Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On Japan’s nuclear crisis, and more welfare rumblings

March 16th, 2011


Illustration by Tim Denee – www.timdenee.com

The nuclear crisis in Japan is a textbook example of why government regulation is essential for public safety. According to this New York Times story, the design risks associated with the type of General Electric designed Mark 1 boiling water reactors now in trouble at the Fukushima Daiichi complex were known and identified as long ago as 1972, shortly after the design came on stream.
Essentially, the design involved building the containment core cheaply, a key selling point in peddling the design successfully to customers around the world.

G.E. began making the Mark 1 boiling water reactors in the 1960s, marketing them as cheaper and easier to build — in part because they used a comparatively smaller and less expensive containment structure. American regulators began identifying weaknesses very early on.

In 1972, Stephen H. Hanauer, then a safety official with the Atomic Energy Commission, recommended in a memo that the sort of “pressure-suppression” system used in G.E.’s Mark 1 plants presented unacceptable safety risks and that it should be discontinued. Among his concerns were that the smaller containment design was more susceptible to explosion and rupture from a buildup in hydrogen — a situation that may have unfolded at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “What are the safety advantages of pressure suppression, apart from the cost saving?” Mr. Hanauer asked in the 1972 memo

While explicitly agreeing with Hanauer’s concerns in this memo the regulatory authorities at the time responded with the classic line of argument – deeply ironic in the light of current events – that the design had been so quickly and widely embraced by G.E.’s customers that effective regulation of the product was no longer feasible :

The technology had been so widely accepted by the industry and regulatory officials that “reversal of this hallowed policy, particularly at this time, could well be the end of nuclear power.”

Non-regulation, as it now turns out, may also now be the end of nuclear power. Or at least the end of the road for the 23 reactors in 16 US plants that share the same design as the Fukushima plant, and which should now be de-commissioned. Clearly, the recall of a dodgy nuclear power plant design is on a far larger scale than the recall of a faulty Toyota automobile. In this case, the design flaws were exposed by an additional factor. There was a mistaken belief that an earthquake would pose the main risk threat to the Fukushima complex, and not the tsunami that would come in its wake.

At Fukushima, the reactors were situated on low lying ground behind a sea wall – with the assumption being that the plant could survive an earthquake (which it did) and that the sea wall would effectively block the tsunami (which it didn’t):

The tsunami that followed the quake washed over walls that were supposed to protect the plants, disabling the diesel generators crucial to maintaining power for the reactors’ cooling systems during shutdown. Cooling system malfunctions caused overheating and partial fuel meltdowns at two reactors at the Daiichi plant, becoming Japan’s worst nuclear accident.

Peter Yanev, one of the world’s best-known consultants on designing nuclear plants to withstand earthquakes, said the seawalls at the Japanese plants probably could not handle tsunami waves of the height that struck them. And the diesel generators were situated in a low spot on the assumption that the walls were high enough to protect against any likely tsunami. That turned out to be a fatal miscalculation. The tsunami walls either should have been built higher, or the generators should have been placed on higher ground to withstand potential flooding, he said.

In other words, a bad design peddled far and wide before the risks could be safely assessed and regulated, and then placed in an environment where those risks would become a potentially lethal health risk to millions of people. There would hardly be a clearer example of market failure, and the folly of industry self-regulation when it comes to public safety.

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Weird Welfare Notions

Talking of regulation, more media attention should have been paid to this excellent piece last week by Greens Co-Leader Metiria Turei, who picked up on one of the loonier flights of fancy emanating from the Welfare Working Group. Turei cited this bizarre passage from the WWG’s final report, which says at page 53 :

Active job search and retraining is also likely to increase the total number of jobs available. This is partly because of the multiplier effect of higher incomes on the rest of the economy. Active job search will also lead to increased employment because of the dynamic nature of the labour market. … More generally, the evidence suggests that if there are well functioning labour market institutions, over the medium term the total number of jobs will expand to equal the number of people who are available and actively seeking work.

Got that? Seek ye for jobs, and ye shall find them. Because, according to the evangelists on the WWG panel, the number of jobs will magically expand to equal the number of people available and actively looking for them. Oh, that’s if there are ‘well functioning market institutions’. One day, we will reach that Promised Land.

Or at least some of us will. Not so many of the teeming poor though, who may well be forced via the Welfare Working Group recommendations (the key quotes are on p 77) into being injected with long acting contraceptives as a condition of getting a benefit. In the 1970s, there was a howling outcry about an identical proposal to force women into accepting injections of Depo Provera. Barely a ripple this time around – apart from a few honourable exceptions like this solid analysis on the Hand Mirror website.

Turei again, made a good fist of pressing Social Development Minister Paula Bennett on WWG issues in the House.

While Bennett stonewalled on which WWG recommendations she would accept or reject and gave no timeframe for her eventual decisions, Turei rightly concluded that this meant the contraception proposal (and other draconian WWG suggestions) were still a live issue:

[Bennett]confirmed that she is considering the sinister recommendation that women on the Domestic Purposes Benefit be given long-acting contraception in conjunction with ‘information about expectations’ of benefit receipt. “The clear implication is that benefits could be linked to contraception, a policy that borders on eugenics. The Minister refused to rule this out today.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if a court challenge eventually has to be mounted – under say, the Bill of Rights and/or the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – if women caring for children are to be denied the means to support their families unless they accept “long active reversible contraception” being injected into their bodies. Remember when people whipped themselves into a frenzy because the Nanny State was allegedly trying to regulate their shower nozzles? Those were the good old days.

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    1. 21 Responses to “On Japan’s nuclear crisis, and more welfare rumblings”

    2. By lyndon on Mar 16, 2011 | Reply

      What looks to be a rather thorough technical analysis at
      http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7638

    3. By dave brown on Mar 16, 2011 | Reply

      That idea that the number of people looking for work will create more jobs is the holy grail of the market. That is the whole point of the welfare reform to lower wages. More people competing for jobs lowers the price of labour and hence more jobs are created. The most jobs will be created when workers work for nothing.

    4. By Tara on Mar 16, 2011 | Reply

      Dave you mean like Benthams 17th century Panopticon plan, a prison model society?
      In 1811 british parliament rejected the idea, looks like it needs to be squashed again in the 2011.
      Thats as far from innovation as you can get….union busting, wage dropping and scapegoating.

      Commission on why buildings collapsed in a sizable earthquake is a waste of taxpayers money.The earthquake made the buildings collapse, it wasn’t a pigeon that was roosting on the buildings at the time of the quake nor was it “pre-depopulation” that casued the buildings to collapse.

    5. By Joe Blow on Mar 16, 2011 | Reply

      The mindset of this government blows as usual! And no mention at all about labour productivity!

      Like one of National’s pets, the Don Brash led Taskforce 2025, there’s just no logic to the WWG. The whole thing is ideologically driven. Free markets will assure us of everything. We’ve lagged behind Oz in labour productivity since 1978, which would coincide with the UK shutting the door when it joined the EU. Yet Brash’s remedy is to do anything but what Oz is actually doing (i.e. paying more for their labour and not completely dismantling their unions).

      And labour productivity is not even part of the WWG framework! If this government was really serious about shrinking the gap with Oz its WWG would be considering all of the economic factors related to the labour market! I thought this government was supposed to care about our economy!

    6. By peasantpete on Mar 16, 2011 | Reply

      The WWG appear to ignore the fact that keeping slaves is more expensive than having wage workers.

      Hordes of starving beggars do make a good labour source.

      Recent events in various Arabian states might give the Business Round Table and the Employer’s Federation food for thought.

      First they came for the ones who had not applied for jobs. They were too sick, old, physically and/or mentally impaired.

      Then they came for the ones who had not applied for jobs. They had babies and young children to look after.

      Then they came for the ones who had not applied for jobs. There were no jobs to be had.

      Well that got rid of the welfare bludgers.

      OOps, sorry, I forgot the pensioners, they were all (by definition) past their use by date anyway.

      Now we have a perfect economy. To hell with people, they just mess up economists fantasies.

    7. By RobertM on Mar 17, 2011 | Reply

      The present NZ economy seems to suffer from overemployment and low productivity. Padded employment in supermarket, factories and departments seems to be widespread. In other nations much of this type of worker would probably be regarded as inefficient and given a supposedly peaceful and quiet life on and incapacity and health benefit. It might be quite a good idea to expand jobs and venues in sex and bar work and make NZ a nightlife playground of the word with low cost entertainment but puritans like Prof Doug Selman, Palmer and Rebstock clearly don’t have that in mind.
      Australian liberals like Howard and Abbot have approved and advocated generous paternity support for teenage solo women and in fact fought vigorously for them to have that assistance along with married professional women. Surely the ultimate human right is to good sex and a good body. Surely a handsome l9 year old solo mum is a much better mother health wise that a 41 year old professional woman lawyer of Rebstocks type. Righting people off because their on the DPB or stress drugs seems ridiculous. It seems to me beneficiaries in some cases are people with the intelligence to avoid regular low grade work and the people who work in factories are of a lower order. Because to actually accept a minimum wage job if your over say 26 seems to me an indication your simple

    8. By Joe Blow on Mar 18, 2011 | Reply

      That’s interesting what you say about padded employment Robert. That would make one think that because we have lower priced labour we can afford to have padded employment so possibly our unemployment would be lower than where labour is more expensive right?

      However, in Oz where labour is more expensive they have a current unemployment rate of 5% while we’re up to 6.8%!

      What’s this government doing?

      Telling us that we’re going to catch up to Australia by doing the opposite of what Australia is doing! There’s just no logic to it! The ideology doesn’t fit the practiced facts! It’s ideologically driven! That’s the problem with this country. Too much ideology not enough pragmatism!

    9. By tara on Mar 18, 2011 | Reply

      @Robert and Joe -
      I don’t think the “pragmatism” of Robert (who seems to want welfare reforms in order to force more young DHB solo mums into sex workers for his own sexual gratification) is interesting at all.
      Election campaign though Robert?, guess Oprah doesn’t want to get into discussing turning NZ into a red light mothers district with a side of a HANZ monopoly.
      Though you two may think that the idea of reforming welfare policy at this time is high on the economic agenda, the rest of us would like to hear more about job creation, planning and innovation not this “17th Century” barbarism.
      As long as Robert gets his rocks off -seems like that sums up the ideology of the welfare reform that won’t go away.

    10. By Joe Blow on Mar 18, 2011 | Reply

      Okay Tara, how would you create jobs, planning and innovation without bringing the economy into the equation?

    11. By Tara on Mar 19, 2011 | Reply

      Joe we are already paying millions for Innovation, planning and job creation so it is paid for.
      Its an already existing economic cost for the taxpayer you cannot see that I really don’t know why we pay these advisors and economists millions so they can come up with the idea of welfare reform.

      Do you think MP’s from going on a trip to the commonwealth to learn about NZ parliamentary procedure and chat will help?Tell the buggers they should have already learnt procedure they are very well paid & we jolly well expect them to know what they are doing.

    12. By Joe Blow on Mar 19, 2011 | Reply

      So you’re saying that there’s not really any problem then and that we should just leave things the way they are? I thought everyone wanted to “hear more about job creation, planning and innovation” yet it’s already paid for? Done and dusted?

      What a cop out! At least Robert actually has some ideas and something to contribute!

    13. By Tara on Mar 19, 2011 | Reply

      Joe thank you for pointing out that though as taxpayers we paid for the delivery of three important services. It is not”done and dusted” and you only emphasize the lack of it with you and Rob’s “NZ one big brothel” slogan .
      I’m sorry you chose to ignore my contribution and cannot see the big economic problems are not from teh service delivery of social welfare.
      Only headless chickens would “Do something anything to be seen doing something’ even if there is real social harm and no economic benefit.
      ‘Contribute’ to you means telling you who I would prefer to pay to have sex with thus supporting deeply flawed policy.I see.

    14. By Joe Blow on Mar 19, 2011 | Reply

      You still haven’t told me how you would create jobs, planning and innovation in New Zealand, which you said “the rest of us would like to hear more about”.

      Please tell me what your contribution is to this issue?

    15. By tara on Mar 19, 2011 | Reply

      Joe Please tell me why you think you can both ignore my COMMENT on this issue of welfare reform and then claim that only if I expressed a preference for a young DHB sex worker over Paula I would then be seen by you as a “contribution”. What an ego!
      I’m sorry for you as Roberts contribution is your only provided reason for the policy of welfare reform in this economic failure (or recession).
      When you have any news on the job creation, planning and innovation let us know, (maybe another job sumutt).
      Take your time. Maybe after the Mp’s learn NZ parliamentary procedure overseas. Take your time guys we’ll just keep waiting and hoping that another unnecessary,unfounded and untimely policy doesn’t surface.

      All comments are ‘contributions’ not just yours and roberts.

    16. By Joe Blow on Mar 19, 2011 | Reply

      I’m sorry Tara but you have given absolutely NO suggestions on how to create jobs, planning and innovation in New Zealand. You have only said that the “big economic problems are not from teh service delivery of social welfare”, which I agree with but this is hardly an idea about how to create jobs, planning and innovation.

      Furthermore, at no time have I ever supported Robert’s idea for expanding venues and jobs in sex and bar work although I recognise sex workers and the sex industry as a legitimate sector of the economy. The New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective fought long and hard for such recognition through the decriminalisation of prostitution in this country.

      All I said was that what Robert said about “padded employment” was interesting. However, unlike yourself, Robert has actually stepped up to the plate and made a suggestion about how we can create jobs, which is commendable. However, unlike other sectors of the economy in New Zealand, I think we have enough bars and sex venues in New Zealand already. I don’t think Robert was that serious anyway. At least I never took him seriously. You need to take a deep breath, chillout and grow a sense of humour!

      So I don’t fall pray to my own criticism of your lack of any ideas for job creation here are some ideas of my own:

      1. Reinstate Labour’s R&D tax credit.

      2. Institute a land tax so that kiwis invest less in real estate and more in other forms of investment like people do in Australia (which has a land tax).

      3. Use kiwisaver funds to invest in new businesses in New Zealand. However, this may be difficult as not many kiwis would like their kiwisaver savings being gambled on risky new company start ups. I still like the idea though.

      4. The National Party’s Youth Guarantee scheme is a step in the right direction as we have a trades shortage. However, the eligibility for student allowances should be changed so that 16 an 17 year olds do not need year 13 or NCEA 3 to qualify for a student allowance at tertiary level and 16 and 17 year olds studying at trades academies in high schools should also be made eligible. Hell we should have financial insentives for people of any age to learn a trade.

      5. We should reinstate the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA) for undergraduate tertiary students who are on the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), Widow’s Benefit and Emergency Maintenance Allowance.

      6. There should be government support for training in caregiving and the government should subsidise wages in caregiving so that people will want to become caregivers. We should make moves to set up some kind of standards and educational requirements for caregivers so caregiving can develop into a fully fledged profession as we will need more caregivers to take care of the baby boomers. Caregiving is mostly government funded anyway and I’d prefer to have tax dollars supporting a higher wage for someone that would otherwise be a beneficiary doing caregiving than another beneficiary being stuck on the dole.

      If I think of any other ideas I’ll let you know.

    17. By Tara on Mar 20, 2011 | Reply

      2.Institute a land tax
      3. Use kiwisaver savings gambled on risky new company start ups.
      These were probably the “funniest”contributions,only they are not funny Joe and neither is welfare reform sending young mums as sex workers and cutting benefits.
      Keep ignoring the complete lack of reasons for Welfare reform and my comments on the lack of economic benefits to be had by going down this path of further social degradation.

    18. By Joe Blow on Mar 20, 2011 | Reply

      How would you create jobs, planning and innovation in New Zealand Tara?

    19. By tara on Mar 20, 2011 | Reply

      You keep ignoring both the complete lack of reasons for Welfare reform and my comments on the lack of economic benefits to be had by going down this path .
      Not implementing mindless policy with negative economic and social costs is very innovative.
      *Like making sure none of NZ superanuation funds are “unwisely” invested.

      Stop planning to sack more public service workers, this in itself creates jobs.
      Keep kiwi bank and other tasty undeveloped assets, also try using Kiwi Bank for transactions( since your ilk are planning to sell it can’t you pump it up so we get LESS screwed over).
      Why doesn’t NZ own rest homes, why are they oz owned Is it going to be good for our national economy to have privatised prisons, the parking ticket fees go off shore… does more offshore help our economy( sarcasim).Is privitisation( foreign ownership of prime NZ assets) good for our national economy.Padding low earning jobs when the ownership is foreign (pumping profits offshore) …joe how does that help our national economy.

      Why is the Govt actions seen as decadent and wasteful while we are told that we will be subjected to further service cuts .
      Stop training MP’s in NZ parliament procedure overseas.
      Don’t let the unskilled partner of a developer head the NZ EPA (with immunity?! ).
      Don’t try to play “catch up “with 3rd world countries that can always offer younger and cheaper sex workers for you and Robert.
      Don’t implement welfare reform in a recession -NZ ‘s poor,sick,ill, babies and children do not need further punishment for an economic situation they did not create.People know that welfare recipients did not create this recession, and so you will never recreate the scapegoat ideology with all its villification in the “bludger” days of Thatcher.

    20. By Joe Blow on Mar 20, 2011 | Reply

      You’re seriously mixed up Tara, you know that? You don’t even know who your enemy is! Everyone’s your enemy right?

      Dah! Of course forcing people off the benefit into a labour market that does not exist during a recession is wrong! That’s Gordon’s whole point! We know that! That’s why we’re all reading Gordon’s blog and agreeing with what he has written on the topic! Did you see anyone not agreeing with him above?

      Of course sacking government workers during a recession does not create jobs! Dah!

      Still simply not following this line of welfare reform will not “create jobs” in the long run. The problems created by the recession would still be there. Nor will not firing government workers. This would RETAIN jobs not CREATE them!

      YOU were the one who said everyone wanted to hear about how to CREATE jobs and innovation!

      I have no ambition to sell Kiwibank! Get a grip! You’re delusional! Have I ever said anything to suggest that I support the selling of state assets?

      You sound like you don’t like foreign ownership yet you’d prefer our Kiwisaver funds to continue to be milked by the big (safe?) foreign banks rather than being invested in New Zealand! What a dumb arse! Kiwisaver funds are already invested. Okay if you don’t want to help young kiwi owned fledgling businesses why not invest kiwisaver funds in infrastructure like the Auckland rail system? Kiwisaver participants already have a choice about what types of investment their funds will be invested in why not give them a new option? Hell we could use kiwisaver funds to invest in your beloved kiwi owned rest homes!

      You can’t see the wood from the trees!

      Critiquing the current government is not enough. You also need ideas!

      I’m done with wasting my time bashing my head against a brick wall trying to get sense out of you! The clouds have cleared. The sun is out. The rain has stopped and I’m going outside for a walk!

    21. By Tara on Mar 20, 2011 | Reply

      Go for a real long walk Joe – you might get out of 17th century ideologiville. But I suspect you won’t learn manners or any of the other civil or true qualities you are lacking in your “contributions”.
      Anyone can call anyone a dumb arse or try to relabel a misogynistic and socially harmful comment as a ‘contribution’.
      Angry fascism, any thinking other than yours is intollerable.

    22. By Owen on Mar 20, 2011 | Reply

      To get back to the atomic power question: not sure whether your case actually supports regulation; the US’ AEC was one of the more independent agencies, and they were still captured by the industry. If you see Adam Curtis’ BBC doco about atom power http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2011/03/a_is_for_atom.html I think the only thing that would have made a difference would have been if individuals in the AEC were legally liable for their judgements.

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