Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre, 1905-1980, existentialiste

Wednesday Morning EDT/
Wednesday Evening Japan Time
Disaster Update

Our guest philosopher today is Jean-Paul Sartre. 

"When the rich wage war it is the poor who die."

TEPCO announced the obvious today when they admitted that reactors 1-4 at Fukushima Daiichi will have to be scrapped.
It was not addressed how reactors 5 and 6 can ever be made safe places to work. 
"We apologise for causing the public anxiety, worry and trouble due to the explosions at reactor buildings and the release of radioactive materials." said TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata at a press conference today. Mr. Katsumata has taken charge of the company since CEO Masataka Shimizu's previous disappearance to an undisclosed location. Today it was announced that Shimizu was hospitalized for hypertension.
Mr. Katsumata seems to be TEPCO's go-to manager for apologies when the corporation is caught in grievous errors. He previously made a speech in 2002 announcing a new culture of safety and openness for TEPCO when it was shown that their safety procedures were inconsistent, lacking documentation, and, in fact, falsified.

"All human actions are equivalent... and all are on principle doomed to failure."

Smoke was seen rising from the Fukushima Daini plant 1 turbine building today for a while today. It was probably nothing to worry about. TEPCO has made no announcements about this event, but it must be remembered that people have been ordered evacuated from a ten kilometer radius from this plant as well. 
TEPCO has said that all four nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daini are in cold shutdown. 

"I hate victims who respect their executioners."

Today Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said he thought all the reactors at Fukushima Daiishi should be scrapped, in contradiction to TEPCO's Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata.
Schemes are now being hatched about what to do with the copious radioactive water flowing away from activiities at the plant. It has been suggested that the water be stored on a tanker vessel anchored in the sea nearby. It has not been disclosed how water leaking out of damaged reactor buildings and spent rod cooling ponds might be successfully transported to the tanker. No one has disclosed what the disposition of any captured water might ultimately be.
There was a report that workers were using sandbags to contain the water!

"It is only in our decisions that we are important."

The authorities continue to be in a double bind at Fukushima Daiichi.
They do not want to release radioactivity.
However, they must apply huge quantities of water all over the site.
The water gets contaminated and drains away everywhere, spreading radioactivity.
If they do not apply the water they increase the likelihood of a meltdown or the ignition of spent fuel rods either of which will spread higher radioactivity.
Here is a lesson about nuclear power:
Once the nuclear demon has been embraced
one is left with only bad choices for the duration of a complex and problematic relationship. 
In fact, understanding can only begin on realization that this is a relationship that cannot be ended. 

"Hell is other people."

Seawater near the plant tested at its highest level yet. 
It is now admitted that the highly toxic plutonium found in the soil outside the plant must have come from the damaged reactor. Only the high temperatures associated with at least a partial meltdown could have released the plutonium.
Plutonium has a very long half life and remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.
It is especially deadly when inhaled and the tiniest quantities are fatal.
One may conjecture that if plutonium from the reactor is found in the soil outside the plant, it probably was airborne and able to be inhaled. That's just a guess.

"Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance."

Soon after the nuclear crisis in Japan the nuclear industry PR machine was mostly concerned about how to put a positive spin on the problem (at first I heard the  "it could have been a lot worse" argument, which turns out to be a  counterproductive way to go) or simply insisting on its own indispensable necessity, which I call the "just because we need it" argument. The latter is a classic case of fallacy by assertion. But it can work.
Nuclear power flack Tim Probert's blog of March 18 is amusing in its approach, which bewails the situation but can provide no solution to the gigantic PR problem his industry faces, except maybe wait things out and apply money as needed. 
Here are some quotes:

Nuclear power stakeholders I spoke to immediately after the event were pretty angry that media coverage of Japan’s largest on-record earthquake initially focused on the Fukushima crisis and not the far greater death and devastation caused by the tsunami.
[Tim, we have no control over a tsunami generated by an earthquake. It is tragic and melancholy but Nature does what it does, whether we allow it or not.  We do have control over putting nuclear reactors in small countries that can be devastated by meltdowns. We do have control over correcting bad decisions made by men.]

Nuclear power remains a mystery to most people. Despite its many advantages, poor PR has always blighted the nuclear power industry. Perhaps it always will. Nevertheless, the industry has done too little to put across the meticulously high safety standards to which nuclear plants adhere and the strong record of recent years.
[Tim, I disagree, but I also acknowledge that this passage itself is PR, and bad PR at that.  PR and corporate lobbying have gotten the nuclear industry far more established than common sense, concern for safety and the environment, frugality, and good judgement ever should have allowed it to be. But, it is difficult, as the saying goes, to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.]

Too late now. Just as the talk of a global nuclear renaissance was rapidly becoming reality, the industry has taken a huge blow that could set it back by several years. There can be no worse PR for nuclear power than live television images of not one, not two, but three reactor buildings exploding and mushroom clouds of smoke billowing into a clear blue Japanese sky.
[Facts are dangerous things, Tim. Events have made your "Nuclear Renaissance" just talk. Nuclear energy is expensive and dangerous. It has needed government protection and subsidies to go as far as it has gone. No matter how you spin it, Reality is always going to provide bad PR for the industry.]

"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you."

The Guardian UK speculated yesterday that the nuclear material in plant 2 has melted down and fallen through the containment vessel. The story quotes Richard Lahey who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima Daiichi:
"The indications we have, from the reactor to radiation readings and the materials they are seeing, suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell. I hope I am wrong, but that is certainly what the evidence is pointing towards."

"Like all dreamers I confuse disenchantment with truth." 

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