Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dictators love nuclear power (reprise)

[A cogent and well-written essay by An Engineer from The Malaysian Insider, 19 December 2010]

DEC 19 — I am not at all surprised that the Barisan Nasional government has decided to build a nuclear power plant. After all, despite what environmentalists might like to think, the primary case against nuclear power has always been its economics.

When you take into account the lifecycle cost of nuclear power — from feasibility to construction to operation and, finally, decommissioning — it is the most expensive conventional method of producing electricity.

Add to that the inherent risks of nuclear reactors, plus the still unresolved question of what to do with spent fuel, and it is no surprise that the nuclear power industry has seen some very tough times in the past three decades.

Over the past few years, however, high prices of oil, gas and coal, coupled with concerns with carbon dioxide and global warming, have given nuclear advocates a new lease of life. Under current conditions, provided we are prepared to ignore the safety and environmental contamination issues, it is possible to make a conceivable economic argument for nuclear power.

Nuclear power requires tremendous up-front investment followed by relatively low operating costs. Thus all you have to do is assume an unrealistically low interest rate and continually high prices for fossil fuels. Project these assumptions over decades and you can show that nuclear energy is less expensive than using fossil fuels. However, you must carefully avoid all comparisons of nuclear with renewable energy — hydro, wind, solar and biomass — which are undoubtedly superior in terms of economics, safety and environmental protection.

Paradoxically, the characteristics of nuclear power so feared by its critics — enormous capital cost, open-ended escalation clauses and the oligopolistic nature of the industry — makes it a very attractive proposition for corrupt practices, provided you can ride roughshod over the opposition. This is exactly what happened in the Philippines, more than three decades ago.

Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP)

The story of BNPP, Southeast Asia’s first and only nuclear power plant, illustrates some of the points above perfectly. In 1971, Ferdinand Marcos decided to build a nuclear power plant for the Philippines. However, at that time he was still the democratically-elected president and was unable to convince his people of the need to go nuclear.

By 1973, conditions were in place for him to push through his choice. The opposition had been eliminated by his declaration of martial law in 1972 and the quadrupling of oil prices because of the Arab oil embargo during the Yom Kippur war of 1973, made nuclear easier to sell to the public.

The tragic tale of BNPP has been carefully and comprehensively documented by the conservative business magazine, Fortune, in a remarkable 1986 article entitled “The $2.2 billion Nuclear Fiasco.” Initially Marcos delegated the responsibility for the plant to the National Power Co, the government-owned electric utility, which began negotiating for the supply of two 600MW nuclear plants from General Electric. By 1974 negotiations were more or less complete, with GE offering to supply two 620 megawatt reactors for US$650 million (RM2 billion at prevailing rates).

Westinghouse was late to the game and decided to leapfrog GE by dealing personally with Marcos. Westinghouse appointed Herminio Disini, a golfing buddy of Marcos whose wife was a cousin of Imelda Marcos, as its agent and he was able to arrange for the latecomer to present its pitch directly to Marcos and his cabinet at Malacanang Palace. After the meeting Marcos directed National Power to stop negotiating with GE and deal only with Westinghouse.

In 1976, after many rounds of fruitless negotiations and interference from Marcos, National Power announced that Westinghouse would build the BNPP, with one 626MW reactor, for US$722 million. The intervention of Marcos meant that the Philippine people had to pay a higher price for half the power! In addition, Disini, although he had no prior experience in construction, formed a new company which was awarded major BNPP subcontracts by Westinghouse.

Volcano and earthquake zone

Although the site was contentious, work began quickly, even before seismic and other on-site tests by the government regulator, the Philippines Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), were completed. Just 100km from Manila, BNPP sits on Mount Natib, a dormant volcano and within 40km of three geologic faults.

Alarmed by these facts PAEC called the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) for help. In 1978, two years after construction had commenced, the IAEA concluded that the volcanic and earthquake risks were “improperly addressed” and recommended that construction be stopped until more tests were done.

The PAEC chairman, Librado Ibe, was under tremendous pressure to ignore the IAEA report and issue a construction permit for work on the reactor itself to commence. Unable to resist any further, Ibe signed the permit in April 1979 and, four days later, emigrated with his family to the United States. Ibe explained to Fortune Magazine that he felt it was unsafe to resist Marcos’s lieutenants any longer.

A few months later Marcos himself halted construction because Filipino opposition to BNPP has grown substantially after the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania, US. Marcos appointed a new ad hoc commission to study the plant and they concluded that it was unsafe and would have to be modified to meet new US safety standards.

After two further years of haggling, Westinghouse agreed to upgrade the design, at an additional cost of US$700 million. By then the total cost of BNPP had risen to USD$1.8 billion.

Westinghouse rushed to complete BNPP amid growing opposition from Filipino activists. Construction was completed in January 1985 and BNPP was handed over to National Power. Westinghouse collected its money and the last construction worker left in May 1985.

Not a single watt

However, the plant was in no state to be fuelled. Inspections found more than 4,000 faults arising from poor quality control by the main sub-contractors, Disini’s company, and another controlled by a brother of Imelda Marcos. The main problems were attributed to poor welding, faulty pipe support brackets, substandard valve installations and leaking underground conduits and vaults.

In 1986, Marcos was overthrown in the People Power Revolution. Marcos and his family fled to Hawaii while Disini bolted to his villa in Vienna, where he apparently still stays.

Subsequent investigations by Corazon Aquino’s government found evidence of massive commissions paid by Westinghouse to Disini, which he shared with Marcos. The new government attempted to sue Westinghouse for corruption and restitution for faulty construction. In 1996 Westinghouse agreed to pay the Philippines government US$100 million in an out-of-court settlement.

Further studies have indicated it would cost an additional US$1 billion to correct all the defects in design and construction. Rather than throw good money after bad, the Philippines government decided to mothball the plant.

BNPP has been scrupulously maintained for more than 25 years, costing millions of dollars per year. It has not produced a single watt of electricity. The final price rose to US$2.2 billion, three times higher than the original estimate, and the final instalment was paid by the Filipino people in 2007, thirty-two years after construction commenced.


Read this level-headed essay on AlJazeera English:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Message from the Hopi for all Humanity

The Hopi and others who were saved from the Great Flood made a sacred covenant with the Great Spirit never to turn away from him. He made a set of sacred stone tablets, called Tiponi, into which he breathed his teachings, prophecies, and warnings. Before the Great Spirit hid himself again, he placed before the leaders of the four different racial groups four different colors and sizes of corn; each was to choose which would be their food in this world. The Hopi waited until last and picked the smallest ear of corn. At this, the Great Spirit said:

"It is well done. You have obtained the real corn, for all the others are imitations in which are hidden seeds of different plants. You have shown me your intelligence; for this reason I will place in your hands these sacred stone tablets, Tiponi, symbol of power and authority over all land and life to guard, protect, and hold in trust for me until I shall return to you in a later day, for I am the First and I am the Last."

[Source: Hopi Prophecy]

[Brought to my attention by the beautiful Kalasara Seytasha]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


In view of the massive tectonic shifts underway, this essay first published on 9 December 2008 deserves yet another revisit...
How can we avoid wholesale eco-apocalypse - if we're too goddamn arrogant to apologize to Mother Nature for constantly trying to make a quick buck by flogging off her vital organs as commodities in the marketplace? If you were a magnificent old-growth rainforest, would you appreciate being gangbanged and chainsaw-massacred by loudmouthed louts who call you ugly names like "merchantable biomass"?

THOSE EIGHT WORDS struck me like a sledgehammer when I first encountered them while reading a rather ponderous and nebulous work by the well-known astrologer, shamanic oracle and publisher, Barbara Hand Clow, who says her Cherokee grandfather taught her to listen to the elements and attune her psyche to the earth. After his death the young Barbara was subject to the severe traumas of growing up in a dysfunctional American family and experienced recurring contact with what she later identified as Pleiadian entities. At university Barbara majored in Jungian psychology and began delving into astrology and cosmomythology. In 1974 she married Gerald Cudahy Clow and together they established Bear & Company as a highly successful publishing house for cutting-edge, "New Age" authors.

But coming back to those eight words that had so much impact on me. Let's deconstruct and decompress that "Isaiah" quote:

Monotheism is the defining feature of the Abrahamic religions which are at most 4,000 years old (since the patriarch Abraham supposedly lived in the era between 2,000 and 1,500 BCE). Hindus believe the Kali yuga or Age of Darkness began at midnight on 23 January 3,102 BCE. In effect, the advent of the Abrahamic era (dare I say error?) occurred approximately a thousand years into the Age of Darkness when all divine revelations were subject to severe distortion and refraction. Interestingly, scholars of the Mayan calendar report that in 3,113 BCE the Earth began traversing a 5,000-year beam of density emanating from the Galactic Core, during which humans would become more individualized and egocentric. This densification and dimming of human consciousness is supposed to terminate between 28 October 2011 and 21 December 2012.

Most astronomers concur that the Solar System is approximately 4.6 billion years old, as estimated by the radiometric dating of meteorites. The Earth, according to consensus scientific opinion, was probably formed shortly afterwards. Some point at the figure 4.56 billion years as the age of our planet. Paleoanthropologists can't quite agree as to exactly when Homo sapiens may have begun to appear on Earth, but the general time frame ranges between 400,000 to 160,000 years. Let's say Homo faber (tool-using hominids) began multiplying around 250,000 years ago. Though the concept of a single Almighty Creator God has been around for approximately 4,000 years, the word "monotheism" was introduced into the English language by the Neoplatonist philosopher, Henry More, only in 1660 - less than 350 years ago.

What does anthropocentrism mean? It is the belief that humans must be considered at the center of, and above any other aspect of, reality. Monotheistic religions posit that God granted Man "dominion over Nature" - in other words, human considerations take precedence over the rest of the ecosystem. Ultimately, this leads to the dangerous viewpoint that making money is the single most important human activity on earth and that hills exist just so wealthy folks may build luxury apartments from which to gaze upon the urban sprawl below. We have seen the catastrophic results of such egotistical and myopic thinking. Stringent legislation and stricter enforcement won't solve the problem in the long run - but a radical shift in consciousness and perspective most certainly will.

Alchemy (from the Arabic Al-kimia) postulates that the Matter Universe consists of four elements - Fire, Earth, Air, and Water - and that these elements are present on the micro- as well as the macrocosmic levels. Indeed, our physical bodies are a blend of these very elements. Fire represents vitality, spirit, intellect; Earth the mineral compounds that constitute our blood and bones and fleshly tissue; Air the breath that oxygenates and cleanses our lifeblood, separating us from death; and Water (which forms 60-80 per cent of our bodies), symbolizing our emotional tides, influenced by the electromagnetic interaction of the Moon's gravitational field with that of the Earth.

When I relocated from Kuala Lumpur in early 1992 to the verdant hills of Pertak, Ulu Selangor, I soon became acutely aware of the close proximity of all four elements in my ecstatically beautiful riverine environment. Just sitting on a 500-million-year-old granite rock aglitter with embedded quartzite, feeling the hot sun on my skin, the fragrant breeze in my hair, soothed by the neverending riversong of crystalline life-sustaining waters - I felt for the first time in my life completely and absolutely at home.

It's exquisitely therapeutic to find your analytical mind suddenly and spontaneously falling silent while all your senses come alive. You begin to grasp the notion of Zen, of being totally in the here and now. In this serene state of receptivity, your body begins to pick up impressions long forgotten or usually unnoticed in the hurly-burly of urban existence. The rock you're resting on begins to tell you stories in its own distinctive mineral voice. And you begin to perceive the holographic, fractal nature of form itself - wherein the rock you're connected with in turn connects you with the entire spectrum of mineral consciousness.

Gradually, it dawns on you that the compressed experience of spacetime imposed on us by routinely accepted constraints of modern living is no more than an ephemeral veneer of insensitivity, of a societally sanctioned sensory shutdown. Our natural state is to be in constant awe and wonderment at the glorious epiphanies that abound all around us.

When indigenous cultures connect with the elements through their shamans, they do so in a spirit of friendly cooperation. The very idea of combating the forces of nature would strike them as foolish and futile. How can one possibly defeat the wind or vanquish the ocean waves? On the other hand, by understanding these majestic forces and respectfully working with them, one is able to harness their might for one's own purposes. Wind and wave and solar power could free us forever from the stranglehold of voracious corporations that trade in toxic fossil fuels. Do we truly believe we can suck dry the oil reserves with impunity? Have we never considered the possibility that these subterranean and suboceanic pockets of petroleum actually serve as hydraulic shock absorbers, preventing the tectonic plates from scraping together with results disastrous to dwellers on the earth's surface?

The element Air embodies the idea of interconnectivity, communication, communion. When we consciously share breath with another, we synchronize our heartbeats and merge our energy fields. We experience a melding on the soul level, a fusion of destinies. Interesting how in our figures of speech, air features prominently as a metaphor. For instance, Malays speak of khabar angin (gossip, rumors) just as Italians call gossipers venticelli (little winds). Those with noble hearts are considered "fragrant" (wangi in Malay) while others with malicious intent are described as "stinkers" (busuk). The nose obviously knows better then the brain!

Where integrity reigns and people are naturally inclined to speaking truthfully, atmospheric pollution is a virtual impossibility. If you live in an asphyxiating hellhole where pedestrians scurry around wearing gasmasks, car windows are constantly closed with the aircon going full blast, while outside the air is almost unbreathable from carbon monoxide fumes - it's a clear sign that lying has become a national pastime.

When 100-million-year-old hardwood forests are clearfelled and set on fire by oil palm companies, you can be sure that a great many untruths are being circulated about the sustainability of monoculture cash crop plantations and the illusory profits to be made from a nearsighted biofuel campaign. Indeed, some of the biggest logging concerns and oil palm corporations have ministers as major shareholders - and that explains why the annually recurring haze just won't go away. How does it feel to choke and gag on your own lies?

Water is the Vital Essence of Life, it's chi or prana in liquid form. Moistness is an indication of fertility, sensual ripeness, warmth of feeling; and dryness suggests sterility, barrenness, humorlessness, sexual apathy. In effect, water is the element that signifies our emotional flux. The tragic situation in Malaysia wherein anxiety about water shortages is used to justify the construction of unnecessary dams even as flash floods recur with debilitating frequency reveals the unhealthy state of the nation's emotional life. Floodwaters are murky, polluted and often accompanied by waterborne diseases. What does this indicate about the kind of emotions we are expressing... or not? Are we being governed through fear rather than love?

Monotheism and the Abrahamic religions are patriarchal by definition, since these belief systems involve worship of a male deity, a Heavenly Father or Lord. A bit of research into the early history of the monotheistic religions associated with Yahweh reveals that there was a systematic excision of pre-existing Goddess emblems by a misogynistic male priesthood.

Why was the Sacred Feminine suppressed? Look at your left and right brains. The left is regarded as the logical, male brain where abstract symbols are linearly processed into alphanumeric codes - in effect, language. The right is usually associated with intuitive functions such as spatial and temporal navigation and the processing of non-verbal sensory data - in short, the "female" brain. Male children are trained to suppress their emotions while females can cry since they are "the weaker sex." Patriarchal societies are largely warlike and male children are required as cannon fodder for military campaigns. We can't be sending sissies to the battlefield, can we?

Progress is measured in physical terms, never metaphysical. Development is infrastructural, rarely cultural. Science and technology are to be encouraged; arts and humanities are best suited to girls... and effeminate boys (would you like to see your only son become a ballet dancer and move around with the arty-farty gay crowd?) Homophobic, testosteronally propelled national aspirations will neither tolerate the ambiguity of poetry nor the nature mystic's recognition of the aliveness of the elements...

But, alas, only the poet, the mystic, and the true lover in each of us can access and befriend the elements, and restore balance and harmony to the land. Legislative measures and political rhetoric demanding a scientific and technological solution is, at best, the band-aid approach to serious environmental injury. How can we avoid wholesale eco-apocalypse - if we're too goddamn arrogant to apologize to Mother Nature for constantly trying to make a quick buck by flogging off her vital organs as commodities in the marketplace? If you were a magnificent old-growth rainforest, would you appreciate being gangbanged and chainsaw-massacred by loudmouthed louts who call you ugly names like "merchantable biomass"?


Understanding our relationship to the Earth

As we all know by now, the Earth has shifted once again. Just the slightest change from deep beneath the waters, a crack in the fabric of her lining, and islands quake while tsunami waves rush across shorelines.

We awake believing the world – our world – is stable, only to learn again and again that this Earth is as much a living, breathing, moving, active instrument of life as we are. It is the grandest live organism we shall ever encounter, this wondrous Being that sustains us each second of our life.

Weeks ago, a cyclone of unprecedented size hit Australia and an earthquake shortly afterwards moved the ground beneath Christchurch, New Zealand. Buildings fell like toys, leaving much of the town in pieces. Who knows what the final death toll will be in Japan?

It would appear that the pace as well as the intensity of long-predicted earth activity and climate change is accelerating. Like many people familiar with prediction-oriented literature, all sorts of reasons can be put forward as to why the Earth goes through a period of increased seismic activity. Scientists will come up with "scientific" data, as expected.

From my point of view, if they were so knowledgeable in the first place, the massive abuses to the Earth would have never occurred because they would have used their scientific data to protect the Earth. They're great at riding the caboose on the train of environmental change. Unfortunately, the few who have had the courage to attempt to direct the engine have been thwarted by corporate and political interests who insist that all data suggesting even a hint of climate change activity is a liberal conspiracy.

On the extreme other side, I have heard many people make the comment that, "Mother Nature is angry," and that's why these events are happening. I'm not all that certain that Mother Nature functions from the same emotional system of "anger-vengeance/love-reward" that human beings do. I certainly hope not. Given that Mother Nature was an active, alive force long before we occupied this planet, I suspect that She is far more of a cosmic system of intelligence, transcendent of emotions such as anger or vengeance. Rather, if anything, I suspect that the way to understand Mother Nature is best found through the study of the Tao – the study of the laws of balance that essentially govern the activity of Nature.

When Nature is out of balance, the system itself will initiate whatever action it must take in order to reestablish an environment capable of sustaining all life – not just human life, but all life. Within the realm of Nature, all life is equal. Life is precious because it is life, not because it is human life or wealthy life or educated life or young life – but because it is life.

We are now living at a time when all cycles and systems of life are out of balance, including our system of perception itself. We do not "perceive" life clearly at all and thus, we as a society make choices that are based on endless illusions. And illusions lead to disasters. There was a time not so long ago, for example, when human beings walked more humbly on the Earth and under the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. Before the "Age of Reason,” a person walked into a forest filled with the awareness that the forest was as aware of him as he was of it. He shared the ground with the forest and all the creatures who lived there. They were not his for the taking, for the slaughtering, for dominating.

In times gone by, people lived in a type of consciousness in which even the slightest movement of the wind meant something – perhaps heaven was piercing the veil between dimensions, speaking in a soft breeze, moving a branch or a leaf in order to communicate a message, or a warning, or signal its approval. The stars that filled the sky at night were not just pretty, shining objects, but proof of a celestial homeland, the blanket of the Divine covering humanity. Every living creature had purpose and meaning, a place in which it was given a natural dignity because it was created by a God no one doubted existed.

Of course human beings were still human beings in those days before the Age of Reason introduced a love of logic and a God who (obviously) had scientific reasons up "his" celestial sleeve for why all things happen as they do in this whole big universe. Civilization was also a dark and dreary place back then, with disease and the plague, and endless wars … Oh wait, am I describing then or now? Oh, I'm describing their version of then, not ours. Though they also had war, and they also had epidemics, and they also had starvation, what they did not have that has driven our civilization to the brink of madness is an epidemic of narcissism blended with an epidemic of blind doubt about the existence of the cosmic structure that holds together this fragile place called Earth. Back then, no one doubted the existence of this invisible reality. Today, that doubt is an epidemic and the absence of respect and reverence for the Earth is reflected in the choices governments and corporations make as well as individuals.

Is Mother Earth angry? Don't be silly. A cosmic force hardly gets angry. But a cosmic force is seeking balance, just as your individual body seeks balance when it has been struck with a toxin. What is the difference?

The Earth will continue to have an increase in earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, droughts, and whatever else is required to reestablish balance in Her environment. She is a living organism that is, in effect, rebooting Herself. Only the human community has the idea that we somehow live apart from the Earth, that the Earth does not respond to our breathing, to our thoughts, to our actions. It's incomprehensible, to be sure, to even hold such a perspective. But the Earth is that sensitive. Recycling, I assure you, is not enough.

Consider the Earth as a family member instead, as a Being that sees you as clearly as you see it. And you are on the "Earth" as much when you are standing in the midst of New York City or London as you are in the middle of a forest. You are still "on the Earth". Standing on concrete or in a building does not make it any less "Earth" except if you hold to the perception that what qualifies for the "Earth" is out of the city in green or desert nature. But that's an illusion. How can you ever be off or away from the "Earth"? It's precisely that perception – that Nature is in the country but not in the city - that maintains the illusion of separateness. You may prefer to be in the country but you always on the Earth.

Having said all this, let me turn to the loss of human life. While earth shifts are essential for the Earth to survive, they are tragic for us. They result in enormous loss of human life and we must all hold in prayer the souls and the families of the people of Japan. The fear, pain, and grief of the thousands of people is unimaginable. We learn from this tragedy once again that the life we awaken to each morning may well be completely different by the end of the day. We kid ourselves by telling ourselves that we are in charge of the length of our lifetime. We are not. We must treat each day as a gift as well as every person dear to us.

We learn from this event in Japan that we can be with the Japanese community of people through prayer, through email, through FB in an instant. We are truly learning an enormous cosmic truth: We are one. And we are meant to use that truth: Pray together, heal our fellow human beings together, and heal our beloved Earth together. Put your soul to work.


Caroline Myss (pronounced "mace") is an American medical intuitive and mystic as well as the author of numerous books and audio tapes, including five New York Times Best Sellers: Anatomy of the Spirit (1996), Why People Don't Heal and How They Can (1998), Sacred Contracts (2002), Invisible Acts of Power (2004), and Entering The Castle (2007). Her most recent book, Defy Gravity, was published in 2009.

[Forwarded to me by Olivia de Haulleville]

2011 ~ Year of Radical Transformations

[Suggested by Heiko & Selina Niedermeyer]