The third anniversary of the Fukushima meltdown will occur on March 11th.
The news is that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and major Japanese corporations want to re-open the 50 other nuclear power plants that closed when Fukushima blew up, calling them a friendly economic source of cheap power. Will this end up with business as usual?
We were recently asked if we thought that Fukushima could ever be cleaned up. We have to say “no,” based upon what we know of the biology, chemistry and physics of nuclear power and isotopes and the history of nuclear development.
Chernobyl melted down in 1986 and is still releasing radioisotopes. Not all life systems were examined around Chernobyl, but of those that were – wild and domestic animals, birds, insects, plants, fungi, fish, trees, and humans, all were damaged, many permanently, thus what happens to animals and plants with short-term life spans is predictive of those with longer ones. Worldwide, some 985,000 “excess” deaths resulted from the Chernobyl fallout in the first 19 years after the meltdown. In Belarus, north of Chernobyl, which received concentrated fallout; only 20% of children are deemed to be “healthy” although previously 80% were considered well. How can a country function without healthy and productive citizens?
Notable in the U. S. is the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington State, built some 70+ years ago by 60,000 laborers, and currently leaching radioisotopes into the Columbia River. DuPont was the original contractor, but since, multiple corporations, each paid mllions of dollars and have yet to contain the leaking radioactivity. Every nuclear site is also a major industrial operation, contaminated not only with radioactive materials, but multiple toxic chemicals, such as solvents and heavy metals.
In 1941, the folk singer, Woody Guthrie was hired by the US government’s Department of the Interior to promote the benefits of building the Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams to harness the power of the Columbia River, and to generate electricity and supplement irrigation. It is unlikely that Guthrie learned that the dams were to provide electricity to the Hanford nuclear site, then under construction to produce plutonium for bombs.
“Roll on, Columbia roll on
Roll on, Columbia roll on
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
So roll on Columbia, roll on.”
Rather than turning darkness to dawn, we released nuclear weapons that made the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns” – the title of Robert Jungk’s prophetic book.
Guthrie’s monthly salary was $266 – compare that to the yearly $2 billion it is costing taxpayers now.
From 1946 until 1958, the U. S. tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, the most famous of which is Bikini Island. Stillbirths, miscarriages and thyroid gland defects were detected early in the islanders. 60 years on, decontamination of Rongelap, a small island, that lies about 180 km east of Bikini Atoll, continues. Only about 0.15 square kilometer of land has been decontaminated, or just 2 percent of the island’s area, at a cost of $40 million so far. In 1956, the Atomic Energy Commission regarded the Marshall Islands as “by far the most contaminated place in the world”.
Within the U. S., the Nevada Test Site, and countless other sites remain contaminated. The most recently reported releases occurred in Feb. 2014 at the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, NM. Detected in the air were of plutonium-239/240 and americium-241, transuranic elements strongly linked to cancer. So far, thirteen federal contract workers have measured levels of internal radioisotope contamination. The release spread contaminants through more than 3,000 feet of tunnels, up a 2150-foot tall exhaust shaft, out into the environment, and to an air monitoring station approximately 3,000 feet northwest of the exhaust shaft.
Fukushima is still leaking large quantities of Cs-137 and Sr-90 into the Pacific Ocean, where all forms of marine life will absorb them – from algae to seaweed, to fish, to sea mammals and ultimately to humans who consume the contaminated sea life.
Our recently released peer-reviewed paper confirms hypothyroidism in newborns in California, whose mothers were pregnant during the early releases from Fukushima. Thyroid abnormalities were detected early in Marshall Islanders and in Belarus residents of Gomel located near Chernobyl. Radioactive iodine, known to interfere with thyroid function entered the U. S. from Fukushima in late March, shortly after the meltdowns, and was carried by dairy products resulting in damage to the unborn.
It takes ten half-lives for an isotope to decay. Sr-90 and Cs-137 have half-lives of approximately 30 years, which means three centuries will occur before the initial releases are gone, and the releases have not stopped.
There are some 26 nuclear reactors in the United States with the same design as those at Fukushima, and they pose a significant risk to people and the environment. The Indian Point Nuclear Power Reactors are located some 35 miles from mid-town Manhattan, with 18 million people living within 50 miles of the site. What would be the environmental, human and economic costs if the Indian Point reactors were to fail?
The current estimated price tag to “clean up” the TEPCO mess at Fukushima is $500 billion (that’s billion, with a “B.” For us who have trouble thinking of such numbers, it will take 96,451 years to spend $10.00 per minute.
Unless we close the existing nuclear power plants and build no new ones, we are destined to repeat the on-going stories of Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and the myriad other sites that have already caused untold environmental, health, social, and economic costs. So will it be sanity or business as usual?
Perhaps it was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We must choose a sane path away from nuclear energy. Business as usual is Insane.
Janette D. Sherman, M. D. is the author of Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer and Chemical Exposure and Disease, and is a specialist in internal medicine and toxicology. She edited the book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature, written by A. V. Yablokov, V. B., Nesterenko and A. V. Nesterenko, published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009. Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education. She can be reached at: email@example.com and www.janettesherman.com
Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, is the author of Mad Science (pub. 2012) as well and many articles on the effects of nuclear power. He is an epidemiologist, and Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project and can be reached at: (www.radiation.org).
Jungk, Robert, Brighter than a Thousand Suns, Harcourt, Brace, New York. 369 pp., C. 1956. (worth getting second-hand.)
Mangano, J, Sherman, J., Busby, C. Changes in confirmed plus borderline cases of congenital hypothyroidism in California as a function of environmental fallout from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Open J. of Pediatrics. 2013, 3:370-376 http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojped.2013.34067 (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojped/)
Mangano, J. J., Sherman, J. D. Elevated airborne beta levels in Pacific/ West Coast U. S. States and trends of hypothyroidism among newborns after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Open J. of Pediatrics, 3:1-9, March 2013
Yablokov, Alexey V., Nesterenko, Vassily B., Nesterenko, Alexey V., Sherman-Nevinger, Janette D., Consulting Editor. Chernobyl – Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Vol 1171, 2009. Available at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of the people who were forced to evacuate after the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant may never return, Japanese lawmakers admitted, overturning initial optimistic government pledges.
A call to admit the grim reality and step back from the ambitious Fukushima decontamination goals came from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition parties. Japan has so far spent $30 billion on the clean-up program, which has proven to be more difficult to carry out than initially expected.
The new plan would be for the government to fund relocation to new homes for those who used to live in the most contaminated areas.
“There will come a time when someone has to say, ‘You won’t be able to live here anymore, but we will make up for it’,” Shigeru Ishiba, the secretary General of Abe’s Liberal Democrat party said in a speech earlier this month.
On Tuesday, evacuees reacted with anger at the government’s admission.
“Politicians should have specified a long time ago the areas where evacuees will not be able to return, and presented plans to help them rebuild their lives elsewhere,” Toshitaka Kakinuma, a 71-year-old evacuee, told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
Some 160,000 people escaped the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi, when a powerful earthquake and tsunami transformed the plant into the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. About a third of them are still living in temporary housing. They were promised that this would not last for longer than 3 years.
In August the death toll among the evacuees surpassed the threshold of 1,599 lives, which is how many people in the prefecture were killed by the disaster itself. The displaced residents are suffering from health problems, alcoholism and high rates of suicide.
The Ministry of Environment wanted to decontaminate 11 townships in the affected area, bringing the average annual radiation dose to 20 millisieverts, a level deemed safe by the International Centre for Radiological Protection. It further pledged to pursue a long-term goal reducing it to 1 millisievert per year.
The clean-up, however, has been marred by delays and reports that workers sometimes simply dumped contaminated waste rather than collect it for safe storage, causing the environment ministry push back the deadline. There are also calls on the government to abandon the more ambitious dose target, arguing that it is unrealistic.
Some evacuees said they wouldn’t return even after the first phase of the cleanup, saying the dose of 20 millisieverts per year still poses health risks.
“No matter how much they decontaminate I’m not going back because I have children and it is my responsibility to protect them,” Yumi Ide, a mother of two teenage boys, told Reuters.
The fear of radiation has soared in Japan in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, with rallies against the use of nuclear power scoring record attendance. The government shut down all 50 remaining Japanese reactors for safety checks, and there is strong pressure to keep them offline.
The Japanese government is reportedly seeking to borrow an extra $30 billion for the Fukushima cleanup and compensations, which would raise the total cost of the disaster response to $80 billion. The figure does not include the cost of decommissioning reactors to be carried out by the plant operator, Tepco. The company recently complained about the huge expense of the process, which may last at least 30 years.
Britain’s first nuclear plant in 20 years is a bet energy prices will rise. Experts say the new Hinkley Point facility will be “the most expensive power station in the world” and if the bet fails, the deal will prove “economically insane”.
“The Government is taking a massive bet that fossil fuel prices will be extremely high in the future,” the Telegraph quotes Peter Atherton and Mulu Sun, who analysed the finances of British energy companies for stockbroker Liberum Capital.
The deal to construct two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in southwest England – the world’s first nuclear deal since Fukushima disaster – was agreed by the UK, Electrcite de France SA (EDF) and China. To have a guaranteed return on the estimated $26 billion investment, the plant owners need the cost of fossil fuel such as oil and gas to rise dramatically.
The Liberum analysts estimate the minimum energy price would need to stand above £121 per megawatt hour within ten years, which means the wholesale price of gas would have to go up by about 127 percent over that period. Wholesale prices were about £60 last year, according to the energy watchdog Ofgem.
This is the equivalent to an oil price of well above $200 a barrel, compared with about $110 this week, the Telegraph reports.
“We are frankly staggered that the Government thinks it is appropriate to take such a bet and underwrite the economics of this power station. We are flabbergasted that it has committed future generations of consumers to the costs that will flow from this deal,” the Liberum Capital analysts say.
The $26 billion (£16 billion) price tag of the two reactors would be enough to build gas-fired power stations with output eight times higher, Liberum calculated.
“For the cost of £16bn for the 3,200MW to be built at Hinkley, the UK could build 27,000MW of new gas-fired power stations, solving the ‘energy crunch’ for a generation.”
- EDF to scoop £1bn a year from new plant (dailymail.co.uk)
- A tale of two nuclear Cities: Fukushima and Britain’s nuclear future at Somerset (panokroko.wordpress.com)
Many issues of national importance to Japan, probably including the state of the Fukushima power plant, may be designated state secrets under a new draft law. Once signed, it could see whistleblowers jailed for up to 10 years.
Japan has relatively lenient penalties for exposing state secrets compared to many other nations, but that may change with the introduction of the new law. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has agreed on draft legislation on the issue on Friday and expects the parliament to vote on it during the current session, which ends on December 6.
With a comfortable majority in both chambers, the ruling coalition bloc would see no problems overcoming the opposition. Critics say the new law would give the executive too much power to conceal information from the public and compromise the freedom of the press.
Currently only issues of defense can be designated state secrets in Japan, and non-military leakers face a jail term of up to one year. Defense officials may be sentenced to five years for exposing secrets, or 10 years, if the classified information they leaked came from the US military.
The new law would enact harsher punishment to leakers, but more importantly, it would allow government branches other than defense ministry to designate information as state secrets. The bill names four categories of ‘special secrets’, which would be covered by protection – defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.
Under the new legislation a ministry may classify information for a five-year term with a possibility of prolongation to up to 30 years. After that a cabinet ruling would be needed for the secret to be treated as such, but there is no limit for how long information may be kept under a lid.
“Basically, this bill raises the possibility that the kind of information about which the public should be informed is kept secret eternally,” Tadaaki Muto, a lawyer and member of a task force on the bill at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, told Reuters.
“Under the bill, the administrative branch can set the range of information that is kept secret at its own discretion.”
Media watchdogs in Japan fear the bill would allow the government to cover up serious blunders, like the collusion between regulators and utilities, which was a significant factor in the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The quake- and tsunami-hit nuclear power plant went into meltdown and continues to leak contaminated water as its operator TEPCO failed to contain it.
TEPCO has long been accused of obscuring the crisis and Fukushima. Many details on its development were first published in the media before going to governmental or corporate reports.
Critics of the state secrets bill say it would undermine media’s ability to act as the public’s eye on the actions of the government and whoever it would choose to shield.
“It seems very clear that the law would have a chilling effect on journalism in Japan,” said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University.
In a bid to address those concerns the cabinet added a provision to the draft which gives “utmost considerations” to citizens’ right to know and freedom of the press. The addition came at the request of the New Komeito party, the coalition partner of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. The added provisions also state that news reporting is legitimate if its purpose is to serve the public good and the information is not obtained in unlawful or extremely unjust ways.
The clause is based on the 1970s scandal in Japan, in which a reporter was charged and found guilty of unlawfully obtaining secret information about the government. The reporter, Takichi Nishiyama, revealed a secret US-Japanese pact under which Tokyo paid some $4 million of the cost of transferring Okinawa Island from the US back to Japanese rule in 1972.
Nishiyama’s report, which was revealed to have been truthful in 2000, was based on documents he received from a married Foreign Ministry clerk with whom he had an affair. The scandal ultimately ruined his career and dealt a serious blow to the newspaper he worked for.
Japanese law has no clear definition of what kind of new gathering could be deemed ‘grossly inappropriate’. The bill introduces a jail sentence of up to five years for non-officials, including media professionals, using such methods to obtain information. But it does not clearly state that if a journalist reporting on a state secret is found to have obtained the information legitimately, he or she would not be punished. This has led critics to dismiss the ‘freedom of press’ provisions as political window dressing.
Despite criticisms, the Japanese cabinet insists that the law be adopted promptly. It is needed for the planned establishment of a national security council, which would involve members from different ministries and agencies. The law would protect information exchanged through the new body from being leaked, the government says.
Abe’s party has sought unsuccessfully to enact a harsher law on state secrets in the past. The effort had been given a boost after a leaking of a video in 2010, which showed a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese patrol vessel near disputed isles in the East China Sea. The government led by the now-opposition Democratic Party wanted to keep the video under wraps, fearing that its publication would harm the already tense relations with Beijing.
Japan had harsh state secret legislation before and during World War II, so in the post-war period government secrecy has been viewed with suspicion, along with militaristic traditions and other things associated with the Imperial past. Abe’s LDP is among the political circles in Japan, which seek change to some of those policies.
- Cabinet to OK state secrets bill (japantimes.co.jp)
- State secrets act feared to have ‘chilling effect on journalism’ in Japan (japandailypress.com)
Petitioning the American government and the United Nations to take over the Fukushima clean-up would be morally wrong and a political folly.
The argument goes that since TEPCO and the Japanese government have shown themselves incompetent and untrustworthy in their information policies regarding the Fukushima disaster, now the international community and especially the United States government should step in and take over.
However, looking at the US’s own track record in giving comprehensive and accurate information about its nuclear accidents and the failure of its nuclear industry to even implement the most basic safety precautions would actually be letting the fox guard the hen house. It wasn’t just the Three Mile Island disaster. In reality 56 of the 99 globally recorded reactor accidents occurred in the United States. And charging a US dominated UN organization with the task would not be any better. This would be similar to what happened with the fake swine-flu scare, where the Big-Pharma dominated WHO licensed Pharma corporations which before had been caught red-handed at contaminating ordinary flu-vaccines with live bird-flu viruses to produce anti-swine-flu vaccines.
Demanding an American take-over of the clean-up efforts at Fukushima would also imply that the Japanese, after a catastrophe like this happening to one of their nuclear installations, are incapable of cleaning up the mess themselves; that everything is fine and dandy with western — and especially American — nuclear facilities, since Americans and other westerners via the western dominated UN must step in to rescue the Japanese.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the Al Jazeera documentary “Danger Zone: Ageing US Nuclear Reactors” the decrepit state of many American nuclear reactors and the corrupt relationship of the industry with its supposedly regulating government agency is shown in terrifying detail. Vital infrastructure at nuclear sites is often in a state of corrosion or are even falling apart. And still these reactors are getting their licenses renewed. Like in Japan, many reactors were built in earthquake-prone areas and to the same design as the Fukushima reactors and to standards that do not allow them to withstand major earthquakes beyond 7.2 on the Richter scale.
The money that has to be expended to repair and renew the infrastructure would make the reactors financially no longer viable. This means that the industry would have to shut down a large part of its reactors and the US government regulating agency therefore looks the other way rather than having to risk a shut-down.
This insane attitude endangers the American people and the rest of humanity just as much as a possible further melt-down at Fukushima.
While the Japanese government might have lots of reasons for not informing their own population of the severe danger they are in at the moment, especially the people of Tokyo, it has all the reasons in the world for the best and most carefully deliberated actions to clean up the fuel-pool at the Fukushima reactor 4.
The people who will be most effected by a further melt-down are the people of northern Japan, including the political and economic elites themselves. Once the nuclear clouds reach the rest of the northern hemisphere their impact will be far more diluted.
Japan is a highly developed country, has a population of 127 million people with many highly educated technicians, engineers and scientists in the nuclear field. The Japanese government already has consulted with foreign nuclear experts and without doubt they will do so in the future. There is no reason to believe that an American dominated international group of experts could do a better or more competent job than a Japanese dominated one. The Japanese people have the most to lose and would therefore be the most intent to avert a further nuclear catastrophe.
Japanese workers are already risking their lives every single day in the clean-up efforts motivated not by money but by wanting to protect their families and their fellow citizens. Those who will start the dangerous work in November will be no less motivated.
While the energy corporation TEPCO might be too cash-strapped to carry the enormous costs of the operation, the argument that the Japanese government could not carry them either does not hold any water at all.
While America is the greatest debtor nation on the planet, Japan is next to China as the second greatest creditor nation. It holds about 6% of the American debts in its central bank. Cashing in on those debts and using this money would certainly cover whatever astronomic costs might be incurred by the clean-up.
There is no necessity whatsoever to violate Japanese sovereignty over the Fukushima clean-up attempts.
To do so would create a dangerous precedent that would allow American and UN interference in a quasi take-over of every country that has suffered natural or man-made disasters.
It also would be a dangerous re-writing of international law and one more increase of power for the un-elected corporate elites which rule America and have enormous influence on most of the UN organizations.
Yes, we should have more transparency of information. Different from what the governments of our nations think, the general population has indeed a right to the truth and is quite capable of processing truthful information in a productive manner. One thing that would emerge out of it would be more pressure on governments all over the world to shut down or at least phase out their nations’ nuclear reactors and replace this dangerous form of energy-production with a better, less poisonous and destructive one.
- Japan Shuts Down Its Last Running Nuclear Reactor (inhabitat.com)
Even the tiniest mistake during an operation to extract over 1,300 fuel rods at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan could lead to a series of cascading failures with an apocalyptic outcome, fallout researcher Christina Consolo told RT.
Fukushima operator TEPCO wants to extract 400 tons worth of spent fuel rods stored in a pool at the plant’s damaged Reactor No. 4. The removal would have to be done manually from the top story of the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.
In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical, resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive fallout with no way to stop it, said Consolo, who is the founder and host of Nuked Radio. But leaving things as they are is not an option, because statistical risk of a similarly bad outcome increases every day, she said.
RT: How serious is the fuel rod situation compared to the danger of contaminated water build-up which we already know about?
Christina Consolo: Although fuel rod removal happens on a daily basis at the 430+ nuclear sites around the world, it is a very delicate procedure even under the best of circumstances. What makes fuel removal at Fukushima so dangerous and complex is that it will be attempted on a fuel pool whose integrity has been severely compromised. However, it must be attempted as Reactor 4 has the most significant problems structurally, and this pool is on the top floor of the building.
There are numerous other reasons that this will be a dangerous undertaking.
- The racks inside the pool that contain this fuel were damaged by the explosion in the early days of the accident.
- Zirconium cladding which encased the rods burned when water levels dropped, but to what extent the rods have been damaged is not known, and probably won’t be until removal is attempted.
- Saltwater cooling has caused corrosion of the pool walls, and probably the fuel rods and racks.
- The building is sinking.
- The cranes that normally lift the fuel were destroyed.
- Computer-guided removal will not be possible; everything will have to be done manually.
- TEPCO cannot attempt this process without humans, which will manage this enormous task while being bombarded with radiation during the extraction and casking.
- The process of removing each rod will have to be repeated over 1,300 times without incident.
- Moving damaged nuclear fuel under such complex conditions could result in a criticality if the rods come into close proximity to one another, which would then set off a chain reaction that cannot be stopped.
What could potentially happen is the contents of the pool could burn and/or explode, and the entire structure sustain further damage or collapse. This chain reaction process could be self-sustaining and go on for a long time. This is the apocalyptic scenario in a nutshell.
The water build-up is an extraordinarily difficult problem in and of itself, and as anyone with a leaky basement knows, water always ‘finds a way.’
‘Trivial in light of other problems at Fukushima, water situation could culminate in the chain reaction scenario’
At Fukushima, they are dealing with massive amounts of groundwater that flow through the property, and the endless pouring that must be kept up 24/7/365 to keep things from getting worse. Recently there appears to be subsidence issues and liquefaction under the plant.
TEPCO has decided to pump the water out of these buildings. However, pumping water out of the buildings is only going to increase the flow rate and create more of these ground issues around the reactors. An enormous undertaking – but one that needs to be considered for long-term preservation of the integrity of the site – is channelling the water away, like a drain tile installed around the perimeter of a house with a leaky basement, but on an epic scale.
Without this effort, the soils will further deteriorate, structural shift will occur, and subsequently the contents of the pools will shift too.
Any water that flows into those buildings also becomes highly radioactive, as it is likely coming into contact with melted fuel.
Without knowing the extent of the current liquefaction and its location, the location of the melted fuel, how long TEPCO has been pumping out water, or when the next earthquake will hit, it is impossible to predict how soon this could occur from the water problem/subsidence issue alone. But undoubtedly, pumping water out of the buildings is just encouraging the flow, and this water problem needs to be remedied and redirected as soon as possible.
RT: Given all the complications that could arise with extracting the fuel rods, which are the most serious, in your opinion?
CC: The most serious complication would be anything that leads to a nuclear chain reaction. And as outlined above, there are many different ways this could occur. In a fuel pool containing damaged rods and racks, it could potentially start up on its own at anytime. TEPCO has been incredibly lucky that this hasn’t happened so far.
‘One of the worst, but most important jobs anyone has ever had to do’
My second biggest concern would be the physical and mental fitness of the workers that will be in such close proximity to exposed fuel during this extraction process. They will be the ones guiding this operation, and will need to be in the highest state of alertness to have any chance at all of executing this plan manually and successfully. Many of their senses, most importantly eyesight, will be hindered by the apparatus that will need to be worn during their exposure, to prevent immediate death from lifting compromised fuel rods out of the pool and placing them in casks, or in the common spent fuel pool located a short distance away.
Think for a moment what that might be like through the eyes of one of these workers; it will be hot, uncomfortable, your senses shielded, and you would be filled with anxiety. You are standing on a building that is close to collapse. Even with the strongest protection possible, workers will have to be removed and replaced often. So you don’t have the benefit of doing such a critical task and knowing and trusting your comrades, as they will frequently have to be replaced when their radiation dose limits are reached. If they exhibit physical or mental signs of radiation exposure, they will have be replaced more often.
It will be one of the worst, but most important jobs anyone has ever had to do. And even if executed flawlessly, there are still many things that could go wrong.
RT: How do the potential consequences of failure to ensure safe extraction compare to other disasters of the sort – like Chernobyl, or the 2011 Fukushima meltdown?
CC: There really is no comparison. This will be an incredibly risky operation, in the presence of an enormous amount of nuclear material in close proximity. And as we have seen in the past, one seemingly innocuous failure at the site often translates into a series of cascading failures.
‘The site has been propped up with duct tape and a kick-stand for over two years’
Many of their ‘fixes’ are only temporary, as there are so many issues to address, and cost always seems to be an enormous factor in what gets implemented and what doesn’t.
As a comparison: Chernobyl was one reactor, in a rural area, a quarter of the size of one of the reactors at Fukushima. There was no ‘spent fuel pool’ to worry about. Chernobyl was treated in-situ… meaning everything was pretty much left where it was while the effort to contain it was made (and very expeditiously I might add) not only above ground, but below ground.
At Fukushima, we have six top-floor pools all loaded with fuel that eventually will have to be removed, the most important being Reactor 4, although Reactor 3 is in pretty bad shape too. Spent fuel pools were never intended for long-term storage, they were only to assist short-term movement of fuel. Using them as a long-term storage pool is a huge mistake that has become an ‘acceptable’ practice and repeated at every reactor site worldwide.
We have three 100-ton melted fuel blobs underground, but where exactly they are located, no one knows. Whatever ‘barriers’ TEPCO has put in place so far have failed. Efforts to decontaminate radioactive water have failed. Robots have failed. Camera equipment and temperature gauges… failed. Decontamination of surrounding cities has failed.
‘If and when the corium reaches the Tokyo aquifer, serious and expedient discussions will have to take place about evacuating 40 million people’
We have endless releases into the Pacific Ocean that will be ongoing for not only our lifetimes, but our children’s’ lifetimes. We have 40 million people living in the Tokyo area nearby. We have continued releases from the underground corium that reminds us it is there occasionally with steam events and huge increases in radiation levels. Across the Pacific, we have at least two peer-reviewed scientific studies so far that have already provided evidence of increased mortality in North America, and thyroid problems in infants on the west coast states from our initial exposures.
We have increasing contamination of the food chain, through bioaccumulation and biomagnification. And a newly stated concern is the proximity of melted fuel in relation to the Tokyo aquifer that extends under the plant. If and when the corium reaches the Tokyo aquifer, serious and expedient discussions will have to take place about evacuating 40 million people from the greater metropolitan area. As impossible as this sounds, you cannot live in an area which does not have access to safe water.
The operation to begin removing fuel from such a severely damaged pool has never been attempted before. The rods are unwieldy and very heavy, each one weighing two-thirds of a ton. But it has to be done, unless there is some way to encase the entire building in concrete with the pool as it is. I don’t know of anyone discussing that option, but it would seem much ‘safer’ than what they are about to attempt… but not without its own set of risks.
And all this collateral damage will continue for decades, if not centuries, even if things stay exactly the way they are now. But that is unlikely, as bad things happen like natural disasters and deterioration with time… earthquakes, subsidence, and corrosion, to name a few. Every day that goes by, the statistical risk increases for this apocalyptic scenario. No one can say or know how this will play out, except that millions of people will probably die even if things stay exactly as they are, and billions could die if things get any worse.
RT: Are the fuel rods in danger of falling victim to other factors, while the extraction process is ongoing? After all, it’s expected to take years before all 1,300+ rods are pulled out.
CC: Unfortunately yes, the fuel rods are in danger every day they remain in the pool. The more variables you add to this equation, and the more time that passes, the more risk you are exposed to. Each reactor and spent fuel pool has its own set of problems, and critical failure with any of them could ultimately have the end result of an above-ground, self-sustaining nuclear reaction. It will not be known if extraction of all the fuel will even be possible, as some of it may be severely damaged, until the attempt is made to remove it.
RT: Finally, what is the worst case scenario? What level of contamination are we looking at and how dire would the consequences be for the long-term health of the region?
CC: Extremely dire. This is a terrible answer to have to give, but the worst case scenario could play out in death to billions of people. A true apocalypse. Since we have been discussing Reactor 4, I’ll stick to that problem in particular, but also understand that a weather event, power outage, earthquake, tsunami, cooling system failure, or explosion and fire in any way, shape, or form, at any location on the Fukushima site, could cascade into an event of that magnitude as well.
‘Once the integrity of the pool is compromised that will lead to more criticalities’
At any time, following any of these possible events, or even all by itself, nuclear fuel in reactor 4’s pool could become critical, mostly because it will heat up the pool to a point where water will burn off and the zirconium cladding will catch fire when it is exposed to air. This already happened at least once in this pool that we are aware of. It almost happened again recently after a rodent took out an electrical line and cooling was stopped for days.
Once the integrity of the pool is compromised that will likely lead to more criticalities, which then can spread to other fuel. The heat from this reaction would weaken the structure further, which could then collapse and the contents of the pool end up in a pile of rubble on the ground. This would release an enormous amount of radioactivity, which Arnie Gundersen has referred to as a “Gamma Shine Event” without precedence, and Dr. Christopher Busby has deemed an “Open-air super reactor spectacular.”
This would preclude anyone from not only being at Reactor 4, but at Reactors 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, the associated pools for each, and the common spent fuel pool. Humans could no longer monitor and continue cooling operations at any of the reactors and pools, thus putting the entire site at risk for a massive radioactive release.
‘At least the northern half of Japan would be uninhabitable, and some researchers have argued that it already is’
Mathematically, it is almost impossible to quantify in terms of resulting contamination, and a separate math problem would need to be performed for every nuclear element contained within the fuel, and whether or not that fuel exploded, burned, fissioned, melted, or was doused with water to try to cool it off and poured into the ocean afterward.
Some researchers have even ventured to say that other nuke plants on the east coast of Honshu may need to be evacuated if levels get too high, which will lead to subsequent failures/fires and explosions at these plants as well. Just how profound the effect will be on down-winders in North America, or the entire northern hemisphere for that matter, will literally depend on where the wind blows and where the rain falls, the duration and extent of a nuclear fire or chain-reaction event, and whether or not that reaction becomes self-sustaining. At least the northern half of Japan would be uninhabitable, and some researchers have argued that it already is.
This is already happening to the nuclear fuel in the ground under the plant, but now it would be happening above ground as well. There is no example historically to draw from on a scale of this magnitude. Everything is theory. But anyone who says this can’t happen is not being truthful, because nobody really knows how bad things could get.
The most disturbing part of all of this is that Fukushima has been this dangerous, and precarious, since the second week of March 2011. The ante will definitely be upped once the fuel removal starts.
‘The mainstream media, world governments, nuclear agencies, health organizations, weather reporters, and the health care industry has completely ignored three ongoing triple meltdowns that have never been contained’
An obvious attempt to downplay this disaster and its consequences have been repeated over and over again from ‘experts’ in the nuclear industry that also have a vested interest in their industry remaining intact. And, there has been a lot of misleading information released by TEPCO, which an hour or two of reading by a diligent reporter would have uncovered, in particular the definition of ‘cold shutdown.’
Over 300 mainstream news outlets worldwide ran the erroneous ‘cold shutdown’ story repeatedly, which couldn’t be further from the truth… [it was] yet another lie that was spun by TEPCO to placate the public, and perpetuated endlessly by the media and nuclear lobby.
Unfortunately, TEPCO waited until a severe emergency arose to finally report how bad things really are with this latest groundwater issue… if we are even being told the truth. Historically, everything TEPCO says always turns out to be much worse than they initially admit.
‘Unfortunately there is no one better qualified to deal with this than the Russians, despite their own shortcomings’
I think the best chance of success is… that experts around the world drop everything they are doing to work on this problem, and have Russia either lead the containment effort or consult with them closely. They have the most experience, they have decades of data. They took their accident seriously and made a Herculean effort to contain it.
Of course we also know the Chernobyl accident was wrought with deception and lies as well, and some of that continues to this day, especially in terms of the ongoing health effects of children in the region, and monstrous birth defects. Unfortunately there is no one better qualified to deal with this than the Russians, despite their own shortcomings. Gorbachev tried to make up for his part in the cover-up of Chernobyl by opening orphanages throughout the region to deal with the affected children.
But as far as Fukushima goes, the only thing that matters now is if world leaders and experts join forces to help fix this situation. Regardless of what agendas they are trying to protect or hide, how much it will cost, the effect on Japan or the world’s economy, or what political chains this will yank.
The nuclear industry needs to come clean. If this leads to every reactor in the world being shut down, so be it. If the world governments truly care about their people and this planet, this is what needs to be done.
Renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku stated in an interview a few weeks after the initial accident that “TEPCO is literally hanging on by their fingernails.” They still are, and always have been. The Japanese have proven time and time again they are not capable of handling this disaster. Now we are entrusting them to execute the most dangerous fuel removal in history.
We are extremely lucky that this apocalyptic scenario hasn’t happened yet, considering the state of Reactor 4. But for many, it is already too late. The initial explosions and spent fuel pool fires may have already sealed the fate of millions of people. Time will tell. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not being honest, because there is just no way to know.
- Pump and pray: Tepco might have to pour water on Fukushima wreckage forever (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Cleanup Attempt At Japan’s Fukushima Plant Could Release 14,000 Times As Much Radiation As Atomic Bomb (businessinsider.com)
All 104 nuclear reactors currently operational in the US have irreparable safety issues and should be taken out of commission and replaced, former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory B. Jaczko said.
The comments, made during the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, are “highly unusual” for a current or former member of the safety commission, according to The New York Times. Asked why he had suddenly decided to make the remarks, Jaczko implied that he had only recently arrived at these conclusions following the serious aftermath of Japan’s tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daichii nuclear facility.
“I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” which were made more evident by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, he said. “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”
According to the former chairman, US reactors that received permission from the nuclear commission to operate for an additional 20 years past their initial 40-year licenses would not likely last long. He further rejected the commission’s proposal for a second 20-year extension, which would leave some American nuclear reactors operating for some 80 years.
Jaczko’s comments are quite significant as the US faces a mass retirement of its reactors and nuclear policy largely revolves around maintaining existing facilities, rather than attempting to go through the politically hazardous process of financing and breaking ground on new plants.
Though the US maintains a massive naval nuclear program, all of the country’s current civilian reactors began construction in 1974 or earlier, and a serious incident at Three Mile Island in 1979, along with an economic recession, essentially caused new projects to be scrapped.
A modest revival of enthusiasm for nuclear power emerged in the early part of the last decade, leading to the construction of four reactors at existing facilities within the last three years, slated to be completed by 2020. Despite the lack of new projects, the US is still the world’s biggest producer of nuclear power, which represents 19% of its total electrical output.
Fittingly, Jaczko’s comments came during a panel discussion of the Fukushima incident, which has brought greater attention to aging US reactors – some of which were quite similar to the General Electric-designed models overwhelmed by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011.
In response to those comments, Marvin S. Fertel, president and chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute, told the Times that the country’s nuclear power grid has, is, and will operate safely.
“US nuclear energy facilities are operating safely,” said Fertel. “That was the case prior to Greg Jaczko’s tenure as Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman. It was the case during his tenure as NRC chairman, as acknowledged by the NRC’s special Fukushima response task force and evidenced by a multitude of safety and performance indicators. It is still the case today.”
Since the first nuclear reactor went operational in the US, there have been very few fatal incidents at nuclear power facilities, though there were a number of high profile stories written over the inherent dangers of large nuclear reactors during the mid-1970s. One of the most recent incidents at a US reactor was in April of 2013, when an employee was killed at the Arkansas Nuclear One plant while moving part of a generator.
Jaczko served as chairman of the nuclear regulatory agency since 2009, and according to the Times resigned in 2012 following conflicts with colleagues. He was seen as an outlying vote on a number of safety issues, and had advocated for more stringent safety improvements during his tenure.
Another leak has been discovered at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, only a few days after two similar incidents and a major power failure at the facility, Reuters reported.
The new leak was detected in pool No.1 while water from the leaking pool No.2 was being transported, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The water transfer has been halted.
The plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) indicated they were “losing faith” in temporary storage pits for the radioactive water, but did not have anywhere else to put it.
“We can’t move all the contaminated water to above ground [tanks] if we opt not to use the underground reservoirs. There isn’t enough capacity and we need to use what is available,” Tepco general manager Masayuki Ono explained at a news conference.
Meanwhile, the nuclear watchdog IAEA has announced its experts are set to come to Fukushima to inspect the situation at the nuclear plant.
A day earlier, the operator admitted that they are running out of space to store radioactive water from the facility.
The company is still dealing with the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, as it attempts to keep reactors and spent fuel pools in a safe state known as ‘cold shutdown.’
On Saturday, as much as 120 tons of contaminated water seeped from an underground tank; a new leak was spotted on Sunday. The cooling system for the plant has also failed twice over the past three weeks.
- Tepco finds second pit leaking in Fukushima (japantimes.co.jp)
- Fukushima: at Least Three of Seven Underground Chambers Leaking Radioactive Water (cryptogon.com)
Exactly two years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, perhaps the most crucial issue to be addressed is how many people were harmed by radioactive emissions.
The full tally won’t be known for years, after many scientific studies. But some have rushed to judgment, proclaiming exposures were so small that there will be virtually no harm from Fukushima fallout.
This knee-jerk reaction after a meltdown is nothing new. Nearly 12 years after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, there were no journal articles examining changes in local cancer rates. But 31 articles in publications like the Journal of Trauma and Stress and Psychosomatic Medicine had already explored psychological consequences.
Eventually, the first articles on cancer cases showed that in the five years after the accident, there was a whopping 64% increase in the cancer cases within 10 miles of Three Mile Island. But the writers, from Columbia University, concluded radiation could not account for this rise, suggesting stress be considered instead. While this was later contested by researchers from the University of North Carolina, many officials still subscribe to the slogan “nobody died at Three Mile Island.”
In 1986, after the Chernobyl catastrophe, officials in the Soviet Union and elsewhere raced to play damage control. The Soviet government admitted 31 rescue workers had died soon after absorbing huge radiation doses extinguishing the fire and trying to bury the red-hot reactor. For years, 31 was often cited as the “total” deaths from Chernobyl. Journal articles on disease and death rates near Chernobyl were slow and limited. The first articles were on rising numbers of local children with thyroid cancer – a very rare condition.
Finally, 20 years after the meltdown, a conference of the World Health Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, and other groups admitted to 9,000 cancers worldwide from Chernobyl. But this was a tiny fraction of what others were finding. A 2009 New York Academy of Sciences book estimated 985,000 deaths (and rising) worldwide from Chernobyl fallout. The team, led by Alexey Yablokov, examined 5,000 articles and reports, most in Slavic language never before available to researchers.
Fukushima was next. While estimates of releases remain variable and inexact, nobody disputes that Fukushima was the worst or second-worst meltdown in history. But predictably, nuclear proponents raced to assure the public that little or no harm would ensue.
First to cover up and minimize damage was the Japanese government and nuclear industry. John Boice of Vanderbilt University went a step further, declaring “there is no opportunity to conduct epidemiologic studies that have any chance of detecting excess cancer risk. The doses are just too low.” At a public hearing in Alabama in December, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission official Victor McCree stated “there was no significant exposure to radiation from the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.” Just days ago, a World Health Organization report concluded there would be no measurable increase in cancer rates from Fukushima – other than a very slight rise in exposed children living closest to the site.
Others have made estimates of the eventual toll from Fukushima. Welsh physicist Christopher Busby projects 417,000 additional cancers just within 125 miles of the plant. American engineer Arnold Gundersen calculates that the meltdown will cause 1 million cancer deaths.
Internist-toxicologist Janette Sherman and I are determined to make public any data on changes in health, as quickly as possible. In the December 2011 International Journal of Health Services, we documented a “bump” in U.S. deaths in the 3-4 months after Fukushima, especially among infants – the same “bump” after Chernobyl. Our recent study in the Open Journal of Pediatrics showed rising numbers of infants born with an under-active thyroid gland – which is highly sensitive to radiation – on the West Coast, where Fukushima fallout was greatest.
It is crucial that researchers don’t wait years before analyzing and presenting data, even though the amount of available information is still modest. To remain silent while allowing the “no harm” mantra to spread would repeat the experiences after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and allow perpetration of the myth that meltdowns are harmless. Researchers must be vigilant in pursuing an understanding of what Fukushima did to people – so that all-too-common meltdown will be a thing of the past.
Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
Kids in Fukushima Prefecture are becoming increasingly overweight, as they are denied daily exercise in schoolyards due to the risk posed by exposure to nuclear radiation in the area, governments’ health report reveals.
The report argues that an increasing number of kids are weighing 20 per cent more than their standard based on their height, reported Kyodo News.
The study was released by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Since June 2011 more than half the public institutions in Fukushima, which is just under 450 schools, have limited their outdoor activities during school hours. As of September 2012, 71 elementary and junior high schools still adhere to such restrictions, according to the prefectural education board.
Their main concern is fear of exposure to radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi complex.
Earlier, alarming reports of children developing potentially cancerous abnormalities have been making news as early as July.
A report by Fukushima Medical University first published this April and updated in July revealed that 36 per cent of Fukushima children have unusually overgrown thyroid glands, and could be prone to cancer.
Of 38,000 children examined, 13,000 had cysts or nodules as large as five millimeters, the Health Management Survey stated, which made doctors around the globe rate Japan’s reaction to the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster as “ultimately medical irresponsibility.”
On top of that, fish caught off the coast of Japan following the Fukushima nuclear disaster are still contaminated, bringing speculation that leakage from the reactors has not been fully stopped. If true, it could threaten area marine life for decades to come.
The long-term consequences of the Fukushima disaster have yet to be estimated, and the possible radiation spread has been a subject of continuous dispute, with official and independent sources providing contrasting figures.
Since the day of the tragedy, Japan has seen many anti-nuclear demonstrations.
The Fukushima nuclear plant was hit in 2011 by a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the worst-ever disaster of its kind in Japan.
The disaster triggered a strong reaction in Japan itself and from May, 2011 to July, 2012 Japan managed to function without nuclear power plants, but later despite widespread protests, Ōi Nuclear Power Plant was restarted.
The disaster also had an awakening effect on several nations worldwide, with some deciding to shelve the use of nuclear energy, including European powerhouse Germany.
Having the Energy Department manage radiation health research makes as much sense as giving tobacco companies the authority to see if smoking is safe
The U.S. government is going out of its way to downplay radiation hazards in the aftermath of one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents.
Last month, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) heralded an Energy Department-funded study indicating that evacuation zones around nuclear power stations might not be needed after a major nuclear accident. The study, which exposed mice to radiation levels comparable to those near the Fukushima nuclear disaster, found no evidence of genetic harm. “There are no data that say that’s a dangerous level,” says Jacquelyn Yanch, a leader of the study.
“Current U.S. regulations require that residents of any area that reaches radiation levels eight times higher than background should be evacuated,” according to MIT’s press release. “However, the financial and emotional cost of such relocation may not be worthwhile, the researchers say.”
It’s quite a leap to claim that evacuation zones around nuclear power plants might not be needed based on the chromosomes of 112 irradiated mice.
In a devastating critique, blogger Ian Goddard points out that the MIT study excluded extensive evidence of genetic damage to humans living in a radiation-contaminated environment. Although doses in a peer-reviewed study of 19 groups of children living near Chernobyl were consistently lower than the MIT mouse study, most showed lasting genetic damage. “MIT’s presentation of its study as the first scientific examination of the genetic risks of living in a nuclear disaster zone is pure science fiction, not fact,” Goddard concludes.
Even more troubling, the Obama administration reduced emergency preparedness in case of a major nuclear accident in a quiet announcement made six months ago, right before Christmas — virtually guaranteeing minimal media attention. Given that the number of people living near nuclear stations has grown four-and-a-half times larger since 1980, a move in the opposite direction would make more sense.
What’s going on? The United States remains a major pillar of nuclear support here and around the world. About 70 percent of the Energy Department’s $26.3-billion budget covers nuclear activities — and that’s not including $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors that are slated for construction in South Carolina and Georgia. Japan’s failing nuclear industry is supposed to build them.
The Energy Department is also the main source of funding for radiation health research. That’s like having the tobacco industry determine if smoking is bad for your health. And this conflict of interest is nothing new. Several prominent scientists on the nuclear payroll in the 1950s and 60s vigorously claimed that radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests was harmless. Some went so far as to claim that fallout might be beneficial because increased radiation-induced genetic mutations could weed out the weak.
This problem was not lost on congressional investigators over the past 35 years. They revealed the government’s suppression of incriminating data, blacklisting of uncooperative researchers, unethical human experiments, and submission of fraudulent research in federal court. By the late 1980s, the agency was forced to move funding for radiation research to public health agencies. This all changed a decade later, when the Republican-controlled Congress restored the Energy Department’s monopoly over radiation health research.
Things have gotten so bad that the agency gave MIT a $1.7-million grant last month to research, among other things, the “difficulties in gaining the broad social acceptance” of nuclear power. MIT also receives millions of dollars from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the company responsible for the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
This conflict of interest has tragic dimensions. The government and nuclear industry still have yet to deal with the costly disposal of enormous amounts of radioactive waste and profoundly contaminated “sacrifice zones” at the Energy Department’s nuclear sites. Or to resolve the issue of the tens of thousands of sick nuclear workers, uranium miners, military veterans, experiment victims, and nuclear test “down-winders,” who are receiving billions of dollars in compensation after being put in harm’s way on behalf of splitting the atom.
Robert Alvarez, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, served as a Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of Energy during the Clinton Administration. He authored the report Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools in the U.S.: Reducing the Deadly Risks of Storage.