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Japanese government wants you to eat radioactive food: Part IV

May 9, 2012 Comments off

A whale being hunted by the Japanese. This is conducted under the guise of “research,” but the meat ends up on dinner tables all over Japan. Source: The Guardian

This is part IV of a special series of articles. For part III click here.

The Japanese government did not ban all radioactive food, just food over certain limits (500 Bq/kg which is now revised to 100 Bq/kg as of April 1, 2012). This means that food with measurable levels of radiation was sold in untold quantities to an infinite number of people. As the scandals erupted one after the other, the average Japanese began to wonder if the food was safe. This is probably the biggest reason for the collapse in consumer confidence, not “foreign media” or other conspiracy theory nonsense pedaled as fact by a government and media eager to shift the blame for their failures on non-Japanese.

In June 2011, for example, the Japanese caught 17 whales. When they looked at 6 of them, they found “31 becquerels and 24.3 becquerels of radioactive caesium per kilogram in the two whales” (see here). They were caught off the island of Hokkaido, 650 km away from the Fukushima plant. This is not exactly good news. It shows the Japanese justification for whaling (labelled “research”) is a pretty poor one. Why test only 6 of 17 whales if the research is needed? Those other whales might have had radiation in them too. At 31 Bq/kg, they would have passed both the old and new standards on food safety. Did people eat that radioactive meat?

The problem is not isolated to mammals, but is in fish. The Japanese only report figures for caesuim-137 and iodine (which is not present anyway) in the fish tests they conduct. But that does not mean there is no strontium-90. If serious studies were done on fish by the Japanese government, the results might not be good. Even the highly criticised and clearly inadequate studies they are carrying out only serve to show that the majority of fish & sea life tested contain measurable levels of radiation. Fish may not have iodine, but do they have strontium? This is not fear mongering. It is asking a question that must be answered for consumer safety and to restore confidence in the food system.

To be continued in Part V.

Civis Journal

 

Japanese government wants you to eat radioactive food: Part III

May 8, 2012 Comments off

This is employee uses a Geiger counter to test for radiation, which is not a very efficient way to measure radiation in food. Source: AP.

This is part III of a special report. Part II is available here.

This is not to say foreign food is unavailable. It is. But in many cases it is prohibitively expensive or extremely difficult to find. This is due in part to the desire to protect domestic industry from having to compete with foreigners on some of the same food items. So while it is easy to purchase foreign wines, Japan cannot restrict them too much because their own domestic production cannot supply demand. When it comes to rice, a product grown in abundance in Japan, it is virtually impossible to find foreign produced rice in Japanese supermarkets. This is not limited to food, and nations have complained about these practices for years (see here & here). As an example one might recall the dispute between the Clinton Administration and Japan with regard to the difficulty American car manufacturers had in accessing the Japanese market (see here).

If anyone has a history of restricting foreign imports it is Japan. Even if the Japanese are correct, they will be seen as hypocritical in the extreme for going to the WTO to lodge a complaint. Unlike some of the other disputes, radiation is a serious problem. Shortly after the Fukushima disaster the IAEA warned about risks associated with iodine. There was also the WHO spokesman who warned that “it’s a lot more serious than anybody thought in the early days when we thought this kind of problem can be limited to 20 or 30 kilometers.”  The WHO specifically warned people to avoid affected foods like meat, eggs and leafy vegetables near the Fukushima plant. “Eating foods containing radioactive materials could increase the risk of certain types of cancers in the future,” remarked Ben Embarek, a food safety expert with the WHO. Iodine is not a problem today, but caesium-134, 137 and a whole host of other isotopes like strontium, plutonium etc – the majority of which are not even being checked for – are. When it comes to fish, for example, the Japanese only report figures for caesuim-137 and iodine (iodine is not present anymore anyway). But that does not mean there is no strontium-90. If serious studies were done on fish by the Japanese government, the results might not be so savoury. Even the highly criticised and clearly inadequate studies they are carrying out only serve to show that the majority of fish & sea life tested contain measurable levels of radiation.

In the big picture, it was not just foreigners who stopped shipments of Japanese food. It was the Japanese government itself, though in case after case only after it was unable to hide the results of beef, spinach or other embarrassing results. In other words, the Japanese had to restrict radioactive foods to their own domestic market for the very same health concerns foreigners had (here). Then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told the public, “The vegetables will cause no immediate health problems even if temporarily eaten now.” Look at the phrase “immediate health problems.” What does it suggest? If the affects are not “immediate” then they are either non-existent or long-term.  Those who eat them will one day find the answer –  they are the guinea pigs.

To be continued in Part IV

Civis Journal

Japanese government wants you to eat radioactive food: part II

May 6, 2012 Comments off

Consumers now have to deal with the reality that a lot of their food is contaminated, even if it is below the government’s standards.

This is part II of a special report. Part I is available here.

The data say 1) there was an unspecified drop of in foreign and domestic purchases of Fukushima area food; and 2) there was a significant increase of imported food into Japan which far exceeded the amount of food the Japanese farmers did not sell. There is simply no comparison. In the absence of data on the types of food, volume or specific cost, these are several possibilities. The most logical is the Japanese themselves are responsible for the majority of losses in revenue. The second is that the people who are buying foreign food are shunning areas outside of the Fukushima affected zones (or that the affected crop is much wider than admitted). If this is correct, it would indicate that the Japanese have lost a considerable degree of confidence in the safety of their own food. This can be deduced from looking at the total amount of food produced in Fukushima, which only comes out to about 2.3 billion yen, according to Bloomberg.

This is important because the raw figures might give the impression the farmers’ loss of revenue is due to foreigners practising discrimination (with some number of Japanese at home believing “harmful/baseless rumors” perpetrated by foreigners). In either case the data can be easily used to scapegoat both groups as opposed to dealing with the possibility that there are legitimate health concerns among foreigners, their governments and Japanese residents. The terminology used in the Japanese press and government show a dismissive attitude towards concerns of radiation. They are referred to as “fears,” not “concerns.” The reality is that a good amount of food in the Fukushima affected areas contain measurable levels of radiation. Further, there is an utter lack of resources to check the levels of radiation. This is not an exaggeration. Some prefectures only have a dozen or so people checking these things. The result is that even in Fukushima only a small fraction of the items are checked, as has been discussed in the Yomiuri and other Japanese newspapers.

The Japanese government is eager to convince people to purchase food from Fukushima, but the farmers complain the government are not helping or doing enough with regard to ensuring farmers have the support and directions needed to grow food in the area (for the FT report here). Be that as it may, there are reasons why governments and citizens refuse to purchase certain Japanese food.

There is a historical precedent for closing markets to Japanese goods. Some nations closed off parts of their markets to the Japanese during the 1930s and; there was also an oil embargo by the U.S. in the context of Japan’s aggression in Asia. That had an impact on Japan’s economy as well as the war. One could understand why Japan might have argued unfair practices then, but in 2011/2012? Are the nations that imposed bans really going to benefit from closing their markets to Japanese foods? Maybe. But this is largely irrelevant when one considers that Japan has kept its markets virtually closed to foreign nations with its restrictions on foreign foods with markups, tariffs or taxes.

To be continued in part III.

Civis Journal

Japan to be Nuclear Free

May 4, 2012 Comments off

Oi is scheduled to go offline on May 5. Source AJW.

As of May 5, Japan will have achieved a milestone by shutting down all 54 of its commercial reactors, and setting itself up for a test the nuclear industry is desperate to avoid – the one that may very well show Japan can survive and even thrive without nuclear power.

That, of course, is not how it is being portrayed by some in the media. The propaganda war is in full force, with some predicting dire economic consequences of factory closings, economic decline and the collapse of some parts of industry. Those exaggerations are not all that different from the rhetoric that accompanied the summer of 2011. There were numerous warnings of electricity shortages, but with savings and reduction of consumption – including changing work hours – significant energy savings were achieved. The world’s leader in energy consumption, in reality, pulled a rabbit out of its hat and shaved ore than 20% its already low rates )in comparison to other nations). This achievement has been largely ignored. And with good reason. Those terrible shortages did not arrive.

Japan does not need to go another with few to no plants online. Its achievement last year already demonstrated that the majority of nuclear power plants were not needed. As if there were a memory lapse, as soon as the summer of 2011 ended, the media campaign of electric shortage warnings picked up again in the winter. Again, the terrible power shortages predicted never materialised. Not to worry. The public cannot recall this. The trick has to be repeated, and the warnings have to be sounded again. This time, the message is something like ‘Japan will collapse without nuclear power.’

And the media touts it, giving credence to these false ideas. Some sources, like the New York Times, mention them but do not qualify them. Fackler, for instance, in his article highlights the rising cost of using oil and gas and the trade deficits it is causing (here). This is hardly a doomsday scenario, and does not pose a serious threat to the Japanese economy. The extra costs of using fossil fuel will in some part be absorbed by consumers in slight electric rate increases (which are incredibly low in comparison to American households). It will also serve as an impetus to force the development of renewable energy – an absolute necessity.

With the increased capacity to generate electricity, some people are calling their bluff. And that is key: after a summer of successful electric use with no nuclear plants, the Japanese will firmly understand that there is no need for plants that exist. The only ones left complaining will be big companies that lose some profit, but then the fig leaf will have been removed and it is unlikely people will put up with the potential of nuclear fallout solely so that some factory or nuclear power companies’ executives will get large bonuses.

Civis Journal

Japanese government wants you to eat radioactive food: Part I

May 2, 2012 Comments off

These fish give a typical example of the sort of fish available in Japan in the fall months.

Part I of a multi-series in-depth look at Japanese food.

Following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, many nations set up restrictions for the import of Japanese food. Some were partial, affecting only certain food items near the Fukushima plant, while others were more comprehensive. The Japanese government, at the time and since, argue that they are taking the necessary precautions and that food on the market is safe.

In March 2011 the U.S., Taiwan, China and Russia, among others, banned Japanese food from the areas affected by radiation (hereherehere & here). On March 23, Hong Kong banned Japanese food from 5 prefectures over concerns of radiological contamination (see here). A year later Hong Kong has decided to resume Japanese food imports of eggs and meat provided they have a certificate of safety, reports the Yomiuri newspaper (Japanese here & English here).  This is good news for Japanese businesses.

How did Japan react when nations started closing their doors to its food? “Japan is working hard to recover from the disaster. I would request you not impose unreasonable import bans,” said Yoichi Otabe, a Japanese representative to the WTO (see here). He and other officials claimed the bans have no basis in science, and unfairly penalised  Japanese businesses. Whilst the Japanese claims should be examined, it might be sensible to do so in the context that nations importing this food have a responsibility to ensure food safety.

The Japanese are essentially claiming they are the victims of unfair business practices (by foreigners), which has led to economic problems for the areas affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. That narrative begins to unravel when one looks at the domestic rejection of certain food items (the Japanese claim all are due to “rumors”). The cause of most of these “rumors”? The foreign media and the internet. Does this sound familiar? Gaddafi, Assad and many others denied their countries problems were domestic and shifted blame to unnamed foreigners.

A Bloomberg article says “100,000 farmers lost about 58 billion yen ($694 million) by March 1 [2012], or 25 percent of production” ( here). What the report does not do is list a detailed breakdown of the numbers showing fear among Japanese consumers, product restrictions by the Japanese government and restrictions by foreign governments. Without this information one has difficulty in knowing who lost what and why.

Contrast the 58 bn yen losses of Fukushima area farmers with increases in foreign food imports:

B) “Imports of farm products jumped 16 percent to 5.58 trillion yen in 2011”

The first problem is the dates do not match. Sentence A goes to March 2012, but sentence B only to the end of December 2011, a difference of about two months. Second, there is a big difference in numbers, which is not given in its entirety (what is 16% of 5.58 trillion yen? It comes out to about 9.28 billion yen).

Continued in part II of the in-depth look at Japanese food.

Civis Journal

Radioactive soil leads researcher to issue an appeal

April 30, 2012 Comments off

A researcher and science lover who dedicates much time to educating the public on the facts surrounding radiation issued an appeal to the people of Japan after revealing the results of soil analysis conducted on samples he received from several locations in Japan.

Thomas Watson, operator of anti-proton.com, is known for his scientific approach to the topic of radiation and Japan. In his videos he always shows extreme caution and a healthy degree of skepticism when some embers of the public express concern over the radioactive fallout and its effects from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. This is not to say he in any way supported the government’s claims over science; rather it means he has always put the facts that he has had available at the forefront of his discussions. His new video and report, though different from some of his earlier, is no exception to the rule.

Watson made clear that several members of the public residing in Japan sent him soil samples sometime in the past few months for him to have analysed. Though he has chosen not to reveal the identities of the people responsible, he did provide a lot of information about the soil, its analysis and the results for those who visited his website. In other words, he says he is interested in transparency, and the evidence to date indicates he is acting in accord with that statement.

The findings of the soil analysis he posted are disconcerting, to say the least. In the sample from Kashiwa, located close to Tokyo, it showed at least 97,590 Bq/kg of caesium. It is from a drain located at someone’s house, and that person is constantly being exposed to such high rates on a daily basis. In the same area there was a soil sample from a children’s playground. Its levels were over 51,668 Bq/kg. Watson says that it is an active playground in which there are children at play on a regular basis. The other samples come from Shiga and Saga prefectures, and due to the absence of caesium-134 in some of the samples, cannot conclusively be linked to Fukushima fallout at this time.

It is, with the levels in the playground in mind, this which influenced Watson to send an appeal to the Japanese to do something to clean the radioactive fallout out of the areas where these children play in Chiba. This research was funded mostly through funds he came up with, and required an enormous amount of work for a small group of people who would not normally do such things.

Civis Journal

Copy of report here

Watson’s website here

Pro-nuclear arguments under the guise of progress

April 26, 2012 Comments off

This is the cover of the World Economic Forum's report (available here)

The World Economic Forum, a non-profit Geneva based group, recommended that Japan continue to use nuclear power or it would face the possibility that its energy security would be at risk, reports Kyodo.

Received with alarm on April 24, newspapers all over Japan printed this story, giving a lot of space to this organisation’s comments. Few questioned the accuracy of the comment; most just accepted the idea that Japan was headed for energy and economic problems if it decided to end its use of nuclear power. The press is supposed to challenge information released by groups, non-profits or otherwise.

The World Economic Forum’s report, New Energy Architecture: Japan, says

“Decommissioning nuclear power plants is expensive and any rapid change would jeopardize Japan’s energy security and increase its dependence on fossil fuel imports.”

The WEF, however, acknowledges that, in response to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, “the Japanese government has already responded to the concerns of civil society by committing to reduce dependency on nuclear power and promising to find alternatives to non-renewable sources. However, these transition  objectives are not without costs.”

In simple terms, the WEF would appear to be saying “civil society,” or the voters, are very concerned about nuclear energy, and the Japanese government had to address those “concerns” by reducing its use of nuclear power. A government following the wishes of the population is engaging in democracy. Is that a problem?

It might appear that democracy is not the primary concern of the WEF, but it does not state this in its report. Why would it? There are other ways, however, to get the same message across. A look at what it said about Germany might help to illustrate this point. Earlier in its report the WEF criticised Germany’s decision to stop using nuclear power, citing job cuts and a rise in CO2 emissions; it says this would be due to gas and coal being used to generate energy in place of nuclear power plants offline. The WEF said that “environmental impacts may be negative.” That may be true. But, as the report admits, this would be in the short-term, something that is important to distinguish.

First the WEF’s point about jobs losses is one that Germans will not be overly concerned about. “Germany’s jobless rate dropped to a new post-reunification low of 6.7 per cent in March, bucking the trend in other euro zone countries,” reported the Irish Times (here). It is difficult to see how the loss 11,000 thousand jobs (out of 2.84 million) would have any negative impact on the economy, particularly since the nuclear plants – with exception of the Krummel plant – will not all have stopped operating until 2022. Certainly no one wants German workers, or any others, to lose their jobs. But 11,000 is a very low number in the context of the unemployment figures. There is the fact that employees would have advance warning to secure new employment.

Regarding Germany’s long-term energy goals, its renewable energy use would rise from 17% to 35% of its total energy usage by 2020. The WEF stated that this policy was “intended to bring Germany long-term economic and environmental benefits by putting it at the forefront of green technology.” In other words, Germany would be at the forefront of renewable energy (or one of the few); that this position would create new economic opportunities, which would be good for business, which in and of itself would create new jobs far in excess of 11,000. It does not appear, based on the argument presented in the WEF report, that switching from nuclear to renewable energy would have an impact on the economy. Even if one accepts the figure that 11,000 would lose their jobs, is the argument that Germany needs a nuclear industry so they can work a valid one?

The other concern the WEF report raised was the short-term increase in carbon dioxide projected for Germany which, with today’s global warming problems, cannot be taken lightly. The report say that “carbon emissions will also rise, with an increase of between 170 million and 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2011 and 2020, as Germany turns to coal and gas plants to replace nuclear generation in the short-term.”

The numbers 170 to 200 million tonnes of CO2 that the WEF report gave, do not tell the reader very much. The WEF report cited a June 3, 2011 Nature article for this information: “170 million and 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2011 and 2020 (depending on different assumptions about the country’s shifting power mix).” The greater detail in the original source show the numbers are only a guess, and that this guess varies widely depending on the model used to calculate the figures. The numbers are also spread out over nine years – almost a decade – an important variable to consider. Even in Nature’s worst case scenario, the highest figure cited, 400 million tones of CO2, would still not equal even half of one year of Germany’s figure at 829 million metric tonnes of CO2, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. This number is in-line with other figures, though there are a few variations (see figures here & here).

Nature clearly stated the difficulties. It cited “László Varró, head of gas and electricity markets at the International Energy Agency in Paris,” who said: “Without nuclear power, decarbonization is more difficult and more expensive. Varró “predict[ed] that the nuclear phase-out will lead to a surge in lower-carbon gas plants replacing coal plants.” That would cause Germany some difficulties in reducing its long-term CO2 emissions,” but is certainly not impossible, for “if anyone can do it, Germany can,” said Varró.

Reading the WEF report, one might get the impression that Germany would dangerously increase its CO2 emissions and cause problems for global warming by moving away from nuclear power. The evidence the WEF report cited, but did not appear to print in its report, indicated Germany may be able to reduce its long-term CO2 output to pre-1990 levels, with some sacrifices. This would be a major victory for science, not a setback in any way; the WEF report appears to show this as a negative (see Nature article here). Long-term is, without question, the most important consideration, not levels over a few years which may have no great overall impact. How many total tonnes will CO2 have been reduced? If all goes well, despite some temporary increases, the decreases in CO2 will be enough to compensate for them.

Whether its authors use the jobs or CO2 emissions argument, neither seems to raise concerns great enough to suggest Germany’s decision to phase-out nuclear power is somehow in error. This appear to be an argument in support of the pro-nuclear industry, which repeats ad nauseam that “without nuclear power, CO2 emissions cannot be reduced.” Are people supposed to believe that 11,000 jobs and a small temporary increase in CO2 are  more important than “polls showing around 80% of Germans backing Angela Merkel’s decision this year to phase out nuclear faster than planned”? (see here).

Though a “not-for-profit organization that brings these leaders together to work on projects that improve people’s lives,” one would ask if business leaders care about helping people or its profits. Also, what do they mean by “improve”? Its membership might give some idea. The WEF ‘s “members represent the 1,000 leading companies and 200 smaller businesses – many from the developing world.” According to their website, “a typical Member company is one of the world’s foremost 1,000 enterprises with a leading role in shaping the future of its industry or region, a solid projected growth potential and a turnover of a minimum of US$ 5 billion.” Though they claim they are “far from being a ‘rich man’s club,'” it is difficult to take that statement at face value (read here).

Returning to Japan, there are recently published articles that warn a move away from nuclear power “would jeopardize Japan’s energy security and increase its dependence on fossil fuel imports” (see here). This is the opinion of the WEF, which was cited with no comment or scrutiny by most Japanese journalists. This comes from the very same report as the information on Germany. One might want to take these claims with a grain of salt, especially since the Japanese government and businesses are engaged in a war of propaganda to force the Japanese public to accept restarts of the nuclear plants the public prefer to keep closed. “Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, on Monday renewed his call that the government restart idled nuclear reactors as power shortages are anticipated this summer,” reported the Nikkei. The business federation in question is Keidanren, the most influential spokesman for the wealthy companies that want to restart reactors now. In short, there is no convincing evidence a move away from nuclear power will threaten the German or Japanese economy, but there are some who want readers to think so.

Civis Journal

The WEF report can be seen here.