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Mary Anne with the shaky hands

The Who from “The Who Sell Out”:

Meltdown?

UPDATE: Stratfor.com, the global intelligence site, is reporting that the Fukushima plant is in at least partial meltdown. The BBC reports that there’s been a “huge” explosion at the plant.

This remains my main concern about nuclear power plants. People are always telling me how “safe” they are — yes, they’re safe. Until something unusual happens, like yesterday’s massive earthquake:

TOKYO — Japan declared states of emergency for five nuclear reactors at two power plants after the units lost cooling ability in the aftermath of Friday’s powerful earthquake. Thousands of residents were evacuated as workers struggled to get the reactors under control to prevent meltdowns.

Operators at the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s Unit 1 scrambled ferociously to tamp down heat and pressure inside the reactor after the 8.9 magnitude quake and the tsunami that followed cut off electricity to the site and disabled emergency generators, knocking out the main cooling system.

Some 3,000 people within two miles (three kilometers) of the plant were urged to leave their homes, but the evacuation zone was more than tripled to 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) after authorities detected eight times the normal radiation levels outside the facility and 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1′s control room.

The government declared a state of emergency at the Daiichi unit — the first at a nuclear plant in Japan’s history. But hours later, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the six-reactor Daiichi site, announced that it had lost cooling ability at a second reactor there and three units at its nearby Fukushima Daini site.

The government quickly declared states of emergency for those units, too, and thousands of residents near Fukushima Daini also were told to leave.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said the situation was most dire at Fukushima Daiichi’s Unit 1, where pressure had risen to twice what is consider the normal level. The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement that diesel generators that normally would have kept cooling systems running at Fukushima Daiichi had been disabled by tsunami flooding.

Officials at the Daiichi facility began venting radioactive vapors from the unit to relieve pressure inside the reactor case. The loss of electricity had delayed that effort for several hours.

Plant workers there labored to cool down the reactor core, but there was no prospect for immediate success. They were temporarily cooling the reactor with a secondary system, but it wasn’t working as well as the primary one, according to Yuji Kakizaki, an official at the Japanese nuclear safety agency.

The Atomic Insights blogger seems to think anyone who’s worried is overreacting. Assuming he has correct information, he may be right — but my skepticism is centered mostly around the fact that government officials often withhold accurate information in disasters. (Christine Todd Whitman assuring Ground Zero workers they were safe is just one that springs to mind.)

He cites this white paper on the safety of nuclear power plants as proof. I don’t know how it works in other countries, but believing that for-profit nuclear power plants operated by companies whose first priority is the bottom line will build according to the highest specifications, and safely operate the plants exactly as they’re supposed to, well, that seems a little naive.

So while experts assume the situation is under control, my position is that we may not know exactly what happened for a long, long time.

In other news

Republicans lie about what voters want. A small minority of loudmouth, misinformed teabaggers does not comprise the sum total of the American electorate.

Charles Krauthammer

Is a mean, nasty little man. Decent people should shun him.

Via Natasha, this very perceptive piece on how profit became the new piety. It’s written for the UK, but it certainly applies here as well:

At what point did the denial of compassion become a morally righteous act? When homeless people are criminalised and single parents left destitute “for their own good”, it’s a question we need to start asking.

In a speech to the Tory party’s spring conference, David Cameron laid out the “moral” case for an ideology which prioritises the wishes of business over the needs of ordinary people. Eulogising “small business owners” as modern-day Samaritans, the Prime Minister extolled the virtues of enterprise with as much pious self-satistfaction as any po-faced priest ever preached chastity.

A generation after Thatcher, with Chicago-school economics laying waste to civil society across the globe, it is apparently no longer enough to believe that greed is good. We must be persuaded that greed is virtuous.

Max Weber’s protestant ethic has always provided a moral framework for capitalism, but since the meltdown of 2008, business devotees sound less like men of quiet faith and more like spittle-flecked fanatics ordering their followers not to flee the burning church. The maniacal Calvinist aunt in Blackadder insisted that cold is God’s way of telling us to burn more Catholics, but Cameron may as well have declared that recession is God’s way of telling us to cut more benefits.

The flipside of this fervour is the belief that anyone who does not contribute to the profit machine is somehow morally incontinent. Some on the left would like to believe that conservatives simply hate the poor. The more terrifying truth is that many of them actually believe imposing austerity measures is the moral duty of the righteous rich.

Throughout history, our worst torturers and tyrants have always been zealots, men who believe that their faith justifies any brutality.
Continue Reading »

Americans and wealth

Bill Maher really hit it with this last night. As much as he drives me up the wall at times, he has this one nailed.

Tangled up in blue

Bob Dylan:

GOP motto: Never prepared!

Let’s be clear on something: Republicans firmly believe that nothing is important enough to trump a possible tax cut. That’s why they oppose the adequate funding of the U.S. Weather Service — and not incidentally, its tsunami warning system.

Republicans also don’t believe in funding FEMA. They don’t believe in infrastructure investment or maintenance. They don’t believe Amtrak passengers deserve safe trains, or safe tracks. They don’t believe in updating the nation’s air traffic control system, and they don’t believe in spending money to get clean air and water. They don’t believe in spending on safe workplaces, either.

They’re the main reason why America can’t have nice things. Nobody in their right mind who wants any of these things should ever, ever, ever vote for a Republican. From the Washington Monthly:

Honolulu’s Star-Advertiser ran a report a few weeks ago that has a salience now that it might have lacked when first published.

The union representing National Weather Service workers says budget cuts proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives could jeopardize public safety and increase the severity of disaster losses in Hawaii.

“People could die. … It could be serious,” said Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

Hirshorn said that if a continuing resolution proposed by the U.S. House is enacted — triggering a 28 percent budget cut in the second half of the fiscal year — Weather Service employees as well as those at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center could face furloughs and rolling closures.

“It would impact our ability to issue warnings,” he said.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) said the GOP’s proposed cuts would “drastically” reduce the ability of officials to “alert our communities about imminent, dangerous events.

“The National Weather Service’s union added in a statement, “In the next hurricane, flood, tornado or wildfire, lives will be lost and people will ask what went wrong. Congress’ cuts and the devastation to the well-being of our nation’s citizens are dangerously wrong.”

Fortunately, the proposed cuts haven’t been approved — Democrats oppose the GOP plan — but Republicans are still fighting for them.

Is it wrong and/or exploitative to point this out? I don’t think so. There’s an intense budget fight underway in Washington, and critics of the Republicans’ push for brutal domestic cuts have said the GOP plan would cause serious, real-world consequences. That happens to be true. The fact that the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center would face furloughs and rolling closures if Republicans have their way matters, and today’s tragedy helps drive home why it matters.

Put it this way: GOP lawmakers want to deliberately undercut tsunami monitoring, based on the notion that this spending is somehow unnecessary. Republicans thought this two weeks ago, one week ago, yesterday, and today. Chances are, they’ll still support these cuts tomorrow, too.

After the gold rush

Neil Young:

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