Tuesday :: Aug 10, 2004

Poking A Sharp Stick Into The Eye Of God

by pessimist

Some people advocate the resumption of nuclear power plant construction as a way of reducing our dependence on foreign sources of petroleum. I say that is folly, an expensive and ineffective short-term 'solution' that will cause far more problems than it can solve. Ever since the successful conclusion of the Manhattan Project in 1945, the evil nuclear genie it released from the atomic bottle has been wreaking havoc among those who don't treat it with a great deal of caution and wary respect for its powers:

Four die in steam leak at Japanese nuclear plant

A steam leak at a Japanese nuclear power plant killed four workers on Monday, hospital officials said, but authorities said no radiation escaped in the accident, the worst ever in terms of deaths at a Japanese nuclear facility. Media reports said the people had suffered heart and lung failure. Seven others were injured, some seriously, officials said.

The accident occurred in a building housing turbines for the Number 3 reactor at the Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture, 320 km west of Tokyo. The Mihama plant was the first nuclear plant built by Kansai Electric. The No. 1 reactor began service in November 1970. An official at Kansai Electric Power Co. Inc., which runs the plant, said the 826,000 kilowatt nuclear generation unit at the facility shut down automatically when the steam leaked from the turbine, which is in a separate building. He said the workers involved, who were preparing to shut down the plant for maintenance, were all contractors, and 221 people were in the building at the time.

Suppose these contract workers worked for a certain someone named Bin Laden?

The temperature of the leaking steam was 142 Celsius (287.60F). "Radioactive materials weren't contained in the steam that leaked out ... We've received a report that there is no impact from radiation on the surrounding environment," an official at the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency told a news conference. The company was unsure when it would restart. "We are now investigating the cause," the official told a news conference.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he had not heard details of the accident. "But I think we must do our best to investigate the cause, to prevent a repeat and to implement safety measures," he told reporters. Chief cabinet secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference: "I think the cause will become clear within several days." A trade ministry spokesman briefing reporters said there was no technical problem with the core nuclear reactor at the plant.

A Tokyo-based oil trader said it was unlikely the shutdown of the plant would have an impact on oil demand or prices because Kansai tended to use liquefied natural gas as an alternative source of fuel when its nuclear plants were off line. "I think the impact (on the oil market) will be small," the trader said.

Steam leaks at nuclear power plants tend to occur because scheduled maintenance and part replacement, both expensive propositions, are put off too long. This sort of deliberately short-sighted mal-management has caused needless deaths in other industries as well, so understand that I'm not pointing out the nuclear energy industry as something out of the norm.

One of the ways companies can cut their costs is to use untrained temporary labor, 'contractors'. When the San Onofre plant here in California needed to refit, there were ads running in the local papers that offered $600 for a week's work. $600 was more than most well-payed full-time union workers were then making at their jobs, so the list of applicants was long. It was alleged at the time that many of those chosen for this week's worth of work were actually citizens of a sovereign nation which is located to the south of the southern border of the United States, but I can neither confirm nor deny. I consider this allegation to be believable, for the reason one would only work one week. This was because beyond that time one would exceed the 'safe' lifetime level of radiation exposure, and if anyone of these foreign nationals were to later sue, they would be liable to a counter-suit of being employed under false pretenses (this was before the 'safeguards' of having and providing the employer with a Social Security number that will never be verified and other forms of 'official' proof of legal residency went into effect). So here you have an incentive for a company to cut their future costs by only hiring those who could be legally neutralized should that be necessary.

Let's now factor in Bin Laden. He comes from an industrial family whose main line of work involves contracting. The sort of work done at San Onofre wouldn't have been out of his expertise, as essentially the work involved industrial demolition. He's also not a stupid man, or he would have been ineffective as a terrorist otherwise. He would know about the effects of the accident at Chernobyl (1986), for instance, and if he were in a position to act should a situation like this San Onofre work was about to begin, who's to say that he wouldn't send a squad there to do what they could to repeat this accident? We already know his people are ready to die for Allah, and the 'advantages' of such an action would produce greater results than the 9/11 attacks.

Let's go back to the Japanese power plant for a moment.


The worst previous incident at a nuclear facility was at a uranium processing plant in Tokaimura, a town north of Tokyo. That took place on September 30, 1999, when an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction was triggered after three poorly trained workers used buckets to mix nuclear fuel in a tub. The resulting release of radiation killed two workers and forced the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents.

Does my Bin Laden scenario sound too far fetched now? Here's a few other ideas that he has to be considering:

The only previous fatal accident at a Japanese nuclear power plant was in 1967, in a fire at a plant in Ibaraki prefecture just north of Tokyo. There was no radiation leak.

In a separate incident involving a nuclear facility, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), Japan's biggest power producer, said on Monday it had shut a nuclear power generation unit at its Fukushima-Daini plant due to a water leak. TEPCO was forced to close all its 17 nuclear power plants temporarily by April 2003 after admitting it had falsified safety documents for more than a decade, revelations that severely undermined public confidence in the nuclear industry.

The incident, which took place on the anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing of the city of Nagasaki, is certain to increase public distrust of the nuclear industry in Japan, which depends on nuclear power for a third of its energy needs.

This accident will force the Japanese people to examine their power usage and to decide if these risks are worthwhile. We in America need to be doing this as well. So as you can see from the incident above, these power plants are not just terror time-bombs just waiting for someone to come along and take advantage.

Every nuclear power plant in the world is a potential bomb, a bomb material factory, a terrorist target/weapon, and a major public health nuisance. They need tight and effective controls lest our worst fears, whether accidental or deliberate, be realized. And Owwer Leedur isn't helping this dangerous situation one little bit.

Washington's Gift to Bomb Makers

August 6, 2004

There is no bigger and more urgent threat to the security of every American than the possibility of nuclear bomb materials falling into the wrong hands. That is why it is astonishing, and frightening, that the Bush administration is now pushing to strip the teeth from a proposed new treaty aimed at expanding the current international bans on the production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. With talks on the new treaty set to begin later this year, the administration suddenly announced last week that it would insist that no provisions for inspections or verification be included.

This reversal of past American positions - ignoring Ronald Reagan's famous cautionary advice, "Trust, but verify" - is all the more disturbing because it guts a treaty that could have significantly advanced President Bush's oft-stated goal of "keeping the world's most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous regimes." After raising the alarm on this terrifying problem, the White House now says Americans and the rest of the world are better off trusting empty, unverified promises.

The agreement, the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, would, for the first time, ban all countries from producing highly enriched uranium or plutonium for nuclear weapons. It would cover the four countries that do not subscribe to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty: North Korea, Pakistan, India and Israel. And it would apply to the five officially recognized nuclear weapons nations, including the United States; they would be allowed to retain and use only their current inventories.

No treaty has ever been or will be foolproof. But a strong fissile materials treaty would help dry up international nuclear-trafficking networks - like the one set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani bomb designer - and make it harder for North Korea to go into the business of exporting plutonium and enriched uranium. But the treaty could not achieve these vitally important goals without credible verification provisions, like on-site inspections.

The Bush administration argues, unpersuasively, that such inspections might interfere with making fuel for American nuclear submarines and might allow foreign inspectors to glimpse secret American nuclear technology. To the extent that these are legitimate concerns, it would be better to try to persuade other nations to grant narrowly tailored exemptions instead of eliminating inspections. Washington also claims that an enforceable treaty would generate a false sense of security and that it would be easier to get other countries to sign an unenforceable one. Those are generic arguments that can be deployed against any enforceable arms control treaty. They ignore the enormous positive trade-offs of a verifiable fissile materials treaty, like strict limits on the material available for making nuclear weapons.

We live in a world where no nation has a monopoly on bomb technology. The most effective remaining way to curb the spread of nuclear weapons to growing numbers of countries and terrorist groups is to impose strict, verifiable international controls on the production of nuclear bomb ingredients. The Bush administration prefers a treaty that endorses nuclear virtue but that then averts its eyes.

Still want to vote for George the Warmonger because John F. Kerry is 'scary'? Do you REALLY want to give this moron four more years to build the nuclear 'bunker busters' he advocates and then find an excuse to USE them?

If so, you need my brief refresher course on the hazards of nuclear power.

The First On-the-Scene Report From Hiroshima

Arthur Krock's report in The New York Times opened with: "Japan today unconditionally surrendered. ..." V-J Day had finally arrived. This meant that Hiroshima would fade as America plunged headlong into the postwar era.

As they celebrated the Japanese surrender, most Americans seemed to accept as necessary the instantaneous killing of tens of thousands of the enemy. Despite a few breaks in the official story, the War Department had effectively managed the news media, thanks to its control over information, a generally acquiescent press, and the national euphoria over an impending surrender.

Until late August, however, little was known for certain about conditions on the ground in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, beyond hazy reconnaissance photographs and unconfirmed reports from the enemy about the actual effects of the bomb. But there was one troubling issue. Reports on Japanese radio claimed that thousands were dying from a "mysterious disease" long after the atomic bombing. American officials, identified in the press as "experts on Japanese propaganda," said that these "abstract" theories may be nothing more than an attempt to "capitalize on the horror of atomic bombing in an effort to win sympathy from their conquerors."

Behind the scenes, however, the military was considering the issue of radiation quite seriously. The Pentagon's censorship office had deleted two-thirds of a Philadelphia Bulletin article which revealed that radioactivity from the July 16 atomic test in New Mexico had spread to small towns surrounding the Trinity site.

Oppenheimer's Deadly Toy

With General MacArthur's arrival at Yokohama on Aug. 28, it was only a matter of time before American reporters entered Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Whether they would be allowed to disclose freely what they discovered was another matter. President Truman had declared an end to wartime censorship on Aug. 15, but articles and photographs documenting the "employment" of the atomic bomb remained under strict review. General MacArthur, in addition, had instituted his own censorship apparatus and notified reporters arriving in Japan that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were off limits. They could witness the Japanese surrender on board the Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, then be escorted, if they wished, on a tour of prisoner-of-war camps in northern Japan.

Of several hundred Western reporters in Japan in early September only two chose to defy restrictions and travel on their own to the atomic cities. One was the Australian war correspondent Wilfred Burchett. Burchett, who had once written dispatches glorifying the firebombing of Japanese cities, was simply looking for a scoop. (Only later did he become known for his pro-Soviet views.)

He set out from Tokyo for Hiroshima by train on the morning of Sept. 2. The following morning he encountered in Hiroshima what he later described as a "death-stricken alien planet." He noticed a dank, sulfurous smell; people hurried past, white masks covering their noses and mouths. Burchett was taken directly to one of the few hospitals left standing (although badly damaged) in the city. In the half-standing hospital, Burchett found patients strewn about on the floor, suffering from the final stages of radiation disease.

The hospital's director, Michihiko Hachiya, later known in America as the author of Hiroshima Diary, felt certain that what he called "radiation sickness" was real. Shortly after the bombing he had observed that one in five patients developed purple skin hemorrhages; some were also losing their hair. Many had white-cell counts about one-tenth the normal number. About three weeks later, these patients began to die, and the death rate rose as each day passed.

The reporter pulled out his typewriter and, sitting on a chunk of rubble near the hypocenter of the atomic blast, composed his historic article, which began: "In Hiroshima, 30 days after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city and shook the world, people are still dying, mysteriously and horribly -- people who were uninjured in the cataclysm -- from an unknown something which I can only describe as the atomic plague. ... I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world. ..."

Just as Burchett was finishing his story, a group of journalists on an Air Force charter landed just outside Hiroshima. Included in this group were Homer Bigart of the New York Herald-Tribune, reporters for The Associated Press, The New York Times and the Hearst news service, and an official censor. According to Burchett's later account, the reporters were not happy to discover they had been scooped. He told one of the visitors, "The real story is in the hospitals." After just a few hours they were ready to leave and Burchett asked one of the officials to carry a copy of his article to Tokyo. The request was denied.

That evening, Burchett managed to transmit his story to a colleague in Tokyo, who eased it through the censorship office mainly intact, perhaps because it was written for a British publication. Two days later, on Sept. 5, it ran on the front page of the London Daily Express under the headline "THE ATOMIC PLAGUE." Burchett credited his editor with displaying extraordinary courage in publishing the article.

Great Britain, after all, had helped build the bomb.

Distortions Surrounded Press Response to Hiroshima Attack

The Truman announcement of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, and the flood of material from the War Department, written by The New York Times' William L. Laurence the following day, firmly established the nuclear narrative. On Aug. 7, military officials confirmed that Hiroshima had been devastated: at least 60% of the city wiped off the map. They offered no casualty estimates, emphasizing instead that the obliterated area housed major industrial targets.

Almost without exception newspaper editorials endorsed the use of the bomb against Japan. Many of them sounded the theme of revenge first raised in the Truman announcement. Most of them emphasized that using the bomb was merely the logical culmination of war. "However much we deplore the necessity," The Washington Post observed, "a struggle to the death commits all combatants to inflicting a maximum amount of destruction on the enemy within the shortest span of time." The Post added that it was "unreservedly glad that science put this new weapon at our disposal before the end of the war."

On Guam, weaponeer William S. Parsons and Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets calmly answered reporters' questions, limiting their remarks to what they had observed after the bomb exploded. Asked how he felt about the people down below at the time of detonation, Parsons said that he experienced only relief that the bomb had worked and might be "worth so much in terms of shortening the war."

Referring to American leaders, the Chicago Tribune commented: "Being merciless, they were merciful." A drawing in the same newspaper pictured a dove of peace flying over Japan, an atomic bomb in its beak.

One of the few early stories that did not come directly from the military was a wire service report filed by a journalist traveling with the president on the Atlantic, returning from Europe. Approved by military censors, it went beyond, but not far beyond, the measured tone of the president's official statement. It depicted Truman, his voice "tense with excitement," personally informing his shipmates about the atomic attack. "The experiment," he announced, "has been an overwhelming success." Nowhere in the story, however, was there a strong sense of Truman's reaction. Missing from this account was his exultant remark when the news of the bombing first reached the ship: "This is the greatest thing in history!"

At first, journalists had to follow where the Pentagon led. Wartime censorship remained in effect, and there was no way any reporter could reach Hiroshima for a look around. It would not take long, however, for breaks in the official story to appear.

The first non-official news reports began to break into print, including graphic accounts of casualties, a subject ignored in the War Department's briefings. The Associated Press carried the first eyewitness account, attributed to a Japanese soldier who had crudely described the victims (over Tokyo radio) as "bloated and scorched -- such an awesome sight -- their legs and bodies stripped of clothes and burned with a huge blister. ..." Tokyo radio, according to a United Press report, called Hiroshima a city of the dead with corpses "too numerous to be counted ... literally seared to death." It was impossible to "distinguish between men and women." Medical aid was hampered by the fact that all the hospitals in the city were in ashes.

Americans who came across these reports were thrust briefly into the reality of atomic warfare -- if this information could be believed; The New York Times observed that the Japanese were "trying to establish a propaganda point that the bombings should be stopped." The Hearst newspapers published a cartoon showing a hideous, apelike "Jap" rising out of the ruins of Hiroshima screaming at Americans, "They're Not Human!", with the caption, "Look who's talking."

But in quoting from Tokyo radio, newspapers did introduce their readers to a disturbing point of view: that the atomic bombing might not be an act of deliverance blessed by the Almighty but a "crime against God and man"; not a legitimate part of war but something "inhuman," a cruel "atrocity," and a violation of international law, specifically Article 22 of the Hague Convention which outlawed attacks on defenseless civilians. (Indeed, a U.S. survey of the damage, not released to the press, found that residential areas bore the brunt of the bomb, with less than 10% of the city's manufacturing, transportation, and storage facilities damaged.) The Japanese also compared the bomb to the use of poison gas, a weapon generally considered taboo. It was this very analogy many American policy makers and scientists had feared as they contemplated using the bomb, which they knew would spread radiation.

Other condemnations appeared as the War Department's grip on the story weakened slightly. The New York Herald-Tribune found "no satisfaction in the thought that an American air crew had produced what must without doubt be the greatest simultaneous slaughter in the whole history of mankind," likening it to the "mass butcheries of the Nazis or of the ancients." A leading religious body in America, the Federal Council of Churches, urged that the U.S. drop no more atomic bombs on Japan, in a statement issued by two of its leaders, G. Bromley Oxnam and John Foster Dulles. America had won the race for the bomb but it "may yet reap the whirlwind," Hanson Baldwin, military analyst for the New York Times, declared.

President Truman told a national radio audience that the Hiroshima bomb had been dropped on a military base, not a large city, although he knew this was not true. "That was because we wished in the first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians," he said. The Air Force provided the newspapers with an aerial photograph of Hiroshima. Significant targets were identified by name. For anyone paying close attention there was something troubling about this picture. Of the thirty targets, only four were specifically military in nature. "Industrial" sites consisted of three textile mills.

Interest in Hiroshima, however, receded as other events in the Pacific war, as well as speculation about a Japanese surrender, took center stage. On Aug. 9, the top two headlines on the front page of The New York Times announced the Soviets' declaration of war against Japan. Not until line three did this message appear: "ATOM BOMB LOOSED ON NAGASAKI." The target of the second attack, a city of 270,000 people, was described, variously, as a naval base, an industrial center, or a vital port for military shipments and troop embarkation, anything but a largely residential city. The bomb, in fact, exploded over the largest Catholic community in the Far East.

Nagasaki: The Media's 'Inferior A-Bomb City'

Hiroshima did not matter much this year, but then it rarely does, except in anniversary years ending in "0." If Hiroshima barely made the press this year, Nagasaki didn't register at all, but that's nothing new. Few journalists bother to visit Nagasaki, which was half-destroyed by an American bomb 59 years ago today. It remains the Second City and "Fat Man" the forgotten bomb. No one ever wrote a bestselling book called Nagasaki, or made a film titled Nagasaki, Mon Amour. In one further irony, Nagasaki was not even on the original target list for A-bombs but was added after Secretary of War Henry Stimson objected to Kyoto. He had visited Kyoto himself and felt that destroying Japan's cultural capital would turn the citizens against America in the aftermath. Just like that, tens of thousands in one city were spared and tens of thousands of others elsewhere were marked for death.

A beautiful city dotted with palms built on a hill surrounding a deep harbor (it's the San Francisco of Japan), Nagasaki has a rich, bloody history, as any reader of Shogun knows. Three centuries before Commodore Perry came to Japan, Nagasaki was the country's gateway to the West. The Portuguese and Dutch settled there in the 1500s, and Urakami, a suburb of Nagasaki, became the country's Catholic center.

Thomas Glover, one of the first English traders there, supplied the rifles that helped defeat the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 19th century. Glover's life served as a model for the story of Madame Butterfly. In Puccini's opera, Madame Butterfly, standing on the veranda of Glover's home overlooking the harbor, sings, "One fine day, we'll see a thread of smoke arising ..." If she could have looked north from Glover's mansion, now Nagasaki's top tourist attraction, on Aug. 9, 1945, she would have seen, two miles in the distance, a thread of smoke with a mushroom cap.

In some ways, Nagasaki is the modern A-bomb city. For one thing, when the plutonium bomb exploded above Nagasaki it made the uranium-type bomb dropped on Hiroshima obsolete.

By 1945, Nagasaki had become a Mitsubishi company town, turning out ships and armaments for Japan's increasingly desperate war effort. Few Japanese soldiers were stationed here, and only about 250 of them would perish in the atomic bombing (slightly fewer than the Allied prisoners of war who died that day). At 11:02 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1945, "Fat Man" was detonated more than a mile off target, almost directly over the Urakami Cathedral, which was nearly leveled, killing dozens of worshippers waiting for confession. The plutonium bomb hit with the force of 22 kilotons, almost double the uranium bomb's blast in Hiroshima. Concrete roads in the valley literally melted. The bomb's blast boomed up the valley destroying everything in its path but didn't quite reach the congested harbor or scale the high ridge to the Nakashima valley. Some 45,000 perished instantly, with another 50,000 fated to die afterwards. If the bomb had exploded as planned, directly over the Mitsubishi shipyards, the death toll in Nagasaki would have made Hiroshima, in at least one important sense, the Second City.

Even so, there is something especially deep and troubling about Nagasaki, stemming from its tropical beauty and European influences, its second-class status as an A-bomb city, and the fact that many Americans who support the use of the bomb against Hiroshima find the attack on Nagasaki questionable, even gratuitous.

In the hours after Nagasaki, when the crime was still fresh, a few brave souls saw the matter clearly. When they'd learned of the Hiroshima attack, the scientists at Los Alamos generally expressed satisfaction that their project had paid off. But most of them took Nagasaki quite badly. Some would later use the words "sick" or "nausea" to describe their reaction. "The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable," Telford Taylor, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, once observed, "but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki" which he labeled a war crime.

Conservative columnist David Lawrence lashed out at the "so-called civilized side" for dropping bombs on cities that kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. However much we rejoice in victory, he wrote, "we shall not soon purge ourselves of the feeling of guilt which prevails among us. ... What a precedent for the future we have furnished to other nations even less concerned than we with scruples or ideals! Surely we cannot be proud of what we have done. If we state our inner thoughts honestly, we are ashamed of it."

Some historians have gone so far as to state that the Nagasaki bomb was not the last shot of World War II but the first blow of the Cold War. The U.S. knew that its ally, the Soviet Union, was about to join the war, as previously agreed, and that the entrance of Japan's most hated enemy, perhaps more than the Hiroshima bomb, would likely speed the surrender. If that happened, however, it might cost the U.S. in a wider Soviet claim on Japanese conquests in Asia. So there was much to gain by getting the war over before the Russians advanced.

Criticism of the attack on Nagasaki has centered on the issue of why Truman did not step in and stop the second bomb after the success of the first to allow Japan a few more days to contemplate surrender before targeting another city for extinction. After hearing of the attack on Nagasaki, Truman quickly ordered that no further bombs be used without his express permission, to give Japan a reasonable chance to surrender -- one bomb, one city, and 70,000 deaths too late. As weeks, and then months and years passed, few Americans denounced as a moral wrong the targeting of entire cities for extermination.

If Hiroshima suggested how cheap life had become in the atomic age, Nagasaki showed that it could be judged to have no value whatsoever.

As I write this, my neighborhood is just getting back to normal after some kind-hearted and well-meaning citizen decided to redesign our public utility grid with his automobile, plunging us into an air-conditioning-free and dark-at-night, summertime-in-the-Southern California desert-lifestyle that tends to drive home the importance of having reliable sources of energy in our world today. [Many heartfelt thanks to all of you emergency power workers who are about to lose your overtime pay, and who worked 16 hours straight in restoring our power.]

But I never forget the lessons of my refresher course on the dangers of nuclear power, whether generating electricity or as a weapon of war. IF I have to choose only between having both creature comforts AND nuclear danger, or having neither, I will take neither.

Stick THAT into your SUV's gas tank and smoke 'em!

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pessimist :: 10:05 AM :: Comments (16) :: Digg It!