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Banking on Uranium Makes the World Less Safe

In Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear powere, Peace, Politics, War on September 11, 2017 at 6:05 am

by LINDA PENTZ GUNTER

There is a curious fallacy that continues to persist among arms control groups rightly concerned with reducing the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. It is that encouraging the use of nuclear energy will achieve this goal.

This illogical notion is enshrined in Article IV of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which rewards signatories who do not yet have nuclear weapons with the “inalienable right” to “develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Now comes the international low-enriched uranium bank, which opened on August 29 in Kazakhstan, to expedite this right. It further reinforces the Article IV doctrine— that the spread of nuclear power will diminish the capability and the desire to manufacture nuclear weapons.

The uranium bank will purchase and store low-enriched uranium, fuel for civilian reactors, ostensibly guaranteeing a ready supply in case of market disruptions. But it is also positioned as a response to the Iran conundrum, a country whose uranium enrichment program cast suspicion over whether its real agenda was to continue enriching its uranium supply to weapons-grade level.

The bank will be run by the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose remit is “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy.” Evidently the IAEA has been quite successful in this promotional endeavor since the agency boasts that “dozens of countries today are interested in pursuing nuclear energy.”

A caveat here, borne out by the evidence of nuclear energy’s declining global share of the electricity market, is that far more countries are “interested” than are actually pursuing nuclear energy. The IAEA numbers are more aspiration than reality.

Superficially at least, the bank idea sounds sensible enough. There will be no need to worry that countries considering a nuclear power program might secretly shift to nuclear weapons production. In addition to a proliferation barrier, the bank will serve as a huge cost savings, sparing countries the expense of investing in their own uranium enrichment facilities.

The problem with this premise is that, rather than make the planet safer, it actually adds to the risks we already face. News reports pointed to the bank’s advantages for developing countries. But developing nations would be much better off implementing cheaper, safer renewable energy, far more suited to countries that lack major infrastructure and widespread electrical grid penetration.

Instead, the IAEA will use its uranium bank to provide a financial incentive to poorer countries in good standing with the agency to choose nuclear energy over renewables. For developing countries already struggling with poverty and the effects of climate change, this creates the added risk of a catastrophic nuclear accident, the financial burden of building nuclear power plants in the first place, and of course an unsolved radioactive waste problem.

No country needs nuclear energy. Renewable energy is soaring worldwide, is far cheaper than nuclear, and obviously a whole lot safer. No country has to worry about another’s potential misuse of the sun or wind as a deadly weapon. There is no solar non-proliferation treaty. We should be talking countries out of developing dangerous and expensive nuclear energy, not paving the way for them.

There is zero logic for a country like Saudi Arabia, also mentioned during the uranium bank’s unveiling, to choose nuclear over solar or wind energy. As Senator Markey (D-MA) once unforgettably pointed out: “Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Arabia of solar.” But the uranium bank could be just the carrot that sunny country needs to abandon renewables in favor of uranium.

This is precisely the problem with the NPT Article IV. Why “reward” non-nuclear weapons countries with dangerous nuclear energy? If they really need electricity, and the UN wants to be helpful, why not support a major investment in renewables? It all goes back to the Bomb, of course, and the Gordian knot of nuclear power and nuclear weapons that the uranium bank just pulled even tighter.

Will the uranium bank be too big to fail? Or will it even be big at all? With nuclear energy in steep decline worldwide, unable to compete with renewables and natural gas; and with major nuclear corporations, including Areva and Westinghouse, going bankrupt, will there even be enough customers?

Clothed in wooly non-proliferation rhetoric, the uranium bank is nothing more than a lupine marketing enterprise to support a struggling nuclear industry desperate to remain relevant as more and more plants close and new construction plans are canceled. The IAEA and its uranium bank just made its prospects a whole lot brighter and a safer future for our planet a whole lot dimmer.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear. She also serves as director of media and development.

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High-Priced Fukushima ice wall nears completion, but effectiveness doubtful

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere on August 20, 2017 at 7:21 am

The Mainichi, Japan’s National Daily, August 16, 2017
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170816/p2a/00m/0na/016000c
A subterranean ice wall surrounding the nuclear reactors at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant to block groundwater from flowing in and out of the plant buildings has approached completion.
Initially, the ice wall was lauded as a trump card in controlling radioactively contaminated water at the plant in Fukushima Prefecture, which was crippled by meltdowns in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. But while 34.5 billion yen from government coffers has already been invested in the wall, doubts remain about its effectiveness. Meanwhile, the issue of water contamination looms over decommissioning work.
In a news conference at the end of July, Naohiro Masuda, president and chief decommissioning officer of Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., stated, “We feel that the ice wall is becoming quite effective.” However, he had no articulate answer when pressed for concrete details, stating, “I can’t say how effective.”
The ice wall is created by circulating a coolant with a temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius through 1,568 pipes that extend to a depth of 30 meters below the surface around the plant’s reactors. The soil around the pipes freezes to form a wall, which is supposed to stop groundwater from flowing into the reactor buildings where it becomes contaminated. A total of 260,000 people have worked on creating the wall.The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) began freezing soil in March last year, and as of Aug. 15, at least 99 percent of the wall had been completed, leaving just a 7-meter section to be frozen.
Soon after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, about 400 tons of contaminated water was being produced each day. That figure has now dropped to roughly 130 tons. This is largely due to the introduction of a subdrain system in which water is drawn from about 40 wells around the reactor buildings. As for the ice wall, TEPCO has not provided any concrete information on its effectiveness.
An official of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commented, “The subdrain performs the primary role, and the ice wall will probably be effective enough to supplement that.” This indicates that officials have largely backtracked from their designation of the ice wall as an effective means of battling contaminated water, and suggests there is unlikely to be a dramatic decrease in the amount of decontaminated groundwater once the ice wall is fully operational.
TEPCO ordered construction of the ice wall in May 2013 as one of several plans proposed by major construction firms that was selected by the government’s Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment. In autumn of that year Tokyo was bidding to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the government sought to come to the fore and underscore its measures to deal with contaminated water on the global stage.
Using taxpayers’ money to cover an incident at a private company raised the possibility of a public backlash. But one official connected with the Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment commented, “It was accepted that public funds could be spent if those funds were for the ice wall, which was a challenging project that had not been undertaken before.” Small-scale ice walls had been created in the past, but the scale of this one — extending 1.5 kilometers and taking years to complete — was unprecedented.
At first, the government and TEPCO explained that an ice wall could be created more quickly than a wall of clay and other barriers, and that if anything went wrong, the wall could be melted, returning the soil to its original state. However, fears emerged that if the level of groundwater around the reactor buildings drops as a result of the ice wall blocking the groundwater, then tainted water inside the reactor buildings could end up at a higher level, causing it to leak outside the building. Officials decided to freeze the soil in stages to measure the effects and effectiveness of the ice wall. As a result, full-scale operation of the wall — originally slated for fiscal 2015 — has been significantly delayed.
Furthermore, during screening by the NRA, which had approved the project, experts raised doubts about how effective the ice wall would be in blocking groundwater. The ironic reason for approving its full-scale operation, in the words of NRA acting head Toyoshi Fuketa, was that, “It has not been effective in blocking water, so we can go ahead with freezing with peace of mind” — without worrying that the level of groundwater surrounding the reactor buildings will decrease, causing the contaminated water inside to flow out.
Maintaining the ice wall will cost over a billion yen a year, and the radiation exposure of workers involved in its maintenance is high. Meanwhile, there are no immediate prospects of being able to repair the basement damage in the reactor buildings at the crippled nuclear plant.
Nagoya University professor emeritus Akira Asaoka commented, “The way things stand, we’ll have to keep maintaining an ice wall that isn’t very effective. We should consider a different type of wall.”
In the meantime, TEPCO continues to be plagued over what to do with treated water at the plant. Tainted water is treated using TEPCO’s multi-nuclide removal equipment to remove 62 types of radioactive substances, but in principle, tritium cannot be removed during this process. Tritium is produced in nature through cosmic rays, and nuclear facilities around the world release it into the sea. The NRA takes the view that there is no problem with releasing treated water into the sea, but there is strong resistance to such a move, mainly from local fishing workers who are concerned about consumer fears that could damage their businesses. TEPCO has built tanks on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 plant to hold treated water, and the amount they hold is approaching 800,000 metric tons.
In mid-July, TEPCO Chairman Takashi Kawamura said in an interview with several news organizations that a decision to release the treated water into the sea had “already been made.” A Kyodo News report on his comment stirred a backlash from members of the fishing industry. TEPCO responded with an explanation that the chairman was not stating a course of action, but was merely agreeing with the view of the NRA that there were no problems scientifically with releasing the treated water. However, the anger from his comment has not subsided.
Critical opinions emerged in a subsequent meeting that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry held in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki at the end of July regarding the decontamination of reactors and the handling of contaminated water. It was pointed out that prefectural residents had united to combat consumer fears and that they wanted officials to act with care. One participant asked whether the TEPCO chairman really knew about Fukushima.
The ministry has been considering ways to handle the treated water, setting up a committee in November last year that includes experts on risk evaluation and sociology. As of Aug. 15, five meetings had been held, but officials have yet to converge on a single opinion. “It’s not that easy for us to say, ‘Please let us release it.’ It will probably take some time to reach a conclusion,” a government official commented.

It’s Official: Nuclear Power Can’t Compete With Renewables

In Climate change, Cost, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health on August 6, 2017 at 1:38 am

Nuclear News,August 4, 2017, By Paul Brown, EcoWatch

Nuclear power now is really losing the race against renewables
The nuclear revival the global industry has been hoping for took another hammer blow this week when two reactors under construction in South Carolina were abandoned, only 40 percent complete.
The plan had been to build two Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors to lead the nuclear revival in the U.S., but cost overruns and delays dogged the project and will have the opposite effect. This is a further humiliation for Westinghouse, the U.S. nuclear giant that earlier this year filed for bankruptcy because of the costs associated with this new design. Hopes that a new generation of reactors could be built in the U.S. and sold to the rest of the world rested on the success of this project, and it has spectacularly failed.
By this week, construction had already cost $9 billion, almost the entire original budget, with years of building still to go. The reactors were originally scheduled to begin producing power in 2018, but this had been put back to 2021. Cost overruns had meant the final cost could be $25 billion. Around 5,000 construction workers have lost their jobs.
Changing context
The two owners of the project who had taken control after the Westinghouse bankruptcy, South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper, announced they would halt construction rather than saddle customers with additional costs……..
Nuclear power did find favor in some quarters in the U.S. because it was regarded as a low carbon source of electricity. But President Trump is trying to dismantle legislation that would have helped the industry get credit for this.
The repercussions of the decision to abandon the building of the South Carolina reactors will be felt across the Atlantic in the UK, where three reactors of the same design were due to be built in Cumbria in the northwest of England. NuGen, the UK company that planned to build them, is, like Westinghouse, a subsidiary of the Japanese giant Toshiba. It was already reviewing its plans to build them before this week’s news broke.
Officially this is still the position, but it seems unlikely that the company would gamble on trying to build reactors of a design that could not be completed successfully in the U.S.
All big nuclear companies have new designs being constructed on home turf. Their plan has been to demonstrate how well they work and then export them. But this is currently not working anywhere, most spectacularly in Europe, where the French giant EDF is in deep trouble with its flagship design, the even larger 1,600 megawatt pressurized water reactor.
Rapid delay
Prototypes under construction at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France are, like the AP 1000, years late and over budget.
Construction has started on two more at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England, but already, within weeks of the first concrete being poured, a delay has been announced.
Although the British Government still supports the project, it has already been questioned by the UK National Audit Office, which polices government finances. The NAO said consumers will be paying far too much for the electricity even if the project is finished on time, which on the industry’s past record seems extremely unlikely.
With renewables providing more and more cheap power in Europe and across the world, it seems unlikely that any of the new generation of large nuclear plants will ever be able to compete.
Phase-out planned
Japan, still suffering from the after effects of the Fukushima disaster of 2011, is unlikely to be able to resuscitate its nuclear industry, and South Korea, with arguably the most successful nuclear construction record, has a new government which wants to phase out the industry.
Only China and Russia, where what is really happening in their nuclear industries is a closely guarded secret, remain as likely exporters of new nuclear stations.
Both countries offer to supply fuel to countries which buy their reactor models. As well as building them, they offer as part of the package to get rid of the spent fuel and waste, so any country that buys nuclear power from China and Russia is effectively tied to them for a generation or more.
So for Russia and China, selling nuclear power stations is a political decision to extend their influence rather than an economic one—and it could be an expensive option for all concerned. From a purely economic perspective, however, it appears the nuclear industry is reaching the end of the road.

The Harm Caused by Radioactivity

In Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health, Race, Radiation Standards on August 1, 2017 at 11:38 am

Prepared for the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan

by Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., July 2017.

 

Atoms and Molecules

 

All material things are made up of atoms.  There are 92 different kinds of atoms found in nature, ranging from hydrogen (the lightest) to uranium (the heaviest).

 

Every atom has a tiny but massive core called its nucleus. The nucleus is surrounded by orbiting electrons (one electron for hydrogen, 92 electrons for uranium).

 

Molecules are combinations of atoms.  For example a molecule of water is H2O – two hydrogen atoms bonded together with one oxygen atom.  The bond that holds the atoms together in a molecule is the force of electromagnetic attraction.  That force is the result of atoms sharing their orbiting electrons; it does not affect the nucleus.

 

The cells in our body contain a great many complicated organic molecules, the most important one being the DNA molecule.  DNA carries the genetic instructions that we inherited from our parents. DNA tells our cells how to reproduce properly.

 

All organic molecules have chains of carbon atoms bonded to numerous hydrogen atoms, and other types of atoms too. Such molecules are the building blocks of life.

 

Chemical energy does not involve the nucleus, it only involves the orbiting electrons. Nuclear energy refers to energy that comes directly from the atomic nucleus; it is millions of times more powerful than chemical energy. Science had no knowledge of nuclear energy until the end of the 19th century.

 

Ions and Ionizing Radiation

 

“Ionizing Radiation” refers to any form of energy that is powerful enough to break molecules apart by randomly smashing the bonds holding its atoms together.  The electrically charged fragments of broken molecules are “ions” (or “free radicals”).

 

Ions are unstable. Because they are electrically charged they repel and attract other ions, causing chaotic chemical reactions to take place rapidly. Chaos is unhealthy.

 

The most commonly encountered forms of ionizing radiation are (1) x-rays from an x-ray machine and (2) emissions from the disintegration of radioactive materials.

 

Most other forms of radiation, such as visible light, infrared, microwaves, radio and television waves, are non-ionizing.  They can not break molecular bonds.

 

Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation

 

Massive doses of ionizing radiation are deadly, killing any human being within days of exposure. So many molecules are destroyed, and so many organs are damaged, that the body cannot survive.  Such damage can be caused by a nuclear explosion.

 

Large but not lethal doses of ionizing radiation can cause nausea, vomiting, hair loss, sterility, eye cataracts, and severe burns that are very difficult to heal. Some of these symptoms are experienced by cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy.  In the case of pregnant women, such exposures to ionizing radiation can lead to the birth of deformed children, including babies with shrunken heads and impaired intelligence.  These effects are all well-documented in the scientific literature.

 

Low doses of ionizing radiation do not cause any immediately perceptible harm, but there is always damage to living cells within the body of the person so exposed.

 

The chaotic disruption caused by ionizing radiation is damaging to any exposed cell, often killing the cell, sometimes damaging it beyond repair. Fortunately, the body can replace such dead or non-functioning cells if the damage is not too extensive.

 

There are mechanisms available within the cell that can sometimes repair the damage done by ionizing radiation, but not always.  When repair fails, a cell crippled by ionizing radiation may go on living and reproducing with damaged DNA instructions.  It then multiplies in an abnormal fashion, yielding a cancer years later.

 

Although very few damaged cells develop into cancers, a wide variety of lethal and non-lethal radiation-caused cancers have been observed in populations exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation.  These are well described in the scientific literature.

 

Under a microscope one can see that blood changes occur even with low doses of ionizing radiation.  The blood cells most easily harmed are those that are needed by the body to fight infections. Thus ionizing radiation weakens the body’s immune system, making the individual more susceptible to a variety of infectious diseases.

 

In experimental animals it has been demonstrated beyond any doubt that even very small doses of ionizing radiation can damage the DNA of reproductive cells (eggs and sperm) of individuals.  Visibly defective offspring eventually result.  H. J. Muller won the Nobel Prize in 1946 for showing that there is no dose of ionizing radiation low enough to prevent harmful mutations from being caused by such exposures.

 

Similar evidence of radiation-induced mutations has not been found in human populations, but it is assumed that harmful mutations probably do occur in humans following exposure of their reproductive organs to ionizing radiation. All other species that have been studied have shown such effects.  This is the main reason that lead aprons are used to cover genitals when people are x-rayed in hospitals.

 

X-Rays – The Discovery of Ionizing Radiation

 

Ionizing radiation was unknown to science until 122 years ago.  Our first notice of ionizing radiation was the discovery of x-rays in 1895 by W. Roentgen in Germany.

 

An x-ray machine is powered by electricity. It can be turned on and off, like a light switch. When the x-ray machine is off it is harmless, but when it’s on it’s dangerous. That’s why, before giving an x-ray to a patient, the technician leaves the room.

 

When the x-ray machine is on, a powerful kind of invisible light – an x-ray – is given off.  While it can penetrate right through soft tissue as if it were made of glass, the   x-ray is blocked by denser material like bones. In this way doctors can examine the images of the bones of a human skeleton by catching their “shadows” cast by the x-rays on photographic paper or on an illuminated viewing screen.

 

The harmful effects of x-rays were discovered almost immediately.  Severe burns, eye cataracts, sterilization of experimental animals, and excess leukemia among radiologists, all caused by x-ray exposures, were recognized by the first decade of the 20th century.  And the ionizing character of x-rays was documented right away.

 

Doctors quickly realized that the destructive effects of x-rays could be used to advantage to fight malignant tumors (cancerous growths) by blasting them with     x-rays.  It works, at least partially.  Ironically, some of those same doctors years later died of cancers that were caused by their own repeated exposures to x-rays.

 

Radioactivity – The Discovery of Nuclear Energy

 

In 1896, just a year after the discovery of x-rays, a scientist in Paris named Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity. It was an accidental event.

 

Becquerel had a rock containing uranium in a desk drawer.  In that same drawer he had a photographic plate wrapped in black paper to block any light.  But when the photo was developed, there was a blurry image – apparently caused by the rock.

 

This was a stunning discovery. Somehow, the rock was giving off an invisible kind of light, penetrating right through the black paper that blocked all visible light, so as to create an unmistakable image on a photographic plate.  The rock was behaving like a miniature x-ray machine that could not be shut off. How is that possible?

 

Where was this powerful invisible light coming from? There was no external power source – no electricity, no sunlight, no chemical reactions. Over the next few years the mystery was unravelled.  It was discovered that some atoms have an unstable nucleus, and uranium is one of those.  Such unstable atoms are called “radioactive”.  The nucleus of a radioactive atom spontaneously emits ionizing radiation. And it doesn’t stop. It is an ongoing release of nuclear energy that cannot be shut off.

 

Dangers of Radioactivity 1 – Radium

 

In 1898, Marie Curie discovered two new radioactive elements that are much more intensely radioactive than uranium alone. She named them “radium” and “polonium”.  They were found in the same sort of rock that Becquerel had used.

 

Later that year, Becquerel carried a sealed tube of radium in his vest pocket. As a result he got a nasty “radiation burn” on his torso that was painful, very slow to heal, and left an ugly scar. Marie Curie’s hands also suffered painful radiation burns after she handled a thin metal box containing a small tube of radium.

 

Seeing these burns, doctors used radium-filled “needles” to shrink solid tumors. Such a needle inserted into an unwanted growth delivers most of its harmful ionizing radiation to the diseased tissue while minimizing the dose to healthy tissue. Workers preparing the needles, surgeons implanting them, and nurses attending patients often received substantial doses of ionizing radiation themselves.

 

In 1908 a radium-based paint was developed that makes things glow in the dark. The invisible ionizing radiation given off by disintegrating radium atoms is absorbed and converted into visible light by specialized paint molecules. The glow that results needs no battery or other power source, not even exposure to sunlight. It just glows.

 

This soon became big business.  Thousands of teenaged girls were hired to paint the dials of watches and instruments with this wondrous new kind of paint.  By 1914 radium had become the most expensive substance on earth, at $180,000 per gram. It was painstaking work; the girls often used their lips to put a fine tip on their brush.

 

By the 1920s many of the dial painters had developed severe anemia, in some cases fatal. Autopsies of the girls’ bodies revealed ionizing radiation emanating from their bones, spleen and liver, due to tiny amounts of radium deposited in their organs.

 

Many girls also had grave dental problems with teeth breaking and falling out due to bone deterioration, plus rampant bacterial infections. Dentists working on the girls’ teeth found the jaw bones to be soft and porous, even fracturing spontaneously.  Dr. Martland, a forensic pathologist, showed in 1925 that these symptoms (termed “radium jaw”) were caused by tiny amounts of radium that had embrittled the bone.

 

Before long, cases of bone cancer began to be observed among the surviving dial painters. Over 1200 deaths from bone cancer were ultimately recorded in that population. It was crystal clear that ionizing radiation from radium deposited in the girls’ skeletons was the cause. In every case, the lethal amount of radium in any girls’ body was less than a milligram (a milligram is one thousandth of a gram).

 

Years later, several hundred of the remaining dial painters developed head cancers – cancers of the sinus and mastoid – caused by a radioactive gas (radon) produced by disintegration of radium atoms in the bones and carried by the blood to the head.

 

Dangers of Radioactivity 2 – Radon Gas

 

For 400 years, underground miners in the Schneeburg region of Germany suffered from a mysterious lung ailment that killed up to half the mining population.  In the mid-19th century the disease was identified as lung cancer. The cause was unknown.

 

By the 1930s, scientists learned that the miners’ lung cancers were brought about by breathing a radioactive gas called radon. It was pervasive in the underground tunnels. Ionizing radiation given off by the inhaled gas turned lung cells cancerous.

 

Radon gas is one of the most powerful cancer-causing agents known to science. It is invisible, odourless, and tasteless. It is seven times heavier than air, so it stays close to the ground. It cannot be filtered out of the air. And it is continually being created, one atom at a time, by the disintegration of radium atoms.

 

When a radium atom disintegrates it does not disappear, it becomes an atom of radon gas. So radium, a radioactive heavy metal, is gradually transforming itself into a radioactive gas. Indeed, every atom of radon was once an atom of radium.

 

These men were mining for silver and cobalt, but the ore was also rich in uranium.  Wherever uranium is found, there also is radium, as Marie Curie demonstrated in 1898. So there will be radon too – the gas is a so-called “decay product” of radium.

 

Throughout the twentieth century, underground uranium miners around the world suffered excess lung cancers caused by their exposures to radon gas – from the Navajo Indians mining uranium on the Colorado Plateau, to underground miners in Sweden and South Africa, to Canadian miners in the Northwest Territories, Northern Saskatchewan, Elliot Lake Ontario, and Newfoundland – all experienced a dramatically elevated incidence of lung cancer caused by their radon gas exposures.

 

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that currently, between 20,000 and 30,000 lung cancer deaths occur every year from American citizens breathing radon gas in their homes.  Radon gas enters homes when the soil has a higher than usual amount of radium, or when radium-contaminated materials are used in the construction of homes, as has happened in many communities.

 

Sometimes radon enters homes in the form of radioactively contaminated water (i.e. water containing dissolved radon).  In such cases high radon exposures often result from showering. Radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

 

Because radium is such a deadly substance, it is now considered too dangerous to use in commercial applications. So radium became a radioactive waste product of uranium mining. Since the mid-20th century, massive piles of radium-bearing wastes – over 200 million tonnes in Canada – have been stored at the surface in the form of a fine sand.  These sandy wastes constantly give off radon gas into the atmosphere.

 

Dangers of Radioactivity 3 – Polonium

 

When uranium atoms disintegrate, they change into about two dozen other radioactive materials – these are the “decay products” of uranium.  Among these decay products are radium, radon, and polonium.  That’s why uranium ore always contains radium and polonium; they are both natural byproducts of uranium.

 

Since the Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility is intended to store a very large amount of uranium (1000 tonnes!), there will be always more and more radium, radon and polonium in those wastes as the centuries go by, increasing without end, as more and more uranium atoms disintegrate into their natural decay products.

 

Polonium is a radioactive solid that occurs in nature as a decay product of radon. When an atom of radon disintegrates, it becomes an atom of polonium.  In fact there are 3 different varieties (called “isotopes”) of polonium : polonium-218, polonium-214, and polonium-210. They are all radioactive byproducts of radon gas. And, of course, every atom of radon was once an atom of radium, and every atom of radium was once an atom of uranium, so it’s all happening all the time – a “decay chain”.

 

It so happens that polonium is the deadliest element on earth. Scientists at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, the place where they developed the explosive mechanism for the first atomic bomb, say polonium-210 is 250 billion times more toxic than cyanide. So whatever amount of cyanide is needed to kill a human being, that same amount of polonium-210 would be enough to kill 250 billion humans.

 

In 2008 a small amount of polonium-210 was dumped into a cup of tea in London, England, to murder an ex-Russian spy named Alexander Litvinenko.  He died an agonizing death as all his internal organs shut down one by one.  Polonium-210 attaches itself to red blood cells and so it spreads all over the body by normal blood circulation. The ionizing radiation given off by disintegrating polonium atoms is particular devastating to living tissue, wherever that tissue may be in the body.

 

When tobacco is grown, radon gas builds up under the thick leaves, and atoms of polonium are produced there. Polonium adheres to the sticky hairs on the leaves, so a very tiny amount ends up in the harvested tobacco. This situation is made worse when radioactive fertilizer is used to promote the growth of the tobacco plants.

 

The American Health Physics Society, specializing in monitoring radiation, estimates that 90 percent of the deaths attributed to cigarette smoking are actually caused by polonium-210 in cigarette smoke. So polonium is killing over 200,000 Americans per year, due to lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes caused by ionizing radiation.

 

Inuit people have more polonium in their bodies than the average Canadian because they eat a lot of caribou meat.  Caribou eat a lot of lichen, and the lichen absorbs the polonium dust that slowly settles out from radon gas atoms disintegrating in the air.

 

Is There a Safe Dose of Ionizing Radiation?

 

Large doses of ionizing radiation can cause death, radiation sickness, hair loss, sterility, radiation burns, cataracts, and many other harmful effects that are apparent within hours, days, or weeks of exposure – within a year, at least.  These are called “prompt effects”; they can all be prevented by lowering the exposure.

 

Low doses of ionizing radiation can cause cancers, leukemias, genetic damage to the DNA of reproductive cells, and a variety of other ailments that will often not become apparent for years or even decades after exposure.  These are called “delayed effects” of ionizing radiation.  (The technical term is “stochastic effects”.) Delayed effects cannot be altogether prevented just by lowering the level of exposure.

 

Many scientific bodies exist to sift through the scientific evidence and determine the truth as they see it.  These include UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation), the BEIR Committee of the NAS (National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation), and the ICRP (International Committee on Radiological Protection).  These bodies have issued a series of reports over many years on the subject of ionizing radiation.

 

The scientific consensus of all these committees is that any dose of ionizing radiation, no matter how small, can in principle cause the delayed effects mentioned above: cancer, leukemia, or genetic damage.  But with very low doses of ionizing radiation, the fraction of the exposed population suffering such harm is also low.

 

All these scientific committees have accepted the “linear hypothesis” as the best guide.  The linear hypothesis implies that there is no safe threshold of exposure to ionizing radiation, because harmful effects – including lethal effects – can be experienced by individuals exposed to even low levels. To be more precise the linear hypothesis states that the number of damaged individuals in an exposed population is roughly proportional to the average dose multiplied by the size of the population.

 

It is worth noting that every nuclear regulatory body in the world has formally accepted the linear hypothesis. All radiation limits and standards are based on the linear hypothesis, with no assumed safe threshold.  This means that there is no absolutely safe dose of ionizing radiation, so all exposures should be kept to zero if possible.  The “permissible levels” of radiation exposure are based on the belief that some level of radiation-caused cancers or genetic defects is acceptable in exchange for the benefits of the radiation exposure that caused these harmful effects. It is also well-established that women and children are much more vulnerable than men.

 

When it comes to very long-lived radioactive waste materials that will be around for hundreds of thousands of years, the linear hypothesis becomes very worrisome, because the exposed population is not just those people who are living near the waste right now, but all the future generations of people who will live near the wastes for thousands of years to come.  As the exposed population grows larger and larger with time, the number of cancers and genetic defects becomes incalculable.

 

Radioactive Emissions: Alpha, Beta and Gamma

 

Sooner or later the nucleus of any radioactive atom will disintegrate (i.e. explode). Any emission given off during such a disintegration is called “atomic radiation”.  The half-life of a radioactive element is the time needed for half its atoms to disintegrate

 

Radioactivity is measured by how many disintegrations occur in one second. One disintegration per second is referred to as a “Becquerel” (Bq). A terabecquerel (TBq) is a trillion becquerels, indicating that a million million radioactive disintegrations are taking place every second. Many of the radioactive waste materials to be deposited in the Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility, according to authorities, are measured in terabecquerels, sometimes even thousands of terabecquerels.

 

When a nucleus disintegrates, it ejects an electrically charged particle, travelling incredibly fast, that can smash molecular bonds with ease.  There are two types of such particles. An “alpha particle” is positively charged, whereas a  “beta particle” is negatively charged. Almost all radioactive elements can be classified into one of two categories – either as an “alpha-emitter” or as a “beta-emitter”.  For example, polonium is an alpha-emitter, while tritium (radioactive hydrogen) is a beta-emitter.

 

In many cases, a disintegrating nucleus may also give off a burst of pure energy, very similar to an x-ray, but far more powerful. Such emissions are called “gamma rays”.  Any radioactive element that gives off gamma rays is called a “gamma-emitter”.  Technetium-99m, used in hospitals for diagnostic tests, is a gamma-emitter.

 

Since alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays all break molecular bonds, they are all classified as “ionizing radiation”.  As such, they are all able to cause any of the adverse effects described earlier as health consequences of ionizing radiation.

 

While alpha particles and beta particles are material projectiles, and not radiation at all, they are sometimes incorrectly referred to as “alpha rays” and “beta rays”. Being particles, however, they are much less penetrating than x-rays or gamma rays.

 

Gamma rays are the most penetrating form of atomic radiation, requiring heavy lead shielding to limit exposures.  Beta particles are much less penetrating. They can travel only a few centimetres in soft tissue, and can be stopped by an aluminum plate.  Alpha particles are the least penetrating, unable to pass through a sheet of writing paper or even a glass window. Despite the differences they’re all dangerous.

 

Due to limited powers of penetration, alpha-emitters and beta-emitters are mainly internal hazards (i.e. they normally must be inside the body to do severe harm). Once inside the body, alpha emitters are much more damaging than beta emitters.  An alpha particle is 7000 times more massive than a beta particle. If a beta particle is thought of as a kind of subatomic bullet, then an alpha particle is a kind of subatomic cannon ball : the cannon ball is less penetrating but more damaging.

Gamma rays, because of their great penetrating power, are external hazards as well as well as internal hazards (i.e. when gamma emitters are ingested or inhaled).

 

Special Dangers of Alpha and Beta Emitters

 

Gamma-emitters are easy to detect with radiation monitoring equipment. Even if a gamma emitter is inside your body it can set off a radiation alarm.  Alpha-emitters and beta-emitters are more difficult to detect even outside the body, and once inside the body they generally escape routine detection altogether. Laboratory analysis of urine or excrement or some other contaminated samples must then be carried out.

 

Canadian nuclear authorities have on occasion failed to detect alpha-emitters and beta-emitters for weeks, even while clean-up crews were being contaminated.

 

During a retubing operation at Pickering in the 1980s, workers were contaminated with a beta-emitting radioactive dust (carbon-14) for weeks. By the time authorities finally identified the danger, workers had been tracking the material to their homes on a regular basis. Bedclothes and some furniture had to be removed from workers’ homes and disposed of as radioactive waste.  Internal contamination of the worker’s bodies by inhalation and ingestion of radioactive carbon dust could not be undone.

 

More recently, during the refurbishment of the Bruce A nuclear reactors in 2009, over 500 contract workers – not regular employees of Bruce Power – inhaled alpha-emitting dust on the job for several weeks before the authorities detected the hazard. Those alpha-emitting radioactive materials are now lodged inside the worker’s lungs and other internal organs, and will be there for years to come.  Long after the job has ended, their bodies will continue to be irradiated from the inside.

 

Both of these episodes could have been avoided if nuclear authorities had tested air samples for radioactive contamination on a daily basis, or if workers had been issued respirators and protective clothing.  But incredible as it may seem, the regulator (CNSC) found none of the managers or inspectors guilty of negligence.

 

It is a fact that alpha-emitters have killed more people during the twentieth century than any other kinds of radioactive materials.  Radium, radon, polonium, and uranium are all alpha-emitters, and they have killed hundreds of thousands.

 

Inside every nuclear reactor, new man-made alpha-emitters are created, such as plutonium, neptunium, americium, and curium. These are among the alpha-emitting radioactive materials that were suspended in the air inside the Bruce reactor building while contract workers without respirators went about their work.

 

The Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility is intended to store a significant amount of plutonium and other alpha-emitting material – all of it difficult to detect, all of it highly dangerous even in tiny amounts. The main reason that the Chalk River radioactive waste will remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years is that many of the human-made alpha emitters have very long lives. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years, but its decay product has a half-life of 700 million years.

 

Conclusion

 

Here are some statements from various official bodies in Canada and elsewhere:

 

  1. Report to the U.S. Congress by the Comptroller General of the United States

“Nuclear Energy’s Dilemma: Disposing of Nuclear Waste Safely” (Sept 1977)

 

“Radioactive wastes, being highly toxic, can damage or destroy living cells, causing cancer and possibly death depending on the quantity and length of time individuals are exposed to them.  Some radioactive wastes will remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years.  Decisions on what to do with these wastes will affect the lives of future generations….”

 

“To safeguard present and future generations, locations must be found to isolate these wastes and their harmful environmental effects.  A program must be developed for present and future waste disposal operations that will not create unwarranted public risk.  Otherwise, nuclear power cannot continue to be a practical source of energy.”

 

  1. Nuclear Policy Review, Background Papers (Report ER81-2E)

Energy Mines and Resources, Government of Canada, 1982

 

“Despite repeated assurances that nuclear waste disposal presents no insoluble scientific, engineering, or environmental problems, the issue remains in the minds of the public and some members of the scientific community as a serious unresolved issue associated with the development of nuclear energy….”

 

“Three general issues can be highlighted.  First, there is a concern that society is imposing a serious burden on future generations by leaving behind a legacy of radioactive wastes which may prove difficult to manage….

 

“This naturally raises a second question.  How can it be proven that waste disposal systems will perform adequately over very long periods of time? ….

 

 “Finally, there is the problem of establishing what the words “perform acceptably” mean.  A clear general statement of overall principles applying to radioactive waste management has yet to be agreed upon within Canada or internationally.”

 

  1. BEIR-VII – 7th Report on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (2008)

The National Research Council of the US National Academy of Sciences

 

“The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial. The health risks – particularly the development of solid cancers in organs – rise propor-tionally with exposure. At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid cancers is very small. But as the overall lifetime exposure increases, so does the risk.”

 

Committee Chair Richard R. Monson, Professor of Epidemiology,

Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Press Release, June 2007

  1. Nuclear Power and the Environment, Sir Brian Flowers (Sept 1976)

Sixth Report of the UK Royal Commission on the Environment

 

 “We must assume that these wastes will remain dangerous, and will need to be isolated from the biosphere, for hundreds of thousands of years.  In considering arrangements for dealing safely with such wastes man is faced with time scales that transcend his experience…. 

 

 “The creation of wastes which will need to be contained for such periods of time, and hence of a legacy of risk and responsibility to our remote descendants, is a matter of great concern to many people.  We think, however, that some continuity must be assumed in human affairs and institutions, and in the ability of future generations to maintain the necessary containment.”

 

 “We are confident that an acceptable solution will be found and we attach great importance to the search; for we are agreed that it would be irresponsible and morally wrong to commit future generations to the consequences of fission power on a massive scale unless it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that at least one method exists for the safe isolation of these wastes for the indefinite future.”

 

  1. Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, Ontario Legislature (June 1980)

The Management of Nuclear Fuel Waste, Final Report

 

 “The consensus of the Committee is that communities are not likely to easily accept the siting of what will be perceived as a garbage dump for frightening nuclear poisons.  The waste must be disposed of.  It must be disposed of safely and permanently.  In the Committee’s view, it is most likely that government will ultimately have to choose where the unpopular site will be located….”

 

 “One of the major problems AECL must overcome is the public’s perception that its entire program — from basic research to public information — is biased by its commitment to nuclear power and consequent desire to show that waste disposal is not an insuperable problem.  The Committee’s view is that AECL compounded its credibility problem by its one-sided, overly positive and broadly pro-nuclear presentation of information.”

 

  1. A Race Against Time, Interim Report on Nuclear Power In Ontario (Sept 1978)

Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, Arthur Porter

 

“Given the very long life of these toxic materials, no man-made containment system can ever be predicted to give sufficient protection.  All over the world scientists are looking for ways to use nature as a final barrier.”

 

Articles by Dr. Gordon Edwards on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation

 

  Open Letter to Physicists:  http://www.ccnr.org/open_letter.html

     Report for Environmental Advisory Council: http://www.ccnr.org/CEAC_B.html

  Estimating Lung Cancers:  http://www.ccnr.org/lung_cancer_1.html

     Review of Tritium Report:  http://www.ccnr.org/GE_ODWAC_2009_e.pdf

Nuclear power for your home and business

In Climate change, Environment, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, Politics, War on July 20, 2017 at 8:36 am

Dear friends –

Regardless of any other public and career commitments each of us may have, it is now essential for everyone who is, or could be, involved in the public sphere to address themselves in one way or another to the global climate crisis.

We will review the reasons for this in the next Bulletin, if they are not already clear. In a letter to local members earlier this year we said,
Today, our long inaction in the face of converging environmental and social disasters requires us to consider our lives and actions…All that we are and do, and would do, must be weighed sub specie Terrae – from the perspective of Earth…[T]he biggest story and struggle of our time and our greatest, most salient struggles, lie in the nexus of climate, energy, economics, and environment. These connected crises have now thoroughly converged…We now need to anchor all our politics, including nuclear disarmament politics, in the work of saving our only home and the creatures in it, who have come this long way with us and made us who we are. This is not just “another issue.” It is the master predicament that we and our children are facing. (1/7/17)
One small part of our collective response deserves highlighting first, and all by itself for clarity’s sake, because it is so straightforward and has so many personal, political, and economic advantages (micro and macro – both).

I am talking about nuclear power. Fusion power, that long-sought miracle of energy abundance. For your home and business or those of your friends. From the sun.

As Los Alamos gadfly and peace activist Ed Grothus used to say, the reactor location is ideal, at 93 million miles away; the power output is essentially infinite; and the distribution is universal.

Solar energy is almost perfectly accessible – almost too good to be true, and much better than almost any alternative. Google’s Sunroof algorithms estimate that just our city, Albuquerque, has 188,000 roofs that are suitable for photovoltaic installations (93% of the total), with a combined potential capacity of 3.5 gigawatts. This is more than one-third of the total summer generation capacity in the whole state (8.4 GW). (About one quarter of NM’s electricity is exported). That’s just Albuquerque roofs. It does not include parking lots (many of which would benefit from solar shade structures), or all the suitable vacant land within and around the city, which together would dwarf the solar potential of the roofs alone.

The marginal cost of a solar kilowatt-hour is, once a solar generation facility is installed, zero. Nuclear-generated electricity finally is, in that sense, “too cheap to meter.” The cost is really a capital investment, not an operating expense, and a big hunk of it makes jobs and builds skills in your community.

We here at the Los Alamos Study Group are laser-focused on the political and social changes we can foster that will help save the planet and strengthen our communities. Especially now that it is cheap, and especially here in sunny New Mexico, solar energy is an enabling technology.

Solar energy is a core part of the Gandhian “constructive program” in our time and place. He emphasized that constructive program far more than nonviolent resistance. That program, and the radical simplicity that was and is a necessary part of it, is a face of the active nonviolence we need.

We need a lot of renewable energy – distributed renewable energy, with associated ownership, skills, and renewed community institutions – quickly. For some people and institutions, it will be a “gateway” (as in, “gateway drug,” but in a positive sense) to other transitions, personal and political.

In general, and of course with exceptions, we do not see the ephemeral, convenient protests that are habitual on the political left as being at all politically effective. (Long-term protests and true nonviolent resistance are quite another matter.) Organizing people to boycott as much planetary ecocide as possible – necessarily starting with one’s own household and business – would be far more effective than showing up for the typical protest.

Of course constructive action alone is not enough. Renewable energy, even 100% renewable energy, is not enough in itself to save the climate and halt the Sixth Great Extinction. We also need effective resistance. We need radical simplicity and connection with others.

But renewable energy is necessary; it is necessary now; it is necessary on a large scale; and it is necessary that it not be controlled by a few. The process of making this happen is politically potent and fruitful across the whole range of our converging crises.

Let me be very clear. We are asking you to consider adding solar generating capacity on your home or business. We think it is politically important.

As we said last year (Bulletin 226), the Study Group has chosen to have a financial “confluence of interest” in this transition, because we believe strongly in it. It is program and fundraising, both. We are working with two employee-owned New Mexico companies:
Positive Energy: very high efficiency, long-life, hassle-free solar guaranteed installations, including all permitting and paperwork. “Smart,” long-life, battery systems. $100 to LASG for any consultation (which are free to customers); an additional $400 with system installation.
McCune Solar Works: ultra-long life, low-cost PV modules and systems; systems tailored for renters; long-life, non-toxic battery systems; much more. Free consultations. $500 to the Study Group with system installation.
If you don’t live in New Mexico, that’s fine. We still want you to think about solar energy, for all the above reasons.
If you rent, there are ways of approaching the solar energy proposition that may work for you and your landlord.

More than this, we are asking you to become climate and solar “ambassadors,” educating and connecting with others about our climate crisis and undertaking to produce a concerted response in your own circles, which will include renewable energy, especially solar energy.

Some of you have very small electric bills, which is great. There are now cheap, small solar systems with easy-to-wire AC output, which may have demonstration value for others as well as yourself.

The federal investment tax credit is still 30% until the end of 2019. The credit applies to any necessary new roofing and to carports, parking lot structures, etc. Nonprofits and churches can create LLCs to benefit from these credits.

As a result of our summer climate and solar ambassador program, we know a little bit about this industry. Talk to one of us (at 505-265-1200) if you have questions, but we will want to connect you with the real pros, who can best analyze your situation in detail.

Greg and Trish, for the Los Alamos Study Group

New South Korean president vows to end use of nuclear power

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health on June 20, 2017 at 9:44 am

Moon Jae-in said he would lead country
towards a ‘nuclear-free era’ following
fears of a Fukushima-style meltdown

Justin McCurry in Tokyo, The Guardian, Monday 19 June 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/19/new-south-korean-president-vows-to-end-use-of-nuclear-power
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, has vowed to phase out the country’s dependence on nuclear power, warning of “unimaginable consequences” from a Fukushima-style meltdown.
Moon, a left-leaning liberal who won last month’s presidential election by a landslide following the impeachment and arrest of Park Geun-hye, said he would increase the role of renewable energy and lead South Korea towards a “nuclear-free era”.
Speaking at an event to mark the closure of the country’s oldest nuclear plant, Kori-1, he said: “So far, South Korea’s energy policy pursued cheap prices and efficiency. “Cheap production prices were considered the priority while the public’s life and safety took a back seat. But it’s time for a change.
“We will abolish our nuclear-centred energy policy and move towards a nuclear-free era. We will completely scrap construction plans for new nuclear reactors that are currently under way.”
Moon added that he would not extend the operation of ageing reactors, many of which will come to the end of their lifespans between 2020 and 2030.
Weaning South Korea off nuclear power, however, could take decades, and there is expected to be opposition from construction companies, which have increased technology exports under Moon’s nuclear-friendly predecessors.
The country was the fifth-largest producer of nuclear energy last year, according to the World Nuclear Association, with its 25 reactors generating about a third of its electricity.
The former president Lee Myung-bak saw nuclear as an important source of clean energy, while Park wanted to increase the number of reactors to 36 by 2029.
Moon recognised the role of nuclear power in South Korea’s rapid economic development, but added that Japan’s Fukushima disaster – which prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of people – had convinced him that his country must look to new sources of energy.
“The country’s economic status has changed, our awareness on the importance of the environment has changed. The notion that the safety and lives of people are more important than anything else has become a firm social consensus,” he said.
Anti-nuclear campaigners have long warned of the potentially disastrous consequences of a meltdown at a nuclear plant in South Korea, where many reactors are close to densely populated areas.
The public’s support for nuclear power has weakened since the 2011 Fukushima meltdown and a 2013 corruption scandal over fake safety certificates for reactor parts.
“The Fukushima nuclear accident has clearly proved that nuclear reactors are neither safe, economical nor environmentally friendly,” Yonhap news agency quoted Moon as saying.
“South Korea is not safe from the risk of earthquakes, and a nuclear accident caused by a quake can have such a devastating impact.”
He also plans to close at least 10 ageing coal-fired power plants before his term ends in 2022 and to boost renewables’ share of the energy mix to 20% by 2030.

Three Mile Island nuclear plant to close

In Environment, Justice, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health on June 2, 2017 at 6:32 am

By Timothy Cama – 05/30/17 09:51 AM EDT

 

The infamous Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania will close by September 2019, its owner announced Tuesday.

The power plant is retiring 15 years before its federal license is due for renewal, falling victim to the same competitive electricity marketplace that has doomed numerous other nuclear plants in recent years, Exelon Corp. said, adding that some state policy changes could convince the company to keep the plant open.

Three Mile Island is known internationally for seeing the worst nuclear power disaster in the United States, a partial core meltdown at one reactor in 1979 that empowered the anti-nuclear movement and led to significant new regulations on the industry.

“Today is a difficult day, not just for the 675 talented men and women who have dedicated themselves to operating Three Mile Island safely and reliably every day, but also for their families, the communities and customers who depend on this plant to produce clean energy and support local jobs,” Exelon CEO Chris Crane said in a statement.

Exelon used the shutdown plan to prod Pennsylvania lawmakers to pass legislation allowing nuclear plants to charge more for their electricity, as recognition of the emissions-free, relatively stable power they produce.

“Like New York and Illinois before it, the Commonwealth has an opportunity to take a leadership role by implementing a policy solution to preserve its nuclear energy facilities and the clean, reliable energy and good-paying jobs they provide,” Crane said. “We are committed to working with all stakeholders to secure Pennsylvania’s energy future, and will do all we can to support the community, the employees and their families during this difficult period.”

Just last week, Three Mile Island was shut out of a key power auction by PJM Interconnection, significantly hampering its ability to sell electricity in 2020 and 2021, Lancaster Online reported.

The plant is named for the island it occupies on the Susquehanna River, just downstream of Harrisburg.

Its first reactor, with a capacity of 852 megawatts, started operation in 1974. Its second reactor, with the same capacity, opened in 1978, but was permanently shut down in the meltdown disaster the next year.

In recent years, nuclear plants have had difficulty competing against cheap natural gas plants and renewable energy. The costs of regulatory compliance, operation and other factors are hard to reduce.

The industry argues that competitive state electricity sale standards are unfair, because they do not account for the emissions-free, stable nature of nuclear power. New York and Illinois are among the states that have acted to subsidize or otherwise allow higher costs for nuclear power in an effort to save existing reactors.

Stratcom Chief Says $1 Trillion for Nukes Is ‘Affordable’: Says Nukes Are the Most Critical Thing the Pentagon Does

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, War on April 4, 2017 at 9:15 am

by Jason Ditz, April 02, 2017

US Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten continues to argue in favor of massive spending on nuclear weapons upgrades, insisting that despite the $1 trillion estimates the cost is “affordable,” and that “deterrence will always be cheaper than war.”

Hyten also faulted the idea of getting an estimate before starting the spending at all, saying getting the estimate first is “just a crazy way to build things,” and that he thinks the US should be able to build this massive arsenal “for an affordable price,” insisting it is “the most critical thing that we do in the military.”

Though early estimates on the nuclear weapons upgrade started at several hundred billion dollars, more recent estimates have shown that it was likely to be much larger than that, with most recent figures in excess of a trillion dollars over the next 30 years.

While in Hyten’s estimation that’s “affordable,” it’s not at all clear where it would fit in President Trump’s budget, which is already planning large military spending increases to buy more warships and planes, and is struggling to cut domestic spending to pay for that without having to find more for the nuclear program.

A Legal First: Japanese Government and Tepco found liable for Fukushima disaster

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health on March 21, 2017 at 3:42 am

BY DAISUKE KIKUCHI, JAPAN TIMES, MARCH 17 2017
http://tinyurl.com/k3g3xy4

MAEBASHI, GUNMA PREF. – A court in Japan has ruled for the first time that the government and the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were responsible for failing to take preventive measures against the March 11, 2011, quake-triggered tsunami that killed scores and forced tens of thousands from their homes.
Friday’s stunning ruling by the Maebashi District Court was the first to recognize negligence by the state and Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. It called the massive tsunami predictable and said the major nuclear disaster could have been avoided.
The district court ordered the two to pay damages totaling ¥38.55 million to 62 of 137 plaintiffs from 45 households located near the plant, which suffered a triple meltdown caused by the tsunami, awarding ¥70,000 to ¥3.5 million in compensation to each plaintiff.
The plaintiffs had demanded the state and Tepco pay compensation of ¥11 million each — a total of about ¥1.5 billion — over the loss of local infrastructure and psychological stress they were subjected to after being forced to relocate to unfamiliar surroundings.
Citing a government estimate released in July 2002, the court said in the ruling that “Tepco was capable of foreseeing several months after (the estimate) that a large tsunami posed a risk to the facility and could possibly flood its premises and damage safety equipment, such as the backup power generators.”
It pointed out that the state should have ordered Tepco to take bolstered preventive measures, and criticized the utility for prioritizing costs over safety.
Of the plaintiffs, 76 who lived in evacuation zones were forced to move, while another 61 evacuated voluntarily even though their houses were located outside evacuation zones. The ruling was the first of 30 similar class-action suits filed nationwide involving more than 10,000 plaintiffs.
About 80,000 citizens who had lived in Fukushima reportedly left the prefecture after the March 2011 disaster.
“I believe that the ruling saying both the government and Tepco were equally responsible is an important judgment,” Katsuyoshi Suzuki, the lead lawyer for the defense said at a news conference following the ruling. “But thinking about the psychological distress (the plaintiffs faced) after being forced to evacuate from their homes, I think the amount is not enough.”
Takehiro Matsuta, 38, one of the plaintiffs who evacuated from the city of Koriyama, hailed the ruling, but called the damages “disappointing.”

“The ruling was one big step for my family, for those who evacuated from Fukushima to Gunma, and for tens of thousands of earthquake victims nationwide,” he said.
But called the payout “disappointing,” as his child, who was 3 years old at the time of the nuclear disaster, was not granted compensation. “My wife and I are struggling everyday, but it’s my child who suffers the most.”
The group of lawyers for the plaintiffs, which have had suits filed since September 2011, claimed that the Fukushima disaster resulted in serious human rights violations by forcing victims to relocate after the crisis caused widespread environmental damage.
The plaintiffs argued that Tepco could have prevented the damage if it had implemented measures, including the building of breakwaters, based on its 2008 tsunami trial calculation that showed waves of over 10 meters could hit the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Those calculations took into account the 2002 estimate by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, which concluded that there was a 20 percent chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake rocking areas off Fukushima within 30 years.
However, the government and Tepco have argued that the massive tsunami was unexpected, claiming that there were different opinions among scholars over the long-term evaluation. Both attacked the credibility of the study, calling it unscientific.
The government also objected to the ruling, saying that because it had no authority to force Tepco to take such preventive measures as argued by the plaintiffs, it bore no responsibility.
According to the defense, a number of other class suits are inching closer to rulings, with one in the city of Chiba scheduled for Sept. 22 and another in the city of Fukushima involving 4,000 plaintiffs expected by the year’s end.

Japanese nuclear plant just recorded an astronomical radiation level. Should we be worried?

In Cost, Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health on February 8, 2017 at 10:50 pm

By Anna Fifield and Yuki Oda, Washington Post, February 8, 2017

TOKYO — The utility company that operated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan — the one that went into triple meltdown after the enormous 2011 earthquake and tsunami — has released some jaw-dropping figures.

The radiation level in the containment vessel of reactor 2 has reached as high as 530 sieverts per hour, Tokyo Electric Power Co. — or Tepco, as it’s known — said last week. This far exceeds the previous high of 73 sieverts per hour recorded at the reactor following the March 2011 disaster.

That was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the one at Chernobyl, in Ukraine, in 1986. Almost 16,000 people were killed along Japan’s northeastern coast in the tsunami, and 160,000 more lost their homes and livelihoods. The cleanup is taking much longer than expected.
At this level of radioactivity, a person could die from the briefest of exposures.

Tepco recorded the radiation near the reactor core, suggesting that some melted fuel had escaped, using a long, remote-controlled camera and radiation measurement device. It was the first time this kind of device has been able to get into this part of the reactor. There it found a three-foot-wide hole in a metal grate in the reactor’s primary containment vessel.

So, how dangerous is this?

At this level of radiation, a robot would be able to operate for less than two hours before it was destroyed, Tepco said.

And Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences said medical professionals had never even thought about encountering this level of radiation in their work.

According to the Kyodo news agency, the institute estimates that exposure to one sievert of radiation could lead to infertility, loss of hair and cataracts, while four sieverts would kill half the people exposed to it.

This measuring device hasn’t even gone into reactors 1 and 3 yet — that’s still in the works.

Robot explores damaged nuclear plant reactor in Japan Embed Share Play Video
Plant operators for Tokyo Electric Power company used a small cable-operated robot to film inside a damaged reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. (Reuters)
So should the people who live in Japan, who live on the Pacific basin be freaking out?

Not yet, some analysts say.

Although the radiation level is “astoundingly high,” says Azby Brown of Safecast, a citizen science organization that monitors radiation levels, it doesn’t necessarily signify any alarming change in radiation levels at Fukushima. It’s simply the first time they have been measured that far inside the reactor.

Here’s what Brown wrote on Safecast’s website:

It must be stressed that radiation in this area has not been measured before, and it was expected to be extremely high. While 530 Sv/hr is the highest measured so far at Fukushima Daiichi, it does not mean that levels there are rising, but that a previously unmeasurable high-radiation area has finally been measured. Similar remote investigations are being planned for Daiichi Units 1 and 3. We should not be surprised if even higher radiation levels are found there, but only actual measurements will tell.

Hiroshi Miyano, nuclear expert and visiting professor at Hosei University, also warned against overreacting. He said the radiation reading might not be particularly reliable since it was only an estimation based on the image analysis. (Tepco said there was a margin of error of 30 percent.)

“It’s not something new to worry about,” he said, although he added that it underscored how difficult the next steps would be.

But some think there is cause for concern.

Fumiya Tanabe, nuclear safety expert and former chief research scientist at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, said while experts expected the radiation reading inside the Daiichi reactors to be high, it was still “shocking” to learn how high it was six years on.

“It will be very difficult to operate robots in there for a long time to come, and to remove the melted fuel. So the finding might greatly affect the decommissioning time schedule,” he said.

Tepco had been hoping to start taking out the fuel out in 2021.

Japan now estimates Fukushima nuclear cleanup cost at $180 billion Embed Share Play Video0:54
Japan’s trade ministry has almost doubled the estimated cost of compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and decommissioning of the damaged Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant to more than 20 trillion yen. (Reuters)
Could the radiation level be even higher?

Possibly. The 530 sievert reading was recorded some distance from the melted fuel, so in reality it could be 10 times higher than recorded, said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.

He agreed with Tanabe, saying that the findings underscore how difficult the decommissioning process will be.

“It definitely shows the path towards decommissioning will be very difficult, and the time frame to start taking out the fuel in 2021 will most likely be delayed as more investigations will be necessary,” Ban said.

Still, he cautioned against overreacting, saying, like Brown, that Tepco had simply not been able to measure this close to the fuel before.

So what does this news portend?

Tanabe said that the level of the reading should give pause to proponents of nuclear power in Japan, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been pushing to restart reactors shut down after the 2011 disaster.

“It’s unbelievable that anyone would want to restart nuclear plants when Japan hasn’t learned how and why the Fukushima Daiichi accident happened, or learned lessons from it,” he said.
Indeed, Ai Kashiwagi, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, said the findings showed how little the government and Tepco knew about what was happening inside the reaction.

“The prime minister said everything was under control and has been pushing to restart nuclear plants, but no one knew the actual state of the plant and more serious facts could come out in the future,” she said. “It’s important to keep an eye on radiation-monitoring data and how Tepco’s investigations go.”

Anna Fifield is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.