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Falling Into Molehills

solyndraIEEE has published a very strong account of the first 24 hours at Fukushima following the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Japanese plant. Almost novelistic in depth, it is long and impossible to extract – well, not impossible, I just don’t want to. Read the whole thing here. Terrific job by Elizabeth Strickland.

We’ll be seeing some official timelines on the accident before the end of the year – consider this a considerably fleshed out coming attractions trailer.

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The folks at IEEE have also put up an interesting if slightly misleading chart called Fukushima Daiichi’s Messy Future. It aims to show how the cleanup will go at the stricken Japanese plant at the 1 year, 10 year and 100 year marks.

The misleading part is that setting the future at 10 and 100 years doesn’t really indicate when the cleanup or disposition of various components – reactor buildings, reactor cores, etc. – will be finished, only that they will be finished by then.

Maybe this is fair enough – one can’t really know what the future will bring – but it might have helped if IEEE had used current estimates to pin down the target dates a little more. With that caveat in place, it’s worth a look.

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From the department of keeping it real:

This is the headline from the Washington Post’s Federal Eye blog:

Energy Department Couldn’t Manage Stimulus Money, Watchdog Says

Here’s the evidence:

Friedman’s appearance Wednesday is meant to summarize the more than 100 investigations conducted by his office into the department’s stimulus spending. To date, the office has recovered $2.3 million in stimulus fraud and has sparked five criminal prosecutions.

A little more data:

Gregory H. Friedman is slated to tell lawmakers that the Energy Department‘s efforts to quickly distribute $35.2 billion in economic stimulus funding “was more challenging than many had originally envisioned.”

Hmm! $2.3 million out of $35.2 billion distributed equals 0.07 percent of the funds that went to fraudulent activities. That’s not a bad outcome at all.

Energy Department officials have defended their management of stimulus dollars, noting that a majority of the money has been distributed to recipients on time. But the $535 million government-backed loan given to Solyndra, the now-shuttered solar company, has raised questions about the rush to distribute stimulus dollars …

But one of the complaints about the Energy Department stimulus funds early on was that it was taking too long to distribute the funds – I heard this at more than one hearing. And loan guarantees really are stimulus, in fact, one of the most stimulative aspects of the stimulus bill. As the Economist put it, they were:

optimal stimulus policy: the money was spent, it flowed out into the economy and added to demand, rather than going to wealthy individuals or firms who in a period of high risk aversion were likely to park it in Treasury bonds.

And a final overlooked point: Solyndra’s $535 million loan guarantee is 1.3 percent of DOE’s current $37.8 billion loan guarantee portfolio. Yes, of course there should be investigations, but there’s a lot of molehill-into-mountaining going on here – and it’s unfortunate the Post is falling into the molehill.

Solyndra’s building in Fremont, Calif.

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