Oi, do you feel lucky, punk?

This week Japan’s prime minister Noshihiko Noda spoke directly to the nation to convince the people that the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors was essential to save the economy. He even claimed that he would take full responsibility for whatever happens.
And that was supposed to make us feel better? Let’s say another disaster happened and we could sue him for every last yen of his personal wealth, or punish him with the death penalty. Obviously, there is no price he could pay to compensate for the disaster, so many observers wondered why he uttered such nonsense.
I imagine Mother Nature now getting mean, like Dirty Harry, saying, 
“I know what you’re thinking, Noda. Is there one mega-quake per century, or more? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement since the industrial revolution, I kind of lost track myself. But seeing as it was a magnitude 9, the most powerful earthquake in the world that would blow the rest of your nuclear reactors clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?
When we consider our political and business leaders, they seem a lot like the punk in Dirty Harry, but in that case even the punk was able to do a quick assessment of his odds and wisely surrender. Yet our leaders just keep forging ahead with reckless risks and solutions that have been repeatedly proven wrong, as Naomi Klein argued so brilliantly in a speech last year.
Critics of Japan’s nuclear plants such as Takashi Hirose have pointed out the severe flaws in their design bases that have to be reassessed. For instance, it is likely that the M9 earthquake in 2011 fatally damaged the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi even before the tsunami flooded the emergency generators. The truth is that the final assessment has not been made, but nonetheless the Japanese government rushes to restart reactors. Many of these were built on the assumption that there were no fault lines nearby and that the strongest quake would be less than M9. We now know that these two assumptions are incorrect. A strong vertical thrust quake could damage control rods and prevent even a safe shutdown of criticality in the reactor core (this shutdown actually happened in all the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi – the damage was caused by the remaining decay heat that couldn’t be cooled). In addition, the quake could damage the cooling and venting systems. All of this risk exists with or without a tsunami flooding the plant.
But the Japanese government has done its best to scare the population, and the governor of Osaka (who was opposed to the restart of the Oi reactors until this week), into submission. We are told to believe that the ruin of Japan will come not from the existence of nuclear power but from the lack of it. They even hid behind the sentimental argument that hospital patients and senior citizens will die in the event of a blackout, dodging the real issue which is the dread of running a trade deficit in order to import carbon fuel. 
Somehow, I think the hospitals and the senior residences could be saved if non-essential industries were to shut down on hot days when electricity usage was peaking. There was a time in the days before air conditioning when all factories in industrialized countries shut down for the summer months.
But we are told to believe that the issue is Japan’s dire inability to import more carbon based fuel. Even though oil and natural gas prices are dropping, they have tried to scare us into thinking that Japan cannot go on paying exorbitant prices for the energy shortfall caused by the lack of nuclear power.
There are several reasons why this argument is baseless. Nuclear provided only 30% of electricity before 2011, so it is hard to argue that importing a little more oil and gas, while getting serious about energy conservation and deploying renewables, is going to threaten the economy in a significant way. Furthermore, the population is declining and industries may move offshore no matter what.
There may be a savings in the fuel cost between nuclear fuel and carbon fuels, but there also has to be an accounting of the terrific cost difference in the generating plants. Nuclear plants are many times more expensive to build, and they involve the costs of lengthy and dangerous decommissioning and spent fuel storage. It is absurd to say that there is an economic reason to restart nuclear reactors in one of the most seismically dangerous parts of the world. The only explanation of this rush to restart reactors is that the narrow, corrupt and reckless interests of Japan’s nuclear village are reasserting themselves.
It’s tempting to go on ridiculing the Japanese government for how dysfunctional and illogical it has been dealing with disaster, but there is no reason to think other countries will be different when they enter their own energy end games.

The original:
I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But seeing as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?

1 comment:

  1. It is so unfortunate that the Prime Minister of Japan can not have a broader view of our energy supply system.

    It is such a good opportunity for Japan to show the world how much damage nuclear power can cause, how much factors are uncontrollable by humans, and how much dangerous waste it leaves behind.

    I think it is also an opportunity to suggest to the world a new energy supply system using alternative energy. We may not have all the necessary technology now, but isn't innovation what we do best?

    We should not go back to nuclear energy, just because it may seem cheaper or we may run out of energy in the near future.

    If we are successful at introducing a new egergy system,
    it would be a great opportunity for Japan to make a contribution to the world, show how innovative we can be, and maybe become a respected member of the international society again as a nation that can change and provide new, safe, and useful technology.

    I think Japan owes this responsibility to the world, as the only nation that has experienced the atomic bomb, and also for having caused a nuclear disaster.