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日本力避核灾难发生

Bill Powell 2011年03月18日

日本是全球第三大经济体,如果最坏的情形确然发生了,那么根据辐射的泄露水平,在未来许多年里,日本大部分地区都有可能成为不适合人类居住的地区,日本未来几年的重建成本可能高达1万亿美元。

    前不久的一个晚上,就在美国投资者还在熟睡的时候,最近一桩“黑天鹅事件”可能又降临到了他们的生活中。这起事件源自日本福岛市,它位于东京以北140英里,这里的福岛第一核电站在震后发生了严重泄露,东京电力公司(Tokyo Electric Power Co.)的工人们正在拼命采取措施,阻止危机升级。

    东京时间15号早上,福岛第一核电站再次传来爆炸声,这已经是过去几天里的第三次爆炸了。在这次爆炸后,日本政府承认, 2号反应堆的钢筋混凝土保护罩已经出现了破损。这个保护罩对于2号反应堆来说极为重要,因为它里面就是核燃料棒。爆炸发生后,核电站外面的辐射水平出现了猛增。东京电力公司撤走了福岛第一核电站的大部分员工,只有50人留了下来(或许是抽签决定的),他们拼命地用消防水龙向三个反应堆里注入海水,试图给核燃料棒降温。日本政府已经将疏散区延长到了核电站周边18英里的半径。神情严肃的首相菅直人当天早上也在一次简短的全国电视演说中承认,未来还有可能出现更多的辐射泄露。

    日本的主要股指日经指数(Nikkei)应声暴跌14%,最终稍有回升,当天以11%的跌幅收盘。日本监管机构也暂时停止了东证股价指数(TOPIX)期货交易。

    近来笼罩在东京股市头上的恐慌,根植于一个虽然简单、但却令人深感担忧的事实:如果福岛第一核电站已经破损的反应堆保护罩最终崩溃,那么发生大范围的、难以控制的核灾难的可能性并非不存在。恐怖的放射云可能被风吹向任何一个方向——跨越国界,甚至跨越大洋。一夜之间,这一切突然都成了可能。而之所以看起来存在着这种可能,就是因为这种可能的确存在。这就是为什么日前上海的A股市场也出现了下跌。

    不过需要指出的是,尽管福岛第一核电站的保护罩出现了损坏,不过从目前看来,暂时不会发生上文提到的那种最坏的情况。日本政府在当天傍晚发布了一份声明,指出福岛第一核电站周边的辐射水平在当天早上猛然激增之后,已经出现了回落。不过工作人员仍在拼命给核燃料棒降温,以阻止进一步的熔化。再加上保护罩出现了损坏,这给了许多投资者一个恐慌的理由——核灾难的可能性就在眼前。

    到目前为止,各路专家对地震和海啸给日本带来的经济影响已经做出了很多标准的分析和推测(短期内对日本的经济增长造成数额为X的打击,灾后的重建支出又会带来数额为Y的“刺激”)。不过如果爆发了大范围的核事故,那么这些分析和推测都将毫无价值。原子尘和核辐射带来的经济影响绝对是毁灭性的。

    日本是全球第三大经济体,如果最坏的情形确然发生了,那么根据辐射的泄露水平,在未来许多年里,日本大部分地区都有可能成为不适合人类居住的地区,日本未来几年的重建成本可能高达1万亿美元。1986年乌克兰的切尔诺贝利也发生了核事故,但切尔诺贝利核事故的经济影响较为有限。而现在日本面临着损失一大块国土的可能性,它的经济影响与切尔诺贝利是不可同日而语的。

    东京位于发生事故的福岛第一核电站以南140英里处。抛开投资者的反应不提,这里却并没有多少恐慌的迹象。日本人是如此的友好和井然有序,以至于前两天我的一位外国朋友对我开玩笑道:“日本人一定缺乏恐慌的基因。”不过这种情况在近日可能已经有了一点改变。据日本媒体报道,在东京的便利店里,饭团以及其它熟食的供应已经出现了匮乏。另据《日本经济新闻》(Nikkei)报道,东京的电池也出现了短缺。

    如果说末日要来了,美国人会买枪支和黄金,而日本人却会买电池和饭团。(这句话说明了美国人和日本人的性格,不过我想我更理解这句话说明了日本人的哪些特质——日本人极其务实。)

    此前有新闻报导称辐射已经降至有害水平以下,这条新闻受到了大大的欢迎。现在还不清楚这究竟意味着发生不可控核灾难的风险已经消失了,还是降低了。15日早些时候,日本内阁官房长官枝野幸男表示:“目前,可以说我们正在朝着稳定局势、并在某种程度上可以控制的方向前进。”在这场危机中,枝野幸男已经成了日本政府的发言人。听到了如此“自信”的宣言,我认识的一些在日外国人立刻以“某种程度上可以控制”的方式抄起电话,订飞机票逃离这个鬼地方。

    不过到目前为止,我还没有加入他们。

    译者:朴成奎

    As American investors slept last night, the latest `Black Swan' event may have fluttered into their lives. It was birthed in the city of Fukushima, 140 miles north of Tokyo, where workers for Tokyo Electric Power Co., the embattled operator of the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, desperately tried to contain an escalating crisis.

    After an explosion early this morning Tokyo time at the plant -- the third in the last four days -- the Japanese government later acknowledged that the vitally important containment vessel at reactor unit 2 -- the steel and concrete vault that is the last line of defense should the nuclear fuel rods inside the vessel melt down -- had been damaged. Radiation levels outside the plant spiked. TEPCO sent most of its workers at the vast facility home, while 50 remained behind (talk about drawing the short straw...), desperately trying to cool down the fuel rods in three reactors by spraying in seawater with fire hoses. Authorities extended an evacuation zone around the plant out to an 18-mile radius, and a grim Prime Minister Naoto Kan acknowledged this morning in a brief, nationally televised address that more radiation leakage appeared likely.

    The Nikkei, Japan's main stock index, promptly collapsed, plunging 14% before recovering a bit and ending the day down 11%. For a while Tokyo regulators halted trading in the TOPIX futures market.

    The utter fear that gripped the Tokyo market today was rooted in a single, deeply troubling reality: should the damaged containment vessel fail at Fukushima Dai Ichi, a full-bore, uncontained nuclear melt down was not inconceivable. The specter of a nuclear cloud, blowing whatever direction the wind might take it -- across borders or even across oceans -- suddenly seemed like a possibility. And it seemed that way, because it is. That's why the A shares market in Shanghai tanked today, too.

    The worst-case scenario, it's important to say, is not at this point a likelihood, even with the damaged containment vessel. Indeed, this evening in Tokyo the government issued a statement saying that radiation levels around the plant had dropped back down after the sharp spike this morning. But the frantic effort to cool the nuclear fuel rods to prevent further melting, and the fact that there is damage to the containment vessel, gave investors a pretty good reason to panic: the possibility of nuclear disaster is there.

    A full-bore nuclear event would render null and void all the standard issue analyses/guesstimates done so far about the economic impact of Japan's tsunami and earthquake (a short-term blow of 'X' amount to growth followed by "stimulus" 'Y' from all the reconstruction spending.) The economic 'fallout' from real, actual nuclear fallout would be nothing short of devastating.

    Depending on how much radiation might escape, it could make large parts of the third-biggest economy on the planet uninhabitable for years. Already, worst-case scenarios had the cost of reconstruction costing $1 trillion over several years. A nuclear accident in a place like Chernobyl, in the Ukraine in 1986, is one thing. There the economic damage was limited. But the possibility of losing a chunk of Japan is quite another.

    Tokyo is 140 miles south of the crippled nuclear plant, and -- investor reactions aside -- there had been little evidence of panic here. Indeed, the Japanese people are so polite and orderly that a foreign friend of mine today joked that they "must lack the panic gene." But that might have changed a bit today. Japanese press reports had convenience stores in Tokyo running low of things like onigiri (rice balls) and other prepared in advance foods. Batteries, according to the Nikkei Kezai Shimbun, are also in short supply.

    In the United States, when the end appears to beckon, we buy guns and gold. In Japan, they buy batteries and rice balls. (I think I understand more about what that says about them than it does about us; the Japanese are nothing if not practical.)

    News that the radiation levels had dropped below harmful levels was welcome. Whether that means an uncontained meltdown was now out of the question -- or even less likely -- was not clear. Earlier in the day, Yukio Edano, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, who is the Japanese government's public face in this crisis, had said, "At this point, we can say we are moving in the direction of stabilizing the situation in a certain, managed manner." That ringing vote of confidence prompted a few expats I know to -- in 'a certain, managed manner' -- grab the phone and make plane reservations to get the hell out of here.

    I'm not among them. Yet.

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