Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Nuclear Leaks 34: Fukushima Meets America's Pro-Nuclear Lobby

Image Source: OpEd News.

It has been nearly three years since Japan's nuclear disaster. Just at the moment when ocean-bound pollution from Fukushima is reaching the Pacific coast of North America, with potential but unconfirmed impacts on fisheries and crops, the pro-nuclear lobby has mobilized in the United States. A new documentary is out, Pandora's Promise (2013), which extols the 'green' virtues of nuclear power. Anyone concerned about climate change, the film insists, should promote nuclear energy. Or, to put it another way, if you are anti-carbon, you have to be pro-nuclear. This campaign reveals the ugliness of political plays around the energy business, as it plays down any dangers from Fukushima's fallout.

Robert Stone, producer and director of film, measured energy safety in terms of "deaths per terawatt," that is, how many people die per unit of energy produced. Within the first minute of the film, one narrator instructs the audience that the political outlook of the documentary is "liberal democrat." A liberal political concern for the environment is aligned with the interests of the nuclear industry. Whatever you do, the film enjoins, don't lose your head, don't panic about Fukushima. The director's statement insists that if you want to be a liberal, true and forward-thinking environmentalist, then you must be pro-nuclear:
I’ve considered myself a passionate environmentalist for about as long as I can remember. My mother read me Silent Spring when I was nine and the specter of a Cold War nuclear arms race was not an uncommon topic around the dinner table in my family. So my anti-nuclear and environmental roots run very deep. My first film was an anti-nuclear weapons documentary, Radio Bikini, that premiered at Sundance in 1988 and went on to receive an Oscar® nomination for Feature Documentary. My film Earth Days, which was Closing Night Film at Sundance in 2009, chronicles the rise of the environmental movement of my youth. In the course of making Earth Days I began for the first time to see the deep pessimism that has infused today’s environmental movement, and to recognize the depth of its failure to address climate change. It was initially through getting to know Stewart Brand that I was introduced to a new and more optimistic view of our environmental challenges that was pro-development and pro-technology. From there I began to seek out and discover a small but growing cadre of people around the world who were beginning to stand up and challenge what had become the rigid orthodoxy of modern environmentalism.

It’s no easy thing for me to have come to the conclusion that the rapid deployment of nuclear power is now the greatest hope we have for saving us from an environmental catastrophe. Yet this growing realization has led me to question many of the founding tenets of traditional environmentalism, from the belief that we can dramatically reduce our energy demand through energy efficiency to the belief that solar and wind power will one day power the planet. The almost theological adherence to a set of unquestionable beliefs by most liberals and environmentalists has likely contributed as much or more to prolonging our addiction to fossil fuels as the equally appalling state of denial among many conservatives when it comes to climate change. Both sides are locked into rigid, self-righteous ideological positions with potentially disastrous consequences for us all unless we begin to face the facts.

For the past three years I have devoted almost every waking moment to taking these ideas and shaping them into a documentary about what is perhaps the biggest and most unwieldy subjects imaginable: how do we continue to power human civilization without destroying the environmental conditions that has made modern civilization possible? I knew from the beginning that this film would have to be firmly grounded in personal narrative if it were to have any impact at all on a mass audience. Early on I determined that the film would be framed around a few key individuals who had undergone a dramatic intellectual metamorphosis on the issue of nuclear power, as I, myself had done. The evolution of their apostasy on this issue – their journey from being staunchly anti-nuclear to passionately pro-nuclear -forms the central dramatic arc of the film. My hope is to take the audience on a similar journey of discovery through the process of watching the film.

PANDORA’S PROMISE is without question the most personal and important film of my career. I’ve learned that just about everything I thought I knew about energy turned out to be wrong. And most of what I had been lead to believe about nuclear energy and its historical events turned out to be significantly different from what had really happened.

The making of this film has taken me to four continents on a grand tour of the hidden world of nuclear energy. I’ve been inside the doomed power plant at Chernobyl (the first cameraman to do so, I believe), deep into the Fukushima exclusion zone, and to a popular beach in Brazil that has a naturally occurring background radiation level that’s over 300 times what is considered “normal!” I’ve visited a little known research facility in Idaho where a new kind of reactor was developed 20 years ago that can’t meltdown and is fueled by nuclear waste.

If there was a single ah-ha moment it was when I was granted entry into a room in France (the size of a basketball court) where all the waste from powering 80% of the country for 30 years is stored: four cylindrical tubes 10 meters long and 1 meter wide are all that’s left from powering the city of Paris for 30 years with clean nuclear energy! I thought, “My God, what on Earth were we thinking?”

Robert Stone

April 22, 2013

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Nuclear Leaks 33: Fukushima's Workers, Three Years On

Image Source: Kna Blog.

It has been nearly three years since the Japanese earthquake and nuclear disaster. Some 19,000 people died due to the earthquake and tsunami; short- and long-term casualties from the nuclear fallout are unknown. Those most exposed, of course, are the workers at the site. In November 2013, nuclear critics claimed that several clean-up workers have died but their deaths are not reported, or are not counted if they die while they are away from the plant. Even the famous first responders - the Fukushima 50 - remain unknown and unheralded. In 2013, the BBC spent weeks tracking down one of the first responders, who spoke about that first response team on condition of anonymity:
"The person who sent us back didn't give us any explanation," he says. "It felt like we were being sent on a death mission."

I put it to him that what he and his colleagues did was heroic, that they should feel proud. He shakes his head, a slightly anguished look on his face.

"Ever since the disaster, I haven't had a day when I felt good about myself," he says.

"Even when I'm out with friends, it's impossible to feel happy. When people talk about Fukushima, I feel that I am responsible."
For an outsider, such a reaction is quite hard to fathom. For help, I turn to psychiatrist Dr Jun Shigemura at Japan's national defense university. He is one of two doctors who have studied the Fukushima workers.
His research suggests that half of those who fought the reactor meltdowns are suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms.
"The workers have been through multiple stresses," Dr Shigemura says.
"They experienced the plant explosions, the tsunami and perhaps radiation exposure. They are also victims of the disaster because they live in the area and have lost homes and family members. And the last thing is the discrimination."
Yes, discrimination. Not only are the workers not being celebrated, they are facing active hostility from some members of the public.
"The workers have tried to rent apartments," says Dr Shigemura. "But landlords turn them down, some have had plastic bottles thrown at them, some have had papers pinned on their apartment door saying 'Get out Tepco'."
Image Source: Kna Blog.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Breaking Newspeak's Faustian Bargains

Image Source: Escapist Magazine.

In the new Millennium, online surveillance comes hand-in-hand the media's external imposition upon, and transformation of, internal thought. It is not news that Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) has arrived as a horrendous reality, although the UK is not yet known merely as Airstrip One. In some ways, the arrival is so horrendous that a portion of the public lives day by day in denial or willful ignorance, because it is easier to believe that things are not as bad as that. On 3 March 2014, Toronto Star columnist reported on the GCHQ collection of Yahoo users' video feeds and insisted, yes, it is as bad as that; we are living in a science fiction novel, where our own word processors are subject to outside control:
Whenever British journalist Luke Harding, working on his new book about spying whistleblower Edward Snowden, wrote something disparaging about the NSA, a weird thing would happen.
“The paragraph I had just written began to self-delete. The cursor moved rapidly from the left, gobbling text. I watched my words vanish,” Harding wrote in the Guardian this week.
The deletes kept happening for weeks. “All authors expect criticism,” wrote Harding, author of the new and astounding The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man. “But criticism before publication by an anonymous, divine third party is something novel.”
Finally, Harding politely asked whoever was doing it to consider stopping. A month later, they finally did.
He has no idea who did this. Were they American or British, a hacker or an offended National Security Agency analyst? We know they were reading Harding’s words as they were written but were they also watching him via a Skype-like device?
The news that GCHQ— the British surveillance agency that teams with the NSA and spy agencies in other allied “Five Eyes” nations, including Canada — has been intercepting and storing Yahoo webcam chats globally is eerie. We knew they could read what you typed, we suspect they can do this in real time, but now the massive Snowden leaked papers reveal that they can watch you talking to your nearest and dearest. Worse, you may have been naked at the time.
A program codenamed Optic Nerve gathered millions of stills from webcam chats between 2008 and 2010 and sent them in for viewing. In one six-month period alone, Optic Nerve scooped up images from more than 1.8 million Yahoo accounts around the world, the Guardian has reported.
Yahoo says it knew nothing of this.
In effect, people’s computer screens have become devices from Nineteen Eighty-Four where humans watch a screen that watches them back. But at least Winston Smith knew he was being watched.
In case you would like to know, the word processor that Guardian journalist Luke Harding was using was OpenOffice, which plainly lives up to its name. The Guardian has been in the thick of the Snowden leaks from the beginning. Harding admits that the entire staff felt paranoid. This post asks whether Orwell's dystopia is really here; or whether his Nineteen Eighty-Four world can still become a 'near miss,' a terrible alternate history that can still be narrowly avoided.

Nuclear Technology Course Online

This blog often covers nuclear topics. For those who would like to learn more, the University of Pittsburgh is offering a free online course in Nuclear Science and Technology (Hat tip: Nuke Pro). The course starts on 3 March 2014 (there are future rounds as well) and runs for eight weeks in English and with subtitles. You can sign up here. All it will cost you is the textbook, which is here. It is also available at many different libraries, listed here (get the 1992 second edition or its 2008 reprint). And you might need to brush up on your basic physics and differential equations.

See all my posts on Nuclear topics.