Fukushima: Far More Cesium Released than Previously Believed

A mind-boggling 40,000 trillion becquerels of radioactive cesium, or twice the amount previously thought, may have spewed from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the March 11 disaster, scientists say. The figure represents about 20 percent of the discharge during the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

TEPCO on Feb. 28 began pouring cement on a trial basis from a marine platform onto the seabed in the port at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant with the aim of preventing radioactive cesium that accumulated there from spreading offshore. The project is intended to cover 7 hectares of seabed inside the breakwaters and is expected to take 3-4 months to finish.

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Clean Energy Groups Submit Formal Petition to NRC to Incorporate Lessons of Fukushima

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 15, 2012
CONTACT: Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS)
Michael Mariotte or Dominique French, 301-270-6477

Clean Energy Groups Submit Formal Petition to NRC to Incorporate Lessons of Fukushima
Expand evacuation zones, improve emergency planning around U.S. nuclear reactors

TAKOMA PARK, MD - February 15 - Thirty-eight clean energy groups today submitted a formal petition for rulemaking to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking adoption of new regulations to expand emergency evacuation zones and improve emergency response planning around U.S. nuclear reactors.

Calling on the NRC to incorporate the real-world lessons of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the proposed rules would expand existing emergency evacuation zones from 10 to 25 miles around nuclear reactors and establish a new zone from 25-50 miles around reactors for which utilities would have to identify and publicize potential evacuation routes. Another improvement would require utilities and state and local governments to practice emergency drills that includes a natural disaster that either initiates or occurs concurrently to a nuclear meltdown. Currently, utilities do not have to show the capability to conduct an evacuation during a natural disaster—even though, as seen at Fukushima, natural disasters can cause nuclear meltdowns. The petition would also expand the “ingestion pathway zone,” which monitors food, milk and water, from 50 miles to 100 miles around reactors.

“80% of the airborne radiation released from Fukushima went directly over the Pacific Ocean,” explained Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, which initiated the petition. “Even so, the Fukushima evacuation zone extended more than 25 miles to the northwest of the site, and the NRC and U.S. State Department both recommended that U.S. citizens within 50 miles of Fukushima evacuate. Such evacuations could not be effectively conducted in the U.S. under current emergency planning regulations. We need to be better prepared and we can’t rely on favorable wind patterns to protect the American people.”

Dominique French, who is leading NIRS’ campaign to improve emergency response planning, added, “The NRC has relied primarily on the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and subsequent computerized accident simulations to support its emergency planning rules. But first at Chernobyl in 1986, and now at Fukushima, the real world has trumped any possible simulation. The fact is that far too many Americans live near nuclear reactors, but outside existing emergency planning zones. Based on real-life experience, these people need better protection.”

“There is no invisible lead curtain surrounding nuclear power plants. We need to incorporate lessons learned from previous nuclear disasters. At the very least, we should stop pretending that emergency evacuation zones of 10 miles are adequate, and expand planning to include residents living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant,” said Eric Epstein of Three Mile Island Alert in Pennsylvania. “On Friday, March 30, 1979--while school was in session--Governor Thornburgh recommended a ‘precautionary evacuation’ for preschool children and pregnant women living within five miles of Three Mile Island. The targeted population was estimated at 5,000, but more than 144,000 central Pennsylvanians from 50 miles away fled the area--further proof that a radiological disaster is not a controlled field trip."

"Indian Point, 24 miles from New York City, sits at the epicenter of the most demographically dense area of any nuclear reactor in the nation. Even under normal conditions, traffic is congested and regional infrastructure is highly stressed. During the severe snow, rain and wind storms of the past few years, large swaths of the region have been brought to a near standstill. And yet the NRC ignores all these realities, preferring to play with its computer models. This is a dangerous game,” said Michel Lee, Steering Committee, Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition.

“In lieu of the recent activities around nuclear plants both in the United States and in Japan it had become obvious that a new Emergency Planning Zones be implemented. The Shell Bluff Community is asking that the NRC establish new guidelines that would expand the radius to protect the citizens that are in arms ways of these facilities. After all Japan is still experiencing unfolding occurrences that are taking place outside of their projected protected zone. The United States must move to protect her citizens who are in these dangerous pathways,” said Charles N. Utley, community organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

“Pacific Gas and Electric Company's Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is seen as a poster child by the nuclear industry: it is in a "low population zone", and not visible from any roads. However, families and businesses downwind from the nuclear plant and waste storage site do not consider themselves expendable, nor does invisibility negate the threat from two reactors and the radioactive wastes accumulated since 1984 that are stored on a site surrounded by 13 earthquake faults,” said Jane Swanson of California’s Mothers for Peace.

“Emergency plans of local and state government advise residents that in the event of a radiological release from Diablo Canyon nuclear plant there are two choices, depending on which way the winds blow: get in our cars in an attempt to evacuate, or "shelter in place". The former leads to congested traffic on the one freeway serving the central coast of California (Highway 101) as well-founded worries of families overload the freeway and bring it to a halt. Sheltering means using masking tape around doors and windows and turning off all air intakes into our homes for an unspecified time, in the hope that the emergency lasts only a few days rather than the many months as at Fukushima. Emergency plans need to be made effective. If this is not possible, then nuclear plants need to be shut down. Human lives cannot be traded for kilowatt hours,” added Swanson.

A third of the population in the U.S., or roughly 120 million people, lives within a 50 mile radius of a nuclear reactor. Current emergency planning rules require utilities to develop and exercise emergency evacuation plans within a 10 mile radius around reactors. The “ingestion pathway” currently consists of an area about 50 miles in radius and focuses on actions appropriate to protect the food ingestion pathway.

At Fukushima, and earlier at Chernobyl, interdiction of contaminated food and liquids has occurred further than 100 miles from the accident sites.

Japan is already acting to improve its emergency response capability, in the event nuclear reactors ever are allowed to operate there again. Prior to the disaster at Fukushima, the emergency planning zones for nuclear emergencies in Japan was between 8-10 kilometers (5-6 miles). The zone is now being expanded to 30 kilometers (18 miles). The actual Fukushima evacuation zone was a 20 kilometer (12 mile) radius around the site, although areas to the northwest, where the heaviest radiation on land was measured, were evacuated more than 25 miles away.

The initial co-petitioners are: Nuclear Information and Resource Service (national and lead author), Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team (TN), Beyond Nuclear (national), Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (Southeast), Citizens Action Coalition (IN), Citizen Power (PA), Citizens Awareness Network (Northeast), Citizens Within a 10-Mile Radius (MA), Citizens Environmental Coalition (NY), Coalition for a Nuclear Free Great Lakes (Great Lakes), Concerned Citizens of Shell Bluff (GA), Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone, Council on Intelligent Energy and Conservation Policy (NY), Don’t Waste Arizona, Don’t Waste Michigan, The Ecology Party of Florida, Empire State Consumer Project Inc. (NY), Grandmothers, Mothers, and More for Energy Safety (GRAMMES) (NJ), Greenpeace (national), Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (NY), Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch (NJ), Missourians for Safe Energy, New England Coalition, Nuclear Energy Information Service (IL), NC WARN, (NC), Northwest Environmental Advocates (OR), Not On Our Fault Line (VA), People’s Alliance for Clean Energy (VA), Promoting Health and Sustainable Energy (PHASE) (NY), Public Citizen Energy Program (national), San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (CA), SEED Coalition (TX), Sierra Club of South Carolina, Three Mile Island Alert (PA), Tri-Valley CARE (CA), Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah), Vermont Public Interest Research Group, We The People Inc. (TN).

The full text of the petition is available here: http://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/emergency/petitionforrulemaking22012.pdf.

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NIRS/WISE is the information and networking center for people and organizations concerned about nuclear power, radioactive waste, radiation, and sustainable energy issues.

Fukushima reactor readings raise reheating concern

Temperature inside No 2 reactor may have risen to 82C, and Tepco reportedly steps up cooling efforts

by Justin McCurry in Tokyo
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 12 February 2012 06.40 EST

Concern is growing that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan is no longer stable after temperature readings suggested one of its damaged reactors was reheating.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said the temperature inside No 2 reactor – one of three that suffered meltdown after last year's earthquake and tsunami – may have reached 82C on Sunday.

Tepco said there was no evidence that the melted fuel inside had reached criticality. The utility reportedly increased the amount of cooling water being injected into the reactor along with a boric acid solution, which is used to prevent the fuel from undergoing sustained nuclear reactions.

Confirmation that the temperature has risen above 80C could force the government to reverse its declaration two months ago that the crippled plant was in a safe state known as cold shutdown.

Cold shutdown is achieved when the temperature inside the reactors remains below 100C and there is a significant reduction in radiation leaks. Given that Tepco assumes a margin of error of 20C, the actual temperature could have risen to 102C.

Plant workers are unable to take accurate readings of the temperature inside the damaged reactor because radiation levels are still too high for them to enter and examine the state of the melted fuel, which is thought to be resting at the bottom of the reactor's pressure vessel.

The result has been a series of wildly different readings: two other thermometers positioned at the bottom of No 2 reactor showed the temperature at 35C, local media reported.

Tepco said it did not know the cause of the apparent temperature rise, but speculated that it might be due to problems with the supply of coolant or a faulty thermometer.

"We believe the state of cold shutdown is being maintained," said Junichi Matsumoto, a company spokesman. "Rather than the actual temperature rising, we believe there is high possibility that the thermometer concerned is displaying erroneous data."

Tepco was forced to inject additional cooling water into the same reactor last week after the temperature started rising at the beginning of the month.

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Thousands March Against Nuclear Power in Japan

Thousands of people are demonstrating today in Japan against nuclear power.

The Associated Press reports that people are worried about the restarting of reactors that had stopped since the Fukushima disaster.

The Japan Times adds that a group of anti-nuclear activists has been pushing for a referendum to abolish nuclear reactors in Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s service area.

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New nuclear plant builder a major Washington player

The company benefiting from today’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision to approve the construction of the first new nuclear plant in the U.S. in over three decades is an influential powerhouse in Washington.

Southern Company, a power company based in Atlanta, has spent $130 million lobbying the federal government since 1998, ranking 17th among all organizations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Last year, the company spent nearly $13 million on lobbying, including in-house efforts and hiring 14 outside firms.

The company’s political action committee, its employees and their family members also donate generously to federal candidates’ campaigns. Of all organizations, it ranks 95th in such giving since 1989. Nearly 70 percent Southern's more than $10 million in campaign contributions has gone to Republicans.

In the 2010 election cycle alone, Southern Co., which operates plants in Georgia and Alabama, aggregated $900,000 to candidates, ranked fourth among electric utilities, according to CRP.

In that cycle, and in the current election cycle, the company's investment in the election of members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the NRC, has trumped other committees. The panel members have raked in nearly $200,000 from the company in the past two cycles. By contrast, the Senate committee responsible for overseeing the NRC, the Committee on the Environment and Public Works, has not enjoyed much of a windfall at all.

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"The Atomic States of America": Exploring a Nation’s Struggle with Nuclear Power

Nuclear power has drawn wide support from both sides of the aisle, with both Republicans and Democrats advancing a pro-nuclear agenda even in the aftermath of last year’s Fukushima disaster in Japan. We speak with Sheena Joyce, co-director of the new documentary "The Atomic States of America," which is featured at 2012 Sundance Film Festival. We’re also joined by Kelly McMasters, whose book "Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town" inspired the film. Joyce says, "We used Kelly’s book and the town of Shirley as kind of a springboard into the issue, to just talk to people really on both sides, but mainly to speak to the people in reactor communities... We wanted to seek an intelligent dialogue."

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Report: Israel Intel Chief Says Nuke-Armed Iran Not An Existential Threat

Israeli intelligence chief Tamir Pardo

The head of the venerable Israeli spy agency Mossad reportedly told a group of Israeli ambassadors that even if Iran should get a nuclear weapon, it would not pose an existential threat to the Jewish State. The comments come amid increasing war chatter and rising tensions between the West and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. Iran says the program is for peaceful purposes, but the West, backed by some evidence, claims it’s aimed at weaponization.

According to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo told a gathering of about 100 Israeli ambassadors that, while Iran’s nuclear program does constitute a threat and Israel will continue to do covert work to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions (hand-in-hand with the U.S.), an Iranian nuclear weapon would not necessarily pose an “existential threat” to the Jewish State. Based on the accounts of three ambassadors at the meeting, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid quoted Pardo as saying:

What is the significance of the term existential threat? Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That’s not the situation. The term existential threat is used too freely.

The remarks stand in contrast to frequent statements from hawkish Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that Iran poses an “existential threat” to Israel. But others have disagreed with the assessment. This year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying, “I am not among those who believe Iran is an existential issue for Israel.” A former Mossad chief, Ephraim Halevy, also suggested Iran didn’t pose such a threat and issued a warning about the potential consequences of an attack. (That lines up with yet another former Mossad chief’s assessment, as well as other former high-ranking Israeli security officials.)

While Iran’s program does constitute a threat to nuclear non-proliferation efforts as well as Israel’s security — exacerbated by a long history of belligerent anti-Israel rhetoric from among Iran’s top leadership — comments like Pardo’s seem to be pushing back against one casus belli. The U.S. has vowed to not take any “options off the table” for dealing with Iran’s program, and calls an Iranian nuclear weapon unacceptable. The top U.S. military officer recently said he doesn’t know if Israel would warn the U.S. before attacking Iran.

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JAPAN: Mothers Rise Against Nuclear Power

TOKYO, Dec 22, 2011 (IPS) - Japan’s nuclear power industry, which once ignored opposition, now finds its existence threatened by women angered by official opaqueness on radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after it was struck by an earthquake- driven tsunami on Mar. 11.

"Mothers are at the forefront of various grassroots movements that are working together to stop the operation of all nuclear plants in Japan from 2012," Aileen Miyoko Smith, head of Green Action, a non- governmental organisation (NGO) that promotes renewable energy told IPS.

More than 100 anti-nuclear demonstrators, most of them women, met with officials of the Nuclear Safety Commission this week and handed over a statement calling for a transparent investigation into the accident and a permanent shutdown of all nuclear power plants.

Currently six of Japan’s 56 nuclear plants are closed, some for stress tests after the Fukushima accident exposed serious breaches of safety precautions in the nuclear power industry.

More than 150,000 people remain unable to return home because of high levels of radiation in the Fukushima vicinity. There is now evidence that contamination has spread to rice and vegetables grown in nearby farming areas, and found its way into baby food products on supermarket shelves.

Japanese authorities announced last week that the devastated Fukushima Daiichi complex has been brought down to a state of cold shutdown.

"The first stage of controlling the terrible accident has been achieved. The government will follow a road map which in 30–40 years will make Fukushima safe again," said Goshi Hosono, minister of state for nuclear power policy and administration.

Speaking to the press, he explained that there is now no nuclear activity in the Fukushima nuclear reactors emitting radiation.

Power companies and government officials have also pledged to enforce safety regulations strictly and to ensure transparency.

Smith views the latest announcements as a warning. "We are stepping up our activism to ensure that the government and power industries, now eager to create a notion of security, will not restart nuclear plants," she said.

Indeed, groups of women, braving a cold winter, have been setting up tents since last week preparing for a new sit-in campaign in front of the ministry of economic affairs.

The women have pledged to continue their demonstration for 10 months and 10 days, traditionally reckoned in Japan as a full term that covers a pregnancy.

"Our protests are aimed at achieving a rebirth in Japanese society," said Chieko Shina, a participant, and a grandmother from Fukushima. "There is a need to change the way the authorities have run the country by putting economic growth ahead of protecting the lives of people."

Experts view the ongoing protests as a landmark in Japan’s fledgling social movements long consigned to the sidelines of a prosperous and hardworking society that puts a premium on achievement and success.

"The ongoing demonstrations symbolise the determination of ordinary people who do not want nuclear power because it is dangerous. There is also the bigger message that we do not trust the government any more," said Takanobu Kobayashi, who manages the Matsudo network of citizens’ movements.

Distrust stems primarily from the fact that the meltdown of the Fukushima reactors was not reported to the public immediately, causing huge health risks to the local population from radiation leaks.

Internet sites have recorded hundreds of thousands of comments by people expressing disbelief over assurances put out by the government or officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima plant, on nuclear safety.

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You Could Even Say It Glows: NRC Votes to Fast-Track a More Dangerous Nuclear Future

To paraphrase the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Merry Effin’ Christmas.

In a news dump that came a day early (because who really wants to dump on Christmas-Eve Eve?), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a pair of moves Thursday that could have significant consequences for America’s nuclear industry–and all the people who have to live with it.

First, the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design got the big thumbs up:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission unanimously approved a radical new reactor design on Thursday, clearing away a major obstacle for two utilities to begin construction on projects in South Carolina and Georgia.

Whoa–let’s stop it there for a sec. . . . A “radical new reactor design?” Somebody’s being a good little scribe this Christmas. As previously discussed, there is nothing radical about the AP1000–it’s a tweak on the generations-old pressurized water reactor design that theoretically would allow the core to avoid a meltdown in the event of a total loss of AC power. . . .

Well, for 72 hours, anyway.

After that, the manufacturer–in reality the Japanese owner of Westinghouse, Toshiba–says something about it taking only “minimal operator effort” to avert disaster.

Keep in mind that the AP1000 was designed well before the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that started the ongoing Fukushima disaster, but this approval, of course, comes well after.

Designers of the AP1000 assert that gravity and convection will serve to keep reactor cooling functioning even if systems are disabled as they were at Fukushima. That assertion is predicated on the storyline that the Daiichi plant’s safety systems survived the massive quake, and only ran into trouble when the tsunami flooded and disabled the diesel backup generators that powered cooling systems for the reactors and the spent fuel pools.

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Netherlands | Second nuclear plant postponed

Headlining with “Growing doubts about the construction of Borssele II,” NRC Handelsblad reports on construction firm Delta’s decision to postpone the building of the country’s second nuclear power plant, which has mainly been prompted by the reluctance of Delta’s two partners, Germany’s RWE and France’s EDF. Without them, Delta will struggle to pay the costs for the project, which are estimated at 4.5 billion euros.

In its editorial, NRC urges the government to find “other ways to achieve the necessary energy diversification; obviously, if possible, in the context of a cooperative European venture.” The newspaper adds: “It is hard to imagine how diversification can be implemented in a manner that is good for the environment without nuclear power in the mix.” Adding to Delta’s worries, 69 professors have signed an open letter against the power plant, which they claim is “unnecessary, costly, unprofitable and unsustainable.”

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