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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.

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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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According to Army Radio, the U.S. has reportedly pledged to sell Israel materials used to produce electricity, as well as nuclear technology and other supplies.

By Haaretz Service, Barak Ravid and Reuters, Haaretz/Israel, July 7, 2010

Israel’s Army Radio reported on Wednesday that the United States has sent Israel a secret document committing to nuclear cooperation between the two countries.

According to Army Radio, the U.S. has reportedly pledged to sell Israel materials used to produce electricity, as well as nuclear technology and other supplies, despite the fact that Israel is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Other countries have refused to cooperate with Israel on nuclear matters because it has not signed the NPT, and there has been increasing international pressure for Israel to be more transparent about its nuclear arsenal.

Continues >>

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The Hidden Costs of Nuclear Power

Huff Post  By- Alec Baldwin

Posted: February 23, 2010 02:58 PM

Sitting in Bill Richardson’s office while he was Secretary of Energy under President Clinton was an opportunity that my colleagues and I from Standing for Truth About Radiation had worked hard to obtain. We wanted Richardson to not only close the research reactor at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, but also to shut down the Millstone plant in Waterford, Connecticut, which we asserted had been killing enormous amounts of fish with its water intake system for cooling. Local groups had been charging Millstone with destroying millions of pounds of local fish and with pumping superheated water back into the Long Island Sound, the temperatures of which had negatively impacted fish and shellfish habitat for decades.

Richardson, like any DOE Secretary before or after him, wasn’t all that interested in closing Millstone. Everywhere we went, government officials like Richardson invoked the figure “20 percent.” Twenty percent of domestic power in the US is derived from nuclear energy. The clean and safe source of power.

Often when discussing the advent of a new era in nuclear power generation, advocates for nukes, like Stewart Brand, who I referenced in my previous post, tread lightly over certain subjects, such as waste disposal and security issues. Other problems inherent in nuclear power generation, they simply ignore completely. One such issue is the impact of mining and processing radioactive materials into actual fuel. The mining and processing of material like uranium is one of the most carbon intensive processes used in creating energy. To mine, mill and refine uranium and to then submit the material to the enrichment, or gaseous diffusion, process takes vast amounts of energy. In sites around the US, massive coal burning plants pollute the air while providing the energy for uranium enrichment. Add to that the power needed to fabricate the enriched UF6 into fuel rods, and the resources needed to store the byproduct, reduced or depleted UF6. You begin to see that everything that leads up to a utility reactor going on line is anything but clean.

Another issue that nuke advocates sidestep is calculation of the true cost of bringing nuclear power plants on line. Just as oil, and thus gasoline, actually costs astronomically more than what we pay at the pump, due to the cost of US military interventions in the oil-rich areas of the world ( not to mention the costs in human lives, US and foreign), nuclear power has its own menu of hidden costs that are now, or one day will be, inherited by our children. Waste storage is the primary issue here. But the actual decommissioning and decontamination of reactors themselves will soon come to pass. Even with current licenses being foolishly extended and, thus, pushing the operational lives of these units years, even decades, beyond their original design, these units will eventually expire. The cost of closing them safely in current dollars is staggering. In the future, that will only get worse.

Scott Simon never asked Stewart Brand about Price Anderson. Even as utility operators put hundreds of millions into the Price Anderson fund respectively and billions collectively, one accident at, say, Indian Point, adjacent to New York City, would mean potentially many billions in costs. Who pays that? US taxpayers do, while Entergy, a private energy company, profits from the operation of the plant. Insuring these plants, over a hundred of them in the US, all aging, falls largely to US taxpayers. Another hidden cost. At least hidden in so far as most US citizens are concerned.

In the next piece that I post here, I will touch upon the issue of the health hazards posed by exposure to ambient radiation, which I believe is the least discussed and among the most insidious components of the nuclear powered utility legacy.

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The Truth About Nuclear Power in Utility Reactors

Huff Post  By- Alec Baldwin

Posted: February 22, 2010 12:41 PM

It was in 1996 that I was first contacted by an organization called the Standing for Truth About Radiation (STAR) Foundation. The Long Island-based group, a loose bundle of veterans of the anti-nuclear movement, local artists, businessmen with large investments in second homes on the East End and scientists with a career-long dedication to the issue were attempting to raise awareness about the Brookhaven National Laboratory and its nuclear-powered research facility, the High Flux Beam Reactor.

The reactor operations at Brookhaven were reported to have released billions of gallons of tritiated water into the headwaters of the Peconic River during the period of its operations from 1965 to 1996. BNL, the U.S. Army’s former Camp Upton and the site of decades-long research into all things nuclear, had been the base of operations for some of the earliest work on the atomic bomb. A coalition of different community groups had been opposing the HFBR at BNL for years. Pro-business lobbying groups warned that closing the reactor would have dire consequences to the Long Island economy, as national laboratories, with their high-skill, high-paying jobs, were viewed as “sexy” components of any area’s business landscape. Opponents of BNL pointed out that levels of soft tissue cancers and rare diseases such as rhabdomyosarcoma were extraordinarily higher adjacent to the water recharge area near the lab. More effectively, the anti-BNL groups pointed out that Long Islanders had already voiced their opinion of having nuclear reactors in the area when they agreed to absorb the unconscionable amount of money necessary to shutter the Shoreham nuclear power plant several years earlier.

The Long Island Lighting Company, one of the most horrifically mismanaged public utilities in U.S. history, had thrown the switch and already gone “online” with a utility reactor on the North Shore of Suffolk County, a decision that represented a game of chicken with the area’s rate payers. Once the reactor went “hot”, any move to shut it down would surely mean hundreds of millions of dollars extra in decommissioning and decontamination costs. Long Island residents said, “Bring it on.” Already the highest utility rate payers in the forty-eight contiguous states, LILCO customers absorbed billions in costs, amortized over several years, and Shoreham closed. Soon after that, then Governor George Pataki set up another darling of Albany politicos, a quasi-public authority (the Long Island Power Authority or LIPA) to, among other things, evacuate LILCO’s overpaid executives who were responsible for the Shoreham debacle. All the information you could possibly want on this issue was brilliantly covered by one of the greatest journalists in the area, Karl Grossman.

Shoreham was closed because even the Feds could not argue that Long Island had no effective evacuation plan, a vital issue for people who would have to either bottleneck through the biggest city in the U.S. or swim to Connecticut in the event of some disaster. That fear also applied to BNL. Soon, the HFBR was closed as well.

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