Book Review: Fresh Currents

[Fresh Currents: Japan’s flow from a nuclear past to a renewable future can be downloaded for free and quickly here. It is also available from good bookstores, priced ¥2,000.]

“In short, Fresh Currents is more than a book: It is a piece of living history that crystallizes the threshold upon which we stand today.”
 Japan Times book review by Chuo University Law Professor Stephen Hesse

“That’s the way everything was: Everything was written by somebody who didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, so it was a little bit wrong, always!”
Judging Books by Their Covers, in Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!, Richard Feynman

Hop on the haunted house of horrors ride at the funfair, and the moment when you enter that parallel, fictive world of ghoulies and ghosties, and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night comes when the trolley hurtles forward and the swing doors open to consume you; with Fresh Currents, that entry to a parallel world, one in which nuclear power is Evil and all renewables are Saintly, one where the emotional tail wags the rational dog, one tailor-made for the most acerbic put-down of psychologist Daniel Kahneman—“good technologies have few costs in the imaginary world in which we inhabit, bad technologies have no benefits, and all decisions are easy”—comes early on, in the introduction by editor Eric Johnston, where he doffs his hat to thank The Japan Times, “one of the world’s finest newspapers”, seemingly with nary a sliver of tongue in cheek. No disrespect to the toilers at the august organ, some of whom are fine writers and all of whom, I’m sure, are underpaid, but this sounds like an alternative punchline to the hoary expat one-liner, “You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…you start bowing on the telephone.” You really have been in Japan too long if you believe that The Japan Times, with its uber-pompous editorials, “Paraguay-Japan ties strong, getting stronger” propaganda guff, embarrassing Readers in Council letters to the editor page, and content largely filched from wire services and real newspapers around the globe, is one of the world’s finest newspapers.

Parochialism of this sort infests the book—not a literal, geographic parochialism, but a more insidious sort, one in which standards and expectations are diminished by isolation and an uncritical audience. Among the lows of the many lowlights are the following: a long, rambling essay by journalist David McNeil, Tohoku Damashii (“The soul of Tohoku”), much of which, irrelevant to the title on the tin of the book, is about the tsunami in general, an essay with academic pretentions but one in which footnotes come and go randomly, footnotes with suspiciously clustered dates that make it read like a cut-and-shut job pasted together from previously published material, a suspicion underscored by the appearance early in the course of the essay of a mysterious character named “Kai Watanabe”, of whom all we learn that her home is in Okuma and then, many pages on, that her parents have abandoned hope of going back to Okuma, an essay that threatens to flay the bark of the tree of the English language to within the sap of its life (“fickle weather and incessant taxation also produced periods of terrible famine”); a jejune travelogue, Fear & Loathing, Deception & Denial in Nuclear Cloud Cuckoo Land, (when the talk turns serious, people, can we ditch the spurious Hunter S. Thompson references, please) by “award-winning photographer and writer” John Ashburne, in which it is imperative for understanding in the last third of the piece that the reader knows where the action takes place, but is offered no clue, although in the superannuated tradition of New Journalism, we are told the time and date with exquisite precision (“at 6.30pm on the evening of 8th August, 2012, I wandered back into the dining room of my humble hotel”); a wholly disingenuous piece by Eric Johnston, Can Nuclear Power Help Fight Global Warming?, in which he—rightly—lays out what a formidable ramp-up of nuclear capacity would be needed to replace fossil-fuel power plants globally by 2050, but then conveniently fails to lay out the even more formidable challenges replacing them with wind, water, and sun pose; an ostensibly muckraking article wholly mistitled Fukushima Workers and the Yakuza, by freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, in which only one paragraph in three pages even mentions organized crime; and The Promise of Alternative Energy, by “well-known landscape artist” Brian Williams (et al), who appear to think that Flying Electric Generators tethered from up in the troposphere to earth and harnessing the trade winds will solve the world’s energy problems sometime soon. Why not extract sunlight from cucumbers while we’re about it?

The relative highlights are hard to come by, but in a book this diverse there have to be a few: journalist Winifred Bird provides two, one on how to “grow your own energy” (although on efficiency grounds I don’t share her optimism on locally sourced and consumed energy) and one on energy efficiency (where she is bloodhound-right on the scent of waste). The other is from “political maverick” Taro Kono, on the inanities and impossibilities of the nuclear reprocessing cycle, who manages—just—to crack the only joke in an otherwise humorless tome.

But what really exercise me are the errors. If there were an Olympics of Error for books, Fresh Currents would sweep podium after podium and stand proudly at the top of the medal rankings. The humble bronze for error goes to the endless typos, solecisms, and other editorial foul-ups: we are told, for instance, that Japan’s hydro plants (good) generated 76.9GW in 2009, when we’ve been told two pages before that the installed nuclear (bad) capacity is 46.15GW. So hydro has twice the “power” of nukes! What’s wrong, you ask? Well, output is measured in MW h or GW h, not MW or GW, and hydro mustered only 76.9mn Mw h of output in 2009, versus c280mn MW h for nukes. Some fool confused gigawatts with megawatts/hour. Then there’s the map (on p131) that purports to show “54 municipalities that have from 5% to 100% of their electricity supply produced by renewable energy”—but even a colorblind and barely numerate dunce would be able to count out nearly 50 municipalities on Hokkaido alone.

But for Fresh Currents these are minor SNAFUs. Silver goes to the map that claims to show The Seismic Threat to Japan’s Nuclear Network (on p20-21), on whose two pages I laboriously counted at least 37 mistakes (and I don’t have access to all of the underlying data), ranging from the trivial (asterisked footnotes with no asterisk above them, for instance) to the laughable—how could *anyone* with pretentions to anti-nuclear authority get the names of two of Japan’s 17 nuclear power plants wrong?

Gold, the undisputed gold, though, goes to a chart (on p46) that purports to delineate the contemporary Connections between Media & The Nuclear Industry. It begins like this:

NHK [Japan’s BBC]
Management Issue Committee, Gaishi Hiraiwa
(is also President of Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc.)
and then moves on to the most powerful private-sector TV station:
NTV
Owner of Yomiuri Newspaper, Matsutaro Shoriki
(is also Chairman of Japan Atomic Energy Commission)

“That’s odd,” I thought, “I don’t remember any Hiraiwa serving as president of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) in recent years. What’s the source for this chart?” It turned out to be an URL, which turned out to be a BBS, Expat Café (“A home for displaced souls”). You can see the original post here. “Hmm,” I thought, “Should books with ambitions to stake a place in a serious debate stoop to sourcing material from unsourced posts on bulletin boards? And where did this chart come from originally?” A moment rootling around the Interwebs turns up the book that looks to be the source, Dangerous Talk by Takashi Hirose, published in…1987. But it gets worse, for even back in 1987 this was a *historical* chart, as while Gaishi Hiraiwa (1914-2007) served as chairman of TEPCO (the above “president” is a mistranslation on the part of the Fresh Currents folks) from 1984 to 1993, Matsutaro Shoriki (1885-1969) was chair of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission for less than a year, that year being…1956. If wrong were a star, this chart would be a red supergiant.

“Details, schmetails,” you might say, “Enough with the captious pedant shtick,” but I would beg to disagree. Errors on this scale pulverize to smithereens the relationship of trust that must exist between reader and writer in a fact-dependent non-fiction work on an issue, the future of energy, that has to be thought through and debated in as dispassionate and an informed way as possible.

Dejected, I came to doubt more intensely a couple of dubious passages I’d ringed elsewhere, and went back to check on them. The first was this, by Eric Johnson in Can Nuclear Power Help Fight Global Warming?:

Some may argue that nuclear power plants will be built by major greenhouse gas emitters like China, which can afford to construct massive nuclear plants. Yet wind power, not nuclear, is growing by leaps and bounds in China. Chinese authorities, for all their pronouncements, have a long way to go to actually constructing the hundreds of nuclear plants they claim are on the drawing board.

On closer inspection, that last assertion, about “hundreds of nuclear plants” being on the Chinese drawing board, is obviously hyperbole, and I suspect the author knows it—and knew it even as he was writing it. This is the very essence of bullshit, as beautifully delineated by philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt, in On Bullshit:

For the bullshitter, however, all these bets [on truth and falsehood] are off: he is neither on the side of the true or the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says.

Sourcing World Nuclear Association and China Electric Power News data, I find just 10 *new* nuclear plants under construction between 2010 and 2015 and eight more *new* ones planned for 2015-2020. Even at the reactor level, there are only 42 planned for 2015-2020. And what of this “long way” to construction? In spite of Fukushima, construction is proceeding much as planned (not that we should necessarily be rejoicing at that, but equally we shouldn’t let anti-nuclear hysteria blind us to what is actually happening). And is it wind, not nuclear, that’s growing by “leaps and bounds” in China? I resent having to get up off my fat arse (alright, stay on my fat arse) to research this, but I can tell you (not that you should be surprised), courtesy of the China Electricity Council, that what’s really growing in China is good old bronchitis-inducing coal, with 25.8GW of thermal capacity added in January-September 2012 versus 5.9GW for wind (down 10.6% on the year). Oh, and by the way, wind attracted RMB82.9bn in investment in 2011, down 7% on the year, only slightly more than nuclear, at RMB74.0bn, up 18%. What’s growing by leaps and bounds again?

The second was this, in Fear & Loathing, blah blah, about the still to be activated spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Rokkasho:

Like all the nuclear installations on the [Shimokita] peninsula, the Rokkasho plant lost electrical power after last year’s quake—the entire grid north of the town of Miyagi is wired in series, just like the proverbial fairy lights—and was forced to run on back-up generators never intended for extended use, until power was restored on March 22, 11 harrowing days later.

Really? My recollection was that power was restored to almost all of northern Japan within three or four days. A little rootle, and what did I find? A press release here (J) from Rokkasho operator Japan Nuclear Fuels Limited (JNFL) stating that power was restored on March 13, at 22:22, two days and eight hours after the earthquake. Once, in my criminal lawyering days, I met two men in different London police stations who both claimed to be Jesus, and as I noted later over drinks, at least one of them had to be wrong. In this case, wrong is not, I suspect, with JNFL. [And where is this “town” of Miyagi? Last time I looked, it was a prefecture (although there once was a town called Miyagi, absorbed into Sendai in…1987).]

At this point, I consigned my printout of Fresh Currents to the sharp and unforgiving teeth of the shredder.

The second saddest thing about Fresh Currents is that it is a monumental exercise in what psychologists call “motivated reasoning”, in which, prey to a passion, you argue back from your conclusion and ignore any inconveniences that might get in the way; the single saddest thing about it is that there is ample room, nay even a desperate need, for a book, written by a person (or persons) with a background in the relevant disciplines of maths/physics, civil engineering, economics, and—dare I say—evolutionary psychology (backgrounds that none of the authors of Fresh Currents possess), that lays out how we might just, against all odds, painfully, with much sacrifice, and against all of our hard-wired instincts for laziness, get to a zero-carbon society in Japan and the world in 2050, a book that might look like this. Pompously inflated with falsely righteous and indignant hot air, Fresh Currents so sadly isn’t it.

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27 responses to “Book Review: Fresh Currents

  1. Pachiguy-san, you have a mistake: the correct abbreviations for megawatt-hour and gigawatt-hour are MWh and GWh, with the option of a centered dot (·, Unicode U+00B7, in the Latin supplement block), thus: MW·h, GW·h, the dot (or its absence) implying multiplication.

    Not a slash, which is used for division.

    The watt is a measure of instantaneous energy consumption, so much energy per unit time. Total energy is the W·h — that’s why electrical meters measure watt-hours or some multiple thereof. One can discuss the wattage a generator is capable of but that’s not the measure on which electricity bills are calculated.

    If this is confusing, I apologize, but it’s very basic physics. The mistake is understandable in one whose background is law, no snark intended.

    • Hung, drawn, and quartered, but also grateful to have such observant and informed readers. I’ve no idea where that slash came from, although I’ve been trying to rationalize and self-justify it over the last couple of days. I readily confess I don’t really *get* electricity at all (let my enemies make of that what they will)…

  2. Yes, a watt is a unit of power (energy per unit of time) so a watt per hour would be a strange animal indeed, perhaps akin to energy acceleration if such a concept existed.

    If the table is showing average or maximum power output, then gigawatts is a sensible unt of measurement. If the objective is to show energy production (power, adjusted for the number of hours in the year it was effectively produced), then GWh or TWh would be best.

    I would have been snarkier than RFW, given the harshness of the review, but RFW got there first. “It’s very basic physics.”

  3. About the issue of wind vs. energy in China, according to the World Nuclear Association (in a semi-incoherent, but seemingly well sourced article):

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63.html

    ..it is intended to put in place 200 GW capacity of PWR’s by 2040, in addition to an equal GW capacity for fast breeders and other reactors. This certainly implies ‘hundreds’ of reactors. So the comment about this is as much ‘bullshit’ as the Chinese government target (which may of course be bullshit itself). The target is 40GW nuclear capacity by 2020 (up from about 11GW). Wind energy is projected at 100GW capacity by 2020.

    My understanding is that there has been in practice an undeclared moratorium on wind power development in most of China since around 2010 because of network capacity issues. There are rumours of vast windfarms lying idle or spinning while unconnected as networks are incapable of handling the surges – coal stations (which dominate in northern China) are not good for counterbalancing wind energy (neither is nuclear, gas or hydro is ideal). Presumably if the network is upgraded as planned, there would be a surge in construction as it seems to be quite cost effective in northern China and they have a huge amount of spare capacity in wind turbine manufacture – one rarely stated advantage of wind energy is that it can usually be put in place very quickly, and provides an economic return as you build (half a windfarm provides half the projected energy, half a nuclear plant/coal plant/hydro plant provides zero).

    • “This certainly implies ‘hundreds’ of reactors”
      It all depends on our semantic definition of “drawing-board”. I wasn’t willing to take it out beyond 2020, as nebulous plans for 2040 are not to my mind on anyone’s “drawing board”. But we’re getting back-to-front here–the main thrust of my attack was simply that there has not been a hugely meaningful lull in Chinese nuke construction since Fukushima, and I think that is inarguable. I have looked into it, believe it or not, on a plant-by-plant basis for plants expected to be completed between 2010 and 2012, and the only significant delay I can find is the Qinshan #2 expansion, which has been delayed by a couple of years. For better or worse. At least the Chinese are primarily using AP1000 and its local derivatives, which might be, as a third-gen technology, safer, but then again I worry about the wise words of the nuke correspondent of the Economist on March 19, 2011, just after Fukushima:
      “If the West turns its back on nuclear power and China ploughs on, the results could be unfortunate. Nuclear power plants need trustworthy and transparent regulation, a clear distinction between operators and regulators, and well enforced building codes. The Fukushima plant lacked some of those. China can offer none.”
      Thanks muchly for the comments on windpower. Not a power expert, as has been proven, but there seem to me to be serious baseload/grid issues with our two favorite renewable friends, solar and wind. Dark, still night–pump hydro? Solid article in the FT today about “grid-scale storage batteries”, but that I have to put it in quotation marks…

      • I take your point about the definition of ‘drawing-board’. I’m no expert on China nuclear power but my understanding is that the current official status has more to do with the Party Congress than the real situation. I believe that they are fundamentally rethinking their strategy which essentially involved keeping as many options in the air as possible, to one where they focus on one or two of the most commercially viable technologies. I suspect that they are finding them all more expensive than they’d anticipated. But it does seem that APC1000’s are a likely winner from this strategy.

        As for wind power, there is a general rule of thumb that a modern grid can take about 30% wind energy without substantive alteration, although individual circuits can usually take up to 100%. I’ve heard it argued that 50% or more is feasible and practical so long as you accept that sometimes you just have too much in the system (this is more an issue of who pays operators if they insist on pumping unneeded power into the grid), and if there is a reasonable amount of spare capacity (almost all industrial countries will have lots of spare capacity in semi-mothballed plants, however developing countries often don’t have this luxury). The issue with solar depends very much on climate. In hot dry countries, solar generation almost exactly coincides with demand, so there are few issues of matching supply and demand. Its a different situation with very seasonal countries such as Japan.

      • “I believe that they are fundamentally rethinking their strategy which essentially involved keeping as many options in the air as possible, to one where they focus on one or two of the most commercially viable technologies. I suspect that they are finding them all more expensive than they’d anticipated. But it does seem that APC1000′s are a likely winner from this strategy.”
        That was basically my understanding, too, although both of us will be the first to admit that neither of us are experts on Chinese nuclear policy. They are building NPPs ferociously quickly, which is promising from a cost perspective and scary from every other–here is WNN on how Ningde No. 1, based on an Areva design, is about to go into service only about four years after construction started:

        http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN_Fuel_loading_at_Ningde_1_1910121.html

        Comments on wind and solar I’ll have to save for another day.

      • And this article (taken from Platts) is I think a pretty good overview of the Chinese situation, although its slightly out of date.

        http://www.commodities-now.com/reports/power-and-energy/9806-prospects-for-nuclear-power-in-2012.html

      • Thanks for the link. Seems well informed, but as ever with an article without footnotes, how are we to judge, for instance, what “the high cost of the AP1000″ is?

  4. Oh, by the way, kudos for linking to Peter McKays book – it is excellent, although he is weak on the economics of energy investment. Personally, I think Tom Murphy’s Do The Math blog is even better.

    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/

    • “Oh, by the way, kudos for linking to Peter McKays book – it is excellent, although he is weak on the economics of energy investment.”
      He is weak on that, but we have to give him credit that somewhere he says that a book on the economics would take up another 400 pages. I hope he writes it soon, alone or in collaboration. We are in a debate in which most of us have to rely on the judgments of experts–we just have to find experts that we feel, through our hopefully finely tuned capacity for detecting bullshit, we can trust. Few of us acknowledge that, or are capable of acknowledging our reliance.

      • Agreed totally about the need to find sources we can trust, its the hardest trick of all when trying to get to the truth of any issue. One reason I prefer Murphy is that he is so scrupulous about setting out his own interests and prejudices. That said, I’m in no position to compare the qualifications of either of them (both of course are academic physicists in very prestigious institutions). My own personal interests are more on the economic side of the issue, so I tend to be better at identifying bullshitters on that side of the argument than on physics (where I am pretty clueless). I don’t think McKay is a bullshitter, he is very very good, but I think his lack of curiosity about long term funding issues has led him astray in some of his conclusions – specifically his belief that nuclear power is more economically feasible than renewables. Personally, I think its much more finely balanced than that (my disclaimer is that I’m a former enthusiast for nuclear power, now fairly agnostic about either option, but generally more pro-renewable)

      • “I think his lack of curiosity about long term funding issues has led him astray in some of his conclusions – specifically his belief that nuclear power is more economically feasible than renewables.”
        That was exactly my conclusion, too! I sense one of the weakest parts of Hot Air is Plan E (for “economics”) (on p211), where for once he doesn’t get out the numbers but relies on an anecdote about “clean coal” (never really been sure what that is) versus nuclear from “engineers at a UK electricty generator”. I’d tentatively agree with you that say 20 years on, the low-carbon options will have narrowed even more in price terms, but I still think that humanity, collectively, will always essentially plump for the cheapest and easiest energy choice, so sayonara Earth. What distresses me about the no-nukers most–and I’m sure this has been said many times before–is that fundamentally they have picked on the wrong electric-power enemy–the enemy is coal, coal, coal!

  5. Pachiguy. Well, where to start on this one. “Fresh Currents” is certainly a hotchpotch of essays of varying quality. Having attended Eric Johnston’s presentation at Good Day Books in Gotanda at the end of October, I would be a little more wary over questioning the intentions of the editor and contributors with such conviction. And being someone with 30 years of experience in economics and finance, I completely agree that their methodology is sorely lacking. But that misses the point.

    But to put it bluntly, English-language primary source journalism and agitprop publications such as “Fresh Currents” are dying in Japan in the face of the new media and the internet. Their death is a loss of biodiversity in the media ecosystem. To feast on the half-dead carcass with such relish seems crass for someone so well read.

    Let’s take the Japan Times as an example. It has always had puff pieces that are, in effect, propaganda vehicles for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But over the years it has also had some wonderfully crafted essays by Donald Richie, insightful book reviews by the likes of Jeff Kingston, great cultural commentary by Mark Schilling, deeply thought insights into Japan’s environmental scene by C W Nichols and an incomparable take on Japan’s food scene by Robbie Swinnerton (to name just a few). It also employs journalists, like Eric Johnston, that actually go out into the Japan hinterlands and talk to people rather than ping off already existing offerings on the internet. As subscriptions slump and advertising revenues collapse, it probably won’t survive. So a publication that is currently 70% newswire and recycled bumf, plus a much more interesting source of salary for a dwindling group of people who actually know Japan and write some interesting stuff from primary sources, will die. Great result?

    And what do you expect from agitprop? It’s rapid fire, messy, incoherent and a pain in the arse. Personally, I agree with David MacKay. I even agree with George Monbiot that we can’t respond quick enough to climate change without the nuclear option. But I also think that we need a body of thought that harries the corporate status quo – even when sometimes I agree with the corporate consensus. Just look at the climate change debate (where I think climate change should be obvious to any rational observer). The objective, science-based argument has proved totally ineffective over the last five years in influencing global fossil fuel emissions policy. In short, it has completely failed to win hearts and minds. To sway the debate, you need the likes of Bill McKibben who aren’t just commentators but also political evangelists. The communitarian, new age, environmental, liberal-leaning legacies of the new left annoy the crap out of me, but please God let there be someone left to stand up and challenge the Koch-brothers orthodoxy. “Fresh Currents” may not be the most erudite vehicle of non-mainstream thinking. Nonetheless, it exists in a world in Japan where the corporate consensus rarely goes challenged. It’s about the best we have (can you do better? yes please).

    The new media onslaught is killing the old media everywhere, Japan included. RIP. But is this a good thing? So Eric Johnston will soon lose his day job and not be replaced as the industry shrinks to oblivion. An agitprop dinosaur, like “Fresh Currents”, is hatched and soon dies. Yet, Pachiguy, while I love your beautifully written pieces on Japan, you have avoided coming out with an alternative meme to corporate Japan based on primary sources (does your day job allow you the time)? And, yes, you don’t have to – that isn’t on your blogger job profile. True, you go out into the provinces in person, but always with a Graham Greene style separation from the subject. Does the demographically challenged mountain village eventually wither and die? Well who cares if it produces a well-balanced prose essay with photos attached? Of course, there is nothing wrong with being an objective chronicler of distress, but I would be a touch wary of being so disparaging of those who get stuck into the gutter of actual policy.

    The simple truth is that the blogocracy is parasitic in nature. Sure, kill off your ailing English-language Japanese host. Hmmm. What happens then?

    • “But to put it bluntly, English-language primary source journalism and agitprop publications such as “Fresh Currents” are dying in Japan in the face of the new media and the internet. Their death is a loss of biodiversity in the media ecosystem.”
      Fallacious Darwinian parables aside, why on earth would you want agit-prop propagandists to survive? Surely as we move closer to the truth, we are all in some subtle way more rewarded? And what is this “half-dead carcass” on which I’m supposedly feasting? The last time I looked, I’d been subscribing to The Japan Times for 17 years, and indeed yesterday paid them a handsome $125 for the last couple of months to keep them going.
      “But over the years it has also had some wonderfully crafted essays by Donald Richie, insightful book reviews by the likes of Jeff Kingston, great cultural commentary by Mark Schilling, deeply thought insights into Japan’s environmental scene by C W Nichols and an incomparable take on Japan’s food scene by Robbie Swinnerton (to name just a few).”
      Donald Ritchie’s gone and I fear Jeff Kingston is an idiot (you hadn’t noticed?) Mark Schilling, CW, and—you forgot to add—the other cinema reviewers Kaori Shoji and Giovanni Fazio—are indeed far above the cut that we should expect, and they do, together with Philip Brasor, make the JT punch far, far, above its weight. But that doesn’t make it one of the “world’s great newspapers”. You, like so many else, mistake the subtlety of what I wrote.
      “It also employs journalists, like Eric Johnston, that actually go out into the Japan hinterlands and talk to people rather than ping off already existing offerings on the internet.”
      Yes, I’ve had my fill of Eric Johnston, thanks.
      “As subscriptions slump and advertising revenues collapse, it probably won’t survive.”
      You might be surprised on this one. You no doubt think of it as a stand-alone, fiercely independent newspaper. Any idea who actually owns it, or how well they’re doing? [I do..]
      “The simple truth is that the blogocracy is parasitic in nature. Sure, kill off your ailing English-language Japanese host. Hmmm. What happens then?”
      I don’t find that to be a simple truth at all—Fresh Currents and I both work for free. And much as I can, and do, and will lampoon The Japan Times (the lampoonery is there for the taking), by my actions I support it (as you understandably might not have known).
      But here is a more caustic, intemperate, comment, courtesy of Dr. T:
      “Reading your review of Fresh Currents, it struck me that you need a new tab on the blog for pieces on edited volumes – titled ‘Kebab’ perhaps? It would be a very efficient way of Spiking several half-wits at a time. I was tempted to post a response to your critic who appears to be arguing that anyone involved in actual journalism should be allowed to publish bullshit with impunity. His comment brought to mind Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, an immaculately well-researched critique of pesticide use, which changed environmental policy worldwide and delayed the day foretold in her title. If the cretins who cobbled together Fresh Currents had bothered to do their research, they might have stood a chance of having a similar impact. Also, the idea that mainstream journalists should be free from criticism because they are an endangered species is frankly bizarre.”

      • Parts of this reply I agree with: “Also, the idea that mainstream journalists should be free from criticism because they are an endangered species is frankly bizarre.” True.

        However, “you, like so many else, mistake the subtlety of what I wrote (a literary martyr no less)”. Anti-establishment movements are, by their nature, messy and full of contradictory fellow travellers by nature. Sure, go ahead and pop the inconsistencies and untruths, but such counter narratives only rarely arrive fully formed like Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’. In your mainstream pieces, the world consists of shades of grey; in your critical pieces there is only black and white.

        And actually, despite being an “idiot”, “cretin” and “half wit” I do know who owns the Japan Times. Despite my limited intelligence, I managed to get hold of a copy of the inhouse journal of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan a few months back that reviewed the surviving English language press in Japan (and their dire prospects). With the aid of my ESN teacher, and a sturdy dictionary to deal with the difficult words, I managed to pick through the article. Contact the FCCJ for a back copy if you haven’t read it.

        And this brings me to the catalyst to the original comment. Why the invective? Why are you and Dr T so keen on labelling people as “idiots”, “cretins” and “half wits”?. At one instance, I read a post on Spike Japan that is as good as anything put out by the New Yorker, and the next minute we descend into flaming and the type of language I associate with right wing shock jocks in the US. Well, maybe this will drive traffic to the blog – but is that what you are all about? Are you positioning yourself as a literary Rush Limbaugh, ready to savage any descent?

        For the record, I love the blog in general. And for the record, I think nuclear should be a key component in countering the far greater danger of fossil-fuel CO2 led climate change. But I know that as an “idiot”, “cretin” and “half wit” this doesn’t count for much.

      • “And actually, despite being an “idiot”, “cretin” and “half wit””
        I don’t think anyone called you any of those epithets, but I’m ready to stand corrected.
        “Why the invective? Why are you and Dr T so keen on labelling people as “idiots”, “cretins” and “half wits”?”
        It’s a fair question. It might be a Woolworth’s pick-and-mix from any of the following widely held human emotions: anger, disappointment, self-righteousness, contempt, arrogance, and despair. I don’t personally believe in giving charlatans and fraudsters the time of day. When I labour to pull apart the threadbeare arguments of an Eamonn Fingleton, I feel entitled to call him a “fool”. In much the same way, it’s fine by me if my musical hero of the year, Tim Minchin, sings something as saccharine sweet as “White Wine in the Sun” on the one hand and “The Pope’s a Motherfucker” on the other. Don’t you–just sometimes–want to get enraged?
        “Are you positioning yourself as a literary Rush Limbaugh, ready to savage any dissent?”
        Hardly, and nothing I say about Fresh Currents is going to “drive traffic to the blog”–the English-speaking people that care one way or another about energy policy in Japan number in the hundreds…
        BTW, I very much enjoyed, retrospectively, your blog Climate and Risk–there’s an URL link quirk at WordPress which means that I can’t see it from behind the Blogmeister curtains but only from in front, so I didn’t discover it until last weekend.
        BBTW, a certain AK (you’ll have to guess the owner of the initials) paid you a fine back-handed compliment recently: “Justin Bowles – who before he converted to the Church of Climate Change was actually a pretty decent sort of chap…”
        The people that think that climate change is “theological prognostication”… Perhaps I should Spike them? If I did, would it be alright to call them idiots, cretins, and half-wits, I wonder?

      • And yes tiredness, typos and autocorrect has transformed ‘dissent’ into ‘descent’. This could be evidence that I am human, or rather evidence that I am a “cretin”. I really don’t know (but I am sure you do).

  6. To: Spike Japan
    Thanks for your long analysis of “Fresh Currents”. We’re currently putting together a list of corrections, including translation errors, and will have them posted on the Fresh Currents website soon, I hope.
    Eric Johnston
    Chief Editor
    Fresh Currents

    • Eric,
      Thank you for your response. I’m not confident you are even collectively able to capture all that needs correcting,
      so here’s a helping start, for pp20-21:
      A Tomari
      – You’re missing the No. 3 reactor, 2009, 912,000kW
      – You’re also missing 4, 5, and 6 in the key
      C Higashidori
      – Technically this is a JV between Tohoku and TEPCO
      – No. 2 is actually (TEPCO) No. 1
      – A plant under construction cannot have been shut down for inspection in 2011
      – “Hokohama town” should be “Yokohama town”
      D Onagawa
      – Somehow I missed this—this is the *third* NPP whose name you got wrong!
      – So it’s not in “Onnagawa town” and nor is one of municipalities affected “Onnagawa”
      – Asterisk missing after the No. 3 reactor
      – “Ishimaki City” should be “Ishinomaki City”
      E Fukushima Daiichi
      – Reactor No. 6 is missing, 1979, 1,100,000kW
      – You’re also missing 4, 5, and 6 in the key
      H Hamaoka
      – No. 5 reactor output should be 1,380,00kW, not 1,267,000kW. See here:

      http://www.chuden.co.jp/energy/hamaoka/hama_about/setsubi/index.html?cid=ul_me

      – “Kukugawa city” should be “Kikugawa city”
      J Shika
      – Population within 30km cannot be 2.2mn—this is an order of magnitude wrong
      K Tsuruga
      – Should be “Tsuruga”, not “Atsuga”
      – Not in “Atsuga city”, obviously
      – Tsuruga No. 1 output should be 357,000kW, not 375,000kW. See here:

      http://www.japc.co.jp/plant/tsuruga/dai1top.html

      – Again, there’s no “Atsuga” city, “Minamietsuzenn town” should be “Minami Echizen town”, “Etsuzen city”
      should be “Echizen city”, and “Etsuzen town” should be “Echizen town”
      L Mihama
      – There’s a single asterisk by No. 1 and No. 3 but a double asterisk beneath them
      – “Ibigawa city” should be “Ibigawa town” (you got it right for Tsuruga, above)
      M Oi
      – “Kyotanbe town” should be “Kyotanba town”
      N Takahama
      – “Kyotanbe town” should be “Kyotanba town”
      O Shimane
      – Population within 30km cannot be 6.5mn—this is an order of magnitude wrong
      – “Aikawa town” should be “Hikawa town”?
      P Ikata
      – Asterisk “shut down for inspection” refers to no reactor above
      – “Ikata city” should be “Iyo city”?
      R Sendai
      – Should be “Sendai”, not “Kawauchi”
      – Is in “Satsumasendai”, not “Satsumaendai”
      – “Hiki city” should be “Hioki city”, “Demizu city” should be “Izumi city”

      We all make mistakes. But if Fresh Currents was a nuclear power plant, it would have been shut down by the authorities long ago. Do you not think you should be held to the same, or even higher, standards as TEPCO? Can you imagine the furor if TEPCO released such an error-ridden document?

    • From your less-than-contrite and far-from-comprehensive Errata et Addenda:
      “D) “Onnagawa’’ should read “Onogawa’’”
      No, “Onnagawa” should read “Onagawa”!
      Third time lucky?
      Seriously though, Eric, you and the rest of the Fresh Currents team should get out a bit more (stay in a bit more) and read something that challenges your cozy windmills-and-insulation will save the world weltanschauung. Might I recommend Dieter Helm’s “The Carbon Crunch”? I will, anyway, although I know there’s zero chance you’ll risk the cognitive dissonance.

  7. You could say that you extract sunlight from cucumbers every time you eat them (or burn them) as the cucumber plants converts solar energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis. Not certain how effectively we could convert that into the mechanical energy of wind, but I’m sure it makes a contribution. Apologies in advance for lowering the intellectual tone and talking out of my rear.

    • That was a reference to Gulliver’s Travels and its satire of the academicians of Lagado, who also try to soften marble for use in pillows:
      The first man I saw was of a meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places. His clothes, shirt, and skin, were all of the same colour. He has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor’s gardens with sunshine, at a reasonable rate: but he complained that his stock was low, and entreated me “to give him something as an encouragement to ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers.”
      I know what you mean, though…

      • Missed the reference, but almost 300 years later Swift’s satire is still as relevant today, especially to my research related workplace! Time to reread methinks…

  8. Your funniest post in a long time. I lost it at “Paraguay-Japan ties strong, getting stronger”.

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