Finland – In a groundbreaking study Awara Group reveals that the real GDP growth of Western countries has been in negative territory for years. Only by massively loading up debt have they been able to hide the true picture and delay the onset of an inevitable collapse of their respective economies. The study shows that the real GDP of those countries hides hefty losses after netting the debt figures, which gives the Real-GDP-net-of-debt.
The moral of the study is that GDP growth figures as such reveal very little about the underlying dynamics of an economy if one does not simultaneously attempt to analyze what part of the growth is credited to simply artificially fueling the economy with new loans.
The study has found that the Western countries have lost the capacity to grow their economies. All they have left is a capacity to pile up debts. By massively accumulating new debt, they are able to keep up a semblance of at least sluggish growth, or of hovering around the zero growth mark.
If this massive debt would go towards investments, then there would be nothing wrong with it. But, it is not. The debt is going towards financing the losses in the national economies and essentially it all is wasted on consumption that the countries in reality cannot afford. The Western countries act like a 19th century heir to aristocratic wealth, borrowing from year to year to keep up the former lifestyle, while the estate is relentlessly dwindling. Sooner or later the prodigal heir would be forced to face reality and sell the remaining property to stave off the creditors, downgrade his dwellings, and rein in spending. Inevitably, the European countries and the USA will have to curb their excessive consumption, too, but for the time being they are putting off the final reckoning with new debt rather the way a drunkard reaches for the morning after drink to put off sobering up. In the case of the EU and the USA, we are speaking about a debt binge that has been going on for a decade.
While the situation has been generally bad for the last decade or so, it took a dramatic turn for the worse, or should we say for the catastrophic, following the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008. The shocking figures depicting the virtual crippling of the Western economies from 2009 to 2013 are illustrated in Chart 1. It depicts the development of real-GDP-growth per country in years 2005 to 2013. The chart shows that during this period Russia has been able to deliver real non-debt fueled GDP growth, whereas the Western countries are running huge deficits. The accumulated growth of the Russian economy from 2005 to 2013 was 147% while the Western countries accumulated losses from 16.5% (Germany) to 58% (USA). In the case of Russia, the real-GDP-net-of-debt figure is also corrected to adjust for the calculation error caused by an erroneous GDP deflator that Russian Statistics Agency (Rosstat) has used. We have discussed the persistent problem of Russia’s GDP growth having been underestimated due to the use of a wrong GDP deflator in the study Awara Group Research on the Effects of Putin’s Tax Reforms 2000-2012 on State Tax Revenue and GDP
Chart 2 shows the real GDP growth net-of-debt after deducting the growth of public debt from the GDP figure. Net of debt we see the scale of the Western economies, for example the Spanish economy, which amounts to the staggering figure of minus 56.3%. This while the conventional official method of crediting GDP growth with growth of debt would give only minus 6.7%.
The analysis shows that by these measures Russian economic growth, unlike that of the Western countries, has been comparatively healthy and not debt-driven. Russia has in fact a resoundingly positive ratio by these measures, where GDP growth has exceeded growth of debt by a staggering 14 times (1400%). The figure is astonishing when compared with the Western countries that have been flooded with new debt.
Chart 3 shows how much the accumulation of debt in the Western countries exceeds the official GDP growth. The USA is leading the pack with an increase in the debt load in years 2004 to 2013 of USD 9.8 trillion (in the chart in euros, EUR 7 trillion). In those years, the growth of the USA public debt exceeded the GDP growth 9 times (900%), which is illustrated by Chart 4, comparing the proportion of growth of debt to that of growth of GDP.
The comparison of growth of debt to growth of GDP reveals the UK, as the country that has amassed the most amount of new debt relative to GDP growth, having a new-debt-to-GDP-growth ratio of 9 to 1; in other words UK has taken on 900% new debt relative to the GDP growth. But the picture is grim for all the Western countries surveyed, less so for Germany, while Russia’s debt increase amounts to only a fraction of the GDP growth.
The analysis shows that by these measures Russian economic growth, unlike that of the Western countries, has been comparatively healthy and not debt-driven. Russia has in fact a resoundingly positive ratio by these measures, where GDP growth has exceeded growth of debt by a staggering 14 times (1400%). The figure is astonishing when compared with the Western countries that have been flooded with new debt.
The above figures are adjusted taking into account public debt (general government debt), but the situation is even worse when we consider the effect of private debt on the GDP. New debt of corporations and households have at least doubled private debt of most of the Western countries since year 1996 (Chart 5).
Reviewing these figures, it becomes evident that in reality Western economies have not grown in the past decade, rather the countries have massively inflated their debt load. With these levels of debt reached this cannot continue for long. There is a real risk that the bluff will be called sooner rather than later dropping the Western economies to GDP levels that they can carry without debt leverage. But in that situation they will not be able to serve the accumulated debts leading to catastrophe scenarios.
We have not included Japan and China in the analysis due to the difficulties attributed to finding consistent data for all the input variables. For those countries we have come across problems of fractured data that do not capture all the relevant years; inconsistent data across the samples we looked at; and uncertainties about conversion of the input data into euros. (We are sure that major research houses could overcome such problems, having greater and more sophisticated resources than ours). This exclusion of Japan and China is regrettable as Japan is the country worst affected by the problem of debt-fueled GDP growth, having a public debt to GDP ratio of well above 200%, and would therefore have been very instructive for our purposes.
Japan has been essentially living on debt since the early 1990’s. However, some of the more irrational Western analysts want to take Japan as a prime example to follow, arguing that since Japan has been able to pile up debt for some 25 years now, all the Western countries would be able to do it as well for the foreseeable future. In this they fail to grasp that Japan earlier had the luxury of being the sole country living on such exorbitant levels of debt. Japan has enjoyed great support from the Western countries to be able to continue that practice, not least for political reasons. Another important consideration against the idea that Western countries could continue to accumulate debt is that they have, since the early 1990’s, rapidly lost their economic hegemony in terms of share of world trade and global GDP. I have written about this in a recent article entitled Why the West is Destined to Decline.
The West is fast shrinking in economic significance relative to the rest of the world. This is demonstrated by comparing the GDP of the Western powers as represented by the G7 countries (USA, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Italy and Canada) with the GDP of emerging powers. As recently as 1990, the combined GDP of the G7 was overwhelming in relation to that of today’s 7 emerging powers: China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and South Korea (not necessarily constituting one political block). In 1990, the G7 countries had a combined GDP of USD 14.4 trillion and the emerging 7 had a GDP of USD 2.3, but by 2013 the tables had been turned, as the G7 had USD 32 trillion and the emerging 7 had USD 35 trillion. (Chart 6).
With the challenge of the ever increasing share of world economy belonging to the emerging countries, it becomes clear that the Western countries will not be able to profit sufficiently from world trade to service their debt loads.
For the time being the Western countries benefit from the privilege of having currencies that the rest of the world still largely trusts as reserve currencies. In essence, the USD and the euro enjoy a kind of monopoly status. This is what allows Western countries to gain access to cheap debt and fuel their economies with central bank financing (quantitative easing or “printing of money”). But the risk is that, with the deteriorating debt situation and diminishing share of the global economy, they will forfeit this privilege, perhaps even in the near future. What would follow from this is sharply more expensive financing and inflation, with hyperinflation as the eventual outcome. In this scenario – which I consider inevitable over the next 5 to 10 years – the economies of Western countries would essentially collapse.
The problem is that there is no way of averting this scenario, because the Western powers have lost their competitive advantages as economic powers. Eventually, their economies must shrink to match their resource and population bases. (I have written about this in the article referred to above). But it seems that the ruling Western elites have no intention of facing up to these realities. They will try to keep up a semblance of prosperity with ever new debt, as long as they can. The political parties of the West have been essentially converted into voting machines with one singular concern – that of winning the next elections. To do that they will continue to engage in what amounts to bribing of the electorate – creating new debt that fuels the national economy.
But there is no way to turn back this historical tide. Just as the aristocrat of the old regime eventually squandered his legacy, so will the Western powers. This inevitability of the process is what makes it really scary, because I am afraid that the Western elite might be tempted to bail itself out from this doomsday scenario with a war of epic proportions. We are now truly approaching the Armageddon between the West, with its desperate economic circumstances, and the emerging world powers.
Jon Hellevig is a business consultant and economic and political observer. He is the co-editor and co-author of Putin’s New Russia and several books on philosophy and political and social sciences.
The Japanese government has pushed back imposing new sanctions on Russia, which it planned to impose on Friday, in expectation of a possible meeting of foreign ministers next week.
The Japanese media reported Thursday of Tokyo’s intention to issue additional sanctions against Russia. The move was discussed on Tuesday at a National Security Council meeting and was expected to be announced on Friday, but according to The Japan Times the government is yet to make a final decision.
The implementation could be postponed until at least next week, when Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida may meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Tokyo wants to give Moscow more time to respond to the reports of the looming sanctions, the newspaper said.
Japan imposed sanctions on Russia in March as a gesture of solidarity with the US and the EU, which are championing a policy of punishing Russia for its stance on the crisis in Ukraine. Tokyo suspended talks with Moscow over visa restrictions, investment, space cooperation and military tension prevention. It also targeted 40 individuals from Russia and Ukraine with asset freezes and travel bans.
The new round of sanctions was expected to be individual rather than sectorial.
Over 3 years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, there is virtually no health research being conducted or released on harm to the Japanese. An April report by a UN committee tried to sweep the issue under the rug, predicting any harmful effects of the catastrophe is “unlikely.”
The UN panel made a very broad assumption about the worst nuclear catastrophe in history (or worst since Chernobyl) – and did this BEFORE research is done. However, a local health study raises alarm bells. Fukushima Medical University found 46% of local children have a pre-cancerous nodule or cyst, and 130 have thyroid cancer, vs. 3 expected. Incredibly, the University corrupts science by asserting the meltdown played no role in these high figures.
But Japanese studies must go far beyond childhood thyroid diseases. Japan isn’t the only site to study, as the fallout from the meltdown spread across the northern hemisphere.
In 2011, we estimated 13,983 excess U.S. deaths occurred in the 14 weeks after Fukushima, when fallout levels were highest – roughly the same after Chernobyl in 1986. We used only a sample of deaths available at that time, and cautioned not to conclude that fallout caused all of these deaths.
Final figures became available this week. The 2010-2011 change in deaths in the four months after Fukushima was +2.63%, vs. +1.54% for the rest of the year. This difference translates to 9,158 excess deaths – not an exact match for the 13,983 estimate, but a substantial spike nonetheless.
Again, without concluding that only Fukushima caused these deaths, some interesting patterns emerged. The five Pacific and West Coast states, with the greatest levels of Fukushima fallout in the U.S., had an especially large excess. So did the five neighboring states (Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Utah), which received the next highest levels.
Most of the spring 2011 mortality increase were people over 80. Many of these elderly were in frail health; one possibility is that the added exposure to radioactive poison sped the dying process.
Fukushima radiation is the same as fallout from atom bomb explosions, releasing over 100 chemicals not found in nature. The radioactive chemicals enter the body as a result of precipitation that gets into the food chain. Once in the body, these particles harm or kill cells, leading to disease or death.
Once-skeptical health officials now admit even low doses of radiation are harmful. Studies showed X-rays to pregnant women’s abdomens raised the risk of the child dying of cancer, ending the practice. Bomb fallout from Nevada caused up to 212,000 Americans to develop thyroid cancer. Nuclear weapons workers are at high risk for a large number of cancers.
Rather than the UN Committee making assumptions based on no research, medical research on changes in Japanese disease and death rates are needed – now, in all parts of Japan. Similar studies should be done in nations like Korea, China, eastern Russia, and the U.S. Not knowing Fukushima’s health toll only raises the chance that such a disaster will be repeated in the future.
Joseph Mangano is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
Janette D. Sherman MD is an internist and toxicologist, and editor of Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.
South Korea’s senior presidential secretary said on Wednesday that visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye will exchange notes on detailed measures towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula during their upcoming summit talks.
Ju Chul-ki, senior foreign affairs and security advisor to Park, told a press briefing on Wednesday that the two leaders will discuss the Trust-Building Process on the Korean Peninsula, a key policy measure of the Park government.
China and South Korea will release a joint cooperation document paper and ink deals in trade, finance, environment and consular affairs during the Chinese President’s state visit.
Xi will make a two-day state visit to Seoul to hold a summit with Park Thursday and meet with National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa and Prime Minister Chung Hong-won Friday.
“The two sides will also exchange views on maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told a press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.
The upcoming China-South Korea summit talks will aim to empower efforts to solve the Peninsula nuclear issue and deter possible provocations from North Korea, Park’s advisor said.
Xi and Park are also expected to discuss the recent move by the Japanese government to end its post-war pacifist outlook.
The Japanese cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, decided Tuesday to reinterpret its 67-year-old pacifist constitution to allow itself to exercise collective self-defense right.
The revision paved the way for Japanese forces to fight abroad in defense of “countries with close ties.”
Japan also provoked South Korea on June 20 by unveiling the results of its review on the Kono Statement, which acknowledged and apologized for its wartime sex slavery.
The results said Seoul intervened in the wording of the 1993 apology, indicating it was the consequence of closed-door political dealings.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye criticized Japan for attempting to undermine the credibility of its 1993 apology over wartime sexual enslavement of women during World War II, describing the move as an “act that betrayed trust between the nations”, says a Yonhap report.
Xi and Park are also expected to push for speeding up negotiations for the bilateral free trade pact and setting up a market to directly exchange currencies of the two countries.
The corporate media silence on Fukushima has been deafening even though the melted-down nuclear power plant’s seaborne radiation is now washing up on American beaches.
Ever more radioactive water continues to pour into the Pacific.
At least three extremely volatile fuel assemblies are stuck high in the air at Unit 4. Three years after the March 11, 2011, disaster, nobody knows exactly where the melted cores from Units 1, 2 and 3 might be.
Amid a dicey cleanup infiltrated by organized crime, still more massive radiation releases are a real possibility at any time.
Radioactive groundwater washing through the complex is enough of a problem that Fukushima Daiichi owner Tepco has just won approval for a highly controversial ice wall to be constructed around the crippled reactor site. No wall of this scale and type has ever been built, and this one might not be ready for two years. Widespread skepticism has erupted surrounding its potential impact on the stability of the site and on the huge amounts of energy necessary to sustain it. Critics also doubt it would effectively guard the site from flooding and worry it could cause even more damage should power fail.
Meanwhile, children nearby are dying. The rate of thyroid cancers among some 250,000 area young people is more than 40 times normal. According to health expert Joe Mangano, more than 46 percent have precancerous nodules and cysts on their thyroids. This is “just the beginning” of a tragic epidemic, he warns.
There is, however, some good news—exactly the kind the nuclear power industry does not want broadcast.
When the earthquake and consequent tsunami struck Fukushima, there were 54 commercial reactors licensed to operate in Japan, more than 12 percent of the global total.
As of today, not one has reopened. The six at Fukushima Daiichi will never operate again. Some 30 older reactors around Japan can’t meet current safety standards (a reality that could apply to 60 or more reactors that continue to operate here in the U.S.).
As part of his desperate push to reopen these reactors, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shuffled the country’s regulatory agencies, and removed at least one major industry critic, replacing him with a key industry supporter.
But last month a Japanese court denied a corporate demand to restart two newer reactors at the Ooi power plant in Fukui prefecture. The judges decided that uncertainty about when, where and how hard the inevitable next earthquake will hit makes it impossible to guarantee the safety of any reactor in Japan.
In other words, no reactor can reopen in Japan without endangering the nation, which the court could not condone.
Such legal defeats are extremely rare for Japan’s nuclear industry, and this one is likely to be overturned. But it dealt a stunning blow to Abe’s pro-nuke agenda.
In Fukushima’s wake, the Japanese public has become far more anti-nuclear. Deep-seated anger has spread over shoddy treatment and small compensation packages given downwind victims. In particular, concern has spread about small children being forced to move back into heavily contaminated areas around the plant.
Under Japanese law, local governments must approve any restart. Anti-nuclear candidates have been dividing the vote in recent elections, but the movement may be unifying and could eventually overwhelm the Abe administration.
A new comic book satirizing the Fukushima cleanup has become a nationwide best-seller. The country has also been rocked by revelations that some 700 workers fled the Fukushima Daiichi site at the peak of the accident. Just a handful of personnel were left to deal with the crisis, including the plant manager, who soon thereafter died of cancer.
In the meantime, Abe’s infamous, intensely repressive state secrets act has seriously constrained the flow of technical information. At least one nuclear opponent is being prosecuted for sending a critical tweet to an industry supporter. A professor jailed for criticizing the government’s handling of nuclear waste has come to the U.S. to speak.
The American corporate media have been dead silent or, alternatively, dismissive about the radiation now washing up on our shores, and about the extremely dangerous job of bringing intensely radioactive fuel rods down from their damaged pools.
Fukushima’s General Electric reactors feature spent fuel pools perched roughly 100 feet in the air. When the tsunami hit, thousands of rods were suspended over Units 1, 2, 3 and 4.
According to nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, the bring-down of the assemblies in Unit 4 may have hit a serious snag. Gundersen says that beginning in November 2013, Tokyo Electric Power removed about half of the suspended rods there. But at least three assemblies may be stuck. The more difficult half of the pile remains. And the pools at three other units remain problematic. An accident at any one of them could result in significant radiation releases, which have already far exceeded those from Chernobyl and from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
At least 300 tons of heavily contaminated Fukushima water still pour daily into the Pacific. Hundreds more tons are backed up on site, with Tepco apologists advocating they be dumped directly into the ocean without decontamination.
Despite billions of dollars in public aid, Tepco is still the principal owner of Fukushima. The “cleanup” has become a major profit center. Tepco boasted a strong return in 2013. Its fellow utilities are desperate to reopen other reactors that netted them huge annual cash flow.
Little of this has made its way into the American corporate media.
New studies from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have underscored significant seismic threats to American commercial nuclear sites. Among those of particular concern are two reactors at Indian Point just north of New York City, which sit near the highly volatile Ramapo Fault, and two at Diablo Canyon, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, directly upwind of California’s Central Valley.
The U.S. industry has also suffered a huge blow at New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project. Primarily a military dump, this showcase radioactive waste facility was meant to prove that the industry could handle its trash. No expense was spared in setting it up in the salt caverns of the desert southwest, officially deemed the perfect spot to dump the 70,000 tons of high-level fuel rods now backed up at American reactor sites.
But an explosion and highly significant radiation release at the pilot project last month has contaminated local residents and cast a deep cloud over any future plans to dispose of American reactor waste. The constant industry complaint that the barriers are “political” is absurd.
While the American reactor industry continues to suck billions of dollars from the public treasury, its allies in the corporate media seem increasingly hesitant to cover the news of post-Fukushima Japan.
In reality, those gutted reactors are still extremely dangerous. An angry public, whose children are suffering, has thus far managed to keep all other nukes shut in Japan. If they keep them down permanently, it will be a huge blow to the global nuke industry—one you almost certainly won’t see reported in the American corporate media.
Fallout from Fukushima? A re-make of Godzilla! That’s the good news
There’s not much new to say about Fukushima. It remains an out of control disaster with as yet unmeasurable dimensions that continue to expand. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that everything new about Fukushima is just the same-old same-old getting worse at an uneven and unpredictable rate. Either way, it’s not good and, while it’s worse in degree, it’s not yet apparently worse in kind, so that’s one reason you don’t hear that much about it in the news these days.
Whatever the full truth is about Fukushima, it’s probably unknowable at present. And it might remain unknowable even if there was total transparency, even if there were no corporate, institutional, governmental, and other layers of secrecy protecting such enemies of the common good as profit, capital investment, and weapons development.
Secrecy and false reassurance have always been an integral part of the nuclear industry in all its manifestations. In January 2014, Tokyo Shimbun reported yet another example of nuclear opposition to honesty: the Fukushima prefecture government and the government-run Fukushima Medical University signed a secrecy agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a United Nations agency that “is committed to applying the highest ethical standards in carrying out its mandate,” or so it claims. The IAEA’s press release about the agreement is bland and inoffensive. According to Shimbun, each party to the agreement has the right to designate any information as confidential, specifically mentioning data about thyroid cancer in children or other facts that might “stir up anxiety of residents.”
Here are some other elements of SNAFUkushima that might stir up anxieties of residents and non-residents alike:
Radioactive Water is Beyond Control and Unmeasured
Clean groundwater has been flowing into the Fukushima nuclear plant complex since before the earthquake/tsunami of March 11, 2011, led to the meltdown of three of the four reactors at Fukushima Daiichi and the cold shutdown of the two reactors at Fukushima Daini at the same site. Once clean groundwater enters the site, some portion (or perhaps all) of it is contaminated by radioactivity, primarily from the three melted down reactors.
Additional clean water is pumped into the site to keep the melted down reactors from further melting down, as well as to keep the nuclear fuel stored in fuel pools from starting to melt down. All of this water is radioactively contaminated.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese government, essentially co-owners of the Fukushima complex, together with their subcontractors, have been collecting some of the radioactive water in steel tanks on site. Some, perhaps hundreds, of the 1,000-plus tanks have leaked.
Radioactive water has flowed from the Fukushima complex into the Pacific Ocean continuously since March 11, 2011. The flow rate varies, most likely, but no one knows what the rate is and there is no reliable system in place to measure the flow. There is also no reliable system in place to measure the intensity of the radiation, which also most likely varies.
TEPCO’s plan since 2013 has been to use an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to treat the water in the holding tanks before releasing it into the Pacific. The processing system reduces the water’s radioactivity, but does not remove it all. After treatment, 62 nuclides, including Strontium and Plutonium, are supposed to be removed, but the water retains high levels of Tritium. As of May 2014, the ALPS treatment plan has not been implemented, has suffered several breakdowns, and is now more than six months behind schedule.
Radioactive Water Dumping Began at Fukushima on May 21
TEPCO, in a press release, said “we have commenced operation of the groundwater bypass.” TEPCO said it was releasing 560 tons (more than 150,000 gallons) of groundwater that is within “safe” radiation levels directly into the Pacific. TEPCO hopes to divert and release 100 tons (26,900 gallons) of groundwater every day. The Shanghai Daily reported that:
TEPCO said the levels of radioactivity of the groundwater being released were within legal radiation safety limits and will follow the World Health Organizations guidelines that groundwater for such releases should contain less than 1 becquerel per liter of cesium-134 and cesium-137, 5 becquerels of beta ray-emitting radioactive material.
Groundwater flowing into the disabled reactor buildings is estimated at 400 tons (over 107,000 gallons) per day.
TEPCO and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) consider this bypass release process less dangerous than collecting contaminated water in tanks that leak. Despite approving the start of TEPCO’s plan, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, Sunichi Tanaka, has reportedly slammed TEPCO for incorrectly measuring levels of radioactive materials in groundwater at its Daiichi facility. Tanaka has said that even though three years has passed since the reactor meltdowns at the plant, TEPCO is still “utterly inept” when it comes to taking accurate readings of radioactivity at and around its facilities and “lacks a basic understanding of measuring and handling radiation.”
The Unit 4 Spent Fuel Pool Still has Disaster Potential
In March 2011, the unit 4 reactor didn’t melt down because all its nuclear fuel rod assemblies had been removed for re-fueling, so they were stored in the unit’s spent fuel pool. But the fuel pool was about 100 feet above the ground and the earthquake/tsunami and subsequent explosions at the Fukushima left the fuel pool’s 1535 fuel assemblies in a precarious situation in an unstable building. An accident as bad as a meltdown, or worse, hasn’t happened yet, but remains possible as long as the fuel pool holds a substantial number of fuel assemblies.
TEPCO started to remove fuel assemblies in late 2013, moving them to safer fuel pools on the ground. Removal is scheduled to be complete before the end of 2014. But TEPCO said it had removed only 9 percent of the spent fuel so far and the delicate, dangerous process continues.
[On May 20-21, the internet was rife with reports of an explosion and fire at unit 4 on May 20, a claim that was based on a less than persuasive video. As of this writing, there seems to be no credible confirmation of an explosion or fire at unit 4.]
Radioactive Contamination Spreads, But Threat Level Uncertain
Reports of radioactively contaminated fish have increased during the past two years, but there is as yet no systematic testing by any government or corporate or even non-profit program that comprehensively measures the threat in any reliable manner (hardly an easy task since the fish and the water in the Pacific are in motion all the time). Anecdotal reports of Fukushima fish and other anomalies include:
• ALBECORE TUNA caught off Oregon and Washington state from 2008 to 2012 suggested a tripling of tuna-borne radiation in post-Fukushima fish, according to an April 30, 2014, report. But one researcher said that even the elevated level was only one-tenth of one per cent of the level for concern set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
• CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION issued a report April 30 that both minimized the current threat of radiation from Fukushima and also called for further research into the effects of low level radiation on humans and for reliable radiation monitoring supported by government. The report noted that the release of radiation from Fukushima continues with no end in sight. The report also said, without apparent irony, that people on the west coast were still in less danger from Fukushima radiation than from the residual radiation from nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific 50 years and more ago.
• MUTATION AND PREMATURE DEATH in butterflies caused by Fukushima levels of residual radiation was demonstrated by Japanese researchers, in a report published by Nature, as reported May 15 by Smithsonian.com. The researchers wrote: “We conclude that the risk of ingesting a polluted diet is realistic, at least for this butterfly, and likely for certain other organisms living in the polluted area.” A field study around Fukushima has shown a decrease in the population of these butterflies and other insects.
• THYROID CANCER in children from Fukushima has reached a higher than normal level. A May 19 story reported that 50 newly documented thyroid cancer cases represented about a 50% increase since February.
* DENIAL IN JAPAN surfaced in the form criticism of “Gourmets,” a food-oriented comic that included a storyline in which characters, who are culinary writers, visited the Fukushima complex and then fell ill and developed nosebleeds. According to Art Review on May 19, the food comic editor said the story “was a well-meaning attempt to highlight the fact that parts of Fukushima were dangerous, and that people were reluctant to complain themselves.” Criticism of the story was based on the fear that it would damage the Fukushima region’s people and products, food products especially. The corporate publisher, Shogakukan Inc., has suspended the comic series indefinitely. Japan Times reports on a nuclear researcher:
Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, says that from a medical point of view the connection between nosebleeds and radiation exposure can’t be entirely ruled out…. He adds: “The government is not only indifferent to taking responsibility for the accident, but determined to erase it from people’s memory.” Such irresponsibility, he insists, is “almost criminal.”
Meanwhile, municipalities including Osaka and Fukushima prefectures and the town of Futaba have lodged complaints with the publisher.
• HONESTY IN JAPAN appeared in The Asahi Shimbun May 20, with a previously suppressed, 400-page report that some 650 workers at Fukushima Daiichi fled the complex in the midst of the crisis. These 650 workers represent about 90 per cent of the workforce. Prior to this revelation, the official story, promulgated by media worldwide, had created the impression that workers at Fukushima remained on site, showing great personal courage during the crisis. Even after the official story was exposed as 90% false, TEPCO refused to criticize any of its workers.
Commenting on this story May 21, a Shimbun columnist noted that: “If the facts are hidden and treated as if they never happened, the Fukushima crisis will never be understood in its entirety, and no real lessons can be learned from the disaster.” The same day, a Japanese court ruled against re-starting two nuclear reactors at Fukui in western Japan. The court ruled that the two reactors represented a serious risk to the public in the event of an earthquake. The power company said it would appeal the ruling. The prime minister said the ruling would not change his plans to re-start all of Japan’s nuclear reactors.
Who actually wants to learn any “real lessons” from Fukushima?
The struggle between lying and telling the truth about SNAFUkushima seems likely to continue for a long time, especially with the Japanese government pressing to re-start its nuclear reactors and with few countries or world organizations willing to close the curtain on the nuclear age. But truth still has a constituency. In April, Katsutagka Idogawa, former mayor of Futaba in Fukushima prefecture, spoke out against the government’s efforts to force former residents to return home despite radiation contamination:
Fukushima Prefecture has launched the Come Home campaign. … Air contamination decreased a little, but soil contamination remains the same. And there are still about two million people living in the prefecture, who have all sorts of medical issues. The authorities claim this has nothing to do with the fallout….
I remember feeling so deeply for the victims of the Chernobyl tragedy that I could barely hold back the tears whenever I heard any reports on it. And now that a similar tragedy happened in Fukushima, the biggest problem is that there is no one to help us. They say it’s safe to go back… while in reality the radiation is still there. This is killing children. They die of heart conditions, asthma, leukemia, thyroiditis… Lots of kids are extremely exhausted after school; others are simply unable to attend PE classes. But the authorities still hide the truth from us, and I don’t know why. Don’t they have children of their own?
Idogawa described his own symptoms, consistent with radiation poisoning, symptoms that persist even though he’s moved to another prefecture. He says he’s not getting treatment now and there’s no place to go for help: “The nearest hospital refused to treat me. So I’m trying to restore my health through nutrition.”
The Japanese government allowed Fukushima residents to start returning to their homes as of April 1, saying that it was safe. It was not safe. The government lied. On April 16, Asahi Shimbun reported some of the government’s lies that put people at risk.
“The same thing happened with Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Idogawa said: “The authorities lied to everyone. They said it was safe. They hid the truth…. Japan has some dark history.” And so does the rest of the world.
MOSCOW – The public comment period for Japan’s new draft energy policy resulted in more than 90 percent of respondents saying they oppose the nuclear portion of the plan, Japan’s second largest newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, reported.
The newspaper reviewed the public comments to the draft of the first post-Fukushima basic energy policy, released by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in early December. The respective comments, gathered throughout a month, were disclosed in February and counted by Asahi Shimbun with the goal of identifying the proportion of negative and positive public reactions.
The 2,109 emails counted by Asahi Shimbun revealed that 95.2 percent opposed nuclear power generation, with as few as 33 responses arguing in favor of government energy policy including nuclear power.
Though shocking in terms of disregard to the public will, the results of the survey are consistent with the determination of the Abe administration to stick to the pro-nuclear policy. Even a recent ruling by the Fukui District Court against a restart of a nuclear reactor currently offline was identified as a “minor setback” to the energy policy draft by the Japanese government.
Japan agreed to transfer a share of its highly enriched uranium and weapons grade plutonium stockpiles to the US as part of the global effort to secure nuclear materials. Other nations are also urged to deposit excess nuclear materials in the US.
On the eve of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, US and Japanese leaders arranged a deal on “final disposition” in the US of well over 300 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium and an unspecified quantity of highly enriched uranium (HEU) that will be “sent to a secure facility and fully converted into less sensitive forms.”
This quantity of plutonium is enough to produce 40-50 warheads. The total quantity of HEU currently stocked in Japan is estimated at approximately 1.2 tons. According to The New York Times, some 200 kilograms of HEU is currently designated for the US.
After Barack Obama announced in Prague in 2009 an ambitious agenda to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” the American president has been pressing his foreign counterparts, both in Asia and Europe, demanding they either get rid of their excess nuclear materials via the US, or tighten security of stockpiles at home.
Two more countries, Belgium and Italy, have also agreed to hand over excess nuclear materials to the US and issued separate joint statements with the White House, Reuters reported.
“This effort involves the elimination of hundreds of kilograms of nuclear material, furthering our mutual goal of minimizing stocks of HEU and separated plutonium worldwide, which will help prevent unauthorized actors, criminals, or terrorists from acquiring such materials,” US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a joint statement released by the White House on Monday.
There is no information whether the deal between Japan and the US has a financial side; nuclear materials, of course, have a solid market value.
After the Russian-American HEU-LEU agreement came to an end in 2013, the US nuclear power generation industry is likely to face a sharp fuel price surge and shortage.
For two decades, the US was buying nuclear fuel from Russia for a dumping price. This fuel was made from down blended Soviet military grade highly enriched uranium, which constituted up to 40 percent of nuclear fuel for America’s 104 nuclear reactors (America’s 65 nuclear power plants generate over 19 percent of electric power in the country).
In the meantime, the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), the leading US nuclear fuel supplier remains in dire straits and plans to voluntarily file for bankruptcy in the first quarter of 2014 in order to restructure.
The US also has problems with producing plutonium, used not only in nuclear warheads, but for space exploration as well; only plutonium can produce enough power for long missions to distant planets in the Solar system.
Tokyo also reportedly possesses several dozen tons of plutonium-uranium hybrid fuel called MOX, which it intends to burn in 16 reactors the country plans to restart. All Japanese nuclear power generating facilities halted operation following the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in March 2011.
The nuclear materials designated for transfer to the US have been kept for decades at Japan’s research reactor site in Tokaimura, where it was used for research.
During the Cold War era, the US and UK reportedly handed over some 331 kilogram of plutonium to Japan to be used for developing breeder reactor technology.
After decades of research, practically all fast (breeder) reactor projects around the world, including Japanese ones, are now closed down. The only country that currently possesses operating breeder reactor power generation facility is Russia.
In 1999, the Tokaimura facility witnessed an accident involving a highly enriched uranium solution. Two workers mishandled radioactive fluid and died as a result, while over 300 were exposed to high doses of radiation.
The New York Times maintains that while the nuclear materials at the Tokaimura facility are of American and British origin, Japan also has vast stockpiles, up to nine tons of plutonium, created at the country’s nuclear power stations as a byproduct of burning uranium for electric power generation. Once Japan restarts some of its nuclear reactors, there will be even more plutonium generated.
The world’s largest military alliance seems annoyed about Russia’s “lack of transparency” over military drills at a very “delicate time.” NATO, however, has its own long history of war games all over the globe.
Western politicians have leveled criticism at Russia for planned drills on its own territory, seemingly glossing over the many joint military exercises Western powers, namely the US and NATO forces, have conducted on foreign soil over the years.
This week, US and South Korean forces began their annual joint military drills, which will last until mid-April. The Foal Eagle exercise is conducted near Iksan and Damyan, South Korea.
The drills prompted a stern reaction from North Korea, which slammed the exercises as “a serious provocation” that could plunge the region into “a deadlock and unimaginable holocaust.”
The US joined Greece, Italy, and Israeli forces at Ovda air base in southern Israel for the ‘Blue Flag’ air-training drills in November 2013. The drills were called the “largest international aerial exercise in history,” by Israeli news outlet Haaretz.
According to Israel National News reports the exercises are geared towards “simulating realistic engagements in a variety of scenarios, based on Israel’s experience with air forces of Arab armies in previous engagements.”
Poland and Latvia
NATO’s ‘Steadfast Jazz’ training exercise was held in November 2013, in Latvia and Poland. The drills included air, land, naval, and special forces.
Over 6,000 military personnel from around 20 NATO countries and allies took part in the largest NATO-led drills of their kind since 2006.
In October, NATO also held anti-aircraft drills in Bulgaria, along with the Greek and Norwegian air forces. The exercises were held to test responses in conditions of radio interference, according to the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense.
In May 2013, the US joined 40 other countries in the Persian Gulf for maritime war games. The US Navy said the mass exercises are aimed at “enhancing capability to preserve freedom of navigation in international waterways.”
The drills provoked a sharp response from the Iranian government who voiced concerns at how the maneuvers came in the run-up to the Iranian elections.
In August 2012, US Marines joined Japanese troops for military drills in the western Pacific. The drills were held in part in Guam, a US holding, just as an old territory dispute reemerged between Japan and China over islands in the East China Sea.
“China will not ignore hostile gestures from other nations and give up on its core interests or change its course of development,” the Chinese Communist Party stated in response to the drills, warning the US and Japan not to “underestimate China’s resolve to defend its sovereignty.”
The US joined 16 other nations in May 2012 for military exercises in Jordan near the Syria border. The ‘Eager Lion’ drills included 12,000 soldiers from the participating countries, Turkey, France, and Saudi Arabia among them.
Denying accusations that the violence in Syria had nothing to do with the drills, the US claimed it was “designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships through a joint, entire-government, multinational approach, integrating all instruments of national power to meet current and future complex national security challenges.
In August 2010, the US Navy joined Vietnamese forces for drills in the South China Sea, to the dismay of China. Sovereignty claims in the South China Sea have long been a subject of debate and animosity among Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, and Malaysia, though China’s territorial declarations have been the most aggressive.
Ukraine welcomed a fleet of NATO warships for a two-week period of military drills in July 2010. Operation ‘Sea Breeze-2010′ focused on joint anti-terror exercises, despite Kiev’s decision not to enter the NATO alliance. Some 3,000 international military personnel were said to be a part of the drills.
Ukraine began hosting the Sea Breeze exercises in 1997, as part of its commitment to join the alliance. In 2009, the Ukrainian parliament voted against the drills, curtailing then-President Viktor Yuschenko’s efforts to seek NATO membership.
In May 2009, 15 NATO countries held a series of controversial military exercises in Georgia less than a year after it launched an offense against its breakaway region of South Ossetia. Russia called the maneuvers “dubious provocation” saying it may encourage the country’s regime to carry out new attacks.
TEPCO has revised the readings on the radioactivity levels at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant well to 5 million becquerels of strontium per liter – both a record, and nearly five times higher than the original reading of 900,000 becquerels per liter.
Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope of strontium produced by nuclear fission with a half-life of 28.8 years. The legal standard for strontium emissions is 30 becquerels per liter. Exposure to strontium-90 can cause bone cancer, cancer of nearby tissues, and leukemia.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. originally said that the said 900,000 becquerels of beta-ray sources per liter, including strontium – were measured in the water sampled on July 5 last year.
However, the company noted on Friday that the previous radioactivity levels had been wrong, meaning that it was also likely readings taken from the other wells at the disaster-struck plant prior to September were also likely to have been inaccurate, the Asahi Shimbum newspaper reported.
The Japanese company has already apologized for the failures, which they said were a result of the malfunctioning of measuring equipment.
TEPCO did not mention the radioactivity levels of other samples of both groundwater and seawater taken from between June and November last year – which totaled some 140.
However, the erroneous readings only pertain to the radiation levels measured in water – readings taken to measure the radiation levels in air or soil are likely to have been accurate.
In the basement of the station, the drainage system and special tanks have accumulated more than 360,000 tons of radioactive water. The leakage of radioactive water has been an ongoing problem in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant.
TEPCO also said on Thursday that 600 liters of contaminated water – which had 2,800 becquerels of beta-ray sources per liter in it, leaked from piping leading to a tank at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
A record high level of beta rays released from radioactive strontium-90 was detected at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant beneath the No. 2 reactor’s well facing the ocean, according to the facility’s operator who released news of the measurements mid-January.
TEPCO measured the amount of beta ray-emitting radioactivity at more than 2.7 million becquerels per liter, Fukushima’s operator said as reported in the Japanese media.
In March 2011, an earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit Japan’s coast, damaging the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The catastrophe caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the facility, leading to the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The water used to cool the reactors has been leaking into the soil and contaminating the ground water ever since. Some of the radioactive water has been escaping into the Pacific Ocean.
Naha, Okinawa – The 2010 Governor’s election in Okinawa was a game changer. Up to then the pattern of elections here had been, a progressive candidate clearly opposed to the US military bases on the island, vs. a conservative candidate who was not positively in favor of them, but took the attitude, if we can’t get rid of them we might as well make a little money off them.
In 2010 the issue on the table was not all the bases, but what to do with the US Marine Air Station at Futenma, in the middle of densely populated Ginowan City. In 1996 the US and Japanese Governments had announced that they would close it down, but only on the condition that the 1st Marine Air Wing, which it houses, be moved to a new base to be built offshore from the fishing village of Henoko, in the less populated northern part of Okinawa. This construction has been fiercely opposed by Okinawans. Pacifists argue that the base should be abolished altogether; ecologists and fisher-people point out that construction would be devastating to the coral-rich Oura Bay, habitat to the endangered sea-mammal the dugong; Okinawans generally feel that the Government’s insistence that the base stay on their island amounts to discriminatory treatment. Okinawa comprises 0.6% of Japanese territory, but just under 75% of all US bases in Japan are located here. More and more people are using the word “colonialism” to describe this. Thus after the 1996 announcement the Okinawans, by means of rallies, demonstrations, lawsuits, petitions, sit-ins, and direct action civil disobedience, have so far prevented construction from beginning.
In 2010 the incumbent conservative Governor Nakaima Hirokazu [family name first, following East Asian practice], who had been elected on the What the Hell can you do about it? ticket, was advised that the electorate had changed, and that he could not be reelected unless he changed his position. This he did, saying that now he favored moving the Futenma base to mainland Japan. This enabled him to pick up the support of people who were not ready to oppose all the US bases, but who resented the unequal treatment.
The result was an election in which both the progressive and the conservative candidates opposed moving the Futenma base to a different location within Okinawa. There was a third candidate, from the crackpot Happiness Realization Party, who supported the US-Japan plan to move the base to Henoko. The progressive and conservative candidates between them got 97% of the votes; the only party that supported the US-Japan plan got a little over 2%. It’s not often that you see that kind of agreement in a free election. In that election the US-Japan plan was supported only by the crazies. Governor Nakaima, campaigning on the slogan Move the Base to the Mainland, was re-elected.
For three years after that, Governor Nakaima put on a pretty convincing performance. Again and again Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers, Defense Ministers came to his office trying to persuade him to accept the Henoko base plan, and again and again he sent them packing, sometimes after only a few minutes. (One of them, I think it was a Foreign Minister – these fellows have been changing like a game of musical chairs in recent years so it’s hard to remember – was caught on TV looking at his watch to see how much time he had got, as the Governor walked out of the room.) During that period not only the governor, but many Okinawan Liberal Democratic Party politicians, defying their Party headquarters in Tokyo, came out against the base plan. People began to talk about an All Okinawa Anti-Base Movement. Increasingly anti-base activists, instead of appealing for sympathy, were calling the plan “impossible”.
Last year the Tokyo Government, after completing a survey of Oura Bay, wrote up an environmental impact report and handed it to the Governor for his approval, without which they cannot legally begin reclamation work in the Bay. He set up a committee, and they fiddled with it for the better part of a year. Many people believed, I among them, that Nakaima would reject it in the end: why would anyone want to put their name on a document that claims that dumping several millions of tons (or whatever the amount is) of dirt and junk into a coral bay will have no detrimental effect on the environment? But at the end of December last year, he approved it, which opened the way for construction to begin. Most people were stunned, though there was also a minor chorus of I Told You So. In exchange the Governor claimed to have gotten some major gifts and concessions from Tokyo, a mess of pottage that turned out to be mostly promises that won’t be kept and aid money that Okinawa Prefecture was entitled to anyway. It continues to amaze me that a person presented with the opportunity to become a hero whose name would be passed on in Okinawan culture for generations, would instead choose to be remembered as a liar and a turncoat. There is a strong movement calling for his resignation or, failing that, his recall.
It seemed that Okinawa was in danger of falling into despondency and resignation. But there was one more test coming up. Just a couple of weeks after Nakaima’s collapse, on January 19, there was the election for Mayor of Nago City, of which Henoko is an administrative part. The incumbent Mayor, Inamine Susumu, had been elected on the public promise that he would oppose new base construction in the city. Two candidates declared against him, both supporting base construction. For the Abe Shinzo Government, this was a must-win election. First they sent down a gang of top Party and Government officials to persuade one of the pro-base candidates to stand down – a very unusual case of interference in local politics (of course, they were successful). Then when campaigning began they sent down Party and Government superstars to join in the electioneering. A lot of dubious money is said to have been passed around. Nago is the home of several of the construction companies which would likely get the reclaiming contracts, and which also have political clout in the city. Presumably a lot of pressure was put by those and other companies on their employees. In the last days of the campaign the Liberal Democraic Party’s Secretary General Ishiba suddenly announced that if the pro-base candidate won Nago would be rewarded with 50 billion yen (about $500 million) in extra aid. It was the town of Nago, population 62000, vs. the state of Japan, and to the last moment no one knew which side would win.
Inamine won, by a healthy margin. Okinawa’s temptation to despondency ended after just a few weeks. This has got to be remembered as one of the great election victories in the history of democracy. Nago would not be bought; the voters took the aid offer as an insult. Immediately after the election, Inamine announced that he would use his powers as Mayor, not to appeal to Tokyo to reconsider their plan, but positively to prevent it from going forward. Concretely, he said he would prohibit any construction-related use of roads, harbors or rivers that are under the City’s administration, and that he would not participate in any negotiations that presuppose base construction. Inamine, incidentally, is not a professional politician or an ex-movement activist. Before he ran for Mayor he was an official in the City’s Board of Education. To this day he goes out every morning to work as a traffic safety volunteer at a corner where kids cross the street on the way to school. There is a good lesson in politics here: You don’t need charisma; all you need is to say “no”. It’s also a lesson in popular sovereignty. The Tokyo Government says, We will decide. The people of Nago reply, No, we have decided. Like they say, it takes a village.
The Abe Shinzo Government has painted itself into a corner. They continue to tell the US Government, and the world, that they will build the new base at Henoko anyway. They say they will “persuade” Inamine, but it looks like that can’t be done. Will they rewrite the law, to take away the Mayor’s powers? Will they send in the Riot Police, or maybe the Self-Defence Forces? Will they revive the method used by the US military to get land for bases right after the Battle of Okinawa, the method known here as “bulldozers and rifles”? Of course all these are possible, but they will be made less possible the more the Nago situation comes to the attention of people around the world. That’s why it’s a good thing that some overseas supporters of the Okinawa anti-base movement, beginning with Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick who visited Okinawa last year, after the election drafted a letter of solidarity that has been signed by over 100 writers, scholars, movie makers and others. This has evolved into a general petition campaign on the internet. I have no illusion that submitting this petition to President Obama and Prime Minister Abe will have any effect on their consciences. What it will do is send a message to the people of Nago that they are not isolated. And by making clear to both heads of state that the whole world is watching it will make it difficult for them to use dirty tricks or violence to get their way in Nago.
The petition can be accessed at http://chn.ge/1ecQPUJ
Douglas Lummis is a political scientist living in Okinawa and the author of Radical Democracy. Lummis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
With scant energy and mineral reserves of its own, and nuclear plants mothballed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan is investing heavily in exploring beneath the oceans for resources that will power its future.
Seabed off coast of Japan
On the first day of 2014, the Japanese research ship Chikyu set a new record by drilling down to a point 3,000 meters beneath the seabed off southern Japan. It was an appropriate way to ring in the new year and signals an increased commitment to learning more about the secrets that lay beneath the floor of the ocean close to Japan.
The research has two distinct but connected driving forces. As Japan prepares to mark the third anniversary of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, the Chikyu is undertaking the most extensive survey ever attempted of the Nankai Trough, a geological fault that extends for several hundred kilometers parallel to the southern coast of Japan and widely seen as the source of the next major earthquake that will affect this tremor-prone nation. And with all of Japan’s nuclear reactors presently mothballed in the aftermath of the disaster, which destroyed the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, there is a new sense of urgency in the search for sources of energy and other natural resources close to Japan.
Limited natural resources
“When I was in elementary school, we learned that Japan does not have many natural resources of its own and that we needed to import all the oil, the gas, the metals and minerals that we needed,” Toshiyaki Mizuno, the deputy director of the Ocean and Earth Division at the ministry of science and technology, told DW.
“And that was what we thought for a long time,” he said. “Until we recently discovered that there are significant deposits of methane hydrates within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.”
Also known as natural gas hydrate or “fire ice,” it is a solid compound in which high levels of methane have been trapped in a crystal structure of water. Originally believed to only exist on the outer reaches of the solar system, significant deposits are now being discovered beneath seabed sediment and it is estimated that supplies are as much as 10 times the known reserves of natural gas.”
The dream of new energy
“There are many problems that we need to overcome before we can say that Japan’s energy problems have been solved, but the dream is to exploit this new source of energy and other resources and this is the first step in achieving that,” Mizuno said.
The Japanese government has announced plans to work with private companies to develop new technologies to explore the resources that are below the seabed off Japan, including the development of advanced submersibles and remote-controlled underwater vehicles.
Companies will work with no fewer than four Japanese ministries, representing trade and industry, science and technology, land and infrastructure and the Internal Affairs Ministry and there are hopes that the proposed recovery of resources could go ahead in as little as five years.
The government is putting aside a portion of the 50 billion yen (352.3 million euros) budget for strategic innovation projects to support the ambitious drive, with organizations such as the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology tasked with developing submarines that can operate at depths of up to 3,000 meters and large-scale excavation ships.
“This issue is becoming quite urgent for Japan because the government’s growth policy to date has largely focused on the weakening yen, which means that all imports of resources and energy are very expensive,” said Martin Schulz, senior economist at the Fujitsu Research Institute.
“Japan has to reduce those costs over the long term and developing these undersea resources is becoming much more economic than it was before,” he said.
“It is also important in terms of Japan’s energy mix as it does not seem likely that the nuclear reactors will be restarted in a significant way in the immediate future,” he added.
“Exploring close to Japan’s coastline for these resources makes complete sense, although we also know that methane hydrates can be extremely dangerous to collect and develop,” he said.
At the same time as Japan attempts to reduce its reliance on expensive imports and distance itself from relying on volatile suppliers of rare earth minerals – such as China – it is also in a hurry to learn more about the geological structure of the surface of the Earth close to the Japanese archipelago and the threats that natural disasters pose.
a Chinese navy missile frigate passing a drilling rig at the Tianwaitian gas field in the East China Sea, taken by Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces patrol plane on 09 September, 2005.
Questions over sovereignty and natural resources in the East China Sea have led to disputes with China
The drilling being conducted by the Chikyu is to examine the layers beneath the seabed in the Nankai Trough. In March last year, a study by the Central Disaster Management Council as a direct result of the impact of the earthquake that struck northeast Japan predicted that a magnitude-9 quake in the danger zone could trigger a tsunami as much as 30 meters high that could kill 320,000 people.
The disaster would destroy road and rail links the length of the country, the tsunami would pulverize buildings that had already been weakened by the tremor, infrastructure would be wiped out for hundreds of kilometers along the coast and the projected cost in terms of the damage wrought on the country is 220 trillion yen (1.84 trillion euros).
Given the scale of the threat, scientists say there is no time to lose in trying to determine when and precisely where the disaster might strike.