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Saturday
Jun252011

Japan's "safety myth" about nuclear power now a dispelled fantasy

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Illustration by John Tenniel from Lewis Carroll's 1872 "Through the Looking Glass."In an article entitled " ‘Safety Myth’ Left Japan Ripe for Nuclear Crisis," the New York Times reports that Japan's widespread embrace of nuclear power as "absolutely safe" didn't happen by accident -- it has been nurtured through vast public relations expenditures by the nuclear establishment in government and industry, most often deliberately targeted at children and young mothers. As a popular Japanese musician, Kazuyoshi Saito, has put it in a song that has gone viral on YouTube, “It was always a lie, it’s been exposed after all/It was really a lie that nuclear power is safe.” The song has become an anthem at growing Japanese anti-nuclear street protests.

One Japanese nuclear power plant, for example, created an elaborate pro-nuclear "Alice in Wonderland" display in its "P.R. building," apparently oblivious to the fact that the U.S. anti-nuclear power movement had already laid claim to the theme. Inspired by John Gofman's "Alice in Nuclear Blunderland" essay in his classic 1979 book of political cartoons Irrevy: An Irreverant, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power, in 2006 Don't Waste Michigan scripted an "Alas, in Atomic Blunderland" street theater skit, complete with colorful costumes, to satirize the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rubberstamp of the 20 year license extension at the risky Palisades reactor on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Humpty Dumpty, portrayed by Michael Keegan of the Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes, provided satirical commentary on such "Nukespeak" as calling nuclear meltdowns "energetic excursions," hydrogen explosions "gaseous ignition events," and high-level radioactive waste "an untapped energy resource." (see image at left) Similarly, atomic watchdogs in South Carolina donned Alice in Wonderland costumes and crashed the very first "Tea Party" in 2009, pointing out the Mad Hatter irony of supposedly fiscally conservative "Tea Party" activists and political leaders remaining neutral, or worse, about vast nuclear power subsidization at taxpayer and ratepayer expense.

Friday
Jun242011

Public concern moves Members of Congress to demand nuclear safety upgrades

As the Associated Press reports in the wake of its own hard-hitting multi-part investigative series "AGING NUKES," public concern about nuclear power safety -- or lack thereof -- has increased dramatically in the ongoing aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan. AP reports "The website of Beyond Nuclear, an anti-nuclear group, has been bombarded with tens of thousands of additional visitors in recent months, according to Paul Gunter, the group's director of reactor oversight. He said nuclear safety has primarily concerned specialists in recent years. 'Now it's mothers and housewives who are concerned about fallout from Fukushima and from reactors in their own neighborhood,' Gunter said." Such grassroots concern and public pressure has moved Members of Congress to take action. Joined by Robert Menendez (D-NJ), U.S. Senators serving on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has direct oversight on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Environmental Protection Agency, including committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (Independent-VT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), have requested that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO, Congress's investigative arm) launch an investigation into nuclear safety regulation. U.S. House Members Ed Markey (D-MA) and Peter Welch (D-VT) this week released a report they requested from GAO on the epidemic of radioactivity leaks from underground pipes at atomic reactors. The GAO report requested by Markey and Welch contains this zinger on page 5: "NRC has concluded that all 65 reactor sites in the United States have experienced a leak or spill of radioactive material into groundwater."

Friday
Jun242011

"NRC rubber-stamps evacuation plans" around aging atomic reactors despite population explosions nearby

In the final installment, "Populations around U.S. nuke plants soar," in his four part series "Aging Nukes," AP reporter Jeff Donn reveals that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Federal Emergency Management Agency have not updated emergency evacuation plans to account for exploding population densities nearby many aging atomic reactors. Donn writes: " 'These population explosions are very likely to make the evacuation plan unworkable,' said anti-nuclear activist Paul Gunter at Beyond Nuclear in Takoma Park, Md., who has pressed for reviews of emergency community planning before relicensing."

Friday
Jun242011

20 year license extensions at old reactors "nothing more than an elaborate rubber stamp"

"Bathtub Curve for Nuclear Accidents," so named because of its shape, shows aging nukes are at increased risk of safety-significant break downs (graph compliments of Dave Lochbaum, UCS)In yet another of his "Aging Nukes" articles, "NRC and industry rewrite nuke history," Associated Press reporter Jeff Donn reports that decades ago, engineers and regulators were clear that atomic reactors were never meant to operate longer than their original 40 year licenses, if that. Donn reports that "The 40-year license was created by Congress as a somewhat arbitrary political compromise — 'some long period of time, because nobody in his right mind would want to operate a nuclear plant beyond that time,' said Ivan Selin, an engineer who chaired the NRC in the early 1990s." However, since the year 2000, NRC has rubberstamped 66 of the 20 year license extensions, with dozens more in the works. But 60 years of operations isn't risky enough for NRC or the industry -- for several years now, there has been talk of approving 80, even 100, years of operations. Donn appeared on Democracy Now! this morning.

Thursday
Jun232011

"Fukushima Disaster Failures Kept Behind Closed Doors at UN Atomic Meeting"

IAEA HQ in Vienna, Austria, scene of the secretive June 20 to 24 meetingsAs Bloomberg reports, despite the “ 'blindingly obvious' need for greater transparency," the International Atomic Energy Agency has invoked secrecy surrounding its June 20 to 24 review of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, effectively delaying any safety significant lessons learned for application at atomic reactors around the world, as well as societal decision making about the future of nuclear power. IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor explained that the Fukushima catastrophe evaluation meetings will be closed “because of the highly detailed and technical nature of the drafting work.” Members of the public and journalists are barred from attending the invitation-only sessions. This utter lack of transparency flies in the face of the Japanese government's own report to the IAEA, dated June 7th, calling for and commiting to maximum transparency in the ongoing aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.