According to London-based independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment Dr. Ian Fairlie, the health toll from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe is horrific: about 12,000 workers have been exposed to high levels of radiation (some up to 250 mSv); between 2011 and 2015, about 2,000 died from the effects of evacuations, ill-health and suicide related to the disaster; furthermore, an estimated 5,000 will most likely face lethal cancer in the future, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
What makes matters even worse, the nuclear disaster and subsequent radiation exposure lies at the root of the longer term health effects, such as cancers, strokes, CVS (cyclic vomiting syndrome) diseases, hereditary effects and many more.
Embarrassingly, “[t]he Japanese Government, its advisors, and most radiation scientists in Japan (with some honorable exceptions) minimize the risks of radiation. The official widely-observed policy is that small amounts of radiation are harmless: scientifically speaking this is untenable,” Dr. Fairlie pointed out.
The Japanese government even goes so far as to increase the public limit for radiation in Japan from 1 mSv to 20 mSv per year, while its scientists are making efforts to convince the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) to accept this enormous increase.
“This is not only unscientific, it is also unconscionable,” Dr. Fairlie stressed, adding that “there is never a safe dose, except zero dose.”
However, while the Japanese government is turning a blind eye to radiogenic late effects, the evidence “is solid”: the RERF Foundation which is based in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is observing the Japanese atomic bomb survivors and still registering nuclear radiation’s long-term effects.
“From the UNSCEAR estimate of 48,000 person Sv [the collective dose to the Japanese population from Fukushima], it can be reliably estimated (using a fatal cancer risk factor of 10% per Sv) that about 5,000 fatal cancers will occur in Japan in the future from Fukushima’s fallout,” he noted.
Dr. Fairlie added that in addition to radiation-related problems, former inhabitants of Fukushima Prefecture suffer Post-Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders that apparently cause increased suicide.
The expert also pointed to the 15 percent drop in the number of live births in the prefecture in 2011, as well as higher rates of early spontaneous abortions and a 20 percent rise in the infant mortality rate in 2012.
“It is impossible not to be moved by the scale of Fukushima’s toll in terms of deaths, suicides, mental ill-health and human suffering,” the expert said.
As many as 32 hectares of new wildfires have been registered in the exclusion zone close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, report Ukraine’s emergency services report. Firefighters are battling new fires that have flared up in the Kiev region.
The fires started in three locations close to the villages of Zamostye and Kovshilovka in the Ivankovsky area. As of 7am on Sunday, the fires have been reportedly localized, with firefighters continuing to extinguish burning dry grass and forest cover.
The last wildfire in Chernobyl’s forest preserve area started on June 29 and was eventually estimated at 130 hectares of burning dry grass, cane and peat in multiple locations. It took a fortnight to put all the fires out.
Forest fires in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone began in April this year. The head of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine Nikolay Chechetkin said that up to 70 percent of all the wildfires in Chernobyl exclusion zone are due to arson.
Experts warned that radioactive nuclides absorbed by the foliage around Chernobyl nuclear power plant from the soil contaminated as a result of the 1986 disaster can easily be released into the air and have a cumulative negative effect on the health of those who breathe in particles.
While firefighters were dealing with wildfires near Chernobyl from April through to July, the Kiev authorities gave assurances that there was no radiation threat. Territory engulfed by fires in the exclusion zone had reached 400 hectares by the beginning of May.
However, locals recalling the 1986 catastrophe fear that just as then officials are concealing the truth.
If the trees, which have been absorbing radioactivity for almost 30 years, are on fire, then radioactive elements “may spread with wind over long distances,” Yury Bandazhevsky, a scientist working on the sanitary consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, said in May.
August 6 marks 70 years since the bomber Enola Gay flew over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, with the atomic weapon “Little Boy” aboard. The mission unleashed devastation never witnessed before, changing history forever.
Very shortly, a terrifying race to test and stockpile increasingly more powerful nuclear weapons broke out between the United States and Soviet Union. The nuclear component of the Cold War between capitalism and communism raised the question of whether life on the planet could continue. Over 400 bombs were tested in the atmosphere, and tens of thousands of weapons were eventually constructed.
The abyss was reached in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Only a last-second political solution by President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev overrode the advice of most military and government advisors on both sides to engage in war. The action of these two men was all that stood in the way of a likely all-out nuclear disaster that would have released enough radioactivity to possibly extinguish all life.
The U.S. conducted nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1962, with contamination and adverse effects on the health of local residents still evident. More recently, the U.S. released depleted uranium weapons in Mideast nations, with devastating results on newborns and young children.
Great strides to harness the nuclear menace have been made over time. Atom bomb testing, both above and below the ground, has ended. Disarmament has dismantled tens of thousands of weapons. But despite these, the atom remains the greatest threat to life on earth.
There are still 16,000 atomic weapons deployed around the globe, accompanied by plans to strike human targets, with far greater destructive power than that at Hiroshima. Eight nations have a nuclear weapons arsenal, and more are hoping to develop their own bomb program.
But the legacy of what happened 70 years ago extends well beyond potential atomic bombing in the future. The process of manufacturing nuclear weapons continues to plague the planet. Uranium mining, milling, enrichment, purification, and fabrication are all necessary to build bombs, contaminating sites around the world. Large areas at plants like Oak Ridge TN, Hanford WA, and Savannah River SC continue to be uninhabitable due to the enormous amounts of nuclear waste, some of which is leaking into the ground. Years of extremely costly cleanup have fallen short of safely harnessing these dangerous chemicals.
Another legacy of the atomic era is the now-halted bomb testing. The worst effects were those closest to the explosions. Soldiers practicing maneuvers during a nuclear war close to the blasts, absorbed large doses, and later suffered from cancers and other diseases at high rates. Workers suffered a similar fate, as did persons living in areas close to the testing site in Nevada.
But fallout from the large mushroom clouds in tests traveled thousands of miles, propelled by wind. This toxic mixture of over 100 radioactive chemicals that didn’t exist before 1945 entered the environment through precipitation, and contaminated humans, animals, and plants. Most above-ground tests were ended in 1963, but the dissipation from the biosphere was slow. All who are now over age 45, especially the Baby Boom generation who were vulnerable fetuses, infants, and young children during testing, were exposed. And because radiation damages DNA, future generations inherited defective genes.
The current meaning of Hiroshima actually is not confined only to bombs. As Cold War tensions mounted, efforts to use the atom for more peaceful purposes were encouraged. The most prominent of these efforts were nuclear power reactors, which created electricity by splitting uranium atoms – the exact same splitting process used to explode nuclear weapons.
The 400-plus nuclear power reactors eventually built worldwide were environmental disasters. Numerous meltdowns in small test reactors years ago went unheeded, and failed to stop the development of electrical nuclear power. In time, larger meltdowns occurred, including Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011). The latter, which remains uncontrolled and is still spewing dangerous environmental radioactivity, may be the worst environmental catastrophe in history.
Aside from meltdowns, reactors steadily leaked a portion of the cocktails of 100-plus radioactive chemicals – the same found in the large atom bomb clouds. Nearby residents have been absorbing these chemicals through breathing and the food chain; to date, over 60 scientific journal articles have documented high rates of cancer in children exposed to routine emissions living near reactors.
A third harmful aspect of nuclear power is the staggering amount of waste that was captured in reactors before leaking, but will not fully decay for thousands of years. Permanent solutions for safely storing this waste continue to elude leaders, decades after plans began. Most waste is now stored at each nuclear plant, in large pools of water that need to be constantly cooled. Loss of cooling water from mechanical failure, human error, or act of sabotage would result in a meltdown.
The history of the atomic era has been a grim one, and continues to be grim today. The genie that was let out of the bottle all those years ago is still very much out. Constant future vigilance to reduce this enormous environmental health threat is needed if humanity is to avoid even more staggering consequences.
Joseph Mangano MPH MBA and Janette Sherman MD are Executive Director and Research Advisor of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
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). 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: firstname.lastname@example.org www.janettesherman.com
Lawmakers in Germany have been told that an EU agreement for a $25 billion state subsidy by the UK to build a nuclear power station is illegal and should be annulled, in another twist in Europe’s nuclear energy farce.
The German Bundestag’s Economic and Energy Committee took evidence on the European Commission’s approval of $25 billion worth of state aid for the construction of a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, in Somerset, southwest England. The hearing followed recent claims by German energy cooperative Greenpeace Energy that the EU state aid approval contravenes competition rules. In October 2014, the European Commission approved the state aid for the construction of Hinkley Point C, which allows the UK government to assure the future operator a fixed electricity price over a period of 35 years and to guarantee inflation surcharges and credit guarantees.
The German Government had informed the European Commission that “political expectations” made it clear that the promotion of renewable energy should not lead to the encouragement of nuclear power plants, according to, the Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs, Brigitte Zypries.
A political coalition of Alliance 90 and the Greens called for a stop to “subsidies for British nuclear power plant Hinkley Point C and legal action.”
In January, the Austrian government confirmed it is to take the European Commission to the European Court of Justice over the subsidy deal.
New Nuclear in Meltdown Fears
The Hinkley Point C proposal has already been beset by many years of delay — mostly because the reactor it is considering using has been plagued with problems. EDF has chosen the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), a third generation pressurised water reactor (PWR) design. It has been designed and developed mainly by Framatome (now Areva), EDF in France and Siemens in Germany.
However, the first ever EPR nuclear power station under construction in Flamanville, in northwest France, is already massively over budget and seriously delayed. Since construction began in April 2008, the French nuclear safety agency has found that a quarter of the welds inspected in the secondary containment steel liner were abnormal, cracks were found in the concrete base and it also ordered a suspension of concrete pouring on the site.
In November 2014, EDF announced that completion of construction was delayed to 2017 due to delays in component delivery by Areva. In the same month, Areva issued a profit warning and said it would suspend future profit predictions because of problems on a similar EPR power station project at Olkiluoto in Finland.
And in June 2015, the French nuclear safety watchdog says it has found “multiple failure modes” that carry “grave consequences” on crucial safety relief valves on the Flamanville nuclear plant in northern France, which could lead to meltdown.
Areva and EDF have been hit by the global backlash against nuclear plants since the Fukushima accident in 2011. Following the incident, Germany accelerated plans to close its nuclear power reactors, Italy voted in a referendum against the government’s plan to build new nuclear power plants and French President Francois Hollande announced the intention of his government to reduce nuclear usage by one third.
Breast cancer rates are five times higher than expected near a defunct nuclear power plant in Wales, according to a study by environmental scientist Dr Chris Busby.
The power plant in Trawsfynydd, which has not been in use since 1993 but is yet to be decommissioned, relied on a nearby lake to operate its cooling system.
It’s alleged that contaminated water was returned to the same body of water.
Busby’s investigation claims 90 percent of those living in areas downwind of the plant have been tested.
The report, published in the Jacobs Journal of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, says: “Trawsfynydd is a ‘dirty’ nuclear power station. As it has carbon dioxide gas-cooled graphite block reactors, its releases to air are higher than most other types of nuclear reactor.
“In addition, all the liquid releases are discharged to the lake, where they have accumulated to the lake body sediment,” the investigation claims.
“Results show very clearly that the downwind population has suffered because of these exposures.”
“This is most clear in breast cancer in younger women below 60, where the rates were almost five times the expected.”
“Additionally we see a doubling of risk in those who ate fish from Trawsfynydd Lake, which supports the conclusion that it is mainly a nuclear power station effect that is being seen.”
Busby, who has acted as an adviser to the Green Party, has been the subject of controversy in the past.
In 2011, his claims there was a leukemia cluster in North Wales were met with opposition from other prominent environmental activists, including the [pro-nuclear energy] Guardian writer George Monbiot.
In a piece for the paper published in 2011, Monbiot wrote that Busby’s claims “were the result of some astonishing statistical mistakes.”
He claimed an assessment of Busby’s findings – which were not peer-reviewed – found that Busby has counted Welsh leukemia incidences twice and overestimated the number of child leukemia cases by 90 percent.
Public Health Wales is currently investigating, in co-operation with local health teams, whether or not such a cluster exists around Traswfynydd.
A 2014 explosion at a remote facility in New Mexico has exposed a cover-up of the mounting problems encountered in modernizing the United States nuclear weapons arsenal. What US officials have called “stockpile stewardship”—the maintenance of an aging supply of nuclear weapons without detonation—has failed its first major test: disposal of the waste from three-quarters of a century of weapons development.
The cause of the 2014 explosion? The inadvertent use of the wrong kind of kitty litter, the supposedly inert material prescribed for packing around the waste in steel storage barrels. While the Department of Energy (DOE) originally reported that the damage was only to one barrel, New Mexico state officials now say that the damage may involve as many as 500 barrels of radioactive waste.
The waste came from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the flagship of the US nuclear weapons complex, where instructions to pack the waste with “inorganic” material was reportedly misread as “in organic” material.
This error, which would be laughably absurd if the consequences weren’t so serious, neatly illustrates the high-tech/low-tech mashup that has made the storage of nuclear waste such a contentious issue over the past seven decades.
Government regulations currently recognize at least three categories of the nuclear waste stored at various locations across the country: high-level, low-level, and mill tailings. Anti-nuclear activists believe that dividing the waste into multiple categories is actually a bureaucratic tactic designed to fool the public into believing that the government is taking care of this massive and potentially deadly problem.
The waste at WIPP—a byproduct of the US nuclear weapons complex dating back to 1942—is considered “transuranic” (TRU). This term refers to contamination by elements beyond uranium in the periodic table, including the plutonium used in nuclear bombs. This kind of waste is unstable and remains dangerously radioactive for a very long time.
For safety’s sake, TRU waste should be buried without possibility of human contact for more than a quarter million years. The US government has spent tens of billions to achieve that goal of virtually “permanent” storage. First proposed in the 1970s, the WIPP facility was completed in the 1990s and has been operational for about a dozen years.
But WIPP’s complex containment system was breached in last year’s fire and explosion, which spread plutonium for miles around the plant. Exactly what happened 2,000 feet underground to trigger this disaster is not known, because the DOE has not been forthcoming about the details. But the bits and pieces of the story unearthed so far are deeply disturbing.
WIPP’s radioactive waste is “in danger of explosion,” says Secretary Ryan Flynn of the New Mexico Environmental Department. Flynn warns that the facility poses an “imminent” and “substantial” threat to public health and the environment. In addition to the 369 at-risk barrels the state has identified at WIPP, at least another 100 barrels at a site in Texas are a source of concern. The exact location of these barrels has not been made clear.
The time bomb at WIPP began ticking when a truck fire followed by an unrelated explosion a few days later caused massive damage, according to the DOE report. Waste barrels were packed with commercially available “Swheat” brand organic kitty litter, rather than industry-standard “inorganic kitty litter.” The contents of the waste barrel reacted with the kitty litter and exploded in what US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz called a “thermal event,” which is government-speak for an explosion that generated an unusual amount of heat. The destruction seen on remote cameras sent to the site of the explosion shows flame-scorched drums oozing their deadly contents.
That crisis unfolded when workers heard what was described as a “green burst” and “popping noises” at the facility. A warning siren, the eerie harbinger of a nuclear accident, signaled a radiation release and emergency ventilation fans were switched on to exhaust the contaminated air through special filters—which failed. Thirteen workers underground at the time of the explosion tested positive for “internal radioactive contamination” from radioactive elements released by the explosion; another 21 workers on the surface were also exposed to radiation. Any unplanned exposure to radiation whatsoever is termed “dangerous” under US environmental law.
Because of the accident, it’s possible that WIPP will not be reopened for years and therefore won’t be able to receive waste from sites across the US.
This has turned a spotlight on the other sites in the US capable of storing nuclear waste.
One is the upstate New York hamlet of West Valley, due south of Buffalo, which houses Cold War-era nuclear waste mixed with waste generated by nuclear power plants. Like WIPP, the West Valley facility has a history of failed containment.
A Wee Bit of History
Back in the 1940s, the top-secret Manhattan Project, the massive industrial operation that built America’s early nuclear arsenal during World War II, left a poisoned legacy beneath New York state’s greenery. That legacy now threatens the vast Great Lakes watershed and the region’s superb agricultural assets.
The 3,300-acre disposal site was the brainchild of former governor Nelson Rockefeller, who planned to make New York State a leader in what was to be the emerging industry of nuclear waste reprocessing.
During the war, weapons-grade uranium for the A-bomb was recovered from raw uranium ore at the still-operating uranium refinery located in the lakeside community of Port Hope, Ontario. The partially processed bomb fuel was shipped to top secret factories near Buffalo for further processing, before being sent on to processing facilities across the United States.
In those days, environmental protections were virtually unheard of. Wartime expediency dictated that waste from the project was often directly dumped into rivers, lakes and streams as well as into the air and into landfills.
The Manhattan Project was followed by more than four decades of Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union. According to former DOE advisor Robert Alvarez, expansion of the American nuclear arsenal during this period left some two million cubic meters of deadly radioactive waste
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims the waste volume is only half Alvarez’s estimate. That would still be enough to fill somewhere between one and two Empire State Buildings, depending on how waste is defined. By anyone’s estimate, the immense quantities of clothing, machinery, and other gear contaminated by plutonium and other cancer-causing radionuclides add up to a multi-billion-dollar disposal headache.
Go West, West Valley Waste
The radioactive waste currently held at West Valley’s waste facility was earmarked for WIPP. Now, activists and New Mexico officials say it may have to wait years longer for removal. According to Diane D’Arrigo of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an anti-nuclear group, if New Mexico’s WIPP stays offline, that means no West Valley waste goes west.
This poses serious environmental problems that earlier generations never foresaw. “The reality of West Valley is that it’s leaking into the Great Lakes,” D’Arrigo told WhoWhatWhy.
Government spokespeople have long maintained West Valley’s waste would never find its way from the site into the Great Lakes. Yet D’Arrigo told WhoWhatWhy, “Radioactivity is migrating into the [nearby] creeks and rivers, and plutonium has been found in Lake Ontario,” leading to mounting “concern that the waste can’t stay there.”
Upshot? Radioactive Musical Chairs
Joanne Hameister of the Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Waste, an advocacy group of local activists and national anti-nuclear organizations, says of the local waste, “We do not suggest moving it until there is a verifiably safe repository.” Don Hancock in New Mexico says that WIPP cannot take on that role. Former New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman supports a 2004 letter to the DOE which asserted that weapons waste from the N-Reactor stored at West Valley was mixed with commercial non-defense waste and therefore the senator wrote: “I ask that you do not dispose the West Valley’s non-defense (waste) at WIPP…”
Radioactive contaminants in “small amounts” have already reached the Great Lakes, according to a negotiator facilitating talks between the state and federal government over West Valley’s future, who spoke with WhoWhatWhy on promise of anonymity. The danger of contamination was reported in an article in The Buffalo News, which called West Valley “arguably Western New York’s most toxic location.”
The wetlands of West Valley have leached a plume containing the radioactive isotope strontium-90 that’s migrating downstream, according to government sponsored studies. DOE has also identified plutonium, strontium and cesium, all dangerous radioactive contaminants, throughout the soil structure at West Valley.
Between five and 50 kilograms of plutonium-239, a deadly carcinogen and potential bomb fuel, has infiltrated the soil underneath the site, says another knowledgeable source who requested anonymity. “Recordkeeping [in earlier decades] was not as precise as today and it’s difficult to reconstruct,” the source says. So no one knows for sure just how much uranium and/or plutonium has seeped from West Valley over the past 60 years. And with the explosion at WIPP, it could be another 60 years before a proper storage location for the waste from this notoriously leaky site is found.
Whether or not one believes the Manhattan Project’s lethal weapons should ever have been used, the old Roman dictum—“to the victors, the spoils”—was never more true. The spoils—the legacy of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—live on, intermingled with the radioactive offspring of “cheap power” in the wilds of West Valley.
“A secure nuclear deterrent,” said DOE Secretary Moniz at the dedication of a new nuclear weapons facility in Kansas City, “is part of a broader effort to transform our Cold War era infrastructure into a 21st century nuclear security enterprise.”
That transformation depends on solving 75 years of mismanagement by sweeping the waste 2,000 feet under the New Mexico desert. But recent events at WIPP cast further doubt on the notion that fallible human agencies can ever safeguard the inevitable byproducts of our nuclear enterprise.
Ontario Power Generation owns 20 nuclear power reactors. Two of them permanently shut down. Six more scheduled to be retired by 2020.
The largest nuclear power station in North America is the Bruce NPP, located close to the shore of Lake Huron. The Western Waste Management Facility (WWMF) is sited on land adjacent to the eight operating reactors at Bruce. At WWMF, radioactive reactor wastes of all kinds from all of Ontario’s reactors are stored in surface or near-surface facilities. In recent years, because of the removal of large volumes of materials from inside the cores of these reactors and other materials connected directly to the core reactor vessel, the amounts and levels of radioactivity have gone up dramatically in the nuclear waste inventory at WWMF.
These wastes will remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. No one denies this elementary fact. But corporate bodies can not tolerate the concept of a never-ending liability, one that may require repeated expenditures far into the future, so they want to devise a protocol by which they can abandon these wastes. OPG describes the project as having four phases — construction, emplacement, closure, and abandonment. The object of the exercise is to abandon the waste. That is one of the chief motivations for burying nuclear waste — it’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. If and when this dangerous radioactive material escapes from the repository, as has happened at two such deep underground nuclear waste dumps in Germany and one in Carlsbad New Mexico — it will be somebody else’s problem. Not OPG’s. And not CNSC’s. Those bodies will have washed their hands of all responsibility. And if the radioactive material leaks out in the future, people will have no idea what those materials are or how to deal with them, and no resources to do so, because amnesia inevitably follows abandonment.
Alternatively, CCNR advocates a policy of Rolling Stewardship, by which the waste will never be abandoned but will be constantly monitored and kept in a retrievable condition indefinitely. We know how to package this waste very well so that it does not contaminate the environment. This information and this responsibility must be passed on to each successive generation with all necessary documentation regarding the dangers involved and the necessity of retrieving and repacking the material before any leakage problems develop. The necessary authority, information, and resources can be ceremonially transmitted to the next generation by means of a formal inauguration ceremony every 20 years or so. With the advance of knowledge and engineering capability, each generation will hopefully be able to do as well or better than the previous generation, until one day there may be a method for genuinely neutralizing these wastes or otherwise rendering them harmless. In the meantime, when the Bruce site closes down, the waste should be removed from the vicinity of the Great Lakes for greater security.
Abandoning the waste, as OPG plans to do in Phase 4 of their proposal, is not a solution to the problem. It is simply a corporate strategy for terminating liability.The waste is dangerous for much more than 100,000 years. The Great Lakes came into existence only 10,000 years ago. The pyramids of Egypt were built about 5000 years ago. OPG brags that it has studied this geological formation for 10 years. Over a period of 60 years, the USA has tried 8 times to locate a safe underground waste repository for its spent nuclear fuel, and it has failed all 8 times.
Why would anyone want to permanently lodge all of Ontario’s nuclear waste (except spent fuel) from all of its nuclear reactors right beside one of the most important reservoirs of fresh water in the world — the Great Lakes? The answer is simply: convenience. That’s where the reactors were built, so that’s where the waste has accumulated. And that’s where waste from other reactor sites has been dumped. There is no other reason for such proximity to the drinking water supply for 40 million people.
Gordon Edwards, PhD in Mathematics (Queen’s University), co-founded the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, and has been its president since 1978. He can be reached at: email@example.com. Visit Gordon’s website.
Waste outside an abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation, Cameron, Arizona (Image from ehp.niehs.nih.gov)
As part of a cleanup settlement, the US will pay out more than $13 million to start dealing with hundreds of abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation territory. Navajo officials tell RT it is just the first step on a long road ahead.
The money will be put into an “environmental response trust” managed by the Navajo Nation with the support of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
“It will provide us with funding to do a very specific task under the cleanup process that’s authorized by the federal superfund law,” Stephen Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation’s EPA, told RT’s Ben Swann.
The funds will cover evaluations of 16 abandoned mines throughout Navajo lands, chosen from a list of 46 priority sites. There are hundreds of sites that still need to be addressed. By one estimate, there are more than 1,200 abandoned uranium mines within the borders of the Navajo Nation, a 27,000-square-mile territory stretching across Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.
The EPA says it has repaired 34 homes, surveyed 521 mines, compiled a list of 46 priority sites for cleanup, and performed stabilization or cleanup work at nine mines so far. The agency has also provided safe drinking water to more than 1,800 families.
A 2014 settlement set aside $985 million from a multi-billion dollar settlement with subsidiaries of Anadarko Petroleum Corp to clean up approximately 50 abandoned Kerr-McGee mining operations in the Navajo Nation.
Federal surveyors found rich uranium deposits on Navajo lands in the 1940s, and the government authorized private contractors to extract the ore for US weapons and energy needs. About 4 million tons of uranium ore were extracted from the area between 1944 and 1986, after which the mining was halted. The federal government, through the Atomic Energy Commission, was the sole purchaser of the ore until 1966.
Navajo miners worked without any kind of protective gear or decontamination protocols for wages sometimes less than $1 an hour. In her 2011 book, Yellow Dirt: A Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed, journalist Judy Pasternak wrote that the miners suffered radiation exposure four times that of the Japanese exposed to nuclear bombs during World War II.
In the 1950s, cancer rates among the Navajos were so low, they were thought naturally immune, wrote environmental journalist Sonia Luokkala. By 2004, cancer had become the leading cause of illness and death among the Navajo.
A 2014 survey by the EPA of about 500 abandoned mines found radiation levels up to 25 times higher than normal. Many of the mines with the highest radiation levels were found within a quarter mile of human habitation.
“Chronic exposure is definitely one thing we want to get a better understanding of,” Etsitty told RT. Many of the Navajo live in the remote areas of the reservation, often close to the abandoned mining pits that have since filled up with water. Humans and animals drink the water from the pits, often not aware of the possible issues with radiation or toxicity.
“We still have not completed meaningful public health studies to begin answering those questions,” Etsitty said. The DOJ settlement should offer a little bit of help in the process, but merely surveying the extent of the contamination and environmental impact will take much more money and time.
A forest fire near Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear site may cause problems for communities a long way from the area as the dispersal plumes can transport radiation further to the north, nuclear safety expert John Large told RT.
RT: How dangerous is the situation in your opinion? Do you agree with ecologists who say the smoke will spread the radiation?
John Large: I spent some time in Ukraine in 2006 and I assessed the Chernobyl situation interviewing about 30 scientists and engineers who were working on the aftercare of Chernobyl. Brush fires and forest fires were the greatest concern in terms of the means by which you can disperse a secondary radiological impact from the original dissipation that occurred in 1986… What you have in Chernobyl in the exclusion zone and the further way you have an area that has been abandoned for farming, abandoned for management. That means you’ve got lots of brush and young wood growing out of control. Let me assess that – a big fuel load to have a fire. That means that the biological load is very high, so the radiation particles can be dispersed. Take down the chemistry as well. The chemistry is the way in which the strontium and cesium from the radioactive strontium and cesium from the reactor are bound here, and of course the elevated temperature of the fire and plus all the plume and aerial dispersion – means that could transport it hundreds of kilometers, particularly to the north, to Belarus. So there are more problems here for communities that are long way away from the site. What I had hoped was that the Ukrainian officials would have had in place firefighting capacity greater than they normally would have at any other area of Ukraine, because it certainly needs to be protected not just now but in the longer term as well.
We know that Ukraine is cash-strapped. There was a responsibility for its neighbors, Russia, the EU, not Belarus as much because it’s in an even worse financial situation, but there was a general responsibility to protect this area from another bout of radioactive dispersion.
RT: What lessons can be learned from this particular incident then to make sure that the brush and the forest doesn’t catch light again, or if it does, to make sure that site is secured?
JL: It is not the reactor, it is not the location of the reactor that is the problem – it is the dispersal plumes from the original accident – that is the problem. If there are radioactive materials on the ground now and then it’s engulfed by forest fire maybe 40-50 km away from the reactor. But that deposited radioactivity is re-suspended into gas, blown high into the atmosphere by the heat of the flames, and then of course it settles somewhere else. And it may be those communities to the north that are not prepared to have this new radiation plume and deposition and fallout come down on their communities.
RT: Do you think there should be a common international strategy and response for situations like this?
JL: We’ve seen recently with Chernobyl, with Windscale in the 1950’s in the UK, and particularly now with Fukushima that the radiation doesn’t respect any international boundaries. So an international effort is required for this type of catastrophe, all potential catastrophes. I would have thought that the EU or Russia would have healed their scars over this and got together and put some efforts and resources into controlling this and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
What’s $300 million when a project could end up consuming more than $50 billion over its lifetime? That’s what Congress seems to have said about one of the greatest boondoggles by the Department of Energy (DOE): the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX).
MOX was conceived more than a decade ago, when the U.S. and Russia were working on converting plutonium into mixed oxide fuel that could be used in commercial nuclear power plants.
The DOE first said it would cost $1.6 billion to build the MOX at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, which was supposed to open in 2007. It’s now 2015 and the plant is still only 65% complete. The final cost of just building the MOX is projected to be $7.7 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. A study by The Aerospace Corporation also pointed out that the life-cycle cost of the facility will be $47.5 billion, according to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
That’s assuming there would be any reason to operate it because the deal with Russia is now over, and there are no other customers lined up to bring their unwanted plutonium to have it converted.
The project has its critics. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) called the continued funding of the MOX facility a “zombie earmark.” DOE officials are so fed up with the project that they were ready to put it on “cold-standby”—in other words, shut it down.
But backers in Congress, including Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), made sure there was $300 million in the 2014 year-end spending bill for MOX. They even prohibited the Energy Department from using the money to put MOX in cold standby.
Aerospace Corporation’s assessment was based on $500 million per year being appropriated to the project. With the lesser number, it ends up costing more: a life-cycle cost of $114 billion and a completion date of 2100, POGO reported.
What a thoughtful gift for our grandchildren!
To Learn More:
Cost Estimate on Useless Nuclear Facility Skyrockets (Project on Government Oversight)
Energy Dept. Gives up on Expensive Nuclear Waste Plant (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
Cleanup of Radioactive Bomb Waste in South Carolina: The Endless Project (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
The Government Project that is $6 Billion Over Budget and 10 Years Late (by Matt Bewig, AllGov )
The situation is under control. Fire stations are from Chernobyl at a distance of about 20 km. Our State emergency service actively works to cut off the spread of fire. The localization of the fire involved three aircraft, one helicopter and a significant amount of equipment. There sent forces, including the Ministry of internal Affairs. This fire is the largest since 1992. But we cope, perform, and we will actively inform.
Answering a question about the situation with background radiation Arseniy Yatsenyuk said:
I was informed that the situation is normal; there are no changes in the background radiation level.
The fire encompasses the plutonium burial areas. According to State Emergency Service (GSChS) the fire blazes already near the village. It is 13 km from the station. People are close to panic. The Deputy Director on scientific work of the Museum of Chernobyl, Anna Royal, said:
The fire had already moved in close to Chernobyl, the radioactive waste burial site. There is one of the most polluted places. Nearby the burial of radioactive waste. Plutonium is one of the most dangerous elements that infects the haematopoietic system of a person. As long as nobody touches it, this element is not dangerous. But if in the street the wind and the fire, plutonium particles can rise a meter and be transported over long distances.
Meanwhile, as reported by the interior Minister Arsen Avakov, to extinguish the fire involved the national guard. In Kiev, there are rumors that some deputies of the Verkhovna Rada and members of the government have taken their families out of town.
The Ukrainian National Guard has been put on high alert due to worsening forest fires around the crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant, according to Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
Earlier the country’s emergency ministry said there was no danger posed to the sealed-off power plant from the three forest fire flashpoints in the region.
“The forest fire situation around the Chernobyl power plant has worsened,” a statement on Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s Facebook page says.
“The forest fire is heading in the direction of Chernobyl’s installations. Treetop flames and strong gusts of wind have created a real danger of the fire spreading to an area within 20 kilometers of the power plant. There are about 400 hectares [988 acres] of forests in the endangered area.”
Avakov says the Ukrainian prime minister has called an emergency meeting on how to tackle the situation. Police and National Guard units are on high alert.
Ukrainian emergency services say 182 people and 34 vehicles have been dispatched to fight the fire. Mi-8 helicopters and three An-32 water dropping airplanes are also working at the scene. The efforts are being coordinated from a mobile emergency headquarters.