Weakening radiation standards; a cap on accident liability; reactor propaganda vs improvements; old units running past expiration dates; revving the engines beyond design specs …. You’d think we were itching for a meltdown.
The Environmental Protection Agency has recommended increased radiation exposure limits following major releases. It would save the industry a bundle to permit large human exposures then, rather than shut down rickety reactors now.
The EPA proposal is a knock-off prompted by Fukushima, because after the triple meltdown started three years ago, Japan increased — by 20 times — the allowable radiation exposures deemed tolerable for humans. Prior to the meltdowns of March 2011, Japan allowed only 1 milliSievert of radiation per year in an individual’s personal space. Now, the limit is 20 milliSieverts per year. This is not safe, it’s just allowable, or, rather, affordable, since the cost of decontaminating 1,000 square miles of Japan to the stricter standard could bust the bank.
The Price Anderson Act provides US reactor owners with a liability cap and a tax-payer bailout in the event of serious accidents or attacks. The law relieves utilities of hundreds of billions in financial risk posed by our ongoing meltdown roulette game. The owners won’t be bankrupted by the next loss-of-coolant disaster, but the US might.
Fukushima has spewed more long-lived radioactive chemicals to the air, the soil and the ocean than any catastrophe in history. But the chant heard round the world is: “The dose is low, there’s no immediate danger.” Promoters of nuclear power repeat this mantra at every opportunity, hoping to dodge Germany’s answer to Fukushima — a permanent reactor phase-out — and it has nearly drowned out all warnings of radiation’s health and environmental effects.
Have you heard of PSR’s March 2011 “Health risks of the releases of radioactivity from the Fukushima reactors: Are they a concern for residents of the US?”; or IPPNW’s June 2014 “Critical Analysis of the UNSCEAR Report”; or the Nov. 2012 “Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health within the context of the nuclear accident at Fukushima”; or Greenpeace’s two major reports, “Lessons from Fukushima,” and “Fukushima Fallout”? No, the feds would rather you read the UN Scientific Committee’s exec. summary which claims Fukushima’s effects are “unlikely to be observable.” This conclusion was made before any research was done.
The chances of radiation disasters will increase further if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows US reactors to run for 80 years. This is what Duke Power, Dominion Power and Exelon suggest for seven of their 40-year-old rattle traps now operating in Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina.
These seven reactors were designed and licensed to be shut down in the current decade. However, since 1991 the nuclear industry has been granted 70 “license extensions” that have generally added 20 years. Now the owners want to push their units an extra 40 years.
Former NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis wasn’t apoplectic when the commission considered the idea, but, according to the New York Times, he said, “I don’t know how we would explain to the public that these designs, 90-year-old designs, 100-year-old designs, are still safe to operate.” The NRC has yet to rule on the 80-year option, but it’s never denied a single license extension request.
Gunning old Fukushima-type engines
Captured by the industry it’s supposed to govern, the NRC has approved 149 reactor “power uprate” applications and has denied exactly one. Power uprates boost the output of old reactors beyond what their original licenses permit. It’s done by packing reactor cores with extra fuel rods and, feeling lucky, running them harder.
Chillingly, 23 operating US reactors are duplicates of the Fukushima-type General Electric Mark 1. Fifteen of these clunkers have been granted power uprates, and seven of these 15 have been granted a second power uprate. (See chart) Susquehanna’s two 31-year-old Fukushima clones in Pennsylvania were granted a hair-raising three power uprates.
With the radiation industry and the NRC working to deny or delay post-Fukushima safety improvements, how do you feel about reactor operators stomping the accelerator while they run their geriatric uranium jalopies toward the cliff?
A local council has voted to re-open the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant on the outermost western coast of Japan, despite local opposition and meteorologists’ warnings, following tremors in a nearby volcano.
Nineteen out of 26 members of the city council of Satsumasendai approved the reopening that is scheduled to take place from early 2015. Like all of Japan’s 48 functional reactors, Sendai’s 890 MW generators were mothballed in the months following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Satsumasendai, a town of 100,000 people, relies heavily on state subsidies and jobs, which are dependent on the continuing operation of the plant.
But other towns, located within sight of the plant, do not reap the same benefits, yet say they are being exposed to the same risks. A survey conducted by the local Minami-Nippon Shimbun newspaper earlier this year said that overall, 60 percent of those in the region were in favor of Sendai staying shut. In Ichikikushikino, a 30,000-strong community just 5 kilometers away, more than half of the population signed a petition opposing the restart. Fewer than half of the major businesses in the region reported that they backed a reopening, despite potential economic benefits.
Regional governor Yuichiro Ito has waved away the objections, insisting that only the city in which the plant is located is entitled to make the decision.
While most fears have centered around a lack of transparency and inadequate evacuation plans, Sendai is also located near the volcanically active Kirishima mountain range. Mount Ioyama, located just 65 kilometers away from the plant, has been experiencing tremors in recent weeks, prompting the Meteorological Agency to issue a warning. The government’s nuclear agency has dismissed volcanic risks over Sendai’s lifetime as “negligible,” however.
Mount Ioyama (image from blogs.yahoo.co.jp)
Satsumasendai’s Mayor Hideo Iwakiri welcomed the reopening, but said at the ensuing press conference that it would fall upon the government to ensure a repeat of the accident that damaged Fukushima, an outdated facility subject to loose oversight, is impossible.
September’s decision to initiate the return Japan’s nuclear capacity back online was taken by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who endorses nuclear production in the country, but has delegated the controversial call on reopening to local councils. Sendai was chosen after becoming the first plant to officially fulfill the government’s new stricter safety rules. It may also have been picked due to its geographical remoteness, and distance from the 2011 disaster area.
The primary reason for Abe’s nuclear drive been the expense in replacing the lost energy that constituted 30 percent of the country’s consumption, which the government says cost Japan an extra $35 billion last year. Japanese consumers have seen their energy bills climb by 20 percent since the disaster as a result.
But another concern remains the state of the country’s aging nuclear plants, which will cost $12 billion to upgrade. Meanwhile plans to build modern nuclear reactors – which were supposed to be responsible for half of the country’s nuclear power by 2030, according to previous government energy plans – have predictably been shelved in the wake of the disaster.
Fukushima dome removal suspended
The painfully slow and calamitous decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, in the northeast of the country, had to be halted yet again Tuesday, after the removal of the temporary dome over the damaged Reactor 1 was interrupted by severe winds.
The canopy needs to be taken off so that the radioactive reactor rods, which have been contaminating the soil and water around the plant, can be placed in storage.
But as workers attempted to lift a section of the plastic dome to decontaminate the air inside, a segment of the cover up to six feet was blown off by a severe gust of wind.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, the operator of the shuttered plant, says that the incident has not impacted radiation levels, and hopes to resume operations as soon as possible.
The United States is reportedly trying to fend off an attempt out of Switzerland to change a multi-national nuclear safety agreement in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.
Reuters and Bloomberg News both reported this week that Swiss officials are seeking addendums to the 77-nation Convention on Nuclear Safety, or CNS, so that countries around the globe are compelled to upgrade energy facilities in hopes of preventing fallout like the one spawned by the Fukushima meltdown more than three years ago.
But while Reuters says the Swiss-led initiative is tentatively being backed by other European countries, the newswire alleges that energy officials in the US, Russia and Canada are all opposed to the measure, which would likely increase industry costs.
Although details of the proposed pact have not been made public, Bloomberg reported that it would involve rewriting “international standards to ensure nuclear operators not only prevent accidents but mitigate consequences if they occur, by installing costly new structures built to survive natural disasters.” In a report published on Thursday this week by Reuters, the newswire said that the proposed changes would not only apply up-to-date safety standards for new reactors, but also carry out back-fitting measures on sites that are already in operation.
According to this week’s reports, however, some of the world’s top energy powers are opposed because, as Reuters’ Fredrick Dahl wrote, any changes to the CNS could take years to be installed if, of course, they are ratified by the dozens of nations involved.
“You are trying to drop a Ferrari engine into a Volkswagen. If you want a new car, let’s go to the show room” and buy one, a senior but unnamed Department of State official said to Dahl.
But experts have previously said American facilities, in particular, are in need of upgrades, with a July 2014 report published by the National Academy of Science that said the US “should access their preparedness for severe nuclear accidents associated with offsite-scale disasters.” Additionally, the authors of that study wrote that America’s current approach to nuclear safety is “clearly inadequate for preventing core-melt accidents and mitigating their consequences,” yet newly-initiated upgrades in the US are being conducted on a scale hardly comparable to what’s occurring overseas: according to Bloomberg, Electricite de France SA is spending around $13 billion on implementing safety measures on its 59 reactors, whereas American utilities will spend only $3 billion on portable generators and cooling reserves for roughly 100 reactors.
Nevertheless, officials in Berne remain optimistic that the countries currently opposed to the proposed changes will come to an agreement that makes facilities around the world more secure.
“Switzerland, as the initiator of the proposal, will continue to collaborate with all delegations and do everything to find a solution that is acceptable to all of us,” Georg Schwarz, deputy director general of the Swiss nuclear-safety regulator, ENSI, wrote to Bloomberg Business Week.
Russian officials did not immediately respond to Bloomberg’s requests for comment, and neither BusinessWeek nor Reuters included remarks from Canada in their report.
Just in time for Halloween, a real zombie.
Although the Obama Administration cancelled the Yucca Mountain project for disposing high-level radioactive waste (uranium fuel rods) in 2009, the scheme stays amazingly undead.
Last Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the third in a series of reports in which it declared that the deep, engineered cavern inside the mountain — 90 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada — meet the commission’s ever-changing (Eric Pianin, “Rules changed for Nevada nuclear waste site plan,” Wash. Post, Dec. 12, 2001) requirements.
Still pending are two more reports and a final NRC ruling on the site’s suitability. Actual operation of the dump also requires approval from the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Transportation and Energy (DOE). Of course, lawsuits by the State of Nevada and dozens of environmental groups would follow a decision to start burying waste.
In spite of 70 years of head scratching, science and industry have not found a cheap way to “dispose” of high-level radioactive waste. In 2008, the plan was estimated to cost at least $90 billion.
The DOE’s 1999 draft environmental impact statement for Yucca, says that leaving the wastes at 72 US reactor sites in 39 states is just as safe as moving it thousands of miles toward Yucca Mt. — as long as it is repackaged every 100 years. There is no need to rush the opening a dumpsite, except that reactor operators want to free-up storage space for freshly produced waste so they can keep running old reactors.
Yucca Mt. Project Cancelled for Hundreds of Reasons
While Republicans from nuclear-heavy states are pushing to revive the Yucca project and hoping for a November take-over of the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., broadcasts the science-based disqualifiers that prove Yucca unsuitable. Among them are fast flowing water inside the mountain, earthquake faults, lava flows, and the risk of exploding waste canisters — like the one that burst and wrecked the Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico last February. Joonhong Ahn, an engineering professor at the U. of Calif., Berkeley, said in an e-mail to ScienceInsider.com, “… there are still numerous hurdles ahead.”
Indeed, the Government Accounting Office concluded in 2001 that 293 unresolved scientific and engineering problems hinder the plan. (“GAO Challenges Plans for Storage of Nuclear Waste,” Wash. Post, Nov. 30, 2001) Responding to the new report, Nevada state officials made the same point. “The NRC licensing board has admitted more than 200 Nevada contentions challenging the safety and environmental impacts of the proposed repository, and Nevada is prepared to aggressively prosecute these challenges. It is not apparent that the [NRC report] specifically addressed these and other safety contentions,” said Bob Halstead, Executive Director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects, in a prepared statement.
“For the NRC staff to publically release just this one volume of the 5-volume Safety Evaluation Report outside the proper context of an ongoing licensing proceeding, and in the absence of a complete SER, is unprecedented,” Halsted said. “It creates a false impression that the safety review has been completed. It is difficult to see what reason there could be for such a release except to provide political support and encouragement for Yucca Mountain supporters in Congress and elsewhere.”
This false impression was spectacularly exaggerated by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Mich., who told the New York Times Oct. 17, “[N]uclear waste stored under that mountain … will be safe and secure for at least a million years.”
Nuclear Waste Production is Kept Alive by Yucca Supporters
Yucca Mt. wouldn’t begin to address the country’s vast nuclear waste problem. There already are about 70,000 tons of it stored at reactor sites. This stockpile would fill Yucca to capacity and force the start of a search for Dump No. 2. Waste that must be containerized for a million years is the “animated corpse” that will forever haunt our clean, cheap too-safe-to-meter nuclear power complex.
The Yucca Mt. “mobile Chernobyl” idea — and alternate plans for regional “interim” dumps — also explodes the risks of radiation accidents contaminating waste handlers and the people along transport routes. The DOE’s planning maps show the waste passing through 40 states, 40 Indian Reservations and 100 major cities. In January 2008, former state transportation analyst Fred Dilger caused alarm when he told a Hillary Clinton campaign rally that if waste trains go through Las Vegas, “All of the casinos on the west side of Las Vegas Boulevard would be bathed in gamma radiation.”
The shipments, using as-yet-untested waste casks, would expose between 138 and 161 million Americans to the risks of dangerous levels of radiation and to the consequences of inevitable truck, train and barge accidents. Even the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement predicts between 150 and 250 rail or truck crashes over the plan’s 25-year span — about 10 crashes every year for 25 years.
That’s an undying prospect scary enough for a million Halloweens.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is drafting a solicitation to provide as much as $12.6 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear energy projects.
The goal of the loan guarantees is to commercialize advanced nuclear technologies that could not otherwise get financing for research and development.
Any nuclear project that would reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions is eligible, but DOE said it is particularly interested in advanced nuclear reactors, small modular reactors, upgrades at existing facilities and front-end nuclear projects.
“For the first time in more than 30 years, new nuclear power plants are under construction in the United States,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a Tuesday statement.
“This solicitation would build on that investment and help support the construction of the next generation of safe and secure nuclear energy projects.”
DOE said the loans align with the Obama administration’s “all-of-the-above” approach to energy as well as the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Officials released a draft solicitation for the projects Tuesday. It will take comments on the draft for 30 days before writing a final version.
As if we needed any more proof that the “Iranian nuclear threat” is just a cooked-up pretext which is unrelated to any actual nuclear threat, Australia, which holds about 1/3rd of the world’s uranium reserves, has decided to sell uranium to India. That such a deal violates the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, doesn’t seem to be an issue.
And why should it, considering that a few years ago, the US agreed to violate the same NPT by selling nuclear technology to India in exchange for buying India’s vote against Iran at the IAEA Board which sent Iran’s file to the UN Security Council even though Iran had not breached the NPT?
On the eve of his visit to New Delhi, US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns has said that with India voting in favour of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] resolution on Iran’s nuclear programme, Congressional opposition to the Indo-US nuclear agreement has disappeared and both sides would meet their commitments before President George W. Bush visits India next year.
Of course the US and Australia claim that this stuff is going to non-military use in India but all that means is that the deal would free-up India’s other resources to be used for non-civilian use.
Now, in the meantime, while the US (and Australia) are blatantly violating their own obligations under the NPT, they’re demanding that Iran apply even greater restrictions on its nuclear program than the NPT requires, by for example giving up uranium enrichment.
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) – the corporate lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for the disintegrating atomic power industry – doesn’t have to worry about repercussions from the negative impacts of nuclear power. For nuclear power is a government/taxpayer-guaranteed boondoggle whose staggering costs, incurred and deferred, are absorbed by American taxpayers via a supine government regulatory and subsidy apparatus.
So if you go to work at the NEI and you read about the absence of any permanent radioactive waste storage site, no problem, the government/taxpayers are responsible for transporting and safeguarding that lethal garbage for centuries.
If your reactors experience ever larger cost over-runs and delays, as is now happening with two new reactors in South Carolina, no problem, the supine state regulatory commissions will just pass the bill on to consumers, despite the fact that consumers receive no electricity from these unfinished plants.
If these plants, and two others in Georgia under construction, experience financial squeezes from Wall Street, no problem, a supine Congress has already passed ample taxpayer loan guarantees that make Uncle Sam (you the taxpayer) bear the cost of the risk.
If there were to be an accident such as the one that happened in Fukushima, Japan, no problem, under the Price-Anderson Act, the government/taxpayers bear the cost of the vast amount of damage from any nuclear power plant meltdown. To put this cost into perspective, a report by the Atomic Energy Commission about fifty years ago estimated that a class nine meltdown could make an area “the size of Pennsylvania” uninhabitable.
Why do we stand for such a doomsday technology all over America that is uneconomic, uninsurable, unsafe, unnecessary (it can’t compete with energy conservation and renewable energies [or carbon fuels]), unevacuable (try evacuating the greater New York City area from a disaster at the two Indian Point plants 30 miles from Manhattan) and unprotectable (either from sabotage or earthquake)?
David Freeman, the famous energy engineer and lawyer, who has run four giant utilities (the Tennessee Valley Authority, the SMUD complex – where he closed the Rancho Seco Nuclear Plant – the New York Power Authority and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power) sums up the history of nuclear power this way: “Nuclear power, promoted as too cheap to meter, turned out to be too expensive to use, the road to nuclear proliferation, and the creator of radioactive trash that has no place to go.” Right wing conservative/libertarians call it extreme “crony capitalism.”
Nuclear power plants are shutting down. In 2013, four reactors shut down: Crystal River 3, Kewaunee, San Onofre 2 and San Onofre 3. Now, Michael Peck, a senior federal nuclear expert, is urging that the last nuke plant left in California, Diablo Canyon, be shut down until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regulators can demonstrate that the two reactors at this site can withstand shaking from three nearby earthquake faults.
Meanwhile, the human, environmental and economic disasters at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plants keep metastasizing. Scientists are producing studies that show serious biological effects (genetic damage and mutation rates) of radiation on plant, insect and bird life in and around the large, cordoned off, uninhabitable area surrounding these closed down reactors. The giant politically-influential electric utility company underestimated the likelihood of a powerful earthquake and tsunami.
In the early nineteen-seventies, the industry and its governmental patrons were expecting 1,000 nuclear plants – 100 of them along the California coast – to be operating by the year 2000. Instead, a little more than a hundred were built nationwide. In reality, as of 2014, there are only 100 operable reactors, many of which are aging.
The pitfalls are real and numerous. In addition to growing public opposition, and lower-priced natural gas attracting electric utilities, there are the ever-present, sky-rocketing costs and delays of construction, repair and the question of where to store nuclear waste. These costs are what make Wall Street financiers turn their backs on nuclear power unless the industry can ram more tens of billions of dollars in government/taxpayer loan guarantees through Congress.
And what is all this nuclear technology, from the uranium mines to the nuclear plants to the still absent waste storage dumps for? To boil water!
These are the tragic follies when the corporate masters and their political minions, who are ready and willing to guarantee taxpayer funding, have no “skin in the game.” This kind of staggering power without responsibility is indeed radioactive.
A confidential report by a senior nuclear expert calls on regulators to close California’s last nuclear plant until it can be established the facility can survive a powerful earthquake, according to an exclusive AP report.
The Diablo Canyon Power Plant, which was built near three geographical fault lines, provides electricity needs for more than 2.2 million people in America’s largest state. However, a confidential report by the plant’s former inspector, Michael Peck, is calling on federal regulators to pull the plug on the facility.
Following the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 2013, 30-year-old Diablo Canyon is the sole remaining nuclear energy supplier in California.
Peck warned in his 2013 report, which was obtained and verified by the Associated Press, that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is failing to maintain safety standards previously put in place for the facility’s operation.
The primary issue, as described by AP, is that “no one knows whether the facility’s equipment can withstand strong shaking from those faults – the potential for which was realized decades after the facility was built.”
Continuing to operate Diablo Canyon plant “challenges the presumption of nuclear safety,” the nuclear expert, who is employed as an instructor by the NRC, warned.
The surfacing of the confidential report comes after a magnitude-6 earthquake hit northern California on Sunday, injuring dozens of people and causing over $1 billion dollars in property losses. Fears that Sunday’s earthquake was just a precursor to the much-feared ‘Big One’ have once again sparked debate on the ability of California’s aging infrastructure to withstand an earthquake.
Meanwhile, nuclear experts continue to be haunted by the nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, which suffered severe damage following a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011. To this day, Japanese authorities, amid a very concerned public, are attempting to halt the leak of radiation from the damaged structure.
In a report put out in July entitled, “Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety of US Nuclear Plants,” it is advised that the nuclear industry should “access their preparedness for severe nuclear accidents associated with offsite-scale disasters.”
It adds that the current approach to nuclear safety is “clearly inadequate for preventing core-melt accidents and mitigating their consequences.”
After the Fukushima disaster, the NRC ordered US nuclear plants to reevaluate the risks posed by earthquakes, with studies due by March 2015.
Much of the current debate over the viability of California’s last nuclear facility originates from the 2008 discovery of the Shoreline fault, which, together with a number of other potentially active regions, including the large Hosgri fault, arguably places Diablo Canyon in a vulnerable geographical position.
Peck says Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the company that owns the nuclear facility, failed to prove that the plant would withstand the vibrations of a powerful earthquake, thereby violating its operating license. PG&E has challenged those claims, saying the structure is sound.
Blair Jones, a spokesman for PG&E, the company that owns the nuclear facility, said the NRC has conducted extensive analysis to prove the plant is “seismically safe.”
Jones told AP that concerns regarding earthquake-generated movements of the nuclear plant, which could potentially lead to a disaster, were put to rest in the 1970s following “seismic retrofitting” of the facility.
In 2012, the NRC supported preliminary studies that said vibrations and aftershocks coming from the Shoreline fault would not jeopardize the structural integrity of the reactors.
Meanwhile, the release of the confidential report has sent shockwaves through California’s political circles.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, expressed alarm that Peck’s report has only surfaced now.
“The NRC’s failure to act constitutes an abdication of its responsibility to protect public health and safety,” she said.
The committee announced it would hold hearings into how the NRC has responded to Peck’s suggestions.
Peck, currently an instructor at the NRC’s Technical Training Center, declined to comment on the AP report.
Only luck and real courage at 14 nuclear reactors on Japan’s Pacific coast overcame the technical failures of nuclear power and prevented the nation from being destroyed by radiation.
The untold story of March 11, 2011 is how close Japan came to three more spent fuel pool fires at Fukushima Daiichi and four meltdowns at Fukushima Daini.
When the magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the Pacific coast caused a seismic shock wave that reverberated throughout northern Japan, the country’s nuclear plants shut down automatically, as planned, preventing any further nuclear chain reactions.
Therein lies nuclear power’s fatal flaw, because an automatic shutdown does not stop the ongoing heat generated inside each nuclear reactor.
When uranium atoms split (a process called fission), they release tremendous energy, as well as rubble. Even when the chain reaction stops, the highly radioactive rubble emits decay heat that continues for years. Automatic shutdown simply means that no new nuclear fissions will occur.
A tsunami struck the west coast of Japan at Fukushima Daiichi just 45 minutes after the earthquake and plant shutdown, damaging all six nuclear reactors at the site and destroying shoreline emergency cooling water pumps.
The tsunami flooded Fukushima Daiichi’s emergency diesel generators. This is portrayed as the cause of the triple meltdown, because without diesel generators producing electricity, the plant could not be cooled.
Some have suggested that the diesel generators should be relocated so they are higher than a tsunami could reach, but this is the wrong solution to the wrong problem.
When the tsunami struck, the cooling equipment along the shoreline was turned into a scrap yard of twisted metal. Even if they had not been flooded, without operational shoreline pumps, the emergency diesel generators were doomed to fail, making it impossible to cool the nuclear core. In truth, the utter destruction of the shoreline pumps caused the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.
The tsunami also wrecked cooling pumps at eight other reactors located at Fukushima Daini, Onagawa, and Tokai.
Twenty-four of the 37 emergency diesel generators located at four separate nuclear power sites, which contained a total of 14 nuclear reactors, failed during the tsunami. Of the 24 diesel generators that failed, only nine failures were due to flooding (eight at Fukushima Daiichi and one at Fukushima Daini). The other 15 diesel generators were not flooded, but were disabled when the tsunami wrecked their shoreline cooling pumps.
The situation in Japan was dire when the sun set on March 11, 2011. At Fukushima Daiichi, three reactors were melting down and three spent fuel pools were at risk of catching fire because they could not be cooled. Conditions were also worsening at Fukushima Daini’s four reactors.
It was good fortune and extreme courage that saved Japan and its people from a more tragic catastrophe.
First, the wind blew out to sea rather than inland. Experts have acknowledged that only 20 percent of Fukushima’s airborne radiation releases blew inland, while 80 percent streamed out to sea. If the wind had blown in the opposite direction, exposure to radiation would have been five times worse, and Tokyo would have been evacuated.
Fortunately, the tsunami-generating earthquake struck during a normal workday, when almost 1,000 people were working at Fukushima Daiichi and thousands more were working at Fukushima Daini. The employees trapped on site fought courageously to mitigate the escalating catastrophe. Without their efforts, Japan could have had as many as 10 nuclear meltdowns and simultaneous spent fuel fires.
If the earthquake and tsunami had begun at night, only 200 employees would have been working at these plants. With roads and bridges destroyed, none of the necessary staff would have been able to return to work.
Now, more than three years after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, shoreline cooling pumps throughout the world – including in Japan – remain unprotected from flooding or terrorist attacks.
Japan is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis. Is reopening its nuclear plants worth the risk to its people and their homeland?
The simultaneous technological failure at 14 nuclear reactors due to a single natural phenomenon clearly shows that the nuclear engineers who envisioned and designed nuclear power failed to expect the unexpected.
Unfortunately, the nuclear industry continues to push its message that nuclear power can be made safer. Fukushima, and before it Chernobyl, shows us that nuclear technology will always be able to destroy the fabric of a country in the blink of an eye.
Arnold GundersenArnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates is a former nuclear industry senior vice president and licensed reactor operator. He earned his master’s degree in nuclear engineering via the prestigious Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship.
Over 3 years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, there is virtually no health research being conducted or released on harm to the Japanese. An April report by a UN committee tried to sweep the issue under the rug, predicting any harmful effects of the catastrophe is “unlikely.”
The UN panel made a very broad assumption about the worst nuclear catastrophe in history (or worst since Chernobyl) – and did this BEFORE research is done. However, a local health study raises alarm bells. Fukushima Medical University found 46% of local children have a pre-cancerous nodule or cyst, and 130 have thyroid cancer, vs. 3 expected. Incredibly, the University corrupts science by asserting the meltdown played no role in these high figures.
But Japanese studies must go far beyond childhood thyroid diseases. Japan isn’t the only site to study, as the fallout from the meltdown spread across the northern hemisphere.
In 2011, we estimated 13,983 excess U.S. deaths occurred in the 14 weeks after Fukushima, when fallout levels were highest – roughly the same after Chernobyl in 1986. We used only a sample of deaths available at that time, and cautioned not to conclude that fallout caused all of these deaths.
Final figures became available this week. The 2010-2011 change in deaths in the four months after Fukushima was +2.63%, vs. +1.54% for the rest of the year. This difference translates to 9,158 excess deaths – not an exact match for the 13,983 estimate, but a substantial spike nonetheless.
Again, without concluding that only Fukushima caused these deaths, some interesting patterns emerged. The five Pacific and West Coast states, with the greatest levels of Fukushima fallout in the U.S., had an especially large excess. So did the five neighboring states (Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Utah), which received the next highest levels.
Most of the spring 2011 mortality increase were people over 80. Many of these elderly were in frail health; one possibility is that the added exposure to radioactive poison sped the dying process.
Fukushima radiation is the same as fallout from atom bomb explosions, releasing over 100 chemicals not found in nature. The radioactive chemicals enter the body as a result of precipitation that gets into the food chain. Once in the body, these particles harm or kill cells, leading to disease or death.
Once-skeptical health officials now admit even low doses of radiation are harmful. Studies showed X-rays to pregnant women’s abdomens raised the risk of the child dying of cancer, ending the practice. Bomb fallout from Nevada caused up to 212,000 Americans to develop thyroid cancer. Nuclear weapons workers are at high risk for a large number of cancers.
Rather than the UN Committee making assumptions based on no research, medical research on changes in Japanese disease and death rates are needed – now, in all parts of Japan. Similar studies should be done in nations like Korea, China, eastern Russia, and the U.S. Not knowing Fukushima’s health toll only raises the chance that such a disaster will be repeated in the future.
Joseph Mangano is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
Janette D. Sherman MD is an internist and toxicologist, and editor of Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.
Westinghouse plans to hold a competitive tender “within the next year” for construction of a seventh reactor at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. The AP1000 reactor is projected to be online by 2023.
The site is already home to two operating Russian-designed VVER-1000 pressurised water reactors, Kozloduy 5 and 6, as well as four shut-down VVER-440s.
Westinghouse, part of Japan’s Toshiba group, announced the target date following its signing today of a shareholder agreement for the Kozloduy nuclear power plant expansion project. A source close to the talks in Sofia told World Nuclear News the agreement decides the ownership of project company Kozloduy NPP – New Builds plc, of which Kozloduy NPP plc and Westinghouse will own, respectively, 70% and 30%.
The agreement followed consultations with all of Bulgaria’s political parties, Westinghouse said in a statement. This and subsequent agreements for the project will be subject to future government oversight, it said. Bulgaria will have an interim government for two months, following the resignation of prime minister Plamen Oresharski’s government last week and a snap election in October.
The agreement also formalizes the selection of an AP1000 design reactor by Bulgarian Energy Holding EAD (BEH EAD), Kozloduy NPP plc and Kozloduy NPP – New Build plc. These parties entered into exclusive talks with Westinghouse in December 2013, following a feasibility study conducted under a competitive tender. Westinghouse will provide all of the plant equipment, design, engineering and fuel for the new unit.
A tender for the plant’s construction will follow European Union and Bulgarian public procurement rules, Westinghouse said. This process is expected to involve Bulgarian and global construction companies.
Bulgaria’s council of ministers approved an economy and energy ministry report on the shareholder agreement on 30 July, BEH EAD said yesterday. The agreement – including the financing terms of an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for the project – will enter into force after approval by the next government, it said.
Today’s agreement does not in itself mean that Kozloduy 7 will be built, however.
“Any future build will be dependent on future agreements such as an EPC. It will also require mutual agreement on financing terms and conditions,” Westinghouse spokesman Hans Korteweg told World Nuclear News.
“This agreement does not identify any specific assumptions on state support of any kind. It allows both Westinghouse and Kozloduy to engage international finance entities to determine best conditions for both parties. If this is not realized, the project will not go forward,” Korteweg said.
“This agreement in no way creates a binding decision to proceed – by either party. What it does do is to provide a basis for the project to go forward through a working partnership in reaching the next key agreements and obtaining attractive financing,” he said.
Some commentators in Bulgaria have said discussion about the project had lacked transparency, but Korteweg said this assertion was false.
“The process is similar to those conducted in France and the UK, for instance, where a partner and a technology are selected from current viable alternatives,” he said. “Specifically, there are only three PWR reactor designs certified in Europe – AP1000, EPR and MIR.1200. The Westinghouse AP1000 meets the criteria of diversified technology from existing reactors and 1200 MW maximum in size due to Bulgarian grid limitations,” he said.
Prior to today’s announcement, Kozloduy NPP and Westinghouse were bound by confidentiality common in all industries before release of the parameters of an agreement, he said.
Although he would not confirm the share ownership of the project company, Korteweg said Westinghouse will not remain an equity investor once the reactor has been completed.
“We believe this is a national asset for Bulgaria and do not wish to dictate or otherwise influence the decision-making of its owners and operators. Bulgaria will have 100% of the revenue and profits of this plant,” Korteweg said. “Westinghouse’s stake in the project company during construction incentivizes Westinghouse to build a plant that meets international and Bulgarian safety standards, on schedule and within budget,” he said.
Bulgaria has an oversupply of electricity, but supply will fall in the mid-2020s with changes in the country’s energy mix, including fossil fuel plant closures due to CO2 emission reduction requirements and relative competitiveness of renewable energy, he said.
Additional nuclear power capacity during this timeframe “can certainly be utilized domestically and in export growth,” he said. Kozloduy 7 also represents the “smooth and eventual” replacement of units 5 and 6 in the next 20-30 years, especially after units 1-4 were shut down as part of Bulgaria’s accession to the EU in 2007, he said.
Asked if there will be a guaranteed power price for the reactor once it comes online, Korteweg said today’s agreement does not mention this.
“While many EU countries will be utilizing this tool, such as the UK, this is the decision of the Bulgarian government and its energy regulator to decide. The most important point is that the project produces power at the most competitive price compared to alternatives. This is something we are confident will be achieved,” he said.
Korteweg would not comment on the cost to build Kozloduy 7, but said Westinghouse has “offered a commercially attractive price to Bulgaria to provide diverse energy security without greenhouse gas generation.”
The company has “full confidence” that the conditions of this and future agreements for the project will meet EU rules, he said.
Korteweg referred to the European Commission’s publication in May of a Communication outlining its recommendations for the establishment of a European Energy Security Strategy.
“Central to that strategy is the urgent need for the EU to increase its indigenous energy production, reduce its dependence upon external suppliers, and encourage diversity in the energy mix in order to meet its energy needs,” he said.
A European Council decision in late June to diversify energy supplies from Russia is also consistent with the Kozloduy 7 project, he said, as currently Russian companies have a monopoly supply of fuel to the plant.
“Westinghouse is not an integrated vendor and must therefore contract with local suppliers,” Korteweg said. “A significant amount of the project will be done in Bulgaria and is expected to significantly boost local, regional and national Bulgarian economies. Bulgarian companies are currently heavily involved with other contracts that Westinghouse has with units 5 and 6,” he said.
At the height of construction of the new unit, close to 3500 local workers will be employed on site, with an additional 15,000 workers involved in the associated supply chain, he said. Regional unemployment around the construction site could be reduced to 9% from the current rate of 13%, he said. Once the reactor is completed, its operation will require between 500 and 800 highly-skilled specialists, he said.
Westinghouse is also prepared to integrate Bulgarian companies into other ongoing and prospective projects, such as in the UK, he said.
Westinghouse recently announced an agreement to supply three Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors to the NuGeneration Limited’s Moorside project in West Cumbria, England, in partnership with Toshiba and GDF Suez.
Hillary Mann Leverett on the Iran Nuclear Talks
Earlier this week, Hillary appeared on CCTV’s The Heat to discuss the Iran nuclear talks; click on video above or see here. In her segment, she focused on what really drives the divide between Tehran and the Western members of the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, and France) over Iranian enrichment—namely, the clash between the Islamic Republic’s commitment to strategic independence and Western powers’ determination that Tehran must accept their directives regarding implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the dynamics of Middle Eastern power politics. As Hillary notes,
“There has been progress on some significant issues—but this fundamental issue about enrichment is critically important. It gets to not just the number of centrifuges…The issue is really a question of independence.
Iran is fiercely devoted to its independence. That’s what the Islamic Revolution was all about—for Iran to be independent of foreign powers—and it wants this civilian nuclear program as part of its program for independence. So it needs to not dismantle any of its current infrastructure—which includes about 10,000 operating centrifuges—and to increase it, to a have full-fledged civilian nuclear power program.
The United States wants just the opposite. The United States has finally come around, after more than ten years of pounding its fist on the table, to admitting that maybe Iran could have a symbolic program—but that Iran needs to remain dependent on other countries…Not only does this go against the very principles of the revolution in Iran, for independence, but, in fact, Iran tried that. They bought fuel from Argentina, until the United States got angry and forced Argentina to cut it off. And they were part of a project called Eurodif, where Iran bought ten percent of that project, and then they were cut off.
So that’s the fundamental divide—whether to keep Iran dependent on the international community, or to allow them to be independent. That is going to be a very difficult bridge to cross…It’s not a matter of time; it’s a matter of mentality.”
Of course, official Washington’s hegemonic mentality—and its accompanying pretensions—are increasingly at odds with the actual distribution of power in an evolving international order. In part, this reflects the declining utility of America’s military might; to paraphrase a line from that timeless study in the exercise of power (and classic Hollywood blockbuster film), The Godfather, “the United States doesn’t even have that kind of muscle anymore—and can’t really use that much of what it still has.” As Hillary elaborates, that’s an important reason the United States is negotiating, however reluctantly, with Iran:
“It’s interesting that President Obama has refrained…since January of this year, from saying that all options are on the table, for two reasons. One, I think, in terms of allowing the negotiations to go forward, is to take the military option off the table as an offensive rhetorical device against the Iranians.
But part of this is real. This is something that, from all my trips to Iran, I understood. The Supreme Leader there, security and political analysts there, realized a few years ago that after America’s failed interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, we don’t have the military option on the table, and that gives room for negotiations.
So, even though I’m not optimistic there’s going to be a deal, a comprehensive deal either today or in four months (the new deadline), I do think that there’s enough incentive on both sides to continue negotiations for a very long time. And you may see in September, when the United Nations convenes in New York, you may see not only continued intensive negotiations of high-level officials, but potentially even a President Obama-President Rohani meeting—not to actually seal the deal, but to inject enough momentum to keep things going past the November congressional elections and continue to kick this can down the road.”
Hillary is similarly skeptical about the prospects for a unilateral Israeli attack against Iran:
“Even though a tragically high number of Palestinians have been killed in this current conflict [in Gaza], there is a bit of exposure of the emperor wearing no clothes, that the Israelis are not able to defeat HAMAS in Gaza. And the Iranians certainly see the Israelis having no clothes, that they don’t have the technical capability to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. With that, there is, again, more time for negotiations.”
Beyond the purely military dimension of America’s relative decline, the rising influence of non-Western powers—China, Russia, and, in the Middle East itself, Iran—has also helped push the United States into multilateral nuclear talks with the Islamic Republic. As Hillary explains, that’s an important reason the P5+1 is negotiating with Iran:
“The world has changed in the past ten years. Ten years ago, when the United States would say that the U.S., Israel, France, and Britain were ‘the international community,’ nobody really made that much noise. Today, they do. So today, the United States has to take the views of, particularly, Russia and China very squarely into account. They have to be at the table, and they have to buy into what the political and security order is going to look like in the Middle East—not just how many centrifuges Iran is going to have. That’s why we have the negotiations.”
Yet, even though it has been pushed into multilateral nuclear negotiations with Iran, the United States continues to take hegemonically assertive positions in the talks. Take Washington’s positions on the duration of a prospective final agreement, the number of centrifuges Iran should be “allowed” to operate under a final agreement, and limiting Iran’s alleged “breakout” capability. As Hillary describes,
“The United States wants at least a ten-year, and they’re gunning really for a twenty-year deal. That has nothing to do with proliferation. That has to do with their wanting to outwait the Supreme Leader, the Supreme Leader’s life…so that the Islamic Republic has, in their view, a prospect of collapsing into a more pro-American political order.
The Iranians are not buying into that…they’re focused more on what their practical needs are, based on when they have contracts or prospective contracts for nuclear plants, when they need the fuel, and how much fuel they need.
That gets into the number of centrifuges—and, again, this is where the Supreme Leader has spoken about numbers that are much greater than the Americans are willing to consider at this point. But he’s focused on what are the practical needs—the practical needs as told to him by the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, who (guess what) has his Ph.D. from MIT here in the United States, and who knows what he’s doing.
So [the Iranians] are really talking about a practical needs-based approach, based on a sovereign country pursuing a technical, practical program. The United States is focused on power and influence, and on maintaining a pro-American political and security order in the Middle East…
The so-called ‘breakout issue’ is also a lot of smoke and mirrors. Again, it’s aimed at limiting Iran’s domestic, indigenous, sovereign capacity to pursue this program.
If the United States and its so-called partners were really interested in proliferation, they would accept the Iranian deal, which is to convert all—not some, but all—their enriched uranium into oxide, into powder to make into fuel. All of it. You’d solve the proliferation issue overnight, but the United States isn’t interested in that…We’re interested in constraining capacity, to constrain Iran’s power—its rising power, particularly in the Middle East—at a very volatile time for the United States.”
Hillary goes on to discuss the strategic imperative for the United States to pursue “Nixon-to-China”-style rapprochement with the Islamic Republic—and, in the process, “to change America’s strategy from one of dominance and hegemony in the Middle East to one that is a balance of power, that recognizes and deals with all the critical powers as they are, not as we would like to transform the Middle East.”
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett