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Archive for the ‘Nuclear Power’ Category

America’s Energy Ethos: Do, Regardless of Harm

Sunday 12 June 2011
by: David Sirota, Truthout

Laugh me off as the idealistic son of a physician (which I am), but I still thought the doctor’s ethos of “first do no harm” was a notion we could all agree on. Even in this hyper-polarized Era of the Screaming Red-Faced Partisan, I thought we would witness the recent Fukushima reactor meltdown or footage of Americans setting their tap water on fire and at least agree to stop pursuing energy policies that we know endanger our health and safety — if not out of altruism, then out of self-interest.

How embarrassingly naive I was. That, or I momentarily forgot that this isn’t just any industrialized country — this is America circa 2011, a haven of hubris that has become hostile to the “do no harm” principle.

This makes us different than, say, Japan and Germany when it comes to nuclear power. Scarred by fallout, the former has canceled plans to build 14 new nuclear plants and has radically altered its energy agenda, now moving to pursue solar rather than atomic energy. Likewise, according to the Associated Press, the latter reacted to Japan’s plight by “vot(ing) in favor of a ban on nuclear power from 2022 onward.”

By contrast, in the days after the Fukushima disaster, the Obama administration not only reaffirmed its commitment to expanding nuclear power, but, according to ProPublica, also continued the policy of “routinely waiving fire rule violations at nearly half the nation’s 104 commercial reactors, even though fire presents one of the chief hazards at nuclear plants.”

Additionally, the Associated Press reports that two congressional lawmakers are now pushing the government to “back a new generation of miniature nuclear reactors” that would be sited throughout the country.

Incredibly, these moves come even as a nuclear reactor in Washington State just experienced a fire scare and even as a new study of U.S. Geological Survey data shows many of the nation’s reactors sit near active fault lines.

The same story is playing out in the quest to find natural gas. Over the last few years, more evidence has surfaced that suggests drinking water may be getting contaminated by fracking — a drilling technique that involves injecting toxic chemicals into the earth. This evidence runs the gamut from a new Duke University study into methane, to a New York Times report on fracking wastewater being dumped into rivers, to Pennsylvania gas companies acknowledging that fracking is contaminating drinking water, to those now-famous YouTube videos of combustible tap water.

MORE HERE

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Fukushima reactor contamination zones. Source US Department of Energy

Fukushima nuclear complex goes from bad to worse

by DarkSyde for Daily Kos

Tue Apr 12, 2011 at 09:35 AM EDT

Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear reactor complex appears to have gone from bad to worse, in part due to continual aftershocks and a small fire Monday morning. That nation’s nuclear safety agency will raise the crisis level from five to seven, putting it in the same category as the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and the danger zones could widen. The WaPo reports:

The plant’s debilitated reactors face constant threat of strong aftershocks, and the latest on Tuesday morning — a 6.4-magnitude temblor — caused a brief fire at a water sampling facility near Daiichi’s No. 4 reactor. The Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the facility, said that the critical process used to cool the hot fuel rods had not been interrupted, and radiation levels showed no signs of change. A level 7 accident, according to the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, is typified by a “major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects.”

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Radioactive water leaks from crippled Japan plant

By EUGENE HOSHIKO and MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press 47 mins ago

RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan – Highly radioactive water spilled into the ocean from a tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant Saturday as Japan’s prime minister surveyed the damage in a town gutted by the wave.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex has been spewing radioactivity since March 11, when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing wave knocked out power, disabling cooling systems and allowing radiation to seep out of the overheating reactors. Authorities said the leak they identified Saturday could be the source of radioactivity found in coastal waters in recent days.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan went to the plant and flew over the tsunami-ravaged coast soon after the wave hit, but Saturday was the first time he set foot in one of the pulverized towns.

Dressed in the blue work clothes that have become almost a uniform for officials, Kan stopped in Rikuzentakata, where the town hall is one of the few buildings still standing. All its windows are blown out and a tangle of metal and other debris is piled in front of it.

The prime minister bowed his head for a minute of silence in front of the building. He met with the town’s mayor, whose 38-year-old wife was swept away in the wave and is still missing. Officials fear about 25,000 people may have been killed, many of whose bodies have not been found.

“The government fully supports you until the end,” Kan later told 250 people at an elementary school that is serving as an evacuation center.

Megumi Shimanuki, whose family is living in a similar shelter 100 miles (160 kilometers) away in Natori, said Kan didn’t spend enough time with people on the ground. Kan returned to Tokyo in the afternoon.

“The government has been too focused on the Fukushima power plant rather than the tsunami victims,” said Shimanuki, 35. “Both deserve attention.”

Saturday’s leak was from a newly discovered crack in a maintenance pit on the edge of the Fukushima complex, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

The crack was apparently caused by the quake and may have been leaking since then, said spokesman Osamu Yokokura of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant.

Measurements showed the air above the radioactive water in the pit contained more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour of radioactivity. Even just two feet (60 centimeters) away, that figure dropped to 400 millisieverts. Workers have taken samples of the water in the pit and seawater and are analyzing them to determine the level of contamination.

(more…)

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Fukushima Forecast: Radioactive particles to be concentrated over Midwestern US on April 1, 2 (VIDEO)

Energy News
March 29th, 2011 at 03:55 PM

Fukushima Potential Releases, Xe-133 Total Column for March 29-April 2, 2011, Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), March 29, 2011:

* Although xenon is not toxic, its compounds are highly toxic — CRC handbook of chemistry

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How much is ‘too much’?

CNN

Radiation is invisible. You cannot taste it, smell it or feel it. It’s not possible to directly measure the amount of radiation exposure a person has had. When you see people with Geiger counters checking a site like Fukushima Daiichi, they’re measuring contamination, which generally refers to actual radioactive particles.

There are four main types of ionizing radiation:

–Alpha particles: relatively heavy, cannot penetrate human skin or clothing, but can be harmful if they get into the body in another manner.

–Beta radiation: can cause skin injury and is harmful to the body internally.

–Gamma rays: high-energy invisible light that can damage tissue and is most dangerous to humans.

SOURCE

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The Lessons of Fukushima

Truthout

Monday 28 March 2011

by: Hugh Gusterson   |  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists | Report

As an anthropologist, I am always interested in what humans learn from their mistakes. Can humans change their behavior, thereby improving their chances of survival, not just through natural selection, but also through cultural learning? Or are we hardwired to repeat our mistakes over and over, like humanoid lemmings?

More to the point, what lessons will we learn from the nuclear accident at Fukushima, an accident thought to be impossible just two weeks ago?

Some people, many of them presumably already ill-disposed toward nuclear energy, have concluded that the lesson of Fukushima is that nuclear energy is inherently dangerous. Thus, Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post: “We can engineer nuclear power plants so that the chance of a Chernobyl-style disaster is almost nil. But we can’t eliminate it completely — nor can we envision every other kind of potential disaster. And where fission reactors are concerned, the worst-case scenario is so dreadful as to be unthinkable.” His colleague Anne Applebaum wrote on the same op-ed page: “If the competent and technologically brilliant Japanese can’t build a completely safe reactor, who can? … I … hope that a near-miss prompts people around the world to think twice about the true ‘price’ of nuclear energy, and that it stops the nuclear renaissance dead in its tracks.” (The nuclear renaissance comprises plans around the world to build as many as 350 new nuclear reactors, partly as a way of inhibiting climate change.)

MORE HERE

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Smoke rises from Fukushima Daiichi No 1 plant after a blast at the power station following Japan's earthquake and tsunami. Photograph: Staff/Reuters

Japan earthquake: the nuclear crisis is not over yet

Japan says disaster has been averted at the Fukushima nuclear plant but serious questions remain

Posted by Julian Borger Saturday 12 March 2011 23.24 GMT guardian.co.uk

The Japanese authorities have told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the levels of radioactivity outside the Unit 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant are falling and that there was no rupture in the unit’s containment vessel that would have led to a large-scale release of radiation. However, it now appears that the cooling systems in the No 3 reactor have also failed.

Sea water and boron are being pumped into the Unit 1 vessel with the aim of preventing a meltdown of the fuel inside. For the time being, the threat of a meltdown has receded. It is not immediately clear if the same is going to be done at the No 3 reactor.

It is the first time such desperate measures have been employed. Olli Heinonen, the former head of the IAEA’s safeguards department now at Harvard University, told me that the seawater has to be continually pumped out of the vessel as well as being pumped in, and he has so far seen no confirmation that the temperature of the water is stable or dropping.

Heinonen said that the equipment being used to do the pumping has necessarily been improvised, and will be therefore be highly vulnerable to aftershocks.

He also pointed out that there has been no word so far on the spent fuel at the site which would be kept in pools at the reactor. Any breakdown in the cooling system could cause the spent fuel to melt, with the risk of a significant release of radioactivity.

There is widespread uneasiness despite the reassuring noises coming from the authorities over the situation, in part because of the industry’s history of ignoring warnings and covering up safety problems.

SOURCE

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An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

By Arno J. Mayer, Counterpunch, August 9, 2010


Dear Mr. President:

As Commander-in-Chief you have ordered the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier U.S.S. George Washington to carry out major naval exercises off the coast of Japan and the Korean Peninsula before proceeding, most likely, to other exercises in the Yellow Sea, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean between mainland China and the Korean Peninsula to the east. One of the world’s largest warships, the George Washington is accompanied by some 20 armed vessels and submarines, scores of aircraft and helicopters along with thousands of naval, ground, and air personnel.

You have also ordered the deployment of the nuclear-powered U.S.S. Dwight Eisenhower and U.S.S. Harry Truman to cruise or patrol in an open-ended theater of naval operations in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. Both these carriers likewise are hubs of large strike forces consisting of numerous warships, military aircraft, units of the armed services, including special commandos and amphibious landing craft.

Given the scale and reach of this projection of raw military power—reminiscent of the comparatively paltry gunboat diplomacy of a not-so-distant past—I was wondering, Mr. President, whether it wouldn’t be wise for you to give the American people, the United Nations, and the rest of the world a reasoned statement of the need for such an oceanic display of America’s naval, air, soldierly, and electronic might at a time when the United States seems bent on continuing to act as a global policeman in the four corners of the world.

Should you clarify the objectives of American policy it might also be helpful if you could indicate how your policies are in harmony with the letter and spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for your “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” which you humbly accepted. Such a reflection would stave off the question as to when and on which of America’s 12 nuclear-powered super-carriers you expect to declare “Mission Accomplished.”

Respectfully yours,
Arno J. Mayer

Arno J Mayer is emeritus professor of history at Princeton University. He is the author of The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions.and Plowshares Into Swords: From Zionism to Israel (Verso).

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