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Japanese govt’s new ideas on Oi nuclear plant defy common sense

May 31, 2012 Comments off

Though only a small number of Japanese protest in the streets, opinions polls cited in recent Japanese news reports show a majority of Japanese want a move away from nuclear power.

And indeed the ideas being floated by Noda’s regime at the moment do resemble the sort of looney ideas one would expect from people committed to making others laugh. Prime Minister Noda excels at nonsense but is empty on substance.

In his government’s latest desperate attempt to force a restart of the Oi nuclear plant, the government have proposed “to have senior vice minister or other senior political officials stationed in Fukui.” What a politician would do in an emergency remains to be seen, though if said individual is like other incompetent Japanese officials in the past then one can be assured he – for women are never appointed in a land that loves to preach human rights to the rest of Asia – will only get in the way or simply be irrelevant. In either case this is just smoke and mirrors.

In fact some of these very same people complained ad nauseum  that former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, far senior to a vice minister, was just another politician who got in the way (it is not known for sure if Kan kept Tepco from abandoning the Fukushima plant and making things worse as he states, and there are many unanswered questions about the events on those days). Is having a politician present on-site sensible? Is it a substitute for nuclear regulatory agency that does not yet exist? The Japanese government say it is, but these are the same people who think all of Japan should eat radioactive food because it is harmless.

It gets better.

“In the event of an emergency, we will link the Oi nuclear power plant, Kansai Electric, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, and prime minister’s office via a videoconference system.”

What the Mainichi newspaper does not say is that the government had a multimillion dollar video conference system in place. They just failed to use it. That is correct. On March 11, 2011 and the days and weeks following the world’s worst nuclear disaster – mislabelled “accident” – the Japanese government did not take advantage of the tools at its disposal. Not only did they fail with the video conferencing system, one could argue it would have made absolutely no difference whatsoever.

This week Kan went to parliament and testified that his personal visit to the Fukushima plant on March 15 and his demand that the Tecpo not withdraw personnel from the plant were necessary because “We could hardly get information” and  “We couldn’t do anything” due to the failure of Tepco to provide the government with timely data. What difference would using the video conferencing system have made? Kan said “he and his key ministers were not adequately briefed about the plant’s situation in the first few days” (here).

Either Kan is misrepresenting what occurred and/or Tepco simply refused to provide information to the government about three full meltdowns some experts say they would have known about at that time.

Noda’s idea to put a politician at the Oi reactor also raises another question: If Oi is so potentially dangerous why not just shut it down? Also, if Oi needs a politician on such high rank, what about all the other reactors? With this logic every reactor in Japan (there are 54) should have a senior vice minister on standby and satellite hookup on call to beam to the prime minister’s office. Really what is the point? These people would not be nuclear engineers or safety personnel. The necessary technicians are already employed at the plant reactors. Japan’s best experts are already on standby. And they too will be powerless to stop another meltdown when a large earthquake or tsunami swamps the walls that do not exist (only the Fukushima plant has completed seawalls and they were 100% ineffective against the tsunami).

Noda is misleading the public by saying he will make a decision in future about the restart of the Oi plant. His decision was made the to support nuclear power the day he assumed office. This is nothing more than the shameless game the Japanese government have been playing for years. The latest cowardly announcement by the Union of Kansai Governments  “We will accept the government’s decision.” It also released a statement saying “On the assumption that the government’s safety judgment is provisional, we call on it to make a definitive judgment.” This rubber stamping of the central government’s dictatorial policy is the opposite of democracy. The opinions of a few governors matters not. It is the majority of the Japanese people who are opposed to the restarts, and the Japanese government does not care what they think.

For those in the anti-nuclear camp or those simply opposed to restarts or nuclear power until a thorough investigation of the Fukushima disaster is completed and new standards and procedures are in place, they are stuck relying on their fake opponent of nuclear power, Toru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka, who is manipulating them for his own anti-democratic political goals. They are mistaken if they see an ally in him. Hashimoto is not opposed to the restarts. He even floated the idea of supporting temporary restarts to prevent power outages. As soon as his party gets more power it will turn on those voters, which is to be expected.

If Japan and the Japanese people are truly concerned about global warming, developing and harnessing alternative forms of renewable energy, the time to invest in the technology is now before the Germans and Chinese get leap years ahead in the technology. Even the number of businesses would support move in this direction, despite Keidanren’s lobbying, numbers around 75% according to recent Japanese press reports. The future is here and if Japan is going to compete on the energy battlefield it will need a renewable arsenal. Prime Minister Noda’s ideas are sinking Japan’s chances to levels in-line with the unelected dictator’s – he is demanding a restart to nuclear plants with no electoral mandate – approval ratings. So much for democracy in Japan.

This is an op-ed piece submitted to Civis Journal by Commodus Diop. The views expressed therein do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or staff at Civis Journal.

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Categories: Japan, op-ed Tags: , , ,

Radiation is not the farmers’ biggest problem

May 30, 2012 Comments off

With a still damaged plant nearby nothing is “safe” in Fukushima. AP/Tepco

At least that is the conclusion a person attributing the government’s decision to allow farmers to consider selling rice from highly contaminated areas would be. The Japan Today describes a “challenge”

producing safe-to-eat rice in contaminated soil.

“Safe” is not yet defined. The equipment the government has is capable of detecting “the tiniest speck of radiation” the Japan Today says. “Safe” includes up to 100 Bq/kg of caesium-137, to say nothing of caesium-134 or the numerous other isotopes that are not screened for or entirely ignored in other foods. If the rice tests follow the same sort of testing there is little chance people will know what is in it. It is little matter, then, which equipment is used. Will there be strontium, plutonium or other harmful substances present? The closer the proximity to the Fukushima Daiichi plant the greater the possibility of greater concentrations of radiation other than caesium.

It appears that all rice this year from the farms “right next to the no-go zone, in Minami-Soma” will be destroyed, but farmers are participating with the government in the hope that they will be allowed sell their rice next year. The government is sowing false hope – to them and the public. It is extremely unlikely anything produced 12 miles away from the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl will be “safe” unless “safe” includes radioactive food. The fact is the government cannot claim radioactive food – even with low levels (say under 100 Bq/kg) is “safe” because there is little scientific data to support it. It might be safe and it might not be. Consistent exposure – especially internal – to radiation below a certain threshold is a sort of grey area. No problem. There are plenty of human guinea pigs in Japan just waiting to gobble up the samples – and farmers all too eager to sell them their fix.

“Fukushima farmers pray for radiation-free rice” Pray? To whom? Maybe the great deities in Tepco or the Japanese parliament will wave a magic wand and make their rice “safe.” In fact, maybe that same deity will go to Chernobyl and make all the radiation there disappear too. Radiation is just going to go away. It is kind of irrelevant if the rice produced has low levels of radiation anyway. Growing rice in radioactive soil is akin to growing food in a sewer, testing it and saying “there is no sewage in it.” It is an unethical, dirty and disgraceful way to bamboozle the public into buying something that people have no business eating period. The same could be said about growing food in radioactive toxic waste zones like those around the Fukushima plant.

“The balance that the government is now trying to strike is between allowing people to stay in the Fukushima area and recover their lives, and keeping the rest of Japan happy about buying food,” said the Japan Times. This illustrates the governments deception: the people in the immediate vicinity of the plant will never “recover their lives” and live the way they used to. What the tsunami and earthquake left, the radiation destroyed. They are lying to the people. “Radiation is expected to decline year by year.” Who expects this? Caesium-137, for example, has a half-life of 30 years. It is not going anywhere for hundreds of years. Plutonium? Thousands. Yes caesium-134 will go more quickly, but the land will hardly be “safe” to grow food in during anyone’s lifetime. Telling people otherwise is sowing false hope and selling food from there is possibly putting people’s lives at risk.

Why? So that some farmers can earn a living off the land? So that Japan does not have to change its unfair trading practices an import foreign foods in greater quantity? The government is not helping the farmers in the Fukushima area by trying to sell their poison. It is hurting them by not admitting the fact their plight is hopeless. It is also forcing these people to live in zones too dangerous for humans. It is joining Tepco by refusing to properly compensate these people, providing a new and safer place to live elsewhere in Japan. The farmers biggest enemy is not Tepco or radiation. It is their own government.

This is an op-ed piece submitted that does not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of the editorial staff.

Japan Today article here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Food, Japan, op-ed Tags: , , , , ,

WFP may use radioactive Japanese fish to feed poor

May 26, 2012 Comments off

This cartoon was published by the IHT, under the control of the New York Times. They apologised for and removed this image in an act of self-censorship after the Japanese government complained. Is it wrong to scrutinise or refuse radioactive food? What about the possibility of giving children in poor countries radioactive food?

The Japanese government says it supports farmers and fishermen by promoting disaster area food products. As part of its efforts it is pressuring other nations to lift restrictions on Japanese food banned after concerns over radiation after the March 11, 2011 nuclear disaster

On March 22, 2012 Koichiro Gemba, Japan’s Foreign Minister, met in Tokyo with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr. They discussed easing food import restrictions along with Japanese development aid (here). The Japanese wanted “further relaxation and removal of such restrictions,” which at the times meant providing documents certifying food safety on radiation, according to Kyodo.

The Noda government has taken steps to increase purchases of fish products by selecting it for food aid. Where will the food come from? The areas affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Kyoto reported that it is “a way to dispel fears over radioactive contamination” (here). This will consist of fish products from Aomori, Iwate, Ibaraki and Chiba to be fed to children in “school lunches and other purposes,” in places like Cambodia. This will likely include sending food to the WFP (World Food Programme).

The Japanese say “certified-safe food products” will be used. The question is what levels of radiological contamination will be permitted? Japanese food safety law will permit up to 100 becquerels of caesium per kilogram for domestic consumption. What will the government do to ensure that only radiation free food reaches people in Cambodia? If radioactive food is found, even at low levels, it will only serve to undermine confidence in Japanese food, the stated goal of sending aid in the first place. Notice the food aid to the World Food Program is not to help Cambodians per se but to restore confidence in Japanese food. It is a propaganda campaign under the guise of assistance.  Why might it matter if the Japanese use fish from the areas affected by radiation?

“Of the 13 samples shown from the August 2011 test, all had measurable amounts of radiation. The lowest caesium-137 level is 50.7 and the highest is 556. This test, unlike government tests, provides additional data on caesium-134 which, if combined with 137, shows at least 4 samples above the government’s caesium limit of 500 Bq/kg. The highest combined caesium measurement is 1,053 Bq/kg.”

These are the results of a test Greenpeace conducted last August – not the one the government tried to stop. Based on the lab results conducted, they said last August, “Relying on the government’s inadequate monitoring does not guarantee people’s safety if contaminated seafood reaches the market” (lab results here & Greenpeace’s report here). Ibaraki and Iwate are areas fish products would be used to supply food to the WFP.

Things have not necessarily improved since August. A look at the Japanese government’s own tests done on Iwate fish in the winter reveals caesium levels of 0 to 240 Bq/km, in some 68 samples (see report). The standard was improved to a stricter limit of 100 Bq/kg in April. The report indicates that the majority of fish currently being tested in Japan (65% in February), contains measurable levels of ceasium-137, and may contain caesium-134 as well as any number of isotopes, some of which are not being checked.

Of the 13 samples shown from the August 2011 test, all had measurable amounts of radiation. The lowest caesium-137 level is 50.7 and the highest is 556. This test, unlike government tests, provides additional data on caesium-134 which, if combined with 137, shows at least 4 samples above the government’s caesium limit of 500 Bq/kg. The highest combined caesium measurement is 1,053 Bq/kg. Click on image to enlarge.

Greenpeace sounded the alarm last August when it said the government’s testing “is not done in a way to ensure that only safe products will be distributed.” Not only is the sampling methodology “problematic in and of itself,” but the labelling of is “very loosely interpreted.” Greenpeace says “there’s no established way of tracing where the product came from.” Consumers have no way of knowing if their fish is radioactive and, based on the law, there is no way they can be sure the sure certain foods does not come from certain waters they might wish to avoid. Companies have the option of listing a port rather than the exact location a fish was caught in, meaning two boats that catch fish in the same area can take them to different ports and they can both be listed as being caught in different locations.

For processed fish, the system is even worse, they said. Greenpeace recommended the government create tracking system similar to the one it already uses to track every piece of beef sold in Japan. This and proper labelling, Greenpeace argued, would tell people which particular area the fish were caught in, not just the port. They also suggested listing the “exact degree of contamination,” not leaving it up to the consumer to question its safety. Greenpeace’s test results, discussed on August 8th, they measured “8 types of fish…and 5 samples of seaweed.” Of the fish, all had measurable radiation. “4 samples were clearly above the limit set for consumption,” ranging from 749 Bq/km to 1,053Bq/km of total caesium count. Even more would fail the current standard of 100 Bq/kg.

Will fish with measurable levels of radiation be given to the world’s poor? There are questions of ethics involved. The current system in place is a complete failure, critics like Greenpeace argue. What assurances can the Japanese government give that there will not be scandals? The government’s incompetence resulted in beef and a number of radioactive foods ending up consumed all over Japan last year. The government insists radioactive food is safe, but after they covered up the three meltdowns at Fukushima they have no credibility in the eyes of many. If radioactive fish is fed to some poor child in Cambodia, what will that do for confidence in Japan’s products? Concern seems to only be for that and not the ethical questions if one reads the Japanese government’s statements. The Snow White cartoon the Japanese government wanted censored in the International Herald Tribune seems to be saying what many are too scared to say.

Civis Journal

Categories: Food, Japan Tags: , , , , ,

Why are they kicking us out of the park?

May 25, 2012 Comments off

On November 15, 2011 Mayor Bloomberg sent the NYPD and Sanitation to remove occupiers and their belongings from Zuccotti Park. As the public became aware of this, many congregated at the scene and protests ensued. Some journalists rushed to the scene to get the stories of occupiers shortly after the eviction. Among them were some affiliated with Civis Journal.

The mayor and others brought a series of allegations against protesters, which supported the idea the park was unsafe and there were problems that could lead to fires or injuries. This documentary tells the story of the occupiers as they responded to those allegations and the mayor’s actions. Part II. Continued in part III.

Civis Journal

Occupy sues NYC for destruction of its library in federal court

May 24, 2012 Comments off

Books recovered after the November 15, 2011 raid. Source: Village Voice.

On November 15, 2011 Mayor Bloomberg sent the NYPD and sanitation department to remove the encampment at Zuccotti Park. During the raid most of the roughly 5000 books of the People Library were confiscated. Not all of the books were returned, said Occupy. Of those that were returned, some were clearly damaged beyond use. The damage appeared to be consistent with being put through large compactors. Computers seen were also visibly bent and appeared to have been damaged during or after the raid.

Just over six months later Occupy filed for losses of “$47,000 worth of books, computers and other equipment,” reported Reuters. Well-known attorney Norman Siegel is among the lawyers representing Occupy’s library claim in the suit Occupy Wall Street et al. v. Michael Bloomberg et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-4129.

Occupy members say the damage to the library was resulted as a result of the raid on November 15, 2011. The City of New York have not yet given statements on the status of the case. Two days after the raid tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the removal of occupy from Zuccotti Park. Though recently returned to Wall St. itself, occupy has not established a tent city like it had last year. It remains to be ween what the result of the lawsuit will be or if Occupy will return to the spotlight again this year.

Civis Journal

The tattoo inquisition in Japan has begun – heretics may be punished

May 24, 2012 Comments off

Mayor Hashimoto is against public employees right to tattoos, to refuse to sing national anthem and now workers political rights outside of working hours. Source: Japan Times

People who reacted with disbelief over news of Soichiro Takashima’s decision, mayor of Fukuoka City, to ban alcohol for a month for city employees might find his actions mild in comparison to his counterpart to the north, Toru Hashimoto.

Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka, created a controversy when he demanded city workers fill out a survey listing their tattoos. Some might recall his comments that he would not hire Johnny Depp or Lady Gaga to work in his city because the two of them have tattoos. Neither of the celebrities needs a job anyway, but city workers in Osaka that have tattoos are largely sanitation or transport workers and need their jobs to survive.

In some police departments in the Unites States this sort of question is routine before hiring begins. It is part of an attempt to know if a candidate had gang affiliations or was perhaps involved in a crime. One could understand the necessity of looking at police who may have tattoos or other marks due to the nature of their work. It goes without saying, however, that many officers have tattoos and that they are not necessarily anything more than a legitimate form of self-expression.

Why should all city workers have to report tattoos in Osaka? A bloke carrying rubbish has nothing to do with law enforcement. Is there a cultural explanation? Tattoos were linked to the Yakuza, or organised crime and so were sanitation workers. “During the 1970s, large numbers of city sanitation workers were also affiliated with yakuza in Nishinari Ward,” reported the Japan Times. That does not mean, however, that today’s sanitation workers are involved with Yakuza. Today “tattoos are now a common means of self-expression in Japan and are no longer indicative of gang membership,” says the Japan Today. They may not be tolerated in public baths and they be may not be as common as in other countries, but they are not quite “taboo” as some media outlets reported. It is nothing more than a harmful stereotype under the guise of Japanese “culture” which equates a tattoo with criminal behaviour.

Mayor Hashimoto gave his reason for starting the tattoo inquisition:

“If tattoos of city employees are seen by the public, the city government will lose its credibility because they will make people feel nervous and intimidated”

The public might feel “intimidated” if they conflate wearing a tattoo as indicative of being in the mob, but there is little reason to confuse the two. Mayor Hashimoto apparently pointed to an incident in which “a worker [a city employee] at a children’s home threatened kids by showing them his tattoos,” as reason to stop city workers from wearing tattoos, as reported by the Japan Today. The story has inconsistencies and few details are available. The Guardian reported there were “complaints”  that  “a welfare officer had intimidated children by showing off his inkwork.” Some man allegedly showed some tattoo to children of unspecified ages and that someone complained, alleging it was a threat.

Even if it is true the children were somehow “threatened” by seeing a tattoo, what is mayor Hashimoto’s point? A worker could conceivably threaten children by showing them a cigarette. After all, many Yakuza smoke. Would Hashimoto demand a survey of city workers to identify who smokes because cigarettes “will make people feel nervous and intimidated?” It would be a ridiculous witch hunt, which is what some feel mayor Hashimoto’s order on tattoos is turning into.

Mayor Hashimoto seems to be taking an isolated incident that may never have occurred to claim that the Japanese public would be intimidated by city workers with tattoos. This is quite a jump and is the opposite of scientific thinking where such extrapolations are the hallmark of less than a scientific observation. The mayor seems to be saying city workers with tattoos look like Yakuza and intimidate the public. What studies have been conducted on the people of Osaka that verify the mayor’s claim? Is it really true a tattoo is going to scare adults?

One has to differentiate the types of tattoos in order to answer this question. “The poll found that 110 workers reported having tattoos, including sea turtles, moons and dolphins,” which are very different from “large, intricate motifs of mythical beasts and shogun-era courtesans” typical of a person in the Yakuza. How many adults would be “intimidated” by seeing a glimpse of a “dolphin” on someone outside their homes for two minutes to collect the rubbish?

These are the sort of tattoos members of organised crime tend to wear. Source: The Guardian

Teachers and some members of the board of education have resisted the order to fill in the survey. This is not the first time they have clashed with the mayor. Last time mayor Hashimoto demanded they all stand and sing the national anthem even though it has links to Japan’s wars of aggression in WWII and teachers opposed it as a violation of their free speech. Though the teachers lost in court, “union officials have complained that the order [to fill out the tattoo survey] is a breach of employees’ human rights and illegal,” reported the Telegraph.

One might conclude this latest attack on human and civil rights is a way to challenge labour unions and weaken opposition to Hashimoto’s political agenda. This looks all the more likely when one takes into account Hashimoto’s announcement of a new “proposed ordinance [that] includes banning [city workers from] the issuance and distribution of newsletters by political organizations, marches and protests with political intent, and expressions of political views at assemblies using loudspeakers.” If city workers cannot take part in politics outside of their work hours, are they being allowed to practise their constitutional rights? Professors cited in the Japan Times feel it would be a violation.

Speaking of intimidation, is it not “intimidation” when mayor Hashimoto says he will not promote workers who refuse to fill out the tattoo survey or that he “threatened to dismiss any city worker who has tattoos,” according to Fuji Tv? He is quoted as saying, “If they insist on having tattoos, they had better leave the city office and go and work in the private sector.” Hashimoto is right now demanding a list of names of all those workers who did not fill out the survey. Who knows, maybe some of those on list are communists, gypsies, Jews, homosexuals or left-wing anarchists. Joseph McCarthy once claimed to have a list. Now Hashimoto will have his own.

This is what the dolphin tattoos may look like, though no representations are currently available. Source: Free Tattoo Designs

Why stop there? The Catholic Church once demanded an inquiry into heresy. Bishops and clergy all over Europe sought out traitors to the Church who would not adhere to official doctrine, and described punishments for those who would not repent. With Osaka the question is not religion per se, but obeying orders is the Japanese civil religion and heretics who refuse to follow orders are a threat to bishop Hashimoto. Their tattoos and defiance are anathema to the authority of people like mayor Hashimoto who have little tolerance for democracy or differences of opinion.

Hashimoto’s dislike for democracy, for instance, is evidenced in comments like “What Japan needs most now is a dictator” instead of ineffectual prime ministers, reported Reuters. Japan may not have a “dictator” in the prime minister’s office, but the city of Osaka does. If this politician, with aspirations on the national level, should win enough seats in the upcoming national election it may very well see a shift to the right that will make the 15 century Catholic Church proud. Hashimoto has a lot to be proud of. A search google’s images under the name “Toru Hashimoto” brings up images of Adolf Hitler, a figure to whom he is sometimes compared, though his style is more in-line with Japanese fascists of the 30s and 40s.

Theodora Dio

This is an op-ed editorial submitted to Civis Journal. Civis Journal does not necessarily endorse, agree with or condone third-party opinion pieces.

Japanese protesters block radioatctive disaster debris sent to Kitakyushu

May 22, 2012 Comments off

This photo uploaded to Twitter shows a group of people under a truck as it attempts to deliver radioactive wood to Kitakyushu from Miyagi (here)

Early on Tuesday a group of about 30 protesters tried to block 6 trucks with debris from the Tohoku region from being brought into Kitakysuhu, in Fukuoka prefecture.

The Japan Times reported that about 80 tonnes of radioactive wood left Miyagi. Numbers differ on the trucks, but it appears that 20 trucks have made a delivery to the Kitakyushu later on. Their cargo consisted of wood to be burnt in part of the government’s campaign to spread radioactive debris over the country and “help” Tohoku. The Japan Times also reported that the wood was measured at less than 100 Bq/kg and that “after examining radiation levels in the ash and the air around the two incineration plants” they would decide whether or not to accept more debris (here).

Preliminary measurement results, however, are already in –  just not from the government. “The survey meter went from 0.06 microsievert/hour or so to 0.612 microsievert/hour in about 2 and a half minutes,” reported Ex-Skf in reference to original data posted (here). If the numbers are correct that would raise questions about the safety and ethics of burning radioactive wood (reported to be ceasuim-137) in an area close to large numbers of people.

In an act of defiance by Japanese activists in a society known for just following orders, a number of people attached themselves to the underside of a truck in an attempt to stop the shipment of wood. They succeeded in delaying the trucks for about hours.

This protest has not received a lot of attention by the English media, though there have been a few articles in the Japanese press. To date it is known that at least two individuals associated with the protest have been arrested allegedly for “attacking the police,” though reports are sketchy at this time and the charge is ambiguous (see here).

This banner reads “No to radioactive debris.” Source: Kyodo.

It remains to be seen whether or not the Kitakyushu government will agree to accept more disaster debris. The previous vote the Assembly was unanimous in favour of the debris, though it is clear that there is public opposition to the move. Thirty protesters may not seem like a lot to most foreigners or those not familiar with Japan. If thirty people, however, are willing to publicly protest government policy, it is because they are among the few with the courage to stand up to a government – rightly or wrongly – that promotes a “consensus society.” It is also an indication that there are many more in the society that share these views but who, for one reason or another, do not come forward to protest.

The Japanese government wants to burn radioactive debris all over Japan and been pressuring all areas to accept it. Many Japanese people are opposed to the plans, though not all. There are even plans to ship debris abroad to Saipan. Plans to use debris in a festival last year caused a firestorm of criticism and proponents and opponents of the plan went public on the matter.

Civis Journal