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34 Comments

  1. Good article, but I’m unsure how much government policy (as opposed to demographics) was responsible for Japan’s economic malaise. Japan has a declining population and its culture won’t tolerate large-scale immigration.

    Of course, the nuclear shutdowns prompted by Fukushima (and the resulting much larger bill for imported fossil fuels) have made the economic situation even worse…

    1. It is true that population decline is set to become a big problem in years to come (there has been a lot of talk about what to do about it recently), but as of now it’s effects are just starting to be felt, while Japanese economic woes go back well into the 90’s. You’re right in that larger energy imports aren’t helping, though.

    2. George,just how far do you think that population anywhere can increase before it stabilises or declines?
      The people who are concerned about demographics are usually the same people who push the concept of growth generally. They fail to realise that in a finite world infinite growth is not possible. Trying to achieve this will have catastrophic consequences.These are readily apparent in the world already.

      An ageing population is not something to be afraid of.Babies will still be produced,just in lesser numbers. Japan is an overpopulated nation by any standards.A gradual reduction in population will improve the living standards of all Japanese.Isn’t this what our civilisation is about?

      As for Japan’s economic prospects,devotees of Flat Earth Economics (aka neoliberal/neoclassical economics) have been predicting disaster for the Japanese for years.It hasn’t happened,neither will it happen as long as they have their own sovereign fiat currency.

      This is not to say that Japan’s economy has been well handled consistently. Name one nation on Earth where that has occurred over the last 50 years.

      This is not to say that the recent earthquake and tsunami couldn’t have been handled better. However,I think that the Japanese will eventually get their act together and continue along the nuclear path. The alternatives are to import fossil fuels at increasingly greater cost or to revert to a much earlier age.

      1. @Podargus

        A gradual reduction in population will improve the living standards of all Japanese.Isn’t this what our civilisation is about?

        No. That is not what our civilization is about. We have the creative ability to support whatever size population results from billions of individual decisions about whether or not to have children.

        At Atomic Insights, one of the few topics I discourage is any discussion about solving energy and material supply challenges by making efforts to reduce human population. I strongly believe in free choice and in the innate ability of human beings – unlike non sentient creatures – to make the best individual decisions they can make.

        This is not a plea for infinite, exponential growth; human beings are not butterflies, no matter what Ehrlich thought. We have both individual and societal sense and the ability to plan for complex futures.

        1. But, by the same token, Rod….

          We may be sentient, but we are still God’s creatures, subject to the same “laws” of nature that any other animal is. Yes, our intelligence and decision making capabilities give us an edge, but only if we use them. Seems to me we are making pretty poor use of our sentient abilities thus far, and in many ways we really don’t seem to learn from our mistakes.

          I too believe in individual choice.But as a collective, our individual choices my add up to collective calamity.

        2. If civilisation is not about improving the welfare of all citizens then what is it about?

          In any society,no matter how democratic,citizens have limited free choice.This is for the good of society as a whole.Otherwise there will be anarchy leading to domination by the strong and ruthless of the less strong and more public spirited citizens.

          The “freedom” to breed unrestrictedly is a good example where the common good must prevail especially now when the Earth is already overpopulated.

          I am also not so sanguine about the innate ability of humans to make the best individual decisions let alone decisions involving the common good. History and observation of our present situation suggests otherwise.

          1. @Podargus

            Your assumption that the world is already overpopulated indicates that you either live in a city and never get out, or you have accepted the directed propaganda from people like Paul Ehrlich. Are you aware that one of his major funders was one of the world’s richest men, who also happened to be one of five brothers?

            John D. Rockefeller III thought it was important to spread the message of overpopulation. He assumed it would be better for him, his family and his friends if the “poor” people of the world stopped having so many babies. That is elitist nonsense.

          2. If you’re worried about overpopulation, would it not make sense to concentrate on those parts of the world where birth rates are still well above replacement?

            Today that mainly means sub-Saharan Africa…

          3. Your assumption that the world is already overpopulated indicates that you either live in a city and never get out

            Or we know how much of the world’s Net Primary Productivity is commandeered by humans, how life of the seas is being vacuumed up, etc.

            He assumed it would be better for him, his family and his friends if the “poor” people of the world stopped having so many babies. That is elitist nonsense.

            Far from nonsense, it’s how the English became the peaceful, industrious and thrifty people who started the Industrial Revolution.  For centuries, the nobility had far more than a replacement number of children survive to adulthood.  Due to primogeniture, a lot of them fell out of the nobility (like Winston Churchill).  Their inherited traits of industry and thrift fell with them, eventually suffusing English society from top to even a substantial part of the bottom (which had sub-replacement fertility).

            Compared to perpetually-warring tribal societies, I’d much rather live in this one.  Like Socrates, I must therefore admit the legitimacy of the forces which produced it.

            1. @E-P

              As a British-American, I might like your version of history. However, as someone who has studied history as one of many hobbies, I’m not so certain.

              People who are born to nobility are often not terribly industrious or thrifty. Those traits often exist in the “working class” and, when combined with training in a craft or education that opens other doors, can result in a gradual increase in economic output. In some cases, the skills of inventiveness and problem-solving result in someone like a James Watt, a John D. Rockefeller (the first) or the Wright brothers creating products, tools, or business models that lead to a whole new society.

              The society that I’d rather live in is one that not only provides educational and craft training opportunities, but encourages them. It would be one that celebrates star students, engineers, teachers, mechanics, welders, carpenters, and scientists with as much enthusiasm as it celebrates and rewards singers, athletes, pretty faces, and selfish “investment” bankers.

              Perhaps part of the reason I am so adamant about this population thing is that I have several friends who are member of very large, accomplished families where most, or all members make a substantial contribution to the general prosperity. I know numerous childless people who are successful and happy with their personal decisions. Of course, I have friends that are somewhere in the middle — which is where my wife and I fall with our two children.

              Raising children is a wonderful opportunity, but also a tremendous challenge and responsibility that occasionally needs some help from the society that will benefit by their contributions. People who are good at it should be encouraged, not made to feel guilty by judgmental people who have accepted anti-people propaganda.

              The society I’d rather live in is more like the society in which I had the opportunity to grow up than the one that we have today.

              By the way, a partial answer to vacuuming up wildlife in the seas is human inventiveness and aquaculture.

          4. I totally agree with Rod on this issue.

            Additionally, any society which actually acted effectively to limit reproductive rights would not be a society in which I would want to live. Try reading some of Larry Niven’s stories with “ARM mother hunts” some time.

            Evidence suggests that societies limit their populations without coercion as prosperity increases. So rather than forcing folks to limit reproduction, how about we apply equal force to increasing prosperity? We can start by making our energy infrastructure clean, efficient, affordable and plentiful.

          5. People who are born to nobility are often not terribly industrious or thrifty.

            Oh, indeed.  And many is the tale of the lazy, careless heir whose estates went to ruin and his family wound up losing everything, including their titles.  Often this is blamed on someone marrying badly.  These are cautionary tales, cultural guards against such adverse outcomes.

            Those traits often exist in the “working class”

            And there are also many tales of monarchs bestowing titles on successful commoners.

            The point is that these are the exceptions; by and large, success ran in families who worked to accentuate it (look at the accomplishments of the children of Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgewood!).  Like most personality traits, they are heritable to a substantial degree.  If the children of the more-successful become a larger fraction of the next generation, their personality traits will pervade the population.  This is what’s called an “evolutionary sweep”, if my understanding of the term is correct.  (Complete sweeps can be prevented by “free riders”… it’s complicated.)

            In some cases, the skills of inventiveness and problem-solving result in someone like a James Watt, a John D. Rockefeller (the first) or the Wright brothers creating products, tools, or business models that lead to a whole new society.

            Inventiveness and problem-solving don’t go anywhere without a society that can recognize their value and press them into service.  There’s a very long historical gap between the appearance of modern humans and the physical ability to domesticate animals and grains, and the appearance of agricultural settlements.  We don’t know why, but Nicholas Wade suggests that it may have had to wait for a critical mass of people with the right personality traits to evolve before they could grasp the opportunity.  To make a living in agriculture you have to plant in the planting season, reap in the harvest season, and not eat your seed before the next planting season.  Hunter-gatherers do not require such discipline.  Wade uses the term “Malthusian trap” for the hundreds of generations on the edge of starvation that settled agriculture at the limits of the land produces; it appears to select for a certain mindset that enables further advancement.  You can see the extremes of this in S.E. Asia, where land was so dear that people carved huge terraces by hand so they could plant more rice.

            Even if an inventive problem-solver is born in a hunter-gatherer society, such inventions that cannot be carried with the band will be left behind, and without writing anything that cannot be understood and practiced by others will be lost with the death of the inventor.  It stands to reason that there are degrees of this urge to preserve and advance.  Nobilities, as the acme of preservation of historical advantage, could be assumed to have more of those particular virtues than people who’ve managed to lose their way and fall to lower stations.  People who have walls of portraits of distant ancestors have something you and I don’t.  However, we are almost certainly both descended from such people.

            any society which actually acted effectively to limit reproductive rights would not be a society in which I would want to live.

            People who won’t voluntarily limit their numbers to what their resources can support, will have their numbers limited involuntarily.  The population swings of the snowshoe hare and arctic fox are not a phenomenon to which humans are immune.  Society-wide collapse is much worse than most other options.

  2. Another sterling article from one ace blogger (who I’d throw out on a de-FUDing nuclear spokesman stump if I won the lottery) and blog that REALLY needs a comments feature!

    There’s another unsung peril here that I believe is receiving insanely nil media coverage and attention by Japanese media and government behind the Fukushima smokescreen, and that’s the widespread contamination of coastal water tables by the toxic brew of chemicals, raw sewage, industrial waste, garbage dumps, cemetery remains, oil products, medical lab biologics and God knows what else gouged up and churned and swept deep inland by the tsunami. It all didn’t backwash out to sea; a massive amount had to’ve seeped into the ground and farmland soon as it occurred, yet you can’t find even a health review or inquiry about this! Isn’t anyone in Japan the slightest curious about any carcinogens or tainted fresh water ? Is there a gag order in place here even to research the possibility? This water table contamination issue and panic potential here makes frets of Fukushima’s leaking holding tanks look a picnic!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  3. Funny that just yesterday I was thinking about this.

    (First, a correction: Naoto Kan is a member of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which got hold of Japan’s national government for a short time between 2010 and 2011. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is the party of current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.)

    I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Tsukuba (about 150Km South of Fukushima). About two months ago, during a seminar on accident prevention at laboratory facilities, the professor in charge used the Fukushima case as an example of a failure to consider “what is the worst thing that could happen”. This didn’t sit well with me, but at the time I thought it was just because I am a nuke apologist. Also it was definitely not the occasion to start a discussion on the relative merits of different energy sources, so I said nothing of it. Yet for some reason the episode wouldn’t slip from my mind either.

    Then just yesterday it hit me: if the plant flood and subsequent loss of three reactors was a failure of disaster prevention, what of the massive loss of life caused by the Tsunami that ravaged the coast of Touhoku? Hadn’t the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami demonstrated quite dramatically what to expect from a large undersea earthquake? Hadn’t the national as well as local governments had well enough time to prepare since then? Yet the 12,000+ drowned victims were written off to a “fatality”, while TEPCO and the previous LDP government were seriously chastized for “causing” the Fukushima accident.

    And as it turned out, Kan’s political maneuver has had huge impacts for Japan. With most nuclear plants still shut down for increasingly ridiculous “inspections” (now the nuclear energy oppositors want to know the likelihood of an earthquake hitting each of the plants – as if we could tell when an earthquake will hit in the first place!) huge fossil fuel imports had to be taken to offset the consequent loss of generation capacity, increasing air pollution levels and tipping the economic balance at a moment Japan just about starts to recover from past crises. The cover-up turned into a big problem itself.

    1. A good point Helio, and one I’ve tried to raise a few times. The papers cry about how preventable Fukushima was (ignoring the fact that a lot of their evidence is misinterpreted), and forget to ask who was responsible for the safety of the 20,000 Tsunami victims.

  4. Excellent post and one more reason why politicians are never to be trusted.

    1. Finally figuring that out, Paul?

      What happened to your lopsided political bigotry???

      BTW, I’m still waiting for your list of right wing nuclear advocates.

        1. I asked for a list of right wing political players that are nuclear advocates. The Heritage Foundation can recommend policy, but cannot implement it. Nothing in the links you provided provide any assurances that a right wing administration would be any friendlier to nuclear energy than the current administration is.

          1. @poa

            My analysis tells me that there are people who strongly (but perhaps more quietly) oppose nuclear energy from the right.

            It is, after all, a potentially disruptive technology that threatens the wealth and power of much of The Establishment.

          2. Yes, Rod. You’ll note that one of Brian’s linked sites is heavy into global warming denial. The other site, the first one he links to, has an article that seems to foster some of the misconceptions that you are trying to counter about Fukushima.

            I still haven’t seen one iota of credible argument that seems to butress the premise that a right wing administration would be any “better” for NE than the current one is. Logic tells me that a right wing administration might even be worse, considering the popularity of global warming denial in the right wing political community, especially to the wackos constituting the “Tea Party”. And, considering that a huge number of Congress critters on the right are in bed with big oil, it seems they would be loath to derail that gravy train.

            I do not claim that the left is any more inclined to endorse an expansion of NE. I am just claiming that one side is no better than the other, and the right seems to have a uncontestable vested interest in the status quo usage of fossil fuel.

            1. @POA

              I do not claim that the left is any more inclined to endorse an expansion of NE. I am just claiming that one side is no better than the other, and the right seems to have a uncontestable vested interest in the status quo usage of fossil fuel.

              Agreed. And I claim that the whole notion of two sides is part of the problem. Maybe too many journalists have been trained by sports reporters who have, in turn, focused mainly on spectator-focused “game” sports where there are just two teams and exactly one winner and one loser.

              My own competitive experience was as a swimmer with meets that might include 50-100 participants in each event. There was a whole spectrum of results and the opportunity for people to be satisfied with their own performance based on achieving improvement goals or personal records.

              Politics should also be covered as a spectrum of interests, not as right versus left, Democrat versus Republican, rich versus poor, management versus labor, North versus South, etc.

          3. “Politics should also be covered as a spectrum of interests, not as right versus left, Democrat versus Republican, rich versus poor, management versus labor, North versus South, etc”

            And I’ve said, or implied, the same many times here. It (right vs left) has become a charade, a political tool used to divide rather than to govern. We bicker over nurtured ideological differences, carefully constructed to allay any chances of concensus. Divided, we lose our voice, our hand in the process of governance. It is by design that our media feeds this deception, this theft of our power. We, (this nation), are no longer what we claim to be.

            1. @POA

              We agree, but I continue to resist putting your statements into the past tense. We, the people, still have a voice and can be what we claim to be. We have not yet allowed the Establishment, the politicians, the capital worshipers and the media to win the war, although it appears that they have been winning most battles recently.

              We still have rights, responsibilities and the power to make changes. We must not declare premature defeat.

          4. You must be kidding. The Heritage Foundation wrote the blueprint for the Reagan administration (google “Mandate for Leadership”). They are far more influential than any particular politician, particularly on the conservative side of the spectrum.

            1. @Brian Mays

              I have to side with POA here. He has asked which politicians that have votes or signature authority strongly support nuclear energy and will work to enact laws and policies that enable its increased use.

              The Heritage Foundation says a lot of good words about nuclear energy, but, like the Heartland Institute, is skeptical to downright hostile to allowing nuclear energy to take advantage of its ultra low carbon output.

              I remain skeptical of that position – after all, when was the last time either foundation took the natural gas industry to task for emphasizing its slightly reduced carbon footprint when compared to coal?

          5. No, Brian, I am not “kidding”. I am well aware of the machinations of the Heritage Foundation. I wish I shared your respect for this organization. But really, rather than an organization advocating for the people, they have become an organization advocating for policy, a marketing entity for the right wing power structure. They are a participant in the charade of which Rod and I speak, this nurtured division that enables the political status quo; special interests over the interests the people. Here is not the place to raise issues beyond those concerning energy, but there are many Heritage Foundation advocations that fly in the face of fact based justification. This is particularly true in respect to foreign policy, and in another forum I would be more than happy to have that debate with you. Much like the assertions here about how the public’s perception of nuclear energy is formed by a false narrative presented by Washington and a complicit media, other issues of importance are also marketed in the same deceptive manner. Unfortunately, the Heritage Foundation is actively and willingly participating in this manner of marketing policy.

          6. All I have said is that the Heritage Foundation is

            (1) conservative,

            (2) a vocal supporter of nuclear energy, and

            (3) influential with conservative politicians and conservative administrations when it comes to crafting policy.

            Sorry, but none of your personal politics, biases, and hang-ups changes any of that. You’re entitled to your opinions, but I’m sticking with the verifiable facts. The original challenge above was to produce a “list of right wing nuclear advocates” (the exact words), and for the sake of argument, I have produced two examples. You don’t do your credibility any favors by trying to move the goalposts after I have met the challenge in good faith.

          7. Brian, the “goalposts” were set on another thread, prior to this discussion. In that respect, it is you that has changed them.

            But yes, you provided 2 separate examples of right wing organizations that give a glorious pro-nuke rap that has yet to sway policy or create a pro-nuke narrative aired in public by the right wing leadership. Bravo!

            Kinda cute how these organizations can be pro-nuke while ignoring and denying man’s effect on our global climate, eh? Great technology, this nuke stuff, if we only needed it. But hey, why change whats working if it ain’t hurting us, eh?

            I suspect that this could easily become a tit for tat exchange between you and I, considering our history. I’m really not interested.

            You win. You gave me two examples, of, something.

            How’s that? Satisfied?

  5. Gojira rises again, this time in a US made biopic that looks to entertain, illustrate, and compel … and of course engage in epic battle with it’s immortal enemies. I also rushed out to see it in it’s opening days, and found it a lively and entertaining spectacle. If the interpretation of this article is correct … one must conclude that every effort at distraction and evasion is ultimately a futile quest. You can’t really hide the massive truth of these monsters (or that of the tsunami, and the awesome power of nature unfettered and uncontrollable). It’s only a matter of time before the world (or perhaps a single scientist haunted by the past and the loss of his true love) discovers the truth.

    For me, the story is ultimately about human hubris. Scientists, military generals, engineers, and government and PR schemers (looking to contain the beating pulse of this awesome and ancient power) all look pretty pathetic and weak in the film. The best of human technology and engineering doesn’t stand up well to the true and awesome power of nature (and the epic struggle in our midst). The only human hero in the film is a bus driver (who only wants to get out of the way) and a guy who diffuses bombs (rather then builds them). The evolution of human love is our specialty (or compassion in the midst of fear and uncertainty) not our technological prowess. With skin representing keloid scars of hiroshima bomb victims, powers of regeneration, ability to breath underwater, and radioactive heat ray (atomic breath) … Gojira is one massive beast of centralized and very energy dense ancient power.

    There is not much we can do (even with great human cooperation) but get out of the way. Our human scale efforts (at concealment, control, management, etc.) all ultimately fail. Scientists get a particularly bad rap (especially those who have not learned from the past). But this doesn’t mean that all is lost, and that humans don’t have an evolved sensibility that can serve us well (and represents the best of our species). We have the capacity to love, to feel, and we have human will (an awesome power in own to decide, to chose, to seek a balance, to understand our position in the world). We are wrong to see Gojira as our enemy, nature doesn’t play favorites or have a personality. And we are wrong to see nature as purely destructive, an evil force in the world. There is a balance to nature (a yin and yang to our existence). We can trust (and have true belief and trust) that evil is not all that exists. And that good, even of the scale of a massive and energy dense radioactive monster that emerges from the sea and stands above our tallest buildings (Godzilla keeps getting larger as our buildings get taller), can triumph and survive against nearly impossible odds. Human good, and rising from the ashes of Hiroshima, Fukushima, and the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, just the same.

    The real question. Now that we know about this power (neither good or bad) … what do we do next?

  6. Godzilla always made me laugh from the get go. I mean if you think about it wouldn’t had the slow slug starved long before any missiles did him in? Plus, why’s he so spined and armored up; saying that there were dinos even worst than him?? A few bunker busters or UD penetraters ought take care of his thick hide; too bad they didn’t exist when the film opened!

  7. Leslie, thank you for your excellent and doubtless very time-consuming work providing Fukushima accident updates twice a week, and other writing. I continue to read it all with great interest.

    The media, in Britain at least, have ignored Fukushima since last September. Probably they will return their attention to it at some point over the summer, perhaps in connection with waste water storage again, perhaps something else.

    It is interesting that there has been no coverage in any newspaper or website that I have read of the fast and so far successful de-fuelling of reactor 4’s spent fuel pond. The stories in the media before the operation began last autumn were blood-curdling, but there has been no follow-up to report on the progress of the operation.

    (As an aside, I did see a Reuters report a few days after the operation began stating that ~3 fuel assemblies were confirmed as damaged and would not be able to be removed by the normal means. Two of these were apparently damaged decades ago. I do not know whether this story is significant or not – presumably if there are just three problematic assemblies left in the pool at the end of the operation, some way can be found to extract them. I don’t know.)

    Thanks once again. I am also grateful to Rod Adams for his coverage of the accident and clean-up. I am not pro-nuclear per se, and approach the matter with some skepticism, but it is good to read your views and compare them with the mainstream media.

  8. I found this article from David Ropeik in Slate exploring the link between Godzilla movies and the environmental movement. Godzilla.
    An interesting connection.

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