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Archive for April, 2011


Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

April 5, 2011
Nuclear Townhall
By William Tucker

Will "shunning" become the biggest health problem from  Fukushima?

One of the lessons of Chernobyl has been that the psychological effects of being involved in a nuclear accident are worse than the physical effects. The UN 2005 report found that although there had been only limited physical harm to people in the surrounding region, they had suffered severe psychological depression from  the sense that something awful had occurred to them to ruin their lives.

Part of this is self-imposed, of course, but part also stems from the reaction of other people.  One common response is that people who are affected by the accident are carriers of some kind of contagion – that they are "radioactive" and therefore to be avoided.  In a recent article in the New York Post, Natassia Astrasheuskaya, who was born in Belarus in 1989, says she has spent her entire life being identified as a "Child of Chernobyl," a label that is not entirely flattering.  Astrasheuskaya herself seems to have accepted part of that stigma in that she has an enlarged thyroid and attributes it to the accident. Yet she was born three years after the accident and it is unlikely that the radioactive iodine, which has a half-life of only eight days, could have contributed to her condition. 

Now nations around the world are starting to react to Fukushima with the response that Japan has somehow become tainted and the best thing to do is stay away. Twenty-five countries have already imposed bans on food imports from Japan, extending to such things as cookies and chocolate (the Philippines). There are  reports of people on the West Coast of America refusing to eat Japanese food. This is ridiculous. The Japanese are carefully monitoring milk, spinach and other immediately affected products for their own population.  Fish will be examined as well.  In any case, the levels of contamination already found are well below any matter of concern. The most serious contamination, once again, will be I-131 and that will disappear within two months. 

It will be important to monitor radioactivity in food substances and the Japanese are aoready doing a very good job.  But the world should avoid piling on and turning a very conscientious nation into a a pariah.  One of the best ways to support nuclear power and provide relief for the earthquake-devastated nation will be to eat out at a Japanese restaurant. 

Read more about it at Kyodo News


Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

April 5, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

Fortune Magazine held its "Brainstorm Green" conference this week in the shadow of events at Fukushima and found that people who worry about global warming – some of them at least – are still supporting nuclear power.


The numbers don’t lie, coal kills millions every year" through air pollution," Michael Shellenberger, head of the Breakthrough Institute, told the gathering. Breakthrough is a liberal organization that has been critical of aspects of the environmental movement. "We’re not going to be against it," said Environmental Defense’s Fred Krupp, who has been a quiet supporter in recent years. However, he did  add: "It’s a good thing we pause here and try to figure out what went wrong and why."

Connie Hedegaard, commissioner for climate action for the European Union, told the panel "nuclear will still be part of the whole equation" and Duke Energy’s Jim Rogers reiterated his vow to build more nuclear, largely on the premise that it it is clean and will reduce carbon emissions. 

Although Fortune did not invite die-hard nuclear opponents such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace or Arjun Makhijani’s Institue for Energy and Environmental Research, the magazine does seem to have caught a trend. Particularly in Congress, liberal Democrats such as Barbara Boxer, Charles Schumer and Diane Feinstein, who have expressed concern about carbon emissions, seem to have become reconciled to the idea that nuclear will have to play a part. Outside the venerable Ed Markey, the response to Fukushima has been muted. With the sole exception of Joe Lieberman, no one has backed away from any nuclear commitments. Neither is there any indication of things slowing down abroad. "Do you think China is going to slow down, do you think India is going to slow down," Rogers asked the crowd at the discussion. "The nuclear renaissance will continue."

Read more about it at CNN


Monday, April 4th, 2011

April 4, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

Last week a CNN reporter pulled a single sentence out of a three-page letter written to New York State officials by a Con Edison vice president and concluded that closing the Indian Point Nuclear Station would cost the average New Yorker only $65 a year.
That emboldened anti-nuclear activists and state officials, all the way up to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who are trying to persuade the Nuclear Regulatory Commission not to relicense the two reactors, which provide Con Edison’s service area (New York City and Westchester County) with one-third of its electricity.
Now Reuters has compiled a more realistic reaction. "Uncertainty is the operative word,” Paul Patterson an energy analyst at consultants Glenrock Associates in New York, tells the news service. “I do think it would behoove one not to underestimate the trouble local officials can cause power generators."
And an anonymous Con Ed spokesperson adds this comment:  "The notion that removing 2,000 MW of electricity from the New York grid won’t harm reliability or lead to higher prices defies any measure of credibly or objective analysis.”
The original letter, written by Con Ed vice president Joseph Oates, was actually a long argument to the State Department of Environmental Conservation outlining the difficulty, if not near impossibility, of replacing Indian Point’s power. The State DEC is also trying to close Indian Point by saying it violates the law by warming the river slightly.
Closing Indian Point, Oates wrote, would mean a broad effort to find replacement power. “Such a plan would require a combination of new generation, gas pipelines and transmission assets. . . .The time required to site and permit the needed solutions . . . could take up to ten years.”  The most commonly mentioned alternates are new gas plants plus an effort to bring James Bay hydropower down from Canada. The gas plants would probably be located in New Jersey, since New Yorkers also rejected the Millennium Pipeline, which was intended to bring natural gas resources from Canada and upstate New York into New York City, crossing the Hudson right at Indian Point so that a gas generator might be construction there. New York State refused to allow the pipeline to cross the Hudson so it was terminated in New Jersey instead. Bringing Canadian hydropower to New York City would require the construction of a whole new transmission corridor. Upstate New York residents have long resisted this as well. There is also some chatter about building windmills but this is unlikely to happen since New Yorkers have already defeated a plan to build a 140-megawatt wind complex in Long Island Sound. Indian Point provides 2,000 MW.
At one point in the letter, Oates remarked, Con Edison estimates that its customer bills "would increase up to six percent of more depending on the replacement option.”  CNN took this figure and applied it to an estimate that the average New York City apartment dweller pays only $85 a month in electricity. From there it arrived at its $62 a year figure. But millions of people in the area do not live in apartments and the cost to businesses and commercial spaces would obviously be much higher.
Bringing electricity from New Jersey and far upstate obviously increase the chances of power outages. New York’s famous blackout of 1977, by far the most destructive, was caused when overloaded power lines failed while bringing emergency power from upstate New York. Closing Indian Points two reactors and substituting power brought over much greater distances would likely multiply those risks. 
 Read more about it at Reuters


Monday, April 4th, 2011

April 4, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

Anti-nuclear activism is often associated with left-wing politics, but the UK Guardian is breaking the mold by issuing one sensible report after another about the perceived dangers of nuclear energy.

George Monbiot probably set the tone in his regular column three days after the earthquake when he declared, echoing Dr. Strangelove, “Why Fukushima Make Me Stop Worrying and Love Nuclear Power.”  Monbiot subsequently made a good showing by debating the eternally apocalyptic Helen Caldicott on Democracy Now! 

Now it’s guest science columnist Dr. Melanie Windridge informing readers, “Fear of nuclear power is out of proportion to the actual risks.”  “Is it reasonable to decry nuclear power because of a crisis that has killed no one, caused by a natural disaster that killed thousands?” she asks.

Windridge notes that for the most part, safety mechanisms have worked as anticipated. “In fact, the disaster shows how safe nuclear reactors actually are. Reactors designed half a century ago survived an earthquake many times stronger than they were designed to withstand, immediately going into shut-down (bringing driven nuclear reactions to a halt).” 

She notes – as have dozens of other commentators – that radiation is everywhere and so far the exposures to everyone outside the immediate vicinity of the plant have been at background levels. "Safety limits for nuclear facilities are necessarily stringent and contamination is taken extremely seriously. However, these precautionary limits can cause unnecessary alarm. For example, there were recommendations for restrictions on drinking water, which have now been lifted, but the radiation dose received by drinking Tokyo water for a year would have been less than that from moving to Cornwall [from the Thames Valley] and living there for a year.” 

“Compared with other sources of energy, nuclear power is one of the safest,” she concludes. “I do not wish to trivialize the problems at Fukushima. . . . However, I believe we cannot sideline nuclear fission because of Fukushima.”

Read more about it at the Guardian



Monday, April 4th, 2011

April 4, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

What do you do when you’ve suddenly lost 7,000 megawatts of nuclear power?  Why you start importing electricity from someone who hasn’t closed their reactors, of course.
That’s what Germany has done since Chancellor Angela Merkel – surrounded by Greens – took the hasty step of closing down Germany’s seven oldest  reactors in response to Fukushima. Reuters reports today what seemed inevitable – the Germans, formerly an exporter of power, are now importing 12 percent of their electricity, mostly from France and the Czech Republic. Those countries have power to spare because they rely heavily on . . . . nuclear energy.

“Prior to this, a scenario typical of March had been in place, involving net exports of 70 to 150 GWh a day,” reports Reuters. "Power imports from France and the Czech Republic have doubled, those into the Netherlands and Switzerland have halved.”

That hasn’t been the only impact. “Wholesale prices of German quarterly power in 2011 have risen by 12 percent,” says Reuters, quoting a report from BDEW, the German utility industry association. “Carbon emissions prices have also risen by 10 percent.”

Chancellor Merkel ordered a three-month shutdown after Greens raised a public outcry over Fukushima. The uproar is likely to increase by the end of this month with the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl. Greenpeace International is reportedly preparing to release a study claiming a million people around the world died as a result of that accident. An extensive UN report done five years ago said the figure was 60 deaths with the possibility of 4,000 additional cancers. Analysts are going to be challenged trying to figure out why there is such a discrepancy between the two reports.

Read more about it at Reuters


Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

April 2, 2011 

Nuclear Townhall
When Patrick Moore is asked the inevitable question, “Would you live next to a nuclear reactor,” he replies, “I’d be happy to live inside a nuclear reactor. It’s safer than living outside.”  
Seventy-five miles north of Fukushima, 240 homeless victims of the earthquake and tsunami are finding out what Moore means. They have been offered shelter inside the Onagawa reactor complex and are finding it very comfortable. “Those sheltering at the plant live in relative luxury compared to many other survivors,” says this AP report. “Most of Onagawa is still covered in a thick layer of dust. There is no running water or cell phone service, and only a few neighborhoods have electricity. Nearly 1,100 of the 10,000 residents are dead or missing, and 5,500 more have moved into schools and civic centers. Within the nuclear plant, facilities are pristine, electricity flows directly from Japan’s national grid, and evacuees can use its dedicated phone network to make calls.”
The plant is normally closed to the public and reporters have still not been allowed onto the site. The band of displaced persons originally found shelter inside the outside visitor’s center, but electricity and running water weren’t functioning so plant officials moved them inside the gate. "We felt it was the right thing to do," company spokesman Yoshitake Kanda told AP. 
Just outside the reactor complex, protests groups have mounted a billboard proclaiming “Eliminate Nuclear Power!”  But inside the refugees are more favorable. "If we get too sensitive, it’ll bring us down," 84-year-old Masuo Takahashi told the AP. "So we just have to trust that there won’t be an accident like Fukushima here."
Read more here


Friday, April 1st, 2011

April 1, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

What Nuclear Townhall prints today, CBS News features tomorrow. In a remarkably clear-eyed analysis, CBS has revealed the narrow partisan politics that have temporarily killed the Yucca Mountain project and highlighted what it means to the rest of the country.

Instead of putting opponents on camera to rant about the “nuclear dump” that is a “catastrophe waiting to happen,” CBS reporters went out to Nye County and found that almost everybody scheduled to live near the project actually favors it. Jobs and income are the reason, of course. Then the newscasters dug into the files (or leafed through back stories on NTH) and found that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko had killed the project single-handed and excised whole sections out of the safety report, to the dismay of staff and other commissioners. This was paired with clips of Presidential candidate Barack Obama promising Nevada voters he would not allow Yucca to open.

“Critics charge you were simply doing the bidding of your former boss, Harry Reid,” the reporter says to Jaczko on camera. The chairman dances around the issue before ending that “the decision was in the best interest of the agency.”

The obvious motive here is that millions of Americans have suddenly discovered that it isn’t such a good idea to have spent fuel sitting around in cooling pools decade after decade and that a national repository – or perhaps even some form of reprocessing – wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The report ends solemnly, “Still, nuclear wastes sits scattered across 35 states . . . and Yucca Mountain sits silent, and empty.” 

Even more remarkable, the Yucca report was followed by a piece on radiation pointing out that levels detected on the West Coast are barely above background and that irrational fear of radiation was a much bigger health threat than the radiation itself. If nothing else, the Fukushima accident has caused an outbreak of common sense at CBS News.

See the video here