Links 3/16/11

Older female elephants are wiser BBC

The Creature Connection

When the Marketing Reach of Social Media Backfires New York Times

U.S. military blocks websites to help Japan recovery efforts CNN

Latest nuclear plant explosion in Japan raises radiation fears Washington Post

Japanese emperor ‘deeply worried’ BBC

PHOTOS SHOW MASSIVE NUKE PLANT DAMAGE, COOLING OPERATION ABORTED, FEARS GROW AT REACTORS #5 AND #6 Clusterstock. The risk at reactors 5 and 6 is the spent rods pool, the same one we highlighted for reactor 4 in our post earlier. Terrible.

Japan Says 2nd Reactor May Have Ruptured With Radioactive Release New York Times. This is a pretty fresh story and not at all encouraging.

Certainties of Modern Life Upended in Japan New York Times

History resumes MacroBusiness

The Pentagon and Murder in Bahrain Nick Turse, Tomgram

Driver charged after Harbour Bridge soil dump ABC (hat tip reader Skippy) Sydneysider like major stunts when they are not happy! Remember the “no war” painted on the Sydney Opera House?

Wisconsin pension plan among most secure Stateline

Portugal Downgraded, More Cuts Likely Credit Writedowns

FHA Commissioner David Stevens Cannot Serve Two Masters: Fire Him Immediately masaccio, FireDogLake

Small Banks and Debit Interchange Reform: Winners or Losers? Adam Levitin, Credit Slips

Fed Watch: Policy Still on Autopilot, For Now Tim Duy

Deconstructing Structural Unemployment CEPR

In Lehman’s Demise, a Dwindling Chance of Charges New York Times

Antidote du jour:

Screen shot 2011-03-16 at 6.57.14 AM

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  1. Unsympathetic

    Yves, please link to people with knowledge about the Japan nuke situation. Fear-mongering is simply not helpful.

    You’d find out that no containment breech has occurred at any reactor, that the only radiation has been the water surrounding the rods at 2 which is a small amount even for plant workers.

    It is clear that the fire at 4 was NOT a pool fire, it was in the pumping equipment. But hey, believe in big disasters if you want.

    1. Rex

      I’m unsympathetic to your claim of fear mongering. What’s your motivation? Don’t worry, be happy?

      I won’t argue your fine points even though I think there are plenty of details that could be stated justifying the negative point of view.

      I’ll pay your air fare if you are willing to run over to the plant and help them mop up the few minor problems.

      1. jclass

        Sorry for butting into this thread. The spent rods at 5 and 6 are safe. On Tuesday there was an intriguing reference in NHK broadcasts to at least one emergency diesel generator working for number 6 and it is also used to drive pumps for number 5. Reactors 5 and 6 are located somewhat off from the four troubled reactors, so their location might have spared a generator (or two?) from the tsunami. So good news if true and not something they misreported. In addition TEPCO has announced the powerlines to the reactor will soon be restored, allowing outside power to operate the pumps, which is also good news. Unless something unexpected happens again…

        Additionally, in a commentary to a previous post a poster provided some mistaken info about the reactor design. I’m posting a correction in this fresher post where more people can see it. Here’s a cutaway picture of a BWR reactor for reference –,_cutaway.jpg

        The brown thing in the middle is the pressure vessel (PV) with the reactor inside. If you look closely above the PV you can see a yellow-colored layer. This is the top of the steel-walled containment vessel. The PV and CV are not the same thing in other words (correction 1). Snug against the steel walls of the containment vessel is a thick concrete wall. Connected to and offset below the containment vessel is a toroidal space called the suppression pool (a.k.a. wet well). Unfortunately this pool does not have thick concrete walls snug against it. That’s why it’s so scary when Reactor 2 blew a hole there, radioactive water or gas can escape through that hole. Not so much right now, but if the pressure vessel fails… Final line of defence is the rock floor below the containment vessel.

        Correction 2, spent fuel rods are not stored inside the pressure vessel (seriously, think about how asinine that would be). They are stored in a pool on the roof. You can see the pool in the cutaway image.

        Anyhow, I think I’m going to have a lie down now, I’m getting so stressed out lately.

        1. jclass

          Sorry, scrap that about 5 & 6 rods and powerlines. Should have read the updates in the Business Insider article before I posted. Maybe they have a diesel generator for 5 & 6 but they were stupid enough to draw water from the pool to use in the other four. I don’t know, not gonna speculate, I’m tired.

          Reactor layout info is correct however.

          1. Cedric Regula

            Early news reports did sort of imply the spent rod cooling ponds were located inside what I like to call the reactor pressure vessel. They also use the word “containment” when referring to the pressure vessel. This confuses things with the “containment building” wherein the pressure vessel is located. Here in the US this is typically a round cement dome, but now that we get pictures of the prefecture in Japan, we now know there are 6 nuclear reactors housed in separate rectangular, seemingly cement, buildings in this power prefecture.

            And now we know the good news is the pools are located outside the pressure vessel, but inside the containment building. Except that they have sealed lids on them making it difficult to get new water in. And the odd design feature that you can dump water from them into the pressure vessel, but it doesn’t go the other way. (this needs further research, as well)

            And there is a little more new news about about storage pools. There does seem to be at least one very large “common” pool located elsewhere on the site. This receives spent fuel rods when the local storage fills up.

            But the drawing and pictures we’ve been getting lately help a lot.

      1. aet

        Anticipation may be useful where there is some action that can be taken as a result of any foresight produced: but as there is no action here to take, why fear, why ruil n your day, until you positively have to?

        Are your days so numerous, that you can throw your hours away, in speculating and feeding your fear in the absence of knowledge, or of information?

        Fear is only useful if there is SOME action to consider: in this case, we observers are incapable of action.
        So calm is better than agitation; hope is better than fear.

        1. alex

          If you don’t like reading about disasters or potential disasters as they unfold (unless they call for immediate action on your part) then don’t. Why are you telling other people not to?

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            Not sure what I can do, but I also fear for the situation is Bahrain.

            It doesn’t seem to be getting better there.

        2. Jackrabbit

          My response to unsympathetic was not fearful, it was factual.

          The issue I addressed is the accusation that Yves is “fear-mongering.”

          I assure you my day will not be ruined by fear.

          1. Unsympathetic

            It’s fear-mongering to post things about this that aren’t true. Until this morning there was no call to post things about reactors being compromised.

            As to the facts on the ground:

            The reactor CORE was never compromised. The problem with the gen-1 plants from GE is this: You need to have water continuously replacing that which is boiling off so that the core is not exposed. The issue today is that it seems that was not happening.. probably because the fire trucks which would do the pumping of water into the reactors were damaged in the flood.

            A big problem, however, was the Japanese response. What in the ever living flip were they doing trying to BUILD A ROAD to the reactors? The Japanese military has heavy lift helicopters that can carry all-terrain fire trucks and D-8’s.. where were they? Where were the boats to drive near the area loaded with equipment/personnel to get this under control?

            The point is that none of this was happening for the past 6 days, just the same references to 50 people and one fire truck.

            Every ship in the USN has high-capacity portable pumps and generators and hoses to deal with this kind of thing. Japanese should have as well, I would assume. Get them there by helicopter and get the water back going. It could have been done start to finish, flight deck to water flowing in 4 hours… This is such a waste.

            It is sadly ironic that a problem that started from too much water now cannot be solved due to lack of water.

          2. alex

            Unsympathetic: “Until this morning there was no call to post things about reactors being compromised.”

            Until this morning? What are you criticizing people for, anticipating likely scenarios?

            “A big problem, however, was the Japanese response.”

            That may be true, but as a practical matter it doesn’t make the reactors any safer as used. Why weren’t there long formulated plans to use choppers if need be? This is hardly an unforeseeable scenario.

            By no means am I categorically anti-nuke, but I fear that this sort of slipshod safety design and planning will be the death knell of what (technically if not politically) could have been a resurgent nuclear power industry. This is not Chernobyl, that you could write off as the product of a dysfunctional autocracy, this is Japan, where things are supposed to work.

          3. Paul Repstock

            In spite of the name, i think ;’Unsympathetic’ is correct. The “facts” as they are presented, do not make sense. Both the US and Japan have the capability to heli lift both fire trucks and pumps to the scene.

            Meanwhile back at the ranch, the democracy protestors in North Africa are being ignored by the MSM and massacred by their own governments…too perfect..:(


  2. moslof

    Spent fuel pools are an emergency source of water for cooling reactors. As long as the water is returned to the pool everything should be ok. I would be surprised if they did not try this before resorting to seawater from firetrucks.

  3. ep3

    Yves, or anyone else, does this nuclear catastrophe in Japan count as climate change or man-made global warming? Or is it more along the lines of man destroying his environment? Because if you put this incident together with last year’s oil spill, the damage to the environment could be devastating to the planet. And will these types of events continue and get worse? I believe yes they will. It will cause all of this to come to a breaking point. At that point, the oligarchy will have control of all valuable resources (fresh water, safe ground for plants and animals to grow for food). The gov’t is completely hog-tied. And the people that are left, those without severe diseases, will have to fight for the small scraps of resources.
    I fear for the future. No longer is the future a bright sunny possibility. I see a future of endless war skirmishes, ruined landscapes, hopeless people, 2 classes of citizens deeply divided, and a police state, capable of knowing anything and everything about you at any time due to DNA tracking and computers. We are beginning the end of one era. Unfortunately, we have not hit the low point of that end. It’s one of those points in history that we look back and say “when that empire fell, the world was a completely different place” and it was centuries before the world recovered.

  4. Max424

    re: permanent bases in Afghanistan

    If you look at a map of Afghanistan, there is an interesting sliver of Afghan land that stretches east — along the Hindu Kush — to touch a piece of westernmost China.

    If you could place an X-band radar there, on a mountain, say, at the end of the sliver, you would have your eyes looking down on the prize; the most powerful radar system in the world would be peering directly into — sweeping at close range — the ICMB missile fields of Xinjiang province.

    There is a misconception out there, STILL, that Star Wars Defense is an attempt to shoot down bullets with bullets. Nothing could further from the truth. Modern missile defense is just good old fashioned SAM technology, with a twist. Instead of intercepting and destroying enemy fighters with surface-to-air missiles, you are intercepting and destroying ICBMs — either in their boost phase, or in their mid-course correctional phase — with surface-to-air missiles.

    Now, what do you think is a more difficult target to hit; a nimble 4th generation fighter flying evasive maneuvers at Mach 2, or an ICMB, lifting off like a lumbering cow and following a very predictable path to its parabolic crest?

    The shooting down will soon be, if it is not already, the easy part. It is the seeing that is crucial. You must know the exact moment when your adversary’s silos open, and his launch pads go hot. If you have uncluttered vision into your enemy’s camp, then you yourself can green light a first strike, with reasonable expectation that few, if any, of your opponent’s land based ICBMs will reach the critical sub-orbit phase, and MIRV.

    Knock em out as they’re leaving their pads and silos — easy as shooting released quail with shotguns — and you only have to worry about the subs.

    * If your SM-3 first line “defenders” don’t get em all in their boost phase, that’s when your call on your THADs and Patriots to knock em out in space — the mid-course correction intercept. Of course, once those nose cones split, and multiple enemy warheads start their angled descent, then it does, in fact, become a last ditch effort to intercept bullets with bullets. Don’t want that.

  5. CHRSB

    Yves, Please do not try to cover the Japan nuke mess, all of the news is not really news, but rumor.

    Take the Washington Post article “Latest nuclear plant explosion in Japan raises radiation fears”. Who are the people scared? The workers are not scared, they are acting reasonable. Are the people scared? If they are is it reasonable yet?

    And there was a line in that article that said “The blazes triggered fears that spent uranium fuel sitting in a pool above the reactor was burning.” but it did not say WHO was afraid. That is awful reporting and fear mongering!

    If you want a balanced look at what is going on there just read the MIT blog on the incident:

  6. notexactlyhuman

    Yves, Please continue to cover whatever news you deem worthy of, or of concern to, your readers.

    1. Dirk77

      Yes, I think everyone recognizes that Yves is not an expert in nuclear power and so these links and posts should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, the link to the Union of Concerned Scientists explanation of reactor cooling was very enlightening. That MIT site provided by a reader above seems to back up the substance. So it hasn’t become a swamp of speculation on NC yet. (I suggest everyone look at figure 2 of the UofCS link or the first one in the Decay section of the MIT one. Unless they get the generators running, they are going to be dropping water out of helicopters for awhile).

  7. rd

    Economists will be pleased. We have finally discovered a market that is completely free of government intervention that is practising pure Adam Smith economics with the invisible hand of the market working with supply and demand theory to set prices in order to maximize revenue.

    It is ….drum roll please….Somali Pirates.

    There are no government regulations, no subsidies, no taxes (if you don’t count bribes as taxes). If they fail, then they really fail (as in die) unlike Western bankers.

    We should fund US government research of this whereby we can send all of our Board members) to Somalia to study this and make recommendations. I predict that transfer of knowledge and wisdom would crush the piracy threat within a couple of years and we would see our economy improve at the same time.

  8. Hugh

    The David Stevens story is important for a couple of reasons. Stevens was a banking and real estate insider who was brought in to be the Administration’s top guy in housing at HUD, that is he was chosen to represent corporate interests and not those of ordinary Americans. That the Mortgage Bankers Association, the industry’s top trade and lobbying group hired him as their head underlines this in case anyone had any doubts. It’s not so much his being involved in the joke global settlement talks, accepting the job at the MBA, and then staying on for a few weeks in government job is the big conflict of interest. His whole tenure in his dual role at HUD and the FHA has been one long conflict of interest. This is another case of the Obama Administration following in the footsteps of Bush. Bush routinely would find the most pro-business, anti-regulatory person from an industry and put him/her in charge of oversight and regulation of that industry. That’s who David Stevens is and that is why MBA hired him.

  9. Salviati

    Can anyone explain this. Apparently “foreign financial institutions” have requested the Tokyo exchanges to halt trading. What do you think is going on? Is this another unwinding of the yen carry trade or something similar? Earlier I heard that Japanese firms are unloading their foreign assets to pay for the recovery. Is this a sign that the banks may be taking another big hit?

    1. Cedric Regula

      I also heard Jap insurance companies will repatriate offshore investments to pay claims. It makes more sense put that way.

      I didn’t hear that foreign financial institutions were requesting a stock trading halt. What I heard was it is Japan financial institutions, which again makes more sense. Something to do with margin calls.

      There is a major bank in Japan that closed down all it’s ATMs, but no reason given.

      The re-insurance biz is sure to get interesting worldwide.

      The yen carry trade has killed anyone doing that. The yen has spiked against all high yield currencies already.

      Methinks this will be another learning experience about how global financial markets are interlinked. New stuff we will learn, no doubt.

  10. absentsignifier

    Tonight that new guy on CNN was interviewing Thomas Friedman. I had to mute it within five seconds, once billionaire Friedman started explaining the Palestinians to us, so I have no idea what this imperialist lickspittle is going on about now. Couldn’t look at his halfwit pig face either, the neck completely gone now, too many quarter-pounders, probably. Or too much foie gras and black truffles, washed down by $2,500 bottles of 1982 Chateau Margaux. (After all this “reporter” is no ordinary reporter, he’s a *multi-billionaire*, or at least he’s married to one.)

    This is the same guy that told us, in his book _The Lexus and the Olive Tree_ :

    “No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s.”

    Such brilliant insight.

    I tried reading some of his Lexus book, standing up in a bookshop, but could only get through one or two paragraphs.

    So I skimmed through instead, try to learn what the enemy is thinking, glanced at a couple of sentences here and there, for instance: “Globalization has only the Golden Straitjacket. If your country has not been fitted for one, it will be soon.”

    The world can hardly wait.

    And there’s his $9.3 million, 11,400-square-foot house, on a 7 1/2 acres near Bethesda Country Club.

    And he’s won three Pulitzers as foreign correspondent for the New York Times, apparently for writing things like the Iraq war was “unquestionably worth doing” because in the 90s there was a “terrorism bubble”…..and so forth….

    In order to shut him up, could someone please drop Thomas Friedman into the Fukushima power plant. Let him clean radioactive debris with his tongue, without protective gear. Or drop him into Benghazi, disguised as Colonel Q, let him find out firsthand if the world really is flat.

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