You are browsing the archive for Japan.

The Crisis at Fukushima 4 Demands a Global Takeover

7:38 pm in Uncategorized by solartopia

We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Smoke rises in an aerial view of Fukushima

Harvey Wasserman argues Fukushima is dangerously close to causing a global catastrophe.

There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focussed on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4.

Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.

Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.

The one thing certain about this crisis is that Tepco does not have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle it. Nor does the Japanese government. The situation demands a coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.

Why is this so serious?

We already know that thousands of tons of heavily contaminated water are pouring through the Fukushima site, carrying a devil’s brew of long-lived poisonous isotopes into the Pacific. Tuna irradiated with fallout traceable to Fukushima have already been caught off the coast of California. We can expect far worse.

Tepco continues to pour more water onto the proximate site of three melted reactor cores it must somehow keep cool.Steam plumes indicate fission may still be going on somewhere underground. But nobody knows exactly where those cores actually are.

Much of that irradiated water now sits in roughly a thousand huge but fragile tanks that have been quickly assembled and strewn around the site. Many are already leaking. All could shatter in the next earthquake, releasing thousands of tons of permanent poisons into the Pacific. Fresh reports show that Tepco has just dumped another thousand tons of contaminated liquids into the sea ( http://www.alternet.org/environment/ ).

The water flowing through the site is also undermining the remnant structures at Fukushima, including the one supporting the fuel pool at Unit Four.

More than 6,000 fuel assemblies now sit in a common pool just 50 meters from Unit Four. Some contain plutonium. The pool has no containment over it. It’s vulnerable to loss of coolant, the collapse of a nearby building, another earthquake, another tsunami and more.

Overall, more than 11,000 fuel assemblies are scattered around the Fukushima site. According to long-time expert and former Department of Energy official Robert Alvarez, there is more than 85 times as much lethal cesium on site as was released at Chernobyl.

Radioactive hot spots continue to be found around Japan. There are indications of heightened rates of thyroid damage among local children.

The immediate bottom line is that those fuel rods must somehow come safely out of the Unit Four fuel pool as soon as possible.

Just prior to the 3/11/11 earthquake and tsunami that shattered the Fukushima site, the core of Unit Four was removed for routine maintenance and refueling. Like some two dozen reactors in the US and too many more around the world, the General Electric-designed pool into which that core now sits is 100 feet in the air.

Spent fuel must somehow be kept under water. It’s clad in zirconium alloy which will spontaneously ignite when exposed to air. Long used in flash bulbs for cameras, zirconium burns with an extremely bright hot flame.

Each uncovered rod emits enough radiation to kill someone standing nearby in a matter of minutes. A conflagration could force all personnel to flee the site and render electronic machinery unworkable.

Read the rest of this entry →

The Nuclear Industry Has Melted in Japan and France

9:50 pm in Uncategorized by solartopia

There are zero commercial reactors operating in Japan today.  On March 10, 2011, there were 54 licensed to operate, well over 10% percent of the global fleet.

Paper cranes at an Japanese anti-nuclear vigil in Melbourne. Photo by Takver.

But for the first time in 42 years, a country at the core of global reactor electricity is producing none of its own.

Worldwide, there are fewer than 400 operating reactors for the first time since Chernobyl, a quarter-century ago.

And France has replaced a vehemently pro-nuclear premier with the Socialist Francois Hollande, who will almost certainly build no new reactors.  For decades France has been the “poster child” of atomic power.  But Hollande is likely to follow the major shift in French national opinion away from nuclear power and toward the kind of green-powered transition now redefining German energy supply.

In the United States, a national grassroots movement to stop federal loan guarantees could end new nuclear construction altogether.  New official cost estimates of $9.5 to $12 billion per reactor put the technology off-scale for any meaningful competition with renewables and efficiency.

In India, more than 500 women have joined an on-going hunger strike against construction of reactors at Koodankulam.  And in China, more than 30 reactors hang in the balance of a full assessment of the true toll of the Fukushima disaster.

But it seems to have no end.  Three melted cores still smolder.  New reports from US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), confirm that at least one spent fuel pool suspended 100 feet in the air, bearing tons of hugely toxic rods, could crash to the ground with another strong earthquake—a virtual certainty by most calculations.

Read the rest of this entry →

America’s New Nukes Showdown Starts NOW!!!

10:00 pm in Uncategorized by solartopia

As Fukushima continues to leak and smolder, what may be the definitive battle over new nukes in America has begun.

The critical first US House vote on a proposed $36 billion loan guarantee package for reactor construction may come as early as June 2. Green power advocates are already calling and writing the White House and Congress early and often,gearing up for a long, definitive showdown.

Germany and Japan have made their decision—the “Lethal Atom” has no future.

The coffin nail is Fukushima. Substantial radiation still leaks from three or more of its six reactors. Volatile fuel rods are dangerously exposed. Various containment and fuel pool structures are compromised. Heat and radiation still pour into our global eco-systems, with no end in sight.

Thankfully, a global citizens movement helped lower the amount of plutonium-based MOX fuel loaded into Unit Three. Without that, Fukushima’s emissions would be far more lethal.

As it is, fallout continues to be detected across Europe and the United States. Fukushima is now rated on par with Chernobyl, by some estimates the killer of more than a million people.

For Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Japan’s energy policy must now “start from scratch,” with a sharp turn to green technologies. More than a dozen proposed reactors will not be built. Some existing ones—including at least two at Hamaoka—will join the six at Fukushima on the shut-down list, at least for the time being. Three more are still closed from a 2006 earthquake at Kashiwazaki.

Germany’s Solartopian turn is even more radical. Long a nuclear advocate, center-right Prime Minister Angela Merkel has ordered seven old German nukes shut immediately. The country’s other ten may run until 2021.

But a top Merkel-appointed commission sees this as a global game changer. “A withdrawal from nuclear power will spur growth, offer enormous technical, economic and social opportunities to position Germany even further as an exporter of sustainable products and services,” says a 28-page report. “Germany could show that a withdrawal from nuclear energy is the chance to create a high-powered economy.”

Both Japan and Germany—the world’s third- and fourth-largest economies—have already made substantial investments in green technology. Much of that was developed in the United States, which has paid a heavy price economically and ecologically for its atomic addition, and now stands to lose even more ground in what will clearly be the energy growth center of the new millennium.

Some $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new reactor construction was put in place under George W. Bush. In 2007 the nuclear lobby tried to add $50 billion. The industry has spent some $645 million—$64.5 million per year—over the last decade twisting Congressional arms.

But a nationwide grassroots movement rose up to stop them. In every year since 2007 citizen action has beaten a variety of attempts to slip the industry more handouts. Local movements movements throughout the US focused growing demands for the shut-down of old reactors. In Vermont, a March, 2012 drop dead date looms ever larger, forced by a wide range of political pressures that could start an avalanche of closures.

Yet just last year Obama dropped $8.33 billion in loan guarantees on a bitterly contested double-reactor project in Georgia. Two other reactors are scheduled for South Carolina, where ratepayers are expected to foot the bill as construction proceeds.

But $36 billion in proposed new guarantees were stripped out of the Continuing Resolution that’s funding the government for 2011. Now Obama wants them for 2012.

Ironically, the leading candidates for the money have collapsed. A Japanese-financed project for Texas and a French one in Maryland are all but dead. Financial, licensing, siting, design and political problems have decimated the remaining list. The pressures on old and new US reactors, and the collapse of the industry in Germany and Japan, appear on the brink of pushing a failed technology into the scrap heap of history.

But the budget is now headed to Congress, guarantees and all. First stop is a House Appropriations sub-committee, where a vote could come as early as June 2.

Fukushima has changed the nuclear map. Italy and Switzerland have put proposed projects on hold. China, the biggest potential future market, has said it is re-evaluating its atomic future, especially with radiation pouring into it from nearby Fukushima.

But Obama has all but ignored the accident. He gave an early national address telling the American public not to worry about Fukushima’s radiation. Despite widespread reports of contamination here, the feds have provided no systematic monitoring of fallout and no guidance on what to do about it.

Amidst a heavy budget crunch, the administration must now justify lavishing taxpayer money on an industry that can’t get private financing or meaningful liability insurance, can’t compete in the marketplace and can’t deal with its wastes.

As evidenced by the sharp green turns in Germany and Japan, renewable technologies have come of age. The Solartopian vision of a green-powered Earth has now definitively attracted two of the plant’s four largest economies.

In short, we are at the tipping point where renewables are cheaper and more attractive to national-scale investors than nukes.

Without these guarantees, America’s nuclear industry has future prospects ranging from slim to none.

The ante is being raised in Vermont, New York, California and in other states where fierce battles rage to shut existing reactors, many of which are on earthquake faults and virtually identical to those now spewing at Fukushima.

So now we are engaged in what may be the final, definitive battle over the future of atomic power in the United States.

Over the next few months, millions of dollars will pour from the industry’s lobby into the coffers of Congresspeople willing to vote them billions. The White House shows no signs of turning away from that particular tsunami.

But against all odds, a grassroots green-powered citizens movement has been holding its own. If it does so again this year, a sustainable future may finally be within reach.

YOUR reach!

Kill Nuke Power Before it Kills Us All

3:46 pm in Uncategorized by solartopia

The Japanese people are now paying a horrific price for the impossible dream of the “Peaceful Atom.” For a half-century they have been told that what’s happening now at Fukushima would never occur.

Our hearts and souls must first and foremost go out to them. As fellow humans, we must do everything in our power to ease their wounds, their terrible losses and their unimaginable grief.

We are also obliged—for all our sakes—to make sure this never happens again.

In 1980, I reported from central Pennsylvania on what happened to people there after the accident at Three Mile Island a year before. I interviewed scores of conservative middle Americans who were suffering and dying from a wide range of radiation-related diseases. Lives and families were destroyed in an awful plague of unimaginable cruelty. The phrase “no one died at Three Mile Island” is one of the worst lies human beings have ever told.

In 1996, ten years after Chernobyl, I attended a conference in Kiev commemorating the tenth anniversary of that disaster. Now, another fifteen years later, a definitive study has been published indicating a death toll as high as 985,000…so far.

Today we are in the midst of a disaster with no end in sight. At least four reactors are on fire. The utility has pulled all workers from the site, but may now be sending some back in.

The workers who do this are incomparably brave. They remind us, tragically, of some 800,000 Chernobyl “Liquidators.” These were Soviet draftees who were sent into that seething ruin for 60 or 90 seconds each to quickly perform some menial task and then run out.

When I first read that number—800,000—I thought it was a typographical error. But after attending that 1996 conference in Kiev, I spoke in the Russian city of Kaliningrad and met with dozens of these Chernobyl veterans. They tearfully assured me it was accurate. They were angry beyond all measure. They had been promised they would not encounter health problems. But now they were dying in droves.

How many will die at Fukushima we will never know. Never have we faced the prospect of multiple meltdowns, four or more, each with its own potential for gargantuan emissions beyond measure.

If this were happening at just one reactor, it would be cause for worldwide alarm.

One of the units has been powered by Mixed Oxide Fuel. This MOX brew has been heralded as a “swords into ploughshares” breakthrough. It took radioactive materials from old nuclear bombs and turned them into “peaceful” fuel.

It seemed like a neat idea. The benefits to the industry’s image were obvious. But they were warned repeatedly that this would introduce plutonium into the burn chain, with a wide range of serious repercussions. Among them was the fact that an accident would spew the deadliest substance ever known into the atmosphere. If breathed in, the tiniest unseen, untasted particle of plutonium can cause a lethal case of lung cancer. But like so many other warnings, the industry ignored its grassroots critics. Now we all pay the price.

For 25 years the nuclear industry has told us Chernobyl wasn’t relevant because it was Soviet technology. Such an accident “could not happen here.” But today it’s the Japanese. If anything, they are better at operating nuclear reactors than the Americans. Japanese companies own the Westinghouse nuclear division, whose basic design is in place throughout France. Japanese companies also own the GE nuclear division. Among others, 23 of their US reactors are extremely close or virtually identical in design to Fukushima I, now on fire.

Jeffrey Immelt, head of GE, is one of the many heavy corporate hitters now advising Barack Obama. Obama says (so far) that he has no intention of changing course in nuclear policy. That apparently includes a $36 billion new reactor loan guarantee giveaway in the 2012 budget. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has made clear he considers the situation at US reactors very different from those in Japan. Essentially, he says, “it can’t happen here.”

Chu and others keep saying that our choice is between nukes and coal, that atomic energy somehow mitigates global warming. This is an important sticking point for millions of concerned citizens, and an important and righteous legion of great activists, who see climate chaos as the ultimate threat.

But especially in light of what’s happening now, it’s based on a non-choice. Nukes are slow to build, soaring in cost and clearly have their own emissions, waste and safety problems. The ancillary costs of coal and oil are soaring out of reach in terms of environmental, health and other negative economic impacts. The “bridging fuel” of gas also faces ever-higher hurdles, especially when it comes to fracking and other unsustainable extraction technologies.

The real choice we face is between all fossil and nuclear fuels, which must be done away with, as opposed to a true green mix of clean alternatives. These safe, sustainable technologies now, in fact, occupy the mainstream. By all serious calculation, solar is demonstrably cheaper, cleaner, quicker to build and infinitely safer than nukes. Wind, tidal, ocean thermal, geothermal, wave, sustainable bio-fuels (NOT from corn or soy), increased efficiency, revived mass transit all have their drawbacks here and there. But as a carefully engineered whole, they promise the balanced Solartopian supply we need to move into a future that can be both prosperous and appropriate to our survival on this planet.

As we see now all too clearly, atomic technology is at war with our Earth’s eco-systems. Its centralized, heavily capitalized corporate nature puts democracy itself on the brink. In the long run, it contradicts the human imperative to survive.

Today we have four reactors on the coast of California that could easily have been ripped apart by a 9.0 Richter earthquake. Had this last seismic hit been taken on this side of the Pacific, we would be watching nightly reports about the horrific death toll in San Luis Obispo, the catastrophic loss of the irreplaceable food supply from the Central Valley, and learned calculations about the forced evacuations of Los Angeles and San Diego.

There are nearly 450 atomic reactors worldwide. There are 104 here in the US.

Faced with enormous public demonstrations, the Prime Minister of Germany has ordered their older reactors shut. At very least this administration should follow suit.

The Chinese and Indians, the biggest potential buyers of new reactors, are said to be “rethinking” their energy choices.

As a species, we are crying in agony, to the depths of our souls, from compassion and from fear.

But above all, the most devastating thing about the catastrophe at Fukushima is not what’s happening there now.

It’s that until all the world’s reactors are shut, even worse is virtually certain to happen again. All too soon.

Japan’s Quake Could Have Irradiated the Entire US

2:51 am in Uncategorized by solartopia

Japan’s Quake Could Have Irradiated the Entire US, by Harvey Wasserman

MAR 11, 2011

Japan’s Quake Could Have Irradiated the Entire US

By Harvey Wasserman, Editor
NukeFree.org

Had the massive 8.9 Richter-scale earthquake that has just savaged Japan hit off the California coast, it could have ripped apart at least four coastal reactors and sent a lethal cloud of radiation across the entire United States. (http://nukefree.org/ace-hoffman-computerized-graphic-what-if-chernobyl-h… )

The two huge reactors each at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon are not designed to withstand such powerful shocks. All four are extremely close to major faults.

All four reactors are located relatively low to the coast. They are vulnerable to tsunamis like those now expected to hit as many as fifty countries.

San Onofre sits between San Diego and Los Angeles. A radioactive cloud spewing from one or both reactors there would do incalculable damage to either or both urban areas before carrying over the rest of southern and central California.

Diablo Canyon is at Avila Beach, on the coast just west of San Luis Obispo, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A radioactive eruption there would pour into central California and, depending on the winds, up to the Bay Area or southeast into Santa Barbara and then to Los Angeles. The cloud would at very least permanently destroy much of the region on which most Americans rely for their winter supply of fresh vegetables.

By the federal Price-Anderson Act of 1957, the owners of the destroyed reactors—including Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison—would be covered by private insurance only up to $11 billion, a tiny fraction of the trillions of dollars worth of damage that would be done. The rest would become the responsibility of the federal taxpayer and the fallout victims. Virtually all homeowner insurance policies in the United States exempt the insurers from liability from a reactor disaster.

The most definitive recent study of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster puts the death toll at 985,000. (http://nukefree.org/link-full-text-chernobyl-its-consequences ) The accident irradiated a remote rural area. The nearest city, Kiev, is 80 kilometers away.

But San Luis Obispo is some ten miles directly downwind from Diablo Canyon. The region around San Onofre has become heavily suburbanized.

Heavy radioactive fallout spread from Chernobyl blanketed all of Europe within a matter of days. It covered an area far larger than the United States. (http://nukefree.org/astonishing-computerized-graphic-reconstruction-cher… )

Fallout did hit the jet stream and then the coast of California, thousands of miles away, within ten days. It then carried all the way across the northern tier of the United States.

Chernobyl Unit Four was of comparable size to the two reactors at Diablo Canyon, and somewhat larger than the two at San Onofre.

But it was very new when it exploded. California’s four coastal reactors have been operating since the 1970s and 1980s. Their accumulated internal radioactive burdens could exceed what was spewed at Chernobyl.

Japanese officials say all affected reactors automatically shut, with no radiation releases. But they are not reliable. In 2007 a smaller earthquake rocked the seven-reactor Kashiwazaki site and forced its lengthy shut-down.

Preliminary reports indicate at least one fire at a Japanese reactor hit by this quake and tsunami

http://nukefree.org/preliminary-report-indicates-fire-quake-tsunami-stricken-reactor ).

In 1986 the Perry nuclear plant, east of Cleveland, was rocked by a 5.5 Richter-scale shock, many orders of magnitude weaker than this one. That quake broke pipes and other key equipment within the plant. It took out nearby roads and bridges.

Thankfully, Perry had not yet opened. An official Ohio commission later warned that evacuation during such a quake would be impossible.

Numerous other American reactors sit on or near earthquake faults.

The Obama Administration is now asking Congress for $36 billion in new loan guarantees to build more commercial reactors.

It has yet to reveal its exact plans for dealing with a major reactor disaster. Nor has it identified the cash or human reserves needed to cover the death and destruction imposed by the reactors’ owners.

Harvey Wasserman edits NukeFree.org.  He is Senior Advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service.  He co-authored KILLING OUR OWN: THE DISASTER OF AMERICA’S EXPERIENCE WITH ATOMIC RADIATION.