Saturday, October 6, 2012

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

What rules, you ask? Good social rules like "If you want something from a store, you purchase it with money." Or "In order to transport potentially dangerous materials or equipments, you apply for a government permit and wait until the permit is issued." They are all good and proper in peacetime.

TEPCO was no longer in peacetime, starting March 11, 2011. But the company and the workers clearly didn't know how to operate in an extraordinary situation they found themselves in. So they stuck to what they knew best - be a law- and rule- abiding good citizens.

From the teleconference video that TEPCO newly released, at 7:17AM of March 13, 2011 at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant (Video 05-06 at TEPCO's Photos and Video page for October 5, 2012):


This is Materials Group, sorry to interrupt. We are going out to buy batteries and other things. But, uh.., we're short on cash. For those of you who have cash with you here, we would really appreciate if you could lend it to us. We're sorry [and embarrassed] but if you have cash, could you let us borrow it? Thank you in advance.

After this announcement, a senior executive (I believe it's Mr. Komori in TEPCO's Headquarters in Tokyo) is heard muttering, "No money? That is miserable. We have to do something..."

Asahi Shinbun transcribed the entire 150 hours of TEPCO's teleconference video, and has written several articles (subscribers only) about their findings. This battery episode was in the third installment of the series of articles that were published in early September. The following is my summary of the situation, based on the Asahi Shinbun article on September 5, 2012, based on their own transcription of the video:

Early morning on March 13, 2011 (28 hours or so before the Reactor 3 building exploded). TEPCO's workers had figured out that by rigging up the car batteries they could provide just enough power to operate the main steam safety-relief valve (SR valve) to release pressure inside the Reactor 3 Pressure Vessel. Ten 12-volt batteries were all they needed for that operation for the moment, they figured. The problem was that they didn't have 10. They asked the workers with cars to please remove the batteries so that they could be used.

20 car batteries were offered. But they needed more. Much more, in order to monitor the conditions of Reactor 3 and Reactor 2. The monitoring systems in the central control room were also down, because of lack of electricity. They needed the batteries in the order of 50, 100.

Iwaki City was 30 kilometers south of the plant, and there were big auto parts stores in the city. So, TEPCO workers decided to drive down there and buy car batteries at the store.

But 8 car batteries were all they managed to buy in Iwaki City. Asahi Shinbun article doesn't say whether it was lack of money or lack of inventory at the auto parts stores.

It was not that TEPCO's Headquarters in Tokyo had sat paralyzed. It had already ordered 1,000 batteries from Toshiba on March 12 and arranged for having them shipped to the plant immediately.

There was a problem. A government permit was needed, apparently, to transport that many batteries on the highway, and the permit was not readily coming. The vehicle loaded with 1,000 batteries couldn't leave Tokyo unless the issue of the permit was resolved somehow.

In the end, 320 of 1,000 batteries did arrive at the plant, in the evening of March 14, long after the Reactor 3 explosion. The core inside the Reactor 2 Pressure Vessel had already been exposed.

This single episode, I believe, epitomizes what's fundamentally wrong with the Japanese in a crisis situation: They cannot break rules.

So they couldn't monitor the reactors, couldn't open the SR valve, but knew if they had batteries, even the car batteries and plenty of them, they would be able to do both. If they didn't, there would be core melt, and a large amount of radioactive materials would be released. It was not the time to observe rules and regulations imposed by the society or the government.

1. Instead of going all the way to Iwaki City to buy car batteries, they could have stopped any and every car and truck they encountered outside the plant, asked, begged, threatened, the drivers to give up their car batteries because otherwise there would be multiple meltdowns at the nuclear plant.

What would the drivers do? Refuse? Somehow, I don't think so. They could even ask the residents to spread the word that the plant needed car batteries to prevent nuclear catastrophe.

They could have asked the Self Defense Force to round up car batteries from the neighborhood for them. The SDF could still have said "no", though, needing a permission from the prime minister.

2. If they went to Iwaki City, they could have just taken the batteries, instead of trying to buy them, if lack of money was the issue. This was the biggest emergency in TEPCO's corporate life. They could have simply told the store managers to bring all the car batteries in stock and just taken them. They could write a note saying how many batteries and how much, and TEPCO would pay for them later, after the reactors were restored.

What would the store managers do? Refuse to give the batteries to TEPCO unless they they were paid on the spot? I don't think so.

3. If the government was making a fuss about the permit to transport batteries, either Toshiba or TEPCO (I don't know who was in charge of transportation) could have told the government to take a hike and just started driving. Or said nothing to the government and just started driving.

What would the government do? Stop the truck by force? When the reactors were on the verge of blowing up? I don't think so.

4. Also, if the Japanese government was a pain in the neck even in the emergency like that, TEPCO could have asked the US government/military for help. Could you bring the batteries to us? The US military could have easily transported battery vehicles in their Chinooks. Would the US government/military say "No we can't do anything, without the request from your government"? When transporting batteries to the plant might save the reactors from meltdowns? I don't think so.

What would the Japanese government do to the US government/military? Get angry that the US helped stop meltdowns? Let them get angry.

50, or 100 batteries may or may not have prevented the meltdowns, but at least they would have given the workers under Plant Manager Masao Yoshida a fighting chance - a better grip on the situation, a little more control over the reactors, and ability to lower pressure so that they could continue to inject water easily and prevent the core from getting exposed.

Fight or flight. 火事場の馬鹿力 (Extraordinary strength at the scene of a fire). TEPCO tried to fight, that much is apparent from the teleconference videos. But they tried to do so within the boundaries of socially acceptable rules and norms in Japan during peacetime when nuclear reactors were operating normally.

When I read the Asahi's article for the first time, the truth is that it didn't occurred to me either that TEPCO could have broken all the rules in an emergency like this. I just thought, "Bureaucrats are bureaucrats no matter what..." over the permit to transport Toshiba batteries on the highway. I mentioned that to an American friend, who immediately said, "Why did they (TEPCO) have to wait for the permit in a make or break situation like this?"

I'm Japanese after all. I was thinking like TEPCO.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Democratic Strategist: Look, Romney Cheated! He Took Out Some Suspicious White Object (Cheat Sheet) from His Pocket! ...... Oh Never Mind It Was a Handkerchief...

From CBS News (10/5/2012; part)

Upon Further Review: Mitt Romney May Have Cheated To Win The Debate

...But there was a moment in the debate that will be discussed in the days ahead that everyone missed until yesterday.

A review of the debate tape reveals that, apparently, Mitt Romney needed a cheat sheet to keep the lies straight.

The rules of the presidential debates are clear about not bringing outside notes and presidents and aspirants have followed the rule for decades.

Video of the first eleven seconds of the debate available on YouTube shows Mitt Romney reaching into his pocket at the moment he is out of view of those in front of him, he used the lectern as a shield, and removing what appears to be folded papers from his pocket.

We see this because the camera that was broadcasting was behind Romney. Those in the audience and the moderator may have been shielded from his sleight of hand, but not the viewers.

Romney then proceeds to unfold the item in front of him. ...

Well never mind that he was seen wiping off his face with this suspicious white item.

Then, Democratic strategist Mr. Bill Buck later issued an update after this "Romney cheated!" meme traveled fast and wide on the net, and said it was just a handkerchief after all, and went on to ridicule Romney for carrying a handkerchief in his pocket and using it:

Update (from the same article):

The evidence seems to indicate it was a handkerchief. So there you have it folks. The mystery seems to have been solved.

But ye olde Mitt Romney saying, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, doesn’t seem to hold true for news aggregator that just this week promoted a five year old story that was covered five years ago — and was not a story.

I have no desire to be part of the peddlers of conspiracy and falsehoods like the birthers or the truthers.

I did write an essay pointing out that there were questions that should be asked and that there was suspicious behavior on the part of Mitt Romney.

Those questions have been put to rest. Honestly, I do not know a person that carries a cloth rag in their pocket when they have a runny nose — it is a little gross.

It doesn’t change the fact that it is incredibly stupid to walk into a Presidential debate and sneak something from your pocket. There is advance staff to take care of tissues.

It also doesn’t change the fact that Romney distorted his campaign proposals and presented a very different version of Mitt Romney than the one that has been running for President for more than half a decade.

So it seems that Mitt Romney did indeed memorize his lies rather than bring a laundry list of them with him. And he carries a hanky.

About Bill Buck

Bill Buck is a Democratic strategist, President of the Buck Communications Group, a media relations and new media strategies consulting business based in Washington, DC, and Managing Director of the online ad firm Influence DSP. He has over twenty years of international and national communications experience. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CBS Local.

I guess there is no news editor at CBS when it comes to verifying an attack piece on the president's foe.

The commenters in the comment section of the article are accusing CBS of furiously deleting comments that ridicule the article. Currently, there are 96 comments, but some are saying at one point there were over 800 comments. The article has been retweeted 8,600 times. If you google "Romney cheated", it returns over 11 million results.

Great US Employment Number, Stock Market Goes South

A wide-eyed optimistic article on Yahoo Finance I saw earlier (3 hours ago) had a cute headline: "Unemployment Dips, Stocks Rip on Hiring Blip" (by Matt Nesto, Breakout). The writer should have waited till the session is over.

Dow Jones Industrial has traced back to unchanged, with 20 minutes left to trade in regular hours. No doubt there will be a sudden surge in the last few minutes, if not few seconds, but I could be wrong. (So I was wrong. The last pump has already started, with 15 minutes left to trade.)

For a reality-based analysis of the job number, I'd suggest Zero Hedge, here and here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Report: US Army Tested Chemical (and Possibly Radioactive) Weapons on St. Louis in 1950s

Sociologist Lisa Martino-Taylor at St. Louis Community College says they may have been radioactive. There is no mention of what radioactive particles, if any, were mixed with zinc cadmium sulfide and sprayed from the rooftops by the US army.

But AP report below mentions one former resident recalling having a powdery substance dumped on her and her friends by the Army planes as they were playing on the street.

From AP News (10/4/2012; emphasis is mine):

ST. LOUIS — Doris Spates was a baby when her father died inexplicably in 1955. She has watched four siblings die of cancer, and she survived cervical cancer.

After learning that the Army conducted secret chemical testing in her impoverished St. Louis neighborhood at the height of the Cold War, she wonders if her own government is to blame.

In the mid-1950s, and again a decade later, the Army used motorized blowers atop a low-income housing high-rise, at schools and from the backs of station wagons to send a potentially dangerous compound into the already-hazy air in predominantly black areas of St. Louis.

Local officials were told at the time that the government was testing a smoke screen that could shield St. Louis from aerial observation in case the Russians attacked.

But in 1994, the government said the tests were part of a biological weapons program and St. Louis was chosen because it bore some resemblance to Russian cities that the U.S. might attack. The material being sprayed was zinc cadmium sulfide, a fine fluorescent powder.

Now, new research is raising greater concern about the implications of those tests. St. Louis Community College-Meramec sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor's research has raised the possibility that the Army performed radiation testing by mixing radioactive particles with the zinc cadmium sulfide, though she concedes there is no direct proof.

But her report, released late last month, was troubling enough that both U.S. senators from Missouri wrote to Army Secretary John McHugh demanding answers.

Aides to Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt said they have received no response. Army spokesman Dave Foster declined an interview request from The Associated Press, saying the Army would first respond to the senators.

The area of the secret testing is described by the Army in documents obtained by Martino-Taylor through a Freedom of Information Act request as "a densely populated slum district." About three-quarters of the residents were black.

Spates, now 57 and retired, was born in 1955, delivered inside her family's apartment on the top floor of the since-demolished Pruitt-Igoe housing development in north St. Louis. Her family didn't know that on the roof, the Army was intentionally spewing hundreds of pounds of zinc cadmium sulfide into the air.

Three months after her birth, her father died. Four of her 11 siblings succumbed to cancer at relatively young ages.

"I'm wondering if it got into our system," Spates said. "When I heard about the testing, I thought, 'Oh my God. If they did that, there's no telling what else they're hiding.'"

Mary Helen Brindell wonders, too. Now 68, her family lived in a working-class mixed-race neighborhood where spraying occurred.

The Army has admitted only to using blowers to spread the chemical, but Brindell recalled a summer day playing baseball with other kids in the street when a squadron of green Army planes flew close to the ground and dropped a powdery substance. She went inside, washed it off her face and arms, then went back out to play.

Over the years, Brindell has battled four types of cancer — breast, thyroid, skin and uterine.

"I feel betrayed," said Brindell, who is white. "How could they do this? We pointed our fingers during the Holocaust, and we do something like this?"

Martino-Taylor said she wasn't aware of any lawsuits filed by anyone affected by the military tests. She also said there have been no payouts "or even an apology" from the government to those affected.

The secret testing in St. Louis was exposed to Congress in 1994, prompting a demand for a health study. A committee of the National Research Council determined in 1997 that the testing did not expose residents to harmful levels of the chemical. But the committee said research was sparse and the finding relied on limited data from animal testing.

It also noted that high doses of cadmium over long periods of exposure could cause bone and kidney problems and lung cancer. The committee recommended that the Army conduct follow-up studies "to determine whether inhaled zinc cadmium sulfide breaks down into toxic cadmium compounds, which can be absorbed into the blood to produce toxicity in the lungs and other organs."

But it isn't clear if follow-up studies were ever performed. Martino-Taylor said she has gotten no answer from the Army and her research has turned up no additional studies. Foster, the Army spokesman, declined comment.

(full article at the link)

For UK's Daily Mail, there seems to be no doubt it was "radioactive" ("Revealed: Army scientists secretly sprayed St Louis with 'radioactive' particles for YEARS to test chemical warfare technology", 10/4/2012). Daily Mail's article has a bit more about "radioactive materials":

However, Professor Martino-Taylor believes the documents she's uncovered, prove the zinc cadmium silfide was also mixed with radioactive particles.

She has linked the St Louis testing to a now-defunct company called US Radium. The controversial company came under fire, and numerous lawsuits, after several of its workers were exposed to dangerous levels of radioactive materials in its fluorescent paint.

'US Radium had this reputation where they had been found legally liable for producing a radioactive powdered paint that killed many young women who painted fluorescent watch tiles,' said Professor Martino-Taylor.

In her findings, one of the compounds that was sprayed upon the public was called 'FP2266', according to the army's documents, and was manufactured by US Radium. The compound, also known as Radium 226, was the same one that killed and sickened many of the US Radium workers.

The Army has admitted that it added a fluorescent substance to the 'harmless' compound, but whether or not the additive was radioactive remains classified.

Radium 226's half life is 1,600 years. It is an alpha emitter, so unless you inhale it... uh... the residents did, didn't they?

Radium 226 was also the radioactive material found in several locations in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo in October and November last year. (See my post.)

(H/T reader 'La terra non ha uscite di emergenza' for Daily Mail article)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

OT: Obama-Romney "Big Debate", Who Won?

Chris Matthews of MSNBC seems to think it was decidedly Romney. He was apparently so frustrated that after the debate he demanded President Obama watch his and his colleagues' shows at MSNBC to learn a thing or two.

From Real Clear Politics (10/3/2012):

Chris Matthews Freaks Out At Obama After Debate: Romney Was "Winning"

"Tonight wasn't an MSNBC debate tonight, was it?" Chris Matthews said after the first Obama-Romney presidential debate concluded on Wednesday night.

"I don't know what he was doing out there. He had his head down, he was enduring the debate rather than fighting it. Romney, on the other hand, came in with a campaign. He had a plan, he was going to dominate the time, he was going to be aggressive, he was going to push the moderator around, which he did effectively, he was going to relish the evening, enjoying it," Matthews said.

"Here's my question for Obama: I know he likes saying he doesn't watch cable television but maybe he should start. Maybe he should start. I don't know how he let Romney get away with the crap he throughout tonight about Social Security," Matthews complained.

Matthews then demanded that President Obama start watching cable news, specifically his program.

"Where was Obama tonight? He should watch -- well, not just Hardball, Rachel, he should watch you, he should watch the Reverend Al [Sharpton], he should watch Lawrence. He would learn something about this debate. There's a hot debate going on in this country. You know where it's been held? Here on this network is where we're having the debate," Matthews said.

"We have our knives out," Matthews said, admitting his network is trying their best to defend Obama and his policies. "We go after the people and the facts. What was he doing tonight? He went in their disarmed."

"He was like, 'Oh an hour and half? I think I can get through this thing. And I don't even look at this guy.' Whereas Romney -- I love the split-screen -- staring at Obama, addressing him like prey. He did it just right. 'I'm coming at an incumbent. I got to beat him. You've got to beat the champ and I'm going to beat him tonight. And I don't care what this guy, the moderator, whatever he thinks he is because I'm going to ignore him," Matthews said.

"What was Romney doing?" Matthews asked. "He was winning."

"If he does five more of these nights, forget it," Matthews added. "Obama should watch MSNBC, my last point. He will learn something every night on this show and all these shows. This stuff we're watching, it's like first grade for most of us. We know all this stuff."

Washington Times, near-polar opposite of MSNBC in terms of political leaning, thinks so too. The paper says Obama was the worst since Jimmy Carter (against Ronald Reagan), and that's an insult to Mr. Carter.

From Washington Times after the debate (10/3/2012):

HURT: Obama the debater: Making Jimmy Carter look awesome

Party like it’s 1980!

Bewildered and lost without his teleprompter, President Obama flailed all around the debate stage last night. He was stuttering, nervous and petulant. It was like he had been called in front of the principal after goofing around for four years and blowing off all his homework.

Not since Jimmy Carter faced Ronald Reagan has the U.S. presidency been so embarrassingly represented in public. Actually, that’s an insult to Jimmy Carter.

The split screen was most devastating. Mitt Romney spoke forthrightly, with carefully studied facts and details at the ready. He looked right at the president and accused him of being miles out of his depth.

Mr. Obama? His eyes were glued to his lectern, looking guilty and angry and impatient with all the vagaries of Democracy. This debate was seriously chaffing him.

What exactly was Mr. Obama’s strategy here? Did he figure with so many people unemployed in this abomination of an economy he should go for the sympathy vote? Like voters could relate to a guy who is just scared pantsless that he is about to lose his job?

In the middle of the blood-letting segment about jobs, Mr. Romney said good-naturedly: “This is fun.”

Almost pleading, Mr. Obama reached out to the moderator for a lifeline: “You may want to move onto another topic.”

When an unexpected noise went off behind him, Mr. Obama wheeled around to look as if to ask, “Time to go?”

(Full article at the link)

Mr. Obama is very good at reading English off his teleprompter, that's for sure. He is not good at holding a two-way conversation on the fly without his teleprompter. Mr. James Carville tries to make excuse for Mr. Obama by saying Romney "came with a chainsaw", as if being prepared and ready to shred the opponent to pieces is a bad thing in the presidential debate.

Chairman of Japan's Keidanren: "Restart of Hamaoka Nuke Plant Will Be a Role Model for the World"

Hilarity (depravity, head in the sand, selective hearing/seeing, whatever you want to call it) continues in Japan. Keidanren (or Federation of Economic Organizations in English), Japan's powerful big business lobby, has been unabashedly pro-nuclear, as if Fukushima never happened. For that matter, as if Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl never happened.

Just so you know before you read the Yomiuri article below, this particular plant is built practically on sand dunes (liquefaction anyone?), with reactor buildings closer to the ocean protecting the turbine buildings. The plant has been plagued with troubles even after the cold shutdown in May last year at the order of then-PM Naoto Kan, like condenser pipe breakage. (For more about Hamaoka Nuke Plant, read my posts here.)

But worst of all is its location - it is right near the expected epicenter of the Tokai earthquake when it comes.

But Mr. Yonekura, MBA 1965 from Duke University, is pleased that Hamaoka will be safe.

From Yomiuri Shinbun (10/4/2012):


If restarted, Hamaoka will be a role model for the world, says Chairman Yonekura [of Keidanren]


Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura of Keidanren visited Chubu Electric Hamoka Nuclear Power Plant (Omaezaki City, Shizuoka Prefecture) on October 3. The plant has been stopped since May last year at the request from the national government. Mr. Yonekura was briefed by Chubu Electric on safety countermeasures against earthquake and tsunami.


It was the first time that Chairman Yonekura visited any nuclear power plant. He shared his understanding that Hamaoka Nuke Plant should be restarted upon confirmation of the safety.


Chairman Yonekura and his group of Keidanren members toured the plant, visiting the site where a seawall (18 meters above the sea level) is being built that would prevent the tsunami from breaching the compound, and the installation of the reinforcement doors to the exterior of the reactor buildings. Chubu Electric has been carrying out construction projects for tsunami, which are scheduled to be finished by December next year.


In the press conference after the visit, Chairman Yonekura said, "I felt the safety was being strengthened steadily, and I felt relieved. If we could win the trust of the residents and restart the plant, it would be a role model for the world."

Oh yes the plant is safe. It even has the nuclear safety research laboratory on site.

The plant has put in place measures to prevent hydrogen gas from accumulating inside the reactors. What are the measures? Electric drills and cutters on top of the roof of the building so that 5 workers can climb up the roof and use the tools to cut out a hole in an emergency where a core melt may be happening after the cooling of the reactor stops for whatever reason (earthquake, tsunami, power outage, etc.).

I still remember the scene from a Godzilla movie where Godzilla was destroying the nuclear power plant modeled after Hamaoka. I wish I could find the video again.

#Fukushima I Nuke Plant: TEPCO Managed to Insert a New Thermocouple to Monitor Reactor 2 RPV

There was only one thermocouple left at the bottom of the Pressure Vessel of Reactor 2. Now there are two, greatly enhancing the TEPCO's capability to monitor the "cold shutdown state".

Workers from TEPCO and an affiliate company (most likely Toshiba, who's in charge of probing inside the Containment Vessels of Reactors 2 and 3) finally managed to insert a replacement thermocouple through one of the penetrations on the Containment Vessel of Reactor 2 to 5 centimeters inside the wall of the Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV).

Of the six thermocouples that monitor the temperature at the bottom of RPV, 5 of them had failed since the start of the accident.

From TEPCO's Photos and Videos (10/3/2012):

It's been a while since TEPCO last announced the details on workers - how many of them, how many teams of workers, what company they belong to, and how much radiation exposure they got from performing the task. This particular work took 2.5 hours, according to TEPCO's handout for the press (in Japanese) of the same day.

OT: Datsun Rises from Ashes

This is exciting!

Nissan Motor's CEO Carlos Ghosn, who was born in Brazil and grew up in Lebannon and has been the turn-around CEO for 13 years of the Japanese auto company that went on the verge of bankruptcy, says he will bring back "Datsun" brand, at super-low price of $3,000.

From Yahoo Autos citing Wall Street Journal (10/2/2012):

It is the car that baby boomers may remember as much for its compact chic as for its slogan ("Datsun, We Are Driven!"). Now, a new version of this storied brand may get more attention for something else: its price tag.

In a bold move into the auto industry's fastest-growing category—emerging-market countries—Nissan Motor Co. is planning a revival to this Beatles-era star that might surprise its fans. According to interviews with Nissan's CEO, Carlos Ghosn, and other company executives, the rebooted car will appear in these countries as bare-boned as any rival has tried. And Nissan is hoping to set new lows for pricing for a global auto maker, offering the cheapest Datsun model for about $3,000 to $5,000. The lowest price is nearly a third the price of its most inexpensive car, the $8,000 Tsuru compact sold in Mexico. In revealing new details to The Wall Street Journal about the tightly controlled project, Mr. Ghosn said the company was committed to offering six Datsun vehicles, due out beginning in 2014, at a price range lower than all but a handful of smaller car makers in China and India specializing in mini autos.

He portrayed the relaunch as much as a life's mission as a business strategy, with the goal of providing poorer populations a greater chance at car ownership. No major car company has yet figured out how to penetrate profitably the lowest price segment in emerging markets, even though these countries already make up nearly half of all global vehicle sales.

But both the overall strategy and selection of Datsun to lead the cut-rate charge has already faced some opposition within the company and is likely to cause concern among some analysts and car buffs. In its heyday, Datsun was a much-beloved brand, an economy car that was nonetheless prized for classy designs and innovative touches. But to have a shot at keeping the price at $3,000 for the lowest-priced model—which even Nissan officials concede will be a hard to pull off—the company will have to jettison features that have long been standard in the U.S. but not in developing markets, from automatic transmissions to a full supply of air bags.

(Full article at the link)

Rival Toyota Motors scoffs at Nissan's plan, according to the article:

"It's a big mistake to think you can introduce a cheap car in emerging markets and be successful," said Yukitoshi Funo, the executive vice president at Toyota Motor Corp. in charge of developing markets, where the auto maker has bet heavily on subcompacts and pickup-truck derivatives in the $8,000-$10,000 range. "People want a car they and their families can be proud of."

Pride of ownership depends on the price you pay?

In the meantime, Nissan's rivals Toyota and Honda will cease production of their run-of-the-mill cars like Corolla and Civic in Japan and move them to the US and Mexico, in order to avoid exchange rate risk (=loss, mostly) and save a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per car.

I guess those Japan-based executives don't realize that many people even in the US would be happy to pay premiums of a few thousand dollars to buy a Corolla or Civic entirely made in Japan. The premium would probably be justified, given the much higher resale values of these brands compared to other brands in the low to mid range market.

(Datsun 510 Bluebird)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Seiji Maehara's Speech on Japan's Security Policy and the U.S. Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific: "Closer Japan-US Ties Possible Despite Military Budget Cuts in Both Nations"

The September 12, 2012 event was hosted by the Congressional Study Group on Japan of FMC (Former Members of Congress) ( and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (

Mr. Maehara starts out with offering condolences to the families of the US ambassador and others who was killed in the recent terrorist attack in Libya, and ends with reference to the 9/11 terrorist attack in the US 11 years ago, tying it with the 3/11 disaster that struck Japan last year. He delivered his speech in English.

I found the video in one of the retweets on Twitter, ridiculing his poor pronunciation of English, saying "See this pathetic video of Maehara, broadcasting his poor English to the whole wide world!" Well, I couldn't care less about the pronunciation. The speech has the substance, whether you agree with that substance or not.

He uses a capable American interpreter with excellent Japanese pronunciation in the question and answer session. I was reluctantly (as I'm not particularly fond of Mr. Maehara at all) impressed with the way he carried himself. Whether he understood English or not (I think he does), he listened attentively, nodding, and looking genuinely pleased to talk to these people.

His answers in Japanese is delivered in a slow, relaxed manner, without many cliches that other politicians like Prime Minister Noda craft their speeches with. He carries himself well.

I do see why this person is liked much within the US government circle. He looks like a normal human being that they think they can relate to. (I don't necessarily mean in a good way.) Despite the atrocious English pronunciation, I think his speech was attentively listened to. (I ended up listening to the entire video.)

The full text of his speech is available at this link, from FMC.

Chinese Banks to Pull Out of IMF Annual Meeting in Tokyo

To spite the host country because of the row over Senkaku Islands, it seems.

Both Japan and China have much serious problems to attend to, be that their economies, finance, and in case of Japan radiation contamination from the ongoing nuclear accident which no one pays attention to these days. Instead, they focus on these pieces of real estate that promise untold rich natural resources.

From Fox Business News citing Dow Jones Newswire (10/2/2012):

Japan's territorial dispute with China could finally be spilling onto the global stage.

Several big Chinese banks say they've canceled participation in the high-profile annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund--to be held in Tokyo next week--as well as in the constellation of events taking place alongside. Some of the banks say they've also pulled out of another big financial-industry conference scheduled to take place in the western Japanese city of Osaka at the end of the month.

Most of the banks haven't given a reason for their last-minute no-shows. But the withdrawals come amid an escalating tit-for-tat between China and Japan, which recently nationalized a set of islands in the East China Sea that are also claimed by Beijing. China has shown its displeasure by canceling some diplomatic events and sending patrol boats into what Japan considers its territorial waters--with one group going through Tuesday. Some Japanese companies have reported falling demand for their goods in China and unusually strict inspections as well as processing delays at Chinese ports.

"Quite frankly, it's Japan-China relations," said an official at the Tokyo branch of the Agricultural Bank of China, explaining why the bank was pulling out of both IMF-related events and the Osaka conference, which is sponsored by Belgium-based SWIFT, a group set up by financial institutions to handle transactions. The bank is still sponsoring and participating in a meeting of the Institute of International Finance--a global association of financial institutions--that is taking place in Tokyo at the same time as the IMF meeting, another official said.

The moves by the Chinese banks are the latest sign that souring relations between Asia's two biggest economies are starting to affect the broader, economic realm, and go beyond regional squabbling. The annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank is the largest single gathering of finance and economic officials, non-governmental organizations and bankers. Organizers estimate some 20,000 delegates will be in Tokyo for a range of meetings and seminars, taking place Oct. 9-Oct. 14.

(Full article at the link)

I guess China's thinking goes like this: "China is so important for global economy, and everyone wants China to be there in the important meetings like IMF/World Bank events. By not attending the event, the member nations will put pressure on Japan to be more accommodative to China's request, for the global economy depends on China's well-being." Something like that.

The Dow Jones article has this comment from a Singapore-based author:

"The point is really about China being a global player," said Fraser Howie, a Singapore-based co-author of "Red Capitalism," a book on China's financial system. "China may rightly demand a seat at the head table, but what signal does it send when they go off in a huff over these types of issues. Such boycotts are pointless. They only harm China and make China out to be a unstable and unreliable partner."

Well, many Asians including Japanese and Chinese are myopic, physically. Maybe that also affects the way they perceive and think broadly, while enabling them to focus intensely on issues close at hand.

CNBC: 'We're Heading for Recession,' Says Sam Zell

For those of you in countries which count on the senseless consumer spending in the US (China and Japan, for example), things may not happen to your liking.

From CNBC via Yahoo Finance (10/2/2012; emphasis is mine):

A compounding lack of confidence in the future has kept American companies from investing in their businesses and is leading the country back into recession, real estate mogul Sam Zell told CNBC.

The CEO of Equity Group Investments, which holds multiple publicly traded companies primarily in the real estate space, said a lack of leadership in Washington is keeping the $2 trillion or so of cash on company balance sheets on the sidelines.

That's happening even as the Federal Reserve continues pumping liquidity, which Zell said is being used only to prop up the stock market.

"Nobody wants to make commitments beyond tomorrow," Zell said during a"Squawk Box" interview. "One of these (recession) triggers is when enterprise projects start getting delayed. We're heading for a recession and that's exactly what you're looking at now. You're looking at capital expenditures across the board being deferred for a reason: There's no confidence."

The U.S. economy remains mired in high unemployment, at 8.1 percent, and low growth, in which gross domestic product gained just 1.3 percent in the second quarter.

While not mentioning President Barack Obama by name, Zell has been a critic of the administration and said it is "using the executive branch to legislate by fiat or by threat."

Zell has donated $70,000 to the campaign of Republican challenger Mitt Romney through the candidate's political action committee.

"We need leadership, not criticism. We need encouragement, not discouragement," he said. "Until that scenario changes, I think the United States is, quote-unquote and I hate to use this word, in a malaise."

Yet Zell said he does not envy whoever wins the race because of the myriad challenges the country faces.

"Whichever guy wins is going to have to do an enormous amount of stuff very immediately," he said. "It's very hard and, based on all the stuff we're looking at, very hard not to assume that we're on the cusp of going back into recession."

In case of Europe's euro zone, recession is already happening. The central bank of Australia (Reserve Bank of Australia) cut the key rate on Tuesday by 0.25% to 3.25% in order to aid the economy which is slowing in tandem with that of China. The US is doing fine so far, cooking the stats.

Unlike in the fall of 2008 when there was Lehman Brothers to blame for the global recession that ensued with the global stock market crash, who are they going to blame this time?

Central banks in Europe, the US, the UK, and Japan will simply double and triple their reserves by lifting every offer across the financial markets, saying "We just need to do more, and things will improve!"

(Where's the spaceship to any planet where there is no central banker and central government?)

Monday, October 1, 2012

LDP's New Leader Shinzo Abe Eats Curry Rice with Pork Cutlet Super Fast, Supporters Say It Proves He's Now Fit to Lead Japan

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's new cabinet is already a farce and a joke among many in Japan as "inventory clearance sale" of the Democratic Party of Japan.

The Liberal Democratic Party may not be far behind when it comes to being a joke. Its "new" leader Shinzo Abe, former prime minister who threw away his job after one year ostensibly because of his chronic stomach ailment (ulcerative colitis), was so eager to prove to the general public that he was now fit to lead Japan again that he ate a huge plate of curry and rice with pork cutlet on top (3,500 yen per plate, or US$45) in front of a camera and netcast the whole event one hour before the leadership election, according to Shukan Post Seven (10/1/2012).

I looked for the video but couldn't find it. (I wouldn't have imagined that a plate of curry and rice with pork cutlet on top could cost that much.)

Abe was second in the first round of voting, but won the second (and final) round. The Shukan Post Seven in another article says it was because of the net-savvy supporters of his, successfully trashing the opponents by flooding the offices of LDP representatives who were supporting the opponents with phone, fax, and email messages like "Why do you support so-and-so, instead of Mr. Abe?" His supporters disclosed on the Internet the names, addresses, and contact information of the party members who endorsed Abe's opponent, urging net citizens to flood them with protest.

Well it seems that one or two such supporters even came to my blog in defense of his/her weak-stomach hero the other day.

His supporters have apparently been swarming the net (social media like Twitter in particular) attacking people and the media who mocked his performance of eating 3,500-yen curry and rice, accusing them of the bias against Abe.

So, in the coming general election, the choice will be: LDP under Mr. Shinzo "I can eat a whole plate of pork cutlet curry now" Abe, or DPJ under Mr. Yoshihiko "Fukushima achieved cold shutdown state, and oh by the way I ditched the zero nuke policy for Obama" Noda, or whatever the party of the boy-wonder of Osaka City, who sets off police on the citizens asking him to reconsider the disaster debris burning in Osaka City.

A new low for Japan if that's even possible, but my bet for the election outcome is the third one, out of sheer disgust with the former two, unless the small parties can form a coalition (which I doubt very much) to fight these dominant parties.

There's one person I'm keeping an eye on in Noda's new cabinet, Seiji Maehara.
His ministerial portfolio is national strategy, economy and finance, and administration of nuclear policy. (Now, who needs the prime minister, if there's Mr. Maehara?) He could wreck havoc, and give an "in" to the boy-wonder on the national stage. Sure enough, the boy-wonder is squawking already, saying he has "high hopes" Mr. Maehara, and that he thought Japan would change for the better ("better" for him and his kind) if only Mr. Maehara's policies were implemented.

Nikkei: "Obama Administration Expressed Grave Concern Over Japan's "No-Nuke by 2030(s)" Policy, Japan Dutifully Scrapped It" (and Nikkei Scrapped the Article 5 Days Later)

Japanese media has been saying for some time that it was the US government who pressured the Noda administration to drop the "zero nuke by 2030" (which morphed into "zero nuke sometime in 2030s) from its new nuclear and environmental policy decision. Tokyo Shinbun reported it a while ago, and now Nikkei Shinbun just reported it with more details. There is no news reported in the US on the matter.

The difference of the Nikkei Shinbun's article is that it names names: President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It's hard for me to believe that this president has time for trivial matters like actually governing the affairs inside and outside the US in the election year (he must be very busy right now preparing for the big "debate"), but that's what Nikkei Shinbun wants us to believe. The article also mentions Secretary of State Clinton pressuring the Noda administration officials by strongly indicating it was the wish of President Obama and the US Congress that Japan scrap that silly nuclear energy policy.

And then, one added twist: the Nikkei article has disappeared.

The particular article was published on September 25. Nikkei is one of the better ones in retaining the links to the articles, but not in this case. It was still on Nikkei's site as of yesterday, I bookmarked it to write about it later. When I clicked on the link this morning, it was gone.

However, thanks to this blogger, the article was preserved just the way I read it yesterday.

So, here's Nikkei article that has disappeared (9/25/2012; emphasis is mine):


The US request that Japan continue nuclear power plant is "the President's idea"

2012/9/25 0:12


It has been revealed that the United States government was strongly urging [the Japanese government] to reconsider its policy of "zero nukes in 2030s" which was part of the energy and environmental strategy of the Noda administration, as "President Obama wishes it". [The US objection] was based on the fear that the framework of Japan-US cooperation for non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy might collapse [under the new policy]. [The Noda administration] eventually shelved the cabinet decision, but this ambiguous resolution may cause further trouble in the future.


According to the multiple government sources, as the Noda administration was moving in August toward explicitly putting down "zero nuke" in the official document, the US strongly requested that Japan reconsider the "zero nuke" policy, saying the request was "the result of discussion at the highest level of the government", indicating it was the Obama administration's consensus, from the president on down.


On September 8, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda met with the US Secretary of State Clinton during the APEC meeting in Vladivostok in Russia. Here again, representing the US president, Secretary Clinton expressed concern. While avoiding the overt criticism of the Noda administration's policy, she further pressured Japan by stressing that it was President Obama and the US Congress who were concerned.


The Noda administration sent its officials, including Special Advisor to Prime Minister Akihisa Nagashima, to the US on an urgent mission to directly discuss matters with the high-ranking White House officials who were frustrated with the Japanese response. By treating the new strategy as only a reference material, the Noda administration averted the confrontation with the US with the "equivocal" resolution (according to the Japanese government source) which allowed the US to interpret the Japanese action as shelving the zero nuke policy.


(According to Former Deputy Energy Secretary Martin,) the US government thinks that "The US energy strategy would be more likely to suffer a direct damage" because of the Japan's policy change toward zero nuclear energy. It is because the Japanese nuclear policy is closely linked also to the nuclear non-proliferation and environmental policies aimed at preventing the global warming under the Obama administration.


In the Atomic Energy Agreement effective as of 1988, Japan and the US agreed to a blanket statement that as long as it is at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, reprocessing of the nuclear fuel is allowed without prior consent from the US. Japan's most important role [in the agreement] is to secure the peaceful use of plutonium without possessing nuclear weapons.


The current Japan-US agreement will expire in 2018, and the government will need to start preliminary, unofficial discussions [with the US] as early as next year. There is some time before the expiration of the agreement, but if Japan leaves its nuclear policy in vague terms the US may object to renewal of permission for nuclear fuel reprocessing. Some (in the Japanese government) say "We are not sure any more what will happen to the renewal of the agreement."


Never mind that Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, after 19 years of building the facility, is still incomplete, and its operation remains a "trial run".

The US presidential election is on November 6. Why was the Noda administration in such a hurry to have its long-term nuclear policy shot down by the US administration which may or may not be there in a month? My personal conclusion is that Prime Minister Noda wanted to ditch the policy but needed the pretext of "gaiatsu" (external pressure).

And why did Nikkei pull the article?

On the separate news, the Atomic Energy Commission of Japan has just said it will abandon the effort to draw up the Nuclear Energy General Principles. With the establishment of the government's new energy and environmental strategy which left out "zero nuke" policy, the Principles will be decided upon, from now on, by the ministers in charge in a given administration.

Japanese politicians deciding the Principles. (How much more oxymoronic can you get?)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

#Radioactive Japan: WBC Result of a Child in Iwaki City, #Fukushima Seems to Suggest Chronic Ingestion of Radioactive Cesium of More than 10 Bq Per Day

Iwaki City in southern Fukushima Prefecture has been testing the residents in higher radiation districts since November last year using the Whole Body Counter (WBC) for internal radiation exposure. On September 25, the municipal government announced the result of the test for about 12,000 residents. (Iwaki City's population is about 330,000.)

Iwaki City's radiation levels are moderately high (it was on the path of the radioactive plume (or cloud) on March 15, 2011), but compared to the municipalities in Nakadori (middle third, including Date City, Fukushima City, and Koriyama City) and northern Hamadori (ocean-side third, including Futaba-machi, Okuma-machi, and Namie-machi) they are much lower. Still, the test has found one child with 3,300 becquerels of radioactive cesium.

Some speculate that this particular child was eating food grown in the home garden. Iwaki City hasn't disclosed the details of the child (age, sex, where he/she lives, what he/she eats, etc.). The date this child was tested hasn't been disclosed.

From Mainichi Shinbun Fukushima local version (9/26/2012):

東日本大震災:いわき・内部被ばく検査 国の基準下回る 妊婦と18歳以下計1万2134人

Iwaki City's internal radiation exposure test on 12,134 pregnant women and children under 18 show radiation exposure below the national standard


Iwaki City announced the result of the internal radiation exposure test it had been doing since last winter on children under 18 and women who had been pregnant by July last year. All 12,134 people tested were below the national standard of 1 millisievert effective dose, which is said to affect health.


The city went to schools with the Whole Body Counter (WBC) mounted on a vehicle [bus], and tested 4,235 children. The maximum internal radiation was 3,300 becquerels of radioactive cesium, and the effective dose for the child in the course of the child's life was 0.34 microsievert.


The city purchased two fixed-type WBC this May, and tested 110 people per day at the city's Health and Welfare Center and Iwaki Kyoritsu General Hospital. Of 8,829 people tested so far (with data totaled up for 7,899 of them), the maximum was 990 becquerels (effective dose of 0.053 microsievert), with 97% people below the detection limit (420 becquerels).


As the city workers have gotten used to handling the WBC, they can now test up to 194 people a day. The city planned to finish the testing of 64,000 people in the city by next summer, but the test will be finished by the end of the fiscal 2012 (March 2013) and expand the test to include all pregnant women.

What this Mainichi article doesn't tell you is the percentage of children found with internal radiation exposure above the detection limit. It only mentions the percentage of pregnant women.

Iwaki City posted this table on their website without further breakdown by age or district. From the Mainichi article above, the first row is children under 18 who were tested by the mobile WBC, and the second row is pregnant women (click to enlarge):

So, internal radiation exposure above the detection limit of 420 becquerels was found in 9.4% of children tested, while in adults, with much bigger sample numbers, it was only 2.8%, with much lower maximum exposure (990 becquerels).

If the child was tested in November when Iwaki City started testing children under 18 in the particular districts within the city known for higher levels of radiation, then it was about 8 months, or 240 days from the time of the accident. Looking at the chart from ICRP publication 111, page 21, in order to reach 3,300 becquerels in 240 days, the child would have to be ingesting much more than 10 becquerels of radioactive cesium per day, more likely over 20 becquerels and possibly close to 30 becquerels per day.

Why were children found with internal radiation exposure at a much higher percentage than adult women? They may absorb more but I thought they would excrete faster.

I remember reading an article about internal radiation exposure and WBC very early in the accident last year. People who worked in the nuclear industry were freaking out that staying for a short time in Fukushima after the accident resulted in thousands of becquerels of radioactive cesium inside the body. So that was a big deal then, and this child having thousands of becquerels of radioactive cesium is not, judging by the reaction in Japan. The focus seems to be on the effective dose, and the thinking is "since it's so low there's nothing to worry about".

By the way, there are sites (both in Japanese and in English) that claim 3,300 becquerels of radioactive cesium has been detected in a pregnant woman and that number is per kilogram. That information is wrong. It was from a child, and it is not per kilogram.