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Report on Fuel Removal from Fukushima Unit 4

No news is good news. I used to think that meant “nothing that is news can be good”, but here I’m using it to mean, “There’s no news. And that’s a good sign!”

The tricky process of emptying No 4 Spent Fuel Pool (SFP) of its fuel rods and transferring them to a safer storage place continues without fanfare. Now up to 528/1533 (=34.4%). Every week that passes with no hitch in this operation is a win.



移送燃料の種類(使用済:506体/1331体、新燃料:22体/202体) キャスクの輸送回数 24回更新日:2014年3月24日

via 福島第一原子力発電所4号機からの燃料取り出しの進捗状況|東京電力.


Japan’s Self-Defeating Mercantilism – Why isn’t the medecine working?

In the 16 months since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his bold plan to reflate Japan’s shrinking economy the yen has depreciated by 22% against the dollar, 28% against the euro and 24% against the renminbi. The hope was to stimulate trade and push the current account decisively into the black. Yet the reverse has occurred. Japan’s external position has worsened due to anemic export growth and a spiraling energy import bill: in January it recorded a record monthly trade deficit of ¥2.8trn $27.4bn. Having eked out a 0.7% current account surplus in 2013, Japan may this year swing into deficit for the first time since 1980. So why is the medicine not working?

via Guest Post: Japan’s Self-Defeating Mercantilism | Zero Hedge.

It’s a long article, well worth reading. Here I’ve selected excerpts and commented on them.

First, the title is tautologous: mercantilist policies have always been self-defeating for the nation as a whole in the long run. They are designed to bolster a particular group of people or section of the economy, at the expense of the individual and the consumer. Murray Rothbard put it this way:

In the days of Adam Smith and the classical economists, mercantilism was properly regarded as a blend of economic fallacy and state creation of special privilege….

Mercantilism, which reached its height in the Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries, was a system of statism which employed economic fallacy to build up a structure of imperial state power, as well as special subsidy and monopolistic privilege to individuals or groups favored by the state. Thus, mercantilism held that exports should be encouraged by the government and imports discouraged. Economically, this seems to be a tissue of fallacy; for what is the point of exports if not to purchase imports, and what is the point of piling up monetary bullion if the bullion is not used to purchase goods?

… Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.… But in the mercantile system, the interest of the consumer is almost constantly sacrificed to that of the producer; and it seems to consider production, and not consumption, as the ultimate end and object of all industry and commerce.

“Mercantilism: A Lesson for Our Times?”, Murray Rothbard, writing in the Freeman, 1963. (See also the Wikipedia for Schools article on Mercantilism.)

But it’s not working! In 2013, Japan recorded a record annual trade deficit of 11.47 TRILLION yen (up from 6.94 trillion in 2012; that’s an increase of nearly 100%!). Rising costs for imports outstripped growth in exports.

Recall that Mr. Abe’s policy was to weaken the yen in order to boost exports. Trouble is, Japan is a resource-poor nation, something that all Japanese schoolchildren know. Many products manufactured in Japan require raw materials which must be imported. Thanks to Mr. Abe’s “weak yen” policy, those imports cost Japanese manufacturers and importers more. In addition, there were the unexpectedly large amounts of LNG which were required to power Japan’s industry to replace the lost wattage of the 54 nuclear power stations which were taken offline after the 2011 earthquake-tsunami-Fukushima disaster.

Brilliant, Mr. Abe!

Back to the article. Here’s the theory:

Consumers are immediately hit with an implicit “tax” as imported goods cost more, while export-oriented firms get an effective subsidy.

Yes, exporters get a boost, but against this, in Japan’s case, must be offset the rising costs of energy and of importing raw materials.

In the capital markets, the effect is to lower the value of domestic bonds in foreign currency terms, with the result that yields rise. This means that the cost to the government of financing its deficit rises, forcing a reduction in government spending. As a result of these effects, resources are shifted from the household and government sectors and into the corporate sector. The effect of this resource reallocation should be to boost productivity, which in turn initiates a virtuous circle of rising incomes and ultimately higher consumption.

Needless to say (for those living in Japan), neither has happened. Why not?

in addition to devaluing, it is also engaging in massive quantitative easing. This keeps bond yields low, enabling the government to keep financing its deficit at low cost. There is thus no incentive for the government to cut spending— and in fact the consumption tax hike will be offset by even more spending. Furthermore, low bond yields suppress the financial income of household savers.

Great. So in addition to having to pay more for imported goods,  and for electricity (both for their own household use and for that of the manufacturing industries), consumers are unable to gain any real benefits from their savings, because interest rates are so low.

Question: if savings are discouraged, how will the capital needed for future investment be accumulated?

The end result of all this is that the government bears none of the burden of the adjustment and the household sector bears all of it, through higher import costs and lower financial income. With the household sector’s spending power thus crimped, companies have no incentive to invest in domestically-focused production. Instead, all their investment will be geared toward exports—mercantilism on steroids.

With the predictable result that the consumer gets it in the shorts. Of course, exporters, to the extent that they are individuals, are also consumers.

Since all the leading economies favor policies that support production over consumption, the world is getting more goods than it can absorb. The result is ongoing price declines, which have the effect of deferring the ultimate global recovery.

The problem is not falling prices per se (see this brilliant article debunking the “deflation is evil” myth); the problem is subsidized production, because this distorts price signals and prevents resources from being re-allocated in a timely fashion.

What this means is that Japan’s ultra-mercantilism is self defeating. In a global environment of weak demand and disinflation any volume increase in its exports will have to be paid for through price reductions…

Japan’s most likely path is that the yen keeps falling, the BoJ keeps printing money, and the dollar value of exports stagnates as devaluation and price cuts offset any volume increases. And so, paradoxically, the current account will continue to deteriorate into permanent deficit, despite ultra-mercantilism. At this point the game will have changed in Japan and Abenomics will have manifestly failed to deliver on its stated objectives.

The sad part is that this outcome is all so predictable. We don’t actually have to try the experiment to know that it is highly likely to fail, meaning it won’t result in increased productivity, economic growth, consumption or savings.

How will Japan’s voters react when they see that Abenomics has failed? Is there anyone offering any alternative to mercantilist policies?

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The Malaysian Jetliner: A Non-Conspiracy Theory –

A pilot gives the most reasonable explanation I have yet read for the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It does not, however, answer the question, why the FBI is so “frustrated” with the Malaysian authorities about this incident.

A lot of speculation about MH370. Terrorism, hijack, meteors. I cannot believe the analysis on CNN – almost disturbing. I tend to look for a more simple explanation of this event.

via The Malaysian Jetliner: A Non-Conspiracy Theory –

The left turn is the key here. This was a very experienced senior Captain with 18,000 hours… We old pilots were always drilled to always know the closest airport of safe harbor while in cruise… Because if something happens you don’t want to be thinking what are you going to do – you already know what you are going to do. Instinctively when I saw that left turn with a direct heading I knew he was heading for an airport. Actually he was taking a direct route to Palau Langkawi a 13,000 foot strip with an approach over water at night with no obstacles. He did not turn back to Kuala  Lampur because he knew he had 8,000 foot ridges to cross.

Take a look on Google Earth at this airport. This pilot did all the right things. He was confronted by some major event onboard that made him make that immediate turn back to the closest safe airport.

For me the loss of transponders and communications makes perfect sense if a fire. There was most likely a fire or electrical fire. In the case of fire the first response if to pull all the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one.

If they pulled the busses the plane indeed would go silent.

Chris Goodfellow has 20 years experience as a Canadian Class-1 instrumented-rated pilot for multi-engine planes

Read the rest at The Malaysian Jetliner: A Non-Conspiracy Theory –

Report on Fuel Removal from Fukushima Unit 4, and on reactor 2


移送燃料の種類(使用済:484体/1331体、新燃料:22体/202体) キャスクの輸送回数 23回更新日:2014年3月17日毎週月曜日に更新します(祝日の場合は翌営業日に更新します)

via 福島第一原子力発電所4号機からの燃料取り出しの進捗状況|東京電力.

TEPCO’s removal of fuel from the Spent Fuel Pool of reactor #4 soldiers on. 506/1533 = 33%.

Last night (Monday, March 17th) I caught the tail-end of a sobering NHK documentary on the Fukushima crisis. It was a reconstruction (dramatization) of what happened on March 11, 2011 and the days and weeks that followed. It focused (at least the part I watched) on Reactor #2, and why they weren’t able to open the vent, like they did for Reactors #1 and #3.

It was clear from the documentary that, contrary to what Abe told everyone, Reactor #2 and indeed the whole No. 1 Fukushima NPP, is not yet completely contained.

As well as dramatic reconstruction of some key events, they followed TEPCO engineers and other nuclear power plant experts as they tried various simulations to figure out a) why a key vent didn’t open, and b) why there was and is such high radiation leaking from the reactor.

The CG reconstruction of the meltdown showed the core melting down to the concrete floor of the containment vessel, but halting a short distance from the side wall.

After various experiments, it was concluded that the extreme heat inside the containment vessel had caused a section of the concrete side wall to warp at a weak point, thus allowing radioactive elements to escape.

Image of molten fuel in containment vessel

Image from the Asahi Evening News website. Click the image to see more.

Another route for radioactive leakage was found in the suppression pool. This contains cold water. The idea is that radioactive steam escaping from the containment vessel (via the “legs” you can see forking down into the water of the suppression pool in the diagram above) drops its radioactive particles in the water before bubbling up above the water level. However, an experiment carried out in Italy showed that the unusually high temperatures of the escaping steam meant that the gas did not stay in the water long enough to drop its load of particles. This radioactive steam then leaked out at other weak points which are normally secure, but which were breached due to the combination of extremely high temperatures and extremely high pressures.

The most frightening part of the reconstruction scenes was showing the team in the control room hearing that the vent was not opening (despite sending a team of workers to check it), and watching in helpless horror as the instruments show that the pressure in the containment vessel is rising uncontrollably while the radioactive readings rise inexorably higher, AND THERE IS NOTHING ANYONE CAN DO ABOUT IT.

Blogger EXSKF who writes regularly and cognetly about the Fukushima accident, posted this about REactor 2 back in 2012:

#Fukushima Reactor 3 Explosion, Reactor 2 Core Melt, Possibly Because TEPCO Couldn’t Break the Rules to Bring Batteries to the Plant

(During WWI in Britain, the highest levels of stress and the highest rate of breakdown (PTSD) occurred amongst those manning the observation balloons (before they were issued with parachutes): there was very little they could do when under fire from enemy aircraft. Being caught in a very dangerous position and being powerless to do anything about it is a highly stressful situation (no shit, Sherlock)!

The documentary also showed data from a radioation monitoring post near the reactor, data that revealed spikes of radiation emissions hours and days after the tsunami; data that had remained UNREAD FOR THREE YEARS! When this data was given to various experts, they were able to plug in the numbers to their computer programs and understand in more detail exactly what had happened inside Reactor #2 on March 11 and after.

It was a sobering (read “terrifying”) documentary. It did not end with a comforting “but that was 3 years ago, and the situation is now under control”.  Exactly what happened to #2 reactor, and exactly what the present sitauation is there remains a mystery as the high levels of radiation prevent workers approaching. One by one, critical temperature sensors have been failing. These are key to helping TEPCO monitor the situation. See the Wikipedia entry for more details, although little has been updated since 2012. A January 2014 update can be found here. This is pretty much where the NHK documentary ended.

Chilling commentary:

“Let’s assume that the situation worsens to the point that it becomes impossible to pour water in order to cool off the reactor. For reactors #1, #3 and #4, a specialized squad prepared to bear the risks of radiation exposure can always enter the building and do the work required. But in the case of reactor #2, radioactive emissions inside most buildings are extremely high that a prepared squad is likely to perish before it accomplishes its mission.”

via ENews.


Meanwhile, the rest of us in Japan blithely go about our business. Yes, there have been grave mistakes made. Yes, there continue to be cockups and incompetencies. But the fact remains that the safety of a great many people lies in the hands of those men and women at Fukushima and many others around the country working on this huge problem. There are no doubt the usual quota of idiots, cowards and those with few principles or backbone working for TEPCO and their myriad subcontractors. Let us hope, however, there are enough people with integrity, intelligence and courage to see this disaster through to a safe conclusion.



TEPCO’s English page informing the public about progress on the transfer of fuel from Reactor 4’s Spent Fuel Pool (SPF) to a safer location has not been updated since Feb. 10th, but the Japanese page has (that’s 27.3%). This is a very tricky procedure fraught with risk, so I cheer every additional successfully relocated fuel-rod. Of course, that still leaves 72.7% PLUS 3 other reactors, but hey! Let’s take a “glass half full” view of this, I say.


移送燃料の種類(使用済:396体/1331体、新燃料:22体/202体) キャスクの輸送回数 19回更新日:2014年3月3日毎週月曜日に更新します(祝日の場合は翌営業日に更新します)

via 福島第一原子力発電所4号機からの燃料取り出しの進捗状況|東京電力.


The Ghost Ship, Crewed by Cannibal Rats

From the “Woah!” department:

A ghost ship carrying nothing but disease-ridden rats could be about to make land on Britain’s shore, experts have warned. The Lyubov Orlova cruise liner has been drifting across the north Atlantic for the better part of a year, and salvage hunters say there is a strong chance it is heading for Britain.

via The Ghost Ship, Crewed by Cannibal Rats

It’s official – NHK to become government propaganda mouthpiece

“When the government is saying, ‘Right,’ we can’t say, ‘Left.’ International broadcasting has such a propagandist nuance,” Katsuto Momii [new chairman of NHK ] told a news conference held to mark the start of his three-year stint at the public broadcaster.

… NHK’s programming “shouldn’t be far removed from (the stance of) the Japanese government,” he said…

via New NHK chief: ‘comfort women’ only wrong per ‘today’s morality’; programming must push Japan’s territorial stances | The Japan Times.

And in completely unrelated news (that’s irony, folks):

A noted professor who regularly provides commentary on an NHK AM radio show has resigned from the program in protest over the public broadcaster’s demand that nuclear power not be discussed until after the Feb. 9 Tokyo gubernatorial election.

via Scholar quits NHK over nuclear power hush-up | The Japan Times.

The New NHK chief is supported in his views about war-time prostitute-slaves by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

ALthough Momii “is rumored to have been the preferred choice of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as NHK’s top official”, nice Mr. Abe declined to comment on Momii’s remarks, “saying only that he hopes the public network will “maintain fair and neutral broadcasting” by defying all external political pressure.”

Presumably, once you’ve got your man in place, there’s no need to apply “political pressure”.

China starts televising the sunrise on giant TV screens because Beijing is so clouded in smog | Mail Online

From the department of “woaahh!”… China is not a country I’ll be visiting any time soon. From the Daily Mail:

The smog has become so thick in Beijing that the city’s natural light-starved masses have begun flocking to huge digital commercial television screens across the city to observe virtual sunrises.

The futuristic screens installed in the Chinese capital usually advertize tourist destinations, but as the season’s first wave of extremely dangerous smog hit – residents donned air masks and left their homes to watch the only place where the sun would hail over the horizon that morning.

Commuters across Beijing found themselves cloaked in a thick, gray haze on Thursday as air pollution monitors issued a severe air warning and ordered the elderly and school children to stay indoors until the quality improved.

via China starts televising the sunrise on giant TV screens because Beijing is so clouded in smog | Mail Online.

#Fukushima I NPP Reactor 4 SFP Fuel Assembly Removal: 10% Done | EXSKF

Good news, so far. Ex-SKF has been keeping an eye on TEPCO’s page which reports on its most tricky operation of emptying the Spent Fuel Pool (SFP) of reactor #4 and transferring the contents to a safer location.

  • Breakdown of transferred assemblies: Spent fuel: 132 assemblies/1,331 assemblies
  • Unirradiated New fuel: 22 assemblies/ 202 assemblies

So far, no news of major or minor hiccups whatsoever, and the world hasn’t ended yet.

via #Fukushima I NPP Reactor 4 SFP Fuel Assembly Removal: 10% Done | EXSKF.

10% still leaves a long way to go, and there are of course the SFPs of the other reactors as well which will need to be emptied.

But let’s breathe a sigh of relief that this much has been completed safely, and a round of applause to all those people involved in this.  This blogger has not forgotten them.

And while I’m at it, if you are concerned about high levels of radiation on California beaches, please read

(OT) No, #Fukushima I NPP Did Not Cause High Radiation Reading on California Beach, Experts and Officials Say


Bitcoin Slammed As Baidu Suspends Payments Due To “Fluctuations” | Zero Hedge

Oh dear oh dear. Bitcoin is as of this writing, at let me see… $728.

Bitcoin is being sold aggressively on heavy volume as this headline hits: BAIDU SUSPENDS BITCOIN PAYMENT ACCEPTANCE ON VALUE FLUCTUATION


It appears Mt.Gox has crashed trying to handle a very large sell order.

via Bitcoin Slammed As Baidu Suspends Payments Due To “Fluctuations” | Zero Hedge.