Friday, March 25, 2011

Killing Another Sacred Cow of the Bull Era

Just in Time Inventory ranks as one of the great articles of faith promulgated in the late great Bull Market. It ranks up there with computer-driven productivity, Prozac, and Free Trade as a tenet of faith that took root during the positive mood era of the 1980s and 1990s. In the late 1990s, I doubt you would have been allowed to obtain a degree from a B School without first pledging undying allegience to this theory.

JIT is like many things that grow up during fifth waves of large degree (in my opinion) - it is hyper-efficient, wringing more profit from existing structures and culling away the deadwood that can build up with inventory - and it works great, until it doesn't. Strong foundations get built during First Waves. Third Waves build up strong and vital structurs on those foundations. Fifth waves take what was once robust and replace it with more efficient, but brittle structures that often cannot withstand the crushing pressures of large-scale downturns in mood.

The Downside of Just-in-Time Inventory
By Thomas Black and Susanna Ray of Bloomber BusinessWeek
In a control center above a wide-body jet plant in Everett, Wash., a group of Boeing (BA) staffers is poring over data from suppliers in Japan—making sure the company has enough parts to build its 787 Dreamliner in the U.S.

It's a long list. Japanese manufacturers helped design and now produce 35 percent of the 787, 20 percent of the 777, and 15 percent of the 767. What they build can't be duplicated anywhere else, and Boeing can't call in a new supplier to make one piece if it runs short. So far, the jetmaker says it has enough inventory to keep running for a few weeks...

Downturns in mood expose true weaknesses and sour strengths. Get ready for much, much more of this.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Miscellaneous

You haven't heard anything further from me on the situation at Fukushima Dai'ichi mainly because there has been very little substantive change since this weekend. TEPCO has begun restoring grid power to the site and the reactor units are stable (though still in bad shape). The spent fuel pool for Unit 4 is still giving them fits due to high radiation fields. They are getting more workers on site, which is crucial work in high dose areas. Things are still much better than late last week and I am actually sleeping at night again. There was no zirc fire in the spent fuel pool, so in the end, this will probably be a nasty contamination event, but not a horrible tragedy.

On another discouraging note, as we feared might happen if mood were stay biased towards negative, cop killings are on the increase:

Holder announces safety initiative after rise in officer deaths
By Carol Cratty, CNN
Washington (CNN) -- Attorney General Eric Holder announced a Law Enforcement Safety Initiative Tuesday, calling the number of law enforcement officers killed in the United States so far this year "simply unacceptable."

Holder's comments came as he met with a group of police chiefs and the heads of several federal law enforcement agencies to talk about the problem. He said the initiative will involve all U.S. attorneys around the country meeting with their local police and others to discuss the issue and to try to find solutions.

According to data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 49 officers have been killed so far this year, compared to 41 for the same period last year, an increase of 20%. Holder said 23 of those officers lost their lives due to gunshot wounds, including five who worked in federal law enforcement...

The conflict in Libya took me by surprise as well. Expect more and more of these foreign policy "surprises" as mood craters. Domestic "surprises" may catch up as well. Keep an eye on Yemen - if that particular domino were to fall into some sort of anarchy, that could spell very bad news for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and all that lovely oil that rests underneath it...

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Situation on 18 March

Here is a revised version of my view of the situation at Fukushima Dai'ichi from last night. Yesterday ended better than it began. Things are still very serious, but maybe, just maybe, stabilizing. The spent fuel pools remain my biggest worry.

Fukushima Reactor Accidents Status Rev 2

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Situation for 17 March

Here is a revision to the document I did late last night. Good to see they finally were able to get spray trucks in finally. That will help.

My biggest worry right now is the disconnect between what the Chairman of the NRC said about the spent fuel pool in Unit 4 being dry versus the Japanese insistence that there is still water in it. Someone is lying or misinformed. Pray it is the NRC Chairman (though I am beginning to doubt that is the case).

The U.S. will NOT see enough radiation to cause any health problems. Don't waste money on KI tablets at excessive prices.

Fukushima Reactor Accidents Status Rev 1

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Situation

Here is a document I wrote up for friends and family and posted on Facebook. It is from last night and a lot has happened since midnight U.S. time, but if you want a summary written in lay terms, here it is. I'll try and get an update tonight.

FYI - the key thing you want to worry about now is if the spent fuel cooling pools go totally dry. I cannot even fathom how that could be allowed to happen, but if it does, then we have a chance for a very, very significant release of radioactive material.

I don't want to come across as fear-mongering, but this continues to be bad, friends. Very bad. Still not catastrophic, but we continue to dance on the edge of the abyss.

Fukushima Reactor Accidents Status Rev 0

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Into the Breach

Things took a very bad turn last night in Japan. Unit #2 did breach containment. Levels of radiation that are dangerous local to the plant have been released.

Unit #4, which had been in cold shutdown, suffered what is believed to be a hydrogen explosion. I am reading and hearing reports that the spent fuel pool became uncovered at some point and caught fire here as well - trying to confirm.  That would be extremely bad news.  There are other reports saying that the fuel did not catch fire.  Here's hoping that is the case.

We have gone deep into the wilderness of worst case scenario for this type of plant. I must admit I never would have thought that something like this could have happened in Japan. We are now talking about events that I have only studied in theoretical problems when I was in school.

Radiation Exposure Terms

Here is a quick reference for you regarding the language and terms used to describe radiation dose.

Japan and most of the rest of the world uses a unit called a "sievert" to measure dose to the body.  In the U.S. we use the term "rem."

1 sievert (Sv) = 100 rem (R)

100 millisieverts (mSv) = 10 rem (R) = 10,000 millirem (mR)

Here is a link to a quick calculator to convert the values between rem and sievert.  This might be necessary as reports in the U.S. media may cite units in rem and in international media they will cite dose in terms of sieverts.

NOTE:  The doses that have been provided so far have all be in terms of dose per hour.  This is important.  The rate of absorption drives how long you can work safely in a specified radiation field.  Always try and confirm the rate of the dose being provided in a media account.

Effects of Radiation

In the U.S. a radiation worker is allowed to take 5 rem per year.  Normal members of the public are limited to 100 millirem (mR) per year.  These figures are dose allowed above normal background radiation.

For perspective, in a report out of the NYT this morning, we see that radiation levels of 400 mSv/hr were recorded at the plant.  That is 40 rem/hr.  That can produce measurable and negative effects to health.

Check out this table on Wikipedia for a list of effects of radiation poisoning and the levels it takes to induce them.

Thoughts

At the end of this crisis, the death or sickness toll from the radioactive release will probably be minimal compared to the loss of life from the earthquake and tsunami, but the fear factor involved in radiation will drive a disproportionate response.

The long-term effects should be minimal - with the plant sealed off, the reactors entombed in concrete and lingering radiation low if not normal background.

This disaster is going to have a lot of long term effects around the world.  Remember that energy use drives economies.  I'll hold off on speculating at the moment.  There are other things to worry about.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Edging Towards Catastrophic

Things just got worse over in Japan. An explosion was heard at Unit 2. This is different than the hydrogen explosions that ripped up non-essential buildings at Units 1 and 3. This has apparently damaged the pressure vessel and possibly the containment building for Unit 2. We know this because we saw a pressure drop in the pressure vessel. That means we are now somewhere between the accident at Three Mile Island Unit 2 and Chernobyl. While still a long distance off from Chernobyl, things are deteriorating at Unit 2.

There is an English-language live streaming news channel here currently running updates: NHK World (English)

The Japanese Reactors: Bad But Not Catastrophic

Here is a summary of what I see going on at the Fukushima-Daini reactor complex. This is based on information from industry sources and from networking with the nuclear engineering community. Plus, I am a nuclear engineer so that helps in translating. If you have any questions that pop up from reading media accounts, put them in the comments section and I'll try and answer when I can

The short version: Things are very bad, but not catastrophic. Units 1, 2, and 3 (by unit, this means an individual power reactor at this power plant site) survived the earthquake, but the tsunami absolutely devastated the supporting infrastructure that helps keep the reactors pumping water to remove the heat from the core. All three units have had the water in their core drop below the fuel rods to some extent for various periods of time and significant fuel damage has occured. That said, they are all being flooded at the moment with seawater. Their pressure vessels are intact (meaning the core itself is sealed inside a very thick steel container) and the "primary containment building" is intact (this is a building of very thick concrete surrounding the reactor pressure vessel). Radioactive material from the damaged fuel has been released when they vented some steam to reduce the pressure in containment. This is bad, but this is no Chernobyl by any stretch. The hydrogen explosions have made fearful TV, but they have not damaged the key pieces - the pressure vessel and the containment building. We would know if they had by a huge spike in contamination by Iodine-131 and Cesium-137.

No radiation in any appreciable amount is going to reach the U.S. Ignore any and all calls to take KI tablets - there is no need. Save them for a nuclear war.

You will also read sensationalist accounts that the Japanese government is lying and engaged in a coverup. This is impossible as this entire region of the world is laced with radiation detectors not under the control of the Japanese government (to keep an eye on our North Korean friends, along with the Russians and Chinese) and we would know very quickly if huge amounts of rad material were being ejected into the atmosphere.

Also please note, you are going to read a lot about detecting radioactive material, possibly even in the U.S. How does this jive with my statement above that the U.S. should not worry? We have detectors that are so precise that we can still measure the tiny fractions of radioactive cesium still present in the soil from above ground nuclear bomb tests from over 50 years ago. Yes, I am sure we'll detect something and yes, you will probably read about a "nuclear fallout cloud" circling the earth. It will be hype and fear and not relevant to your health.

I won't go into the technical details unless there is a significant demand for it. For more technical meat, check out the ANS Nuclear Cafe for stories and links.

I don't want to minimize what is going on, but while this is very bad, the engineers in Japan have done an amazing job under horrible conditions to move things towards a stable sitauation. We are not out of the woods yet, but every hour that goes by helps.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japanese Quake and Nuclear Events

FYI, here are some sources (both primary and news aggregators) for the ongoing crisis in Japan. The nuclear reactor piece is a small part of the tragedy there, but it is getting a lot of play, deservedly so.

The initial report earlier today that a hydrogen explosion from material in the reactor vessel had ruptured the containment building appears to be false (per CNN). That would have been the worst-case scenario and hopefully we have avoided that.

Once we have a better handle on the end game in Japan, I'll be discussing some of the socionomic ramifications of this.

This is a bad deal, but I think we've avoided a worst-case scenario (release of large amounts of fission products) - for now...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Socionomics Summit 2011

A reminder for those of you interested in Socionomics and how to apply it, the 2011 Socionomics Summit will be held in Atlanta in mid-April.  The price is right.  It is easy to get to Atlanta.  Attend this conference.  It is not every day you get to help participate in the growth of a new scientific discipline.

The 2011 Socionomics Summit

The coming 2011 Socionomics Summit on April 16 in Atlanta will indeed discover "New Horizons" -- which is precisely what this emerging science has done time and again in recent years.

Attendees will be able to hear, ask questions of, and mingle with 14 of the foremost academics, writers and researchers who contribute to the science of socionomics. Even now, their innovative work is helping to define the critical role that social mood plays in human affairs. The featured speakers include:

  • Successful hedge fund manager Scott Reamer
  • Indiana University professors Johan Bollen and Huina Mao, contributing authors of the widely-reported academic paper "Twitter mood predicts the stock market"
  • Scholar and best-selling author of Mood Matters, John Casti
  • Emmy award-winning Minyanville sage Kevin Depew
  • The man who discovered socionomics, Robert Prechter

This list is just the beginning. Speakers also include the Socionomics Institute's research fellow at the University of Cambridge, Matt Lampert, as well as in-house researchers Alan Hall and Euan Wilson, whose research continues to demonstrate how social mood drives social action.

Please know that the phrase "new horizons" is no exaggeration. As published in The Socionomist, our recent studies of social mood have anticipated a mind-boggling series of global trends and events:

  • "War and Peace in the Middle East" (Dec. 2010) was weeks ahead of the violence and shockwaves of protest that changed the political landscapes of Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and beyond.
  • "Authoritarianism" (April 2010) forecasted increased internet regulation and warned of a possible cyber war -- months before the WikiLeaks controversy broke.
  • "The Coming Collapse of Modern Prohibition" (July 2009) anticipated the dramatic escalation of violence in Mexico's deadly drug war. It also called for growing American tolerance of marijuana use.
  • "Authoritarianism" (April 2010) warned of unprecedented new forms of government control even in ostensibly free countries like the U.S. Since then, news events include the advent of secret government GPS controls on cars, airport pat-downs and document checks on train travel inside U.S. borders.
  • "The Developing European Tinderbox" (Dec. 2009) preceded the biggest story in Europe in 2010 -- the re-kindling of old ethnic and national hostilities and the possible coming dissolution of the euro.

For more information about the 2011 Socionomics Summit: New Horizons in the Study of Social Mood, simply follow this link.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Checking In

Sorry for the absence. The non-blogging world has been hectic around these parts.

The plateau of mood and markets continues to undulate in Europe and the Americas. The "Arab Spring" continues to percolate along, with Libya in the opening innings of a possible civil war, with Egypt still tense (and their markets still closed), Bahrain in turmoil, Tunisia restive and Saudi princes nervously peering out the windows of their Mercedes, wondering if their country will be the next domino to fall.

Here in the U.S., pundits continue to be exceedingly optimistic. Even with the NFL labor dispute, which I figured would blow up into a lockout, there is talk of extending the deadlines and continuing to talk.

I still regard it as the calm before the storm.

Other than that, I am actively working on full paper studying the socionomic characteristics of nuclear power that I will be sending over for inclusion in the the Socionomic Summit proceedings.

Keep your eyes open and your powder dry.