Weekend open thread: Nightmare in Japan

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? The footage coming out of Japan the last couple of days has been horrifying. At least 10,000 people are now estimated to have died in the 9.0 earthquake near Sendai and subsequent tsunami. Hundreds of aftershocks, some of them quite powerful, threaten to destroy structures the first earthquake weakened. Power outages will occur because several of Japan’s nuclear reactors have been shut down. Radiation is leaking from the 40-year-old Fukushima nuclear plant, where one of the buildings exploded on Saturday and a meltdown seems to have occurred.  Authorities are distributing iodine to protect people nearby against some adverse health effects from radiation exposure. The nightmare scenario is northerly winds blowing a radioactive cloud toward Tokyo. Although Japanese nuclear plants have more containment features than Soviet reactors like the one destroyed in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, people are comparing the two catastrophic events. Chris Meyers and Kim Kyung-hoon reported for Reuters,

However, experts said Japan should not expect a repeat of Chernobyl. They said pictures of mist above the plant suggested only small amounts of radiation had been expelled as part of measures to ensure its stability, far from the radioactive clouds Chernobyl spewed out 25 years ago.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said it was rating the incident a 4 on the 1 to 7 International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), less serious than 1979’s Three Mile Island, which was rated a 5, and Chernobyl at 7. […]

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters the nuclear reaction facility was surrounded by a steel storage machine, which was itself surrounded by a concrete building.

“This concrete building collapsed. We learnt that the storage machine inside did not explode,” he said.

Saturday morning I was disgusted by MSNBC’s coverage of the nuclear plant explosion. The only “expert” they interviewed to discuss the meltdown risk was from the Nuclear Energy Institute. He spent almost all his air time talking about how the radiation leak was very short-term, affecting a small area, and anyway we’re all exposed to radiation every day just by virtue of living on planet earth. I’m sure General Electric (major shareholder in NBC communications) wouldn’t want viewers to get too worried about nuclear power. GE built the Fukushima facility.

This disaster reveals one of the major hidden costs of nuclear power:

The liability costs associated with cleaning up after the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant will ultimately be borne by the Japanese government instead of the private insurance market, according to experts from the insurance industry.

Those liability costs, if they prove substantial, will place an added burden on the government as it copes with tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars in other expenses linked to the massive rebuilding effort that lies ahead.

This is an open thread.

UPDATE: Added YouTube clips from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 Labor Day address after the jump. Speaking about Polish workers, Reagan said, “Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.” Reagan served six terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s and 1950s (when he was a Democrat). As Republican governor of California and president of the U.S., however, he did a lot of damage to the organized labor movement.

SECOND UPDATE: What a total disgrace. The Obama administration has forced State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley to resign because he said last week that the Defense Department’s treatment of accused Wikileaker Private Bradley Manning is “is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” President Obama was asked about Crowley’s comments at Friday’s press conference and (disgracefully) defended the way Manning is being treated in custody.

THIRD UPDATE: Physicist Michio Kaku: “At present, it seems that Unit 1 has only suffered partial melting. The situation at Unit 1 is stable, but the situation with Unit 3 continues to worsen hour by hour. The danger is that a further secondary earthquake or pipe break could cause the sea water to flush out of the core, uncovering the uranium and initiating a full-scale meltdown. “

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