Plutonium is good for you: or, happy astroturfing

This week the Guardian published an article (in CIF America) about Fukushima. The article, by Richard Schiffman, went over much the same ground as my recent post about Fukushima (see here). Of course in no time at all the astroturf brigade were all over the comments section of the article like a rash (if you’re unfamiliar with what astroturfing is you can find a good explanation here) and very soon any kind of discussion about what’s happening at Fukushima and nuclear power in general was completely stifled. Astroturfing is now such a huge industry that it threatens to destroy democratic debate on the internet. If an article is published online which goes against the interests of big corporations the comments section will immediately attract hoardes of astroturfers, who try to appear as ordinary citizens but are in fact paid by these corporations to put forward their agendas. This is particularly so with anything about climate change or the safety of nuclear power. With regard to climate change, and the need to get away from fossile fuels, the oil companies, and in particular Exxon, have run huge astroturf campaigns; so much so that recent polls show that the majority of American Republicans no longer believe in climate change (see here).

The astroturfers in that Guardian comment thread were giving links to an organisation called ‘The Energy Collective’ (, which is quite openly sponsored by Siemens, a huge electronics and engineering corporation based in Germany. Siemens is heavily involved in the nuclear industry and amongst other things it built all of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants. Shortly after the Fukushima disaster began the German government announced that it was closing down all of those 17 nuclear plants. In September last year, Siemens announced that it too was going to quit the nuclear industry (see here). A cuddly corporation? Or a PR stunt? Time will tell. In the meantime, if you look at the Siemens funded Energy Collective web site you’ll see that it is very pro-nuclear, which it shoehorns alongside articles about renewable energy. Now, with regard to stuff the anti-nuclear lobby (myself included) have been saying just recently, about the cooling pool at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4, the Energy Collective have responded with this article…

Overheated rods & rhetoric

The author of the above article, Steve Skutnik, presents himself as an ‘expert’. I can’t be bothered going through what Mr Skutnik says point by point (because such clumsy propaganda does not merit attention), but I will address a few things about his article: firstly, he engages in character assassination (against Senator Ron Wyden and Robert Alvarez), which is one of the first rules in the propaganda book and is one of the last things a serious scientific piece would do. Then, in responding to what Alvarez has said about the large amount of radioactivity in No.4 fuel pool, Skutnik says this:

Why is it not safe? Well, other than the fact that spent fuel is radioactive, Mr. Alvarez doesn’t say. An industrial blast furnace is also not a safe place to be, but that certainly doesn’t prevent their use.

The reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi were hit first by the March 11th earthquake, then they were hit by the Tsunami, then, as reactors 1, 2 and 3 started melting down, and reactor 4 cooling pool started losing water, all four reactor buildings were partially destroyed by huge hydrogen explosions. TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) have admitted that the No.4 cooling pool was in danger of falling down, and one of the first things they did was to shore it up (there’s a photo of the damaged No.4 building at the end of this post). TEPCO did this on a site that is highly radioactive and where working conditions are very difficult, and it’s in an area of high seismic activity (there have been many further earthquakes since the 11th March one). I think most sane people would have concerns about all these factors, but not Mr Skutnik, who goes on to say this about dry cask storage…

Getting back to the main thread now – let’s assume for a moment that this scenario, one already demonstrated to be of extremely questionable plausibility, is true – i.e., that there remains a real threat spent fuel pools, in which the cooling water is lost and the rods subsequently overheat and either catch fire or otherwise change state. So Alvarez’s solution, to prevent these rods from overheating? Put them into thick concrete casks cooled by circulating air. Apparently, the same rods at risk of spontaneous combustion when exposed to air are fine if put into thick concrete casks. The logical inconsistency beggars belief.

What beggars belief is that Skutnik, who claims to be a nuclear expert, is either misleading his readers or else is ignorant of the fact that fuel rods in dry storage casks are surrounded by inert gases (so that they can’t catch fire). Skutnik also talks about TEPCO as though they are some kind of wonderful organisation, when it’s widely acknowledged that the Tokyo Electric Power Company are corrupt and incompetent; and they are now bankrupt. The pro-nuclear ‘experts’ never question why such a company is still in charge of managing what is probably the greatest disaster in human history.

I could go on and on, but won’t, because of course the main point I’m making is that government and corporate propagandists like Skutnik can quite legally mislead people on matters of life and death. The whole lot of ’em, those responsible in governments and corporations, and those who spread their lies, should be thrown in jail. Most importantly, people in general need to realise just how corrupt and totally immoral some sections of society are – they don’t care about how many of us they kill, they don’t care if they wreck the planet, all they care about is $$$.

Here’s one of the usual anti-nuclear suspects, Dr Helen Caldicott, giving a presentation in Seattle earlier this year. If you’re pro-nuclear listen to what Caldicott says and see how much of it you can refute:

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