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Mark's Market Blog

3-18-11: Nuclear Fallout in Japan

By Mark Lawrence

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Bahrain is now an occupied country. Qaddafi has substantially regained control of Libya. Japan nears the first nuclear disaster in a generation. European banks continue to have financial mini-earthquakes as the finances of Portugal and Spain continue to deteriorate. And stocks are down a fair amount. I expect them to drop a bit more in the coming week.


S&P 500 September 25 2010 to March 18 2011

The recent 8.9 earthquake moved the main island of Japan by 8 feet and shifted the Earth on its axis by nearly 4 inches. Friday's quake caused a rupture 186 miles long and 93 miles wide in the sea floor. The energy radiated by this quake is roughly equal to one month's worth of energy consumption in the United States. It sped up the Earth's rotation by 1.6 microseconds.

Conditions are changing faster than daily at the Fukushima reactors. It seems at least once a day there's a press release about how it might be over soon, and another about how it's gotten worse. It's not over yet. There are serious concerns about both the reactors and the pools of spent fuel, which is possibly even more dangerous than the reactors. When these pools run dry, the clock starts on a massive fire / explosion. Reactors 1, 2, and 3 have been upgraded to level 5 accidents, the same as the Three Mile Island event in the U.S. Japan is now considering dumping sand and cement on the reactors sealing them away forever, or at least until the next major earthquake. Reactors 4,5,6, which were already shut down for maintenance at the time of the quake, are also having explosions and fires in both the reactors and the spent fuel pools. The problems are spreading like head lice at a day care center. Japan will be on electricity rationing for at least four to six weeks, and will have a long term problem in electricity generation. Japan produces a third of their electricity with nuclear reactors, so they will be increasing their imports of coal and oil to replace this.


Fukushima reactors

Nuclear power has now had its horizon deepwater. I'm on record that I think we need to build a few dozen thorium reactors starting soon. I doubt now that this will happen. Tsunamis don't hit the US like Japan, but this point is a bit subtle for the average voter. China has 160 reactors in various stages of construction or planning; all are now on hold.

Health experts said panic over radiation leaks from the Daiichi plant was diverting attention from other life-threatening risks confronting survivors of last Friday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, such as cold weather, heavy snow in parts and access to fresh water. About 850,000 households in the north were still without electricity in near-freezing weather, and at least 1.5 million households lack running water. "It's cold today so many people have fallen ill, getting diarrhea and other symptoms," said Takanori Watanabe, a Red Cross doctor in Otsuchi, a low-lying town where more than half the 17,000 residents are still missing.

What does the tsunami mean for you? It's going to be a while before Japanese factories return to full output. Meanwhile, we can expect shortages in chips, cars, motorcycles, tires. GM has already closed a US plant for lack of parts. We can expect to see more of this. One G7 central banker said, "I think the world economy is going to go right down and it has happened at a time when financial markets are still very fragile." The yen surged to a record high against the dollar on market speculation Japan would repatriate funds to pay for the massive cost of post-disaster reconstruction. The rest of the G7 agreed to sell Yen in an attempt to bring the price down.

Gaddafi is winning. The Libyan revolution looks like it will be squashed before France can intervene. Don't you hate it when the party is over before you decide how to crash? Last week France recognized the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya, and is now looking particularly foolish. The UN security council voted to establish a no-fly zone in Libya; France says they will have planes there almost immediately. I bet Gaddafi won't be selling them much oil anytime soon. In the face of the US resolution, Gaddafi announced a cease-fire. I'm sure this will maintain, Gaddafi wouldn't lie to us, would he?

Saudi Arabia has sent 1,000 Saudi troops and several tanks to Bahrain to control protesters. UAE also sent forces. This is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, US arms v. Chinese arms, being fought on Bahraini soil. Lucky them. Iran vowed to help the Bahraini people at any cost. This has now evolved from a protest movement looking to change Bahrain to a constitutional monarchy to a guerilla war, which will not end anytime soon. The royal family of Britain dates back 1400 years or so to, I suppose, Arthur, who pulled the sword from the stone. The Japanese royal family dates back 1200 years to when the Sun God pulled Japan out of the ocean, a story that's gaining credibility lately. The Thai royal family dates back about 500 years. The Bahrain royal family dates back to 1971, when the British pulled out of the region and the Emir of Bahrain decided not to join the new United Arab Emirates, and to 2002 when he upgraded himself from Emir to King. Ronald Reagan said in 1979: "every form of government has one characteristic peculiar to it and if that characteristic is lost the government will fall. In a monarchy it is affection and respect for the royal family. If that is lost the monarch is lost."

Inside Saudi Arabia, Sultan Al Qassemi has a list of some of the bribes he's offering his people to stay calm:

Protests are erupting in Syria.

In Yemen, police opened fire on thousands of protesters; more than 42 people have been killed. Snipers fired down on the unarmed crowd from rooftops. While the world watches Japan, the arab governments are moving quickly to try to end this revolt.

India and Pakistan both launched test missiles this week. Last week India tested an anti-missile missile. Sabers are rattling.

Moody's downgraded Portugal's sovereign debt by two notches overnight, from A1 to A3. Don't forget, Europe's banks are still in crisis. Nukes in Japan and bullets in Arabia haven't helped the European banks in the slightest.

China has passed the U.S. as the biggest manufacturer in the world, having 19.8% of world output in 2010. The U.S. lagged behind at 19.4%.

New housing starts in the US collapsed by 20% in february. The housing crisis is far from over.

In a scathing report, a former chief executive of the California public employee pension fund Calpers was accused of pressuring subordinates to invest billions of dollars of pension money with politically connected firms. A 17-month investigation also found that Federico Buenrostro Jr. - along with former pension fund board members Charles Valdes and Kurato Shimada - strong-armed a benefits firm to pay more than $4 million in fees to consultant Alfred J.R. Villalobos, who later hired Buenrostro. California politics are starting to look like a blend of US and Mexican politics, just as the people are looking like a blend. And by blend I mean the worst of both worlds.

Japan is now distributing potassium iodide in the areas near the damaged reactors. When the inner containment vessels are breached, which means you're nearing melt down and spreading radioactive waste directly from the reactor, radioactive iodine and cesium are among the first and most deadly elements to be released. Radioactive iodine has already been detected in northern Japan, demonstrating clearly that no matter what information is spread by the news reporters, containment vessels are already broken. The radioactive iodine gets into your air and food, then settles in your thyroid gland and gives you cancer very quickly. The best way to handle this is to load your body up on normal iodine, then your thyroid gland won't go looking for more, including the radioactive variety. Radioactive iodine has a half-life of 8 days, so in a month the threat will be passed. However, if there is a melt down, which is looking increasingly likely, the jet stream will blow some of these particles right over California about 15 hours later, and normal winds will spread them to China and Korea. Radioactive Iodine may be coming soon to a supermarket near you. What can you do? It's already nearly impossible to buy potassium iodide supplements in the US - you can get a 14 day set of tablets for about $200 on EBay (normally about $8). Instead, you can eat two cups of yogurt or drink two cups of 2% milk per day for a couple weeks - these contain significant amounts of normal iodine. Most Asians are lactose intolerant, so you can thank your ability to do this to your northern European ancestors who figured out that cows + hay = winter food in the form of milk and cheeses. Asians can eat a couple cups of kelp each day, something us Europeans don't normally consider food.

Suddenly, a subscription to Time Magazine has appeared at my door. I imagine one of my readers bought me this. Thanks.

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