2013/09/28

Shinzo Abe likens Japan to The Sandman

Won't you stretch imagination for a moment and come with me
Let us hasten to a nation lying over the western sea…
Here’s a Japanese Sandman sneaking on with the dew
just an old secondhand man
He'll buy your old day from you…
There's the Japanese Sandman trading silver for gold

written by Raymond Egan and Richard Whiting
(1920)

 
The Fukushima Daiichi ruins, once said to be “under control” and in “cold shutdown,” have gathered world’s attention again because, in fact, it has become apparent that the situation there remains terrifying and unsolvable. Massive volumes of radioactive water have been stored on the site in a haphazard manner and irradiated groundwater leaks into the sea. No one knows what the effects will be, or whether the situation will worsen. The spent fuel pools pose a risk that some experts classify as potentially a threat to civilization, and certainly a grave risk to Japan.
During this time, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has managed to convince the IOC that Tokyo will be ready to host the Olympics in 2020, and he went to New York this week to sell his new Japan to American investors on Wall Street. Some call him a liar, others wonder if he keeps himself intentionally ignorant or is just incapable of comprehending the danger posed by Fukushima and the demographic collapse of the economy.
His speech in New York (full text here) was a bizarre hodgepodge of references to American culture, all loosely tied to his thesis that “Japan is back” in the high life again, the place it left thirty years ago when Sony ruled with the Walkman cassette recorder.
In the speech he began with the strange request, “Buy my Abenomics.” Then he seemed to be wishing to flatter his hosts, but he just reminded the world of Wall Street’s reputation for criminality by making reference to Gordon Gecko, the criminal, sociopathic stockbroker in the fictional films Wall Street and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. He also talked a lot about sushi, wasabi, bullet trains, LED lights, wind turbines and batteries. There was no mention of the enormous amount of economic growth that would be necessary to raise the revenue that could shrink the deficit and the national debt. But he did have this to say, straight faced, about Japanese nuclear technology:

Japan will also continue to make contributions to the world in the area of safety technology for nuclear reactors. There will be no abandoning them. I believe that it is incumbent upon us to overcome the accident in Fukushima and contribute to the world by having the highest level of safety in the world.

He also talked about his plan to finally give women a useful role in the labor force. Listeners might wonder why the sudden urge to do the right thing has appeared after sexual inequality has been a problem in Japan for so long. It seems the government has suddenly decided that if women don’t want to produce the tax payers of the future, they will have to be the tax payers of the future. The decision is purely economic rather than moral, just as it is in the decline of the nuclear industry in America. Recent plant closures have come because of financial pressures, not because of the moral arguments from the anti-nuclear movement.
Finally, Mr. Abe talked about baseball, the Yankees and Mariano Rivera’s recent last game with the team. From there, the topic jumped bizarrely to Metallica’s Enter Sandman, the song which was always used at Yankee stadium to herald Rivera’s entry onto the field. In this way, the song was appropriated by Rivera and the meaning of its words were somewhat forgotten. Mr. Abe appropriated the song for himself by saying,

Japan is once again in the midst of great elation as we prepare for the Games seven years from now. It is almost as if Metallica's ‘Enter Sandman’ is resounding throughout Yankee Stadium: you know how this is going to end.

This is precisely the problem with Mr. Abe’s attitude: actually, no, you don’t know how this is going to end. Will those hundreds of spent fuel rods in unit 4 be safely removed over the next two years, or will the whole thing come crashing down and create a bigger mess than ever? If Mr. Abe could show a little more nuance in his statements, and a little more awareness of the dangers ahead, we might have more confidence in him. We would all worry less if he would worry a little more and tone it down with the “guts pose” and other empty words and gestures about a yet unproven triumph. Sorry, but Japan is not back yet. Do the victory lap seven years from now, if things go well--but keep in mind that even a century from now, Fukushima Dai-ichi will be a radioactive sacrifice zone. There will never be a tidy restoration allowing anyone to say "job done." 
Since Mr. Abe’s speech writers did such a wonderful job in free-associating with so many diverse elements of American culture, I thought I would add a little more to the flow of this consciousness. I can play this game too. We can look more closely at the cultural history of the Sandman and ask what it means about the present Japanese government policy.
The Sandman was a character from European folklore, a benevolent spirit who sprinkled sand on the eyelids of children to give them a peaceful sleep. But in some stories he was a malevolent character, as he is in the song by Metallica. The child in the song can pray to God for protection, but he goes to sleep with a feeling of dread, as conveyed by lines such as these:

Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight…
Something's wrong, shut the light
Heavy thoughts tonight
And they aren't of snow white…
Dreams of war, dreams of liars
Dreams of dragon's fire
And of things that will bite...
Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight…
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beast under your bed,
In your closet, in your head

Indeed, when this pounding heavy metal song is used to signal Rivera’s arrival on the field, it seems to be an intentionally ominous signal of a force that has come to knock out opponents and deliver their worst nightmares. It may not be the allusion to peaceful trade and prosperity that Mr. Abe wanted to create. Instead, the message is that Japan is the monster under the bed, and in fact, that is how I feel many nights with the ruins of Fukushima Daiichi just a two-hour drive from my home.
Extending the Sandman reference farther back in American culture, we could recall the roaring 20s with mention of stories from that era like The Great Gatsby, or the contemporary period drama, Boardwalk Empire, which incidentally revived the period tune The Japanese Sandman. The song is an example of the sort of meaningless exotification of The Orient that was common then. There is no apparent reason why the Sandman had to be Japanese in this song, other than to just lend it a mood of escapism. But if Mr. Abe is suggesting that Gordon Gecko, Mariano Rivera and Metallica are all somehow relevant to Japanese economic policy in 2013, then I’ll use this and leave readers with the lyrics to this wistful song from a century past.

The Japanese Sandman
written by Raymond Egan and Richard Whiting
sung Lauren Sharp (2011) on Boardwalk Empire








Won't you stretch imagination for a moment and come with me
Let us hasten to a nation lying over the western sea
Hide behind the cherry blossoms here's a sight that will please your eyes
There's a lady with a baby of Japan singing lullabies 
Hear her as she sighs

Here’s a Japanese Sandman sneaking on with the dew
just an old secondhand man
He'll buy your old day from you
He will take every sorrow of the day that is through
And he'll bring you tomorrow just to start life anew
Then you'll be a bit older in the dawn when you wake
And you'll be a bit bolder in the new day you make
There's the Japanese Sandman trading silver for gold
Just an old secondhand man trading new days for old.

Then you'll be a bit older in the dawn when you wake
And you'll be a bit bolder in the new day you make
There's the Japanese Sandman trading silver for gold
Just an old secondhand man trading new days for old.


Metallica (1991)

Say your prayers little one
Don't forget, my son
To include everyone

Tuck you in, warm within
Keep you free from sin
Till the Sandman he comes

Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight

Exit light
Enter night
Take my hand
Off to never never land

Something's wrong, shut the light
Heavy thoughts tonight
And they aren't of snow white

Dreams of war, dreams of liars
Dreams of dragon's fire
And of things that will bite

Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight

Exit light
Enter night
Take my hand
Off to never never land

Now I lay me down to sleep
Pray the lord my soul to keep
If I die before I wake
Pray the lord my soul to take

Hush little baby, don't say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beast under your bed,
In your closet, in your head

Exit light
Enter night
Grain of sand

Exit light
Enter night
Take my hand
We're off to never never land

For more on this topic

Pesek, William. “Abe's Turn on Wall Street Is Lost in Translation.” Bloomberg, September 27, 2013:

Nine months into Abe's tenure, nothing has been done to better utilize the female workforce, reduce trade barriers, cultivate entrepreneurship, prepare for an aging workforce, internationalize corporate tax rates, find an alternative to nuclear reactors, wrestle government power away from a vast, unproductive and sometime corrupt bureaucracy and improve relations with Asian neighbors. It's great Abe is putting these issues on the table for discussion, but it's far too early to be telling Wall Street that Japan is back and better than ever. That day is years off, at best.
Abe's clumsy sales job is emblematic of Japanese governments, past and present. Japan has long had trouble capitalizing on its soft power around the globe. Abe certainly tried in New York, with references to baseball star Ichiro Suzuki, sushi, bullet trains and advances in maglev rail technology that Japan is itching to export to America's Northeast corridor. Yet nothing would sell Japan Inc. globally like success. Revive the economy, reinvigorate the biggest corporate names, unleash a wave of innovation among young Japanese, and the international clout Japan craves will follow.

2013/09/19

A blunt report on Japanese TV about the Fukushima Unit 4 Spent Fuel Pool and the possible end of Tokyo

How commercial TV covered the hazard of the Unit 4 Spent Fuel Pool at Fukushima Daiichi: A segment of the program Morning Bird, broadcast by TV Asahi on March 8, 2012

Over the summer, the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe came back as a major story in world media. There was alarming news about large leaks of radioactive water, and each story carried mention of the potential of a larger disaster that could happen if the spent fuel rods of unit four are not safely removed. (For full coverage, go to the interview Arnie Gundersen on the radio show Nuclear Hotseat.)
Eighteen months ago, at the one year anniversary of the catastrophe, the journalist Toru Tamakawa hosted a panel discussion on Japanese TV about the perilous condition of Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 Spent Fuel Pool. The segment includes an interview with Hiroaki Koide, professor at the Research Reactor Institute, Kyoto University.
At one time there was an English-subtitled version of this report on Youtube, but TV Asahi had it removed. For some reason, they haven’t done the same thing with the French-subtitled version which is still at the link above.
I translated the report into English, but decided not to upload an English-subtitled version on Youtube. It could be taken down at any time, and I wanted to preserve the report as a historical document.
The report is significant because it shows that the mainstream media is not always lamestream media. This report was broadcast on a major commercial network, for a target audience of housewives and senior citizens and whoever else is home during the day. The standard theory in media studies says that the purpose of such programming is to keep the audience comfortably stimulated with mild controversies, but not with extreme topics that could diminish interest in the advertised goods. But in this case there was a crack in the usual facade, as the host of the report told the panel and the viewers that there is a high chance that the accident could still turn bad and spell “the end” for northern Japan and Tokyo. It kind of spoils one’s motivation to buy luxury brand soaps. People overseas might wonder how people can live with this knowledge from day to day, but it's not that much different than the threat of nuclear annihilation that we've all lived with for sixty years. President Kennedy said it was like a Sword of Damocles above our heads. Now we have two.
This report shows that the media cannot take all the blame for public apathy on this issue. The very shocking and disturbing truth of the situation has been shown to the public. Other aspects of social control and mass psychology must explain why there hasn't been more widespread opposition to the mishandling of the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe. One thing I can fault the journalist and the panelists for is their naïve view that they could change things by voting for someone different, or that proper action will be taken if the matter is debated in parliament. They have too much faith. The passage of time has proven that the government is more interested in building Olympic facilities than in telling the nation the truth of the Fukushima catastrophe. It’s more likely that nothing will improve until there is a mass movement to block government plans. When the Soviet bloc was collapsing, it was solidarity movements and general strikes that brought change for workers and for Chernobyl victims (see my earlier post on the book Chernobyl: Crime without Punishment). Such a trend is yet to materialize in Japan.


IN THE STUDIO, SPEAKING TO THE PANEL
Tamakawa:
You might think it’s been a year now, it’s over, but actually it’s been only a year, and it’s far from over. The real cause of the accident has still not been identified. The results of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) have not yet been published. Yet the government is talking of restarting nuclear power plants. I have to ask exactly what lessons they have learned from this accident. I ask you whether the Fukushima Daiichi site is really safe at this time. They speak as if the accident has been resolved, but look at this. The two big political parties hope to restart reactors, but is the accident really resolved? 
For example, Unit 4. Professor Koide of Kyoto University is one of the experts most concerned about it. He says it is the most dangerous aspect of the situation. Here’s the actual state of Unit 4. You can see that it practically has no walls. They were blown out by the explosion. It’s a ruin, and inside it is the spent fuel storage pool. Until here, the space is taken up by the reactor, and here, beside it, is the storage pool. 1,500 rods of spent fuel are stored here, 2.8 times more than in a reactor. These rods have to be constantly cooled. So what will happen if an earthquake strikes and water begins to leak out of this pool? I asked this question to Professor Koide. Please listen to his answer.
INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR KOIDE
Koide:
As you see, this is the spent fuel pool with numerous spent fuel rods stored in it. If a strong earthquake comes, these walls could collapse, the water could spill out, and the rods would no longer be cooled. So they would begin to melt, probably entirely. An enormous amount of radioactivity would be released without any way to contain it. We don’t know when an earthquake could come.
Tamakawa:
Couldn’t we just build another pool beside the old one and transfer the rods into it before an earthquake strikes?
Koide:
If you removed a fuel rod and lifted it through the open air, an enormous amount of radiation would be released. It would kill everyone working there.
Tamakawa:
It’s that strong?
Koide:
Yes.
IN THE STUDIO, SPEAKING TO THE PANEL
Tamakawa:
So the spent fuel rods are in the pool, but that doesn’t mean that we are safely done with them. They continue to produce heat and deadly levels of radiation if they are exposed to air. They are not dangerous now only because they are under water and the radiation is blocked. As you saw in the video, I asked why we couldn’t simply move the rods to a new storage pool. First, let’s look at how they transfer the spent fuel rods in normal circumstances.
The rods are at first inside the reactor. Then they are transferred to the spent fuel pool. At first, they lower a large container into the water. Then they do the transfer underwater. They put a cover on it, then they hoist the container out of the pool. But now, because of the earthquake, this crane no longer exists. So how are they going to do it?
INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR KOIDE
Koide:
You see here there is a giant crane which is used to raise and lower the container, but this can no longer be used. So there’s a lot of work to be done. First, they have to take out the debris and other things that have fallen into the pool. Next, they have to build a new crane to lower the container into the pool. They have to prepare some way to do that from the outside of the building. They will have to lower the container into the pool and transfer the rods, and many of them appear to be damaged. Then they have to pull them up and out of the pool. All this is going to take years to complete.
Tamakawa:
And what will happen if an earthquake occurs during that time?
Koide:
That will be the end.
Tamakawa:
The end?
Koide:
Yes.
IN THE STUDIO, SPEAKING TO THE PANEL
Tamakawa:
You see: the end.
Panelist 1:
Unbelievable.
Tamakawa:
So it’s a serious problem. TEPCO knows this is the most serious problem. And today, as if this was announced just in time for our program, TEPCO has announced its plan for this operation. It could begin taking out the spent fuel as early as January next year [2013]. So if an earthquake happens before that time, perhaps not even a very big one, the pool could crack and leak, and it would be, as Professor Koide said, “the end.” That means the end for a large area, including Tokyo.
Panelist 1:
And unbelievably, they are talking about restarting nuclear power plants.
Tamakawa:
I think it is out of the question to restart them before the NAIIS report comes out, and before the new regulatory agency has a chance to assess the report.
Panelist 2:
For such an important issue, the opposition parties should question what the government plans to do, but in this case even the opposition parties want to restart nuclear power plants. They all want to make use of the power plants again.
Tamakawa:
But there are people within each party who disagree with this policy.
Panelist 2:
But they are the minority, aren’t they?
Tamakawa:
No, this is not the case. There are people who think the same way even inside the party in power (DPJ), but there are also people who want to restart.
Panelist 1:
I want to vote again.
Panelist 2:
They talk of restarting after they have obtained the consent of local affected communities, but actually all of Japan, and even neighboring countries, are part of the “local affected communities.” It isn’t just the vicinity of the power plant that should be considered as affected.
Panelist 3:
We have to recognize that the accident is far from being resolved. The crisis is in fact ongoing.
Tamakawa:
That’s right, and I have a correction to make. The removal won’t start until December next year [2013] at the earliest, not January as I said before.
Panelist 3:
December next year? Seriously?
Tamakawa:
Yes. Sorry, what I said before was too optimistic.
Panelist 1:
About those members of parliament who want the restarts – I want them to resign.
Panelist 3:
We’ve got to rethink this problem.
Panelist 2:
I want the names of all those members who want the restarts. I want to ask them about their opinions.
Tamakawa:
Well, I hope this issue will be discussed in parliament soon.


2013/09/13

Matsuhiro Imperial General Headquarters: the World's First Fallout Shelter?

    In the 20th century nation states and their empires vastly increased the energy resources, technology and labor forces at their command. War became mechanized and industrialized on such a scale that losing a war no longer meant only military defeat. Entire cities and civilian populations could be wiped out in a short time. This gave rise to new thinking about how leadership could preserve itself in case of a sudden devastating attack. During the Cold War, when nations had to respond to the possibility of nuclear war, they built large networks of underground shelters that would allow for military and civilian leaders to have “continuity of operations.” A little-known chapter of this history is that of the Matsuhiro Imperial General Headquarters which was built by Japan during the final year of WWII. It could conceivably be called the world’s first fallout shelter, or first continuity of operations center, built for the imminent arrival of the atomic age.
We might assume that the Americans and the Soviets were the first to think on such a scale about preservation of government, but the nuclear age was actually born in 1938 when Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman showed that uranium atoms could be split and that they would release tremendous amounts of energy. All through World War II, all sides of the conflict were worried  that the enemy might be the first to attack with a nuclear weapon. Japan tried to build a nuclear weapon, and they worried that America might beat them to it. Nothing is known for sure about what they feared and what they knew about America’s progress with the bomb during the war. An NHK documentary claimed that Japanese military intelligence knew about the Alamogordo test in July 1945, and knew about some unusual preparations that were going on with a team of B52 bombers in the South Pacific over the next few weeks.
In addition to these vague fears of a new kind of weapon, major cities had already been devastated by air raids and military planners knew that Tokyo would be vulnerable to a devastating attack. Conventional warfare had become vastly more destructive than it used to be, and this was reason enough to worry about ways to protect the nation’s leadership functions.
In response to these fears, in the fall on 1944, Japan began to build what may have been the world’s first continuity of operations headquarters in the mountains of Nagano. It was a massive underground network of tunnels designed to shelter the government, the military leadership, and the imperial family. At a time when human and material resources were scarce, and the war was sure to be lost, the military leadership made this project a top priority. Thousands of laborers were conscripted and brought from Korea. There is a lack of definitive knowledge about the undertaking because all of the records about it were destroyed right after the war. In addition, within Japan there has been little interest in knowing more about the project because of its potential to embarrass the imperial family, for whom treasure and lives were wasted to build the headquarters. The Matsuhiro Imperial General Headquarters became just another of many delicate historical controversies about the Pacific War which most Japanese people would prefer to forget.
The English Wikipedia page describes the Korean slave labor that was dragooned into service to build the headquarters. It tells of workers who died in the tunnels, and of the sex slaves brought in to protect local women from the influx of single men. The tone is generally focused on the tragic waste of lives and resources for a project that had no hope of preventing eventual defeat.
The Japanese Wikipedia page has a decidedly different view of the enterprise. It points out that the Korean workers were tough and good-hearted. They helped with farm work too and enjoyed good relations with the locals. There was even some inter-marriage. One negative thing described is the locals’ resentment of the Koreans’ favorable treatment. Because they were working on a project of national priority, they got a larger rice ration at a time when many people were starving. Whoever wrote this may have failed to consider that the workers were simply regarded as machines with high fuel requirements. The tunnels wouldn’t get dug without the required energy input. Most amusingly, the writer notes that because Koreans had no Japanese names, they couldn’t legally open bank accounts. Apparently, many local people kindly offered to lend their names for this purpose. The article concludes that at the end of the war these honored workers were sent back to Korea with a generous payment.
A rare English language description of the Matsuhiro project can be found in the book The Day the Sun Rose in the West: Bikini, the Lucky Dragon and I. This is a translation of a book written by Matashichi Oishi, the survivor of the 1954 Lucky Dragon incident – the Japanese tuna boat that was showered with heavy fallout from the American Bravo H-bomb tests in the Bikini Atoll. The book is mostly concerned with his long battle to restore his life, to gain compensation and proper health care, and to teach future generations how individuals have been victimized by their own nations’ military and development policies (my previous posts about this book are here and here). Matsuhiro interested Mr. Oishi because it stands as a grand example of a government’s tendency to protect the interests of a few to the expense of the many. It shows a government’s inability to admit failure, cut short its losses and do what is necessary to protect its own people. We presently see the Japanese government doubling down on its investment in nuclear energy, in both its intent to restart its nuclear power plants and its attempts to export nuclear technology, and it does this while denying the horrific costs of its nuclear disaster and its ongoing potential for causing greater harm than it has already.
In retrospect, it is easy to mock the thinking behind the Matsuhiro project, but such madness was not unique to Japanese culture or this historical context. Ten years later American school children were being told to “duck and cover” under their school desks in the event of a nuclear attack, fathers were digging bomb shelters in backyards, and the official policy was to guide the nation in ways to survive all out nuclear war. The civil defense films of the era seemed laughable to many even then, and the absurdity of them became widely apparent over time. The good question to ask now is what we are doing today that will seem like madness to future generations.
Some might be tempted to say that the Matsuhiro Headquarters would have been seen differently by history if the Emperor had evacuated to it and if a nuclear bomb had been dropped on Tokyo during a fight to the bitter end. Yes, this could be seen a measure of the prescience of the military leadership, but only through the prism of a narrow system of values that favors expending many lives in order to save a few. Defeat would have come eventually in any case. The greatest irony of the story is that in July 1945 when the Emperor was advised to go to the refuge that had been built for him, he refused to leave Tokyo. He still had some influence on decisions, and he intended to keep it. According to the history told in Japan’s Longest Day, the Emperor’s surrender announcement was broadcast only because of the persistence of the Emperor and his allies in the government who got the recording out of the palace and past the military die-hards who wanted every Japanese man, woman and child to fight to the last with bamboo spears.
The excerpt from The Day the Sun Rose in the West follows below:
_________________________

From The Day the Sun Rose in the West: Bikini, the Lucky Dragon and I:

On January 11, 1997, I was invited to speak about my experience as a hibakusha at a New Year’s seminar of the East Japan Railway Workers’ Union (Nagano branch)… The next day the union’s secretary and its vice-chair took me to the site of the “Phantom Matsuhiro Imperial General Headquarters,” under construction in secret toward the end of the Pacific War.
This underground shelter was for the Emperor and Empress, first of all, and for Japan’s military high command to move to in case of any enemy landing on Japan proper. It was built to make it possible for the Japanese people to fight to the very last person. Construction was carried out at top speed; after nine months, when it was 75% finished, the war ended with Japan’s defeat. It remained unfinished.
What an idea! What scope! What cruelty! Having heard the story, leaving the cave, I turned and for a moment looked back again, as if peeking, at the inside, which was lit dimly by naked light bulbs. From the cave came bitter hatred and groans, in Korean. A document compiled in 1993 by a research group of he JR East Workers’ Union, Nagano branch, states:

The Imperial Japanese Military Headquarters, supreme command of the Japanese military, was established in 1893; it was comprised of the Army Chief of Staff and the Navy Command. It lasted through the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, and down to Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War. Although all signs indicated that Japan’s defeat was imminent, the Japanese government and military provided the Japanese people with false information that Japan was winning the war, while at the same time it constructed in secret this underground shelter known as “Matsuhiro Imperial General Headquarters” in preparation for the “final battle at home.”
The plan to move Imperial General Headquarters to Matsuhiro involved key state organs: the Imperial family, government agencies, the military leadership, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation [NHK], and others; the project covered a vast area of over 150 square miles, all of the Zenkoji Flat.
The underground tunnels, excavated in the last nine months before Japan’s defeat, reached eight miles in length; the total cost was 200 million yen, equivalent to about 2 billion yen ($19 million) today.
The construction was led primarily by the Eastern Army, Nishimatsu Construction Co., and Kajima Corporation, and a total of three million workers were mobilized. The dangerous underground work, such as dynamiting and digging, was done by more than 7,000 Koreans who in the guise of “conscription” had been brought from the Korean Peninsula and made to do forced labor. They worked in two shifts. If they started at 5 a.m., they weren’t allowed to quit until after dark; they were not allowed to speak Korean, their mother tongue, among themselves. Under strict surveillance, they were exploited, and countless lives were lost.
On October 7, 1947, when Emperor Showa visited this area, he is said to have asked about the site, “I hear that somewhere in this area during the war they excavated tunnels wastefully. Where is it?”

This tragic shelter that the war produced, this cave, that claimed so many lives and cost such an enormous amount of money, is now equipped with instruments for seismological observation and is used in part as a Meteorological Agency observatory.
_________________________

Sources:

Effron, Sonni. “Digging up the Past.” The Los Angeles Times. February 9, 1998.
Oishi, Matashichi. The Day the Sun Rose in the West: Bikini, the Lucky Dragon and I. University of Hawaii Press, 2011, p. 108-109.
The Pacific War Research Society. Japan’s Longest Day. Kodansha International, 1968.

2013/09/11

Legal Decision in France Shifts Burden of Proof to Nuclear Plant Operator

A legal decision in France this week set a notable precedent in the history of what is called "health physics." In a case concerning a nuclear power plant worker who died of lung cancer, a French tribunal shifted the burden of proof onto the operator of the nuclear power plant. The tribunal judged that it was irrelevant that the employee smoked and was exposed to radiation below legal limits. It found that the utility could not prove that radiation was not a factor in the employee's death at age 53. The radiation exposure of the employee was far below what hundreds of thousands of people are presently exposed to in Fukushima Prefecture.

Translation of the article published in Le Monde, September 8, 2013:


Le Monde, with Agence France Presse, 2013/09/08 13:20, updated 13:34

For the first, time EDF has been found guilty of gross negligence in the case of an employee of a nuclear power plant (at Dampierre-en-Burly, Loiret) who died of lung cancer. The decision of the tribunal of the Orléans office Social Security Affairs was made on August 27 and revealed by Journal du Dimanche on September 8. The tribunal stated, “The occupational disease that afflicted Jean-François Cloix and led to his death is the result of gross negligence on the part of EDF.”
Mr. Cloix, who had worked in the power plant for thirty years as a boilermaker, died in 2009 at the age of 53. In his work for EDF he was exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation. The Orléans tribunal deemed that EDF could not prove that the employee’s cancer was not linked to the radiation he absorbed, regardless of the numerous scientific documents presented and the “undisputed” standards of safety practiced in nuclear power plants.

EDF PLANS TO APPEAL

According to the judgment, the fact that the employee smoked, the most common cause of lung cancer, did not exculpate the company. In its report, the tribunal stated, “Even though smoking is one of the undisputed causes of this malady, this fact excuses in no way the extra risk imposed by exposure to ionizing radiation.”
The lawyer for the giant electrical utility, Philippe Toison, said, “EDF is going to appeal this decision.” The operator of 19 power plants and 58 reactors in France noted that the total exposure of the employee over the length of his career was about 3% of legal limits. This was a total of 54.4 millisieverts (mSv) over thirty years, while the maximum limit was 50 mSv per year (later lowered to 20 mSv per year during Mr. Cloix’s career). The lawyer indicated that he knew of no precedent of other judgments like this implicating radiation. 
The determination of gross negligence increases the compensation due to the widow and two children of Mr. Cloix, which will increase to a total of 95,000 euros according to the judgment.

2013/09/09

Bring on the Games

While Tokyo celebrates getting the 2020 Olympics, a video blogger in Fukushima City reminds us of the enduring legacy of the 'closing ceremony' of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

So Japan has been awarded the 2020 Olympics, and Shinzo Abe says he is more delighted than when he became prime minister. Nice for him. He spoke almost as if it were all about him. I could be annoyed by this turn of events, but I have to admit that it will make for good drama over the next few years in a mixed genre combining comedy, horror and organized crime, better than any of those surrealistic dream sequences Tony Soprano ever went through.
The essence of all good narrative fiction is that the audience knows what the protagonist does not, and this gap in knowledge is what creates the dramatic tension as they watch him walking blindly toward his tragic ending or comeuppance. We watch him move through the plot thinking, “no, don’t open that door” but we know he will. He must. In the next episode it’s a door he should open, but doesn’t, and he passes up his last chance at salvation. In this sense, Shinzo Abe is the perfect hapless antihero. He’s haunted by the ghost of his grandfather (a post-war prime minister), he’s got a big heart and all that sad ambition to restore his nation’s lost glory, but when there is a mistake to be made, he will make it.
If the Fukushima Daiichi disaster were a cable TV drama, the writers would sit around a table hashing out ideas about how to stretch and build up the suspense for another season. It would be too boring if the characters just plodded ahead with logical, cautious solutions like turning away from nuclear power. At some point, some young genius writer would say, “OK, get this. The country is broke. They borrow half the national budget every year. Government debt is 230% of GDP – totally un-repayable without a national default. A nuclear disaster in the hinterland is unresolved and threatens to become a global catastrophe. So what do they do? They double down on bread and circuses! Get this: they decide they want to host the Olympics – no one thinks they’ll get it, but the IOC actually lets them have it! With this, we’ve got enough for seven more seasons before we have to wind it down in a grand finale.” The idea might be a hard sell at first. The show runner wouldn’t be convinced easily that the audience could accept the plausibility of it. But they go with it, and it’s a hit!
Alas, too bad it’s not fiction. Nonetheless, it’s going to be interesting to watch this story unfold between now and 2020. Shinzo Abe has set the stage well. All his ducks are in a row. His country awaits either his promised Disneyesque happy ending or a run-up to a Shakespearean downfall punctuated with much awesome hubris and comic relief.
While the country was rejoicing the IOC announcement on September 8, youtube user Birdhairjp had been kind enough to remind us of what life is like on the ground in the still very-inhabited Fukushima City. This drama doesn’t have high ratings. On the ground, literally, there are 20 microsieverts per hour hitting the Geiger counter – 400 times above those safe levels in Tokyo that Shinzo Abe described to the IOC last week. Birdhairjp has shared a video demonstrating the radiation hazard outside the Abukuma Incinerator in Fukushima City. He is to be commended for producing this video and sharing it with the world, and also for demonstrating to other Japanese citizens that they need not be shy about getting their message to the world in other languages. As he proves in this case, simple English can be enough to get the point across.
I thought it would be helpful to put the data from his video in context of international norms for radiological protection.

For conversion:
1 Sievert = 1,000 millisieverts, 1 millisievert = 1,000 microsieverts

There are  8,760 hours in a year, so in the tables below the risk of the radiation levels at the incinerator are shown as the accumulated annual doses to someone who is exposed to these levels of microSv/hr for a whole year. Note that at ground level the feet get a much higher dose than the chest:

Table 1. Outside the Abukuma incinerator, Fukushima City
(55km from Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant)

microSv/hour
mSv/year
at chest level
varies from 0.82 ~1.27
7.18 ~ 11.13
at feet
20.46
179.23

Table 2. For comparison, other times and places in Japan
natural background level in Japan before 2011
about 0.05 microSv/hour 
present background level in Narita, Chiba
(200 km from Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant)
0.12 microSv/hour =
1 mSv/year

Table 3 and Table 4, showing international norms in effect in 2007, are from data compiled from Nucleonica Wiki.
For occupational exposures, the 1990 recommendations of the ICRP limit the effective dose to 100 mSv in a 5 year period (giving an annual value of 20 mSv).

Table 3

Euratom
ICRP
IAEA
Germany
Japan after its nuclear disaster
Dose limits for members of public,
for whole body exposure
1 mSv/y
1 mSv/y
1 mSv/y
1 mSv/y
changed from 1 mSv/y to
20 mSv/y

Table 4

Euratom
ICRP
IAEA
Germany
Dose limits for exposed nuclear industry workers, for whole body exposure
100 mSv/y
20 mSv/y
20 mSv/y
20 mSv/y
Limit on effective dose for exposed workers in a consecutive 5-year period:  
100 mSv/y
20 mSv/y
20 mSv/y
20 mSv/y
Maximum effective dose in any single year:  
50 mSv/y
50 mSv/y
50 mSv/y
50 mSv/y
Equivalent dose limit to the fetus, accumulated during the pregnancy
1 mSv
2 mSv

1 mSv
pregnant woman



2mSv/mo.
total work life
(50 years)



400 mSv

Of course, no one stays all the time in one spot like the one outside the Abukuma incinerator. Some places have higher or lower radiation, and levels are lower indoors. It is impossible to know the accumulated annual dose people receive as they move about Fukushima City over a year. Officials don’t seem to be collecting this data, for obvious reasons. This video shows that the radiation level is high around this incinerator, and probably others, so this implies also that people are being further exposed to internal contamination as they breathe in the emissions from such facilities.  
Although there are variations in exposure levels, it is clear that residents of Fukushima City are being exposed to levels far above the international standards for the public. They are more likely to get exposures equivalent to those which are allowed for nuclear industry workers, and in some cases even more. This applies to adults, children, pregnant women and fetuses. Exposing a child to 20 mSv is the equivalent of two adult full body CT scans. Adults are advised not to have even one of these without a compelling medical reason for it.
Japanese officials simply decided that the economic and social impacts of evacuation outweigh the risks to health, which the WHO claims to be only a small percentage increase in lifetime risk of getting cancer. All other health effects are ignored, and they would be difficult to link definitively to radiation exposure. The global nuclear industry says now, in retrospect, the exposure limits for the public and for nuclear workers were overly conservative and established with normal operations in mind. They say that actually there are only very minimal risks at levels up to 100 mSv, so in an emergency we should all relax and just live with the higher levels. Would you abandon your home and livelihood just because of a sudden small increase in the risk of getting cancer twenty years or more in the future?
Only time will tell the result of this human experiment, but before the IOC vote last week Shinzo Abe said the radiation released by the Fukushima Daiichi disaster has harmed no one. This was a shamelessly false claim that cannot be supported by any evidence. It may be equally difficult to prove harm, but scientific knowledge is developed enough to let us know that the amount of radiation released had to have done some harm. Just ask the sailors on the US Ronald Reagan who were stationed offshore assisting with disaster relief. Because Abe made this statement to the IOC, he showed that he is either a shameless liar or shamelessly (willfully?) ignorant about the grave dangers that Fukushima Daiichi still poses to his country.
As much as this is a dramatic illustration of a population suddenly being put at risk for the convenience of the majority, it is not much different from other atrocious situations advanced civilizations impose on the unfortunate minorities who live in the shadow of the energy industry. Just two examples: native people in Northern Alberta have been poisoned by the exploitation of the tar sands, and the people in the coal mining regions of West Virginia have been horribly poisoned for over a century. The majority living in big cities ignores them, but they too live in their own toxic clouds. This is what we do. Bring on the games.