, you are talking about breaking DNA or RNA, destroying the membrane of a cell, or breaking things like the mitochondria which provide energy for the cell.

You can say we do not care about all the damage; we only care if this damage leads to a fatal cancer. So that is the only thing that will be counted. You can start making the probability smaller if you make the end point more particular and say: I don’t care if I get diabetes, I don’t care if my immune system is down, I don’t care for all these other things.

Iraq DU (Depleted Uranium). Can you say something about DU in weapons as they were used during the Iraq war?

Depleted uranium is the waste from the uranium enrichment process, which is a process needed both for a nuclear reactor and for nuclear weapons. In terms of the United States, the greatest amount of waste is depleted uranium. If it is radioactive, it requires a licence to be able to even handle it. And when they do the tests of these weapons in the United States they do it in a superbox, which is totally sealed, in the same way they would experiment with biological warfare and chemical warfare agents. So there is a level of high protection even to test it.

It is chemical warfare because uranium is a heavy metal, a very toxic heavy metal, and it is also radiological warfare, because these things are radioactive. Something special happens to it in the field. It is not just like radioactive dust in a mine or a mill because if you put it in a bullet or a missile, and it hits the target, this friction is enough to set it on fire and it goes to very high temperature. What happens is it forms an aerosol, which is ceramic or glass. It is like pottery, and putting it in an oven makes it ceramic. So what you have are very small particles of glass which are radioactive, which can be breathed, which are light, so they can move a great distance from the point of impact. It is easily measured 40 kilometers from impact.

Because they are glass, they are highly insoluble in water and that is very important because it means they stay in the body longer. To understand that, consider this: If you sit in the sun for 15 minutes is not same as if you sit there for 12 hours. So if you take very soluble uranium, it can pass through the body in 12 hours and be gone. Some of the more insoluble may take two years. But this ceramic stuff looks like it is taking 10 years or more. So right now the veterans from the Gulf War – they were exposed in 1991, this is 1999 (in the research) and they are still excreting between 4 and 5 micrograms of this depleted uranium every day in their urine. That is totally unacceptable. It is no wonder they have medical problems. It does damage to the blood, the bone, the liver, the spleen, the lymph nodes, the kidney. You got this material which is radioactive inside the body for nine years, ten years. That is why you are dealing with such a massive and such a mysterious kind of medical syndrome.

According to the Pentagon, 400,000 American veterans were exposed to depleted uranium: on the map it is the whole southern part of Iraq. So you had 400,000 exposed. They say 200,000 have sought medical care through the Veterans Administration since they have come home. Of that 115,000 have been diagnosed with gulf war syndrome, which means these men are unable to work. Many have died. I have heard various estimates that the number of those that have died reaches upwards to 8,000 to 10,000. The others can’t work. They have chronic fatigue, vomiting, blinding, headache, inability to sleep, respiratory problems, various kinds of pain, cramps – just general disability. They also had an abnormal number of deformed children. And this depleted uranium has been found in seminal fluid. So it is a very serious problem. If I have to say how much of the gulf syndrome would be due to depleted uranium, I would guess about 50% of the damage.

What the military likes about the uranium is it is free. They get it free because it is radioactive waste. And it saves the mining company money because they would have to properly keep it away from the biosphere. They like it because it is free. It is very much like landmines, because it will continue to kill long after the war is over. It will kill differentially the women and the children because women have high risk tissue, breast and uterine tissue which are more radiation-sensitive. Children are growing so they incorporate more in their bones and will have long-term cancer effects. It is also a violation of international law because it has very broad pollution effects that will go across national boundaries. It also makes the idea of “precision-bombing” ludicrous. It is not precision bombing. And I think it also undermines NATO’s claim of this being a humanitarian war because what they are doing in terms of poisoning the land and the people, and the water and the food, is certainly not humanitarian. So it is a complete contradiction to everything they claim to be standing for.

I understand from international lawyers that we do not even need a new convention for it. It is already condemned under international law. The opinion of the human rights tribunal in Geneva (in Strasbourg) is that it is a weapon of “mass and indiscriminate destruction and therefore it is unlawful”. The United Nations has appointed a rapporteur for this issue and they are going to present their brief in August this summer. The World Health Organisation is trying to set up an Investigative Committee to look at Iraq’s claim because they now have six times the rate of childhood cancer, and some of the Iraqi Veterans that were exposed now have between five and six times the lymphoma and leukemia rate of veterans that where not exposed. So the World Health Organisation has asked for funding and volunteers, and wants to do a three-year study in Iraq. All of that supportive information is not in, but it is already clear that it violates international laws, and it certainly contradicts the public relations material coming out on this war.

Severe consequence for future generations?

It will have consequences. I have done a lot of work on the Marshall Islands where they got the fallout from the weapon testing. And the Rongelap people are a people that are dying out, that whole clan.

[Tell us] about the Marshall Islanders and the Seven Generations Rule.

It increases infertility and inability to have children. They went for about five years without even being able to get pregnant. Then they started having spontaneous abortions, what they call jelly-fish-babies. It is a pregnancy of something like a tumour, a child is not formed. It is a molar pregnancy. Then they started having deformed birth. But the birth rate is dramatically down in this whole clan of people, and their next generation is physically less fit. Their birth rate is down and they die younger, in the 30s and 40s. So it is obvious that this whole line of people is dying. It is not going to survive. What I think we are doing is that our generation is making a decision on how many future generations there will be. How much it is shortened depends on how careless we are. So we already shortened future generations because whenever you introduce genetic defect then this line will eventually die out. But some will go two generations, some will go seven generations.

When you are talking about constant low radiation exposure, what you are doing is introducing mistakes into the gene-pool. And those mistakes will eventually turn up by killing that line, that cell line, that species line. The amount of damage determines whether this happens in two generations or in seven generations or 10 generations. So what we are doing by introducing more mistakes into the DNA or the gene pool is we are shortening the number of generations that will be viable on the planet.

We have shortened the number of generations that will follow us. We have shortened that already. So we reduced the viability of living systems on this planet, whether it can recover or not. We don’t have any outside source to get new DNA. So we have the DNA we have, whoever will live on this planet in the future is present right now in the DNA. So if we damage it, we don’t have another place to get it.

There will be no living thing on earth in the future that is not present now in a seed, in a sperm and the ovum of all living plants and animals. So it is all here now. It is not going to come from Mars or somewhere. Living things come from living things. So we carry this very precious seed for the future. And when you damage it you do two things. You produce an organism that is less viable, less harmonized with the environment. At the same time, we are leaving toxic and radioactive waste around. So you are going to have a more hazardous environment and a less capable organism. That is a death syndrome for the species, not only for the individual. It is going to be harder to live. The body will be less able to take stress, and you are increasing the stress at the same time.

We are responsible for what we turn over to the next generation. It is amazing to me because I am the daughter of people that came from Europe, migrated to Canada and the United States for a better life for their children. And it seems that our generation does not care for the future. It is not our heritage. Our heritage was to give something better to our children than what we received. And we seem not to care. I find this very strange, and I think most of our grandparents would turn over in their graves, if they knew what we are doing.

Yes we certainly have to change our way of thinking, and there are very good ways to carry this message. I think we even need a legal protection. We are thinking in terms of a “Seven Generations Law”, which means that for everything that is passed through legislation, you have to answer the question: what will be the impact of this on our great grandchildren’s great grandchildren. You have to answer this question before you do any major planning or make major changes or major laws. It is the North American indigenous peoples’ rule that it has to be safe for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Otherwise it is not acceptable.

There is no real protection from radiation, but you can reduce the effects by some things. Certainly stay in the house with windows closed during these bombing episodes and as long afterwards as possible. But your main concern will be getting it through the food chain. There are some chelating agents. They take inorganic material out of living tissues. One very simple chelating agent and a mild one is distilled water. You can use distilled water to cook your vegetables. If there is any uranium in the vegetables it will go out with the liquid. You can also drink distilled water instead of either bottled or filtered or regular water. Distilled water will do the same thing in the body. It will tend to take out the unwanted inorganic chemicals. Another thing that is available generally is spirulina, which is a blue-green algae you can usually get in a health-food-store. That is also a mild chelating agent and will help to rid the body of some of these toxins, including depleted uranium.

Or try to get rid of it through sweat respiration: saunas. If you get it out through the skin you save the kidneys. The idea is to get it out of the tissue and out of the blood and then out of the body instead of having it go back into storage.

We need to learn to get along with each other because we live on a small planet. If we fight over it, nobody is going to have it. Another thing is: We are straining the natural ability of the earth to regenerate itself. The earth can usually recover within a year. But when we measure what we now take out as resources (fish, food, iron, coal, oil), all these resources which we take for our lifestyle, we are now taking out about 1.33 times what the earth can replenish in a year. So we are running an ecological deficit. In 1992, we were at 1.25, so it is going up. People worry about financial deficit, but that is nothing compared to an ecological deficit. It means constantly reducing the carrying power of the globe. At the same time we are increasing the number of people. If we don’t do something, this will be a global-dimension crisis.

That’s the reason to say: the most important thing to do is the worldwide elimination of the military. The military is one of the most rapid consumers of resources. If you got rid the military globally, you would immediately get rid of the ecological deficit that we are running up every year. This would be buying us time to set up a better way to live on this planet. Yes, we need globalization of the mind. We don’t need mono-culture, but we need to learn how to live together on this earth, how to use conflict resolution in place of military. Yes, we need a police force. Yes, we need laws and courts and that sort of thing. But we don’t need military. Military is an abnormality. It is destroying our culture. It is destroying our environment. It is destroying everything we want. And it is time to get rid of it.

I would maximize the health of this beautiful living planet as much as I could and I would say: I give you this with love. Keep it and give it to as many generations as you can. Life can be good. And life is really a beautiful gift. None of us has asked for it. None of us deserves it. It shouldn’t be something that is a disaster for everybody. It should be something enjoyable and that means that we have to do it differently from the way we are doing it now. For most people life is a terrible thing. People are committing suicide, because it is so ugly for them. That is not life. That is not the way it should be. No other species is going around committing suicide like humans. So there is something very radically wrong with the way we are behaving.

2014/03/24

TED's Pro-Nuclear Bias

TED talks gone nuclear: how neoliberal proselytizing goes hand in hand with the promotion of nuclear energy
(revised 2014/03/29 - corrections were needed to distinguish between liquid sodium-cooled reactors and molten salt reactors)

The TED talks became popular about ten years ago once broadband video had become widely available. At first, the videos seemed like a valuable educational resource and a compelling alternative in a post-literate world to reading magazine articles. Few people would read, or even find, a report about the eradication of smallpox, but many more would find and listen to a twenty-minute personal narrative by the man who led the UN program which successfully eradicated smallpox. What’s not to like here? But over time I noticed that more and more of the talks ended with the speaker saying something to the live audience like “go out and change the world,” and it was clear that the message was directed at the wealthy, important people in attendance, not at the masses watching the recordings. It had become clear that TED reflected a particular belief system about how to improve the world, and that the conference had a missionary purpose which left people watching at home as mere spectators.
Critical voices started to grumble about a vaguely sensed banality that arises from the missionary aura of the event. For a while, no one was quite able to define the problem, and it was difficult to find fault with a forum that presented so many interesting speakers and was apparently devoted to changing the world for the better. It wasn’t until 2012 that critical reviews seemed to be getting close to articulating what is wrong with TED.
Martin Robbins wrote “The Trouble with TED Talks” in New Statesman in September, 2012. He noted that the TED slogan “ideas worth spreading” indicates that TED is essentially concerned with proselytizing. A significant flaw in the structure of TED is that participation in the conference is accessible only to people who can pay thousands of dollars to attend for a few days. Robbins asks, “What better crowd could there be than social elites who’ve invested thousands of dollars for the opportunity to bask in the warm glow of someone else’s intellectual aura?” For Robbins, the major flaw is that ideas worth spreading are never challenged or peer reviewed. There is no question period after the talks, no debate, no transparency about the way speakers are selected. He concludes:

TED Talks are designed to make people feel good about themselves; to flatter them and make them feel clever and knowledgeable; to give them the impression that they’re part of an elite group making the world a better place. People join for much the same reason they join societies like Mensa: it gives them a chance to label themselves part of an intellectual elite. That intelligence is optional, and you need to be rich and well-connected to get into the conferences and the exclusive fringe parties and events that accompany them, simply adds to the irresistible allure. TED’s slogan shouldn’t be ‘Ideas worth spreading’, it should be: ‘Ego worth paying for’.

In December 2013, Benjamin Bratton wrote “We Need to Talk about TED” for The Guardian. He stated his opinion that “TED actually stands for: middlebrow megachurch infotainment.” He noted an implicit requirement that talks be based on “epiphany and personal testimony” in order to be considered worthy. He asked, “What is it that the TED audience hopes to get from this? A vicarious insight, a fleeting moment of wonder, an inkling that maybe it's all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz?”
Bratton noted that TED management demanded that its various satellite conference organizers (TEDx events) refrain from featuring speakers whose topics include the paranormal, the conspiratorial and new agey. The goal was to have TEDx present talks that are imaginative yet grounded in reality. Bratton gives TED some credit for trying to maintain its reliability, but he noted:

“the corollaries of placebo science and placebo medicine are placebo politics and placebo innovation. On this point, TED has a long way to go… If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation… Keep calm and carry on "innovating" ... is that the real message of TED? To me that's not inspirational, it's cynical. In the US the rightwing has certain media channels that allow it to bracket reality... other constituencies have TED.

In spite of what TED claims in its response to such criticisms, I think there is nonetheless an ideological bias in the TED conference, and this is incompatible with the objective of conducting an open search for innovative solutions to global problems. The problem can be understood by asking what is absent as opposed to what is present. Because it was established by and for technology millionaires, content has been consciously or unconsciously selected to reflect their world view. Prominent intellectuals, such as Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader, for example, have never appeared on the TED stage.
In TEDworld, solutions come in the form of small-scale initiatives by selected innovators that can be scaled up, if they receive support from wealthy donors during networking sessions at the conference. Someone who has developed an inexpensive water filter might get private funding to launch a large-scale deployment in an African country, but this is as far as problem-solving goes. The TED stage does not welcome discussion of the big questions about resource exploitation and the geopolitical goals of Western powers that perpetuate numerous African conflicts. No one on the TED stage talks about solving complex social problems through government policy, taxes on the wealthy, or electoral reform. Many TED speakers beseech the TED audience to take action because they see government and private enterprise as incapable of doing the right thing. Bill Gates said in his talk about his charitable foundation, “Governments don't naturally pick these things [philanthropic initiatives] in the right way. The private sector doesn't naturally put its resources into these things. So it's going to take brilliant people like you... [special people in the TED audience]” Somehow, this depressing lack of faith in democratic institutions and traditions isn’t seen as detracting from the optimism and inspiration of the event.
An excellent example of ideological filtering can be seen in the way TED has set the parameters of its discussion of nuclear energy. In the list below, I briefly comment on the few talks that have mentioned nuclear energy, and what emerges from this review is a bias that promotes nuclear energy as a solution to global warming yet avoids all mention of its historical failures, the health and environmental hazards, and the intractable problem of waste disposal. There is a long list of qualified and respectable nuclear scientists who lost their official funding when they began to report findings unfavorable to national energy policy goals, but they have continued to do good research with funds they raise privately. These people have never been invited to the TED stage because it seems they have been categorized among those who do “placebo science,” science which is “not grounded in reality.” Other people who will never be invited are representatives of ethnic groups such as the Navajo, Dene and Marshallese who have been victimized by nuclear weapons testing and uranium mining.
What follows is a brief summary and critique of the short list of TED talks that are concerned with nuclear energy.

This is perhaps the only instance of a TED talk presented as a multi-faceted discussion in which ideas are challenged by the debaters, the moderator and members of the audience. However, the debate parameters are stacked in favor of nuclear energy. The “No” answer is framed as needing to prove that renewable energy could provide enough baseload energy to replace both carbon and nuclear sources. The speaker, Mark Jacobson, is a specialist in atmospheric research and renewable energy, so he isn’t the best person to speak of the negative aspects of nuclear energy. The “anti-nuclear” argument is allotted little opportunity to discuss environmental impacts, health impacts, proliferation risks, the risk of catastrophic failures (this was one year before Fuskushima) and the questionable values of a society that leaves the nuclear waste legacy to future generations. Nonetheless, Jacobson manages to cover some of these topics while spending most of his time explaining the potential of renewables. The pro-nuclear argument is presented by the famous apostate of traditional environmentalism, Stewart Brand.

This is a talk given by the teenage physics prodigy Taylor Wilson. He speaks of the promise of fusion energy, and the talk is a notable example of how nuclear proponents acknowledge the unacceptable risks of present nuclear technology only when they are promoting the relative safety of the next technology. Taylor Wilson is obviously a very smart guy, but he seems to have a dangerously narrow focus on nuclear physics that hasn’t been balanced with an education in the biological, political and social aspects of nuclear technology.

One year later, Taylor Wilson is back on the TED stage promoting the development of small modular reactors (SMR). Throughout the talk Wilson clearly implies something which is utterly false: that this technology is his own breakthrough innovation, and that he has even gathered a brilliant team to work with him. He speaks as if he were, at the age of 19, a tech billionaire with a long resume of successful ventures behind him.
He might have contributed some new ideas to the concept, but it seems more likely that he is being cynically used as a front to give this venture a sheen of novelty. The truth is that the potential of this design has been known for a long time. Reactors cooled by molten salt have a long history of development followed by failure and rejection. There are reasons why this hasn’t been done before. The US, the UK, Germany, and France all tried then abandoned fast breeder reactors cooled by liquid sodium (they were not molten salt breeder reactors). Russia is the only country that operates a functioning commercial breeder reactor, with plans to build more. Japan has all but conceded failure on its Monju reactor, which has never worked since it was supposed to go online twenty years ago.
   The French have been slowly and very carefully draining the radioactive sodium out of their failed Superphenix reactor for the last fifteen years. Proponents of molten salt reactors fail to explain why the molten salt fuel wouldn't pose similar problems. Wikipedia lists these among the technology's disadvantages:
  • Lithium containing salts can cause tritium production
  • Corrosion may occur over many decades of reactor operation
  • Nickel and iron based alloys are prone to embrittlement under high neutron flux
  • The possibility to modify a MSR to produce weapons grade nuclear material
Implementing this technology would presume that future generations would consent to and be able to continually decommission old reactors, build new ones and handle the waste produced. In addition, there would still be a carbon footprint in this technology, and there would still be serious environmental impacts in mining thorium, just as there are in mining uranium. None of this is mentioned in this peppy little infomercial.
With my limited IQ, I hesitate to give the young genius advice, but I think he could benefit from taking a year off to travel and round out his character before he lets himself be used this way by venture capitalists. He is blessed with a high IQ, but wisdom might be something he has to acquire the hard way like everyone else.
This talk is a clear example of Robbins’ critique that TED has come to favor showbiz appeal over content and rigorous challenge of ideas. It’s better to put the whiz kid on the stage than to have some boring billionaire come out and tell us how his reactor design is going to change the world… 

… Unless, of course, it’s Bill Gates. This talk given three years before Taylor Wilson’s talk is basically promoting the same dream. In this case, it is called the Travelling Wave reactor. Once again, this talk is an advertisement rather than a thorough discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of a design. He makes no mention of waste management and the problem of broken intergenerational loyalty implied by such technology. The infrastructure of the reactors and the waste management system would have to be maintained for numerous generations into the future.

One could classify this presentation as virulently anti-nuclear, inasmuch as the speaker wants the audience to believe that nuclear technology of the present is unacceptably dangerous relative to the promise of thorium reactors. The argument is much the same as the ones made by Bill Gates and Taylor Wilson. I’d give this speaker credit for just being an ordinary guy standing up for an idea he believes in, without relying on a billionaire or a cute prodigy to do the sales job for him. He does make a favorable comparison with existing reactors on many points (which critics concede), but he fails to share with his audience the well-known downsides which explain why thorium reactors have never been built. If TED talks were really about science and facts, such one-sided promotions would not be tolerated. An example of what a balanced debate might look like can be read in the transcript of an NPR interview with Richard Martin and Arjun Makhijani on the topic of thorium reactors. Here one can find a respectful debate, and the counter-argument pointing out that thorium reactors would still pose significant proliferation risks and serious problems in managing the the molten salt waste.

This talk is a touching discussion of the elderly people who have stayed illegally in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. It is a worthwhile topic in itself, but the speaker leaves the audience with a stunning lack of context. The result is that she implies by omission that it was a mistake to establish the exclusion zone because these holdouts are obviously happier and healthier than they would have been if they had followed the evacuation order. Perhaps she assumed the disaster is so famous that there was no need to mention the health damages and deaths, but the effect of the talk is the creation of a soothing gloss over a complex catastrophe that upended millions of lives.
By not describing the wider phenomenon, and especially by not acknowledging the proper decision to get children and women of child-bearing age away from Chernobyl, this talk plays right into the hands of the nuclear industry that has always downplayed Chernobyl’s consequences. The speaker concludes by saying, “the spirit and existence of the babushkas… will leave us with powerful new templates to think about and grapple with, about the relative nature of risk, about transformative connections to home, and about the magnificent tonic of personal agency and self-determination.” This uplifting conclusion fails to remind the audience that this “magnificent tonic” had to be used as a reaction to an industrial crime. It should be stressed that these babushkas had no agency in the decision to build the technology which destroyed their lives.

With regard to nuclear energy, what Stewart Brand says here is essentially the same as what he covers in the 2010 debate on the TED stage (see above). In addition, here he promotes geo-engineering, gene modification and the notion that the urban poor of the world are not trapped in poverty but just transitioning out of it while (bonus!) the rural environments they left are recovering from the damage caused by their subsistence farming. It’s all good, you see.

8. Project Orion (2002)
This brief talk describes the long-classified American project to build nuclear-powered rockets for deep space travel. For some reason, the speaker was given only eight minutes to inform an audience about a remarkable but unknown chapter of history that lasted a decade. The topic required much more time, but still, in those eight minutes he might have mentioned something about the stunning disregard in Project Orion for protecting the population from nuclear fallout. The book Area 51 described the experiment called Kiwi done for Project Orion which involved the deliberate destruction of a nuclear rocket, just to learn what the radiation levels would be. Its aim was to measure the fallout from the explosion and from the melted 100-pound nuclear core as it fell over the launch area. A still classified amount of radionuclides were carried away in the wind toward Los Angeles. The omission of such stories is an example once again of how all mention of nuclear energy in TED talks somehow fails to touch on the subject of the health and environmental consequences of nuclear energy.

From the title, one could guess that this talk claims renewables can’t supply enough electricity to meet demand and can’t supply baseload electricity. These claims might be true, but there is a large contingent of scientists and engineers who disagree, and yet these contrary views are hard to find on the TED stage.

The exception is Amory Lovins’ talk on the potential of renewable energy. It is the only TED talk I’ve found in which a speaker explicitly says nuclear energy is too expensive, too dangerous, and unnecessary for moving away from carbon-based energy. As such, it’s notable that he says this at a minor TED event (TED Salon) and not at the main conference. In his talk, he provides the data, the details and the convincing argument that we are capable of shifting to an energy paradigm based on energy produced in real time and above ground, as opposed to sources that have accumulated underground over millions of years.

11: The earth is full (2012)
This is a rare example of a contrarian getting onto the stage before the TED audience of techno-optimists and managing to shake them out of their comfortable presumption that forums like TED have the capacity to change the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if his inclusion in the event was viewed later as an embarrassing oversight.
In the talk, Paul Gilding argues for a massive shift in society’s priorities and calls for a centrally directed “war effort” of the kind that America put up to redefine its economy and win World War II. He wrote on his blog afterwards that his talk ignited some heated debates in the hallways during the conference, but all in all, he found the crowd had too much of an optimism bias that held fast to the wishful belief that technology would save the world.

The speaker argues that our use of fossil fuels can be made much more efficient while we transition to other energy sources. This talk is mostly about how microbes and biological processes can be used in carbon fuel extraction processes to make them cleaner, cheaper and more efficient. Enriquez says this is essential to do during the time that we improve renewables and nuclear. He seems to be one of the conditional pro-nuclear people who think it can be done right but that it has been done wrong in many instances. At one point he suggests, “This has to be a bridge to the point where you can get to wind, to the point where you can get to solar, to the point where you can get to nuclear--and hopefully you won't build the next nuclear plant on a beautiful seashore next to an earthquake fault. Just a thought.” This seems like an oblique reference to Fukushima (incidentally, a search on the TED website for “Fukushima” produces only two brief mentions of the disaster, and they are only passing references to the nuclear meltdowns), but this presentation was recorded in 2007. While he was apparently conceding a point to nuclear critics in California who have opposed nuclear power plants built on the coast there, he left a remark on record that would turn out to be prophetic.

This talk makes no mention of nuclear energy, but it knocks a leg out of the standard argument that nuclear proponents make about renewable energy. The speaker describes his work on developing large-scale electricity storage solutions, and he is confident that a breakthrough is imminent. If renewable energy can be stored, then critics will no longer be able to say that it can’t provide baseload electricity.

In conclusion, this review leaves three things to say about TED. First, the techno-optimism and neoliberal bias of the organization make it a natural partner for the promotion of next generation nuclear energy, though this policy is undeclared and the financial influences behind it are suspect. Second, dissenting views make occasional appearances, but the anti-nuclear argument has never been fully covered.
Finally, considering the thousands of talks that exist on the TED website, it’s remarkable that nuclear energy is discussed in only these few. Thirty-six talks are tagged “energy” and among these only a few are primarily about nuclear energy while a few others cover it as a sub-topic. This is a reflection of the TED’s bias, but also of those searching for the best way to respond to global warming. Some of them are pro-nuclear, while others believe either that nuclear is so irrelevant that it’s not worth discussing, or they just want to make it a one-front war against the fossil fuel industry.
   The bias in the TED talks is also a reflection of society’s lack of concern about nuclear energy. Nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are no longer novelties that strike fear in our hearts, even though the risks haven’t changed at all. Nuclear fears have been pushed out of our civilization’s consciousness while other preoccupations have been foregrounded. But nuclear technology is like an old water heater in your basement: Out of sight, out of mind. Though you know it’s going to blow someday, you prefer to imagine it won’t. No money has been put aside for the replacement, and you hate going down to the basement, so you refuse to think about it. Obviously, there will be a price to pay for willful ignorance. I think I’ll never be one of the special people invited to TED, but if a regular guy like me can figure this out, then so can all those people onstage and backstage at TED.

Additions:

I've received comments from a couple of people pointing me to other TED talks that make reference to nuclear issues. Libbe Halevy, host of Nuclear Hotseat, pointed me to her own anti-nuclear talk at TEDx Pasadena. I suspect this presentation might be one of the talks that made TED want to tighten up control of content at the TEDx events.
A surprising source was in TED's education sub-domain in a video narrated by TED curator Chris Anderson. He asks Enrico Fermi's question about why we have had no alien visitors, if the universe is supposedly filled with vast potential for planets where life evolved. He mentions the possibility that the answer is intelligent life forms don't last long after they discover nuclear energy (watch from 6:16 to 9:00).

2014/03/16

Thyroid Rage

It’s hard to imagine what motivates so many medical professionals to interpret epidemiological findings in a way that supports the views of the nuclear industry. It’s equally hard to understand why editors and journalists so readily go to such people and accept their glib denials that the nuclear disaster has had or will have any impact on public health.
photo from Al Jazeera
A case in point is this week’s National Geographic interview with Norman Kleiman of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.
The interviewer asked him to comment on the fact that there have been 33 confirmed cases of thyroid cancer in children in Fukushima prefecture since the nuclear catastrophe in 2011. The writer conveniently omits the detail that there are another 42 suspected cases, many of which will be confirmed at a more convenient time when the mass media is paying less attention to the issue. It should also be emphasized that for every cancer there are many more cases of damaged thyroid function, a fact which makes the nuclear accident a much more serious public health problem than it appears to be.
In any case, this finding of 33 cases among 245,000 children converts to a rate of  about 132 per million, a 61-fold increase over the normal rate of 2 per million (quoted in the National Geographic article). The American National Cancer Institute shows thyroid cancer occurring in 2010 at a rate of 1 per 100,000 for people under the age of 20. If this rate were taken as normal, then the finding of 33 cases per 245,000 equals a rate of 13 per 100,000.
The official line in Japan is that this increase can be put down to the screening effect. That is, if you go looking for a disease, you’ll find more of it than you would just by waiting for sick people to walk into a clinic. Norman Kleiman, along with the nuclear industry, agrees with this interpretation. Interestingly, they seem to assume, without presenting evidence, that the existing estimate of 2 per million was not a product of rigorous epidemiological research that screened a population. They suggest that the Fukushima survey was the first time that a population has ever been intensively screened for thyroid cancer.
Dr. Kleiman went on to even compare thyroid cancer to prostate cancer in older men. Increased screening for prostate cancer turns up more small, slow-growing tumors that patients would be better off ignoring because they will probably die from something else before the tumor becomes a problem.
It’s hard to know what to make of such an inappropriate comparison coming from a physician. I’m just an amateur, but I think I can see the differences between a child’s thyroid cancer and an old man’s prostate cancer. Cancers in children are known to grow more quickly than they do in adults over age 50. A child’s thyroid is a vital organ needed for proper development and endocrine functioning, whereas the prostate gland of a man over fifty is not so essential. It is extremely insensitive to equate a tumor in a child’s thyroid with a tumor in an old man’s prostate. The child needs to keep that organ healthy for seventy years, so the finding of a tumor in it is sure to be alarming. It is cold comfort for the parents or the child involved to be told what can be said to older men with prostate trouble--“just keep an eye on it, you’ll probably die of something else first.”
In addition, Dr. Kleiman gets a few of his facts wrong and shows only a passing familiarity with the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe. He claimed that the Chernobyl research showed thyroid cancer appearing after four years, but in fact, several research projects showed that thyroid cancers started to appear within two to three years of the catastrophe. They were described as more aggressive and with an earlier onset than the thyroid cancers that arise from other causes.(1)
Dr. Kleiman's interpretation of Chernobyl research illustrates the ways that the Soviet response to Chernobyl gets twisted to be either terrible or wonderful, depending on the spin that is necessary. Dr. Kleiman says that the Soviets did a terrible job protecting children from consuming milk and water laced with radioactive iodine, but we are to believe that later on they were flawless in detecting every case of thyroid cancer.
Dr. Kleiman also naively believes that people in Fukushima did not consume products laced with radioactive iodine in the first weeks after the accident, and he fails to mention that a significant concern aside from ingestion is the inhalation dose. No one (except some medical personnel who took care of themselves) got prophylactic doses of stable iodine, and the situation was generally chaotic, just as it was in the USSR. People were not warned of the dangers, and false assurances went out, even though data on the fallout was not available. Delivery trucks came to a certain point, but drivers bailed out when they got close to the radiation and left many people further down the road without vital supplies. Perhaps some people got bottled water, but many more had to settle for whatever they could get when they got thirsty. Regardless, the inhalation doses were enough of a concern for even Dr. Yamashita of Fukushima University Hospital to admit his error. He finally saw the data long after he had assured people there was nothing to be concerned about.(2)(3)
Dr. Kleiman also falsely described what cesium does in the body. He described it as accumulating in “fatty tissue” when in fact it goes to all connective tissue such as tendons, ligaments, fascia, skin, fibrous tissues, and fat, and to muscles, nerves and blood vessels. This is just a bit of Wikipedia fact checking that a doctor could have done before he went on record in a high profile magazine. Likewise, the journalist could have done some checking before the article went to print.
The doctor finishes by regurgitating the standard condescending nonsense that comes from nuclear advocates–comparing fission products from a nuclear accident with the radiation found in granite counter tops, bananas and rays from the sun--as if that should make people relax when a nuclear reactor is melting down and exploding a few miles from their homes. Everything he said in this interview resembles numerous other pronouncements assuring the world that Fukushima will have no health consequences. They all seem to be getting their talking points from the same source. 
   He claims that no one in Fukushima is living there with any serious “concentration” that will lead to health effects. Such statements are always made in willful neglect of the real danger of internal contamination. Of course, he had to finish by adding that the real problem is the “anxiety and fear of living in what people perceive as a contaminated area.” He adds the word “perceive” to deny a fact which the IAEA, the nuclear industry and nuclear opponents agree on. There is no perception problem. The land is contaminated.
All in all, this is a shameful gloss of a deadly serious, large-scale public health problem caused by corporate malpractice and negligence. National Geographic is seen by many as an inspirational educational resource, so it is all the more regrettable that the magazine failed to do much better research on this subject and failed to consult with a medical professional who has direct experience and in-depth knowledge of the Fukushima catastrophe and its impact on the people there. But after all, this may be the desired slant of the publication. The magazine is still ostensibly managed independently by the National Geographic Society, but National Geographic Channel is owned by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox.
At one point Dr. Kleiman said, “I'm not a pediatric endocrinologist, and I don't want to speculate..,” which just makes me wonder why the interviewer didn’t stop there, forget the speculations and go find a pediatric endocrinologist. It’s not clear why the National Geographic staff chose to interview Dr. Kleiman, a person who appears to have read from a list of talking points, with little knowledge of the event he was asked to comment on. It seems like the editors just went to someone who was easy to find locally.
Finally, there is a glaringly obvious point overlooked by those who say that the high incidence of childhood thyroid cancer in Fukushima is due to the screening effect. If it is true that the same result would come from surveying any population anywhere else, then the health authorities in Fukushima have really made a shocking, high-impact medical discovery that people all over the world will want to know about. Thyroid cancer in children is 61 times more common than we once believed it was! Any proper scientific review of this finding would insist that the researchers at Fukushima Medical University attempt to replicate their findings on a population not affected by a massive release of Iodine 131. This is the only way to confirm their conclusion, but it’s a certainty that Japanese officials will avoid doing it all costs. Yet there is always the possibility that their conclusion is correct because there are a lot of pre-existing toxins all over the world that affect thyroid function. If this research on children in Fukushima truly does imply that the global rate of thyroid cancer is so high, then this is a finding that deserves much more attention than it has got so far.

Notes:

(1) Some quotes from sources listed below:

“The high incidence of childhood thyroid cancer in Belarus is suspected to be due to radiation exposure after the Chernobyl reactor accident…  All of the preceding thyroid carcinomas developed after longer latency periods, whereas tumors arising in the Chernobyl population began developing with surprising rapidity and short latency.” (Shirahige et. al.)

“… absence of marked latency period is another feature of radiation-induced thyroid cancers caused in Belarus as a result of this accident.” (Malko)

“[the latent period for thyroid cancer is] 2.5 years, based on low estimates used for lifetime risk modeling of low-level ionizing radiation studies.” (Howard)

(2) Dr. Shunichi Yamashita: I thought, "Oops..." After Seeing the SPEEDI Simulation Map on March 23, 2011. Ex-skf. November, 2011. http://ex-skf.blogspot.jp/2013/11/dr-shunichi-yamashita-i-thought-oops.html. This source is a translation of Asahi Shinbun’s in-depth report Trap of Prometheus on the chaos March 2011. The report tells how the head of the medical team overseeing the response to the catastrophe discovered too late that Iodine 131 levels were indeed very high and that stable iodine should have been given to the population immediately.

(3) Miyake et al. determined a very effective way to reconstruct the fallout of Iodine 131 after it has decayed away. Iodine 131 has a short half-life of eight days but a high energy rate that makes it very damaging to the thyroid gland. Since it is completely gone after about ten half-lives, it is difficult to determine what inhabitants were exposed to in particular areas. Miyake et al. found that Iodine 129, with a 16 million-year half-life and a proportionately much lower energy, was found in the Fukushima fallout in a fixed ratio with Iodine 131 of about 32:1. To know how much Iodine 131 fell in a particular place, one can determine the amount of Iodine 129 still in the soil. Thus there should be no fatalistic shrugging and talk of how we’ll never know what children were exposed to.

Sources:

John Howard. “Minimum Latency & Types or Categories of Cancer” Administrator World Trade Center Health Program, 9.11 Monitoring and Treatment, Revision: May 1, 2013.

Mikhail V. Malko. “Chernobyl Radiation-induced Thyroid Cancers in Belarus.”
Joint Institute of Power and Nuclear Research, National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. 2002.

Y. Shirahige, M. Ito, K. Ashizawa, T. Motomura, N. Yokoyama, H. Namba, S. Fukata, T. Yokozawa, N. Ishikawa, T. Mimura, S. Yamashita, I. Sekine, K. Kuma, K. Ito, S. Nagataki. “Childhood thyroid cancer: comparison of Japan and Belarus.” Endocrine Journal, 1998 Apr;45(2):203-9.

Justin McCurry. “Fukushima's children at centre of debate over rates of thyroid cancer.” The Guardian. March 9, 2014.


2014/03/10

The Narrow Road to the Radiant North

As the third anniversary of the earthquake-tsunami-meltdown disaster comes around, there is too much to possibly say, so I’ll be brief and say it with a picture.
The sketch above is a mash-up of a famous sketch by the 18th-19th century artist Hokusai, who is better known for his colorful woodblock prints such as the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. The sketch above depicts the famous 17th century Haiku master Matsuo Basho who wrote about his journey to the great beyond in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The scene depicts him on the road, but now with a thyroidectomy scar on his neck and a contemporary scene in the distance.
Some might think it is wrong to rework national art treasures to make a satirical point about energy policy, but I think the old masters would approve of any action that protests what has become of the country they revered in their art.
When Shinzo Abe was prime minister for the first time in 2006, his stump speech referred often to a wish to make a “beautiful country,” as if Japan was not beautiful, or never had been, or had to be beautiful once again. In his second coming in the 2012 campaign, he conjured up more vague wishes saying “take back Japan” or “Japan is back.” He never specified how it had been taken away, or what it was back from or back to. The implication, of course, was that he and his party were the rightful owners.
When it comes to all this talk of restoration and making a beautiful country, we have to keep in mind who turned Japan into a nuclear waste repository, and who is busy denying that the stunning spike in childhood thyroid cancer rates has anything to do with a cloud of radioactive iodine that blew over the deep north. If anyone is angry that treasured art has been defiled, they should ask themselves the very old question of whether art or life is more important. Those children awaiting treatment for thyroid cancer might like to know how their fellow citizens would answer the question.
Abe's "take back Japan" posters in one of the yet-to-be beautified
locales in rural Japan. The sign in the foreground says "danger,"
the arrow points left.