Fear Dominates Much of the Discussion On Nuclear Power

As of now, the death toll from Japan's nuclear emergency stands at zero. This contrasts to the thousands of people who perished in the earthquake and the tsunami, and yet it is the nuclear emergency and the threat of disaster that have captivated most of our attention. National Public Radio, in the United States, interviewed. Robert DuPont, who teaches clinical psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School and specializes in the study and treatment of fear, including the fear of nuclear energy. He told NPR's Renee Montagne that the American reaction to the nuclear threats has been way out of proportion:


Dr. ROBERT DUPONT: There are people in California taking potassium iodide to prevent cancers from the radiation coming out of this plant. What is that?  I think the answer is in biology. Fear dominates our attention. Whatever the tsunami was, whatever the earthquake was, that's over. Sure, it could happen again, but the nuclear reactor? Who knows.

MONTAGNE: Now, what makes people's reaction to nuclear energy so different than other energy sources - for instance, drilling for oil or coal mining - when they also present tragically heavy risks of danger and loss of life in the industry?

Dr. DUPONT: They do, but it's familiar, and it doesn't have the connection to Hiroshima that we have with nuclear power. We're used to thinking about industrial accidents. What we're talking about when we talk about nuclear power is what could happen, what almost happened. Aside from the accident in Chernobyl, you really don't have the bodies piled up, and I cut my teeth on the issue of a Three Mile Island, which was very interesting because there was a sense that we might lose the East Coast of the United States. Fear is all about what the future is, and you can never reassure the person to say it couldn't happen. I do a lot of work with people, for example, to help them deal with a fear of flying. And although there have been many years when there have been no deaths from a commercial airline in the United States, you never know when you get on an airplane whether your plane is going to crash or not.

MONTAGNE: Can it also be because,  in the case of the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power, it seems that they are not telling everything they know? So people, certainly in Japan, but also elsewhere in the world, automatically think about a worse-case scenario.

Dr. DUPONT: Yes, and I think that the biggest health problem associated with Three Mile Island in the commission's report about it was the fear, the anxiety, the mental stress that people have. I think that efforts to allay fears have the paradoxical effect of reinforcing the sense that, well, we're not hearing the whole story.

MONTAGNE: The nuclear power industry in this country saw a major setback after the Three Mile Island incident. Yet, in other countries after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, nuclear power was developed at full speed, from lesser developed countries like India to highly developed countries like France. Why didn't those populations share this sort of great fear of a nuclear holocaust that Americans seem to have in large numbers?

Dr. DUPONT: Well, one big difference is the question of whether there's a widespread sense that nuclear energy is necessary. And it's very interesting to see which countries have done this - France, for example. Japan is another country. And France is interesting because 75 percent of their electricity comes from nuclear power. And they make a big thing in France about people visiting nuclear power plants. I have been there and seen the nuclear power plants in France. And they are major attractions for students to come and visit. They are familiar to people. And this familiarity vaccinates the people, it immunizes them against fear. The United States could not be more different.


Japan Disaster Breaks Auto Supply Chain

The triple disaster in Japan: earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis has brought the country's auto industry to a virtual halt. The world's biggest automaker, Toyota, says it is extending the shutdown of its factories in Japan, and Honda is doing the same. Nissan resumed operations at some plants last week, but says it will continue only as long as their parts inventory will last. Companies are struggling with power cuts and a shortage of parts. Even the Swedish carmaker Volvo and Detroit's General Motors have both stopped some production because of a shortage of parts.

Here is an interview by NPR's Sonari Glinton exploring how the crisis in Japan is affecting the auto industry:


SONARI GLINTON: When people talk about the economic effects of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, they often use the words "supply chain": two simple words to explain something that is incredibly complex.

Ms. TRACY HANDLER (Senior Analyst, IHS Automotive): When you build a car, there are thousands of parts going into building that car. And when you get to the final assembly, you have parts that have come from all over the world.

GLINTON: This is valid from the rubber used, to the plastics, the electronics, the precious metals that go into the microchips, the iron ore that's mined and then turned into steel and so on. The supply chain though isn't just the stuff they put in the cars; it's how it all moves. The supply chain process includes shipping, air freight, trains, trucks; all the different shipping channels that would move parts from one place to another. So what's happens when one piece of that chain is gone?

Ms. HANDLER: You end up with nothing. In order to build a car, you have to have every piece. There is not one piece that you can say "well, I'll add that later."

GLINTON: Not one piece. But there are factories all over the world making car parts.

Ms. HANDLER: If you have a part that is not being made due to a factory being down, you can't just go to the factory next door and say "hey! can you make this widget?"

GLINTON: Well, why not?

Ms. HANDLER: Because of the complexity of the product that goes into a car and its validation (so much of it being safety related), tooling can't just be switched from one person to another.

GLINTON: So, Ms Handler, you say  it would take anywhere from six weeks to six months for a car manufacturer to change suppliers from one part of the world to another. So far, none of the automakers have been willing to make those changes until they know exactly how their suppliers in Japan are affected. But let's check in on the last link in the supply chain.

Mr. GEORGE GLASSMAN (Owner, Glassman Auto Group): We're standing in the parking lot. There's nothing but cars and sunshine and hopefully and a lot of buyers. Having an ample supply of vehicles or having the right supply, regardless of the time of year is always a fine balance. So, right now I'd say we're fine, but in terms of how that will change from day to day, I can't be more overly concerned about the situation, until I know more.

GLINTON: Every car company, both foreign and domestic, is trying to come up with that information. They all say they're continuously studying their supply chains. That means they're accounting for thousands, if not millions of individual parts. And, as Tracy Handler says, because of the fluidity of the situation in Japan, we may not find out what part is missing until the time comes to put it on a car.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News.



The Time has Come to Help the Libyan Revolution

Le Monde, 16.03.11


We’ve maneuvered ourselves into a paradoxical situation. The Libyan regime is daily losing more international support – treated as a pariah, ostracized by other governments, decried as “illegitimate” and abandoned by its former allies. It is doomed.

Yet day after day Colonel Gaddafi’s forces retake control of the land held by the rebellion six weeks ago to liberate the country from a grotesque dictatorship.

The flow of the fighting – which pits the under-equipped and under-trained insurgents against the over-armed troops of the self-proclaimed “Brother Leader and Guide”  will soon bring the city of Benghazi, the opposition stronghold, within firing range of Gaddafi’s soldiering. As things stand, nothing will stop the Libyan army.

Moammar Gaddafi’s regime is has been pronounced illegitimate by the United States, Europe and even the Arab League, which has expelled it from membership. It has just lost one of its last key supporters in the UN Security Council: Russia.

On Monday March 14, President Dimitri Medvedev announced that Gaddafi and his family were considered as “persona non grata” by his government and would not be allowed to conduct any financial transactions in Russia.

Every day, the opposition, meeting as a national transition council, is gaining international recognition.

Around the world, the Gaddafi family’s bank accounts are frozen. In this country of six million, most of the people who make things work are foreigners -- Chinese, Tunisians, Egyptians, Malians, Nigerians, Chadians – have fled.

Half of Libya’s oil installations – which provide roughly two percent of the world’s supply – are shut down.

But, in the face of this situation, the international community seems to have resigned itself to seeing Colonel Gaddafi crush the insurgency and stay in power. Everything is happening as if the atrocities perpetrated by the regime in recent weeks -- hundreds of fatalities among the civilian population, torture, arbitrary arrests and "disappeared” opposition figures -- do not yet provide a legal basis for indirect military assistance to the insurgency.

France has not convinced  Europe of the need to impose a no-fly zone on combat areas any more than it convinced the foreign ministers of the G-8 (Canada, Germany, United States, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and Russia) when they met this week in Paris.

Intervention, even if minimal, would still pose enormous risks. But inaction exposes the Libyan people to even greater risks. We know what Gaddafi is capable of: he has threatened to put the insurgents to fire and the sword.

Nicolas Sarkozy is right. We must make a military gesture to help the rebels fortify Benghazi. This may take the form of a no-fly zone over the city. Americans and Europeans have what it takes to do the job. The time has come to act.





Moisi on Libya

The Sarkozy factor is fundamental. The French president loves crises, with their concomitant surge of adrenaline. For him, this is what power is about: taking hard decisions under unfavorable circumstances. 
Of course, domestic considerations are not absent from Sarkozy’s thinking. In 2007, when he played a key role in the liberation of Bulgarian nurses imprisoned by Qaddafi, Libya’s leader was rewarded with what looked like a legitimacy prize: an official visit to Paris. He was no longer a pariah, but an eccentric partner. 
Today, by contrast, it all looks as if intervention may re-legitimate Sarkozy in the eyes of French citizens, whose votes he will need in next year’s presidential election. An energetic and daring gambler, Sarkozy is taking a high but legitimate risk that he can retake the moral (and political) high ground. 
France has a common history and geography with the countries on the southern Mediterranean shore. The duty to intervene – and the cost of indifference – is probably higher for France than for any other Western country. 
Indeed, France has a very large immigrant population that originated in the Maghreb, and for which the “Arab spring” is vitally important and a source of fascination and pride. And today, with France taking the lead in an international effort to protect the Libyan people from their leader, they can feel simultaneously proud of being French and of their Arab roots. These positive identities constitute the best protection against the sirens of fundamentalist Islam. 
Of course, an ideal scenario implies that the intervention “goes well,” and that it does not incite confusion or chaos in Libya or the wider region. France, together with Great Britain, and with the more distant support of the US, is undeniably risking much, for it is easier to start a war than it is to end one. But it is a worthwhile risk. The cost of non-intervention, of allowing Qaddafi to crush his own people, and of thus signaling to the world’s despots that a campaign of domestic terror is acceptable, is far more menacing. 
Sarkozy has chosen the right course. In fact, he has chosen the only possible way forward.

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