Thursday, August 9, 2012

Economy or environment?

Photos were taken at 上高地 Kamikochi highland two weeks ago.

Taisho Pond & Mt. Yake-dake (2455m)
Honestly speaking, I hadn’t known there were as many as 54 nuclear plants in Japan till quite recently.   There was intense controversy about the introduction of nuclear power many years ago.  As only one country which suffered atomic bombing, people were definitely reluctant.  But electric power companies and the government had kept on insisting that in this resource poor country, nuclear power is the only way to secure stable supply of "environmentally clean energy" (from what criteria?) at a relative low cost. They didn't explain or simply were ignorant of how much more costly it is to deal with nuclear disaster. In the meantime, the voices of opposition gradually got unheard and people used electricity lavishly. It feels like to me that nuclear reactors proliferated like cancer grows unnoticed.   Are we simply gullible or forgettable?

Taisho Pond, Hodaka Mountains including Mt. Oku-hodaka (3190m)
Last year’s nuclear disaster forced tens of thousands of people from their homes in an area around the Fukushima plant, and some of whom may never be allowed to return.  It was a rude awakening.

August 6th and 9th are Atomic Bombing Memorial Day.  67 years ago, Uranium-atomic bomb and plutonium-atomic bomb, which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively, flattened the cities and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. Many people (about 140,000 in Hiroshima and 70.000 in Nagasaki) died on the spot or within a month from radiation effects, while many others (about 260,000) have developed various illnesses from radiation exposure,including cancer and liver illnesses. (Details here.)   The living victims are now very few and old.  (A silent prayer.)

However, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not ghost towns but miraculously came back quite early as thriving cities.   Right after the fires were ceased down, people went back to the city to start rebuilding.   And besides, Japanese life expectancy has been the longest for the past 25 years.  (Not this year due to tsunami.)  What do these facts tell?  Can we conclude that radiation is not safe at all but not so dangerous as expected?   What we need is accurate report about the health problems of the survivors, genetic effect to the offspring, and effects on ecosystem in a long run. (Health Physics Society)

Some experts say low radiation is less harmful than expected or even beneficial.  For example, we are exposed to 190 micro Sievert radiation by a round-trip flight between NY and Tokyo, 50 micro Sievert by a chest X-ray examination, and we submerge ourselves in hot spring of radon which is beneficial for our health.   Large amount of radiation can cause illness and death, but reasonably small release are not safe completely but not likely to be disastrous, either.  Is it right?

All of Japan’s 50 operating nuclear reactors had been offline for safety checks after the Fukushima disaster.   Despite the opposition of the large majority of the people, government restarted two reactors in July to avoid a potential blackout which Electric Power companies insisted.    

Some economists say closing down all the nuclear plants is detrimental to Japanese economy and to industrial development.  Osaka City mayor, Mr. Hashimoto, strongly opposed to the restart of Ooi nuclear reactor and then admitted for the time being because he was pleaded by the small-and-medium-sized factories, who support Osaka City economy, that they don't have power plants of their own like large companies.  He seems to have been torn between his ideal and the current state of economic difficulty. Almost all the media didn't report the reason of his change of mind.   (田原総一朗公式ブログ7月)

Businesses and households were supposed to go through the third real-life power conservation test all through this summer and I had thought we would pass it.  However, after the full operation of Ooi nuclear plant on July 25th, almost no conservation efforts are seen at the public facilities in Kansai area (as far as I know) like done in the last winter and last year's summer. Though surely feel refreshed at cool places under this scorching weather, this is not a real comfort to those who are aware of the potential danger involved.

(This photo is not from Kamikochi.)
Demonstration against the restarting of nuclear plants started in June as "Hydrangea Revolution" and developed to total abolition of the nuclear plant.  It is getting larger as you read in this Asia Pacific news by New York Times, here.  Participants are not organized groups but individuals like workers, students, parents and children, etc. called by twitters and words of mouth and they demonstrate in an orderly way.  This is important to let the government rethink about energy policy. 

I think my country is led by smart, creative business leaders, scientists and engineers, and descent, hardworking workers.  The only unsuccessful people of this country would be politicians. I eagerly wish them wise, constructive leadership about this country's energy policy for the better future. 

Tashiro Pond
For your interest:  日本で始まった電力自由化の議論 (Japanese translation), Financial Times

Last year’s post about energy policy: At the crossroads
Last year's trip to Kamikochi: 上高地 Kamikochi walk


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and information about the nuclear reactors. I didn't know that there were that many around your country. The history of nuclear incidents with Japan is horrifying and very sad. Your pictures remind me of the balance we all must figure out on this planet. It's nice to know that the cities once bombed have life again and that your government is quick to correct or fix any of the damage from last year's tsunami. Wonderful post.

  2. Thank you for a very timely, painstaking post on anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing. While Japanese athletes playing an active role in the Games are drawing increasing attention now, domestic mess of politicking seems to be getting worse. However, I find hope in the scope of spontaneously arising demonstration by the ordinary people in front of Diet Building every Friday. They show they mean it, no nuclear power, on behalf of most of the people. Right now what I am doing is to keep the electricity to minimum at home and try to keep lifestyle simple.

    Your picture, especially the first picture is breathtaking!

  3. Hello Yoko:
    This is an exceedingly informative, well researched and interesting post which address in a very balanced manner the whole debate which centres around nuclear power. This, of course, is an issue which affects not only Japan but many other developed countries as well. What one looks for in this, as in so many matters, is responsible leadership by government which takes into account the will of the people and looks for effective and safe long term solutions to the energy crisis.

    The dropping of Atomic Bombs on Japan in 1945, with the resulting deaths of thousands of innocent people, is something, in our view, which must never, never be repeated anywhere for any reason

  4. Uważam, że powinno się zaprzestać budowy elektrowni atomowych na całym świecie, bo to są "bomby" zagrażające istnieniu ludzi. Jest wiatr, jest woda i z pewnością inne sposoby na zaopatrzenie ludzi w prąd. Pięknym zdjęciami ozdobiłaś ten bardzo mądry post. Pozdrawiam serdecznie.
    I think that should stop building nuclear power stations around the world, because these are the "bomb" threatening the existence of humans. It is the wind, the water and certainly other ways to supply the people in power. Beautiful pictures Publishing LLC to the very wise post. Best regards.

  5. Thank you for this interesting post.I've often wondered why many people were able to live out their lives in an apparently healthy state after being exposed to the radiation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.I've heard theories about a diet largely composed of fish and vegetables being a contributing factor! Hopefully protests will have some effect on present political thinking and may also influence the views of future politicians.
    Yoko,your photos of reflections on water are lovely!


  6. I appreciated your indepth anniversary post of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing, Yoko. May the world never see such again. There are enough natural disasters causing heartache and the need to rebuild our cities or homes, without causing them ourselves. Japan's nuclear accident last year showed the world the danger and unpredictable nature of relying on nuclear power. Decisions of it's future use affect not only Japan but all of Earth's people. Maybe the Japanese people and government can set an example for the rest of us; insisting on alternatives, such as solar power, and putting resources into place to develope safe energy.

    Hope cooler temps soon find their way to your a relief to the scorching weather. We are seeing a relief ourselves this week.

  7. こうした情報や考えを英語にして書かれてる方は少ないと思います。また、これを受けたみなさんのコメントもとても興味深いです。

    Anyway, great job.

  8. you have presented such beauty here to offset the seriousness of the subject matter. i don't know if nuclear energy is the answer or not. or whether we humans will succeed in eliminating ourselves from this earth, once and for all.

  9. An interesting post with deep thoughts on the balance of economic demands with a better environment for the people.

    Politicians have to tread carefully to determine whether the trade-off from economic gains of nuclear reactors is beneficial to society and not limited to a small circle of industrialists.

    The people have a voice should make it be heard; loud and clear.

  10. dear Yoko, thank you for the very relaxing images and for bringing up this very important and at the same time sensitive topic...wishing you+your country (which I love a lot) all the best+happiest!

  11. Dear Yoko,
    There is a great deal of information in your post! Its great to read a native Japanese speaking loud about her points of view regarding nuclear power.
    My Dear, this is the dilemma of the century: environment x economy. An American Indian gave us a wonderful clue on the right thing to do:
    "Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten"
    Wonderful pictures, Yoko!

  12. Wonderful shots and very thoughtful!

    I believe that we all need to find alternative sources of renewable energy however. Nuclear is not the way to go...

  13. There's a saying in English "damned if you do, damned if you don't". Japan now faces such a choice. Renewable energy is the long-term solution, but the challenge is what to do in the short and medium term. I read in Businessweek that CO2 emissions in the Kansai area are up 40% (compared to the year before March 11) due to the burning of fossil fuels, in other words, the Kyoto Protocol has effectively been killed.

    As far as Hiroshima and Nagasaki are concerned, I can only hope against hope that humankind will never use atomic weapons again.

  14. Hi, Stardust.
    Although many, including me, have already received information of the planned periodical power outages from local power companies, which will avoid sudden blackouts, fortunately, we have not had power stoppage so far.
    We are trying to save energy and thinking about how we could survive this summer with minimal amount of electricity.
    Have a great weekend.

  15. After March 11, I wondered why the Japanese allowed them to build so many nuclear plants. We had been said to be hyper allergic to nuclear for a long time.
    I read several papers and saw some documentaries posted in U tube. And I got to know that the Japanese had been influenced by the campaign "Nuclear for peace"(核の平和利用). As a result, we got to have illusion to use nuclear power peacefuly.
    In 1994, NHK broadcasted the series of the documentary films "The scenario how nuclear power plants were introduced"(原発導入のシナリオ). これはこわい事実でした。今のNHKにはこんなドキュメンタリーつくれるのでしょうか?? これは3部作の1つです。かなり長いです。
    Maybe, these facts had been forgotten already.

    Red roseさん、大企業を誘致したために、生活環境が一変し、知らないうちに企業に依存しないと生きていけなくなっていた村の話ににていますね。 「人間は信じたいと思うものを無意識に信じてしまう」という、津波の時にすぐに逃げなかった人々の心理をNHKで見たことがります。


  16. Thank you, Friends, for your understanding, supportive words, and interesting opinions.

    Red Rose – The complete shifting to renewable energy will be a long way to go, but I think once goal is decided, many creative people would do challenging tasks tirelessly, ceaselessly and uncompromisingly and many citizens would be willing to cooperate and to endure during the transition for the future generation. What we lack is right, strong leadership.

    Rurosha – Really "damned if you do, damned if you don't". Danger always exists about nuclear plants whether online or offline. Decommissioned nuclear reactor could be more dangerous like an empty house. On the other hand, working reactor gets better maintenance to be kept as safe as possible. I wonder if it is too late to be safe? This is like a bad dream.

    snowwhite – Thanks for the video. I’m chilled. They utilized media for the publicity of false or fabricated information. If we can’t discern, the same kind of thing could happen again in future. I’m skeptical of the media in general.

  17. The use of Nuclear Energy is a worldwide problem, Italy said no to NE but are now also upset by the number of windfarms and solar panels that are appearing in the countryside. Your photos show beautiful countryside let it remain that way.

  18. Shortly after Fukushima happened - and probably because of it - Germany changed its energy policy. There is now a debate raging about what form of energy is the most effective and safe. I don't think they are going to come up with an alternative to nuclear power, but at least they are trying.

  19. I think only the people of Japan truly understand the dangers of nuclear power, because they have suffered from it.

    I hope your country leads the world to a better, wiser way.

  20. I don't know the best way to change politics. But the ordinary people are demonstration in front of Diet building every Friday. This is rare in Japan. I hope this power change politician's thinking.

  21. What a well researched post. We have problems here in Canada too, where mining our natural resources (including the Alberta tar sands) seems to take precedence over environmental issues - the polluting of the land and water. Short term economic gain comes before long term preservation. I wish you success with the protests.

  22. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are a cruel reminder of the world that we live in. Nuclear Bombs are just so destructive. This is such a thoughtful post and you presented it in as much a sensitive manner. Loved those lake and mountain pics, so serene. I can see there are many questions that are hanging and need to be answered by the politicians of the country and its better that they take care of them before its too late...

  23. Thoughtful post, as usual. But I wonder if the question, "Environment or Economy?" is a fair one. Is this question asked when a new dam is built? When coal-fired powerstations were built? When oil wells were drilled?

    TANSTAAFL - there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Nothing is free. There is a price to pay for everything, except the air we breathe. The questions are, what is the price, and are we prepared to pay it?

    There is a price to pay, too, for shutting off all the nuclear power stations. What is the price, and are we prepared to pay it? Some people are, some are not. Should one group force their opinions on the rest? I look forward to a future of a plurality of energy options.

    Instead of the government deciding, why not let the customers decide? Those who no longer wish to buy their energy from TEPCO should have other choices. At the moment, there is no choice, because of a government-enforced monopoly by the energy companies.

    The customers are also not allowed to feel the true price of nuclear energy because TEPCO is not allowed to raise its prices, which it would do in a free market, in order to help cover its enormous costs.

    But instead of customers being allowed to choose freely, we are facing yet another political decision. And isnt't the present situation - an overdependence on nuclear power - the result of a much earlier political decision?

    I think if the free market had been allowed to function, we would now see a much greater variety of energy sources, including solar (which is again getting a government boost - another political decision favouring one group at the expense of others; government subsidy makes solar appear cheaper than it is, thus inviting customers to make possibly wrong decisions because of inaccurate market signals. Did not the same thing happen with nuclear?

    So I question your question! I don't think it is really a clear-cut choice, of either/or. They are not two mutually opposed concepts.

  24. Marc – Thank you for the precious opinion. I’d like to reply before going offline due to family reunion from tomorrow during obon.

    Actually I pondered on the title before posting. I questioned myself (in Japanese): to borrow your words “Are economy and environment mutually opposed concepts?” I wish economic growth without danger and without damaging environment and think it would be possible if we can fully rely on any type of renewable energy in future, but it will be a long way to go, so I limited the title to the clear cut one to give impact like the slogan of the demonstration, wondering if there must be more suitable title.

    What title would you suggest regarding what I wrote? I wrote what has happened and how I’ve felt including my wishful thinking.

    As you wrote, we have no choice now. But some people are having life style change as their choice, living in more natural style with minimum dependence on electricity to both save power and to prepare for shortage of power.

  25. It is not easy to find a balance between nature and modern life. Thanks for your comment! Have a nice day! :)

  26. As a title, it is fine - short and catchy. "There is a price to pay for everything, including 'the environment'" doesn't have quite the same feel to it, does it?!

  27. I wasn't challenging your title or your blog content. I just wanted to continue or extend the conversation, and wanted to say something more meaningful than "what lovely photos!"

    Enjoy the O-bon holiday, everyone.

  28. Hi stardust, I have no idea how I missed seeing this thoughtful and detailed post until now. I read your information with interest as well as the comments that followed. We, too, in Canada struggle with those who want to impinge more environmentally harmful and potentially dangerous substances into our landscape. They try to convince the population that such things are safe but that is very debatable because from what I have learned about life …one should always expect the unexpected and how do you plan for that?

  29. An interesting and informative post. Beautiful pitures to contrast the nuclear tragedies and thoughful discussion on the future of nuclear power. Thank you and take care,

  30. I think the world needs to concentrate on finding alternative energy sources, and much progress has been made in solar and wind energy, but modern life has a huge appetite for electricity, and solar and wind are never enough. Nuclear power generation has become the accepted way and as long as everything goes smoothly, people don't worry about it, but as soon as something goes wrong, e.g: Fukushima, it's a big news story. There are three power generating stations within disaster distance of my home. I should be worried.

  31. Marc – Thank you for developing and enlivening my post with your comment.

    "There is a price to pay for everything including environment.“ Yes, .... though there is a limit we can pay for. When it comes to nuclear disaster, the damage is too enormous, too severe, and too long-lasting.
    Personally I don’t expect the government so much but they should decide direction at least. Some people are far ahead of the government and can take real leadership.

    Your thoughts made me check electric deregulation in Japan, which I found started partially in 90’s and will take off completely including all the households after 2014. (I included the related URL in my post just now.) Will the monopoly of the big power companies end? I’ve learned a little about smart grid or separation of generation and distribution of power, which will enable the steady supply of renewable energy. I wish safety and reliability.

  32. What a great and brave post, Yoko!

    As you certainly can understand I sponge up nearly every information from Japan short prior my trip to Tokyo.

    To discuss the similarities as well as the differences between Japanese and German nuclear policy is for sure one of the topics I will discuss with some of my Japanese colleagues during a dinner in the evening. This topic is bang up-to-date in both countries. Your post helped me a lot to get a better understanding of the/your Japanese point of view.


    P.S.: I'm curious if all the energy consumptive air conditions and neon signs at Tokyo are still running all day (and all night) long while most of your nuclear power plants are shut down...

  33. Uwe – Good point! I’ve been wondering why neon signs are brilliant or convenience stores are open all night when power companies appeal energy conservation. Maybe the balance of supply and demand is balanced at night when less electricity is consumed. I prefer darker night so that we can see more stars at night. As to air conditioning, the temperater is supposed to be set at 28 degrees C. Thanks for understanding that I needed a little of courage to post this.

  34. Stardust and Uwe and other readers, Prof. Lenz (a German) lives in Tokyo and blogs about alternative energy source development around the world, but particularly in Japan and Germany, on Lenz blog. He has also published papers on the subject in Japanese.

    Thanks to his blog, I learned about Desertec, a plan to put solar panels in the Gobi and Sahara deserts to provide enough electricity for the whole planet.

    Lenz himself is not against nuclear power and often writes how it is much safer (in terms of deaths per year) than fossil fuels. However, he does not see nuclear power as an ideal solution in the long-term, it is merely a temporary energy source, until alternatives can be developed.

    Before Fukushima, I was very anti-nuclear. Since then, I have become pro-nuclear along the lines of Prof. Lenz's opinion.

    It is worth remembering that, although many people have probably lost their homes permanently due to radiation contamination, no-one has yet died from radiation poisoning, unlike at Chernobyl, where there were several immediate deaths due directly to radiation. Even including Chernobyl, there have been far fewer deaths due to nuclear power accidents since 1950s than due to fossil fuels. Several hundred deaths per year in Chinese coal mines alone, for example.

    Many said Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be radiation deserts for thousands of years. While I pay no attention to rosy government predictions or promises, I take "gloom and doom" predictions about Fukushima with a grain of salt.

  35. Stardust added a link to a Japanese translation of a Aug. 3rd Financial Times article. The original FT article can be read online for free (you just need to register): Nuclear winter.

    There is a follow-up article 2 days later (Aug. 5th): Japanese traders benefit from nuclear shift.
    The entrepeneurs and business folk are moving ahead fast. The question is, can the government get out of the way fast enough? Thanks to government meddling, Japanese people have no alternative to nuclear at the moment, except to purchase from abroad expensive gas and oil.

  36. Some folks ask "Why so many neon signs and convenience stores brightly lit when Japan needs to conserve electricity?"

    Bright lights are of course a kind of advertising.

    If electricity is in short supply, it should become more expensive. Then businesses can decide if it is too expensive to keep their bright lights on or not.

    But government subsidies keep electric (including nuclear) power artificially cheap (the cost of nuclear accident repair and cleanup, for instance, is clearly not included the present price Japanese pay for their electricity).

    AND, Japanese power companies need government permission to raise their prices. This permission so far has been denied.

    So, power companies and the government have no alternative but to beg people (basically private homes and small businesses) to try and consume less electricity, for the benefit of the larger businesses, which cannot stop their production lines for a few hours a day during power cuts without wrecking them.

    Would you prefer that businesses be free to make their own decisions about what is best for them? Or that the government dictate who should have their lights on for how long, at what power, and when?

  37. I mentioned Prof. Lenz in an earlier comment. I emailed him asking for resources in Japanese on Desertec and other renewable energy possibilities. He sent me these links which may interest Japanese readers:

    Lenz, 地球温暖化とその対策ードイツの最近エネルギー立法と”アジア版Desertec"に関する日本ーEU協力体制 Chikyuu ondanka to sono taisaku – doitsu no saikin enerugi- rippou to “Ajia ban Desertec” ni kan suru Nihon – EU kyouryoku taisei (Global Warming Countermeasures: Recent German Energy Legislation and EU-Japan Cooperation on “Desertec Asia”), Aoyama Hougaku Ronshuu Vol. 53 no. 4, 2012, pages 183-212 (not yet online).

    Lenz, 砂漠での大量ソーラー発電 : EU法からみたモンゴルとのFTA (公法) (法学部創立50周年記念論文集) Sabaku de no tairyou so-ra- hatsuden: EUhou kara mita Mongoru to no FTA (Energy from the desert, FTA with Mongolia from the point of view of EU law), Aoyama Hougaku Ronshuu Vol.51 no.1/2 page 101-125, 2009, available online here.

    There is also the March 2012 international conference by JREF (Japanese Renewable Energy Foundation), which had lots of presentations on the issue, all with Japanese translation (if they were not in Japanese in the first place), found on their Japanese ustream channel:

    And then there is the book by Kashiwagi, Enerugi- kakumei エネルギー革命 (Energy revolution), 20 February 2012, where Masayoshi Son writes about the Mongolian project.

    In English, I would like to refer to my recent book "Energy from the Mongolian Gobi desert".

    And while I'm at it, I'll add another plug for my new global warming science fiction novel "Great News"

  38. Marc – Wow, you put so much in-depth information!

    As long as nuclear plants exist, I’d like to know how much radiation exposure of which radioactive substance is how harmful and its long term effect so that we won’t panic in case. What happened to Fukushima could happen to any nuclear reactors either online or offline. Suppose radiation leak from the nuclear reactors north to Shiga, the water of Lake Biwa will be at risk.

    Now that one and a half years have passed, radiation leak seems to have been not so serious, but how about the young children close to the nuclear plant site? In Chernobyl, there were many children who suffer from leukemia after having been exposed to radiation from the nuclear meltdown. Even if the children of Fukushima don’t develop the disease in future, parents must live with the fear that their children could have that disease, unnecessary fear if that meltdown didn’t occur. Either online or offline, nuclear reactors are potentially dangerous. And besides, it is said more danger lies in used fuel than reactors. I don’t need such dangerous things when we still have ability to envision and realize the future without nuclear power.

    I had thought government’s opposition to the raise of electic price was to protect citizen’s life (influenced by the public opnion), especially the patients at home, the elderly who live alone, small and medium-sized companies, and the likes. Their urgency is before choice. I think protection of special industry is unnecessary but temporal protection of the weak from the problems caused by its policy is reasonable. Basically I don’t want politicians to meddle in the business details, as their intervention could cause unfairness and would be obstacle to some creative people but they should decide the direction for the better future : getting back to the old Japan (i.e. high dependence on nuclear power monopolized by the large power companies) or transforming to the new Japan.

    It’s going to be hot again after a cool spell. Stay cool and take care, everyone.

  39. Hello, stardust.

     Kamikochi is the attractive sightseeing spot.

     The deep green will maintain our mental condition healthfully.
     The reflection of the surface seems to erase summer heat.

     Your physical condition and the harmony.
     Take care of yourself.


  40. Yoko, I spoke with my husband (and showed him) about this post and all the interesting information you tell us here, we had a long conversation. I will not add more words here, because the many comments say it all.
    I live in a country with underlying (and open nowadays) nuclear threat evident all the time. I wish there would be no need for nuclear power in this world - I wish there would be peace everywhere! I just wish so much...

  41. Think your electricity charges are too high? Don't like the country's forced reliance on nuclear power? Buy your electricity from Mongolia!

    This is a real possibility not too far in the future.

    Prof. Lenz quotes Jeremy Grantham, an investment fund manager, on the subject of long-term energy developments:

    "14. On paper, though, the energy problem can be relatively easily addressed through very large investments in renewables and smart grids. Those countries that do this will, in several decades, eventually emerge with large advantages in lower marginal costs and in energy security. Most countries including the U.S. will not muster the political will to overcome inertia, wishful thinking, and the enormous political power of the energy interests to embark on these expensive programs. They risk being left behind in competitiveness."

  42. Marc – That’s a great idea and plan. Deserts have potential to become mega solar factory.

    When electric deregulation is advanced in Japan, we’ll have various options for buy electricity. Idemitsu is generating wind power, for example, but households can’t buy it now and cost is high under the circumstances. I will be waiting impatiently for the advent of smart grids.

  43. A short,1-page summary of the energy/government situation in the U.S., in easy English:
    Government-subsidized energy drains us permanently


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