The Great Debate UK
By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.
As the nuclear threat in Japan steps up a gear, global politicians have pre-empted a wave of anti-atomic feeling from their public and spoken out against nuclear reactors, which threatens its future as a viable alternative to oil.
As Japan has found out with devastating consequences when things go wrong with atomic energy the effect is both devastating and immediate. Unlike carbon fuels, which have a lagged detrimental effect on the atmosphere, a nuclear accident doesn’t get worse in increments – once radioactive material is released into the atmosphere the damage to the surrounding areas is done.
In contrast carbon-based fuels are more of an incipient threat. Increased rates of asthma, holes in the ozone layer and deterioration in air quality take many years take of oil-burning to come about, which makes it hard to pinpoint who the real culprit actually is. But if a radioactive cloud suddenly appears you know exactly where it has come from.
The outlook for nuclear energy is not good at this juncture. The relative infrequency with which nuclear disasters happen (there have only been three notable accidents in the past decade including the events in Northern Japan) seems to only increase their negative impact on public opinion. In contrast, individual oil companies can have multiple spillages over the same time frame and demand for crude will continue to rise.
By Martin Dusinberre
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews guest columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
NEWCASTLE, England -- How did Japan's nuclear industry get here? As the world digests the appalling images from Fukushima of reactors crippled by last week's earthquake and tsunami, the question springs to mind how a country that experienced the horrors of nuclear weapons in 1945 came to embrace nuclear power so expansively in the post-war decades.
from Business Traveller:
As I write this, the first U.S. chartered flights are leaving Japan carrying those military families and private citizens who wish to leave. Unlike the destinations affected by the 2004 tsunami, business travellers know the futuristic conurbation of Tokyo well. Its generation-next skyscrapers and bullet trains make for one of the slickest corporate hubs on the planet.
We, and the rest of the connected world, watch agape as this most civilised country deals with the disaster, very much doubting that if such a cataclysm befell us, we would behave with such patience, decorum, dignity.
from The Great Debate:
Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, president of Environmental Health Trust, is an award-winning scientist and writer on environmental health issues, author of "The Secret History of the War on Cancer," and "Disconnect" who served as the founding director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 1983-93. The opinions expressed are her own.
The discovery of ionizing radiation at the turn of the nineteenth century revolutionized science and society. Within two weeks of their being created at the end of 1895, the stunning x-ray images of his wife's bejeweled hand that physics professor Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen had taken appeared in major newspapers around the world. From Paris, to London and Tokyo, scientists and celebrities engaged in a world-wide medical vogue with fashionable x-ray parties featuring popular demonstrations of moving skeletons.
By James Pethokoukis
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
WASHINGTON -- When your credit card is nearly maxed out, dealing with emergencies can be tricky. A massive rebuilding effort may stretch Japan to its financial limits. Politicians in Washington and other overspending capitals should take note of the warning.
from The Great Debate:
By Anya Schiffrin
The opinions expressed are her own.
Sitting in Japan in the days after the Friday earthquake and watching the official broadcaster NHK cover the disaster has been an unusual experience. There has been the typical blanket television coverage of this tragedy but the flavor of the reporting is different than it would be in the U.S. “Restrained” is how one friend described it. Over and over we’ve seen the same awful footage of the enormous dirty wave sweeping up cars and houses as it inches slowly along the land.
There are the inevitable interviews with displaced people and experts in their offices. But there are very few graphics or charts, no catchy logos and certainly no dead or injured on the screen. Just as U.S. presidents take off their ties when they visit the troops, Japanese officials appearing on television wear the blue uniforms of someone doing physical labor but with their logo of their ministry or office sewn on their pocket. “It’s theatre” a Japanese friend said dismissively as we watched television last night. But the purposefulness and determination of the government officials were evident — and even my skeptical friend agreed that this commitment would be well-received by the electorate.
The full economic impact of the sixth most powerful earthquake ever recorded is not yet known. Many hundreds of lives have been reported lost in Japan. Aftershocks are a danger and other nations fear a tsunami running across the Pacific will spread the damage more widely. Though uncertainty is rife, the earthquake is more likely to add to global growth and attendant inflationary pressures than subtract from them. It also raises concerns about Japan's long-running fiscal dangers.
The earthquake struck close to a relatively sparsely populated area of Japan. In contrast, the Kobe earthquake in January 1995 struck one of the most populated and industrialized regions, killing 6,434 people and causing damage estimated at around $100 billion. The current quake will leave a large reconstruction bill -- but, on current indications, a smaller one than for Kobe.
“Those whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad.” – the words of a wise Roman thinker (or was it a Greek central banker?). At any rate, the gods certainly seem to have no benevolent intentions with regard to this country, judging by the statements coming from the Bank of England, in particular the calls for another round of quantitative easing from one member of the Monetary Policy Committee and the cry of “Spend, spend, spend” from another.
The view emerging from the Bank and the Monetary Policy Committee is that the country is in the grip of a slow-growth recession, facing the threat of Japanese-style deflation and a double-dip recession, and that this grim situation requires near-zero interest rates, supported by QE2 if necessary, in order to restore consumption and lending (including mortgages) to pre-crisis levels.
This week’s rehashing of European banking concerns – related variously to the Basel III impact on German banks, the ongoing morass re Anglo Irish Bank or any other scare story you want to exhume -- provided the latest excuse for a global markets wobble as September kicked off. Yet, with some justified head-scratching over what really was new to the world this week as opposed to last week, price moves showed little conviction. Most losses were quickly recouped and decibel level of the commentariat, still frantically competing to warn you of the next disaster, toned down.
The world’s major sovereigns and banks have big financial problems, no doubt, and Europe more than its fair share. The rescues of the Spring did not provide a silver bullet and genuine repair will likely take a painfully-long time. But we’ve also had a lot of time to adequately discount these risks and the marketplace at large is already positioned extremely cautiously. That's why the idea of sudden, blind panic on these long-running sagas seems just a little OTT – especially against a relatively stable, if bruised, economic backdrop. The bigger issue many investors are grappling with is the growing difficulty in making money in a hyper-cautious, low-growth environment. Ask Stanley Druckenmiller. If he threw in the towel because money-making conditions are just lousy, then you can be sure others see the same. Anecdotally at least, pressurised hedge funds – who faced rising redemptions through the summer – are ultra-cautious about open positions and seem quick to cut and run on even the slightest gain, long or short. (A bit like continually shouting 'bank!' on reaching £100 pounds on The Weakest Link!) Big institutional funds, meantime, are sufficiently uncertain about the market and economic direction that many are already keen to lock down for the remainder of the year and are hugging benchmarks to preserve whatever capital they have without resorting to zero-yielding cash or barely-more-attractive TBonds. U.S. midterms in November only add the caution. In short, it will take a pretty major positive or negative surprise to truly set these markets alight and there is every chance we won’t get a decisive one for some time. We already have historically high vol and caution – but relative steady, unspectacular conditions for all that. The smart money may simply be tempted to buy or sell any hysterical extremes. Is may even be possible that some are tempted to foster a long-absent patience gene?
You wouldn't know it to hear officials talk, but the strong yen is not Japan's main problem. The Bank of Japan's latest moves on Monday didn't weaken the currency -- though that is one broad objective of fiscal and monetary stimulus. In any case, the trade-weighted yen is weaker than its real 1990-2010 average and Japanese exports are still rising. Export lobbies may have the government's ear, but intervention could make Japan's domestic predicament worse.
When the Democratic Party of Japan took office last year, its leaders talked about putting more emphasis on Japan's domestic economy rather than the needs of major exporters, which had been favored by Liberal Democratic Party administrations since 1955. The DPJ's first finance minister, Hirohisa Fujii, said at his introductory press conference last September that he was opposed in principle to currency intervention because it could distort the economy.