Monday, March 19, 2018

"No Realist Possibility": Nuclear Governmentality and the Contradictions of Liberal Governance

In September I posted on a logic of government that I refer to as "nuclear governmentality" at my blog here:

My academic (but quite applicable) analysis takes the idea of "nuclearity," developed by Gabrielle Hecht, a step further by examining the way biopolitics (the governance of biological life) and state sovereignty (of the Hobbesian sort) are constituted in and by the apparatus I describe as nuclear governmentality.

I shall not rehearse my argument here, but rather encapsulate its conclusion that nuclear governmentality is a logic of government encoded in markets, judicial systems, and other elite institutions (e.g., in medicine and education) that is CLOSED to the biological and social effects of its operations because its extractive, domineering ethos is legitimized by a conception of enlightened technocratic deification.

My work draws upon, synthesizes and extends academic research of the kind illustrated in this study on the atomic priesthood linked here:

What the construct of nuclear governmentality offers to the conversation is a way of tying liberalism to nuclear energy production and of thematizing the contradictions in the government of life that are unfortunately resolved in ways that corrode its most essential biological foundations because extractive and warlike impulses ultimately prevail.

We see the logic of nuclear governmentality illustrated in this news report describing a judicial decision favoring ongoing construction of a nuclear power plant in Japan because there is allegedly "no realistic possibility of a serious accident occurring":
Kazuki Nunota (2018, March 19). Court sides with power company over Oma nuclear plant. The Asahi Shimbun,

HAKODATE, Hokkaido--A court in northern Japan on March 19 dismissed a lawsuit to halt construction of a nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture on grounds there was no realistic possibility of a serious accident occurring.
The failure to learn the lessons of Fukushima, particularly in geologically active areas of the world, can only be understood in relation to a systematic closure to information that is not coded as promoting extractive and sovereign logics.

The vitalities of the population and the eco-system are de-valued, particularly in relation to their futures, which are discounted by a logic of government that fails to imagine any hazards befalling them.

Japan's judicial system is encoded with multiple imperatives but the global logic of nuclear governmentality clearly over-rides other logics of government, such as biopolitical ones of the pastoral form that aim to optimize the health of the populace and the sustainability of our eco-system.

What does nuclear governmentality signal for the viability of liberal governance? It means that the dual operations of sovereignty and biopolitics are ultimately incommensurable and that sovereignty of the brute, Hobbesian sort (not the more ambivalent pastoral sovereignty) is ascendant.

Liberalism will dissolve into a more brutal neo-mercantilism reminiscent (but of course different) from what existed at the turn of the twentieth-century.

The most relevant contemporary difference is that today the warlike, neo-mercantile powers (both liberal and not) have unprecedented technologies of war and policing.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

No Adverse Effects?

The results from a recent study addressing Cesium-134 and Cesium-137 levels in soil and salmon in British Columbia are reported by a Canadian news agency as indicating no adverse effects from Fukushima fallout:
Smart, Amy (2018, March 11). No adverse effects from 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster on B.C. coast: researchers. CTV News. Available,
Seven years after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan released radioactive elements into the environment, researchers say those elements pose minimal risk to human or salmon health along British Columbia's coast.  A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University's nuclear science lab collected soil and salmon samples from the Quesnel and Harrison rivers and used a high-resolution gamma-ray spectroscopy to search for signs of radioactive isotopes.
Although the headline states "no adverse effects," and the first line of the story says "minimal risk to human or salmon health," careful reading of the actual study confirmed my concerns about long-term environmental impacts (through bio-accumulation/bio-magnification), rather than abating them.

Here is the study:
Thomas Domingo, Krzysztof Starosta, Aaron Chester, Jonathan Williams, Sarah J. Lehnert, Nikolaus Gantner, and Juan José Alava. (2018). Fukushima-derived radioactivity measurements in Pacific salmon and soil samples collected in British Columbia, Canada. The Canadian Journal of Chemistry 96: 124–131 (2018) Available
What the research shows is that soil and salmon in Canada were contaminated by cesium-134 and 137 from the Fukushima Daiichi fallout and site-based ocean contamination.

The levels of contamination are very low, its true, but that doesn't mean they are not harmful and, even more importantly, they are but two of the 1,000 radioactive isotopes released during the first 6 weeks of the crisis.


SALMON Samples included 3 chum and 3 Chinook salmon drawn Nov 2013 and 4 Chinook Oct 2014. Measuring traces of radioactive isotopes is not easy and requires removing water from samples. The researchers freeze-dried and "homogenized" their salmon samples into shape of containment vessel.

SOIL samples (quoted directly from p. 125):
  • "Two topsoil samples were collected on 21 March 2014 from Queen’s Park, New Westminster, BC. 
  • "Four topsoil samples were collected on 12 April 2014 from the riparian forest by Harrison River in Kilby Provincial Park, BC. 
  • "A single topsoil sample was collected on 12 April 2014 from a residential area in Mission, BC. 
  • "A final roof-debris sample composed of pine needles and various plant debris was collected on 5 June 2014."
The soil samples were baked in an oven at 400C.


Cesium-134 has a half-life of 2.06 years and the first soil sample was not taken until March 2014. So, the researchers detected very low levels of this isotope - in 6 of the 8 samples, with a range of  0.075 to 0.456 Bq/kg fw.

Cesium-137 has a 30 year approximate half life. Levels of Cesium-137 were higher and were detected in all 8 samples, with activity levels ranging from 1.60 to 13.80 Bq/kg fw, with the highest level detected in the rooftop debris.


The researchers could not detected any Cesium-134 in their samples from 2013 and 2014.

However, they were able to detect Cesium-137 in both 2013 and 2014 samples.

In 2013, 9 salmon were sampled with 3 having detectable activity levels of Cesium-137 ranging from 0.10 to 0.36 Bq/kg fw.

Since the Chinook salmon were the ones with detectable levels, the researchers focused on their 2014 collection on that species alone.

All of the 2014 Chinook salmon samples had detectable activity levels of Cesium-137, from 0.16 to 0.23 Bq/kg fw

The fw stands for fresh weight. The salmon were freeze-dried and homogenized before testing. They were not fully dehydrated.

My chemist friend who specializes in aquatic effects from toxins told me that sampling should ideally be dry-weight not fresh weight because the water makes it difficult to detect radioactivity.


Although the methodology has limitations because of the small sample sizes and challenges associated with detecting radionuclides in "wet weight," the study does provide empirical evidence of lasting Fukushima contamination.

The levels of reported radiocesium are quite low, especially as compared to the levels of naturally occurring radioactive elements such as Potassium-40 (Wikipedia), as noted repeatedly and reassuringly in the article.

But this simple equation between naturally occurring and artificially generated radioisotopes such as Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 is facile, ignoring chemical toxicity and invoking a flawed model of biological effect, as was argued quite persuasively by CodeShutdown (discussion re-posted at my blog here

A friend has demonstrated in his research that the entire model for measuring biological effect - as represented in the sievert - falsely presumes that irradiation is homogenous and thereby significantly under-estimates capacity for biological damage. Hopefully his study will be published soon.

So, the upshot of these concerns is that low levels of radioisotopes don't necessary mean little-to-no effect.

Bio-accumulation and bio-magnification processes over time may increase contamination levels in biological life. I would like to see more samples from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and forward.

Even more significantly, the problem with construing no effects from this study is that it measured only 2 radioisotopes.

TEPCO reported that Fukushima Daiichi produced over a 1,000 radioisotopes.

Some of those isotopes decayed into other isotopes, such as Strontium-89. Other isotopes, such as Strontium-90, have a mid-range half-life of 30 years or so, Plutonium-238 has a half-life of approximately 87 years. When radioactive element decay, they produce other radioactive elements that decay as well. Each decay sheds varying forms of alpha, beta, or gamma radiation.

So, really, cesium-134 and cesium-137 are but 2 of 1,000 radioactive elements, many of which are chemically toxic as well as radioactive, that Fukushima added to our collective ecological dose from atmospheric testing and radioactive waste dumping.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

March 15, 2011 Remembered

March 15, 2011 was the day that Fukushima unit 3's reactor blew in the largest of the explosions that rocked the plant in March of 2011.

Unit 3's MOX fuel contained plutonium, a very toxic as well as radioactive element (e.g., see here).

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds has hypothesized that unit 3 experienced a "prompt criticality" in the spent fuel pool.

Although Gundersen's account has been disputed, there has been no compelling evidence (in my opinion) to rule out his interpretation and, more importantly, reactor fuel from Fukushima's explosions was detected worldwide regardless of the explosion form (e.g., see

One group of researchers using Cesium-134 as a marker, which has a short half-life, reported detecting Fukushima plutonium, in Lithuania:
G. Lujanienė , S. Byčenkienė, P.P. Povinec, M. Gera M. (27 December 2011) ‘Radionuclides from the Fukushima Accident in the Air Over Lithuania: Measurement and Modeling Approaches’, Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, 114, 71-80.

Given the intensity of the explosive damage and the volatility of the fuel, it can hardly be surprising that 7 years later Fukushima Daiichi continues to produce heat and radioactive emissions whose traces are visible on the webcams.

My bet is that Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California, situated on a fault and next to the Pacific Ocean, will be the next Fukushima.

Fukushima today

Fukushima weather today

Related posts
Majia's Blog: Fukushima's Spent Fuel Pools

Majia's Blog: Plutonium From Fukushima

Majia's Blog: How Much Fuel Was in Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 Reactor?

Majia's Blog: Propaganda on Plutonium

Majia's Blog: Where is the fuel from Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 Spent ...

Majia's Blog: Fukushima Unit 3 in the News and Glowing on WebCam

Majia's Blog: Birth Defects in Fukushima

Majia's Blog: Plutonium Tales

Majia's Blog: Plutonium: Not Our Friend