Russia has suspended a post-Cold War deal with the US on disposal of plutonium from decommissioned nuclear warheads. The decision was explained by “the hostile actions of the US” against Russia and Washington’s failure to observe the terms of the deal.
A decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin cites “the radical change in the environment, a threat to strategic stability posed by the hostile actions of the US against Russia, and the inability of the US to deliver on the obligation to dispose of excessive weapons plutonium under international treaties, as well as the need to take swift action to defend Russian security” as justification for suspending the deal.
While Russia suspended the plutonium reprocessing deal, it stressed that the Russian fissile material, which was subject to it, would not be used for any military purpose, be it production of new weapons or research.
The suspension decree has come into force, but it needs to be approved by the Russian parliament, which may overrule the president’s decision. Leonid Slutsky, who’s slated to be appointed head of the Foreign Relations Committee in the newly-elected parliament, said it would be given a priority.
“It’s a very important issue. It’s about taking swift action to protect Russian national security. We will deal with it as soon as the bill is submitted,” he told TASS.
The development was not entirely surprising, since Russia earlier expressed its dissatisfaction with how the US wants to handle plutonium reprocessing.
Washington decided it would be cheaper to mix nuclear materials with special diluents. Russia insisted that the US was violating the terms of the deal, which required it to use a nuclear reactor to transmute plutonium. Unlike the mixing technology, the latter method makes the process irreversible.
The treaty between the US and Russia, which regulates how the two countries are to dispose of plutonium from nuclear warheads decommissioned as part of the parallel reduction of the two countries’ Cold War arsenals, was signed in 2000. Each country was required to dispose of over 34 tons of fissile material by turning it into so-called MOX fuel and burning it in nuclear reactors.
However, costs for building a facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where the US was supposed to fabricate MOX fuel from its plutonium, spiraled out of control. Under the Obama administration, the US decided that it would instead use the cheaper reversible process, arguing that it was in line with the spirit of the deal with Russia.
Russia expressed its concerns over the unilateral move in April, shortly after a nuclear security summit held in the US.
“We signed an agreement that the plutonium will be processed in a certain way, for which facilities would be purpose-built,” Putin said at the time. “We have met our commitments, and constructed the necessary facilities. The US has not.”
The US rejected the criticism from Russia. The “new US method would not require renegotiation of the agreement,” US State Department spokesperson Jennifer Bavisotto said.
“Indian Point” is a film about the long problem-plagued Indian Point nuclear power plants that are “so, so risky—so close to New York City,” notes its director and producer Ivy Meeropol. “Times Square is 35 miles away.”
The plants constitute a disaster waiting to happen threatening especially the lives of the 22 million people who live within 50 miles from them. “There is no way to evacuate—what I’ve learned about an evacuation plan is that there is none,” says Meeropol. The plants are “on two earthquake fault lines,” she notes. “And there is a natural gas pipeline right there that an earthquake could rupture.”
Meanwhile, both plants, located in Buchanan, New York along the Hudson River, are now essentially running without licenses. The federal government’s 40-year operating license for Indian Point 2 expired in 2013 and Indian Point 3’s license expired last year. Their owner, Entergy, is seeking to have them run for another 20 years—although nuclear plants were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems. (Indian Point 1 was opened in 1962 and closed in 1974, its emergency core cooling system deemed impossible to fix.)
At Indian Point 2 and 3 there have been frequent accidents and issues involving releases of radioactivity through the years. The discharges of tritium or irradiated water, H30, which cannot be filtered out of good water, into the aquifer below the Westinghouse nuclear plants and also the Hudson River have been a major concern.
But it’s not just Indian Point that “Indian Point” is about. The film emphasizes: “With so much attention focused on Indian Point, the future of nuclear plants in the United States might depend on what happens here.”
“I would give the film an ‘A.’ I wholeheartedly recommend it for wide release throughout the United States,” says Priscilla Star, founder of the Coalition Against Nukes: “It is a stellar learning tool. It depicts the David-versus-Goliath struggle involving those trying to close these decrepit nuclear plants and the profit-hungry nuclear industry. It shows grassroots activists fighting the time bombs in their community.”
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. For the past two weeks it has been showing five-times-a-day at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, also in Manhattan. That run will go until Thursday, July 21. On Friday, July 22, it is to open in Los Angeles. After its theatrical release, it will air on the Epix cable TV channel.
Among those in the film are anti-Indian Point activist Marilyn Elie and long-time environmental journalist Roger Witherspoon who has written extensively about Indian Point. And also Entergy employees appear. Meeropol and her crew were given full access to the nuclear plants.
The documentary provides a special focus on Dr. Gregory Jaczko. He was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) when the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan began in March 2011. As notes Meeropol, Jaczko sought to have “lessons learned” from the Fukushima catastrophe—which involved General Electric nuclear plants—applied to nuclear power plants in the U.S. And he was given “a really tough time.” Pressure by the nuclear industry caused Jaczko, with a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to be “pushed out” as NRC chairman and member. Meeropol tells of how “this guy, a decent person trying to do his job, was completely abused.”
Meeropol, in an interview, said the NRC “is too closely linked to the nuclear industry. It’s not going to do anything that the nuclear industry regards as too costly or onerous. I want that to be one of the biggest takeaways from the film—how a regulatory body cares more about the industry it is supposed to regulate than the public. And of all industries that should be regulated, it’s the nuclear power industry.” She said she found the nuclear industry and nuclear energy officials in the U.S. government “one and the same.”
Meeropol began the “Indian Point” film project in January 2011. She had moved from Brooklyn up to the Hudson Valley “a decade ago when our son was born. Commuting in and out of the city on the Metro-North train, I went right past the plants. They looked so foreboding and odd there in that beautiful landscape.”
Also, until she, her husband and son moved upstate, “having lived in New York City, I had no idea how close they were to the city.”
Further, in the community where they went to live, Cold Spring, 15 miles from the plants. “we could hear the [emergency] sirens” from the plants and she was unsettled receiving in the mail an “emergency preparedness booklet titled: ‘Are You Ready?’”
So the experienced filmmaker started doing research on the “dangerous endeavor of making nuclear energy.” With the Fukushima disaster beginning just a few months after she started on the film, that “broadened” its perspective.
She said the films she has made have always been “character-driven” and she was attracted to feature in “Indian Point” Marilyn Elie—“she knows her stuff”—and Roger Witherspoon. “I liked his dynamic. He is a journalist. She is an activist.” She stressed to Entergy officials that she would be even-handed “and quite amazingly was given access” to the plants. Her connecting with Jaczko was crucial. It “became my crusade to redeem Greg Jaczko before the world.”
She started making the film on a shoe string. “I ran out of money numerous times.” But she was able to get financial support from the Sundance Institute, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Catapult Fund, and individual contributions. And “partnering” with Julie Goldman, founder of Motto Films, was extremely important. Goldman is also producer of “Indian Point.” A “very generous grant” was received from the MacArthur Foundation which also “opened up other doors.”
The avidly pro-nuclear New York Times (its pro-Indian Point editorials never cease and its last reporter who long covered the plants and the nuclear industry has now gone on to a job with the PR arm of the industry) said in its review: “’Indian Point’ is a good overview of the issues, with insights into the problems of regulating the industry.” It complained about Meeropol’s being “steadfast in providing both sides.”
Meanwhile, Indian Point sits there on the Hudson, continuing with accidents and in emitting what the NRC says are “permissible” levels of radioactivity. They are highly likely candidates for a Chernobyl or Fukushima-level catastrophe in the most highly populated area of the United States. And the NRC, steadfastly ignoring Jaczko’s warnings, in league with Entergy, seeks to let the decrepit time bombs run for another 20 years—just asking for disaster.
The good news is that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been endeavoring to have the Indian Point nuclear plants closed and safe-energy activists and an array of environmental and safe-energy organizations are working hard to shut them down—and the film “Indian Point” is out.
India has failed to achieve membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which is a group of countries seeking «to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through implementation of two sets of Guidelines for nuclear and nuclear-related exports». Given that members of the NSG already supply India with uranium, New Delhi’s campaign is intriguing, especially as one of the Group’s main requirements is that suppliers of nuclear-associated material may authorise such trade «only when satisfied that the transfer would not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons».
It could not be clearer that this international agreement forbids provision of nuclear expertise or material to a country that has not ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which the US State Department describes as «the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime».
But even cornerstones can be undermined, and that process began when President George W Bush started negotiations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 to produce a US-India nuclear cooperation agreement. It took considerable effort by both sides to come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement whereby India would have access to nuclear material and technology consistent with the primary US aim of entry to the potentially large Indian market for construction of nuclear power stations.
The commercially-based Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of India concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy of 2007 is known as the 123 Agreement because it was necessary to amend Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act 1954 which governs ‘Cooperation with Other Nations’.
India declined to abide by the Act’s specification that it «must have full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, essentially covering all major nuclear facilities», because this would involve inspection of defence-related establishments, and Washington promptly removed this inconvenient requirement.
The modified Act seemed to clear the way for nuclear collaboration on a major scale, but there has as yet been no commitment by US nuclear plant manufacturers, mainly because they do not want to be held financially responsible for a nuclear accident at a power station which they designed or built.
It is accepted worldwide that national nuclear plant operators are accountable in the event of accidents, but India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, and Rule 24 of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules, 2011, provide for the right of recourse, pursuit of which could involve foreign enterprises, be they suppliers or operators, being held liable for damages. In spite of lobbying by US President Obama during his 2015 visit to India, which was much praised as having achieved a «breakthrough» in removing the liability barriers which India’s parliament strongly supported, there has been no radical change that would encourage US firms to seek major contracts. (The Westinghouse Electric Company, generally thought to be American, which is negotiating to build six nuclear plants in India, has been owned by Japan’s Toshiba since 2006.)
In February 2015 India’s Ministry of External Affairs stated that the Civil Liability Act «channels all legal liability for nuclear damage exclusively to the operator» – but Clause 17 of the Act specifies that operators are permitted to seek financial recourse from suppliers after paying compensation for «patent or latent defects or sub-standard services», which are, naturally, open to legal interpretation in the event of a disaster, which is no doubt being borne in mind by India’s legislators who have not forgotten the 1984 disaster at the Union Carbide chemical plant at Bhopal that killed and maimed many thousands of people.
While there have as yet been no commercial benefits to the US from its nuclear accord with India, there have been other effects, including some that are less than desirable in the context of «proliferation of nuclear weapons» which is condemned by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The Arms Control Association records that «In September 2008, in a move led by the United States, the Nuclear Suppliers Group eased long-standing restrictions on nuclear trade with India by the group’s members. NSG rules generally forbid the sale of nuclear goods, such as reactors and fuel, to non-NPT countries». Before this ‘easing’ of international constraints, India had been unable to import uranium and was therefore entirely reliant on its own mines, which produce only low-grade ore but are in the long term capable of providing fuel to any number of nuclear facilities, civilian and military. The only drawback is that domestic processing would be enormously expensive. Importing uranium is very much cheaper.
As a result of being excused from the international stipulation requiring its adherence to the NPT before being permitted to import nuclear fuel and technology, India negotiated nuclear cooperation arrangements with eleven nations, including the holder of the world’s largest uranium deposits, Australia, whose government’s 1977 Uranium Export Policy had specified that «customer countries must at a minimum be a party to the NPT and have concluded a full-scope safeguards Agreement with the IAEA». But profit beats morality, and, as noted by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, «Australia was the last domino to fall when it created an exception for India to its export policies in December 2011».
Countries involved in nuclear cooperation with India observe similar rules to those of Australia which specifies that its uranium «may only be exported for peaceful non-explosive purposes». And of course it cannot be claimed that foreign-supplied uranium could be used to produce nuclear weapons. These are manufactured at installations using India’s abundant (although process-expensive) indigenous ore which, thanks to the flexibility of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, is no longer needed to fuel civilian nuclear power stations. Quantities, quality and details of application need not be revealed.
Following the US-India nuclear agreement the president of the Federation of American Scientists, Charles D Ferguson, wrote in Arms Control Today that «by granting India access to uranium, the deal allows India to divert its indigenously-mined uranium to military applications without detracting fuel from the civilian program» – and that is the crux of the entire affair.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group, at the urging of the United States, approved a measure that assists India to produce more nuclear weapons more economically. The «cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime» was dealt a massive blow. Although the US Hyde Act of 2006 requires the President to inform Congress of non-compliance with «the provision of nuclear fuel in such a manner as to facilitate the increased production by India of highly enriched uranium or plutonium in unsafeguarded nuclear facilities» it is impossible for the US to certify that this is not taking place because there is no provision for verification. Clever India.
Membership of the NSG remains a major foreign policy goal for India, and US support for its ambition was formally indicated in 2015 joint statement by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi which «committed [them] to continue to work towards India’s phased entry» to the Group. The US has made it clear that it will continue to support India’s efforts to achieve its objective, and that the requirement for «full compliance» with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or other «equivalent international nuclear nonproliferation agreement» is irrelevant so far as India is concerned.
It’s intriguing how international agreements can be reinterpreted, distorted, massaged or just plain ignored when it suits Washington’s policies – and, it seems, the pockets, prosperity and re-election prospects of America’s Legislators.
It may take Germany over a hundred years to bury its mounting pile of nuclear waste in a spot it is yet to secure, a special parliamentary commission has concluded.
After two years of research, the repository commission presented its 682-page report to the parliament on Tuesday where it called into question an on-time solution to the problem of radioactive storage.
“The German Bundestag is due, according to current estimates, to start searching for an optimal secure place in 2017. Decades will pass before the waste can be buried and possibly more than a century before this process ends,” the report predicted.
The German government announced in 2011 it was going to phase out all eight nuclear reactors by 2022, following the Fukushima disaster. The initial plan was to find a suitable place by 2031 where to store highly-radioactive spent nuclear fuel, with the dump scheduled to open in 2050.
The ten worst acts of the Nuclear Age described below have set the tone for our time. They have caused immense death and suffering; been tremendously expensive; have encouraged nuclear proliferation; have opened the door to nuclear terrorism, nuclear accidents and nuclear war; and are leading the world back into a second Cold War. These “ten worst acts” are important information for anyone attempting to understand the time in which we live, and how the nuclear dangers that confront us have been intensified by the leadership and policy choices made by the United States and the other eight nuclear-armed countries.
1. Bombing Hiroshima (August 6, 1945). The first atomic bomb was dropped by the United States on the largely civilian population of Hiroshima, killing some 70,000 people instantly and 140,000 people by the end of 1945. The bombing demonstrated the willingness of the US to use its new weapon of mass destruction on cities.
2. Bombing Nagasaki (August 9, 1945). The second atomic bomb was dropped on the largely civilian population of Nagasaki before Japanese leaders had time to assess the death and injury caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima three days earlier. The atomic bombing of Nagasaki took another 70,000 lives by the end of 1945.
3. Pursuing a unilateral nuclear arms race (1945 – 1949). The first nuclear weapon test was conducted by the US on July 16, 1945, just three weeks before the first use of an atomic weapon on Hiroshima. As the only nuclear-armed country in the world in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the US continued to expand its nuclear arsenal and began testing nuclear weapons in 1946 in the Marshall Islands, a trust territory the US was asked to administer on behalf of the United Nations. Altogether the US tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, with the equivalent explosive power of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs daily for that 12 year period.
4. Initiating Atoms for Peace (1953). President Dwight Eisenhower put forward an Atoms for Peace proposal in a speech delivered on December 8, 1953. This proposal opened the door to the spread of nuclear reactors and nuclear materials for purposes of research and power generation. This resulted in the later proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional countries, including Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
5. Engaging in a Cold War bilateral nuclear arms race (1949 – 1991). The nuclear arms race became bilateral when the Soviet Union tested its first atomic weapon on August 29, 1949. This bilateral nuclear arms race between the US and USSR reached its apogee in 1986 with some 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world, enough to destroy civilization many times over and possibly result in the extinction of the human species.
6. Atmospheric Nuclear Testing (1945 – 1980). Altogether there have been 528 atmospheric nuclear tests. The US, UK and USSR ceased atmospheric nuclear testing in 1963, when they signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty. France continued atmospheric nuclear testing until 1974 and China continued until 1980. Atmospheric nuclear testing has placed large amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere, causing cancers and leukemia in human populations.
7. Breaching the disarmament provisions of the NPT (1968 – present). Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament….” The five nuclear weapons-states parties to the NPT (US, Russia, UK, France and China) remain in breach of these obligations. The other four nuclear-armed states (Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) are in breach of these same obligations under customary international law.
8. Treating nuclear power as an “inalienable right” in the NPT (1968 – present). This language of “inalienable right” contained in Article IV of the NPT encourages the development and spread of nuclear power plants and thereby makes the proliferation of nuclear weapons more likely. Nuclear power plants are also attractive targets for terrorists. As yet, there are no good plans for long-term storage of radioactive wastes created by these plants. Government subsidies for nuclear power plants also take needed funding away from the development of renewable energy sources.
9. Failing to cut a deal with North Korea (1992 to present). During the Clinton administration, the US was close to a deal with North Korea to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. This deal was never fully implemented and negotiations for it were abandoned under the George W. Bush administration. Consequently, North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003 and conducted its first nuclear weapon test in 2006.
10. Abrogating the ABM Treaty (2002). Under the George W. Bush administration, the US unilaterally abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. This allowed the US, in combination with expanding NATO to the east, to place missile defense installations near the Russian border. It has also led to emplacement of US missile defenses in East Asia. Missile defenses in Europe and East Asia have spurred new nuclear arms races in these regions.
David Krieger is a founder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
According to a new report, the Japanese government worked in concert with TEPCO to purposely cover up the meltdown at Fukushima in 2011.
“I would say it was a coverup,” Tokyo Electric Power Company President Naomi Hirose announced during a press conference. “It’s extremely regrettable.”
Masataka Shimizu, president of TEPCO at the time of the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster, told employees not to go public with the term “meltdown” — allegedly in capitulation to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office.
For two months, TEPCO officials euphemized the meltdown in public statements as “core damage,” even as they had full knowledge of the true extent of the catastrophe. Though a few company officials initially used the term “meltdown,” it abruptly vanished from public discussions just three days after the disaster struck.
According to the report, Shimizu rushed a note to Vice President Sakae Muto as he held a press conference that warned him against using the word meltdown.
“Considering this fact, it is presumable that the Prime Minister’s Office requested Shimizu to be careful about admitting to a meltdown in public,” the report states, as Japan Times noted.
Though the three lawyers who authored the report did not find direct evidence, they surmised it was “highly likely” governmental pressure was behind the amelioration of information about the scope of the disaster.
As CBS News reported, former officials from the Prime Minister’s Office denied all allegations a cover-up had taken place. In fact, former government spokesman and current secretary general of the opposition Democratic Party denounced the report as “inadequate and unilateral” — particularly as the lawyer-authors are allied with the current ruling party.
Attorney Yasuhisa Tanaka, who headed the panel investigation, admitted TEPCO likely didn’t intentionally cover up that a meltdown had occurred, saying,
“Looking at the situation back then, we think it was too difficult for Tepco to use the term meltdown because even the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency couldn’t use it,” because of pressure from the government, Japan Times noted.
That agency had been Japan’s nuclear watchdog in March 2011, at the time of the disaster.
Notably, five years after the catastrophe, TEPCO revealed the existence of a company manual in which a meltdown is ‘official’ once 5 percent or more fuel rods have suffered damage. But, as Japan Times explained:
“As of March 14, 2011, Tepco estimated that 55 percent of the fuel rod assemblies in reactor No. 1 and 25 percent of those in reactor No. 3 were damaged but did not declare they were damaged until May that year.”
In euphemizing the meltdown, TEPCO and the Japanese government left countless civilians in peril; despite evacuations, many had been reluctant to leave their homes and might have done so sooner had the full scope of a meltdown been clear.
TEPCO remains embroiled in controversy over secrecy and alleged incompetent handling of the cleanup of Fukushima. In February this year, three former TEPCO executives were charged with negligence over the disaster.
The Swedish parliament has today agreed to abolish a tax on nuclear power as it recognizes nuclear’s role in helping it to eventually achieve a goal of 100% renewable generation.
The framework agreement announced by the Social Democrats, the Moderate Party, the Green Party, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats, will see the tax phased out over two years. It also allows for the construction of up to ten new nuclear reactors at existing sites, to replace plants as they retire. Setting 2040 as the date at which Sweden should have a 100% renewable electricity system, the document stresses that 2040 is a ‘goal’ and not a cut-off date for nuclear generation.
A variable production tax on nuclear power introduced in 1984 was replaced by a tax on installed capacity in 2000. Since its introduction this tax has gradually increased and today corresponds to about 7 öre (0.8 US cents) per kilowatt-hour. In February this year, utility Vattenfall said that the capacity tax had brought its nuclear operating costs to around 32 öre (3.8 US cents) per kWh. However, its revenue from nuclear power generation is only about 22 öre (2.6 US cents) per kWh.
Swedish utilities had sought redress against the tax through the courts, but the European Court of Justice ruled last October that Sweden could continue to tax nuclear power, deciding the tax is a national, rather than European Commission, matter.
Vattenfall CEO Magnus Hall welcomed the agreement, which he said gave the utility the predictability it needed. “The abolishment of the nuclear capacity tax is an important precondition for us to be able to consider the investments needed to secure the long-term operation of our nuclear reactors from the 1980s,” he said. Vattenfall’s reactors at Forsmark and Ringhals have undergone a comprehensive modernisation programme to allow them to operate until the mid-2040s. However, to continue operating beyond 2020 they must meet stricter safety requirements through the installation of independent core cooling. Investing in those upgrades was economically impossible with the tax in place.
“Even with the abolishment of the capacity tax, profitability will be a challenge,” Hall concluded. “Low electricity prices put all energy producers under pressure and we will continue to focus on reducing production costs. Naturally, investment decisions must be taken on commercial grounds, taking all cost factors and expected long-term market developments that the agreement implies into account,” Hall said.
The director general of the World Nuclear Association, Agneta Rising, said: “Today’s announcement is a positive development. It is vital that there is now consistent policy to give operators the confidence to make the investments needed in their plant to allow for their long term continued operation. Other countries should follow Sweden’s example and ensure that their energy policies provide a level playing field that treats all forms of generation equally on their merits.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has unveiled a plan allowing radioactive contamination in drinking water at concentrations vastly greater than the levels permitted by the Safe Drinking Water Act for long periods following release of nuclear materials.
EPA’s “Protective Action Guides” (or PAGs) dramatically relax allowable doses of radioactive material in public drinking water following a Fukushima-type meltdown or “dirty bomb” attack.
They cover the “intermediate phase” after “releases have been brought under control” – an unspecified period that may last for weeks, months or even years.
The agency has declared that the strict limits for chemical exposure in the Safe Drinking Water Act “may not be appropriate… during a radiation incident.”
EPA states that it “expects that the responsible party… will take action to return to compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act maximum contaminant levels as soon as practicable” but during the indefinite meantime –
The general population may be exposed to radioactive iodine-131 at 10,350 pico-curies per liter of water.
By contrast, the current limit is 3, resulting in a 3,450-times increase;
The current strontium-90 limit of 8 pico-curies per liter would be allowed a 925-fold increase; and
In an attempt to shield “sensitive populations,” the plan proposes 500 millirem per year for the general population but only 100 millirem for children under 15, pregnant or nursing mothers without explaining how these latter groups will get access to less contaminated water.
“Given this monstrous proposal, it unclear what lessons EPA learned from the contaminated water calamity of Flint, Michigan,” said. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) executive director Jeff Ruch. “It is unfathomable that a public health agency would prescribe subjecting people to radioactive concentrations a thousand times above Safe Drinking Water Act limits as a ‘protective’ measure.”
Internal EPA documents obtained under Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by PEER show that EPA itself concluded that proposed concentrations “would exceed MCLs [Maximum Contaminant Limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances, 7 million.”
The internal analysis estimated for one radionuclide that drinking only one small glass of water “would result in an exposure that corresponds to a lifetime of drinking liters of water per day at the MCL level.”
The Bush Administration in its last days unsuccessfully tried to put forward similar proposals, which the incoming Obama Administration pulled back.
Now, in the waning months of the Obama Administration, those plans are moving forward with new exposure limits higher than the Bush plan it had rejected.
“President Obama goes to Hiroshima to urge a nuclear-free world while his EPA facilitates a nuclear-ridden water supply,” added Ruch. “It speaks volumes that the current Obama drinking water plan is less protective than his predecessor’s.”
In US, Indian Premier Modi vows to improve ease of doing business
India and the US have signed an agreement to enhance cooperation on energy security, clean energy and climate change, and an MOU on cooperation in gas hydrates. In Washington on Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister held extensive talks with US President Barack Obama, including climate change and nuclear energy.
A Reuters report quoted a Westinghouse Electric spokesperson as saying “negotiations continue” on building 6 nuclear reactors in India. A joint statement, after Modi-Obama talks, said India and the US Export-Import Bank were working to complete a financing package for the project.
The Indian Prime Minister also pushed for enlisting US support to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation bloc, APEC.
A New York Times editorial argued that India has yet merited a NSG berth.
India does not meet one of the major factors for membership of the NSG – being a party to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Many countries including Ireland, Austria, New Zealand, among many others, are opposed to India’s NSG ascension.
Meanwhile, the US-India joint statement issued after Modi-Obama talks does not mention the much hyped South China Sea dispute. The document does refer to “settlement of territorial disputes by peaceful means”.
“The leaders reiterated the importance they attach to ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight and exploitation of resources as per international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and settlement of territorial disputes by peaceful means,” said the Indo-US joint statement on Tuesday.
The US has not signed the UN treaty, the UNCLOS.
A trilateral Russia-India-China (RIC) statement earlier this year echoed Beijing’s position that the disputes must be resolved between “parties directly involved”.
“Russia, India and China are committed to maintaining a legal order for the seas and oceans based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS). All related disputes should be addressed through negotiations and agreements between the parties concerned,” the joint statement after the Russian, Chinese and Indian Foreign Ministers meet said in April in Moscow.
At the Oval Office meeting between Obama and Modi on Tuesday, the two leaders also reiterated their commitment to pursue low greenhouse gas emission development strategies in the pre-2020 period and to develop long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.
New Delhi has vowed to join the Paris climate change deal this year, which would provide a “significant global momentum” towards implementation of the historic agreement, the White House said.
“We discussed how we can, as quickly as possible, bring the Paris Agreement into force,” Obama said.
Modi, who also addressed the US-India Business Council, stressed that the Indian government would “continue to make progress on improving the investment climate and ease of doing business”.
“We are encouraging foreign and domestic investors to set up high quality and efficient manufacturing facilities,” Modi told the audience.
On Tuesday, Amazon Inc AMZN.O Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said his company would invest an additional $3 billion in India.
Two major American business bodies earlier this year, however, voiced disappointment with what they called “the glacial pace” of market reforms in India.
In a submission to the US commerce secretary, the US National Association of Manufacturers urged Washington to press for change during Modi’s visit.
“Despite statements made by Prime Minister Modi and other senior Indian officials over the past two years, there has been limited progress in many key areas that make it challenging to do business in India,” the group wrote.
US exporters to India have frequently complained about protectionist restrictions and high tariffs. India and the US have also dragged several trade disputes to the WTO.
The United States won a ruling against India at the WTO in February after challenging the rules on the origin of solar cells and solar modules used in India’s national solar power program. In April, Indian Minister of State for power, coal, new and renewable energy Piyush Goyal said the government intends to file 16 cases against the US for allegedly violating WTO treaties.
Modi is set to address the US Congress on Wednesday.
US to build 6 nuclear power plants in India: WH
The United States and India have agreed to move ahead with a plan to build six nuclear reactors in India, according to the White House.
The plan was finalized during a meeting between President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House on Tuesday.
It will be the first such construction since the two countries signed a landmark nuclear accord in 2008.
The price for the project is still under discussion, but officials said more difficult issues like liability have been worked out.
India passed a law in 2010 that would make US companies constructing nuclear power plants in the country liable for accidents.
Under the new deal, India’s Nuclear Power Corporation and Westinghouse Electric Co. of the US will begin engineering work for the reactors, though the final contract is not expected to be completed until June 2017, White House officials said.
“Culminating a decade of partnership on civil nuclear issues, the leaders welcomed the start of preparatory work on-site in India for six AP 1000 reactors to be built by Westinghouse and noted the intention of India and the US Export-Import Bank to work together toward a competitive financing package for the project,” the White House said in a statement.
“Once completed, the project would be among the largest of its kind,” it added.
The deal is believed to be part of Washington’s drive to boost cooperation with India as a counterbalance to China.
Obama said at the meeting that the US and India intended to “cooperate more effectively in order to promote jobs, promote investment, promote trade and promote greater opportunities for our people.”
The meeting will be followed by a speech Wednesday by the Indian prime minister to a joint session of the US Congress, where he is expected to be greeted warmly by American lawmakers.
Modi also announced his intention to formally join the international climate-change agreement reached in Paris in December.
The inclusion of India is significant as it could guarantee that the Paris climate agreement will go into effect before the next US president takes office. India is the world’s third-largest emitter after China and the US.
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for US president, has vowed to “cancel” the pact if elected.
It is Modi’s fourth visit to the US as New Delhi intends to forge closer ties with Washington before President Obama leaves office next year.
Conflicting with a prior industry study, a new analysis claims 96 nuclear facilities in the US are less safe than reported, citing risks such as terrorism and sabotage. The study says there remain lessons to be learned from the Fukushima disaster.
Neglect of the risks posed by used reactor fuel, or spent nuclear fuel, contained in 96 aboveground, aquamarine pools could cost the US economy $700 billion, cause cancer in tens of thousands of people as well as compel the relocation of some 3.5 million people from an area larger than New Jersey, a study released May 20 finds.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s study, ‘Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of US Nuclear Plants,’ is the second installment of a two-part study ordered by Congress on the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. It not only cites, but also outright challenges a 2014 study by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US industry’s regulator and enforcer of safety standards.
The spent fuel, The Academies’ study recommends, is safer in dry casks rather than pools, because of the risk of leaks, drawing water away from the irradiated nuclear rods. An accident, terrorist attack or malicious employee all pose greater dangers to the pools, the study says.
Aside from calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to offer a better evaluation of the health risks posed, The Academies study conducted by 17 engineers, nuclear physicists and other scientists demands the commission fulfill a 10-year-old promise to put together an impartial review of the surveillance and security policies on spent nuclear fuel.
“Even with the recommendations that the Academies’ board has put together,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Scott Burnell responded, “we continue to conclude that spent fuel is being stored safely and securely in the US.”
“Nothing in the report causes immediate concern,” Burnell added, although the commission is planning a more formal follow-up later this year, according to The Center for Public Integrity.
Congress felt compelled to fund the study on Japan’s natural-turned-nuclear disaster to help prevent a similar accident from occurring in the US. On March 11, 2011, the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima was thrashed by an earthquake and tsunami, leaving three reactors without power or coolants, which resulted in their radioactive cores melting down.
Pure luck kept the disaster from becoming even worse, The Acadamies found. Instead of Daiichi’s highly radioactive rods being exposed to oxygen, which would have sent over 13 million people packing from as far as 177 miles south in Tokyo, a leak happened to be situated between a fuel rod pool and a reactor core, which sent just enough coolant to keep the vulnerable rods from rising above the water. In the end, 470,000 people were evacuated and the still ongoing cleanup is estimated to cost about $93 billion.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 2014 study put the highest odds of an earthquake happening near spent fuel storage at one in 10 million years, boasting that “spent fuel pools are likely to withstand severe earthquakes without leaking,” while the odds of a terrorist attack or internal subversion were deemed incalculable and left out of any risk assessment.
Calling that cost-benefit analysis “deeply flawed,” The Academies panel member Frank von Hippel, also an emeritus professor and senior research physicist at Princeton University, complained that the commission’s study also left out the impact on property contamination in a 50-mile radius of an accident, tourism rates and the economy, The Center for Public Integrity reported.
The new analysis also calls for new officially designated risk assessments of safety and financial impacts at the federal level as well as what improvements aboveground dry casks may bring compared to pools. The latter is estimated to cost upwards of $4 billion by the industry.
The Fukushima clean-up team remains in the dark about the exact locations of 600 tons of melted radioactive fuel from three devastated nuclear reactors, the chief of decommissioning told the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program in an exclusive interview.
The company hopes to locate and start removing the missing fuel from 2021, the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) chief of decommissioning at Fukushima, Naohiro Masuda, revealed.
The fuel extraction technology is yet to be elaborated upon, he added.
Following the tsunami-caused 2011 meltdown at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant uranium fuel of three power generating reactors gained critical temperature and burnt through the respective reactor pressure vessels, concentrating somewhere on the lower levels of the station currently filled with water.
The melted nuclear fuel from Reactor 1 poured out completely, estimated 30 to 50 percent of fuel from Reactor 2 and 3 remained in the active zone, Masuda said.
The official estimates that approximately “200 tons of [nuclear fuel] debris lies within each unit,” which makes in total about 600 tons of melted fuel mixed up with metal construction elements, concrete and whatever else was down there.
Five years after the Fukushima tragedy, the exact location of the highly radioactive “runaway” fuel remains mystery for TEPCO. The absolutely uncontrollable fission of the melted nuclear fuel assemblies continue somewhere under the remains of the station.
“It’s important to find it as soon as possible,” acknowledged Masuda, admitting that Japan does not yet possess the technology to extract the melted uranium fuel.
“Once we can find out the condition of the melted fuel and identify its location, I believe we can develop the necessary tools to retrieve it,” Masuda said.
TEPCO’s inability to locate the melted fuel could be explained by huge levels of radiation near the melted reactor shells. It is so high that even custom-built robots sent there to get information about the current state of affairs there get disabled by the tremendous radioactivity flux. Human presence in the area is understandably out of the question.
The company’s decommission plan for Fukushima nuclear power plant implies a 30-40 year period before the consequences of the meltdown are fully eliminated. Yet experts doubt the present state of technology is sufficient to deal with the unprecedented technical task.
“Nobody really knows where the fuel is at this point and this fuel is still very radioactive and will be for a long time,” the former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Gregory Jaczko, told Foreign Correspondent.
“It may be possible that we’re never able to remove the fuel. You may just have to wind up leaving it there and somehow entomb it as it is,” said Jaczko, who headed the USNRC at the time of the Fukushima disaster.
Melted uranium fuel and tons and tons of highly radioactive water aren’t the only issues troubling TEPCO’s clean-up team at Fukushima. There are also some 10 million plastic bags full of contaminated soil concentrated in gigantic waste dumps scattered around the devastated nuclear facility.
The Japanese prime minister at the time of the Fukushima disaster, Naoto Kan, told the ABC that Japan’s government is already paying TEPCO US$70 billion to enable the company to do the decommission works at Fukushima.
“But that is not enough. It will probably cost more than $240 billion. I think 40 years [to decommission the plant] is an optimistic view,” Kan said.
Estimated 100,000 Japanese citizens evacuated from the Fukushima exclusion zone will be unable to return to their homes until TEPCO can show that the Fukushima plant is in a stable condition, Masuda said.
Washington is promoting commercial interests of the energy corporation Westinghouse in Europe, creating risks for European nuclear power plants, an article in Forbes read.
For example, in 2015, two of the Westinghouse-made fuel assemblies at the South Ukraine nuclear power plant (NPP) were found to be leaking. Since 2015, the NPP has been using US-made fuel.
In 2014, Ukraine and Westinghouse reached an agreement to supply nuclear fuel to some Ukrainian NPPs. The alleged reason behind the contract was the need to help Ukraine become energetically independent from Russia. Russia was a long-time supplier of nuclear fuel to Ukraine.
Experts have repeatedly warned that the deal would create serious risks for the safety of Ukrainian NPPs.
They cited the example of an incident which took place several years ago at the Temelin nuclear power plant, in the Czech Republic. The NPP operated on Russian-designed reactors and used fuel supplied by Westinghouse. The fuel was leaking and the rods were bending. All the Westinghouse fuel was removed from the core and replaced with Russian-made fuel.
As for Ukraine, the company announced that its fuel for Ukrainian NPPs had been improved.
Despite experts’ warnings, in March 2015, the first 42 fuel assemblies made by Westinghouse were loaded to the third reactor unit at the South Ukraine NPP.
According to Forbes, the two Westinghouse-made assemblies were found leaking during a scheduled outage at the third unit of the NPP.
The author of the article, Forbes contributor Kenneth Rapoza described how Washington has promoted Westinghouse’s interest in Eastern Europe, neglecting safety recommendations.
“Westinghouse is more than a brand name American power company. It’s a battering ram used by Washington to promote energy security,” the author wrote.
A source who wished to remain anonymous told Forbes that Westinghouse wants a market share in Eastern Europe in a bid to prevent the company from insolvency.
“Their new reactor division is loss-making, the fuel division is their only cash cow and it is not growing and existing margins are getting slimmer and slimmer. We think Westinghouse has spent millions of dollars to include nuclear fuel as part of the energy security narrative, and the current EU sentiment against Russia play into their hand,” the source said.
“But derailing nuclear projects while running into technical difficulties with Westinghouse fuel assemblies in Rosatom reactors is a dangerous way to promote energy security,” Rapoza noted.
According to former Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, the US has been promoting Westinghouse for years.
In the 1990s, US diplomats supported contribution between the Czech Republic and Westinghouse. The company pledged to improve Russian-designed nuclear plants to Western standards.
“However, the opposite proved to be true. Fuel assemblies delivered by Westinghouse were of inferior quality and higher price compared with than Russian fuel and caused frequent outages of Temelin reactors,” Paroubek told Forbes.
After, Westinghouse’s fuel assemblies were found leaking in the 2000s the Czech company CEZ decided to return to Russian-made nuclear fuel for the Temelin NPP.
“CEZ’s decision serves as a testament to the fact that the Russian fuel assembly was safer and that Washington was selling a product that did not quite work at the time, potentially putting nuclear power plants in danger,” the article read.
US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was also involved in promoting Westinghouse in Eastern Europe. In 2012 when she served as US State Secretary Clinton met with then Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas, using the energy security argument to promote the company.
According to the article, Westinghouse can produce fuel for Russia-designed reactors as well as Rosatom can build fuel assemblies for Western-designed power units. However, for third parties working with Westinghouse is less economically efficient.
“Russia is the cheaper producer of the two, so when countries turn to Westinghouse for the fuel assemblies, they have to pay a premium for diversification,” Rapoza wrote.
Nevertheless, the largest initiative by Westinghouse is squeezing Russia from the Ukrainian nuclear fuel market, using again the argument of diversifying supplies.
In 2012, the Ukrainian nuclear regulator banned the use of Westinghouse’s fuel assemblies in the country pending an investigation over the incident at the South Ukraine NPP.
“Two years later, then-Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk consulted Westinghouse on picking a new nuclear safety regulator for his new government,” the author wrote citing a source in Ukraine.
In April, the Ukrainian Energy Ministry announced it would buy more nuclear fuel from Westinghouse. The company is planning to deliver five reloads of fuel to South Ukraine and Zaporizhia NPPs.
According to the author, Westinghouse’s commercial interests are closely tied to politics and thus the company neglects safety.
“Regardless, anti-Russia politics trumps technological problems,” Rapoza concluded.