18 June 2011

San Onofre to ship low-level nuclear waste

A new, 640-ton steam generator at the San Onofre nuclear plant last year, before it was installed in the dome housing reactor three. Parts of the old steam generators, considered low-level radioactive waste, will be shipped to Utah starting this month. Register photo by Jebb Harris.
Steam generator parts that are considered low-level radioactive waste will be shipped from the San Onofre nuclear plant to Utah beginning this month, Southern California Edison officials said Tuesday.
The lower sections of the steam generators, recently replaced in a massive operation, will be taken by highway to a low-level waste-disposal facility in four shipments.
The shipments should be completed before the end of the year, an Edison statement said.
Edison operates the nuclear plant.
The shipments from San Onofre, just south of San Clemente, will pass through San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties as well as Nevada, then arrive in Clive, Utah.
The generators’ radiation levels are below the U.S. Department of Transportation’s safety threshold, the statement said, although Edison officials said they could not provide details on the route or shipping schedule for security reasons.
No one living along the route will be exposed to radiation, Edison said; standing six feet from the from the vehicle carrying the generator parts for an hour would bring the same level of radioactive exposure as a dental X-ray.
Four 640-ton steam generators, two for each of the plant’s reactors, have been replaced over the past two years.

16 June 2011

Are We on the Brink of Burying Nuke Power Forever?

By Harvey Wasserman (about the author) 

This may be the moment history has turned definitively against atomic energy.
To be sure:    we are still required to fight hard to bury reactor loan guarantees in the United States.    There are parallel struggles in China, Indian, England, France and South Korea.  
The great fear is that until every single reactor on this planet is shut, none of us is really safe from another radioactive horror show.  
Thus the moment is clearly marked at Fukushima by three reactors and a radioactive fuel pool still untamed after three months, with the horrific potential to do far more apocalyptic damage than we've seen even to date.
That image includes Japanese school children being issued Geiger counters to carry with them 24/7 (http://nukefree.org/japanese-government-give-kids-radiation-monitors-carry-them ).
And Fukushima's radiation raining down on the United States, with links to reports of a heightened infant death rate in Seattle http://nukefree.org/janette-sherman-joe-mangano-rise-infant-deaths-pacific-northwest-due-fukushima .  
And by countless other on-going disasters and near-misses at reactors everywhere on the planet.    Included is Cooper, in Nebraska, which got zero corporate media coverage as it was nearly flooded and did lose power to its radioactive fuel pool http://nukefree.org/electrical-fire-knocks-out-fuel-pool-nebraska-nuke .  
From well-reasoned fear, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Israel and other critical players have announced they will build no more reactors.    Some will start shutting the ones they have.  
Japan and Germany are the third and fourth largest economies on Earth.   Japan has long been at the core of the reactor industry.    Germany's economy is the largest in Europe.    Some European nations are rumbling about an alliance to shut the reactors among their nuclear neighbors.
All this could be happening merely in reaction to yet another Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.    The corporate media has attempted to induce a coma over Fukushima by simply refusing the cover the on-going disaster.  
But the worsening realities are as utterly relentless as they are terrifying.   In the age of the internet, there is simply no way to totally suppress the horror of what is happening to our Earth, especially at its lethal, festering wound at Fukushima.
But what truly sets this moment apart is not just the radioactive nightmare.   There have been others.    There will certainly be more.  
What's unique about now is the Solartopian flip side.    It is the irrepressible fact that we have finally reached the green-powered tipping point.  
For the first time in history, the financial, industrial and trade journals are filled with pithy, number-laden reports declaring the moment has come---and this can not be overemphasized---that solar power is definitively cheaper than nuclear.  
It is an epic moment that future economic and technological historians will note as a true turning point.
In real terms, Solartopian technology----wind, solar, geothermal, ocean thermal, bio-fuels, wave, current, tidal, efficiency, conservation---has always been cheaper than nukes.
The "Peaceful Atom" has always been a creature of subsidies, a happy face painted on the Bomb.    Its true health, safety and environmental costs can never be reliably calculated.  
What, after all, will be the true price tag on Fukushima?    How do we begin to calculate the costs in human agony and ecological destruction?
Already Japan is being torn apart by who will pay:    the utility (it doesn't have enough assets)http://nukefree.org/tepco-may-go-insolvent , the government (it could go bankrupt) or the victims (who else?).   The only thing certain is this once-powerful industrial nation will never recover.  
It's no accident the reactor industry cannot get private capital for new reactor construction, or private liability insurance of real consequence, and cannot solve its waste problems without the federal government taking responsibility---which, in truth, even it cannot do.  
The true installment cost of the US reactor fleet can't even be calculated, as much of the liability was dishonestly wiped off the books in the deregulation scam of 1999-2002.
What we're left with worldwide is 440 uninsured ticking time bombs, potential Chernobyls and Fukushimas, every one of them.    There are 104 in the US.   The only real question is when the next one will go off and how long it will take to actually hear about it.  
Atomic energy also feeds global warming.    Who will account for the enormous heat still rising from Fukushima?    How much did Chernobyl spew?    Carbon emissions come with the mining, milling, enrichment and ultimate disposal of radioactive fuel, not to mention the building and dismantling of the reactors themselves.
For yet another summer, nukes in France, Alabama and elsewhere must close because the infernal machines that "fight global warming" must shut shy of heating the rivers they use for cooling to 90 degrees Farenheit.    
What's peaked now, as Fukushima melts and burns and dumps its radioactive poisons into the air and the oceans and the people of this planet, is one financial reality:    even with all its subsidies, nuclear power can no longer stand in the market place.
The first option, of course, has become natural gas, whose price has plummeted.    But the gas boom is based in large part on fracking, an unsustainable environmental disaster.   Its momentum is huge, but so is its threat to the waters we need to survive.  
In the long term, the future is with renewables.    They are often subsidized as well.    But the scale is not comparable, and does not fully compensate for the hidden realities of atomic power's uninsurability and its inability to solve its basic waste, health and eco-impacts.  
Were the nuclear industry forced to fully insure itself, or were it charged the true cost of its invested capital, or what it does to the planet and the humans who live on it, not a single reactor owner could afford to keep a reactor running for a single day.  
Small wonder Wall Street has long been more anti-nuclear than Main Street.
The numbers are now easy to find.   WorldWatch has just issued the definitive END OF NUCLEAR by Mycle Schneider, laden with charts, graphs, tables and all the financial data anyone needs to confirm the case http://nukefree.org/worldwatch-institute-mycle-schneider-end-nuclear .    The Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rmi.org) has long had similar material on file and at the tip of Amory Lovins's tongue.
Now we see Forbes http://www.ncwarn.org/2007/07/nuclear-power-worst-managerial-disaster/ , the Wall Street Journal http://www.wallstreetdaily.com/2011/05/25/hypersolar-renewable-energy/ and the core corporate press conceding the obvious.  
In short, the bottom line has now become the bottom line. Reactor costs have doubled and tripled in the past few years even before Fukushima.   Green energy costs continue to plummet.
The last barrier is that to understand how a Solartopian economy works, you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Base-load power is readily available from geo-thermal, bio-fuels and a broad mix.    One does need to balance the various intermittent sources---wind, solar, tidal---to keep the glass full.  
But Fukushima has shown that nukes are also intermittent in the worst imaginable way.
Any sane for-profit player with the bucks enough to build a new reactor will now put them into renewables.   Witness Google, now investing    $280 million in a fund for installing solar panels on home rooftops, and millions more for undersea links to offshore wind farms.  
The dream of a Solartopian future has become the capitalist present.   Germany and Japan would not be committing to a green-powered future if its large corporations---Siemans, Enercon, Mitsubishi, Sharp---whose CEOs have run the numbers and decided nukes are a loser.    And that the real profit center for the long-term energy biz is in green power.
What remains for us is to get the government out of the game.    The $36 billion in loan guarantees Obama wants in the 2012    budget must come out.   We need to call the White House and Congress CONSTANTLY until this happens.
Then we need to find a way to get the Chinese, Indians, Koreans, Brits and French to join Germany, Japan and the rest of us in a post-nuclear world.  
How soon this gets done is up to us.   Our fervent hope---and greatest incentive---is knowing this MUST be done before    the next Fukushima strikes.  

Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! GREEN POWER HOUR runs Wednesdays at 8pm EST onwww.talktainmentradio.com (877)932-9766, starting tonight.    He is senior editor of   www.FreePress.org and www.solartopia.org.  

12 June 2011

Fukushima - The Elephant in the Room

By lila york

Recent map of iodine contamination, North America by Nowegian Institute

Remember Chandra Levy?   Her disappearance following an affair with her congressman was the national obsession in the summer of 2001 - until we awoke one Tuesday morning to see the World Trade Center towers on fire     In the summer of 2011 the nation, or at least the nation's media, seems similarly obsessed with the murder trial of Casey Anthony and the twitter account of a New York congressman.   Meanwhile, the crisis at the Fukushima Daichi plant rages on with no resolution in sight and a cold shutdown now projected to be years away.   

Until last week there was an apparent media blackout on the crisis, although some Americans, this writer included, have followed the status of the reactors daily at Energy News andFairewinds, the website of nuclear energy expert, Arnie Gundersen.   

The Fukushima reactors were built by General Electric, which also owns Comcast, NBC, CNBC and MSNBC, so the absence of timely information is not surprising.   

One article early on in the crisis suggested that the reinsurance on Fukushima was held in part by AIG and Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, a supposition I cannot substantiate, but that may be true.   There is no doubt that we live in a time when corporate profits trump human safety and well-being, and we are seeing that manifest in this current crisis.   

The best MSM sources for information over these last months have been Bloomberg, online and on television, and The Wall Street Journal, which have tracked the crisis primarily because it affects investment in Japanese companies.

Last week the Japanese government made startling announcements. Three of the five reactors experienced total meltdowns on March 11th, the day of the initial earthquake, and all three reactors have "melted through" leaky containment vessels, molten masses of melted fuel rods now fissioning  on the basement floors of those reactors.   

The statement further confessed that levels of radiation released from the explosions were actually twice as high as initially reported, blaming the miscalculation on bad math.   (Indeed in the days after the March explosions plutonium was discovered on the ground in northern California and tritium in Vermont.)   

In light of these revelations Arnie Gundersen did an interview on CNN last week, recommending that Americans wash produce thoroughly and stop drinking milk and eating dairy products.   He also suggested that any Americans wealthy enough to relocate to the southern hemisphere consider doing so, adding that Seattle residents were inhaling 5 "hot particles" or "fuel fleas" per day in the weeks following the explosions.   

Democracy Now, Amy Goodman's radio and television news program, which has not ignored the story over these months, did an extensive update on yesterday's broadcast. 

Should we all be constructing fallout shelters and stockpiling food and water?   Should we be shipping our children to South America until the crisis ends?   I have no idea, but neither does anybody else, including the nuclear experts.   

They know that the crisis is more serious than Chernobyl.   The world has never experienced a "china syndrome" event, and there is no way to calculate the potential outcome.   

One nuclear physicist who posts regularly at enenews.com suggests that another explosion is unlikely given the current status, but warns that reactor 4 is in danger of collapsing on itself from even a minor earthquake or aftershock.   A collapse would negatively alter the scenario and could cause another major release of radioactive particles into the jet stream.   

Chronic low-level radiation produces a myriad of diseases in animals and humans, and even the IAEA recently admitted that no level of radiation is safe, as radiation is the prime cause of cancers.   In any event, radiation exposure from a cross-country flight is in an entirely different category from a "hot particle" that would become an internal emitter once inhaled or ingested.   Of the isotopes released in nuclear accidents, the most dangerous are plutonium, strontium 90, which attacks bone tissue, iodine 131 which attacks the thyroid gland, and cesium 137 which attacks soft tissue, including the liver, kidneys and lungs.   

Of these plutonium is the most lethal -- 1/10,000th of a micron will kill a human.   Fukushima's reactor number 3 illegally used MOX fuel, which is a mixture of uranium, depleted uranium, and plutonium. (The MOX fuel was sold to Japan by the United States during the Reagan administration).

The Norwegian Institute (NILU), a Scandinavian organization that measures air quality, akin to our EPA, had, for the first six weeks following the explosions, issued forecast maps for the northern hemisphere which tracked fallout clouds containing radioactive iodine, cesium and xenon, a gas.   Those maps were disturbing to all who saw them, as they showed North America literally blanketed in radioactive fallout at levels that vastly exceeded normal background radiation. 

The EPA announced in early May that it would cease testing air, rainwater, tap water and milk, as iodine 131 levels, the isotope with the shortest half-life, had fallen to normal atmospheric levels (EPA test results here).   

It has been reported at several websites that both NILU and the EPA were pressured to discontinue testing -- or at least to discontinue publication of the test results.   The "pressure" has been variously attributed to the U.S. government, the Japanese government and the United Nations, although I have seen no hard evidence to substantiate any of those claims.   NILU began to publish more recent and updated historical maps in an alternate hidden file it code-named Zardoz, after the 1970's sci-fi film about a post-apocalyptic future.   

The previously hidden maps, showing emergency-level fallout contamination across North America, were subsequently re-published by two 20-something bloggers, here (scroll down the page) and here.   

The Nuclear Engineering Dept at U.C. Berkeley has continued to test rain water, tap water, raw and commercially made milk, topsoil and an assortment of vegetables.   While radiation contamination has dropped significantly since the explosions of March 11, recent tests show new highs in contamination levels of topsoil and milk for cesium 137 and cesium 134.   

Since only UCB is publishing test results, we cannot know for certain what levels persist in other areas of the country. In early April, the government of France advised that pregnant women and young children avoid milk, soft cheeses and leafy vegetables.   

No such missive came from the U.S. government - and Western Europe has been receiving only 5% of the fallout that has blanketed North America. Last week Food Processing.com, the website for the U.S. food and beverage industry, published a very informative article entitled "Fukushima in Our Food," a good overview of contamination that has been recorded in North America since March 11th . Greenpeace, which conducted tests on marine life outside of Japan's 12 mile limit last month, found levels of contamination in fish and seaweed to be above legal limits.

Yesterday Counterpunch published an article by two doctors on the spike in infant deaths in the U.S. since the explosions at Fukushima, a spike which mimics infant deaths in Europe following the Chernobyl disaster.   In North America the contamination comes largely in rainwater, which will, in turn, affect tap water, topsoil, vegetables, meat and dairy products over time.   

The most vulnerable populations are pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant, infants and young children, the elderly and any person suffering from an immune system-compromising illness, such as AIDS.   

The most logical preventative measures Americans can and should take are these: Avoid going out in the rain and always carry an umbrella, avoid fresh dairy products, wash all produce, increase intake of potent antioxidants, such as CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid, and buy a reverse osmosis water filtration system for your home or at least for your kitchen faucet.   

If you want to be prepared for a possible emergency down the road, also look into N95 face masks, which are widely available, HEPA air filters, and stockpile at least a few weeks of canned and dried food and filtered or spring water sufficient for your household.   

(Well water and spring water are safe as they are filtered by the clay in the soil.)   

Consult the links below for methods of protection from and detoxification of radio isotopes.   

(These methods are also valuable to protect against radiation exposure from x-rays and CT scans).

Resources for news on Fukushima and results of testing :
Energy News.com   http://enenews.com/

Fairewinds, Arnie Gundersen http://www.fairewinds.com/home
EPA test results http://opendata.socrata.com/Government/RadNet-Laboratory-Analysis/cf4r-dfwe
UC Berkeley Dept of Nuclear Engineering test results air and water monitoring teamhttp://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/UCBAirSampling
American Nuclear Society twitter page   http://twitter.com/#!/ans_org
NILU historical maps   http://www.woweather.com/weather/news/fukushima?LANG=us&VAR=eurad2500
NILU Zardoz file http://zardoz.nilu.no/~flexpart/fpinteractive/plots/?C=M;O=D