Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Shedding Nuclear Liabilities: The Prioritization of Corporate Profits as Toshiba Sheds Westinghouse's Toxic Liabilities

Toshiba, a company whose corporate reputation was shocked by recent admission of financial misconduct, announces bankruptcy for its nuclear subsidiary, Westinghouse:
AP (2017, March 29). Toshiba says Westinghouse filing for bankruptcy. The Asahi Shimbun,

Toshiba said in a statement that it filed the chapter 11 petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of New York. The move had been largely expected. Toshiba has been eager to get Westinghouse off its books to improve its plight, and it said it would do just that from this fiscal year. It has said earlier it wants to sell Westinghouse. Toshiba said Westinghouse had racked up debt of $9.8 billion.

Toshiba reiterated its view that at the root of the problem was the acquisition of U.S. nuclear construction company CB&I Stone and Webster.…The company's reputation has also been tarnished in recent years by a scandal over the doctoring of accounting books to meet unrealistic profit targets.

The company has said it will no longer take on new reactor construction projects and will focus on maintaining the reactors it already has. But it is also involved in the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which suffered multiple meltdowns after the March 2011 tsunami.
Another article on the bankruptcy published by Reuters attributes cost overruns to nuclear reactors being built within the US Southeast:

Tom Hals, Makiko Yamazaki and Tim Kelly (March 29, 2017). Huge nuclear cost overruns push Toshiba's Westinghouse into bankruptcy. Reuters,
Westinghouse Electric Co, a unit of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba Corp (6502.T), filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, hit by billions of dollars of cost overruns at four nuclear reactors under construction in the U.S. Southeast.

Bankruptcy will allow Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse to assess whether to continue construction of the first new U.S. nuclear power projects in three decades for utility companies SCANA Corp (SCG.N) and Southern Co (SO.N). The company also provides nuclear design, engineering and decomissioning work around the globe, and said in court filings that its nuclear fuel and power plant servicing operations are "very profitable."

Westinghouse and affiliates intend to use bankruptcy to "isolate them from the one specific area of their businesses that is losing money: their construction of nuclear power plants in Georgia and South Carolina," the company said in a filing in Manhattan's U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

For Toshiba, the filing will help keep the parent company afloat and ringfence it from soaring liabilities from Westinghouse. Toshiba said Westinghouse-related liabilities totaled $9.8 billion as of December, making it one of the industry's most costly collapses to date.
Notice two important aspects of the Reuters report beyond the attribution of causality:

1. Although new construction isn't described as profitable, servicing and de-commissioning old reactors is described as "very profitable."
2. Bankruptcy will "keep the parent company afloat and ringfence it from soaring liabilities from Westinghouse"

I wondered exactly what Westinhouse's liabilities entail. I found a pretty detailed discussion in Bloomberg Gadfly by David Fickling that attributes the liabilities to nuclear waste and concludes that the company's actual and potential liabilities exceed its profits.

Fickling also observes that Kazatomprom, Kazakhstan's state-owned uranium miner, has a put option to sell a 10% stake in the company, which complicates matters:
Fickling, David. (March 10, 2017). Toshiba’s Radioactive Liabilities. Bloomberg Gadfly,

Environmental and decommissioning liabilities add further risks, which can be fiendishly difficult to estimate. Toshiba's best guess at the time of its 2016 annual report was that the environmental costs would come to 10.4 billion yen, plus another 24.2 billion yen for decommissioning.

Then there's Kazatomprom, Kazakhstan's state-owned uranium miner, which holds a put option over its 10 percent stake in Westinghouse. IHI Corp. will receive about 19 billion yen in May after exercising a similar option over its 3 percent share, Toshiba said last month. Should Kazatomprom make the same decision and get a comparable price, the cost of buying out minority shareholders alone would be enough to wipe out all the nuclear unit's underlying profits since 2011...

A billion yen here, a billion there, and sooner or later you're talking big money. While the 712.5 billion yen goodwill writedown has been priced in, there's an even bigger elephant in the room: A 793.5 billion yen guarantee for customers of its U.S. nuclear power plants.

Bankruptcy or a sell-down of the good bits of the nuclear business may be necessary for Toshiba, but neither strategy will make those liabilities disappear.

As you can see above, Fickling notes that the liabilities are not going to disappear. While he is technically, correct, some entity or entities will ultimately bear those liabilities and based on my analyses published  in Crisis Communication, Liberal Democracy and Ecological Sustainability, those liabilities are going to take the form of externalities that adversely impact the economic and biological well being of communities far into the future.

Here is some background on the complex chain of ownership from my Crisis Comm book cited above:
WESTINGHOUSE ELECTRIC: Westinghouse Electric Company LLC: Predecessor company established in the U.S. 1886 by George Westinghouse. Westinghouse Electric Corporation was an important nuclear engineering firm across the second half of the Twentieth century. 
In 1954 Westinghouse created the S2W reactor for the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. Westinghouse Electric Corporation purchased Columbia Broadcasting Corporation (CBS) in 1995 and assumed its name in 1997. In 1998, CBS sold its nuclear power division to British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL). 
BRITISH NUCLEAR FUELS: British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) British-government owned public company specializing in nuclear energy and fuels. Fuel activities included MOX production and reprocessing at Sellafield. It also ran reactors and sold electricity. It was established in 1971 from the break-up of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority and instituted as a public company fully owned by the British government in 1984. 
After BNFL purchased Westinghouse’s nuclear operations from CBS in 1998, it acquired licensing rights on the Westinghouse trademark and re-organized acquired assets as Westinghouse Electric Company.
TOSHIBA GROUP: Toshiba Group purchased 87 percent ownership of Westinghouse in 2006. Today Toshiba Group is the majority owner with KazAtomProm owning approximately 10 percent of shares.

Toshiba founded in Japan 1938 as Tokyo Shibaura Electric K.D with the name changing in 1978 to Toshiba Corporation in 1978. Toshiba announced it was considering selling its stake in Westinghouse Electric in 2015 as a result of a significant accounting fraud that involved over-statement of earnings. Toshiba shareholders as of March 2014 included “domestic corporations” (controlling 50.6 percent of stock), overseas corporations (controlling 19.9 percent of stock), financial institutions (controlling 15.1 percent of stock), and individuals and other shareholders holding remaining equity.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fukushima Refugees: Decontamination in "Difficult To Return to Zones"

You've probably read that Japan is lifting some of the evacuation orders for areas contaminated by Fukushima Daiichi:

Chikako Kawahara and Osamu Uchiyama. (February 28, 2017). SIX YEARS AFTER: 4 more districts in Fukushima set to be declared safe to return to. The Asahi Shimbun,
Evacuation orders will be lifted shortly [April 1] for four more municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, but the prospect of residents returning to their old homes in huge numbers seems unlikely. ...The government intends to pay for the decontamination of certain areas within that zone so former residents can return. According to one estimate, the program would only cover about 5 percent of the entire area that is designated as difficult to return.

Notice that the government is not paying for ALL of the decontamination work and, as this article below argues, has no solution for managing radioactive waste:

Decontamination work in Fukushima Pref. far from finished business (March 11, 201). The Mainichi,

... the government's decontamination plan in this prefecture is fast approaching the end of its first phase at the end of March.  As a consequence of the decontamination project -- and the fact that radioactive material decays over time -- radiation levels in Fukushima Prefecture have declined to some extent.
However, in certain areas of the prefecture, radiation levels continue to be high, and the issue of what to do with decontamination waste still needs to be tackled. The government does plan to carry out decontamination work in the neglected "difficult-to-return" evacuation zones in fiscal 2017, but local residents are skeptical that the end is near.

To date, the Environment Ministry has carried out decontamination work in 11 municipalities across the prefecture subject to evacuation orders. However, no decontamination has been done yet in the "difficult-to-return" zones. In other municipalities, where the radiation dose is 0.23 microsieverts per hour or higher, decontamination work has been performed by the relevant local government office. 
This is a concerning set of articles. Local officials are responsible for clean-up of areas measuring up to 20 millisieverts a year of annual "external" exposure.

I don't know whether the money for local officials' clean-up efforts comes from national government or from TEPCO. I certainly hope that local officials don't have to bear those costs directly.

Can you imagine having your environment contaminated, being forced to leave because of that contamination and becoming stigmatized in the process?

Then you are encouraged to return to regions that are patchily decontaminated, with rains and winds continuously distributing radioactive particles throughout the environment.

And you are told that, by the way, ongoing contamination efforts will be the responsibility of your community and there still is no solution for the piles and piles of radioactive waste stuffed into what appear to be plastic trash bags.

Of course, this approach to managing radioactive waste has been ongoing since the age of fission began, with all countries participating in the nuclear club liable for disregarding the full scale of health and reproductive impacts produced by chronic exposure to "low-level" radioactive waste, waste for which there is no lasting solution.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Mainichi: Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Archives Part I

Tragic images of the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. The US censored images such as these:


High Radiation Levels Prevent Robots from Exploring Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1

Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) is losing patience with robots sent into Fukushima's reactor buildings as high radiation levels prevent their operation:
Kohei Tomida and Masanobu Higashiyama.) Nuke watchdog critical as robot failures mount at Fukushima plant THE ASAHI SHIMBUN March 24, 2017 at 17:50

Units 1 and 3 are particularly hot. Efforts to investigate Unit 1 have been unsuccessful and unit 3 is altogether too hot for any robotic investigation.

Consequently, reactor conditions remain "mysterious" and TEPCO continues to express uncertainty as to the location of melted reactor fuel. The condition of spent fuel in the fuel pools from units 1 and 3 is also a mystery.

Early press releases from TEPCO in 2011 indicated that Daiichi unit 1 had only ‘mildly radioactive releases.’[i] Later, it was reported it suffered a 70 percent fuel meltdown and was experiencing localized nuclear criticalities.[ii]

The problem is that there are over a thousand tons of fuel at Daiichi that must be kept cooled until TEPCO can remove it, which is emerging as an impossible task.

According to a November 16 report by TEPCO titled, ‘Integrity Inspection of Dry Storage Casks and Spent Fuel at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station,’ as of March 2010 the Daini site held 1,060 tons of spent uranium fuel. The total spent uranium fuel inventory at Daiichi in March 2010 was reported as 1,760 tons:
Integrity Inspection of Dry Storage Casks and Spent Fuels at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (16 November 2010),
It is worth noting that although this report was produced on 10/2 6/2010, the file properties indicate the document was modified on 3/13/2011

The 2010 report asserts that approximately 700 spent fuel assemblies are generated every year.[iv] The report specifies that Daiichi’s 3,450 assemblies are stored in each of the six reactor’s spent fuel pools. The common spent fuel pool contains 6291 assemblies. The amount of MOX fuel stored at the plant has not been reported.

All that fuel is degrading and its particulates are being swept by ground water and TEPCO's injections into the aquifer, sea, and atmosphere.

[i] Y. Hayashi and R. Smith (12-13 March 2011) ‘Radiation Leaks at Damaged Plant’, The Wall Street Journal, A6.

[ii] The report of a partial meltdown of unit 1 can be found here: K. Hall and C. Williams (15 March 2011) ‘Fire Erupts Again at Fukushima Daiichi's No. 4 Reactor; Nuclear Fuel Rods Damaged at Other Reactors’, The Los Angeles Times (2011, March 15),, date accessed 15 March 2011. The report of criticalities in unit 1 in April here: J. Makinen and T. Maugh (1 April 2011) ‘Radioactivity Surges Again at Japan Nuclear Plant’, Los Angeles Times,, date accessed 5 April 2011.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

FRAMING Bad News About Declining Longevity in Terms of Individual Sins

The bad news is that new analyses of the US mortality statistics reveals a significance decline in life expectancy for white Americans, the "nation's largest population group" according to research  by two Princeton University economists recently published by the Brookings Institute. The latest study - available here - also finds lagging, but not yet declining, longevity for whites with college degrees.

I've been following this story on declining longevity since it was first reported in the press several years ago. I've been particularly interested in how the story has been FRAMED by the researchers and by the media.

Frame analysis looks at how choices about language, symbolism and imagery shape audience interpretation. You can read about this method, as developed by the renowned sociologist, Erving Goffman:
Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience,
Today I was struck by the framing of declining longevity across across print and electronic editions of the Wall Street Journal's coverage. Although the text of the electronic and print editions of the story are largely the same, there is an important difference.

The electronic version of the story includes a byline that reinforces the central framing device, an underlying causal framework that attributes declining longevity largely, if not exclusively, to the "sins" (i.e., heavy drinking, drug overdoses, and suicides) of a disaffected, white working-class.

Although both the print and electronic narratives share the same underlying causal logics, the inclusion of the byline in the electronic version symbolic forecloses alternative interpretations of causality(ies).

The Wall Street Journal PRINT edition of the story does not attribute causality from "deaths of despair" until the 5th paragraph.  Moreover, 1 of the 4 graphs (far right) notes that the rising death rate could only be explained by deaths of despair "in part," leaving open the possibility that other factors are driving this collapse in longevity:

McKay, Betsy (2017, March 23). Whites’ Mortality Rate Worse Than Thought. The Wall Street Journal (print ed), p. A6. NO BYLINE

In contrast, the Wall Street Journal ELECTRONIC edition of the story emphasizes "deaths of despair" in the byline, framing readers' interpretation during their first engagement with the story:
Betsy McKay (March 23, 2017). Death Rates Rise for Wide Swath of White Adults, Study Finds The Wall Street Journal,
BYLINE: Increases in ‘deaths of despair’—from drugs, alcohol-related liver diseases and suicide. 
 I find it interesting that the electronic version, which has much greater chances for going viral (Viral Video Wikipedia), is more insistent in its framing.

NOW, I would like to RE-FRAME the declining longevity among white working-class people (and slow down in longevity across the population) using the content of an editorial from the New York Times:
Nicholas Kristof MARCH 11, 2017 Are Your Sperm in Trouble? The New York Times,
“There’s been a decrease not only in sperm numbers, but also in their quality and swimming capacity, their ability to deliver the goods,” said Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who notes that researchers have also linked semen problems to shorter life expectancy. ...

I think we are at a turning point,” Niels Erik Skakkebaek, a Danish fertility scholar and pioneer in this field, told me. “It is a matter of whether we can sustain ourselves.”

One recent study found that of sperm donor applicants in Hunan Province, China, 56 percent qualified in 2001 because their sperm met standards of healthiness. By 2015, only 18 percent qualified.

“The semen quality among young Chinese men has declined over a period of 15 years,” concluded the study, which involved more than 30,000 men.

This editorial has a disturbing description of mishapen sperm and attributes causality to endocrine disruptors, including those found in plastics and pesticides.

There are other stories that I could add describing the rising incidents of neurological disorders in adults and children, rising immunological problems, etc. These other stories would suggest other factors, beyond self-inflicted sins, potentially contributing to rising mortality.

I must ask: Why is the mass media narrative of declining longevity being framed almost exclusively in terms of self-inflicted sins when other indicators - such as sperm quality and neurological issues - point to dramatic declines in human biovitalities?

Does the "blame the victim" frame derive from inadvertent factors and unconscious biases or does it derive from a deliberate strategy of power?