Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nuclear FUD

Panic by Vin Zzep
I drop off the grid for a few days for some quality time and come back to find the crazy piling high and fast in the areas we here at FutureJacked like to comment upon.

Ukraine

I am cooking up a larger post regarding Ukraine, but for now I'll just provide you with the link to the U.S. House Resolution on arming Ukraine against Russian-backed militias and let you ponder for yourself the assumptions buried in each of those "Whereas" clauses - especially that first one.  I just can't get past my mental block on this one - imagine if the Chinese helped orchestrate the overthrow of what they regarded as a corrupt regime in Ottawa and replaced it with a fervently anti-U.S. governing junta. Then follow that with the Chinese Politburo publicly debating supplying advanced arms to that government after some Canadians out in the Western Provinces rebelled against what they saw as an unlawful government. It really just seems like a tremendous amount of downside for the West for very little gain. But then again, I am not exactly a member of the Deep State nor one of their political minions and those types have motivating factors far different from us little people out in Flyover Country.

Miscellaneous

There is plenty else out there, from the Shi'a vs. Sunni tussling in Yemen, to the ongoing Zimbabwe-ization of Japan, to the still-there-and-still fighting Islamic State (wasn't Tikrit supposed to have fallen to the Iranians Iraqis by now?). But don't worry - stock prices are still high!

Political theater and the continuing unraveling of the Middle East aside, I want to take a page from Nuclear Emergencies and analyze a couple of stories which came my way via Zero Hedge, using the tools described in the chapters on how to evaluate media stories on nuclear events.

Zero Hedge Does Nuke, Consume Carefully

The first step is to know your source. I like Zero Hedge as a platform for stories that won't make the cut in more mainstream media outlets, but I also never forget they have their own set of blinders and biases. They loves playing the fear merchant. This is especially true in terms of nuclear power, nuclear accidents, and radiation effects. They know nuclear stories draw eyeballs and that when the facts are used selectively and without context, you can scare the living daylights out of readers and keep them hooked on coming back.

Normally I wouldn't pay them much mind - if you take stories found on ZH as the final word on nuclear topics, you deserve what you get (primarily FUD - fear, uncertainty, and doubt) - but they reach a wide audience and have a sizable influence on opinions, so let's take two recent nuke stories found there and step through them, using some of the principles found in Nuclear Emergencies.

Why take the time? I want FutureJacked readers to be able to better evaluate threats. Nuclear meltdowns and weapons have many deep and negative emotions tied to them. But just because something sounds scary, doesn't mean it necessarily is scary. Walking through a couple of write-ups will hopefully help you navigate future stories with more confidence.

Fukushima's Nuclear Reactor Fuel is "Missing"

This is a typical "Tyler Durden" post on nuclear topics. First the headline is excellent. Even for those weary of reading about Fukushima, missing fuel could mean various things. Was it stolen? Disappeared totally? Not where it is supposed to be? Other?

Then we get into the story itself:
In the same week as Japan unveils its Pacific-Rim-esque anti-tsunami wall public works project, and Japanese government auditors say the operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has wasted more than a third of the 190 billion yen ($1.6 billion) in taxpayer money allocated for cleaning up the plant after it was destroyed by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami; Science Journal reports, Fukushima won't be truly safe until engineers can remove the reactors' nuclear fuel. But first, they have to find it... And so, in February of this year two muon detectors were installed outside the Fukushima Daiichi unit-1 ruins at reactor vessel height for the purpose of finding that ‘missing’ reactor fuel.
Okay, so what about this missing fuel? Oh, wait, first let's talk about a Japanese infrastructure boon-doggle, then let's talk about "wasting" 190 billion yen, then bounce over to how things won't be "truly safe" until the reactor fuel can be moved, but "...first they have to find it..." But it is in the "ruins" of Unit-1. Whew.

In NLP they might just call this a "confusion pattern," which is used to set you up to "reframe" how you see things (hypnotize you in the sense that advertisements use changes in consciousness to sell you something, that is) but we aren't supposed to talk about such things out loud, so moving, on:
First, as AP reports, Japanese government auditors say the operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has wasted more than a third of the 190 billion yen ($1.6 billion) in taxpayer money allocated for cleaning up the plant after it was destroyed by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

A Board of Audit report describes various expensive machines and untested measures that ended in failure. It also says the cleanup work has been dominated by one group of Japanese utility, construction and electronics giants despite repeated calls for more transparency and greater access for international bidders.


Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Teruaki Kobayashi said all of the equipment contributed to stabilizing the plant, even though some operated only briefly.
A reasonably straight-forward reporting of a recent audit, and it is followed by a list of items . The engineer in me cringes at the term "wasted" when I recall the chaos surrounding the situation in the days after the meltdown. They had a bad situation, they tried multiple techniques to address it. Many of those techniques failed. The engineers did their jobs. The auditors did their jobs.

And, as can often be the case in Japan, you'll notice no mention was made of the massive influence of the Yakuza (the 4th branch of the Japanese government) involvement in controlling jobs at Fukushima and siphoning off lot's of money and providing shoddy equipment in return.

No issues with the data, but what does it have to do with "missing" fuel? Oh wait, creating a negative setting, implying TEPCO is unreliable, tying negative traits to the story as a whole. Got it.

Then finally we get to the meat of the story:
So it is even more distressing that, as Science Journal reports, Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, destroyed 4 years ago in explosions and meltdowns triggered by an earthquake and tsunami, won't be truly safe until engineers can remove the reactors' nuclear fuel. But first, they have to find it...
 Okay. Cool. I love Science Journal. At least it is a credible source. Word choice is again loaded, but hey, it's Zero Hedge. This is followed by a quote describing how TEPCO is using a special detector to determine the location of the melted fuel (called "corium" in the trade). Is it all at the bottom of the pressure vessel? TEPCO and other analysts have been saying for some time that the fuel ate through the pressure vessel to some degree. How much melted through? If so, where is it?

These questions do begin to be answered. You can read it yourself, but the text isn't really inflammatory. Props to ZH for once.

Then of course, we get the patented ZH Zinger at the end:
But apart from that, it's totally safe for the looming Olympics... which will include the individual three-and-a-half-legged sprint...
 Sigh. Good old fashioned radiation humor. Never gets old.

Overall grade in terms of fear, uncertainty, and doubt - probably a B-. If "Tyler" hadn't tried the cute NLP trick at the beginning, I would have been impressed by the article as a whole (considering the source).

Then we have a guest post to look over:

The Best Place to Live in the United States? Here are Nine Maps to Consider.

This is a post from the End of the American Dream blog and leads off with:
If you could live anywhere in America during the tumultuous years ahead, where would it be?  This is a topic that is hotly debated, and the truth is that there is not a single right answer.  If you have a very strong family support system where you are, it might not be right to try to move 2000 miles away and start a new life from scratch.  And for many Americans, moving is out of the question in the short-term because they are completely and totally dependent on employment in their local areas.  But in recent years we have seen an increasing number of Americans strategically relocate to another region of the country.  They can see our society breaking down and they can see the storm clouds on the horizon and they want to do what they can to prepare themselves and their families for what is ahead.  So is there a “best place to live” in the United States?  Are there some areas that are preferable to others?  The following are 9 maps to consider…
 Hey. Cool. I like this kind of article as it can often contain useful nuggets of actionable information. I like maps. It even has a refreshing honesty about it with the "...there is not a single right answer..." Fast forward down to #7 on the list:
We have all seen what a single nuclear power plant disaster can do in Japan.  Well, in a future disaster scenario, we could potentially be facing multiple “Fukushimas” all at once here in the United States.  The map below shows where nuclear reactors are located throughout America.  You might want to think twice before moving in right next door to one.
It is short, sweet, and indicative of so much of the urban legends which pass for knowledge in the vast majority of the citizenry.

In what "future disaster scenario" would we be facing multiple Fukushimas?  Let's see, at Fukushima, all off-site power was lost due to the earthquake and the entire diesel generator back up system was wiped out by the tsunami due to a really, really bad decision to put the generators in the basement of a plant that sits next to the ocean.

That said, let's pretend we do have multiple Fukushimas. What has actually happened in terms of the release of radioactivity? How many people are projected to die from the radiation vs. the number dead from the earthquake?  I know we talked about it in the book but remember this - radiation isn't a magical killing spell from Voldemort or Sauron. Radiation is everywhere. Hell, if Grand Central Station at New York was a nuclear power plant, it would have to shut down due to the natural radiation release from the stones which were used to build it.

There is nothing specific here to criticize and that is the point. It is all vague and predicated on deep assumptions that radiation is always dangerous and that we should fear multiple Fukushima style accidents. This is where knowing the causes of the Fukushima meltdowns (along with the various other major nuclear accident's we've seen over the years) and understanding what gets released and what is dangerous threshold is so important.

If you do nothing else, in the future when you read articles on nuclear topics and radiation effects, always be asking questions. Think about the assumptions implicit in how the questions are written. Wonder about the sources used.

Don't let them blind you with FUD. You need to be one of the few with a clear head should the shit hit the fan in a nuclear way.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fast Cars and Market Highs

Classic and Faster by CrazySnck
How about a short and more upbeat aspect of the current plateau of mood we find ourselves in:

The Dodge Hellcats are so hot, they got suspended

(Fox News, March 16, 2015) Apparently Hell has frozen over, because a car company has stopped selling its hottest cars.
Dodge is hitting the brakes on the “Hellcat” versions of the Challenger and Charger, suspending orders of the 707 hp muscle machines due to overwhelming demand. The two share the title of “most powerful American production car in history,” and boast top speeds of 199 mph and 204 mph, respectively.
The automaker was caught off guard by interest in the pair since they were released late last year, and has already received orders for twice as many as it planned to build for 2015. The shortage has led to 50 percent markups on the $60,000-plus by some dealers, while others have reportedly taken dozens of deposits on cars they could take years to deliver, leading Dodge to warn customers of what it called “unscrupulous” behavior.
Several years back, an analyst at the Socionomics Insitute, Mark Galasiewski, wrote a series of articles showing the tie-in between elevated social mood and fast cars.

Here at the summit of financial optimism, we have cars so fast and so popular the manufacturer is having to pull them from the market to get their manufacturing house in order. Hopefully for Chrysler, mood can hang on long enough to get another solid round of sales out of them before the inevitable occurs...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Banging on the War Drums All Day

War by Zulema Revilla, hosted at Society6.com

Not that we need yet another media or blogging outlet hell-bent on keeping your amygdalae locked into the "fear" setting day and night, but I do want to draw your attention to the ongoing school-yard shoving match in Ukraine between the U.S./NATO/EU coalition and Russia and the ethnic Russian militias in the Donbas. This is not meant to play into the Clown Show rhetoric being sprayed across every media platform each side's propaganda teams can access, but to ask you to parse through actions and words and see how close we might be to an actual clash between NATO forces and Russian troops, or whether this will remain a proxy war.

The Sounds of the Drums

Aside from the constant chatter about "Putin's Army" or "Putin's forces" and other simplistic narratives, let's see what we can find in the open media about what is happening on the ground over the last few weeks with both the forces aligned with the West (meaning here U.S./NATO/EU) and the forces aligned with Russia.

First, we have Sweden, which has a history of being "non-aligned" and doing a dance to keep both the Russians and NATO at bay, drawing closer to NATO, especially after recent incursions and near-incursions by Russian bombers and subs:

Swedish government says plans to boost defence spending
(Reuters) - The Swedish government will propose a 6.2 billion crown ($720 million) boost to defence spending over the next five years, its Defence Minister said on Thursday, citing increased instability in the region.

Peter Hultqvist said a worsening security situation, particularly Russian activity in and around the Baltic Sea, is forcing Sweden's armed forces to concentrate on the defence of its borders instead of international operations.

"We are making it very clear that we are shifting towards a focus of the national operations," he told a news conference.

The additional funds will be spent mainly on submarine operations and a permanent armed force on Gotland, a strategically important island in the Baltic, Hultqvist said.
Some take-aways: increase in war spending, re-establishing a military presence on a key Baltic Sea island, and in general, shifting more towards the NATO alliance.

As part of a trend by Russia to rattle the saber right under the noses of Western States, a month back we saw an incursion by Russian bombers near the UK.

RAF scrambles jets after Russian bombers spotted near Cornwall coast

(Guardian, Haroon Siddique, 19 February 2015) Anglo-Russian relations have taken another battering after the RAF escorted two Russian Bear bombers off the coast of Cornwall, as Moscow reacted angrily over a warning by Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, about the threat it may pose to Nato’s Baltic states.

RAF Typhoons were scrambled from their base in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, on Wednesday in response to the latest in a series of incursions by Russian warplanes. On Thursday David Cameron accused Moscow of trying to make a point, while the Kremlin furiously denounced Fallon’s warning that Vladimir Putin could repeat the tactics used to destabilise Ukraine in Baltic members of the Nato alliance.

During an event at Felixstowe, Suffolk, Cameron said: “I think what this demonstrates is that we do have the fast jets, the pilots, the systems in place to protect the United Kingdom. I suspect what’s happening here is that the Russians are trying to make some sort of a point and I don’t think we should dignify it with too much of a response."
Here is a more measured response by the Brits, past masters at Great Power saber-rattling, but another example of Russia not exactly going out of the way to de-escalate. As in the Cold War days, the big worry here is that one of these incursion missions will go too far and someone gets shot down, or a malfunction of some sort occurs, leading to a dogfight. What is more worrisome is that unlike the Cold War, there are no agreed-upon rules of behavior. A miscommunication could easily happen.

And then there has been yet another reference to the use of nuclear weapons by the Russians:

Putin says Russia was ready for nuclear confrontation over Crimea
(Reuters) - Moscow was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert to ensure Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year, President Vladimir Putin said in a pre-recorded documentary aired on Sunday...

"...it wasn't immediately understandable (what the reaction would be to Crimea's annexation). Therefore, in the first stages, I had to orient our armed forces. Not just orient, but give direct orders," he said.

When asked if he had been ready to put Russia's nuclear forces on alert, he said: "We were ready to do it."
That last comment is telling, in my opinion (emphasis mine). One oddity about the article is the headline about the potential for Russia to put its nukes on alert, while the bulk of the story was about Russia helping get its guy out of Ukraine after the recent coup. It's like the editor knows nuclear war draws eyeballs and brings clicks to the story links, but thinks the important stuff is the Clown Show drama over the former Ukrainian president. Or maybe the author doesn't know, or isn't allowed to speculate about, what a nuclear forces alert means.

Back in January we looked at not just nuclear weapons and social mood, but also at how Russia has revised its stance on the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent and the concept of "tailored damage" - basically the use of nuclear weapons on a small scale to (hopefully) prevent a wider war.

I think part of this continuing reference to nuclear weapons and its nuclear arsenal is a reflection, in part, of Russia's limited ability to handle a major ground war right now. It is interesting how much of how Russia is sending messages on the use of nuclear force here is like the U.S. and then NATO back in the late 1940's and through the 1950's. Western forces were absolutely outmanned and outgunned by the Red Army in Europe. This was part of the reason for NATO to push for the development of tactical nukes and to never make a "No First Use" promise for nuclear weapons. They felt too weak to ever make such a statement.

Russia is probably feeling similar today. She has substantial forces, but her options to project that force into Ukraine, and certainly into Europe are limited.

What Kind of War Would We See?

No one can know for sure just how out of hand a war might get, should we actually NATO-on-Russian fighting in Ukraine. Knowing we can't have perfect knowledge, let's turn to the Socionomic Model and see what it tells us about past conflicts.

War and Socionomic Patterns, the Socionomist, February 2012
This graph from 2012 gives you the basic model on war and mood. This model would tell us that if you assume a top in mood in 2000, the leg down through 2008-2009 as the (a) wave, and call the run-up since then as the rally, a major collapse in mood and markets could mean we are facing the potential for a major conflict.

If instead we regard the recent highs as the top, any decline that might follow would hopefully lead us to either a negotiated armistice or at least a regional conflict. That doesn't mean we might not see a nuclear weapon detonated - but hopefully it would be more of a "signal" or detonated to create "tailored damage" (blow up a remote base or maybe detonate very high in the atmosphere over a target - blasting out windows and scaring a lot of people, but creating a low death toll and relatively low damage).

I don't bring you answers here, but I do want you to think about this model. One way or the other, we are likely facing a major conflict, whether in the immediate future or within a decade or so. All I can say is, don't dwell on the fear, but do plan accordingly...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Garden 2015

Victory Garden Poster courtesy wikimedia
Spring is coming here in the Northern Hemisphere, so here is my yearly reminder: if you do nothing else as part of your efforts to prepare for the big changes roiling the world, plant a garden. Whether it is a small container garden on an apartment balcony, a few herbs in a small box by a window, or a victory garden which can provide you with fresh produce much of the year, learning and practicing the art and science of growing a garden will be increasingly important in the years to come.

This isn't about seeking maximum efficiency or always defaulting to low price or any other of the concepts which most regard as natural economic laws. This is about doing something productive for yourself, something which produces tangible value for you and your family, and which allows you to practice a skill which has nothing but upside should the world experience oil price shocks, transportation interruptions, labor unrest, or rolling bankruptcies - any of which might make good food hard to get.

Remember, food is freedom. If you are looking for high-quality old school gardening and truck farm tools, I highly recommend you check out Easy Digging and then get to planning that garden.

Monday, March 9, 2015

EU Army Madness


Madness is the Emergency Exit, Vincent Vernacatola, hosted at Society6.com
UPDATE 1 below.

We all know the dangers of appeasement. It is almost always best to face down an aggressor before the peril become too great to handle. But I want to also remind you to be wary of self-interested elites stampeding the populations they lord over into wars of choice in which they think they can profit and expand the reach of their power - assuming success, of course. And when those short, victorious little wars go awry, the knock-on effects can spin out of control.

So when I read this weekend that the mandarins of the EU have decided now is the time to float the idea of building an EU army, it set off all sorts of alarm bells:
A European Union army should be created to help defend the continent from Russian aggression, the European Commission president has suggested.
Jean-Claude Juncker said pooling the defence resources of the 28 EU nations could help send a message to Vladimir Putin that its borders would be protected.
In a strictly military sense, this proposal seems redundant, if not silly. NATO stands ready (hell, eager, if one were to take the statements of General Breedlove at face value) to throw troops and nuclear weapons at any major Russian incursion into the European heartland. Russia, while quite bellicose when it comes to dealing with the situation in Ukraine, hasn't exactly been a proponent of exporting revolution into Europe since the fall of the USSR. It makes one wonder what the real message is behind the Clown Show type rhetoric.

Then we get a glimmer of what may be the real reason behind the push from Herr Juncker, et al:
"Such an army would help us to build a common foreign and national security policy, and to collectively take on Europe's responsibilities in the world,” Mr Junker said.
Ah so. Never let a crisis go to waste, eh? With the chronic economic problems of the EU periphery states not going away anytime soon, the rise of UKIP in the UK, and ongoing disenchantment with the EU project in France, perhaps the elites who pull the strings within the EU bureaucracy have decided now is the time to double-down and push forward with the next logical phase of the EU project - a common army.

Or maybe he thinks an EU-run army would be just as efficient at generating military successes as it has been at creating a economic success across the EU zone...

That said, never forget that Russia has formalized a much more itchy trigger finger than they've expressed in the past when it comes to nuclear weapons. This may matter because of the language used in a response to this EU Army idea by first deputy chairman of the United Russia faction in the State Duma, Frants Klintsevich:
"In the nuclear age extra armies do not provide any additional security. But they surely can play a provocative role," Klintsevich said, adding it was regrettable that such ideas had already met with some support.
For those of you scoring at home, it is my opinion that government officials do not just loosely throw out the word "nuclear" when discussing a contentious topic.

Keep both eyes open. Always be looking for the story behind the story. These EU jokers may think they have the "perfect" crisis with which to move their EU project forward. Let's hope they don't light off a general war in the process.

UPDATE 1 9 March 2015

Not that we need any more tension in Eurasia or anything that might increase the potential for a miscommunication in matters related to nuclear weapons, but FYI that in the past month, Russia has lost the last of its early-warning satellite coverage. While the Russians (and Soviets before them) never relied as heavily on satellite early warning as the U.S. and NATO, it is just one more brick in the wall of unintentional escalation or worse, launch.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Chill Wind from the North, Redux

TAPS Low Flow Study, Slide 5

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog post entitled A Chill Wind from the North. It discussed the ability of the Alyeska Pipeline to continue to transport oil from the North Slope of Alaska to Prince William Sound as throughput dropped in the pipeline. This is occurring as the North Slope continues its inexorable decline down the depletion path. The post was based on a study which indicated the pipeline would need to keep the flow at 300,000 barrels of crude per day in order to maintain operation. In order to operate below that threshold, the study authors suggested that significant mitigation steps would need to be taken.

Last week on a flight to DFW, I sat next to a young Alaskan man who happens to be in Engineering Management. We got to talking and this topic came up in conversation. He indicated this continues to be a topic of study and attention up in Alaska. I decided to take that as a sign I should revisit the issue and see what things look like four years later.

In the original post, I ended with a rather dire assessment that output could make a step-change drop once the pipeline reached a failure point and that the assumption we'd continue to see a gradual decline in output might be flawed.

A more gradual decline was argued as more probable by various environmental groups interested in keeping ANWAR rig-free as well as evaluations commissioned by the Alaskan Department of Revenue. The scenarios are not mutually exclusive as the gradual decline scenario (where pipeline failure would occur closer to 100,000 bbl/day) assumes significant investment in the infrastructure.

The Story in 2015

Here is a snapshot of the average daily throughput for the Alyeska Pipeline through 2014.

Data from TAPS Pipeline Operations
The actual performance has been reasonably in line with the TAPS assumption of 6% depletion. The pigs have been modified to increase the efficiency of keeping the wax buildup down and heat is being added to the system after modifications to the active pump stations and the re-commissioning of a previously closed pump station.

Some of the investment in the infrastructure required to keep crude flowing in the pipeline below 300,000 barrels per day is being put in place. What remains to be seen is will there be enough money available to keep investing should oil prices stay low due to a prolonged downturn in the economy.

Thoughts

This brief note is meant to keep you thinking about infrastructure. There is so much infrastructure in the U.S. and the other Western nations which was built out in a heyday of cheap energy and booming economies. This infrastructure plays a huge role in how and/or if we can continue to power our financialized economy and continue our existing methods of resource extraction indefinitely and when societies will be forced to make very hard choices on how to deploy scarce resources.

Whether the Alyeska pipeline can continue to operate theoretically for decades to come, remember that this continued operation, like so much else in the modern energy extraction business, requires far more inputs in terms of money and equipment to maintain a declining and poorer quality flow of hydrocarbons.


Socionomics Podcasting


Heads up for those of you who enjoy playing with the Socionomics model. Robert Folsom with EWI has a new podcast series.

Pop Trends, Price Culture is the podcast about the intersection of psychology and markets. You can download or listen online (it’s free). Robert Folsom presents real people and real stories as they meet in the crossroads of mood and markets. Caution: As Robert’s disclaimer puts it, “This podcast contains strong opinions and strong language.”

Check it out here.