Derek's Dharma Blog

A blog about meditation, Dharma and activism

Appreciating the myriad non-human communications necessary for a healthy living world

Well, this was too good; I had to cross-post it here. It’s from New Zealand meditation teacher Tarchin’s blog. He says: “Will there be silence? I sincerely hope not,”–that made me smile.
Happy Chinese New Year!

Silence and Retreat
by Tarchin Hearn on September 20, 2011

These words have arisen in response to the many enquiries over the years as to whether or not an upcoming retreat would be held in silence.

Will the retreat be in silence? Actually, if there is silence, the whole universe would have disappeared! If the retreat is in silence, we will all be in deep trouble. I expect the birds will continue to sing. The leaves will rustle in the breeze. Crickets and frogs will chorus with cicadas and the growing grasses and wild flowers. The cells of our bodies will continue to converse with each other. Organs will speak to organs. Intestinal fungi, flora and fauna will gossip and exchange news. Will there be silence? I sincerely hope not. We will, however, gently and care-fully, encourage ourselves, and each other, to listen deeply to the complex symphony of our lives unfolding responsively in the great togetherness of this living world.

Retreat is a time for so much more than just refraining from talking while engaging in disciplined effort. Retreat is precious opportunity to cultivate a continuity of patient thorough listening and deep empathic experiencing. Setting aside our habitual use of verbal communication will support an ambiance in which we can become more sensitive to the wisdom and stories and singings of our bodies and minds, as they commune with the embodied minds of all the other beings that together compose this extraordinary mystery of life.

Many people today float through life in an almost non-stop cacophony of radio, TV, internet, i-pods, cell phones, piped music and person to person talking. From waking up in the morning to going to sleep at night we are immersed in verbalizing and if none is available, we invent some; filling the gap with internal dialogues, critiques and imagined entertainments. We don’t quite know what to do when all this chatter stops. Addictively tuned to the wave length of human language, we risk losing the ancient and life affirming art of appreciating the myriad other non-human communications that are necessary for a healthy living world. This loss is fast becoming a tsunami of disaster for all of us.

It is understandable that people might feel a bit anxious at the thought of not speaking for a day or so, not to mention a week or a month but you might be surprised –– you may find you enjoy it. In retreat, even one that honours silence, we inevitably have moments of speaking to our fellow retreaters; sharing in a class, asking for something in the kitchen or garden, but these moments will be simple and straight forward, and a lot less than what we are used to in our normal daily living.

Silence doesn’t have to be anxiety producing. Rather than signifying a loss of something, an isolation or a cutting off, it could be experienced as a blessing, an invitation to responsive presence.

Like a deep clear pool;
and sometimes even seductive,
silence draws us in,
strips us,
revealing jewels of experience that before were hidden in the noise.

Perhaps what we mean by silence is really an experience of harmonious settling; a natural at-oneness; a blending of inner and outer, without conflict or expectation; a manifesting of deep physical and mental acceptance of being at home in the fullness of whatever is occurring –– with presence, dignity and natural grace. This is the silence of contemplation. This is the stillness of healing presence. Traditionally it has been referred to as the ‘noble silence’. Will it take place in your retreat? In truth, it’s up to you.

© Tarchin Hearn, Sept. 2011

January 24, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q to HH the Dalai Lama: What was the happiest moment of your life?

From the Dec. 22, 2011 posting by the Ven. Matthieu Ricard at his blog:
et en francais:

Japanese researcher, specialist of laughter, took part in a meeting between the Dalai Lama and a group of scientists and philosophers, organized by the Mind and Life Institute to which I belong. This distinguished researcher was scheduled to make his presentation on the fifth and final day of the meeting.
During the week he rarely intervened and hardly ever smiled. So we were all the more eager and curious to hear his presentation. It turned out that this scholar had a dry sense of humor. He explained that a group of a hundred people with diabetes were invited to attend a performance of one of the most popular comics in Japan. All had a good dose of laughter for over an hour. Blood samples taken at the end of the show showed a significant decrease in the level of a blood protein involved in the symptoms of diabetes.

The next day the same group of people were invited to hear a scholarly presentation by a university professor. When blood samples were taken at the end of the conference, it appeared that the level of the same protein had not decreased but had in fact increased slightly.

The Japanese scientist then delivered his verdict with great seriousness: “The conclusion of this study is: if you have diabetes, do not listen to an academic presentation! “ As Marcel Pagnol wrote: “Laughter is something that God gave men to console them from being intelligent.”

Then he ended with a question to the Dalai Lama: “Your Holiness, can you tell us what was the happiest moment of your life? “ A silence full of expectation fell in the room, composed of a dozen scientists, some Buddhist scholars and meditators, and a hundred guests. The Dalai Lama paused for a while, looked up in space, as if seeking an answer deep within himself, then suddenly, he leaned forward and said to the Japanese scholar in a resounding voice, “I think …. Now ! “
Everyone broke into a joyful laughter and the meeting was adjourned. Delighted, the Japanese scholar was himself laughing heartily.
From the recent photobook 108 Sourires

January 7, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Another Favourite Christmas Story

Here is another one of my favourite Christmas stories; also true.
[my previous fav is here]

Back when I used to do travel planning for Namgyal Rinpoche, the travel agency I worked out of was in downtown Toronto. One December, just before Christmas, I went to the convenience store across from the office that was run by a Muslim family. Reflexively, I said “Happy Holidays” to the proprietor, and then said “Do you folks close over Christmas?”

“Yes, we’ll be closing” he answered.
“But I thought you were Muslim, not Christian?” I said.

“We are Muslim,” he said, “but we have duties that day as well.”

“Exchanging gifts like we’ll be doing?”

“No, not exactly,” he said. “Last week, at the mosque, our Imam talked to us about this time of year and what it means and how we should observe it. And he asked us all to do something on this day.”

“What are you going to do?”

He was silent for a while; he seemed uncomfortable telling me, but he eventually spoke quietly: “Our Imam asked us all to go out and to  give blood, because this was a gift that would be given to others without distinguishing whether the receiver is Muslim, Christian, Jewish–we cannot be selective. We should not prefer this person over that one. We just must give.”

December 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

How Do We Look After One Another?

Dharma evenings with Derek in Toronto: Dec. 14 and 15, 7:30 pm.

How do we bring Dharma into our activism?

How do we bring activism into our Dharma?

How do we look after one another?

Let’s get together for a couple of nights and explore these questions.

The evenings are free – all are welcome. No prior meditation experience necessary.

Please call to let us know you’re coming (Tracy – 416 534-5726)

 Or Gelek (bgelek[at]

“There is nothing to be done. Now go and do it.” – Gandhi

(in the meantime, some excerpts from last week’s fantastic interview with Arundhati Roy….)

Arundhati Roy: “The People Who Created the Crisis Will Not Be the Ones That Come Up With a Solution”

Wednesday 30 November 2011

by: Arun Gupta, The Guardian UK

Arundhati Roy: The fact that in New York and other places where (Occupy movement) people are being beaten and evicted suggests nervousness and confusion in the ruling establishment. I think the movement will, or at least should, become a protean movement of ideas, as well as action, where the element of surprise remains with the protesters. We need to preserve the element of an intellectual ambush and a physical manifestation that takes the government and the police by surprise. It has to keep re-imagining itself, because holding territory may not be something the movement will be allowed to do in a state as powerful and violent as the United States.
Roy: We often confuse or loosely use the ideas of crony capitalism or neoliberalism to actually avoid using the word “capitalism”, but once you’ve actually seen, let’s say, what’s happening in India and the United States – that this model of US economics packaged in a carton that says “democracy” is being forced on countries all over the world, militarily if necessary, has in the United States itself resulted in 400 of the richest people owning wealth equivalent [to that] of half of the population. Thousands are losing their jobs and homes, while corporations are being bailed out with billions of dollars.
There’s something terribly wrong. No individual and no corporation should be allowed to amass that kind of unlimited wealth, including bestselling writers like myself, who are showered with royalties. Money need not be our only reward. Corporations that are turning over these huge profits can own everything: the media, the universities, the mines, the weapons industry, insurance hospitals, drug companies, non-governmental organisations. They can buy judges, journalists, politicians, publishing houses, television stations, bookshops and even activists. This kind of monopoly, this cross-ownership of businesses, has to stop.

The whole privatisation of health and education, of natural resources and essential infrastructure – all of this is so twisted and so antithetical to anything that would place the interests of human beings or the environment at the center of what ought to be a government concern – should stop. The amassing of unfettered wealth of individuals and corporations should stop. The inheritance of rich people’s wealth by their children should stop. The expropriators should have their wealth expropriated and redistributed.  […..]
The people who created the crisis in the first place will not be the ones that come up with a solution.

That is why we must pay close attention to those with another imagination: an imagination outside of capitalism, as well as communism. We will soon have to admit that those people, like the millions of indigenous people fighting to prevent the takeover of their lands and the destruction of their environment – the people who still know the secrets of sustainable living – are not relics of the past, but the guides to our future.

December 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Climate Damage* is “too complicated” to fix? (but when the banks blow all our money, the worlds’ leaders can pull off the largest financial bailout in history in only a few days?!)

Australian artist Dave Sag has come up with this fantastic T-Shirt:
“Global Priorities Checklist”

He says: “When it comes to responding to a crisis we’re told that it’s too complicated to all act together on global warming…. Addressing poverty is, similarly, too big an issue to be able to address; and bringing about a lasting world peace is a pipe dream.

But when the banks blew all of our money the world reacted almost immediately with the largest concerted global action ever seen.

Some things are not that hard it seems.”

Thanks Dave, for putting it in the clearest possible terms.  Check out Dave’s portfolio at:

….And thanks for showing us which way is up.

You’re right Dave, this whole bailout thing really SHOULD have us thinking–

“Hey, if we can all coordinate a response to a deviously complicated and interconnected world financial system that is teetering on the brink of collapse, then why can’t we smartfolks also tackle the other things that matter (Egads! Dare we say it?) MORE than banks…. like namely how out of whack things have gotten with our weather, our wealth, and our wars?”

Just sayin.

….And by the way: the world does not have a “poverty problem”, it has a “wealth problem”.  There is more than enough food and shelter and medicine to go around for everyone on earth–it just doesn’t get distributed to everyone because some of us get wayyyy more than our share (plus tons of goo-gaws and other schtuff that we don’t need).  When one person in the industrialized ‘west’ consumes (in one lifetime) the same amount as 5000 people in Bolivia, or 10,000 in Bangladesh, then, as John Nichols (The Milagro Beanfield War) asks: “Does the planet groan every time a new child is born in North America?”

…And this is not to get down on ourselves, this is meant to be GOOD NEWS. You see if the problem really was in the hands of billions of disempowered impoverished people, then a response would be enormously difficult to coordinate ….. but it’s not.  The problem rests with us: a few hundred thousand (maybe a few million) relatively affluent people; literate, intelligent, and probably –by and large– compassionate people.

So whatarewegonnaDo?


*Footnote: “Climate damage” is Susan Murphy Roshi’s excellent re-naming of ‘climate change’ ; a term which she says is far too innocuous for what we are doing to the planet. Here’s a link to an absolutely beautiful letter (about the absolute [and beautiful] necessity of meditation practice) she wrote earlier this year to the Melbourne Zen Group:

and this too if you’re interested…

November 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nov 14….Francisco “Pancho” Ramos-Stierle and friends, sitting in meditation in front of Oakland City Hall, prior to being arrested.

Photo from Oakland Tribune

Photo above re-posted from Maia Duerr’s excellent blog ‘The Jizo Chronicles’:

Al Jazeera recently ran this excellent essay by Vandana Shiva (toward the end of her essay, the 2nd and 3rd last paragraphs, are so succinct and powerful):

The lies of free market democracy

By fighting against the doomed system, the 99 per cent have nothing to lose but their disposability and dispensability.
Vandana Shiva 15 Nov 2011
‘Free market capitalism is in fact an oxymoron which has deluded us into believing that deregulation of corporations means freedom for us’ [GALLO/GETTY]

On May 15, 2011, young people occupied the squares of the cities in Spain. They called themselves Los Indignados – “the indignant”. I met them in Madrid where I was attending the meeting of the scientific committee that advises the Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Their declaration states: “Who are we? We are the people; we have come here freely as volunteers. Why are we here? We are here because we want a new society that gives more priority to life than to economic interest.”

In the US, the ongoing “Occupy movement” commonly cries: “We are the 99 per cent”. This people’s protest, inspired by the Arab Spring, is directed against the unequal distribution of wealth; the “99 per cent” here refers to “the difference in wealth between the top one per cent and all the remaining citizens”.

Read more from Vandana Shiva:
 Who pollutes: The rich or the poor?
India’s food security emergency

The fact that they were supported by actions around the world when they were to be evicted from Wall Street on October 14 shows that, everywhere, people are fed up with the current system. They are fed up with the power of corporations. They are fed up with the destruction of democracy and peoples’ rights. They refuse to give their consent to the bailouts of banks by squeezing people of their lives and livelihoods. The contest, as “the 99 per cent” describe it, is between life and economic interests, between people and corporations, between democracy and economic dictatorship.

The organising style of the people’s movements worldwide is based on the deepest and the most direct democracy. This is self-organisation. This is how life and democracy work. This is what Mahatma Gandhi called swaraj.

Those from the dominant system, used to hierarchy and domination do not understand the horizontal organising and call these movements “leaderless”.

Gandhi had said:

“Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, never aggressive in their arrogance, but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are integral units. Therefore, the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle, but will give strength to all within and will derive its own strength from it.”

The general assemblies in cities around the world are living examples of these “ever expanding, never ascending” oceanic circles. When everyone has to be included in decision-making, consensus is the only way. This is how indigenous cultures have practiced democracy throughout history. Future generations are reconnecting to this ancient tradition of shaping real freedom because corporate rule has displaced democracy, and people’s representatives have mutated into corporate representatives.

Today, worldwide, representative democracy has reached its democratic limits. From being “by the people, for the people, of the people”, it has become “by the corporations, of the corporations, for the corporations”. Money drives elections, and money runs government.

Gandhi identified “modern civilisation” as the real cause for loss of freedom:

“Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word ‘civilisation’. Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life … Civilisation seeks to increase bodily comforts and it fails miserably even in doing so … This civilisation is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed.”

This I believe is at the heart of Gandhi’s foresight. The ecological crisis which is a result of the intense resource appetite and pollution caused by industrialisation is the most important aspect of the self-destruction of civilisation. Industrialisation is based on fossil fuels, and fossil fuel civilisation has given us climate chaos and is threatening us with climate catastrophe. It has also given us unemployment.

Gandhi also refers to the fact that the sole objective of “civilisation” is bodily welfare and it fails miserably even in this objective and it fails in its own measure.

The new movements of the future generations are movements of the excluded who have been deprived of every right – political, economic and social. They have nothing to lose but their disposability and dispensability.

‘Free markets’ mean freedom for corporations to exploit whom and what they want.

In spite of being the victims of brutal injustice and exclusion, non-violence is a deep commitment of these new movements. “Occupy” is in fact a reclaiming of the commons. The park is the physical commons in every town. Today the parks are places for announcing to Wall Street, to banks, to governments, that the 99 per cent is withdrawing its consent from the present disorder which has pushed millions to homelessness, joblessness and hunger.

Freedom in our times has been sold as “free market democracy”. “Free markets” mean freedom for corporations to exploit whom and what they want, where they want, how they want. It means the end of freedom for people and nature everywhere. “Free market democracy” is in fact an oxymoron which has deluded us into believing that deregulation of corporations means freedom for us.

Just as the illusion of growth and the fiction of finance has made the economy volatile and unpredictable, the fiction of the corporation as a legal person has replaced citizens and made society unstable and non-sustainable. Humans as earth citizens, with duties and rights, have been replaced by corporations, with no duties to either the earth or society, only limitless rights to exploit both the earth and people. Corporations have been assigned legal personhood, and corporate rights, premised on maximisation of profits, are now extinguishing the rights of the earth, and the rights of people to the earth’s gifts and resources.

The new movements understand this. And that is why they are indignant and are occupying the political and economic spaces to create a living democracy with people and the earth at the centre instead of corporations and greed.

Dr Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights – winning the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) in 1993.

And Canadian Activist and Comedian Derek Forgie asks why the media aren’t asking the important questions, and instead focusing on fluff?

Why are We Ignoring the Villain?

“I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the media overturning the wrong stones, banging on the wrong doors and asking the wrong questions.  The majority of the focus has been on the camps.  The tone has largely been along the lines of: “How do we get them to leave?” “They don’t have a focus.” “Are they allowed to have campfires?” “Are they a burden on local businesses?”  “Is the public support dwindling?” On and on. The coverage sound less like journalism and more like a curmudgeon landlord.

The occupy movement should be triggering these questions:  “Who are the top 10 greediest CEO’s?”  “Who’s sent the most jobs overseas?” “Who are the biggest failures that received huge golden parachutes?” “Why has the wealth of top 1% tripled inside 30 years?” “How do we stop banks from becoming: ‘too big to fail’?”  “Why are companies allowed to gamble with people’s nest eggs?”  “Why is the middle class disappearing?”  “If we continue on this path, in what financial state will we be in 10 years from now?” “Why is the general public so disenchanted with the current state of capitalism?” “How much work does the average CEO need to do to earn your yearly salary?”

Maybe it’s just me, but I find these questions far more important and interesting than; “Where are the protesters going to the bathroom?”  Why aren’t these questions being asked?”

read more:

November 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Something Inside So Strong…

Mass Non Violent Direct Action called for NYC on Thursday November 17, 2011.

Occupy Wall Street and other locations were dismantled by police last night….. Occupy Toronto may be evicted in the next couple of days. Here is a photo essay from the Occupy Toronto site in St. James Park this afternoon, courtesy of Gelek.

And some music from a country that can teach us a lot about struggle, solidarity and song….

….and this great speech (and song) by David Heap, reminding us of the 1978 Sudbury miners’ strike, and making the connections.

The best source for up-to-date daily info still is your community radio station. For example CKUT 90.3 Off The Hour (5pm) in Montreal.

Here is CKUT and the Montreal Media Coop reporting (last half of the program) on the use of riot police last Thursday Nov.10 to evict McGill students from their own campus. Report was recorded at the McGill demonstration yesterday in response to police brutality on campus.


CKUT Off the Hour Tuesday Nov. 15, 2011

November 16, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Occupy… WTDD? –What Would Tommy Douglas Do?

Last month, Oct. 15th, my friend Gelek and I joined the Occupy Toronto march; and we hung around St. James Park to watch the encampment get set up and we got to watch how some of the group process works.  It’s inspiring.
A week later, I read something activist Sujata Dey wrote ( in a review of Vincent Lam’s book about Tommy Douglas–she asked: WWTDD? –What Would Tommy Douglas Do?

And she answered her own question with four principles I’d like to share here:
“It’s tempting to ask, given today’s extreme financial, social and political inequalities, WWTDD? As unrest foments around the world, including on Bay street, it’s worthwhile to remember a few basic tenets of Tommy Douglas’s political ideology. It’s simple stuff, really.

1) Politics is rooted in spirituality and the desire for a better world. Always remember that.

2) Politics is about service, not ideology. While there are values, a road map taken from a manifesto serves little purpose. Instead, improve people’s lives.

3) Go slowly. Don’t neglect the economy.

4) Work hard. And speak well.”

In keeping with her (and TD’s) advice, here are three links to folks speaking well about the Occupy movement. First is activist Michael Albert, 2nd is scientist David Suzuki at Occupy Montreal, and third is Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman at Occupy Wall Street.

It’s also worth checking out Michael Albert’s insightful commentary “Occupy to Self Manage”, as well as the “Open Letter from Buddhist and Yoga Teachers and Leaders in Support of the Occupy Movement.”

November 9, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Calm and pacify your own mindstream…” (advice from Mingyur Rinpoche’s Goodbye letter)

From Video

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, teacher and author of  The Joy of Living, and  Joyful Wisdom, departed retreat in Bodhgaya (India) this past June (2011).

In a 6 minute youtube video (link below), recorded at Garrison Institute NY in July, his brother Tsoknyi Rinpoche describes the circumstances, and the effect on their family. It is inspiring.

Here is the text of Mingyur Rinpoche’s letter that he left behind:

Letter from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche when Departing for Retreat

In early June, 2011, Mingyur Rinpoche left his monastery in Bodhgaya, India to begin a period of extended solitary retreat. He departed in the middle of the night without telling anyone. He did not take any money or belongings, just the clothes he was wearing. The day after he left, his close friend and attendant, Lama Soto, found this letter in Mingyur Rinpoche’s room.

“I write this letter to all the wise and pure-intentioned individuals who rely on me, both the monastic communities and lay practitioners throughout India, Nepal, and Tibet.

From a young age, I have harbored the wish to stay in retreat and practice, wandering from place to place without any fixed location. I also received an ocean of instructions from my glorious and kind root gurus. Though I have attempted to stay in retreat and practice, I have passed the rest of my time in laziness and diversions, letting my life come to nothing more than a distraction.

I have made a firm decision, based on the advice of the great masters of times past and my own heart’s desire, to, as the example goes, take the reins into my own hands. Our lives are as fragile as a bubble and the activities of this life are as endless as the waves of the ocean. Yet whatever we do, we should rely upon and place our hopes in the Buddha’s sacred and divine teachings. It is the Dharma that will benefit both us and other sentient beings. For this and other reasons, I have become disillusioned with the experiences of this life.

With genuine conviction in the lineage and instructions I have received, along with a motivation to be of benefit to others, various causes and conditions have prompted me to make the decision to wander alone, without fixed location, in remote mountain ranges. Though I do not claim to be like the great masters of times past, I am now embarking on this journey as a mere reflection of these teachers, as a faithful imitation of the example they set. For a number of years, my training will consist of simply leaving behind my connections, so please do not be upset with my decision.

As I have recommended before, throughout this period it is important to study, contemplate, and meditate. With a sense of harmony and pure discipline as a basis, it is important to study and contemplate the traditional scriptures of the Buddhist tradition, and [to learn] the traditions, practices, fields of knowledge, and other disciplines [taught in our lineage]. It is especially important to not always focus your attention outward, but to apply the teachings to your own mind. You should calm and pacify your own mindstream. It is important to bring benefit to the Buddha’s teachings and to your fellow sentient beings.

There is no need to worry about me. After a few years, we will meet again and, as before, gather together as teacher and student to enjoy a feast of the Dharma. Until that time, I will continually pray to the Three Jewels and make aspirations on your behalf.”

Tulku Mingyur

Written on the 3rd day of the 4th month of the Tibetan calendar in the year 2011

August 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

No Nukes!

No Nukes!

Because of the long-term consequences…. Because of the extremely dangerous pollution and radiation problems we are handing on to generations and generations to come in the future, I think nuclear power plants must be opposed by all compassionate people.
Germany has just reinstated the Green Party’s plan to shut down all nuclear power plants there by 2020. Instead, they are going to be focusing on renewable energies like wind and solar. Why aren’t Canada and the USA doing likewise?
Adrienne Hurley and colleagues at McGill’s EAST 360  have been following events in Japan and have been hosting important information events in Montreal on the issue of nuclear power and the efforts of Japanese folks to change course away from this dangerous technology.
Last week they published a very informative and scary blog-post by a former nuclear power plant worker about the realities of these plants.
I’ve pasted some excerpts below….
The entire blog is here:
May 24, 2011 · 12:26 pm

“I Want You to Know What a Nuclear Power Plant Is”

[We are very grateful to Yasuo Akai for contributing this translation!  Thanks, Yasuo!!  Also, thanks to Jayda Fogel for assisting Yasuo!]

By Norio Hirai

I’m not an anti-nuclear power plant activist.

I have worked in the nuclear power plants for twenty years. There have been various debates over them. Some are for these places, others against them. Some say that they are safe; others declare that they are dangerous. I shall tell you what a nuclear power plant actually is, which few people really know. After finishing this, you will understand that every day the nuclear power plants are poisoning people, as well as causing discrimination and injustice—contrary to what you may have been told so far.

I am going to tell you many stories that you may never have heard. Please read all of this, and then consider what should be done. While there are many people capable of explaining how the plants are designed, I am the only one who can explain how they are actually built. You can never know the reality of nuclear power plants without first understanding the actual construction sites.

I am an engineer specializing in building the pipelines for large chemical plants. In my late twenties Japan started building nuclear power plants and I was recruited onto the sites. …. I worked for a long time as a manager, and so I know almost everything about what is going on there.  [….]

Close it, and keep an eye on it.

Why is it so impossible to decommission and dismantle a nuclear power plant? Well, water and steam circulate in an operating reactor. However once the reactor ceases to operate, the water will soon rust it out, causing it to leak radioactive material. Once a reactor is put into operation, radioactive materials contaminate it. It can neither be dismantled, nor simply be left inactive.

Developed countries have already closed many of their reactors. They are closed, and not yet scrapped. Closure means that those reactors are no longer generating electricity, and that the fuel is taken out. But there are still many things left to do.

A closed reactor, which is contaminated with radioactive materials, has to keep moving and circulating water, like it did when it generated electricity. Water pressure erodes the pipes and breaks some parts; it must be regularly checked over, or it will leak radioactive material. It has to keep being watched and maintained, just like when it was in operation, and until radioactive material will disappear.

There are 51 reactors in operation and 3 under construction in Japan. Some of them are too dangerous to be operated any longer. Additionally, universities and some companies have their own research reactors. At this moment, there are a total of 76 reactors, ranging from small 100 kilowatts reactors, to huge 135 million kilowatts facilities.

Whether the electric power companies are willing to take care of closed reactors, no longer productive or profitable, is questionable. But those companies are still planning to build more plants and reactors. Their plans include building a No. 5 reactor at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant, located in an area where a huge earthquake is predicted, and feared to occur. Fukushima Prefecture will get more reactors in exchange of a football stadium. They are trying to build more new plants: the Makimachi Plant in Niigata Prefecture, the Ashihama in Mie Prefecture, the Kaminoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the Suzu in Ishikawa Prefecture, the Oma and the Higashidori in Aomori Prefecture, and so on. Japan aims to have 70 or 80 reactors by 2010. No offence, but Japan is insane.

In the future, we will face the serious problem of having to close those reactors. Sooner or later, those closed nuclear plants will take over everywhere across Japan. It is quite chilling.

What to do with the spent fuel?

Every day, those reactors in operation inevitably produce spent fuel. It is called low level radioactive waste, but if you stand by some of the containers filled with this waste for 5 hours, you will be exposed to a fatal dose of radiation. The nuclear power plants across Japan have so far produced more than 800 thousand containers filled with this radioactive waste.
Until 1969, radioactive waste was first contained in containers, and then thrown into home waters, it was normal at that time. Around that time I was working at the Tokai Nuclear Power Plant in Ibaraki Prefecture; tracks carrying contained waste left from there for the sea, and then boats carried them to be dumped offshore of Chiba Prefecture.

It was then, that I started thinking that there might be something wrong with the nuclear power plant. These containers will decompose within a year in water, and then what happens to the waste? Are the fish safe?

At this time, the waste from the nuclear power plants is collected in Rokkasho Village, in the Aomori Prefecture. The plan is that the 300 million containers filled with waste will be managed for 300 years. I am not sure whether the containers will be intact, or whether the company that takes care of the waste will still exist, 300 years from now.

We also have high level radioactive waste. This is what is left after plutonium has been extracted from spent fuel, which companies in Britain and France then reprocess. In 1995, 28 containers filled with high level radioactive waste returned from France to Japan. Melted high level waste and glass were mixed together and poured into steel containers. It is said that if you stand next to this container for 2 minutes, you will die. The plan is to keep cooling those containers down for 30 or 50 years somewhere in Rokkasho Village, and then to bury them somewhere deeper underground. Yet the location for burial has not been decided. Similar plans exist in other countries, but none of them has actually disposed of high level waste. Every country is in trouble.

Finally, we have those reactors themselves. The government says simply that closed reactors will be concealed for 5 or 10 years, before being broken down to debris and enclosed into containers to be buried under their own sites. However, one reactor produce tens of thousands of tons of waste contaminated with radioactive material. Even now we are in trouble because of our ordinary garbage. How can we deal with all this radioactive waste, which is likely to take over all of Japan? We must do something, but first we must stop the nuclear power plants as soon as possible.


You cannot simply scrap them.

In 1966, Japan imported a 160 thousand kilowatts commercial nuclear reactor from Britain, and so the first reactor became operational in Tokai Village. Since then Japan has imported reactors from America, and then started building them on its own. Now 51 reactors, including a huge 135 million kilowatts reactor, are in operation on such a small land.

Despite not knowing how to scrap them or what to do with spent fuel, Japan started operation anyway. These reactors would inevitably become unusable because of their continued exposure to huge amounts of radiation, regardless of having been built of thick iron. At first it was said that the life of a reactor was 10 years, and planned to decommission and dismantle them accordingly. But in 1981, we learned that it was impossible to decommission and dismantle the 10-year-old No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant run by TEPCO as planned. This became a contentious topic debated by the National Diet of Japan. The lawmakers questioned whether the reactor could withstand the nuclear reaction.

At that time, I joined into the discussions everyday about how to decommission and dismantle the reactor. We found that it would cost more to decommission and dismantle it than to construct. In addition we found that decommissioning and dismantling the higher toxic reactor would entail exposing the workers to high doses of radiation. There was nothing we could do, workers could be in the reactor for only 10 seconds or so, according to guidelines.

It is humans, not theory, who do things that expose them to high doses of radiation. We can do nothing until the radioactive material is reduced to zero. We cannot decommission and dismantle the reactors as long as they are toxic. Some say that robots could do these things, but though it has been researched, so far robots are not useful because radioactive material breaks them down.

We apparently abandoned the plan to dismantle Fukushima Plant’s reactor, and the American manufacturer who had sold us the reactor sent their workers to improve it. Those workers from America were exposed to incredibly high doses of radiation such as Japanese guidelines do not allow Japanese workers. This reactor is still in operation.

There are 11 reactors whose lives were said to be 10 years once they had become operational, which have instead been working for nearly 30 years. I am really worried about those tired reactors.


And while we’re at it, here’s a really helpful insight from Jerry Mander on the non-neutrality of technology……..

(via Jade Cricket’s blog:

The following, from Jerry Mander’s book In The Abscence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of Indian Nations:

No notion more completely confirms our technological somnambulism than the idea that technology contains no inherent political bias. From the political Right and Left, from the corporate world and the world of community activism, one hears the same homily: “The problem is not with technology itself, but how we use it and who controls it.” This idea would be merely preposterous if it were not so widely accepted, and so dangerous. In believing this, however, we allow technology to develop without analyzing its actual bias. And then we are surprised when certain technologies turn out to be useful or beneficial only for certain segments of society.

A prime example is nuclear energy, which cannot possibly move society in a democratic direction, but will move society in an autocratic direction. Because it is so expensive and so dangerous, nuclear energy must be under the direct control of centralized financial, governmental, and military institutions. A nuclear power plant is not something that a few neighbors can get together and build. Community control is anathema. Even control by city or state governments is proving impossible, as is now obvious to those locales attempting to block the movement and disposal of radioactive wastes within their borders.

The existence of nuclear energy, and nuclear weaponry, in turn requires the existence of what Ralph Nader has called a new “priesthood” — a technical and military elite capable of guarding nuclear waste products for approximate the 250,000 years they remain dangerous. So if some future society, tiring of the present path, should determine to move away from a centralized technological society and toward, say, an agrarian society, it would be impossible. The technical elite would need to remain, if only to deal with the various wastes left behind. So it is fair to say that nuclear technological inherently steers society toward greater political and financial centralization, and greater militarization (36-37).

June 1, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment