Friday, November 15, 2013

The Invisible Refugees - Internally Displaced People

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For every Syrian who escaped the civil war in his or her homeland by crossing international borders, there are three more displaced within the country. Those who manage to leave become refugees. Those who stay behind remain invisible. But they are part of a growing population of refugees that are often without international support, a sub-group of people whose basic needs are rarely addressed by the global community: the internally displaced. 

Since the civil war started in April 2011, 2.2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.  But according to the USAID there are at least 6.5 million internally displaced people who failed to do so and are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, but largely remain out of reach for international aid organizations. 

All who must abandon their homes suffer, of course. But those who escaped the fighting in their homelands by fleeing abroad at least managed to survive, even if they have to subsist in tents and ramshackle huts and depend on charities and donations. Some receive the world’s sympathy and media coverage. A rare few even found asylum in the West.

By contrast, those who are internally displaced fare much worse, as they become truly dispossessed. They fail to cross an international demarcation and thereby don’t legally qualify as refugees. Instead of receiving international protection and media coverage, many remain invisible and live in constant fear. As in the case of Syria, with state restrictions on international media coverage and public assistance, very little protection for displaced persons can be had. 

A United Nations report “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement” defines internally displaced persons (IDP) as “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.” 

It is the "natural or human-made disasters" part of the UN definition – which itself is not legally binding - that makes the number difficult to quantify and monitor. Do the millions of roaming Chinese within the country because of industrial pollution that’s devastated their farmland or displacement by a government building project count as internally displaced people? And what do we make of Japanese citizens forced out of Fukushima region? How about those who fled from environmental degradation and drought? There is just no easy way to quantify this population of the displaced.

On top of the current news curve is the story of the victims of Haiyan typhoon in the Philippines. Some 800,000 are reportedly homeless, and conditions worsened as many are living without support in a hard-to-reach area. But they at least are garnering world sympathy and news coverage. And the Filipino government is amenable to international support. 

For the majority of the displaced population, their stories aren’t told. But their numbers are increasing. According to the UNCHR,  there are 26.4 million internally displaced people in the world in 2011. But some organizations estimate that the actual number of IDP is easily twice the number of internationally recognized refugees, if not triple that amount. The figure can fluctuate due to the sudden outbreak civil war or a natural disaster such as an erupting volcano, tsunami or earthquake. 

Distributions of food and medicine vary from place to place, and IDP protection depends on where they find themselves and which country they are in. Haiti is but a quick jump over from the United States and after the earthquakes in 2010, food and supplies and media coverage came relatively quickly – if chaotically - for earthquake victims. But after years of civil war in Darfur, hundreds of villages have been destroyed, 400,000 have died, and 2.2 million are now permanently displaced and many facing starvation and ongoing violence. It's a humanitarian crisis in which the international response is shockingly slow and ineffectual, and world attention is at best sporadic and the international community falls into what is popularly known as compassion fatigue. 


It may explain why there’s little coverage for the millions displaced in The Democratic Republic ofCongo, where 45,000 people continue to die each month, and more than 6 million people have died from long drawn out war and famine?  And we know little about the hundreds of thousands ofMuslim Rohingya population in Rakhine state who are robbed of their homes due to religious persecution in Buddhist majority Myanmar?

Unless they drowned at sea trying to escape the country, as in the case of the 50 refugees last week, their stories remain largely untold. In Iraq, as of the end of 2012, there are 2.1 million displaced people as a result of the U.S. occupation and inter-ethnic strife.  In North Korea, the suffering and starvation of a large number of people remain mostly unknown. 

Refugees and IDP are essentially the same. Both groups are coerced or compelled to flee in fear for their lives and security, but those who crossed international borders at least can afford a modicum of protection and assistance under existing global treaties, while those who don’t are entitled to little, and often garner little attention.

Pope John Paul II once called the plight of refugees "the greatest tragedy of all human tragedies" and "a shameful wound of our time." In the 21st century, that wound has festered and gangrened. How effectively we as an international community address it will largely determine the future of our global society. For all refugees' plight should challenge our conscience, as silence and indifference constitute the sin of omission.

TPP draft: United States reasserts its role as a world’s schoolyard bully

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In a leaked negotiation document about going trade negotiations, it becomes clear that the United States is still asserting its role as the world’s master of self-entitlement.
On Wednesday, a document leaked from an ongoing trade negotiation was published by WikiLeaks. It concerns the monopolies and exclusive rights we know as copyrights, patents, trademarks, and so on. While the contents of the proposed trade agreement are certainly interesting, not to say very alarming, it's even more interesting to see how the United States keeps asserting its industry interests over the world under the false flag of “free trade.”
This process started with Japanese cars in the 1970s. As people in the United States started shunning Detroit's cars in favor of Toyota, policymakers in the US realized that the country's age of industrial competitiveness had effectively come to an end, and sought new ways to keep the United States at the top of the food chain, competitive or not. The result was as audacious, daring, and provocative as it was successful: redefine "value,” "industry,” and "production" in a series of lopsided interstate contracts masqueraded as "free trade" deals that would make sure the United States kept being paid by the rest of the world.
The first of these "free trade" deals - more accurately described as Industrial Protectionism (IP) - was the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which stands at the heart of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Its champion had been then-CEO of Pfizer, Edmund Pratt, who wanted to prohibit people in the third world from using their own raw materials and pharmaceutical knowledge in their own laboratories and plants to cure and treat their own people's diseases. He wanted to force them to buy from Pfizer or die trying. Millions died as a result of the success of the TRIPS "free trade" agreement and the WTO.
There is no word for this type of behavior short of "evil.”
As the TRIPS agreement on Industrial Protectionism (IP) was being negotiated, every industry interest in the United States chimed in and wanted their piece of the pie. Hollywood's movie industry, the record industry, everybody. This new leaked trade agreement - that has absolutely nothing to do with free trade, but with the upholding of exclusive rights and monopolies that limit free trade - builds on the previous TRIPS agreement; it harshens it and deepens it. It is named TPP, the "Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
The divide between the United States and other countries on the unfairness of the aggressively pushed "United States uber alles" agenda is very clear. It's almost enough to read the introduction, where the vast majority of participating countries have proposed this language, to safeguard our common cultural and scientific legacy:
"The objectives of this chapter are... to maintain a balance between the rights of intellectual property holders and the legitimate interests of users and the community in subject matter protected by intellectual property; protect the ability of Parties to identify, promote access to and preserve the public domain; ensure that measures and procedures to enforce intellectual property rights do not themselves become barriers to legitimate trade."
The United States blanketly opposes all of it. There shall be no balance, there shall be no promotion of monopoly-less trade (which, ironically, is anybody's normal definition of free trade). There shall only be exclusive rights, which are typically held by the United States.
Also, the legal language is deliberately convoluted - the United States wants to give Hollywood the right to shut people off from the internet (and therefore most of their citizens' rights) without due process, but this is hidden deep down in legal jumbo. How many would recognize the terms "injunctive relief" or "liability conditions" as depriving citizens of their freedoms of speech, press, and assembly? I fear many people would be shocked once they realized what the legal language means - but at that point, it will be much harder to stop this idiocy.
This agreement is not about free trade. Copyright and patent monopolies, by definition, are the opposite of free trade; they are exclusive rights preventing free trade. This agreement is about asserting trade monopolies held by the United States and forcing everybody else to pay protection money or go to jail for disrespecting the powers that be.
This is not free trade. This is racketeering. And it is disgusting. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Federal Reserve Whistleblower Tells America The REAL Reason For Quantitative Easing

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A banker named Andrew Huszar that helped manage the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing program during 2009 and 2010 is publicly apologizing for what he has done.  He says that quantitative easing has accomplished next to nothing for the average person on the street.  Instead, he says that it has been "the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time."  And of course the cold, hard economic numbers support what Huszar is saying.  The percentage of working age Americans with a job has not improved at all during the quantitative easing era, and median household income has actually steadily declined during that time frame.  Meanwhile, U.S. stock prices have doubled overall, and the stock prices of the big Wall Street banks have tripled.  So who benefits from quantitative easing?  It doesn't take a genius to figure it out, and now Andrew Huszar is blowing the whistle on the whole thing.

From 2009 to 2010, Huszar was responsible for managing the Fed's purchase of approximately $1.25 trillion worth of mortgage-backed securities.  At the time, he thought that it was a dream job, but now he is apologizing to the rest of the country for what happened...

I can only say: I'm sorry, America. As a former Federal Reserve official, I was responsible for executing the centerpiece program of the Fed's first plunge into the bond-buying experiment known as quantitative easing. The central bank continues to spin QE as a tool for helping Main Street. But I've come to recognize the program for what it really is: the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time.
When the first round of quantitative easing ended, Huszar says that it was incredibly obvious that QE had done very little to benefit average Americans but that it had been "an absolute coup for Wall Street"...

Trading for the first round of QE ended on March 31, 2010. The final results confirmed that, while there had been only trivial relief for Main Street, the U.S. central bank's bond purchases had been an absolute coup for Wall Street. The banks hadn't just benefited from the lower cost of making loans. They'd also enjoyed huge capital gains on the rising values of their securities holdings and fat commissions from brokering most of the Fed's QE transactions. Wall Street had experienced its most profitable year ever in 2009, and 2010 was starting off in much the same way.

You'd think the Fed would have finally stopped to question the wisdom of QE. Think again. Only a few months later—after a 14% drop in the U.S. stock market and renewed weakening in the banking sector—the Fed announced a new round of bond buying: QE2. Germany's finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, immediately called the decision "clueless."

That was when I realized the Fed had lost any remaining ability to think independently from Wall Street.
Of course the fact that the Fed cannot think independently from Wall Street should not be a surprise to any of my regular readers.  As I have written about repeatedly, the Federal Reserve was created by the Wall Street bankers for the benefit of the Wall Street bankers.  When the Federal Reserve serves the interests of Wall Street, it is simply doing what it was designed to do.  And according to Huszar, quantitative easing has been one giant "subsidy" for Wall Street banks...

Having racked up hundreds of billions of dollars in opaque Fed subsidies, U.S. banks have seen their collective stock price triple since March 2009. The biggest ones have only become more of a cartel: 0.2% of them now control more than 70% of the U.S. bank assets.
But Huszar is certainly not the only one on Wall Street that acknowledges these things.  For example, just check out what billionaire hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller told CNBC about quantitative easing...


"This is fantastic for every rich person," he said Thursday, a day after the Fed's stunning decision to delay tightening its monetary policy. "This is the biggest redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the rich ever."

"Who owns assets—the rich, the billionaires. You think Warren Buffett hates this stuff? You think I hate this stuff? I had a very good day yesterday."

Druckenmiller, whose net worth is estimated at more than $2 billion, said that the implication of the Fed's policy is that the rich will spend their wealth and create jobs—essentially betting on "trickle-down economics."

"I mean, maybe this trickle-down monetary policy that gives money to billionaires and hopefully we go spend it is going to work," he said. "But it hasn't worked for five years."


And Donald Trump said essentially the same thing when he made the following statement on CNBC about quantitative easing...

"People like me will benefit from this."
The American people are still being told that quantitative easing is "economic stimulus" which will make the lives of average Americans better.

That is a flat out lie and the folks over at the Federal Reserve know this.

In fact, a very interesting study conducted for the Bank of England shows that quantitative easing actually increases the gap between the wealthy and the poor...

It said that the Bank of England’s policies of quantitative easing – similar to the Fed’s – had benefited mainly the wealthy.

Specifically, it said that its QE program had boosted the value of stocks and bonds by 26 percent, or about $970 billion. It said that about 40 percent of those gains went to the richest 5 percent of British households.

Many said the BOE's easing added to social anger and unrest. Dhaval Joshi, of BCA Research wrote that  “QE cash ends up overwhelmingly in profits, thereby exacerbating already extreme income inequality and the consequent social tensions that arise from it."
And this is exactly what has happened in the United States as well.

U.S. stocks have risen 108% while Barack Obama has been in the White House.

And who owns stocks?

The wealthy do.  In fact, 82 percent of all individually held stocks are owned by the wealthiest 5 percent of all Americans.

Meanwhile, things have continued to get even tougher for ordinary Americans.

While Obama has been in the White House, the percentage of working age Americans with a job has declined from 60.6% to 58.3%, median household income has declined for five years in a row, and poverty has been absolutely exploding.

But the fact that it has been very good for Wall Street while doing essentially nothing for ordinary Americans is not the biggest problem with quantitative easing.

The biggest problem with quantitative easing is that it is destroying worldwide faith in the U.S. dollar and in the U.S. financial system.

In recent years, the Federal Reserve has started to behave like the Weimar Republic.  Just check out the chart below...

M1 Money Supply 2013

The rest of the world is watching the Fed go crazy, and they are beginning to openly wonder why they should continue to use the U.S. dollar as the de facto reserve currency of the planet.

Right now, most global trade involves the use of U.S. dollars.  In fact, far more U.S. dollars are actually used outside of the United States than are used inside the country.  This creates a tremendous demand for U.S. dollars around the planet, and it keeps the value of the U.S. dollar at a level that is far higher than it otherwise would be.

If the rest of the world decides to start moving away from the U.S. dollar (and this is already starting to happen), then the demand for the U.S. dollar will fall and we will not be able to import oil from the Middle East and cheap plastic trinkets from China so inexpensively anymore.

In addition, major exporting nations such as China and Saudi Arabia end up with giant piles of U.S. dollars due to their trading activities.  Instead of just sitting on all of that cash, they tend to reinvest much of it back into U.S. Treasury securities.  This increases demand for U.S. debt and drives down interest rates.

If the Federal Reserve continues to wildly create money out of thin air with no end in sight, the rest of the world may decide to stop lending us trillions of dollars at ultra-low interest rates.

When we get to that point, it is going to be absolutely disastrous for the U.S. economy and the U.S. financial system.  If you doubt this, just read this article.

The only way that the game can continue is for the rest of the world to continue to be irrational and to continue to ignore the reckless behavior of the Federal Reserve.

We desperately need the rest of the planet "to ignore the man behind the curtain".  We desperately need them to keep using our dollars that are rapidly being devalued and to keep loaning us money at rates that are far below the real rate of inflation.

If the rest of the globe starts behaving rationally at some point, and they eventually will, then the game will be over.

Let us hope and pray that we still have a bit more time until that happens.

The Super Wealthy Reinvent American Capitalism

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As U.S. corporate profits soar to record highs, food stamps for the neediest were quietly cut. The politicians who are demanding endless cuts to social programs — Democrats and Republicans alike — insist that the U.S. is broke, all the while conveniently ignoring the mountains of tax-free wealth piling up in the pockets of the super rich.  
This newest flood of cash for the nation’s wealthiest 1% is a blatant government subsidy: the Federal Reserve continues to pump out an extra $75 billion a month, the vast majority of which fattens the already-bursting overseas bank accounts of the rich. Since Obama has been president this pro-corporate policy has helped funnel 95 percent of the nation’s new income to the wealth-soaked rich.  

And while it’s true that the global super rich have an estimated $32 trillion [!] stashed away abroad in off shore tax havens, an even newer way to avoid taxes has gripped the endlessly-greedy minds of U.S.-based billionaires.
Instead of shielding themselves behind the classic ‘C’ corporation structure — and all the burdensome taxes and regulations associated with it — two-thirds of new corporations have “evolved” into pseudo-legal “partnership” structures, commonly referred to as “pass throughs,” the idea being that the corporate-partnership instantly passes the profits through to the shareholders, no corporate tax necessary. 
The most common form of pass throughs are “innovative” variations of a Limited Liability Company, a tax structure created in 1975 for narrowly regulated purposes. But now rich investors are performing accounting and legalistic somersaults to exploit the tax structure, practices that were illegal before the regulators were “captured” by the big banks.  
The pro-billionaire Economist magazine recently discussed the pass through fad:
“A mutation in the way companies are financed and managed will change the distribution of the wealth they create…The corporation is becoming the distorporation…More businesses are now twisting themselves into forms that allow them to qualify as pass throughs.”
So, for example, imagine that nine rich guys get together and call themselves a pass through corporation of some variety. They do this because they want to avoid personal liability in case things go awry. Their partnership only buys and sells stocks and goes on to make billions, while paying zero corporate taxes. When their risky bets go bust and the partnership is sued by hoodwinked investors, the company instantly declares bankruptcy, since all profits were quickly “passed through.” The partners (the nine guys) cheerfully go home to swim through their sea of cash. 
In real life shady pass throughs make massive wealth. Richard Kinder, who co-founded the biggest pass through, named Kinder Morgan, personally received $376 million in dividends last year alone [!], according to the Economist.
The pass through fad is on track to becoming the dominant way that the super rich get together to make huge amounts of money — pass throughs were 63 percent of all corporate profits in 2008, and are likely higher now, since many of the big private-equity companies making a killing by the cheap fed dollars are organized under pass through umbrella structures.
There is a huge society-wide risk for this type of behavior, which resembles the reckless gambling that destroyed the economy in 2008. As an ever-larger share of wealth is poured into these risky, non-regulated vehicles, the potential grows for them to self-destruct and pull down the broader economy with them. Pass throughs — which include most private-equity firms — function “efficiently” when the government is handing them cheap money; when interest rates go up, the pass throughs go bust, with predictable outcomes.
“But wait,” the billionaire will protest, “we pay individual taxes, which help fund social services.” Not necessarily. If the billionaire investor paid their legal obligation of “capital gains” taxes, they’d already be paying far less than the average worker. But the pass-through billionaires excel at avoiding all taxes. The Economist again:
“For a [pass through] partner a payout can be considered merely a return of capital rather than a profit, and consequently no tax is due until the sale of the underlying security. When tied to nuances of estate law, this may mean no tax at all.” 
This type of blatantly criminal behavior used to be actually illegal, but as Wall Street bought Congress, the rules were either bent or ignored. 
The Economist explains:
“The limitations on becoming [a pass through] seem to be tied more to legal dexterity [!] and influence [buying politicians] than any underlying principle. Politicians want to extend the benefits of [pass through] partnerships to industries they have come to favor either on the basis of ideology [of the corporate type], or astute lobbying [bribery], or a bit of both.”

The rest of society is affected because public services are being starved of funds, while these new pass throughs face vastly less regulation than the standard C corporations, and push wealth inequality to new heights while threatening a deeper recession. 
Historically, government began regulating corporations because everyone realized the profound effects these institutions were having on the rest of society; the nation was becoming more unequal, the labor force more exploited and the environment torn to shreds. 
As the super wealthy organized themselves into corporations they took most of society’s wealth with them; government realized that a semi-functioning country would need to tax these institutions and regulate their behavior, since the “natural” behavior of the capitalist — greed — was capable of pushing the rest of society into the dregs.
The new pass through fad is also indicative of the current state of U.S. capitalism; instead of investing profits in a company to buy machines or hire new workers, all the cash is either sitting in overseas bank accounts, or is being instantly funneled, via pass throughs, into the hands of ever-richer billionaires, who are proving to everyone that there is no bounds to the amount of cash they can accumulate. Where there are barriers to accumulation (regulations and taxes), they will supersede them while paying politicians of both major parties to ignore it or make it legal.  
This dynamic occurs, in part, because the wealthy are basically refusing to invest in the real economy, as they fear the unstable economic conditions are not safe enough to make long term investments, which they believe won’t yield long term higher rates of profits. Safer to speculate on risky stocks, pocket the money and be the first one out when things go bust, as they did in 2008.  
Of course the big name C corporations are up to their eyes in fraud too. Apple made big news when it only paid 2 percenttaxes on $74 billion in profits, by “declaring” its profits in Ireland, a corporate tax haven.
This occurs while other giant companies simply use clever accounting tricks to pay zero taxes, including giants like WellsFargo, Boeing, Verizon and General Electric. In fact, General Electric even finagled a rebate.
When it comes to oversea tax havens, it’s estimated that the U.S. national budget is annually starved of $280 billion in tax revenue. 
Politicians have been struggling with ways to deal with the problem, since even in their mind some amount of tax collection needs to happen, if only to fund the military, provide more subsidies to corporations, and please the public by appearing to try to reduce the billionaire’s obscene behavior.
One popular idea among the politicians is to declare a corporate “tax holiday,” where the trillions of off-shore profits can be ceremoniously brought back to the U.S. while the feds look the other way. The idea is that, once the money is actually back in the U.S., the wealthy will want to spend it on something which will eventually help the economy — trickle down economics at its finest.
What seems certain to happen is that lowering corporate taxes will be a central piece of any “grand bargain” that eventually emerges, since there is a clear bi-partisan consensus that corporations need to pay lower taxes.   
Some argue that if corporate taxes are low enough — and regulations removed — the corporations will reward the nation by not stockpiling their profits abroad and not creating pass through loopholes.
Of course all of this implies that the wealthy have a stranglehold over the U.S. economy. It’s telling that politicians want to deal with corporate tax evasion by lowering the corporate tax rate, instead of actually sending the IRS after them and throwing them in jail, as they do with working and middle class people.  
The above dynamics create an ever-increasing wealth inequality that claws at the thinning strings holding society together. The bankruptcy and social disintegration of Detroit is a foreshadowing event for the rest of the country, unless this dynamic is stopped.
When the next crash happens the nation will have learned its lessons: the big banks and wealthy investors who destroyed the economy in 2008 are back at it, encouraged by Obama’s pro-corporate behavior and the Federal Reserve’s money flooding.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that breaking the power of the super wealthy is the first step towards balancing the budget, job growth, protecting the safety net, and creating a semblance of a rational society. Until then the U.S. will lurch from one crisis to another, while blaming everyone but the real culprits.

Scientists Warn of Extreme Risk: Greatest Short-term Threat to Humanity is From Fukushima Fuel Pools

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We’ve long said that the greatest short-term threat to humanity is from the fuel pools at Fukushima.
The Japanese nuclear agency recently green-lighted the removal of the spent fuel rods from Fukushima reactor 4′s spent fuel pool. The operation is scheduled to begin this month.
The head of the U.S. Department of Energy correctly notes:
The success of the cleanup also has global significance. So we all have a direct interest in seeing that the next steps are taken well, efficiently and safely.
If one of the pools collapsed or caught fire, it could have severe adverse impacts not only on Japan … but the rest of the world, including the United States. Indeed, a Senator called it a national security concern for the U.S.:
The radiation caused by the failure of the spent fuel pools in the event of another earthquake could reach the West Coast within days. That absolutely makes the safe containment and protection of this spent fuel a security issue for the United States.
Award-winning scientist David Suzuki says that Fukushima is terrifying, Tepco and the Japanese government are lying through their teeth, and Fukushima is “the most terrifying situation I can imagine”.
Suzuki notes that reactor 4 is so badly damaged that – if there’s another earthquake of 7 or above – the building could come down. And the probability of another earthquake of 7 or above in the next 3 years is over 95%.
Suzuki says that he’s seen a paper that says that if – in fact – the 4th reactor comes down, “it’s bye bye Japan, and everyone on the West Coast of North America should evacuate. Now if that’s not terrifying, I don’t know what is.”
The Telegraph reports:
The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant … will begin a dry run of the procedure at the No. 4 reactor, which experts have warned carries grave risks.
***
Did you ever play pick up sticks?” asked a foreign nuclear expert who has been monitoring Tepco’s efforts to regain control of the plant. “You had 50 sticks, you heaved them into the air and than had to take one off the pile at a time.
“If the pile collapsed when you were picking up a stick, you lost,” he said. “There are 1,534 pick-up sticks in a jumble in top of an unsteady reactor 4. What do you think can happen?
I do not know anyone who is confident that this can be done since it has never been tried.”
ABC reports:
One slip-up in the latest step to decommission Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant could trigger a “monumental” chain reaction, experts warn.
***
Experts around the world have warned  that the fuel pool is in a precarious state – vulnerable to collapsing in another big earthquake.
Yale University professor Charles Perrow wrote about the number 4 fuel pool this year in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
“This has me very scared,” he told the ABC.
Tokyo would have to be evacuated because [the] caesium and other poisons that are there will spread very rapidly.
Perrow also argues:
Conditions in the unit 4 pool, 100 feet from the ground, are perilous, and if any two of the rods touch it could cause a nuclear reaction that would be uncontrollable. The radiation emitted from all these rods, if they are not continually cool and kept separate, would require the evacuation of surrounding areas including Tokyo. Because of the radiation at the site the 6,375 rods in the common storage pool could not be continuously cooled; they would fission and all of humanity will be threatened, for thousands of years.
Former Japanese ambassador Akio Matsumura warns that – if the operation isn’t done right – this could one day be considered the start of “the ultimate catastrophe of the world and planet”:
(He also argues that removing the fuel rods will take “decades rather than months.)
Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen and physician Helen Caldicott have both said that people should evacuate the Northern Hemisphere if one of the Fukushima fuel pools collapses. Gundersen said:
Move south of the equator if that ever happened, I think that’s probably the lesson there.
Harvey Wasserman wrote two months ago:
We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
***
Should the attempt fail, the rods could be exposed to air and catch fire, releasing horrific quantities of radiation into the atmosphere. The pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and possibly explode. The resulting radioactive cloud would threaten the health and safety of all us.
***
A new fuel fire at Unit 4 would pour out a continuous stream of lethal radioactive poisons for centuries.
Former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”

Even Japan’s Top Nuclear Regulator Says that The Operation Carries a “Very Large Risk Potential”

Even the head of Japan’s nuclear agency is worried.  USA Today notes:
Nuclear regulatory chairman Shunichi Tanaka, however, warned that removing the fuel rods from Unit 4 would be difficult because of the risk posed by debris that fell into the pool during the explosions.
It’s a totally different operation than removing normal fuel rods from a spent fuel pool,” Tanaka said at a regular news conference. “They need to be handled extremely carefully and closely monitored. You should never rush or force them out, or they may break.”
He said it would be a disaster if fuel rods are pulled forcibly and are damaged or break open when dropped from the pool, located about 30 meters (100 feet) above ground, releasing highly radioactive material. “I’m much more worried about this than contaminated water,” Tanaka said
The same top Japanese nuclear official said:
The process involves a very large risk potential.
BBC reports:
A task of extraordinary delicacy and danger is about to begin at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station.
***
One senior official told me: “It’s going to be very difficult but it has to happen.”

Why It’s Such a Difficult Operation

CNN notes that debris in the fuel pool might interfere with operations:
South China Morning Post notes:
Nothing remotely similar has been attempted before and … it is feared that any error of judgment could lead to a massive release of radiation into the atmosphere.
***
A spokesman for Tepco … admitted, however, that it was not clear whether any of the rods were damaged or if debris in the pool would complicate the recovery effort.

Professor Richard Broinowski – former Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Central American Republics and Cuba – and author of numerous books on nuclear policy and Fukushima, says some of the fuel rods are probably fused.
Murray E. Jennex, Ph.D., P.E. (Professional Engineer), Professor of MIS, San Diego State University, notes:
The rods in the spent fuel pool may have melted …. I consider it more likely that these rods were breached during the explosions associated with the event and their contents may be in contact with the ground water, probably due to all the seawater that was sprayed on the plant.
Fuel rod expert Arnie Gundersen – a nuclear engineer and former senior manager of a nuclear power company which manufactured nuclear fuel rods – recently explained the biggest problem with the fuel rods (at 15:45):
I think they’re belittling the complexity of the task. If you think of a nuclear fuel rack as a pack of cigarettes, if you pull a cigarette straight up it will come out — but these racks have been distorted. Now when they go to pull the cigarette straight out, it’s going to likely break and release radioactive cesium and other gases, xenon and krypton, into the air. I suspect come November, December, January we’re going to hear that the building’s been evacuated, they’ve broke a fuel rod, the fuel rod is off-gassing.
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I suspect we’ll have more airborne releases as they try to pull the fuel out. If they pull too hard, they’ll snap the fuel. I think the racks have been distorted, the fuel has overheated — the pool boiled – and the net effect is that it’s likely some of the fuel will be stuck in there for a long, long time.
In another interview, Gundersen provides additional details (at 31:00):
The racks are distorted from the earthquake — oh, by the way, the roof has fallen in, which further distorted the racks.
The net effect is they’ve got the bundles of fuel, the cigarettes in these racks, and as they pull them out, they’re likely to snap a few. When you snap a nuclear fuel rod, that releases radioactivity again, so my guess is, it’s things like krypton-85, which is a gas, cesium will also be released, strontium will be released. They’ll probably have to evacuate the building for a couple of days. They’ll take that radioactive gas and they’ll send it up the stack, up into the air, because xenon can’t be scrubbed, it can’t be cleaned, so they’ll send that radioactive xenon up into the air and purge the building of all the radioactive gases and then go back in and try again.
It’s likely that that problem will exist on more than one bundle. So over the next year or two, it wouldn’t surprise me that either they don’t remove all the fuel because they don’t want to pull too hard, or if they do pull to hard, they’re likely to damage the fuel and cause a radiation leak inside the building. So that’s problem #2 in this process, getting the fuel out of Unit 4 is a top priority I have, but it’s not going to be easy. Tokyo Electric is portraying this as easy. In a normal nuclear reactor, all of this is done with computers. Everything gets pulled perfectly vertically. Well nothing is vertical anymore, the fuel racks are distorted, it’s all going to have to be done manually. The net effect is it’s a really difficult job. It wouldn’t surprise me if they snapped some of the fuel and they can’t remove it.
The Japan Times writes:
The consequences could be far more severe than any nuclear accident the world has ever seen. If a fuel rod is dropped, breaks or becomes entangled while being removed, possible worst case scenarios include a big explosion, a meltdown in the pool, or a large fire. Any of these situations could lead to massive releases of deadly radionuclides into the atmosphere, putting much of Japan — including Tokyo and Yokohama — and even neighboring countries at serious risk.
CNN reports:
[Mycle Schneider, nuclear consultant:] The situation could still get a lot worse. A massive spent fuel fire would likely dwarf the current dimensions of the catastrophe and could exceed the radioactivity releases of Chernobyl dozens of times.
Reuters notes:
Experts question whether it will be able to pull off the removal of all the assemblies successfully.***
No one knows how bad it can get, but independent consultants Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt said recently in their World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013: “Full release from the Unit-4 spent fuel pool, without any containment or control, could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date.”
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Nonetheless, Tepco inspires little confidence. Sharply criticized for failing to protect the Fukushima plant against natural disasters, its handling of the crisis since then has also been lambasted.
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“There is a risk of an inadvertent criticality if the bundles are distorted and get too close to each other,” Gundersen said.
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The rods are also vulnerable to fire should they be exposed to air, Gundersen said. [The pools have already boiled due to exposure to air.]
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[Here is a visual tour of Fukushima's fuel pools, along with graphics of how the rods will be removed.]
Tepco confirmed the Reactor No. 4 fuel pool contains debris during an investigation into the chamber earlier this month.
Removing the rods from the pool is a delicate task normally assisted by computers, according to Toshio Kimura, a former Tepco technician, who worked at Fukushima Daiichi for 11 years.
“Previously it was a computer-controlled process that memorized the exact locations of the rods down to the millimeter and now they don’t have that. It has to be done manually so there is a high risk that they will drop and break one of the fuel rods,” Kimura said.
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Corrosion from the salt water will have also weakened the building and equipment, he said.
ABC Radio Australia quotes an expert on the situation (at 1:30):
Richard Tanter, expert on nuclear power issues and professor of international relations at the University of Melbourne:
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Reactor Unit 4, the one which has a very large amount of stored fuel in its fuel storage pool, that is sinking. According to former prime Minister Kan Naoto, that has sunk some 31 inches in places and it’s not uneven.
And Chris Harris – a, former licensed Senior Reactor Operator and engineer – notes that it doesn’t help that a lot of the rods are in very fragile condition:

Although there are a lot of spent fuel assemblies in there which could achieve criticality — there are also 200 new fuel assemblies which have equivalent to a full tank of gas, let’s call it that. Those are the ones most likely to go critical first.
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Some pictures that were released recently show that a lot of fuel is damaged, so when they go ahead and put the grapple on it, and they pull it up, it’s going to fall apart. The boreflex has been eaten away; it doesn’t take saltwater very good.
Nuclear engineers say that the fuel pool is “distorted”, material was blown up into air and came down inside, damaging the fuel, the roof fell in, distorting things inside.
Indeed, Fukushima documents discuss “fuel that is severely damaged” inside cooling pool, and show illustrations of “deformed or leaking fuels”.

The Urgent Need:  Replace Tepco

Tepco is incompetent and corrupt.  As such, it is the last company which should be in charge of the clean-up.
Top scientists and government officials say that Tepco should be removed from all efforts to stabilize Fukushima. An international team of the smartest engineers and scientists should handle this difficult “surgery”.
Bloomberg notes:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is being told by his own party that Japan’s response is failing. Plant operator [Tepco] alone isn’t up to the task of managing the cleanup and decommissioning of the atomic station in Fukushima. That’s the view of Tadamori Oshima, head of a task force in charge of Fukushima’s recovery and former vice president of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.
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[There's] a growing recognition that the government needs to take charge at the Fukushima station…. “If we allow the situation to continue, it’ll never be resolved” [said Sumio Mabuchi, a government point man on crisis in 2011].