Thursday, June 22, 2017

South Korea Wisely Steers Clear of Nuclear While the US Subsizes Massive Nuclear Cost-Overruns

South Korea's new President, Moon Jae-in, said he would permanently end operations at the Kori-1 reactor (that went online in 1978) as a first step toward a "nuclear-free state" ("Seoul Powers Down Nuclear-Plant Sector" WSJ 6/20/2017, A9).

This important news was buried on page 9 in a very short article in the WSJ. I didn't even see mention of the story in the New York Times and Washington Post, although a quick search reveals more coverage:
Jane Chung and Richard Pullin (2017, June 19). South Korea's President Moon says plans to exit nuclear power. Reuters,

"We will end the nuclear-oriented power generation plan and pave the way for a nuclear-free era," Moon said at an event marking the closure of the Kori No.1 nuclear reactor in Busan, some 300 kms (186 miles) southeast of Seoul.

"We will withdraw existing plans to build new nuclear power plants and not extend the lifespan of nuclear power plants."
This is excellent news and I'm sorry to see that it was buried in some of the nation's newspapers of record. A quick read of Wikipedia's article on concentrated media ownership will no doubt illuminate why

Meanwhile, the US House and Trump Administration are trying to save nuclear power in the US (Hat-tip Mar for link):
Tom DiChristopher (June 19, 2017). Nuclear power on the 'front burner,' says Energy Secretary Rick Perry. CNBC

Nuclear power as "a very important part" of the White House's energy strategy, Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Monday.
Perry is apparently endorsing the fantasy of efficient modular reactors, despite their many hazards and expensive supply chain and waste management issues.

DC is also promoting costly nuclear boondoggles in South Carolina and Georgia:
Kristi E. Swartz. (2017, May 4). Southern turns to D.C. for help to finish reactors. Energy Wire,

Southern Co. is working with the Trump administration and Congress to ensure a path forward for the U.S. nuclear reactors being built in Georgia and South Carolina, saying their future is a matter of national security.
These reactors being built in Georgia and South Carolina have been afflicted by SIGNIFICANT cost-overruns, delays, and now by Westinghouse's bankruptcy:
AP (March 29 2017). Westinghouse Troubles Loom Over SC, Georgia Nuke Projects
In South Carolina, Westinghouse is a partner with state-owned utility Santee Cooper and publicly-traded SCANA Corp. (ticker: SCG) on the construction of two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville. SCANA said in September that the cost of building the reactors had increased nearly $3 billion from the original $11 billion estimate in 2009. The first reactor was supposed to open in 2017, but has been delayed at least two years....

...the Plant Vogtle project in eastern Georgia was more than three years behind schedule and more than $3 billion over its original budget as of the end of 2016. Oglethorpe Power, one of the partners in the project, said in a regulatory filing this week that "the revised in-service dates of December 2019 and September 2020" for the two reactors it's building "do not appear to be achievable."

...Meanwhile, Toshiba reiterated its view that at the root of the problem was the acquisition of U.S. nuclear construction company CB&I Stone and Webster. It declined comment on possible future partners in the rehabilitation of Westinghouse.

SCANA and Santee Cooper are now scrambling to make sure they get an extension in more than $2 billion in federal tax credits to help pay for these already blighted projects:

Fretwell, Sammy (2017). Could losing tax break sink SCE&G’s nuclear project? The State,

Whether SCANA and Santee Cooper complete two nuclear reactors may depend on whether a deadline is extended for the companies to gain more than $2 billion in federal tax credits that would help pay for the financially troubled project.

But an effort to extend the deadline has stalled, and it’s questionable whether Congress will take action before the companies make a final decision on the project’s future.

Without the tax credit, it would be more difficult to finance the project that already is in trouble because its chief contractor, Westinghouse, is in bankruptcy, utility officials acknowledge.

Santee Cooper and SCE&G, a subsidiary of SCANA, have until June 26 to complete an assessment on whether the nuclear expansion work is worth continuing.

The project’s future is important to SCE&G customers because they already have paid at least $1.4 billion for the reactors’ construction. If the project is not finished, SCE&G is not required to return the money. About 18 percent of a customer’s current bill goes toward the plant’s construction.
 South Korea appears far more wise when it comes to steering energy policy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How "Brand Safety" and National Security are Driving Internet Surveillance and Censorship

Last week I posted a blog article titled, Censorship as Security

That post looks at how censorship is being practiced in the name of security, primarily through its automation by social media platforms such as Facebook.

Today the Wall Street Journal had an article addressing large corporations’ pull-back from advertising on Youtube and Google because of their concern about “brand safety"
Lara O'Reilly & Jack Nicas (June 21, 2017). YouTube ad mess divides brands. The Wall Street Journal, B1, B2, 
The problem of brand safety stems from social media’s unwitting combination of controversial video content with name brand advertising.

The Guardian has a story addressing advertisers’ concerns about YouTube & Google that discloses “inconsistencies” in how Google monitors content, reflecting the politics of what counts as controversial:
Olivia Solon (march 21, 2017) 'I can’t trust YouTube any more': creators speak out in Google advertising row. The Guardian,

Google’s decision-making process over which YouTube videos are deemed “advertiser friendly” faces scrutiny from both brands and creators, highlighting once again the challenge of large-scale moderation.

The company last week pledged to change its advertising policies after several big brands pulled their budgets from YouTube following an investigation that revealed their ads were shown alongside extremist content, such as videos promoting terrorism or antisemitism.
… Google currently uses a mixture of automated screening and human moderation to police its video sharing platform and to ensure that ads are only placed against appropriate content. Videos considered “not advertiser-friendly” include those that are sexually suggestive, violent, contain foul language, promote drug use or deal with controversial topics such as war, political conflict and natural disasters.
So, Google, Youtube, and other social media platforms are trying to figure out how to develop protocols to avoid matching "controversial" content with their advertisers’ persuasive messaging.

Advertisers are demanding greater control over how these platforms match ad with content and are pressing for independent monitoring.

One can certainly understand these concerns but what alarms me are the likely consequences of the new “command and control” Internet regime.

Internet Command and Control

1. The new command and control Internet regime is first and foremost monetized.

For example, the Internet is being fully monetized with the end of net neutrality, which is being pursued by Trump and the telecommunication industry, as explained here:
Sergey Denisenko Feb 20, 2017 The implications of the end of net neutrality
2.  Secondarily, web content will be censored before it is actually posted, sanitizing it from images or words that are designated as troubling, as illustrated by Facebook’s efforts in this regard:
Sam Schechner. (2017, June 15). Facebook Boosts AI to Block Terrorist Propaganda. The Wall Street Journal,
New software is tasked with identifying videos, photos, language and users that need to be removed, at times without human moderators.
3.  Third, search results will be filtered using criteria that separate out information coded as “true” from information coded as “fake” as Google and other engines incorporate criteria such as “truthiness” (see article).

Google’s first effort to evaluate truthfulness of sites was PageRank, according to this interesting article in CNN
Ivana Kottasova (2015, March 4). The truth, according to Google. CNN Money

The company is figuring out how to rank websites by the veracity of their content. The more truthful the page, the higher up it would appear in search results.

Google (GOOG) currently sorts search results based on criteria such as the number of links pointing at the website, the amount of time users spend on it, as well as the prominence of its social media profile.

The algorithm, named PageRank after Google co-founder Larry Page, is supposed to rank websites based on their reputation.
The problem with this strategy is that it measured popularity over quality. So, Google developed a new algorithm, whose current status is not entirely clear, as described further down in the same article:
To fix the problem, Google has come up with a new truth-seeking algorithm, describing it in a research paper first reported by New Scientist. So how would it work? The new algorithm draws on Google's "Knowledge Vault" -- a collection of 2.8 billion facts extracted from the Internet.  By checking pages against that database, and cross-referencing related facts, the research team believes the algorithm could assign each page a truth score. Pages with a high proportion of false claims would be bumped down in the search results. (here)
You can read more about Google’s Knowledge Vault here:

4. Finally, Google and other search engines may have little choice concerning development and deployment of more automated censorship in posted content and search results.

US H.R.5181 - Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016114th Congress (2015-2016), simultaneously penalizes providers for “fake news” and promotes production and dissemination of government “fact-based” narratives to counter fake news that escapes the newly emerging filtering devices.

The lack aims to "develop a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda and assert leadership in developing a fact-based strategic narrative" AND promoting a free press in countries vulnerable to foreign disinformation, as illustrated in this excerpt from the bill:
(4) the challenge of countering disinformation extends beyond effective strategic communications and public diplomacy, requiring a whole-of-government approach leveraging all elements of national power;

(5) the United States Government should develop a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda and assert leadership in developing a fact-based strategic narrative; and

(6) an important element of this strategy should be to protect and promote a free, healthy, and independent press in countries vulnerable to foreign disinformation.
I very much worry that this injunction to code true/false and censor information delegated to the latter category will quickly end diversity of expression, especially around "controversial" topics such as war, disaster, and conflict.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Plutonium in Workers' Urine

The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that, contrary to the reassurances made a few days ago by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (see here), workers at JAEA's Oarai Research and Development Center, WERE internally contaminated by Plutonium:
Plutonium found in urine of 5 workers in Ibaraki accident. THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, June 20, 2017

Minute amounts of plutonium have been detected in the urine samples of all five workers who were accidentally exposed to radioactive plutonium at Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA)'s Oarai Research and Development Center in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture, on June 6.... While maintaining the level of exposure the five workers experienced “would not have immediate effect on their health for a few months,” Akashi said their internal exposure levels are “relatively high for cases occurring in Japan as far as I know.”... 
...In urine testing, NIRS said it can detect smaller amounts of plutonium as the measurement time is much longer, while the smallest radiation doses the dosimeter for lungs can detect is between 5,000 and 10,000 bequerels.
I shouldn't be too critical of these oscillating reports given the US won't even admit when its workers are contaminated with Plutonium, as the recent tunnel collapse at Hanford reminds us:
Tia Ghose. May 10, 2017. Hanford Disaster: What Happens to Someone Who's Exposed to Plutonium? Live Science,

Workers at a nuclear-waste site in Washington state were recently told to hunker down in place after a tunnel in the nuclear finishing plant collapsed, news sources reported yesterday (May 9)...

The tunnel was part of the plutonium and uranium extraction facility (PUREX) said to be holding a lot of radioactive waste, including railway cars used to carry spent nuclear fuel rods, news agency AFP reported. At least some of the radioactive waste at the Hanford facility contains radioactive plutonium and uranium, according to the DOE, although at least some of it is also radioactive "sludge" composed of a mixture of radioactive substances. Right now, authorities have not revealed whether radioactive substances have been released or whether people have been exposed any of these contaminants

Governments don't want to talk too much to the public about plutonium. Every dimension of knowledge about this element seems to be weaponized. Despite the desire for secrecy, plutonium always seems to be out of bounds, contaminating some people or environment, or perhaps all people, especially men's testes (see here).

Plutonium's astonishing level of chemical toxicity and atomic instability are fetishized by the atomic priesthood, but the priesthood cannot control their Frankensteinan creation, as these stories and ongoing atmospheric emissions at Fukushima Daiichi demonstrate: