Japanese Reactor Blows its Top

I weep for this planet. Japanese scientists say this could not be another Chernobyl, but already one reactor building has exploded and it is believed a meltdown is in progress. Will scientists ever learn their lesson, to stop trying to pretend they can handle the worst Nature can dish out? Nobody can tell me this was not inevitable. It could happen in any earthquake prone area, including California where I live. I expect to get a nice dose of fallout before this is all over. Thanks, scientists. Thanks a million.

Bloomberg has one story about the developing disaster.

Explosion Destroys Walls of Japanese Nuclear Reactor Building, NHK Reports
By Yuji Okada – Mar 12, 2011 1:15 AM PT

An explosion occurred at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station north of Tokyo, destroying the walls of the No. 1 reactor building, NHK Television said. The report came after the government said a reactor may be melting.

Smoke was rising around the nuclear reactor after an aftershock from yesterday’s quake struck, Ryohei Shiomi, a spokesman at the country’s nuclear safety agency said by phone.

The spokesman said several people were injured during an aftershock that struck around 3:30 p.m. Japan time, adding he had no further information. Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, said it had no information, when contacted by Bloomberg News.

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said earlier that a nuclear reactor in the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station, about 220 kilometers (140 miles) north of Tokyo, may be starting to melt down after Japan’s biggest earthquake on record hit the area yesterday.

Fuel rods at the No. 1 reactor at the plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. may be melting after radioactive Cesium material left by atomic fission was detected near the site, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, spokesman Yuji Kakizaki said by phone today.

“If the fuel rods are melting and this continues, a reactor meltdown is possible,” Kakizaki said. A meltdown refers to a heat buildup in the core of such an intensity it melts the floor of the reactor containment housing.

And President Obama thinks we need more nuclear power plants! Shut them all down, I say, the sooner the better!

16 Responses to “Japanese Reactor Blows its Top”

  1. Aletha Says:

    The situation is steadily deteriorating. Some politicians have had second thoughts about nuclear energy, but not President Obama. The Japanese Prime Minister, on the other hand, has warned people within a thirty mile radius of the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex to stay indoors to avoid radiation sickness. One of the reactor buildings is on fire. One reactor seems to have a water leak, as it has become impossible to keep its fuel rods covered with water. It is feared one of the explosions has compromised the inner containment structure.

    This is from one AP story at Forbes

    Japan plant spews radiation in crisis escalation

    SOMA, Japan — Radiation spewed Tuesday from a crippled nuclear power plant in tsunami-ravaged northeastern Japan in a dramatic escalation of the 4-day-old catastrophe, forcing the government to tell people nearby to stay indoors to avoid exposure.

    In a nationally televised statement, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said radiation has spread from four reactors of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima province that was one of the hardest-hit in Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami.

    “The level seems very high, and there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out,” Kan said.

    Kan warned there are dangers of more leaks and told people living within 19 miles (30 kilometers) of the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex to stay indoors to avoid radiation sickness.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said a fourth reactor at the complex was on fire and more radiation had been released.

    Scientists are still insisting that even in the worst case scenario, this could not be another Chernobyl. With so many reactors in trouble, it could be worse. I do not consider that likely, but regardless, this will probably go down as one of the worst nuclear “accidents” in history.

  2. Aletha Says:

    President Obama is going out of his way to defend nuclear energy. This AP story is from the Washington Post

    Obama defends use of nuclear energy despite calamity in Japan
    By The Associated Press, Tuesday, March 15, 8:11 PM

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended the use of nuclear energy despite the calamity in Japan where a nuclear power plant leaked radiation in the wake of a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

    The president told Pittsburgh television station KDKA that all energy sources have their downsides but that the U.S. — which gets 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power — needs to look at the full array of them.

    The president said facilities in the U.S. are closely monitored and built to withstand earthquakes, even though nothing’s failsafe. Proponents of nuclear power fear their efforts to win over the public to the safety of their industry have been dealt a tremendous blow by the disaster in Japan.

    “I think it is very important to make sure that we are doing everything we can to insure the safety and effectiveness of the nuclear facilities that we have,” the president said in a second TV interview Tuesday, with KOAT in Albuquerque, N.M.

    “We’ve got to budget for it. I’ve already instructed our nuclear regulatory agency to make sure that we take lessons learned from what’s happening in Japan and that we are constantly upgrading how we approach our nuclear safety in this country,” he said.

    Is the President clueless, or disingenuous? I hope he is merely deluded by his faith in science. There is no way to insure the safety of nuclear energy. There never has been, and never will be. Even a decommissioned reactor is not safe! There is no way to deal with the waste safely, let alone operate the damned contraptions! The President is demonstrating that he is determined to learn nothing from this disaster! If any nation built nuclear reactors to withstand earthquakes, it would be Japan, and look what is happening there! Oh the apologists are claiming that it is all the fault of the tsunami, and that the reactors now melting down are an old model that is more vulnerable than later designs (see this New York Times article), but there are 23 US reactors using that same design! Is Obama proposing to shut them down? Not on your life! They are not near any major earthquake faults, so there should be no problem, right?

  3. Aletha Says:

    The Associated Press has a long story about the sordid history of the nuclear power industry in Japan.

    Bungling, cover-ups define Japanese nuclear power
    (AP) – 30 minutes ago

    TOKYO (AP) — Behind Japan’s escalating nuclear crisis sits a scandal-ridden energy industry in a comfy relationship with government regulators often willing to overlook safety lapses.

    Leaks of radioactive steam and workers contaminated with radiation are just part of the disturbing catalog of accidents that have occurred over the years and been belatedly reported to the public, if at all.

    In one case, workers hand-mixed uranium in stainless steel buckets, instead of processing by machine, so the fuel could be reused, exposing hundreds of workers to radiation. Two later died.

    “Everything is a secret,” said Kei Sugaoka, a former nuclear power plant engineer in Japan who now lives in California. “There’s not enough transparency in the industry.”

    Sugaoka worked at the same utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant where workers are racing against time to prevent a full meltdown following Friday’s 9.0 magnitude quake and tsunami.

    In 1989 Sugaoka received an order that horrified him: edit out footage showing cracks in plant steam pipes in video being submitted to regulators. Sugaoka alerted his superiors in the Tokyo Electric Power Co., but nothing happened. He decided to go public in 2000. Three Tepco executives lost their jobs.

    The legacy of scandals and cover-ups over Japan’s half-century reliance on nuclear power has strained its credibility with the public. That mistrust has been renewed this past week with the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. No evidence has emerged of officials hiding information in this catastrophe. But the vagueness and scarcity of details offered by the government and Tepco — and news that seems to grow worse each day — are fueling public anger and frustration.

    Worried that over-dependence on imported oil could undermine Japan’s humming economy, the government threw its support into nuclear power, and the industry boomed in profile and influence. The country has 54 nuclear plants, which provide 30 percent of the nation’s energy needs, is building two more and studying proposals for 12 more plants.

    With such strong government support and a culture that ordinarily frowns upon dissent, regulators tend not to push for rigorous safety, said Amory Lovins, an expert on energy policy and founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

    “You add all that up and it’s a recipe for people to cut corners in operation and regulation,” Lovins said.

    Competence and transparency issues aside, some say it’s just too dangerous to build nuclear plants in an earthquake-prone nation like Japan, where land can liquefy during a major temblor.

    “You’re building on a heap of tofu,” said Philip White of Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, a group of scientists and activists who have opposed nuclear power since 1975.

    “There is absolutely no reason to trust them,” he said of those that run Japan’s nuclear power plants.

    Japan is haunted by memories of past nuclear accidents.

    —In 1999, fuel-reprocessing workers were reported to be using stainless steel buckets to hand-mix uranium in flagrant violation of safety standards at the Tokaimura plant. Two workers later died in what was the deadliest accident in the Japanese industry’s history.

    — At least 37 workers were exposed to low doses of radiation at a 1997 fire and explosion at a nuclear reprocessing plant operated in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo. The operator, Donen, later acknowledged it had initially suppressed information about the fire.

    — Hundreds of people were exposed to radiation and thousands evacuated in the more serious 1999 Tokaimura accident involving JCO Co. The government assigned the accident a level 4 rating on the International Nuclear Event Scale ranging from 1 to 7, with 7 being most serious.

    — In 2007, a powerful earthquake ripped into Japan’s northwest coast, killing at least eight people and causing malfunctions at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant, including radioactive water spills, burst pipes and fires. Radiation did not leak from the facility.

    Tepco has safety violations that stretch back decades. In 1978, control rods at one Fukushima reactor dislodged but the accident was not reported because utilities were not required to notify the government of such accidents. In 2006, Tepco reported a negligible amount of radioactive steam seeped from the Fukushima plant — and blew beyond the compound.

    Lest anyone think this cavalier recklessness is limited to Japan, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is also in bed with the industry, and I doubt the culture of this industry is significantly different anywhere else in the world. This is the nature of the beast. If people knew what really goes on in the industry, it would never have gotten off the ground. People need to remember that the proponents of nuclear energy originally promised electricity too cheap to meter. This from an industry riddled with cost overruns and dependent on heavy subsidies and limited liability. Insurance companies have wisely refused to insure nuclear plants, so the government is on the hook to pay damages beyond that limited liability. One might wonder why, if nuclear power is safe and efficient, the government has to offer huge loan guarantees so new nuclear plants can be built. No private entity would be foolish enough to risk that much capital. The whole idea that nuclear energy could be an answer to climate change is an sick inside joke. It is claimed nuclear power generates no greenhouse gases, but the fuel must be mined, refined, and transported to a nuclear power plant, which must eventually be decommissioned, all of which requires energy from some source.

    Bottom line, this is an example of a technology that should never have been developed, but because nuclear weapons are so efficient at killing, it has been a favorite of the major powers of the world. The whole idea of using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes was a smokescreen to get the public used to the idea of building arsenals of doomsday weapons to keep the peace. There can be no safe use of uranium or its by-products. They should have been left in the ground.

  4. Aletha Says:

    The eastern Pacific is about to get dosed with the first radioactive plume. The experts are out in force, trying to reassure everyone that there is nothing to worry about. Uh huh. Compared to those in close proximity to the reactors, USA has much less to worry about, but dilution of radioactivity does not make it safe, merely less dangerous. Any exposure to radioactivity can cause cancer. The odds of anyone in particular getting cancer will be low, but everyone will be damaged, more or less.

  5. Aletha Says:

    Japan is considering entombing the troubled reactors in sand and concrete, as was done to the Chernobyl reactor. A new power line has reached the plant, but there could be problems restarting the cooling systems, as it is impossible to tell how severely they have been damaged already.

    Herbalist Susun Weed wrote an article on how to survive radiation exposure way back in 2002. Helen Caldicott wrote a statement describing how the outcome could be far worse than Chernobyl. It was originally posted March 15 at Independent Australia

    Japan may spell end of nuclear industry worldwide
    Posted on March 16, 2011
    There appears to be massive divergence of opinion between experts about just how cataclysmic the Japanese situation could be.

    Yesterday, Japan’s nuclear agency attempted to calm fears by ranking the incident as a Category 4 nuclear accident, below the 1979 Three Mile Island partial meltdown in the US and well below the Chernobyl meltdown and explosion 25 years ago which rated top of the scale at seven. Chernobyl was the world’s worst nuclear disaster to date, scattering a radioactive cloud over millions of people in Russia and Europe, causing massive loss of life.

    Dr. Michiko Kaku, a theoretical physicist at the City University of New York, yesterday offered a dire worst case scenario.

    The worst-case scenario is a steam/hydrogen gas explosion which blows the reactor vessels apart, sending uranium dioxide fuel rods and radioactive debris into the air. This might happen if the core is fully exposed for a few hours, which is a distinct possibility. This is what happened at Chernobyl, when such an explosion blew about 25 per cent of the core’s radioactive by-products into the air.

    One person who is in no doubt about the seriousness of the incident is prominent anti-nuclear campaigner, Dr Helen Caldicott. Independent Australia spoke exclusively to Dr Caldicott yesterday as she was in transit to Canada to speak at a hearing into a proposal to build four new power plants in Darlington, Ontario.

    Dr. Helen Caldicott is perhaps most influential environmental activist in the past 35 years.

    She called the situation in Japan was an “absolute disaster” that could be many, many times worse than Chernobyl. Dr Helen Caldicott raised the possibility of cataclysmic loss of life and suggested the emergency could be far more severe than Chernobyl.

    “The situation is very grim and not just for the Japanese people,” said Dr Caldicott.

    “If both reactors blow then the whole of the Northern Hemisphere may be affected,” she said.

    “Only one reactor blew at Chernobyl and it was only 3 months old, with new cores holding relatively little radiation; these ones have been operating for 40 years and would hold about 30 times more radiation than Chernobyl’s.”

    Dr Caldicott cited a report from the New York Academy of Sciences, which said that over 1 million people have died as a direct result of the 1986 melt-down at Chernobyl, mostly from cancer. She said authorities had attempted to “hush up” the full scale of the Chernobyl disaster. The official 2005 figure from the International Atomic Energy Agency was just 4,000 fatalities.

    The NYAS is a credible 200 year-old scientific institution. Their précis of the report is as follows:

    This is a collection of papers translated from the Russian with some revised and updated contributions. Written by leading authorities from Eastern Europe, the volume outlines the history of the health and environmental consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. According to the authors, official discussions from the International Atomic Energy Agency and associated United Nations’ agencies (e.g. the Chernobyl Forum reports) have largely downplayed or ignored many of the findings reported in the Eastern European scientific literature and consequently have erred by not including these assessments.

    When asked whether the disaster in Japan could be, say, 30 times worse than Chernobyl, Dr Caldicott said it could be even most catastrophic than that.

    “It could be much, much, worse than that,” said Dr Caldicott.

    “This could be a diabolical catastrophe—we’ll just have to wait and see.”

    Dr Caldicott said any fall-out was unlikely to affect Australia, though the death toll in the northern hemisphere could be severe.

    “Australia is probably not going to be affected by fall-out because the northern and southern air masses don’t mix.”

    “But in the northern hemisphere, many millions could get cancer”.

    Dr Caldicott said that despite the best efforts of nuclear energy campaigners, the Japanese disaster is likely to spell the end of the industry not just in Australia but worldwide.

    “We’ve had earthquakes in Australia before—no-one will want to risk this happening in this country.”

    “But I think the nuclear industry is finished worldwide.”

    “I have said before, unfortunately, the only thing that is capable of stopping this wicked industry is a major catastrophe, and it now looks like this may be it.”

    The desperation measures may have only prolonged the inevitable. If those cooling pumps are too damaged to function properly, there may not be time to entomb the reactors before they discharge their radioactive load. It may already be too late to prevent that. I do not like the prospect of trusting to luck, hope, or prayer, but it appears things have come down to that. At least I hope it has become clear the faith most people have in nuclear experts has been misplaced. The nuclear industry should be finished worldwide, but unless the worst happens, or there is a massive public outcry, I doubt there will be more than a pause in the expansion of nuclear power worldwide. If the situation can be contained, the experts will crow about how even this catastrophe turned out to be manageable. Some nations will be wiser; Germany has already announced it will not extend the life of seven aging reactors. However, it appears nations such as USA, China, India, Russia, Iran will think it is sufficient to study what happened and then plow ahead, undeterred by the narrow escape from what could well have been the worst environmental disaster ever.

  6. Aletha Says:

    The Los Angeles Times has a story about how overpacked US spent fuel pools are, with no protection.

    U.S. nuclear waste problem gains new scrutiny
    By Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times
    March 23, 2011

    When the first U.S. nuclear power plants went on line more than half a century ago, utilities built small cooling pools next to the reactors to store their radioactive waste, like the ones at Japan’s Fukushima plant that overheated and probably leaked radiation into the environment.

    The utilities erroneously thought the pools would be for temporary storage only: The federal government had promised it would find a safe place to bury the used-up fuel rods, which remain radioactive for thousands of years.

    It has yet to make good on that commitment.

    Technical miscalculations, multibillion-dollar lawsuits and political stalemates over nuclear waste have kept the decaying radioactive material stationary for decades, accumulating across the country ever since the Eisenhower administration.

    Now the nuclear disaster in Japan, in which at least one spent fuel pool seems to be damaged and leaking and may have caught fire, has thrown U.S. decisions about its own waste into sharp focus, exposing what many scientists call a serious compromise in safety.

    The risks taken at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were actually less than those in the U.S., nuclear scientists say, because utilities here have been forced to pack more fuel rods into pools than they were designed to hold, increasing the density and therefore the chance that they could catch fire if they were to lose the water that cools them.

    “The pools in Fukushima were not filled to capacity, and the accident could have been a lot worse if they were filled as densely as ours are,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees commercial reactors in the U.S., this week launched a 90-day review of reactor safety and plans a more comprehensive long-term examination of its regulations. The pools, considered by outside experts the most important nuclear energy safety issue, almost certainly will be part of that.

    The decision to massively overfill the pools has been pushed by the growing inventory of nuclear waste and a lack of a place to send it.

    The U.S. now has about 65,000 tons of the material spread from the East Coast to the West Coast and from the northern woods to Mexican-border states. With growing anxiety, experts have debated the waste’s short-term vulnerability to accident or terrorist attack and its long-term potential to leak into the environment through political neglect.

    The industry maintains that there is nothing to worry about.

    “We believe the pools are safe,” said Rod McCullum, director of used-fuel programs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s primary trade group. “It is not necessary to move the fuel. You don’t gain a considerable amount of safety by moving to dry casks.”

    McCullum said that the U.S. pools have multiple layers of safety, including redundant cooling systems and leakage monitoring, though he declined to say that U.S. pools are safer than those at Fukushima.

    He said the industry would review its procedures and plans to ensure that they are adequate. And he said he believed the Japanese were handling their accident well.

    “The radiation levels, while not acceptable, are manageable,” he said.

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has essentially accepted the industry’s rationale on the safety of dense-packing fuel rods. Over the last two decades, the agency has repeatedly approved license applications by utilities to pack more rods into the pools.

    Nuclear safety experts say that plants have packed up to five times more spent fuel rods than the pools were designed to store, though Nuclear Energy Institute officials say the pools contain no more than twice their original capacity.

    The only advantage to keeping the pools packed so tightly is the cost of the dry casks, which would run about $5 billion to $10 billion nationwide, said Frank N. von Hippel, a Princeton University physicist who first disclosed the problem in a paper he co-wrote in 2003. He said he considers fixing the fuel pool problem one of the most important steps toward making U.S. nuclear plants safer.

    “It is such a huge risk that it is worth the cost,” he said. “We may not be as lucky as the Japanese were to have the wind blowing the radioactive emissions out to sea.”

    The reason so much waste has built up is the failure of the Energy Department to hold to its decades-old pledge to take ownership of it, triggering multibillion-dollar law suits by utilities against the government.

    “The utilities say that even if an accident happens here, they can deal with it,” said Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. But, he said, the Fukushima accident shows that some events will be difficult to anticipate and plan for.

    “The Japanese have run out of pages of their operating manual, and they are just making things up,” he said.

    The nuclear industry has always maintained they can manage any problem that may arise, but some problems are not foreseeable, and others do not develop as planned, as Japan is learning the hard way. This “accident” in Japan was easily predictable, but with its customary arrogance, the nuclear industry always claims whatever might happen, it will be “manageable.” They like to rewrite history. The Three Mile Island “accident” was not manageable, but the operators got lucky. The effects of that, and of Chernobyl, were far worse than the industry or government officials want to admit. A similar scenario is now playing out in Japan.

    The industry has sued the government for breach of contract for not coming up with a plan to deal with the waste. More arrogance. The government is on the hook for dealing with an impossible problem, to dispose of the waste safely. The nuclear industry depends completely on the helping hand of the government, since private industry has long since concluded nuclear energy is a bad investment, and the insurance industry concluded no amount of premium could possibly be worth insuring the risks of a catastrophic accident. Governments must also know nuclear energy is a bad investment, but they wanted to continue developing ever more fearsome doomsday weapons, so the nuclear infrastructure has been considered sacrosanct.

    Much has been made of the diabolical barbarism of the 9/11 attacks, as if the perpetrators were determined to kill as many people as possible. If that was really the goal, they could easily have dive bombed the spent fuel pools at the Indian Point reactor 35 miles north of New York City, which would have poisoned millions. Instead they attacked famous symbols of US economic and military power. Why? Could it be they thought indiscriminate murder of countless civilians would be a less effective statement than attacking such prominent symbols of US power? Call me naive, but I do not believe even the most extreme haters of USA lack a sense of honor or morality, twisted as it may be. I do not put it down to luck that the attackers on 9/11 did not make use of the extreme vulnerability of these ponds overstuffed with nuclear waste. They did not need a dirty bomb; those ponds are sitting ducks for a commandeered airplane. But no doubt, if there is a terrorist attack on these ponds, the industry will blame the government for not taking the waste off their hands!

  7. Aletha Says:

    The situation is still deteriorating. Plutonium has been found outside, at least one reactor core seems to have melted through its holding vessel, and there is a growing problem with volumes of highly radioactive water.

    Meanwhile, China has announced it plans to double its previous goal for solar power capacity, and scale back its reactor construction plans. This story is from Reuters

    China may double solar goal after Japan nuclear leak: report
    SHANGHAI | Tue Mar 29, 2011 9:43pm EDT

    (Reuters) – China may double its target for photovoltaic power capacity over the next five years in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis, the official China Securities Journal reported on Wednesday.

    Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said the government may be looking at a new target of having installed capacity of 10 gigawatts (GW) of PV power by 2015, up from its existing target of 5 GW.

    The China Electricity Council (CEC), an industry body, has asked the government to lower its nuclear capacity target for 2020 and scale back reactor construction in interior regions, the China Business News reported on Monday.

    China was again the world leader in clean-energy investment last year, ahead of Germany and the United States, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts released this week.

    What has this world come to, when a tyrannical regime like China seems to have more sense than USA, under a Democratic Administration? The world needs nuclear power? How much of the world must be poisoned before its leaders get the message, this is one way of generating power that should never have been developed? What will it take for these leaders to realize nuclear power needs to be put out of business permanently, ASAP?

  8. Aletha Says:

    The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, never an agency to be expected to criticize the nuclear industry unless circumstances force its hand, is quite concerned about the developing disaster, acknowledging the situation is far from under control. This story is from the New York Times

    U.S. Sees Array of New Threats at Japan’s Nuclear Plant
    Published: April 5, 2011

    United States government engineers sent to help with the crisis in Japan are warning that the troubled nuclear plant there is facing a wide array of fresh threats that could persist indefinitely, and that in some cases are expected to increase as a result of the very measures being taken to keep the plant stable, according to a confidential assessment prepared by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    Among the new threats that were cited in the assessment, dated March 26, are the mounting stresses placed on the containment structures as they fill with radioactive cooling water, making them more vulnerable to rupture in one of the aftershocks rattling the site after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. The document also cites the possibility of explosions inside the containment structures due to the release of hydrogen and oxygen from seawater pumped into the reactors, and offers new details on how semimolten fuel rods and salt buildup are impeding the flow of fresh water meant to cool the nuclear cores.

    In recent days, workers have grappled with several side effects of the emergency measures taken to keep nuclear fuel at the plant from overheating, including leaks of radioactive water at the site and radiation burns to workers who step into the water. The assessment, as well as interviews with officials familiar with it, points to a new panoply of complex challenges that water creates for the safety of workers and the recovery and long-term stability of the reactors.

    Among other problems, the document raises new questions about whether pouring water on nuclear fuel in the absence of functioning cooling systems can be sustained indefinitely. Experts have said the Japanese need to continue to keep the fuel cool for many months until the plant can be stabilized, but there is growing awareness that the risks of pumping water on the fuel present a whole new category of challenges that the nuclear industry is only beginning to comprehend.

    The document also suggests that fragments or particles of nuclear fuel from spent fuel pools above the reactors were blown “up to one mile from the units,” and that pieces of highly radioactive material fell between two units and had to be “bulldozed over,” presumably to protect workers at the site. The ejection of nuclear material, which may have occurred during one of the earlier hydrogen explosions, may indicate more extensive damage to the extremely radioactive pools than previously disclosed.

    David A. Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer who worked on the kinds of General Electric reactors used in Japan and now directs the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the welter of problems revealed in the document at three separate reactors made a successful outcome even more uncertain.

    “I thought they were, not out of the woods, but at least at the edge of the woods,” said Mr. Lochbaum, who was not involved in preparing the document. “This paints a very different picture, and suggests that things are a lot worse. They could still have more damage in a big way if some of these things don’t work out for them.”

    The assessment provides graphic new detail on the conditions of the damaged cores in reactors 1, 2 and 3. Because slumping fuel and salt from seawater that had been used as a coolant is probably blocking circulation pathways, the water flow in No. 1 “is severely restricted and likely blocked.” Inside the core itself, “there is likely no water level,” the assessment says, adding that as a result, “it is difficult to determine how much cooling is getting to the fuel.” Similar problems exist in No. 2 and No. 3, although the blockage is probably less severe, the assessment says.

    Nuclear engineers have warned in recent days that the pools outside the containment buildings that hold spent fuel rods could pose an even greater danger than the melted reactor cores. The pools, which sit atop the reactor buildings and are meant to keep spent fuel submerged in water, have lost their cooling systems.

    The N.R.C. report suggests that the fuel pool of the No. 4 reactor suffered a hydrogen explosion early in the Japanese crisis and could have shed much radioactive material into the environment, what it calls “a major source term release.”

    Experts worry about the fuel pools because explosions have torn away their roofs and exposed their radioactive contents. By contrast, reactors have strong containment vessels that stand a better chance of bottling up radiation from a meltdown of the fuel in the reactor core.

    “Even the best juggler in the world can get too many balls up in the air,” Mr. Lochbaum said of the multiplicity of problems at the plant. “They’ve got a lot of nasty things to negotiate in the future, and one missed step could make the situation much, much worse.”

    Meanwhile, tons of radioactive water have been dumped into the ocean, though it appears a leak through a crack in concrete has been plugged, for now. The Los Angeles Times reports samples of seawater near the plants contain concentrations radioactive iodine millions of times over the Japanese legal limit, and the much longer lived radioactive cesium about a million times over the legal limit.

    Despite the constant stream of reassurances about the limited danger, nuclear scientists are desperate. Their credibility is in tatters, deservedly so, except among fellow scientists and politicians and naive people who cannot believe scientists would lie to cover their asses. Wake up, people, nuclear scientists have lied about the dangers of nuclear power and weapons consistently. The measures taken to cool down the nuclear plants are desperation measures, probably doing no more than postponing the inevitable massive explosion that will make much of Japan uninhabitable, and much of the rest of the world poisoned and facing cancer, birth defects, mutated microorganisms and other pests, and who knows what else. As Helen Caldicott has warned, Chernobyl was a new plant, so if one or more of these power plants blows up, or even one of the spent fuel pools explodes, the effects would likely dwarf the effects of Chernobyl, and make the “accident” at Three Mile Island look like a picnic.

    Nuclear power is a fraud. It can never be safe, clean, or a solution to climate change. The best it can be is an inefficient source of energy, but its primary product is death. Are scientists and politicians so reckless and foolish that they must learn this lesson the hard way?

  9. Aletha Says:

    Democracy Now interviewed Professor Michio Kaku last Wednesday. His prognosis is bleak.

    Expert: Despite Japanese Gov’t Claims of Decreasing Radiation, Fukushima a “Ticking Time Bomb”

    AMY GOODMAN: Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan tried Tuesday to calm fears about radiation levels and food safety in the region around the heavily damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant. His comments came after Japan raised the severity rating of its nuclear crisis to the highest possible level, heightening concerns about the magnitude of the disaster.

    Speaking at a news conference to mark one month since the massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the northeastern coast of the country, Japanese Prime Minister Kan said produce from the region around the Fukushima plant is safe to eat despite radiation leaks.

    AMY GOODMAN: A spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency said the latest food sample data indicates levels of contamination are below the limits set by domestic authorities. Denis Flory, IAEA spokesperson, also said yesterday Japan’s nuclear crisis was not comparable to Chernobyl.

    DENIS FLORY: The mechanics of the accidents are totally different. One happened when a reactor was at power, and the reactor containment exploded. In Fukushima, the reactor was stopped, and the containment, even if it may be somehow leaking today—and we do not know—the containment is here. So this is a totally different accident.

    AMY GOODMAN: Japanese officials said they raised the severity level to 7 because of the total release of radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, not because of a sudden deterioration in the situation. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster is the only other nuclear accident rated at the highest level, 7, on a scale developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess nuclear accidents. But officials insist so far the power plant in Japan has released one-tenth as much radioactive material as Chernobyl.

    AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about this raising of the category level to 7, on a par with Chernobyl.

    DR. MICHIO KAKU: Well, Tokyo Electric has been in denial, trying to downplay the full impact of this nuclear accident. However, there’s a formula, a mathematical formula, by which you can determine what level this accident is. This accident has already released something on the order of 50,000 trillion becquerels of radiation. You do the math. That puts it right smack in the middle of a level 7 nuclear accident. Still, less than Chernobyl. However, radiation is continuing to leak out of the reactors. The situation is not stable at all. So, you’re looking at basically a ticking time bomb. It appears stable, but the slightest disturbance—a secondary earthquake, a pipe break, evacuation of the crew at Fukushima—could set off a full-scale meltdown at three nuclear power stations, far beyond what we saw at Chernobyl.

    AMY GOODMAN: Talk about exactly—I mean, as a physicist, to explain to people—exactly what has taken place in Japan at these nuclear power plants.

    DR. MICHIO KAKU: Think of driving a car, and the car all of a sudden lunges out of control. You hit the brakes. The brakes don’t work. That’s because the earthquake wiped out the safety systems in the first minute of the earthquake and tsunami. Then your radiator starts to heat up and explodes. That’s the hydrogen gas explosion. And then, to make it worse, the gas tank is heating up, and all of a sudden your whole car is going to be in flames. That’s the full-scale meltdown.

    So what do you do? You drive the car into a river. That’s what the utility did by putting seawater, seawater from the Pacific Ocean, in a desperate attempt to keep water on top of the core. But then, seawater has salt in it, and that gums up your radiator. And so, what do you do? You call out the local firemen. And so, now you have these Japanese samurai warriors. They know that this is potentially a suicide mission. They’re coming in with hose water—hose water—trying to keep water over the melted nuclear reactor cores. So that’s the situation now. So, when the utility says that things are stable, it’s only stable in the sense that you’re dangling from a cliff hanging by your fingernails. And as the time goes by, each fingernail starts to crack. That’s the situation now.

    DR. MICHIO KAKU: They’re literally making it up as they go along. We’re in totally uncharted territories. You get any nuclear engineering book, look at the last chapter, and this scenario is not contained in the last chapter of any nuclear engineering textbook on the planet earth. So they’re making it up as they go along. And we are the guinea pigs for this science experiment that’s taking place. Then it could take up to 10 years, up to 10 years to finally dismantle the reactor. The last stage is entombment. This is now the official recommendation of Toshiba, that they entomb the reactor over a period of many years, similar to what happened in Chernobyl.

    AMY GOODMAN: Entomb it in…?

    DR. MICHIO KAKU: In a gigantic slab of concrete. You’re going to have to drill underneath to make sure that the core does not melt right into the ground table. And you’re going to put 5,000 tons of concrete and sand on top of the flaming reactor.

    AMY GOODMAN: And you’ve been very outspoken when it comes to nuclear power in the United States. This, of course, has raised major issues about nuclear power plants around the world, many countries saying they’re not moving forward. President Obama is taking the opposite position. He really is very much the nuclear renaissance man. He is talking about a nuclear renaissance and has not backed off, in fact reiterated, saying this will not stop us from building the first nuclear power plants in, what, decades.

    DR. MICHIO KAKU: Well, there’s something called a Faustian bargain. Faust was this mythical figure who sold his soul to the devil for unlimited power. Now, the Japanese government has thrown the dice with a Faustian bargain. Japan has very little fossil fuel reserves, no hydroelectric power to speak of, and so they went nuclear. However, in the United States, we’re now poised, at this key juncture in history, where the government has to decide whether to go to the next generation of reactors. These are the so-called gas-cooled pebble bed reactors, which are safer than the current design, but they still melt down. The proponents of this new renaissance say that you can go out to dinner and basically have a leisurely conversation even as your reactor melts down. But it still melts. That’s the bottom line.

    AMY GOODMAN: And so, what do you think should happen? Do you think nuclear power plants should be built in this country?

    DR. MICHIO KAKU: I think there should be a national debate, a national debate about a potential moratorium. The American people have not been given the full truth, because, for example, right north of New York City, roughly 30 miles north of where we are right now, we have the Indian Point nuclear power plant, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has now admitted that of all the reactors prone to earthquakes, the one right next to New York City is number one on that list. And the government itself, back in 1980, estimated that property damage would be on the order of about $200 billion in case of an accident, in 1980 dollars, at the Indian Point nuclear power station.

    AMY GOODMAN: No private corporation could even build a nuclear power plant: you have to have the taxpayers footing the bill.

    DR. MICHIO KAKU: You have to have what is called the Price-Anderson Act, having the United States government guarantee the insurance. Nobody will guarantee—nobody will sell an insurance policy for a nuclear power plant, because who can afford a $200 billion accident? That’s why the United States government has underwritten the insurance for every nuclear power plant. So the Price-Anderson Act is an act of Congress that mandates the U.S. government, the taxpayers, will underwrite the insurance, because nuclear power stations are not insurable.

    Are you listening, President Obama? Not on your life. His scientists tell him USA has nothing to worry about, and the newer nuclear plant designs are not vulnerable to this type of accident. What gives this industry the right to gamble on poisoning the neighborhood, let alone the entire planet? Science takes such gambles routinely, as a matter of course. Pesticides, genetically engineered organisms, run of the mill industrial pollution all operate under the same principle; when there is money to be made, health and environment be damned.

    Yes there should be a national debate, or a worldwide debate, about a moratorium, but it must be open to scientists like Michio Kaku and Helen Caldicott, not just industry flacks who are not about to bite the hand that feeds them. If the truth is allowed into such a debate, there can be only one verdict; the nuclear industry has no place in the energy production mix. If the usual suspects are allowed to dominate the debate, nothing will change, and all life on the planet will suffer various degrees of incalculable damage for it.

  10. Aletha Says:

    The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) is asking groups and individuals to sign on to A Post-Fukushima Program for Increased Nuclear Security and Safety in the US. I support most of this program, but a troubling part of it prompted me to send NIRS the following note:

    This is an interesting document. The Free Soil Party is all for phasing out nuclear power ASAP. However, I wonder who threw the last bit of this sentence in there?

    The United States already has begun a transition to safe, clean, and affordable energy sources, including wind, solar and appropriately-sited geothermal power, increased energy efficiency, smart grids and distributed generation technologies, and research into new technologies such as microalgae fuel.”

    Somebody must be confusing carbon-neutral with carbon-free. It might be possible to make carbon-neutral biofuels, and it might also be possible to generate hydrogen for fuel from algae, but I would like to call your attention to this New York Times article, Exploring Algae as Fuel about this research.

    I am sorry to have to say, this is a deal-breaker. Genetic engineering of algae is no solution, and genetic engineering in general could be potentially a worse threat than nuclear power. I personally will never forgive the Union of Concerned Scientists for this quote from that article:

    Even Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has been critical of biotech crops, said that if genetically engineered algae were to escape, “I would not lose sleep over it at all.”

    You may be familiar with the debate between Helen Caldicott and George Monbiot on Democracy Now last month. At the end she told him, “But we must not go from the global warming frying pan into the nuclear fire, George.” I submit we also must not go from the nuclear frying pan into the genetic engineering fire. I wish I could disregard this issue I have with an otherwise very fine document, but this is not a minor issue. When President Obama talks about advanced biofuels, he does not mention genetic engineering, but if one checks out the research in this area, it is obvious what he means by advanced. Genetic engineering is another disastrous experiment that needs to be put out of business, ASAP.

  11. Aletha Says:

    Tokyo Electric Power has revealed its discovery of a hole in the reactor vessel of Reactor 1, allowing radioactive water to leak out. This story is from Reuters

    Fukushima reactor has a hole, leading to leakage
    By Yoko Kubota and Scott DiSavino
    TOKYO/NEW YORK | Thu May 12, 2011 5:47pm EDT

    (Reuters) – One of the reactors at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant has a hole in its main vessel following a meltdown of fuel rods, leading to a leakage of radioactive water, its operator said on Thursday.

    The disclosure by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is the latest indication that the disaster was worse than previously disclosed, making it more difficult to stabilize the plant.

    The discovery of the leak provides new insight into the sequence of events that triggered a partial meltdown of the uranium fuel in the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima after the plant was struck by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, officials said.

    The battle to bring Fukushima under control has been complicated by repeated leaks of radioactive water, threatening both the Pacific Ocean and nearby groundwater.

    Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have been pumping water into at least three of the six reactors on the site to bring their nuclear fuel rods to a “cold shutdown” state by January.

    But after repairing a gauge in the No. 1 reactor earlier this week, TEPCO discovered that the water level in the pressure vessel that contains its uranium fuel rods had dropped about 5 meters (16 ft) below the targeted level to cover the fuel under normal operating conditions.

    “There must be a large leak,” Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the utility told a news conference.

    “The fuel pellets likely melted and fell, and in the process may have damaged…the pressure vessel itself and created a hole,” he added.

    Since the surface temperature of the pressure vessel has been holding steady between 100 and 120 degrees Celsius, Matsumoto said the effort to cool the melted uranium fuel by pumping in water was working and would continue.


    Based on the amount of water that is remaining around the partially melted and collapsed fuel, Matsumoto estimated that the pressure vessel had developed a hole of several centimeters in diameter.

    The finding makes it likely that at one point in the immediate wake of the disaster the 4-meter-high stack of uranium-rich rods at the core of the reactor had been entirely exposed to the air, he said. Boiling water reactors like those at Fukushima rely on water as both a coolant and a barrier to radiation.

    U.S. nuclear experts said that the company may have to build a concrete wall around the unit because of the breach, and that this could now take years.

    “If it is assumed the fuel did melt through the reactor, then the most likely solution is to encapsulate the entire unit. This may include constructing a concrete wall around the unit and building a protective cover over it,” W. Gene Corley, senior vice president of CTL Group in Skokie, Illinois, said on Thursday.

    “Because of the high radiation that would be present if this has happened, the construction will take many months and may stretch into years,” Corley said.

    TEPCO should consider digging a trench around reactors 1-3 all the way down to the bedrock, which is about 50 feet below the surface, said Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates Inc of Burlington, Vermont, who once worked on reactors of similar design to the Fukushima plant.

    He said this should be filled with zeolite, which can absorb radioactive cesium to stop more poisons from leaking into the groundwater around the plant.

    “TEPCO seems to be going backwards in getting the situation under control and things may well be slowly eroding with all the units having problems,” said Tom Clements with Friends of the Earth, a U.S.-based environmental group.

    “At this point, TEPCO still finds itself in unchartered waters and is not able to carry out any plan to get the situation under control,” he said.

    Matsumoto said the utility would study whether to increase the amount of water it was injecting to overcome the leak and raise the level of water covering the fuel, at the risk of allowing more radioactive water to leak out of the facility.

    Nearly 10,400 tonnes of water has been pumped into the reactor so far, but it is unclear where the leaked water has been going. The high radiation levels makes it difficult for workers to check the site, Matsumoto said.

    These reactors are far from under control. The water pumping is working? In what sense? It certainly is working to poison the Pacific Ocean and the local groundwater! Meanwhile, Congress is about to decide what to do about the loan guarantee Obama requested, over fifty billion dollars to build new nuclear power plants! What a waste of money! But naturally, Obama has buddies in the industry, drooling over this prospect. Obama and the Democrats take the support of environmentalists for granted, just like they take the support of feminists for granted, since in the cold light of political reality, it does not matter how badly the Democratic base is disappointed, they seem to have no alternative. This logic cost Democrats big time in the last election, because many Democrats did not bother to vote, but that is a risk the party leaders are willing to take.

    This disaster at Fukushima is not over, not by a long shot, but it appears that unless Japan becomes uninhabitable, US politicians will continue to act as if it is no big deal, certainly no reason to do anything to slow down the nuclear renaissance here. Congress did not approve the funds for the loan guarantees last year, but this year may be another story.

  12. Aletha Says:

    This is an absolutely chilling video from Russia Today, interviewing Professor Christopher Busby, from the European Commission on Radiation Risk. He calls the Fukushima reactors a raging radioactive inferno, saying the reactors are in meltdown, out of control, and fission reactions are continuing, as evidenced by the detected isotopes. Tokyo Electric Power has been doing its damnedest to cover up what is really going on. That cover may fool politicians and the gullible public, but does not fool the scientists.

  13. Aletha Says:

    Some scientists are sounding off about the true scope of this disaster. Al Jazeera had a feature story last Thursday.

    Fukushima: It’s much worse than you think
    Scientific experts believe Japan’s nuclear disaster to be far worse than governments are revealing to the public.
    Dahr Jamail Last Modified: 16 Jun 2011 12:50

    “Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind,” Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, told Al Jazeera.

    Japan’s 9.0 earthquake on March 11 caused a massive tsunami that crippled the cooling systems at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. It also led to hydrogen explosions and reactor meltdowns that forced evacuations of those living within a 20km radius of the plant.

    Gundersen, a licensed reactor operator with 39 years of nuclear power engineering experience, managing and coordinating projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, says the Fukushima nuclear plant likely has more exposed reactor cores than commonly believed.

    “Fukushima has three nuclear reactors exposed and four fuel cores exposed,” he said, “You probably have the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactor cores because of the fuel cores, and they are all in desperate need of being cooled, and there is no means to cool them effectively.”

    TEPCO has been spraying water on several of the reactors and fuel cores, but this has led to even greater problems, such as radiation being emitted into the air in steam and evaporated sea water – as well as generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive sea water that has to be disposed of.

    “The problem is how to keep it cool,” says Gundersen. “They are pouring in water and the question is what are they going to do with the waste that comes out of that system, because it is going to contain plutonium and uranium. Where do you put the water?”

    Even though the plant is now shut down, fission products such as uranium continue to generate heat, and therefore require cooling.

    “The fuels are now a molten blob at the bottom of the reactor,” Gundersen added. “TEPCO announced they had a melt through. A melt down is when the fuel collapses to the bottom of the reactor, and a melt through means it has melted through some layers. That blob is incredibly radioactive, and now you have water on top of it. The water picks up enormous amounts of radiation, so you add more water and you are generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive water.”

    Independent scientists have been monitoring the locations of radioactive “hot spots” around Japan, and their findings are disconcerting.

    “We have 20 nuclear cores exposed, the fuel pools have several cores each, that is 20 times the potential to be released than Chernobyl,” said Gundersen. “The data I’m seeing shows that we are finding hot spots further away than we had from Chernobyl, and the amount of radiation in many of them was the amount that caused areas to be declared no-man’s-land for Chernobyl. We are seeing square kilometres being found 60 to 70 kilometres away from the reactor. You can’t clean all this up. We still have radioactive wild boar in Germany, 30 years after Chernobyl.”

    Radiation monitors for children

    Japan’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters finally admitted earlier this month that reactors 1, 2, and 3 at the Fukushima plant experienced full meltdowns.

    TEPCO announced that the accident probably released more radioactive material into the environment than Chernobyl, making it the worst nuclear accident on record.

    Meanwhile, a nuclear waste advisor to the Japanese government reported that about 966 square kilometres near the power station – an area roughly 17 times the size of Manhattan – is now likely uninhabitable.

    In the US, physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published an essay shedding light on a 35 per cent spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant.

    The eight cities included in the report are San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Seattle, and Boise, and the time frame of the report included the ten weeks immediately following the disaster.

    Gundersen points out that far more radiation has been released than has been reported.

    “They recalculated the amount of radiation released, but the news is really not talking about this,” he said. “The new calculations show that within the first week of the accident, they released 2.3 times as much radiation as they thought they released in the first 80 days.”

    According to Gundersen, the exposed reactors and fuel cores are continuing to release microns of caesium, strontium, and plutonium isotopes. These are referred to as “hot particles”.

    “We are discovering hot particles everywhere in Japan, even in Tokyo,” he said. “Scientists are finding these everywhere. Over the last 90 days these hot particles have continued to fall and are being deposited in high concentrations. A lot of people are picking these up in car engine air filters.”

    Radioactive air filters from cars in Fukushima prefecture and Tokyo are now common, and Gundersen says his sources are finding radioactive air filters in the greater Seattle area of the US as well.

    The hot particles on them can eventually lead to cancer.

    “These get stuck in your lungs or GI tract, and they are a constant irritant,” he explained, “One cigarette doesn’t get you, but over time they do. These [hot particles] can cause cancer, but you can’t measure them with a Geiger counter. Clearly people in Fukushima prefecture have breathed in a large amount of these particles. Clearly the upper West Coast of the US has people being affected. That area got hit pretty heavy in April.”

    In reaction to the Fukushima catastrophe, Germany is phasing out all of its nuclear reactors over the next decade. In a referendum vote this Monday, 95 per cent of Italians voted in favour of blocking a nuclear power revival in their country. A recent newspaper poll in Japan shows nearly three-quarters of respondents favour a phase-out of nuclear power in Japan.

    Why have alarms not been sounded about radiation exposure in the US?

    Nuclear operator Exelon Corporation has been among Barack Obama’s biggest campaign donors, and is one of the largest employers in Illinois where Obama was senator. Exelon has donated more than $269,000 to his political campaigns, thus far. Obama also appointed Exelon CEO John Rowe to his Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

    So, a former senior Vice President in the industry is trying to shed some light on what is really going on at Fukushima. He was fired for blowing the whistle on radiation safety violations at his company, Nuclear Energy Services. Naturally nuclear energy apologists have been busy attempting to discredit him ever since. One such attemptmakes the laughable, but par for the course, argument that

    What he fails to mention is that the radiation and radioactive material that has escaped from Fukushima has not made anyone sick.

    Yeah, same old story. Three Mile Island allegedly did not make anyone sick either, and supposedly less than fifty people died as a result of Chernobyl. The Japanese people know better. The popularity of nuclear power in that nation, which has been so heavily dependent on it, is sinking like a stone. The nuclear apologists like to pretend its critics deserve no credibility. Why should anyone believe those who think this disaster is no big deal?

    I do not know how people could be so naive as to give such “experts” any credence, but one needs look no further than the White House. US experts have not budged from their position that US citizens have nothing to worry about. Conflict of interest, or stupidity? I think the former is more likely.
    The nuclear industry is a shot in the dark, and the consequences of its cavalier recklessness will go down in history as at least one of biggest scientific boondoggles ever. Nothing good has come of it, and its toxic legacy may well outlast the human species, unless people clean up their act forthwith.

  14. Aletha Says:

    The Associated Press has done a shocking investigation into tritium leaks at most commercial nuclear power plants.

    AP IMPACT: Tritium leaks found at many nuke sites
    By JEFF DONN, AP National Writer
    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping, an Associated Press investigation shows.

    The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation.

    Tritium, which is a radioactive form of hydrogen, has leaked from at least 48 of 65 sites, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records reviewed as part of the AP’s yearlong examination of safety issues at aging nuclear power plants. Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard — sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.

    While most leaks have been found within plant boundaries, some have migrated offsite. But none is known to have reached public water supplies.

    Previously, the AP reported that regulators and industry have weakened safety standards for decades to keep the nation’s commercial nuclear reactors operating within the rules. While NRC officials and plant operators argue that safety margins can be eased without peril, critics say these accommodations are inching the reactors closer to an accident.

    Any exposure to radioactivity, no matter how slight, boosts cancer risk, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Federal regulators set a limit for how much tritium is allowed in drinking water. So far, federal and industry officials say, the tritium leaks pose no health threat.

    But it’s hard to know how far some leaks have traveled into groundwater. Tritium moves through soil quickly, and when it is detected it often indicates the presence of more powerful radioactive isotopes that are often spilled at the same time.

    For example, cesium-137 turned up with tritium at the Fort Calhoun nuclear unit near Omaha, Neb., in 2007. Strontium-90 was discovered with tritium two years earlier at the Indian Point nuclear power complex, where two reactors operate 25 miles north of New York City.

    The tritium leaks also have spurred doubts among independent engineers about the reliability of emergency safety systems at the 104 nuclear reactors situated on the 65 sites. That’s partly because some of the leaky underground pipes carry water meant to cool a reactor in an emergency shutdown and to prevent a meltdown. More than a mile of piping, much of it encased in concrete, can lie beneath a reactor.

    Still, the NRC and industry consider the leaks a public relations problem, not a public health or accident threat, records and interviews show.

    “The public health and safety impact of this is next to zero,” said Tony Pietrangelo, chief nuclear officer of the industry’s Nuclear Energy Institute. “This is a public confidence issue.”

    “You got pipes that have been buried underground for 30 or 40 years, and they’ve never been inspected, and the NRC is looking the other way,” said engineer Paul Blanch, who has worked for the industry and later became a whistleblower. “They could have corrosion all over the place.”

    Nuclear engineer Bill Corcoran, an industry consultant who has taught NRC personnel how to analyze the cause of accidents, said that since much of the piping is inaccessible and carries cooling water, the worry is if the pipes leak, there could be a meltdown.

    Last year, the Vermont Senate was so troubled by tritium leaks as high as 2.5 million picocuries per liter at the Vermont Yankee reactor in southern Vermont (125 times the EPA drinking-water standard) that it voted to block relicensing — a power that the Legislature holds in that state.

    Activists placed a bogus ad on the Web to sell Vermont Yankee, calling it a “quaint Vermont fixer-upper from the last millennium” with “tasty, pre-tritiated drinking water.”

    The gloating didn’t last. In March, the NRC granted the plant a 20-year license extension, despite the state opposition. Weeks ago, operator Entergy sued Vermont in federal court, challenging its authority to force the plant to close.


    The NRC is certainly paying attention. How can it not when local residents fret over every new groundwater incident? But the agency’s reports and actions suggest a preoccupation with image and perception.

    An NRC task force on tritium leaks last year dismissed the danger to public health. Instead, its report called the leaks “a challenging issue from the perspective of communications around environmental protection.” The task force noted ruefully that the rampant leaking had “impacted public confidence.”

    For sure, the industry also is trying to stop the leaks. For several years now, plant owners around the country have been drilling more monitoring wells and taking a more aggressive approach in replacing old piping when leaks are suspected or discovered.

    For example, Exelon has been performing $14 million worth of work at Oyster Creek to give easier access to 2,000 feet of tritium-carrying piping, said site spokesman David Benson.

    But such measures have yet to stop widespread leaking.

    Meantime, the reactors keep getting older — 66 have been approved for 20-year extensions to their original 40-year licenses, with 16 more extensions pending. And, as the AP has been reporting in its ongoing series, Aging Nukes, regulators and industry have worked in concert to loosen safety standards to keep the plants operating.

    In an initiative started last year, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko asked his staff to examine regulations on buried piping to evaluate if stricter standards or more inspections were needed.

    The staff report, issued in June, openly acknowledged that the NRC “has not placed an emphasis on preventing” the leaks.

    The authors concluded there are no significant health threats or heightened risk of accidents.

    And they predicted even more leaks in the future.

    No significant health threats, huh? This is just a public relations problem for the industry and its incestuous regulators. Naturally they downplay the health risks. If they came clean about that, they would be facing gigantic lawsuits that would put the industry out of business, except for the fact that the nuclear industry enjoys a cap on liability, so it would come down to the taxpayers being on the hook!

    Nuclear power is not safe, clean, efficient, or a cost-effective means to produce electricity. The industry survives because government regulators protect it with smokescreens of scientific jargon and so-called safety standards that allow the industry to get away with murder. Nuclear power would not even be profitable without massive subsidies and loan guarantees. This is one of the worst examples of industrial and government corruption. There is no way to justify this disastrous experiment, except that the technology has facilitated the development of some of the worst doomsday weapons conceivable. Where is that return to scientific integrity President Obama promised? Exelon was one big contributor to his campaign, and it is well known money talks much louder than scientific integrity in Washington.

  15. Aletha Says:

    The recently retired CEO of Exelon does not think highly of the economics of nuclear power! This story is from Forbes

    Exelon’s ‘Nuclear Guy’: No New Nukes
    Nuclear power is no longer an economically viable source of new energy in the United States, the freshly-retired CEO of Exelon, America’s largest producer of nuclear power, said in Chicago Thursday.

    And it won’t become economically viable, he said, for the forseeable future.

    “Let me state unequivocably that I’ve never met a nuclear plant I didn’t like,” said John Rowe, who retired 17 days ago as chairman and CEO of Exelon Corporation, which operates 22 nuclear power plants, more than any other utility in the United States.

    “Having said that, let me also state unequivocably that new ones don’t make any sense right now.”

    “I’m the nuclear guy,” Rowe said. “And you won’t get better results with nuclear. It just isn’t economic, and it’s not economic within a foreseeable time frame.”

    Nuclear power remains a favorite of the Obama Administration, particularly in the form of small and modular new reactors. But Rowe’s pessimism about nuclear power reinforces statements made by other nuclear experts since the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.

    However, Rowe did not touch upon the political vulnerability of nuclear power since the Fukushima accident. His argument was economic and, he added, paints a picture that Exelon itself does not savor.

    Former ComEd CEO Tom Ayers built Exelon’s reactor fleet because, Rowe said, he thought they were best for the environment. But Ayers was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease by the time the reactors broke even on their initial cost. He died in 2007.

    “I’m not fond of investments that don’t pay off before I’m incapable of comprehending it,” said Rowe, who took over as chairman and CEO of Exelon in 2003.

    Rowe also served on the president’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

    There is a possibility President Obama will blink in the face of this kind of heavyweight criticism. Final approval for the over eight billion dollar loan for the new nuclear power plants in Georgia has not yet transpired, and there is still a chance it will not be approved. Despite the insistence of the President on an all of the above strategy for energy production, nuclear power has never been economical, clean, safe, or viable in any way, except as a good source of material for nuclear bombs. It is refreshing to see a prominent industry insider tell some truth about nuclear power. Exelon has been a big contributor for Obama, and some of his top staff had ties to Exelon. If this retired CEO of Exelon can come clean about this nuclear renaissance making no economic sense, perhaps the President will have to give up on that pipedream. I doubt it, since Obama has been so insistent that nuclear power has to be part of the picture, but stranger things have happened.

    Meanwhile the San Onofre nuclear plant remains shut down since January because hundreds of tubes carrying radioactive water have been damaged far beyond expected wear. Local officials are alarmed and calling for decommissioning. This story is from the Los Angeles Times

    Fear grows in O.C. cities near San Onofre nuclear plant
    By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times
    March 30, 2012

    Concern over the safety of the San Onofre nuclear power plant is growing among Orange County cities closest to the facility, which has been shut down since January because of system failures.

    Officials in nearby San Clemente and Laguna Beach — both within 20 miles of the San Onofre facility — have registered their fears after significant wear was found on hundreds of tubes carrying radioactive water inside the plant’s generators.

    But with scenes of the nuclear disaster in Japan fresh in people’s minds, the recent closure has raised consciousness about nuclear issues and prompted critics to double down on their disapproval.

    Some city officials are now calling for the decommissioning of the San Onofre site. The plant’s license is set to expire in 2022.

    “The plant should be shut down, period,” said Verna Rollinger, mayor pro tem in Laguna Beach. “I have never supported it, and I wish nuclear energy was safe because it’s a relatively clean energy source, but it’s also so dangerous that I don’t think we should be counting on that for our future energy needs.”

    She added: “I think people are concerned, and for good reason.”

    The mayor of San Clemente, Lori Donchak, wrote to federal officials asking that they demand a permanent disposal place for spent nuclear fuel, and others have asked that they consider expanding the evacuation zone beyond the current 10-mile radius.

    Federal regulatory officials said the facility remains safe and the process to repair the damaged tubes is part of the effort to ensure those living nearby aren’t endangered.

    “San Onofre is being operated safely — that’s the bottom line,” said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    But now that the facility has been off-line for some time, with power still flowing to homes and businesses without interruption, some have asked why it needs to come back into service. “The question is,” Rollinger said, “how difficult would it be to go without it?”

    Southern California Edison, which operates the San Onofre facility, said San Onofre is vital to providing electricity to a densely populated, high-consuming area like Southern California, with 20% of the region’s electricity coming from nuclear plants.

    “San Onofre is critical to that grid stability,” said Jennifer Manfrey, a company spokeswoman, who added that the company is making up for the difference by purchasing power from different sources on the market — a solution that can’t continue indefinitely, particularly with the increase in consumption in the summer months. Other clean energy sources, such as wind and solar, aren’t enough to close the gap.

    Unfortunately, as the state of Vermont has discovered, local disapproval is not enough to get a nuclear power plant shut down if the NRC deems it is safe. Nuclear power is not necessary and never has been; it only seems to be because the political will to push for rapid development of genuinely clean energy sources is lacking. No surprise there; the oil, gas, and nuclear industries have plenty of clout and they do not want to be put out of business. So the President, as usual, is trying to have it both ways; he waffles on the Keystone pipeline, which I predict will be built, with a slight alteration of its original planned route, and this loan for the Georgia plants will probably go through as well, perhaps with some tweaking of its terms.

    Obama is smarting over criticism from his Republican challengers of the high gasoline prices, which could wreck this fragile economic “recovery” and his chances of reelection, so he is going out of his way to proclaim that he will pursue his all of the above energy production strategy. He does not want to be seen as caving in to the environmental movement, so he is unlikely to risk backing down on this nuclear loan, which would open the door for fresh criticism that he is allowing environmental concerns to push up the price of energy. Never mind that this all of the above strategy is business as usual and is destroying the quality of the environment, climate degradation being just one symptom of that reckless disregard for the consequences of business as usual. Gasoline should be expensive; it is a luxury this planet cannot afford. The best way to power vehicles is probably fuel cells. This technology already exists, but because there is so little demand for it, its development is proceeding slowly and its cost is subsequently still too high. Batteries and natural gas can also power vehicles, but they have their own problems. Nuclear power is one of the biggest scams in history, and to pretend it has any place in a clean energy future is utter malarkey. However, such malarkey is standard fare for politicians and scientists; conflicts of interest trump the truth, nearly every time.

  16. Free Soil Party Blog » Blog Archive » State of the Union 2012 Says:

    […] huge loan guarantees as part of his plan to invest in clean energy. Not even recently retired CEO John Rowe of Exelon, the biggest nuclear power plant operator in the nation, thinks that makes economic sense. However, […]

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