Fukushima Risk Equals '14,000 Hiroshimas': International Panel Calls for Global Response
October 11, 2013
Karl Grossman / Enformable & Harvey Wasserman / The Free Press & Associated Press
Japan's pro-nuclear Prime Minister has finally asked for global help at Fukushima -- after more than 100,000 people signed petitions calling for a global takeover. Massive amounts of contaminated water are pouring into the Pacific. At Unit #4, more than 1300 fuel rods, weighing more than 400 tons, are at risk, stranded 100 feet in the air. They contain enough cesium to match the fallout of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs.
Kan, Jaczko, Gundersen, Bradford and Nader --
Nuclear Power Through the Fukukshima Perspective
(October 9, 2013) -- It started this June in California. Speaking about the problems at the troubled San Onofre nuclear plants through the perspective of the Fukushima nuclear complex catastrophe was a panel of Naoto Kan, prime minister of Japan when the disaster began; Gregory Jaczko, chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at the time; Peter Bradford, an NRC member when the Three Mile Island accident happened; and nuclear engineer and former nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen.
This week the same panel of experts on nuclear technology -- joined by long-time nuclear opponent Ralph Nader -- was on the East Coast, in New York City and Boston, speaking about problems at the problem-riddled Indian Point nuclear plants near New York and the troubled Pilgrim plant near Boston, through the perspective on the Fukushima catastrophe.
Their presentations were powerful.
Kan, at the event Tuesday in Manhattan, told of how he had been a supporter of nuclear power, but after the Fukushima accident, which began on March 11, 2011, "I changed my thinking 180-degrees, completely." He said that in the first days of the accident it looked like an "area that included Tokyo" and populated by 50 million people might have to be evacuated.
"We do have accidents such as an airplane crash and so on," said Kan, "but no other accident or disaster" other than a nuclear plant disaster can "affect 50 million people ... no other accident could cause such a tragedy."
All 54 nuclear plants in Japan have now been closed, Kan said. And "without nuclear power plants we can absolutely provide the energy to meet our demands." Meanwhile, in the two-plus years since the disaster began, Japan has tripled its use of solar energy -- a jump in solar power production that is the equivalent of the electricity that would be produced by three nuclear plants, he said.
He pointed to Germany as a model in its commitment to shutting down all its nuclear power plants and having "all its power supplied by renewable power" by 2050. The entire world, said Kan, could do this. "If humanity really would work together ... we could generate all our energy through renewable energy."
Jaczko said that the Fukushima disaster exploded several myths about nuclear power including those involving the purported prowess of US nuclear technology.
The General Electric technology of the Fukushima nuclear plants "came from the US," he noted. And, it exploded the myth that "severe accidents wouldn't happen." Said the former top nuclear official in the United States: "Severe accidents can and will happen."
And what the Fukushima accident "is telling us is society does not accept the consequences of these accidents," said Jaczko, who was pressured out of his position on the NRC after charging that the agency was not considering the "lessons" of the Fukushima disaster. In monetary cost alone, Jaczko said, the cost of the Fukushima accident is estimated at $500 billion by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Nuclear engineer Gundersen, formerly a nuclear industry senior vice president, noted that the NRC "says the chance of a nuclear accident is one in a million," that an accident would happen "every 2,500 years." This is predicated, he said, on what the NRC terms a probabilistic risk assessment or PRA. "I'd like to refer to it as PRAY."
The lesson of "real life," said Gundersen, is that there have been five nuclear plant meltdowns in the past 35 years -- Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and the three at Fukushima Daiichi complex. That breaks down to an accident "every seven years."
"This is a technology that can have 40 good years that can be wiped out in one bad day," said Gundersen. He drew a parallel between Fukushima Daiichi "120 miles from Tokyo" and the Indian Point nuclear plant complex "26 miles from New York City." He said that "in many ways Indian Point is worse than Fukushima was before the accident."
One element: the Fukushima accident resulted from an earthquake followed by a tsunami. The two operating plants at Indian Point are also adjacent to an earthquake fault, said Gundersen. New York City "faces one bad day like Japan, one sad day." He also spoke of the "arrogance and hubris" of the nuclear industry and how the NRC has consistently complied with the desires of the industry.
Bradford said that that the "the bubble" that the nuclear industry once termed "the nuclear renaissance" has burst. As to a main nuclear industry claim in this promotion to revive nuclear power -- that atomic energy is necessary in "mitigating climate change" -- this has been shown to be false. It would take tripling of the 440 total of nuclear plants now in the world to reduce greenhouse gasses by but 10 percent.
Other sources of power are here as well as energy efficiency that could combat climate change. Meanwhile, the price of electricity from any new nuclear plants built has gone to a non-competitive 12 to 20 cents per kilowatt hour while "renewables are falling in price."
Bradford also sharply criticized the agency of which he was once a member, the NRC, charging among other things that it has in recent years discouraged citizen participation. Also, as to Fukushima, the "accident really isn't over," said Bradford who, in addition to his role at the NRC has chaired the utility commissions of Maine and New York State.
Nader said that with nuclear power and the radioactivity it produces "we are dealing with a silent cumulative form of violence." He said nuclear power is "unnecessary, unsafe, and uninsurable ... undemocratic." And constructing new words that begin with "un," it is also "unevacuatable, unfinanceable, unregulatable."
Nader said nuclear power is unnecessary because there are many energy alternatives -- led by solar and wind. It is unsafe because catastrophic accidents can and will happen. He noted how the former US Atomic Energy Commission in a 1960s report projected that a major nuclear accident could irradiate an area "the size of Pennsylvania." He asked: "Is this the kind of gamble we want to take to boil water?"
Nuclear power is extremely expensive and thus uneconomic, he went on. It is uninsurable with the original scheme for nuclear power in the US based on the federal Price-Anderson Act which limits a utility's liability to a "fraction" of the cost of damages from an accident. That law remains, extended by Congress "every ten years or so."
As for being "unevacuable," NRC evacuation plans are "fantasy" documents," said Nader. The US advised Americans within 50 miles of Fukushima to evacuate. Some 20 million people live within 50 miles of the Indian Point plants and New Yorkers "can hardly get out" of the city during a normal rush hour."
Nuclear power is "unfinancable," he said, depending on government fiscal support through tax dollars. And it is "unregulatable" with the NRC taking a "promotional attitude." And, "above all it is undemocratic," said Nader, "a technology born in secrecy" which continues. Meanwhile, said Nader, "as the orders dry up in developed nations" for nuclear plants, the nuclear industry is pushing to build new plants in the developing world.
Also at the event in New York City, moderated by Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay and held at the 92nd Street Y, a segment of a new video documentary on nuclear power by Adam Salkin was screened.
It showed Salkin in a boat going right in front of the Indian Point plants and it taking nearly five hours for a "security" boat from the plant to respond, and Salkin, the next day, in an airplane flying as low as 500 feet above the plants. The segment demonstrated that the nuclear plants on the Hudson are an easy target for terrorists and, it noted, what it showed was what "terrorists already know."
The San Onofre nuclear power plants were closed permanently three weeks after the June panel event -- and after many years of intensive actions by nuclear opponents in California to shut down the plants, situated between San Diego and Los Angeles.
The panel's appearances this week in New York City Tuesday and Boston Wednesday, titled "Fukushima -- Ongoing Lessons for New York and Boston," are aimed at the same outcome occurring on the East Coast.
The forums are online. For links go to www.Facebook.com/FukushimaLessons
14,000 Hiroshimas Still Swing in the Fukushima Air
Harvey Wasserman / The Free Press
(October 9, 2013) -- Japan's pro-nuclear Prime Minister has finally asked for global help at Fukushima.
It probably hasn't hurt that more than 100,000 people have signed petitions calling for a global takeover; more than 8,000 have viewed a new YouTube on it.
Massive quantities of heavily contaminated water are pouring into the Pacific Ocean, dousing workers along the way. Hundreds of huge, flimsy tanks are leaking untold tons of highly radioactive fluids.
At Unit #4, more than 1300 fuel rods, with more than 400 tons of extremely radioactive material, containing potential cesium fallout comparable to 14,000 Hiroshima bombs, are stranded 100 feet in the air.
All this more than 30 months after the March 11, 2011 earthquake/tsunami led to three meltdowns and at least four explosions.
"Our country needs your knowledge and expertise" he has said to the world community. "We are wide open to receive the most advanced knowledge from overseas to contain the problem."
But is he serious?
"I am aware of three US companies with state of the art technology that have been to Japan repeatedly and have been rebuffed by the Japanese government," says Arnie Gundersen, a Vermont-based nuclear engineer focused on Fukushima.
"I have spoken with six Japanese medical doctors who have said that they were told not to discuss radiation induced medical issues with their patients. None will speak out to the press.
"Three American University professors… were afraid to sign the UN petition to Ban Ki-Moon because it would endanger their Japanese colloquies who they are doing research with."
Abe, he says (to paraphrase it politely), might not be entirely forthcoming.
Fukushima Daiichi is less than 200 miles from Tokyo. Prevailing winds generally blow out to sea -- directly towards the United States, where Fukushima's fallout was measured less than a week after the initial disaster.
But radioactive hot spots have already been found in Tokyo. A worst-case cloud would eventually make Japan an uninhabitable wasteland. What it could do to the Pacific Ocean and the rest of us downwind approaches the unthinkable.
"If you calculate the amount of cesium 137 in the pool" at Unit #4, "the amount is equivalent to 14,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs," says Hiroaki Koide, assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute.
The Unit #4 fuel assemblies were pulled for routine maintenance just prior to the earthquake/tsunami. An International Atomic Energy Agency document says they were exposed to the open air, did catch fire and did release radiation.
Since none of the six GE-designed Daiichi reactors has a containment over the fuel pools, that radiation poured directly into the atmosphere. Dozens more designed like these reactors operate in the US and around the world. Then corrosive sea water was dumped into the pool.
Unit #4 was damaged in the quake, and by an explosion possibly caused by hydrogen leaking in from Unit #3. It shows signs of buckling and of sinking into soil turning to mud by water flowing down from the mountains, and from attempts to cool the cores missing from Units #1, #2 and #3.
Tokyo Electric Power and the Japanese government may try to bring down the Unit #4 rods next month. With cranes operated by computers, that might normally take about 100 days. But this requires manual control. Tepco says they'll try to do it in a year (half their original estimate) presumably to beat the next earthquake.
But the pool may be damaged and corroded. Loose debris is visible. The rods and assemblies may be warped. Gundersen says they're embrittled and may be crumbling.
Some 6,000 additional rods now sit in a common storage pool just 50 meters away. Overall some 11,000 rods are scattered around the site. Vital as it is, bringing Unit #4's rods safely down is a just a small step toward coping with the overall mess.
Should just one rod fall or ignite, or buildings collapse, or cooling systems fail, radiation levels at the site could well force all humans to leave. Critical electronic equipment could be rendered unworkable. The world might then just stand helpless as the radioactive fires rage.
Gundersen long ago recommended Tepco dig a trench filled with zeolite to protect the site from the water flowing down from the mountains. He was told there was not enough money available to do the job.
Now Prime Minister Abe wants an "ice wall" to run a mile around the site. No such wall that size has ever been built, and this one could not be in place for at least two years.
Gundersen and 16 other experts have filed a list of suggestions with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Thus far there's been no official response.
Abe's request for global help with Fukushima's water problems may be a welcome start. But the fuel rods at Unit #4 embody our Earth's most serious immediate crisis.
The team in charge of bringing them down must embody all the best minds our species can muster, along with every ounce of resource we can bring to bear.
The whole world must be watching as this operation begins.
Harvey Wasserman edits www.nukefree.org , where the nukefree/moveon petition is linked. He is Senior Editor of www.freepress.org. His interviews on Fukushima are at the www.prn.fm Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show, and at EON Films.
Japan Seeks International Help on Fukushima Leaks
TOKYO (October 7, 2013) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan is open to receiving overseas help to contain widening radioactive water leaks at the crippled nuclear plant in Fukushima, with leaks and mishaps reported almost daily.
Abe made the comments Sunday in a speech at an international science forum in Kyoto in western Japan.
"We are wide open to receive the most advanced knowledge from overseas to contain the problem," Abe said in his English speech to open the conference on energy and environment.
"My country needs your knowledge and expertise," he said.
Despite Abe's reassurances to the International Olympic Committee last month that the leaks were "under control," many Japanese believe he was glossing over problems at the plant.
Abe did not say whether he still thinks the leaks are under control, or give any specifics about foreign participation.
His comments come just days after the plant's operator acknowledged that highly contaminated water spilled from a storage tank as workers tried to fill it to the top.
Officials have acknowledged that the groundwater contaminated with radioactive leaks has been seeping into the Pacific since soon after meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Recent leaks from storage tanks have added to public concerns.
Japan has been criticized for its perceived reluctance in accepting foreign assistance to fight the problems at the plant, where the ongoing water leaks are hampering decommissioning work that is expected to last decades.
Japan recently set up an organization among major utilities and nuclear experts to discuss decommissioning, including several advisers from countries including France, Britain and Russia.
The industry and trade ministry last month started accepting project proposals from private companies and groups to tackle the contaminated water problem, but an English version was added only after criticisms that the Japanese-only notice signaled exclusion of foreign participation.
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