Archive for the ‘Japan Earthquake’ Category
Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
April 5, 2011
By William Tucker
Will "shunning" become the biggest health problem from Fukushima?â€¨â€¨
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.â€¨â€¨
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.
â€¨â€¨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.
â€¨â€¨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
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.â€¨â€¨"
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."
â€¨â€¨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.
â€¨â€¨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
â€¨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.â€¨
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!
â€¨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.â€¨
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).”
â€¨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.”
â€¨“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
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
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."
Thursday, March 31st, 2011
March 31, 2011
Measures taken to protect U.S. nuclear reactors from terrorist attacks after September 11th have unwittingly made them much better prepared for natural disasters like the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, according to this report in National Review Online
Lou Dolinar, a retired reporter and columnist for Newsday, takes an extensive look at the preparations and compares them favorably with Japanese technology, which has not created such extensive back-up systems.
“Power operations are a good example of the difference between response here and in Japan,” write Dolinar. “The Fukushima Daiichi cooling systems apparently functioned for a time on battery backup power, but when that ran out, emergency generators failed, and the reactors began heating up, eventually leading to explosions and further damage that still has the plant on shaky footing. An early power-up could have prevented all that, but the Japanese took days to string new lines to the site.
”U.S. plants appear better able to maintain cooling and power and to restore both fairly quickly if lost. A Tennessee Valley Authority facility recently displayed for the New York Times and several other outlets have portable backup batteries and some manual controls onsite to manage critical systems. As the Times’ Matthew Wald wrote, `One cart could power the instruments that measure the water level in the reactor vessel, an ability that Japanese operators lost a few hours after the tsunami hit. Another could operate critical valves that failed early at Fukushima.’
“`They’re like a backup to the backup,’ Keith J. Polson, the T.V.A.’s vice president for the Browns Ferry site told the Times. `That’s what we think the Japanese didn’t have.’”
Although he is critical of negative press coverage, Dolinar notes that one reason the word has not gotten out is that much of the preparation has been kept quiet for security purposes. Dolinar notes that the chain-of command in U.S. reactors is also better and that decisions can be reached quicker. He cites the delay among Tokyo Electric officials in flooding the reactors with seawater and the resulting charges that they were hesitant to ruin the facility. But he also says that the confusion and disarray resulting from the earthquake probably played a part as well.
Dolinar points to several other steps that have been taken to strengthen American reactors over their Japanese counterparts. He also notes that the Japanese have crowded their nuclear parks with twice as many reactors as is normal for the U.S. But he says the one place where American reactors are more vulnerable than their Japanese counterparts is in the volume of spent fuel at the sites. “[T]here’s one guy to blame,” he says, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.” Still, blame won’t do if spent fuel becomes the focus of a nuclear accident. It’s good that other Senate Democrats are already discussing serious steps to revive Yucca Mountain or even begin a reprocessing effort in the United States.
Thursday, March 31st, 2011
March 31, 2011
Perhaps the most visible impact of the Fukushima accident on the nuclear debate has been the conversion of British global warming alarmist George Monbiot to nuclear power. In an article written two days after the earthquake entitled, “Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power,” declared, “You will not be surprised to hear that events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed. . . I am no longer nuclear neutral. I now support the technology.”
Monbiot debuted in his new role yesterday in a television debate with veteran nuclear critic Helen Caldicott. While Caldicott has been at this since the 1970s and has reportedly been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, it was entirely novel to have the relatively young and dashing Monbiot as her opponent instead of the usual mumbling utility executive who says solemnly that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s article 7D, section 14 assures that such accidents can’t possibly happen.
Monbiot tells it straight. Getting rid of nuclear means going back to coal. And coal kills more people in a week in China than the official death toll from Chernobyl. (If he ever has the opportunity to visit a coal plant, he’ll find it’s much worse than he imagines.) Caldicott counters with a scenario straight out of the standard anti-nuclear stockpile. The reports from Japan, she says, already say that the nuclear fuel has melted through the pressure vessel and is on the containment floor. There the plutonium is going to react with the concrete to cause a hydrogen explosion that will shatter the containment and spread a plume of radiation that will make Japan uninhabitable for all time and reach the United States and kill a lot of people there as well. Even the stodgy Democracy Now anchor seems a bit skeptical of that dissertation.
Monbiot counters nicely. While admitting that such a scenario could take place, he says, “I would disagree that such a scenario could devastate a large part of Japan forever. I think that’s an overstatement. . . . We’ve got to be very careful about not doing what the climate-change deniers do when they say there’s no danger from climate change, cherry-picking studies, plucking out work that is very much against the scientific consensus. When it comes to low-level radiation, unfortunately environmentalists have been responsible for quite a similar approach by making what appear to be unjustifiable and excessive claims for the impact of that radiation. That is not in any way to minimize what could well happen as a result of the events in Fukushima. What it does say is we have to use the best possible science to work out what the likely effects are to be and not engage in what could be far more devastating to the lives of the people in Japan – a wild overreaction in terms of the response in which we ask the Japanese people to engage.”
An auspicious debut, George – congratulations!
Read more about it at Huffington Post
Friday, March 25th, 2011
March 25, 2011
Three Republican Senators stepped up to the plate Thursday morning and reiterated their support of nuclear power, despite calls for a moratorium or shutting down reactors in the face of the Fukushima accident.
"We don’t have a form of energy production in the United States with a better record than nuclear power," Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told a press gathering at the nation’s Capitol. "I don’t think we should be making long-term, domestic U.S. policy based on something that happened in another part of the world," added Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky. "We certainly need to observe it, learn from it."
Senator Alexander has been a leading figure in the effort to revive nuclear, calling for the construction of 100 new reactors over the next twenty years.
Democrats at the press gathering were more cautious. I think we all pause and examine what happened and what these plants look like. Of course, I mean, we need to have a lot more information than we have now," Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio told the audience. "We need to have a way for a complete safety assessment," added Senator Diane Feinstein of California. "I think that’s the important thing, particularly plants that are of vintage, plants that are close to faults, plants that are close together. Seems to be that’s the emerging no-no."
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama warned against a moratorium on the model of oil drilling after the Gulf oil spill. "I am not for delays," he said. "They delayed in the Gulf and they still haven’t started drilling again." Texas Republican John Cornyn added that safety issues in nuclear had already been given extensive scrutiny. "We’ve had a virtual shutdown of new reactors for the last 30 years, so I don’t think we need any more brakes on it, especially if we’re going to make ourselves less dependent on foreign sources of energy," he said.
Although the Senate does not have any particularly nuclear issues before it now, the debate may be joined if the issue of extending loan guarantees or reviving Yucca Mountain come to the floor.
Read more about it at WAMU News Radio
Thursday, March 24th, 2011
March 24, 2011
From the Editors
“Never let a crisis go to waste” is becoming the watchword of all policy wonks and longtime nuclear critic Frank Von Hippel puts it to use this morning in a New York Times op-ed ominously entitled “It Could Happen Here.”
â€¨ â€¨“Nuclear power is a textbook example of the problem of `regulatory capture’ in which an industry gains control of an agency meant to regulate it,” writes the Princeton professor, not seeming to acknowledge that regulatory agencies can be captured by opponents of a technology as well. “Regulatory capture can be countered only by vigorous public scrutiny and Congressional oversight, but in the 32 years since Three Mile Island, interest in nuclear regulation has declined precipitously.”
â€¨Von Hippel criticizes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for not requiring a filtering mechanism on auxiliary buildings that would remove some radioactive particles in case of an accidental steam release. “Even before Three Mile Island, a group of nuclear engineers had proposed that filtered vents be attached to buildings around reactors, which are intended to contain the gases released from overheated fuel,” he writes. “If the pressure inside these containment buildings increased dangerously as has happened repeatedly at Fukushima the vents would release these gases after the filters greatly reduced their radioactivity.”â€¨
â€¨Midway through the article, however, he switches gears and announces that an equally important reason for calling a halt to the advance of nuclear technology is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. “Most notably, over the past 50 years the developed world has spent some $100 billion in a failed effort to commercialize plutonium breeder reactors. Such reactors would use uranium more efficiently, but would also require the separation of plutonium, a key component in nuclear weapons.” He also criticizes General Electric’s development of using laser technology to enrich uranium on the grounds that it will make it easier for other countries to build bombs.
â€¨ â€¨Von Hippel’s solution is a One-World approach, where all nuclear technology would be put under the control of some international body. “Doing so would make it more difficult for countries like Iran to justify building national enrichment plants that could be used to produce nuclear weapons materials [emphasis added]."
â€¨But what if Iran didn’t feel the need to justify its enrichment effort and just went ahead and did it anyway? One way or another, that’s pretty far afield from overheating reactors at Fukushima.
Read more about it at the New York Times
Thursday, March 24th, 2011
March 24, 2011
Reliable information has been hard to come by but this report from this morning’s Wall Street Journal seems to be a sober assessment of the situation:
• Authorities hope to resume work to restore power to the control and cooling systems at some of the reactors.
• Lighting restored to No. 1 reactor control room, the second to have power restored.
• Figures show radiation spreading beyond government’s 30-kilometer limit.
• Work proceeding slowly but radiation levels appear to have steadied.
Combined with the story that radiation levels of Iodine-131 in Tokyo drinking water have dropped below danger levels, the news seems to be that, for now at least, another day of worsening conditions has been avoided.â€¨
â€¨A report in last night’s New York Times raised concerns that salt from the salt water used to flood the reactors might be precipitating and collecting on the fuel rods, which the story speculated might eventually overheat the rods or block further cooling efforts. Tepco’s announcement that it has now obtained freshwater supplies from a reservoir five miles away reduced those concerns.
â€¨The radiation spikes in water and food probably result from earlier releases associated with steam venting and the hydrogen explosions. I-131 has a half-life of only eight days, however, and will disappear entirely within a month. Cesium-137 is a longer-term problem. That officials are monitoring this contamination so closely in the face of the current chaos in Japan, however, is an indication that public health threats may be able to be avoided. â€¨
Read more at the Wall Street Journal (subscription needed)