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Posts Tagged ‘Chernobyl’


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


Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

March 23, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

If you’ve got lemons, make lemonade. That’s the approach the Russians are taking as they confront the threat posed by Fukushima to their $20 billion-a-year nuclear export industry.
Much to the affront of The New York Times, Russian scientists are claiming that their experience with Chernobyl 25 years ago has made them more safety conscious in marketing their reactors and uranium supplies to the rest of the world. In interviewing Leonid A. Bolshov, a Russian physicist who won a Soviet hero’s medal for improvising an on-the-sport core-catcher during the Chernobyl crisis, the Times reports: “Like many others involved in his country’s nuclear power industry, Mr. Bolshov, 64, expresses what to some ears may sound like a jarringly opportunistic sales pitch: that Chernobyl was the hard-earned experience that made Russia the world’s most safety-conscious nuclear proponent.”
But then the Russians have a lot at stake. Even as Fukushima was suffering a meltdown, Rosatom was signing an agreement with Belarus to provide the former satellite with a $9 billion reactor. The Russian nuclear company also has a $20 billion deal to build four reactors for Turkey and sales of uranium amount to another $3 billion annually. The Russians now provide 17 percent of the world’s uranium and are aiming to raise this to 25 percent by 2025.
The Times digs up a Norwegian environmentalist who complains, “They promote this technology only because it engages the enormous military nuclear industry left over from Soviet times.” But a more sensible interpretation would be that the Russians are becoming adept at capitalism and know an economic opportunity when they see one.

Read more about it at the New York Times



Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

March 22, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

As you might expect, the first Gallup/USA Today surveys have found that in the wake of the Fukushima situation a plurality of Americans now oppose the construction of new nuclear reactors.

 â€¨Support dropped 18 points to 44 percent in favor, 47 percent opposed in a survey taken last week. Before the accident, support for nuclear had risen to 62 percent, the highest point in history. Overall favorable views toward nuclear had been above 50 percent for a decade, following the long slump after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

“In its analysis, Gallup said that short-term worries over nuclear disasters may not affect Americans’ support for nuclear energy over the long term,” reports Martin LaMonica on CNET’s “Green Tech” blog.  “Still, a look at the media coverage and discussion during the crisis shows that the incidents have served as an unhappy reminder of the risks of nuclear energy.” 

 â€¨LaMonica gives a balanced view of what a reduction in nuclear output would mean. He notes that carbon emissions would surely rise and that natural gas would be the likely substitute since wind and solar are incapable of delivering base load power. The most likely outcome, he predicts, will be a thorough review of America’s nuclear effort and upgrades in safety. During the process, public confidence may come back. “Without a doubt, this incident will have a significant impact on nuclear regulators and, most likely, plant operators,” he concludes. “Now, we’ll see how attitudes change toward nuclear over time and whether people will maintain attention on the pros and cons of different energy sources.”

Read more about it at CNET


Monday, March 21st, 2011

March 21, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

One important fact that has emerged from Fukushima is that nearly all the recorded cases of thyroid cancer that resulted from Chernobyl were due to ingestion of milk and that had become contaminated through the food chain. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not the immediate outburst of radiation but the long-term deposit of radioactive particles in the environment that pose the largest danger to human health.

The discovery of radioactive traces in milk and spinach in the immediate vicinity of Fukushima raises the question, “Are we facing another Chernobyl?”  Already people in the United States are asking the question, “Is it going to be safe to eat sushi?”  The answer so far seems to be, “The worries, of the time being, seem to be confined to the immediate vicitinity of the reactors.”

Traces of radioactive iodine have been found in milk produced within 15 miles of Fukushima and in spinach from the neighboring Ibaraki prefecture, whose borders begins 35 miles away. So far the levels of contamination are very low. The World Health Organization issued a statement that the exposure was “more serious” than originally thought, but it backtracked this morning, saying that it’s only concern had been that the traces were found outside the 30-kilometer evacuation zone. It did not yet find the levels of radioactive material to be threatening.

 â€¨At ground level in Japan there is more concern. Levels of radioactive iodine were three times the maximum standard in drinking water and up to 17 times the limit in milk. Residents of the village of Iitake, which sits right next to Fukushima, have been warned to avoid both. At Ibaraki, a major vegetable center, levels of iodine in spinach were found to be 27 times the legal limit. Radioactive iodine is considered the greatest immediate threat because it migrates to the thyroid and causes thyroid cancer. It has a half-life of only eight days, however, and disappeared entirely within two months. Radioactive cesium is a longer-range threat. Cesium levels were slightly over the limit in drinking supplies and up to four times the limit in spinach.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano stressed that he believed the levels of radiation in food — while above the legal standards — do not pose any immediate health risk, saying they were mostly dangerous only if consumed repeatedly over one’s lifetime,” according to this report from CNN. However, it will be crucial to monitor food supplies and avoid exposure if public confidence in nuclear technology is to be maintained.

Read more about it at CNN


Friday, February 25th, 2011

February 25, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

The international nuclear chess game of nuclear power witnessed another bold gambit this week when Japan entered talks with Lithuania over the possibility of building the Lithuanians a new nuclear reactor.

Lithuania has been at the mercy of Russia for the last year after the European Union forced the country to give up the close its Ignalina reactor as a condition of entering the Union. The EU bureaucrats argued that Ignalina had the same design as Chernobyl and was therefore dangerous. The Lithuanians argued that they had added safety features and modifications and that Chernobyl had been as much a human error as technical malfunction, but the Brussels bureaucrats refused to relent. Ignalina supplied Lithuania with 70 percent of its electricity. 

Since then the Lithuanians have been forced to buy gas from Russia at steep prices. The country put out a request for bids to build a new reactor last year and received proposals from Korea Electric Power and another unidentified rumored to be Electricite de France. The Lithuanians found the unidentified proposal unacceptable but were pleased with the Korean bid. Then the Koreans suddenly withdrew their offer. One story says the Russians pressured the Koreans because they did not want to give up the gas monopoly in their former satellite, but there has been nothing to substantiate this interpretation.

Japan’s entry into the discussions holds promise that Lithuania may once again be able to restore its energy independence. Energy Vice Minister Arvydas Darulis told Bloomberg that Japan “has very high standard of nuclear safety” that would meet EU requirements. “We need high technologies and those technologies are here in Japan,” Darulis said. Lithuania is hoping to complete the project by the end of the decade.

Read more about it at Bloomberg


Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

A lot of people would like to think that Chernobyl spelled the end of nuclear power around the world. Well, the Russians certainly don’t think so.

“We never stopped building, even after Chernobyl,” said Sergei G. Novikov, a spokesman for Rosatom tells The New York Times in this report. “We moved very slowly but never stopped.”

Things are moving a lot faster now. Of the 60 reactors being built around the world, Rosatom is building 15 of them – 10 in Russia and five abroad – and are hoping to build more. To date, the Russians have built at home, and in India, China and Iran, where they are busy putting up a commercial reactor even as the rest of the world tries to prevent the Iranians from enriching uranium.

Now Rosatom is about to bid on the Temelin station in the Czech Republic, going head-to-head for the first time with Areva and Westinghouse. Still smarting from losing the United Arab Emirates contract to Korea, the French and Japanese giants are likely to pull out all the stops.

But the Russians have a few cards to play as well. Saddled with the world’s largest supply of highly enriched uranium and with 40 percent of the world’s enrichment capacity, the Russians are turning swords into plowshares, prospering by exporting nuclear fuel. They already supply 17 percent of the world market – half of America’s fuel, 30 percent of France and 100 percent of Switzerland. Now they plan to leverage this role of fuel provider in order to sweeten construction offers to other countries.

To an American observer such as Times reporter Andrew Kramer, the Russians have "a peculiarly high comfort level with all things nuclear." That includes so-called nuclear waste. They import large quantities from France and are volunteering to take it off the hands of their new clients. This “waste,” of course, includes plutonium and depleted uranium that can be recycled into MOX fuel. This will only fill their coffers even more. Rosatom CEO Sergei Kiriyenko says Russia hopes to increase its foreign sales to $50 billion by 2030.

And what about the possibilities of building in a country that can’t build reactors, can’t manufacture anything for sale anything abroad and is terrified of dealing with its own "nuclear wastes?"

The Russians — who are making a play for majority shareholder interest in Uranium One, which has significant assets in Wyoming — say they hope to be doing business in the U.S. on the fuel cycle and reactor front soon as well

Read more about it at the New York Times



Monday, October 11th, 2010

October 11, 2001  In the Monday-morning fallout over Constellation’s weekend decision to abandon the Calvert Cliffs project, some nuclear advocates are wondering if the company isn’t playing a game of chicken with the federal government. 

The reason for Constellation’s decision, it emerges, is the Office of Management and Budget’s decision to charge the project 11.6 percent in “points” on a $7.6 billion loan guarantee ­ a fee that would add an additional $880 million to the project. OMB arrived at the high figure by arguing that the merchant plant faces nearly a 50 percent chance of default due to potential delays and cost overrun, declining electricity demand and low natural gas prices. Constellation officials countered that the loan points should be around 3 percent.          

The Wall Street Journal reports OMB is encouraging Constellation to look at a new set of terms it is offering for the project but that OMB declined to reveal the details of its new offer.    

Whatever the specific cause, Constellation’s move illuminates the adverse regulatory environment and deteriorating economic conditions that have put a hold on half a dozen other new build projects around the country as well. Congress’s failure to adopt any kind of carbon legislation has had a decisive impact.

Christopher M. Crane, CEO of Exelon, which has temporarily deferred two new reactors in Texas, tells The New York Times’ Matthew Wald that his utility would need natural gas prices of $8 per million B.T.U. and a carbon fee of $25 a ton to make those project economical. “We don’t have the right stimulus right now,” he told Wald. 

Although Wald’s story is headlined “Sluggish Economy Curtails Prospects for Building Nuclear Reactors,” the report in fact does a very good job of weighing the many different factors that led to Calvert Cliff’s apparent demise.


Friday, September 24th, 2010

Chernobyl, the scene of the world’s worst nuclear power accident, has become a tourist attraction, drawing thousands of curious on-lookers every year.
The standard viewing includes a trip to the perimeter of the reactor, where radiation levels are still 35 times normal background. After that there is a tour through the ghost town of Pripyat, two miles distant, where 50,000 people were evacuated shortly after the disaster, never to return.  Like a modern-day Pompeii, the village is almost perfectly preserved from the day its inhabitants fled.  Forbes lists it among "the world’s unique places to visit."  Last year 7,500 tourists passed through the site in the Ukraine.
Disputes still reign over the death toll from Chernobyl. The UN estimated 60 immediate deaths and said 4,000 additional cancer deaths might occur.  Newspaper accounts now regularly cite the 4,000 figure but use it to compare to the numbers from Greenpeace and other organizations that claim anywhere from 75,000 to 125,000 people died from the accident.
Arguments also reign over the condition of wildlife in the "Land of Wolves" – the natural preserve that has sprung up in the surrounding region.  Some researchers report severe genetic damage in the thriving wildlife populations while others say show an unusually low incidence of cancer. 
As with so much of the other mysteries surrounding Chernobyl, it may be decades before a straight answer emerges.

Read more at Nuclear Power Daily


Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The Washington Post gets on the small nuclear reactor bandwagon today. Well, sort of.

After reminding readers of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl — and advising folks that environmentalists see nuclear proponent and Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore as a "turncoat" — the Post gets down to business.

"Today supporting nuclear power as a green alternative is quite mainstream" — thanks to President Obama and Bill Gates.  The question to build is not when, it is "where and how."

To this end, the Post conjures up the romance of small reactors — in "Any Town, U.S.A." — with a stroll past a movie theatre, the smell of fresh bread from the local bakery, all coupled with the "gentle steam plume" from the cooling tower of your local "miniature reactor that powers the quaint little burg"!

Read more at the Washington Post


Friday, September 10th, 2010

Like so much of the world, Argentina abandoned its nuclear energy efforts after Chernobyl. Now, like the rest of the world, it is reviving them.
President Cristina Fernandez’s government announced this week it will ambitious plans to finish construction on the country’s long-stalled third nuclear power plant, upgrade operations at one of its two operating reactors, and launch initiatives to build two new reactors by 2025. The goal will be to raise the country’s nuclear energy contribution to 15 percent from 6 percent today.  They are also purportedly planning to resume an enrichment initiative; jumpstart uranium mining; and pilot a 25-megawatt “small-potency” reactor.
The government hopes to complete the Atucha II reactor, begun in the 1980s but abandoned after Chernobyl. The target date for completion is September 2011. It will then begin work to extend the shelf life of the 600-megawatt Embalse plant, which came on line in 1984.
The decision to revive nuclear comes at a time when Latin America’s second-largest country is starting to feel the pinch on fossil fuels. Argentina uses natural gas and oil to produce 60 percent of its electricity. But domestic gas supplies have grown tight and the country has been forced to import liquid natural gas, for which it is paying five times the price. Imports have jumped 69 percent since January at a cost of $2.75 billion and the country expects to import 14 more cargo loads in the next year.
Argentina has ample uranium reserves and is hopes to rejuvenate its Sierra Pintada deposit, where legal troubles have halted work. It will also resuscitate its uranium enrichment facility in Rio Negro province, which could start producing small amounts late next year.
Latin America is currently home to five nuclear power plants. Mexico has one and Brazil, like Argentina, has two and is building a third.

Read more at Reuters