Sunday, December 10, 2017

Imagining and Communicating Nuclear War: Materially Inscribing the Irrational Symbol

Today's news is crowded with headlines on the escalation of nuclear tensions with North Korea and increased volatility in the Middle East. A nuclear crisis appears imminent and a conventional crisis of war seems inevitable.


This semester I taught courses on crisis and risk communication. In these classes I taught my students to think about risk and crisis as both material and symbolic.

For example, although the Fukushima Daiichi disaster was precipitated by an earthquake, the strategic conception and construction of the plant and the failure to imagine and act upon hazardous risk scenarios were ultimately responsible for producing the nuclear crisis:

In the same sense, a massive Earth directed solar flare or small asteroid are hazards that in the past might have been survivable for humanity, but today could wreck catastrophic disruptions to our interdependent and digitalized global infrastructure.

We saw multiple chemical explosions at the Arkema chemical plant (see here) and chemical releases at refineries resulting from Hurricane Harvey's sustained electrical outages. Imagine what a sustained electrical outage would do to nuclear power plants that require electricity to keep cool hot fuel in reactors and spent fuel pools.

So, crisis is engineered into our social infrastructures as a result of our failure to imagine, communicate and mitigate risk for hazards that are both material and socially engineered. This is the observation of German Sociologist Ulrich Beck, who theorized and described risk accordingly.


Crisis and risk are imagined in our ideas, which are materially encoded and shared across media forms, ranging across speech, marks on paper, electronic signs, etc.

The ideas about crisis and risk encoded in our communication systems represent the central area of my research. I study, contrast and compare competing representations offered by various authorities ranging from governments, scientists, mass media representations, activist online representations, etc. about political, economic, environmental, and health risks and crises.

I am particularly interested in the problem-solution frames and value criteria that govern particularly efficacious constellations of ideas, such as the one circulating now that there is a safe threshold for additional radiation exposure to chemically toxic radionuclides, such as radiocesium and uranium, and that radiological emergencies should therefore be governed using a neoliberal logic of individualization and responsibilization as the exposed person gets represented as capable of adapting (usually using words such as “resilience”) to environments contaminated by nuclear accidents.

There is another solution frame that is accompanying this neoliberal logic of “safe, resilient radiation exposure” and that idea is predicated upon the utilization of radioactive weapons as a reasonable weapons option.

It is very clear in the communications of the day that that many key authorities in politics, in the military forces, and in the weapons-industry can easily envision and communicate nuclear war as a legitimate strategic option.

Some military authorities may even know of small-scale deployments of “tactical” nuclear weapons in clandestine operations on foreign battlefields.

What they don’t realize is that every tactical assault is represented in a chain of ideas/communications that will act back upon the world, shaping the conditions of understanding among many different types of social actors.

The war is never over, at least, not until we are all dead.

The idea that nuclear war is scaleable and winnable has been demonstrated as flawed by many scientific, activist, and governmental risk assessments emphasizing cascading effects as nuclear war becomes thought as a legitimate strategic paradigm, leading to ever-more escalating deployments and ever-greater radioactive contamination.

Indeed, the communications constituting the fundamental irrationality and non-survivability of nuclear war no doubt exceed the communications positing its tenability.


Yet, for some reason the idea of nuclear war and the material inscription of the nuclear injunction are in danger of spiraling out of human control as the US modernizes its nuclear weapons and as Japan upgrades its missile delivery systems:
Trump Claims To Have Modernized The U.S. Nuclear Arsenal (August 9, 2017). NPR. Available, accessed December 10, 2017.

On Wednesday, President Trump tweeted that he modernized the U.S. nuclear arsenal as his first act in office.

Reuters. (2017, December 9). Japan to acquire air-launched missiles able to strike North Korea. The Asahi Shimbun, available accessed December 10, 2017.

Japan is to acquire medium-range, air-launched cruise missiles, capable of striking North Korea, a controversial purchase of what will become the longest-range munitions of a country that has renounced the right to wage war. "We are planning to introduce the JSM (Joint Strike Missile) that will be mounted on the F-35A (stealth fighter) as 'stand-off' missiles that can be fired beyond the range of enemy threats," [Defense Minister Itsunori] Onodera told a news conference. Japan is also looking to mount Lockheed Martin Corp.'s extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER) on its F-15 fighters, he said.
Sometimes a set of related ideas and communications will circulate especially widely and rapidly, drowning out other representational frames and the alternative options available within them. Clearly this is happening with communication about North Korea.

The rush toward nuclear war is very clear in our communications. Although this option is considered non-rational in many, many expert and vernacular representations, it is circulating widely and increasingly in mass media and policies with impact on our built infrastructures.

Nuclear war is imminent in our imaginations and communications, yet we know it is the sudden or protractive end of our civilization.

We are imagining our worst catastrophes into being.

And the leadership of our most powerful institutions – the military-industrial complex, the media, and the executive branches of political leadership are entirely responsible because most everyone else is well aware of the psychotic nature of their communications.

We must mobilize to imagine otherwise or we will cease to imagine at all.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

End of Net Neutrality

In October, I posted about the crisis of the digital commons and the future of democracy HERE:

Net neutrality is a key component of the digital commons and it is under direct threat: see


PLEASE call 1-202-418-1000 to reach the voicemail of the Chairman of the FCC. Say your name, city, and state and that you oppose the repeal of Net Neutrality.


Search engine censorship 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Contaminated Mushrooms Out of Belarus

The following story was reported by Reuters. There are two interesting aspects to this story.

First, I find it astonishing and concerning that a disaster that occurred in 1986 is still contaminating local flora and fauna. This take on the story emphasizes the persistence and long-term hazards associated with nuclear accidents. Radiocesium deposited in the soil doesn't stay put but rather is bioaccumulated in plants for DECADES!

Second, an alternative take on this story is that the mushrooms were recently contaminated by the radiation cloud that has enveloped Europe and probably North America. If you read the story, you will see that "officials" claim there is "no link" to the recent Ruthenium 106 pollution (for background see my previous post here).

I find it interesting that this possibility is brought up at all in the article given other news stories over the years that have documented persistent Chernobyl contamination in the environment.

I am reminded of the Shakespearean line that the lady, or official in this case, doth protest too much.

Allegedly Apparent has been monitoring radiation monitoring sites around the world. He has charged that Ruthenium was not the only radionuclide recently released. Moreover, he identifies missing gaps in the EPA's Radnet radiation monitoring data. See his post

I have no way of knowing what is true other than the indisputable fact that radioactive contamination does not go away but re-surfaces in biological life where it poses persistent risks to exposed populations:
Geert De Clercq (November 30, 2017) France stops large shipment of radioactive Belarus mushrooms. Reuters,
PARIS (Reuters) ....A spokesman for French nuclear safety institute IRSN said that a few days ago customs officials found that a 3.5 tonne shipment of Belarus mushrooms coming through Frankfurt, Germany was contaminated with cesium 137, a radioactive nuclide that is a waste product of nuclear reactors.
While the contaminated mushrooms did not represent a health threat to consumers, the shipment will be destroyed in a specialized incinerator in coming days, the IRSN said.
“There is no link with the ruthenium 106 pollution,” the official said.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Nuclear Fatigue and the New Paradigm of Radiation Protection/Exposure

Exposure to radiation is known to produce quite a few biological effects, including fatigue, anemia, cancer, reduced sperm, and small heads and brains in offspring, among other effects.

Of course, the battle is over how much and what forms of exposure produce specific effects.

There is a move now to eliminate the idea that any form of increased exposure increases risks for these and other outcomes. This move is organized around a new paradigm of radiation protection.


The new paradigm of radiation protection is organized around a problem-solution exposure frame set at the 100 millisievert threshold for exposure. The new frame argues that population effects for external exposure under 100 millisiverts are impossible to detect and therefore are not significant.

The solution component of this frame strategizes to ADAPT individuals to the new exposure level using individualized risk management protocols symbolically represented as empowering "resilience."

This new paradigm of adaptive or resilient radiation protection is of course fundamentally contradictory because it is actually a rationalized and instrumentalized regime of radiation exposure, rather than protection.

This paradigm stands in direct contrast to the precautionary principle and ignores the massive and scientific controversy over low levels of exposure, particularly under conditions of chronic exposure and through bioaccumulation processes.

The new paradigm of radiation exposure discounts the future vitalities of exposed populations, particularly children, and is promoted by the OECD and is articulated in this article in The Conversation:

Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (2016) Management of Radioactive Waste after a Nuclear Power Plant Accident NEA No. 7305.
Philip Thomas. (2017, November 20). Evacuating a nuclear disaster areas is (usually) a waste of time and money, says study. The Conversation,

However, encouraging people to live in environments admittedly contaminated by accident or design raises significant legal and ethical questions, including the transformation of people into test subjects.

The transformation of people into test subjects is being pursued in Japan by the Fukushima Health Management Survey. One might applaud efforts to better understand radiation's effects, but the protocols and authorities associated with the FHMS have been challenged extensively for systematic bias in Japan.

The appointment of Dr. Shunichi Yamashita as Vice President of FMU and director of the Radiation Medical Science Center there represented a flashpoint in the controversy over radiation exposure and its effects. Yamashita is a recognized expert, but his post-disaster reassurances that “smiling” deflects radiation damage generated international controversy, [i] which was amplified by media disclosure of his role in secret meetings allegedly aimed at stage-managing public hearings of the FHMS’ Oversight Committee Meeting.[ii]

Yamashita’s reputation was also tarnished by his admission that he had advised against dispensing potassium iodide tablets to children in the early days of the disaster capable of blocking thyroid absorption of radioiodine. Yamashita stepped down from his post at the end of March 2013.[iii] In subsequent press interviews, Yamashita maintained that excess risks for cancer are low for exposure levels under 100 millisieverts.[iv]

This claim that radiation produces few effects for populations under 100 millisieverts is scientifically controversial and homogenizes types of radiation, forms of exposure (e.g., internal v. external), and affected populations, obscuring known development vulnerabilities.[v] ...

I can drag up research from CT scanning and from ethnobiological field work demonstrating biological effects at levels of exposure far below 100 millisieverts. I've reported on these findings at my blog and covered them in my academic publications.

However, I have this nuclear fatigue against the disorganizing forces of nuclearity whose claims of no effects are not argued and ignore the growing evidence of thyroid abnormalities in Fukushima children.

The forces of nuclearity who aim to eliminate the no-threshold model in favor of the 100 millisievert exposure level seem to have won in the media and public policy.

I have nuclear fatigue.

[i] Democracy Now (3 June 2011) Japan admits 3 nuclear meltdowns, more radiation leaked into sea. Available at (accessed 29 June 2011).

[ii] Williamson, Piers (2014) Demystifying the official discourse on childhood thyroid cancer in Fukushima. The Asia-Pacific Journal 12(49. 2): 1-28.

[iii] Brumfiel, Geoff (20 February 2013) Fukushima health-survey chief to quit post. Nature. Available at (accessed 21 February 2013).

[iv] Studying the Fukushima aftermath: “People are suffering from radiophobia (19 August 2011), Der Spiegel. Available at,1518,780810,00.html (accessed 4 September 2011).

[v] NASA asserts that neurological damage begins for astronauts, extraordinarily healthy adults, above 100 millisieverts. Children are much more vulnerable. See Sieffert, A (2014) Astronaut health & safety regulations: Ionizing radiation. Scitech Lawyer 10(4): 20-22.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Public Banking and Sustainable Energy Development

In this blog I tend to focus on "critique" rather than recommending specific solutions. That is a flaw in my focus that I'm trying to rectify.

I'm trying to rectify it by identifying solutions that will help address catastrophic risks built into our infrastructures, especially financial and military-energy infrastructures, by the limited priorities and accountability of key decision-making institutions.

One solution is to increase the accountability of, and local control over, energy and finance. I think an important way that can occur is through public banking.

Banking should optimally reflect the public interest and public banking offers one strategy for achieving that aim.

The Public Banking Institute was founded with this objective. You can read about the institute and learn more about the legal and moral dimensions of public banking here in this article by the Public Banking Institute describing new memorandums that argue for the legal basis of public banking, a necessary step for moving forward with their creation:
Public Banking Institute

The first [memorandum] is a groundbreaking legal memorandum written by Davis Polk and Wardwell Law Firm, one of the most prestigious law firms in the country. Their work came about after Susan Harman (Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland and Commonomics) reached out to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area who arranged for the law firm's involvement.

The memo suggests writing legislation in California to establish a new kind of bank charter, or “license," that can serve to standardize the establishment of Public Banks in municipalities across the state. You may request a copy of this memo from Commonomics. The second was completed by Virtue & Najjar Law Firm for the City of Santa Fe: Link: Establishment and Operation of a Chartered Public Bank by the City of Santa Fe

Both memos discuss how a Public Bank might fit within the laws and regulatory requirements of State and Federal law, and the bank chartering system. Both point toward possible paths forward in establishing a public bank. 

Imagine public bank funded energy development.

Imagine the freedom enabled by the prioritization of criteria beyond short-to-midterm profitability.

Last year I visited Stanford University and had a personal account and tour of their $500,000,000 conversion to sustainable energy for the entire campus. It was amazing and will be cost-efficient over time but the environmental impact is the greatest savings of all.

In Arizona the Navajo have the opportunity to re-imagine their energy infrastructure now that the dirty, coal burning Navajo Generating Station is being shut down in Page, AZ.

However, the Navajo are unlikely to have access to the $500,000,000 Stanford was able to allocate to their sustainable conversion.

So, their decision-making processes about energy development are likely to involve criteria beyond their local control.

Public Banking could help center non-profit driven criteria in funding publicly owned, sustainable energy infrastructures.

Public Banking could be made accountable to sustainable communities in their charters, along with other values that reflect stronger foundations and codes of operation for our most influential institutions.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Catastrophic Risk

November 30, 2017 5:12 pm JST (Updated December 1, 2017 2:06 am JST) Kobe Steel fraud delays Japan's plans to restart reactors. Asia Nikkei,

Data falsification mess spreads to country's weakened electric suppliers...

Kansai Electric had said it uses Kobe Steel-made parts at its nuclear facilities but that safety has not been affected. "Although it took some time to check," Kansai Electric President Shigeki Iwane told reporters on Monday, "the issue will not affect overall operations."

Kobe Steel products are used in nuclear facilities across Japan. The data falsification scandal has so far hit facilities with reactors that are on the road to reactivation. But as Japan moves to put more of its reactors back online, the scandal may affect decisions by other nuclear plant operators.