Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fukushima Casualties

Fukushima Casualties

There are two socio-economic casualties of the Fukushima aside from the obvious spread of radiation. First a few comments on that. It’s disingenuous to compare CT scans and X-rays to atmospheric radiation since a one time zap is completely different than having a radioactive particle lodged in your body. Once ingested each different element migrates to a specific part of the body – radioactive Iodine, for instance, goes to the thyroid – and continually and cumulatively discharges its carcinogens.

We also often find exposure compared to background radiation, as if it’s no big deal. What they don’t mention is that most background radiation is a result of nuclear testing; it’s not something people have always lived with, and, as mentioned previously, there is no safe level of exposure. All radiation causes cancer; minimal exposure causes minimal cancers, but since it’s all cumulative, every little bit increases your chances of developing the disease.

One casualty of Fukushima is globalization itself. The concept of globalization encourages manufacturers to scour the globe for the cheapest and best possible location for fabricating and/or assembling each individual part of a complex whole. This has caused a lot of grief for Toyota, which has had to stop or slow production of its vehicles in plants around the world because of the earthquake/tsunami. Sometimes a part is manufactured in only one location and if that one plant gets washed away in a giant tsunami, well everything shuts down.

Toyota also pioneered just-in-time manufacturing. Instead of producing and then storing parts in warehouses for eventual use, parts are delivered to the assembly line just minutes before they are to be used. As a result there is no leeway, if any part of the supply chain breaks down the whole edifice shuts down. It’s a very efficient method of manufacturing, but as we see subject to total breakdown when things don’t go exactly according to plan.

The other casualty is the Nuclear Renaissance, the return to the purportedly ‘green’ energy source, which has been dead in the water for decades because of a multiplicity of factors. Fukushima won’t stop China and other countries, rich and poor, from building nukes but it will certainly slow the process. It will also increase dependency on fossil fuels just when we are approaching peak oil crunch time.

As we are now seeing, in the frantic attempt to sustain the endless growth paradigm, ever more delicate, difficult and dangerously placed reserves are being developed. While BP was guilty of gross negligence in the Gulf of Mexico blowout, the proliferation of drilling around the world in those marginal areas will almost certainly result in additional catastrophic pollution events. That’s in addition to the damage done in some processes even when all goes according to plan, as in the poisoning of groundwater that results from using hydraulic fracturing in extraction of gas from shale deposits.

All in all the environment is in for some serious thrashing and trashing.

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