Posts Tagged ‘Japan’
Tepco, the Fukushima nuclear power plant operator, has released a set of pictures showing the waters rushing into the nuclear power plant on 11 March, when the tsunami hit. There are 11 pictures in this release. They show dramatically just how the nuclear plant was battered, and remind us that this is the water of the wave that flung fishing vessels four kilometres inland.
These photos were taken from the 4th floor, of the north side of the ‘Radiation Waste Treatment Facility’. There’s more news archives and material on the Fukushima nuclear emergency page and in the running blog post.
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Images 3,4 and 5 show the ferocious maelstrom of water hammering its way through the power plant. Images 6 to 11 show some of the effects of the power of the tsunami, as it ripped away metal fixtures, threw cars around and exposed building interiors.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has published an article titled ‘Radiation exposure and the power of zero’. This talks breifly about the history of medical work with radiation, and the fallacy – alas not challenged enough – that there is no such thing as “safe” levels below which one is not harmed.
In 1895, the article recounts, Wilhelm Röntgen discovered x-rays and used them to take a picture of the bones inside his wife’s hand. A year later, Henri Becquerel realized that invisible emanations from uranium salts would expose photographic plates. Marie Curie and her husband Pierre carried this work further, leading to the use of mobile x-ray machines in World War I.
Madame Curie, it is said, enjoyed the glow from radioactive test tubes that she kept in her desk. She died at age 66 from aplastic anemia thought to be caused by her work with radiation. Were she alive today, she would undoubtedly follow the precautions that modern scientists take when dealing with radiation, and would not be carrying around radioactive material unprotected. Likewise, radiologists began taking steps to protect themselves from the damaging effects of radiation after noticing that people in this profession were dying at earlier ages than their colleagues who were not exposed to radiation.
[You can go to earlier coverage of the Fukushima nuclear emergency on this page. It contains excerpts, news reports, photos, graphics and links during the first weeks of the crisis.]
Yet even in the 1970s it was common medical practice to x-ray pregnant women during labor to see if the pelvis was “adequate” — a procedure, incidentally, that was absolutely worthless. Sentinel work by Alice Stewart, a physician and epidemiologist who studied the effects of radiation on health, revealed that even one x-ray before birth could increase a child’s chances of getting leukaemia. Despite criticism of Stewart’s work by the nuclear industry, doctors no longer perform x-rays on pregnant women unless absolutely necessary. The trend throughout the nuclear age has been a growing recognition that there is no “safe” or “harmless” dose of radiation.
In 2006 the National Academies’ National Research Council published a comprehensive report, “Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VII – Phase 2)” stating that radiation exposure has a linear relationship to the development of cancer. The report concluded that even low doses of ionizing radiation are likely to pose some health risks; there is no threshold of exposure below which the risk drops to zero.
Scientific arguments regarding the effects of particular doses of radiation will and should continue. However, to make this the focus of any discussion of nuclear safety obscures the real issue, thus missing the forest for the trees. The real issue is that the use of nuclear power and nuclear weapons is forcing humankind, and indeed the whole ecosystem, to participate in a particularly cruel and totally uncontrolled experiment. Given the scientific evidence that there is no safe dose of radiation, this is an experiment that has already gone awry. Indeed, if this were a true scientific experiment, it would have been halted a long time ago.
The Bulletin’s article, ‘Radiation exposure and the power of zero’, concludes by saying:
The real question is whether we, as a human race, can afford in good conscience to risk annihilation with our continued reliance on nuclear technology. Can we continue to despoil our environment with long-lived radioactive materials that are scattered to the wind and embedded in our precious soil, randomly exposing large populations, and foisting health impacts on unsuspecting future generations who have no choice in this matter?
We may choose to do so. But if we do, I am quite sure that our children and grandchildren will roundly condemn us for our lack of foresight and our selfishness. As they struggle to deal with a poisonous environment and waste that must be safeguarded for thousands of years, they will certainly wonder what possessed us to do this.
One question in particular demands attention: Why was the actual event in Japan, an earthquake and tsunami, so different from the “credible” event that was expected?
Also in the Bulletin, the first of a contribution to a roundtable on ‘Fukushima: What don’t we know?’ starts to provide an answer. From our perspective as geoscientists, the article has said, this is the most important question because the definition of the credible event provides the basis against which a nuclear power plant is designed. In the case of the Fukushima Daiichi power station, the magnitude of the earthquake (9.0 on the Richter scale, or M9) and subsequent tsunami (with a reported wave height of 14 meters) exceeded the credible event on which the nuclear power plant’s design was based. The site has six nuclear reactors; three of them were operating at the time of the quake and successfully shut down in response to the ground shaking. Nevertheless, the power station and its spent fuel storage pools were overwhelmed by an event that had not been planned for — a “larger-than-expected” tsunami wave, leading to a sequence of catastrophic failures.
Some experts have since described the tsunami as a “rare” or “exceptional” event that was entirely out of the range of reasonable or credible expectation. But shallow, offshore earthquakes can cause tsunamis, and the height of the tsunami at Daiichi was certainly not unexpected for a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. In addition, there have been three 9.0 magnitude earthquakes during the past decade: Indonesia in 2004, Chile in 2010, and now Japan in 2011. The fact that such earthquakes occur infrequently over historical periods does not explain why the Fukushima nuclear power plant was not designed to withstand this type of geologic event.
From a geologic perspective, the earthquake and its great magnitude should not have been a surprise. Ten years ago, Japanese earth scientists, led by Koji Minoura at Tohoku University in Sendai, described a major earthquake and tsunami that happened in July 869 and was recorded in an historical document. This event, which is also clearly recorded in the coastal sediment of the Sendai plain, extended inland about four kilometers from the coast. Based on even older tsunami deposits that go back some 3,000 years, Minoura and his colleagues suggested a 1,000-year recurrence interval for large-scale earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan and presciently published their results in the Journal of Natural Disaster Science.
Their results and conclusions did not go unnoticed. Based on the Minoura et al. paper, Yukinobu Okamura, the director of Japan’s Active Fault and Earthquake Research Center, raised the possibility that a large tsunami could damage the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, dismissed these warnings.
There are two recent articles that point out, with great clarity, the inter-connectedness of crises like the USA-led invasion of Libya and of the nuclear power emergency in north-eastern Japan. The writers are Fidel Castro Ruz and Jacques Depelchin.
In his article, titled ‘NATO’S Fascist War’, Castro has said: “You didn´t have to be clairvoyant to foresee what I wrote with great detail in three Reflection Articles I published on the CubaDebate website between February 21 and March 3: “The NATO Plan Is to Occupy Libya,” “The Cynical Danse Macabre,” and “NATO´s Inevitable War.” Not even the fascist leaders of Germany and Italy were so blatantly shameless regarding the Spanish Civil War unleashed in 1936, an event that maybe a lot of people have been recalling over these past days.”
“Almost 75 years to the day have passed since then, but nothing that has happened over the last 75 centuries, or even 75 millenniums of human life on our planet can compare. Sometimes it seems that those of us who serenely voice our opinions on these issues are exaggerating. I dare say that we have actually been naive to assume that we all should be aware of the deception or colossal ignorance that humanity has been dragged into. In 1936 there was an intense clash between two systems and ideologies of more or less equal military power.”
“Cuba stated its position regarding the internal situation in Libya at the meeting in Geneva. Without hesitating, Cuba defended the idea of a political solution to the conflict in Libya and was categorically opposed to any foreign military intervention. In a world where the alliance between the United States and the developed capitalist powers of Europe increasingly take hold of the people´s resources and fruits of their labor, any honest citizen, whatever their standpoint to the government, would be opposed to a foreign military intervention in their country. Now, however, the criminal and discredited NATO will write a “beautiful” little story about its “humanitarian” bombing.”
“If Gaddafi honors the traditions of his people and decides to fight to the last breath, as he has promised, together with the Libyans who are facing the worst bombing a country has ever suffered, NATO and its criminal projects will sink into the mire of shame.”
In ‘It’s All Interconnected, Why Pretend Otherwise?’ Jacques Depelchin has said: “The tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes is not just about the excesses of one industry, be it financial, nuclear, oil, etc. It is about the continued and deliberate silencing/sidelining of the majority of humanity by a tiny dictatorial fraction that, for centuries and generations has always gotten away, literally with murder.”
“What has struck me the most about all of the articles I have read about the nuclear/environmental crisis in Japan is how shallow and selective the history is. Invariably they all start with the atom, even though the mind set that has pushed through the informal, full of secrecy, nuclear code can easily be said to have been inspired by Le Code Noir [the Black Code] decreed by Louis XIV in 1685 (in place till 1848) to make sure that the slave industry served its profiteers without any moral and/or ethical preoccupation.” Jacques Depelchin is executive director of the Ota Benga Alliance, and is a committed intellectual, academic, and activist for peace, democracy, transparency and pro-people politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
18 December 2011: You will find the Updates archive, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.
More than nine months have passed since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and triggered a still-unresolved disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. This set of news reports, news features and editorial in the Mainichi Daily News reveals the chronic deception and criminal corporate irresponsibility that continue to hinder all meaningful effort to mitigate the meltdown, and to obstruct at all costs the truth.
Mainichi Daily News has said that the government has declared a stable “cold shutdown” at the plant, representing a major milestone in its handling of the disaster. The public has keenly waited for the nuclear reactors to be brought under stable control, but Japan is still standing on thin ice and is miles away from a situation where it can really declare that the crisis is under control.
In the meantime, rebuilding the lives of residents near the crippled plants has been an urgent critical challenge. On the occasion of its latest political declaration, the government needs to renew its resolve to settle the crisis and achieve regional recovery. The disaster-hit reactors are certainly now in a more stable condition. However, the phrase “cold shutdown” usually refers to suspension of a sound reactor. The fact that the government is attempting to apply this term in a severe accident in which three reactors have suffered core meltdowns should be called into question. The government should rather explain in detail the possibility of any additional explosions and whether a recriticality accident has been ruled out.
Simulations suggest that nuclear fuel has melted inside the reactor containment vessels, eroding their concrete floors. Although Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, has indicated that melted fuel has also been cooled down by water, this is nothing but speculation. We urge the utility and the government to find a way to ascertain the precise condition of the fuel.
Mainichi Daily News has reported that conditions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are far worse than its operator or the government has admitted, according to freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent more than a month working undercover at the power station. “Absolutely no progress is being made” towards the final resolution of the crisis, Suzuki told reporters at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan news conference on Dec. 15. Suzuki, 55, worked for a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary as a general laborer there from July 13 to Aug. 22, documenting sloppy repair work, companies including plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) playing fast and loose with their workers’ radiation doses, and a marked concern for appearances over the safety of employees or the public.
For example, the no-entry zones around the plant – the 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone and the extension covering most of the village of Iitate and other municipalities – have more to do with convenience that actual safety, Suzuki says. The situation at the plant itself is no better, where he says much of the work is simply “for show,” fraught with corporate jealousies and secretiveness and “completely different” from the “all-Japan” cooperative effort being presented by the government.
“Reactor makers Toshiba and Hitachi (brought in to help resolve the crisis) each have their own technology, and they don’t talk to each other. Toshiba doesn’t tell Hitachi what it’s doing, and Hitachi doesn’t tell Toshiba what it’s doing.” Meanwhile, despite there being no concrete data on the state of the reactor cores, claims by the government and TEPCO that the disaster is under control and that the reactors are on-schedule for a cold shutdown by the year’s end have promoted a breakneck work schedule, leading to shoddy repairs and habitual disregard for worker safety, he said. “Working at Fukushima is equivalent to being given an order to die,” Suzuki quoted one nuclear-related company source as saying.
Kenichi Oshima is currently a professor at Ritsumeikan University. After long years of nuclear power research, he had learned that the actual cost of maintaining nuclear power in Japan was twice as high as what government and electric power companies had publicly announced, the Mainichi Daily News has reported. In March 2010, published his findings in a book, but found himself under fire at a time when pro-nuclear energy was becoming even stronger. In September the same year, during a meeting of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, his comments were rejected and even mocked. “Do you call this research?” he was told and few even cared to look at his findings.
Following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Oshima’s situation drastically changed. He was selected as a member of two expert governmental committees to serve as a critical analyst of Japan’s current nuclear power stance. The group will openly release all internal debates and documents, Oshima says. He is now more optimistic than ever that the time to destroy the “cheap and safe” nuclear power myth will eventually come.
A sober and critical editorial in the Mainichi Daily News has said that Britain has already abandoned developing fast-breeder nuclear reactors, and is set to give up nuclear fuel reprocessing as well. Moreover, its planned construction of a facility to dispose of radioactive waste including plutonium is likely to materialize even though it is still at a planning phase.
In contrast, there are no prospects that Japan can build a disposal facility. However, for Japan to call for operations at the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture and the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho to be carried out as planned, would be like putting the cart before the horse as it appears the country is incapable of building a disposal facility.
Plutonium is directly related to security issues. The U.K. possesses nuclear weapons but Japan does not. One may wonder whether Japan’s independence will be threatened if it abandons nuclear fuel recycling and loses its ability to produce plutonium. Even though it is an important point of contention the issue should not be used as a reason to underestimate the harm of plutonium.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano who is in charge of energy policy, Goshi Hosono, state minister for handling the nuclear crisis, and Yoshito Sengoku, second-in-command in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Committee, have been hearing the views of experts on the issue. It is not enough for the government to talk only about the dream of “prosperity” built on dependence on nuclear power. Japan’s ability to overcome the mess that follows such prosperity is now being tested.
The Mainichi Daily News has reported that the strongest recorded earthquake to hit Japan rocked the northeastern coast Friday, triggering a series of tsunami including a 10-meter wall of water that submerged residential areas and farms with muddy streams and washed away scores of people, vehicles, boats and a storage tank on fields and ports in northeastern Japan.
The 10-meter tsunami was observed at Sendai port in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture at around 3:55 p.m. after the quake with a magnitude of 8.8 rocked the region, local police said. A tsunami expert at the government-affiliated Port and Airport Research Institute described the tsunami following the 2:46 p.m. quake as “one of the highest and widest in terms of areas of devastation in the nation’s history.” Shigeo Takahashi, senior researcher at the institute, said, “It’s a tsunami of a once-in-a-century scale.”
The New Scientist noted that the Japanese earthquake has triggered a series of tsunami waves that are now moving east across the Pacific. How will the countries they hit be affected? The shape of each landmass is a major factor determining how the tsunami behaves. Tsunamis are most dangerous when they run over a large area of shallow water. This causes the first wavefront to slow down, so successive waves pile up to form one tremendous wave.
As a result small Pacific islands, especially ones that lie in otherwise deep water, should be largely unaffected. Wave height here might reach 30 centimetres at most. “A little atoll presents a pencil in the water, and the wave just goes right past,” says Robert Cessaro, a senior geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Hawaii. Because most of the islands in the tsunami’s path are fairly small, they should see waves 10 to 30 centimetres high at most.
A message from the Asahi Shimbun: Editor’s note: We will update our earthquake news as frequently as possible on AJW’s Facebook page. Please check to keep informed on what’s happening. / Toshio Jo, managing editor at International Division, The Asahi Shimbun.
Nikkei has reported that a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 8.9 struck Japan Friday afternoon, causing damage in Tokyo, many reported injuries in the north where the quake was centered and sending a tsunami hurtling toward the country’s northeastern coast.
The quake, originally reported at a magnitude of 7.9 but later upgraded to 8.9 apparently exceeding the 8.9 quake that struck off Chile in February 2010.
Local television reported smoke rising from a Tokyo port building, and fire in the capital’s waterfront Odaiba district. There were reports of “numerous” injuries in Miyagi Prefecture, in northeastern Japan where the quake was centered, as a tsunami measured at anywhere from one meter to 4.2 meters hit at various places along the coast.
Location 38.322°N, 142.369°E
Depth 24.4 km (15.2 miles) set by location program
Region NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN
Distances 130 km (80 miles) E of Sendai, Honshu, Japan
178 km (110 miles) E of Yamagata, Honshu, Japan
178 km (110 miles) ENE of Fukushima, Honshu, Japan
373 km (231 miles) NE of TOKYO, Japan
A tsunami warning included Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Guam, the Northern Marianas, the Marcus Islands and the Wake Islands, while 15 nations and territories were covered by a tsunami watch.
In Tokyo, hundreds of concerned office workers tried in vain to make calls on jammed cellphone networks, some wearing hard hats and other protective headgear. Many of them streamed out of buildings in the business district, gathering in open areas. The crowd appeared spooked by the sound of glass windows rattling in tall buildings.
Services on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, as well as on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines, were suspended. All services on the Tokyo Metro subway systems in the Tokyo metropolitan area were stopped.
Aftershocks were continuing, with one hitting magnitude 7.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Tall buildings swayed violently in central Tokyo as the aftershocks hit.
NHK Television reported that water could be seen rising over cars and pouring into warehouses at Onahama port in Fukushima Prefecture; in Iwate Prefecture a building was washed away, with boats and cars swirling around in the rising waters.
The Guardian has reported that Europe and a group of small island Pacific states have jointly proposed a new international treaty at the UN climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, to commit developing and developed countries to reducing their climate emissions, according to leaked documents. “The move has outraged many developing countries, including China and India, who fear that rich countries will use the proposal to lay the foundations to ditch the Kyoto protocol and replace it with a much weaker alternative,” reports the Guardian’s environment editor, John Vidal. “The new negotiating text could provoke the most serious rift yet in the already troubled climate talks because the Kyoto protocol is the only commitment that rich countries will cut their emissions.”
Environmentalists in India meanwhile are speculating about the reason for the change in the negotiating stand of the country’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh. India’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says: “The climate talks in Cancun CoP 16 is precariously poised with India announcing its willingness to subject its domestic mitigation actions to third-party verification and committing to binding emission targets, ‘under pressure from Brazil and South Africa’ (Jairam Ramesh, Indian minister for environment and forest, quoted)”. Sunita Narain, the head of CSE, writes from Cancún, “The aim is to replace the legal regime, needed to set targets based on historical and current responsibility with a soft regime based on domestic targets for all, measured, reported and verified to make it binding”.
The fact is that this regime change promoted by the USA and pushed by all its willing partners in the coalition is disastrous for the world’s fight against climate change, Narain has said. The USA wants its right to pollute. It has provided a perfect formula – it promises us the right to pollute, because it wants to legitimise its own pollution. In this way, the USA is not asked to take on targets (called commitments or actions) based on his historical contribution. In other words, it would have to reduce 40 per cent emissions below 1990 levels. Instead it can set its own domestic targets, based on whatever little it can do. It has initially committed to reducing 3 per cent below 1990 levels, and now says even that much is too much.
Japan reiterated that it will not extend cuts under Kyoto beyond 2012, a position that has angered developing nations, according to a Reuters report. Tokyo insists that all major emitters including China, India and the United States must instead sign up for a new treaty. Akira Yamada, a senior Japanese official, added that the talks were seeking “some good wording with which we can accommodate, not only Japan, but other countries. This negotiation is rather difficult. However, we think we can reach agreement.” Developing nations say that rich nations, which have emitted most greenhouse gases by burning fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution, must extend Kyoto before the poor sign up for curbs that would damage their drive to end poverty.
The BBC reported that Bolivian President Evo Morales “confirmed his status as the darling of the conference with a rousing speech punctuated by several rounds of applause and cheers.” Morales is quoted: “We came to Cancun to save nature, forests, planet Earth. We are not here to convert nature into a commodity; we have not come here to revitalise capitalism with carbon markets. The climate crisis is one of the crises of capitalism.” Hear, hear! Morales has all my votes. But, the BBC also reported that there is a “diplomatic assault on Japan in the hope of softening its resistance to the Kyoto Protocol”. As many as 20 world leaders are in line to phone Prime Minister Naoko Kan to ask for a change of stance. Japan’s position is seen as the single biggest barrier to reaching a deal. Together with Russia and Canada, Japan is adamant it will not accept future cuts in carbon emissions under the 13-year-old Kyoto agreement.
Xinhua is reporting that hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated from coastal areas of south-east China in the path of Typhoon Megi. Quoting disaster relief authorities, the report says more than 150,000 people in Fujian Province had been evacuated, and 53,100 fishing boats have been recalled to port.
Megi is forecast to make landfall on the east coast in Guangdong Province around Saturday, according to the Fujian Provincial Meteorological Department. Authorities have issued a red warning, the highest of four warnings, that the typhoon could cause huge waves that could devastate coastal sea areas, including Guangdong, Fujian and the Taiwan Strait.
The red warning gives local authorities six hours to evacuate residents at risk and implement storm precautions, and order schools, shops and airports to close and all vessels to return to port. Meanwhile, the State Oceanic Administration has issued a yellow storm surge warning, which gives local authorities 12 hours to prepare for a storm, reporting that waters in Dongshan, Chongwu and other tidal stations in Fujian Province will exceed or approach the warning levels.
“The storm surge could be so devastating that buildings, docks, villages and cities could be destroyed by it,” said Bai Yiping, director of South China Sea Forecasting Center of the State Oceanic Administration. Megi could cause a “50-year storm surge” if it landed as a severe typhoon on the coastal areas in Guangdong, Bai said. Megi is the 13th typhoon and possibly the strongest to hit China this year. Southern provinces, including Hainan, Guangdong, and Fujian, are bracing for heavy rains and strong winds.
The Hong Kong Observatory said: “At 7 p.m. (21 october), Severe Typhoon Megi was estimated to be about 420 kilometres southeast of Hong Kong (near 20.2 degrees north 117.5 degrees east) and is forecast to move north at about 8 kilometres per hour gradually edging closer to the coast of eastern Guangdong.” The HK Observatory’s MTSAT-2 image above was captured at 16:01 Hong Kong Time on 21 Oct 2010 and clearly shows the immense size of Megi as it approaches the China coast.
Noodle wheat? Japan and South Korea need a lot of it every year, about 800,000 tons according to industry estimates from West Australia. Noodle grade wheat requires careful blending to produce the appropriate flour. Japanese and South Korean-type noodles, such as the ‘udon‘ variety, require specialist wheat grades unlike the noodles commonly seen elsewhere, which are made from a more standard flour.
But, as Agrimoney reports, the drought in Western Australia threatens to land Japan and South Korea with a noodle shortage unless supplies of specialist wheat are carefully administered. Agrimoney has quoted top exporter CBH Group, which handles virtually all Western Australia’s grain harvest. West Australian wheat producers are worrying about how to supply noodle-grade wheat while dealing with a near-halving, to below 4m tonnes, in the state’s wheat production.
Noodle wheat typically accounts for 13-14% the state’s wheat crop. Now the shortage means noodle wheat is commanding a premium, currently at Aus$35 a tonne, which is likely to attract “opportunistic” merchants with little experience of handling the blend. Wheat growers in West Australia are being warned to avoid selling to a merchant whose bad handling of the blend might unsettle West Australia’s valuable grain trade relations with two important Asian clients.
Meanwhile, the Economic Observer of China (English) examines produce speculation in China’s agricultural market. Products being targeted according to the newspaper are garlic, ginger, honeysuckle and green beans.
Shandong’s Jinxiang produces over 6 million ‘mu’ (a ‘mu’ is about 800 sq metres) of garlic. “Garlic is a reliable crop and garners steady expectations and consequently produces strong market liquidity,” said the Economic Observer. “Strong market liquidity and the availability of rural brokers, all contribute to the rapid influx of hot money. The rising price of garlic has attracted local and outside speculators.” Ginger prices have fluctuated significantly in the past few years. The newspaper reports that ginger prices were at a low of 0.4 yuan/kilo in 2008, and then skyrocketed to 4.6 yuan/kilo this year. “Speculating on ginger can generate huge profits. Like the garlic market, most of the money goes to brokers and middlemen.”
One third of prescription medications in China list honeysuckle as an ingredient; 70% of cold and flu medications use honeysuckle. “The price of honeysuckle has risen 400% this yearm” reports the Economic Observer. “Annual national demand is at 20 million kilograms but actual output hovers at 8 million kilograms. Supply of honeysuckle is dependent on distributors, who are hoarding.” Prices of green beans have surged in the past year, from 6.8 yuan/kilo to 24 yuan/kilo. “The green bean trading volume in Taonan has reached over 40 million tons, one fourth of the entire domestic market. However, most farmers have not profited from the market surge because of poor timing, pressure to pay back loans, and planting costs.”
Pay no attention to the announcements coming from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund during what the troublesome twins call their ‘spring meetings’ of 2010 (an annual, very expensive, exercise in financial fiction, but an exercise which has disastrous consequences for many in developing countries). The global big media were inertly supportive, as usual, and had this to say:
Business Week: “The World Bank, created after World War II to eradicate poverty, received shareholder backing for two separate capital increases that will provide a combined $5.1 billion. The 186 member countries agreed to pay $3.5 billion for the bank’s unit that lends to governments, the first general increase in 22 years, the International Monetary Fund’s development committee said in a statement today.”
The New York Times provided a clue about the machinations behind the scenes to maintain US control over the World Bank: “Under the changes, China will become the bank’s third-largest shareholder, ahead of Germany, after the United States and Japan. Countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia and Vietnam will also have greater representation. Mr. Zoellick carefully devised the capital increase and voting changes to be adopted together. The $5.1 billion in so-called paid-in capital, which the bank can use for day-to-day operations, will bring the bank’s cash on hand to about $40 billion. Of the $5.1 billion, developing countries will contribute $1.6 billion in connection with a shift in representation that will give them 47.19 percent of voting power, up from 44.06 percent. The actions fulfill a pledge the bank’s members made in Istanbul in October.”
The Financial Times: “A package put to ministers at the World Bank’s meetings in Washington yesterday increased the bank’s $11bn (€8.2bn, £7.1bn) paid-in capital by $5.1bn in return for reforms to voting rights, which would mainly see a transfer of votes from smaller European countries to emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil. Robert Zoellick, the bank’s president, last year began campaigning to increase its capital in response to the global financial crisis. The bank increased lending by $100bn to combat the effects of the crisis on poor countries, helping to overcome the scepticism of countries such as France and the US. “This is a once-in-a-generation request to address the impact of a once-in-a-generation crisis,” Mr Zoellick said.”
As predicted just before the ‘spring meetings’ by the Bretton Woods Project, the capital increase and voting rights hogged most of the headlines. “The G20 group of the world’s biggest economies promised a 3 per cent shift in voting share towards ‘developing and transition countries’,” the Project had commented. “The Bank will proclaim success in achieving this, despite the fact that it fudged the definition of what is a ‘developing country’ so that the category included many countries that have achieved high-income status. With further reform being delayed until 2015, rich countries seem to have stemmed the surge of demands from the large emerging markets for deeper reform.”
The World Bank has asked its members to put up more money, as it had stretched itself to its limits to lend more during the financial and economic crisis in 2009. After a big debate over the size of the capital increase, the Bank has secured a US$60 billion nominal boost to its capital, which means it will receive about US$5 billion in actual cash (the rest is ‘callable capital’ that members would provide if ever asked by the Bank). Said the Bretton Woods Project: “This is a relatively small boost that will only allow the Bank to return to lending the same amount it did before the crisis. It also means that rich countries again rebuffed the large emerging markets who wanted a much larger capital boost and offered to pay for it entirely out of their own coffers.”
The point is that all these reforms and discussions have been kept completely out of the public eye until now. There have been no consultations with stakeholders and little discussion with most of the Bank’s members. That the rich countries won’t budge on governance issues was highlighted in a March report by a US Senate committee. The US is the largest shareholder, with an effective veto over any changes to the Bank’s governance. The committee called on the Obama administration to maintain “United States voting shares and veto rights at the international financial institutions” and questioned existing reforms to the selection of the World Bank president by demanding preservation of “United States leadership of the World Bank and senior level positions at the other IFIs.”