HAMMERNEWS- Michael Hammerschlag

Current Political Commentary by journalist Michael Hammerschlag; Thoughts on foreign policy, Republican outrages, liberal strategies, science by 8 year correspondent in Russia/Ukraine over 22 years and longtime commentator; Website: http://HAMMERNEWS.com

Tuesday, March 08, 2011



I'm shocked by the incompetence and frankly chicken reaction of the Japanese. Seems America was very successful in inculcating them with safety and peace values, over everything, to the extent that the samuri spirit was bred out of them... and their unique and terrible history with nuclear bombs has caused lasting psychological damage. If you run nuclear power stations, you have to be willing to sacrifice people to keep them under control- they understood that at 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl (though in fact most people thrown in the fight here were unaware it was probably a death sentence).. but the Japanese reacted with such an abundance of caution that when it was possible to observe and control the damage without fatalities or even permanent injury, they did almost nothing. And so we get these incredible idiotic coy statements about “highly radioactive water, but we don't know where it's coming from”. Well, FIND OUT!! Now, with highly contaminated lethal plants there is no possibility they will get in there. So we are looking at real meltdowns, and years of trouble and terror.

Where are the military bomb robots from Iraq, or the bird-size drones we've been hearing about for years?? How can they still not know what's going on in these plants? The spent fuel pools are giant sources of danger- one has 10 reactors of spent fuel, and with one a Pl-U mix, burning Plutonium in the air is still a possibility. It's already in the water outside the plant, so now there is rupture of maybe 2 internal containments. The Japanese NRC, if it exists, should have taken over from the wimps and fools at TEPCO; but I guess they are also toothless and compromised.

Hard-core anti-nuclear activists are deeply convinced of their moral rectitude, but the world has changed around them w GW: nuclear power is like a fly in your house and GW is a freight train running through it. The campaign against nuclear power has been tragic and Pyrrhic- if there were double the nuclear plants, the Earth would be in much better shape. And we may be past the point of no return, which this producer who made the Coal Mtn-top Removal movie and is just finishing a GW documentary, believes. There are no absolutes- the world is moving towards coal, and all of its effects are incredibly poisonous to the environment. You saw the effect of one 10M tsunami on a small part of Japan- 26,000 dead- imagine the effect of one 20-30M hitting the whole world from ice sheet collapse. As Americans, we may not initially die from food shortages or exponential price rises, unless you are poor, but there are a lot of ways to die, it will get worse and worse, and your children and grandchildren are in mortal threat.

Obama is now calling for 1/3 reduction of foreign oil imports by 2025, too little too late- total independence by 2020 should have been the goal, with massive alternative energy projects across the sun and wind belts, and yes, fast track nuclear too. He barely mentions solar or wind power. France is +85% nuclear and hasn't had any problem, likewise the US Navy has run nuclear submarines for over a half-century, where they breathe the same air for months, and not had any nuclear disasters. I toured the Trojan Nuclear power plant and prophylactic factory on the Columbia R. once in the days when you could get press tours, but they don't let you see the cool stuff, like the eerie Kirilian blue light from the spent fuel pools.


----- The ppm of CO2 has increased over 4 ppm to 389, that is over a 1% rise in only 2 years; over the next 10 years, at 2.3 ppm/year and accelerating, that is a 6.6% further rise to 415. And these levels are already 28% higher than anything seen in the last 4 million years.
--so the 0.9° C (1.62° F) 5 yr average rise, the latest 2010 number, over the last 100 years (from 1907 to 2010 a 1.06C rise in annual averages; in 2003, the IPCC number was only 0.7, so thats a 28% rise of 100 yr-change in only 7 years), can mean a .4° C rise in the tropics, 1--1.6° rise in Europe, and 3-6° change in the Arctic, ----- "ARE WE COOKED"

Khaddaffi, Qaddaffi, Kadaffy, lets call the whole thing off: (not really)

As I was afraid, there is a certain organic process to this. momentum to overthrowing evil dictators- they are aware in their bones of their accumulated crimes, and have nightmares of their oppressed people rising up and dismembering them.. and had the West intervened at just the right moment when all the momentum was against the K-man, their fear would have turned to panic, many government and military people would have turned against them, and I believe he would have already fled. Now it looks to be a long fight, probable partition, and a trained experienced military always have a significant advantage. Course it's always better to act internationally, but even Arab govs support us in this.

The news out of Japan is incredible- that the most earthquake-prepared country on earth has 4 nuclear plants in serious trouble- with a full meltdown at one and partial at others, although with the reactor control rods in, a full meltdown shouldn't be possible. I've been without Internet so haven't even watched the videos and only read sketchy reports. With the fuel exposed heats up and zirconium in the rods hydrolyze the water into Oxygen and Hydrogen, which accumulates in the building. I've written 3 long articles on nuclear war, and read The Warning- a book about 3 Mile Island (which was entirely human caused- operators shut off 4 redundant cooling systems on the basis of ONE erroneous sensor, so insane that I thought maybe they were all dosed with acid- the NRC guys almost couldn't believe they did what they did when they came on the scene). Oh, and I lived 60 miles from Chernobyl for 2½ years in Kiev, swam in the Dneiper, and drank the tap water (which comes from another river). And it hasn't affected me at all, at all, ah...ah... ah. A Brit friend doing a doctorate on Chernobyl tourism showed me the pics of the Red Forest, bright red trees in the intense radioactive zone, where you don't venture even for 10 minutes. The restricted area has an enormous amount of wildlife now- humans are a lot worse than radiation.

I bodysurfed the tidal bore (42ft tides-highest in the world, but they come in in 45min, not 6 hours) at the river end of the Bay of Fundy in a display of youthful bravado that may have ended badly had I been swept into quicksand flats past it (luckily hit a central pier of rocks, sucked under a whirlpool in the 8ft water, then the wave broke to only a foot deep and could walk out). One thing to think about in watching are the tsunami footage- this is Pacific winter ocean water: 5 degrees C if they are lucky, and most of the people killed were probably by the cold- only 15-30 minutes survival.

Actually Arthur, the Hindenburg burned nice and evenly, as pure hydrogen does, but mixed with air at 1 part to 10 or whatever, it becomes spectacularly explosive, so it would be much worse. With burning hot nuclear fuel and oxygen also generated, explosions aren't a possibility, but an automatic eventuality. Worse it would happen INSIDE an egg, which a containment building essentially is. A 5 psi overpressure (blast wave) will knock down any normal wooden house, but in a 3 Mile Island hydrogen explosion inside the containment, there was a 30psi spike (enough to knock down even reinforced apartment bldgs), way above what it was built to take (thank Westinghouse). Had it cracked open (like an egg), it would have dumped 70,000 roentgens of an evil stew of radionucleotides into the air 60 miles north of Harrisburg, or 100? west of Trenton.

I took a whole college course in earthquakes at ---, one reason many free thinkers went there, and always wanted to be in a really big one (outside of course), but only saw two 4's in Seattle and Hawaii. A 9.0 is as big as they get, 100 times bigger than the 1989 SF one that I was almost in (left a week before) in the logarithmic scale. LA and SF are on schedule to be part annihilated, since the accumulated unrelieved fault slippage in the San Andreas is now 2x more than the 1906 quake- none of the other Cal. quakes were really on the main San Andreas (in the 70's it was supposedly already 7 ft).

The radioactive stuff you hear about is iodine, because it is concentrated in the thyroid, intense beta emitter w 8 day half-life, and quickly causes cancer (but can be avoided by saturating the system with regular iodine); but the truly dangerous long term stuff are two 30 year half-life isotopes: Strontium 90, which being in the same family as Calcium, gets absorbed into the bones (especially children); and Cesium 137, which being similar to Sodium and Potassium, gets absorbed in the muscles, and highly soluable, so deeply contaminates the environment. It is a vicious gamma emitter so strong that it is used in cancer treatment machines (and achieved some fame when Brazilian and Russian scrap metal junk scavengers toasted themselves and families with the beautiful mysterious glowing substance). Since Calcium is so slowly absorbed, flooding the system with it doesn't remove the danger of Strontium- it is a long long term threat after a nuclear bomb or accidental release. We all have detectable traces of this shit in our bones (under 78 yo) from the hundreds of nuclear tests in the 50's and 60's.

Pressurized  water nuclear reactors with primary and secondary loops work at temperatures and pressures that seem impossible (past the critical points of solid-liquid-gas transitions, from what I thought I learned; no thats 374C and 220 atm)- 155 atmospheres pressure and 320 degree C. Any damage of anything in them guarantees further catastrophic failure. A pinhole leak in one of these things would cut a person in half and blow down walls. Luckilly Fukushima has boiling water reators, which operate at a far lower pressure- 74 atm +283C, but have only one loop of water for spinning the turbines, so everything is somewhat radioactive. Even with the main nuclear reaction shut down- the fuel rods themselves keep cooking from all the byproducts created in the intense neutron field, and must be water cooled for 5 years or so. The explosion in #4 was only from a breakdown of old stored fuel rods getting so hot they started hydrolyzing the water.

What is inexplicable is why all the failsafe cooling systems have failed; and why all these things weren't hardened to withstand tsunami- oil fired diesel pumps aren't the most reliable things after a tsunami. It is very bad that they are cooling them with sea water- first it conducts electricity and will short out everything, second it is highly corrosive, third the sodium chloride will react with the various metals and radionucleotides on it's own, creating more deadly byproducts like chlorine. All the plants in trouble are in a row- 4 of them, and now they say 3 are trashed forever, causing a permanent devastating blow to Japans economy- they don't have backup plants to replace all that capacity. Likely the 50 hero guys remaining to fight the meltdowns are ghosts, like virtually all the people dumping sand and fire fighting stuff on Chernobyl and later cleanup. They all will probably receive lethal doses.

NYT: “Readings reported on Tuesday showed a spike of radioactivity around the plant (#2) that made the leakage categorically worse than in had been, with radiation levels measured at one point as high as 400 millisieverts an hour. Even 7 minutes of exposure at that level will reach the maximum annual dose that a worker at an American nuclear plant is allowed. And exposure for 75 minutes would likely lead to acute radiation sickness.” “We are on the brink. We are now facing the worst-case scenario,” said Hiroaki Koide, a senior reactor engineering specialist at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University. “We can assume that the containment vessel at Reactor No. 2 is already breached. If there is heavy melting inside the reactor, large amounts of radiation will most definitely be released.”

Lets hope the winds blow Westerly (from, that is, still think its stupid to not call winds where they blow, to) and the major cities avoid getting dosed with anything nasty. California (and Hawaii) may have a few weeks of radically different pollution warnings, though. Chernobyl was much much worse, though- the worst accident possible- 5 days of burning Plutonium- the tiniest particle of which if inhaled- always caused cancer.

Even with all the travails and terror, I still am a booster of nuclear power, because with this included, the fatalities from nuclear accidents are maybe a few tens of thousands whereas the deaths from global warming will probably be billions. Imagine a tsunami twice that height hitting all over the world if a Long Island piece of Antarctic ice 2 miles high slams into the ocean at 150mph.


The revolutions ripping through Africa/Middle East are hopeful and encouraging, but also dangerous to their people and to the West . For eons, Arabs have lived under absolute dictators- some brutal (Assads, Khaddafi, Somali's, Sudan's), some enlightened (Husseins-Jordan, Hariri), but democracy was brutally suppressed, even in our best buddy Egypt. When anti-[extremist Muslim] protesters in Cairo tried to hold a demonstration in a central circle, they were instantly arrested.

------The 28 year Mubarak government rules with an iron hand: any protests, including those against Islamic control, which the government might be expected to support, are summarily crushed. Recently by Talaat Harb Sq., 3 large police vans disgorged 60 black-clad police, reported whisking away 20 protesters about Egypt’s refusal to let in Gazan refugees before they even had a chance to be noticed. The Muslim Brotherhood, responsible for past slaughters of tourists, is banned, but bizarrely holds 20 seats in Parliament----- Cairo Calm

The enormous youth population across the Arab (and all 2nd-3rd world, where people breed at an incredible rate, mostly as their form of Social Security) have made such an upheaval almost inevitable- America wasn't caught unaware- Hillary Clinton warned the Big Cheeses that they were sitting on a volcano that would soon blow them away only a month or 2 before the tectonic shift. 
While Libya is getting all the attention, Egypt is still the big story- encouragingly their shift has been peaceful so far, despite the housebroken military apparently not being a huge transition from the geriatric Mubarak, but latest news is the new cabinet is almost all different than the old regime, some chosen by the demonstrators. In echoes of 1989, demonstrators stormed and sacked the security police headquarters and liberated embarrassing documents.

The truth is, one of the huge draws of Islam is it's deep democratic strains- perhaps more than any religion (with the exception of women)- something never acknowledged or understood in the West. People are intimately involved in deciding everything in local mosques, and the network of religious social services is extensive. In America, 1 of 10 churches may really help the poor, in Arabia or Pakistan or Indonesia- every one does- its part of the extended social contract with the people. When an insane homeless guy came to my friend Riz's Seattle travel agency, he was assured of some money or sustenance, as are the poor in any mosque. The essential democracy of the Haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, where the ultra-rich and dirt poor dress in simple white garb, pack into tiny areas, and are equal for a few days, is also unappreciated by the West.
BUT: their beliefs about women are deeply twisted.

That said, the vicious history of Algeria provides a huge cautionary note, that Al Kaida (I'm officially changing the name, since the Bush people basically created these guys in their scare campaign- the extremists actually were molded around Bush's advertising and publicity, from maybe 100 actual real members to thousands.*) will use this if possible to come to power in places that have a real vacuum of power like Tunisia (Libya's opposition is a real force, Egypt's military is too strong and coherent, but the little states, like Bahrain, Yemen, or UAE, are vulnerable.

The possible Civil War in Libya should be squelched early by concerted action of US-EU, not with an incredibly complex no-fly zone; but with selected attacks on the fighters and bases- modern missile cruisers can take out planes 150 miles away, safely offshore (with Khaddafi having almost all air power, determining the enemy isn't difficult). Khaddafi (Gaddafi, Qaddafi, lets call the whole thing off) is a longtime brutal scumbag- not in Saddam territory, but stories of his unknown massacres are steadily coming out. And one ex-Minister ally has claimed (without too much credibility and self-tarringly) that he heard Muammar (love that name-maybe it will become a candy bar) give the order to shoot down Pan Am 103 (that destroyed thousands of my free ticket-broker Pan Am awards, when they went bust). Obama must weigh in quickly against Khadaffi, before too many lives or treasure is lost- little actions could quickly tip the balance against the defiant and recalcitrant relic of the 70's. The little bastard had a good run- 42 years of erratic “revolutionary” show-biz spectaculars- send him to some luxury Elbe before he manages to enact his scorched earth Hitlerian resistance. That said, its kind of nice to see bastards fight to the death- “give me my dictatorship, or give me death”. Uh..... OK!!!!

The other simmering threat to world stability is these revolutions spreading to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, and other big oil producing states. SA is the largest wild-card, a brutal corrupt monarchy ruling a tiny populace in a big empty desert, that has embraced extreme Sunni Wahabbism (like the mustard) cynically to co-opt the hate-mongering whack jobs,.... but in fact, has institutionalized the most extreme and fervent fanatics... who are suppressed only with extreme brutality and a pervasive security apparatus. Saudi Arabia is the worst pressure cooker in the ME, and greatest danger to the tenuous oil supply, whose price is spiking mostly on fears, not any real shortage. The Royals were forced to release a Shiite democracy advocate, as the terror of overthrow washes over them in multiple waves. Hosni is reportedly in exile there. Yemen's Saleh is barely holding on to power after killing about 25 protesters, and Jordan's young Hussein has also been shaken by mass protests, and made various concessions. Iran's murderous mullahs are trembling at this unleashing of people power- their rotten Talibanic rule is already decades too long and death toll over a million, with the unnecessary 6 year extension of the Iran-Iraq War.

America has for decades supported whatever dictator was in power, helping them with vast assistance (like Egypt), but the alternatives were often much worse. Pressure for liberalization often went nowhere, but to our corporate government, stability was paramount. But truthfully, across the Middle East and Africa, brutal kleptocrats seem to be de rigueur (one thing that made the Neocon's sunny vision for a democratic Iraq so imbecilic): Western democracy does not have a very successful history there.

Oil is the raw material for plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer; and the coming oil shortage will hit these things first- meaning, with the first Great Drought, a lack of fertilizer will maximize the death toll, raising food prices 5-10 fold. I believe with total conviction, that we are within 10 years of the first Great Drought, there will be more, and the human race will learn with monstrous certainty that it is not exempt from the iron laws of supply and demand, that we are rapacious animals who have destroyed the environment that sheltered us, even as we furiously over-bred. Previously disease culled humans so population crashes from food shortages weren't that common, but our conquering of the various plagues have enabled us to eat up the world... and soon it will return the favor. These epidemics will also return, with the load of weakened and dying, and the collapse of much of higher civilization.

But in the short term, the Arab earthquake is a good thing for them and us- unleashing massive amount of fallow captive energy, talent, and creativity... hogtied by the paranoia and paralyzing control of the dictators for so long. Our obsessive fears of extremist Islam shouldn't blind us to the enlightening power of this democratic hurricane. [How long it will last before the GD decimates them is really the question- there isn't much arable land in North Africa.] This revolution was the result of the mobile phone and Internet, not the fruit of the treasonous Iraq Invasion, which empowered the crazies, radicalized the populace, discredited America, and destroyed the Cradle of Civilization. Obama and Hillary were very wise to get out ahead of it- they can solidify their creds by helping blast the rat Khaddafi from his warren. We do owe him.

* [Another treason of BushCo, with the theft of Election2000, allowing OBL to escape, and invading Iraq in perhaps the most counterproductive military action in US or world history.]